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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. 
Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

I'm in awe of Courtney Summers. I've come to the conclusion that she can't write anything I won't end up in love with. 

I'm completely freaked out my zombies in realistic settings - because I seriously believe that the zombie apocalypse will happen someday and I am so, so screwed - but I couldn't pass up a book by Summers. Honestly, I've become dependent on the fact that she releases a new novel every year, and I couldn't not read This Is Not a Test just because zombies and gore make me a bit nauseous. And, though I can't say that any of Summers' novels are particularly happy, I find them oddly comforting. These are the novels that people refer to when they say reading makes them feel understood and less alone.

The best thing about This Is Not a Test is that yes, it's a zombie book, but it is so much more than that. For me, it was everything I loved about Summers' past novels, including the intense emotion, flawed characters, and desperate situations PLUS zombies. I mean, Summers' novels always crackle with intensity, so much so that I didn't believe she could turn it any higher, but she definitely proved me wrong.

I've yet to stop myself from falling in love with all of characters in Summers' books. It's a bit ridiculous really. I've even gone so far as to name pets after them. (Okay, one pet. My cat, Milo, is named after a character from Fall for Anything.) Like Summers' past novels, the characters in This Is Not a Test each have a distinct personality. I always feel that I truly understand what motivates each character's actions and emotions, whether they're the main character or small, seemingly unimportant character.

I can't stress enough how much I adore each and every novel Summers' has written and, though This Is Not a Test is in some ways a departure from her previous novels, it is, at it's core, what readers have come to expect from  her. Plus zombies. And while this book may sound horribly bleak, I've come to find that Summers' always leaves her characters, and her readers, with a shimmering ray of hope. Even during the zombie apocalypse.

St. Martin's Griffin, June 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780312656744, 320 pages.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: The Little Woods by McCormick Templeman

Are the woods behind St. Bede's Academy really haunted, or does bad stuff just happen there? When Calista Wood, a new student, arrives midway through her junior year, St. Bede's feels like a normal school . . . until she discovers that a girl had disappeared a couple of months earlier. Some kids think she ran away, others think she was murdered, but it's only when Cally starts digging around that she finds the startling truth. 
Watch as Cally enters a world of privilege, weekend-long parties, high school romances, and ... well-kept secrets. This page-turner will appeal to teens looking for a fast-paced thriller. Written in a voice at once gripping and crystal clear, debut novelist, McCormick Templeman, will take readers on a twisting and turning journey as only a "new girl" can experience.

I like well-written mysteries like The Little Woods... and I especially like when the author successfully incorporates creepy characters and a foreboding atmosphere.

I'll be honest, there's some predictability within the plot of The Little Woods, but this novel is both beautifully written and engaging, so I didn't mind that some things didn't feel very surprising. In fact, Templeman may have done this purposely because when I was surprised by a twist, I was really surprised. Enough so that I literally had to verbalize my normal internal "whoa."

There was one aspect of The Little Woods that rang false to me... and I just couldn't get past it. Cally isn't very girly. In fact, she doesn't seem to care about her appearance much at all. Which would have been totally fine, if she didn't have two boys chasing after her. Sure, some boys wouldn't mind the lack of care Cally exhibits for her appearance, but neither of Cally's love interests seem like the type to overlook her blatant disregard. In addition, I didn't think she was all that wonderful personality-wise either. I liked her as a main character - her point of view was interesting - but I never felt particularly attached to her and I couldn't understand why any of the characters were so enthralled by her.

Since I didn't really understand the allure of Cally, I wasn't a huge fan of the romance elements within the novel. They weren't badly done or anything like that, I just was much more interested in the mystery and which characters were lying and why.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Templeman's debut. I've read that her next novel, The Glass Casket, is a retelling of Snow White and I cannot wait to read it. I've fallen in love with Templeman's writing and can only imagine greatness from this retelling!

Random House Children's Books, July 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780375869433, 336 pages.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fantastic Five: Upcoming Contemporary Titles

Fantastic Five is a new-ish feature at The Hiding Spot! These posts will always feature five of something - whether it be forthcoming novels, favorite authors, books with a common theme, or newly released covers. Whatever the topic, there will always be five items featured and they will always be fantastic!

Blink Once by Cylin Busby 
West is a high school senior who has everything going for him until an accident leaves him paralyzed. Strapped down in his hospital bed, slipping in and out of consciousness, West is terrified and alone. Until he meets Olivia. She’s the girl next door—sort of. A patient in the room next to his, only Olivia can tell what West is thinking, and only Olivia seems to know that the terrible dreams he’s been having are not just a result of his medication. Yet as West comes to rely on Olivia—to love her, even—certain questions pull at him: Why has Olivia been in the hospital for so long? And what does it mean that she is at the center of his nightmares? But the biggest question of all comes when West begins to recover and learns that the mysterious girl he’s fallen in love with has a secret he could never have seen coming.
Then You Were Gone by Lauren Strasnick
Simon Pulse/1.8.13
Two years ago, Adrienne’s best friend, Dakota, walked out of her life. One week ago, she left Adrienne a desperate, muffled voicemail. Adrienne never called back. 
Now Dakota is missing, and all that remains is a string of broken hearts, a flurry of rumors, and a suicide note. 
Adrienne can’t stop obsessing over what might have happened if she’d answered Dakota’s call. And she’s growing more convinced each day that Dakota is still alive. 
Maybe finding and saving Dakota is the only way Adrienne can save herself. Or maybe it’s too late for them both.

The Almost Truth by Eileen Cook
Simon Pulse/12.4.12

Sadie can’t wait to get away from her backwards small town, her delusional mom, her jailbird dad, and the tiny trailer where she was raised…even though leaving those things behind also means leaving Brendan. Sadie wants a better life, and she has been working steadily toward it, one con at a time.

But when Sadie’s mother wipes out Sadie’s savings, her escape plan is suddenly gone. She needs to come up with a lot of cash—and fast—or she’ll be stuck in this town forever.

With Brendan’s help, she devises a plan—the ultimate con—to get the money. But the more lies Sadie spins, the more she starts falling for her own hoax…and perhaps for the wrong boy. Sadie wanted to change her life, but she wasn't prepared to have it flipped upside down by her own deception. With her future at stake and her heart on the line, suddenly it seems like she has a lot more than just money to lose....

Small Damages by Beth Kephart

It’s senior year, and while Kenzie should be looking forward to prom and starting college in the fall, she is mourning the loss of her father. She finds solace in the one person she trusts, her boyfriend, and she soon finds herself pregnant. Kenzie’s boyfriend and mother do not understand her determination to keep the baby. She is sent to southern Spain for the summer, where she will live out her pregnancy as a cook’s assistant on a bull ranch, and her baby will be adopted by a Spanish couple. 

Alone and resentful in a foreign country, Kenzie is at first sullen and difficult. She begins to open her eyes and her heart to the beauty that is all around her and inside of her.

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally
Sourcebooks Fire/10.1.12

Parker Shelton pretty much has the perfect life. She’s on her way to becoming valedictorian at Hundred Oaks High, she’s made the all-star softball team, and she has plenty of friends. Then her mother’s scandal rocks their small town and suddenly no one will talk to her.

Now Parker wants a new life.

So she quits softball. Drops twenty pounds. And she figures why kiss one guy when she can kiss three? Or four. Why limit herself to high school boys when the majorly cute new baseball coach seems especially flirty?

But how far is too far before she loses herself completely?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head. 
But all that changes when the Lynburns return. 
The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?

I haven't a clue why I've never read anything by Sarah Rees Brennan before Unspoken. From the first pages I was hooked on this newest offering from Brennan, causing me to wonder just what I've been missing all this time!

Kami quickly shaped up to be a  fantastic main characters... and perhaps a new favorite. Right from the start it was obvious she was a funny and whip smart... and she only grew on me as the story progressed. Even though she often takes risks, I never saw Kami as irresponsible or naive. Instead, she sees what needs to be done then goes out and does it.

Readers know from the description that Kami's long time "imaginary friend," that she's talked to in her head for years, turns out to be a real flesh and blood boy, but uncovering why Kami and Jared can communicate telepathically - and all the complications their bond causes - turns out to be a rather delicious treat. I seriously loved that things aren't easy for Kami and Jared, even though they've, in a way, talked and known each other for years. Having your imaginary friend end up being a real person might not be realistic, but the feelings and challenges these two characters experience ring true.

Another aspect of Unspoken that I particularly enjoyed was the relationship between Kami and her best friend. Too often, I find the best friend to be either a pain in the ass or a horrible influence, but Kami has a really kickass best friend. Actually, all Kami's friends are really supportive and awesome. It is so, so nice to see a main character get the support she deserves. *happy dance*

I feel that I can't go into much of a discussion of the actual plot without becoming spoilery, but I loved every twist and turn and, honestly, didn't find Unspoken to be at all predictable. The mystery is pretty neatly wrapped up by the end of the novel, but there were enough loose ends left that there's reason for a next book... which is awesome because I'm rather attached to these characters! 

Random House BFYR, September 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780375870415, 370 pages.

I was able to meet and chat with Sarah Rees Brennan (and Jennifer Lynn Barnes) at this year's RT Convention in Chicago!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

You’d think being a privileged Prince in a vast intergalactic Empire would be about as good as it gets. But it isn’t as great as it sounds. For one thing, Princes are always in danger. Their greatest threat? Other Princes. Khemri discovers that the moment he is proclaimed a Prince. 
He also discovers mysteries within the hidden workings of the Empire. Dispatched on a secret mission, Khemri comes across the ruins of a space battle. In the midst of it all he meets a young woman named Raine, who will challenge his view of the Empire, of Princes, and of himself.

I've always been a huge fan of Garth Nix and his writing, counting all three books in his Abhorsen trilogy among my top fantasy novels, but A Confusion of Princes left me unimpressed. I really liked the idea of A Confusion of Princes. The competitive nature of all the princes, the plotting and assassination attempts, and the secrets were all interesting, but everything seemed so vague and shallow. I never felt like the reader was given any in depth descriptions or explanations, which made it too easy to forget what I'd just read... something that isn't good in any novel, let alone a science fiction novel. 

My biggest complaint regarding A Confusion of Princes is the main character and narrator, Prince Khemri. I felt no connection to him at all. In fact, I found him to be quite whiny and annoying. As the novel progressed, he did improve slightly, for which I was grateful, but I still never found myself actually liking him. Instead, I sometimes wished he would die and stop being reborn so I could somehow have a different main character. Harsh? Maybe, but Khemri and I didn't see eye to eye on much. And, even when I thought that I might be able to connect with him (once he grew up a bit), Nix seemed to rush through situations where I might have come to build a bond with Khemri. This was very disappointing. 

The writing, however, is wonderful. I expect nothing less from Nix. 

Unfortunately, A Confusion of Princes fell short for me, but I wouldn't discourage you from giving this book a chance if you're a big Nix fan or a devoted lover of science fiction. Personally, I prefer Nix's fantasy novels... and if you're reading this review and are reconsidering picking up this book up, PLEASE consider reading any of Nix's other novels, especially Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen! They're excellent!

HarperCollins, May 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780060096946, 352 pages.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Of Poseidon by Anna Banks

Galen, a Syrena prince, searches land for a girl he's heard can communicate with fish. It’s while Emma is on vacation at the beach that she meets Galen. Although their connection is immediate and powerful, Galen's not fully convinced that Emma's the one he's been looking for. That is, until a deadly encounter with a shark proves that Emma and her Gift may be the only thing that can save his kingdom. He needs her help--no matter what the risk.

I was hesitant to read Of Poseidon. If I'm going to read a book about mermaids or sirens, I prefer the mermaids to be a bit more monster than fairy tale. While the mermaids, or Syrena, in Of Poseidon aren't monstrous, they were interesting, and that's what really set this novel apart for me.

The Syrena population is composed of two kingdoms which have been divided for years due to a tragic accident. The only way to repair the rift between the two kingdoms is by royal marriage. Galen thinks he might have found a lost heir to the Poseidon throne. If he's right and Emma really is - somehow - descended from Poseidon, he must convince her to take her rightful place at his brother's side which will reunite the two kingdoms and preserve the Gifts she uniquely carries.

Emma, on the other hand, is just a normal girl... or so she thinks. She's practical, but she can't deny what Galen claims when the proof is right in front of her. Honestly, I'm glad that she didn't try to deny her heritage for a large chunk of the book because it was much more fun to see her embrace and explore her gifts rather than fight them.

There were times that I was unsure of whether I really liked the romantic elements of this novel, but I think, overall, I liked the love story. I enjoyed Galen and Emma together, they definitely had chemistry, but I found their denial of their feelings and Galen's overwhelming commitment to delivering Emma to his brother tiring at times. I understood where he was coming from, but, for goodness sake, if you feel that strongly about a girl, take the time to at least explore other options. Why are you giving in so easily, mister?

I'll definitely be reading the next book, which I hope will take readers off dry land and into the sea. I really would like to learn more about the Syrena and meet more friends of Galen & Co!

Feiwel and Friends, May 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781250003324, 324 pages.

And don't forget to check out the trailer below!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. 
Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. 
Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best. 
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

I can say, without reservation, that I love this book. The beautiful-yet-deadly heroine, political intrigue, magic, mystery, and romance present combine to create something wonderfully epic and compulsively readable. I truly could not put down Throne of Glass... not that I wanted to. There was never a dull moment and, even though I was well aware the book wasn't going to disappear if I took a few hours to sleep, I couldn't tear myself from Celaena's adventures. 

I often find that a trilogy's first installment can be a bit slow due to world building, introductions, etc. Thankfully, Maas finds a way to subtlety weave the large amounts of background information necessary for a well-rounded fantasy novel in without sacrificing the flow of the story or leaving the reader to sift through a huge influx of jumbled information. Determined readers might not have an issue sorting through details and recollecting pertinent information, but I liked the accessibility of Maas' writing. I felt like I could easily hand Throne of Glass to someone who doesn't read a lot of fantasy and they wouldn't be overwhelmed.

I liked Celaena from the start of the novel, but I came to enjoy her voice even more as the novel progressed. She's a strong heroine: independent, motivated, and deadly smart. And, though she tries to hide it at times, desperate for companionship and understanding. Though to some, maybe even Celeaena herself, this could be construed as weakness, but to me, it only made her stronger. And a much more relateable character. 

There didn't seem to be any extraneous characters in Throne of Glass. Each character had a distinct purpose and I found myself forming attachments to those with recurring appearances, especially Captain Westfall. I was a bit surprised when I wasn't a huge fan of Prince Dorian. I'm not sure what it is about him - or if it's just my stubborn mind believing I can only like either the Captain or the Prince - but I found him annoying. It seemed like he often tried to coddle Celaena, who, to me, is much more capable than he could ever dream of being. I like Westfall much better for many reasons, including the fact that he challenges Celaena.

I always thought I'd enjoy Throne of Glass, but I really wasn't expecting the depth and reach this novel would have. Every time I thought "Wow. I can't believe that just happened!" something new and equally intense would occur. Epic is the only word in my vocabulary to describe the scope of Throne of Glass.

I could probably go on and on about Throne of Glass, but I won't. Simply put, I have a new novel to list among my favorites. As I read, I was reminded of Maria V. Snyder's books and, interestingly enough, the video game Oblivion. I love, love, love the idea of these two things merging and that's exactly how Throne of Glass feels to me. Maybe I'm one of the few who are excited by this concept, but it's definitely how I'll be pitching this novel to my friends.

Bloomsbury, August 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781599906959, 416 pages.

And don't forget to check out the trailer below!

Bout of Books 4.0 {Readathon}

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon

My Goals

  1. PARTICIPATE. I'll admit it, I suck at readathons. Something always comes up, but this time I'm in for reals! This is serious business.
  2. Read at least 5 books. Even though this readathon lasts 6 days, I'm giving myself some leeway. Just in case I run into a book that I end up slogging through (I'm really hoping I won't run into any books that I just can't finish) or I end up working an unexpectedly draining shift at work or something.

Books To Read

  1. A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
  2. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
  3. Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers
  4. Fated by Alyson Noel
  5. This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

Number of books I’ve read today: 0.5
Total number of books I’ve read: 0
Books: I've finished half of A Confusion of Princes, but I'm setting it aside for a bit. I'm not connecting with the MC and it's slowing me down.

Number of books I’ve read today: 0
Total number of books I’ve read: 0
Books: I started Fated, but, again, I don't like the MC. Whhhyyyy is this happening? :(

Number of books I’ve read today:
Total number of books I’ve read:

Number of books I’ve read today: 0.5
Total number of books I’ve read: 1
Books: A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix.

Number of books I’ve read today: 2
Total number of books I’ve read: 3
Books: Wool by Hugh Howey, Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Number of books I’ve read today:
Total number of books I’ve read:

Number of books I've read today:
Total number of books I've read:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

Mackenzie and Amy were best friends. Until Amy was brutally murdered. 
Since then, Mac’s life has been turned upside down. She is being haunted by Amy in her dreams, and an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Mac’s hometown of Hemlock to hunt down Amy’s killer: A white werewolf. 
Lupine syndrome—also known as the werewolf virus—is on the rise across the country. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control. 
Wanting desperately to put an end to her nightmares, Mac decides to investigate Amy’s murder herself. She discovers secrets lurking in the shadows of Hemlock, secrets about Amy’s boyfriend, Jason, her good pal Kyle, and especially her late best friend. Mac is thrown into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal that puts her life at risk. 
Kathleen Peacock’s thrilling novel is the first in the Hemlock trilogy, a spellbinding urban fantasy series filled with provocative questions about prejudice, trust, lies, and love.

I usually avoid werewolf books, so it says something that I was intrigued enough by the premise of Hemlock to pick it up. Though, I admit, the title might have been one of my deciding factors. And that the cover model is wearing a purple dress. I do have a penchant for purple...

Luckily, I ended up enjoying the werewolf aspects of this novel quite a lot... perhaps more than any other werewolf novel I've read. Definitely enough that I'm excited to continue with the next installment and maybe enough that I'll give some other werewolf books a chance. 

In Hemlock, werewolves are public knowledge... and most of the public isn't a fan. The disease that afflicts those who shift into wolves is known as lupine syndrome and is remarkably easy to spread. In a supposed effort to slow and eliminate the spread of the disease, those infected are sent to camps reminiscent of internment camps. The public, and the reader, are only given a vague impression of what goes on in these camps, but I'm hoping that this idea will be further explored in the second book.

The novel centers on Mackenzie, a girl dealing with her best friend's murder by a werewolf. Amy's death was one of four among a series of attacks and the person, or wolf, behind the gruesome murders is still free. Mac can't stop dreaming about Amy and believes the only way to stop her from haunting her sleep is to find out what happened the night her boyfriend found her torn apart in an alley. It doesn't take long for Mac to discover that people - and werewolves - are not at all what they seem... 

Add to the mix that Amy is the daughter of a Senator. Making what might have been a small story into a media frenzy... especially when the Senator, a previous supporter of werewolf rights, completely reverses his stance, going so far as to invite an extremist group known as Trackers into the small town of Hemlock. The Trackers are there under the guise of looking into Amy's death... and crack down on local werewolves. The law stands aside as the Trackers overwhelm Hemlock, recruiting local teens and going to whatever means necessary to root out those hiding their abilities. It doesn't take long for Jason, one of Mac's best friends, Amy's boyfriend - and the one that found her dead - is lured in by the extremist group by the idea of violent retribution.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the paranormal parts of this novel, there were some other aspects that seemed forced to me. As much as it pains me to say it, I wasn't invested in Hemlock's romantic plot lines. The love interests were all right, but neither really popped for me. I really liked them as characters and can't wait to see how they develop in subsequent novels, but I couldn't bring myself to care who Mac ended up. I'm very hopeful that I'll see some kind of spark or more chemistry in the next book, but, as of right now, I was a bit bored every time there was a romance related scene. I just wanted to learn more about the werewolves and the murders and skip the love scenes.

Despite the fact that the romance missed the mark for me, I really did enjoy Hemlock. The mystery was intense, the paranormal aspects well developed, and discussion of how the public was handling (or not handling) the spread of lupine syndrome was extremely interesting. It appears there will be a change of scenery for book two, and, I won't lie, I wish I had it in my hands right now!

HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, May 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780062048653, 400 pages.

Can't afford to run out and buy yourself a copy of Hemlock when it releases on May 8th? Here's you chance to win my arc! Enter below using the handy Rafflecopter form!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Win Kristina McBride's One Moment and The Tension of Opposites

Last year, the talented Kristina McBride released her debut novel, The Tension of Opposites. This novel quickly became one of my favorites, so I was beyond excited when a copy of her sophomore novel, One Moment, landed itself in my mailbox. I devoured this newest offering and now I'm passing it one lucky reader! 

In addition to the One Moment arc, the winner will also received a signed paperback copy of The Tension of Opposites, which I'm quoted in! 

Be sure to check out my reviews of these novels as well!

Interested!? Fill out the Rafflecopter from below to enter your name and win both of these amazing novels!

Review: Storybound by Marissa Burt

In the land of Story, children go to school to learn to be characters: a perfect Hero, a trusty Sidekick, even the most dastardly Villain. They take classes on Outdoor Experiential Questing and Backstory, while adults search for full-time character work in stories written just for them. 
In our world, twelve-year-old Una Fairchild has always felt invisible. But all that changes when she stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, opens the cover, and suddenly finds herself transported to the magical land of Story. 
But Story is not a perfect fairy tale. Una’s new friend Peter warns her about the grave danger she could face if anyone discovers her true identity. The devious Tale Keeper watches her every move. And there are whispers of a deadly secret that seems to revolve around Una herself.... 
With the timeless appeal of books like A Wrinkle in Time and the breathtaking action of Inkheart, Storybound has all the makings of a new classic. Brimming with fantastical creatures, magical adventure, and heart-stopping twists, Storybound will leave readers wishing they too could jump through the pages into this enchanting fairy-tale world.

Fantastic storytelling, a creative premise, and smart dialogue collide in Marissa Burt's Storybound

Una is a captivating main character that any young reader will identify with... and maybe even wish to switch places with. She's is a smart, sassy young girl that fits into the world of Story surprisingly well... though I have a feeling many bookish people would. I liked that Una quickly got over the "this isn't possible!" phase and moved into the "let's kick some butt" phase. Una - and the reader - leave reality entirely behind and welcome the fantastical world of Story with open arms!

Storybound is compared to Inkheart, which I adore, and they do have similarities, but, for me, they had very different pacing and atmosphere. Storybound is a very fast-paced story with slow scenes primarily nonexistent. For readers that dislike wading through unnecessary detail, Storybound is a great fit.

On the downside, I sometimes felt like parts of Storybound were confusing or didn't fit well. I think this was because of the pace... details were either being cut out or I was missing them as the story flew by. There was so much going on and so many new characters popping up that I sometimes struggled to understand why particular twists were necessary. By the end of the novel, I felt that there were many unresolved issues and the author was going to have a lot of explaining to do in subsequent novels. Hopefully young readers won't encounter the same confusion I did.

In Storybound, Una spends most of her time with characters from fairy tales and I'd really like to learn more about the characters-in-training from other types of books as well. While Storybound mentioned many characters, it'd be great be introduced to a few other characters... add more children to Una's motley crew as she goes up against the villainous leaders of Story.

Storybound was a fun read and I'm definitely curious to see what become of Una and the land of Story!

HarperCollins Children's, April 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780062020529, 416 pages.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

Sophomore year broke Clementine Williams’ heart. She fell for her best friend’s boyfriend and long story short: he’s excused, but Clem is vilified and she heads into summer with zero social life. Enter her parents’ plan to spend the summer on their sailboat. Normally the idea of being stuck on a tiny boat with her parents and little sister would make Clem break out in hives, but floating away sounds pretty good right now. Then she meets James at one of their first stops along the river. He and his dad are sailing for the summer and he’s just the distraction Clem needs. Can he break down Clem’s walls and heal her broken heart? 
Told in alternating chapters that chronicle the year that broke Clem’s heart and the summer that healed it, Unbreak My Heart is a wonderful dual love story that fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Susane Colasanti will flock to.

Goodness, I love this novel. Unbreak My Heart is just... perfect. Simple, yet filled with such emotional depth and meaning that I wanted to simultaneously hug it to my chest and thrust it at my roommate and command that she read it immediately.

I'll admit, the cover is quite girly. I think it's adorable, but I know that some readers might look at it and see fluff. Unbreak My Heart is not fluff. It does, however, have a hopefulness to it that the cover illustrates in ways. I like that Clementine is on a boat in the middle of nowhere with nothing on the horizon... to me, this is reminiscent of Clem's state of mind throughout most of the novel. Still, don't judge this book by it's cover! It's light enough to be a beach read in that's it's fairly straightforward and isn't dark and twisted, but that doesn't mean it's fluff. (I mean, look at Anna and the French Kiss... the cover looks fluffy, not to mention the cutesy title, but Anna is not fluffy!)

I adore the characters in Unbreak My Heart. All of them. They all felt real to me and I loathed to leave them behind when I finished the novel. Clem is surrounded by such wonderful people that you just knew that she'd make it through her rough patch... even if this wasn't a YA novel with a pink cover, I know Clem would have been just fine.

One of the best aspects of this novel is the fact that, while Clem is distressed over having fallen for her best friend's boyfriend, she much more worried about her relationship with her best friend than with the boy. Yes! This is so, so important to me. In addition, I liked that the novel dealt with the double standard of the best friend getting ditched while the boyfriend is forgiven.

Annnnd of course there's romance. And it's wonderful and hopeful and fresh! Sometimes I get so discouraged by all those star-crossed lovers and messy love triangles - especially when my real love life features messiness way too often. It's nice to see something lighthearted and positive. It was such a relief to see someone healthy enter into a heroine's life... that simplicity is refreshing. And, honestly, unique in comparison with I've been reading lately.

Unbreak My Heart is contemporary YA at it's best. I can't stress enough how firmly this book has wedged itself in my heart. Read it! You won't be disappointed.

Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, May 2012, ISBN: 9781599905280, 240 pages.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: The Night She Disappeared by April Henry

Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also works part time as a delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza. One night, Kayla—another delivery girl—goes missing. 
To her horror, Gabie learns that the supposed kidnapper had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working that night. 
Gabie can’t move beyond the fact that Kayla’s fate was really meant for her, and she becomes obsessed with finding Kayla. She teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together, they set out to prove that Kayla isn’t dead—and to find her before she is.

April Henry's novels are, in a word, addicting. The mystery and foreshadowing are so well done that it's near impossible for the reader to walk away... even for a few hours. Henry is one of those rare authors that keep the reader guessing and add just the right amount of creepiness and fear that you can't help but stare, transfixed. 

I enjoyed Henry's last offering, Girl, Stolen, but, to me, it was nothing compared to the intensity of The Night She Disappeared. Everyone knows to be wary of strangers, but I sometimes forget that working in customer service puts you directly in front of strangers every day. I'm a hostess and, honestly, after reading this book, I now look at customers in a whole different light. That's what's so powerful about The Night She Disappeared... the events in the novel don't seem all that far-fetched. 

In my opinion, the aspect of this novel that makes it most unique is the fact that the story isn't from the kidnapped girl's point of view, but Gabie's - the girl who got away. Gabie's fear was palpable and her unease reached from the pages and gripped me as I read. I was, admittedly, a bit jumpy. When would the creep be back for Gabie?

Also present in the novel is a small romantic plot line. It may seem out of place, considering the seriousness of the novel, but Henry integrated it well. For me, it didn't seem misplaced, as traumatic, high-stress events often cause people to come together in unexpected ways. Thankfully, Gabie's romance didn't seem false or forced.

Readers looking for a high-intensity mystery at a fast pace should consider April Henry's The Night She Disappeared - you won't be disappointed!

Henry Holt & Co BFYR, Hardcover, March 2012, ISBN: 9780805092622, 240 pages.