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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

Emme, Sophie, Ethan, and Carter are seniors at a performing arts school, getting ready for their Senior Showcase recital, where the pressure is on to appeal to colleges, dance academies, and professionals in show business. For Sophie, a singer, it's been great to be friends with Emme, who composes songs for her, and to date Carter, soap opera heartthrob who gets plenty of press coverage. Emme and Ethan have been in a band together through all four years of school, but wonder if they could be more than just friends and bandmates. Carter has been acting since he was a baby, and isn't sure how to admit that he'd rather paint than perform. The Senior Showcase is going to make or break each of the four, in a funny, touching, spectacular finale that only Elizabeth Eulberg could perform.

For me, reading an Elizabeth Eulberg novel is like cleansing my mental palate. After I've read something particularly heavy, it's nice to give my brain a break by picking up a lighthearted novel with a quick pace and engaging characters, characteristics synonymous with her novels.

Take a Bow is the quintessential Eulberg novel... and it might be my favorite so far. Actually, I feel like this newest release had a bit more depth than The Lonely Hearts Club and significantly more than Prom & Prejudice. I really came to love Emme and Ethan and I don't think I've ever felt particularly attached to any of the characters in the other books, though I've definitely enjoyed them.

As a completely non-artistic person, I always find novels about those who are talented in this area fascinating. I know academic pressure, but competitive performing arts schools are a totally foreign concept to me and are a bit awe-inspiring. I find myself drawn to books and movies with this theme.

Despite being totally non-artistic, I closely identified with Emme. She's extremely shy and often overshadowed by the bossy and overbearing Sophie. I wanted Emme to step out of Sophie's shadow so badly... somebody had to take that girl down a notch!

Take a Bow has some darker elements that weren't present in Eulberg's first two novels. This offering addresses substance abuse and, to some extent, the ill effects of childhood celebrity, whether it be actual big-screen fame or hometown fame. I think the depth present in Take a Bow is what, ultimately, made it shine.

If you're a fan of Eulberg's novels, or you haven't read one but think you might like to, be sure to pick up Take a Bow.

Scholastic/Point, April 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780545334748, 278 pages.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past. 
Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

I'll start by saying I'm a huge fan of Kristin Cashore's novels. I was completely in awe of Graceling and Fire and can honestly say that there isn't anything I'd change about them. I'm sure they have their flaws, but I enjoyed every last bit of each page, line, and paragraph. That said, my expectations for Bitterblue were ridiculously high. Sometimes, I'm worried to read highly anticipated novels: I don't want to be let down after all the buildup. Bitterblue, however, didn't worry me one bit... Cashore took her time with this novel and I had a feeling she wouldn't send anything less than her best out into the hands of her fans.

I'm a long time lover of fantasy, but, too often, YA lacks the epic scope that first called me to the fantasy genre. This is definitely not the case with any of Cashore's novels. She's skilled at fitting an epic story line into a relatively small amount of pages (compared to, for example, the many, many volumes Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks employ). Perhaps it's wrong of me to compare these three authors - they are definitely all very different - but the world building and character development of epic fantasy is wonderfully present in each of these authors' novels and it continually surprises me that Cashore is able to do it so succinctly.

I adored Cashore's first two heroines, but I think Bitterblue is, ultimately, my favorite. I love her quiet, unexpected strength. I respect Katsa, but she's quite forceful... Bitterblue is exactly what Monsea needed to heal after the tyrannical reign of her father.

Like Fire and Graceling, Bitterblue also has a romance element. I'm always head over heels for the men in these novels... but Cashore never makes these love stories easy. And, though I yearn for happily ever after in every love story I read, I respect Cashore for creating and maintaining a necessary obstacles. In this way, despite the fantastical elements of these novels, they still feel real.

And it isn't just the romance that lends itself to realism. It's present in the growth and maturation of Bitterblue, the betrayal of those who promised trustworthiness, and the loss and suffering experienced while a country is at war. Cashore manages to offer her readers a place to slip away from everyday life, while still keeping their eyes open. It's escapism with a very real message. It's quite wonderful.

I'm forever recommending Cashore's novels and Bitterblue will be no exception. I seriously cannot wait to see what Cashore offers readers next. In the meantime, I'll happily revisit Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue.

Penguin/Dial, May 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 8780803734735, 545 pages.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Revived by Cat Patrick

As a little girl, Daisy Appleby was killed in a school bus crash. Moments after the accident, she was brought back to life. 
A secret government agency has developed a drug called Revive that can bring people back from the dead, and Daisy Appleby, a test subject, has been Revived five times in fifteen years. Daisy takes extraordinary risks, knowing that she can beat death, but each new death also means a new name, a new city, and a new life. When she meets Matt McKean, Daisy begins to question the moral implications of Revive, and as she discovers the agency’s true goals, she realizes she’s at the center of something much larger — and more sinister — than she ever imagined.

With its relateable main character, interesting premise, and mysterious atmosphere, Cat Patrick's Revived was impossible to put down. I read it in one sitting and, upon finishing, immediately wanted more.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Revived... I wasn't a huge fan of Forgotten and I worried the same would be true of Patrick's sophomore novel. My main complaints regarding Forgotten were the lack of depth and the abrupt ending, and I worried that Revived would have the same bothersome issues. While I did find the ending, once again, rather abrupt, it didn't irk me near as much as with Forgotten.  In addition, I felt Revived had more depth and was genuinely interesting.

I loved the whole idea of this novel and the drug Revive. It was interesting to see how Daisy's feeling and thoughts about the drug changed as she grew up and things became harder to categorize as simple black and white. I felt for Daisy... As they say, ignorance is bliss, but, ultimately, she was better off having her beliefs challenged and gaining knowledge, however difficult it was to swallow.

Revived also features a rather adorable love story. I thought it was extremely well done and didn't detract from the main story... it actually made sense that it was there and added an edge and intensity that would have been otherwise absent. 

I highly recommend Revived... Cat Patrick has definitely won me over with this novel. I can't wait to read her next offering, The Originals!

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May 2012, Hardcover, 304 pages

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Lara Zielin

Sixteen-year-old Aggie Winchester couldn't care less about who's elected prom queen-even if it's her pregnant Goth-girl best friend, Sylvia Ness. Aggie's got bigger things to worry about, like whether or not her ex-boyfriend wants to get back together and whether her mom will survive cancer. 
But like it or not, Aggie soon finds herself in the middle of an unfolding prom scandal, largely because her mom, who is the school's principal, is rumored to have burned prom ballots so Sylvia won't be elected queen. Aggie's own investigation makes her wonder if the election could be dirty on both sides.

 The Implosion of Aggie Winchester proved to be a relatively quick read that managed to tackle multiple issues simultaneously, including teen pregnancy, the acceptance of the "goth" culture, the political ramifications of both of these issues (at the high school level), cancer, and unhealthy relationships. Admittedly, none of these topics are explored too deeply, but they're all touched upon and interconnected in a cohesive manner.

The plot centers around Aggie and her best friend, Sylvia. Both girls are goth, but the reader quickly discovers that, though they dress the same, they definitely don't think the same, nor are they goth for the same reasons. Aggie uses her dress and attitude as a way to keep people at arm's length, while Sylvia seems to use it for attention, having no problem allowing people to get close to her. Sylvia seems to find herself invincible, even after discovering she's pregnant by one of the most popular boys in school. Aggie, on the other hand, if completely aware of just how vulnerable she is.

When Sylvia is nominated for prom queen, she sees it as her chance to prove her worthiness to the father of her baby. Sylvia's peers find that they have more in common with her than the stereotypical girls who usually take the crown and rally behind her. The school's staff, however, regard the prom queen as a role model... a role that a pregnant goth girl is in no position to fill. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a scandal ensues.

The scandal is definitely the main focus of The Implosion of Aggie Winchester, but it was the other smaller issues that drew my focus. Throughout the novel Aggie is struggling to let go of her ex-boyfriend, who is, for all intents and purposes, leading her on and keeping her emotionally involved to use her whenever he feels like it. In short, he's not a good guy and is messing with Aggie's head for his own gain. Even if I hadn't dealt with this type of guy in real life, I still would have been rooting for Aggie to find enough self-respect to tell this guy to take a hike. And, to let you in on a little secret, Aggie may have given me a bit of courage to do the same! 

This sophomore offering from Lara Zielin was a great read on multiple levels. It dealt with some serious issues and featured a main character that clearly grows throughout the novel, while incorporating a budding romance and humor. I definitely recommend it.

Putnam Juvenile, August 2011, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780399254110, 278 pages.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando

Jane has traveled the world with her father and brother, but it's not until her fractured family-still silently suffering from the loss of Jane's mother many years before-inherits a house and a history in Coney Island that she finally begins to find a home. With the help of a new community of friends, a mermaid's secrets, and a tattooed love interest with traffic-stopping good looks, the once plain Jane begins to blossom and gains the courage to explore the secrets of her mother's past.  
Colorful characters, beautiful writing, and a vibrant, embattled beachfront backdrop make this the perfect summer read for anyone who has ever tried to find true love or a place to call home.


First off, I love the cover of Dreamland Social Club. It's bright, eye-catching, and features a mermaid... It's kind of hard not to notice it, whether it's the kind of book you'd normally pick up or not. I'll be honest, I bought it based solely on my positive response to the cover, without knowing much about the actual plot.

Still, after reading the description, I knew that Dreamland Social Club was a novel I could potentially fall head-over-heels for. In fact, I was excited that the novel was set on Coney Island. The references to the theme parks that, at one time, enthralled visitors and employed the island's population were definitely my favorite part of the novel.

Unfortunately, despite the wonderful setting, Dreamland Social Club didn't win me over in the end. There were simply too many aspects that bothered me. 
  1. Jane's immediate feelings and preoccupation with the tattooed love interest, Leo, was an immediate turn off. There was zero tension and I couldn't understand how she developed feelings for him so quickly.
  2. I always felt a bit confused about how I was supposed to feel about the theme parks. Sometimes I felt like they were being portrayed as magical and wondrous, other times I felt like they were a bit creepy and shady... Honestly, I'm still confused.
  3. Jane's brother seemed like an ass, yet it never seemed to faze her. If he were my brother, I definitely would have had some strong words for him.
  4. The characters had very little depth. Even though I finished the novel only a handful of days ago, they're already becoming difficult recall.
I could probably go on, but I don't think it's really necessary. It's obvious that this book and I didn't mesh well. I was looking for more depth and the romantic elements held little magic for me.

But, if Dreamland Social Club sounds like something you might enjoy, please don't let my opinion stop you from picking it up! In fact, one of my bestest blogging friends, Katie (from Sophistikatied Reviews) adored this book! Check out a couple positive reviews below:

Sophistikatied Reviews:

365 Days of Reading:

Dutton Juvenile, May 2011 Hardcover, ISBN: 9780525423256, 389 pages

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Touching the Surface

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine!

Touching the Surface by Kim Sabatini
Simon Pulse/10.30.2012

Life altering mistakes are meant to alter lives… 

When Elliot dies for the third time, she knows this is her last shot. There are no fourth-timers in this afterlife, so one more chance is all she has to get things right. But before she can move on to her next life, Elliot will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed. 

As she pieces together the mistakes of her past, Elliot must earn the forgiveness of her best friend and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever. 


I'm very curious about this book. I haven't really heard much about it, but the premise sound interesting and the cover is pretty. I wonder what part the birds will play in the novel...? Why can Elliot only die three times? Why does she kill people? Hmmm...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Top Ten Contemporary YA Titles (with Romance!)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Contemporary YA is kind of my thing. Throw in some romance and I'm hooked. BUT not all YA contemp novels are created equally... and some of those potentially great love stories fall flat. Luckily, I'm here to point you in the direction of a few that didn't disappoint!

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
Rothenberg's debut surprised me... I wasn't really expecting, or looking for depth, but that's what I ended up finding. And the characters have just sort of stuck around in my head. Loved it!

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
To be honest, I've always kind of hated football. Luckily, Kenneally writes a pretty fantastic love story - and you don't have to care about football one bit to fall for this book.

Stay by Deb Caletti
This is my favorite Deb Caletti book, hands down. I adored the comparison of the main character's past unhealthy relationship to new,  healthy one that develops throughout the novel.

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
Why are road trips so damn amazing? The music and romance in this book kept me glued to its pages.

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
This book is so romantic to me. Some of my all time favorite quotes originate within its pages as well.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
I'm pretty sure I almost hyperventilated while reading this book. Such a powerful novel in general, but it features a pretty steamy romance as well.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
My favorite part of this romantic plot line was the humor... I was officially in love with Roger by the end of the book.

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Love/Hate relationships usually suck in real life, but Keplinger made me want one anyway. Plus the romantic lead bears a happy resemblance to Logan Echolls (in my mind at least).

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
I don't think Echols will ever write a romance that I love more than this one. I think John After is my ultimate book boy crush... Gotta love a man in uniform!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Oh, St. Clair. There aren't even words for you

Also, in writing this post, I've realized that most of my favorites are a bit old... Do you have any titles (recent or older) that you recommend I pick up???

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night. 
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

I honestly have no idea how to start this review... I'm still a bit in awe of The Night Circus. Morgenstern's debut is one that I picked up based solely on recommendations and reviews, as I'd never heard of it before blog posts and blurbs started popping up. I'm really not sure I even read the description prior to deciding to buy it. Still, it sat gathering dust on my bookshelf for about six months before I found the time to sit down and read it... and  immediately begin silently berating myself for letting it sit unread for so long!

I was 30 pages in when I realized just how amazingly well-written and fantastical The Night Circus was going to be. I think I knew, even early on, that this novel would become one of my all-time favorites. It's been quite awhile since there has been a story that comes close to rivaling my long time favorite, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, but The Night Circus came close to causing an upset. Both novels feature a plot that slowly builds in intensity, a gorgeous love story, and wonderful secondary characters. 

I think it's the secondary characters that have the biggest impact on my opinion of these novels. Comparably, it isn't that difficult to write a lovable main character or romantic interest, but it takes skill to write a troupe of three-dimensional characters, each with their own unforgettable traits.

I've always found the circus to be a rather magical place and this idea has only been reinforced by The Night Circus. I really can't even express how much I adored Morgenstern's descriptions of the various circus tents... I wanted to lose myself in those descriptions forever. It was almost like the Harry Potter effect, in which the reader finds herself wishing and wishing that her own letter would arrive inviting her to study at the infamous Hogwarts and she'd promptly be whisked away to a castle with moving staircases and secret passages. If this magial place was real, I think I'd run away to join the circus.

I truly don't have words to describe how deeply moved I was by The Night Circus and how very highly I recommend it. Read this book... you won't regret it!

Doubleday, Hardcover, September 2011, ISBN: 9780385534639, 387 pages

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else. 
And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel. 
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs wasn't quite what I was expecting. For some unknown reason, I had assumed that the novel would immediately launch into something at least vaguely recognizable as "The Snow Queen," but that wasn't the case. In retrospect, this makes sense and gives Breadcrumbs a modern, semi-believable feel. It is, in some ways, comparable to the Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

It wasn't until Hazel begins her trek through the magical woods to rescue her best friend that I truly fell for this story. I generally don't pick up middle grade level novels, but I'm making a distinct effort to venture outside of the YA realm. Picking up Breadcrumbs is the result of this effort - and marks my first foray into MG in quite some time. Because of this, I am still not completely comfortable with the MG pace and voice, which was especially present in the beginning of the novel. Once Hazel entered the forest, these troubling aspects faded into the background. I think that if I read more MG this probably would not have been the case, but I'm not used to the thinking of younger characters just yet.

The description of people and things Hazel encounters within the forest - and the stories she hears and lessons she learns - are what truly set Breadcrumbs apart. I loved the magical explanations for the disappointments of everyday life. Hazel and her best friend, Jack, didn't just grow apart, there was something much more complicated, and fantastical, going on.

I feel that if I read more MG, I might be more aware of certain nuances and other characteristics that set this book apart, but as of right now, I am only aware of the fact that Breadcrumbs is a very special novel. It's difficult for me to explain why, but I know that I would have adored this novel when I was younger, especially as I transitioned from elementary school to middle school and was experiencing the loss of my old friends and acquiring new acquaintances. I highly recommend Breadcrumbs to children and adults alike.

Walden Pond Press, Hardcover, September 2011, ISBN: 9780062015051, 313 pages