Sunday, July 31, 2011

Summer Giveaway Hop

My Summer Giveaway Hop is in celebration of YA Rising Stars Event.  Thanks to Kathy over at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Mary at Bookhounds for hosting the Giveaway Hop.

I am giving away a signed copy of each of the four books below.  Click on the covers for more information about each of the books.  There will be a total of 4 winners.  One for each book. 

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section,you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest. Any comments with personal information WILL BE deleted.

2. The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. PDT on Monday, August 1, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. PDT on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

3. You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.

4. You must be a follower of the blog.

5. If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail. If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.

6. International participants are welcome to enter the contest.

Please note: Participants will only be able to win one of the four books.  If your name is selected for one of the books, you will eliminated from the other 3 drawings.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Getting Caught Up: Angelfire + ARC Giveaway

Author: Courtney Allison Moulton
Published: Katherine Tegen Books (February 15, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: For Review, Also purchased a copy
Young Adult * Urban Fantasy * Paranormal

Description from Goodreads:

When seventeen-year-old Ellie starts seeing reapers - monstrous creatures who devour humans and send their souls to Hell - she finds herself on the front lines of a supernatural war between archangels and the Fallen and faced with the possible destruction of her soul.

A mysterious boy named Will reveals she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior, the only one capable of wielding swords of angelfire to fight the reapers, and he is an immortal sworn to protect her in battle. Now that Ellie's powers have been awakened, a powerful reaper called Bastian has come forward to challenge her. He has employed a fierce assassin to eliminate her - an assassin who has already killed her once.

While balancing her dwindling social life and reaper-hunting duties, she and Will discover Bastian is searching for a dormant creature believed to be a true soul reaper. Bastian plans to use this weapon to ignite the End of Days and to destroy Ellie's soul, ending her rebirth cycle forever. Now, she must face an army of Bastian's most frightening reapers, prevent the soul reaper from consuming her soul, and uncover the secrets of her past lives - including truths that may be too frightening to remember.

Although I'm quite a few months late, I finally read and enjoyed Angelfire from debut author Courtney Allison Moulton. This was highly buzzed about during the months leading up to its released and Angelfire was one of those novels that I knew I would like before I read it. I liked that it was urban fantasy -- I love paranormal stories that have more active female heroines with paranormal elements happening in big cities. I liked how the world of Angelfire seemed to coexist with the world of present-day Detroit. One of the novel's strengths I think was the world-building. I fully understood the rules and intricacies of this paranormal world. Although some of the angel mythology (one of my favorite paranormal "creatures") was familiar from religion/folklore and other novels, there was a lot of originality incorporated into Angelfire that Moulton did a great job of explaining and developing. In Angelfire, beyond just angels, Heaven, Hell, and the usual, there is a dimension called The Grim, creatures called reapers, a general creepiness that makes this probably the most unique 'angel book' I've ever read. Not to sound morbid, but I really loved the darkness and violence of this world.

The characters were also very well-developed. I'm usually attracted to the male lead in most books, but I am completely sincere when I say that Will is probably one of my new book boyfriends. I really liked his history as a character, and the quirks and characterization was really well done. Not too much brooding, not too much bravado. I loved him! Ellie, our protagonist was likable too. For the most part she was strong without being aggressive and her relationship with Will was sweet. I was mostly intrigued by the guys in Angelfire, though. Ellie's dad is a character I couldn't quite wrap my head around. His relationship with Ellie is so complex and much more dynamic than her relationship with her mother. I kept waiting for something to be revealed about him... I guess I'll have to wait for the next two books to see if I'm just being paranoid. Similarly, Will's friend, Nathaniel, and archrival, Cadan (who won't really have a large role until later in the series) were interesting and well-rounded. Even the male villain piqued my interest. Moulton just does a great job with characters, especially male characters.

The plot was also very interesting. It developed at a great pace -- I almost couldn't put the novel down -- and there are several revelations near the end that came out of left field... in a good way! I love it when I can't instantly predict the trajectory of a series after the first book, which is the case with Angelfire. There is something about Angelfire that I can't put my finger on, but I just loved. There were some small issues I had with it. I felt that once Ellie realized her feelings for Will, her character lost some of her funny sassiness and became more fragile and on-the-verge-of-tears compared to the first half of the book. Also, Ellie's human life was left unresolved many times when jumping between her reaper duties and her regular life. There were a few other hiccups that bothered me, but at the same time I was really drawn to this story and its characters. I really liked it and can't wait for the sequel, Wings of the Wicked in 2012. I'd recommend this to fans of Lauren Kate's Fallen series and Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series.

Courtney Allison Moulton lives in Michigan, where she is a photographer and spends all her free time riding and showing horses. She has always loved reading about ancient mythologies, studying dead languages, and telling scary, romantic stories. Angelfire is her debut novel. You can follow her on twitter: @CAMoulton or on her blog:

Her official website is:

Complete the form below for a chance to win an Advanced Reader Copy of Angelfire Please read contest rules carefully.


1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section (it will be deleted if you do), you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
2. The contest runs from July 28 to 11:59 PM Pacific Time on August 8, 2011.
3. You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
4. If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail. If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
5. This contest is open in US and Canada only. (Sorry international followers!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Sorry, I'm so late in getting this posted, but the winner of a hardcover copy of Divergent is:


Congratulations, Sandy! By now we should have contacted you and your book should be on it's way. Thanks to everyone who entered. Better luck next time -- there's always another contest around the corner.

Book Review: Anya's Ghost

Author/Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
Publisher: First Second Books (June 7, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased a copy
Graphic Novel * Paranormal * Young Adult 

Description from Goodreads:
Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part . . . Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. Or so she thinks. Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya’s Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

Last summer, I discovered the world of graphic novels, particularly those for children and teens. (Yes, they have been around for a long-time, but I was slow in catching up.)   As I made them a part of my regular book diet, I also found ways to use them in working with children.  Consequently, I have tried to take note of new releases.  One of those new releases that caught my eye was Vera Brosgol's debut graphic novel - Anya's Ghost.

One of the qualities in a graphic novel that appeals to me is the creator's ability to deal with elements of real life in a way that will connect with readers.  Brosgol's first book does exactly this.  Her debut deals with themes familiar to most teens - fitting in, crushes, family relationships & expectations, friendship, decisions & consequences, and also how all this is made more complicated by being an immigrant. However, Brosgol doesn't stop there.  The real twist comes with the introduction of a century old ghost who is more than eager and willing to be Anya's BFF.  

Another aspect of the book that made the story work for me was that Anya truly grows as a character.  Through her experiences and interactions with her new friend, Anya comes to learn more about herself, those around her and what is important in life.  This can be tricky in a YA story.  How do you talk about things like being responsible or making hard decisions without coming across as preachy?  Brosgol manages to do it with humor, and sincerity.  

I also loved Brosgol's illustrative style.  Here is where I struggle....I lack all the right words to best describe how the simple color scheme used throughout the book fits the mood and theme or how the art is engaging and fun.  I am sure that there is a way to do this but unfortunately, I seem to lack the right words.  Maybe the best way to share about Brosgol's style is to share with you the official book trailer.

Check out the official book trailer for Anya's Ghost:

I am excited to add Vera Brosgol to my list of graphic novelists to keep an eye on.  She has a solid debut and I look forward to future books from this talented artist and writer. 

Vera Brosgol details the process she used to create Anya's Ghost.  Click here to read it.

Here is an interview with Vera Brosgol by Macmillan:
Check out Vera Brosgol's website:

Follow Vera Brosgol on Twitter: @verabee

Find her on Facebook:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bookstore Touring in Connecticut: Final Post

Over the past few days, I have gotten to visit some bookstore gems in Connecticut.  (For a complete list of Bookstores listed with the New England Independent Booksellers Association, click here.) Here are the final two stores that I had the pleasure to stop by while visiting my parents.  First up, Elm Street Books in New Canaan, Connecticut:

For all the years that I had lived in Connecticut and on the east coast, I never drove down to New Canaan, Connecticut.  This gave me a perfect excuse to go visit.  My sister and I headed down for brunch at Le Pain Quotidien. After a yummy meal, we walked a half a block to Elm Street Books.  For a small store, it has a wonderful selection of both children and adult books.  On this particular weekend morning, it was quite busy with customers browsing for books, and children searching for books for their summer reading list.

When we finished our visit to New Canaan, we headed east to visit Breakwater Books in Guilford.  

This tiny bookstore was quiet on an overcast Sunday afternoon.  The store carries both adult and children's books.  And, I was pleased to see that they had quite a few titles in their children's section including many recent releases. 

I also loved the picture book corner with it's fun steps to climb or sit on to share stories.

Hope you have enjoyed this little series on independent bookstores in Connecticut.  I know I had fun visiting all of these great places.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bookstore Touring in Connecticut, Part 4

Today, my tour of Independent Connecticut Bookstores continued.  I actually made it out to Madison, Connecticut which is the home of RJ Julia Bookstore. I had heard about RJ Julia on twitter and knew I wanted to make this a priority in places to visit.  Several authors have tweeted about book signings at the store.  Most recently, Stephen Savage - creator of Where's Walrus? - signed there on July 16, 2011.

There was signed stock!  WooHoo!
RJ Julia is a great place to visit.  And people obviously know this because the store had a great crowd milling about flipping through books and hanging around.  In one corner, a teen was intently reading a book.  The children's section was busy with parents and children searching out their favorite books with enthusiasm.  In another room, which appeared to be filled with travel books, customers sat in great big chairs reading. I loved all the various rooms in this store.  Oh, and if you want to grab a coffee or a quick bite to eat don't forget to stop by the café.
Children's Section - Upstairs
Really, this room had been busy seconds before.

I wish my trip would have allowed for a longer visit at this great store.  I could have hung out here for hours and plan on scheduling a longer visit when I return to Connecticut in December.  I also had a lovely chat with Liz - an employee at the store -  who chatted with me about Stephen Savage's visit, book blogging, and more.  I love friendly staff.

Next time you are traveling through Connecticut, if your trip takes you near Madison take a moment to stop in and visit RJ Julia. 

Bookstore Touring in Connecticut, Part 3

After my original plans for Saturday (July 23rd) changed, I decided to go bookstore hunting in Western Connecticut.   With my sister and aunt as travel partners, we took the scenic route as we found various bookstores listed on the New England Independent Booksellers Association website.   Stops 2 & 3 found us in Kent, CT at the House of Books and Ridgefield, CT at Books on the Common.  Both have a definite  quintessential New England charm and are set in these picture perfect little towns.

House of Books, Kent, CT -

Any bookstore that is located next to a coffee shop/chocolate store definitely makes may list.  When we arrived at House of Books, there was jazz music playing down the alley on one side and the aroma of chocolate wafting from the other side.  The store was apparently once a house and there are various rooms filled with books, games, office supplies, and art supplies.  In the back, there were a couple of rooms designated for children's books.  I found some of my favorite picture books on display.

 His Shoes Were Far Too Tight: Poems of Edward Leer
Little Chicken's Big Day by Jerry & Katie Davis
Punk Farm by Jarrett Krosoczka

As we headed back home, we figured we had just enough time to swing by Books on the Commons in Ridgefield, CT.  This charming store sits on the corner of the main common area of Ridgefield.  If I tried to explain a "commons" to Californians, I am not sure they would know what I mean.  However, practically every little New England town has a main street and a commons.  This definitely added to the charm of this store along with the hardwood floors. 

I really like stores with big comfy chairs.  But I sat on a stool to look through books.  Better to 
avoid the temptation to stay forever.  

I found some friends at the store too!!!

Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger
Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter
And lots and lots of YA friends

In driving back home, our GPS decided to take us on the scenic route (I think we found every unused back road possible).  I had forgotten just how gorgeous the back roads, wooded area, and hills of Connecticut can be.  Maybe it is true - "you can take the girl out of New England, but you can't take New England out of the girl".  Definitely fun to be reminded of how fond I am of this part of the world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bookstore Touring in Connecticut, Part 2 - The Hickory Stick Bookshop

My original plans for today include a train ride from Connecticut to New York to visit Books of Wonder and to stop by Bergen Street Comics for George O'Connor's book release party.  Let's just say 100+ degree heat and humidity and some other issues cropped up causing a change in plans.  As a consolation trip, my sister and aunt agreed to travel around northwest Connecticut searching for independent bookstores with me.  We managed to make it to three shops in one afternoon.

Our first stop was in Washington Depot, CT.  Yep, never heard of it before either and I grew up in Connecticut.  However, if you are coming through the Connecticut/New York area you might want to get to know The Hickory Stick Bookshop.  It is probably my favorite of the three stores that I stopped in today.  And author friends - I understand that they have quite a number of book signings.  I know I will certainly be recommending this off-the-beaten-track hidden jewel to everyone I know.

This place was a great find.  Friendly staff and a well stocked children's section were noticeable from the beginning.  There was even a shelf with autographed books including a whole collection of books by Wendell Minor and several by Lane Smith.
It's A Book signed by Lane Smith
I also found Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter already out in the wild.  I was so excited that I had to pick up a copy right then and there.
apologies for the poor lighting

After visiting with the store, my sister and aunt and I headed over to The Pantry for lunch.  This was not your typical New England restaurant or menu.  Aside from a full range of gourmet packaged foods available for sale, there were creative entrees and sandwiches on the menu along with some fabulous desserts.  I tried the Apricot Chicken Almond Salad Wrap which was quite delish.

On our way out, I noticed this great sign for an after school art program right next to the bookstore.

If you are in the area and looking for a somewhat cooler place to spend some time and love books and food, I would suggest placing The Hickory Stick Bookshop on your places to visit list.

Bookstore Touring in Connecticut, Part 1

After following John's (@mrschureads on twitter) Adventures Out West '11 posts about all his great bookstore finds, I thought it would be fun to stop in at several indie bookstores in Connecticut while I was back east visiting my parents.  Now of course I don't have a travel buddy like Donna (@akgal68) who gets just as excited about books.  In my case, I traveled around with a loving but reluctant sister who tried not to cringe every time I pulled out my camera.  

Thanks to the New England Independent Bookseller Association Website I had a place to start.  My first Literary Adventure started with the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculptured Garden in Springfield, MA.

Of course, I had to sit in the famous "Oh, the places you'll go" seat.
Let me just nearly 100 degree weather that chair is hot, hot, hot! 

Dr. Seuss with the Cat in the Hat!

On our way back home, we stopped at The Alphabet Garden in Cheshire, CT.

It is a small store with a great selection of books.  I found some of my favorites.
Marty McGuire by Kate Messner
Chicken Butt by Erica Perl
Finally, I could have sat in this great chair and read for a couple of hours but my ride would have left without me. :-)

Finishing up the day, we had to stop at my favorite Italian Ice Shop - Rita's in Southington, CT.

This is a once a year treat and I got my favorite - watermelon and cantaloup (which is hidden below the watermelon).  It is made from real fruit so it is especially yummy!!!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: Bake Sale

Author/Illustrator: Sara Varon
Publisher: First Second (August 30, 2011)
Audience:  Ages 9 to 12 years old
Source: Advanced Readers Copy for Review
Graphic Novel * Middle Grade * Friendship

Description from GoodReads:

Cupcake’s life is pretty good. He’s got his bakery, and his band, and his best friend, Eggplant. His days are full of cooking, socializing, and playing music. But lately, Cupcake has been struggling in the kitchen. He’s sure the solution to all his problems is out there somewhere. But maybe that solution is hiding closer to home.

Sara Varon returns with an ageless tale as dreamy and evocative as her break-out hit graphic novel Robot Dreams. At once deeply metaphorical and hilariously literal, Bake Sale is a story for anyone who’s ever looked for an easy answer to life’s intractable difficulties. It’s also a cookbook: Varon includes seven delicious recipes, from classic cupcakes to sugared flower petals to marzipan.

Relatable book characters, things that make me laugh, and brownies are all things I like.  When all of these elements are included in the same book, it is a definite win.  Sara Varon's Bake Sale has all of those features and not just one recipe but seven (and I have heard from a reliable source that the dog biscuit recipe makes a lot and are well liked by furry friends).  Cupcake owns a bakeshop, hangs out with his best friend Eggplant, and plays drums in a band.  Life is good, and then Eggplant invites Cupcake on a trip to Turkey to meet his aunt who is friends with Turkish Delight.  Imagine being invited on a vacation where you will be able to meet one of your idols?  The challenge - getting the money to go.

Bake Sale is one of those graphic novels that will appeal to a variety of people.  Varon tackles issues of friendship, choices, consequences and sacrifices.  Cupcake's life struggles are realistic even if depicted in a humorous manner.  Children will enjoy it because of the friendship and how ultimately everything works out for Cupcake and Eggplant.  Adults will likely catch the deeper messages of how going after one desire may put in jeopardy some of the other things that are important in our lives (friendships or even work).  Everyone can enjoy Varon's simple yet distinct drawing style which will hook a reader.  Of course, there are still the recipes and I plan to make the brownie recipe when I book talk this one at my next teacher/librarian/bookseller group meeting.

This was my first Sara Varon graphic novel and when I finished reading Bake Sale, I immediately went to the bookstore to check out Robot Dreams.  I look forward to how I can use both Bake Sale and Robot Dreams with students this year.  

Bio from First Second:
Sara Varon is one of the rising stars in the indy comics scene. Her previous projects include the graphic novel Sweaterweather and the picture book Chicken and Cat, a 2006 Parent's Choice silver honor award winner. Originally from outside Chicago, Sara now resides in Brooklyn, where she likes to ride her bike, see movies, and hang out with dogs.

You can check out her website here:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Starcrossed

Author: Josephine Angelini
Published: HarperTeen (May 31, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased a copy
Young Adult * Paranormal Romance * Greek Mythology

Description from Goodreads:

How do you defy destiny? 

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it's getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she's haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they're destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.

There has been a lot of hype about Starcrossed. I've seen it explode everywhere, from the book-blogosphere to Goodreads, to dominating shelves in Borders and Barnes & Noble, so to say that I was a little intrigued would be an understatement. I started this book a few days ago just as something to pass the time while I packed, so I could get all the early boring backstory out of the way and dive into the meaty stuff while on vacation.... except the book never made it on the plane. I devoured Starcrossed in less than 24 hours. I was that absorbed by it. It was a very cute paranormal romance, but it also had some great fresh elements that made it stand out from the crowd -- especially the roots in Greek mythology.

One of the coolest things about this story was the Greek mythology. The protagonist, Helen, and her love interest, Lucas, are intertwined -- starcrossed lovers, actually, if you'll allow me the pun -- in a way that involves the old Greek stories. I won't spoil it for you, but I thought it was a very original concept, especially since Josephine Angelini didn't rely on the old vampire/werewolf/fallen angel/faerie standby. You don't have to know anything about Greek mythology to appreciate the story, but if you are familiar with some of the stories then you might catch some subtle references that the general reader might miss. As someone who knows very little about Greek mythology, I loved that every new plot development caught me by surprise and I wasn't able to anticipate where the story was going. (And when I did start to "figure it out," a few chapters later, I realized I was wrong.) My favorite element of young adult literature is usually the budding romance, but this is one of the few paranormal romance novels wherein I actually found myself more drawn to the plot action and world of the story than the boy-girl interaction.

I say this, but I also loved the Lucas-Helen interaction. I liked that their relationship didn't start off as a love at first sight scenario, when two days later they are professing the inability to breathe without each other. The relationship has a rather interesting start and grows at a believable pace, and they have such great chemistry on the page. I was particularly fond of Lucas and his story. Helen was also interesting, especially in how she comes to realize that she is part of the "paranormal" (or "Greek") world. Her hallucinations are genuinely creepy and information is revealed slowly, rather than building up to a "big reveal" chapter.

I just loved how Angelini paced the novel, always keeping you guessing, but never frustrating you... unless it was absolutely necessary. The characters were very interesting, especially in Lucas' family -- I loved Hector probably more than Lucas even -- and there are several exciting things that happen at the end that leave me on the edge of my seat. As someone who reads a lot of teen paranormal romance, I will admit that there were some elements of the romantic plotline that were similar to a couple other novels I've read, which is probably why I preferred the action plot that was totally unpredictable. I wouldn't call this a cliffhanger ending per se, but Starcrossed definitely ends as things are kicking up several notches. Just remembering those last 50 or so pages gets my heart racing. I really enjoyed this and highly recommend, especially to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, and Shannon Delaney's 13 to Life series. A must-read for fans of paranormal romance, looking for something a cut above most and wildly original.

Josephine Angelini is a Massachusetts native and the youngest of eight siblings. A real-live farmer's daughter, Josie graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in Theater, with a focus on the classics. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Starcrossed is her first novel. You can follow her on twitter: @josieangelini or on her blog:

Her official website is:

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Chosen by, the winner of an ARC of Desires of the Dead is:


Congratulations, Colby! We've contacted you with details about receiving your book. Thanks to everyone who entered. We have currently have a Divergent giveaway and others coming up, so better luck next time!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review + Giveaway: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth
Published: Katherine Tegen Books (May 3, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: For Review, Also purchased a copy
Young Adult * Dystopian

Description from Goodreads:

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Firstly, I want to mention that it's not my habit to compare all YA dystopians to The Hunger Games series (just like I don't try to compare all YA paranormal romances to Twilight). That being said, if you're looking for a YA dystopian that matches the intensity and high stakes of Suzanne Collins' series, then Divergent is the series for you. This is the exciting first installment in what looks to be a very exciting new trilogy. I loved Divergent right from the start. One of the really outstanding features that makes this series better than some others that I've read is Veronica Roth's spectacular world-building. The government and societal structure is so well explained and elaborate. I loved how everyone is divided into one of five factions -- Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite -- and your faction is more important than your family. Sometimes I find that stories really develop characters, while the world the characters live in is under-developed; but this world is well thought out and complex. Instead of just one corrupt government, there are five different factions, therefore five different groups with five different stories. You never know who to trust, which makes it very exciting.

Divergent isn't all about a cool concept, though. The characters are really fabulous, people you can really empathize with and root for. Tris, the protagonist, is very tough and headstrong, making her a very strong female lead. She, along with her friends Christina, Will, and Al, faces a dangerous initiation into her new faction and learns that something isn't right with all the factions... and that something might not be so right with her either. All of the characters are multi-dimensional and well-developed. I can feel the insecurity masked by bravado when Tris does something stupid and I can sympathize with her friends when they say harsh things to her out of jealousy. They all had interesting back stories and secrets. I especially loved Tris' mother and brother, who were so richly characterized. The characters felt like such real people in Divergent that sometimes I even got a little annoyed with their actions, but I really appreciated the realness of them.

My favorite character, though, was Four, Tris' instructor, who helps her through her initiation. I loved every scene Four and Tris shared; there is always so much tension between the two of them -- good and bad. Four was my favorite because he wasn't a brooding romantic lead, but an intelligent, talented male character with several secrets, like how he got the nickname Four, and who he was before he became 'Four.'

Divergent does a nice job of including some romance in an otherwise adventurous, heart-pounding thriller without overwhelming the story with sappy moments. For that reason, I definitely think that Divergent will be enjoyed by both boys and girls. The stakes are high and the author isn't afraid to take risks. Several important and interesting characters die and the novel ends on a high note, making the wait for its sequel, Insurgent, nearly unbearable. I highly recommend this novel... it has been one of my favorite reads of 2011 so far.

 Veronica Roth is only 22, so her bio will be short. She’s from a Chicago suburb. She studied creative writing at Northwestern University, and wrote Divergent, her YA dystopian thriller (Katherine Tegen Books, May 2011!), while she was supposed to be doing homework. This was a decidedly good choice that will unfortunately make it difficult for her to someday lecture her future children on how important it is to get your homework done. You can follow her on twitter: @VeronicaRoth or on her blog:

Complete the form below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of Divergent. Please read contest rules carefully.


1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section (it will be deleted if you do), you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
2. The contest runs from July 14 to 11:59 PM Pacific Time on July 22, 2011.
3. You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
4. If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail. If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
5. This contest is open INTERNATIONALLY (so tell your overseas pen pals) !!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Getting Caught Up: Desires of the Dead + ARC Giveaway!

Hey Guys!
Aly and I are excited to bring a new feature to the blog: Getting Caught Up. It's where we'll be reviewing or giving away books that are a couple months old. With so many great books coming out each week, sometimes you fall behind and realize that that hot new release has been sitting on your shelf for five months before you finally find a minute to read it. The first book I'm getting caught up on is Desires of the Dead, the sequel to Kimberly Derting's smash debut, The Body Finder!

Author: Kimberly Derting
Published: HarperTeen (February 15, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: For Review (Dark Days Supernatural Tour), Also purchased a copy
Young Adult * Mystery Thriller * Romance Fantasy

Description from GoodReads:

Violet can sense the echoes of those who've been murdered—and the matching imprint that clings to their killers. Only those closest to her know what she is capable of, but when she discovers the body of a young boy she also draws the attention of the FBI, threatening her entire way of life.

As Violet works to keep her morbid ability a secret, she unwittingly becomes the object of a dangerous obsession. Normally she'd turn to her best friend, Jay, except now that they are officially a couple, the rules of their relationship seem to have changed. And with Jay spending more and more time with his new friend Mike, Violet is left with too much time on her hands as she wonders where things went wrong. But when she fills the void by digging into Mike's tragic family history, she stumbles upon a dark truth that could put everyone in danger.

Desires of the Dead was a solid sequel to Kimberly Derting's best-selling debut The Body Finder. This second installment in the series begins a few months after the first novel ends, following the same protagonist, Violet Ambrose, whose ability to find dead bodies and their murderers through her special gift nearly cost her and her best friend-turned-boyfriend Jay's lives. In this novel, Violet and Jay have been dating steadily for a few months and adjusting to the new changes in their relationship now that it is no longer only platonic.

Violet and Jay's relationship is one of my favorite things about this series. Kimberly Derting writes young romance in such a believable way -- their conversations and arguments sound so real, like actual exchanges that I can imagine hearing between two teenagers in love. Furthermore, I really appreciated that the conflict in their relationship wasn't the standard love triangle, where a rival for Violet's affections emerges suddenly. It was just the usual sorts of issues that teens would encounter in any young relationship, making it easy for the reader to relate to.

Also, I love Jay Heaton as a character. Usually in literature, I'm drawn to the dangerous bad boy characters, but I love reading about Jay, who is just a normal, kind, sweet boyfriend. He doesn't have a tortured past, he doesn't flout authority like rebellious James Dean, and (as far as we know) he's not secretly a vampire. He treats Violet well (even when she's admittedly a little needy because of the side effects of her gift) and is always there for her. Jay's nice guy characteristics make him really stand out as a leading male among many popular young adult series.

The structure of the novel is similar to the first one, in that Violet finds the body of  a dead child and there is a search for his killer. Something different about this book, was that Violet became the victim of some harassment from a supposed stalker. So in this novel, Violet is the victim, and the inner monologue we get is from her stalker, who may or may not be connected to the other murders in the book. Another interesting thing about Desires of the Dead was the new information that we learnt. We were introduced to some new characters, including Sara and Rafe, who are part of an interesting organization, and who will feature again in the third book of the series, The Last Echo. I liked both of these characters, Rafe in particular, whose quiet behavior and mysterious connection to Sara suggests that there may be more to him than meets the eye. I look forward to seeing his role in the next installment in the series.

Once again, I enjoyed Kimberly Derting's writing and would recommend this to fans who loved  The Body Finder or Maggie Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (which begins with Shiver).

Kimberly Derting is the author of The Body Finder and Desires of the Dead (HarperCollins) and the upcoming release, The Pledge (Nov 2011, Simon & Schuster). She lives in the Pacific Northwest, the ideal place to write anything dark or creepy...a gloomy day can set the perfect mood. She lives with her husband and their three beautiful (and often mouthy) children who provide an endless source of inspiration. You can follow her on twitter: @kimberlyderting or on her blog:

Her official website is: 

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1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section (it will be deleted if you do), you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
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Book Review - Hera: The Goddess And Her Glory

Author/Illustrator: George O'Connor
Publisher: First Second (July 19, 2011)
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Copy for Review
Graphic Novel * Mythology * Upper Middle Grade * YA

Description from GoodReads:

The story of Hera, Queen of the Gods, and the heroes who won her favor. 

Volume 3 of Olympians, Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory, introduces readers to the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses in the Pantheon. This volume tells the tales of the many heroes who sought and won Hera’s patronage, most notably Hercules.

In Olympians, O’Connor draws from primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths. But these stories aren’t sedate, scholarly works. They’re action-packed, fast-paced, high-drama adventures with monsters, romance, and not a few huge explosions.

O’Connor’s vibrant, kinetic art brings ancient tales to undeniable life, in a perfect fusion of super-hero aesthetics and ancient Greek mythology.

Today I was talking with the Director of a local art center.  We got on the topic of graphic novels and he looked at me and bluntly said "You don't seem like someone who reads graphic novels".  I smiled.  I wasn't insulted by his comment.  There was a point when it would have been true.  I had little interest in something that seemed like glorified comics.  However, as an educator who desperately wants students to read and enjoy reading, I learned to stretch myself and to explore the world of graphic novels and manga.  And guess what?  I fell in love with graphic novels.  I have learned to appreciate both the art and the form of storytelling that comes within the pages of a good graphic novel.  Additionally, it has helped me to hook readers that might not otherwise be interested in a book.

In my journey to discover quality graphic novels to share with students, I discovered the Olympians Series by George O'Connor.  The series begins with Zeus which I felt was good.  However, personally, I thought the second release -  Athena was even better.  This may have had something to do with my personal preference (Athena vs. Zeus), but I also think it may be that O'Connor is growing as an artist and storyteller with each installment.

This brings me to Hera: The Goddess And Her Glory.  I have never been much of a personal fan of Hera.  She just seemed cruel and revengeful on some level.  However, O'Connor has managed to win me over.  Well, I still personally like Athena but with this installment, he has won me over enough to actually feel like this installment is the best in the series. 

O'Connor packs a lot into the 80 pages of this graphic novel.  In addition to the story, he provides an Olympian Family Tree, author notes, facts about key characters, recommendations, and my favorite - The Geek (Greek with the r crossed out) Notes.  Don't miss the Geek Notes.  I can't wait to get back to school and pull out my copies of Zeus and Athena and look up some of the things that O'Connor ties together between the three books.  Hmmmm...I can already imagine how I can turn this into a fun activity to do with kids.

So, sure all these little things are fun, but what is so special about the story you might be asking?  With Hera, O'Connor masterfully chose to focus on two critical parts of Hera's life.  He juxtaposed her life to both Zeus and Heracles (Hercules).  I never really thought of how Hera was in many ways the perfect partner for Zeus (who was no prize of a husband).  She was his equal.  Also, mostly I would have said that she just had it out for Heracles, but O'Connor chose to pull together lesser known stories that when woven together seem to emphasize more the ways that Hera's challenge prepared Heracles to ascend to Olympus.

This is part of O'Connor's brilliance as a storyteller.  The selection of facts/tales that when melded together challenge the reader to see with new eyes.  Will children or teens appreciate it?  Maybe not.  They will likely enjoy O'Connor's humor and wit much more.  However, adult readers will certainly "get it".

Teachers and librarians - Hera: The Goddess And Her Glory is a must have if you loved the previous books.  For those new to the Olympians, you are in for a pleasant surprise.  Also the Olympians are a perfect tie in for fans of Riordan's Percy Jackson Series

The Official Olympians Website:
Note: Teachers - there are lots of good resources on this      site.

The Official Website for George O'Connor: