Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Paranormal Pick: Havoc

Havoc (Book 2, The Deviants)
by Jeff Sampson
Balzer + Bray
352 pages

The sequel to Vesper, Havoc, just released January 24 is a sure teen paranormal thriller that will leave readers wanting more--never fear, the third installment due out later in 2012.

Picking up where Vesper (Book 1) left off, Emily Webb is just learning to master her super-powers; she is Emily by day, dangerous and daring werewolf Emily by night. She and her friend football jock Dalton run wild each night breaking into BioZenith, the company responsible for "turning" them. They want to find answers: why are we different? What makes us werewolves? Why did the company make us this way?

Human friend Megan is still angry with Emily about dissing her and spending too much time with Dalton and Spencer (another wolf friend). Emily discovers she's the Alpha dog, the leader, and is secretly thrilled. Normally, Daytime Emily is a timid geek girl who hangs back, hiding behind everyone else--but not anymore. Nighttime wolf Emily is fierce and exciting.

Spencer finds the other girl werewolf; their class president Tracie who is worried that she is just sick and has no idea that she's a wolf yet. Dalton's dad is hiding BioZenith secrets and the kids break into his study and discover a hidden "Mission Impossible" high-tech computer that is ridiculously easy for Spencer to hack into. Another trip to BioZenith reveals Tracie's new powers and some gory science experiments gone wrong. BioZenith is developing new technology but using human children as lab rats and horribly disfiguring and killing them in the process!

When Dalton disappears into thin air, Emily delves deeper into BioZenith's files and discovers a horrifying secret from her own past: what if her mother isn't really dead? What if she's still inside BioZenith somewhere? Is she being held captive? Is Dalton somewhere in there, too?

Book 3 will have Emily and her pack joined by some new friends with their own super-powers. BioZenith, look out!

Taut action and the fast-paced plot driven by a feisty female protagonist will have teen paranormal fans cheering for more. They won't have to wait long; book 3 is out later this year.

Recommended grades 9-up. The publisher says grade 8 and up, but mean girl name calling and scientific gore in the lab and the mention of "mates" and "mating" (even if they are wolves) make me recommend this book for high school.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Paranormal Pick: Vesper

Vesper (Book One, The Deviants series)
by Jeff Sampson
Balzer + Bray
320 pages

Blogger's Note: Book two, Havoc, is now available (Jan. 24, 2012)

From its eerily gorgeous cover to its action-packed plot, Vesper is a debut novel with punch. Feisty and funky geek girl Emily Webb is a mousy, timid teen who loves books and watching cheesy movie marathons. She would rather spend Friday nights in her bedroom alone with her books than partying or clubbing. When another girl named Emily is shot and killed, Emily Webb begins feeling a little--no, a lot--strange.

Something is happening to her that is unexplainable. She becomes Nighttime Emily after 8:00 p.m. each night, dressing up in her stepsister Dawn's clubbing clothes, jumping from her second story bedroom window and landing unhurt, running at a non-human pace, talking smack to strangers, flirting with older men, drinking alcohol, visiting nightspots, sneaking into downtown clubs, you name it--this is not the behavior of meek Daytime Emily. She "changes" and becomes a wolf, developing a hyper-sensitive sense of smell and running at super-human speeds with lupine agility.

Then a second student is shot--popular football player Dalton McKinney. Emily begins to wonder if the two students were somehow related. She researches Emily's and Dalton's names and finds out both kids' parents worked for a company called BioZenith--what is this company and how is it related to what's happening with Emily?

A man is stalking her; he is the same man who killed the other Emily and tried to kill Dalton. Someone is hunting the pack. She enlists the help of her smartmouth friend Megan Reed (Reedy) and asks her to come over and watch over her so she doesn't "change." When Nighttime Emily starts to take over, she secretly drugs BFF Megan, steals her car, drives to Seattle, and goes "hunting" for others in her pack. Emily can now smell the other wolves, and it's about to get her in big trouble--it will likely get her killed!

When she finds out friend Spencer is just like her, they decide to visit the BioZenith Company. Later, Emily is captured, held captive and interrogated until she is rescued.

Vesper is a great start to a new series: Deviants, and if you can suspend disbelief, it is entertaining. What I questioned was the lack of parental intervention; Emily is breaking rules, staying out all night, drinking, clubbing, and is finally kidnapped, yet her father seems totally out of it. He puts her on a very weak restriction, yet allows Emily's friend Megan to spend the night.

Highly recommended grades 9-up. The publisher says grade 8 and up, but due to alcohol, two girls making out, Spenser and Emily kill the slayer who comes after them ripping out his throat, clubbing, sneaking around, and murder, I would say use your best judgment.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon
by Cara Chow
309 pages

Achingly painful, heartbreakingly sad, yet full of youthful promise and resilience, Cara Chow's Bitter Melon tells the anguished story of Frances and her Chinese born mother who berates and belittles her not only in private but in front of family members, teachers, and strangers. Her mother has perfected the "guilt trip" into high drama and reminds Frances daily that everything she's done: coming from Hong Kong, learning English, working four jobs, working overtime, suffering poor health, and overseeing every move her teen daughter makes is for her own good.

Frances is, of course, a teen-ager. She wants some privacy and some space. When calculus is left off her school schedule, Frances attends the speech class on her schedule. Pretty soon, she finds out that she enjoys the class and likes the hippie-like teacher Ms. Taylor. Ms. Taylor encourages Frances to stay in speech because colleges Berkeley and Stanford are looking for students who have extra-curricular activities like speech tournaments on their applications. Frances attends her first meet and wins third place, but she's been lying to her mother to attend practices. Her cousin Theresa has been covering for her, too, saying that they are studying for calculus.

Frances likes Derek, a boy from another school who competes in the tournaments. He exchanges phone numbers with her and even gives her a ride home in his new BMW--Frances is careful to get dropped off two blocks away so that her mother won't see her with a boy.

When Frances's third place trophy is discovered by Nellie (Theresa's mother), her mother is outraged and goes ballistic. She threatens her, yells at her, curses at her and beats her with the trophy. Readers will empathize with Frances who cowers and begs her mother, apologizing profusely as her mother continues to beat her.

Later, her mother attends her speech tournament after Ms. Taylor invites her and tells her that colleges like to see speech as an elective. Frances is plotting her escape; she sends an application to Scripps, never telling her mother that her heart is not in becoming a doctor. When Berkeley turns her down, Frances gets accepted to Scripps.

Lies build upon more lies. Frances sneaks out to the prom with Derek, realizing she can't go home because she told her mother that she was spending the night with Theresa. Of course, Frances's mother finds a way to catch her in more lies.

Later, Frances takes a job and banks her checks, determined to escape her mother's iron will. Frances buys a plane ticket intending to leave without saying good-bye, but once again is thwarted by her over-zealous mother. Her mother closes her bank account and steals her plane ticket.

Frances and her mother have one final terrible argument and Frances leaves; her mother is crushed. Teens may cheer the fact that Frances fights with her mother and stands up to her; but, others may feel sorry for her mother--all her dreams are dashed and she has lost her daughter, possibly forever.

Frances finds her voice and embraces freedom in Ontario working at the university. Although estranged, the story ends on a high note and the reader hopes that Frances and her mother will make peace.

Recommended grades 7-up. The mother calls Frances a slut after she is out all night with Derek; nothing happened. They drove around all night and had breakfast. No sex. Child abuse-her mother could be called abusive but in her mind, she is punishing her child and does what is necessary to have an obedient daughter worthy of her praise.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cover Confusion

Here's the cover of Struck

And here's the cover of Mad Love (U.S. paperback edition)

Books by two separate ya authors and two different publishing companies. The covers will confuse readers, librarians, and book stores. Readers may ask for the book with the red umbrella and raining hearts. As a librarian, many times I've been asked, "Do you have the book about a girl...I think it has a red umbrella on the cover and hearts?" or something like that by a student.

Cover confusion!

Chick Pick: Struck

by Rhonda Stapleton
Simon Pulse
741 pages

see the author's video here

Contains three novels: Stupid Cupid, Flirting with Disaster, and Pucker Up

Charming, cute, and quirky, the three short novels that make up this large volume, will have girls dreaming of romance and Valentine's Day. Although a reader could choose to read only Stupid Cupid and quit after the first story, you must read Stupid Cupid to understand the other two stories. The characters and setting are the same.

The heroine is Felicity Walker, just an average teen who goes job hunting. She applies to a company called Cupid's Hollow to become a "teen cupid" never expecting that she would become a real matchmaker with a hot-pink PDA that can work magic. By sending an email to each person she wishes to match, they will fall in love for two weeks. The magic lasts two weeks, and after that, if the couple is still together, it is a good match.

Then Felicity gets the idea of fixing up her BFF Maya, but she can't think of the perfect boy. She decides on three dates, but can't choose, so she selects all three for Maya. There's lots of laughs and some awkward teen moments when all three boys vie for Maya's attention.

Felicity decides to invoke some magic in her parent's relationship as well and is horrified when her parents begin acting like horny teen-agers around her. She even catches them "doing it" in the middle of the day and is mortified and swears she's ruined for life. She'll probably have to see a psychiatrist for years after that!

Her first match falls apart and her BFF Maya's life is turned upside down, but Derek, the hot boy from art class, does begins to notice her. In the second story, Derek reveals that he's a cupid, too. Felicity and Derek have a competition to see who can make the most matches.

Recommended for teen girls who love romance and dreamy, steamy stories.

Grades 9-up. The parents caught in the act, some language, some laugh-out-loud embarrassing moments.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crossover Appeal: Stephen King's 11/22/63

by Stephen King
849 pages

This is an open letter to Stephen King:

Dear Stephen (I use your first name since you have been in my head for at least 25 years. I hope you don't mind):

I now forgive you for The Tommyknockers. I devoted three days of my time back in 1988 devouring The Tommyknockers--during my ten year devotion to all things Stephen King--only to be so disappointed by the ending, I threw the book against the wall! I swore I would NEVER read Stephen King again, and I was true to my word until I picked up The Mist and Cell years later. I have to admit I was becoming a King fan again. I was intrigued by the idea of 11/22/63; that through time travel one man could change a watershed moment in history and prevent the death of a beloved president. I couldn't put this novel down and kept thinking about many questions it answered and many more questions it brought up.

From the moment I began I was enthralled. Stephen, you have outdone even yourself! 11/22/63 is a watershed novel. It has everything a reader could want: mystery, suspense, intrigue, romance, seduction, murder, suicide, evil, magic, and time travel. This is a real page-turner that will make readers think long after finishing the novel.

Jake Epping is a normal high school English teacher who picks up extra money teaching an adult GED class in the evening. He is a divorced guy with a typical bachelor life. He just gets by day after day. He happens to read an essay by the high school custodian that shatters him. The custodian's mother and siblings were murdered right in front of him and he was left semi-crippled by a madman: his own father. Jake takes Harry to grab a burger at a little dive nearby. Later, Al the diner's owner, takes Jake to a back room and tells him a little secret; the rear of the pantry is actually a portal (a rabbithole) that leads back to the past, in fact the same day every time in 1958. A few days later, Jake visits Al and he's shocked by his appearance. Al has lost tons of weight and seemingly aged 20-30 years overnight.

Al explains that he has been gone five years (only two minutes in real time) and that he has cancer and won't last but a few more days. He enlists Jake's help and he begins relating his strange story. Al has been using the rabbithole for a long time. He'll go back and buy groceries for the diner at 1958 prices; sometimes he'll stay a few minutes or a few days, but when he comes back, it's always only two minutes later in real time. Al gives Jake a notebook; it is his notes on Lee Harvey Oswald. Al has the idea that if you could travel back to 1958 and live there a few years, you could find Lee Harvey Oswald and stop him from killing President John F. Kennedy in 1963. This is a watershed moment in history that can be prevented. Al and Jake wonder if Kennedy lives, will the future be better or worse? Will Robert Kennedy live or die, will the race riots occur, will Martin Luther King, Jr., be assassinated, will Vietnam be stopped and millions of young American lives saved?

To prove their theory, Jake travels back in time and tries to stop Harry's father from murdering the whole family. When he comes back to the present, Harry doesn't have a limp and he's not a custodian. Jake is able to save the family and Harry's future. What you put right in the past will affect everything around it--the Butterfly Effect. Will Jake ruin things in the future if he changes the past? Al brings up the principle of Occam's Razor--a philosophy that states if you have two ideas about how something happened, the simplest idea is probably the true one. Al provides Jake 1958 money, a driver's license, his notebook on Oswald and advice to "blend in." Al warns Jake about the Yellow Card man who sits by the opening of the rabbithole and yells at Al each time he travels to the past. After a couple of trips, Jake realizes that the Yellow Card man knows about the time travel and is trying to warn him.

Jake loves 1958 America at first. Although it's stinkier--everyone smokes cigarettes and factories belch out black smoke--food tastes better. A root beer tastes "rootier"--it's before preservatives and artificial coloring. Ladies wear dresses with hats and gloves every day! Children jump rope in front of their homes, women stay home and cook and clean. Husbands work and commute. The seedier side of 1958 is that some men beat their wives and kids and neighbors look the other way. Violence is a part of everyday life in the past. Jake lives in Derry, Maine, for awhile and then moves to Texas so he'll be in place to spy on Lee Harvey Oswald.

He buys a degree from a college and takes a job as a high school teacher making friends and romancing the school's librarian. Sadie and Jake fall in love but they can't marry because Sadie is still legally married to her first husband who beat her. Jake is happy and he thinks of staying in 1958 and marrying Sadie, but he knows he must save the President and complete his promise to Al.

Jake gambles on prize fights and ball games--losing a few times to make it look like he's a bad gambler, but winning when the payoff is huge. After all, he knows who will win and bets accordingly. This doesn't sit well with bookies and soon Jake is beaten by some goons who work for the local bookie. He loses his memory but finally comes clean with Sadie telling her his strange story that he's from the future and has a job to do. Sadie's husband shows up with his own vendetta.

Will Jake and Sadie save the President? If they do, what repercussions will there be? Will Jake stay in the past? What happens if he does? If he returns to present day, will Sadie ever forgive him? How many things can be changed in the past without changing reality itself? The ending was just as weepy as "The Notebook," so have tissues ready.

Stephen, you said you tried to write this book back in 1972 but "the wound was too fresh"--only 9 years after Kennedy's assassination-- and that you were glad you waited until now to write it. I am glad, too. In 1972, I would have been too young to read this book, let alone appreciate it. I want to thank you for entertaining all of us--not just entertaining--but giving us a fresh look at history and making us want to know more. This is your masterpiece, and I'm thrilled to have read it and reviewed it.

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up. This is an adult novel with teen crossover appeal. Anyone who loves King's earlier writing will love 11/22/63. History buffs and Kennedy fans will also want to read King's thrilling opus! Mature content, some sex, rough language.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Paranormal Pick: Sweetly

by Jackson Pearce
Little Brown
310 pages

Read an excerpt here

Part fairy tale, part fantasy, part romance and part paranormal, girls will like this tale of a brother and two sisters who get lost in a forest. Gretchen remembers a witch chasing them and her witchy yellow eyes burning through the forest. Somehow, they lose their sister, Gretchen's twin.

Ansel and Gretchen's mother mourns the loss of her child and is never the same. Her father remarries an evil stepmother who kicks the kids out when their father dies. On the road and nearly out of money, their Jeep breaks down outside a small town named Live Oak near the beach in South Carolina. The town is creepy and nearly deserted; the brother and sister are not welcomed by Southern hospitality. In fact, people in Live Oak stick to their own business and try not to speak to outsiders at all.

Lucky for the kids, a man they meet in the diner offers to drive them back to their Jeep to pick up their suitcases and offers to drop them off at a chocolate shop outside of town where the owner Sophia needs a handyman to complete a few jobs around her house and shop. On their way out of the diner, a teen boy stops Gretchen and warns her about Sophia--to stay far away from her and not to trust her.

The candy shop is beautiful and magical; the scent of vanilla is cloying and draws customers as if by magic into the shop. The confections Sophia creates affect her customer's moods.

Soon, Gretchen is helping Sophia in the shop and Ansel is mending the roof and the fences. Life is idyllic until Gretchen goes for a walk in the woods at night (having seen a witch take her sister, you would think she would never enter a wooded place--but she ate lemon candies which caused her to be brave). Gretchen runs for her life, and Samuel--the boy from the diner--shoots the "witch." He calls them Fenris, or werewolves.

Soon, it will be time for the annual chocolate festival that Sophia puts together for all the girls of Live Oak. There's only one problem: girls go missing each year right after the festival. Townfolk believe they're being snatched and murdered and blame Sophia and her festival. This year, Sophia is having trouble getting her r.s.v.p invitations back. Girls are afraid to attend.

The festival is just around the corner and Gretchen and Samuel practice shooting rifles. Something is out in the woods and something is stealing the town's young girls. Sophia is keeping a few dangerous secrets and Ansel is falling in love with her.

Readers who liked Shiver, Twilight, and other vamp/wolf books will be drawn to this one. The cover is wickedly appealing--at first glance, it appears to be a house in the woods, but on closer inspection, it's an evil witch's face. Great cover appeal and the quote from Becca Fitzpatrick (Hush, Hush trilogy), "If you love your romance hot, your bad guys downright dirty, and your heroines real enough to bleed, this is your book!" will attract legions of teen book store browsers to want a copy of their own.

Recommended grades 7-up. A couple of curse words that network television allows. No sex. A couple of kisses.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library at the Austin Teen Book Festival in October 2011 after meeting Jackson Pearce, who is, by the way, just as charming as she is entertaining. I received no monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fantasy Pick: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races
by Maggie Steifvater
Scholastic Press
416 pages

Magical, lyrical, beautiful, and romantic, The Scorpio Races is unlike any other young adult novel. The prose sings itself off the page--Stiefvater is at her poetic best in this novel, her voice has never been stronger nor her writing more fierce and taut. The island setting is not only beautiful but dangerously alluring. The setting, in fact, is a character in this novel and controls both the tight plot and the threateningly ominous tone.

The Scorpio Races happen every year in November in Thisby, a small coastal town known for its brutal winter weather, battering storms from the sea, and for breeding the best horses money can buy. Some of the horses are real prizes--you see, every autumn, horses climb out of the surf, leave the sea, and run on the beach. If you're "lucky" enough to catch a capall (water horse), you will have to be very lucky to train him and keep him. They--the capaill uise--water horses--are wild and predatory, sly and cunning, huge and beastlike, but they run faster than the wind, and that is why men in Thisby long to race them and why they lay their hard earned money down to bet on which rider and horse will survive and win the race. People come from the mainland and all the way from America to see the races and to buy race horses from Benjamin Malvern, the richest breeder and landowner on the island.

Sean is a part of the island itself. He lives for the sea and the capaill--he was born to train horses like his father before him. His father was lost to the sea because of the races and now Sean works for Malvern in the stables. He knows the danger but never lets his guard down when it comes to one of the wild horses. He will ride a red capall named Corr in the races.

Puck (Kate Connelly is her given name) is a bit of a tomboy who is being raised along with her quirky brother Finn by her older serious brother Gabe. Puck rides her farm mare Dove and decides that she could win the Scorpio Races on Dove's back. She enters her name on the list to save her family's home--Mr. Malvern will foreclose on their property unless Puck wins the race. The whole town decides that she must be crazy--ride a little "pony" in a race with vicious capaill? A girl thinks she can beat men? A girl with no training on the back of a farm horse?

Puck won't back down even though men try to twist the rules to say that only men can race--it doesn't say that in the rules--it says "riders." Sean comes to her defense. He sees Puck training Dove and offers to ride with her and give her pointers. Puck decides she likes/dislikes Sean as much as he does her, but she's pig-headed and stubborn; she wants to prove she is a great rider, so she agrees. When both riders go to the beach where some wild water horses are training, Puck is afraid but won't admit it. They see a man killed by a water horse, and Puck regrets signing up.

A terrible storm reaches the island and water horses come ashore and off the beach up the hills towards homes. Puck and Finn escape with Dove and must leave their house. Sean saves Corr from a certain death and vows to beat Mutt Malvern (his boss's evil son) in the race. An American horse owner named George Holly becomes friendly with Sean and offers him a job in America training horses, but Sean is in love with the island and knows he could never leave Corr.

The race begins and it's terrifying, exciting, and brutal. Pages will turn at a heart-thumping pace in a race where one second can change everything in life, one movement, one twitch, one blink of an eye.

Magically entertaining, exciting and fast-paced, wretchedly horrifying at times, The Scorpio Races will haunt readers for days and weeks after finishing it. If Steven Spielberg gets his hands on this novel, the movie will be Hollywood magic! The capaill uise deserve to be brought to the silver screen by someone who can do them justice and Spielberg is my pick. Are you listening, Steven?

Blogger's Note: I almost missed this book. I had noticed it on the Scholastic Book Fair but passed on it due to the cover--I know, just like the kids--I judged the book by its cover! The cover did not appeal to me nor the premise of horses or racing, but when it showed up again and again on librarians' lists of best books for 2011, I found a copy and gave it a try. I was hooked! I enjoyed the Shiver trilogy and love Stiefvater's earlier work, but a book about horses just did not grab me.

Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up. This novel is not be missed! Some language--it is a horse racing town, after all. Language much worse can all be heard on prime time television. Violence and death in the race.

FTC Required Disclamer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Giveaway: Every Other Day: YA Paranormal

I have 5 copies of this thrilling new paranormal monster hunter novel by Jennifer Lynn Barnes!

Read an excerpt here

Kali D'Angelo is a normal teenager every other day. Every other day, she's a feisty demon hunter and monster killer. As luck would have it, the day she really needs her super-hero powers is the day she discovers a monster will attack a popular girl at her school. What is a normal teenager to do? I reviewed the book on my blog in December and LOVED it!

Your teen readers will love a copy. Win a copy for them. Simply post a comment on this blog and include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Also, please include city and state since publishers, authors, and I love to know where our readers are located. Winners will be chosen at random by Randomizer and contacted by email on January 26. Winners have 48 hours to reply to my email. If someone does not reply in the designated time, the book will go to the next number in the randomizer sequence. Books will ship from New York City. Thanks to Katie and Egmont!

Deadline for posting is Jan. 26 at noon mst. Good luck and start posting!

Readers following by rss feed, click on the blog's active link (view website) and post a comment on "Young Adult Books--What We're Reading Now"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

High School Pick: Slide--An Uber-Cool Mystery Thriller!

by Jill Hathaway
Balzer + Bray
256 pages

Available March 27, 2012

Clever, captivating, and complex, Slide is a solid page-turner and an uber-cool teen mystery. Vee has a weird problem--sometimes she passes out and "slides" into the body of someone else. She starts to feel queasy and sick and can't control when it will happen or who she will slide into, but when she slides and sees Sophie's lifeless body and a knife in her/the killer's hand, she knows that Sophie didn't commit suicide. Someone killed Sophie, but everyone else thinks she took her own life. If only Vee had seen the killer's face!

Sophie was friends with Mattie, Vee's younger sister, and Amber. The three girls were popular cheerleaders but Mattie and Amber were plotting something right before Sophie died. It's up to Vee to figure out who is responsible for Sophie's death. She suspects both Mattie and Amber have something to do with it, and she would put solid money on it that Scotch, Sophie's tool of a boyfriend is guilty, too.

That isn't her only problem--since her mother's death years ago, Vee's father has become a workaholic--spending every waking hour at the hospital--he is now an absent parent. When his daughter Mattie needs a parent the most, he is absent and Vee has to step in. Vee's best male friend Rollins is acting strange, too. He's pushing her away and hiding some secret from her, and now Vee worries he may be involved in Sophie's death. Then Amber is shot to death on the school football field. Two cheerleaders are dead and parents and students are fearful. Who will die next?

Police have a few suspects including Mr. Golden, a teacher who has questionable relationships with a number of students. Vee has her own suspicions.

Zane is a new student who develops an instant interest in Vee. The more time she spends with Zane, the bigger the rift becomes between Vee and Rollins. Then Vee discovers a secret; her father's past is about to surface and threatens their safety.

With more plot twists and turns that a Rocky Mountain road, this novel will appeal to mystery fans. I know I've mentioned a lot of characters, but it's easy to keep them straight when reading this novel. Girls who watch "Pretty Little Liars" will relish this quick and scintillating read.

Bad girl behavior and high school pranks, sexting, sexual talk, drinking, language, sexual harrassment, extra-marital affairs, murder, suicide, and just plain bad high school behavior and bad adult behavior make this novel suitable for upper grades.

Highly, highly recommended and readable for high school readers grades 9-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dystopian Pick: Partials--Coming Soon!

by Dan Wells
Balzer + Bray
480 pages (page count from publisher's website)

Available 2/28/12

Watch the book trailer here

Chilling, creepy, and caustic, Partials is a provocative dystopian thrill-ride. After an apocalyptic war with the Partials, super-soldiers designed by Paragen, a genetics corporation, to kill the human race, some human survivors band together in New York and try to find a way to defeat RM, a dangerous and stubborn virus released by the Partials that attacks all new human births. Babies born after the war with the Partials die within a few days. Unless scientists can figure out a way to cure them, the human race is doomed.

Kira works in the hospital monitoring new births and recording all vital statistics. She is furious that the babies are dying. All she sees is babies being born, doctors and nurses recording their data, and babies dying. No one is thinking up a new way to study RM. Kira realizes the only ones who aren't dying of RM are the Partials. They are immune.

Kira approaches her boyfriend Marcus, her best friend Madison and her husband Haru, and a few other soldiers and recruits them to accompany her on a dangerous and eventful mission: enter enemy territory and kidnap a Partial. She plans to bring the Partial back to the hospital to study his blood and tissue samples to try to find a cure for RM and a way to save humanity.

The Hope Act passed by the Senate has just dropped the age for mandatory pregnancy. Girls age sixteen are now expected to have at least one pregnancy per year, hoping that the more babies being born will insure that someday one will live. Kira knows more babies born each year just guarantees that more babies will die, and now the law affects her, too; Kira turns sixteen.

The mission is a success with casualties. The Partial is sedated and taken to the lab. Kira is in trouble with the Senate, but they listen and give her five days to test the subject. As she spends more time with the Partial, she begins to empathize with him--he looks human, he acts almost human, he must have feelings, he must be lonely and scared. She learns his name is Samm--and this makes him a "person." Marcus is worried that Kira is treating the enemy like a human and that she may actually be falling in love with him.

When the Senate tries to manipulate the situation and kill Samm, Kira counts on her friends and Samm to help her escape and cure RM. What Kira finds on her journey is shocking; it changes her whole world.

The ending left this reader wondering what will happen next? A sequel, perhaps? Yep, on checking the author's website, book two is Failsafe. Kira can't just walk away--not with the new information about her past and her life. Will humanity make a comeback? Will the Partials and the humans make peace?

The cover and the print on the front cover, "The only hope for humanity isn't human" will attract teen readers. The strong female protagonist is not only determined but downright pig-headedly stubborn and she will resonate with girls and boys. I appreciated the fact that the author left romance out of the equation almost entirely--humans are fighting for survival and bombs are blowing up everywhere--who has time for romance? Trying to save the world is a full-time job!

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up. Violence and death. The fact that teen girls are incubators and love is nearly non-existant is best for upper grades.

Don't forget to watch the trailer here

FTC required disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Romantic Pick: The Catastrophic History of You & Me

The Catastrophic History of You & Me
by Jess Rothenberg
400 pages (page count from Amazon)

Available February 21, 2012

Heart-breakingly tragic, yet heroic, beautifully romantic, but weepy, The Catastrophic History of You & Me will make readers think about the after-life with fresh insight and respect the fragile nature of human life.

Brie is only sixteen when her heart breaks--literally in two. Her heart specialist father can't believe that a usually healthy 16-year old could die of a heart problem and there is no medical way her heart could break in two, yet those are the medical facts. Brie arrives in a pizza shop--of all places--where a few teens are hanging out and a cross crossword puzzle lady seems to be in charge. Is this the afterlife? A pizza shop?

Patick is another lost soul at the pizza shop who helps Brie deal with D & G--dead and gone. She must go through the five stages of grief to face forever after, but Brie just wants to go home.

Who knows how one death will affect the others left behind. It is the people Brie knew, the people she touched who are still grieving. Jacob, the boy who broke her heart, blames himself. He was trying to explain something of great importance to her about himself, but he chose the wrong words, telling her, "I don't love you..." and then she died. He didn't have time to explain how he came to that conclusion or why it wasn't her fault, or that he loves her still as a true friend and confidante. He literally carries her death on his shoulders.

Brie's father blames himself and drives himself crazy with guilt and drives a wedge between himself and his family. Brie's friends are heartbroken, too.

What if, for a few short hours, you could return to life and right all the wrongs before you had to report to back to "ever after?" Could you help the living people deal with loss? Could you right the wrongs and offer hope? Could you help save someone's life?

This novel will stick with readers long after reading it. Keep plenty of tissues on hand--this novel is a true weeper! Poetic writing, brilliant flashes of humor, beautifully executed dialog, and sigh-ing-ly gorgeous Patrick will have teen hearts racing (hopefully not breaking in two).

Highly, highly recommended grades 9-up. Teen suicide, homosexuality issues, mature theme.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this book.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fantasy Pick: Icefall (Guest Reviewer Leslie Rush)

by Matthew J. Kirby
336 pages

This is a guest review from ya novels lover and avid reader and my BFF Leslie Rush. Leslie is a high school teacher and my muse/reader of my own attempts at ya fiction.

Icefall takes place in Scandinavia during the Dark Ages. It is a time of brutal warfare and deprivation, but also a time of rich culture and mythology-- both of which drive this coming-of-age tale of survival, betrayal, and the true meaning of loyalty.

Solveig is the middle child of a warrior king. She has neither the ethereal beauty of her older sister Asa, nor the importance of her younger brother and heir to the throne, Harald and has spent her life being invisible to her father. The children have been sent to a remote fortress on the edge of a fiord, nestled below an enormous glacier, while their father battles another warrior king whose marriage proposal to Asa has been refused. The royal children are surrounded by a loyal staff, and early in the story a company of berserkers arrives, sent by the king to defend the fortress if necessary.

Solveig and the staff—-Bera the cook, her son and Soveig’s friend Raudi, Per the young soldier, Ole the thrall (slave) and Alric the storyteller-- are all wary and anxious about the berserkers, whose terrifying violence is legendary. They are led by Hake, the biggest and most terrifying of them all. An early act of violence and loss committed by Hake makes him unbearable to Solveig.

As winter deepens, several acts of sabotage and murder make it apparent that there is a traitor in their midst. Solveig has no idea who to trust and everyone is suspect. She has a repeating nightmare that foretells of disaster and death when spring comes, adding to her uneasiness.

While the anxiety and suspicions build in the fortress, Solveig is discovering her own hidden talent as a storyteller--a skald--and she begins training with Alric in the art of telling the great tales of Norse mythology and the hero’s saga. Her confidence builds as her skills improve, and all of her companions, even Hake, see her gift. Then, her father’s enemies arrive and they all must not only survive, but fight against impossible odds.

Solveig’s growing relationship with Hake, her genuine power as a skald, and the bravery she finds deep within herself all determine the surprising and heart-stopping acts of loyalty that conclude this novel.

The cover art shows one scene from the story, but is woefully inadequate and not representative of the story. The back cover is all reviews of Kirby’s previous book, and says nothing about Icefall. Because of that, this wonderful tale will probably be skipped over by many who would love this story.

The publisher’s classifications include fantasy and sci-fi, and although lovers of those genres will like this book, it has neither fantasy nor sci-fi in it. It is solid historic fiction. Kirby writes with powerful imagery. He describes the beautiful and brutal the Norse winter so well, by the end of the first chapter I was both fascinated and freezing.

Recommended grades 4-up. The publisher says grades 3-8. Violence, but not too graphic. Light romance. No language or sex, although there is a vague sense of menace regarding Asa and her spurned bridegroom.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Paranormal Pick: Born Wicked

Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book 1)
by Jessica Spotswood
336 pages

Available February 7, 2012

Wickedly entertaining, witch-y-ly different, enticingly seductive and dangerously scintillating, Born Wicked is a book that will take your breath away.

Cate Cahill is the oldest sister of three and responsible for keeping her two younger sisters under control. That includes keeping their secret--all three girls are witches. This alone could get them killed, but an ancient prophesy details that three magic sisters will come along and the dark times will end. Only two sisters will welcome the twentieth century and magic will be welcomed and the Brotherhood toppled.

Cate and her sisters hide their magic, and Cate must choose a marriage soon, or the Brotherhood will choose for her--probably an elderly man who is part of the Brotherhood. Her only other way out is to join the Sisterhood, a group of nuns, and move away.

She is excited to see Paul come home and is eager for his charms until she spends too much time with Finn, the bookseller's son and part-time gardener for her own family. Secret, passionate kisses with Finn make Cate believe that she could never be happy with Paul. Her heart doesn't race when she kisses him and she doesn't dream of his embraces.

Younger sister Maura is as headstrong and tempermental as Cate is smart and calculating. Maura decides to join the Sisterhood once she realizes that they are a secret cult of witches and she longs to be more than friends with Elena, their governess sent by the Sisterhood to recruit all of them. Cate is able to save her sisters and herself only by turning her back on Finn, her secret love. Cate puts off her own happiness to save her sisters and their secret. The Sisterhood is happy to welcome a witch of such power and will use her power to make themselves more powerful.

Book 1 ends with the reader hoping that Cate will somehow get back to Finn and wondering if Cate will be able to leave the Sisterhood. Now that they have her, will they be willing to let her go?

Teen readers will await book 2 with enthusiasm. I was sorry the story ended and can't wait to get my hands on book 2. Paranormal fans and magic fans will love the story and girls will swoon over "magical" Finn--he's uber-sexy. I think Finn will play an important part in Book 2.

Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up. A couple of passionate kisses. Maura kisses Elena on the lips but it is not welcomed nor shared by Elena and then it's over. No language, some magic.

FTC required disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Dystopian Pick: Legend

by Marie Lu
305 pages

Watch the book trailer here

Brilliant, creative, completely captivating, and smoking hot, Legend is a thrilling dystopian novel that will grab both male and female dystopian fans and shake them up.

Day is a fifteen year old homeless thief and government terrorist. He is his country's most wanted criminal and super-thief. The government is searching for Day, but lucky for him, they don't have his fingerprints in their databases and they have no idea who he is or what he looks like. He is brilliant and cunning with disguises and planning and never leaves behind any clues.

The Republic controls all the laws, the citizens, the assets, the food, the electricity, and there is no such thing as freedom. Citizens born poor will remain poor unless one is lucky enough to score very high on the Republic's tests.

Those that don't make the grade--well, no one talks about what happens to them. But...Day knows...because he failed and was lucky enough and smart enough to escape death. Now he does everything he can to thwart the machine that is the evil government of the Republic. He keeps Tess safe, too. She joined him a few years back--a little orphan waif who helps him rummage for food and clothes. Day worries that his mother and two brothers may get the plague, and he checks on them secretly, not wishing to reveal himself and put them in danger.

June is born to a wealthy family and is highly trained due to her high scores on the Republic's test. In fact, June is selected by her superiors to hunt Day. She is the only soldier with the skill set likely to match his. After Day kills her brother, June is determined to bring Day to justice and impress the Republic.

Told by Day and June in alternating chapters, this taut thriller will keep teens on the edge of their seats and turning pages well past midnight. I couldn't put this novel down and read it in one sitting.

Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up. Some violence, some torture, public executions are mentioned, but nothing that is not on prime time television. If you have The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Hunger Games in your collection, this novel is a good fit.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chick Pick: Love? Maybe.

Love? Maybe.
by Heather Hepler
272 pages

Available January 5, 2012

Highly entertaining, well-written, and enjoyable, Love? Maybe. is Heather Hepler's latest young adult novel. Like The Cupcake Queen (her last novel) Love? Maybe. is set in a backdrop of a foodie paradise--a sweet shop owned by Jan, an evil genius chocolatier with an eye for beauty and a gourmand's palate for the gastronomically strange--take Kalamata Caramels, for example, olives and caramel--yet it works and customers eat them up! (pun, intended) Jan is a genius in baking sweet concoctions but not a tough businessman or an organized bookkeeper. For that, he employs Piper Paisley, a teen girl who is an organizing queen who just happens to come up with major fantastic sweet ideas for his shop. Piper is all business but disillusioned about male/female relationships.

Piper's birthday is Valentine's Day--which she dreads every year. Because of her mother's failed marriage and last relationship, Piper is jaded when it comes to romance and love. She knows there is no knight in shining armor, no hearts and flowers, no I Love You, and no happily ever after. She's seen it first-hand, after all. Piper is cynical and downright curmudgeonly when it comes to love. While her friends--spunky, amusing Jillian and heart-broken Claire look forward to Valentine's Day--Piper dreads it. Her mother owns a busy flower shop and Valentine's week is her busiest time of year, so she counts on Piper to help with younger siblings Dom and Lucy. Piper spends her time at school, at the sweet shop, picking up her siblings, doing homework, doing mother duties until bedtime, and falling into a stupor of slumber.

Jan fears that Piper is losing her youth and her appreciation of things to come. He has a fatherly, Star Wars Yoda-like talk with her and tells her that, "hearts are delicate things" but that love is worthwhile. He makes her swear to open her heart to possibility.

Jillian and Claire rope Piper into their Valentine's Day plan--they must have a boyfriend by Valentine's Day! Their plan includes makeovers and magic. Jillian finds a magic book with a love potion and the girls make love potion truffles for the sweet shop. Jan uses Piper's idea of candy hearts she calls Consternation Hearts. Instead of sayings like "Be Mine" and "UR Cute" they say "Ewww" and "Um...No" Jan adds hearts that say "Hope" because he can't stand the idea of teen cynicism.

Piper has her heart set on Ben Donovan and doesn't even realize her best friend Charlie from next door is truly the boy for her. As Valentine's Day draws closer, Piper finds gifts in her locker from a secret admirer. Jillian falls for Jeremy, a nerdy guy who has always been around and she finally realizes she likes nerds.

Relationships work out for all the characters and teen readers will love the heart-warming ending. Just in time for Valentine's Day, this novel is a gem worth relishing!

I loved Piper's name: Piper Paisley. It shows that her mom still has a creative and fun side. It's a fun name. Girls will love Jillian and want her for a BFF. The teen dialog is spot-on and delightful. Readers will love Jan, the thoughtful and big-hearted sweet shop owner who still finds beauty and romance in the world.

Highly, highly recommmeded grades 7-up. This is a "sweet" treat for girls! Girls who loved Hepler's The Cupcake Queen and Mandelski's The Sweetest Thing will be sure to love this new novel.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Paranormal Pick: Bad Taste in Boys--Don't Miss ( I Nearly Did!)

Bad Taste in Boys
by Carrie Harris
Delacourte Press
201 pages

Watch the book trailer here

I can't believe I nearly missed reading this hilarious, twisted, sick, funny, punny, amusing, laugh-out-loud zombie farce, satirical romp, sarcastic zombie parady, teenage mutant human young adult novel! The cover says, "It's scary. It's twisted. It's sick. It's high school" and I couldn't agree more! Bad Taste in Boys is a hilarious zombie send-up that will resonate with both girl and boy zombie lovers. Author Carrie Harris is just as funny as seasoned writer Libba Bray!

Kate Grable is a super-smart, super-geeky science nerd who can't wait to get into medical school. She even volunteers to work long hours in the science lab at school just for fun. After school, she is the football team's trainer with access to the coach's office and medical supplies. When she accidentally spots strange vials of unmarked drugs in the coach's office, she suspects he is doping his players with steroids.

When her ex-hook-up Mike vomits putrid black vile and begins acting really strange, Kate suspects "zombie attack!" Is the coach really infecting his own players with some kind of secret zombie goop? Kate has to protect her players and find out what's going on. She is also crushing on quarterback Aaron who helps her find answers to why some of his teammates are getting sick. They find themselves in close quarters, hiding from Coach and other players, and romance blossoms. Can a super-geeky science nerd and a uber-hot quarterback make sweet music together?

Kate gets bitten but strangely enough displays no zombie behavior. Why isn't Kate turning? She takes meds for her epilepsy and realizes that her medicine may be the antidote for the zombie toxin. Kate uses her skills in science and the school's science lab to discover a cure.

Carrie Harris has a sure winner! Zombies have never been this much fun, and Kate is clever, sarcastic, and winsome--sure to appeal to feisty female readers. Science geeks are the new popular "in" crowd. Fans of zombie and paranormal books with a sense of humor will love Bad Taste in Boys.

Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up. Some kissing, some zombie gore but it's mild.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library after reading some comments from a librarians' listserv. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Giveaway: Unraveling Isobel (A Ghostly, Gothic Pick)

I have 5 copies of this great new paranormal, gothic ghost story! I just loved this novel from the first pages! Don't miss this one--you'll love it and so will teen readers!

Read Chapter One here

Read my review of Unraveling Isobel here

Simply post a comment here on the blog (Young Adult Books--What We're Reading Now) and be sure and give your email address so that I can contact you if you win. Please also include your city and state because I love to keep track of who is out there reading and entering (and the publishers and authors like to know, too). Contest opens January 2-12. Deadline for posts is January 12th at noon MST. Winners will be notified January 12th and have 48 hours to respond to my email. If, for some reason, winners do not respond to my email, the next person chosen randomly will win the copy of the book. Winners are chosen randomly using Randomizer. Books will ship from New York City--thanks Simon & Schuster and Venessa!

Good luck and start posting now!