Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

I love the Giveaway Hops hosted by Kathy of I Am A Reader, Not A Writer.  This one celebrates Midsummer's Eve but I am using it to celebrate two of the authors that will be featured at the YA in Bloom Event sponsored by Bridge to Books.

The Winner of the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop has a chance to win a set of signed books by either Katie Alender or Cindy Pon.

Giveaway Choice #1:
A signed paperback copy of Bad Girls Don't Die and a signed hard copy of her recent release From Bad to Cursed.

Giveaway Choice #2:
A signed paperback copy of Silver Phoenix and a signed hard cover of Fury of the Phoenix.

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 Tuesday, June 21, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. PDT on Friday, June 24, 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.

Book Review - The Pull of Gravity

Author: Gae Polisner
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 10, 2011)
Pages: 208
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Advanced Reader Copy for Review
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Read withOf Mice & Men by John Steinbeck

Description from GoodReads:
While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, Scooter, is dying from a freak disease. The Scoot’s final wish is that Nick and their quirky classmate, Jaycee Amato, deliver a prized first-edition copy of Of Mice and Men to the Scoot’s father. There’s just one problem: the Scoot’s father walked out years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. So, guided by Steinbeck’s life lessons, and with only the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off to find him.

Characters you’ll want to become friends with and a narrative voice that sparkles with wit make this a truly original coming-of-age story.

Here is one of my litmus tests for a book that I really like - I pick it up to read and get interrupted but it stays in the back of the mind whispering for me to find it and finish reading it.  In the story, Jaycee and Nick are discussing foreshadowing in reference to Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  Jaycee tells Nick:
"I guess. But that's what makes it so brilliant.  Because, if I closed the book now, you'd want to know what happens, right? Sure, you know something's is going to happen, but you don't know what.  And you care about them, so you want to know." (quote taken from p. 87 of the ARC)

Here I was suppose to be finishing a pile of books for a project, and I start reading The Pull of Gravity.  By about 50 pages in, I realized that I had to return to my book stack and reluctantly put it down. Yet, I was already attached to the characters in Gae Polisner's debut novel, The Pull of Gravity, and wanted to know what was going to happen.  I loved that Polisner managed in less than 50 pages to already make me care about the characters and that I knew this would be a book that I would go back to and read.

Likable characters are not the only thing I enjoyed about The Pull of Gravity.  I truly appreciated that the book had short, readable chapters and was only a little more than 200 pages.  With some teenagers, I have the challenge of trying to convince them to read a book.   If they already think they don't like reading and I hand them a book that is 400 pages long, I might lose them.  If I can read a couple of quick chapters to them, make them laugh, and hook them in, then I will usually be successful in convincing them to give it a try.   

The Pull of Gravity also has a boy narrator who actually seems like a 15 year old boy.  I spend a considerable amount of time with children and teens and the majority of the teen boys I meet do not seem like the suave, got it all together male heart-throbs in some YA novels.  Many are kind of geeky, awkward, and not sure what to do around a girl they might potentially like.  Nick (the main character and narrator) says/does/thinks a bunch of things that made me chuckle basically because it seemed real.  And yet despite all of the awkwardness, you really find yourself liking him.  He is paired up with Jaycee, a quirky classmate, who wears necklaces made of troll dolls and slinky bracelets.  Together they set out on a road trip guided by the lessons of Steinbeck, and with the mission of reuniting a first edition copy of Of Mice And Men with the estranged father of of their dying friend, Scoot.

If you have been counting, you'll notice there are several things about this story that I like (characters you care about and who seem real, short chapters, humor).  Here is another one, the road trip has a purpose.  By this, I don't actually mean why the characters went on the road.  Instead, the road trip has the purpose of helping the characters change and grow.  Road trips without purpose, no matter how fun or quirky it may be, actually irritate me.  This is probably my own personality quirks coming out but still, it makes my list of another reason I liked the book.  

I, also, have to admit not being exactly a true fan of contemporary fiction.  Partially because so much of it is filled with way too much high school drama.  Consequently, I can probably count on one hand the ones I really like.  Books such as Natalie Standiford's How To Say Goodbye In Robot or Allen Zadoff's Food, Girls, And Other Things I Can't Have stand out in my mind as contemporary fiction that I adore.  Polisner's The Pull of Gravity will likely appeal to fans of those books.

Finally, Polisner creates an ending for Nick, Jaycee, and the others that is right.  Not a perfectly wrapped up ending but one that feels right for the book and for the characters.  Polisner's debut novel is an enjoyable read and I certainly look forward to future offerings.

For more information about Gae Polisner, check out her website: http://gaepolisner.com/
On Twitter, you can follow her: @gaepol

Below is the official book trailer for The Pull of Gravity:

Claudia Gray's Afterlife Review & Giveaway!

Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen (March 8, 2011)
Audience: YA
Source: For Review (Dark Days Supernatural Tour)

Description from GoodReads:
The fourth book in this electrifying vampire series has all the romance, suspense, and page-turning drama that have made Claudia Gray’s Evernight books runaway successes.

Having become what they feared most, Bianca and Lucas face a terrifying new reality. They must return to Evernight Academy, Lucas as a vampire and Bianca as a wraith. But Lucas is haunted by demons, both personal and supernatural. Bianca must help him fight the evil inside him, combat the forces determined to drive them apart—and find the power to claim her destiny at last.

Readers have fallen in love with Bianca and Lucas, and they will be thrilled to read this exciting conclusion to their romantic adventure.

Claudia Gray's Afterlife is the highly anticipated final chapter to her best-selling Evernight series, a young adult series about vampires and humans living together at the reclusive Evernight boarding school. Personally, I was really looking forward to seeing how things would end for Lucas and Bianca and how the mysteries surrounding the school would resolve, and I wasn't disappointed.

This is a spoiler free (!!) review of Afterlife, but it does reference events from the first three books in the series, so you have fair warning.

Afterlife lived up to expectations for me. At the end of Hourglass, book 3, Bianca had become a wraith and Lucas was turning into a vampire, the one thing he had been resisting for the whole series. This brought a new dynamic to the duo as they adjusted to their new bodies... or forms, in Bianca's case as a wraith. I loved watching Lucas struggle with what he had become and how that affected his relationship with Black Cross, especially his mother. I also loved seeing Lucas and Bianca back at the academy. I enjoyed them being on their own, out in the real world in Hourglass, but it felt great to have them back on familiar territory, readjusting to life now that they were both so different.

There were many unpredictable plot twists, especially with Mrs. Bethany and her relationship to the vampire/human/wraith populations at the academy. There was also some interesting Balthazar moments in there for fans eagerly awaiting Balthazar's spin-off novel. It's difficult to discuss the novel without giving too much away, because so much of this book ties up loose ends. I will say that I loved how Claudia Gray ended Bianca and Lucas' romance. I was worried about how they would work everything out, but I was more than satisfied with their ending. Overall, I really liked this one -- lots of action, romance, and drama to make it a real page-turner.

Now, on to the fun part: THE GIVEAWAY!

Here are the rules:
1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section, you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
2.  The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. on March 26, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. on March 31st.
3.  You do not need to be a follower of this blog to enter, but if you are it will earn you an extra entry.
4.  You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
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.  This contest is only open to UK participants .(Sorry U.S. and International Followers...there will be another contest for you coming soon)

Good luck!!

Book Review - Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Author: Lish McBride
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (October 12, 2010)
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.
Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.  
With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?


My review:

Imagine living your life just thinking you are a regular guy?! Nothing special, maybe a little bit of an underachiever.  This is Sam.  He has dropped out of college, works at a hamburger joint (kind of funny considering he is a vegetarian), hangs out with his best friend from childhood, and concerned that he isn't going anywhere fast.  But then comes Douglas.  Literally overnight, Sam's life changes and so does the lives around him.  Douglas is apparently a necromancer for hire and doesn't like the idea of another necromancer sharing in any potential job opportunities.  It seems that being a necromancer can be quite profitable.  After a serious beating, and a very personal message, Douglas gives Sam a week to become his apprentice or lose his life.  

McBride manages to pull it all together in her debut offering.  Hold Me Closer, Necromancer has all the ingredients of a great book - a well-balance ensemble of characters, humor, a little romance (but not over doing it), and pacing that doesn't drag (I pretty much read this in one sitting and refused to go to bed until I finished it).  Sam is a likable; your every day sort of guy.  His friends are kind of eclectic.  There is Ramon (a childhood friend/like family), Frank (a bit of a dork, but dependable), and Brooke (fiesty & entertaining).  Even secondary characters such as Sam's mother (with her own secrets) and sister, or his neighbor - an on the go, 70-something granny (who has a more active social life than Sam) add rather than detract from the overall story. And well then there is an assortment of paranormal creatures (were-creatures, harbingers, witches, etc.) that Sam discovers on his quest to understand what a necromancer is and how he managed to not know about these unique abilities.  

For fans of Urban Fantasy/Paranormal stories, this will be an easy sell.  In my opinion, it is one of the best books within this category that I have read recently.  True there are some places that require suspending reality (like the immediate attraction between Sam & Brid - a cute shape-shifter- while they are stuck in a cage but then it was hot, & steamy in a fade to black kind of way) which I don't see as an issue.  This is after all a fantasy story.  However, when I finished it, I wanted more.  Sure, this was a complete book - no huge cliff-hanger ending, but readers can easily imagine this story continuing.  I can imagine and hope that this book will continue for at least several more installments.  So please somebody tell me that there will be a book 2 and a book 3?!

For fans that may not be prone to reading a good Urban Fantasy, I suggest giving this book a read through.  Hopefully, it will be a pleasant surprise.  If not, maybe you can have fun identifying all the songs that McBride uses as chapter titles.   

You can find out more about author Lish McBride on her website, click here.  Or you can follow her on twitter: @teamdamanation

Also take a moment to check out the Book Trailer for Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

End of the Year: YA picks of 2010

It was harder to chose 2010 release books to focus on for this year's End of the Year YA post.  In my attempt to read with more diversity, I didn't read as many 2010 releases as I had hoped to read.  However, there were some incredible reads and I decided to go with my 5 top picks from 2010 and several sequels that I really enjoyed.  I am also going to reflect on my favorite debut author books in a separate post.

Top 5 picks (in no particular order):

FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB by Anthony John - I tend to prefer fantasy or sci-fi fiction.  So when I come across a contemporary fiction book that I loved, it means I really loved it.  I can't rave enough about this book.  Great concept (a deaf teen who becomes the manager of a rock band), an ensemble cast of characters that are all well developed, and a great sense of place & people (Seattle, references to Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix).  This was my absolute favorite YA read of 2010.

WHITE CAT by Holly Black - This is the first book in The Curse Workers Series and Black has done an outstanding job in mixing fantasy with present day.  In some ways, this book is the Sopranos meets Magic but way better.  In this world, everyone is required to wear gloves because you never know who might be a Curse Worker and by wearing gloves it prevents people from using touch to unleash their powers.  Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers and yet doesn't seem to have a gift/ability.  However, he does have a secret and can run a con as well as the rest of them.  One of the many things I loved about this book is that there are consequences to the use of these powers.  I so can't wait for Red Glove (Book 2) to come out this spring of 2011.

CHASING BROOKLYN by Lisa Schroeder - I had been under some erroneous impression that I didn't like novels in verse.  This probably came from the belief that I am not really a big fan of poetry so I wouldn't like novels in verse.  However, in about a span of a couple of days (really more like a couple of hours), I read through all three of Schroeder's novels in verse.  I loved the books, and I loved her writing.  Chasing Brooklyn is a companion novel to I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and though it can be read separately, I was glad that I had read them in order.  This book was particular strong in that it is told from both Brooklyn's and Nico's perspectives in alternating chapters.  Chasing Brooklyn is filled with grief, loss, healing, love, and hope.  And Nico is one of my top fictional crushes.  *heart beats a little faster*

THE RED UMBRELLA by Christina Diaz Gonzalez - I was trying to reserve all of the debut books for a separate post but I just had to add this one to the list.  The Red Umbrella is a historical novel that takes a look at a lesser known part of history - the children who fled Cuba in 1961-1962 during Operation Pedro Pan.  I had an unique opportunity to hear Diaz Gonzalez speak to an audience of predominately Cuban American who had experienced this reality first-hand.  To feel their appreciation for having their story told was amazing.  And Diaz Gonzalez was so wonderful with them as well.  This may be an underdog but I do hope it garners some kind of award recognition.

CLOCKWORK ANGEL by Cassandra Clare - I might be cheating here but this is the first book in a new series even if it is a prequel to her previous series.  And since this is my blog and my picks, I'll allow it. Set in Victorian England in the late 1800's, Clockwork Angel mixes in steampunk features with the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders that we have come to love in Clare's Mortal Instruments Series.  Though this book seems to bring up more questions than it answers, I am certainly hooked and ready to find out more about Tessa, Will, Jem and the others. 

Just a quick nod to the following 2010 sequels:

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins - How can a look at 2010 books not include Mockingjay?!  Three years ago I discovered The Hunger Games.  It was literally one of the best books I had ever read.  The conclusion to this series by Collins came in August with the release of Mockingjay.  Though probably the most hotly debated book this year, I appreciated that Collins choose to end her book in a way that was faithful to her vision even if that was different from how I might have wanted the book to end. 

BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl - I love the world that was created by Garcia & Stohl in Beautiful Creatures.  I wasn't disappointed with this second book in the world of Caster Magic.  Old friends, and new characters, and new challenges move the series to the next level.  The third book in the series will be on my books I pine for in 2011. 

And technically this is a 2011 release, but I read the ARC in 2010 so I will add it here.....

FURY OF THE PHOENIX by Cindy Pon - I had the great privilege of reading this in 2010 despite the release not being until March/April 2011.  This is Pon's sequel to her 2009 Debut SILVER PHOENIX.  I will be reviewing this soon, but let me say that Pon took her sequel in a new direction that shows her growth as a writer.  Fury is a beautiful story of decisions & choice, and love & forgiveness in the beautiful world of Xia that she created in book one.  If it isn't on your list of books to read, it definitely should be.

So what were your favorite YA reads in 2010?