Saturday, December 12, 2009

Well, hello there

I've been hibernating.  This is one of my favorite times of year, plenty of evenings spent reading by the fire, lots of beautiful holiday decorations to admire, and the joy of spending time with family and friends.

Here are a few of my favorite holiday treats that I'd like to share with you...

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I read this book every year around Christmas.  Nothing gets me more in the holiday spirit than the story of little Sarah Crewe and her brave adventures.  My copy is from 1987 (cover image shown) and has held up amazingly well.  The pages are yellowed and the jacket shows lots of love.  Last year, I decided to start collecting copies of this book.  Any cover, any condition, any age.  But when December rolls around, I always pick up my original copy to read. 

Every fall, Ghirardelli makes their delicious Peppermint Bark chocolate.  It's got a milk chocolate bottom with a white chocolate topping, chock full of tiny peppermint pieces. Yum!  Another holiday favorite is Candy Cane Lane Tea from Celestial Seasonings.  Full confession - I scour the grocery stores in November and stock up on this tea so that I have it all year long.

Grand Illumination in Colonial Williamsburg
At least once in your lifetime, I recommend going to Colonial Williamsburg for Grand Illumination, which takes place the first Sunday in December.  Not only are you greeted by caroling colonials, hot apple cider, and hundreds of fun shops, there is also a huge fireworks display to celebrate the lighting of candles in the windows of Colonial Williamsburg's buildings, shops, and homes.

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

(images taken from Ghirardelli and Celestial Seasonings and

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Make a Wish: Books about wishes

In my last post, I reviewed three books that dealt with covert operations. It was fun to review three books at once, so I thought I'd continue with the themed reviews. Now, I turn my attention to two books that I kept getting confused before I read them. Blame it on the titles and the blue covers.

If you were given three wishes, what would you wish for?

As You Wish by Jackson Pearce
(Hardcover, HarperTeen, September 2009)

When Viola's boyfriend breaks up with her, Viola feels like her whole person is broken. She no longer fits in at school. When she makes a wish to belong, a jinn appears in her room, saying that he will grant her three wishes. But as Viola's wishes dwindle down, she realizes that her main wish is to always be with Jinn. As You Wish is a thoroughly enjoyable look at what really happens when wishes come true. Viola's revelations about friendship and about herself come across as genuine and heartfelt and the ending will leave you wishing that a jinn would come grant you three wishes.

Wish by Alexandra Bullen
(Hardcover, Scholastic Point, January 2010)

Life isn't worth living for Olivia when her twin sister, Violet, dies. Then she comes across a seamstress who makes her magical dresses—dresses that make wishes come true. Olivia wishes for Violet to come back and the next thing she knows, her ghost of a sister is following her around. With Violet back in her life, Olivia doesn't need any more wishes. Touching and heartbreaking, Olivia's story is a glimpse into a family trying to cope after the loss of a child and sister. Wish is filled with the normal teenage drama but it offers a tear-jerking twist and forces the reader to acknowledge that magic can only do so much to make us whole again.


Even though these books have similar titles and covers, they each deal with wishes in a different manner. Whereas the magical seamstress in Wish appears sparingly, the jinn in As You Wish is one of the main characters. As You Wish is a lighthearted look at fairy tales, as opposed to Wish which takes on the darker subject of death and how our lives change when we lose someone we love. If you're looking for similarities, interestingly, the main character of As You Wish is named Viola and the dead twin sister in Wish is named Violet. Neither book seemed as if it was the start of a series; although, Wish does have a beautiful epilogue that leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spies, Thieves, and Secret Societies

Don't we all just love a good mystery? I grew up reading Nancy Drew and it's exciting to read new books that bring back that nostalgia for cloak-and-dagger writing. Here are three books coming out in early 2010 that will have you thinking black jumpsuits, Mission Impossible music, and magnifying glasses.

Heist Society by Ally Carter
(Hardcover, Disney Hyperion, February 2010)

Ally Carter is well-known for her Gallagher Girls series, featuring junior spy Cammie the Chameleon. In Heist Society, Carter turns her attention away from spies toward thieves. Kat's family have been thieves and con men for generations. When Kat tries to leave the family business and lead a normal teenage life, she finds herself pulled back into the con world when she has to assemble an all-teenage crew and steal a painting to save her dad. Filled with excitement, cross-continental mayhem, and Carter's trademark humor, Heist Society is going to give the Gallagher Girls a run for their money.

The Naughty List by Suzanne Young
(Paperback, Razorbill, February 2010)

Tessa is captain of the cheerleading team, a team that also happens to be a group of spies. Tessa and the other girls work undercover to catch the school's cheaters. Responding to text alerts, the squad investigates all boyfriends suspected of cheating. Even though this sounds silly, the book does a great job of examining fidelity and trust in relationships. The spy squad is a bit over the top at times, but readers will find themselves rooting for Tessa when her own boyfriend makes the list of suspected cheaters. Be prepared for somewhat of a cliffhanger ending though as there is a planned sequel, So Many Boys, due out in Summer 2010.

The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy
(Hardcover, Egmont, April 2010)

Jess Parker has always lived on the fringes of high school popularity so when she's invited to join an exclusive club called The Cinderella Society, she doesn't hesitate. She soon learns that this secret society has world-reaching goals, the primary one being to triumph over the Wickeds, an evil group that torments innocent high school girls. The Cinderella Society is an interesting twist on high school cliques and Jess Parker is feisty and likeable. Although I have never been interested in sororities, this book was a fun read.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart Book Review

The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart
(HarperTeen, Hardcover, March 2010)

Georgia and Riley have been best friends for years.  So when Georgia sees a flyer for a community building trip to Juarez, she has no trouble enlisting Riley to join her.  Both girls convince their parents that this trip is a good idea, a way to build not just a community, but character.  However, in Juarez, Georgia finds that not everything can be carefully managed and secrets can't always be kept.

Georgia lets us slowly into her life, revealing little details about herself and about Riley and they secrets they keep from each other.  I read The Heart Is Not a Size in one sitting; I couldn't put it down until I knew whether Georgia would overcome her panic attacks or whether Riley would admit she had an eating disorder.  I also loved that Georgia and Riley reminded me so much of me and my best friend in high school.  One smart and serious, the other beautiful and bubbly.  For me, this book is a novel about friendship, about the sacrifices we make for our friends, and about how important it is to have that one person you can count on.

The Heart Is Not a Size is also about a border town called Juarez and Georgia's experiences there.  I've never been to Mexico, but it was easy to close my eyes and picture the town.  Kephart effortlessly transports the reader to a gritty town inundated with sun and sand.  The descriptions of Juarez and it's people are so vivid, and Georgia's desire to help them comes across on every page.  The trip is as much an adventure as it is a learning experience for her and for the other teens in her group.

Like all of Beth Kephart's books, The Heart Is Not a Size is a must-read for teens and for anyone working with teens.  Kephart isn't afraid to tackle the big issues like parental pressure, anorexia, and death, and she does it all with compassion, honesty, and beautiful writing. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock Book Review

Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
(Houghton Miffling, Hardcover, October 2009)

D.J. Schwenk knows what it's like to be stressed.  Lately, she's feeling it from all sides.  She's been overseeing her brother's physical therapy after a football accident left him nearly paralyzed.  She's dating her best friend, yet still harboring feelings for her ex.  And she's about to make the biggest decision of her life—whether to accept a basketball scholarship to a small, safe school or to risk everything by going to a big, stadium-packed school to play ball. 

This is definitely my favorite D.J. Schwenk novel yet.  Whereas Dairy Queen set out to break down stereotypes by having D.J. be the only girl on her high school's football team, Front and Center looks at the pressures that come with high school.  D.J. is really good at basketball, but she clams up on the court when the stakes are high.  As D.J. learns to be a leader and find her voice, I was rooting for her to go big and accept a scholarship at a top basketball school.  Readers will have to pick up this book to find out what choice D.J. makes, though. In Front and Center, Catherine Murdock Gilbert delivers a gripping novel that is completely true to D.J.'s voice and that accurately depicts the college decision-making.  I'm only sad that this is the final book in the trilogy...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Announcing Harlequin Teen and 2 Book Reviews

Earlier this summer, Harlequin announced that they would be starting a teen imprint.  I was supremely excited for two reasons.  One, Harlequin is one of the only publishers (if not the only publisher) that has been making money in this recession.  Clearly, they know what people like and they are savvy about their book deals and book marketing.  Two, Harlequin Teen signing on some blockbuster authors, including Gena Showalter, P.C. Cast, Rachel Vincent, and, the author I'm most excited about, Maria V. Snyder.  So far, I've been able to read two of Harlequin Teen's books, My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent and Intertwined by Gena Showalter.  Both are great additions to the fantasy genre and, since I'd never read anything by either author before this, I'll definitely be checking out their adult titles.  See below for my reviews of these two books.  The shortened version?  I ♥ Harlequin Teen.

My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent
(Harlequin Teen, Paperback, 2009)

Kaylee Cavanaugh can sense when people around her are about to die and, when that happens, she starts screaming uncontrollably.  Kaylee has tried to keep this hidden her whole life.  Then she meets Nash.  Nash doesn't seem to care that she's a bit odd and, more importantly, he has an explanation for her screams.  My Soul to Take is a fresh, exciting paranormal book where the main character aren't vampires or a werewolves.  Instead, Kaylee and Nash are banshee.  Rachel Vincent weaves mythology and mystery into a romantic tale.  I loved that Kaylee is a powerful banshee, seemingly more so than her male counterpart, although the two must work together to save their friends.  Another great character was the grim reaper, Tod.  Hello, love triangles and a fantastic new series.

Intertwined by Gena Showalter
(Harlequin Teen, Hardcover, 2009)

Imagine having someone inside your head, talking all day.  Aden has four souls trapped inside him, constantly telling him what to do.  Not that it's all bad.  Aden's souls each have special abilities that have helped save his life in the past.  But when he meets Mary Ann, he doesn't want to stay away because when she's around, he can't hear the souls inside him.  At first, it was hard for me to keep up with who was speaking in Aden's head.  After a couple chapters, though, it became easy to differentiate between the multiple personalities and I marveled at how Gena Showalter was able to highlight each soul to show how Aden was feeling overwhelmed.  It soon became clear that Aden's task was to set the souls free.  Intertwined features a plot line that I can't get out of my mind and characters that I want to read more about.

If you want to learn more about Harlequin Teen, visit their website and their Facebook page.

Brand-New Emily by Ginger Rue Book Review

Brand-New Emily by Ginger Rue
(Tricycle Press, Hardcover, 2009)

Emily Wood's year at a new middle school isn't starting off so hot.  Somehow she's already made enemies with the popular clique - The Daisies.  Sick of being bullied, Emily decides to make over her image by hiring a top notch public relations firm.  Now, she's wearing the hottest clothes, "dating" a movie star, and hanging out with high schoolers.  The ruse may be working, but Emily soon finds out that being popular is hard work.

Brand-New Emily is a cute, eye-opening look at teen popularity.  It was fascinating to read about the marketing tactics that are used on teens, from how certain clothes become fashionable to how powerful and tricky brand loyalty can be. Emily's transformation to "Em" was well-written and believable.  The plot may sound unbelieveable, but Ginger Rue writes it with humor and a down-to-earth tone that makes the book a page-turner from beginning to end.  I can easily see this being made into a movie.  Add a few years to Emily's age and you have the makings of a modern "Clueless" or "Mean Girls."