Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Title:Catching Jordan

Author: Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: December 1st, 2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author / Student Recommended

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys, and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But now there’s a new guy in town who threatens her starting position… suddenly she’s hoping he’ll see her as more than just a teammate.

When Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally released all I found were positive reviews, so I knew it was a book to buy for my classroom.  I bought Catching Jordan for my classroom back in January, and I haven’t had a chance to read it myself since then!  Every time one of my girls reads and returns it, another girl is standing right there waiting to read it next.  The only reason I was able to read Catching Jordan this weekend is because one of my girls in my 5th hour (our last hour of the day), finished it and handed it back to me.  I quickly stashed it in my bag and the rest is history.

Miranda Kenneally’s debut novel is a quick read that teens obviously love based on what I’m seeing in my classroom.  It has plenty of appeal including sports, friendships, love and relationships, etc.  Most of my girls that have been reading it are very active in sports, but my romance fans have been picking this up as well.  I like the balance of sports and romance because many of my girls ask me for books without too much love.  Based on the amount of football scenes and references, I might even attempt to have one of my boys in class read Catching Jordan.  I teach primarily freshmen, and many of my boys are self-conscious about this sort of thing but it’s worth a shot.  I think some of them would genuinely like it.

I’d like to ask my students what they think of Jordan.  I love her dedication to football and her teammates; her actions as captain are believable and realistic.  I felt for her in regards to her wanting/needing her dad’s attention.  She’s really hurt that her dad doesn’t appreciate all of her hard work and skill in football.  When she meets Ty, she keeps telling herself that she doesn’t want to lose her focus and get too wrapped up in him.  I like this about Jordan, even if this does happen to some degree.  I did worry about her and how quickly their relationship becomes a sexual one.  Part of me thinks I feel this way because of how their relationship is written and how fast that part of the story progresses.  I also didn’t see Jordan acting that way based on what I knew about her at that point in the story.

Speaking of Ty, I definitely liked him and understand why Jordan is attracted to him.  He’s a talented athlete, even if she’s threatened by him, he’s loyal to his family, and he’s really attractive.  I enjoyed getting to know him with Jordan, but I kept wondering about her best friend Henry.  He’s always there for Jordan and sticking up for her.  It’s obvious that he really understands her, and I kept wanting to steer Jordan towards him!  The scenes with Jordan and Henry made me think of my best guy friend in high school.  I kept thinking about him as I was reading this and it made me wonder if maybe he liked me more than as a friend.  He’d come to our house all the time and even called my mom “Mom” although he never slept over.  Another guy I like in Catching Jordan is Jordan’s brother, Mike.  It’s nice to see an older brother character that’s supportive and looks out for his sister.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Miranda Kenneally‘s books in the future.  Catching Jordan is a really cute book that appeals to a variety of readers.  I’m happy I read it and look forward to recommending it to more of my students.

Review: And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

Title: And Then Things Fall Apart, 254 pages

Author: Arlaina Tibensky

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Released: July 26th, 2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author / Student interest

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Keek’s life was totally perfect.

Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever, her best friend heinously betrayed her, her parents are divorcing, and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chicken pox.) Now she’s holed up at her grandmother’s technologically-barren house until further notice. Not quite the summer vacation Keek had in mind.

With only an old typewriter and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for solace and guidance, Keek’s alone with her swirling thoughts. But one thing’s clear through her feverish haze—she’s got to figure out why things went wrong so she can put them right.

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky is a prime example of great contemporary Y.A. literature.  Keek has a true, authentic voice, which I enjoyed immensely.  I’m actually struggling right now trying to find the words to write this review because I loved this book that much.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if And Then Things Fall Apart was a book I wanted to read when I first heard about it.  I hadn’t read that many reviews, and I’ve never finished reading The Bell Jar, so I didn’t know if it was a book for me.  When I was at NCTE, Arlaina Tibensky was signing, so I figured I’d buy a copy and get it signed for my classroom.  Since then it’s been sitting on my shelf.  Recently I bought a copy of Saving June by Hannah Harrington for my classroom, another book I haven’t read, and one of my freshmen read it.  When she finished she told me she loved it and needed another book like  Saving June.  Since I haven’t read that one yet, I was at a loss, so I consulted Twitter.  Thanks to Kelly at Stacked, I had a couple book recommendations for my student which included And Then Things Fall Apart.  I didn’t have that in my classroom at the moment, so I gave my student the other recommend book and decided to read And Then Things Fall Apart.  I know this is a long-winded story, but I’m SO GLAD I read it!  Based on what my student said about Saving June and then Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers (which was the other read alike), I’m almost positive she’ll love And Then Things Fall Apart.

Anyway, back to why I loved this debut.  I need to bring up Keek.  She’s sick in bed with the chicken pox during summer vacation.  Chicken pox become worse with age, so Keek is really suffering.  To make matters worse, her mom is out of state, and her parents are about to get divorced, so she’s trapped at her Grandma’s house without any technology to interact with the outside world.  But she does have a typewriter and her worn-with-love copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  To give herself something to do, she decides to start writing.  Arlaina Tibensky’s novel is essentially Keek’s book.  She has a wonderful sense of humor that’s made up of mostly snark and wit.  Her voice is authentic, so it’s easy to picture Keek.  There isn’t much dialogue because Keek is isolated for the most part, but also because she’s a character that really lives in her head.  The lack of dialogue didn’t bother me at all, and it wasn’t something that I noticed until I saw some reviews on Goodreads after finishing.  Keek, who’s real name is Karina, is very mature for her age in the way that she thinks.  But on the other hand, she’ll sometimes act immature when it comes to her boyfriend Matt and her reactions to her parents.  Teens that view themselves as being more mature than their peers will really identify with Keek.

While Keek is mature and a deep thinker, she’s inexperienced with boys, which adds to her insecurity with Matt.  When she’s confronted with moving forward sexually with Matt, she often consults The Bell Jar for advice.  Her virginity is always on her mind, as is Matt.  At times Matt drives her crazy and she can’t stand him.  Other times she’s thinking about times when she was madly in love with him and her hormones were driving her actions.  Keek’s really conflicted; she doesn’t know if her feelings are real and why she’s so scared to have sex with Matt.  Some readers might be put off by Keek’s thoughts about sex and her virginity; they might see it as being too mature for some readers.  I read Keek’s memories of Matt and her thoughts about her virginity as very real and what many teens probably go through and think about.

The only fault I found with And Then Things Fall Apart, is that sometimes Keek’s voice and thoughts felt off character.  She started to sound more like an adult, or like I was reading a non-YA novel.  I normally wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, but Keek at times was too smart for her age.

Overall, if you want to read a fantastic example of contemporary Y.A., then I can’t recommend And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky enough.  It’s humorous, honest, and just all-around great.  I can’t wait to read more books written by Arlaina Tibensky.

P.S. If you’re currently on a budget, you’ll be happy to hear that this was released in paperback.

Review: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Title: Leverage, 425 pages

Author: Joshua C. Cohen

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (Penguin Group)

Released: February 17th, 2011

Interest: Cybils Y.A. Fiction finalist / 2011 Debut Author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): The football field is a battlefield

There’s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on – and off – the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy – including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school’s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

Joshua C. Cohen is an author to watch!  Leverage is an edgy, emotional, gripping debut.  It will appeal to those who enjoy sports, but it’s about more than sports.  It’s about loyalty, courage, and standing up for what’s right, even when the odds are against you.

Kelly at Stacked has been telling me to read this for months, but I can’t say why I put it off for so long.  I’m actually made at myself for waiting so long to read Leverage.  When I told my students about the Y.A. Cybils finalists, one of my Y.A. Lit students asked if he could read it for his project (sports in Y.A.).  He reported back to me as he was reading it, and eventually another student in class went to our library to get himself a copy.  Once my student finished Leverage, he came into class telling me all about it and preparing me for some of the events/scenes in the novel.  After this interaction with him, I started it right away.  Just like my student, I came into school and kept up our conversation, this time sharing my thoughts about the story.  This kind of interaction/relationship with my students is why I love sharing books with them.

I’m happy one of my older students read Leverage first because it’s a mature read.  I knew something bad was going to happen as the prank war escalated, but even after my student’s warning, I never expected it to get as bad as it did.  Without spoiling the novel, one scene in particular is horrific and haunting.  I had a feeling something like that might happen, but I hoped it wouldn’t.  It’s a graphic scene, so if you’re working with younger students, you  might want to read Leverage first before you hand it to one of them.  Or at the very least, let these readers know that it’s a mature and sometimes graphic novel.  While I was heartbroken after this event, I understand why Cohen included it.  It really sets up the characterization of Danny and Kurt.

I really enjoy novels that switch points of view, because it allows for more understanding of the events in the story.  Kurt and Danny are written so well, that I couldn’t choose which character I preferred more.  Both characters are flawed and motivated by their emotions.  Kurt has a past  no person would wish on another, and Danny is searching for praise and perfection.  Kurt’s goal is to leave his past behind, so he’s working out constantly in hopes for a football scholarship.  Football also allows him to release his anger and frustration.  His helmet helps him speak without a stutter, which makes him feel more powerful and in control.  He can also hide his scars, both physical and emotional.  Danny’s mother died, so now it’s just him and his dad.  His dad doesn’t seem to take Danny’s sport seriously, he sees gymnastics as a hobby.  Danny’s hoping to become captain one day and receive a scholarship, but he also wants his dad’s approval and recognition.  Danny and Kurt may play different sports and be vastly different physically, but both have similar aspirations.  It’s not really until the heartbreaking scene that these two characters come together and work towards justice.  It’s this scene that really shows how flawed Danny and Kurt are, but even while I was yearning for them to do something, I understood their hesitation.  Joshua C. Cohen not only created complex characters, he has written a novel that makes the reader question what he/she would do if placed in Danny or Kurt’s position.  Once you think about this from the character’s perspective, it’s difficult to judge them for their actions and/or inaction.

Leverage isn’t a novel for the faint of heart, because like Kelly told me, it will devastate you.  And while much of the novel is dismal, I knew there would be some hope towards the end.  Although the ending itself, I’m not so sure about.  Parts of it didn’t feel very believable to me, but that might depend on the reader.  If you decide to read Leverage, be prepared for an intense reading experience and an emotional connection to the characters.  Leverage is a story about bullying to the extreme, and it’s one that I highly recommend.

Review: Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Stasia Ward Kehoe Audition

458 pp. Viking Juvenile (Penguin Group)  2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author / Verse Novel / HS Book Club Choice

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): When high school junior Sara wins a coveted scholarship to study ballet, she must sacrifice everything for her new life as a professional dancer-in-training. Living in a strange city with a host family, she’s deeply lonely-until she falls into the arms of Remington, a choreographer in his early twenties. At first, she loves being Rem’s muse, but as she discovers a surprising passion for writing, she begins to question whether she’s chosen the right path. Is Rem using her, or is it the other way around? And is dancing still her dream, or does she need something more? This debut novel in verse is as intense and romantic as it is eloquent.

I’ve always admired dancers.  They’re athletic, graceful, hard workers and more.  Before this year I haven’t read any novels with main characters that are dancers.  Not only do has Audition released in 2011, but there’s also Bunheads by Sophie Flack and Ellen Hopkins’ newest novel, Perfect has a main character that dances.  My dancers in class will be happy to see these new additions to YA, as am I.

Stasia Ward Kehoe grew up as a dancer, so I can imagine Audition was a very personal novel to write.  Her expertise in dance is evident in how articulate she is in the language of dance.  I, not being a dancer, didn’t understand all of the terminology, but I did appreciate it and respect it.  Ballet dancers reading this novel will certainly appreciate Stasia Ward Kehoe’s expertise.  Not only does she use correct terminology, Audition is full of beautiful imagery and scenes.  Even with my limited knowledge of ballet I was able to picture the dancing and the dancers.

I’m a huge fan of verse novels, so I was really looking forward to reading Audition (besides it being about ballet).  The students in my book club chose this as our next novel after I told them about it, and most of them started it before me.  For one of the girls, this was her first verse novel and she told me she was struggling with it.  She wasn’t sure if it’s simply because she’s not used to verse, or if the verse was just choppy.  I kept this in mind while reading Audition, and for the most part I enjoyed the verse.  As I read more of the book I began to notice that many of the scenes and the writing are choppy.  Sara would be describing a scene at the studio, and then on the next page we were back at the house or with Rem.  These sudden changes in setting are jarring and caused me to re-read more pages than I cared to.  The verse isn’t always as fluid as I prefer, but I still enjoyed Stasia Ward Kehoe’s writing and will read more of her novels.

The story is about Sara and how she’s basically thrown into this new life of dancing.  She’s from a small town and is a promising dancer.  After she scores well at an audition, she is accepted at a dancing school at the Jersey Ballet.  Sara goes through a whirlwind of emotions during this transition and is really unsure of herself as a dancer and who she is outside of dance.  Eventually Sara isn’t sure if she wants to continue dancing, if this is really her dream.  Readers will appreciate Sara’s hesitation whether they’re a dancer or not, because many of us face these decisions in our lives.  Who are we?  What do we want to do with our lives?  Will our choices let down our family?  In the midst of this, Sara falls for Remington.  While I appreciated Sara’s angst about ballet, I simply couldn’t connect with her relationship with Rem.  Sara and Rem have a fast infatuation that never really made sense to me.  Part of this may be the fact that Rem really doesn’t have much dialogue–he and Sara don’t do much talking.  This is mostly because of the nature of their relationship, but also because the scenes with Rem focus more on Sara’s thoughts.  I understand the reasoning for this, but it also caused these scenes to fall flat for me.  As a result, Audition didn’t become the book I wanted it to be.

I’m looking forward to hearing my students’ thoughts, especially after seeing the different ratings they’ve been giving it on Goodreads.  Audition is one that I enjoyed, and even though some areas were weak, it’s a book that I still think others should read.

Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Marie Lu Legend

305 pp.  Putnam Juvenile (Penguin)  2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Source: ARC received at NCTE

Summary (From Goodreads): What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.

Dystopian YA novels have really taken off in the past couple years.  I really enjoy this genre of YA, but I’ve found myself becoming pickier about which titles I’ll read.  I read multiple positive reviews for Legend and a number of teachers and librarians that I trust recommended it.  Fortunately I received an ARC at NCTE and I’m so thankful I took everyone’s recommendations!

One of the reasons I’m picky about reading dystopian is because it gets overwhelming at times.  Some of the stories become upsetting after a while, that being the nature of the genre, which causes me to need a break or to be picky about the titles I read.  Legend is an excellent example of a dystopian novel, but it’s also a little lighter than some of the others.  Yes, there’s death and the fear of death, but there’s also a balanced mix of humor and romance.

Reading novels told from more than one point of view is always enjoyable for me.  So many of my students are requesting titles written in this way.  Day is our male protagonist and June is our female protagonist.  Day is one of the nation’s most wanted criminals and June is one of the nation’s prodigies.  Our seemingly opposite characters will cross paths after the murder of June’s brother, Metias.  Both characters are fighting for their families and discovering unsettling truths along the way.  Marie Lu did a very good job developing Day and June, so much so that not only did I connect with both of them, I was able to distinguish between their voices despite the differences in font colors for each point of view.

Teen guys and girls will enjoy this novel because even though there’s romance, there’s plenty of action and suspense.  So many scenes had me holding my breath and eager to read more.  I can easily picture teens connecting with Day and June’s loyalty to their family.  June wants to avenge her brother’s death and Day wants to protect his family from the plague.  I can picture readers connecting with June’s sense of patriotism for her country, especially at the beginning of the story.  Our readers that question our government might connect with Day and his actions against the government, especially when they understand his motives.  So many connections can be made with these characters and the universal themes incorporated in the novel.

Legend is a fast-paced, exciting debut with a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers begging for the second novel.  Parts of the story were predictable, but that never kept me from fully enjoying it.  Legend is now one of my favorite dystopian novels.

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Tahereh Mafi Shatter Me

338 pp. Harper (HarperCollins)  2011

Source: Finished copy received at NCTE

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Summary (From Goodreads): Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting as The Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices, Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.

Tahereh Mafi has written a wonderful debut that will appeal to fans of paranormal fantasy, dystopian, and romance.  Her lyrical writing stands out and breaks the rules, but it works and drew me in.

There’s so much I love about Tahereh Mafi’s writing.  First of all, I’m completely intrigued by her use of numbers.  Not only does she incorporate specific numbers like Juliette going 6,336 hours since touching another person, she also almost always uses the numeric value instead of writing the number(s) out.  I haven’t been able to find any interviews where she explains this, so if you know of any explanation I’d love to know about it.  I enjoyed how Juliette crosses out some of her thoughts.  Some readers may not enjoy this, but as Juliette grows more confident in herself, she does this less and less.  Mafi takes many liberties in her writing.  Many of her sentences lack punctuation, but it works because it adds more emphasis to Juliette’s words.

For readers that enjoy a steamy romance, Shatter Me is definitely for them!  There’s crazy tension between Juliette and Adam.  Much of this tension comes from Juliette’s strong desire to touch Adam while also being in fear of him and the possibility of touching him.  Part of Juliette’s power makes it dangerous to touch her, which often left me thinking of Rogue from X-Men (one of my favorite X-Men characters).  At times I questioned Adam’s intentions, especially since there’s this instant love or attraction between the two of them.  Eventually I was able to look past any doubts in their instant attraction and enjoyed the tension between the characters.  I do have to admit that Adam won me over.

I enjoyed Shatter Me as a dystopian, even with the paranormal elements, but I was disappointed by the stronger focus on the romance over the world building.  The summary is a little misleading because it’s focusing on her power and confusion over the romance, yet so much of Juliette’s focus is on Adam and Warner’s obsession with her.  This may turn off some readers looking for a plot with lots of action and dystopian elements.  Those elements are there, but they aren’t as prevalent until closer to the end of the story.  We also only get snippets of Juliette’s abilities which I hope become more of a focus in the second and third books.  I see a lot of potential for this trilogy in all aspects of the story.  I just hope the rest of the trilogy explains more about The Reestablishment and Juliette’s powers.

Flash Reviews (8)

Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough

Summary (From  Goodreads): Delaney Collins doesn’t believe in fairy tales. And why should she? Her mom is dead, her best friend is across the country, and she’s stuck in California with “Dr. Hank,” her famous life-coach father—a man she barely knows. Happily ever after? Yeah, right.

Then Dr. Hank tells her an outrageous secret: he’s a fairy godmother—an f.g.—and he can prove it. And by the way? The f.g. gene is hereditary. Meaning there’s a good chance that New Jersey tough girl Delaney is someone’s fairy godmother.

But what happens when a fairy godmother needs a wish of her own?

Flash Review:  Kathy McCullough has written an absolutely adorable MG/YA debut novel.  Delaney is tough on the outside, but she’s actually really sweet deep down.  Her witty sarcasm and sense of humor had me giggling and smiling the entire time I read this novel.  She and her father have a strained relationship, most of which results from Delaney not knowing that her dad is an f.g. I love that Dr. Hank is a fairy godmother, because I’m sure most of us wouldn’t expect a man to hold that title.  It increased the amount of humor in the novel while also keeping the story sweet and heartwarming.  Delaney doesn’t know about the ins and outs of being a fairy godmother, so she needs to learn to trust and rely on her dad to learn the ropes.  I definitely recommend reading Don’t Expect Magic.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Summary (From Goodreads): This is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss. The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. . . .

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.

Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final story idea of Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel about coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

Flash Review:  A Monster Calls took my breath away.  The writing, the story, and the illustrations are stunning.  Conor is dealing with his mother’s illness and has been suffering from nightmares.  One night after the recurring nightmare, the monster shows up and wants Conor to give him the truth.  The monster helps Conor understand what truth he’s looking for through stories.  These stories are intended for Conor to come to a realization and give the monster what it’s looking for, even if Conor doesn’t understand this at the beginning.  I was completely engrossed in this novel.  My dad is a cancer survivor, so I was able to empathize with Conor.  My personal connection may be why I adore this novel so much, but I can’t imagine someone not being moved by A Monster Calls.   When I finished this novel I was speechless and bawled like a baby.

 

Thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen

Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Kendare Blake Anna Dressed in Blood

316 pp.  Tor Teen  2011

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Summary (From Goodreads):

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas’s life.

Horror novels and horror movies aren’t my thing.  I love suspense and thrillers, but all the gore and nastiness of the horror genre freaks me out.  Despite all of that, I was excited when Kendare Blake signed up to be interviewed by my students because I know many of them enjoy horror novels and movies.  I passed a couple copies around for them to read prior to the interview, and was happy to hear so many rave reviews from my students.  They couldn’t stop talking about this debut which really grabbed my interest.  Honestly, I was getting a little jealous that I couldn’t read one of my own copies!  On Friday, one of the boys who borrowed Anna Dressed in Blood, returned it after school and told me it’s the best book he’s ever read.  That did it for me.  It was the end of the day, so no other students could claim my copy.

Anna Dressed in Blood is gripping and edgy.  It’s full of humor and a little bit of romance.  And of course, there’s gore.  Kendare Blake, however, balances all of these aspects perfectly.  Cas Lowood has a gruesome job that I would never want to be involved with.  Killing ghosts isn’t pretty or neat-n-tidy.  Considering I’m someone who doesn’t like horror, I was nervous about whether I’d like this book.  Yes, the details of the ghost killing and such is gross, but it’s not overdone with needless detail and extra amounts of blood.  Plus, Cas has an excellent witty attitude and sense of humor, which is usually incorporated to break the tension.  I also appreciate that the gore isn’t on every page; it’s evenly balanced and paced throughout the novel.  The romance in the novel builds slowly which I appreciate because it isn’t the primary focus of the plot.  The humor and romance mixed well with the mystery and suspense, which is why I couldn’t put this book down.  The story just keeps moving which had me completely engrossed.  There are plenty of scary scenes, but a scene towards the end with Cas and his mom was probably the creepiest.

The cast of characters in Anna Dressed in Blood really takes the novel to another level.  Cas is wonderfully sarcastic, but he’s also one who keeps to himself.  Avoiding the living isn’t as easy in Thunder Bay because he meets Thomas and Carmel, who won’t leave his side and stop helping him.  I wasn’t expecting characters like these to be included in the story, but I enjoyed them.  They bring out a different side of Cas which makes him more dynamic.  Anna, of course, really steals the show.  She’s beyond scary, but there’s something more to her which I’ll let you figure out when you read the novel.  Let me just say I have  soft spot for Anna, even if that sounds crazy.

Anna Dressed in Blood is unlike any other novel I’ve read; it really brought me out of my comfort zone.  I can’t wait to finally have the opportunity myself to rave about this book in my classes!

Hooked by Catherine Greenman + Giveaway

Catherine Greenman Hooked

276 pp.  Delacorte Press  2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received from Tandem Literary

Summary (From Goodreads): Thea Galehouse has always known how to take care of herself. With a flighty club-owner mom and a standoffish, recovering-alcoholic dad, Thea has made her own way in her hometown of New York, attending the prestigious and competitive Stuyvesant High School. But one chat with Will, a handsome and witty senior, and she’s a goner—completely hooked on him and unable to concentrate on anything else.

Always worried that she loves Will more than he loves her, Thea is pleasantly surprised when their romance weathers his move to college and Will goes out of his way to involve her in his life. But then, Thea misses a period. And that starts Thea and Will on a wild ride that neither of them could have possibly prepared for. When they decide to keep the baby, their concerned parents chip in what they can to keep Will in school and give both teenagers a comfortable place to raise their child. But when a freak accident leaves Thea shaken and threatens to upend their little family altogether, Thea is forced to turn to the last place she would have chosen for comfort: her stiff, uncompromising father.

This smart, touching first novel brims with realistic, beautifully drawn characters, and reminds us that love is never as easy or predictable as we might like it to be.

There are a number of YA novels about teen pregnancy on the shelves, but Hooked definitely stands out in the crowd.  It’s about more than Thea getting pregnant in high school.  It’s about Thea’s first love, it’s about her relationship with her dad, and it’s about Thea discovering where she fits after high school.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read Hooked because I don’t care for the cover.  It really doesn’t do anything for the story and what it’s really about.  Personally, I think it looks tacky and the title looks like a tattoo.  Once I started reading the book and looked more closely as the cover, I realized that the heart is crocheted.  Thea learning to crochet becomes a large portion of the plot, so it makes sense that it’s represented on the cover.  I just wish it was more prominent.  Despite my feelings on the cover, I’m quite happy I read Greenman’s debut.

I think the best way for me to review Hooked is to break down what worked and didn’t work for me.

What Worked:
I like Thea’s character because she isn’t really popular and she isn’t really awkward either.  She’s right in the middle like most teens.  Also, once she has the baby, I think her life is portrayed realistically, for the most part.  She’s incredibly nervous about being a mother and hurting her baby.  I’m not a mother, but I’m guessing many new moms worry about this, especially teen moms.  Thea’s decision to keep the baby wasn’t an easy choice, but once she makes the decision she stands by it no matter what anybody says.  Her dad is firm that she doesn’t miss out on her college education, which I’m happy is in the novel because even though not all teens get this opportunity when they have a baby, I’m happy the importance of education and having a steady job is stressed.  Thea is a likeable character that I found myself liking more as she matured and the novel progressed.  She discovers a talent she didn’t know she had, while trying to balance being a mother and holding down a job.

What Didn’t Work:
I think my biggest criticism is that while her life is realistic, it only was to a degree.  **This is a spoiler**  Thea’s and Will’s parents give them a large sum of money to live on with the baby until they get settled.  This didn’t work for me, because while I know their parents are wealthy, I just can’t picture that really happening.  Eventually Thea needs to rely on her dad in a different way which I viewed positively and saw that as being more realistic.  It was actually one of my favorite parts of the story; their relationship isn’t perfect, but we get to see both Thea and her father grow as characters.

Other than the story, I had some issues with the writing.  There are a number of flashbacks in Hooked, but the writing/format lacks a signal letting us know we’re moving back and then forward again.  At times like these I had to re-read the passage to figure out what was going on.  Also, I was confused about the setting at the beginning because Thea and her mom are talking and Thea’s mom mentions a flat she sold.  When I read that I thought maybe this takes place in England, but then locations in New York were mentioned.  It wasn’t until much later that we learn Thea’s mom is from England.  That would have been nice to know at the beginning.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Hooked.  I’m sure many of my students will enjoy this and I’m looking forward to their thoughts.  There were a couple of quirks to the story, but I’m happy I read it.  If you like novels by Rachel Cohn, I’m sure you’ll like it too.

Win a copy of Hooked by Catherine Greenman

*Must be 13 years or older
*A US resident (copy provided & mailed by Tandem Literary)
*Fill out the form to enter–comments do not count as an entry
*One entry per person
*No extra entries required, but spreading the word is appreciated. Feel free to tweet the link including my Twitter handle @yaloveblog
*Giveaway ends 10/30/11

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Variant by Robison Wells

Robison Wells Variant

384 pp.  HarperTeen.  2011  ISBN: 978-0-06-202608-8

Release Date: October 18, 2011

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.

He was wrong.

Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death.

But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

Variant left me feeling conflicted.  I was intrigued and hooked by Benson’s story and situation right away.  Maxfield Academy is surround by an air of mystery, especially when Benson first arrives at the school and sees kids cramming at the windows looking to see the new kid while two other students race out of the building to chase after a car.  Very odd.  Another interesting plot point is when Benson is getting the tour of the place from a girl who doesn’t seem to care that the school is more like a prison.  Then he meets the “gangs.”  All of this happens at the beginning of the novel, so my attention was held.  It’s once Benson becomes more involved at Maxfield Academy that I grew distant and bored.

What I disliked the most about Variant is that the pace began to drag.  So much time is devoted to Benson repeating how brainwashed everyone is and how horrible the school is.  I understand that he’s concerned and frustrated, which completely makes sense, but after a while it became annoying.  Benson obsessed over how to escape and why others seem content to stay locked up in the school.  Do I understand how he feels?  Yes.  Does that move the plot?  No. I also didn’t feel a connection with Benson or really any of the characters.  Everything about the characters felt very surface level.

Something else that slowed the plot down for me was how much time Wells spent describing paint ball battles.  The first paint ball match, set up against two gangs, took up an entire chapter.  On the positive side, my male readers who enjoy plots with lots of action will probably love this book and those scenes.  For me, it felt like a way to drag the story on and make the book even longer.  Now that I’ve finished the novel, I understand why those scenes are important, but I still think they’re much too long.

It’s obvious that Variant isn’t my favorite book, but I do know some students at school who will enjoy Wells’ book.  If you enjoy books that are heavy with action, then you should give this novel a try.  I wouldn’t categorize this novel as dystopian, but I imagine dystopian fans will enjoy Variant.  The beginning and the end of the novel are definitely attention grabbing, but overall I’m just not a fan.

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