Flash Reviews (6)

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Luis Fuentes has always been sheltered from the gang violence that nearly destroyed his brothers’ lives. But that didn’t stop him from taking risks—whether he’s scaling a mountain in the Rockies or dreaming of a future as an astronaut, Luis can’t stop looking for the next thrill.

Nikki Cruz lives her life by three rules—boys lie to get their way, don’t trust a boy who says “I love you,” and never date a boy from the south side of Fairfield. Her parents may be from Mexico, but as a doctor’s daughter, she has more in common with her north-side neighbors than the Latino Blood at her school. Then she meets Luis at Alex’s wedding, and suddenly, she’s tempted to break all her rules.

Getting Nikki to take a chance on a southsider is Luis’s biggest challenge, until he finds himself targeted by Chuy Soto, the new head of the Latino Blood. When Chuy reveals a disturbing secret about Luis’s family, the youngest Fuentes finds himself questioning everything he’s ever believed to be true. Will his feelings for Nikki be enough to stop Luis from entering a dark and violent world and permanently living on the edge?

Flash Review:  I’m a big fan of the Perfect Chemistry trilogy and the Fuentes brothers.  The stories are predictable, but the characters are engaging, the plots move quickly, and the relationships are exciting.  Luis is quite different from his brothers in the sense that he tries to avoid violence and the gang life, which was a nice change of pace from the other two books.  I would have enjoyed Chain Reaction more, however, if it would have been more of its own novel.  What I mean by that is Luis’s story was a mixture of Alex’s story and Carlos’ story.  Just like Alex, Luis and Nikki have chemistry together.  Very much like Carlos, Luis falls for a girl that’s tough around the edges and wary of him.  I felt like I was reading both Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction.  Luis was confronted with many of the same conflicts that his brothers were in their novels.  The story does become , but it’s not until later in the book.  I did enjoy reading it, it just wasn’t a 4 or 5 star novel like the other two.

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): In the world of Sheridan Wells, life is perfect when she’s decorating a cake. Unfortunately everything else is a complete mess: her mom ran off years ago, her dad is more interested in his restaurant, and the idea of a boyfriend is laughable.

But Sheridan is convinced finding her mom will solve all her problems – only her dad’s about to get a cooking show in New York, which means her dream of a perfect family will be dashed.

Using just the right amount of romance, family drama, and cute boys, The Sweetest Thing will entice fans with its perfect mixture of girl-friendly ingredients.

Flash Review: I need to say first that The Sweetest Thing had me going through all sorts of cravings.  Sheridan is an absolute perfectionist about her cakes, so her descriptions were quite detailed which made my mouth water more times than not.  Christina Mandelski has written a novel that girls who like novels by Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti will enjoySheridan is a character that a variety of readers can relate to, whether they aspire to be a baker, feel like an outsider, lack a relationship with their mother, or simply want to read a novel and empathize with a character.  While I enjoyed Mandelski’s debut, I did at times find myself irritated with Sheridan.  She is so stubborn about connecting with her mother and not cooperating with her father or friends.  It makes for a layered conflict, but it could have been resolved sooner without hurting the novel.  Still, Sheridan is a character that girls can learn from.  My girls in book club chose this as our first novel, and I’m really looking forward to discussing it with them this week.

 

Thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen :)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Michelle Hodkin The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

464 pp.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers  2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Source: ARC received from publisher

Release Date: September 27, 2011

Summary (From Goodreads):

Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.

She’s wrong.

This debut has received a ton of hype in the past few months and it completely lives up to the hype.  I absolutely devoured this story; I couldn’t put it down.  I stayed up late and read until my eyes were so heavy I had to close them, then woke up early enough to pick it right back up and finish it (thank goodness for the weekends!).  Michelle Hodkin is most certainly an author to watch because she not only weaves an engrossing tale, but she incorporates the perfect mix of mystery, snark, romance and humor–extra emphasis on mystery.

Michelle Hodkin hooks us with an eerie letter from our main character, Mara Dyer, only Mara says “My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something.  A pseudonym.”  The letter goes on to mention murders and warning us so we’re not next.  Talk about grabbing our attention, right?!  The thing is, now that I’m done reading this book, I’m wondering what her name really is because everyone calls her Mara.  This is part of what I love most about The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer–the mystery.  I know readers are calling this paranormal, but I’d rather call it magical realism or something. There are some strange things happening to and around Mara, many of which we don’t fully understand until the end or are still left wondering about until the next book.  Normally I prefer an ending that leaves the book feeling like it could be a stand alone, even in a series, but this ending worked for me.  Was I confused and did I want answers immediately?  Yes.  But the ending kept me thinking for days.  I let one of my students borrow my ARC so I could discuss it with someone.  An ending like that is worth the mystery and me eagerly waiting for the second book, even though the first hasn’t even officially released.

I’m a big fan of the characters in The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.  Mara Dyer isn’t a reliable narrator, but she’s snarky, mysterious and just as confused as I was.  I love that I, as a reader, am on the same page as Mara when it comes to the confusion over everything.  She doesn’t remember much of the accident when her friends died and she lived.  She and her family move to Florida to get away from everything which is when life gets a little weird for Mara.  This is also when she meets Noah, who I adore.  Oddly enough, some of the strange events happen whenever Noah is around.  There’s something unique between these two that I can’t wait to learn more about in the second book.  At first I didn’t think I was going to like Noah because he came off as the typical bad boy.  That’s not the case.  Just like Mara, there are some complex layers to Noah’s character that make him stand out from the rest of the paranormal genre love interests.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to write a review for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer without giving away major plot points.  There are scenes with dogs, alligators, a gun, and a guy named Jude I want to talk about.  But if I do, you’d be mad at me because I’d give away all the good parts, or at least some of them.  This is a book that needs you to suspend your disbelief, and if you can then you’re sure to enjoy it.  I flat out love it.  I don’t say this very often, but I would re-read this debut because it’s that good and I want the answers to my questions.  I definitely recommend getting yourself a copy, and make sure a friend reads it as well so you can try to work out the details and mystery to Mara’s story.

Flash Reviews (4)

I can’t believe the school year is starting again already!  I need to have these books in my classroom when the kids start, so I’m writing a few quick reviews so I don’t have the books piling up at home waiting for a review.  Post idea from GreenBeanTeenQueen 🙂

Moonglass by Jessi Kirby
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): From Jessi Kirby, a debut novel about confronting the past in order to move ahead.

I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now, I’ve thought maybe my mother drowned in both.

Anna’s life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It’s bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love- a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface.

While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide means that nothing- not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna’s mother’s death- stays buried forever.

Flash Review: I read some mixed reviews for this one, but I wanted to read it anyway, especially after my mom read it and told me how much she liked it.  The blurb from Sarah Dessen helped too.  I ended up really enjoying Moonglass.  It’s a wonderful summer read, full of beaches, lifeguards, etc.  Don’t let the beach atmosphere fool you.  Yes there’s a budding romance, but Anna is really struggling with the memory of her mother’s death.  This challenges her relationship with her father and her ability to grow as a person.  It’s an emotional read that I didn’t want to put down. I gave this 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman
Source: Received through Donors Choose fundraiser

Summary (From Goodreads):

Tennyson:
Don’t get me started on the Bruiser. He was voted “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty” by the entire school. He’s the kid no one knows, no one talks to, and everyone hears disturbing rumors about. So why is my sister, Brontë, dating him? One of these days she’s going to take in the wrong stray dog, and it’s not going to end well.

Brontë:
My brother has no right to talk about Brewster that way—no right to threaten him. There’s a reason why Brewster can’t have friends—why he can’t care about too many people. Because when he cares about you, things start to happen. Impossible things that can’t be explained. I know, because they’re happening to me.

Award-winning author Neal Shusterman has crafted a chilling and unforgettable novel about the power of unconditional friendship, the complex gear workings of a family, and the sacrifices we endure for the people we love.

Flash Review: Neal Shusterman is an incredible author.  I loved Unwind and couldn’t wait to get my hands on Bruiser.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at first because I thought this would be written from Brew’s point of view, but it’s told from multiple perspectives.  I really liked that because it’s always interesting to see how the characters feel and what they’re seeing.  It also moved the story along faster.  I enjoyed Brontë, but Tennyson and Brew were my favorite perspectives to read.  Tennyson is a layered, dynamic character.  Brew is complex and empathetic.  His point of view is told in verse which really fits his character.  I can’t wait to introduce this novel to my students because I know both guys and girls will enjoy it.  I gave this 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Annaleah and Brian shared something special – Annaleah is sure of it. When they were together, they didn’t need anyone else. It didn’t matter that their relationship was secret. All that mattered was what they had with each other.

And then, out of nowhere, Brian dies. And while everyone else has their role in the grieving process, Annaleah finds herself living outside of it, unacknowledged and lonely. How can you recover from a loss that no one will let you have?

Flash Review: I was immediately taken in by Annaleah’s story and her feelings for Brian and his death.  This story is a little different because Annaleah is grieving for Brian, but she’s grieving alone since no one knew about their relationship.  I can’t imagine being in her situation.  Not only is she trying to understand his death, but she has all kinds of questions about their relationship, if she can even call it that.  We follow Annaleah into a pretty deep depression, and even though this makes me feel cold to say this, it really irritated me.  She isolated herself while she was with Brian, but she’s not really alone; she has friends and family reaching out to her.  This is something that Annaleah grapples with herself, but that point in the book really dragged for me.  I thought about putting it down, but I didn’t and ended up being happy that I stuck with her.  The verse isn’t as impressive as Lisa Schroeder’s or Kimberly Marcus’s, but it’s still enjoyable and easy to read.  I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

Jessica Martinez Virtuosity

304 pp.  Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster )  2011  ISBN: 978-1-4424-2052-6

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Release Date: October 18, 2011

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From the publisher’s website): Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen’s whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn’t just hot…what if Jeremy is better?

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can’t end well, but she just can’t stay away. Nobody else understands her–and riles her up–like he does. Still, she can’t trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes anti-anxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what’s expected.

Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall….

I’ve read some pretty good books this summer, but Virtuosity is one of the few that I read in one sitting.  The book begins near the end of the story and it had me hooked because Carmen appears to be at a crossroads in her musical career.  From there we transition to the present and Carmen isn’t stalking, or so she says, her competition.  Paralleling these two very different, but very intriguing scenes piqued my interest and didn’t let me go.

Carmen is a phenomenal violinist who has records out and has even won a Grammy.  Now she’s preparing for a very prestigious competition, but she’s worried that Jeremy is better.  This is probably my ignorance, but I kept thinking, Carmen, you won a Grammy! You’re obviously awesome, so don’t worry about Jeremy so much.  I’m guessing if Carmen was a real person and knew I was thinking that, she’d probably scoff at my ignorance and be really annoyed with me.  The kicker is that Carmen isn’t only feeling the pressure from herself, but she’s feeling the heat from her teacher and her mother.  She’s become a jumble of nerves and is relying too heavily on her anti-anxiety drugs to calm her down so she can be a better performer.

Like I said, the anxiety and pressure Carmen’s feeling stems quite a bit from her mother.  Her mother is her manager, and Carmen doesn’t even call her mom; she’s called by her first name, Diana.  Obviously, there are some serious mother-daughter issues in this book.  They are layered and twist in an excellent element to the plot.  Diana is written so well that she was making me anxious.  I kept feeling this urge to yell at her to back off and give Carmen some room to breathe.

Another relationship that really made the story come to life is Carmen’s relationship with Jeremy.  In some ways it reminded me of Adam and Mia’s relationship from If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman.  It isn’t nearly as steamy and angsty, but I don’t think it’s meant to be.  Virtuosity focuses more on Carmen finding herself and whether she truly enjoys the violin anymore.  It’s more about her recognizing her strengths and weaknesses and the true colors of those around her.  I enjoyed their relationship because it made for an interesting twist in their rivalry and focus.

This is an early review, but Virtuosity is an awesome book that deserves some glowing, early buzz.  I hope you’ll remember to pick it up in October or pre-order it now.  Jessica Martinez is an author to watch; I’m already looking forward to her second book when her first hasn’t even officially released.

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten Hubbard Like Mandarin

320 pp.  Delacorte Press (Random House)  2011  ISBN: 978-0-385-73935-1

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): It’s hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it’s not her mother’s pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. When they’re united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town’s animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their Badlands town. Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin’s unique beauty hides a girl who’s troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal.

Like Mandarin released back in March, and to be perfectly honest, I’m mad at myself for not having read it sooner.  This book felt like it was meant for my students; I’ve met quite a few Graces and Mandarins over the past four years.

Grace is living in a small town with her single mother and her half-sister, Taffeta.  Living in Washokey, Grace has never felt like she fits in.  Many of the girls competed in beauty pageants, but Grace gave that up years ago.  Now her mother is focusing on Taffeta with high hopes that Taffeta won’t be a huge disappointment.  Grace is also incredibly smart for her age and has been moved up a grade, so she’s starting high school as a sophomore.  She constantly feels like an outsider and wishes she could be carefree and beautiful like Mandarin.  Grace hears the bad rumors about Mandarin, but she still wants to be like her.  She wants to be noticed, to be seen.

Every year the students in Washokey are required to complete a service project.  This year, it’s requested that for her service project, Grace helps Mandarin graduate.  Can you imagine being a freshmen, but bumped up a year to a sophomore, helping a senior graduate?!  If this didn’t make Grace feel more out of place, I don’t know what would.  But she considers it and decides to go with it.  This is her chance to get to know Mandarin.

I loved this book because it has so many layers.  The biggest aspect of the story is about Grace discovering who she is as she becomes friends with Mandarin.  She learns how to let go, how to rebel, how to feel comfortable in her own skin, and ultimately how important it is to stay true to herself.  Another big focus in the story is Grace’s relationship with her mother.  Grace’s father isn’t around and her mother had Grace at a young age.  Their relationship is strained because Grace feels she’s misunderstood and can never do anything right for her mom.  She’s not full of talent and beauty like her little sister Taffeta.  These dynamics shape Grace’s character and her actions throughout the story.

When I was reading Like Mandarin I mostly connected with Grace, but I also felt a connection with Mandarin.  Who hasn’t felt awkward and out of place like Grace?  Who hasn’t looked at the “bad girl” and even for a moment wondered what it would be like to be her?  I remember in 8th-9th grade feeling left out and tired of being “good” all the time.  I saw the other girls partying and having fun and hanging out with boys.  I remember even telling my mom once that I wanted to be like them.  It’s an incredibly awkward age, and for some girls, an age that really determines which direction they’re going to go.  Thankfully, I was able to talk to my mom about the feelings I had without being judged.  I’m incredibly thankful for the relationship I have with my mom.  Grace and Mandarin don’t have that relationship with their mothers.  Plenty of girls do well without a close relationship with their mother, but I’ve met quite a few girls who struggle without that closeness.  Grace’s service project ends up being more than just about helping Mandarin.  This book delves into Grace’s and Mandarin’s feelings and motivations incredibly well.

This is a strong debut novel with an important message without being preachy.  School starts in a couple weeks and I already know I’ll be talking about this book like crazy in my classes.  I can’t recommend Like Mandarin enough.

Possible book pairings: Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler, Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr, Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen (what’s with all the Sara(h)’s?!)

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Victoria Schwab The Near Witch

282 pp.  Hyperion (Disney Book Group)  2011  ISBN: 978-1-4231-3787-0

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

And there are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

Prior to and during the week of The Near Witch‘s release, almost all of the blogs I follow had glowing reviews for this debut.  After reading all of those reviews, and being in an odd mood on the day of the release, I decided to buy my own copy.

I think all of the reviews spoke of Schwab’s beautiful, lyrical writing and I completely agree.  She created an atmosphere of mystery and magic, very much like a fairy tale.  The imagery is fantastic and painted an easy to imagine setting.  Overall, the writing is gorgeous and impressive.

My only complaint is that the story is too plot-driven.  It was while reading this book that I realized how much more I enjoy character-driven stories.  I never felt connected to Lexi or anyone in the story.  I was interested in the mystery behind who’s kidnapping the children.  And I was interested in the lore of the Near witch.  My lack of connection with Lexi made the story drag on.  I got to the point where I just wanted to know what happened.  Despite the writing, and how much I was enjoying it, I found myself skimming the last couple chapters because I was growing weary and wanted to be done.

Honestly, it makes me feel down writing this review because I wanted to love this book.  I did like it and will recommend it to my students.  Reading is subjective and not every book is for every person.  I already know which of my students will most likely love this book as much as the reviewers I follow did.  I’d love to get some comments from those of you who read The Near Witch and loved it or feel the same as I do.

A few bloggers who enjoyed The Near Witch:
The Story Siren
Novel Thoughts
Reading Teen

Hourglass by Myra McEntire

Myra McEntire Hourglass

390pp.  Egmont  2011  ISBN: 978-1-60684-144-0

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

One hour to rewrite the past . . .

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

Full of atmosphere, mystery, and romance, Hourglass merges the very best of the paranormal and science-fiction genres in a seductive, remarkable young adult debut.

This is a book that I was excited to read because of the fresh plot idea and the romance referenced in the summary.  After debating between a few books I decided on Hourglass and jumped right in.  I was hooked immediately.  Once Emerson first confronted a not-from-this-time phantom, questions and predictions started racing through my mind.  Is she really seeing them?  Why are they there?  How will these play into the story?  My interest took off from there.

Emerson is living with her older brother, Thomas, and his wife, Dru.  I love these characters.  They are everything you’d want an older brother and his wife to be in this situation, and any time, really.  They’re supportive, understanding, caring, etc.  I love their career choice as well.  They’re trying to renovate all the old buildings in their town to revive the town.  This ends up playing an important part in the story.  Also, Thomas is who introduces Emerson to Michael.  Michael is part of the Hourglass and says he can help Emerson deal with seeing the phantoms.

Michael is the mysterious, sometimes brooding, protective heart-throb often found in paranormal YA.  Emerson has an unusual and powerful connection/attraction to Michael, but Michael won’t do anything about it because he can’t “mix business with pleasure.”  This introduces our heart-throb tension.  I will point out that Emerson isn’t the typical “damsel in distress.”  She has a brown belt in karate and knows how to defend herself.  These elements between Michael and Emerson, while a different twist on the usual paranormal storyline, caused some problems for me.  I love Emerson’s character and how strong she is.  But after a while I grew tired of how often she assured us that she’s tough.  We’re so often hearing about how bad it is to write female characters who are weak and need their male counterpart, but in this case I grew tired of constantly being reminded of how tough Emerson is.  There’s not much middle ground here.  I wanted to see Emerson show more emotion and even some vulnerability.  I know this is a conflict she admits to as a character, but it still irked me.  Reading Michael in this story really made me think about paranormal heart-throbs in general.  Michael is in college, so he’s written as being a bit more mature than the average high school guy.  But I still didn’t buy into him being a college student.  I know not all guys are immature and want to party and all of that.  But Michael, and his friend Kaleb, are simply too adult.  The way they’re written, I pictured them as guys in their late 20s.  I had no problem reading Emerson as a teenage girl, however.  Why is this happening so much in this genre of YA?

The story itself is fun and different.  Many people are interested in the idea of time travel, so this book will go over well with my students.  There are some holes in the story, but maybe they’ll work themselves out in book two.  I just wish that we would have gotten to the actual time travel part of the story sooner.  Is anyone else getting tired of all of these 400+ page novels?  I appreciate attention to detail and world-building, but I’m still searching for reasons why Hourglass needed to be almost 400 pages long.

I know this isn’t a raving, I give this five stars review, but I did enjoy it.  I just didn’t love it.  I’d love to know what others who have read this think.  I’m also looking forward to what my students this school year will think.

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris

Carrie Harris Bad Taste in Boys

201 pp.  Delacorte Press (Random House)  2011  ISBN: 978-0-385-73968-9

Source: Purchased

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Summary (From Goodreads): Someone’s been a very bad zombie.

Kate Grable is horrified to find out that the football coach has given the team steroids. Worse yet, the steroids are having an unexpected effect, turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless flesh-eating zombies. No one is safe–not her cute crush Aaron, not her dorky brother, Jonah . . . not even Kate!

She’s got to find an antidote–before her entire high school ends up eating each other. So Kate, her best girlfriend, Rocky, and Aaron stage a frantic battle to save their town. . . and stay hormonally human.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I never thought I’d like a zombie book, let alone love one.  Zombies simply aren’t my thing.  When I bought Zombies vs. Unicorns I already knew I was Team Unicorn.  I adored unicorn books when I was growing up.  Zombies just gross me out.  But then I heard about Bad Taste in Boys and read a ton of positive reviews.  Plus, Carrie is signed up to be interviewed by my students so I wanted to get the book for them to read.  I gave it a shot and loved every minute of it!

Are the zombies in this book gross? Yes, but I was still laughing even though body parts were falling off and guys were puking some seriously stinky stuff.  Carrie has written a hilarious cast of characters that kept me laughing even as Kate was carrying around a man’s foot.  Her dorky brother, Jonah was one of my favorite characters.  He reminded me of my brother because even though he’s younger, he still looks out for Kate.  He becomes a bigger part of the story once the zombie mayhem really picks up, and he had me giggling in all of his scenes.  The “sword” from the game he plays with his friends cracked me up–plastic pipe and duct tape.  Such a protective brother 🙂

Kate has become another favorite of mine as well.  I love how geeky she is!  She’s a science whiz, very witty, and awkward around guys, but she really holds her own.  She’s worried about her guys (the football players) and wants to make sure they’re not being harmed when she discovers the unmarked vials in Coach’s office.  She puts her knowledge to work and tries to keep everyone safe and from becoming a zombie.  The fact that she’s pretty rational when she discovers what’s going on is really impressive.  I’ve been hearing quite a bit of grumbling about female characters in paranormal YA being too wimpy.  This is simply not the case with Kate Grable.  She can kick zombie butt, uncover a mystery, and get a guy’s attention all at the same time without being the “damsel in distress.”

When I bought Bad Taste in Boys I was excited to find out that it isn’t a 400+ page door-stopper.  I don’t have anything against long books, but it’s refreshing to read one that isn’t.  Carrie Harris did a fantastic job pacing this story.  Nothing felt rushed or like information was missing.  It’s a fun, campy, well-written story.  The characters and humor were by far my favorite things about the book.

I can’t wait to add this book to my classroom library this fall.  I know I’m going to earn some major brownie points when I tell my students that I loved a zombie book and that I think they should read it too.

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

Amy Fellner Dominy OyMG

256 pp.  Walker Books for Young Readers 2011  ISBN: 978-0-8027-2177-8

Source: ARC received from publisher

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Summary (From the publisher): Jewish girl. Christian camp. Holy moley.

Ellie Taylor loves nothing better than a good argument. So when she gets accepted to the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp, she’s sure that if she wins the final tournament, it’ll be her ticket to a scholarship to the best speech school in the country. Unfortunately, the competition at CSSPA is hot-literally. His name is Devon and, whether she likes it or not, being near him makes her sizzle. Luckily she’s confident enough to take on the challenge-until she begins to suspect that the private scholarship’s benefactor has negative feelings toward Jews. Will hiding her true identity and heritage be worth a shot at her dream?

Debut author Amy Fellner Dominy mixes sweet romance, surprising secrets, and even some matzo ball soup to cook up a funny yet heartfelt story about an outspoken girl who must learn to speak out for herself.

Amy Fellner Dominy has written a debut novel that’s full of heart.  A few of my girls in class read this before me and kept telling me how much they loved it, so I was eager to read it this summer.  Within the first couple pages it became obvious why the girls enjoyed this one so much.  Ellie is independent, funny and admirable.  I know that OyMG is going to be a popular title with my girls this coming school year.

OyMG is a book that I’d love to incorporate in our curriculum.  I can see it working with our diversity unit as a supplemental title for students to read after To Kill a Mockingbird.  It would also work with my seniors when they’re working on their senior exit presentations since that entire unit revolves around an important 7-10 minute presentation.  I see a lot of potential for this title because it addresses so many topics and issues–religion, speaking up for yourself, individuality, public speaking, etc.  Plus, this could easily work with 8th grade middle school students.  I love when I find a book that I know kids in different age ranges will enjoy.  The girls in class who were raving about it are going to be seniors this year.

The writing and style really worked for me.  Ellie’s witty comments were perfectly timed and written.  The highly emotional scenes were flawlessly timed and poignant.  The scenes between Ellie and her grandfather put me on an emotional roller coaster!  At times I just wanted to hug them.  Not too much later I wanted to lecture either Ellie or Zeydeh or both of them!  They’re both wonderfully layered characters that you can’t help but connect with.  And the chapter endings?  They kept me turning the pages.  I think almost every chapter left me thinking “What’s going to happen next?”  One of my favorite chapter ending sentences is this one on page 77 “Beneath the Star of David, my heart shivered.”

Ellie is working through a lot in this book, i.e. trying to win a scholarship and dealing with religion and identity.  While she’s going through this, she still has love on the brain.  Amy Fellner Dominy balanced this really well.  I never criticized Ellie for thinking about Devon or how she looked even though she had the other stuff going on.  Ellie’s reactions and thoughts are very realistic and her relationship with Devon is age-appropriate.  I do have to say that I love Megan’s saying “Respect the Sizzle.”  That is the cutest thing and so catchy!  I can easily imagine my friends and I saying that sort of thing when we were Ellie’s age.  It’s true, right?  There should definitely be sizzle when you meet that certain someone.

OyMG is realistic without being harsh.  It’s well-written with lovable characters.  It’s a book I highly recommend you read!

Waiting on Wednesday–The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I polled my students this past school year to find out what they prefer to read.  This didn’t surprise me, but a majority of my students prefer realistic fiction.  I think I’m going to make it a goal to bring attention to as many upcoming realistic fiction titles as I can in my Waiting on Wednesday posts.  I don’t remember where I heard about The Sharp Time, but oh man does it sound good!  Plus, the cover is haunting and intriguing.  Based on the summary, this one sounds like the perfect book to add to my classroom library!

Title & Author: The Sharp Time by Mary O’Connell

Release Date: November 8, 2011

Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)

Summary (From Goodreads): Sandinista Jones is a high school senior with a punk rock name and a broken heart. The death of her single mother has left Sandinista alone in the world, subject to the random vulnerability of everyday life. When the school system lets her down, her grief and instability intensify, and she ponders a violent act of revenge.  Still, in the midst of her crisis, she gets a job at The Pale Circus, a funky vintage clothing shop, and finds friendship and camaraderie with her coworker, a boy struggling with his own secrets.  Even as Sandinista sees the failures of those with power and authority, she’s offered the chance to survive through the redemptive power of friendship. Now she must choose between faith and forgiveness or violence and vengeance.

What are you waiting for this week? 🙂

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