Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

The Sea of TranquilityTitle: The Sea of Tranquility

Author: Katja Millay

Publisher: Atria Books

Release Date: June 4th, 2013 (paperback)

Interest: ALA Alex Award Winner / Contemp

Source: Publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.

Full of rage and without a purpose, former pianist Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone discovering her past and to make the boy who took everything from her pay.

All 17 year-old Josh Bennett wants is to build furniture and be left alone, and everyone allows it because it’s easier to pretend he doesn’t exist. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, a hot mess of a girl who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. The more he gets to know her, the more of a mystery she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he may ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a slow-building, character-driven romance about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.

OhMyGosh. I’m sorry (well, not sorry) that I’m going to gush all over this review because this book is absolutely fantastic. The publisher approved The Sea of Tranquility for me over the summer via NetGalley and for some reason I started it but didn’t finish it. I’m so glad the librarian in my building asked me to read some of the Alex Award winners to help her decide which ones to add to the library. I was in one of my moody reader moods on Friday and decided to pick up Katja Millay’s debut again to see if it would perk me up and also to help out our librarian. It did that and more.

Since I found out I was pregnant in January, I haven’t been able to read a book in one sitting without falling asleep. The Sea of Tranquility is 448 pages long and I read the entire book in almost one sitting without falling asleep. It’s incredibly engaging and engrossing. I can hardly explain how attached I am to the characters in this book. I woke up in the morning thinking about Josh and Nastya wondering how their story would end. Some reviewers say that the story starts out slow, but I disagree. I really can’t remember why I set it down over the summer, but I know it wasn’t because it’s slow.

But speaking of slow, Josh and Nastya’s relationship grows slowly–there’s no insta-love. Instead we really get to know Josh and Nastya as they get to know each other. I loved watching them navigate their feelings for each other since they’re both very guarded and hesitant to let anyone into their lives. I don’t know if this is weird to say, but I felt myself falling in love with them as I read their story. We get to read from both of their point of views, but I still wanted to know more about Nastya just like Josh did. Katja Millay wrote such real characters that I felt their emotions with them. She gave them depth and emotion and so much heart that I teared up multiple times while reading.

I do want to mention a warning that’s placed at the end of the Goodreads summary that I chose to eliminate from my review. It warns the reader about the mature content in the story. I know that’s one of the reasons why my librarian asked me to read The Sea of Tranquility before she added it to the circulation. I really don’t think the warning is necessary. Yes, there’s profanity, but I don’t think there’s an excess of it. There’s a lot of sexual innuendo and joking, but there isn’t anything graphic included in terms of sex. There’s a scene which includes drugs, but again, it’s nothing that really shocked or alarmed me. All of it fit the characters and the situations in the novel. I always recommend reading a novel before handing it to students and this is no different. I did, however, order myself a copy for my students when I was only 40% through because I felt that confident about it.

I really hope Katja Millay writes another book soon. I’d even be happy if she chose to write a sequel. ;) I’m so impressed with her debut that I’ll automatically add her next book to my TBR list. The Sea of Tranquility is a new favorite and has been added to my limited list of books that I would happily read more than once.

The Sea of Tranquility read alikes (titles & authors): Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Fall for Anything & Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Cover & Excerpt: Empower by Jessica Shirvington

My students and I can’t get enough of Jessica Shirvington’s Embrace series, so I’m very excited to share the cover and first chapter of Empower, the upcoming release in the series (book five). Thank you, Sourcebooks Fire, for the opportunity to share this! Empower by Jessica Shirvington releases on May 6th, 2014.

EmpowerSummary (From Goodreads):

It has been two years since Violet Eden walked away from the city, her friends, her future and – most importantly – her soulmate, Lincoln. Part angel, part human, Violet is determined to stand by the promises she made to save the one she loves.

Living in the perpetual coldness of a broken soul she survives day to day as a Rogue Grigori in London.

But when an unexpected visitor shows up at her door, the news he bears about someone she swore to protect leaves Violet with no choice.

Even worse, she fears that this might all lead back to the night she tries hardest to forget. And what was taken without her permission.

Violet is going back to New York … and she knows exactly who is going to be there.

With Phoenix in her dreams and Lincoln in her heart she knows it is only a matter of time before the final choice must be made.

Chapter One Excerpt:

“But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
ROBERT FROST

My sweater was coated in a layer of mist—-again—-a by–product of life in London. I barely noticed the constant drizzle anymore. It’s not as if the cold bothered me, not when I was the very definition of cold.
What was bothering me was the smell. There is something rank about a meat market at night—-especially when you’re wedged into the eaves wondering what, over the years, has been sprayed about and never cleaned away. I shuddered.
The Smithfield Market was currently in vogue, but a gritty sense of history thickened the air, giving it a density that made me sure this wasn’t the first time the site had been used for wicked intent. And right now, it was hunting hour.
At least I was the hunter.
I watched quietly as the exiles came into the center of the massive terminal–style space, vaguely interested to note that there were six of them, instead of the four I’d expected. No bother, I suppose. I still had the element of surprise on my side.
The past two years had taught me not to let the everyday hiccups get to me. Sure, the additional muscle would hurt, but only in the physical sense, and I could cope with that. Rolling with the punches is necessary when you are a Grigori—-a human–angel hybrid—-a weapon against the ever–increasing numbers of exiled angels on earth. For me even more so, since they gave me such a colorful nickname. I’m the Keshet—-the rainbow. I didn’t ask to be, but I made my choices and I stand by them.
So, there I was. Although I was still trying to figure out exactly what being the rainbow meant, mostly I found that the desire to know conflicted with my continuing need not to think about it at all. One thing I did know was that somehow I could create space with the angels—-an unknown place where we were able to take form and communicate. My angel maker—-whose name I still didn’t know—-said it was a place of new possibilities. For what, I was not sure.
But I know this is what I am. It is what I will be.
The final two exiles sauntered up to the four already waiting. It used to be impossible for me to be this close to exiles without them going into a frenzy, sensing my presence. But I’d learned many lessons over the past year, the most useful of which had been how to keep my guards up and locked so tight that even exiles couldn’t sense me when I was truly concentrating.
Which—-judging by the thin film of sweat on my forehead—-is now.
The exiles dumped the huge calico sack they had been dragging along the floor and pulled it open, revealing three mutilated bodies to join the two maimed ones already on display.
From my position it was difficult to tell how old the corpses were, and if the smell was able to give a clue, I wouldn’t have known, the stink of death and flesh being an overall theme of the place.
It was no wonder the exiles liked it so much.
Normally, exiles wouldn’t bother with the cleanup—-leaving evidence was of no concern. Normally, the exiles enjoyed the mess and despair they left behind. But not these exiles. These dark exiles were working for someone else. They’d been following a plan, using a hit list, and it was all too well constructed for any one of them to mastermind. Our intel told us they’d been hired. Such behavior would usually be considered beneath them, but apparently this group of exiles had decided the job was thrilling enough to suffer the humiliation of working for the highest bidder—-even if that was a human.
As for the billionaire businessman, well, that’s not my department, but someone will pay him a visit. Right after all the evidence of his wrongdoing—-minus the exile activity—-is handed over to the authorities and his bank accounts are heavily siphoned to pay for the futures of his victims’ families. And our fee, of course.
Which, thanks to certain people, is exorbitant.
Two of the exiles were dressed impeccably: one in a steel–gray suit and sporting villain–typical slicked–back hair; the other wore a slim–collared black suit that hugged his tall figure and set off his of–the–moment tousled, light brown hair. The remaining four were less striking in casual wear, though nonetheless picture perfect. All six looked over the bodies like fishermen comparing the size and quality of their haul. My hand grazed my dagger, the blade that had been given to me after I first embraced my powers and became a Grigori warrior three years ago. I was never without it. I even had a sheath attached to my bed for a quick draw if needed.
I’d learned the hard way—-through the death and suffering of people I loved and, strangely enough, through my own death and suffering—-exiles stop at nothing. Their insanity and misguided missions know no bounds, and they take pleasure in causing great pain and suffering to humankind.
At least tonight I would only face exiles of dark. A couple of years ago, the two opposing sides, light and dark, had called a truce. Of course, I tried not to think back to that time.
I tried constantly.
The discovery of the scripture that could end all Grigori had found its way into my hands. That in itself was part of the reason the Assembly had rejected me. They blamed me for trading with the dark exile, Phoenix. My decision had allowed him to resurrect Lilith—-his mother, the first dark exile—-from the dead, and she had taken control of the Grigori Scripture. But at the time, my choice had been a simple one. Phoenix had Steph, my best friend, and I wasn’t about to take any chances with her life. I’ve never regretted that choice.
Not like so many others I’ve made.
In the end, that made it easier to walk away from a place in the Academy when Josephine decided to change her mind. Of course, that was after I’d given my life, Lincoln’s soul had shattered, and Phoenix had died—-proving that not only was he the son of Lilith, but he was also the human son of the first man, Adam—-all so that I could kill Lilith. And those reasons weren’t even the ones I tried not to think about.
But I can’t go there right now.
I caught myself. I was working and the last thing I could afford to do was acknowledge that I was thinking about him.
The six exiles started to shift the remains of the bodies toward the incinerator, tossing them with supernatural strength and no care. I half expected them to try and mince the meat and load it onto trays for sale tomorrow. I wouldn’t put anything past them.
“Make sure you take the index fingers,” one of the suited exiles instructed. “Mr. George is expecting me to deliver them to him tonight.”
That’s a shame. Though I’m sure Mr. George will receive a knock at his door nonetheless.
“I still don’t understand why we don’t just kill him too,” another said.
“Are you challenging me?” The exile who had spoken first stepped forward.
His questioner mirrored his actions.
Here we go.
“If I must.”
Exiles never back down. Their pride and egotism combined with their unique brand of insanity is just too much to ignore. Angels were not created to take corporeal forms on earth. Though they have existed for eternity, in human bodies, they manifest emotions in ways their innate nature can never process. It makes them unstable. And almost unstoppable.
I wriggled into a better position and waited patiently, knowing that this would work in my favor.
Sure enough, the exile who had spoken out first also struck out first, engaging with the suited exile. It didn’t last long. The suit, clearly the older of the two and a true fighter—-my guess was he had once been either a Domination or a Power—-overpowered his opponent, snapping his neck and making quick work of removing his heart.
We had our methods of ending their immortal existence; they had theirs.
Happy days. I now have one less exile to take care of.
I checked the time and sighed. If I didn’t get this show on the road, I’d lose my window. And fighting alone was always my preference.
The drop to the ground was at least two stories high, but I landed behind the group of exiles lightly, thanks to my angelic enhancements.
Breathing calmly, I let go of the power I was holding tightly within, just enough to lower my shields.
The exiles, who had been preoccupied with their boasting, stiffened instantly and spun around to face the new threat. It was almost comical, the look of surprise on their faces. I guess a Grigori had never snuck up on them before.
Responding quickly, the suited exile stepped forward, shoving two of them to the side, the five of them quickly forming a semicircle around me.
So nice of them to stand in single file.
But the way he studied me—-with trademark exile insanity and undisguised raw desire—-made me think that this one recognized me. It happened from time to time.
I wanted to sit around and chew the fat. Really. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do with my time than hear about how they intended to rip me limb from limb and how that would make them as great as gods and me the most pathetic of humans. But when you’ve heard it all before and always walked away—-or, at the very least, been carried—-while they were returned for their ultimate judgment, it gets old. So, I cut to the chase.
“You have a choice. Make it or I will make it for you,” I said, knowing that of all Grigori, I alone had the right to put it like that. “Consider wisely,” I reinforced. After all, I could return them like any other Grigori with one of our blades, but if I willed it, I could also strip them of their angelic strengths and leave them human—-a fate exiles considered worse than an eternity in the pits of Hell. As far as I was aware, I was the only Grigori who could do this without requiring the exile in question to first choose such a fate. Which, of course, never happened.
“You brought Lilith to her end,” the suit said, his head tilted to the side, as if confused.
Yeah, that’s right, little ol’ me.
And it only cost me everything that mattered.
I raised my eyebrows. “Time’s almost up,” I said, refraining from closing my eyes briefly as I felt a surge of power within, something that had been happening increasingly. I was getting stronger, and exactly what that meant and how to harness it wasn’t the kind of knowledge I was excited to discover.
I could strip them all, make their choice for them, and be done with it, but I’d only done it twice. Onyx had been my first, and I’d seen the pain it caused him. I didn’t like knowing I was the one who took away his choice. Who was I to do such a thing? The second had been a demonstration, and had resulted in the exile in question meeting a quick death. I can’t say I regretted it—-he’d been one of the exiles so happy to see me strapped to a crucifix and tortured for hours—-but still…
Anyway, tonight was more like training, and I’d been taught to be thorough. So, when the suit threw the first exile at me—-knowing he’d be nothing more than a momentary distraction while I took him down and he lined up the next one—-I got to work.
I braced, grabbing my dagger and moving into position. By the time the exile came within range, my dagger had sliced through his heart and he was no longer there. Simply gone. Where did their physical forms go? Beats me.
I was already spinning by the time the second one was sent flying through the air toward me. My foot stopped his momentum and threw him back. I was on him in an instant, my dagger going straight to his heart. It didn’t need to be the heart to return them, just a killing blow inflicted by a Grigori weapon. You could slice into exiles all day long with your garden–variety knife or shoot them with a gun, but neither option worked. I’d never seen a Grigori manage to rip out an exile’s heart barehanded, and even though the trick worked for exiles taking out other exiles, something told me that it did not alter our rules. Permanent results for Grigori over exiles only came via the blades of angels.
Or my blood.
The third exile went much the same way, and soon enough I was left being circled by the two suits. To my surprise, they actually worked together—-exiles aren’t good at that—-boxing me into a corner. The brown–haired exile in the black suit moved in on me when the other one feigned a move to my right. I took a closed fist across the face and a foot to the stomach.
I heard a crack—-broken rib—-but I didn’t register the pain. That kind of pain was barely a tickle compared to the agony I carried inside, every moment of every day.
My pause gave the other exile the chance to take a swing. His foot collided with my hand so hard that my dagger went flying across the room. I kept my eyes on my attackers but my ear on my weapon, listening to the reverberations as it slid along the concrete floor and eventually hit the far wall with a clang.
The exiles smiled.
I sighed.
Then I leapt into the air, gaining enough height to grip the brown–haired exile’s throat between my knees. Twisting my body as I fell through the air, I dragged the exile down with me, his neck breaking with a loud crunch.
It wouldn’t keep him down for good, but a broken neck buys time.
The exile in the gray suit grabbed me roughly from behind and threw me into the wall.
I groaned as I slid down the metal piping my back had hit. It was the opposite wall to my dagger.
Damn it.
It wasn’t an ideal situation. And I wasn’t fool enough to delude myself into thinking I could make it to my dagger. I was regretting my decision not to wear any other weapons tonight, but my dagger was the only weapon that, when sheathed, was invisible to human eyes.
Think, Vi.
I’d come down behind a wall of old crates. I was considering how I could use them to my advantage when I spotted a piece of the slim metal piping I’d broken in my fall. It lay by my foot.
I could hear the exiles moving toward me. They were cackling.
“We should take her body with us to the tournament tonight,” one said.
The other one laughed. “That would definitely put dark in the lead.”
“And everyone would know that we were the ones who killed her.”
Can anyone say “premature victory”?
Without stopping to think, I pulled off the bracelet from my left wrist, using the specially designed clasp to cut open the flesh around my silver marking, currently swirling in the presence of exiles, and let it spill onto the end of the metal bar.
It took just a few seconds, and as soon as I palmed the pipe, the exiles started to throw the crates aside then came into view, their smiles wide with anticipation.
I stood. I didn’t return their smiles. I didn’t bother to do anything other than what needed to be done.
I lunged, raising my elbow into the face of the black–haired exile as I spun, the metal pipe striking his companion through the heart. He was gone. I turned back to the first exile and, hoping that there was still enough of my blood on the pipe to do the trick and using my supernatural speed for all it was worth, I jammed the pipe straight into his neck.
His face wore an expression of pure surprise.
I’d seen that look before.
I sighed and my shoulders slumped forward, unfulfilled. This was my job, one that I would do for as long as I existed, which could be a significantly long time. But two years ago, I’d accepted that there was no longer any satisfaction to be had in my world.
No fairytales.
Only the cold.
Turning toward where I thought my dagger had landed, my surroundings suddenly changed.
I was no longer seeing the warehouse. There were flashes of white, moving fast, pounding hooves. Horses. Silver streaked through the air like a dance. Swords. Slashes of red painted the sky. Something sharp and deadly ripping through flesh—-wet and gruesome. Claws. Thousands and thousands of beings as far as I could see fought ruthlessly, with no sign of tiring. In the center, two warriors battled beneath a blinding light. I could not make out their faces.
I blinked hard.
The image was gone, and in its place Gray stood against the wall of Lincoln’s warehouse, casually flipping my dagger in the air. “Would you like me to applaud?” he asked.
Leaning against a metal support pole, he had that midtwenties look I’d come to associate with the older Grigori—-though I had no idea how old he really was—-and was dressed in his usual black jeans, black T–shirt, and black leather jacket. Black really was the only color worth investing in—-blood stains everything else. He sported about a week’s worth of growth on his face, though his head was shaved, the scars that ran over the top of his skull telling of a history both terrible and secret. Grigori did not generally scar, so I knew that whatever had caused these had occurred before Gray had turned seventeen.
I swallowed over the lump in my throat and glanced around as I composed myself. The whole…hallucination…had lasted only a couple of seconds. I clenched my jaw.
Christ. It was nothing. I’m just imagining things.
I snapped my bracelet back in place over my marking and shot him a dry look. “Should I be charging a spectator fee?”
My voice sounded normal but my ears felt like they were still ringing with the echoes of battle.
“Not if the show is going to be over so fast, princess.”
I glared at him for persisting with the stupid nickname. “You know, you could’ve stepped in and given me a hand.”
“Sure,” he said with a solemn nod. “And you could’ve waited until the meet time we’d all agreed on too.”
I looked away briefly. “So, why are you here early?” I asked, hoping to divert the conversation.
Gray tilted his head. “Because I know you.”
I shrugged off the veiled accusation, even though it was true. To a degree.
“It was easier this way.”
He threw my dagger into the air, and I caught it by the hilt and slipped it back into its sheath.
“Well you can explain that to the others, since they just arrived.”

Review: The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine

The Promise of AmazingTitle: The Promise of Amazing

Author: Robin Constantine

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: December 31st, 2013

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Wren Caswell is average. Ranked in the middle of her class at Sacred Heart, she’s not popular, but not a social misfit. Wren is the quiet, “good” girl who’s always done what she’s supposed to—only now in her junior year, this passive strategy is backfiring. She wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how.

One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.

I loved The Promise of Amazing and want to read Robin Constantine’s next book right now. Unfortunately, I’ll be waiting for at least a year to read that next book since The Promise of Amazing is her debut novel. And what a fun debut it is!

Sometimes I need something sweet and romantic to read. The story of Wren and Grayson is exactly what I needed this week. I loved reading from both of their perspectives and getting a well-rounded view of who they are as characters and what they were each going through during the story. Just like Wren and Grayson were instantly attracted to each other, I was instantly hooked to their story.

I’ll admit, insta-love usually doesn’t work for me, but it works in this book. I bought into their attraction to each other. It’s honest and very much what I remember feeling like when I fell hard for guys in high school. I’ve read some criticism about this part of the story, but I think many of the adult reviewers forget what it’s like in high school. I don’t remember everything from high school (thank goodness!), but since I’m a high school teacher I see this happening ALL THE TIME. It’s one of the reasons I loved reading this book so much. It took me back to high school/early college. It made me think of the students that I should hand this to next. It’s become one of my favorite contemporary realistic fiction romances and I know many of my students will consider this a favorite as well.

Since I’m bringing up the topic of romance, I know some of you will want to know just how romantic this is. There’s plenty of kissing and some references to sex. Wren and Grayson are older high school students so this makes sense, however there’s really never anything explicit described. Grayson is/was a player so that’s when most of the references to sex come into play. I appreciate that Robin Constantine wrote such a stellar teenage romance without getting too detailed. I don’t have freshmen this year, but I’d feel more than comfortable handing this to a freshman reader.

I really like that while this is very much a romance, it’s also about Wren and Grayson wanting to change. Wren doesn’t like being described as “quiet” because she associates that with boring. Grayson has gotten into trouble at school and is ready to change his ways. These two characters crossing paths makes sense because they help each other change. More importantly, neither characters forces the other to change. Simply meeting is what really drives each of them to put their desire to be different into action.

If you’re looking for book pairings, I think readers who enjoy Simone Elkeles, Kody Keplinger, and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy The Promise of Amazing.

Review: Golden by Jessi Kirby

GoldenTitle: Golden

Author: Jessi Kirby

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 14th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

Jessi Kirby’s books keep getting better and better. I bought my copy of Golden over the summer and am now angry with myself for not reading it right away; it’s that good. I’m not sure how to put words to all of my thoughts about this book, so this review is going to be written as a list.

1. Julianna’s journal. I love that Jessi Kirby added Julianna’s journal entries to the story. It takes the story to a whole new level because of the romance and mystery it adds.

2. Mr. Kinney’s journal assignment. I love the quote he had students respond to: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver. He gives his seniors notebooks and says, “Fill it up with words that make a picture of who they are, things they may forget later on, after so many years, and want to look back on” (11). I love the idea and want to find a way to mimic this assignment with my seniors.

3. The cover. This book cover is gorgeous! Besides my raving about it, the cover will draw my students to this book.

4. The relationships. Parker deals with a strained relationship with her mother, the threat of losing her best friend when she leaves for college, deciding if she should give her long-time crush a chance, and of course Julianna and Shane’s relationship. They’re blended together and balanced perfectly so it never feels like one part of the story outweighs another.

5. Parker’s growth as a character. Parker’s character is one of the many reasons I love contemporary realistic fiction. She’s afraid to let anyone down and that fear has held her back. She discovers a lot about herself through Julianna’s journal. I know a lot of students who are very similar to Parker. Senior year is often scary for students which is one of the reasons why I appreciate Jessi Kirby writing Parker’s story.

Book Trailer Thursday (130)–My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody

Book Trailer Thursday

After reading 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody I went right out to buy more of her books. My Life Undecided released in paperback last fall so I bought a copy as soon as I found one. I haven’t taken the time to book talk either book yet this school year. I think this book trailer will help with that book talk :)

My Life UndecidedSummary (From Goodreads):

PLEASE READ THIS! MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!

Okay, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but I’m sorry, I’m feeling a bit melodramatic at the moment.

Here’s the deal. My name is Brooklyn Pierce, I’m fifteen years old, and I am decisionally challenged. Seriously, I can’t remember the last good decision I made. I can remember plenty of crappy ones though. Including that party I threw when my parents were out of town that accidentally burned down a model home. Yeah, not my finest moment, for sure.

But see, that’s why I started a blog. To enlist readers to make my decisions for me. That’s right. I gave up. Threw in the towel. I let someone else decide which book I read for English. And whether or not I accepted an invitation to join the debate team from that cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way guy who gave me the Heimlich maneuver in the cafeteria. (Note to self: chew the melon before swallowing it.) I even let them decide who I dated!

Well, it turns out there are some things in life you simply can’t choose or have chosen for you—like who you fall in love with. And now everything’s more screwed up than ever.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the book and decide for yourself.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream in frustration. Or maybe that’s just me. After all, it’s my life.

Book Trailer Thursday (127)–How to Love by Katie Cotugno

Book Trailer Thursday

Over the summer I read a few different books dealing with teen pregnancy. I’m looking forward to adding another one to my “read” pile. The book trailer for How to Love gives Katie Cotugno’s debut a lighter vibe, but a few of the reviews I’ve read said it’s actually not (they were positive reviews). Regardless, the story sounds intriguing. It will be interesting to hear what my students think once they can compare the book trailer and summary with the actual book once they’ve read it.

How to Love by Katie Cotugno releases on October 1st, 2013.

How to LoveSummary (From Goodreads):

Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember: as natural as breathing, as endless as time. But he’s never seemed to notice that Reena even exists…until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears from their humid Florida town without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there’s a new love in Reena’s life: her daughter, Hannah. Reena’s gotten used to being without Sawyer, and she’s finally getting the hang of this strange, unexpected life. But just as swiftly and suddenly as he disappeared, Sawyer turns up again. Reena doesn’t want anything to do with him, though she’d be lying if she said Sawyer’s being back wasn’t stirring something in her. After everything that’s happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?

In this breathtaking debut, Katie Cotugno weaves together the story of one couple falling in love—twice.

Review: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Where the Stars Still ShineTitle: Where the Stars Still Shine

Author: Trish Doller

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Release Date: September 24th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She’s never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love–even with someone who seems an improbable choice–is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love and discovering who’s really important in your life will resonate with readers who want their stories authentic and utterly true.  Where the Stars Still Shine left me breathless and at a loss for words in the best possible way.  Honestly, I don’t feel like I can accurately express how much I love this book.  It’s beautiful.

I tear up when I read books, but it’s rare for me to actually cry when I read a book.  I cried while reading Callie’s story.  I had to email friends who have read this book to make sure certain things were/were not going to happen because I couldn’t read it fast enough.  I was INVESTED in these characters.  I still am.  As I’m writing this review it’s been a month since I’ve read Where the Stars Still Shine and I’m STILL invested in these characters.  I feel like they’re part of my life.  I care about them and want the best for them.  That kind of story is the best kind of story.  Trish Doller has written an excellent story.

Something that really made me happy while reading Where the Stars Still Shine is that Callie is such a strong and independent character.  She has to be because of how she’s grown up.  But even though she’s strong, she’s also vulnerable.  Callie has a tough time asking for help and recognizing familial support.  And her family?  They are amazing.  Her father, Greg, is what I wish more fathers in general and in YA are.  Callie also has an incredible grandmother and cousin.  These supporting characters not only add a real depth to the story and excellent familial element, but they also showcase how strong yet vulnerable Callie is.  She’s not use to relying on anyone but herself, but now that she has this new family she learns a new and better definition of the word family.  Her mother isn’t really a mother, but it’s all she knows of family.

If I’m going to bring up Callie’s independence and strength, I need to bring up sexuality.  Callie hasn’t had the best experiences with sex in her life; in fact, at least one experience was detrimental.  Her relationship with Alex is positive and is written really well.  I like that she takes ownership of her thoughts and desires about sex.  Not that many books write sex in this way, so I’m happy to read one that does.

Speaking of Alex, I want to know more about his back story.  I would love it if Trish Doller wrote a book from his point of view.  I know that’s wishful thinking, but there it is.  I want more from Alex.

I will admit that I wished for a slightly different ending, but it works for the characters and the story.  It’s an honest ending.  Trish Doller writes magic, and I HIGHLY recommend that you read Where the Stars Still Shine.  I read it in one sitting and can’t wait to share it with my students.

Review: Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

Wild CardsTitle: Wild Cards

Author: Simone Elkeles

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers

Release Date: September 24th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemporary

Source: ARC borrowed

Summary (From Goodreads):

After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.

Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain–people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?

Hmmm…I have a lot of thoughts about Wild Cards.  I enjoy reading Simone Elkeles books–I’ve read almost all of them–but this should have been better.  There’s plenty of potential for this to be a better written story with more developed characters.  I think Simone Elkeles tried to write a girl-who-plays-football book, but she ended up with a girl-who-falls-for-a-bad-boy book.

Elkeles is known for her YA romance, and she really turns it up in Wild Cards.  She’s more descriptive than she has been in other books.  I don’t know if it is really necessary though.  The reason I’m not sure it is necessary is that while I was reading it, I kept thinking of it as writing that wanted to be adult, but didn’t fall under New Adult, so it’s tamer for older young adult audiences.  I don’t have a problem adding this to my class library, and I will buy my own copy for that purpose, but those few scenes made me wonder what her real intentions were when she wrote this.

I did like Derek’s character.  Why is Simone Elkeles so stuck on writing “bad boy” characters?  Derek really isn’t a bad boy.  I guess he’s supposed to be because he pulled a prank at his old school, talks with a “southern” accent, has a good body, and is coy with Ashtyn.  But really, he never truly acts like a bad boy.  Ashtyn tells us he is, which is an issue I have with the writing in Wild Cards, but I never really saw anything that would make Derek a bad boy, at least under my definition.  Derek may not be forthright with his emotions, but there isn’t a whole lot of deep discussion going on or being attempted either.  His character was the most developed and had the strongest voice which is why I liked reading his parts.

Ashtyn, on the other hand, usually irritated me.  There is so much potential to write her into a great character.  I kept waiting for all of the great football scenes that she was supposed to be in, but there are hardly any.  She’s a kicker, so I understand that her role on the team isn’t as involved, but I think I can count the number of legitimate football scenes she is in on one hand.  I want to hand this to my students who crave more books like Dairy Queen and Catching Jordan, but I think Wild Cards will ultimately disappoint those readers.  It’s all about Ashtyn being wishy-washy over Derek and vice versa.  Sigh.  The end of the book redeemed some of what’s lacking in regards to sports, but it didn’t mean as much because I never really felt Ashtyn’s passion for football.  She told me all about it, and I understand the history, but it fell flat.  Again with the telling.

This is a very critical review, but like I said, I still enjoyed it and will read the second book.  It’s still a fun book to read and an easy read.  I went into reading it expecting more than what I got which is why I’m so disappointed.  I know plenty of my girls will devour this book when I buy a copy for my classroom.  I just wish it went through more revision.

Book Trailer Thursday (124)–Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young

Book Trailer Thursday

I really enjoy Cat Patrick’s and Suzanne Young’s writing, so I’m excited to see how they write together. Just Like Fate sounds like a book my students and I will thoroughly enjoy, so I’m glad it released in time for the new school year (August 27th). The summary kind of reminds me of Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and Kasie West’s Pivot Point. Have you read this one yet? If so, what did you think?

Just Like FateSummary (From Goodreads):

Caroline is at a crossroads. Her grandmother is sick, maybe dying. Like the rest of her family, Caroline’s been at Gram’s bedside since her stroke. With the pressure building, all Caroline wants to do is escape–both her family and the reality of Gram’s failing health. So when Caroline’s best friend offers to take her to a party one fateful Friday night, she must choose: stay by Gram’s side, or go to the party and live her life.

The consequence of this one decision will split Caroline’s fate into two separate paths–and she’s about to live them both.

Friendships are tested and family drama hits an all-new high as Caroline attempts to rebuild old relationships, and even make a few new ones. If she stays, her longtime crush, Joel, might finally notice her, but if she goes, Chris, the charming college boy, might prove to be everything she’s ever wanted.

Though there are two distinct ways for her fate to unfold, there is only one happy ending…

Review: The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle

The Infinite Moment of Us official coverTitle: The Infinite Moment of Us

Author: Lauren Myracle

Publisher: Amulet Books

Release Date: August 27th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: NetGalley

Summary (From Goodreads):

For as long as she can remember, Wren Gray’s goal has been to please her parents. But as high school graduation nears, so does an uncomfortable realization: Pleasing her parents once overlapped with pleasing herself, but now… not so much. Wren needs to honor her own desires, but how can she if she doesn’t even know what they are?

Charlie Parker, on the other hand, is painfully aware of his heart’s desire. A gentle boy with a troubled past, Charlie has loved Wren since the day he first saw her. But a girl like Wren would never fall for a guy like Charlie—at least not the sort of guy Charlie believes himself to be.

And yet certain things are written in the stars. And in the summer after high school, Wren and Charlie’s souls will collide. But souls are complicated, as are the bodies that house them…

Sexy, romantic, and oh-so-true to life, this is an unforgettable look at first love from one of young adult fiction’s greatest writers.

The Infinite Moment of Us is a beautiful, real love story.  But really, Lauren Myracle has written more than a love story. She’s written a story about finding yourself and allowing others to care.  It’s a story of discoveries: life, love, and self.

I’m really picky about third person point of view, but the third person in this really worked.  Lauren Myracle wrote this from both Wren’s and Charlie’s points of view so we can get a full picture of their story.  I finished reading The Infinite Moment of Us feeling like I knew both characters really well. I knew all the ins and outs of the story.  Even the ending, which I know will probably upset some readers, left me feeling happy because I still had an idea about what the “real” ending is.

The Infinite Moment of Us is sexually mature and not one I would hand to middle school readers.  The sexuality is handled well though.  It’s steamy, but it’s also authentic.  It didn’t strike me as being sexy to be titillating.  It does take up a large part of the story, but like I said earlier, the story is more than about sex.  And let’s be honest, these are high school seniors; they’re hormonally driven.  I have seniors this year and have already pre-ordered a copy of this to share with my students because I love it so much. If I had freshman I would still share this with them, but with the warning about its mature content.

This is a relatively short review, but it’s difficult to put my love for this into words.  I read Forever by Judy Blume when I first discovered YA and am so excited to have read a sort of updated version of it.  I’m really looking forward to discussing this with my seniors this year.

Book Pairings: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Forever by Judy Blume

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