Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (32)

Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron

Told in a voice that’s honest, urgent, and hilarious, Struts & Frets will resonate not only with teenage musicians but with anyone who ever sat up all night listening to a favorite album, wondering if they’d ever find their place in the world.

Music is in Sammy’s blood. His grandfather was a jazz musician, and Sammy’s indie rock band could be huge one day—if they don’t self-destruct first. Winning the upcoming Battle of the Bands would justify all the band’s compromises and reassure Sammy that his life’s dream could become a reality. But practices are hard to schedule when Sammy’s grandfather is sick and getting worse, his mother is too busy to help either of them, and his best friend may want to be his girlfriend.

When everything in Sammy’s life seems to be headed for major catastrophe, will his music be enough to keep him together? [summary from]

Someone, I forget who at this point, was reading this earlier in the year, and from their Goodreads updates, made this book seem so intriguing. We can rarely have enough books about music, and this one seems like a perfect blend of music, drama, romance, and family. And it promises to be funny too! How much more goodness can you ask for?

Struts & Frets will be published by Amulet Books in November 2009.

What are you waiting on today?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review: How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Tags: YA, friendship, quirky, love, family secrets

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


High school senior Beatric Szabo has never really been normal. Her family has moved around so often that she’s never had actual friends, and her own mother often calls her a “Robot Girl.” Then, in Baltimore, she strikes up an odd friendship with Jonah Tate, a quiet, friendless guy in her class who has the unfortunate nickname of “Ghost Boy.” Bea and Jonah strike up an intense friendship, to everyone’s shock. Bea learns about learns about Jonah’s past, and certain events that made him who he is today, but even she cannot comprehend him sometimes, or predict what he had been planning to do for a long time…


This first standalone book by the author of the Dating Game series is odd, but definitely heart-wrenching. With a cast of unusual and quirky characters, it’ll bring out the subconscious desire in all of us to explore all of our eccentricities.

Bea is a wonderful narrator, caught in between troubles at home, the cookie-cutter Barbie girls at school who try to draw her into their folds, and Jonah. She considers herself inhuman, lacking in human emotions—that’s why she calls herself “Robot Girl”—and yet we’re able to empathize with her and still root for her. Jonah may seem like your average high school misfit, the one no one wants to talk to because he’s that antisocial, but somehow we still care about him and want to help him be happier. Standiford creates characters that are flawed but still sympathetic, which never ceases to be an incredible accomplishment.

However, I had some difficulty believing in Bea and Jonah’s relationship. It seemed to me to start really quickly and suddenly transform into an inexplicably intense and life-transforming friendship. Pray, where was the development of the relationship? Why are Bea’s feelings for Jonah so strong when he constantly treats her cruelly? I liked Bea and Jonah at separate characters, but I was never able to figure out how they were supposed to work as a platonic “couple.”

Nevertheless, HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT is a read that will stay with you because of its defiance of conventions in YA lit. It’s not your typical romance, it doesn’t have your usual kinds of characters, and it certainly does not have an ideal ending. And yet it all works. HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT will leave you with your heart clenched and fists pressed against your eyes to prevent the tears from coming out. It is truly original and poignant in all its weirdness.

Similar Authors
E. Lockhart
Jaclyn Moriarty (The Year of Secret Assignments)
Laura Ruby (Good Girls)

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - All that pink doesn't really appeal to me, but I saw a finished copy, with a much more muted, matte pink, and it doesn't look that bad! It'll attract the attention of girls, for sure, but I'm afraid a small portion of its ideal audience will miss it for the excessive girliness.

Scholastic / Oct. 1, 2009 / Hardcover / $17.99

Thank you, Scholastic, for sending me a copy for review!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Tags: YA, fantasy, politics, feminism, beauty

Rating: 5 out of 5


In the country of the Dells, monsters—brilliantly colored creatures with irresistible allure—roam, seduce, and terrify. 17-year-old Fire is the last human monster, born at a time when politics are deceptive and mistrust abounds. Her incredible beauty and her ability to manipulate others’ thoughts earns her admirers and enemies alike, but her life truly changes when she’s drawn out of her secluded rural home and into the capitol city to help the king discover information about the lords who are plotting an uprising. It was one thing to hide in seclusion from her father’s terrible legacy, but it’s another to use her ability in a whole other manner…


When an author’s second novel far surpasses her already critically acclaimed debut novel, you know there’s something special going on. Kristin Cashore is such an author, and FIRE is such a book. Not since Robin McKinley has an author written so convincingly of a politically charged fantasy world.

The protagonist, Fire, has the cursed gift of absolute beauty and attractiveness, and many times during the course of the book, she brings up the question, “How does gender factor into the reaction to beauty?” For Fire constantly encounters men who want to do unspeakable things to her at the very sight of her, while her equally attractive father had people falling at his feet, eager to do his bidding. Call it fantasy for sure, but FIRE contains a lot of gender politics that could make for interesting discussions, even in the classroom.

Kristin Cashore deftly unfolds Fire’s past into her present story, which helps readers slowly understand and appreciate her judgments. Even so, FIRE is an intensely emotional read, especially at the end. Its ability to affect me so strongly is one of the things I like best about it, though. The romance between Fire and Brigan is less developed than the one between Katsa and Po in GRACELING, but Kristin gives depth to all the characters, not simply the protagonist and her love interest, and I’d much rather have three-dimensionality in all my characters than in just the two main ones.

It’s difficult to say this for sure right now, but if you had to read only one hard fantasy YA book this year, FIRE just might be the one. Its blend of fantasy, romance, political intrigue, and feminism will appeal to all fantasy lovers, and then some.

Similar Authors
Robin McKinley
Suzanne Collins
Shannon Hale
Herbie Brennan (The Faerie Wars)
Philip Pullman

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - So shiny and fantastical, perfect for a soon-to-be-bestselling fantasy novel and perfect as the companion novel to Graceling.

Penguin / Oct. 5, 2009 / Hardcover / $17.99

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In My Mailbox (19), or, The New Guy at the Post Office Now Knows My Name

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea but now hosted by Kristi! Check out Kristi's blog for links to what others got in terms of books this week.

For review:

After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr
(Houghton Mifflin / May 2009)

Maia Morland is pretty, only not pretty-pretty. She's smart. She's brave. She's also a self-proclaimed train wreck. Leigh Hunter is smart, popular, and extremely polite. He's also completely and forever in love with Maia Morland. Their young love starts off like a romance novel—full of hope, strength, and passion. But life is not a romance novel and theirs will never become a true romance. For when Maia needs him the most, Leigh betrays both her trust and her love.

Told with compassion and true understanding, After the Moment is about what happens when a young man discovers that sometimes love fails us, and that, quite often, we fail love.

I have had my eye on this book for a while, and luckily I have the chance to read it as part of a TLC tour production. Garret also sent me a lovely card through the mail that put such a big smile on my face; I will write you back soon, Garret, Thanks! :)

Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti
(Penguin / July 2009)

An international sensation, this addictively readable tale asks the question: Why is it so impossible to get a relationship between two middle-aged misfits to work? The answer lies in the story of Shrimp, a young widowed librarian with a sharp intellect and a home so tidy that her jam jars are in alphabetical order; Benny, a gentle, overworked milk farmer who fears becoming the village’s Old Bachelor; and an unlikely love that should not be as complicated as it seems. Reminiscent of the works of Carol Shields, this quirky, humorous, beautifully told novel breathes new life into the age-old conundrum that is love.

Thanks Caitlin!

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
(Margaret K. McElderry / Oct. 6, 2009)

When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairytale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth to become a prisoner of the trolls. Now that Cassie is older, she knows that this was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, she is determined to become a scientist, and she has no time for make believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face to face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned in the troll castle. And that he can bring her back--if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie's own real-life fairytale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knew will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her--until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

A beautiful finished copy came for review, and you know how enamored I am of beautiful retellings. I'm very excited to read this one. Thank you, Sarah Beth!

And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer
(Hyperion / Oct. 12, 2009)

Arthur Dent's accidental association with that wholly remarkable book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has not been entirely without incident. Arthur has traveled the length, breadth, and depth of known, and unknown, space. He has stumbled forward and backward through time. He has been blown up, reassembled, cruelly imprisoned, horribly released, and colorfully insulted more than is strictly necessary. And of course Arthur Dent has comprehensively failed to grasp the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

Arthur has finally made it home to Earth, but that does not mean he has escaped his fate. Arthur's chances of getting his hands on a decent cuppa have evaporated rapidly, along with all the world's oceans. For no sooner has he touched down on the planet Earth than he finds out that it is about to be blown up . . . again.

And Another Thing . . . is the rather unexpected, but very welcome, sixth installment of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. It features a pantheon of unemployed gods, everyone's favorite renegade Galactic President, a lovestruck green alien, an irritating computer, and at least one very large slab of cheese.

This is the continuation of Douglass Adams' popular series, and it's unusual because it's a half-ARC: it only contains half the story. Offered to me by ColleenLindsay from Twitter. Thank you!

The Pace by Shelena Shorts
(Lands Atlantic Publishing / Aug. 19, 2009)

Weston Wilson is not immortal and he is of this world. But, aging is not part of his existence, and eighteen-year-old Sophie Slone is determined to find out why. In doing so, she could also uncover something about her own life expectancy that she may not want to know. Suddenly, immortality will mean everything and nothing all at the same time.

Intensely fascinating and rich with determination, The Pace brings together romance, mystery, and suspense in a compelling bond that is sure to have readers asking for more.

The lovely author herself offered me a copy of this book after I put it on my September wishlist. Thank you so much, Shelena! I won't think you're crazy, I promise. ;)

Stolen by Lucy Christopher - from the incredible Jenny at Wondrous Reads because she's talked about this book for months and it's not available in the U.S. yet! Thank you thank you eeeee!

East by Edith Pattou
Warrior Princess by Frewin Jones
Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner
Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Old Magic by Marianne Curley

Soulless by Gail Carriger
The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire edited by Trisha Telep
Heart of the Wolf by Terry Spear

Of course I had to take advantage of the 3-for-2 YA books deal they have at Borders (it's going on until tomorrow, Monday, Sept. 28, so get your butts there if you can!). Heart of the Wolf was a 2-cent offer at the front desk, so that was a no-brainer on whether or not I should just get it. I can't wait to read them all.

I also bought True Blood: Season One and it's really sad because I'm already on the sixth episode and I only started watching last Tuesday. Ah, the allure of brilliantly acted vampires with Southern accents!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friday Featured Blogger (15): Rhiannon Hart!

Yes, I know it's not Friday, in any part of the world. But it's okay because it's still, essentially, the same weekend, which is good enough for me! Today's Featured Blogger is the lovely Rhiannon Hart, who blogs brilliantly about speculative fiction, dystopian lit, and the like. She's a name to watch out for in bookstores in the near future. Welcome, Rhiannon, to Steph Su Reads!

1. Hello, Rhiannon! Tell us about yourself in a few short sentences.

I'm an Aussie writer with a penchant for the apocalypse. Any sort will do--zombie, nuclear, asteroid--but only in books, of course! I write print and online reviews and articles and I'm trying to get a series published, plus work on a standalone novel. Otherwise known as plan B. There may be plan C and D in the works too ... basically I'm just going to keep writing novels until someone picks one up!

2. Tell us about your blog. When did you start it and why? What interesting things can visitors expect?

I started my blog to document my progress in getting published, and because I was boring all my less readerly friends talking about books all the time. When I discovered that there are hundreds and hundreds of book-mad people out there just like me, I just had to get involved! Visitors can expect reviews and news--I like to rave on about anything I'm excited about, like events or film tie-ins. I review new and older stuff, and at the moment I'm especially keen on rediscovering some old favourites. Just about everything is fantasy, dystopian and paranormal.

3. You recently participated in the Dystopia Challenge. What are some of your favorite dystopian reads, and why does the genre appeal to you?

The dystopian challenge was so much fun--I read about twenty books over the Melbourne winter (interspersed with many other happier books so things didn't get too bleak!) that were all either dystopian or apocalyptic. I lumped them together under "dystopian", but the two sorts of books have very different projections. My favourite dystopian works are The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. In these sort of books, society has gone wrong and the hero tries to escape or overthrow it. Apocalyptic works, on the other hand, are your good old-fashioned "The end of the world is nigh!" sort of thing. My favourites of these are Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody, Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

I think that the genre appeals to me so much because the normal rules of society don't apply in dystopian books. As a kid I always used to relish days off that were on weekdays rather than weekends, because I knew that everyone else had to go to school/work. (I think that's the main reason I want to be a writer, too--so I can stay home in my jammies while everyone else gets suited up!) I enjoy seeing how people might react to things like hardship, oppression and persucution (eg. the hero), as well as the temptation of power and an overwhelming sense that they know best (eg. the totalitarian government/Big Brother etc.)

4. You've listed a lot of great titles that I'm definitely going to look in! Now you are an aspiring author, like so many of us are. What are your writing habits like? Can you give us a 3-sentence summary of one of your WIPs?

The WIP currently with agents is about a girl who discovers that her mother's attempt to save her life as a baby has caused her a great affliction: she now bound to a foreign land and destined to become a harming, a slave of the Lharmellins, who are like big wormy land mermaids that drink blood, are magical, and want to take over the world with an artificial ice-age. It's called Lharmell and is the first in a trilogy.

5. Name 3 favorite books/series and why you think everyone should read them.

Everyone should read these just because they're so awesome: Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, the Chaos Walking books by Patrick Ness, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

6. You are planning your dream writing retreat. Who would you take with you (currently published authors, friends, family), where would you go, and what sort of luxuries would await you there?

I would take all my favourite bloggers so I could meet them in person! I'd also take all the authors that I've mentioned above (even if they need to be raised from the dead) and we'd go to some lofty treehouse in the rainforest of Borneo and read aloud our favourite bits from our favourite novels to each other. Plus all the authors would teach all the aspiring writers their secret writing tricks and promise to put a good word in with their agents. Then we'd all get on a plane and go to a YA book expo and go completely MAD with books and signings and sessions.

7. lol, you should come to BEA 2010 then! What are one or two books that have changed the way you thought about writing/storytelling?

I couldn't name one or two. Every book I read I'm trying to reverse engineer it so I can discover how the writer made me feel this way or that way. I've become an even slower reader as I've gotten older, because I tend to mull over a good sentence, feel its rhythm and what it's trying to say.

8. What's your favorite thing about blogging?

The people! You're all so lovely!

9. What are some things you just LOVE to receive for presents? :)

This year I really want a two volume Oxford English Dictionary. Dictionaries are the most fantastic objects, and I always discover at least three new words when I'm hunting for the meaning of one.

10. And finally, what are 2 things about yourself that can spark conversation?

I can wiggle my ears! I usually start a conversation at parties/dinners with strangers by first working out who we both know, and then asking "Do you read?" It's far better than that awful question, "So what do you do?" I also do a very good job of knocking wine glasses onto people when they ask me what my book is about.


I don't know how well the knocking of the wine glasses onto people would be a strategy that works for me, but I loved learning about Rhiannon! Do check out her blog and remember her name, for it's surely one you'll want to watch out for! Thanks for answering my questions, Rhiannon!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: The Awakening by Marley Gibson

Ghost Huntress, Book One

Tags: MG, YA, paranormal, ghosts

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


When Kendall Moorehead’s family moves from Chicago to the sleepy town of Radisson, Georgia, she experiences more than just cultural shock. The quietness of the historical Southern town awakens Kendall’s psychic abilities, and soon she’s seeing, hearing, and feeling ghosts all around her.

With the help of some odd friends, Kendall begins to understand her newfound abilities. She forms a ghost-hunting team to deal with the many spirits of Radisson…especially the ones that intend to cause her and her family some harm…


THE AWAKENING begins a MG/YA paranormal series that promises to be pure entertainment, with plenty of research and borderline irritating characters that will appeal to younger lovers of paranormal lit.

While no great work of literature, GHOST HUNTRESS: THE AWAKENING is wonderfully well researched; Marley Gibson displays an impressive range of knowledge about the history and technology of ghost-hunting that lends much-needed authenticity to this highly speculative genre. The details with which Kendall and her friends’ adventures are described are fantastic and thorough. You could almost use this book as a guide to ghost-hunting, if you are so inclined.

On the other hand, the characters are often over-hyper and a bit ridiculous, with vocabulary and diction that would probably appeal to middle school readers and no one else. Kendall and her friends Celia and Taylor often react to situations in an unappealingly over-the-top way. That being said, once you get over their silliness, Gibson still manages to shape them into believable, and ultimately likable, characters.

GHOST HUNTRESS: THE AWAKENING is nothing to call home about, but it’s perfectly fitting for its genre and intentions: a fun paranormal romp for younger teens and/or readers looking for easy escapism. This is a good series to recommend to that younger sibling or babysitting charge who expresses interest in but is certainly not quite old enough for books like Twilight.

Similar Authors
P.C. and Kristin Cast
Richelle Mead
Gillian Shields

Writing: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / May 2009

Thank you, Sarah, for providing me with a copy for review!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday (31)

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons.

A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists.

But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born ... [summary from Goodreads]

Incarceron has been out for a few years already in the UK, and will be published in the US next spring. I've been following it ever since I read R. J. Anderson's review of it on Goodreads, where she begins with, "I love this book with a mad passion" and from there descends into reverent sort of incoherent babbling. Sometimes it's the most innocuous synopses that can be the most amazing, and this seems like one of those, something that will contain fantastic world-building, subtly well-done characterization, and a quiet, looming plot out of which grows true writerly admiration.

Incarceron will be published by Dial Books on February 23, 2010.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Tags: YA, faith, kidnapping, family

Rating: 4 out of 5


15-year-old Samara’s father is one of the town’s pastors, and her mother is a closet alcoholic who’s recently been admitted into rehab. However, Sam’s father won’t act like something’s wrong: he just continues to be the poster pastor for his church, and Sam is left with an ugly feeling of misunderstanding and loneliness.

Then, a young girl from their church goes missing, and the whole town is in an uproar. Surely the girl’s family has it much worse than Sam’s personal misery, but when Sam tries to be the good daughter in this difficult time, she finds that it’s difficult for her to have faith the way she used to.


Sara Zarr’s third novel is a triumph, a novel whose gentle pacing and complicated protagonist stole my heart. ONCE WAS LOST is the definition of YA realistic fiction: the characters are flawed, the ending’s not exactly perfect, and the course of the novel has its ups and downs—but together, they create a tale that resonates with you.

Sara Zarr is not afraid to leave you with more questions than you have answers. The protagonist, Sam, goes through problems that seem both unique and yet completely relatable at the same time. The story is about the impact of a kidnapping on a church, but ONCE WAS LOST is more about Sam’s adolescent turmoil of not fitting in and feeling misunderstood and alone than it is about religion. Sam questions her faith, but in the end it’s about her faith in herself and her ability to come out alright in the end—a journey that everyone takes.

Subtly complex supporting characters and stellar writing combine to make ONCE WAS LOST a success. Read it for a thought-provoking time—this one’s going to snatch up the awards.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
Melina Marchetta
Jeannine Garsee (Say the Word)
Jenny Downham (Before I Die)

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - My favorite part is definitely the colors. Such a muted green, with dashes of bright purple... love it. That and the layout of the flower against the title makes for an evocative cover.

Little, Brown / Oct. 1, 2009 / Hardcover / $16.99

Thanks, Korianne, for letting me borrow your copy! :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

On Reviewing

A few weeks ago mega-fantastic author Shannon Hale wrote a post on her blog about writers (of all kinds: authors, reviewers, etc.) as readers, and how reviewing changes the way we approach reading. The post and the comments that resulted from it were all quite fascinating, and Shannon left us with some big questions for us to consider. I'm going to talk about how I feel about each question, and feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments section!

1. Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?

Perhaps, but only a little like how someone else's opinion on it would affect me: I have some expectations for what I'm going to get. With review books sent to me by authors and publishers, I tend to give them a little more attention than books I pick up on my own, because I feel they are owed that, since someone went to the trouble of requesting my attention. Similarly, I dive into books that others have raised about with lots of excitement, but also some trepidation. There's always the sad chance that you won't like it as well as the 34098576 people who recommended it to you did.

2. Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?

Surprisingly, it actually only takes a few pages for me to get an idea of how I will rate it, and what phrases I will use to describe it in my review. (Oh yes. This whole years'-worth-of-reviewing thing has definitely gotten to my thinking.) I try to include a "Similar Authors" list for each book I review, so I find myself referencing past reads as I consider the book's style of writing or type of plot. Sometimes I make connections between authors and books that I didn't even know existed.

3. Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?

Um, I don't think so. I read a combination of review books, library books (for those recent releases I've heard so much about but don't own a copy of), and books I own that I've either bought or traded for. In fact, I read and review way more books than the ones I post on this blog. I do note that if I have a chance of putting up a positive or critical review of two books I've read on my own, I tend to put up the positive one. Sometimes review books are ones I wouldn't pick up on my own, but I'm always searching for good-quality fiction.

4. Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?

It does sometimes deepen my feelings in either direction. Sometimes I start out writing a critical review that ends up more scathing that I thought it would at first. Other times, my thoughts linger over a particular book precisely because I've written a glowing review of it, when otherwise I would've smiled contentedly for, like, an hour after reading it, and then put it aside, never to be thought of again. Writing reviews helps me reflect on the book, and I figure out what worked or did not work for me, and what elements of fiction I like to read and write about.

5. What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?

I look at ratings; I do. I trust them more when they come from people whose bloggers I consistently follow and read, or from people whose tastes I know are similar to mine. Ratings aren't objective, after all, and you kind of need to take them into context. On my blog, more "literary" fiction usually gets higher ratings, while guilty-pleasure reads--even the occasional ones that I enjoy--are never as high. In short, I strongly consider ratings when they come from bloggers I respect and share similar interests with.

6. If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?

Well, I rate books, so the first question doesn't apply to me. :) As a reviewer, I try to be an informed voice that others can trust for recommendations; this involves reading a lot, in various genres and qualities. I am very aware of myself when I am the dissenter for a popularly loved or hated book, or when I am among the few bloggers who've reviewed a particular book that I feel deserves more attention. I love books, and I dislike books. I try to have depth and breadth (that word has always looked strange to me, for the record), and I try to let my readers know by dropping hints everywhere what my taste consists of, so that they know that my reviews, while certainly subjective according to my tastes, are as objective and fair as I can make them be, while still staying true to myself. Er, does that even make sense?


Shannon also has a great follow-up post to her first post about reviews, which you should also read if you get the chance. In it, she talks about 5-star ratings versus the single star that respected publications such as Publishers Weekly give for extra-strong recommendations, and how reviews are not written for the authors.

Now, I'm curious how you feel about reviews, ratings, and more. If you write reviews, have you noticed if it changes the way you approach reading? How do reading reviews and seeing ratings affect you in deciding to read a book? And for non-reviewers or non-bloggers as well: how much do reviews and ratings factor into your experience of reading a particular book?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Review: Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti

Tags: MG, YA, humor, pranks

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Tristan Benway is the unfortunate butler whose ancestor swore a 200-year-long fealty to the eccentric Bellweather family. Dr. Bellweather claims to be an inventor and erupts when interrupted; his wife paints walls of their lighthouse home incessantly; 14-year-old Spider has an unhealthy penchant for dangerous endangered animals; 13-year-old Ninda tries to make the world better by helping the downtrodden and exploited; and the 9-year-old triplets are incapable of being quiet except when they are plotting their next big plan of mischief. Benway counts down until the nearing day when his oath is over and he can leave his crazy employers forever.

But as the summer passes and the Bellweathers continue to do erratic things and get into heaps of trouble, Benway finds that leaving the Bellweathers is harder than he thought.


LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS advertises itself as a middle-grade novel, but it’s great because of its ageless appeal. Young readers will not tire of the Bellweathers’ endless antics, while older readers will chuckle in appreciation of the more cultivated “potty humor” abundant throughout the pages.

Venuti creates caricatures of eccentric people, but we’re still able to care for them and not simply write them off as ridiculous. I love all of the Bellweather children, with their destructive habits, misplaced good intentions, and all. Each chapter ends with one of the long-suffering Benway’s snarky journal entries, which, besides for being a great place to find humor, is a way to track the development of the characters as they come to realize Benway as part of the family.

The humor will work with some readers, and not with others. It’s not the most intelligent of humor: think of every bad pun you wanted to make in middle and high school, and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like. Frankly, the humor made me cringe more than a few times, but I can see its appeal. The physical “gag” humor will keep young readers rolling on the ground, while older readers will laugh—or roll their eyes—at the subtler jabs and pop culture references.

Overall, however, LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS is a charming read that I will recommend shamelessly to hyperactive kids and their worn-out, in-need-of-some-dumb-humor-to-unwind parents. In the ways of the movie Shrek, LEAVING THE BELLWEATHERS will be a hit with readers of all ages.

Similar Authors
Stephanie Tolan (Surviving the Applewhites)
Eoin Colfer
Eva Ibbotson

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 2.5 out of 5 - It's cute and different and certainly applies to the oddity of the book--but it's not a style I enjoy. Oh well. At least the story's great!

EgmontUSA / Sept. 22, 2009

Thank you, Beth, for offering me a copy for review!

In My Mailbox (18)

As always, In My Mailbox was inspired by Alea and is now hosted by Kristi, who won a BBAW award for this meme! Check out Kristi's blog to see what others got in their mailboxes this week.

It only looks like I got a lot this week because I'm home for the weekend and was welcomed back by a lovely pile of books on my desk!!

For review:

My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman
(Henry Holt & Co. / Sept. 29, 2009)

With Roz and Eva everything becomes a contest—who can snag the best role in the school play, have the cutest boyfriend, pull off the craziest prank. Still, they’re as close as sisters can be. Until Eva deletes Roz from her life like so much junk e-mail for no reason that Roz understands. Now Eva hangs out with the annoyingly petite cheerleaders, and Roz fantasizes about slipping bovine growth hormone into their Gatorade.

Roz has a suspicion about Eva. In turn, Eva taunts Roz with a dare, which leads to an act of total insanity. Drama geeks clamor for attention, Shakespearean insults fly, and Roz steals the show in Lauren Bjorkman’s hilarious debut novel.

Funny, a debut novel, and a GLBTQ book? I'm all over this one! Thank you, Lauren, for offering me a copy!

Liar by Justine Larbalestier
(Bloomsbury / Sept. 29, 2009)

Micah will freely admit that she’s a compulsive liar, but that may be the one honest thing she’ll ever tell you. Over the years she’s duped her classmates, her teachers, and even her parents, and she’s always managed to stay one step ahead of her lies. That is, until her boyfriend dies under brutal circumstances and her dishonesty begins to catch up with her. But is it possible to tell the truth when lying comes as naturally as breathing? Taking readers deep into the psyche of a young woman who will say just about anything to convince them—and herself—that she’s finally come clean, Liar is a bone-chilling thriller that will have readers see-sawing between truths and lies right up to the end. Honestly.

Most of you already know my thoughts about the cover already, but actually seeing the finished copy still makes me smile. It IS a very pretty book, and I guarantee it will attract readers on the shelves. Very excited to read this!

Defining Twilight by Brian Leaf
(Wiley, John & Sons / July 27, 2009)

Can you resist the allure of Edward’s myriad charms—his ocher eyes and tousled hair, the cadence of his speech, his chiseled alabaster skin, and his gratuitous charm? Will you hunt surreptitiously and tolerate the ceaseless deluge in Forks to evade the sun and uphold the facade? Join Edward and Bella as you learn more than 600 vocabulary words to improve your score on the *SAT, ACT®, GED®, and SSAT® exams!

I'm interested to see how the author uses Twilight for his purpose. Thank you, Brian!


I Was a Non-Blonde Cheerleader by Kieran Scott
A Non-Blonde Cheerleader in Love by Kieran Scott
Brunettes Strike Back by Kieran Scott
Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott
Sudoku Pocket Puzzles 2

These came as prizes from Royal Reads.

I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb (Razorbill / Oct. 15, 2009) - From a contest on Hope's blog!

Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman
The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Won from a contest from Cheryl herself! I'm very excited to own these two books!

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I bought some books I've really wanted at the Book Barn this weekend. I'm catching up on my Newbery Medal winners, as inspired by the children's lit class that I'm taking; Fever 1793 is a book for that class; Oscar Wao has been on my wishlist since I heard that the author came to my school (only I didn't know it and missed him!), and then I read his short story collection, Drown, for my fiction workshop a few weeks ago; and a finished copy of Wintergirls!

Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks
Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer
The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate - Thanks, Beth!
Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
Hold Still by Nina LaCour
Sovay by Celia Rees
The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip
Among the Brave by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Tap & Gown (Ivy League, Book 4) by Diana Peterfreund
Skinned by Robin Wasserman
Follow the Blue by Brigid Lowry
Night World No. 3 by L. J. Smith
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton

Borrowed from library:
Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda
The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore

So I'm plenty happy, if not a little overwhelmed--when am I going to have time to read all these fantastic books on top of my schoolwork?!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Review Archives by Title

Alphabetized by Title

Title links to review, with other relevant posts linked in parentheses. Author names link to interviews or guest posts.

Abbreviations: WoW = Waiting on Wednesday

- # -
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

- A -
The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale (WoW 14)
After by Kristin Harmel
After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr
All About Vee by C. Leigh Purtill
All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab 
As You Wish by Jackson Pearce
The Awakening (Darkest Powers, Book 2) by Kelley Armstrong
The Awakening (Ghost Huntress, Book 1) by Marley Gibson

- B -
Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender
Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe
Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert
Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Liz Craft and Sarah Fain
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Beastly by Alex Flinn
Beautiful by Amy Reed (WoW 23)
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (WoW 14)
Becoming Chloe by Catherine Ryan Hyde
The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove by Lauren Kate (WoW 22)
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
The Book of Luke by Jenny O'Connell
Bound to Shadows (Riley Jenson Guardian, Book 8) by Keri Arthur
The Boys Next Door by Jennifer Echols

- C -
Candor by Pam Bachorz
The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy
City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments, Book 3) by Cassandra Clare
Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

- D -
Daddy's Little Angel (Bedeviled, Book 1) by Shani Petroff
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
Darkwood by M. E. Breen

- E -
The Ever Breath by Julianna Baggott
Evermore (Immortals, Book 1) by Alyson Noel
Evernight (Evernight, Book 1) by Claudia Gray
Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

- F -
Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson
Fat Cat by Robin Brande
Fallen by Lauren Kate (WoW 22)
The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz
Fire by Kristin Cashore (WoW 6)
Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (WoW 18)
Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler

- G -
Genesis by Bernard Beckett
Girl Stays in the Picture by Melissa de la Cruz
Girl v. Boy by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout
Gone (Gone, Book 1) by Michael Grant
Good Girls by Laura Ruby
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins

- H -
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Hold Still by Nina LaCour (WoW 29)
How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Hunger (Gone, Book 2) by Michael Grant (WoW 1)

- I -
Ice by Sarah Beth Durst (WoW 19)
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (WoW 31)
Inferno by Robin Stevenson
Initiation by Susan Fine
The Innocent by Posie Graeme-Evans
Intertwined by Gena Showalter

- J -

- L -
Lament by Maggie Stiefvater
Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
The Life of Glass by Jillian Cantor
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen
The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker
Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle

- M -
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (WoW 24)
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
My Soul to Take (Soul Screamers, Book 1) by Rachel Vincent

- N -
No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull
Now You See Her by Jacquelyn Mitchard

- O -
Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
Ophelia by Lisa Klein
The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher
O.Y.L. by Scott Heydt

- P -
Paper Towns by John Green
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Perfect Fifths (Jessica Darling, Book 5) by Megan McCafferty
The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais
The Plague by Joanne Dahme
Project Sweet Life by Brent Hartinger
Prom Dates From Hell (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil, Book 1) by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink (WoW 12)
Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson
Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

- R -
Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman
Rampant by Diana Peterfreund (WoW 1)
Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot
The Rapture by Liz Jensen
Rhyme by William Marks
Ripley's Believe It or Not! Seeing is Believing! by Ripley Entertainment
Rough Magic by Caryl Cade Mullin

- S -
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
The Season by Sarah MacLean
Secret Society Girl (Ivy League, Book 1) by Diana Peterfreund
Secrets of a Christmas Box by Steven Hornby
Shug by Jenny Han
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (WoW 2)
Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 1) by Gail Carriger
Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott
The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley (WoW 8)
Summer Girls by Hailey Abbott
The Summoning (Darkest Powers, Book 1) by Kelley Armstrong
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Surrender by Sonya Hartnett
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

- T -
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Tangled by Carolyn Mackler
The Tear Collector by Patrick Jones
This Is What I Want to Tell You by Heather Duffy Stone
The Treasure Map of Boys (Ruby Oliver, Book 3) by E. Lockhart (WoW 2)

- U -
Undercover by Beth Kephart

- V -
Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy, Book 1) by Richelle Mead
Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn
Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani

- W -
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Wicked Game (WVMP Radio, Book 1) by Jeri Smith-Ready
Wings by Aprilynne Pike
Wish by Alexandra Bullen
Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant

- Y -
You Are Here by Jennifer E. Smith

Last updated: 2/26/10

Review Archives by Author

Alphabetized by Author - Last Name, First Name

Author names link to interviews or guest posts. Book titles link to reviews, with other relevant posts linked within parentheses.

Abbreviations: WoW = Waiting on Wednesday

- A -
Abbott, Hailey - Summer Girls
Alender, Katie - Bad Girls Don't Die
Anderson, R. J. - Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter
Armstrong, Kelley
Arthur, Keri - Bound to Shadows (Riley Jenson Guardian, Book 8)

- B -
Bachorz, Pam - Candor
Baggott, Julianna - The Ever Breath
Bantle, Lee - David Inside Out
Blundell, Judy - What I Saw and How I Lied
Bowler, Tim - Frozen Fire
Brande, Robin - Fat Cat
Breen, M. E. - Darkwood
Briant, Shane - Worst Nightmares
Brown, Jennifer - Hate List
Bullen, Alexandra - Wish

- C -
Cabot, Meg - Ransom My Heart
Calonita, Jen - Secrets of My Hollywood Life
Cantor, Jillian - The Life of Glass
Carriger, Gail - Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 1)
Cashore, Kristin
Cassidy, Kay - The Cinderella Society
Clare, Cassandra - City of Glass (Mortal Instruments, Book 3)
Clement-Moore, Rosemary - Prom Dates From Hell (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil, Book 1)
Cohen, Tish - Little Black Lies
Cohn, Rachel - Very LeFreak
Collins, Suzanne - Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1)
Collins, Yvonne and Sandy Rideout - Girl v. Boy
Craft, Liz and Sarah Fain - Bass Ackwards and Belly Up
Crowley, Suzanne - The Stolen One (WoW 8)

- D -
de la Cruz, Melissa - Girl Stays in the Picture
Dean, Pamela - Tam Lin
Despain, Bree - The Dark Divine
Dolamore, Jaclyn - Magic Under Glass (WoW 24)
Dumas, Alexandre - The Count of Monte Cristo
Durst, Sarah Beth - Ice (WoW 19)

- E -
Echols, Jennifer - The Boys Next Door

- F -
Fain, Sarah and Liz Craft - Bass Ackwards and Belly Up
Fine, Susan - Initiation
Fisher, Catherine - Incarceron (WoW 31)
Flinn, Alex - Beastly
Forman, Gayle - If I Stay
Freymann-Weyr, Garret - After the Moment

- G -
Gallagher, Liz - The Opposite of Invisible
Garcia, Kami and Margaret Stohl - Beautiful Creatures (WoW 14)
Garsee, Jeannine - Say the Word
Gibson, Marley - The Awakening (Ghost Huntress, Book 1)
Graeme-Evans, Pose - The Innocent
Grant, Michael
Gray, Claudia - Evernight
Green, John - Paper Towns

- H -
Han, Jenny
Harmel, Kristin - After
Hartinger, Brent - Project Sweet Life
Hartnett, Sonya - Surrender
Heydt, Scott - O.Y.L.
Hornby, Steven - Secrets of a Christmas Box
Horowitz, Laurie - The Family Fortune
Hyde, Catherine Ryan - Becoming Chloe

- J -
Jaffe, Michele - Bad Kitty
Jarzab, Anna - All Unquiet Things
Jensen, Liz - The Rapture
Johnson, Maureen - 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Jones, Patrick - The Tear Collector

- K -
Kephart, Beth - Undercover
Kizer, Amber - Meridian
Klein, Lisa - Ophelia

- L -
LaCour, Nina - Hold Still (WoW 29)
Larbalestier, Justine
Lockhart, E. - The Treasure Map of Boys (Ruby Oliver, Book 3) (WoW 2)

- M -
MacCullough, Carolyn - Once a Witch
Mackler, Carolyn - Tangled
MacLean, Sarah - The Season
Mantchev, Lisa - Eyes Like Stars
Marchetta, Melina - Saving Francesca
Marks, William - Rhyme
Marr, Melissa - Fragile Eternity
Mass, Wendy - A Mango-Shaped Space
McCafferty, Megan - Perfect Fifths (Jessica Darling, Book 5)
McCormick, Patricia - Purple Heart
McKinley, Robin - Sunshine
McMann, Lisa - Wake
Mead, Richelle - Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy, Book 1)
Mechling, Lauren
Mitchard, Jacquelyn - Now You See Her
Mullin, Caryl Cade - Rough Magic
Murdock, Catherine Gilbert
Myracle, Lauren - Luv Ya Bunches

- N -
Nadol, Jen - The Mark
Noel, Alyson - Immortals, Book 1: Evermore

- O -
O'Connell, Jenny - The Book of Luke

- P -
Pearce, Jackson - As You Wish
Peterfreund, Diana
Petroff, Shani - Daddy's Little Angel (Bedeviled, Book 1)
Pike, Aprilynne - Wings
Pon, Cindy - Silver Phoenix (WoW 2)
Purtill, C. Leigh - All About Vee

- R -
Randall, Thomas - The Waking: Dreams of the Dead
Reed, Amy - Beautiful (WoW 23)
Reeves, Dia - Bleeding Violet
Rideout, Sandy and Yvonne Collins - Girl v. Boy
Ripley Entertainment - Ripley's Believe It or Not! Seeing Is Believing!
Ruby, Laura - Good Girls

- S -
Scott, Elizabeth - Stealing Heaven
Selfors, Suzanne - Coffeehouse Angel
Showalter, Gena - Intertwined
Slayton, Fran Cannon - When the Whistle Blows
Smith, Jennifer E. - You Are Here
Smith-Ready, Jeri - Wicked Game (WVMP Radio, Book 1)
Standiford, Natalie - How to Say Goodbye in Robot
Stead, Rebecca - When You Reach Me
Stevenson, Robin - Inferno
Stevermer, Caroline and Patricia Wrede - Sorcery and Cecelia
Stiefvater, Maggie - Lament
Stockett, Kathryn - The Help
Stone, Heather Duffy - This Is What I Want to Tell You
- T -
Takami, Koushun - Battle Royale
Taylor, Laini - Lips Touch: Three Times
Thompson, Alicia - Psych Major Syndrome
Trigiani, Adriana - Viola in Reel Life
Turnbull, Ann - No Shame, No Fear

- V -
van Draanen, Wendelin - Flipped
Venuti, Kristin Clark - Leaving the Bellweathers
Vincent, Rachel - My Soul to Take (Soul Screamers, Book 1)

- W -
Walker, Melissa - Lovestruck Summer
Whitman, Emily - Radiant Darkness
Wrede, Patricia and Caroline Stevermer - Sorcery and Cecelia

- Y -

- Z -
Last updated: 2/26/10


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