Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (58)

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

In the virtual future, you've got to organize to survive.
At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual gold, jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.
Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.
The ruthless forces arrayed against them are willing to use any means to protect their power—including blackmail, extortion, infiltration, violence, and even murder. To survive, Big Sister’s people must out-think the system. This will lead them to devise a plan to crash the economy of every virtual world at once—a Ponzi scheme combined with a brilliant hack that ends up being the biggest, funnest game of all.

Is it just me, or does this book sound absolutely amazing? I haven't read his first YA dystopian novel, Little Brother, yet, although I've heard great things about it and it's sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently for me to pay it attention. This one deals with the all-too-real issue of gaming addiction, set in a futuristic, almost dystopian, world. I've never heard anything like it, and so am excited to see how this premise plays out. It sounds extremely promising and exciting!

For the Win will be published in hardcover by Tor Teen on May 11, 2010.

What are YOU waiting for this Wednesday?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Giveaway: Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien!

Now that you've had the chance to read my Birthmarked review as well as Caragh's interview, I am THRILLED to say that thanks to the generosity of K at Macmillan, I have ONE (1) beautiful finished copy of Birthmarked to give away to one lucky reader! And you're even luckier, because it's open internationally. Now would be the moment where I go "yippee skippy wahoo!" in a Mario-like voice, but I will refrain and instead state very solemnly that this giveaway ends on Friday, April 16, 2010.


Okay, now that I've thoroughly embarrassed myself, all you have to do to enter is to fill out the form below. Remember, entries in the comments won't count (although comments would be neat, as always). No extra entries for this one, but if you could help me spread the word about that's always appreciated! Thanks, and good luck!

Author Interview with Caragh O'Brien!

Today is the official release date for Caragh O'Brien's YA dystopian novel, Birthmarked! Have you heard of this fantastic book yet? It's one of my absolute favorite reads of 2010 so far, and is comparable to The Hunger Games in terms of scope and action, with the addictiveness of Maria Snyder's Study series. I reviewed it here on my blog several weeks ago; if you're interested, please go check it out!

I'm extremely lucky to have the opportunity to interview Caragh, which is supremely humbling as I have a feeling she'll become famous famous famous for Birthmarked real soon (if we can do anything about that). Anyway, without further ado...

Interview with Caragh O'Brien

1. Dystopian stories are usually the result of expanding a current issue into a plausible futuristic reality. What was the present-day "issue" or event that inspired Birthmarked?

Let me first say thank you for inviting me by to ponder a few questions. When I saw how a drought in the U.S. was creating a southern wasteland in the winter of 2008, it frightened me with its implications. For Birthmarked, I extended today’s climate change problems and the social justice related to them out into the future.

2. The code that Gaia has to solve in the book is delightfully complex, though with actually rather simple foundations. What is the extent and history of your interest in codes?

I’ve loved codes since I taught myself the manual alphabet from the back of a book about Helen Keller in fourth grade. My father was a cryptologist for the army and he often invented little playful, loving codes for me to decipher. I’m fascinated by how we use code for so many different things, like genes and music and secrets.

3. I loved playing with codes when I was younger, too! Now, the title Birthmarked refers to the almost imperceptible tattoo that is given to certain babies in the novel. If you got a tattoo, what would it be of?

For sure I’d get the tattoo from the book. I tried it with a marker once already.

4. Very nice. :) Describe a day in the life of "Caragh O'Brien, soon-to-be bestselling dystopian author."

That “bestselling” bit is ridiculous, of course. Since I’m on leave from teaching right now to write Book 2, I get up, check my email (like now), write, eat some breakfast, write, notice I’ve forgotten lunch, eat it, write, take a walk, have dinner with my family, write, and check my email again.

5. Glad to find out I'm not the only one who can forget to eat lunch due to writing! I also beg to differ on the "bestselling" bit--not if I can have anything to do with it. What kind of research went into the writing of Birthmarked?

I did some research on hemophilia, basic genetics, and human inbreeding, and then I asked my husband how I could have a cure for some of the problems in the book. He’s a professor of physiology and neurobiology, and he told me about suppressor genes. I did some research on midwifery and herbs, too, and then late one night, I picked the brain of a friend who is a midwife. It was really helpful to have experts to talk to.

6. Do you enjoy reading dystopian lit? What are some of your favorite and most highly recommended dystopian novels?

I do like dystopian lit. I find dystopias in the most wonderful places, like The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Ayn Rand’s Anthem is by far my favorite because of that whole “we” thing. I read The Hunger Games after I wrote Birthmarked and thought it was great. It disturbed me a lot, actually.

7. What's a book you've tried to read but couldn't make yourself finish?

I forget such books, so I’m drawing a blank.

8. What do you do to get yourself out of a writing funk?

I give myself permission to write badly and I keep writing. It’s painful, believe me. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often.

9. If you accidentally got caught in a time machine that brought you 100 years into the future, what would you notice to be the most drastic differences? What's the first thing you'd want to explore?

I think it will be hotter in 100 years and we’ll all be wearing gorgeous hats and fashions to stay covered up. I’d want to explore what’s become of my children’s children.

10. Anything else you'd like to add for readers?

I’d just like to add that I’m thankful, Steph, that you’ve been so supportive of my novel, what with your nice review and inviting me by for an interview. It’s a little strange to write a story in private, and care about it deeply, and then realize strangers are off reading it somewhere, hopefully with chocolate. Knowing Gaia’s story worked for you gives me hope that others might like it, too.


And thank you, Caragh, for your interesting answers, and for giving us this glimpse into your thoughts! And I'm being completely non-facetious when I say that if you could only read one book in the next month, her book should be it. Do consider picking up a copy of Birthmarked the next time you're in a bookstore; there's a 99% chance you won't regret it!


Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

Tags: YA, friendship, love, loyalty, family, emotional abuse

Rating: 3 out of 5


Everyone knows that you shouldn’t like your best friend’s boyfriend. But what if she starts dating the guy whom you liked first? That’s Sarah’s problem. Her best friend, the gorgeous but troubled Brianna, has started dating Ryan, the guy that Sarah has had a crush on for years. Ryan is the most wonderful guy Sarah has known, but Brianna deserves love in her life, and so Sarah walks quietly behind them, secretly wanting Ryan. When things turn even more complicated, though, Sarah must learn the extent—and the limitations—of love, and just which ones exactly are worth it.


Elizabeth Scott knows how to get to a wide range of readers’ hearts, and her sixth novel is no exception. THE UNWRITTEN RULE is a quick but emotional read that—despite some construction problems—will easily hit home.

The book could’ve easily been another telling of the ages-old girl-likes-forbidden-guy trope, but Elizabeth Scott skillfully weaves in a complex family subplot makes it a fresh story—and gets our attention. The published synopsis fails to mention that Sarah’s justified concern for Brianna’s emotional well-being and what kind of love her friend deserves is the result of Brianna’s painful relationship with her parents. As a result, we can see that the typical YA contemporary love triangle can have more depth to it than just adolescent “tru luv” feelings. THE UNWRITTEN RULE beautifully illustrates the painful complications of love, and what it means for someone to deserve—or not deserve—love, and to what extent love can be used as an excuse for hurtful behavior.

But THE UNWRITTEN RULE is also flawed in the same way as Scott’s other books. Each individual element of this story—each character, subplot, or event—works well on its own, but combined together, something feels…off. Sarah has been in love with Ryan forever, and when he talks he’s a pretty nice guy, but “nice” doesn’t equate to love: I wanted, and didn’t get, to see the reasons for her crush on him. Brianna’s parents are cruel in their behavior towards her, but their cruelty almost seems like a caricature, a placeholder for the neglectful and woefully underdeveloped parent. And Sarah’s almost feisty one-on-one conversations with Ryan border on vibrant and flirtacious, while at every other time in the book she’s so passive a snail could take advantage of her. While I thought the individual scenes were powerfully emotional, they never extracted themselves from the “staged play” feel and into an effortlessly realistic story.

Along the same lines, Sarah’s character developed infuriatingly little throughout the course of this book. I loved the progressive revelations on the different kinds of love and relationships, but she really barely changed from beginning to end. If her lack of definite personality was an attempt at making her more of a relatable everygirl, the attempt failed. I was left feeling like I had gotten a glimpse into the complex world of conditional love, but the narrator’s passivity ensured that I could never be fully invested in the book. I liked the story’s message, but the story itself was too easily forgettable.

I have no doubt that THE UNWRITTEN RULE will appeal to fans of Elizabeth Scott, because it contains the usual amount of emotional insight and angsty-but-still-lovable characters that she is famous for. However, critical readers will be bugged by these subtle yet significant weaknesses. Nevertheless, THE UNWRITTEN RULE makes for an easy and still overall enjoyable read, perfect for a day when you don’t desire human interaction but don’t want to merely lie in bed, zombie-like. Believe me, it’ll make you feel like an involved member of society without needing to leave the confines of your state of solitude. And sometimes that’s what you really need.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
Rachel Cohn
E. Lockhart

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

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - There's just something about it that I love. I understand that the fixation on feet (and kinda ugly feet at that) can be construed as odd...but the purple? You can't tell me that's not to drool over.

Simon Pulse / March 16, 2010 / Hardcover / 210pp. / $16.99

Copy received from author for review.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In My Mailbox (30)

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

For review:

Scones & Sensibility by Lindsay Eland
(EgmontUSA / Dec. 22, 2009)

Seek tirelessly and you shall not find a contemporary heroine of middle-grade literature as refined and romantic as Miss Polly Madassa. Still swooning over the romantic conclusions of Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables, twelve-year-old Polly decides her purpose in life: helping along lonely hearts in search of love. Polly's only task this summer is to make deliveries for her parents' bakery, leaving ample time for this young cupid to find hearts to mend—beginning with the kite-store owner, Mr. Nightquist, who will pair perfectly with Miss Wiskerton (the unfairly labeled town curmudgeon). Polly's best friend Fran Fisk is in desperate need of a mother ever since hers ran off with a man she met on the Internet; Polly must find a match for Mr. Fisk. And while she's at it, it wouldn't hurt to find Clementine, Polly's teenaged sister, a beau worthy of her (so she can shed that brute, Clint). Polly's plans are in full swing, so she definitely cannot be bothered by the advances of classmate Brad Barker.
But maybe Polly should have turned her attention to Miss Austen's Emma next, because she quickly learns the pitfalls of playing matchmaker. How will Polly patch up her own relationships, while ensuring that destined love can take its course?

Received for an upcoming blog tour. Thanks, Nisa!

Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
(Roaring Brook Press / March 30, 2010)

IN THE ENCLAVE, YOUR SCARS SET YOU APART, and the newly born will change the future.
Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone and her mother faithfully deliver their quota of three infants every month. But when Gaia’s mother is brutally taken away by the very people she serves, Gaia must question whether the Enclave deserves such loyalty. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.

I've already reviewed this absolutely amazing whoabeyondwords book here, but this and another copy were sent to me for a not-so-sekrit sumthin'-sumthin' that will occur... soon. Thanks, Kathryn!

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
(Random House / Feb. 2010 paperback reprint)

Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, given to her by natural magic in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters, gentle Branza and curious Urdda, grow up in this soft world, protected from the violence, predation, and village prejudice that once harmed their mother.
But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?
This is a tale of journeys and transformations. From girl to witch to woman. From boy to beast to man. From hell to heaven to . . . reality.
Building her tale on a mythic scaffolding, Margo Lanagan asks timeless questions about what it is to be human. She explores the evil and the sweetness in the world and reveals the essential magic of learning to live with both.

I'm slowly savoring this immense but absolutely amazing book. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. Thanks, Kathy!

Split by Swati Avasthi
(Random House / March 9, 2010)

Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father's fist), $3.84, and a secret.
He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can't make him forget what he left behind--his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.
At least so far.
Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you've said enough, after you've run, after you've made the split--how do you begin to live again?

I've been curious to read this one!

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray
(Random House / March 23, 2010)

Ross is dead, and Blake, Sim, and Kenny are furious. To make it right, they steal Ross's ashes and set out from their home on the English coast for the tiny village of Ross in southern Scotland, a place their friend had always wanted to go. What follows is an unforgettable journey with illegal train rides, bungee jumping, girls, and high-speed police chases--all with Ross's ashes along for the ride. As events spin wildly out of control, the three friends must take their heads out of the sand long enough to answer the question: What really happened to Ross?
Keith Gray is an award-winning author from the United Kingdom, making his U.S. debut with this action-packed and darkly humorous novel about friendship and loss.

From Around the World Tours:

Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
(HarperCollins / April 20, 2010)

Half-human and half-faery, Ani is driven by her hungers. Those same appetites also attract powerful enemies and uncertain allies, including Devlin. He was created as an assassin and is brother to the faeries’ coolly logical High Queen and to her chaotic twin, the embodiment of War. Devlin wants to keep Ani safe from his sisters, knowing that if he fails, he will be the instrument of Ani’s death.
Ani isn’t one to be guarded while others fight battles for her, though. She has the courage to protect herself and the ability to alter Devlin’s plans—and his life. The two are drawn together, each with reason to fear the other and to fear for one another. But as they grow closer, a larger threat imperils the whole of Faerie. Will saving the faery realm mean losing each other?
Alluring romance, heart-stopping danger, and sinister intrigue combine in Melissa Marr’s next volume of Melissa Marr’s New York Times bestselling Wicked Lovely series.

From Traveling ARC Tours:

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs
(Katherine Tegen Books / June 1, 2010)

Lily Sanderson has a secret, and it’s not that she has a huge crush on gorgeous swimming god Brody Bennett, who makes her heart beat flipper-fast. Unrequited love is hard enough when you’re a normal teenage girl, but when you’re half human, half mermaid like Lily, there’s no such thing as a simple crush.
Lily’s mermaid identity is a secret that can’t get out, since she’s not just any mermaid – she’s a Thalassinian princess. When Lily found out three years ago that her mother was actually a human, she finally realized why she didn’t feel quite at home in Thalassinia, and she’s been living on land and going to Seaview high school ever since, hoping to find where she truly belongs. Sure, land has its problems – like her obnoxious, biker boy neighbor Quince Fletcher – but it has that one major perk – Brody. The problem is, mermaids aren’t really the casual dating type – when they “bond,” it’s for life.
When Lily’s attempt to win Brody’s love leads to a tsunami-sized case of mistaken identity, she is in for a tidal wave of relationship drama, and she finds out, quick as a tailfin flick, that happily-ever-after never sails quite as smoothly as you planned.

From Doylestown Bookshop's Advance Readers Program:

The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones
(Random House / April 13, 2010)

Maxwell Unger has always loved the night. He used to do brave things like go tramping through the forest with his gran after dark. He loved the stories she told him about the world before the Destruction—about nature, and books, and the silver owls. His favorite story, though, was about the Owl Keeper.
According to Max’s gran, in times of darkness the Owl Keeper would appear to unite owls and sages against the powers of the dark. Gran is gone now, and so are her stories of how the world used to be. Max is no longer brave. The forest is dangerous, the books Gran had saved have been destroyed, and the silver owls are extinct. At least that’s what the High Echelon says. But Max knows better.
Maxwell Unger has a secret. And when a mysterious girl comes to town, he might just have to start being brave again. The time of the Owl Keeper, Gran would say, is coming soon.

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood (no official cover yet)
(Balzer + Bray / July 20, 2010)

Jessamine Luxson lives with her father, Thomas, an apothecary, in an isolated cottage near Alnwick Castle. Thomas’s pride and obsession is his locked garden full of dangerous plants, which Jessamine is forbidden to enter.
When a traveler brings an orphan to their cottage, he claims the boy has special gifts that Thomas might value. Jessamine is drawn to the strange but intriguing boy, called Weed. Soon their friendship deepens into love. Finally, Weed shares his secret: He can communicate with plants. For him they have distinct personalities—and some are even murderous. From the locked garden the poisonous plants call to Weed, luring him with promises of deadly power.
When Jessamine falls inexplicably ill, only Weed’s relationship with the Poisons can save her. But Thomas is determined to exploit Weed’s abilities, even if it risks Jessamine’s life—or drives Weed to the brink of madness.…

I have been waiting almost a YEAR for this book, and the nice people at the store, when they saw how into this program I was (I was the first one to return a book and review to them, lol), brought these and several more exciting summer ARCs out from the back for me to choose from! Yippeeeee I can't wait to read this!


Borderline by Allan Stratton
(HarperCollins / March 9, 2010)

Life's not easy for Sami Sabiri since his dad stuck him at a private school where he's the only Muslim kid. But it's about to get a lot worse.
When Sami catches his father in a lie, he gets suspicious. . . . He's not the only one. In a whirlwind, the FBI descends on his home, and Sami's family becomes the center of an international terrorist investigation. Now Sami must fight to keep his world from unraveling.
An explosive thriller ripped from today's headlines, borderline is the story of a funny, gutsy Muslim-American teen determined to save his father, his family, and his life.

This sounds fantastic! Thanks, Allan, Holly, and HarperCollins!

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst
The Starry Rift edited by Jonathan Strahan - I've been getting a kick out of short story collections lately
At Face Value by Emily Franklin
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves - because I had a 40% off Borders coupon and couldn't resist finally buying this for my perma-collection

Borrowed from library:
The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
Nothing by Janne Teller - reading this right now and it's really good!

Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
When Mike Kissed Emma by Christina Marciniak
Gentlemen's Alliance vols. 1-6 by Arina Tanemura
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Eleven by Lauren Myracle

Saturday, March 27, 2010

So You Want to Donate Books

When I posted about donating books to my local library a few weeks ago, I got a bunch of comments from bloggers who wanted to donate books to their libraries as well but who either didn't know how to go about doing it or were thwarted when they saw their brand-new hardcover new releases on sale for a dollar at the semi-annual library book sale. Yeah, we know how that goes, and we certainly don't want our brand new books to end up there!

Therefore, I've compiled a list of tips that can help you have a better donating experience. And I've also included a starters list of resources for worthy causes and locations that will always be happy to accept donations from you!

1. Do Your Research

You'll get the most bang out of your, er, donation if you donate to a place that badly needs it. Check out the public libraries or schools in your area. How is their collection? What is the ratio of new releases to older books? If your library seems to get those highly anticipated new releases practically before you even see them in bookstores, then they probably don't need donations as much as others do. My hometown library, for example, has an incredible teen section and a "New Releases" bookshelf that's constantly being replenished. On the other hand, the public library in my college town seems to only be able to buy 5-10 new hardcovers each season. (I may be wrong on this, but that's just what it feels like to me.) If I donate to my college town's library, my donation is "worth" more, in that it'll go into the system as one of only a handful of copies of that particular book available in our network. If I donate to my hometown's library, I'd probably find it in their monthly book sale.

Do you live in or know a state that has recently faced a library budget cut? Chances are that if you're an avid book lover, peruser of book-related sites, and library user, you'll know if your library budget is in jeopardy. I go to school in Pennsylvania, and last fall our state cut over 30% of the public libraries' budgets. The Free Library of Philadelphia network, which consisted over over 40 branches, was thisclose to having to close down completely due to lack of funding. Horrifying. Unfortunately this situation is becoming more and more common, and these states would gladly take your donations for their collections. More on this later.

2. Talk to the children's, teen, or acquisitions librarian.

Once I realized that my local library could benefit greatly from my donations, I talked to their full-time, paid librarian about the possibility of me donating books for their children's and teen collection. Don't start blabbering about donating to the volunteers who man the checkout counter: they usually don't know what to do with you, and will A) either direct you to the full-time, paid librarian you were supposed to talk to in the first place, or B) tell you about them accepting donations for their book sale, WHICH IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT. (On the other hand, if you don't know who the teen/acquisitions librarian is, I'm sure the volunteers do.)

Don't come in with a boxful of donations at the very first meeting: get to know that librarian first. If you have the time, establish a relationship. Let him/her know that you are a book blogger and often receive finished copies of new releases to review, and are wondering if you'd be able to donate those books to the library's collection once you have reviewed them. They'll usually fall over you, and even if they don't really get the importance of the blogger in the way that many publishers do, they will be sure to ask about your blog and whatnot. If you have a business card, give it to the librarian. Show him/her that you are a frequent visitor and/or someone who's actively involved in the book industry. (Which, as a blogger, you are!) Once they know that you're not just someone looking to dump a half-dozen boxes of moldy, outdated books on their doorstep, they'd be happy to consider your donation.

3. When donating, give the books directly to the children's/teen/acquisitions librarian.

This is similar to Number 2. Don't just leave the books with volunteers, who will more likely than not just point you to the big box labeled "Donations for Book Sale" that's by the desk or door or whatever. Introduce yourself politely again, remind the librarian who you are and what your purpose with the books are, and either hand the books to them (and watch them fawn over the new releases of the books they had been forced to pass up at the last ordering they made due to budget restrictions) or place them where they ask you to place them, which is usually somewhere in their office.

PLEASE NOTE: ARCs are not meant to be donated to public libraries! You're not supposed to do that. A private, nonprofit, or teacher's classroom library is a different story, of course.

4. The Goldilocks rule.

I wouldn't recommend sending them 12 boxes stuffed full of books all at once: librarians are human too, and they need time to look over the books and see whether they're appropriate for the collection! At the same time, don't come in once a week with just one book to donate. I would find that irritating if I were a librarian, no matter how grateful I'd be to have the book. The past two times I've donated, I've come in with about 7-10 books, which seems like a manageable but impressive lump amount. I'm hoping to make my donations more of a regular affair, coming in perhaps once every 4-6 weeks with a new batch of books for their collection.

5. Avoid dumping off your "weeding-out" castoffs.

I strongly suggest asking your librarians if they're interested in receiving books that were first published over 1.5-2 years ago. Librarians are just like us in that new, shiny stuff attracts them more than oldies but goodies. There was a reason they passed on ordering those books when they first came out. Remember: librarians have the right to put your donations into their book sale, so if you want to minimize that occurrence, check beforehand to see if there's a "limit" as to the publication year they'd accept to improve their collection. (Or do any librarian bloggers reading this know? I'd be supremely grateful if you could answer this question!)

6. Check when your books have been entered into the system.

This is obviously to save you a lot of grief. You don't want to have been donating for half a year only to suddenly find out that 90% of your brand new hardcover new releasees donations haven't been making it onto the shelves! That was the main reason why I waited so long between my first and second donations. The first batch took soooo long to process that I was worried they wouldn't accept all my beautiful books! The second batch was entered a lot more quickly: within a week I found them in the online catalog and on the shelves. (I still haven't seen many books from my first donation on the actual shelves themselves--that's because they're always checked out!) It's okay to feel secretly proud and a little possessive of the books you donated: that's human. Who doesn't want their gifts to be appreciated? Figuring out your library's processing time will make it a less nerve-wracking (will they like my books, or will they put it up for sale? *bites nails*) experience and more fun for everyone!

7. Lastly, don't stop donating!

You seriously don't need to keep every book that you receive. Yes, not even the ones that have been signed (especially if you got a much cooler and PERSONALIZED book from that particular author afterwards!). They do no good to languish, untouched, on your own bookshelf: they're much better off being loved by others. If you can make donating a regular event--monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, whatever works best for you!--I guarantee that you'll feel like you're doing something great for the world.

Cool Places/Causes to Donate To

If you live in a region that already has a good public library system, or you'd like to extend your philanthropic hand out a bit further, below are just a few places to get you started.

Maureen Johnson and the Harry Potter Alliance's Accio Books Contest
Superstar author Maureen Johnson is heading up HPA's Ravenclaw house in this year's competition: donate books to the Mississippi Delta! Unlike local public libraries, you can donate ANYTHING (well, any books, of course) to this cause... and you might even get some pretty sweet prizes out of it. Want a signed copy of Maureen's books, a rare galley of upcoming Last Little Blue Envelope (um, *WANTS*), your name in the acknowledgments page of TLLBE, or even a character named after you in her new paranormal crime series?? Yeah, I thought so. And trust me, you can easily find 100 books to donate. But you have to hurry: all donations must be postmarked/donated/tallied up by March 31! Check out Maureen's blog post for more information.

Bring YA2PA
Incredible philanthropist-blogger Harmony (of Harmony Book Reviews) started this program last year to support our poor struggling PA libraries. *sniff* To give you an example of your ability to donate: Harmony (not her real name, which is reallyreally cool) donates pretty much every single book she buys, receives, and reads to her local library. Can we say COOL and WOW? Bring YA2PA holds semi-annual auctions of signed books, critiques, etc. to raise money for the cause, and they are currently planning a large YA author event in Philadelphia, hopefully before I graduate. (And writing about this now is making me feel lame because I should help them out more, instead of simply writing about them.) They're always happy and willing to accept donations to the several libraries whose wishlists are posted on their website. Check out Bring YA2PA if you'd like to help this cause out!

Color Online
This is a blog/program promoting books featuring POC (people of color) and just good books in general to communities that need them, run by a blogger by the name of Susan. I've known Susan and followed her blog for over a year now, and I've donated to Color Online before. How great is it that Susan is making a concerted effort to put more books into the hands of others by offering what's virtually a "mailing library"? They could always use book or monetary donations. Check out Color Online's Book Loans page for more information!

The Reading Room in Brunei Darussalam
If you've got some money to spare, or are looking to do something REALLY special, there's this awesome guy I know who goes by Mr. Jason, who teaches teen girls at a school in Brunei Darussalam, which is a teeny-tiny country in Oceania, near New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and those island nations. Check out Mr. Jason's blog or his BookMooch Charity page to get a sense for how special his program is, how absolutely enthusiastic about reading his students are, and how grateful and excited they are to receive new books. Shipping to Brunei does tend to run high (as I learned the hard way), but post offices sell a flat-rate box that you can just fill with books, which will actually be cheaper than finding a box of your own and mailing it. Anyway, they really are a great bunch of people who would love to take donations. Check them out if you can!


Got any suggestions for me to add to the above list? Questions? Comments? Librarians, advice you'd like to add? I know this post only covers the basics, and teachers might be sad that I didn't mention school libraries as much. But seriously, everyone, there are countless places that would be thrilled to accept your donations. Your unwanted books don't need to end up in Goodwill, or the local used bookstore, or on PaperbackSwap! Consider donating to your local library, or one of these causes, or elsewhere. It'll make a lot of people, most of all you. :)

Questions for Librarians

Below are some questions that I'd be grateful if librarian-bloggers reading this post out thre could answer. Thanks a bunch! Feel free to add anything else you think I and readers would benefit from knowing.

  • Will libraries accept donations of "backlisted" titles--books that have been out already for over a year?
  • Would librarians appreciate/prefer a copy of your review along with your donated book?
  • What are libraries' policies on the condition of books they'd accept into their collection?
  • What goes into the procedure of processing books into the system?
  • Any other way we can make the relationship between librarian and blogger more helpful to both?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Featured Blogger (20): Adele from Persnickety Snark!

I've envied Adele's writing abilities for a long time, ever since I came across her blog, Persnickety Snark, early last year, when I had almost just begun blogging. Her writing is just so effortless, honest with a perfect pinch of humor. Adele is never afraid of writing about big or challenging subjects relating to YA literature or blogging, and I love her for both her bold fearlessness and her sweet personality (seriously everyone, if you haven't yet talked to her on Twitter, why the heck not?). Today I am extremely fortunate to share the interview I did with her. Welcome, Adele, to Steph Su Reads!

1. Hello, Adele! Why don't you tell us about yourself in a few short sentences.

I am a 28 year old Australian teacher currently working in Japan. I blog, I read, I pick apart movies and travel around Japan quite a lot. I am a contemporary YA nut and quite partial to World War 2 history. My two favourite books are an interesting mismatch - Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Stephen King's The Stand...that pretty much summarises my personality - the romantic cynic.

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

I started Persnickety Snark in January 2009 as a means to gather books for my cash-strapped school library. I would review books and then donate them to the school so my students would have material that a) was less than 20 years old and b) interested them. I don't teach at that school so the blog is about me recommending, spotlighting and promoting titles and authors that I believe are worthy of your dollars.

What to expect? A fair critique of a novel with reasoning. A healthy dose of snark...when warranted. A spotlight on Australian YA and discussion posts that hopefully make people think about anything from virtual book tours to the Peeta versus Gale debate.

3. Describe your reading taste. Any particular YA sub genres you gravitate towards? What calls to you in certain books? Which non-YA genre(s) would you want to read more of?

I am very much a fan of contemporary YA. I love when duel perspectives or a male perspective is done well because that will always make me think that little bit more. I enjoy books with tight editing, realistic protagonists and well rounded supporting players. I like a premise that holds up - no flash for me, I like substance. Romance is always divine, particular if there is a lot of banter and a guy who's a bit of a tool. Love triangles annoy me because I rarely had one guy interested in me at high school, let alone two! Humour is probably the one element that I really respond to, regardless of genre. If the banter or inner dialogue is witty, snappy and a little snarky then you have a fan in me.

4. Followers of your blog may know that you've recently moved to Japan to teach. What's one cool incident that has happened to you so far? What's something not-so-cool? And what is the state of YA in Japan?

Cool incident.....hmmm. I don't like fish but I was out to dinner with an enormous group of parents from my school. Every course was raw fish and I was eating it with a huge smile on my face, choking it down. Then the raw squid came out and by that time I figured why not and downed it. Not pleasant by any means, really disgusting actually but I am very proud of it.

Not-so-cool....almost having a meltdown in the supermarket on day one when I couldn't find margarine. It sounds ridiculous now but I was jet lagged, sick and hadn't worked out that the Japanese sell margarine in boxes (which contain the tubs).

The state of YA in Japan is not something I consider myself to be knowledgeable about at all. In my city, Shizuoka, there are very small pockets of English fiction in the book stores. The only YA freely available is Harry Potter, Little Women and Twilight. When I went into Tokyo I found much bigger selections of mainly best sellers and award winners. I tend to purchase online from Book Depository.

5. Name 3 of your favorite books and why you think everyone should read them.

Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta) - complex structure meets exquisite characterisation in a deep and connective storyline. Also, there's a really hot guy in fatigues that you will come to love dearly.

Some Girls Are (Courtney Summers) - a no hold bars approach on girls and how evil they can be. Dynamic, aggressive, and uncompromising, it packs a punch.

Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery) - it's a classic for a reason. Also the best girl on guy classroom violence that I've ever read. Reminds me of more innocent times but ultimately is about how kind people can be, if you give them a chance.

(I would also like to mention by faves from the first question of this interview. Read The Stand and see what inspired the creators of Lost - it's incredible.)

6. Alright, I might have to actually check out The Stand now. So what superpower do you wish you could have?

The ability to eat whatever I want and not put on weight....that's lame. I always thought that thought that psychometry would be cool. It's the ability to sense thoughts, feelings or relive events by handling personal items. It's not really a superpower but it would be super cool to have as an ability.

7. What do you think of book-to-movie adaptations? What's your favorite adaptation? Which adaptations are you looking forward to?

This is contentious but I rather adored the 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park. I think that 10 Things I Hate About You was a fantastic adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew in a YA context. I think the Percy Jackson movie was pretty darned good despite the fact that the book bored me. The Harry Potter team has done a wonderful job adapting JK Rowling's work without being too loyal, they've found a lovely medium. I am excited to see the final two movies.

The idea of a Hunger Games and If I Stay movies intrigue me as I think they could go both ways - fantastic or a big old mess. I think Kristin Walker's A Match Made in High School has television show written all over it.. Teens are a demographic that spends cash and it's great to see Hollywood realising this...finally. (Though casting Miley less would be a step in the right direction!)

8. Hah! I agree with the less Miley! And *adds Mansfield Park to movie wishlist* Now, would you rather date a zombie, vampire, werewolf, faerie, ghost, merman, or some other supernatural creature?

Zombie - bad BO
Vampire - bad breath
Werewolf - bad breath and BO
Faerie - flighty
Ghost - hard to pin down
Merman - fishy

or some other supernatural creature...Cupid...I have no idea...I am into nerds. Though they would like to think of themselves as supernatural, they aren't. I like my geek boys!

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

A lovely handwritten card always seems to do the trick for me. Shows thought and love and always moves me. I am partial to mac and cheese though....I am in a country that doesn't have it! Books are the best presents, especially if they are highly recommended.

10. And finally, share with us 2 interesting things about yourself that can spark conversation.

I have double jointed thumbs and love to gross my students out with them.
I have yet to read To Kill A Mockingbird...tragic, I know.


Yes, you DO need to read To Kill a Mockingbird! But we excuse you for now because of your highly entertaining answers. For more of that kind of humor and insight, don't forget to check out Adele's blog, Persnickety Snark. She's really one of the best bloggers around in my opinion and deserves a large fan club following. Thanks so much, Adele! :)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous by Nina Beck

Tags: YA, obesity, humor, fat camp, romance, secrets

Rating: 4 out of 5


Manhattanite Riley Swain is not your average It Girl. She’s heavy, she has no problems with the way she looks, and she’s got attitude. When her parents force her to go to fat camp for spring break, Riley panics and lies to her best friend/crush, D, about it. Fat camp in upstate New York is pretty awful, but before she even realizes it, Riley has made some good friends, and may even have something special going on with the program director’s son, the adorable, punk-rockish Eric. As she and Eric get closer, however, Riley’s NYC friends are in danger of finding out where she’s been. How will Riley choose between her old, amazing life, and the possibility that change may bring about even more amazing things?


Try your hardest to not judge this book too much by its title and cover, otherwise you’ll miss out on one of the most winning protagonists I’ve ever come across. Riley carries the rest of the wonderful “cast” of characters in a book that’s hilarious, inspiring, and totally swoon-worthy.

I wish we could have more characters like Riley in YA lit. This girl knows what she wants, and she doesn’t wait for others to give it to her: she goes for it herself. Riley’s confidence makes her a wonderful role model, while her insecurities—most of them having to do with her family and a little bit with her reputation—make her realistic so that she is easy to relate to.

It wouldn’t be right if I don’t mention that this is one of those rare books with a heavy protagonist that isn’t about having low self-esteem or trying to lose weight. Instead, Riley is comfortable with her body, making this book as the title suggests it is. Much like how I want more books featuring Asians that are not about the struggles of being Asian, so I think many readers will adore this book for giving them a fabulous plus-sized heroine to root for.

Riley and Eric’s romance is so adorable it would be a sin for me not to talk about it. Again, Eric is quirky, confident, stereotype-breaking, and so dedicated to Riley it’s hard not to be jealous of her. Theirs is a head-over-heels flirtation that will likely make the most hard-hearted of us squeal with pleasure and want to form an Eric Hotra fan club.

The bottom line? Don’t misjudge this gem of a novel. It’s got a little bit of something for readers of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and story preferences. As far as contemporary YA fiction goes, this book is one of the strongest out there. I highly suggest you find a copy and check out this fun and touching story for yourself!

Similar Authors
Georgia Nicholson
Meg Cabot
Robin Brande

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 1.5 out of 5 - Neither this nor the original hardcover image (to your left) managed to capture the essence of this book, in my opinion. I totally dismissed this for ages until Lenore mentioned it on her Unsung YA list. Doesn't it give off the impression that it'll be...I dunno, ditzy?

Scholastic / Sept. 1, 2009 (reprint) / Paperback / 256pp. / $8.99

Picked up on Lenore's recommendation, borrowed from library.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday (57)

The Passage by Justin Cronin

"It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born."
First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.
As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he's done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.
With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction. [summary from]

I first heard of this when Lenore reviewed it as part of her Dystopian February blog feature, and I wondered why I hadn't seen it earlier. Doesn't it sound eerily fantastic? Apocalyptic, plus I think there might be vampires... the real, creepy kind. I don't usually read adult fiction, but the few that have caught my attention and been highly recommended have turned out to all be exceptional... so I'm looking forward to this one!

The Passage will be published in hardcover by Random House on June 8, 2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guest Post + GIVEAWAY with Margo Lanagan!

Today I have the incredible opportunity of being a stop on the blog tour for Margo Lanagan, internationally renowned Aussie YA author and recipient of the 2009 Printz Honor award for her book Tender Morsels. I'm in the middle of reading this book right now, and while it's far from an easy read, it's a beautiful book ripe with lots of points for discussion. I'm literally taking a pencil and underlining passages that struck me as beautiful or meaningful, and I rarely do that for anything other than school texts!

A review of Tender Morsels will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, you get to hear from Margo herself, and have a chance to win a copy of this ambitious and one-of-a-kind book! Welcome, Margo, to Steph Su Reads!

What I Do When I Get Stuck

Lots of people (including many schoolchildren) ask me what I do when a story stops working, or just stops - stops feeding itself through my brain onto the paper. Behind this question are many hours of suffering, and I have to say, behind my answer there's plenty of time being anxious and wondering “However will I fix this?”—this story, this plot problem, this knotted sentence.

Usually what’s happened when I get stuck is that I’ve lost perspective; I’m in too close to the story to see all the strands in the knot I’ve created. I lose the sense of a way forward, and that opens a little hole in my brain through which anxiety flows in freely. This leads to flooding of my problem-solving faculties. To sit in front of the story being anxious is fruitless. I need to go off and do something practical, unrelated to writing or story, preferably unrelated to any words at all. I need to put the problem so far out of my head that I forget the anxiety entirely, forget the details of the problem, and with them the details of the fears that are so expertly immobilising me.

Sometimes just time will fix things; after my break I’ll turn my mind back to the story and, because I’m no longer crouched tensely over it, the awkward story-bits will unlock themselves from their death-grip and let me push them around and find a solution.

Sometimes, if I’m writing to deadline and in a flat panic, there’ll be a clear need for me to get oxygen to my brain. In those cases, aiming for a state of relaxed disengagement is futile—there just isn’t time. What I do then is go for a swim, or a bike ride, or at least a very brisk walk. Breathe hard, focus on the exterior world, walk/pedal/swim ... and wait. Look at dogs, trees, other people’s faces, the sky; get a sense of how small I am, how slight this task is, how transient. You can do this, Margo; you’ve sorted out bigger problems before. It’s never as hard as you fear; take courage. Reassure myself with a bit of the real world. Ten minutes or so out from the end of the aerobic exercise, I’ll turn my mind back to the story, and make an answer of some kind happen. Again, having relaxed a bit usually lets some constructive thought in.

Sometimes I have to admit: Oh, that’s as far as this idea goes. There’s nothing more to it; it was simpler than I thought. This can be surprising, but it need not be disappointing. Hunting around for ways to reanimate an idea, to build a story with a longer tail, using all the extra material that I’ve already built onto the original idea, can be the most fun part of the project. Just how far can you take this?

I’ve learnt to recognise when I can’t take things further, when an idea has simply died on me, or I’ve fallen out of the frame of mind where I can make something of it. And again, this doesn’t have to be a disaster. Another idea will come, another story will nudge at me and start telling me how it wants to be written. If the spark of one idea has died, I won’t waste breath blowing and blowing on it, desperate for it to re-ignite. It’ll light up again - given time, given thought, given absence of fear - if it’s any good at all.


Wise words from a master storyteller to all of us aspiring writers. I'll keep Margo's advice in mind whenever I get so frustrated with my own writing that I just want to put the pen down forever. Thank you, Margo! If you want to get more of her writing, check out her blog at Among Amid While. The other bloggers participating in this tour are:

Monday, March 22nd: Through A Glass, Darkly

Tuesday, March 23rd: Steph Su Reads

Wednesday, March 24th: Bildungsroman

Thursday, March 25th: Cynsations

Friday, March 26th: The Story Siren

Saturday, March 27th: Shaken & Stirred

I hope you check these other stops out!


Giveaway Opportunity

Thanks to the marvelous generosity of K at Random House, I have THREE (3) copies of Margo's book, Tender Morsels, to give to three lucky winners! This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only, and ends Friday, April 9, 2010. To enter, please fill out the form below. Good luck!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Some Giveaway Winners!

The four winners of The Dark Divine nail polish giveaway are:

#8 Jill of The O.W.L.
#21 Cherylbaryl
#2 Melissa
#17 Anonymous

The winner of the Unsung YA giveaway is:

#202 notemily!

Congratulations to all the winners! The winners have been contacted by email; please respond by this Friday to claim your prize.

If you didn't win, there are more giveaways to enter! My giveaway for 5 copies of Tracy Trivas' The Wish Stealers ends this Friday, March 26. The giveaway for 3 copies of Rachel Ward's Numbers ends next Sunday, March 28. And there will be more giveaways coming soon!

Review: Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood by Eileen Cook

Tags: YA, revenge, popularity, retelling

Rating: 4 out of 5


At the end of eighth grade, Lauren Wood humiliated Helen Worthington so completely that Helen’s social life would have been obliterated had her family not moved away. Helen spends all of high school hating her ex-best friend and tracking her every move. When given the opportunity to move back to town with a new name and look, Helen realizes this is the perfect time to enact her revenge on Lauren Wood. Helen’s revenge will be so utterly thorough that Lauren will be ruined forever, and Helen relishes the thought.

As Helen slowly realizes, however, some parts of revenge are remarkably easy, while others are much more complicated. Helen’s hatred of Lauren has driven her for the past three years; does Helen even know who she herself is anymore? What happens if getting revenge on Lauren Wood doesn’t turn out to be all that Helen has longed for?


GETTING REVENGE ON LAUREN WOOD is a surprisingly engaging read, the classic tale of revenge translated perfectly into the modern high school setting of popularity and backstabbing. With swift, smart writing and a plot that’s never boring, this book is perfect for anyone who loves the movie Mean Girls and/or was floored by the way that Alexandre Dumas set up the intricate and unbeatable revenge plan in The Count of Monte Cristo.

I love when authors successfully write “mean girls” who are realistically a pain in the butt and/or whose actions are justified. Helen’s perfection (and hilariously accurate analysis) of popularity hits all the right notes, from the stinging one-liners to carefully sown seeds of destruction. We all know the character of Lauren Wood, that nasty bee-yotch who deserves to be brought low by the hands of an avenging destroyer. Helen is scarily perfect for that job, the everygirl who’s resourceful and determined to the death, and yet I loved that she also learns a few things about herself along the way.

If your preconceptions about this book are that it is a fluffy chick lit read or a typical addictive-like-candy mean-girl story, well, I hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong. GETTING REVENGE ON LAUREN WOOD is a bitingly entertaining novel with bold characters and an even bolder plot. Indeed, if you love smart teen silver-screen classics such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Mean Girls, you will get a kick out of reading this book. Vive le revenge!

Similar Authors/Works
Kate Brian
Mean Girls
Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo)

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

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - How utterly cool is this? I'm not too crazy about the font, but I just love the image of the Barbie being stabbed. lol. We've all dreamed of mutilating those seemingly perfect girls, right? (Or is that just me and my sadistic, masochistic side coming out?)

Simon Pulse / Jan. 5, 2010 / Hardcover / 272pp. / $15.99

Review copy sent unsolicited by publisher.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In My Mailbox (29)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme inspired by Alea and hosted by Kristi. Go to Kristi's blog to see what others got in terms of books this week!

I haven't posted in a few days, partly because of a self-imposed birthday weekend blogging exemption, and then because I got ill, or heatstroke, or sunstroke, or something. (Darn this 75-degree weather in March! If things were just normal I wouldn't have felt the need to spend 4 hours outside, soaking up the sun!) So, uhh... yeah. That's the state of things with me.

For review:

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont
(Atheneum / March 23, 2010)

Sixteen-year-old Sydney Biggs is a “good kid”— smart, pretty, self-aware. No one doubts that she’ll go far in life. But lately her mother worries that Sydney is wandering down the wrong path and getting all caught up in petty teenage rebellion and shenanigans. When Sydney and her best friend, Natalia, “borrow” a car to go to a party and then get escorted home by the police, their parents pack them up and ship them off to a hard-love wilderness camp to stop this behavior before it gets out of hand, before things go too far. The problem is, they already have.
Sydney the “good kid” is pregnant.
In the wilds of Canada—where the girls are to spend the next four weeks canoeing, camping, and foraging for food—time is ticking, because Sydney isn’t sure what she wants to do about this baby. And she certainly isn’t expecting the other heady issues that will confront her as she forges friendships with her adventure mates, not to mention her own best friend—who is very adamant about what Sydney should do.

This sounds so good and the cover is beautiful too. Thanks, Nina!

Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong
(HarperCollins / March 9, 2010)

When you're so skinny people call you Skeleton Boy, how do you find strength for the fight of your life?
Twelve-year-old Vonlai knows that soldiers who guard the Mekong River shoot at anything that moves, but in oppressive Communist Laos, there's nothing left for him, his spirited sister, Dalah, and his desperate parents. Their only hope is a refugee camp in Thailand—on the other side of the river.
When they reach the camp, their struggles are far from over. Na Pho is a forgotten place where life consists of squalid huts, stifling heat, and rationed food. Still, Vonlai tries to carry on as if everything is normal. He pays attention in school, a dusty barrack overcrowded with kids too hungry to learn. And, to forget his empty stomach, he plays soccer in a field full of rocks. But when someone inside the camp threatens his family, Vonlai calls on a forbidden skill to protect their future—a future he's sure is full of promise, if only they can make it out of Na Pho alive.
In her compelling debut, Laura Manivong has written an evocative story that is vividly real, strongly affecting, and, at its heart, about hope that resonates in even the darkest moments.

Thanks, Elyse!

The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott
(Simon Pulse / March 16, 2010)

Everyone knows the unwritten rule: You don't like your best friend's boyfriend.
Sarah has had a crush on Ryan for years. He's easy to talk to, supersmart, and totally gets her. Lately it even seems like he's paying extra attention to her. Everything would be perfect except for two things: Ryan is Brianna's boyfriend, and Brianna is Sarah's best friend.
Sarah forces herself to avoid Ryan and tries to convince herself not to like him. She feels so guilty for wanting him, and the last thing she wants is to hurt her best friend. But when she's thrown together with Ryan one night, something happens. It's wonderful...and awful.
Sarah is torn apart by guilt, but what she feels is nothing short of addiction, and she can't stop herself from wanting more...

Thanks, Elizabeth!

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
(Scholastic / July 20, 2010)

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past . . . and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves . . . and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.
At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love - the light and the dark, the warm and the cold - in a way you will never forget.

From Around the World Tours:

Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
(EgmontUSA / July 13, 2010)

Since her sister’s mysterious death, Persephone “Phe” Archer has been plagued by a series of disturbing dreams. Determined to find out what happened to her sister, Phe enrolls at Devenish Prep in Shadow Hills, Massachusetts—the subject of her sister’s final diary entry.
After stepping on campus, Phe immediately realizes that there’s something different about this place—an unexplained epidemic that decimated the town in the 1700s, an ancient and creepy cemetery, and gorgeous boy Zach—and somehow she’s connected to it all.
But the more questions she asks and the deeper she digs, the more entangled Phe becomes in the haunting past of Shadow Hills. Finding what links her to this town…might cost her her life.

Yay! I'm reading this right now and it's quite good! It'll definitely be popular when it comes out this summer.

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June by Robin Benway
(Razorbill / Aug. 3, 2010)

Three sisters share a magical, unshakeable bond in this witty high-concept novel from the critically acclaimed author of Audrey, Wait! Around the time of their parents’ divorce, sisters April, May, and June recover special powers from childhood—powers that come in handy navigating the hell that is high school. Powers that help them cope with the hardest year of their lives. But could they have a greater purpose?
April, the oldest and a bit of a worrier, can see the future. Middle-child May can literally disappear. And baby June reads minds—everyone’s but her own. When April gets a vision of disaster, the girls come together to save the day and reconcile their strained family. They realize that no matter what happens, powers or no powers, they’ll always have each other.
Because there’s one thing stronger than magic: sisterhood.

I LOVED Audrey, Wait! and have been waiting for a second book from this author ever since I finished her first. I can't wait to dig into this one!


The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen
(Feiwel & Friends / May 25, 2010)

Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children’s book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works. One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers into autotrophs—genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don’t need food or water to survive. And before he knows it, Mason is on the run with the girl, and wanted, dead or alive, by the mysterious mastermind of this gruesome plan, who is simply called the Gardener.
Will Mason be forced to destroy the thing he’s longed for most?

Tayla saw my Waiting on Wednesday post for this book and sent me her extra copy! Thank you soooo much!


Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto by Eric Luper
(Balzer + Bray / June 8, 2010)

Seth Baumgartner just had the worst day of his life: His girlfriend dumped him (at Applebee's), he spied his father on a date with a woman who is not his mother (at Applebee's!), and he lost his fourth job of the year. It's like every relationship he cares about is imploding, and he can't figure out what's going on.
To find answers, Seth decides to start an anonymous podcast called The Love Manifesto, exploring "what love is, why love is, and why we're stupid enough to keep going back for more." Things start looking up when Seth gets a job at a golf club with his hilarious and smut-minded best friend, Dimitri, and Dimitri's sister, Audrey. With their help, Seth tracks down his father's mystery date, hits the most infamous bogey in the history of golf, and discovers that sometimes love means eating the worst chicken-salad sandwich you can ever imagine.

I won this in a contest Eric held on his blog. Thanks, Eric! Isn't the cover awesome?

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
And Falling, Fly by Skyler White
By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

Borrowed from library:
Nothing by Janne Teller
In a Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth
Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: The Snowball Effect by Holly Nicole Hoxter

Tags: YA, death, grief, suicide, family, sisters, socioeconomic status

Rating: 3 out of 5


Lately, people have been doing a good job of leaving Lainey Pike’s life. A few months ago, her stepfather Carl was killed in a motorcycle accident. Then her beloved maternal grandmother died of avoided terminal illnesses, and then her mother hanged herself several days after Lainey’s high school graduation, leaving her with her adopted 5-year-old brother, Colin. Lainey’s older half-sister, Vallery, moves back in with them, but Lainey still feels her life spiraling out of control. Her relationship with her perfect long-term boyfriend Riley hits the rocks, and she starts seeing another, totally different guy. What will it take for Lainey to begin to feel more like herself again?


THE SNOWBALL EFFECT is an endearing debut novel that explores the different types of enduring—and finite—relationships that are necessary in life. Its wonderful characters are hindered by a plot that seems to move around in circles with no satisfying closure, but on the whole it is an enjoyable read with a unique moral.

Lainey is a relatable, though not always likable, protagonist. Her no-nonsense narration flows smoothly and never feels forced in the shadow of all the tragedy and hardships that have befallen her. THE SNOWBALL EFFECT is a character-driven novel with a memorable cast of characters—even if not all of them have been thoroughly developed in the text. Besides Lainey, her boyfriend Riley is the strongest character, albeit a static one. His consistency and domestic intelligence is an assuring light in the alley of Vallery’s pouty tantrums and Colin’s inexplicable development problems.

I would have liked THE SNOWBALL EFFECT to have more of a distinguishable plot arc. Lainey works through her stages of grief in the changing ways she deals with her interpersonal relationships, but her life is mostly stagnant, and the “revelation” event near the end of the novel is never fully satisfying as a resolution-forming climax.

THE SNOWBALL EFFECT is refreshingly different from your typical “coming to terms with grief” YA novel. If you have a pragmatic outlook on life, like your contemporary YA readable, and don’t mind dealing with a circling plot for those characteristics, then you’ll really enjoy your book. THE SNOWBALL EFFECT should be a book that finds its ways into the hands of girls with so-called unprivileged backgrounds, for socioeconomic status is strong in this novel and fills a sorely underrepresented bracket in YA lit.

Similar authors
Jillian Cantor (The Life of Glass)
Emily Giffin (Love the One You're With)

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

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 1 out of 5 - Um... NO!!! This looks like it was pieced together out of a number of low-quality clipart pictures. The fake "blue-screen" background, the girl's awkward expression and arm posture, the completely unrealistic way in which she's still stupidly concentrating on placing one more cup on top of a pyramid that's already fallen down. Come on. I can't believe this got past a teen advisory board...did they even run it by a test YA audience? Shame on you, art director, for this mess of a cover. Do-over.

HarperTeen / March 23, 2010 / Hardcover / 368pp. / $16.99

ARC won from author's blog giveaway.


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