Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rules of Attraction winner!

Each contest we hold gets more and more entries, so it always makes me laugh when chooses a prior winner of a contest as the new winner. I assure you everyone got their entries in, and I got a real kick out of the large number of readers from Nevada (thanks!). All of this is to say..

Congrats, Abby!

Everyone else, keep entering for our contest for Wherever Nina Lies. We have three copies of that title to share (and we're so excited to share it). And as always, keep reading, commenting, and sharing.

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Don't Forget: Get AudioSynced

Don't forget to share your posts on all things right here by Monday! I've reviewed a few audiobooks and have another one in the pipe just for our first post.

Didn't get an audiobook in in February? No fear! Abby will host this meme next month.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Wherever Nina Lies GIVEAWAY

We've got 3 copies of Wherever Nina Lies to give away. You can read our reviews here and here.

To enter, you must be a US resident. The contest runs for two weeks, and winners will be selected March 12. Fill out the form below to enter; you can earn extra entries for tweeting or blogging the contest.

You can learn more about the author and the book at this website. Check it out!

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wherever Nina Lies, by Lynn Weingarten (Kim's Take)

Kelly reviewed this book over the weekend, so I won’t rehash the plot too much. Ellie sets off on a road trip with her new crush, the only person who believes they can find her sister Nina who disappeared two years ago. Check out Kelly’s review for a more detailed synopsis.

Wherever Nina Lies, by Lynn Weingarten, is a mix of road trip book, romance, and mystery/thriller, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I admit that I judge a book by its cover, and I am not sure the cover of this one really portrays it accurately. Despite the blurb on the back of the book, the cover led me to expect something very girly and very fluffy (all that pink, and the soft image of the cover model). While the target audience is definitely female, and there are some fluffy aspects, it is a much weightier book than I initially anticipated.

The pacing is perfect. The mystery unfolds at just the right speed, imparting just the right amount of creepiness and growing unease. The climax of the book proves it to be a real thriller, and I could not put it down – I read it while walking around my house and even pulled it out once while I was stopped at a red light. While I read, I was reminded a lot of Wish You Were Dead, by Todd Strasser, another excellent teen thriller I read a few months ago.

One of the aspects I most enjoyed about the book were the drawings sprinkled throughout. Nina was an aspiring artist, and her drawings provide clues to her disappearance. They're not phenomenal drawings - they look like they were drawn by an 18 year old girl, which is a good thing. One of the strongest features of the book is that it includes so many different elements (the drawings, the road trip, the romance, the mystery) without seeming hodge-podge and disjointed.

It’s not a perfect book. Sometimes characterization is sacrificed for plot, and full enjoyment requires the reader to very willingly suspend her disbelief – but fans of the mystery/thriller genre are practiced at putting their incredulity on the back burner for awhile. Wherever Nina Lies is a real page turner, and reading it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Check back tomorrow – we’ll be giving away THREE copies of the paperback book to three lucky winners.

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AudioSynced: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

One of my favorite reading genres is southern literature -- I can take it in just about any form, as long as it has a healthy dose of the south. I'm amenable to trying different genres with the southern element, including titles like Beautiful Creatures, which I'd otherwise never pick up. When I first read about Saving CeeCee Honeycutt in a trade journal, it sounded like something right up my alley, even though I'm not a huge fan of so-called "domestic fiction" (is that not the most useless term?). The description immediately made me think of Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees, which I read years ago and liked well enough.

I decided to give this one a whirl on audiobook, hoping I'd get some nice southern vocals, and I was not disappointed.

CeeCee Honeycutt hasn't had an easy childhood: her father is always gone away on business, and she is left at home with her mother in Willoughby, Ohio, who is herself losing her mind. CeeCee's mother was once a pageant queen in Georgia, and over the course of the beginning of the story, she becomes more stuck in her past to the point she is wearing old prom dresses, garish makeup, and making a show of herself in the small town. On one of her regular trips to the Goodwill cut her mother's life short, though, when she gets hit by a car, and now CeeCee is left to fend for herself.

Fortunately, an aunt of CeeCee from Savannah, Georgia, offers up her home and her love for young CeeCee. Aunt Tootie takes her in, moving her from Ohio to Savannah, where CeeCee gains not only a home, but a wealth of new motherly figures.

This book doesn't have a whole lot of action, but it is a sweet story of growing up. I found CeeCee's discovery of the power of southern women particularly interesting, and I thought that each of the women depicted in this story were well-drawn. Savannah can be tasted in the story. Hoffman's story delves into many issues facing the south in the late 1960s, as well, including racial tension, politics, and the emerging power and importance of women. None of these topics were included to serve a point but instead, they enhanced the setting and period of the novel. This is a book about growing up and appreciating what's around you when it's easy to overlook the everyday. Book clubs will love this title -- more on this in a second. This is marketed as an adult novel, but I can see teens enjoying this title as well, particularly those who are into lighter reads, Oprah-esque books, or even the Bronte sisters.

Jenna Lamia gives a wonderful fully-voiced reading of this title. CeeCee is a young main character, not quite in her teen years yet. Lamia is believable and her waivering voice for CeeCee is spot on, with just enough fear and confidence to render her a true-to-live pre-teen. Lamia's ability to create a fully-voiced audiobook is impressive, given the range of accents and ages she needed to develop. The production quality of this audiobook is top notch, with no sound changes, volume changes, or obvious seams in the editing. This was a smooth listen that forced me to sit in my car once I got past my destination more than one time.

Does this title seem familiar to you? Perhaps it's because it is very similar to that of the previously mentioned Secret Life of Bees. The books both have the same editor, who started at Penguin with SLoB, left for a year, and then was offered her own imprint by Penguin, Pamela Dorman books. Oh, and it'll be the first pick of the Sam's Club book club (perhaps they're capitalizing off the incredible money-making book club Target has going)? Dorman has an eye for southern fiction, so expect more of this type in her line, which you can read about here.

So, after putting those pieces together, I dove into learning a bit about Jenna Lamia, the book's reader. Guess what book she also read and won an audie for? If your answer was SLoB, then you're good. Her repertoire is strong, and I definitely plan on seeking out other books she's read for, as she was a pleasant companion for the last week.

If you're looking for a strong audiobook to begin listening to, whether as a new listener or a seasoned one, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt will not disappoint. In fact, it might make you want to learn more about the author, the editor, the reader....which is always a bonus, isn't it?

Continue reading...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Sometimes, you have to admit that you just didn't like a book and just didn't quite understand the hype surrounding it. Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere -- her debut novel that will hit shelves in March -- fell flat for me and forced me to do a lot of thinking about whether or not the publisher is missing the target audience on this one. Dial is pouring a ton of money into developing a huge buzz over this one through blogs, early and wide ARC distribution, a print and radio campaign, and banner displays galore.

The Sky is Everywhere tells Lennie's story: Lennie's sister Bailey died suddenly. She and Bailey were very close, in part due to the fact their mother disappeared from their lives at a young age, and they were sent to live with their grandmother and uncle.

Sharing in Lennie's family loss is Toby, Bailey's former boyfriend. As the story progresses, we come to learn that Toby and Bailey were not only engaged, but they were expecting a baby. At the same time, Joe steps into Lennie's life; he's a cute boy that Lennie's best friend thinks that Lennie definitely needs to go for. But as Lennie and Toby spend more time together, their relationship seems to evolve from companions in grief to something more romantic.

The crux of the story is when Lennie makes mistakes between the boys in choosing which one she wants to be with while she simultaneously makes sense of her position in loss. It is slow and deliberate. Part of the story unwinds in poetry lines Lennie has written and placed in different places.

Nelson's prose is poetic -- every word is carefully chosen, and each line is constructed with great intention. For me, this book is absolutely about the writing and not at all about the story. Quite frankly, the story is way too slow and never coalesces. The entire reading experience left me wondering when something would actually happen, but unfortunately, nothing does. Although the language use in this story is incredible, that in itself further shields the story. Instead of writing the story, the story was written around. I never once felt myself caring about Bailey (she dies when the story opens, and I never learned anything about her) and I found everyone around Lennie was flat. At times, they were simply stereotypes -- the girl who loves all things philosophy and the insistence on making the characters allusions to other literary works really grated on me. Lennie herself left me wanting more, too, as she seemed to be everyone else and not herself; that is, we know she likes two boys, that she misses her sister, that her best friend is Sarah, but we know almost nothing about her.

The Sky is Everywhere has been drawing comparisons to Sarah Dessen or Elizabeth Scott, but I must disagree wholeheartedly. Dessen and Scott are character-driven writers: we know so much about the main characters and secondary characters. They both have strong writing skills, but they are less on the literary side. We know their stories intimately and feel we are there. Nelson left me knowing some good writing and sparks of a story, but I never felt like I got close enough to the story or the characters. I felt very distanced. The romance between Lennie and the boys is much weaker and less developed than in either a Dessen or Scott title. I think handing this book off to a fan of Sarah Dessen or Elizabeth Scott might not be the best bet.

In the course of reading, though, I felt like fans of Justine Chen Headley's North of Beautiful would really enjoy this book. The slow pacing, the slow unraveling of story, and the literary styles are similar, and I believe that the relationships that the main character in each develops with the boys in her respective story are similar. The difficult family situations will also resonate.

My biggest disappointment in reading this book was the target audience. I don't believe this is a book meant for teens. I believe this is an adult book -- the story feels much more mature than teen books, and the use of allusions to deep philosophical ideas and to "great literature" were far above the appreciation level of most teens. The language, while beautiful and can be appreciated at that level, left even me needing to look up words. The teen slang was stilted and wince-inducing at times. The story is very mature, and not in the appropriateness sense of the word. It's a mature story about understanding who you are and what makes you survive. These concepts can be broken down for teens, but this was not an attempt at that. And of course, if you have a background in literature or writing, you know that books like this are also often a treatise on writing itself. I'd suspect Nelson's education and training in the art of writing made this a total work of love to language.

Marketing decisions aren't always in the hands of the author, and part of me wonders if that's the case with The Sky is Everywhere. I can't hazard any guesses, of course, but the book struck me as one that's being published in a market where it won't do as strongly as it could in another one. That's not to say this isn't a book worth reading because it should be, if for the writing and appreciation of language alone, but this is a book that young adults and adults will enjoy far more than a typical teenager.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Double Take, Part XXII

Here's an exact copy, but with a little flipping and cropping. First:

Best Bet by Laura Pedersen was published November 23, 2009 by iUniverse. I like the cover a lot. I think it sets the tone perfectly as a cozy/gentle read.

Sophomore Switch by Abby McDonald was published in paperback (the hardcover featured a different cover) February 9, 2010 by Candlewick. I think the cover on this one doesn't fit as much. I've read the book, and I think it might be a little too washed out and mellow. One of the characters is a wild child, and I don't think the top image quite captures that in her style. The bottom image perfectly captures the second girl, I think.

This one took a lot of examining to see if it was an exact match, but I think it is. The clothes are the same color and designs, and they're located in the same spots. The model's been flipped and cropped for the first one. I like both covers a lot, and I think that the one for Sophomore Switch is just different enough to stand out.

What do you think?

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten

What do you get when you have a missing person, a romance about to ignite, a road trip away from home, and all of the signs of bad news all around? You have Lynn Weingarten's Wherever Nina Lies.

Nina's been gone for two years, but that doesn't stop Ellie from thinking about her. One day she was there, and the next she was gone. Nina, a free-spirited artist, just up and left her home and was never heard from again.

Their mom said to let it be, that Nina was long gone. Amanda, Ellie's best friend, told her to let it go, too. She couldn't let her life stop because Nina was never coming back.

But when Ellie discovers a mysterious note in a box at Amanda's work -- one featuring one of Nina's trademark drawings -- she knows she needs to get to the root of what happened to her sister.

When her path leads her to Mothership, a local artist colony of sorts, Ellie meets Sean and tells him her story of loss. It took no time for Sean to propose a road trip to follow the clues and find Nina. You better believe there is some budding romance here, too.

Wherever Nina Lies was a book I found myself wanting to keep reading until it was finished. I thought the mystery was quite predictable, but I thought that Weingarten's integration of the clues and development of subplots within the greater problem of the whodunit makes this title stand out. I really liked Ellie as a character, and I thought she was developed perfectly as a high school girl. She was no fancy sleuth and her reason for seeking her sister was compelling enough to drive the pace of the story forward. Though there are a lot of elements, they never bogged down the pace.

This is far from the perfect book, however. I found that the secondary characters -- particularly the mother and Amanda -- to be flat and empty. The believability of Ellie being able to take off for a few days on a road trip without her mother ever questioning was ludicrous, even if it was explained early on as normal that Ellie spent so much time away from home at Amanda's. Given the disappearance of one daughter, it just didn't work for me. Likewise, I felt that both characters were too easy to dismiss Ellie's feelings about Nina's disappearance; while we find that mom comes around in the end, it seems the relationship between Ellie and Amanda is never reconciled. For being described as inseparable for the bulk of the novel, this just didn't jive.

As a non-mystery reader, I found Wherever Nina Lies to be a fun read. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of it and because there was enough else going on plot wise, I could dig into the romance (though I won't blow it for those who haven't read it, this ends up not being perfect either), the road trip, the quest for life and excitement, and the dropping of clues throughout in the form of drawings. This will be an appealing book to mystery and non-mystery readers alike, and it makes for a good readalike to Ally Carter's "Gallagher Girls" series for an older audience. Because it's a little more violent and includes harsh language as well as situations with drugs and alcohol, it's not a clean read, so I'd hold this one off for older readers.

Quite honestly, what appealed to me about this book was that it felt like the sorts of books I read as a teen; it has "classic" teen read appeal to it. It doesn't try to be an issue book nor does it try to impart a message or lesson. It's a story for story's sake. I could see this on the big screen, too, for that reason and because it incorporates so much into it plot-wise to keep it from being pigeonholed as one thing or another.

Intrigued yet? Keep your eyes here this week for your chance to win a copy.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Cover change

I was lucky enough to get an early copy of the forthcoming Epitaph Road by David Patneaude. One of the things that really attracted me was the sweet cover (yeah, I'm superficial, but so are you):

I think it speaks to the post-apocalyptic tone with no problem. The orange is really memorable, and I love the single person walking away. The tone for the novel is set so perfectly. Again, this is what my ARC cover is, and we know that covers change between the early copies and the final.

I noticed recently that the cover changed to this:

I'm not a fan. It reminds me of a really lame movie poster. I think putting faces on the cover detracted from the tone the first cover set. This doesn't look post-apocalyptic but instead looks like.....well, quite honestly, it makes me think of this:

I'm pretty sure that's not what the goal is. I don't get why the change needed to happen. The first one was so perfect. Oh, and with the orange missing, it's not going to stand out on the shelves any more. Those bright colors really do make a difference to readers when it comes to standing out from the crowd...and in a field full of faces on covers, I'm afraid this one might get hidden too easily.

What do you think? Early cover or the one going to print?

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Another giveaway!

Now's your chance to catch a bit of the romance yourself, since I've sufficiently taunted you with a review yesterday.

I'm giving away an ARC of Rules of Attraction.

This is a US-only giveaway, and to enter, fill out the form below. You can gain a few extra entries into the contest by tweeting about the giveaway, becoming or already following the blog, or blogging about the giveaway. So total, you can have up to 4 entries. The contest runs ONE WEEK ONLY -- I will pull one winner Friday, February 26.

Good luck!

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Your Dirty Secret Is?

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure? You know, you love reading a certain genre or author and probably for reasons that can induce a little blushing?

I certainly do. I LOVE Simone Elkeles's romances for one big reason: they're sexy.

Although I didn't think that Perfect Chemistry was particularly well written nor had the most developed or dynamic characters, I loved the romance. I thought it was a nice one-off book, but when I heard there was going to be a sequel, I got a little overexcited about it.

I wasn't disappointed.

Rules of Attraction tells a similar story to that of its predecessor, except instead of focusing on Alex and Brittany's post-high school relationship in Colorado, it zooms in on the budding romance between Carols and Kiara. Carlos, you might remember, is Alex's brother who has gotten himself into some trouble with gangs and drugs when living in Mexico with his mother. Kiara is the daughter of one of Alex's mentors and favorite teachers. This mentor, who is referred to as The Professor throughout, actually ends up playing a huge role in Carlos's life, as well, and Carlos adopts him as a personal mentor as well.

Elkeles writes a cross-cultural love story that is so reminiscent of West Side Story, with less singing and more sexual tension. It's sexy; it's compelling; and it's entirely (older) teen appropriate. There's just the right amount of trouble with Carlos -- which explains why he's even in Colorado with Alex -- and just enough intrigue with Kiara to make her much more than his puppet. The idea of the good girl with the bad boy doesn't feel stale in this one.

This is far from the perfect book, particularly when it came to the writing. I had a couple issues with improper Spanish, for one. It's been a few years since I've taken it, but I know "usted es estupido" is improper when Carlos is speaking to his brother (page 246). There was another example of improper Spanish, too, when Carlos first meets Kiara at Flatiron High (the strange use of some Italian - il - in one of his sentences). Hopefully, these sorts of issues will be hammered out by the final printing.

Likewise, I don't think the character development is particularly memorable, and I actually was sad we didn't get more of Alex and Brittany. There are attempts at creating some threads throughout, including the "Rules of Attraction" and Kiara's car skills, but they never become fully fleshed and thus, they almost seem silly to include at all. It felt like they were there to do something, but they never came to be more than extra furniture in the story.

What Rules of Attraction has going for it is pulse. It is a quick moving read with everything you want in a good love story: questioning, following the heart, denying oneself, then ultimately having a satisfactory conclusion. Oh, and the gorgeous cover is entirely fitting to the story, too. There is indeed some kissing in the rain.

Reading and loving books like this sometimes embarrasses me, if for no reason other than knowing the characters are quite a bit younger than me. I think Elkeles would have a fantastic market in the older young adult sector (your 20-somethings) if she were to expand outside teen books. Where many adult romances fall into carrying too much baggage, these books manage to avoid the baggage issue and maintain a real sense of innocence, exploration, and trepidation to them. Sure, it's a standard story trope, but she has a real pulse to her writing that has enough grittiness and enough innocence that just works for me.

Rules of Attraction will be available April 13 from Bloomsbury Teens. I sincerely hope this isn't the last book in this series, as there is still another Fuentes brother who can find his true love, too.

But back to my original question -- are there any books you find are your dirty reading secrets? Share them in the comments.
Of course, I'd also love to know if you're as much a secret fan of Simone Elkeles's romances as I am.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Congrats to our three winners of My Soul to Save by Rachel Vincent:




Thanks for all of the entries on this one, guys! Keep your eyes here this week, as there is another super exciting giveaway this week and another next week.

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Some of these covers were featured on the Bookends blog, but I'm going to add some more to the key covers copy catting:
Green by Laura Peyton Roberts

Suite Scarlett (and for that matter, Scarlett Fever) by Maureen Johnson

The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Split by Swati Avasthi

From what I've read of the descriptions (because of these, I've only read Suite Scarlett), I think that Split's cover is most content-fitting. I love the old looking keys, but the novelty wears off when you see it so often.

Do you think any of them did it better or is more interesting? I'm not committed to loving or disliking any of them. They just don't stand out as memorable to me except for the fact that there are so many other covers with similar looks.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Yesterday was the big announcement of the CYBILS winners, including the winner of this year's best in YA fiction. If you missed that announcement, head over and check out the winners in each of the categories.

It was exciting to be a part of the judging panel this year, and I took away a new sense of appreciation for books and reviewing books. Likewise, I found myself fired up to get my hands on Courtney Summers's 2010 release, Some Girls Are. As much as I really liked Cracked Up to Be, I think that her sophomore release may be even stronger, darker, intenser, and really highlights the writing and story telling skills that Summers has. I suspect she's going to be soon joining the ranks of writers like Ellen Hopkins in capturing a wide audience of devoted readers.

Some Girls Are is what you expect of Mean Girls if mean girls were really, really mean. Regina Afton used to be one of those girls -- the upper echelon of high school girls who stomp all over everyone. That is, until she was used herself in an utterly disgusting manner. When she tells one of her friends about this, the friend's feigned sympathy turns into revenge. This is no mild revenge, mind you. This is all-out brawl-out. There is a lot of blood and a lot of gore.

Why would Regina's friend turn on her? Simple: so she could become that girl and kick Regina out of her spotlight in the school.

As a not-it girl, Regina finds herself turning to people she once tread upon, only to find herself questioning her motives and her actions left and right, as she learns that people aren't willing to just let go of things she's done to them in the past. And they're right for acting that way; Regina is not a nice girl, and though she's being treated awfully, she shouldn't be so easily forgiven.

Although this book certainly draws comparisons to Clique, Gossip Girls, and the film Mean Girls, I felt like Summers does something none of these titles quite does: she gives the grit. Where others might offer the mean in subdued tones and off-screen, there is no hiding in this book. While reading, there were a number of times I had to put the book down because I felt like I had been punched myself. It's raw and it's painful, but it's the ultimate goal to read it all the way through because, even though Regina isn't the most sympathetic character, it's not possible to not know what is going to happen.

It's a game in the school of who can one-up the other. But these one-ups are utterly disgusting and painful to read. Perhaps sadder is these are realities for so many teens today. I sincerely think that Summers not only captures contemporary high school life for many teen girls, but I think this is the sort of title that people will identify with. It will cause them to think, reflect, and in a dream world, adjust their attitudes.

This is current, filled with social networking and references to today's culture. Some Girls Are gives us exactly what it says -- it is the way some girls are. Today. It's scary and it's eye opening, and it is exceptionally well written.

My one gripe of the book comes from my perspective as an emerging adult. I found it tough to believe no adults had any idea what was going on. Regina's parents are entirely clueless about what's going on in their daughter's life, and they never seem to notice her bruises or scars. Likewise, incidents such as rotting meat in a locker or excessive absenteeism (abetted once with a meeting between Regina's mother and the principal) would raise flags. I think adults are a little wiser onto some of this stuff in today's world. But, again, I speak from an adult's perspective. Maybe it's the end scene that sort of sums it up.

If you can handle gritty, raw writing and are in for a book that will cause physical discomfort, this is a sure bet. I think that Courtney Summers would be a great readalike to those who liked Speak or Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, any of Ellen Hopkins's titles, or books that deal with girls and high school social hierarchy. This is a character and plot driven book that does not sway from being well-written and consciously constructed.

I'd bet dollars to donuts that this book will be in consideration for some sort of recognition in 2010. It sure deserves it, and you can bet I am anxious to get my hands on Summers's future works, too.

Continue reading...

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Today's the big day. You can get your full Cybils award winners list right here!

As a member of the YA judging panel, I just want to say that this was a lot of fun but way tougher than it looks. We debated and debated over titles for a while before choosing Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers as our winner. I promise it was a very close vote - it literally came down to one vote being the difference.

If you haven't read Summers's book, please do. It is gritty, it is real, and it is an incredible debut by this author. This is a book that has teen appeal written all over it while still maintaining a strength in its writing. Parker is a character I couldn't like for so long, but yet, I was utterly compelled to keep reading.

Being a part of the judging panel exposed me to a lot of opinions on good writing, and it made me rethink how I evaluate books. I reread one of the finalists, as the first read of it left me feeling less than satisfied. The second read was a much different experience and made it appreciate the title a bit differently. It is fun to read books and discuss them with people who have entirely different backgrounds and experiences, as it lends to evaluating one's thinking quite differently. Thanks to Em, Lee, Carrie, and Cathy for a great experience!

Stay tuned for tomorrow -- I'll be posting a review of Courtney Summers's second book, Some Girls Are. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if that makes it to the Cybils list somewhere next year, too.

Continue reading...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Up, Up, and Away

Tell me what these have in common (the last one's a stretch, but go with it):

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

My 100 Adventures by Polly Horbath

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

Abby reminded me about this one, too:

Newsgirl by Lisa Ketchum

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The hot air balloon on the front cover. I love it and its many manifestations. So, maybe Selznick's isn't a hot air balloon, but every time I see this cover, it makes me think of one because it looks a lot like one.

I love the hot air balloon look. You can carry people, you can carry champagne, you can carry a house, and you can be a fake.

Seen any others floating (haha) around? Do you like one better than any of the others?

Continue reading...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happyface by Stephen Emond

Do you sense a theme this week? It may or may not have been intentional.

Stephen Emond's debut Happyface is unlike many books I've read recently. Told through a diary format, to include email messages, pages of sketches, comics, and instant messages, this is the story of Happyface. But who is Happyface?

That's the entire premise of the story. As readers, we gain insight into exactly who Happyface is through this journal, filled with fragmented thoughts and drawings. We know Happyface has had a rough home life, and he hasn't always had luck with the ladies, especially Chloe. At the beginning of the book, we know Chloe will play an important role in Happyface's life, but we don't know how, especially when Happyface and his mother leave their home and move to a new city to get a new lease on life, away from dad. This means a new school . . . and new girls.

Happyface used to be a loner, but the move seems to have made him a little more popular. He's making friends at the new school, and he's found a new girl to crush on: Gretchen. But Gretchen's got a bit of a past she's hiding too, and Happyface will have a hard time breaking through to find out what that past entails. It makes sense that she's the one who has given Happyface his moniker.

Although so much revolves around the obsession Happyface has with Gretchen, there's more depth to this story. Chloe will make a reappearance, and we will discover why it is that Happyface's mother and father divorced.

Unfortunately for me, the story took too long to develop in this book. I felt like we don't know anything about Happyface for the length it took to get to the Big Event that gives us as readers a lot of feeling for him. His journal is real, like that of a high school boy focused on girl issues, but with the Big Event, I would expect any boy to write about that issue more. Likewise, when the Big Event is brought up, it's at a very awkward moment, and having been given no heads up about it prior to the announcement, I felt tricked as a reader. There was ample opportunity to introduce it slyly in other spots, which would have made it felt more realistic, rather than a convenient explanation for other plot points and character issues.

As a reader, I'm never sympathetic for Happyface. I think he's weak, and because I don't get enough into his head, I can't say that I'm particularly sad that he's too scared to ask any of these girls out. In fact, I think he deserves what he gets at many moments, particularly when it comes to Trevor, the other boy in Gretchen's life.

The ending of the book really was the icing on the cake for me, though. I felt it was far too much of a message, and it felt too much like a Full House ending, with everyone living happily ever after. All he had to do was remove his mask. That's not a spoiler. I kind of wish we got a little more time with Happyface, to see how things panned out after his great revelation. We only get about nine months with him, and in that time, he goes through a heck of a lot.

What I thought would be such a fantastic book for boys might end up being disappointing for them with that sort of ending. Fortunately, this book has an incredible format going for it, as it reads sort of like a manga. I think the wimpy kid aspect to Happyface will appeal to older fans of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, though the didactic ending will leave them feeling a bit cheated.

I handed this title off to some of my 9th grade patrons, though, and the responses I got were pretty positive. They enjoyed the glimpse into the life of the kid, and they, too, drew the comparison's to Kinney's title. They suggested it as a good read for anyone in middle or high school, though I'd think middle school might be a bit young for some of the issues brought up here. Everyone loved the format -- it is unique and stands out as memorable for that reason.

So while this wasn't my favorite book, I have a feeling it'll get some great teen reception because of the readalike quality to Kinney's highly-popular titles and because of the great format.

Happyface will be available March 1, 2010 by Little Brown Books.

* The publisher sent me an ARC of this title. They also clearly paid me sums of money to give it a glowing review and ignore any and all flaws I as a reader might find because obviously, every reader will love every book. Seriously, though, I strive to point out the strengths and weaknesses of every book I read, so why I need to explain that I got an ARC is ridiculous...but I am really appreciative for the publisher's support in letting me preview titles and offer them to kids to look at, too.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another masked fat girl

You've already read this post, but let me add another book to the list of books that feature fat girls and don't picture them on the cover:

I mean, a major plot point has to do with her being overweight. Why the skinny girl on the cover? It'd be hard to pretend she's overweight in the position she's sitting, too.

If you've read the book, you know that the point Daelyn's at in the book, she's not fat. Page 111 she makes it clear, though, she's not skinny. She's been bullied for her weight forever, and she says (likely warped in her sense of perception) she's not attractive at all.

I REALLY don't think it's asking for a whole lot to be a little more realistic about this.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

AudioSynced: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Every once in a while, you get lucky and everything -- EVERYTHING -- about an audiobook works. There's the perfect narrator, the perfect story, and just the right amount of pacing, musical interlude, length, and breadth to the audio that you wish it could go on forever. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Place on Earth by Eric Weiner (pronounced "whiner") was that book for me.

Weiner is a correspondent for NPR, and he is the reader on the audio. It's what you would expect -- the intonation is even, the emphasis on certain words and phrases are spot on, and the pacing is even and intentional. There are a lot of people who don't like when authors read their own works, but in this particular title, I don't think it could have been done better by another reader.

The premise of this is quite simple: Weiner wanted to go in search of the happiest places in the world and figure out what makes these places so happy. He begins his journey in Holland, and he goes from there onward to Bhutan, then on to Qatar. Within each of these countries, he interviews locals by drawing upon his journalism experience, and with incredible wit and utter respect for the people and customs, he shares what he learns. In addition to sharing the insights into happiness, he offers bits of wisdom from philosophers historical and contemporary.

But this isn't just a book about happiness. Weiner goes to unhappy places too, including Moldova (the unhappiest place in the world) and India. His insights are at times laugh-out-loud funny, precisely because he is spot on in his observation and utter love for people. Weiner devotes time on this adventure, too, to Iceland, to Thailand, and to Great Britain.

I found it quite interesting that the bulk of his travel was in southeast Asia, particularly given a comment he makes near the end of the book about people in Latin America consistently ranking high on the happiness scale. I wish we could have gotten his take on a Central or South American country, too.

Lest you think Weiner is just interested in telling us about how other places are better than America, the last chapter of his book, along with the epilogue, bring us back to America. What he does in the end of the book is perfect: he brings together all the bits of wisdom collected from both the happy and unhappy corners of the world, and he offers those nuggets. He makes no judgement about who is living better or why they're living better. Instead, the central premise boils down to the fact that happiness comes down to love and relationships. This point is so cleverly woven into the whole of the story with his own humorous vignettes.

This is a heartwarming but funny, insightful, adventure-filled, and straight up fun read. I love travel narratives like this -- almost in the style of Bill Bryson -- and listening to it was the ideal way to go. If you like reading about adventures, the notion of happiness, travel, other cultures, or even a book that's just "different," this is a winner. If you haven't tried an audiobook yet, this would be a great place to start. There are no quality issues and no editing issues, and the sound is smooth and crisp through all 11 discs. Weiner maintains a steady narrative, and he speaks clearly, thanks in part to his career with NPR.

The Geography of Bliss would be a perfect go-to for those looking for something after finishing The Happiness Project. Reading them simultaneously was a great experience for me, as I didn't find myself tired of the topic, but instead, I felt Weiner's book really informed my reading of Rubin's personal story.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I have a confession: I love reading books that make me feel happy. As soon as I picked up Gretchen Rubin's highly publicized The Happiness Project, I knew this was one that would fit the bill.

The premise is remarkably simple but utterly engaging. Rubin, now a full-time writer with a couple other titles under her belt, chose to spend a full year working on things that would make her happier. Each month, she chose a concept and from that concept, she developed a small list of goals and resolutions (something she defines as markedly different things). So, for January, her big concept was "vitality" and from that, she hoped to boost her energy. In March, her concept was "work," and she hoped to aim higher. This was the month she began her very popular happiness project blog.

In each month, Rubin practiced wisdom she picked up from others who had shared their views on happiness, from philosophers to writers. She likewise developed a set of twelve commandments for herself to follow while testing out and practicing these nuggets of wisdom, and these included "Be Gretchen" (a recurring theme), "Do what ought to be done," and "Act the way I want to feel."

Everything that Rubin does in this book is entirely practical, but it's her writing and her ability to laugh at herself and enjoy the moment that makes this such an enjoyable book. Right now - and to give some spoilerage to a future post - I'm also listening to Eric Weiner's book The Geography of Bliss, and something he mentions is that too often, we relegate solving our problems to self-help gurus who have nothing but profit in mind. Rather than try to understand our place and our feelings, we think we're wrong and therefore jump to getting help. The self-help industry is just that: an industry.

Instead, Rubin is entirely relatable, and she has a sense of humor about everything she does. One of her goals one month is to not nag or to criticize when others try their best to help her. As readers, we see exactly what would have irritated her and how we would have responded in the situation, but Rubin responds appropriately according to her happiness project goals. Pffft, how perfect, right? Well, no. Rubin then tells us EXACTLY what was going on in her mind and how she normally would react....and sometimes, despite her best efforts, she still responds in her old ways. You have to like a fallible character, especially one embarking on a project like this.

This is a highly readable book, and one which you can pick up and put down at any time. I found it quite a motivating title, as it made goal making easy, straightforward, and attainable. Rubin is the kind of person I would love to meet and hang out with. She's funny, insightful, and totally human. She even gets a kick out of becoming "one of those writers" -- you know, the ones who do something for a year, write a book, and make a profit.

I think The Happiness Project stands out from that crowd, as it's a manual any of us can pick up and develop our own projects. It's hard not to read this and come a way with a bit more insight into happiness or even feel happy reading it.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Check out this paperback

Although this one doesn't bother me in the way that this hardcover-paperback cover change did, I'm really not feeling this one.

I love the somewhat cold feeling this cover has. It absolutely fits with the story. It's eye-catching, as well.

But then they needed to go and do this for the paperback:

Now, I saw this in an advertisement for Penguin paperbacks in the latest VOYA, so it might not be 100%. I really, really hope not. Covers with people are overdone, and I really enjoyed this particular title because the readers make up their mind about Mia in so many ways. The paperback gives us an image of her, and frankly, it reminds me a lot of 13 Reasons Why, and by doing that, I have a different image of what the book will be about. It sounds like suicide, doesn't it, with that image and the title?

Here's the Australian cover, too. Another one I'm not a huge fan of, but this one I don't care for because it seems too childish:

Do you have a preference? I think the face-on-the-cover has been overdone, and I found the hardcover of this title so refreshing and different.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

AudioSynched: I'd Tell You I Love You, But...I'd Be Lying

After a pair of good audiobooks, I listened to one this past week that left me questioning every car ride whether I really wanted to continue listening to it or just give up.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter is a wildly popular first title in "The Gallagher Girls" series that tween and teen girls (and their adult parents!) are in love with. The series follows Cammie Morgan, who is a student at the all-girls Gallagher Academy -- a super secret spy school in Virginia -- as she effortlessly converses in many foreign languages and has mastered the classroom aspects of spying and espionage. But Cammie is hopeless when it comes to boys and when it comes to putting her spy training into real action.

When Cammie meets Josh in this book, she goes from star student to near failing after trying to see him and keep her lies straight about who she is. You see, no one but the students and staff know what the Gallagher Academy is, and Josh believes it's just a private school for rich snooty students. When Cammie introduces herself to Josh, she doesn't want to be seen as one of those girls and instead, she weaves an intricate web of lies about who she is and what she does all day. Of course the results are disastrous.

This is a very clean story, with a fast-paced story line and intriguing characters. I thought all of the spy elements were fun, and I thought that Cammie was a true-to-age character. With the audiobook rendition, I found the semi-voiced style effective, especially with the British accents throughout. I thought that the implementation of the foreign languages was also well done and added to the overall atmosphere of the spy/private school story. Although I'm not clamoring for the next titles in the series, I see why they are so appealing.

What this audiobook didn't do, was deliver with a believable narrator. Renee Raudman was the reader, but she never once sounded like a high school sophomore to me, nor did she deliver a true voice for Cammie, a Virginian. More irritating that that, though, was the echo-chamber effect this book had. When I began listening, I thought that Cammie was sharing her story in secret, where the echo effect would have been spot-on and added a lot to the book. However, I came to realize that the entire story was being told with this effect, and I was very turned off as a listener. It was tough enough buying the character's voice, but having it with the echo was even more difficult.

Throughout the audiobook, there were very noticeable production issues. I found that the editing was not seamless, and the sound volumes shifted frequently, leaving me as a reader constantly changing the volume of the audio in my car. Perhaps had the echo effect been removed, the sound could have been better controlled and stabilized.

The use of music and sound the indicate the end of disc was spot on. I thought those were all well-done and added another element to the story. The editing on disc changes was well-timed, leaving enough of a cliffhanger for the listener to want to pop in the next disc (despite the issues mentioned above). I found the pace of the audio was good, too. I had enough room to space out mentally and could still come back to the story without issue.

Unfortunately, there were too many times I wanted to just give it up, but because this one came recommended me to over and over at work from patrons, I gave it a listen. This is a great choice for families listening to a story together. The length is just right at 6 discs (in the Brilliance Audio production) and the tracks move quickly.

I'd love to hear this one redone, perhaps with a different reader. This is not a knock against Raudman, who herself was a fantastic reader, never once giving us any vocal issues with her voice, her sound, breaths, wet/dry mouth sounds, but she wasn't the right reader for this title. It happens in the same way that our favorite books-turned-movies are often cast with actors/actresses who just don't fit the book or our image of the book.

Continue reading...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I'm up to the challenge

I tried to do a book blogger challenge before and I failed hard. But this one sounds so good, and I've been debating joining for a while now. I'm game this time.

Kristi at The Story Siren is hosting the Debut Author Challenge. The goal, of course, is to choose to read a certain number of debut authors. Since I've already read a fair number since the year began, I think I can up the goal and really stick to it.

This is where I'll post my progress and what my potential reads are. I'll also link to my reviews, if posted. I'm going to aim for reading 20 debut authors over the year. Yes, there are more than 20 on this list, but that's for my sake. If you want to join in the challenge, you can read the rules and sign up here.

1. The Naughty List by Suzanne Young
2. Leaving Gee's Bend by Irene Latham
3. The Secret Year by Jennifer Hubbard
4. Wish by Alexandra Bullen

5. HappyFace by Stephen Emond
6. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

7. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
8. The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel
9. Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus
10. Split by Swati Avasthi
11. Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont

12. Dirty Little Secrets by C J Omololu
13. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
14. The Daughters by Joanna Philbin
15. The Line by Teri Hall
16. The Snowball Effect by Holly Nicole Hoxler

17. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
18. Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards
19. Dark Life by Kat Falls

20. Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

21. The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
22. The Iron King by Julia Kagawa
23. The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells

24. Sea by Heidi Kling
25. YOU by Charles Benoit
26. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
27. Tweet Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick

28. Elixir by Hilary Duff
29. Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala
30. The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

31. Manifest by Artist Arthur

32. Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft
33. The Absolute Value of -1 by Steven Brezenoff
34. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
35. John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles

36. Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
37. Paranormalcy by Kierstan White

38. Jane by April Lindner
39. Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales

40. Love Drugged by James Klise
41. Losing Faith by Denise Jaden

42. The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
43. A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

44. Stolen by Lucy Christopher
45. When I Was Joe by Keren Davis
46. I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan
47. The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

48. Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber
49. Scrawl by Mark Shulman
50. Freefall by Mindi Scott

Continue reading...

Friday, February 5, 2010

AudioSynced: Listen Up!

Listen up!

Abby and I are excited to announce a new meme highlighting audiobooks throughout the book blogging world. We hope you'll join us.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you review them? Here's an opportunity to share those insights if you do and a chance to get involved if you haven't dived into this arena yet.

I'm hosting the meme this month, and it will post March 1. Between now and February 28, please post a link to anything you've posted about audiobooks in the month of February (yep, if it takes you until February 28 to post, that is totally fine). I'll round up the links and share them all on the 1st.

We hope to make this a monthly event to put more emphasis on the value of and passion for audiobooks throughout the book blog world, as many readers get their reading done through audio, and the quality and enjoyment of audiobooks differs from reading the printed world.

So, hope in, share your links here, and spread the word. We'll see you again for the first official AudioSynced post March 1, right here at STACKED.

Continue reading...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I'll go out on a limb here, but come with me: I believe Susan Beth Pfeffer's series (now dubbed "The Last Survivors") is probably one of the most inventive, creative, and utterly terrifying sets of books available right now across all age groups.

This World We Live In picks up where Life as We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone left off. But as readers, we don't know that entirely from the start of the book. We enter into Miranda's life in rural Pennsylvania, with her living at home with her mother and two brothers one year after the moon has caused mass destruction. Miranda and her brothers have been spending free time (which there is a lot of) house hunting, which involves breaking into the homes of those no longer there and taking the items which their family so desperately needs. Finding scraps of toilet paper becomes a "good day." But when Miranda's brothers decide to go fishing at a river miles away, one returns back a completely changed person. When they leave to fish, Miranda becomes a changed person when she stumbles upon a pile of bodies on her way home from house hunting.

Because the book hasn't been published quite yet, I'm dancing around one of the biggest events that happens in the book. But as readers have come to anticipate, Miranda and Alex Morales -- who left New York City with his sister to escape imminent death in the big city by the water -- finally meet face to face. And the way they meet is completely unexpected but fits so well into the story. Likewise, the development of their relationship is an important one, as it is a nice parallel to the greater story overall.

Some of the missing from the first two books will also reappear in this title. I don't want to give anything away, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised to see who arrived and whose dreams (and nightmares) were met because of those encounters.

But don't get me wrong: this is NOT a happy book. In fact, there is a major event that happens with the earth in this book that changes the entire course of what I was hoping for. And while it made me sad, I was impressed with Pfeffer's relentless energy in writing such a story. In This World We Live In, the themes of environmentalism, religion, love, and relationships are explored and tested, and things don't end up pretty or perfect. This is reality, and this is exactly why there is no comparison of this series to so many others being published now.

One of the biggest negative issues I had with this book were some of the new plot lines that never became fully fleshed. I felt that the new character we met following the brothers' fishing trip never had a good fit into the story, and I never felt this character was necessary. A number of discussions of the safety camps were brought up, as well, and I was never once convinced about their whereabouts, their existence, or their promise, and this character was one of those reasons precisely. I felt like the character could have been better woven into the fabric of the story and made to become stronger and more believable.

That said, I hope this is the last installment in the series. There is resolution in the story, as uncomfortable as it is.

If you haven't read the first two books, do NOT read this one. You need to read the others before diving into this one, and I would recommend picking up Life as We Knew It first, though the order of the first two aren't set in stone.

Look for this one to published April 1, 2010 by Harcourt Children's Books. If you can't wait to get your hands on it, there is a free galley available through NetGalley, as well.

Have you read this one yet? I'm dying to discuss it. This is one series that begs to be discussed, as individual novels and as a collective. If you have read it, leave your comments and thoughts in the comments. I'd love to hear your impressions.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Double Take, Part XXI

I made a very similar double take post before, but this one is an exact match.

Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty will be published April 2010 by MacMillan UK.

Now for the doppelganger:

The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan will be published in October 2010 by Houghton Mifflin (I'm not 100% sure on the publisher on this one, but I'm going to guess it's the same publisher as her first book Flash Burnout).

I hope someone catches this one. If you remember the double take of The Mark and The Girl with the Mermaid Hair, the publisher changed the cover of The Mark in order to avoid this double take. I ended up liking the new one better, actually.

Which one of these two do you prefer? I like The Mermaid's Mirror just a little more -- it is more realistic and the colors are very cool, where the other one looks a bit cartoonish.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Non-Fiction: Written in Bone - The Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland

Once in a while you open a book that really surprises you. For me, this was Sally Walker's absolutely absorbing non-fiction Written in Bone - Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland.

Written in Bone follows a team of archaeologists conducting a couple of digs. First, they dig into an area of Fort James, Virginia, followed by digs in Maryland. The team discusses in detail how the process of choosing sites to dig at works, followed by the methods they employ while preparing for and actually conducting a dig. In addition to the text explaining it, there are multiple pictures on each page to illustrate the processed exactly. At one point, the team unearths a few iron caskets that were sealed shut and it was their goal to try to extract some of the air sealed inside. This air, they believed, would give them an idea of what the air quality was in the 17th century. Besides being really interesting historically, Walker has included a number of photos of the process of identifying where the remains were within the casket, the drilling of the casket, and the extraction of air.

In addition to explaining the processes of a dig, Walker goes into great detail about identifying remains. We learn how scientists can take bones, as well as how they figure out what sort of work they may have done in their lives, whether or not they were wealthy, what their gender was, and even what ethnicity they may have been. Again, the use of illustrations and images illuminate the text. Walker makes a large point in emphasizing that all of these details are put together not only through science, but also through the historical record (which makes the geek in me so excited). I spent more time looking at the photos than reading, making this book one that may be short on words but long on memory and on reading experience.

When I first had heard about this book, I didn't quite know what to expect. I am pleased with this and found myself really fascinated with what archaeologists do with human remains. I think that this book has a huge appeal, both to those interested in history and science, as well as those interested in the all-too-common "something different." Oh, and boys will eat this one up! This is a book about people doing something and it gives boys tools to learn with (I mean, there's also really cool images of skulls and bones, too).

The text is highly readable and the use of images enhanced it. An index, a historical time line of events, and a sizable list of further resources that include both print and web sources also make this a book that can be read and referred to again and again for reports. But what makes this one special is that it's not just a report book -- this is a strong, stand alone non-fiction for teens and adults.

Continue reading...

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Naughty List winner

Audrey is the winner of our The Naughty List contest. Congrats!

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My Soul to Save Giveaway

Now that we've reviewed it, we want to give away 3 copies of My Soul to Save by Rachel Vincent!

First, you should check out the website for the series at Soul Screamers. You can download a free prequel to the series to give you some more back ground into Kaylee and the bean sidh.

Book 1 of The Soul Screamers series -- My Soul to Take -- was released this past summer, and readers found out why Kaylee Cavanaugh screams bloody murder when someone’s about to die.

In Book 2 – My Soul to Save – when teen pop star Eden croaks on stage and Kaylee doesn’t wail, she knows something is dead wrong. She can’t cry for someone who has no soul.

The last thing Kaylee needs right now is to be skipping school, breaking her dad’s ironclad curfew and putting her too-hot-to-be-real boyfriend’s loyalty to the test. But starry-eyed teens are trading their souls for a flickering lifetime of fame and fortune in exchange for eternity in the Netherworld—a consequence they can’t possibly understand.

Kaylee can’t let that happen, even if trying to save their souls means putting her own at risk.

Soul Screamers: The last thing you hear before you die.

Contest Rules:

This contest is for one of 3 copies of My Soul to Save and is open to US residents only. You get one entry for filling out the form, and you can earn up to 3 extra entries by doing one of the following: following/subscribing to the blog or already being a follower/following, tweeting the contest, or blogging the contest. We'll pick 3 winners at random on February 15.

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