Saturday, July 30, 2011

In My Mailbox (40)

 In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

This is a short and sweet IMM because I'm in Europe right now on vacation.

I did get one book for review this week:
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

What did you get in your mailbox?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

Joy for Beginners is less of a novel and more of a series of short stories woven together through Kate, the character who hosts a dinner party for her friends to celebrate the winning of her battle with breast cancer. At this dinner party, Kate challenges all of her friends to complete a task that they have always feared doing - but Kate gets to choose their task.

The premise behind this book sounded right up my alley. A book where characters must look at their lives, take a risk, and address a fear? Talk about easy character development, right? 

Unfortunately, I think the writing got in the way a little bit. The entire book was so lush and dripping with details, that it became more about the descriptions and less about the story or the characters. I found myself forgetting everything about the characters from previous chapters due to the overwhelming descriptions. I also never really felt the fear behind the women who had to complete these particular tasks. Bauermeister's penchant for writing descriptions that are extremely sensory and sensual didn't really translate the fear these women were feeling.

Having said that, there were stories in this book that I did find endearing, and reading it wasn't an unpleasant experience. I just wanted the author to tell their stories rather than bogging them down with so much description.

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
Published: June 2011 by Putnam
Pages: 288
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Adult/Chick Lit

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Signed copy of Forever winner

Congratulations to The Scholarly Owl who won a signed copy of Forever by Maggie Stiefvater.

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway.

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

From Goodreads:
Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era! Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon, the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

When time travel is involved, you automatically assume that it will be an action-packed plot where the writing is constantly moving the story forward. Not so in Ruby Red. I found that, for a book about time travel, there wasn't enough actually happening in the story. I got a lot of family background information and explanations about chronographs that thoroughly confused me, but I had a really hard time envisioning Gwen and Gideon's travels through time and the purpose for their trips. 

I really struggled through this novel. I'd like to say that part of the issue was that it is a translated text, but I don't think the translation was the problem. I think there wasn't enough plot in the story or vivid, empathetic characters to keep me excited and interested. Gwen was a pleasant enough, but she didn't leap off the page. Gideon's character was supposed to be a love/hate relationship with Gwen, but I found him rather dull. I know a lot of people have read and loved this book but as for me, I'm still debating whether or not I want to continue with the series.

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
Published: May 2011 by Henry Holt & Co.
Pages: 324
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-fi
Audience: Young Adult

*Book received for review

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Thou Shalt Not Roadtrip by Antony John

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to showcase upcoming books that you can't wait to read.

My anxiously awaited title this week is:

Thou Shalt Not Roadtrip by Antony John
Publish Date: April 12, 2012
Publisher: Dial
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult

From Goodreads:
When sixteen-year-old Luke's book, Hallelujah, becomes a national best seller, his publisher sends him on a cross-country tour with his unpredictable older brother, Matt, as chauffeur. But when Matt offers to drive Luke's ex-crush, Fran, across the country too, things get a little crazy. Luke thinks he's enlightened, but he really needs to loosen up if he's going to discover what it truly means to have faith, and do what it takes to get the girl he loves.

There's just something about roadtrip novels that I can't get enough of. I love the cover of this one and it based on the summary, it sounds like mayhem will ensue, which is always entertaining in any roadrtip novel or movie. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Audiobook Review: Die for Me by Amy Plum

From Goodreads:
In the City of Lights, two star-crossed lovers battle a fate that is destined to tear them apart again and again for eternity.

When Kate Mercier's parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life--and memories--behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.

Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate's guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he's a revenant--an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again.

I'm not a usual fan of paranormal romance, but the fact that this novel is set in Paris is what made me want to read it. And the Parisian setting didn't disappoint me. It kept me intrigued and interested. There's no doubt that Amy Plum is a gifted writer. It is clear that she has a great love for Paris and writes of the city almost like it's a character in the novel. The main story structure was a little too Twilight-y for my liking, but the dreaminess of Parisian setting is really what redeemed the flaws in the structure. 

 A note on the audio production: Julia Whelan was the narrator and she was amazing. Her French accent sounded authentic and her voices for the different characters were varied and believable. I continue to applaud Harper Audio for choosing narrators for their productions who fit the book's style and main character perfectly.

Die for Me by Amy Plum, narrated by Julia Whelan
Published: May 2011 by Harper Teen and Harper Audio
Pages: 341
Audiobook Length: 9 hours, 20 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult

Note: Audiobook received from publisher

Why I Love Dogs

Ever since I was a little kid, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for dogs. All dogs. It doesn't matter if it's a large, regal Great Dane or a puny, hairless Chinese Crested, dogs just make me happy.

Yesterday was a perfect example for me of how loyalty to one's owner is exactly why they're man's (or woman's) best friend.

A few Saturdays ago I had to have my husband take me to the ER because I was having severe abdominal pain. Three hours and a bunch of tests later, they never did find out what was wrong with me. While I was there, they gave me xylacaine and an anti-inflammatory along with a prescription for an acid reducer and then sent me on my way.

I knew I wanted to pursue the problem further because even though their wonderful drugs took the pain away, it still felt like there was something there festering inside my stomach. So I went to my family doctor and he set me up to get a gastroscopy so they could look inside my stomach to see what the problem was.

I had that test yesterday morning. It basically involves getting put to sleep and then the doctor sticks a tube down your throat and into your stomach to look for any obvious problems (tumors, ulcers, etc.) but then they also do some biopsies so they can test for not-so-obvious problems (H. Pylori, Celiac's Disease, etc.)

After waking up from the anesthesia, the doctor told me I had some gastritis but no tumors or ulcers (phew!) and that I should get the results of the biopsies soon.

About an hour after I left the hospital, I developed a low-grade fever. Technically I was supposed to call the doctor at that point, but my mom was taking care of me and I trusted her judgment since she's been a nurse for over 40 years. She told me that I really shouldn't worry about a fever unless it goes over 101.

Still, despite the fact that my fever was low, I felt awful. All I wanted to do was lie in bed.

I took my dogs with me over to my mom's because she also has two dogs, along with a fenced in backyard, and they all love to play together so I thought that it would be better for them to hang out and play together than for me to leave them home in their kennel.

My one pug Frank, however, was extremely worried about me. He would not leave my side. Normally if I am lying in bed, he is constantly begging to get on the bed with me. But yesterday, something extraordinary happened. He didn't bother me. But he wanted to make sure I was OK, so he just lay on the floor right next to the bed.
I was so touched by his concern for me. You have to understand that this is not normal behavior for this dog. He is a lap dog to the nth degree and will climb up on strangers' laps just because it looks cozy.

After I started to feel a little better, and was getting up and walking around for a few minutes at a time, he started to beg to come up on the bed with me a little bit, but when he realized I wasn't bringing him up with me, he just lay back down on the floor next to the bed again.
"Mom, I know you're not feeling well, but you won't forget to feed me, right?"

The other three dogs played with each other and acted like I wasn't even there, but Frank stayed with me the whole day. Pretty much all the time we've had him he's been a Daddy's Boy because my husband has a bigger, cozier lap than I do, but yesterday, if only just for one day, he was a Mama's Boy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Carrie Harris's Bad Taste in Boys launch party (+ swag giveaway)

Yesterday at 2 PM Carrie Harris had her launch party for Bad Taste in Boys at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor. This was my very first book launch party and I have to say it will be hard to top this experience in terms of author events. Carrie is such a warm, fun-loving person that she immediately makes you feel like you've just made a new friend.

I went up to her and before I even introduced myself, I offered to help her set out the refreshments because she looked like she had more important things to do than set out cookies and lemonade. I, being the foodie that I am, take pride in playing hostess so this was something I had no problem helping her out with. ;)

After placing all the cookies on trays, I then proceeded to introduce myself (I know, I did it backwards, right?) and she led me over to some other book bloggers and introduced me. It was there that I met Tirzah, The Compulsive Reader, Kelly from Stacked, and Valerie from Sisters in Scribe, among others whose names and blogs elude me now (sorry bloggers!)

At about 2:15 Carrie began her reading and took questions from the audience:
Note the epic zombie unicorn dress
Showing her zombie door prizes

Even though I had already read Bad Taste in Boys, I was thoroughly entertained by Carrie's reading. She read with such verve and expression that she reminded me of a teacher I used to have in elementary school who used to bring books to life with her soothing voice and expressive tone. She made me want to go back and read it all over again even though I only finished the book two days ago.

After the reading and audience questions, she began signing books:
And Carrie was gracious enough to pose for a picture with me:

I even caught some alarming zombie-esque behavior from Ms. Harris and some fans:

Luckily it was just a false alarm.

Another cool part of the day was that I also got to meet Aimee Carter, author of The Goddess Test. We got to talking about where we lived, and discovered that I used to sub for a teacher that she had in high school. Love those Small World moments. And since I'll be out of the country for both of her Michigan events in August, she was gracious enough to sign my copy of The Goddess Test for me.

All in all, it was an amazing afternoon and I can't gush enough about what an awesome person and talented writer Carrie is.

So to bring a small piece of Carrie's launch party to you, I have some swag to give away that Carrie was gracious enough to sign. It's one of the coolest swag book marks I have ever seen and 5 lucky readers can win one. Come on, you know you want one.

Giveaway Rules:
  • You must be 13 to enter
  • Open to U.S. residents only
  • Following is not necessary, though it is always appreciated
  • 5 winners will be selected using
  • Giveaway ends August 7 at 11:59 EST
  • Fill out this form to enter

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In My Mailbox (39)

 In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

This was another prolific book week for me.

For Review:
Broetry by Brian McGackin

Cut by Patricia McCormick

When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica S. Perl
Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter 
I actually got to meet Aimee today at Carrie Harris's book launch party for Bad Taste in Boys (pictures and recap to come soon!) and she was gracious enough to sign it for me since I'll be in Germany during her event on August 5th:

Purchased at my library's used book store:

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
Lush by Natasha Friend
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Replay by Sharon Creech
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Tree of Freedom by Rebecca Caudill
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Library Loot:


Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
Sovay by Celia Rees
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Nick of Time by Ted Bell
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

I went a little crazy with the audiobooks this week because I'm leaving for Germany on Friday and I wanted to load a bunch of books on my iPhone so I have stuff to keep me occupied.

Picture books:
The Bear Who Shared by Catherine Rayner
A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Don Tate
Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris

Kate Grable appears to be just your typical geeky high school girl - except she's not. As an aspiring medical student, she serves as an assistant to the football team. But when she discovers that the coach is injecting players with steroids, she immediately wants to find a way to out him for putting his players in danger. But steroids would have been a blessing compared to what Kate discovers has been injected into these players - some sort of virus that turns them into zombies! It is up to Kate to find a cure for this zombie virus or soon her entire school will be full of flesh-eating zombies. 

First off, I just want to get this out of the way: I hate zombies. I don't watch zombie movies and I certainly don't read zombie novels. But two things gave me pause and made me want to read this one. First off, Carrie Harris is from Michigan and I like supporting authors from my home state. Secondly, I have heard that this is not your run-of-the-mill zombie novel. And it's not. It's funny, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it has a smart and quirky main character. 

Despite normally hating zombie novels, Bad Taste in Boys defied convention and kept me turning the pages, desperate to know how the heroine was going save her all classmates from turning undead and turn the already undead alive again. The only thing that kept me from completely loving this novel  is that I have a very weak constitution and the gore factor, no matter how funny, was just a little much for me. Having said that, if you think you are not a zombie person, I guarantee that this book will still keep you entertained and turning the pages well past your bed time. 

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
Published: July 12, 2011 by Delacorte Press
Pages: 201
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cookbook Review: Guy Fieri Food

Guy Fieri is by far Food Network's most popular winner of The Next Food Network Star. He's bigger than life in personality and in appearance. He talks like a frat boy on a trip to Vegas. He looks equal part surfer dude and biker gang.

In Guy Fieri Food, he not only shares his arsenal of recipes, but he also writes the narrative of how he became the success he is today. To me, reading about his background and about how he credits his family for making him the success he is today was worth way more than perusing the recipes. I watch Guy's shows on Food Network on a fairly regular basis so the actual recipes themselves weren't really anything new or exciting.Not to mention the fact that the recipes I HAD never seen before seemed like they had endless lists of ingredients. So in terms of the food part of the book, I wasn't hugely impressed.

What I did enjoy, however, was learning more about Guy's background. Even though the design and layout of the book were clearly a reflection of Guy's personality, I could definitely tell that the narrative was written by someone else (Ann Volkwein) with Guy's input. Even still, it was a worthwhile read, and made me appreciate his food background so much more than I had previously. Most people probably look at Guy and think that he's just a pretty boy who can cook on camera. I'm here to tell you that you will respect him so much more, as a business man, as a father, and as a lover of food if you check this book out.

One of my favorite recipes from this book is actually one I've already made from watching his show, Gaucho Steak with 4-Herb Chimichurri. I think Chimichurri is my new favorite thing to pair with steak. The herby, veinegary tang is a great balance to the richness of the steak. I highly recommend you make your own Chimichurri if you've never tried it before!
Final verdict? Learning about Guy's life and background made this book more worthwhile than the actual recipes. If you've never watched his shows before and you're looking for food with big flavor, then by all means, give this book a try. As someone who watches him regularly though, I didn't find anything new and exciting, food wise, from this collection.

Guy Fieri Food: More Than 150 Off-the-Hook Recipes with Ann Volkwein
Published: May 2011 by William Morrow Cookbooks
Pages: 408
Genre: Cookery
Audience: Food lovers

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to showcase upcoming books that you can't wait to read.

My anxiously awaited title this week is:

Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick
Publish Date: September 5, 2011 
Publisher: Clarion Books
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade

From Goodreads:
Marley's life feels as precarious as an overfull water balloon--one false move and everything will burst. Marley's lifelong best friends appear to be ditching her and her parents, newly separated, have decided she should spend the summer with her dad in his generic subdivision house, with a summer job she didn't ask for and certainly doesn’t want. On the up side there is a very cute boy who loves dogs as much as Marley does living across the street . . . but young love can be rocky too, with lots of opportunity for humiliation and misinterpreted signals. Luckily Marley is a girl who trusts her instincts and knows the truth when she sees it, attributes that make her immensely appealing and make her transitional summer worthwhile and satisfying to experience alongside her. 

Even though Water Balloon is Audrey Vernick's first novel, you might already know her from the hilarious picture book Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten. If Water Balloon is even half as endearing as her Buffalo books, this novel is going to be a home run. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Maggie Stiefvater author event recap + signed Forever giveaway

As a hopeless bibliophile, I have always looked up to authors more than any actor or pseudo-celebrity walking the red carpet today. For me, authors are my version of rock stars. And Maggie Stiefvater can rock with the best of them.

Last night I arrived at the Borders in Novi an hour early (oh the irony in going to an event at Borders on the day they declared they were liquidating all their stores) and it was already PACKED. Luckily, I came to the store early that morning to get a first-group wrist band, otherwise I would have been waiting a long time to get my books signed!

But anyway, after spending an hour chatting with the people seated around me, Maggie made her way to the microphone and proceeded to entertain us with her authorly anecdotes, the first of which was a relaying of the story of how she discovered that Linger debuted as #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. This story included a dead cell phone, her father's ringing cell phone while in flight, and a surly flight attendant.

I don't know why it surprised me that Maggie was so hilarious, but it did. Perhaps because her books are so poetic and intense, that I just expected her personality to be the same. Boy did I misjudge her! She was a laugh riot and had the audience rolling in their chairs.

Once we got to the signing part of the evening, it went really quickly and I felt like such a stuttering little fan girl when I got up to Maggie. What to say seemed to elude me so I just told her how happy it made me to hear that Cole is her favorite character in the series because he's my favorite too. When someone asked her during the Q&A who her favorite character was, I had a feeling she would say Cole. She seemed to treat him with such tenderness in her writing despite the fact that he initially seemed to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Overall it was an amazing evening and if you have the chance to go to a Maggie Stiefvater event, DO IT! I promise you won't be sorry!

Look! There's Loki in the parking lot!
My personalized copy of Shiver

 I have a brand new, signed copy of Forever  plus a Forever keychain to give away to one lucky reader.

Giveaway Rules:
  • Must be 13 years or older to enter
  • Open only to US residents
  • You are not required to be a follower to enter but it is greatly appreciated
  • There are no extra entries, everyone gets an equal chance, but if you're on Twitter, I'd appreciate it if you could take a couple seconds and Tweet the following: Win a signed copy of Maggie Stiefvater's Forever from @FoodieBooklvr
  • Contest ends July 26th at 11:59 EST
  • Winner chosen at random using 
  • To enter, fill out this form
Good luck!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

When we meet Sam in Shiver, he is the wolf and Grace is the human. Now in the stunning conclusion to this beloved trilogy, the tables have turned and Grace must find a way to cure the wolfness that has been long dormant in her since she was a young child.

But the stakes are even higher than that now. A very powerful man in Mercy Falls, Tom Culpeper, whose son died at the hand of the wolves, is doing everything in his power to see that they are destroyed. Sam and Grace know they're running out of time, and their only hope for saving the wolves is in the hands of Cole, the suicidal, former rock star, who is experimenting with some possible cures. Will Cole find a cure before it's too late? Or will his self-experimentation result in his own demise?


In my recent review of Linger, I mentioned that I came very close to abandoning the series after I read Shiver. Am I ever glad I changed my mind! Strangely enough, the first book in this series was my least favorite of the three, which is unusual for me since the first book in a series is usually always my favorite.

Where Linger had a quiet power to it, Forever had more of an action-based plot, with quite an emotional climax. I really enjoyed seeing the evolution of all the characters, but Sam and Grace I think were definitely overshadowed by Cole in this last book. Cole really stepped up to the plate and became more than just the depressed, anti-social rock star. He became a part of the "pack" rather than the lone wolf (pardon the pun) and showed he could think of others and not just himself.

I know a few reviews I read said they were disappointed or confused by the ending, but I thought it was perfect. It had a satisfying resolution, but didn't end so neatly that you were still wondering what happens after you turn that last page. I'm not one who likes books or series to end so neatly that it feels contrived. This definitely did not feel contrived to me in the slightest.

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Published: July 12, 2011 by Scholastic
Pages: 386
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult

Picture book reviews: short and sweet

I read a lot of picture books throughout the course of a year. Even though I teach 6th grade, you'd be surprised at how useful they can be in a middle school classroom. One of the easiest ways to adapt them to middle school is to find a way to apply it to their writing. If you're reading them a picture book about a parent's attempt to read their child a story before bed, but the child keeps interrupting, (a la, Interrupting Chicken) then have them write about a special bedtime ritual they remember from when they were younger. Just because the book is written for a younger audience doesn't mean the teachable moments remain with only one age group.

Chick 'n' Pug by Jennifer Sattler
Published: September 2010 by Bloomsbury

Chick idolizes his hero, WonderPug, so when he comes across a pug in real life, he is "all aflutter with excitement." Little does Chick know that his hero is a bit of a sloth.

I must admit that I possess extreme bias when reviewing books with pugs because I have two pugs of my own and they are like my children. So anything that I say about a pug book should be taken with a grain of salt.

Having said that, this book has the most adorable illustrations, especially of the pug, whose rotund little sleeping body reminds me so much of my own pug Frank. 

Ollie & Moon by Diane Kredensor, photographed by Sandra Kress
Published: April 2011 by Random House 

Best friends Ollie and Moon have a very special relationship. Ollie loves surprising Moon and Moon equally loves guessing Ollie's surprises. As they wander the streets of Paris, Moon must continue to try to guess at the really big surprise Moon has in store for her.   

I loved the combination of photographs and illustrations. I thought that was a really unique feature and makes the book stand out among other children's picture books. And the fact that this story takes place on the streets of Paris made it all the more endearing. 

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, illustrated by Jean Cassels
Published: August 2008 by Walker Books for Young Readers 

Two Bobbies is the true story of a dog and a cat that stick together after they are left behind by their family during Hurricane Katrina. Theirs is a story of survival, perseverance, loyalty, and, most of all, friendship. If you are an animal lover or have any sort of heart, this book will move you to tears.  

No One But You by Douglas Wood, illustrated by PJ Lynch
Published: May 2011 by Candelwick Press 

This book is a beautiful reminder for kids and adults alike to always stop and experience the simple things in life. The writing and illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. This would be a great text to use to teach students about sensory details. 

Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Beth Adams
Published: August 2010 by Tricycle Press

After Katie gets caught bullying a classmate, she is required to meet with the school counselor on a regular basis to rehabilitate her.

While I think this book has a lot of worthwhile material to help teach students about how to deal with bullying, I just didn't buy Katie converting to "rehabilitation mode" so quickly. I understand that the exposition in a picture book has to be fairly brief, but very rarely do bullies convert so quickly. Not to mention how easily Katie's parents were willing to accept that their daughter was a bully. More often than not, the parents' reaction is more like, "My daughter would never do anything like that."

Despite my criticisms, this book is a great impetus for discussing the logistics of how to handle bullying with kids, whether you're being bullied or you're a bystander.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez: ARC Review

Seventeen-year-old Carmen Bianchi is a violin prodigy and is constantly being pushed by her mother, a former opera singer who was forced to cut her own career short due to the deterioration of her singing voice. She now relives her career vicariously through her daughter, who must take prescription medication in order to calm her nerves when she performs. Clearly Carmen is a ticking time bomb.

We meet Carmen a few days away from a very prestigious violin competition where she meets Jeremy, the gorgeous Brit who is her main rival for the title. Instead of staying away from him like she knows she should, she attempts to get closer and closer to him. But will her attempt to befriend Jeremy be the demise of her own career?

I want to start off first with a thank you to Jessica Martinez. It isn't very often that I can find a young adult novel that is "clean" enough to recommend to my sixth graders.Yet despite Carmen's issues and need to medicate herself in order to be at top performance level, this really is a book that I would consider appropriate for younger junior high students looking to delve into more mature plots.

The prologue starts the story off with a bang, jamming us right into the climax with no context for what is happening or why Carmen is acting in such a way. You are immediately intrigued and want to keep reading.

However, once you are jammed into the prologue, the first few chapters meander along and don't get really interesting until Carmen and Jeremy begin their "forbidden" relationship.

Carmen and Jeremy's relationship was surprisingly endearing to me. It begins for Carmen as a way to spite her mother, but the more she's with him, the more stable and comfortable in her own skin she becomes. You're actually rooting for Carmen to run off with Jeremy instead of stay with her oppressive mother. As someone who doesn't usually favor stories where running of with a gorgeous male character is the "solution" to the conflict, I'd have to say this is one of those stories where I was kind of hoping it would happen. Whether or not she does is obviously for you to figure out by reading the story, but I will say that if you're a person who enjoys stories about the competitive world of music, or are fascinated with children who have insanely competitive stage mothers, then this is the book for you.

My only criticism of the book is that I don't think Martinez gave us enough exposition behind why this competition was so important to Carmen and her mother. This is a girl who has already won a Grammy, has been accepted to Julliard, and plays a $1.2 million Stradivarius. It seemed to me that this competition was chump change compared to what she had already accomplished. I needed to understand what was so special about this particular competition and I never really felt like that was explained enough. This perhaps could be because I don't live inside the world of classical music, but then again, most people don't. Still, I played classical piano for 13 years so I'm not a complete heathen when it comes to classical music. I'd say I'm probably more educated about it than the average YA reader and even still, I couldn't see the significance of the competition for Carmen given all that she'd already accomplished.

Other than that though this was an engaging read and definitely recommended for anyone who read and loved Sara Bennett Wealer's Rival. This book is set to be released October 18th so pre-order your copy today!

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Publish Date: October 18, 2011 by Simon Pulse
Source: Simon & Schuster GalleyGrab
Pages: 304
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult