Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to the Books giveaway hop: ARC of The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

This blog hop is hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Buried in Books.

For my portion of this blog hop I'm giving away:

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech
Expected publication: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Harper
Format: Advance Reader Copy
Pages: 226
Audience: Middle Grade

I had big thoughts to match the big wind. I wondered if we find the people we need when we need them. I wondered if we attract our future by some sort of invisible force, or if we are drawn to it by a similar force. I felt I was turning a corner and that change was afoot.
In the little town of Blackbird Tree live two orphan girls: one Naomi Deane, brimming with curiosity, and her best friend, Lizzie Scatterding, who could talk the ears off a cornfield. Naomi has a knack for being around when trouble happens. For she knows all the peculiar people in town—like Crazy Cora and Witch Wiggins and Mr. Farley. But then, one day, a boy drops out of a tree. The strangely charming Finn boy. Then the Dingle Dangle man appears, asking all kinds of questions. Curious surprises are revealed—three locked trunks, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy. Soon Naomi and Lizzie find themselves zooming toward a future neither could ever have imagined. Meanwhile, on a grand estate across the ocean, an old lady whose heart has been deceived concocts a plan. . . . 

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

I'm here for the butterbeer

One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Orlando during our road trip to Florida was NOT to go to Disney World. I'm so over Disney and theme parks in general.

But you see, I had to visit one particular theme park. Not because of the rides, but because of the setting it brought to life for the book lovers. Yes, I'm talking about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park.

The fact that I as a lover of this series could enter Hogsmede and look up at Hogwarts castle was amazing to me. As someone who was initially insistent that I would never read the Harry Potter series, I ended up becoming so enchanted with the vivid world JK Rowling built within the pages of these novels that to stand in this place and witness it come to life was awe-inspiring. I have to thank Allison over at Reading Everywhere for insisting that I listen to the audiobooks. If it weren't for her, I don't think I ever would have ventured into this magical world.

As a side note, I have to say that all of  the "islands" at Universal Islands of Adventure felt like you were walking on a movie set. The designers and builders of the park did an amazing job of bringing the whole park to life, not just Harry Potter.

But back to Harry Potter.

I'm not ashamed to admit that one of the main reasons I wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was to try the butterbeer. When I first read about butterbeer in the books I thought it sounded delicious. I wanted some. So when word got out that the WWOHP was going to have butterbeer I was all like, "I have to go there!" Oh yeah, and I wanted to see Hogwarts and walk through Hogsmede and all that, but no I really just wanted some butterbeer.

So was it worth it? Did the butterbeer deliver?

I'm here to say that yes it most definitely did.

JK Rowling describes her made-up beverage as  "less sickly butterscotch." Universal definitely got it right then because it wasn't sickeningly sweet but it definitely had a butterscotch flavor. The best way I can describe it is that it tasted like butterscotch and cream soda with a buttery whipped cream foam on top. It was perfection. I had two glasses.

Not my most flattering picture but I don't care... I'm having a moment with my butterbeer

Now I have to figure out how to make it myself because of course no one at Universal is giving up the recipe. I'll have to experiment with some of the recipes floating around on the internet. I think I'll perhaps start with this one.

"But Beth," you ask, "what about the rides? Were they awesome?"

Honestly, I didn't go for the rides. I know that's a stupid thing to say when you're paying like $90 a ticket to go to the theme park, but I really just wanted to go and experience the world of Harry Potter. Did we ride the rides? Of course we did, but that's not necessarily what I'll remember the most from that day.

But if you must know, the main ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was cool, but not worth waiting hours in line for. Resist the urge to do any ride with long, multiple-hour waits because chances are, later in the day, it will be much shorter.

The best ride in the Harry Potter section of the park was definitely the dragon challenge roller coaster. It had two different coasters that were extremely fast and exciting, and the best part is, their lines were never long so we rode it three times and never had to wait more than ten minutes in line for each ride.

If the line is long, do yourself a favor and skip the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster. We waited over an hour to ride that stupid thing and it only lasted like 20 seconds. Total waste of time.

I'll leave you with two final pictures that kind of capture why I wanted to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the first place. The strange hue of the sky later in the evening made the ambiance of Hogsmede even more enchanting and made you feel like you had really been swept away inside the pages of a book. Isn't that the ultimate dream for all book-lovers? To live inside the pages of their favorite book for a while?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Giveaway: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Harlequin Teen is offering readers of this blog the opportunity to win a copy of one of the hottest books of the summer. As someone who often finds herself rolling her eyes at any sort of romance in books, I have to say that this book changed my mind about romance in books. Check out my full review here.

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Published: July 31, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 384
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult

From Goodreads:
No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 8-27-12

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

So I've been absent from "It's Monday!" for a while. My husband and I took a two-week road trip where we drove from Michigan to Florida. We had tons of fun, ate lots of great food, and saw lots of awesome things. I will definitely be writing more about our trip in the days ahead, but here is a small preview:
 Yes, that's me with our very own Kellee Moye from Teach Mentor Texts. Oh how I love meeting my Twitter friends and fellow Nerdy Book Clubbers in real life. :)

I figured, to get back on track, I'd post the books I read over my two week vacation and then start back up with my regular routine next week.

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (read my review here)
Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

Eat the City by Robin Shulman
Around the Reading Workshop in 180 Days by Frank Serafini

Love and Leftovers by Sara Tregay
Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
(I actually re-read Turtle in Paradise because I listened to the audiobook earlier this summer but then I realized this would be the perfect book to re-read in Key West since that's where it takes place and am I ever glad I did! I actually found the very street where Turtle lived in the book which I'll be posting more about later.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Both Echo Emerson and Noah Hutchins live troubled lives but for different reasons. Echo used to be part of the popular crowd, but after a life-altering incident with her mother who almost killed her, she is now the freak at school whom everyone stares at and whispers about. Noah is a bad boy who cuts class, smokes pot and wants nothing to do with the popular crowd that Echo is trying to claw her way back into. So when Echo is coaxed into tutoring Noah by their school social worker, both parties are less than thrilled. Neither Noah nor Echo wants to associate with the other yet somehow, their troubled pasts manage to lure them closer and closer together.

As someone who is often turned off from any sort of romance in novels, I actually found that part of the story quite engaging. I want relationships in novels to have substance and so when I read about characters who fall head over heels in "love" with someone just on looks alone, my eyes roll so hard into the back of my head that you can actually hear them rolling. So I was excited to discover that the relationship between Noah and Echo develops so slowly and realistically over the course of the novel that it's actually difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the two of them fall for each other; it's what Lenore Appelhans likes to call the "slow burn" which I think is a perfect way to describe how the relationship evolves over the course of this book. I finished reading this book almost two weeks ago and I can still remember the way Noah and Echo made me feel. They were masterfully written characters, which if you've been following my blog long enough you know, I love books with vivid characters more than vivid plots.

A couple things that didn't quite work for me was that I found some of the secondary character development to be a bit weak and one-dimensional at first, but it definitely gets stronger by the end of the novel. What I really found difficult, however, was the awkward dialogue on occasion. It was hard to follow in places and didn't always flow with the narration. Despite those difficulties, I highly recommend this book to the dubious reader like me who often finds herself rolling her eyes when reading romance novels. This book feels real and the relationship, genuine. 

Check out the book trailer for Pushing the Limits:

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Published: July 31, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 384
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Book received for review from publisher

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

There will never be another One and Only Ivan

I was devastated to find out earlier this evening from my friend Mr. Schu that Ivan the gorilla passed away today. It is especially sad for me because my husband and I are on vacation in Florida right now and were considering stopping at Zoo Atlanta to see him on our way home to Michigan.

If you have not read The One and Only Ivan yet, I highly encourage you to do so. It's right up there with Charlotte's Web and A Wrinkle in Time in importance to children's literature's literature because it is a book that will stand the test of time.

Rest in peace dear Ivan. You will be dearly missed and your memory will live on in your story.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Young Adult Giveaway Hop - Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

This giveaway hop is being hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Reading Teen

For my portion of the blog hop, I am giving away:

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Published: November 15, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 338
Genre: Fantasy/Dystopia
Audience: Young Adult

Goodreads Summary:
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Monday, August 6, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 8-6-12

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Gah! How did it get to be August already? This summer is flying by way too fast!

Next week I probably won't be posting since my husband and I are leaving for Florida on Saturday. We are driving. From Michigan to Key West. In a Mustang.

Some of you think this is probably very cool. I, however, wish we taking the practical route and driving an SUV or minivan. That would be much more comfortable. Oh, but who needs comfort when you can look cool? This should be interesting. I don't know how I'm going to fit all my books in the backseat of a Mustang.

Nice segue-way right? ;)

Anyway, these are the books I read last week that I enjoyed:

When the Fly Flew In by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Brad Sneed
I loved the sensory language. This could be a great mentor text for adding detail to writing.

Chloe, Instead by Micah Peters
Molly wanted a little sister just like her... she got Chloe instead.

A surprisingly sweet story of two sisters and the dichotomy of the love/hate relationship siblings often have for each other. Micah Player was able to get this push and pull in so few words and pages.

When Blue Met Egg by Lindsay Ward
It took me a while to "get" this book but for that reason I think it would be great to use with older kids when talking about making inferences. The longer time passes after reading it, the more I like it.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Dough Chayka
This is the story of two Afghan girls who each discover one sandal in the same pair and decide to share them. The text and illustrations are incredibly simple, yet moving. This would be a great supplemental text to use in a social studies class to give a voice to the dry, lifeless textbooks that are so ubiquitous in American social studies classrooms.

What I'm currently reading/listening to:
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Books I reviewed last week:

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
I LOVED both of these books so much!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

On her way home from a track meet, Jessica loses part of her leg in a school bus accident. For her, the thought of never running again makes her want to curl up and die. There are many dark days for her at the beginning of her recovery but after she stops feeling sorry for herself, she begins making speedy progress to walking again. Soon her coach and track team show her that her dream of running again might not be that far fetched after all...

I am on a role reading awesome books this summer. At first the story was incredibly depressing. It felt like we were journeying through Jessica's dark night of the soul with her. But as the novel progressed, it got more and more hopeful. When she stopped feeling sorry for herself, Jessica became a force to be reckoned with. 

I am someone who hates running with a passion. I want to like it so bad. I have tried on several different occasions to like it, but I just can't force myself to do it. So despite my distaste for running, I still loved this book. All of the characters and situations are so masterfully written that every scene manages to stir up some sort of  clear emotion within the reader whether it was love, fondness, frustration or even all-out hate (Jessica's biggest rival for example was someone I would have loved to smack upside the head).  The first few pages give the reader an indication of just what is so appealing about running for Jessica when she describes what running did for her as a person. She said, "Running aired out my soul." I mean wow! What a statement. Those five words alone made me want to attempt to take up running again. And for me, the mark of a successful book is one that I still want to live inside of even after I finish it. It's been a few days since I finished this book and I am still living with Jessica. I can't let go of her.

This book can appeal to a wide swath of readers: whether it's runners or athletes in general, people overcoming physical disabilities, readers who know a friend or family member who had to overcome a physical disability, or anyone who just likes reading stories of overcoming adversity. The gender neutral cover also ensures that boys will not be reluctant to pick it up, something I am rallying for more of in children's and YA lit these days.

What I also loved about this book is while it is categorized as YA for the simple fact that the main character is in high school, it could easily be read by students in younger grades (late elementary, middle school) for the simple fact that it is a clean read (which makes sense since it's a Schneider Family Book Award winner). I will definitely be recommending this book to my students when school starts up again in September, especially anyone in need of a little inspiration. 

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Published: January 11, 2011
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Pages: 332
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult/Middle Grade
Disclosure: Library Book

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I love trying new things... it's my favorite.

While I consider myself a bit of a picky eater despite the fact that I'm a foodie, I still love trying new flavors, dishes, and foods I've never seen or tried before.

At the beginning of summer, Whole Foods had a free sample bowl of something they called Giant Crunchy Corn. It looked like really big pop corn that hadn't been popped. Sure enough, that's exactly what it tasted like too. I had never heard of giant crunchy corn before, but now it is a summertime snack staple in my house.

What's something you tried recently that surprised you or that you had never heard of before?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ARC Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Please note: The title of this book has changed to The Memory of After.

Think of this place as a waiting room. Earth, what we call Level One, is about creating and forming memories. And this waiting room, Level Two, is about processing those memories, sifting through them to find the meaning of your time on earth. To come to terms with it so you can move on.

Felicia Ward lived a tormented life on earth. Before she died, she had many shameful secrets she'd rather not relive. So when she ends up in Level Two -- a strange, white place full of hive-like structures that allow its inhabitants to plug in and relive memories of their life back on earth -- Felicia of course, chooses only to relive the happy times. But soon Julian, a boy she knew on earth, with secrets of his own, appears in her chamber, calling for her to join the rebellion against the Morati -- the angels responsible for imprisoning souls in Level Two and preventing them from moving on to the next level.

Remembering how consorting with Julian back on earth led to the disgrace of her family, Felicia doesn't know whether she can trust him here in Level Two. But his promise to reunite her with her earthly boyfriend Neil has left her with no other choice than to join his fight. Told in a present-tense, first-person narrative as well as looking back at her past life through the memories Felicia watches in Level Two, Appelhans creates an engaging and highly original narrative that will leave you wondering: Will Julian and Felicia defeat the Morati?  Will he fulfill his promise to Felicia? Or will he find another way to burn her the way he did back on earth?

OK, I'm just going to get this technicality out of the way right now so you can make your own judgement about the reliability of this review: the author is a personal friend of mine. Many of you already know that before Lenore received her book deal through Simon & Schuster that she was a book blogger. I have been following her blog for a few years now and even visited her last summer when I vacationed in Europe (it's a tad bit serendipitous that I'm posting this review today since it was almost this exact time last year that I visited her). Perhaps many of you will feel as if this will cloud my judgement in writing this review since I consider her a friend, and perhaps unconsciously it does. But everything I am writing in this review is my true opinion. There is no sugarcoating here in order to spare the feelings of a friend. Everything I write is how I truly feel.

Having said that, let me just amp this review right up with the superlatives: this is one of the most amazing novels I have ever read! Lenore has not only crafted an incredibly unique story in envisioning this white, Matrix-like place of Level Two, but she has also rooted it in theology and mythology. People have been categorizing this book as a dystopia, but that's a bit of a misnomer since the world Appelhans created isn't really a society in the human sense of the word. There are dystopian elements to it, yes, but I honestly see it more as a fantasy than sci-fi/dystopia. Even Lenore addresses this dystopia issue in a recent blog post.

Rather than continue in regular book review fashion, I would instead like to give you a list of 5 reasons why you should read this amazing novel. So in no particular order, here are my top 5 reasons why you should read Level 2 when it comes out on January 15, 2013:

1. The characterization
Lenore did an amazing job creating believable, complex, and interesting relationships among characters. Felicia's encounters with Julian leave you constantly wondering if he's the good guy or bad guy, her relationship with her father is endearing and helps the reader to see a softer side of her so we can get behind her, and her feelings for Neil genuinely evolve over to course of the novel (in her memories) rather than the irritating "insta-love" phenomenon that seems to be running rampant through YA these days.

2. The ending stands on its own yet still leaves room for the next installment.
It is extremely irksome to me that so many YA trilogies are being written now as one continuous story rather than letting each book stand on its own. It's fine to read cliffhangers every once in a while, but to have that be "the thing" that all YA series writers seem to be doing gets tiresome. Level 2 not only stands on its own, but the ending has a perfect cadence. Yes, I want to read Level 3 (like RIGHT NOW!) but I appreciate that Level 2 is a complete story in and of itself, which defies the trends (I'm someone who prefers originality to trendiness if you hadn't noticed).

3. The writing
Julia Child once said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "People who love food are the best kind of people." I agree with said statement since I am a foodie after all, but I could also replace the word "food" for "words." I love people who love words, who relish in finding just the right word to make their sentences sing. People like John Green and Laini Taylor are writers I admire and whom I feel have mastered wordsmithing, who don't dumb down their writing for the sake of their teenage audience. And now I would put Lenore Appelhans into that category as well. Wordsmithing aside, however, the book also appeals to people who love action-packed plots with lots of vivid detail. The entire time I was reading all I kept thinking was what a mind-blowing movie it would make (sort of like the afterlife version of The Matrix).

4. Originality coupled with tradition
I've already mentioned this point, but it bears mentioning again. Never in a million years would I have pictured the afterlife to look like Level Two, and I'm sure most people wouldn't either, which is why, despite the initial doubt in believing that Level Two is a place where you could actually end up after you die, Lenore grounds her story in theological and mythological concepts (limbo, purgatory, fallen angels, the five rivers of Hades, etc.) to make it more believable. Quite ingenious.

5. Lack of plot holes
Since I know Lenore, I feel like this caused me to read with a more critical eye and I was hyper-aware of when things weren't adding up. Which is why I was amazed that every single time I would think to myself, "Well wait, how is that possible?" the question would always be answered later in the novel, sometimes even a few sentences later.

 So there you have it. My Top 5 Reasons why you should go out and pre-order Level 2 right now. :)

I know this book has been hugely buzzed around the blogosphere because Lenore is a blogger herself, but after reading it and witnessing her brilliant creativity and originality, I can imagine WAY more people than bloggers will know her name come January. I'd be willing to bet on it.

Read some other early reviews of Level 2:
The Perpetual Page-Turner
Diary of a Book Addict
Dark Faerie Tales

Also check out this awesome interview with Lenore at Forever Young Adult

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
Expected Publication: January 15, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: ARC won in a contest