Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: Blood Red Road, by Moira Young

BloodRed Road is one of my favorite books of this year. The characters are so well crafted, that I felt like I was walking along side them.

We are in a dystopian future where there is an extreme drought, and all modern conveniences are lost. Eighteen-year-old Saba and her twin brother Lugh, their younger sister Emmi, and their father live in the wilderness and fend for themselves. Their mother died giving birth to Emmi, nine years ago. Life is hard, especially since the lake is drying up. These children have rarely seen any other humans, and they have no idea how barbaric the rest of society has become.

One day, during a violent sandstorm, four horsemen come and kill their father and capture Lugh and take him away. Saba has no idea what to do, but she vows to find Lugh and save him. Saba is not the strong one, as a matter of fact, she’s very immature at the beginning of the story. Lugh has always taken care of her and Emmi. Saba has never even bothered to get to know Emmi, but now she has to take care of her.

The plot moves rapidly and is very exciting, as Saba embarks on an epic journey to places she had no idea even existed. But what also is compelling is the change in Saba. She becomes a warrior—tough and hard. She rises to every challenge that comes her way, no matter how impossible the odds. She makes friends and enemies along the way, and each character is well portrayed and important to the story.

Saba has a pet crow named Nero and you will fall in love with him. He’s an important character, and I totally believed in his abilities. Emmi, the younger sister, is totally frustrating. She never does what she’s told, and I really wanted to slap her several times. Jack is Saba’s romantic hero, and he’s perfect too. I could go on and on about these wonderful characters. I haven't even mentioned the colorful bad guys, but you’ll just have to read it yourself.

I foresee one criticism of the book is going to be the language. The entire book is written in slang, without quotes. Young uses words like “an” instead of “and,” “fer” instead of “for,” and never puts the “g” at the end of an “ing.” I didn’t find this hard to read, and I believe this is what made such a strong connection to Saba. She’s talking to the reader. It’s like you are sitting next to her and she is telling you this story. It’s an amazing technique that Young uses brilliantly.
This book (at least the ARC) is 498 pages long, but you won’t mind it. First of all, there’s lots of white space on each page, and lots of empty pages between chapters. Trust me, the action and tension never stop, and the pages just fly by.

Lovers of dystopian or apocalyptic stories will want to read this. Girls who enjoy a kick-ass feminine hero, will devour this book. This is Dustlands Book One and I, for one, am ready to read some more about this world, and Saba, and of course Jack.

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 7, 2011
ARC provided by the publisher for review
498 pages (qualifies for my 350 Page Book Challenge!)

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Love Me To Death, by Allison Brennan

Love Me to Death has an intricate, thrilling plot but gets a bit bogged down in descriptions and repetition.

Lucy Kincaid feels like someone is watching her. She’s nervous and unsettled, and usually her feelings are fairly accurate. Six years ago, Lucy was abducted and raped and ended up killing one of her abductors. So there’s definitely a reason she would be attuned to her surroundings. When she finds out another of her abductors has been murdered, and she didn’t even know he was out of prison, things begin to fall apart for her.

Lucy works for a private agency that helps catch internet predators who have been convicted but are out on parole. She finds this work very satisfying, as she lures these perpetrators to meet her, and instead, they are met by police officers and sent back to prison for breaking their parole. Then she discovers that one of these men, instead of being incarcerated again, was murdered.

She begins working with Sean, her brother’s partner who is a private investigator. Soon there is an undeniable attraction between these two, and that makes Sean all the more determined to make sure Lucy is safe, and these mysteries are solved. He will have to pull out all the stops before this story ends.

The plot is interesting and intriguing. There are many twists and turns, and all the while this romance is building, which also adds appeal to the story. Lucy’s entire family (four brothers and a sister-in-law) are in some way involved with the law, and most of them are involved in this case. I thought it was a bit strange that her brother, knowing that Lucy is involved in some very dangerous things, doesn’t come back from his trip to help. He doesn’t even help Sean from long-distance, like other members of their PI firm. Why write in an extraneous character?

I had a real problem with the psycho-babble in this novel. Brennan tells Lucy’s back story and about how strong she is now, and about what was going on inside her head many times throughout the book. As a matter of fact, I got tired of hearing about what was going on in EVERYONE’s head. There would be a section of dialog or action, and then the author goes off and tells you about why every said what they did, and what’s going on in their head. Seems like a good story line and dialog should give me that (show me, don’t tell me!) It made a very exciting and intricate plot get bogged down at times.

Part of the problem may have been the narrator of this audio book. I really just want someone to read the book to me – not in a monotone, but I don’t need all the drama in her voice either.  I found her style very irritating, and then when she would read about all the psychology and motivations, it made those parts even worse.

So—the plot is very interesting, tense, and exciting. I cared about the characters, I genuinely wanted  everything to work out for them, especially Sean and Lucy. I was just annoyed with all the explanations, many of which were very repetitive, and at times ruined the momentum of the story. I would recommend that you read the book, not listen to the audio. That way you can skim or skip all the extra descriptions if you want.

Published by Ballentine, 2010 (Audio by Books on Tape)
Audiobook obtained from the library
496 pages

Rating: 2.5/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2011 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In My Mailbox -- Some more Goodies!

The Story Siren hosts In My Mailbox each week to give bloggers an opportunity to see some new books, and hear about what we are excited to read.

I totally forgot to post about my mother's day gift from Mollie. I saw this mug on a blog (of course) and emailed my husband about how absolutely adorable I thought it was. I don't know how Mollie found out about it -- she doesn't get email.......

Now, onto the books!

For Review:
 Flip, by Martyn Bedford (from Random Buzzers)
Paradise, by Jill S. Alexander (from I Read Banned Books Book Tours)
Spellbound, by Cara Lynn Shultz (from NetGalley)

From the Library:

Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr
How to Build a House, by Dana Reinhardt
Fallout, by Ellen Hopkins
After, by Amy Efaw
Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Thanks for visiting my mailbox. Feel free to come back and check out my reviews after I read these. Hope you have a great week!

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2011 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Author Interview - Jolene Ballard Gutierrez -- Devil May Care

I'm so happy to welcome Jolene Gutierrez, author of Devil May Care to Annette's Book Spot. You can read my review here.

About the book:

When Ana takes off flying across the high school stage, her life is forever changed. Searching for answers, Ana meets Gabrielle, her mentor. Gabrielle teaches Ana that she’s an angel and is here on Earth to help prepare for a war between good and evil. The only problem? Ana can’t always tell who’s good and who’s evil. While she’s learning, Ana meets the man of her dreams, Dylan. He’s gorgeous, sexy, and really seems to care about Ana. Even though he’s a demon, Ana’s heart tells her to trust him. Then Ana’s world is shattered and she finds herself alone and afraid. As the boundaries between good and evil blur, Ana realizes she no longer knows who she can trust and who might be out to kill her.

 You can purchase the book or ebook here.

Tell us what inspired you to write Devil May Care. How did you come up with the story?

I enjoy reading books about the supernatural, and I wanted to examine good and evil a little more closely. It’s always been both fascinating and horrifying to me that throughout history, certain groups of people have felt they have God on their side and use this belief as an excuse to do terrible things to other groups of people. I wanted to look a little at stereotypes. I know that we’ve all been guilty of judging people at different times, and I wanted to get into that in this book-- the fact that there’s more than meets the eye with each of us. Lastly, my husband and I were high-school sweethearts who were drawn to each other immediately, just like Ana and Dylan, and I loved revisiting that time in our history.

How long did it take you to write Devil May Care?

Devil May Care took me about 3months to rough out, and then I spent another 9-12 months revising. I write based on the school calendar because I work as a school librarian, so summers are my big time to write. I try to get a good rough draft of my books done from June-August, and then I spend weekends and school breaks refining the book.

Are there any parts of the book that are personal to you? Names? Places? Events from your past?

Yes, there definitely are! Cheyenne is named after my daughter (her name is spelled Shaian, so we decided to go with the more traditional name so people wouldn’t be confused by the spelling). Cheyenne’s brother Dakota is named after my son, Dakota. The romance between Dylan and Ana is based on my husband and I. The story takes place in the Denver area, where I live. Oh, yeah, and I did get stuck in a trash can by some seniors when I was a little 7th grader.

Tell us about your writing habits. When do you write? Where? Do you have any special rituals that you follow to help the writing process?

I write whenever I can! I take my notebook with me most places, and if I have a few extra minutes, I’ll write a bit. With Devil May Care, I wrote by hand first, and then would type up what I’d written as a way of doing my first revisions.

While writing Devil May Care, I didn’t outline the story much at all. I had a general idea of where I wanted the story to go, and then I let the characters lead me. That’s the best thing about the writing process for me—the almost magical feeling that came over me when the characters would surprise me or when things would come back together in a way I hadn’t expected. I liken it to being a weaver and bringing all of these pieces of yarn together—you’re holding all of the strands and shaping them into something different and beautiful. It’s this feeling of being connected to something larger, something beyond yourself, and it’s an amazing experience.

Do you have any hints or suggestions for aspiring writers?

Read, read, read, and write, write, write! The more writing you’re exposed to and the more you practice the art of writing, the better you’ll be. I also encourage writers to immerse themselves in the writing community. Using Twitter and Facebook to get to know some of your favorite authors, editors, and agents is helpful, as is reading blogs, interviews, etc. Find local communities of writers if possible, too. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the connections I’ve made through SCBWI have been so helpful. Finding a critique group or honest friends to read your work can be extremely helpful (and painful, but you’ll need straight, no-holds-barred opinions to help shape your book into the best piece of work it can be). Lastly, remember that writing might be some of the most difficult work you do, but if you’re doing it for the right reasons, it will be extremely rewarding.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid? How about lately?

I love horses, and when I was younger, I read every horse book I could get my hands on. Lynn Hall’s A Horse Called Dragon was my favorite. Then I found a creepy ghost story book in our school library and moved on to supernatural books. In high school, I loved Christopher Pike, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz. Now, I read books from a lot of genres so I’m able to recommend books to my students. Some of my favorite books I’ve read recently are Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth series, Ally Condie’s Matched, Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, and Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red.

What’s next? Are you currently writing more about Ana or are you working on something else?

My current book is a totally different genre and level. It’s a middle grade multicultural novel called Dias de los Muertos:Days of the Dead. It’s based mostly on my husband’s own experiences being the only Mexican boy in an otherwise all-white town, and how he tried to keep his family together when his abusive father died and left the family to fend for themselves. There are elements of the supernatural toward the last part of the book, but it’s a very different type of book. Now that I’ve finished Dias up, I may be revisiting Ana’s world again, though. I miss her and I feel like some of the other characters in Devil May Care have more stories to tell.

When you are not writing, what do you like to do?

My family keeps me fairly busy! My kids are still in Elementary school, so I do a lot of PTO, soccer games, orchestra programs, and other kid stuff with them. I love hanging out with my husband—he’s hilarious and we have a lot of fun together. We have a few pets in our family: a dog named Zoey, a cat named Shakespeare and a crested gecko named Marty. I also love learning more about natural healing therapies like essential oils and herbs. And, of course, I love reading.

Since I am a school librarian, I have to ask you about your librarian job. What type of school? What is your favorite part of being a school librarian?

I’m a librarian at Denver Academy, a private school for 1st-12th grade students with learning differences. I’ve been there for 17 years—all of my adult working life—and I love it. My favorite part of being a school librarian is helping students make connections. I love when students realize that the library can be a fun, exciting place. I love when things “click” and students understand more about researching. And I especially love when I help a student connect with the right book for them. That’s almost like magic!

I was thinking of the students I work with when I wrote Devil May Care. I wanted to write a book that wasn’t too long and intimidating with a font size that was comfortable to read. I also wanted to write a book that would be fun for them to read and hopefully one they could connect with.

Please, what else do you want us to know about you or your book? Feel free to add any additional comments!

I guess my parting words would be this: we all have various interests or passions in our lives. I feel that it’s crucial to nurture those passions or we risk losing our true selves.

I had a dear friend, Rae, who passed away a few years ago, and before she passed, we always talked about writing. I’d tell her it was something I wanted to do “someday”, but I never took steps toward making my dream a reality. Rae was such a strong, amazing woman and mother, and her death made me ask myself, “What are you waiting for??” Rae was my motivator. She was the person who made me stand up and take a step forward; the person who made me realize that I had to work to achieve my dreams. In our busy lives, I think it’s easy to forget who we are and what nurtures our souls, and Rae reminded me of that. I’m so thankful for the gift she’s given me, and I hope her memory inspires others.

Thank you so very much, Annette, for your time and your help in spreading Ana’s story! J

Thanks Jolene for sharing a little about you and your book with us!

Jolene Ballard GutiĆ©rrez grew up on a farm in northeastern Colorado. She still lives in Colorado with her husband, daughter, and son. Her day job is that of a teacher/librarian, but she’s either writing or reading when she has some spare time.

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2011 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Last Day of School Blog Hopping

It is officially the last day of school for me today. I work some over the summer, so I'm in my library pretty often, but today I went through the shelves and picked all the books that I wanted to read over the summer. Well, the ones that were returned -- I'm still waiting for some to come back. So here's a picture of the stacks behind my desk. I'll bring them home a few at a time. The stacks on the left and right are for our state's reading incentive programs, and I'm trying to read as many of those as I can, since I have to give book talks to our area school librarians in July. The two middle stacks are just books that I've had on my TBR. So, do you think I can make it? I think I can. I will have more time to read, and hopefully I can read most of these in the next three months. Wish me luck!

From Parajunkee's View, this weeks Follow Friday question:

Q. How many books do you read in a week? And in what format do you read them, or listen to them?

Currently I read about 3 - 4 books per week. I can't always keep that pace, but lately that's what I've been able to do. I'm also always listening to a book in the car, but those usually take me a couple of weeks to finish.

From Crazy-for-Books, this week the question is:

"What book-to-movie adaption have you most liked?  Which have you disliked?"

I'm usually disappointed in book-to-movies. I guess Harry Potter comes to mind as a good one. I think Holes was pretty good. I can't think of any really bad ones right now, but I know there are a lot of them! I'll add them later if I can think of any.

Have a great weekend everyone. Thanks for visiting. I hope to get to hop and follow a little later today!

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2011 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Review: Devil May Care, by Jolene Ballard Gutierrez

Devil May Care is an exciting tale of angels and demons, danger and romance. 

Strange things begin happening to Ana—things like spontaneously flying through the air—and she is understandably concerned. While at the library searching for information that may help, she discovers that one of the librarians, Gabrielle, is an angel. Gabrielle gives Ana a secret book and offers to help train her to control her powers. It turns out that when Ana was a baby, an angel took over her body. Angels are here on earth to help people be good – because there are demons on earth who are here to turn people to the bad side.

Ana is instantly attracted to Dylan, a new boy at school. And the feeling is mutual. As they become acquainted, Ana’s new powers allow her to see that Dylan is a demon. But how could she be so attracted to something so evil? Dylan claims that not all demons are evil, and he tries to do good, just like the angels. Ana cannot resist his charms and a romantic relationship begins. But everything goes bad; there’s a murder. Dylan disappears; and Ana isn’t sure of anything anymore.

The plot moves along nicely. I felt emotionally attached to Ana and Dylan, and there are other characters that are interesting and contribute to the story. Ana actually has parents that seem to take part in her life. It was easy to tell that good or evil was not going to be determined by whether one is an angel or a demon. Nirea is a perfect angel gone bad—really hated her from the very beginning. The ending was very tense and had my heart pounding. 

There were a couple of things that bothered me about the book. There is “instalove.” I didn’t feel that it was realistic that Ana sees Dylan one day, goes out on her first date a short while later, and very soon is falling into bed with him. She didn’t seem mature enough, and the relationship was unrealistic. A slower progression would have made this more believable.

A couple of scenes were a bit confusing. The church scene, in particular, required some re-reading for me to understand what was going on. I needed a few more details. Sometimes emotions seemed to change a bit too quickly, and the flow seemed a bit choppy. These angels come from heaven and the demons are from hell. The book isn’t preachy, but there is an unavoidable religious element. That was fine with me, but I think it’s worth mentioning.

Gutierrez has written a well-thought-out story that had no problems keeping my interest. There weren’t any huge surprises or twists, but I was still somewhat out of breath at the end of the book. I would recommend this to teens who enjoy a paranormal romance with a bit of a thrill.

Self published
Copy obtained from the author for review
266 pages

Rating: 3/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2011 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: Wish You Were Dead, by Todd Strasser

Wish You Were Dead was very high on the creepiness scale! I had some minor problems with the book, but overall I never suspected who the bad guy was, and the book kept me on the edge of my seat.

It’s a bit confusing at the beginning, because of the different formats. First we are introduced to some blog entries. Then there’s a third person narrative, about Lucy, who apparently gets abducted. Then a narration starts, and it takes a while to figure out who the narrator is. Is she/he one of the bloggers? Is it the abductor? Finally you figure out that this is a new character, Madison, who is our first-person narrator.

The tension builds as rich, popular teens begin to disappear in the small town of Soundview. Madison tells most of the story. She is also from a very wealthy family and these disappearing students are her friends.  I liked the way the story flowed, once it got going. I felt the frustration and anguish of the teens in the story, and like I said, I didn’t figure it out until the very end.

I was bothered, once again by the absence of parental supervision for a lot of these kids. I just don’t think, after what has happened, that all the parents would continue to take their business trips and work their long hours and leave their children to fend for themselves. I thought, at times, the teen’s decisions were too stupid to be believed. So your friends are disappearing, and you’ve been told to do everything in pairs or groups, and you talk your friends into letting you walk home alone.  No way.

Or, you maybe figure out who you think is responsible for these crimes, and rather than let the authorities know, a couple of unarmed, unprepared teens go try to find their friends.  Again, no way.

This is another book about bullying, in which the person being bullied is out for revenge, and in this case, in a very violent way. I’m not sure the anti-bullying message is that strong in this book, but it’s a good, thrilling mystery with some interesting twists. I’d recommend this to my thriller/suspense lovers without reservation.

I’ve posted about the Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award previously. This book is one of the 2012 nominated titles, and that’s why I read it.
Published by Egmont, 2009
Copy obtained from the library
236 pages

Rating: 3/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2011 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: Love is the Higher Law, by David Levithan

David Levithan does a great job in Love is the Higher Law showing the impact of September 11 on the lives of three teens living in New York City. The story is told alternating between their points of view, and eventually their paths cross and they become friends.

The language in the book is beautiful. Levithan says in the Author’s Note that much of this language was from observations of his during this time, since he experienced 9/11 first hand.

The best way for me to review this book is to give you some of those quotes. I’m usually not a big “quoter” but we all know what this story is about, so it’s the emotional connection that is important in this book:

“It’s not about them, really,” I said. “It’s just about me.”

I knew how monstrous that sounded—I knew September 11th wasn’t about me. But my reaction to September 11th—that was entirely about me. (p. 59)

I can tell: These are people like me. The relocated. They have not been sleeping in their own beds. They are wrecked by the devastating side effects of such helplessness, most notably insomnia. …..I don’t make eye contact with them. I’m afraid of their stories. That’s what it’s been like lately—we have the ability to glimpse each other as souls. Damaged, frightened, confused, caring souls. (p. 71)

I think that if you were somehow able to measure the weight of human kindness, it would have weighed more on 9/11 than it ever had. On 9/11, all the hatred and murder could not compare with the weight of love, of bravery, of caring. I have to believe that. I honestly believe that. I think we saw the way humanity works on that day, and while some of it was horrifying, so much of it was good. (p. 106)

We have children growing up now who don’t remember this event. This book would be an excellent choice as a learning tool. I would suggest pairing it with With Their Eyes: September 11--The view from a high school at ground zero, edited by Annie Thomas. Whether an adult or teen, if you haven’t read both of these, you should. There really isn’t a reason not to.

I’ve posted about the Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award previously. This book is one of the 2012 nominated titles, and that’s why I read it.

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2009
Copy obtained from the library
163 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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