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It’s a History Mystery! Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould

Hello again!  Today’s book review is about a book I read for the 2012 Debut Authors Challenge hosted by The Story SirenCross My Heart by Sasha Gould.

Venice, 1585.  When 16-year-old Laura della Scala learns that her older sister, Cross My Heart by Sasha GouldBeatrice, was drowned, she is given no time to grieve. Instead, Laura’s father removes her from the convent where he forcibly sent her years earlier and orders her to marry Beatrice’s fiancé, a repulsive old merchant named Vincenzo. Panicked, Laura betrays a powerful man to earn her way into the Segreta, a shadowy society of women who deal in only one currency—secrets. The Segreta seems like the answer to Laura’s prayers. The day after she joins their ranks, Vincenzo is publicly humiliated and conveniently exiled. Soon, however, Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death was not a tragic accident but a cold-blooded murder—one that might involve the Segreta and the women she has come to trust.

I must admit I was drawn to the cover of Cross My Heart.  I mean look at it — it is gorgeous!  I love the way in which the girl’s gown become the image of Venice with the buildings, canals and gondolas.  Gorgeous and smart.  Smart because Venice is almost a character in and of itself in this book so it makes sense to feature it on the cover.

When I was a Social Studies teacher (before I was a librarian) the 7th grade curriculum covered the history of the Mayas in ancient Latin America.  We studied their culture and the fact that, although there are many theories, no one really knows exactly why the Mayas abandoned their cities.  The Mayas were a history mystery, as I’d tell the class to help them differentiate between them and the Aztecs or Incas.  So, I love my historical fiction mixed in with a bit of history.  Cross My Heart is just that.  The story opens with the mysterious death of a young Venetian woman.   Gould totally grabbed my attention with this one.  I was hooked and once I was hooked I couldn’t put it down. Also, there’s a huge twist that I totally didn’t see coming, but once it did it made total sense.

Sometimes when a story begins with suspense like this one, it starts to fall off towards the middle, but I was pleasantly surprised when the story continued to intrigue me.  One of the major driving forces of this continued interest was the Segreta.  I love the idea of a secret society of powerful Venetian women using secrets to pull the strings of politics in the city.  I only wish we could have seen a little more of the Segreta and the way in which they use their power (maybe a sequel?).

Cross My Heart is a light, but suspense filled historical fiction debut that I would recommend to readers who like some mystery mixed in with their history!  I think older teen girls would enjoy this one more than boys as well (since there is a hint of romance too!).

Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould 2Also, there is another cover I keep seeing floating around but I’m not sure which is the official one.  It  lends the book an extra air of intrigue, and would appeal more to teen readers, but I just love one above.

Author: Sasha Gould

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books (March 13, 2012)

Format: Ebook ARC from NetGalley (THANK YOU!)

Length: 272 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: Cross My Heart

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An Unlikely Heroine: May B., A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose

Before we focus on the review, don’t forget there is still a few more hours to enter the Tempest Audiobook Giveaway! Okay, now to the book review!

May B by Caroline Starr Rose

I’ve known it since last night:
It’s been too long to expect them to return.
Something’s happened.

May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again.

May B.: A Novel is Caroline Starr Rose’s debut into middle grades fiction and I’m so happy I got to read it as a part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge, which is being hosted by The Story Siren. Plus that cover is gorgeous!

May B. is written in verse so the story reads very quickly – seriously, I read it in less than 24 hours! Although I adore historic fiction, I must admit it can sometimes be slow, but this story is anything but. The writing moves you along and the reader can really sense the feeling of panic that the main character is experiencing.

The main character, Mavis Elizabeth Betterly or May B., is a rather unlikely heroine. May B. is a twelve-year-old girl struggling with dyslexia and living on the Kansas prairie with a family not her own. She was sent away to help a newlywed couple so as to help bring in some money for her family, but the couple leaves her all alone during a threatening prairie winter, and May B. is forced to fend her herself. The story is told through the eyes of May B., so the reader understands May B.’s fears, insecurities, memories and courage in a deep way.

May shares a lot of her struggles with reading while she is attempting survival. She doesn’t understand why the words on the page refuse to cooperate with her, and she doesn’t understand why everyone thinks she’s stupid when she’s not. I really appreciate Rose’s interest in the history of America’s education system and have often asked myself the question of how did students with disabilities fare in the largely reading, writing, and repetition centered classroom. Probably not so well, and May B. sheds light on this reality in a powerful way.

Historical fiction can be a hard sell to middle grade readers (it barely gets checked out in my Media Center), but the quickness of the story may allure some potential readers. I am going to buy this one for my Media Center and I recommend May B. to middle grade readers and older (actually older elementary age kids would enjoy it as well). Teachers could also use May B. in the classroom as it is a manageable length but packed with tons of curriculum connections.

Do you know of any other middle grades historical fiction titles that deserve some love? If so, please share them!

Author: Caroline Starr Rose

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (January 10, 2012)

Format: e-book ARC (NetGalley)

Length: 240 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: May B.

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Rumors and Consequences: In Too Deep by Amanda Grace

Looks like a good day for a book review! But before we get to that, don’t forget you can still enter the Tempest Audiobook Giveaway until February 19!

In Too Deep by Amanda GraceI never meant for anyone to get hurt. All I wanted to do that night was make a play for Carter Wellesley. His heartless rejection was mortifying, but people got the wrong idea when they saw me leaving his bedroom, crying. That’s how rumors of rape started.

Now girls at school are pouring out their sympathy to me. Guys too. But not everyone’s on my side. The school has become a war zone and the threats are getting scary. What began as poetic justice has morphed into something bigger–forcing me to make a terrible choice.

I received In Too Deep by Amanda Grace from the publisher (Thank you Flux Books!) and was interested from the moment I read the jacket summary.

Although the plot of In Too Deep deals with sexual assault and rape, the story’s main plot line focuses on lies and how you can’t erase them.

One of the first things I noticed about this book is the honesty of the supporting characters. Take Nick for example. He is Sam’s best friend and has been for years. Although he does cherish their friendship and Nick is loyal, he is not afraid to call out Sam when she is wrong. Nick is not scared to say the things that may be difficult for Sam to hear, he knows its better for her to heat them. I appreciate this kind of loyalty and friendship portrayed in YA fiction, because often friends can be portrayed at loyal to a fault. This is reality. Real friendship is like that; real friends love you and aren’t hesitant to bring up the hard stuff.

Grace has written Sam’s character well. Sam is nowhere close to being perfect. The story starts with Sam making a dumb decision in an attempt to get a boy to notice her and then it’s like a dumb decision snowball that keeps getting bigger and bigger (I kept yelling at Sam in my mind!). Although Sam didn’t intend for the false rumors of rape to circulate around school, she also does nothing to stop them. Sam knows she’s in the wrong and has good intentions to put the stories to rest, but she just never gets up the courage to actually end it. Sam is a good person, but she makes bad mistakes. Sounds like me at that age and almost every other teenager I’ve ever known, which is why I think Sam’s character is well written. I think readers can relate to Sam.

Now, to the ending (without spoilers), I absolutely loved the ending especially the last few sentences (which I want to post but can’t because that would be wrong!). In the midst of tons of hardship and difficulty (brought on by the main character by herself) there is hope on the horizon, which is what made me really like this book.

Some people may be uncomfortable about middle schoolers reading In Too Deep based on the intense subject matter, but I think the lesson learned by the main character in the end is an important one for middle grade readers. That is why I would recommend this book to older middle schoolers and up who are looking for a realistic contemporary read.

Author: Amanda Grace

Publisher: Flux Books (February 8, 2012)

Format: Print ARC

Length: 228 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: In Too Deep

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Tempest Audiobook Giveaway

Tempest by Julie CrossI read Tempest by Julie Cross as part of the 2012 Debut Authors Challenge and as part of the 2012 YA Audiobook Challenge.  It’s a fun read and you can check out my review of Tempest here.

I really enjoyed the Tempest audiobook and actually received it directly from the publisher so a HUGE thank you goes out to Macmillan Audio!  Since I’ve finished listening to it, I decided it was time to share the wealth and let someone else have the chance to enjoy this time travel love story (especially since its so close to Valentine’s Day!).

In case you haven’t heard of Tempest (and didn’t see my review), here is a summary of the book.

The year is 2009.  Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy… he’s in college, has a girlfriend… and he can travel back through time. But it’s not like the movies – nothing changes in the present after his jumps, there’s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors – it’s just harmless fun.

That is… until the day strangers burst in on Jackson and his girlfriend, Holly, and during a struggle with Jackson, Holly is fatally shot. In his panic, Jackson jumps back two years to 2007, but this is not like his previous time jumps. Now he’s stuck in 2007 and can’t get back to the future.  Desperate to somehow return to 2009 to save Holly but unable to return to his rightful year, Jackson settles into 2007 and learns what he can about his abilities.  But it’s not long before the people who shot Holly in 2009 come looking for Jackson in the past, and these “Enemies of Time” will stop at nothing to recruit this powerful young time-traveler.  Recruit… or kill him.

Piecing together the clues about his father, the Enemies of Time, and himself, Jackson must decide how far he’s willing to go to save Holly… and possibly the entire world.

Hopefully that whet your appetite!

Okay! So, how do you enter this giveaway? Well, there is just one step to enter. All entries must be completed by Sunday February 19, 2012 (midnight Eastern Standard Time).

Fill out the form below. Only name and email address are required – the other options just give you extra entries!

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This giveaway is only open to U.S. residents. I will announce the winner on Monday February 20, 2012 on a special winner post. That person will have 48 hours to email me their mailing address or I will select another winner.

I’m really excited and hope you are too!

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Currently Reading

As usual I’m reading a ton of books all at the same time.  How I manage this, I have no idea! This time around I’m in the middle of some audiobooks, e-books and print copies.  Here they are:

On Audiobook

Dont Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter (MG/YA)

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (listening with my husband so this may take longer to finish) (YA)

Print

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George In Too Deep by Amanda Grace

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George (MG)

In Too Deep by Amanda Grace (ARC) (YA)

Ebooks

May B A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose

May B.: A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose (MG)

I have no idea when I’ll actually finish these, but there they are!  What are you currently reading?  Any suggestions for my “Too Read” stack?

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Lets Do The Time Warp: Tempest by Julie Cross

Tempest by Julie CrossI was so excited to receive this audiobook of Tempest, Julie Cross’s debut novel, from the publisher!  This one counts for the 2012 Debut Authors Challenge and the 2012 YA Audiobook Challenge!

The year is 2009.  Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy… he’s in college, has a girlfriend… and he can travel back through time. But it’s not like the movies – nothing changes in the present after his jumps, there’s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors – it’s just harmless fun.

That is… until the day strangers burst in on Jackson and his girlfriend, Holly, and during a struggle with Jackson, Holly is fatally shot. In his panic, Jackson jumps back two years to 2007, but this is not like his previous time jumps. Now he’s stuck in 2007 and can’t get back to the future.

Desperate to somehow return to 2009 to save Holly but unable to return to his rightful year, Jackson settles into 2007 and learns what he can about his abilities.

But it’s not long before the people who shot Holly in 2009 come looking for Jackson in the past, and these “Enemies of Time” will stop at nothing to recruit this powerful young time-traveler.  Recruit… or kill him.

Piecing together the clues about his father, the Enemies of Time, and himself, Jackson must decide how far he’s willing to go to save Holly… and possibly the entire world.

I have to say, this was a very entertaining read, even if it wasn’t one of my favorite books ever. I really did enjoy it.  I was attracted to the idea of a book about time travel.  Its kind of like a breath of fresh air among everything else in the book store right now (not that I’m complaining about whats out there, it was just nice to see something about time travel).  Now, the whole time travel thing could have been really confusing and Cross could have over explained the details and technicalities of Jackson’s time jumps, but she didn’t.  I feel like I know just enough to be satisfied.

Speaking of Jackson, the main character, I think he’s pretty cool.  Jackson is the privileged guy who on the outside has never wanted a single thing; money, girls, etc…  Except there is something he’s lacking a strong relationship with his dad and his little sister who died of cancer a few years prior.  Jackson is a mix or normal nice guy and snooty rich kid, and he knows how to play the parts to get want he wants or needs. Throughout Tempest Jackson definitely matures and grows into someone who isn’t just fooling around in life. He starts to realize that he didn’t know what he had until it was gone.

My only complaint was Holly.  I felt like she was kind of flat and bland.  Maybe she gets more interesting in the rest of the books?  Although I didn’t care too much for Holly, I was concerned about the other characters, especially Jackson’s dad and his friend, Adam.  I am still a bit confused in exactly what the Enemies of Time are and what they want to do, but I think I’m supposed to be since Tempest is listed as Tempest #1, meaning that we’ll find out more in the future.

The narration okay, but not the best I’ve heard.  There were a few times where the attempt at a Scottish accent (for a specific character) faltered.  Dr. Melvin’s voice was slightly annoying, but it definitely didn’t ruin the story for me or anything.

The ending (no spoilers I promise!) impressed me as Jackson was forced to make a choice.  I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next book in what is supposed to be a series.  Plus the whole idea of time travel makes me want to sing/dance The Time Warp song.  :)

Tempest is definitely a novel for high schoolers and up as there is some mild sexual situations and a lot of cursing throughout.  Science Fiction fans will be entertained with the time travel!

Also, keep your eyes posted I’ll be holding a giveaway for the audiobook later this month! Listen to a clip from the audiobook here!

Author: Julie Cross

Publisher: Macmillan Audio; Unabridged edition (January 17, 2012)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 10 hrs and 51 mins

Narrator(s): Matthew Brown

Series: First in a series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: Tempest [Hardcover]

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Not My Cup of Tea: Halflings by Heather Burch

I read Halflings by Heather Burch as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge.

After being inexplicaHalflings by Heather Burchbly targeted by an evil intent on harming her at any cost, seventeen-year-old Nikki finds herself under the watchful guardianship of three mysterious young men who call themselves halflings. Sworn to defend her, misfits Mace, Raven, and Vine battle to keep Nikki safe while hiding their deepest secret—and the wings that come with.

A growing attraction between Nikki and two of her protectors presents a whole other danger. While she risks a broken heart, Mace and Raven could lose everything, including their souls. As the mysteries behind the boys’ powers, as well as her role in a scientist’s dark plan, unfold, Nikki is faced with choices that will affect the future of an entire race of heavenly beings, as well as the precarious equilibrium of the earthly world.

When it comes to supernatural fiction I’m finding that I’m more interested in angels instead of vampires. I have nothing against vampires or the vampire trend in YA fiction, but I just never got that excited about it (except for Vladimir Tod; he’s pretty cool!). I just think that angels are infinitely more intriguing. That being said, I think this book had a lot of potential.

Anyways, Halflings by Heather Burch is centered around three halfling angels and Nikki, the girl they’re sent to protect. Nikki is a confusing character, sometimes she’s incredibly vulnerable and embracing the whole damsel-in-distress persona and the next minute she’s a stubborn, prideful girl who just can’t let herself be seen as weak. I didn’t dislike Nikki, I just didn’t get a good grasp on who she was as a character. She does however have her own interests (i.e. painting, karate, motorcycles) which is so refreshing to see, even if we only catch glimpses of these other sides to Nikki.

So, there is a love triangle and its very simplified. One boy is the good angel on Nikki’s shoulder and the other is the devil on her other shoulder; one halfling is moral, the other is edgier. Mace and Raven are much too stereotyped to be interesting, although I wanted to be as mystified by them as Nikki was.

The only two characters who I was actually interested in were Vine, the third halfling, and Vessler the sketchy friend of Nikki’s parents. Vine seems like a side character who would actually make a more interesting main character. I was disappointed when he wasn’t in a scene; he was the only one of the halflings who had any real life to him. Also, Vessler. Who is he? What is his story and is he good or bad; you’re still not too sure even at the end of Halflings.

I really wanted to like Halflings but I didn’t. I just wasn’t impressed. But if you’ve been wanting to read this one you should give it a try, just because I’m not a fan of a particular book, doesn’t mean everyone will feel the same way. I just felt like The conversation was a little clichéd and the story ends pretty anticlimactically. However, I do think some of my students would enjoy this book, as they love supernatural fiction. So, all in all I think middle school aged readers would enjoy Halflings, even though it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Author: Heather Burch

Publisher: Zonderkids (January 17, 2012)

Format: E-book (ARC from NetGalley)

Length: 288 pages

Series: First in a series

YA/MG: Middle Grades

Buy the Book: Halflings (A Halflings Novel)

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Kami Kinard (The Boy Project): Author Interview And Giveaway

One of my bookish/blogger goals for 2012 was to host a giveaway. Well, the year is still young and I decided to try it out.

The Boy Project by Kami KinardSo I will be giving away an Advanced Reader Copy of The Boy Project by Kami Kinard! This is Kinard’s debut into middle grades fiction and I really enjoyed it. Plus, author Kami Kinard is really awesome and agreed to answer some interview questions for us!

What are some of the authors or books that influenced you in any way as a writer?

Probably the most influential writers were the ones whose books I read as a child – the ones who made me fall in love with reading! I read every Nancy Drew book, every Hardy Boys, every Bobbsey Twins, and even every Beverly Gray mystery. I liked the sense of adventure.

As an adult, I think I’ve been influenced by all of the good writers I read. I try to pay attention to what they do that works. I really admire JK Rowling’s characterization and Cornelia Funke’s fabulous imagination and world building, for example. I love the way Jeff Kinney uses humor to bring us back to middle school.

What was your favorite scene in The Boy Project to write and why?

I like the scene where Kara and Tabbi are on the phone and Tabbi mentions that she likes Kara’s crush. This is written like a script, so I had to find a way to put beats into it. I think it worked out well.

Throughout the book Kara is focused on getting her first boyfriend. Tell us a little about your first boyfriend.

I try to forget about my first boyfriend! But I will say this: I was a lot older than Kara when I dated him!

Your website says you used your middle school journals to get into character for writing Kara. How are you are Kara similar and different?

Kara is a lot like who I was in middle school. She’s creative, fairly smart, likes to read, wants good grades, and, of course, a boyfriend. We are different in that Kara is much braver than I ever was. (Maybe this is why it took me a few more years to realize my middle school dream of achieving girlfriend status! ) Also, I would have NEVER waited until the last minute to throw together a science fair project! And I would have never ever ever tried to hide in a boys’ room.

Will you be writing more middle grades fiction in the future? Can you give us any hints?

I am working on another humorous middle grade now about a girl who has an identity crisis. So far it involves chorus class, a name change, a rock-star-wannabe dad, and a tuba. If I tell you any more, it’ll give it away!

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A huge thank you to Kami for taking the time to answer some questions! For more info on Kami Kinard check out her website!

On to the giveaway!

This is my first giveaway and I think it’s a pretty fun one! The Boy Project Prize Pack

One winner will receive an Advanced Reader Copy of The Boy Project by Kami Kinard and a fun prize pack full of bookmarks, tattoos, and bracelets (Thanks to Kami for sending these). I love the bracelets!

Okay! So, how do you enter this giveaway? Well, just leave a comment on this post between today, Thursday Jan. 19, 2012 through Wednesday Jan. 25, 2012 (midnight eastern time) and you’ll be automatically entered to win.

This giveaway is only open to U.S. residents. I will announce the winner on Thursday Jan 26, 2012 on a special winner post. That person will have 48 hours to email me their mailing address or I will select another winner.

I’m super excited and hope you are too!