Monday, March 23, 2009

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

The undead can really screw up your senior year . . .

Marrying a vampire definitely doesn’t fit into Jessica Packwood’s senior year “get-a-life” plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth—and he’s her long-lost fiancĂ©. Armed with new-found confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess. But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war—and save Lucius’s soul from eternal destruction.

From the description, I thought this would be another Twilight wannabe, but Fantaskey as put her own spin on the vampire trend. In the middle of rural Pennsylvania, Jessica lives with her adoptive parents and is starting out her senior year. The last thing she suspected was for her past to track her down.

Lucius shows up determined to fulfill the pact his and Jessica's real parents signed--their betrothal to one another. But first he has to convince Jessica that vampires are more than just a myth--that they are real. As much as Jessica tries to deny her birthright and her fanged fiancee, she slowly discovers that there is no avoiding the inevitable. But is it too late? Has she lost Lucius to the dark side and the school's head cheerleader?

Jessica remains determined to win him back and stop their families' clans from going to war. She ditches her role as an average high school student and embraces her position as a vampire princess. Overall, this was a nice twist on the vampire legend. Fantaskey dismisses many of the stereotypes associated with the dark ones and develops her own brand of vampire. She also shows it's not easy being a vampire--especially for a teenager.

Reading Rating:
This is another quick-paced book. If you enjoyed Twilight or like paranormal romance, you will devour this one in a couple of hours.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead. Though I could not feel paper between my fingers, smell ink, or taste the tip of a pencil, I could see and hear the world with all the clarity of the Living. They, on the other hand, did not see me as a shadow or a floating vapor. To the Quick, I was empty air.

Or so I thought.

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them. For the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen–terrified, but intrigued–is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

Whitcomb shifts the focus to the more paranormal aspects of her characters' story. Told from the perspective of a ghost, Helen's distinct voice is refreshing and intriguing. She is forced to remain tied to a human host following them throughout their lives. Only in their deaths can she move on to another host.

Even though the humans are a large part of her existence, Helen goes unnoticed. She reads books over their shoulders, whispers suggestions as they dream, and haunts their daily lives. Until one day after 130 lonely years, Helen can feel the eyes of a boy on her. Both terrified and excited, she discovers the true nature of this once unremarkable teenager. Everything changes for Helen and challenges everything she thought she knew about life, death, and most of all love.

Reading Rating:
Once again, I just flew this one. It was a powerful story, and I never knew where it would take me next. Just one note, I would recommend this for more mature readers due to sexual content. If you enjoy paranormal romance, be on the lookout for her newest novel, The Fetch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

By Motoko Rich

Among the vampires, dragons and dystopian futuristic societies that dominate young adult reading lists, a debut novel about teenage suicide has become a stealthy hit with surprising staying power.

“Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher, is made up of the transcripts of audiotapes that 16-year-old Hannah Baker recorded before committing suicide, interspersed with the reactions of a high school classmate who listens to them. Each tape reveals an anecdote about another classmate whose actions the girl blames for her death.

Since it was first published in October 2007 by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Group U.S.A., the novel has sold 158,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales. Unlike most books, which are customarily released in paperback about a year after hardcover publication, “Thirteen Reasons Why” has remained in hardcover, with word of mouth and the author’s appearances fueling sales.

“Death and dying has always been a popular theme for kids,” said Josalyn Moran, vice president for children’s books at Barnes & Noble. “Kids like to read about situations that are worse than theirs and figure out that ‘O.K., my life isn’t so bad.’ ”

The book enjoyed a short run on The New York Times’s children’s chapter books best-seller list last spring. Last fall the publisher released a revised hardcover edition that included a new Q. and A. with Mr. Asher.

Razorbill also commissioned the flagship New York office of Grey, an advertising agency, to develop a YouTube campaign featuring videos of a cassette recorder playing Hannah’s tapes, as read by the actress Olivia Thirlby, who played the title character’s best friend in “Juno.”

“Thirteen Reasons Why” re-entered the chapter-book best-seller list in November at No. 10. When next Sunday’s list is published, it will rise to No. 3.

“It was not a book where a whole house runs out and pushes like crazy, and you have to have success right away, because you spent all this money,” said Benjamin Shrank, publisher of Razorbill. The company paid Mr. Asher a low six-figure advance for two books.

With its thrillerlike pacing and scenes of sexual coercion and teenage backbiting, the novel appeals to young readers, who say the book also gives them insight into peers who might consider suicide. “I think the whole message of the book is to be careful what you do to people, because you never know what they’re going through,” said Christian Harvey, a 15-year-old sophomore at Port Charlotte High School in Port Charlotte, Fla. “You can really hurt somebody, even with the littlest thing.”

Ms. Harvey, who bought the book with a gift card last year, said she stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish it and immediately recommended it to friends. The school’s book group read the novel in October, and when Mr. Asher visited Port Charlotte in February, about 35 students bought a copy.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” was partly inspired by a relative of Mr. Asher’s who had tried to commit suicide. The idea of using tape recordings, he said, came from a visit to a casino in Las Vegas, where Mr. Asher used a recorded audio guide on a tour of an exhibition about King Tutankhamen of Egypt.

Something about listening to a disembodied voice made Mr. Asher, now 33, think, “This would be a really cool format for a book that I had never seen.”

At the time Mr. Asher, who had dropped out of college to pursue a writing career, was trying to sell comedic picture and chapter books for younger children. Before he sold “Thirteen Reasons” to Razorbill, he said, he submitted a total of 11 manuscripts to publishers. All were rejected.

He was working as an assistant children’s librarian and as a bookseller at a local store in Sheridan, Wyo., six years ago when he started reading a lot of young adult fiction. One day, he said, the idea for “Thirteen Reasons” just hit him, and he wrote what eventually became the first 10 pages that night.

The eerie, sardonic voice of Hannah, the suicide victim, came easily. The character of Clay Jensen, the boy whose reactions to the tapes provide another thread through the novel, was based on Mr. Asher’s own high school memories.

Booksellers have embraced the novel from the beginning. “I’ve read a lot of titles that are pretty dark,” said Kris Vreeland, the children’s book buyer at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif. “But not something that was specifically that kind of a format and never anything that really dealt with suicide from the perspective of the person who has committed suicide.” Ms. Vreeland said the store had sold more than 250 copies.

Mr. Asher was planning to write a lighthearted high school romance as his follow-up to “Thirteen Reasons,” but the intense feedback from readers, he said, caused him to abandon that manuscript halfway through. “I didn’t want them to be let down by my next book,” he said. Now he is working on a novel that “will go into the complications of high school relationships.”

That’s enough for fans like Gabrielle Dupuy, a 17-year-old junior at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, Fla., who heard Mr. Asher speak at her school. “As soon as he told us he was working on another book,” Ms. Dupuy said, “I was like, ‘Can I preorder it now?’ ”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future—between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

Think of this book as a combination of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village" and "I Am Legend" rolled all into one. Mary's world is one of a tiny village surround by the Forest of Hands and Teeth. All around her are the truths instilled in her by the Sisterhood and the Guardians. But what are they hiding? Is there more left of the world than Mary's tiny village? She has spent her whole life living on her mother's stories about the ocean and buildings taller than the sky.

But when the Unconsecrated turn on her village, Mary is forced to face the horrors that lie beyond the fence. Does the path lead anywhere? Or is theirs the only village left in the world? It is up to Mary to find out what the Sisterhood has been hiding from them for so long. Her only problem is that she is running out of time.

Ryan has created a dystopian society that believes they are the only humans left. This book pushes your boundaries and makes you questions the truths in your own world. It's not just another zombie book, but rather creates its own society with strict values. It continually makes you ask yourself, "What if...?"

Reading Rating:
Fast-paced read with plenty of violence and horror. There was constant action and terror, but the ending was less hopeful than I would have liked. Definitely not a happily ever after.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Evermore by Alyson Noel

Since a horrible accident claimed the lives of her family, sixteen-year-old Ever can see auras, hear people’s thoughts, and know a person’s life story by touch. Going out of her way to shield herself from human contact to suppress her abilities has branded her as a freak at her new high school—but everything changes when she meets Damen Auguste…

Ever sees Damen and feels an instant recognition. He is gorgeous, exotic and wealthy, and he holds many secrets. Damen is able to make things appear and disappear, he always seems to know what she’s thinking—and he’s the only one who can silence the noise and the random energy in her head. She doesn’t know who he really is—or what he is.

Alyson Noel's first novel in a new series has shot straight to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers. In Evermore, she has crafted a unique, paranormal romance. After a car accident claims the lives of her family, Ever has to pick up her life and move to Laguna Beach with her aunt. With her busy career, Ever's aunt does not have time to grieve or notice the recent changes in her niece.

Once the popular and beautiful girl, Ever works overtime to go unnoticed. Wearing hooded sweatshirts and headphones, she tries to tune out all the thoughts of the people around her and avoids their every touch. Then she's no longer the new kid anymore. Damen is gorgeous with an aura of mystery surrounding him, but he is the only one who can silence the thoughts in Ever's head.

But who is Damen really? What does he want with Ever? There is danger around every turn, and nothing is quite what it seems. Between dealing with her little sister's lingering ghost and Damen's rollercoaster of emotions, will she ever be able to lead a normal life?

The first installment in the Immortals series will keep you tuned in throughout the story. Though there are some dated cultural references, they seem to mock pop culture more than anything. This is a solid story with a very unexpected twist. Hint: There's no vampires here.

Reading Rating:
I loved this book and refused to put it down. I will admit it was hard keeping track of what color each aura meant, but Noel provides a guide at the beginning of the book to refer back to. Highly recommended.