The Compulsive Reader: January 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Exclusive David Levithan Video!

David Levithan recently came out with his first adult book, The Lover's Dictionary, a love story told in a dictionary format. To celebrate the release, I got the chance to ask him a few questions, and he responded--with this video!

What do you think? Will you pick up The Lover's Dictionary? I definitely recommend it!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with Dori Jones Yang!

Dori Jones Yang is the author of the fantasy-like historical novel, Daughter of Xanadu, and she was kind enough to take a moment and answer a few questions about her new release! But first, here's what it's about:

"Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin's determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the "manly arts" of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting 'dragons' and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier."

What inspired you to write about this era in time?

China has long fascinated me, but I knew nothing about Mongolia before this book. I wanted to write a book about Marco Polo, and I discovered that, in his time, China was ruled by the Mongols, by Khubilai Khan. So I started reading up on the Mongols – who were they? How did they eat, dress, act? What inspired them to conquer the world? Then I tried to imagine how Marco Polo would have looked through their eyes – from the perspective of a Mongolian girl.

What sort of research did you do in writing Daughter of Xanadu?

I read everything I could find about Marco Polo, Khubilai Khan, and the Mongols, as well as books about modern Mongolia. Then I visited Mongolia, twice, and traveled to places in China where Marco visited: Beijing, the Silk Road, Yunnan Province. I even found the ruins of Xanadu, where Khubilai Khan’s fabulous summer palace once stood. It was a thrill! Seeing these places helped me imagine the story of Marco and Emmajin.

What was the hardest part about writing this book? The easiest?

This book took me a long time to write, in part because I had to make the transition from just-the-facts journalism to fiction. I had to go deep inside my characters and understand their thoughts and motives. I had learned so much about the Mongol era that I had to keep myself from going overboard and including too much history. The easiest part is right now, getting the word out about why I fell in love with Marco Polo and why I created Daughter of Xanadu.

What are some of your favorite historical fiction books?

I love historical fiction that gives us a different take on history – especially the woman’s perspective. Philippa Gregory does this, as does Margaret George. The Red Tent tells a familiar Bible story from the eyes of Jacob’s daughter Dinah, and The Mists of Avalon tells the Camelot legend from the eyes of Morgaine. I also love a new novel about Mary Magdalene called Disciple, by Susan Little.

 Are you planning on writing any other YA books?

I am working on a sequel to Daughter of Xanadu, telling what Emmajin and Marco did after this story ends. I would love to write more YA books because this genre is so open and eager to explore new things. YA readers are terrific!

Please visit me at my website, www.dorijonesyang.com to find out more. I think you’ll also enjoy my book trailer video, designed by my daughter:

I’d love to hear your comments! Am I crazy to set a book in this obscure time period and place?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

For the girls of Longbourn Academy, prom is a big deal--designer dresses, media coverage, the works. And that's all well and good if you're rich, but as a scholarship student, Lizzie Bennet is neither rich nor excited for prom. In fact, she and fellow scholarship student Charlotte Lucas are mercilessly bullied and harassed on a daily basis. But lucky for Lizzie she has a best friend in her roommate Jane, who is the kindest person she knows. Then Charles Bingley arrives back in town, and Jane is smitten. Charles introduces them to his friend Will Darcy, and Lizzie immediately despises him—he's exactly like all of the other snobs at school. But Jane and Charles are always together, and so it seems are Lizzie and Will. As prom approaches and the mania intensifies, will the pair find that they've completely misunderstood each other?

Elizabeth Eulburg has created a light, fun, and modern retelling in Prom and Prejudice that will be a great source of entertainment for fans of the original tale, and will encourage a whole new generation of readers to turn to Jane Austen. Eulberg stays true to the original names and characters of Pride and Prejudice, though this story does deviate slightly towards the end as Eulberg throws in her own little twist, but still manages to stay relatively true to Austen's conclusion. Lizzie's pride and Darcy's prejudice are a bit more obvious in this retellingtale, and put in a modern day context, their differences make for some good scenes, though occasionally the dialogue does seem a little bit too formal for 21st century American high-schoolers. One thing that Eulberg chose to leave out was the presence of almost all parents, most notably the character of Mrs. Bennet, who plays such an obnoxious and large role that it seems odd to not read about her. However, despite the small omissions, Eulberg has created a funny, clever, and light book that will make it easy for teens to relate to the character of Pride and Prejudice and is a perfect escape from reality. This is a must-read for the Austen fan that loves all things Pride and Prejudice.

Cover Comments: I love the dress on this cover--so pretty! and the pink really makes the blue stand out. Very pretty, and a little sassy--perfect.

Review copy provided by publisher.

And of course, click here to learn more about the Twitter party with Elizabeth Eulberg and myself!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

(Twitter) Party It Up!

Exciting news--next week, I'm hosting a Twitter party for Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom and Prejudice along with Elizabeth and Scholastic! Twitter parties are super fun and exciting--there's going to be a Q&A session with the author, fun prizes, and you get to meet a lot of cool readers. Plus, you can stop by any time you want!

Here's some more info:

Join Prom & Prejudice author Elizabeth Eulberg and me for a Twitter party Thursday, February 3, between 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST!

  • Be sure to follow Elizabeth @ElizEulberg and me @compelledtoread before the party!
  • Join the fun! No one expects you or your tweets to be perfect; we’re just happy you made it to the party!
  • Watch for giveaways from @compelledtoread and win fun prizes!
  • To join the party, you can use a free service like TweetChat or TweetGrid or just search #PromAndPrejudice on Twitter.
  • Ask Elizabeth questions or chat with other partygoers—just use the tag #PromAndPrejudice in all of your party tweets!
  • Please don’t post any spoilers and don’t forget to pay attention to the time zones, the party starts at 8:00pm EST.
I hope to see you there!

Plus, look for my review of Prom and Prejudice tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley

Patty Ho is sick of not belonging. As a very tall half Asian, half white teen, she doesn't fit in with her mother's potluck group of Asian overachievers, and she certainly doesn't blend in at her white-washed school, where even her best friends sometimes make fun of her Asian-ness. But, the last thing Patty wants is to be the stereotypical Asian kid at math camp...not that she has any choice in the matter when her mom forces her to go, and Patty reluctantly acquiesces—anything to get away from home after a humiliating last day of school. So she's shocked when she finds that math camp is kinda fun...and there is one guy in particular that is not only hot, but mom-approved Taiwanese. Patty's newfound freedom is liberating...but will it all come crashing down thanks to her crazy, overprotective mother?

Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) is a hilarious and fun read that isn't afraid to delve into some of the tougher subjects, like bullying, racism, and long-buried family issues. The book is just a tad slow at first as Patty resists going to math camp, but once she gives in and goes, her story definitely picks up as many of her misconceptions are proven wrong and she finally loosens up and has fun. She hits her stride, makes new friends, and slowly begins to embrace who she is. But before long, Patty's mother bursts onto the scene and causes her to take a good, hard look at her family life and uncover secrets from the past that change her perception of herself and her mother, who has always seemed like the certifiably insane villain in the past. This is an excellent and realistic book about looking past stereotypes, finding the people who truly understand you, and seeing people in a new light. Headley's clever use of language and wordplay evens out the darker parts of the story, makes the book smart and comedic, and ultimately leads Patty to a happy new beginning. Nothing But the Truth is a fantastic, important book.

Cover Comments: I adore this cover! It's so pretty and pink, and I love the model on the cover--she's exactly as I pictured Patty. The thought bubble is cute, and I think it does an excellent job at conveying just what sort of book this is to potential readers!

Review copy purchased.

I also adored Girl Overboard (read my review here) and North of Beautiful (read my review here), both also by Justina Chen Headley.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cover Talk: The FitzOsbornes Are Back!

So, about two years ago now, I read A Brief History of Montmaray during my crazy-mad-read-everything-fast-fast-fast time spent as a Cybils panelist. And I adored it. It's really a unique book about a tiny little (fictional) island in the Bay of Biscay, the impoverished royal family that lines there, and how they face the impending threat of the Nazis in 1937. You can read my review here if you haven't heard about it, but if you have, and you've read it, and you loved it, then rejoice in this lovely cover I just happened to stumble upon...of the sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile:

Okay, swoon! First off (since this post is supposedly about the cover), don't you just love the light of the cover? I like how it is very white and pale with just a few pops of color. And I think that the model's pose and expression so captures Sophie's personality (or at least, how I'd imagine her to look when stuck in a boring social function), and hints at a double meaning behind the word "exile" in the title. The title font is also pretty awesome, but I'll admit, it's the words at the top of the cover that give me the biggest thrill--The Montmaray Journals, Book II. As in, plural. As in, more than two! Yes!

Anyway, enough of my babble...here's what the book is about!

"Michelle Cooper combines the drama of pre-War Europe with the romance of debutante balls and gives us another compelling historical page turner.

Sophia FitzOsborne and the royal family of Montmaray escaped their remote island home when the Germans attacked, and now find themselves in the lap of luxury. Sophie's journal fills us in on the social whirl of London's 1937 season, but even a princess in lovely new gowns finds it hard to fit in. Is there no other debutante who reads?!

And while the balls and house parties go on, newspaper headlines scream of war in Spain and threats from Germany. No one wants a second world war. Especially not the Montmaravians—with all Europe under attack, who will care about the fate of their tiny island kingdom?

Will the FitzOsbornes ever be able to go home again? Could Montmaray be lost forever?"

Woo! This one comes out on April 5th, 2011, leaving you with just enough time to procure A Brief History of Montmaray and read it!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Read the First Chapter of What Happened to Goodbye!

It's been a little while since we were lucky enough to have a new Sarah Dessen book (the last one being Along for the Ride nearly two years ago), but this summer is looking sweet indeed with the release of her latest book, What Happened to Goodbye. Granted, it is going to be extra hard to wait all the way until May, but thankfully Sarah Dessen has posted an excerpt, the first chapter, of the new book online for her readers. You can click here to read it.

What was the first Sarah Dessen book you read?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Taylor Markham's family history is sketchy at best. She has vague memories of moving around a lot with her drug-addict mom until she abandons Taylor on Jellicoe Road when she's eleven years old, where a woman named Hannah takes her in. Now a senior at the Jellicoe School, Taylor is at the head of the annual territory wars between the members of the school, the Townies, and the visiting Cadets. But her grip on life starts to slip when Hannah disappears without a trace, and she discovers that the leader of the cadets is Jonah Griggs...the Cadet she ran away with when she was fourteen, before a mysterious Brigadier brought her back to school. Left with only questions and random pages from Hannah's manuscript, Taylor must find a way to not only pull through the territory wars, but also put together the clues to solve the mystery of her past.

Jellicoe Road is one of those rare books that will blow you away with the exquisite emotion and raw power of the writing. The friendships, tragedies, loss, love, and discovery that the characters find in this book transcends time in the most heartbreaking and triumphant ways. The book begins with a tragic accident that occurred twenty years prior to the beginning of Taylor's story, kicking off a long string of events with a lot of characters that may be confusing to grasp at first, but the many plotlines soon straighten out as you become engrossed in the story. Marchetta does an excellent job at blending past and present, dream and reality together to bring the lives of Taylor and those close to her into focus for the reader, subtly guiding them through their trials and toward each other. The tone of the book is overall quite pensive, especially when Marchetta reflects upon the past, but it is not without some great humor and moments of hilarity as Taylor develops friendships through unlikely circumstances. The reader may be able to figure out the clues from the past more quickly than Taylor can, but just when you believe you've discovered the truth, Marchetta is able to throw in a few surprises. She also doesn't always come out and present her answers in a straightforward manner, but instead leaves the reader plenty of clues and indications for them to figure out the truth on their own time. Jellicoe Road is layered and unique, with one of the most perfect, poignant endings ever crafted. It's one book that you'll want to immediately re-read again and again.

Cover Comments: I have adored this cover since the first day I saw it. I love poppies, and the richness of the color on this cover is just gorgeous. I also really like the title font--it's unique and slightly whimsical, but yet so appropriate for this book.

Review copy purchased.

I was just so blown away by this book, I can't wait for check out more by Melina Marchetta, who is an Australian author. She has three other books available in the US (that I am aware of): Saving Francesca, Looking for Alibrandi (which was made into a movie in Australia, though the DVD can be bought in the US on Amazon), and her latest fantasy, Finnikin of the Rock. The first two are available in paperback for under $9! Have you read any of her other books? What did you think?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cover Talk: Be Still, My Beating Heart

So, I have this tiny thing for dresses. And pretty covers. So when you put a dress on a cover and make it pretty, it makes me want to read that book, regardless of genre, author, or plotline.

Luckily for me, I've read Janet Fox's work in the past (her first novel, Faithful, has a pretty dress and an even prettier view of Old Faithful on the cover), so when I saw this cover, I at least knew it had to be good and this pretty dress was just the icing on the cake.

Forgiven, a companion novel to Faithful, which will be released on June 2nd, 2011! Here's what it's about:

Kula Baker never expected to find herself on the streets of San Francisco, alone but for a letter of introduction. Though she has come to the city to save her father from a cruel fate, Kula soon finds herself swept up in a world of art and elegance—a world she hardly dared dream of back in Montana, where she was no more than the daughter of an outlaw. And then there is the handsome David Wong, whose smiling eyes and soft-spoken manner have an uncanny way of breaking through Kula’s carefully crafted reserve. Yet when disaster strikes and the wreckage threatens all she holds dear, Kula realizes that only by unlocking her heart can she begin to carve a new future for herself.

I am definitely interested in getting to know Kula a bit more in this book--she is an interesting character in Faithful, and I think her story will be good. I love all of Fox's settings--1904 Yellowstone, the park, and wilderness--they're just magnificent! I can't wait to "visit" San Francisco! And plus, anything that is historical fiction always gets me worked up in ridiculous fashions. I love it so much, it makes me say things like, "Be still, my beating heart."

What do you think of the cover (and the book too, of course)?

Plus, read my review of Faithful here!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kindle Fashion

You might have heard once or twice about how I recently acquired a Kindle...and I love it. I always have something to read on it and I take it with me absolutely everywhere--work, class, while running errands. It's very convenient to just slip it in my purse and go because it's so lightweight and thin. But, there are also downsides to that...I worry about it being damaged or scratched while rattling around in various bags. So, enter the New Yorker Kindle jacket.

I shopped around a lot before settling on this one, and I'll admit, the design of the dogwood blossoms really drew me to this jacket, and even though I don't read the New Yorker on a regular basis (have you seen how much a subscription costs?), it does make me feel a bit sophisticated. It's pretty, light, and it doesn't add a lot of bulk to the Kindle, but it's also durable, and that's what really counts. The Kindle fits into it very well, and is secured to the rigid cover by corner straps. The bottom two are made out of some sort of faux-leather to secure it into place, and the top two corner strap have a little bit of elastic to allow it to fit the Kindle perfectly. These straps hardly take up any space (which is nice, because I hate it when those things encroach on my device!), yet the Kindle doesn't slide around at all, and it is in no danger of falling out of place.

The interior is made out of a soft, almost fleece-like fabric, while the front cover is a stain resistant fabric with the image printed directly on to it. The back and the spine is a coordinating brown leather-like material. It's very easy to keep clean, and very sturdy, yet flexible. I can easily bend back the front cover and fold it behind the Kindle while reading. I have no qualms about slipping my Kindle into a bag full of books and other miscellaneous items and I don't worry about it getting scratched or damaged.

The cover doesn't fall open very often, which is good because it doesn't come with a closure of any sort. However, keeping it shut hasn't been an issue for me, so it's not a deal-breaker when it comes to this cover. It also comes with a little sleeve to mount an M-Edge book light, which I do not have. At $20, it's a little pricey for me, and I don't feel the need for it yet, but I might opt for one in the future.

My only wish with this cover is that the opposite flap came with some sort of pocket. I take a lot of notes while reading (outside of my Kindle's note-taking feature), and with regular books, I'd just use the index cards as a bookmark. However, I've found that slipping the cards behind my Kindle isn't always so secure.

The cost, $40, is not the most expensive I've seen Kindle covers, but it's not the cheapest either. It was a little bit of a splurge for me, but well worth the peace of mind, ease, and convenience that this cover affords me when it comes to using my Kindle--I can't imagine what's I'd do without it. However, it only fits the latest generation of Kindles (third).

The best part is, this cover comes in a total of five great New Yorker cover designs, some book-ish and some not, so there really is a style for everyone! Check it out!

Let me know if you have any specific questions about this cover! I really love it so much, I might even think about getting another one of the same with a different design, just to spice things up a bit!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

XVI by Julia Karr

Nina isn't like other teen girls, excited for their sixteenth birthdays and the mandatory tattoos they must receive, marking them as sexually mature to all the men of their dystopian world. Nina's mother Ginnie has always taught her daughters to be strong and to think for themselves, but that proves dangerous in their world, where the corrupt government controls the media and someone is always watching. When Ginnie is killed shortly before her birthday, Nina discovers that there is more to her past than she initially thought, and that her mother was directly linked to the heart of the underground rebellion. Now, with danger on every side, Nina has to make new friends, figure out who to trust, and try to carry out her mother's dying wish, which will lead her toward the father she thought was long-dead.

Julia Karr transports readers into an action-packed and dangerous world with XVI, similar to modern United States, but also very different. Set 140 years in the future, Karr's Chicago is bustling with activity and noise, a place where the government watches everything and everyone, but a rebellion simmers in random dead zones all over the city. This portrayal of the future is packed with details, from its own set of slang to descriptions of new technologies on both small and large scales. What is also very fascinating is the way that sexuality is portrayed, with the act of sex and gratification not only at the top of everyone's mind, but also the existence of acceptance for promiscuity, with federally funded pamphlets on how to flirt and date. It is believable that this is the direction in which we are heading as a society, but to read about it in full force is frightening. It is the source of much worry and consternation for Nina as she is determined not to become a "sex-teen", but yet can't deny her growing attraction for rebel Sal. Karr imparts a strong, positive message concerning peer pressure as Nina sticks to her values and decides that she can have a meaningful relationship with him without resorting to sex the minute she turns sixteen.

The pace of the book is a tad slow to begin with, as Karr is definitely an author who shows her readers her world and characters rather than tell them, but it's not long before Ginnie is attacked, thus prompting Nina to look into the mystery of her father's death and her mother's sudden decision to move her family and take a lower-level job, and causing her to throw up her guard as she has to evade Ed, her mother’s abusive and powerful boyfriend, and the threat of the government. Luckily, Nina is able to make some very good friends and allies, which provide an excellent support system for her and some comedic relief at times. The ending, however, is full of very real danger for Nina, with some fatal consequences, giving XVI its edge and tension, but Karr leaves the book wide open for a sequel that will be eagerly welcomed.

Cover Comments: Eh, this isn't the best cover in the world...I like how the girl's face is partially obscured with the title treatment, but this is a very dark cover and a little dull. definitely not my favorite.

Kindle edition purchased.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wishful Thinking by Alexandra Bullen

This book is the companion to Wish!

Hazel has been shuffled around from home to home ever since she was a baby, when her adoptive mother died in an accident. When she turns eighteen, she discovers the identity of her birth mother, and she sets out to find her, wearing a magical dress from Mariposa of the Mission. Hazel is devastated to find that her mother has passed away, and wishes that she could have known her. Her dress whisks her eighteen years back in time, to Martha's Vineyard. There, she experiences one lovely, perfect summer full of romance and surprises with her birth mother and the people closest to her. But Hazel still has two wishes left...can she use them to change her future?

Wishful Thinking is a lovely, sweet coming-of-age novel about finding the truth and discovering the strength and courage to face your future. Readers will really be able to sympathize with Hazel as she struggles to find her mother and understand where she comes from, and the concept of her wish taking her back in time is a enthralling. Bullen does an excellent job at putting her eighteen years in the past without pinning down any specific dates. The Martha's Vineyard setting makes this summery read seem relaxing and timeless, as Hazel gets to know a group of strangers who treat her with kindness and love. The experience causes Hazel to open up and develop the confidence she needs figure out her life after she gets to know her birth mother. Bullen inserts a few little twists throughout Wishful Thinking, some of which you'll see coming, but the ending is unexpected and bittersweet as Hazel leaves behind the people she comes to love and it lacks the confrontation many readers will expect. Still, Wishful Thinking ends on an optimistic note, and is a poignant, beautiful novel with a lovable heroine you'll be sad to bid farewell to.

Cover Comments: This cover doesn't match its companion's, but that's okay--I love the dress and the black and gold is really striking! I like this cover and how it incorporates las mariposas!

Review copy provided by publisher.

You still have time to enter this contest to win a copy of Wishful Thinking, and read an exclusive interview with Alexandra Bullen!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Unbroken Connection by Angela Morrison

I rarely, rarely, rarely read self-published books. Many times because they lack a proper editor, copy editor, etc., they just aren't as good...and I don't have the time or energy to weed out the few exceptions. But, Angela Morrison is an exception for me. Her first book, Taken by Storm, came out in 2009, and I absolutely adored it--I was even lucky enough to be quoted on the paperback. (Read my review here.) And then her second book, Sing Me to Sleep, was released last year, and I was once again blown away by the emotion and power of Morrison's writing. (Read my review here.)

So, I was incredibly disappointed when Morrison announced that unfortunately, her publisher, Penguin, was not going to purchase the sequel to Taken by Storm. I hoped they would change their minds, because although Taken by Storm leaves Leesie and Michael in a good place, if Morrison wanted to write more about them, I wanted to read it! Well, they didn't, but Morrison has gone ahead and published Unbroken Connection anyways! It's available on Amazon, both in paperback and as a (very cheap!) Kindle e-book! So, without further ado, here's my review!

Michael and Leesie are trying their very best to be just friends after their tumultuous senior year. Leesie is living her dream at BYU and Michael has the perfect job as a dive instructor, traveling on ships all over the world. But they can't seem to leave each other alone, through late night chats and long distance phone calls. Michael is ready to take the next step in their relationship and ask the big question, and Leesie wants to say yes...but are they too young? And are they both willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make their relationship succeed?

Fans of Taken by Storm will be happy to see Michael and Leesie's romance continue in Unbroken Connection, and they'll be rooting for them at the start as the couple struggles to keep in contact despite the thousands of miles of distance between them. The very beginning does seem to be a bit bogged down by the constant declarations of love and the expression of worries for the future, and the interactions between Leesie and Michael and Leesie and her brother Phil do get a little sappy at times. But, the book really picks up when Michael and Leesie begin to really make steps toward compromise and realize that they still need to do some growing up if they want to make their relationship work. Religion plays a much larger role in Unbroken Connection than it did in the prequel, though it focuses more on the miracle and beauty of it than the theology. This one is heavy on the romance, and there are a few smaller subplots that aren't very well fleshed out, though Morrison throws in a twist toward the end that is shocking, heartbreaking, and will change everything for Leesie and Michael. Readers will want to have the third and final book, Cayman Summer, on hand by the time they finish this second book, and will most likely be wishing for a boyfriend as devoted, romantic, and generous as Michael.

Cover Comments: I really like how this cover matches the paperback edition of Taken by Storm--it's very pretty and professional-looking!

Digital copy purchased.

If anyone has a Kindle and they'd like to read this, you can purchase it for only $3, or I can lend my Kindle copy to you! Email me if you're interested!

Also, you can follow Angela's blog (click here) to read Cayman Summer as she writes it. She's still writing, but she has estimated that it will be available to purchase sometime later this year!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Choker by Elizabeth Woods

Cara has never fit in at her high school. She hangs out with her fellow track team members and dreams of being noticed by cute, popular Ethan. But any hope of that happening is dashed when she starts choking one day in the cafeteria and Ethan's girlfriend, Alexis, humiliates her. But then Cara's childhood best friend, Zoe, shows up, having run away from her home life and desperate for somewhere to stay. Cara agrees to hide Zoe, and it's like old times. Zoe even manages to give Cara a makeover and a confidence boost, and suddenly she is making friends and even catching Ethan's eye. But then Cara's next-door-neighbor—and Alexis's best friend—dies under questionable circumstances, and soon after Alexis herself disappears. Zoe begins to act weird, causing Cara to seriously question what sort of person her friend has become.

Choker is a quick, unsettling read, but overall it feels a bit lacking. As a reader, you can't help but feel sorry for Cara—she is bullied at school, overlooked by her track teammates, her parents are always absent, and her own mother seems to love her cat more than her daughter. When Zoe arrives, it's almost easy to forget her unsettling behavior and underhand jabs at Cara when Cara undergoes a slightly clich├ęd transformation, complete with a new look and a pep talk to boost her confidence, and actually begins to make friends and put herself on Ethan's radar. This part of the book isn't so interesting, but what keeps you reading is the unease Cara begins to feel around Zoe, and then curiosity—just what did happen to those mean girls? The more savvy reader will pick up on the big twist about thirty pages before its reveal, but even if you don't guess at it beforehand, it doesn't turn out to be very satisfactory as Woods ends the book with a lot of questions about logistics, and the lack of certain characters' reactions and other repercussions make the denouement seem hollow. Choker is a good choice if you're looking for a quick mystery with a shocker ending, but the fact that Woods didn't really deal with a lot of meaty issues she brings up makes this book fall flat.

Cover Comments: I love the cover--the pink and white are so pretty, and I like the starkness of the black. It works well together, and I think it conveys the overall mood of the book, how something pretty and light could contain something unexpectedly rotten.

ARC provided by publisher.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Red Glove by Holly Black

Cassel Sharpe always thought that he was the only one in his family who wasn't a curseworker, but then he found out the truth: he has the powers of transformation, the rarest—and most dangerous—ability there is. He intends to lay low: attend school and stay away from Lila Zacharov until the curse his mother worked to make Lila love him has faded. But all of Cassel's plans are derailed when Lila enrolls in Wallingford Prep, his oldest brother Philip is murdered, and the feds try to recruit him. Caught between the mob and the government, Cassel has to find Philip's murderer and play both sides if he wants to survive long enough to figure out just which side he's actually on.

Red Glove is as smart and sharp as its prequel, White Cat, but has a whole new element of danger as Cassel realizes just how deep into a life of crime he is when the Feds come after him. Cassel remains entrenched in the world of cons and crime, but yet he doesn't exactly become a criminal like the rest of the members of his family. He is clever, knows how to play a person, and isn't afraid to break some rules, but he still is concerned with doing what is right, which we can see this in his attempt to stay away from Lila, unwilling to take advantage of her while she is still cursed. Despite his best attempts though, she manages to work her way into his life, giving readers the chance to get to know her a bit better despite her messed-up emotions. Sam and Daneca also show up a bit more in Red Glove, providing Cassel with the opportunity to work on trust as he slowly opens up to them and it allows Black to reveal more of Cassel's world and its politics as the government and population deal with prejudice and secrecy when it comes to curseworkers.

After the spectacular con he pulled in White Cat, it's hard imagine that Cassel could come up with something better for the end of this book, but this con is plenty smart and it has the added emotional pull of being linking to the mystery of Philip's death. Red Glove is an electrifying, byzantine high-stakes sequel that raises as many questions as it answers and will leave readers' hearts pounding with exhilaration and danger.

Cover Comments: Ah, this cover is so fantastic! I like that it portrays Lila on the cover, though it is sort of interesting the way the red glove comes. I like the new style--it's a little edgier and seems to fit the attitude of the book a little better. Despite the girl on the cover, I don't think this is one that a guy will be afraid to pick up.

ARC provided by publisher.