Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books on my Winter TBR

As every reader, my TBR list is overwhelmingly long (and I’m sure after reading everyone else’s posts, it will get even longer). Honestly, there are so many good books out there that I’m extremely eager to get my hands on. Right now, I prioritize based on my library hold list, and I read based on the due dates (definitely a good system for an indecisive reader). Below are the books I currently have stacked up; I know I’m WAY behind on some of them, but I’ve been putting them off for good reason (mainly because my emotions aren’t ready yet). Instead of blabbing on and on (I know I'm wordy), I listed just three words that make me want to read each book. Do any sound good to you too?

The Scorpio Races The Living   Fangirl
                                              Out of the Easy   Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

1. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - Fear...Competition...Death
2. The Living by Matt de la Pena - Disaster...Survival...Action
3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - Rainbow Rowell (she, alone, makes me want to read this)
4. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys - Clandestine...New Orleans...Murder
5. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick - Suicide...Choices...Humanity

This Is What Happy Looks Like Allegiant (Divergent, #3)   Champion (Legend, #3)
                                             These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)   If You Find Me

6. This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith - Happiness...Fate...Coincidence
7. Allegiant by Veronica Roth - Tris...Four...need I say more?
8. Champion by Marie Lu - June...Day...enough said!
9. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman - Space...Catastrophe...Romance
10. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch - Abduction...Survival...Secrets

Friday, December 6, 2013

REVIEW: Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

Wild Cards (Wild Cards, #1)
Title: Wild Cards
Author: Simone Elkeles Website Facebook Twitter
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Pages: 342
Rating: 4 (3.5) out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.

Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain--people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?

First Thoughts: I’m really conflicted after finishing this book; I read it in a day, unable to stop at the end of each chapter, and yet, I found myself wanting more from the writing and the characters. Errr...

This is a fun, read-it-in-one-sitting kind of book. Let’s start with that. I picked it up on a Saturday afternoon and finished it, well, that Saturday night. I kept telling myself I’d stop at the end of this chapter...okay, the next chapter...well, maybe just a few more, until I turned the last page. It’s a smooth read that sucks you in from the beginning to the end.

Although I couldn’t put this book down (partially due to end of break procrastination), my inner reader was conflicted. There are parts in the book that just bothered me. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I figured it out: too much telling and not enough showing. Instead of showing that  Ashtyn had trust issues, the book just bluntly said it (over and over again). Instead of showing Derek’s bad boy side (which I still don’t believe), the book just told us. There are moments where character traits are told to the reader, and honestly, I didn’t believe them. There isn’t evidence (dialogue, action, thoughts, etc…) to back up many of the statements, yet the narrator just expects the reader to believe them. (On a sidenote: I do love a dual-perspective novel; we get both Ashtyn and Derek’s side of the story, which I really enjoy.)

I also feel like there are a lot of forced moments in the story - particularly the physically romantic scenes. In my mind, this book came dangerously close to crossing the young adult to new adult (or whatever you call it) line. There are sex scenes that, although not extremely explicit, are descriptive enough to make me a bit uncomfortable to give it to readers on the young end of the young adult spectrum. These scenes disappointed me, because they are so not necessary. If anything, they turn Ashtyn and Derek’s romance into a physical thing rather than a more emotional connection.

Lastly, I wanted so much more from the characters. I liked Derek a lot, and I thought he was the most well-written of the bunch, but I still don’t believe the bad-boy side. He got expelled for a prank, and that’s about it. As for Ashtyn? I think this is a missed opportunity for Elkeles. Ashtyn had the potential to be a strong female, a tomboy not afraid to be who she was. Instead, there are too many references to how hot she is and the football piece is barely there. I still enjoyed their romance, but I just think there was so much more potential to make their story even better.

I know this sounds like a bad review, but it’s really not. It’s more like a wishful review. I enjoyed the book as it is, but I just saw a missed opportunity for a knockout. If you haven’t read a Simone Elkeles book yet, you definitely need to (she’s like a gateway drug for young adult readers). And even with my disappointment, I’m looking forward to continuing Ashtyn and Derek’s story in the second book.

Final Thoughts: I know my students will eat this book up (as they do with all of Simone Elkeles’ titles), but I found myself somewhat disappointed. It’s an addicting storyline and romance, but there’s just too much telling, rather than showing.

Who Should Read It? Fans of Simone Elkeles, obviously, need to add this to their TBR list. Also, readers of romance - especially edgy, bad-boy books (although Derek isn’t really a bad boy) - will fly through this story. Although it’s pegged as a football book, I think sports’ fans will be disappointed because there’s just not enough football in it. If you want a fun, addicting romance, this is your book. If you are looking for high-level writing, maybe not so much (sorry, Simone!).

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

REVIEW: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg SloanTitle: Counting by 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan Website Facebook Twitter
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: August 29,2013
Pages: 384
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

First Thoughts: Beautiful story with a beautiful voice! All the Willows of the world - misunderstood kids experiencing nothing but heartbreak - deserve an ending like Willow Chance’s.

I completely understand the long list of awards for this book: An Amazon Best Book of the Year. A B.E.A. BUZZ BOOK 2013. A Junior Library Guild Selection. A Kids Indie Next List #4 of Top Ten Autumn 2013. A Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee 2014-2015 Master List. It’s a beautifully written middle grade book that crosses over into young adult and even adult (I sure enjoyed it).

Although this book is realistic fiction, I’m not sure how believable it is - there are a lot of inconsistencies and predictable moments - and yet,  I don’t really think that matters. What matters is Willow, and she is wonderful. Loved, loved, loved her voice throughout the novel. As I read her story, I could picture her in many of my misunderstood students (I also feel like Willow is on the spectrum even though it’s never explicitly stated). Students who socially struggle, students with unstable home lives, students who are too smart for their own good - Willow embodies all of them.

To me, the most beautiful piece of the novel is its unlikely relationships. Willow, Dell (her counselor), Pattie (foster-like mother), Mai (happen-chance friend), and Mai’s brother (who just might be my favorite character) come together to form the most unlikely of families. And, their message about family is why I loved this book so much: family isn’t about blood, family is about who you love, trust, and rely on. So, even though Willow’s story is a heartbreaker, the ending is one of beauty and joy (sorry for the spoiler).

I suppose I can’t say it much better than the list below. Here are seven reasons why you should read Counting by 7s (from the publisher). I wholeheartedly agree with all of them, especially number 7 (fitting, right?):

  1. Friendship.  It doesn't always happen easily, especially for Willow.  But now she has met Mai, a girl with enough energy to tackle the impossible, and one who sees Willow for who she really is.
  2. Oddballs. We all feel like outsiders sometimes.  Willow the genius -- who has mastered several foreign languages and medical-school textbooks all by the age of twelve -- certainly doesn't easily fit in with the crowd.  Neither do the other people in this story filled with terrific, memorable oddballs.
  3. Hobbies.  It helps to have something interesting to focus on, such as Willow's passion for nature.  When tragedy strikes, it is the simple act of growing sunflowers that first brings her some pleasure again.
  4. Laughing and crying. But despite the tragedy, this is a beautiful, satisfying book -- the kind that makes you see your own life in a new way.  And through the heartache, you will find yourself laughing -- at the wonderfully absurd moments that happen even on the hardest days.
  5. Miracles.  Those unexpectedly silly moments are miraculous.  This is a story filled with everyday miracles.
  6. Family.  And the most miraculous thing of all is a loving family.
  7. Willow Chance herself, whose heart leads her on a path to belonging -- a path that is surprising, exhilarating, and without a doubt, one you will never forget.

Final Thoughts: One of those books with a character that simply touches your heart! You can’t help but fall in love with Willow and root for the happy ending she so deserves!

Who Should Read It? Although it’s technically a middle grade book, I think it has mass appeal for readers of all ages. It’s a heartfelt story that connects on so many levels. I know I’ll be adding it to my high school classroom library. Fans of Wonder should add this to their TBR list. It doesn’t have a lot of action and adventure, but it’s a beautiful look at life through some unlikely characters.