Friday, September 30, 2011

You're Invited to a Party!

The Iron Knight Online Launch Party

When:  October 24th 2011
Where: Twitter
Who Will Be There: Julie Kagawa, Harlequin Teen & Special Guests!

Evening Activities:
  • Fun Giveaways
  • Cool Iron Fey Chats with Julie Kagawa!
  • Team Ash, Team Puck, Team Grim Games
  • Exclusive Behind the Scenes Stuff!
  • Super Special Announcements
  • And More!

Follow  @Harlequinteen for more updates!

Monday, September 26, 2011

SHOUT OUT 4 "SHUT OUT" by Kody Keplinger

Shut Out

SHOUT OUT 4 SHUT OUT! I was really looking forward to this book and was not disappointed in the least!  I was surprised however, to find that the story and the characters were not quite what I was expecting - they were better. (Btw, is it just me or does the cover model look a little like a young Liv Tyler?)  

Lissa Daniels is dating Randy, the quarterback for their school football team who, along with his teammates is part of the long standing rivalry with the school's soccer team.  (I was a soccer player girlfriend in High School so I couldn't help but be Team Cash by default from the Intro sincere apologies to Randy & the other guys.)  Lissa's tired of playing second fiddle to Randy's "boyeez" so she comes up with a plan - one which involves getting the guys from both teams to end the fighting/hazing by cutting them off, through a well organized sex strike. 

She's convinced that since guys (all guys according to her) are only concerned about getting, well, you know, and they won't be able to withstand the shutout for long, thus agreeing to give up the rivalry.  She enlists the help of the girlfriends from both teams and figures with the all the girls working together, they'll be able to reach their goal much faster.  Seriously, guys can't go THAT long without, know...can they?!  Time will tell. 

What Lissa doesn't count on is a) not all the guys are one track minded jerks, b) the plan begins to affect the girls in strange ways, c) the guys figure out what's up and declare "GAME ON!" and d) how her own feelings about a certain soccer player hottie could potentially blow her plan to straight to hades.

A couple of the key players in this game are Randy - Lissa's longtime boyfriend, Cash Sterling aka Mr. Unattainable and Lissa's library co-worker, Chloe - Lissa's current BFF (she's a hot mess & we kinda love her for that), Ellen - Lissa's ex-BFF (everyone should WISH for an "ex" BFF like her) and Kelsey. The best way to describe Kelsey is "Spit-Fire" - as in when she opens her mouth to speak, she literally burns those around her with her words and her primary target tends to be Chloe.

*Ironic Side note* When I took the FB "SHUT OUT" quiz before the book even hit shelves to see which character I was most like, guess who I got? Yep, 'Lil Miss Spit-Fire herself, Kelsey. Now, I don't completely identify with her in the book but when I was younger, I had someone tell me that when I opened MY mouth I breathed fire to which I responded, "Well, sometimes people need to get burned." Um, yikes! I've learned how to control my tongue a lot better since then, thank goodness!

The obvious and age old question at hand is whether or not these teenagers should even be having sex in the first place, let alone withholding it from each other.  Whether or not I agree with what they're doing isn't the point.  What this story DOES do is open up the topic for discussion.  In their first meeting, the girlfriends all appear to be on the defensive about what they are or aren't doing with their respective boyfriends and what they'll be giving up during this strike.  When one of the girls bravely admits that she's still a virgin, she's made to feel bad about herself at first by a couple of the girls while another comes to her defense. 

As the strike continues and the girls continue to meet for slumber parties as a way to check-in with each other, we find that several haven't been completely honest with how far they've actually gone with their guys.  Some have felt the need to lie to save face or to help their boyfriends save face.  This is unfortunate on so many levels because really, what's wrong with waiting?  Nobody should feel pressured one way or the other, regardless of your gender and it's pathetic that things haven't changed in the few years since I've been in high school. This may be a work of fiction but the same is true in real life. (Btw, the fact that those years are separated by a *cough* decade *cough* or two *cough* makes little difference, OK? It's still not cool.)

This uncoolness is emphasized is a conversation between one of the girls and one of the guys (I won't say who because it would be a spoiler of EPIC proportion and who wants that?) but it goes like this...

Girl: "It's just...I keep asking myself Why? Why wasn't I good enough to wait for?  What's so wrong with me that he could throw away everything for one night?  Why was sex so damn important?"

Guy: "No listen for a second..." (spoiler paragraph) "I meant that a decent guy - a smart guy - wouldn't have let something like sex ruin a good thing.  A guy with half a brain wouldn't have screwed things up with a girl like you."  

Now, I can't resist adding my .02 to this conversation because in reality, I was interjecting myself into it anyway and yes, I mean out loud, as I was reading it.  (sighs)  I've mentioned before that I tend to get emotionally attached to characters so this behavior really shouldn't surprise you.

Anyway here's how it looked as I read it (I'm in red):

Girl: "It's just...I keep asking myself Why? Why wasn't I good enough to wait for? (Don't.even.go. there.)  What's so wrong with me that he could throw away everything for one night?  (OH.MY.Gosh. There's NOTHING wrong with YOU!  He's the...grrr! I'm actually surprised he's still walking around with all his original body parts still attached.)   Why was sex so damn important?" (Trust me, it's NOT especially with that...guy. Someone who REALLY loves you WILL wait for you.)

Guy: "No listen for a second..." (I'm listening even if she's not.) "I meant that a decent guy - a smart guy - wouldn't have let something like sex ruin a good thing. (Tru Dat!) A guy with half a brain wouldn't have screwed things up with a girl like you." (Sighs...How can you NOT be in love right now? Seriously, offer to massage his lips with yours - I'm sure his are tired from all that exertion.) 

"SHUT OUT" also addresses stereotypes like why is it OK for a guy to be flirtatious with lots of girls but when a girl is, she's called a nasty name?  Likewise, when a guy sleeps around, he's championed for it but a girl is deemed a slut or a whore.  None of these are OK, in my opinion. The dangers of using sex as a weapon or as a tool for manipulation is covered and discusses what it means to be a "virgin" and how far one can go and still be considered one.

There are some things in this book that will no doubt make some potential readers a little uncomfortable, shoot, just the topic of that three letter know...the one that begins with an "s and ends in "x" makes many turn the color of a turnip.  There's also your teen speakage which makes the Mom in me cringe a bit but I'm not passing judgement here - if I'm honest, I could've used one of those black "bleep" bars stamped across my mouth for the majority of my teen years.  But if you look below the surface (much like you have to do with people) to the heart of the story, you'll find strong, courageous girls and guys who stand up for what they believe in and don't give in just because someone else wants them to give it up.   


I was taking a much needed break from schooling and happened to jump on Twitter this morning & saw this link... notice what it says under Ash's picture (I had to read it twice to be sure I wasn't seeing things.   To say I was "happy" is an understatement, unless of course, screaming & frantically clapping fall under the description of "happy".  My boys came running to see what all the noise was about and were none too happy about there not being any blood, bug or furry rodent to rescue me from.  Doesn't matter because it just became the BEST DAY EVER! :D

Sunday, September 25, 2011

all these things i've done ~ Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've Done
This was a great read! This is a fast paced story about, family, friendship, love, and the lengths we will go to in order to protect the ones we care about most regardless of the consequences.

The only negative thing I can say about this book is that my "Trilodar (the ability to tell that a book is part of a triology and/or series) didn't go off until I was 3/4 of the way through it. I was not ready for this story to end yet!

Imagine living in a world, our world where a) caffeine is illegal, b) chocolate is contraband c) water is so expensive it's rationed and d) anyone born in 1995 is ancient, one foot in the grave, on their deathbed, old.  Insane, right?  (Especially the part about caffeine being illegal - feel free to shoot me now!)

This is where the story of 16 yr old Anya Balanchine begins. The year is 2083, and the place is NYC.  Anya is the daughter of deceased, crime boss, Leonyd Balanchine whose family owns the Balanchine Chocolate Company.  (It would be like if the Hershey's were our country's number one crime boss family.)
Anya has two siblings, 18yr old Leo who is technically the legal guardian but was left with limited abilities after being injured as a child in a botched hit on their father's life (it killed their mother instead) and 12yr old sister Natty who is sweet yet precocious at times.  Their paternal grandmother, Nana, lives with them and seems to be their closet relative who isn't directly linked to the "family business" but she's on her deathbed (literally) and not much help to them other than sharing stories of a different, busier life when words had to be shortened to acronyms like "O.M.G." and her secret stash of Balanchine Special Dark bars.

Anya is smart, strong, pretty and incredibly selfless.  She's always putting everyone else first, almost to a fault and the sacrifices she makes for those she loves are both admirable and heartbreaking.  She does have a bit of a temper which gets her into some trouble but at times she exercises incredible self control in situations where others who were not as strong would crumble like a cookie.

Scarlet Barber is Anya's long time BFF and is everything you want in a best friend - she's loyal, honest, and she loves Anya and her family like her own.  She's a bit odd and somewhat of an outcast at school but she's definitely the one you want on your side. Go TEAM SCARLET!

Gable Arsley is Anya's ex-boyfriend and he's, well, pretty much an "ars".  He's cocky, good looking, and he's used to doing whatever he wants and getting away with it, even if it's illegal. 

Goodwin or "Win" Delacroix is the new guy at school and he's not only beautiful, kindhearted and smart but happens to take a liking to Anya and she to him.  The only problem is that Win's father is the new Assistant D.A. and doesn't want him to have anything to do with the daughter of a crime boss.  (Yeah, that kinda creates a problem for Dad's public image, dontcha think?)

Anya has no desire to be a part of the "family business" even as some of her relatives tell her it's her birthright.  (Birthright?!, what year is this anyway, 1980?!)  She wants nothing more than to live a normal, teenage life but is plagued by her last name and her father's criminal history everywhere she turns.  Ironically, she really wants to be a Crime Scene Investigator when she grows up, which doesn't exactly mesh with the family biz.  When things start to happen throughout the city and within the world of chocolate, people are hurt, blame is placed and Anya will be forced to make a choice between protecting what she loves most - her family or her true love.

** Personal side note **

One of the running themes in this book is Anya's Catholicism which I found both familiar and funny because I can relate to it.  When she's struggling with certain decisions (with Win) and whether or not she'll go to to Hell for it I couldn't help but laugh, especially in comparison with the magnitude of the family business and how they "resolve" their problems (Leo & Uncle Yuri).  Having grown up Catholic and attending Catholic school for years, I understand the "guilt" all too well.  Thankfully, I don't have to worry about that any more because understand now that it's about a relationship with Christ and not a religion. :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"We almost..."

We took a field trip to our local Science Museum today to take advantage of their homeschool days and had a great time with our friends.  We almost didn't go though.

We brown bagged it and my friend that we carpooled with offered to take our stuff back to her car after we finished lunch but instead we stored our things in the cubbies in the lunch room.  We almost left after lunch.

We ended up in the kids play room because that's where the way cool magnetic fishing is and the area is supposed to be for 8 yrs and under but they allowed my 11 yr old and my friend's 9 and 10 yr old in with their siblings anyway.  My friend suggested we take turns, one of us stay with the younglings while the other walk around with the elders but I declined.  We almost split up.

While I was waiting for my friend to come back from a trip to the restroom with a couple of the kids and I was in charge of the ones still in the kid area (with the way cool magnetic fishing!) I noticed one of the Mom's in a red shirt, looked familiar to me.   I couldn't put my finger on the why but that's not unusual for me.  The older I've gotten, the worse I am with remembering names and everyone seems to look familiar to me for one reason or another.  At one point, we were even sitting next to each other with only a computer screen separating us but I was zoned out (that time of the afternoon is my musthavechocolatecoffeeormommyneedsapowernap time.  We almost talked but didn't...because I'm a big CHICKEN when it comes to asking someone if I know them.  My husband? Never met a stranger. Like, ever.

The moment passed, my friend came back and so did my other one, our ride home.  We chatted for a little while and then decided it was time to head out.  We had to go back into the lunch room to gather our things when my friend, who we'd ridden with, was talking to the Mom (in the red shirt) from the kid's room.  Turns out they know each other.  My friend introduced me, "This is my friend Jen."  The woman in the red shirt asked if my last name was (insert my maiden name).  This startled me for a second because very few people from my present know me by that name.  My friend answered for me, "No, her last name is (insert married name).  I said, "Actually, yes, my maiden name is_"  Woman in the red shirt said (smiling), "I thought so. You're my cousin.  I'm _.  You haven't changed a bit."  As soon as she said her name, I knew who she was.  I almost fell over.

It's probably been 20 years since we've seen each other.  We were still kids ourselves and now we HAVE kids!  Crazy. Cool!   My oldest asked her, "Are you my cousin too?"  She answered yes, that they were first cousins removed several times. "Cool!" was his answer and then he walked away.  He was satisfied.  I'd almost sent him back for the lunch bags while I waited in the lobby.

We chatted for a few minutes and I couldn't help wishing we had more time.  I spent the rest of my day sharing stories with my boys about all the fun times I spent with her and her siblings.  Like how their house had the BEST places to hide for playing hide & seek whether it was inside or out or how we used to play this game in the basement where we tried to see who could make it from one end of the room to the other the fastest without ever touching the floor.  (I think we might have gotten in trouble for this too.)

One of my favorite memories though is when we tried to make french toast.  I had spent the night and all of us girls had woken up early and didn't want to wait for her Mom or Grandmother (who lived with them) to wake up to make breakfast so we decided to make it ourselves.  She and her sister (who I always think of when I hear the song with her name in it) assured me that they knew how to make french toast and they would teach me.  How hard could it really be?  I mean, all you need is bread, butter and syrup, right?  Sure!  So we're in their kitchen toasting bread, like in the toaster, putting butter on it and then drenching it in syrup and I was thinking to myself, "This doesn't look or taste like any kind of french toast I've ever had but I'm not saying anything."  Then my Great Grandmother came in and asked what we were making and when we told her, she took one look at our plates and started laughing.  She told us we were supposed to dip the bread in egg first and cook it, not toast it.  She made us throw out our version of french toast and made it for us the right way.
To this day, I can't make french toast without thinking about that morning and was JUST telling this story to my boys last week when we had it for dinner.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I ran into her today.  I think it was a blessing...and I could've missed it because we almost didn't go.  :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"We'll Always Have Summer" Series ~ Jenny Han

I've just read this entire series in the past 24hrs and have really enjoyed it!  I'm glad I had all three to read because I don't think I could've stood it if I had to wait years to find out what happened.  They tell a story of lifelong friendships, first loves, heartbreak, loss and the strength of family bonds.

The Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy: The Summer I Turned Pretty; It's Not Summer Without You; We'll Always Have Summer
In Book 1, "The Summer I Turned Pretty", we meet 15 yr old Belly Conklin (real name Isabel), her brother Steven and their friends Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher.  They spend every summer together at the Fisher's beach house at Cousins Beach with their Mom's, Laurel and Susannah "Beck" Fisher who are lifelong friends.

Belly, having grown up with "Beck's" boys has always been plagued by being the "little sister".  They've teased her, picked on her, done all the things that big brothers do and she's certainly done her fair share of annoying things to them, like being a tattletale or pouting just to get her way. The boys have always been close, like a club and have only allowed Belly a certain amount of access. All that's about to change this summer when she shows up and they see for themselves that little Belly Button isn't a kid anymore...she looks like a real live girl. Watch out boys!

Steven, Belly's older brother is the epitome of "big brother".  He's just the right balance of annoying and protectiveness.  He notices that his little sister has changed (which totally grosses him out) but at the same time he still wants to be sure she's OK.  He goes home early this summer so he can visit colleges with his Dad, leaving Belly, Conrad and Jeremiah to fend for themselves which creates an interesting predicament.

Jeremiah Fisher, (the youngest Fisher boy), is the closet in age to Belly and they're best friends.  He's the funny, out going one, the kid that everyone loves to have around, the life of the party. He's also pretty cute.

Conrad Fisher, the oldest of the group is more reserved, brooding almost and is the one boy that Belly has been in love with for as long as she can remember. (sigh) He too, is also pretty hawt. When she thinks about her "forever" she thinks of Conrad. The only problem?  He doesn't notice her, he never has, not any more than just plain old Belly.  At least, not until this summer...

Laurel and Susannah have known each other forever and have been through the thick and thin of it as friends. They've been coming to the beach house every summer since before they even had the kids and are like second mother's to each other's children.  Susannah jokes that Belly was born just so she could marry one of her Fisher boys and she would be happy with whomever Belly ended up with.  Susannah has a secret though, one that will forever change things at Cousins Beach.

Summer ends an there's both a new beginning and an ending in sight that will only add to the changes they've all experienced this year.

It's Not Summer Without You (Summer, #2)
In Book 2, "It's Not Summer Without You", we find 16yr old Belly in between her Junior and Senior year of high school but she's not spending her summer at Cousin's Beach like she's done every year of her life.  Instead, she's at home.  Things have changed over the past winter and leaving Belly hurt, confused and nursing a broken heart.

The only place that's ever felt like "home" to her is the beach house, but now she doesn't know if she'll ever return.  She finally finds her way back when Jeremiah calls needing her help with Conrad. Knowing it might be the last summer the three of them share together at Cousins Beach, she's willing to do whatever she has to, to make things right again.

We get to see and read from Jeremiah's perspective in this one which is a nice change.  It doesn't seem as one sided and it's always nice to know what's going on inside the mind of a cute boy.

We'll Always Have Summer (Summer, #3)
In Book 3, "We'll Always Have Summer", we find Belly a few years down the road and in college.  She's in love and happy or so she seems.  Is it possible to love two people at the same time though?  Truly love them?  Belly, or Isabel as she goes by now, thinks it is.  She hardly thinks about the boy who shattered her heart.  The boy she's loved since she was ten years old, mainly because she's with his brother now and she knows he would never hurt her.  Or would he?

I especially enjoyed this book because we were treated to Conrad's point of view for several chapters which only raised his hotness factor, not to mention the romantic tension.

In this final chapter of this trilogy which is full of emotion right up to the very last page. I was having trouble reading at the end because  I wasn't sure I was gonna like how it ended. But I did. (So. loved. it. sniff. sniff.) We see hearts betrayed, trusts broken, feelings revealed and tough decisions made and past ones explained. Oh yeah, did I mention that there are two weddings planned?! T-W-O! 

You'll have to read the book to find out whose marrying who though and if Susannah's prediction was correct.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tell Me A Secret ~ Holly Cupala

Tell Me a Secret

Wow, I started this book at 9pm and finished it at 1am.  I just couldn't put it down!  This is a beautifully written story about one girl's journey through family tragedy, love, loss and living with consequences of the choices we make.  Miranda, or "Rand" also learns some tough lessons about friendship, forgiveness and what it means to truly live life as yourself and not anyone else. Definitely a MUST read!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where I Belong ~ Gwendolyn Heasley

Where I Belong

This was a refreshing and humorous take on the recession.  Big city girl, Corrinne is forced to relocate to a small town because Daddy gets laid off and "Madoffed" at the same time.  She is a sassy, spoiled high school freshman who gets a major reality check when she heads to Texas with her brother to start her sophomore year at (gasp!) public school!  Gone are the designer clothes, parties, endless shopping sprees with Daddy's credit card and paid servants she's used too. She has to learn to eat real food - like with actual carbs, (the horror) and do things for herself (that pancake ain't gonna serve itself).

While in Broken Spoke, Texas aka The Middle of Freakin Nowhere, Corrinne meets some interesting people with strange names.  Kitsy, the head cheerleader is her only female friend but she's sweet and goes out of her way to make Corrinne feel welcome.  Hands is Kitsy's boyfriend and the quarterback for the football team and let's not forget, football is god in Texas!  Bubby is Hottie number #1, also a football player and all around good guy.  He's "sweet on" Corrinne but she pays him little attention because she has the hots for Hottie number #2, Rider, local stable boy and aspiring musician.  She learns all about Texas culture which of course includes football, tailgaiting and the ever popular rodeo which she finds is really kind of fun.  Through everything she experiences, from the loss of her life as she knew it to they way it is now, Corrinne learns that there's a difference between being disappointed and surrendering. (Thanks Grandma!)

I only gave this 3 stars because I felt like there were a few holes left in the storyline concerning Corinne's Mom, JJ and her history in Broken Spoke.  We were given a little information about her history with Dusty but then, nothing. (what happened there?) We're even told a little about what happened with her once she moved to NYC and met Corrinne's Dad, Cole, but again, it comes up short. There was also a lot of drama with Grandma going on that seemed to be glazed over too easily for me.  I realize this Corrinne's story but still, you can't just hint around about old flames and old history without eventually going into detail about it.  (It's like a guy telling a girl that he knows what's going on with her best girlfriend's relationship, because she's dating his best guy friend but he can't say anything about it.) Details!  We need details!

Speaking of details, what's the deal with Bubby?  The ball was dropped there as well, or would it be the horshoe since we're in Broken Spoke, Texas?  You can't give me a cover like that (you know how I love me a good cover!), tease me with all that cute romantic tension between he and Corrine and...the book ends?  Seriously?!  We don't even get to find out his real name.  That's like making me muck stalls, knowing I'm working up a thirst in the Texas heat, offering me an ice cold Coca Cola but when I pop the top and take a sip, it's flat. Soda is supposed to be fizzy, not flat.

Corrinne may not know how this story ends but I do, and it isn't the way the book does. 

Hades (Halo #2) ~ Alexandra Adornetto

Hades (Halo, #2)
First, let me say that I don't like giving a negative review of anything, especially something like a book because I know there's a person (an author) behind it but I also have to be honest and say I just did not enjoy this book.  I enjoyed "Halo", beautiful cover and all and was looking forward to reading this one but was disappointed. 

Maybe it was because Bethany spends the majority of her time in Hades aka Hell (all the heat, sadness and tortured souls does get a little depressing after a while) or maybe because I just wasn't as into the storyline like I was with "Halo", Idk.  There's a really slim chance it could be because there was a lot less of Xavier but I can neither confirm nor deny that.  I know the writing itself isn't stellar but I'm OK with that. I liked the lightheartedness of "Halo" and I guess I kind of expected a lot of the gloom and doom of Hades but I sure hope the third book, "Heaven" will be just that, Heaven. (Now, I have "Just like Heaven" by The Cure running through my head...)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Until There Was You (ARC) ~ Kristan Higgins

Until There Was You
Thanks again to NetGalley! I enjoyed this story which follows Cordelia aka Posey Osterhagen and Liam Declan Murphy (dark hair, green eyes, gorgeous - nuff said), the guy who broke her heart in High School and who comes back into her life 16 yrs later poised to do it again.

Posey is back living in the town that she grew up in and she has almost everything in life she wants, a home, a successful business, a boyfriend but then Liam Murphy comes waltzing back into town and everything changes. He's the guy all the girls wanted and she crushed on (BIG TIME) through most of High School but he's also the one who ruined Prom for her. (way to go Liam!) Try as she might, she can't seem to fight those old feelings (the good, the bad, the lustful) that pop up every time he's around but neither can the other women in town who continue to throw themselves at him just like the old days. (These women are pathetic enough to make the legendary Tom Jones jealous).

One of the things that Posey has learned over the years is to be more comfortable in her own skin. She's tiny (like she has to shop in the kids section for clothes; small) and doesn't view herself as traditionally beautiful like the other women around her, the kind of women she thinks Liam and Dante (her current boyfriend) go for. She also doesn't dress much like a girl either which she gets chided for, a lot. She's got a huge heart though and she sees the good in others even when they can't see it in themselves. (We love this about her.)

Liam was the incredibly hot bad boy turned good in High School and when he comes back into Posey's life, or should I say, Cordelia since he insists on calling her by her proper name, he's not alone. He now has his 15 year old daughter, Nicole to think about and protect from all those guys who are just like him. (The fact that he's a good Dad just adds to his hotness.) His journey through fatherhood is both heartbreaking and laugh out loud funny!

Liam's not interested in a relationship with anyone  but can't help feeling that there's something different about Cordelia. (Or is it Posey? Confused yet?) She's looking for the happy ending.  What they find is themselves in some pretty hilarious situations and they also discover that sometimes the one thing we try the hardest to fight is the one thing we need the most.

While I don't agree with all of the choices these characters make, I do think this story did a nice job of depicting love of all kinds, family, friendship and romantic (a little steamy sometimes (*rapidly fans face*), self-sacrifice, and forgiveness (of ourselves and others).

"Insurgent" Cover Reveal!!!

"Divergent" was my FAVORITE book of 2011!  I've told anyone and everyone about it and it's my number one gift choice when it comes to birthdays.  I'm even considering going as Tris for Halloween if I can come up with a costume idea. Too much?  Nah.
To say I'm "looking forward to" "Insurgent" is an understatement.  So when I heard the cover was being revealed yesterday I was both excited and a little nervous but then, I saw it...
Insurgent (Divergent, #2)
To a true Divergent, this is more than a cover.  It's a work of art.  It's clues!  It's a thing of beauty really and I'm a sucker for a beautiful cover!  
There's the Amity tree!  Did you see the TRAIN?!  Gasp! 
I would kill to have an ARC of this book!  OK, so killing is bad, I know this.  But, I'd be willing to fight for one, Dauntless style of course, considering that's the faction I keep coming up with every time I take the FB quiz.  :D
(Side note: I've given both my boys this quiz just out of curiosity and because I'm a little "off" as a Mom but this is no secret.  Hubby is still sore about coming up Candor.  He swears I'm Candor and he's Dauntless considering he's the one covered in tats.  I tell him, the fact that I married him makes me Dauntless. ) 
If you have yet to read Divergent, then I ask you, "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!" Buy it! Read it! You will LOVE it! I promise!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Geek Girl (ARC) ~ Cindy C. Bennett

Thank you to NetGalley for this arc of "Geek Girl".  (For some reason goodreads is showing the old version that was previously released but this is not the version I read.) 

In this book, author, Cindy C. Bennett takes us on a young girl's journey through incredible pain and misunderstanding to her discovery of her true self worth, love, forgiveness and hope.

Jen, (love her name, btw) a self imposed outcast at her current high school is a girl on a mission, to see if she can turn geeky Trevor, to the dark side. She makes a bet with her two BFF's, (and twins) Beth and Ella over lunch one day and what's her prize if she can pull this off?  They agree to pay for another lip piercing. Sounds um, fun, right?  (guess there's no cookies on this dark side, just piercings) Well, in their world, whoever has the most piercings, the worst attitude, parties the hardest or has the most overall disdain for anyone not like them is coolest. To each their own. 

Jen's a foster kid whose been bounced around to different homes over the years and doesn't expect to be with her current family for much longer.  She claims they're suffocating her with their stupid rules like no sneaking out, no drugs, no drinking and no facial piercings. (SO LAME, right?!) At least they don't make too big of a deal about her appearance which is totally goth.  She tends to get irritated at people's initial reaction to her and assumes the worst of them (like the first time she meets Trevor's Mom) but wait, isn't that the point of dressing the way she does? To get a reaction?  She fails to see that she's totally judging them the way she assumes they're judging her.

Once we get to know her more, we see that she has horrible self esteem, constantly referring to herself as a freak and dark. Her appearance and her attitude are just a few of the ways she tries to protect herself from pain and rejection, two things she knows way too much about.  It's hard to feel you're worth much when the people in your life who are supposed to protect you have done nothing but use and abuse you. Ironically, she has very high moral standards for herself even if the way she lives her life contradicts that at times.

Trevor is our story's heroic "hot guy in geek's clothing". (think "knight in shining armor")  He's everything Jen is not, at least that's the way it appears.  He's smart, funny, a good student, does community service and enjoys spending time with his friends and family.  He's skeptical at first when Jen starts paying so much attention to him but he decides to go with it.  He never once judges her and each time she refers to herself as a freak he corrects her and says she's "different" or "interesting".  He takes the time to listen and get to know her and is nothing but supportive even when Jen's making choice that he doesn't agree with. When she tells him she doesn't feel like she's good enough for him, he's patient and reassuring. OK, so where do I get my "TEAM TREV" T-shirt?

For her part, Jen starts to realize that "Trev" in all his sci-fi geekiness is actually a great guy who she's beginning to fall for...and hard.  She finds herself able to trust him with her story and doesn't want things to come to an end.  When her friends press her for answers about their bet, she repeatedly puts them off which only angers them.  Her relationship with Trev has a positive effect on not only her social life (she starts easing up on her appearance when he tells her she's beautiful without all the harsh makeup - sigh) but her home life as well. She can hardly believe it when he tells her he's in love with her because once again, she doesn't feel worth of him.  She knows she should tell him about the bet she made but she doesn't want to ruin things. She doesn't want to lose him, but the truth always comes out and when it does, it's heartbreaking and painful for all involved, including the reader.

When her life comes crashing down around her, Jen will find out who her real friends are, what she's really worth and just how strong the bonds of love and family are.

9/11 ~ We Will Never Forget...

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:20    Love Prevails.  God Wins.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Extreme "Stranger Danger" reminder

Everyone knows about "Stranger Danger".  Even if you had totally slack parents, you at least got the info from a teacher at school - don't talk to strangers, don't accept candy from strangers and don't, under any circumstances, accept a ride ANYWHERE from. a. stranger!  Breaking any of the Stranger Danger rules always results in immediate death. Always.

Every once in awhile I like to remind my kids of the "Stranger Danger" rules just to be sure we're on the same page.  I did just that yesterday at Target.  We had to wait out the first of several torrential downpours inside before continuing on to the next store.  My kids were all ready to go home and play with their new Lego sets and tried repeatedly to talk me into dropping them off first but I wasn't buying it.  Tired, frustrated and at the end of my patience with them, I told them for the final time, "No, we're going to finish our grocery shopping."

Apparently, this wasn't good enough for my youngest who proceeded to stomp his foot, place a hand on his hip and announce, "I'm NOT leaving Target until you promise to drop us off at home first!"

I looked at him for a second, trying to decide how best to respond when I decided a "Stranger Danger" reminder was appropriate and then I said, "Fine. You can stay here until we come back next week to do big shopping but I sure hope no one else decides to take you home with them before we come back and kills you." I turned on my heel and walked out the door, with both boys following quickly (and quietly) behind me.  

A little extreme? Yeah, probably but it got my point across.  Mom - 1, Indignant Kids - 0

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Saving June" ARC ~ Hannah Harrington

Saving June

"Saving June" is a beautifully written story full of raw emotion and smooth flowing dialogue.  Harper Scott, is the sister that just doesn't measure up in her family at least not the way her older sister June does.  June's always been the sister everyone loves; she's prettier, smarter, nicer, more likable, just plain better.  Harper has always wanted to be June and while they used to be close when they were little, they aren't anymore now that they're teenagers but when June commits suicide, everyone still looks to Harper for answers.  She doesn't have any answers but knowing that June dreamed of moving to California one day, Harper decides that maybe a road trip to scatter her ashes there will not only help relieve some of the guilt she feels but will also help June find rest.

Harper enlists the help of her best friend Laney on this road trip and they also have an uninvited guest - Jake.  Jake is a stranger to Harper but someone who claims to have known June well and even though she's hesitant at first, she allows him to come along in the hopes that maybe he can help her figure out why June made the choice she did.  What ends up happening is nothing like Harper expects but might just be exactly what she needs.

The characters in this story are complex yet relatable.  I felt like I could put a name of someone I know in real life to each one.  Harper seems to be the typical angst ridden teen with goth like tendencies but as the layers of her heart get peeled back you begin to see that she's created this self protective wall because she's had too.  At one point she explains that her mother loved June too much and her not enough.  How sad is that?!  June has definitely been the "golden" daughter in this family and they've made the mistake of expecting Harper to be "just like your sister" instead of who she was created to be.  As a result, she's lived up to their expectations of her which sadly, haven't been very high.  What they've failed to see is how selfless, honest and caring she is.  She hides behind her sarcasm and snarky foul mouth but she's the first one to give up what she wants in order to appease someone else's feelings.  She's stronger than she gives herself credit for and while she makes some poor choices along her road trip through grief, one can't help but wonder if she'd even make them at all if her family loved and supported her the way they should.

Laney is Harper's BFF!  She's smart, beautiful and has parents who are well off but who pay her very little attention, only caring that she keeps her grades up.  This effective parenting style works so well that is forces Laney to go "looking for love in all the wrong places".  She tends to make friends easily and this is something that Harper admires about her, being able to assimilate into any group or social situation without feeling awkward.  She loves Harper like a sister and is fiercely protective of her which is always a good quality to have in a friend.  Laney's carefree lifestyle catches up to her eventually and we also see that she too is different than what she projects to the outside world.

Then there's Jake... Jake shows up at the wake (hey, that rhymes!) and proceeds to simultaneously tweak Harper's interest with what he claims to know about June (even though he's not like anyone June would ever have hung out with) and tick her off at the same time with his attitude and his hotness.  He and Harper have this hilarious and no holes barred banter that had me in tears of laughter.  (The "Dateline" conversation was one of my favorites!)  He's tall and lean with amazing green eyes (the first thing Harper notices) and hair that looks like he's cut it himself.  He's like a Jedi master when it comes to music and prefers songs that speak to him.  He's a complicated guy who drives Harper crazy one minute while setting her heart a flutter the next but he too has a story that is almost as heartbreaking as Harper's...almost.

Aunt Helen is Harper's aunt and honestly, she gives Christian's a bad name.  Many times I cringed while reading this, wanting to smack her and hug Harper but I had to remember that people like her are also hurting in some way and would benefit more from my hug and prayers than my smack. (So maybe just an air smack to remind Aunt Helen that Jesus would NOT approve of her treatment of Harper? Yeah, probably not...) I can only hope (and pray) that any non-Christians reading this work of fiction will understand that not all Christians, Jesus Freaks, Bible thumpers, etc. are like those portrayed (Aunt Helen, the protesters, etc.) here.

There is heartbreak, pain, loss and healing in this book and several lessons to be learned - like not being too quick to judge a person by their outward appearance.  Just because a person may seem like they have it all together or they're happy doesn't mean that they are.  Every single person has insecurities and sometimes you have to dig deeper, past the clothes, the makeup, the walls people put up in order to see the heart of someone.  Another lesson?  Don't be afraid of life.  To love. To hurt. To feel. To have faith.  It's what makes us who we are and how we're able to connect with one another.  Don't. Be. Afraid.

The soundtrack listings at the end were a personal favorite of mine and I was happy to see such a great mix. (no "Mix CD" pun intended) I also agree with Jake when he was explaining to Harper how good music speaks to him when he doesn't have the words himself...I feel the exact same way.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Color of Light ~ Karen White

The Color of Light
Another great read by Karen White!  This book is a few years old (now) but still one that boasts of true love and friendship, romance, and finding out what we're truly made of.  It's also a story about discovering that it's not always blood that makes you family but a willingness to "show up" and just do your best that bonds you to another person.

Jillian finds herself returning home to her grandmother's house on Pawley's Island, South Carolina, 8 months pregnant, divorced, with her 7 year old daughter Grace in tow.  She's faced with living a life she never expected nor wanted and even though she hasn't been back in years, she's always felt like this house, this island was "home".  She hopes that being back will bring some peace to her life and give her the fresh start she so desperately needs.  Little does she know she'll be forced to relive old fears and open wounds she thought were long forgotten.

She used to spend every summer growing up on the Island and always cherished her time with her Grandma Parrish as well as her two best friends Lauren and Linc.  Lauren and Linc were the only two people her age who Jillian could confide in and even though the two were dating, the three friends did everything together.  She always felt a special connection with Linc and he was the one who introduced her to the stars, often spending many summer nights trying to help her as she attempted to locate a new star in the night sky.  He was also the one who tried his best to protect her from the hurt inflicted by her parents, knowing all too well what it felt like.  She and Lauren shared all the secrets that young girls do and were always there for each other right up to the night that Lauren disappeared.  Everything changed when Lauren went missing and the blame was placed on Linc.  Jillian had total confidence in his innocence but was taken home abruptly by her parents before she was able to tell him.

Almost two decades later, Jilllian and Linc find themselves in the same town, facing old hurts and accusations but as they both search for answers, they quickly realize they are no longer the same people they once were.  Grace, Jillian's young daughter and the gift that she seems to have, might hold the clues she and Linc have been searching for in the mystery that still surrounds Lauren's whereabouts but it may also be the undoing of Jillian.  They both have obstacles to overcome the biggest being, that maybe the past isn't exactly how they remembered it.
Jillian is damaged and broken but she's also stronger than she gives herself credit for.  I liked her determination and honesty too, especially when it came to motherhood.  Her struggles are genuine and completely understandable and you can't fault her in the least.  You also can't help but be her biggest fan because she doesn't give up despite having all the odds stacked against her, or so it seems.

Linc is just as damaged as Jillian and it's easy to see how the two (as teens) would make more easy friends.  He's loving and fiercely protective of those he cares about.  He expresses himself best with his hands and what he creates with them, mainly things with wood.  He put others first even if it might not be in the best interest of himself, like when he restores Jillian's grandmothers house and sells it to her at an affordable price (unbeknowst to her) instead of making the profit that he could have off of it.

Lauren is beautiful, free spirited and kind and loves Jillian dearly.  She tries her best to help protect her friend, albeit differently than Linc, and is always encouraging Jillian in the hopes of helping her.  She's not perfect and makes some choices that end up costing her in a big way but she keeps her promises.

Grandma Parrish is a wonderful example of unconditional love!  She loves Jillian and is the one bright hope in her life, besides Lauren and Linc.  She spends her years loving, praising and doting on Jillian which has a lasting effect long after she's gone.  Jillian often defers to things her grandmother shared with her through the years and it goes to show that it's not always quantity but quality of time we spend with children.  She only had Jillian in the summers and the occasional holiday but she made that time count which is what was important in the long run.

*SPOILER*  Don't read what's below if you haven't read the book yet...

I really did enjoy this story!  If you are familiar with Karen White's books, you know that there are generally a couple of steamy scenes that are tastefully done. (*fans face rapidly*)  The only other part of this story I feel worth mentioning is Gracie's "gift" of talking to Lauren who we find out is actually dead. I don't personally believe that dead people can speak to the living but I've also never experienced it.  Even with this being a work,  I know of a few people who would read this review and might be bothered by it so I just wanted to put it out there.  :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"My Day w/Ash Contest" Ice Prince + Queen of Icing = Cupcake Fey Heaven!

Julie Kagawa, the amazing, incredible, author of "The Iron Knight" is holding a contest for a signed ARC of the final book in the series and the rules are simple, tell what you (me) would do if you could spend one day with either Ash or Puck and keep it G-rated.  (As much fun as Puck is, I'd be afraid of the mess I'd be left to clean up after he left.)  

Considering Ash had my vote at his first icy stare, I have to go with him.  

My one day with Ash = Ice Prince + Queen of Icing = Day made in Cupcake Fey Heaven! :D

Our day would begin with a staring contest.  Why? Well, have you read the books?!  The Ice Prince is beautiful in all his frosty self!  He would be giving me that icy stare of his, making sure I knew he was Prince Ash. (Ha! Like I could forget.)  I would be staring back at him to make sure he was real. (There might be pinching involved too.)

I'm a cupcake fanatic and have been told my buttercream icing is to die for so I'd teach Ash how to make some to go on top of  homemade cupcakes for Meghan.  When he balks at this and tries to tell me how it will ruin his manly reputation, I'll just explain that my husband won my heart by bringing me cake and cupcakes when we were dating.   

After we put on our matching cupcake aprons, (and I sneak pictures then post to Facebook, Twitter and my blog) I'll walk him through the process step by step, maybe even allowing him to use his sword to scrape the bowl, just as long as he promises not to harm me with it for posting the apron pictures.  (Meghan would want to see them for sure!)  He'll complain and say that Puck is the one who'll never let him live down the apron and will probably nickname him "Icing Princess" or "Cupcake Boy".  I'll tell him to quit whining (secretly relishing in being the boss of him) and to focus on making sure he's piping the icing out in pretty little swirls. 

Once all the cupcakes are finished, and if we have time, I'll have him show me some sword tricks and maybe even play a game or two but that could end badly considering we're both pretty competitive.  I would like to test out his mad dancing skills but that might be better left to a duet on JustDance - that way neither Meghan nor hubby would be upset.