Thursday, December 30, 2010

giveaway: brooklyn story

Thanks to Gallery Books I have one giveaway copy of Suzanne Corso's Brooklyn Story.

Here's my review. Publishers Weekly said:
"Tony Manero wouldn't be out of place in this competent coming-of-age debut set in 1978 Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where Samantha Bonti longs to make it in the big time across the East River. With her Smith-Corona, ambition, good looks, and little else--Sam's Jewish mom's a bitter, drunken mess on welfare, her Italian dad's long gone--the 15-year-old negotiates the shady world of the "Brooklyn Boys" and what it means to be the girlfriend of mob acolyte Tony Kroon. "All ya need is me," he ominously insists. Corso gets the Brooklyn dialect pitch-perfect and keeps the pace brisk, and though the narration too often reads like stage notes, the universal story of longing, loyalty, and growing up rings true."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on January 15. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Gallery Books the winners must have mailing addresses in the US; PO Boxes are ok.

review: brooklyn story by suzanne corso

With every page turn of Brooklyn Story, I thought, "This is depressing." Sam immediately positions herself as a victim. She doesn't fit in at school because she's half-Jewish and half-Italian. At home this causes conflict as well because her Jewish grandma is displeased that Sam's mom left her religion for a man who promptly left before Sam was even born. That Sam's father left is yet another issue; her mother withholds affection and is frequently critical, especially when Sam begins dating Tony. It turns out that Sam should've listened to her bitter mom a little more as it doesn't take long for Tony to reveal himself to be a controlling and abusive criminal. At the end Sam says Tony stole four years of her life; I disagree. At every turn, Sam had the opportunity to recognize Tony for what he was (if the demands to always know where she was weren't a sign, then the slap to the face should've woken her up) but chose to stay with him. I couldn't help but wonder if all the fancy things he showered upon her didn't motivate the girl raised on welfare to stay.

Redeeming Brooklyn Story is the writing. Even so, I frequently wanted to stop reading as I could garner no sympathy for a girl who ignored the advice of those around her to stay with an abusive man.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

review: the secrets sisters keep by abby drake

Oh, the secrets sisters keep. Abby Drake has an apt title for a wonderful tale. Four mostly estranged sisters are forced to come together by the uncle they all adored. For many many years one sister (the only one who actually has her life together) has been an outcast; the rest don't really talk either. The others believe Carleen is responsible for a terrible tragedy. While she is the direct cause, only Carleen and Uncle Edward know the truth surrounding the devastating fire. And there's another important piece of information that Carleen has kept from the youngest sister--an aging actress no longer seen as a star. When Edward disappears before the party, the sisters finally talk.

A slightly different type of quest story (all but the oldest who lives with Uncle Edward must travel for the party), The Secrets Sisters Keep hooked me right away. The search for Uncle Edward brought much amusement, especially when the party-goers were tipped off to his location by Amanda's boys. This one will have you laughing, crying, and joyful right along with the sisters.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Avon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

review: a lucky child by thomas buergenthal

In A Lucky Child, Thomas Buergenthal shares his incredible memories of his experience during the Holocaust. As so many memoirs seem to have been discredited lately, Buergenthal states upfront that as he's writing this over 60 years later, it's "colored by the tricks that the passage of time and old age play on memory." Similar statements are made throughout A Lucky Child and I appreciated his honesty about not recalling specific dates and names.

A Lucky Child addresses many of the horrors survived by the author, but the story doesn't become depressing (though it is, at times, heartbreaking). From the introductory remarks, it's clear Buergenthal's mother also survives; knowing this reunion will come makes it all a little more hopeful and easier to stomach. Also, Buergenthal meets some truly wonderful people in the concentration camp. Odd Nansen, who wrote a book of his own, is one of those people. He not only looked after young Buergenthal while in the infirmary, but Nansen also helped after the war. The bright moments make this an even more touching story.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Back Bay Books.

giveaway: a christmas carol: a pop-up book

You could be the lucky winner of Chuck Fischer's pop-up version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Many thanks to Hachette for sponsoring this giveaway:

As noted in my review, I think this is a version to be treasured. Publishers Weekly said this:
"This beautiful re-imagining of Charles Dickens's timeless fable, A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book features artist Chuck Fischer's richly painted depictions of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, brought to life in intricate pop-up scenes by paper engineer Bruce Foster. The entire text of A Christmas Carol is reproduced in five removable, illustrated, keepsake booklets. An introductory booklet provides a biography of Dickens and an illustrated feature on the enduring appeal of this beloved story. The perfect gift, A Christmas Carol, now in pop-up form, will brighten the holidays for young and old."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on January 9. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

review: a christmas carol illustrated by chuck fischer

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (a familiar story that I won't address in this review) beautifully comes to life with Chuck Fischer's pop-up illustrations. As it is Christmas-time, I want very much to display this book in my window (unfortunately, the sill isn't wide enough and the cat would probably complain about her space being usurped). I am blown away by the detail here: the chains of Marley actually dangle (another reason not to actually display it as the cat keeps trying to play with this book!). As the illustrations take up all the pages, the novel is broken up in small pull-outs, which makes it easy to break up the story for children. This stunning edition is definitely one to treasure.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

giveaway winner: a visitor's guide to mystic falls

Congratulations to holdenj, who has won a copy of A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls!

Friday, December 17, 2010

review: last snow by eric van lustbader

The sequel to First Daughter, which hooked me right away, Last Snow finds Jack overseas with the president and his family. When a US senator winds up dead in a location he shouldn't have been, Jack starts a new mission--one the still recovering Alli insists on coming along on. Unfortunately the wonderful dynamic that existed between Jack and Alli in the first book just isn't here. I wish there'd been more of Alli working on moving past her kidnapping/brain-washing (from First Daughter) and less of the drawn-out Russian conspiracy shoot 'em up scenes (which also meant there were far too many characters to keep track of). Actually the most interesting part was a subplot in the conspiracy involving the head of Homeland Security and his estranged family; though again, this introduced another set of characters.
3/5
Review copy provided by The Book Report Network.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

review: goodnight tweetheart by teresa medeiros

Goodnight Tweetheart is an adorable story that will eventually bring tears. It's the story of an author whose debut novel was selected by Oprah, but now Abby fears her next novel can never live up to the standard set by that incredible first. After a hilarious failure of a book reading, Abby's publicist sets up a Twitter account and instructs her to tweet with her readers. Abby is Twitter-clueless, but soon finds the very helpful Mark, who says he's a professor on sabbatical. And that's where the "love story in 140 characters or less" comes in. Abby and Mark bond over their shared love of television, but meeting seems impossible as Mark says he's out of the country.

The zings between the two are funny--they have an ongoing joke that Mark is actually a serial killer and/or a teen living at a home; they also begin each session by asking, "What are you wearing?" which sets off amusing exchanges. As I read their tweets, I kept thinking about how I wanted to see the pictures they were sharing (the pictures are described in subsequent tweets); turns out you can by going to the website! A fabulous little extra, in my opinion.

This was one of those books that I just love immediately. The tweet format (which is used for most of the book) makes it a quick read, so once I started Goodnight Tweetheart, I didn't stop until I reached the final, touching page.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

giveaway winner: the swan thieves

Congratulations to amandawk who has won a copy of The Swan Thieves. Enjoy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

review: vixen by jillian larkin

In 1920s Chicago three socialite teens flirt with the flapper lifestyle in Jillian Larkin’s debut, Vixen, which is the first in the Flappers series. Gloria is about to be wedded to Sebastian, a young man more interested in her family name than in her. Gloria’s cousin Clara (my favorite character) has just arrived under the pretense of helping with the wedding; only her aunt knows that the move to Chicago is really to escape her scandalous recent past. Finally, there’s Gloria’s best female friend (who would better be referred to as a “frenemy”) Lorraine, who is scheming something big.

Although Vixen is set in the 1920s, it could almost take place in any era as it is quite a universal story of teens struggling to form their own identities. In that way, the story is quite relatable. Gloria is discovering that the life set for her by her parents isn’t exactly the one she wants while Clara has already rebelled and suffered the consequences. Clara was immediately likable and intriguing (the full story of her past isn’t revealed until more than halfway through) which drew me to her. Lorraine, on the other hand, was quite despicable and I never pinned down her motivation other than jealousy, which didn’t quite make sense. Yes, Gloria had a fiancĂ© and a best male friend, both of whom frequently usurped Lorraine, but Lorraine had a lot going for her too. Instead of being married off as Gloria’s parents had decided would be Gloria’s future, Lorraine had been accepted to Barnard.
4/5
Review copy provided by the Barnes & Noble First Look program.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

review: law of attraction by allison leotta

I did not see this ending coming. Allison Leotta's debut is not only entertaining, it also keeps you guessing. The story centers around a young prosecutor of domestic violence--something Anna gained far too much personal experience with at a young age. Assigned to Laprea's case, Anna is disappointed when Laprea lies on the stand to protect her abuser (and the father of her twins). The tale turns even more tragic when Laprea turns up dead shortly after another fight with D'marco, who had convinced her he was going to change. Since Anna's familiar with the case's background, she ends up assisting in the prosecution of the homicide. What seems like an easy win turns out not to be when a shocking revelation about the deceased comes from the autopsy. Every one of these twists kept me intrigued. Law of Attraction is an excellent mystery mixed with romance as Anna finds herself attracted to two attorneys on opposite sides of the case.
5/5
Review copy provided by Planned Television Arts.

review: every bone tells a story by jill rubalcaba and peter robertshaw

Every Bone Tells a Story looks at four discoveries of ancient remains. The four are Turkana Boy (found in East Africa), Lapedo Child (Portugal), Kennewick Man (northwestern United States), and Iceman (Italian Alps). I was most interested in what the authors had to say about Kennewick Man as that discovery was made in my hometown.

Written for young students, the book is broken into short sections that explain the science without getting bogged down by too many technical terms. It's an easy, yet informative read with plenty of pictures. My complaint would be regarding a few minor inaccuracies regarding the circumstances under which Kennewick Man was found. The authors continually refer to the annual boat races as "Sunfest;" this is something only they and an author they cite do. The boat races are not called Sunfest by locals or event organizers; in fact, the actual name is "Water Follies" and has been for some time. Although such things are insignificant, they do make me question what else may be incorrect.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

giveaway: a visitor's guide to mystic falls

One lucky person is going to win the excellent A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls edited by Red and Vee. If you love The Vampire Diaries, you'll want to read this book. Many thanks to Smart Pop Books for sponsoring the giveaway.

Here's my review. Below is the publisher description:
"A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls brings together today’s best YA writers of the supernatural to talk about the first season of The Vampire Diaries: the characters, the storyline, the magic, the town. From a history of the Salem’s witches from whom Bonnie is descended to family therapy for brothers Stefan and Damon, the anthology is guaranteed to keep the show's viewers entertained—and make them see Mystic Falls, and the rest of The Vampire Diaries, in a whole new way."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on December 18. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Smart Pop Books the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

review: a visitor's guide to mystic falls edited by red and vee

Taking a somewhat academic (though mostly fun) approach, A Visitor’s Guide to Mystic Falls examines the first season of the popular CW show The Vampire Diaries. Each of the 11 essays is written by a novelist, who also happens to be a fan of the show. Included is a book-to-show guide written by the editors Red and Vee, who run Vampire-Diaries.net. As a fan of the show (and books), I appreciated the insight offered here. Bree Despain’s in-depth look at Bonnie, a character frequently ignored in favor of the show’s three leads, is both excellent and thoughtful. The following two essays (by Claudia Gray and Jon Skovron, respectively) are also extremely interesting. Gray argues that changing the brothers’ background improves the tale as it makes them part of the town’s “central event.” Skovron discusses other vampire tales and the role women have in them and in The Vampire Diaries. For fans who like to put a little thought into what plays out on their screens, the critical essays contained within are must-reads.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Smart Pop Books.

review: the secret life of ms. finkleman by ben winters

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman is a fantastic middle grade novel, but man, did it make me feel old! These kids have parents and teachers who came up during the 1990s punk scene. Good ol' rock'n'roll is at the center of this mystery, which made me love it all the more.

It all gets started when the social studies teacher assigns another of his famous Special Projects--the one thing the 7th graders actually look forward to in a notoriously tough class. Bethesda decides to investigate the music teacher, a seemingly ordinary woman who has revealed nothing of her personal life.

These kids are perfectly characterized; even the few scenes with the various parents showed how the children's personalities were shaped. The pacing is also excellent. For example, as snotty Pamela tries to bluff her way through a blackmail attempt, it seemed just the right time to discover the next layer of Ms. Finkleman's secret. And then it comes, simply stated and concluding the chapter. Winters wrote this one for kids, but there's enough to keep adults interested too.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, HarperCollins.