Everything you see is something we've read. No hearsay or rumors to be found! Be sure to check out our "We Recommend" list where we break books down for all types of readers. We love comments, questions, and recommendations, so don't be shy! We promise we won't bite (the internet is a strong preventative barrier).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Exciting News--We've Moved!

We officially have a new website! It's still a bit rough around the edges, so don't judge too harshly just yet, but it's up and running, and we're very excited to design our own site. Check it out!

All future content will be posted there, and most of our past content has already been transferred (we'll finish it up in the next few days). Keep checking in for new changes and updates.

To help us celebrate our move, we have a great guest post by author Mike Mullin (Ashfall) on his ideas behind the book and the science involved. Check it out here!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yellowstone Erupts: The Apocalypse is Now

Ashfall by Mike Mullin
(Based on an ARC provided by the author.)

In this thrilling, debut novel of "cataclysmic natural disaster," Alex Halprin lives in modern day Cedar Falls, Idaho, playing video games and arguing with his little sister on a regular basis. One day when his family has left for the weekend to visit an uncle, the unthinkable happens: Yellowstone erupts in a volcanic supereruption, leaving thousands of miles under layers of ash and projectile rock with no modern form of communication and few resources for immediate survivors. Alex begins the harrowing journey to Warren, Illinois, where his family is--he hopes--safely harbored with other relatives.

Alex's journey is laborious and often heart wrenching as he cross-country skis through the ash. He makes his way through cities, towns, and open, desolated land, meeting friends and strangers alike and finds himself running from cutthroat murderers, looters, and others like him just trying to survive. At one stop, Alex passes out from injuries and ends up at a farm where strangers Darla and her mother nurse him back to health; a steady relationship begins to bond the two teenagers. When tragedy strikes again and forces them back on the road, Darla accompanies Alex on his journey to Illinois, and they continue to skirt danger, both environmental and man-made.

It's a realistic, post-apocalyptic thriller. By that, I mean that the thrills are quick and gripping, but they aren't on every page; Mullin doesn't cop out to the Hollywood-ready scripts that a lot of authors (James Patterson comes to mind) throw at young readers. Instead, Mullin has created a storyline full of highs and lows with mature downtime rooted in the everyday difficulties of physical and emotional survival. It's the mix of action, science, thrills, romance, and the nitty-gritty details that make this book so gripping and good.

While I found Ashfall a little slow going at first, Mullin seemed to quickly gain more confidence in his own voice as the plot got going, and after the first few chapters I found myself thinking less about the words he used and more about what was happening, a good sign in any plot-driven, post-apocalyptic story.
The beauty of Ashfall is that the protagonist matures gradually as time goes on. Alex is believable, if conveniently physically fit for a video gamer (he has umpteen belts in taekwando), and his horror, exhaustion, and even physical arousal (nothing too descriptive) all keep him from becoming a super-human survivor. In fact, for a good portion of the book Darla outdoes him: she knows her tools, can slaughter and butcher a rabbit with minimal waste, and is the female equivalent of a teenage MacGyver.

Fans of Michael Grant's Gone series will appreciate this rough, dismal world where kids survive almost by determination alone. The story is close enough to a potential reality to be chilling: as Grant himself said of Ashfall, "The scariest apocalypse is one that could really happen."

Planned as the start of a trilogy, Ashfall is sure to appeal to readers of The Hunger Games, Gone, Hatchet, and any other number of survival and post-apocalyptic stories. (Check out the first two chapters here.) This is one to keep on your to-read list once it hits shelves on October 11th--I definitely recommend it!

Age 14+ (some mature content)
Copyright October 2011
ISBN: 9781933718552
Image from http://www.mikemullinauthor.com/

Friday, May 6, 2011

Anne Frank's World Re-Visited

Annexed by Sharon Dogar
In Amsterdam in the middle of World War II, two Jewish families--the Franks and the Van Pels--hide away in an annex above an office, praying for survival and the downfall of the Nazis. In Annexed, Dogar has created her vision of what it was like in the annex with Anne Frank from Peter van Pels' point of view. To take a time and character so closely scrutinized by the world and so well documented--by the world renowned diary of Anne Frank--is a challenge, to say the least, but Dogar has done a good job at not over-sensationalizing the material. She also manages to stay true to what she believes might have gone through the mind of a teenage boy in a time of personal and world-wide crisis. Following Peter from the morning before seclusion to his death (potentially, according to records, in a concentration camp sick bay), readers see the hope and the despair, two sides of many moments he experienced as his memories are shared in the book.
Full of hate and fear, love, shame, sexual longing, wavering faith, and all the “why” questions one could ponder, Peter examines life both inside and outside the walls of the annex and tries to make sense of it all, all the while experiencing the morphing relationships inside the hideout as tensions flow between the families and genders. Why, Peter asks, must I hide instead of fight? Why do we have to be the chosen people? Why does being Jewish have to define everything about me? Will I ever experience life beyond this point?
Dogar’s writing is powerful and conveys life in the annex as it probably was: stifling, claustrophobic, lacking in privacy, and frustrating while at times also joyful, grateful, and full of the knowledge that beauty truly is in the small, unnoticed things. As Dogar examines the emotions Peter, the lone adolescent male, might have felt as he matured, readers also get a sense of the other characters through Peter’s descriptions of them. And unlike other narratives, Dogar follows Peter and imagines--with the aid of research--what he must have gone through after capture, both in Auschwitz and on the death march that followed in his final days.
I highly recommend this, whether you're a fan of literary fiction, historical fiction, coming-of-age stories, or just about any other type. It's not a light story, as the premise indicates, but it's worth the journey. This as Dogar's first historical fiction, and she worked hard to get the research right (though she admits in the back to altering minor timeline events for continuity's sake). The whole product is well done, emotional, and absolutely worth the read.


Age 13+ (some mature content)
Copyright October 2010
ISBN: 9780547501956
Available as an eBook
Image from www.goodreads.com

A fun twist on a classic tale...

Cinderella Smith by Stephanie Barden

Meet Josephine-Kathryn Smith, aka Cinderella Smith. She's nothing like the Cinderella from the classic fairy tale. No wicked stepsisters. No wicked stepmother. There's a prince...Charlie Prince, a next door neighbor who likes to tease her. The only thing she has in common with the fairy tale Cinderella is that she's always losing her shoes.

As a new school year starts, her best friend from last year is ignoring her, and she loses the most important shoe of the year...her tap shoe. With the fall dance recital coming up and the starring role of Pumpkin Blossom Fairy up in the air, Cinderella must find that shoe.

Since her former best friend, Rosemary, has moved on to "better" things, Cinderella befriends the new girl, Erin. Now, Erin has a problem that she thinks Cinderella can solve. Erin's about to get two stepsisters when her mother remarries, and Erin is worried that they might be wicked. However, Cinderella has no experience with stepsisters, wicked or otherwise, so Cinderella comes up with a unique and hilarious way to find out.

This is a great new series for fans of Ivy + Bean (Barrows), Clementine (Pennypacker), Just Grace (Harper), and Ramona (Cleary). Each of these series has unique, spunky, fun, intelligent, hilarious girls at their center. Cinderella Smith can join the club. Barden has created a character that is in high demand with my readers. With the unique fairy tale twist (which is a popular genre), she has crafted a story to be read aloud again and again. Each chapter of the book is the featured shoe of the moment. I never had a problem with losing shoes, I just wore them until they fell apart, much to my mum's dismay. She would always buy me new shoes, but I loved the old, holey, comfortable ones.

Stephanie Barden came into my children's department yesterday, which absolutely made my day. I was telling a co-worker about her book not 20 minutes before. I was disappointed that I wasn't able to make it to an event she had at another bookstore. Now, sometime this summer we'll have her for an event at our store! Definitely looking forward to that.

Be on the look out for more shoe-less adventures in Cinderella Smith and the More the Merrier coming out in 2012.


Ages 8+
Publisher: HarperCollins (April 26, 2011)
ISBN: 9780061964237
Available as an eBook.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Author Spotlight: Interview with Inara Scott

Give a warm welcome to Inara Scott, our first author on the blog! We interviewed Inara about her series The Delcroix Academy (Jenny reviewed book one, The Candidates, back in March). Here's what she had to say.
On your website your advice to writers is to keep writing and trying, no matter the rejections. How long did it take for someone to buy your book—was it a long journey?

Author Inara Scott (www.inarascott.com)
 You know, it’s hard to say. I started writing in 2005 and sold in 2008, three books and over a hundred   rejections later. Some may say that’s short, some may say that’s long! The hardest part of the journey was actually the time after the sale. It took almost 3 years after the sale of The Candidates for it to be released.
Where did the idea for Dancia’s power come from, and why do you think it fits her character so well?
To me, the real significance of Dancia’s power isn’t exactly what it is or how it works (which is very fun, and you’ll find fleshed out further in the second book in the series!), but the fact that it brings with it serious consequences. One of the main themes I try to explore in this series is that life is never black and white; even when Dancia tries to do good, she often ends up causing harm. The need to accept responsibility for our choices, no matter how tangled and complicated they may be, was really the jumping off point for the series. 
Any hints on the kinds of powers we might see develop in current/future characters? (Pretty please?)
Hmmm…let’s see…fire, animals, flight, sound. How about that? J
You say you “fear deep, intellectual books and love romance and fantasies.” As far as we can tell, you’ve managed to include some pretty interesting—and “deep”—questions in Dancia’s ponderings, so how do you distinguish the two?
Oh my, that’s a great question! I think what I’m most scared of is a book with lots of hidden meaning and symbolism that I’m suppose to “get” and don’t. (Perhaps what I really have is a literature insecurity complex – LOL! ) I like to read great stories with engaging characters, and love it when deep questions arise naturally out of those stories. I would like to think that Dancia’s experience raises important questions for readers – but I’m also totally comfortable if they just take away from it a fun story about a girl with superpowers.
What draws you into fantasies the most?
Another great question. I think I like fantasies for the same reason I love romance novels: they take me deep into my imagination and let me live out my dreams.
What did you like to read growing up and why? Anything you couldn’t stand?
I read mostly historical romances and fantasies, with a bit of science fiction mixed in for good measure. I refused (and still refuse) to read scary books (no horror for me!) and have never liked books with sad endings. By the way, this is part of the reason I fear those deep, intellectual books. They usually end badly.
I think I’m just too easily influenced by things I read – scary things REALLY freak me out, and sad things REALLY mess me up. I have a hard time separating real life from literature. I think I would be just as scared by reading a book about a serial killer as I would be by actually being chased by one. J 
Okay, just for fun: please finish the following scene in 250 words or less (unless you get really into it, in which case we won’t complain!).
"She could hear water dripping from the stalactites above as she worked her way deeper into the cavern. Looking over her shoulder, she caught a glimmer of light behind, and her breath quickened..."
…That was it, then. They’d found her.
 Game on.
She pressed ahead as quickly as she could, brushing aside beads of sweat as they formed on her brow. She wondered who they had sent after her. Was it Talon, black eyes cold and furious, trailing behind her? Or worse, was it Ranger? Did he remember what had happened the last time they’d met like this?
Perhaps, considering the consequences, it would be better if he did not…
A huge thank you to Ms. Scott for putting up with our pesky questions and giving us juicy teasers to keep us going until the next book! Be sure to check out The Candidates if you haven't already; the rest of us will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series, The Watchers, expected to be released August 2, 2011.