Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teaser Tuesday (77)

I'm very excited to be one of the many blogs participating in Teaser Tuesdays! TT is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
(Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"'I hope so,' I answer. And now I'm not just talking about the trip either. There are a few other things I've decided to take a chance on in these two days of my one wild and precious life."

p. 187 (ARC) from GOLDEN by Jessi Kirby

Please share your teasers - post them or link to your blog!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

By: Liz Coley
Published By: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: March 19, 2013
Series: None
Pages: 352
Genre: Thriller
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA Midwinter
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Reminiscent of the Elizabeth Smart case, Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing and powerful psychological mystery about a girl who must piece together the story of her kidnapping and captivity.

Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scouts camping trip. Now she's returned home…only to find that it's three years later and she's sixteen-or at least that's what everyone tells her.

What happened to the past three years of her life?

Angie doesn't know.

But there are people who do — people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren't locked inside her mind. With a tremendous amount of courage, Angie embarks on a journey to discover the fragments of her personality, otherwise known as her "alters." As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: When you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the parts of yourself that are responsible?

Liz Coley's alarming and fascinating psychological mystery is a disturbing - and ultimately empowering page-turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.

I don't read thrillers often, but the combination of mystery and psychological elements in this one sounded like a promising read. One night I picked it up, expecting to read a bit before bed, and the next thing I knew, it was the wee hours of the morning and I had finished the book. Pretty Girl-13 is not a book to approach lightly; it is not as graphic as it could be, but the subject matter and events are certainly intense and at times twisted.

Thirteen-year-old Angela Chapman went to a Girl Scout campout...and never came back. Nobody knew what happened to her. But three years later, she shows up at her house with no memories from the time she's been missing. However, these memories aren't gone, but hidden by alters - fragmented identities her mind created to deal with the trauma. With a therapist, Angie works to discover what really happened in the past three years while also struggling to readjust to her "old" life. Her friends have changed, her crush has changed, even her parents have changed, and somehow she is expected to simply reassimilate. But her mind fragmented for a reason, and not all of the memories are easy to confront. Would she be better off not knowing after all? And if she does, will she ever be the same again?

I have mixed feelings about this book. Overall, I found it fascinating to explore Angie's dissociative identity disorder. The various personalities were in fact incredibly different, and as I got to know each of them, I found myself caring about all of them just like any group of characters. The process of uncovering each of these alters was difficult, and I simultaneously needed to know all of the details from the past three years and dreaded what would be revealed next. However, this story is almost like two stories in one: uncovering the alters and Angie readjusting to her old life. The people she knew and loved were different, and she had to forge new paths for herself. Once she accepted that, she was willing to do so, which I appreciated. In some ways she was brave, befriending the outcast, standing up for what she felt she should do, and even being willing to apologize or walk away when the situation called for it. And in the midst of this, I was glad that Angie was able to find friends, and also that she got to know Abriam. He was wonderful, just the kind of boy you want, and the one that she needed.

However, in some ways I also feel that this book didn't go far enough. Although Angie was strong at times, she was also spared some of the emotional trauma by not remembering what happened to her. Even though what she endured is something that nobody ever should, in some ways her suffering felt glossed over because it was not completely addressed. Even outside of what her alters remembered, there were things that Angie faced that I felt could have evoked a more emotional response in her. This book was definitely gripping, but the more I've thought about it since I read it, the more I wish that the book had dug deeper into the emotional side of things.

Despite wanting more, Pretty Girl-13 is one that summaries and analysis simply can't do justice. Rather, it has to be experienced, if you are in the mood for something dark like this. I will look forward to reading more from Liz Coley!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Opening Lines (19)

Opening Lines is a new feature here on Portrait of a Book that showcases the first lines of recent and/or upcoming releases. If you're looking for your next read, let these first lines help you decide!

By: Erin Bowman
Published By: Harper Teen
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone.

They call it the Heist.

Gray Weathersby’s eighteenth birthday is mere months away, and he’s prepared to meet his fate–until he finds a strange note from his mother and starts to question everything he’s been raised to accept: the Council leaders and their obvious secrets. The Heist itself. And what lies beyond the Wall that surrounds Claysoot–a structure that no one can cross and survive.

Climbing the Wall is suicide, but what comes after the Heist could be worse. Should he sit back and wait to be taken–or risk everything on the hope of the other side?

"Today is the last day I will see my brother."

By: Michaela MacColl
Published By: Chronicle Books
Release Date: April 30, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

One day, fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious, handsome young man. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with Mr. "Nobody" until he turns up dead in her family's pond. She's stricken with guilt. Only Emily can discover who this enigmatic stranger was before he's condemned to be buried in an anonymous grave. Her investigation takes her deep into town secrets, blossoming romance, and deadly danger. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, this novel celebrates Emily Dickinson's intellect and spunk in a page-turner of a book that will excite fans of mystery, romance, and poetry alike.

"Emily lay perfectly still, hidden in the tall grass, her eyes closed tight."

By: Mindy Raf
Published By: Dial Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 18, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

A laugh-out-loud, bittersweet debut full of wit, wisdom, heart, and a hilarious, unforgettable heroine.

When you’re a hypochondriac, there are a million different things that could be wrong with you, but for Izzy, focusing on what could be wrong might be keeping her from dealing with what’s really wrong.

I almost raised my hand, but what would I say? “Mr. Bayer, may I please be excused? I’m not totally positive, but I think I might have cancer.” No way. Then everyone at school would know, and they would treat me differently, and I would be known as “Izzy, that poor girl who diagnosed herself with breast cancer during biology.”

But Izzy’s sense of humor can only get her so far when suddenly her best friend appears to have undergone a personality transplant, her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, and her beautiful maybe-boyfriend is going all hot and cold. Izzy thinks she’s preparing for the worst-case scenario, but when the worst-case scenario actually hits, it’s a different story altogether—and there’s no tidy list of symptoms to help her through the insanity.

"I'm diseased."

By: Sylvia Whitman
Published By: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

This timely, heartrending novel tells the moving story of a friendship between two girls: one an American teen, one a victim of the crisis in Darfur.

Know that there are many words behind the few on this paper...

Fifteen-year-old Nawra lives in Darfur, Sudan, in a camp for refugees displaced by the Janjaweed’s trail of murder and destruction. Nawra cannot read or write, but when a nonprofit organization called Save the Girls pairs her with an American donor, Nawra dictates her thank-you letters. Putting her experiences into words begins to free her from her devastating past—and to brighten the path to her future.

K. C. is an American teenager from Richmond, Virginia, who hates reading and writing—or anything that smacks of school. But as Nawra pours grief and joy into her letters, she inspires K. C. to see beyond her own struggles. And as K. C. opens her heart in her responses to Nawra, she becomes both a dedicated friend and a passionate activist for Darfur.

In this poetic tale of unlikely sisterhood, debut author Sylvia Whitman captures the friendship between two girls who teach each other compassion and share a remarkable bond that bridges two continents.

"The khawaja moves down the line where Adeeba and I wait for water."

Do any of these opening lines grab your attention? What are your favorite first lines that you've read lately?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: Skinny by Donna Cooner

By: Donna Cooner
Published By: Point
Release Date: Oct. 1, 2012
Series: None
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Find your voice.

Hopeless. Freak. Elephant. Pitiful. These are the words of Skinny, the vicious voice that lives inside fifteen-year-old Ever Davies’s head. Skinny tells Ever all the dark thoughts her classmates have about her. Ever knows she weighs over three hundred pounds, knows she’ll probably never be loved, and Skinny makes sure she never forgets it.

But there is another voice: Ever’s singing voice, which is beautiful but has been silenced by Skinny. Partly in the hopes of trying out for the school musical—and partly to try and save her own life—Ever decides to undergo a risky surgery that may help her lose weight and start over.

With the support of her best friend, Ever begins the uphill battle toward change. But demons, she finds, are not so easy to shake, not even as she sheds pounds. Because Skinny is still around. And Ever will have to confront that voice before she can truly find her own.

I don't always read books about body image, but since I was tired of seeing every main character make it a point to say she was small, and being in the process of trying to lose weight myself, I decided that this would be my next book to read. Now, not only am I glad I read it, but also I am beyond thrilled that there is a YA book like this out in the world for others to read.

Ever Davis is fifteen years old...and weighs 302 pounds. Since her mother's death, she's found comfort in and relived memories through food, and the effects show in the numbers on the scale. Wanting a chance at a normal life, and with the support of friends and family, she decides to have the surgery. Only the surgery isn't quite a magical fix - Ever still has work to do. And even the surgery couldn't get rid of Skinny, the voice in Ever's head telling her that she will never be thin enough, that she simply isn't good enough. Skinny has made Ever believe the worst about herself and most of those around her. As Ever begins to lose weight, she finds herself accepted by new people and leaving some of those from her old life behind. But will that really make her happy? More importantly, can she ever truly recover without confronting Skinny?

While reading Skinny, I kept being struck by how believable and accurate this book was. The teasing and hardships Ever endured when she was overweight, the struggle that came with her weight loss, and the feelings of alienation she dealt with all felt very real. Even the characters seemed real; almost all of them were portrayed not as overwhelmingly good or bad, but rather as normal people with their own perceptions and their own issues. Throughout the book, I really felt a kinship with Ever. Being overweight myself and also a singer, her struggles reminded me of some of the things I've been through. I appreciated how Ever began to confront Skinny over the course of the book, how she started to question the perceptions she'd always held and became open to new ideas. In addition to Ever, I really liked how Briella's character was developed. Briella showed that sometimes you have to look beyond appearances to truly see a person, and that sometimes you could be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Then there was Rat, the adorable nerdy guy who was always such a good friend. It was nice to see a guy like that in the male lead for a change, and I loved what a good friend he was to Ever.

There are so many reasons to read this book. If you're overweight, while reading the book you don't feel alone, and if you're thin, for a while you see what it's like when weight really is an issue. Yet Skinny is really one of those books that everyone should read, regardless of size. Everyone has something that makes them feel bad, some way that they wish they could be better, and Skinny looks at these issues. It was a good reminder that we are always our own worst enemies, but we have the power to change the things that we tell ourselves.

This book was a fast read, but I've found myself thinking about it in the days since I finished it. I'm sure this story will stick with me for a long time. Skinny is definitely worth reading, and I will look for more from Donna Cooner in the future.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Waiting on" Wednesday

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's selection is:

By: Jessi Kirby
Published By: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Preorder the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Love, tragedy, and mystery converge in this compelling novel from “an author to watch” (Booklist).

Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

Why it's wanted:

I loved Jessi Kirby's book In Honor and can't wait to read this next book. The story-within-a-story and Robert Frost's poem woven through this make it sound like a great book!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teaser Tuesday (76)

I'm very excited to be one of the many blogs participating in Teaser Tuesdays! TT is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
(Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"She put her headphones back on. I trudged to my room and flopped onto my bed. And screamed as my door slammed shut. A figure stepped out from behind it. 'Rather pink in here, isn't it?'"

p. 48 (ARC) from SUPERNATURALLY by Kiersten White

Please share your teasers - post them or link to your blog!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

By: Tahereh Mafi
Published By: HarperCollins
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2013
Series: Shatter Me (#2)
Pages: 461
Genre: Dystopian
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA
Buy the Book: Amazon

Note: Unravel Me is the second book in a trilogy. The following summary and review may contain spoilers for the first book, Shatter Me.

Goodreads Summary: tick
it's almost
time for war.

Juliette has escaped to Omega Point. It is a place for people like her—people with gifts—and it is also the headquarters of the rebel resistance.

She's finally free from The Reestablishment, free from their plan to use her as a weapon, and free to love Adam. But Juliette will never be free from her lethal touch.

Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible.

In this exhilarating sequel to Shatter Me, Juliette has to make life-changing decisions between what she wants and what she thinks is right. Decisions that might involve choosing between her heart—and Adam's life.

Shatter Me was a striking debut, and I was very eager for this sequel. And Unravel Me surpassed my expectations, bringing back Tahereh Mafi's beautiful writing style and conveying a story that was emotional, full of revelations as well as action.

Juliette knows the power she has, but she has never been comfortable with it. Unable to touch anyone without fear of killing them, she had lived in isolation for years until Adam came along. Now things have changed for her, yet although she lives with others, she still feels cut off from them. Her touch has the power to be a formidable weapon, but she may have abilities even beyond what she knows. However, discovering them means embracing a darker side of herself, one that she's tried to keep hidden. In the meantime, even though she is in love with Adam, Juliette keeps finding herself thinking about Warner. Juliette knows that sooner or later she will have to choose who she wants to be, how far she will go, committing herself to Adam or entertaining the possibility of Warner. But what choice is the right one?


It's like a drop of honey, a field of tulips blooming in the springtime. It's fresh rain, a whispered promise, a cloudless sky, the perfect punctuation mark at the end of a sentence.

And it's the only thin in the world keeping me afloat.

When I finished Unravel Me, all I could think is that there aren't enough words to describe this book. It took me a long time to compose any kind of coherent thoughts on the book, and it isn't often that I read something that leaves me so speechless. If you can think of good adjectives or adverbs, chances are that they can describe Unravel Me. Just like in Shatter Me, the writing is beautiful, the characters are complex, and the story is compelling. I was amazed by all the emotions that Juliette was able to give voice to throughout the story. More than once I found myself reading something and having to pause to reread and absorb the words on the page because a feeling had been captured in writing so perfectly. This book has so much emotional depth, but it is also setting the stage for what is sure to come in the third book. And yet there is still action here, more exploration of the gifts people at Omega Point have. It was interesting and sometimes surprising to see how all of these talents could work together.

"Because sometimes you see yourself - you see yourself the way you could be - the way you might be if things were different. And if you look too closely, what you see will scare you, it'll make you wonder what you might do if given the opportunity. You know there's a different side of yourself you don't want to recognize, a side you don't want to see in the daylight. You spend your whole life doing everything to push it down and away, out of sight, out of mind. You pretend that a piece of yourself doesn't exist.

You live like that for a long time.

For a long time, you're safe.

And then you're not.

Throughout Unravel Me, Juliette really begins to take control of and embrace her power. She becomes stronger, not only physically but also emotionally, as she realizes that she can define herself and that her life has value beyond her desired use as an indestructible weapon. Even though at times she makes choices out of fear, she also learns to face these fears. Then there are Adam and Warner. Throughout the book, I just wanted to hug them both. I love both of them, but for different reasons. With such well-written characters, it would be impossible not to love them, or at least be intrigued by them and touched by their actions and their feelings for Juliette. (I also realized that reading Destroy Me is a necessity, not just an option. Not because it's needed to understand the story, but because it's more Warner.) Kenji and James also make appearances, Kenji providing humor and James being the sweet kid that he always was, and I enjoyed seeing both of them again. Every element of this book worked together to create something truly incredible.

There are so many moments in this book that just have to be experienced. If you haven't read Shatter Me, move it to the top of your reading list, and if you haven't picked up Unravel Me yet, what are you waiting for? The beautiful writing alone makes these dystopian novels stand out from all the others in the market. I absolutely cannot wait for the third book in this trilogy!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Opening Lines (18)

Opening Lines is a new feature here on Portrait of a Book that showcases the first lines of recent and/or upcoming releases. If you're looking for your next read, let these first lines help you decide!

By: Cat Winters
Published By: Amulet Books
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

"I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way."

By: Jennifer Banash
Published By: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: April 4, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

A gritty, atmospheric coming of age tale set in 1980s New York City.

Seventeen-year-old Cat is living every teenager’s dream: she has her own apartment on the Lower East Side and at night she’s club kid royalty, guarding the velvet rope at some of the hottest clubs in the city. The night with its crazy, frenetic, high-inducing energy—the pulsing beat of the music, the radiant, joyful people and those seductive white lines that can ease all pain—is when Cat truly lives. But her daytime, when real life occurs, is more nightmare than dream. Having spent years suffering her mother’s emotional and physical abuse, and abandoned by her father, Cat is terrified and alone—unable to connect to anyone or anything. But when someone comes along who makes her want to truly live, she’ll need to summon the courage to confront her demons and take control of a life already spinning dangerously out of control.

Both poignant and raw, White Lines is a gripping tale and the reader won’t want to look away.

"I reach one hand out from beneath the warm dark of the quilt and turn off the alarm, the shrillness breaking the early morning silence."

By: Scott Tracey
Published By: Flux
Release Date: April 8, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

Moonset, a coven of such promise . . . Until they turned to the darkness.

After the terrorist witch coven known as Moonset was destroyed fifteen years ago—during a secret war against the witch Congress—five children were left behind, saddled with a legacy of darkness. Sixteen-year-old Justin Daggett, son of a powerful Moonset warlock, has been raised alongside the other orphans by the witch Congress, who fear the children will one day continue the destruction their parents started.

A deadly assault by a wraith, claiming to work for Moonset’s most dangerous disciple, Cullen Bridger, forces the five teens to be evacuated to Carrow Mill. But when dark magic wreaks havoc in their new hometown, Justin and his siblings are immediately suspected. Justin sets out to discover if someone is trying to frame the Moonset orphans . . . or if Bridger has finally come out of hiding to reclaim the legacy of Moonset. He learns there are secrets in Carrow Mill connected to Moonset’s origins, and keeping the orphans safe isn’t the only reason the Congress relocated them . . .

"There were two hundred forty-five students involved in the riot."

By: Jennifer Archer
Published By: Harper Teen
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Buy the Book: Amazon

Sometimes I forget for an hour or two that she's with me. Sometimes I convince myself that she was only a dream. Or that I'm crazy.

For as long as Lily Winston can remember, she has never been alone. Iris, a shadowy figure who mimics Lily's movements and whispers in her ear, is with her always—but invisible to the rest of the world. Iris is Lily's secret.

But when Lily's father is killed in a tragic accident, his cryptic final words suggest that he and Lily's mother have been keeping secrets of their own. Suddenly, Iris begins pushing Lily more than ever, possessing her thoughts and urging her to put together the pieces of a strange puzzle her father left behind. As she searches for answers, Lily finds herself drawn to Ty Collier, a mysterious new boy in town. Together, Lily and Ty must untangle a web of deception to discover the truth about her family, Iris . . . and Lily's own identity.

"Ty Colliver shivered as he paused in front of the Daily Grind coffee shop to wipe his boots on the mat beside the door."

Do any of these opening lines grab your attention? What are your favorite first lines that you've read lately?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Snapshot Musings: I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

One of my blogging goals for 2013 was to have more discussion posts. I've said this for a long time, but somehow never quite write them. Having Snapshot Musings will hopefully encourage me to post more than just book reviews and regular memes. Some posts may be long, some short, and some mainly asking for opinions of fellow bloggers. If there's any topic you'd like to see featured, feel free to email me with the idea!

I'm finally jumping on the bandwagon and talking about rating systems. Specifically, my rating system and how sometimes months later I want to go back and change star ratings. Every time I feel this way, it gets me thinking: Do I need to redo my rating system? Should I abandon stars (or in my case, bows) altogether and just let my review speak for itself? Do I go back and change ratings on old reviews or on Goodreads, or do I leave them because at some point that was the rating I thought the book deserved?

It took a long time for me after I started blogging to start feeling comfortable with the rating system that I had decided on. With everything I saw on Goodreads and on other blogs, I felt bad giving books three stars, although I did. For some reason, three stars seemed bad. Even though here I've qualified it as "good," when you transfer it to Goodreads, three stars became mediocre. In reality, three stars should be average, and it seems like most books should fall in the three-to-four star range. I've finally become more comfortable giving those ratings, and have even ended up giving several books two stars. Even though I don't think that I've ever held anything back in reviews, when it comes to actual stars, I sometimes wonder if my stars don't match the review.

I'm an indecisive person by nature, and sometimes this indecisiveness translates into assigning star ratings. Some books are obvious, but others I debate for a long time, especially those books that could fall at three and a half or four stars. I have always tried to consider more than just enjoyment in my star ratings - I take into account things like writing style and overall emotional impact as well as how much I liked the book. Then, of course, I begin to question this. After all, who am I to decide what books have literary merit? At the end of the day, every review and all the ratings here are my opinion.

And that is where the problem of being indecisive comes into play: my opinions often change. I look back over my shelves on Goodreads and find books I've given four or five stars to that probably deserved less. I've read other books since then that showed me how much more wonderful a book could be, how much more depth and complexity there could be to a story and to characters, and I wonder what about those older books made me give them the high rating that I did. On the other hand, there are books that I read over a year ago that I still find myself thinking about, remembering what I learned from them, how they made me feel, how if even for just a moment my worldview and outlook on life was changed. I want to reread them and recapture the feeling, and I rarely reread books. Some of these books have less than five stars, but they deserve all five. At the time, I know that I was trying so hard to stick to my rule of not giving a book five stars unless it made me at least tear up. However, a book doesn't have to make me cry to be amazing, and I've found some books that made me cry that still don't feel like five-star books. In the end, I'd trapped myself in a system when I should have made a system that worked better for me.

I've been thinking about this for a while now, and I've come to the conclusion that I just need to reevaluate my rating system in my own mind. If I love a book, then I love a book; it can be enjoyable and have value without being a literary masterpiece. Some books are just that - a momentary escape, a brief visit to a world where we know everything will be all right in the end - and that is okay. But some books are going to shape my thought processes or resonate more deeply with me than others, and that's okay too. I want that balance, and that is why I read so many different books. In the end, not every four-star book is going to have earned four stars for the same reason, and hopefully my reviews will be well-written enough that the reasons that I did rate the book as I did come across.

As for changing old ratings, I'm not sure I could justify lowering ratings just because I've read more books now, but I might end up raising ratings that I feel should be raised. But knowing myself, I'll keep debating about this for a long time. There's never one right answer, and the more I see what other bloggers do, the more I reconsider and redefine things for myself. My ratings may never be the same as any other blogger, but I will always try to be consistent with myself.

What are your thoughts on rating systems? Do you change old ratings? Do you have certain criteria you use when assigning ratings, or do you just let your reviews speak for themselves?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

By: Jennifer E. Smith
Published By: Poppy
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Series: None
Pages: 416
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: ALA Midwinter
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

You know those books that leave you with a smile on your face, that feel like they need a chorus of "Aww!" at the end, and that you just want to hug when you finish it because that book was just what you wanted it to be? That's how I felt about This Is What Happy Looks Like. Most people felt that way about The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, and I think it is safe to say that if you liked that book, you will love this one.

"Or what this just what happened when you got older? Maybe growing up was really nothing more than growing away: from your old life, from your old self, from all those things that kept you tethered to your past."

Ellie O'Neill lives a relatively quiet life in a small, coastal town in Maine. Her life is fairly routine until one day, she gets an email meant for someone else. She responds back, and just like in You've Got Mail, a conversation starts. She and her email partner talk about everything - except their real names and backgrounds. Little does Ellie know that she's been emailing Graham Larkin, one of the biggest teen Hollywood heartthrobs and someone she never expected to meet. Graham, however, is determined to meet her, and even manages to have part of his new movie shot in Ellie's Maine town. But can any relationship really work between a small-town girl with a family secret and a movie star with no privacy? Is Ellie willing to risk being in the spotlight to be with him?

To: GDL824@yahoo.com
Subject: what happy looks like

Sunrises over the harbor. Ice cream on a hot day. The sound of the waves down the street. The way my dog curls up next to me on the couch. Evening strolls. Great movies. Thunderstorms. A good cheeseburger. Friday. Saturday. Wednesdays, even. Sticking your toes in the water. Pajama pants. Flip-flops. Swimming. Poetry. The absence of smiley faces in an e-mail.

What does it look like to you?

This Is What Happy Looks Like is just what I hoped it would be; all of the elements worked together to create a story that was very touching. I was hooked from the beginning with the email exchanges between Ellie and Graham. They were innocent, fun messages that progressed into something more, showing just how deeply relationships can develop when all you have are written words. As for the characters themselves, I really liked both Ellie and Graham. Ellie didn't fall under Graham's "actor" spell and was willing to sacrifice what she wanted in order to do what she believed was right. Likewise, Graham was truly a good guy. I liked seeing his hidden talents, like his artistic ability, and I liked the different portrayal of the famous actor. He wasn't perfect, but he also wasn't a jerk; he lost control, but at the same time he just wanted to be seen for him rather than for his Hollywood persona. From the start, it was obvious how these two just fit together.

Yet there is more to the story than just a small-town girl going out with a celebrity. Ellie also has to confront a past that she has tried to ignore, and with that she has to work out things with her mother. There are also poetry references from Ellie that I liked, and I even want a framed poem now. Beyond that, though, there are two main things that really make this book come alive. The first is the setting, the small coastal Maine town - I could really envision it, and even found myself wanting to visit one. The small town feel was captured so well, and I loved it. But most of all I really loved the few quiet moments that happened in this book, with Graham and Ellie sitting on the coast, enjoying moments to themselves. It was a classic example of silence speaking more than words, and even though I read this book mostly in one day, I found myself wanting to savor the moments.

"'Exactly. How can you know it makes you happy if you've never experienced it?'

'There are different kinds of happy,' she said. 'Some kinds don't need any proof.'

'Like sunrises?'

'Exactly,' she said. 'I know enough to know that they're happy things. There's just nothing sad about a sunrise.'

'As opposed to a sunset.'

'I don't think they're particularly sad either.'

'I do,' Graham told her. 'They're endings, and endings are always sad.'

'They're the beginning of the night,' she said. 'That's something.'"

Even after finishing this book, I've wondered how life kept going for Graham and Ellie; I closed the book, but I haven't forgotten them. The underlying possibilities for happiness in this book left me with a smile on my face. I can't wait to see what Jennifer E. Smith writes next!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Waiting on" Wednesday

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's selection is:

By: Nancy Ohlin
Published By: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 7, 2013
Preorder the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Nothing is as it seems in this darkly romantic tale of infatuation and possession, inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss.

Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max.

Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go…

Why it's wanted:

I love retellings of the classics, so something inspired by Rebecca sounds like something I'd enjoy. This sounds like it could be really good!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday (15)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week there will be a new topic and a new list to make. Be sure to stop by the host blog to see all of the other blogs participating!

I haven't done one of these in a long time, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk about some of my favorite books that never got reviewed here!

This week's topic:
Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I Was a Blogger

1. Phantom by Susan Kay - This Phantom of the Opera retelling is, in my opinion, the epitome of retellings. It takes the original story and expands it in such an imaginative way. After reading this book, you could never root for Raoul again. I reread this book so many times as a teen.

2. Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind - I'm definitely cheating here, since this is eleven books. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be between Faith of the Fallen (book 6) and the Chainfire trilogy (books 9-11). Still cheating, I know. Sword of Truth is epic fantasy, but there is also philosophy woven through it. These books really helped shaped the way I thought about things and viewed the world, and still do.

3. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer - These books really got me reading again after all but forgetting my love of books in college. I might not have the same reaction if I were to read these books today, but at the time, the emotional reaction I had when reading them and the subsequent friends I made because of these books meant that I'd always have a soft spot for this series.

4. The Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward - The vampires here were definitely not like the ones in Twilight. These books are completely engrossing, and still this is the one series that everything stops for on release day.

5. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - I think this is self-explanatory. For a long time the Harry Potter books were the standard against which I measured other books I read. I still miss the midnight releases for the books and movies.

6. The Hunger Games - I'm pretty sure this is also self-explanatory. Even more than Twilight, this series sold me on reading YA.

7. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde - I read these books on a recommendation from a friend and after reading an excerpt that was a diatribe on "had had" and "that that" from The Well of Lost Plots. These books were so much fun to read, and I loved reliving classic books through them.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett - I actually listened to this as an audiobook, and it was incredible. It was unlike any story I'd read at that point.

9. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks - This was another audiobook. I'm not a fan of all of his writing, but at the time when I was listening to this, it was just the right story for me. And the book is, as always, so much better than the movie.

10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - This list wouldn't be complete without the classics. I still love these books and love rereading them.

What made your Top Ten list? Please leave a comment or link to your blog!
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