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Reached did not reach me.

Out of five stars (on Goodreads) I gave Reached by Ally Condie two. Then three. Then back to two. Here’s why:

I really, really loved Matched. It’s a great dystopian romance.

But then there was Crossed, which just made me mad because there just wasn’t enough of the romance. I wanted resolution between Cassia, Ky, and Xander. It did not deliver.

So then we get Reached, which I really hoped would be all kinds of amazing and finish up this trilogy in a satisfying way, but it was just kind of… eh. Bleh. The first 300-400 pages were all about curing a plague and continued frustrations with the whole love triangle thing. Plus, there was the Society and the Pilot and the Rising and confusion about who was who and who was good and who was bad. It was so annoying. So why did I keep reading? I honestly don’t know.

The ONLY reason that I gave this three stars instead of two is that finally, in the last 50 pages or so, I got a satisfying ending.

However, there are still so many things left hanging. All this talk of Matthew Markham in the first half of the book, which is then just ignored in the end when Ky is actually looking for his family. The tacked on voting at the end… How did we get from Society to Rising to Society/Rising to a democratic vote? I mean, it’s a nice thought to wrap the trilogy up with, but you can’t just spend hundreds of pages talking about the corruption of these governing structures and forms of civilization and then be all like, “Oh, it’s time to vote. And everyone has magically learned how to write their names.” What the heck? Everybody’s ok with that? No one tries to stop the process to remain in power? Anna actually WANTS to be in power? Doubtful. Oh, and, the whole world is going to vote just because Cassia and Ky say it will work? What about all those who blindly followed the Society, or chose the Society willingly because of the security it offered? They all just went along with what some teenagers said? Gah.

That all makes me want to go back to two stars. I am.

Good somewhat clean fun

So maybe I’m the only one who sees this puzzle on sale at Walmart for $4.00 and has to buy it, but I couldn’t resist. I can’t wait to see the faces of my husband’s family members when this gets opened in the annual white elephant gift exchange. Hahahahahahahaha :)

Burning Blue by Paul Griffin

I don’t even know what to say about this, but it was definitely a good mystery with an ending I could never have imagined. Burning Blue is definitely for older YA readers – mature 10th/11th grade and up. Once I got to the answer of the “Who did it?” question, it was hard to make myself keep reading. You’ll understand after reading. I also appreciate the author’s note in the back, in which Griffin explains his reason for writing this story so I don’t just have to think he’s a messed up human being. Maybe I’ll have more to say later… For now, I’m still in shock.

Catching Jordan – Miranda Kinneally

A few weeks ago, I discovered and loved Stealing Parker by Miranda Kinneally. I mean, I seriously couldn’t put it down and stayed up all night reading it.

I’m not sure why I found Stealing Parker first instead of Catching Jordan, which is actually the first in this series of connected books, but I’m kind of glad I did. I liked Catching Jordan, but I don’t know that I would have read another one of the series if I’d read it first. I know. That sounds kind of weird. I’ll try to explain. 
Jordan, the protagonist in Catching Jordan, is the quarterback of her high school football team… which means she surrounded by gorgeous football players constantly. But, they see her as a teammate and their leader, not necessarily as girlfriend material. On a certain level, I can identify with that from my own middle and high school experiences, but I struggled with really connecting to Jordan at first because she truly sounded like a football jock. Like, not just her spoken words on the football field but even in her narration of the story.
Once I got past that, though, I really enjoyed Jordan’s story and what she went through with her family, team, and romantic life. And really, it’s the kind of romance EVERY girl, jockette or not, dreams about. I also enjoyed learning more about the characters from Stealing Parker… and now I need to go back and read Stealing Parker again. :)
I’m excited for the third book connected to these Hundred Oaks books which is due to be released in March of 2013. I’d be even MORE excited if I got an ARC of it… Hahaha.You can read an excerpt of the third book here.
As with Stealing Parker, I’d recommend this for upper high school and college-aged girls. Enjoy the Hundred Oaks books! 

The Scent of Rain – Kristin Billerbeck

I have been reading Kristin Billerbeck’s books for years, and I always enjoy them thoroughly. Billerbeck is a Christian author, so I appreciate the clean cut content of her books, but I also appreciate that she’s able to write Christian books without having her characters be all perfect and cheesy. She captures very real characters who struggle with issues of faith and temptation and decision-making just like we ALL do. Plus, she’s a smart and witty writer, which I love. :)

In The Scent of Rain, the protagonist is Daphne Sweeten, a perfumer straight out of training in Paris who suddenly finds herself left at the altar and without her greatest asset as a perfumer – her sense of smell. Determined to get on with life and figure out what to do with herself, Daphne goes ahead and reports for her first day of work at a new company, faking her sense of smell the whole way.

Of course, she meets all new people who love and support her, deals with the heartache of being left at the altar, and even finds room in her heart to love again (because really, if she didn’t fall in love again, the book would be sucky and depressing). Daphne is a stubborn, flawed, and hard-headed protagonist that you just can’t help but love and root for.

Upper high school, college, and early career girls are probably the one’s who like this the best, though I’m not putting any age restriction on it. The content is certainly appropriate enough for middle school and relevant enough for those of us who have been out of school for longer than we’d care to admit. And if you like this one, check out Billerbeck’s other titles! Enjoy.

Al Capone Does My Shirts

I consider it great fortune that I just happened to discover an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy – before final edits and polishing for publishing are finished) of this in one of my favorite used books stores in Boone, NC before the book was even published. I read it, loved it, and vowed to make my 7th graders read it as soon as it was published in 2004. Since then, it has been one of my favorites both in and out of the classroom.
Al Capone Does My Shirts is about a boy, Moose, who is forced to move to Alcatraz Island when his dad takes a job working at the prison. Of course, it’s more than a little intimidating being on an island with the most notorious convicts in America, and Moose and the other island kids take full advantage of this when they’re off the island, which lands them in all kinds of trouble and awkward situations. 
In this story, Moose is a really interesting character full of wit, intelligence, sarcasm, and integrity. His childhood has mostly consisted of taking care of his “little” sister Natalie, who is actually older than he is but acts younger because of her autism (in the 1930’s, they didn’t have a name for autism, so all they knew was that Natalie was just different). While he sometimes can’t stand the responsibility, it is clear that he’s the one who understands her the best, and so he’ll do anything to help her. What he eventually does do to help her is nothing short of risky business.
A few years ago, Choldenko published a sequel to this called Al Capone Shines My Shoes. I didn’t love it as much as the original, but it was a good follow up for those who want to know more about what happens to Moose and the other characters. 
If you haven’t read this, you should! Enjoy it. :)

Friday Favorite: Secrets of My Hollywood Life

Jen Calonita has an impressive way of writing intriguing stories that you’d like to go into and visit for vacation without making them so scandalously inappropriate that I have to worry about putting them on my summer reading lists for middle school. I appreciate that about her. I also love that while it’s good for upper middle schoolers, it’s also great for all high school grades. Heck, I loved it as an adult.

This series, The Secrets of My Hollywood Life, features a protagonist named Kaitlin Burke. She’s a famous teenage TV star in Hollywood, and throughout her adventures and dramas and everything else we get an insider’s look at the life of a Hollywood starlet. It’s very fun. And, as Calonita is a former entertainment editor for Teen people, you definitely get a legit inside look!

In this first book, Kaitlin wants to know what it’s like to be a regular, not-famous teenager in high school and goes behind the backs of almost everyone around her to enroll in a local school under a false ID. Of course, she falls for the school’s hottest lacrosse player (and who wouldn’t, really?)… lots of crazy things happen. And, while this book does have a fully satisfying ending,  you totally want to start reading the next book as soon as you finish this one to figure out what happens with Kaitlin and her crew. It’s awesome.

Check this book out, buy it, invest in the rest of the series… you’ll love it. Enjoy!


#ThrowbackThursday – The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

There are so many reasons to love this book. It’s so real and so amazing in the way that it was written – it was instantly popular when published by Hinton (AS A TEENAGER – OMG) and is still popular and relevant to teenage life today. I read somewhere once that this is considered the first of our modern YA novels… sort of a blueprint by which all others are written. I believe it. In an interview she gave, Hinton basically said she was bored by the books she had to read as a teenager and decided to write something she’d actually want to read. You gotta love that fierce teenage determination.

In The Outsiders, you follow the stories of teens in rival gangs – the Greasers and the Socials. While we don’t have gangs and cliques with the same names in today’s teenage society, we do have plenty of rivalry and hatred between groups of people that make this classic story one for today’s teens as well. If you’ve read the book, you know how powerful the story is. If you haven’t, you should.

For some reason, I never had to read this as a student. I really wish I had. As an adult I can appreciate it as I look back on my teen years and identify areas of my life that related to this, but it would have been a great one to make some connections to while I was dealing with high school.

Three Weeks Left To Shop For CHRISTMAS!!!

Want to buy a book or two for a teenager in your life that they’ll actually want to read? Picking books for others can be a bit intimidating… but lucky for you, it’s one of my favorite things to do! So, I’m giving you a holiday gift buying guide for YA Literature. Below you’ll see categories, book recs within them, and links to buy (I’m linking to Amazon this time, but shop around for the best prices, or just head into your local bookstore). Also, I’ve linked to previous blog posts for books I’ve already recommended for more information.

The Best Book Published This Year (2012): The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

This book is just really, really great. The protagonist is smart and full of life despite having had cancer for years, and it’s impossible to read TFIOS without falling in love with the protagonist’s love interest. This book has a HUGE following among teens and those of us who love YA Lit. My only wish for this book is that there was a stronger faith element to provide hope. That being said, though, there’s plenty to think about and discuss with teens already solid in their faith. Previous Post.

The Best Book Published Last Year (2011): How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

How to Save a Life is one of the best books I’ve read, period. It deals with teen pregnancy, adoption, and family issues wonderfully, gracefully, and positively. It’s intriguing, has an element of romance, and is FULL of characters that you’ll love to root for. Previous Post.

A Classic That’s Still Relevant: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I’m sure we all remember reading The Outsiders in school, but I didn’t realize how incredibly relevant it still is to teenage life today until I taught it to my 8th graders last year. They loved it. I highly recommend this for teenagers of all ages – 8th grade and up. No, we don’t have the Greasers and the Socials in our society today, but they’ve been replaced by groups that teens identify immediately. Highly recommended for girls and boys, but especially for boys.

A More Modern Classic: The Giver by Lois Lowry

This book is great for so many reasons. In order to really get it and get a lot out of the story, I’d recommend this most to 8th grade and up strong readers. I’ve taught it in 7th grade before, but it required a lot of input from me to get students to really, truly understand the book. There are so many elements to this story that are relevant to events on our nightly news that it’s unbelievable. Previous Post.

For Girls Who Love The Beach Life: The Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy by Jenny Han

I was so jealous of this main character, Belly, that it’s kind of embarrassing to admit. She got to spend her summers as a child at a beach house (literally right ON the beach) surrounded by cute boys. Belly’s story through these three books is intoxicating and will absolutely draw in and stick with teenage girls. Previous Post.

Fun, Romantic Comedy Mysteries: The Charmed Life trilogy by Jenny B. Jones

I absolutely loved this trilogy and was really sad they didn’t continue past the three books in this trilogy. They are smart, fun, and full of romance and mystery. The content of these is totally appropriate for middle school readers and also interesting enough to be wonderful for high schoolers. I’m a serious fan of Jenny B. Jones and own everything she’s ever written. You seriously cannot go wrong with her books. Previous Post.

For Middle School Boys: Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

This is one of my favorite books ever. Sonnenblick deals with serious topics like leukemia and the awkwardness of growing up in a way that is direct, funny, and all kinds of awesome. The companion to this one, Notes From A Midnight Driver, is also amazing. 7th-9th grade boys will identify with the protagonist, Steven, who is in 8th grade. Previous Post.

For Girls Who Dream of a Romance in Paris: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I have never wanted to live INSIDE of a book so much as I wanted to live in this one. It’s about an American girl spending her senior year at a boarding school in Paris, and I just can’t handle how much I love it. And it’s not just the setting, either… Perkins is a great writer of current YA. This has a follow-up, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and I’m eagerly awaiting the third one, which will be published in 2013. Best for high school or college girls. Previous Post.

For a Girl Struggling to Fit In: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

I know ALL teenage girls struggle to fit in at times, so the category might be a little redundant, but this is just a great book for teenage girls. The protagonist has a sister dealing with an eating disorder, family drama, and her friends have shut her out of their circle. She learns a lot about herself, her family, and her friends. Great read.

Inspiration for Girls Headed Towards or Already in College: There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones

The main character in this, Finley, is 18 years old and in that period of time between high school and college. She has suffered a loss within her family, throwing her into a time of uncertainty about what she wants to do with her future. As with my recommendation of a Jenny B. Jones book above, everything she writes is so inspirational and encouraging in a not cheesy way. You can’t go wrong with her books! Previous Post.