28 February 2012

Get Your Cupcakes!

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler (Simon Pulse, 1/3/2012) 
Review by Bailey Kelsey

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances, a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life—and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last....*

This is not a novel to be read without an adequate (and by adequate, I mean approximately 3 dozen) cupcakes on hand. Why? Because each chapter begins with a very delicious cupcake description, a cupcake for every possible problem life throws your way. If you don’t have access to delicious, cupcake goodness, you’ll be in agony for the rest of your reading experience.  


The first fifty pages of this book packs in quite the back story, and it’s one of the few books I’ve read with a prologue that is completely necessary. And let me let you in on what the synopsis doesn’t tell you (and don’t worry, it’s all right there in the prologue): Hudson’s dashed dream is Olympic-level figure skating and the big betrayal is her father cheating on her mother, which ends in divorce. 

In a series of fortunate events, Hudson’s life collides with Josh’s, a high school hockey player who desperately wants her help on the ice. But instead of coaching  just  Josh, Hudson ends up teaching all the Wolves how to skate better, the linchpin in their ten-year losing streak. In return, she asks for undisturbed ice time so she can put a routine together for a skate competition that comes with the higher prize of a $50,000 college scholarship. 

While bits and pieces of this plot seemed entirely convenient, I’m old enough to know that life does have a tendency to throw what one wants or needs into the mix at eerily precise moments. Of course, what one wants or needs isn’t always compatible. While reading, I found myself continuously doubting which path Hudson should take. 


Hudson is a high school girl, the local Cupcake Queen, and under the bizarre impression she can hold the aforementioned title and remain under the radar of her peers.  Her voice, as a first-person narrator, was typical of most other female first-person narratives I’ve read in YA. The action carried more of the story than her narration did. 

I must admit to being continuously frustrated by Hudson’s party line: I am not selfish. Or rather, her tendency to change the subject / offer excuses when other characters made a point to mention to Hudson her increasingly selfish behavior throughout the story-arc. This isn’t to say this particular characterization is not spot-on, and there is a very good Moment of Self Realization towards the end that I enjoyed immensely because of this characterization. But still, it’s annoying and a reader should be prepared to want to smash a few of Hudson’s cupcakes in her face. 


Much of this book references back to Hester Prynne, and I have no idea why. Yes, Hudson is reading The Scarlet Letter in her English class; yes, plenty of high school girls have felt condemned and ostracized by their peers. But those connections are weak, and often actually missing several larger Points of The Scarlett Letter, and doing nothing to add depth to either the plot of this novel nor to the character of Hudson. There were a few moments where the out-of-place Hester references almost made me stop reading. I feel a need to admit to that here.

The ending (the final two chapters, specifically) made the entire read worthwhile, though. Ockler leaves certain plot lines unfinished.  These plot lines represent realities that Hudson must accept, as they are, for her to make a giant leap in personal growth. I won’t spoil whether Hudson does or doesn’t understand what she’s facing at the end, but that the option is left up to the character, and not easily solved by the author, was especially meaningful. 

*Plot synopsis taken from BarnesandNoble.com

26 February 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Giveaway!

Kelly has an ARC copy of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE that she's giving away to one lucky reader!

Just answer WHY you want to read DoSaB and you can be entered! You can also receive more entries by commenting on LAURA'S post and by tweeting about this contest!

Follow the rules seen HERE!

This contest opens on February 26th and ENDS on March 3rd. You have ONE WEEK.

14 February 2012

This is a Command: Go Buy This Book

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers (June 19, 2012, St. Martin’s Press)
Review by Kenzie Helene
I originally requested
This is Not a Test from NetGalley because many people on Twitter were gushing about the brilliance of it. I trust Twitter when it comes to my reading list since I follow a lot of reliable people, whose opinions on books come from their love and not just paid promotions. This is Not a Test is just another example why people should listen to authors and librarians when they suggest books. I’m doubtful that I’d have come across this book on my own, but I’m so thankful that I’ve read it now.Summary

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?*


I wasn’t immediately impressed with Sloane’s narrative during the beginning of the book. It seemed like a lot of action and little thought on the part of the main character, which was strange since it was written in a first person point of view. Still, all the action is necessary to get to the brutal plot, which truly emphasizes the adaptation of a human psyche under intense stress. I truthfully don’t know if the narrative style changed somewhere in the middle or if I became invested enough in Sloane’s welfare to the point that it wasn’t noticeable. Either way, by time the first fifty pages were over, I couldn’t put it down.

There have been a lot of zombie novels that I’ve read recently that fall very short of my mark, deriving more from expected stereotypes than originality. It is as if the authors consider the concept of cannibal corpses to be enough of a hook that they can abandon all other ideas of plot.
This is Not a Test does not depend on the audience’s previous knowledge of zombies at all. In fact, I don’t believe that Courtney Summers, the author, writes the word zombie once in the book. Instead, she relies on the description of the walking dead to make their own impact, and they certainly do.

The plot was the true star of the story. All of the characters’ back stories are slowly revealed as they suffer through more and more harmful situations until their shared experiences change them in ways they hadn’t expected, forming unexpected bonds and breaking others apart. Sloane’s mindset adapts to her exceptional and awful circumstances; the change is so subtle and slow that it mimics real life in a way that I had not seen before in literature.

The final paragraph is my absolute favorite part of the book. The imagery embedded itself in my mind because it ends on such an abrupt, but perfect, note. No definite conclusion is offered, leaving the ending open to interpretation, yet immensely satisfying nonetheless.

So, listen to book recommendations from Twitter, guys. You never know when it might pay off.

*Taken from Barnes and Noble’s website.

07 February 2012

The Fault in Our Stars (And a Lot of Crying)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (January 10, 2012, Dutton Juvenile)
review by Laura Beutler, Bailey Kelsey, Kelly Lucas, and Kenzie Helene

When we join our valiant heroines, they are bent over their various computer screens. Laura is crunching on saltine toffees, her laptop sticky with chocolate. Bailey is pulling out chunks of her hair, trying to master all of the things. Kenzie is preparing for the batch of crazysauce college will serve up to her, and Kelly is...still at work. And then later, she comes home. But still. Their reading is done, and now it is time to talk The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s much-awaited new novel.

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumors in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumors tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

It would be impossible to have a full discussion of The Fault in Our Stars without actually DISCUSSING it, which means spoilers. So, if you have not read the book yet, tread no further!