TGIF at GReads! (14) & Weekly Recap

This Friday blog hop is run by Ginger at GReads! (who also created this beautiful button). Each week she posts a new question for us to ponder. Click the button to join in!

This week’s question is:

Banned Books: How do you feel about the censorship of the freedom to read? Do you think the education system needs to be more strict on what children are exposed to in books?
I strongly believe that the regulation of reading material among kids is the duty of parents. If parents have objections to material available to kids, it is their job to communicate that to their kids and teachers. Parents have the right to remove their kids from educational programming that they don’t agree with, but just because some parents may find material objectionable doesn’t mean that nobody gets to read it.

The right to free speech is one of our greatest liberties and is not something to be taken lightly. Self-expression is so important to public discourse on societal wrongs and to the further development of society in general. Ideas, in any form, can and should be expressed, and not one person should ever feel afraid to speak their mind. People take offense to a wide variety of materials, words, and concepts, and it is because of that subjectivity that limits on expression are so dangerous. The moment we start to homogenize our thinking is the moment our society starts to crumble. Progress is born on a foundation of daring, bold thoughts. We have to take risks and listen to the very things that frighten or abhor us in order to better understand the world around us.

Help me celebrate novel and bold ideas as part of Banned Books Week, and support authors who dare to be different. The Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop ends tomorrow, so click the link at the top of the page to enter!

My weekly recap is inspired by the phenomenally talented, kind and generous Small Review. If you are not already following her, you are really missing out. Also, have I mentioned how much I love Cool Text? They’re the folks that allow me to make these cool (and simple) text buttons – for FREE!

If you’re a first time visitor, or just didn’t get the chance to stop by this week, here’s what you missed:

GLOW by Amy Kathleen Ryan
2/5 stars

WISDOM’S KISS by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
3/5 stars

Let’s Talk About…Virginity in YA Fiction

Waterfall Wednesday

Enjoy your weekend everybody!

Review: Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Book: Wisdom’s Kiss
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Release date: September 12, 2011
Source: ARC for review from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) Princess Wisdom, known as Dizzy, longs for a life of adventure far beyond the staid old kingdom of Montagne.

Tips, a soldier, longs to keep his true life secret from his family.

Fortitude, an orphaned maid, longs only for Tips.

These three passionate souls might just attain their dreams while preserving Montagne from certain destruction, if only they can tolerate each other long enough to come up with a plan. Tough to save the world when you can’t even be in the same room together.

Magic, cunning, and one very special cat join forces in this hilarious, extraordinary tale by the author of Dairy Queen and Princess Ben. An incredibly creative tale told with diaries, memoirs, encyclopedia entries, letters, biographies, even a stage play, all woven together into a grand adventure.

First impressions: The short chapters and 8 POVs made it easy to get into this book. I was so anxious to see what style was coming next that I breezed through huge chunks of this novel in each sitting.

Lasting impressions: Though the book seemed gimmicky at times, it was a cute story with a fun ending.

Conflicting impressions: Some of the narrative styles made it more difficult to follow the action, and I had to read certain sections a couple of times to know what was happening.

Overall impressions: I’m not usually a middle grade reader, but something about this one drew my eye. I liked the idea of a special cat, and the POV structure appealed to me as well. I wanted to see what Catherine Gilbert Murdock (sister to Eat, Pray, Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert, by the way) could do with all of the styles – memoir, play, letters, etc.

Unfortunately, the varying styles didn’t always serve the story in the most effective way. The alternating perspectives tended to be a bit jarring with their frequency, even if they made for quick reading. The letters did give us nice glimpses into well developed characters, but the play script, in particular, didn’t tell us much we couldn’t have gotten from other points of view.

The story itself was interesting, with a cute reveal at the end that adds a little something for fairy tale lovers. I enjoyed the characters, but some added backstory would have helped me understand the political games beyond the superficial. I think this is a great book for younger readers looking for a unique narrative and an adventurous plot.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Waterfall Wednesday (5)

Hosted by Tina at Tina’s Book Reviews, Missie at The Unread Reader, Joy & Serena at Edgy Inspirational Romance, Nic at Irresistible Reads and Jenny from Supernatural Snark, each week we’ll be reading and discussing a set of chapters from the book. There will be prizes for participants, so click the button for more information and to sign up!

Discussion Questions for Chapters 24-28 & Wrap Up

1. After Gabi is injured, the doctor gives her a tonic. Gabi questions the doctor several times what is in it but he refuses to tell. Would have you taken the tonic in Gabi situation?

No way. I’m all about trying new things, but if some shady guy hands me a mysterious “medicine” I don’t think I could take it. I’d call for a royal food taster first. 😉

2. Before the games Gabi asks Lia to let Lord Forabosch win in the archery event as people especially Lord Forabosch are becoming suspicious of them. But during the games Lord Forabosch upsets Lia trying to throw her off her game. So Lia decides to win. Do you think she did the right thing by not letting Lord Forabosch bully her or do you think she took an unnecessary risk?

It was definitely risky, but I get where Lia was coming from. It’s so hard for me to stay cool when people are especially aggravating or not playing fair. Was it the right choice for Lia? Probably not. With that much attention on them, they certainly didn’t need to show off Lia’s archery skills to boot!

3. When Gabi is dying and she and Lia decide to return to the tombs so they can get the cure at home but they have to tell Marcello the truth. Even though Marcello thinks that it is madness that they are from the future he believes in Gabi because he loves her. Do you think this is believable? What would you have done if you were Marcello?

I definitely wish Marcello needed some more convincing. Wouldn’t that have been exciting if Gabi had to leave unsure of whether he believed her? That she’d have to come back if she wanted to prove it to him? That would have been exciting. With all of the books on time travel I’ve read, and movies I’ve seen, I like to think that I could be accepting of someone telling me something outlandish like that…but in reality I’d probably write them off as crazy.

4. In the end Gabi and Lia return home. Do you think Gabi will return to Marcello? Would you go back?

I think Gabi loves Marcello too much not to at least try to get back. I think it’s one of those situations where you wouldn’t know unless you were in it. Would I travel back hundreds of years for someone I was convinced was my soul mate? I think maybe I would. Besides, it would be nice to leave all your modern troubles behind and start over, wouldn’t it?

5. Looking back at Waterfall what was your favourite moment?

I love when Gabi and Lia are reunited. I was so worried about Lia through the first part of the book, and to finally have her be safe and a worthwhile partner in battle was a huge relief. Maybe it’s because I have a sister myself, but I just couldn’t enjoy the book fully until I knew what happened to Lia!

Review: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Book: Glow
Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: September 13, 2011
Source: ARC for review from Around the World Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you’d been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survivalâ??not loveâ??the issue?

Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth’s collapse, the ship’s crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader’s efforts will fail. Onboard their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don’t know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them…

Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenagerâ??until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he’s the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriageâ??and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.

But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren’t all from the outside.

First impressions: Heart-pumping action gets things moving right away in this sci-fi space adventure. Waverly’s ship, the Empyrean, comes under attack almost immediately, just as she’s trying to navigate the pressures of her boyfriend Kieran’s proposal.

Lasting impressions: I was disappointed in the black-and-white outlook of this one, with very little gray area explored.

Conflicting impressions: Some of the moral issues Ryan tackles throughout the novel had very little nuance. The religious zealotry and adolescent boy power struggles particularly left me cold.

Overall impressions: There’s something to be said for a book that you already know you’re not enjoying, yet compels you to keep reading it anyway. This was one of those books.

Very early on, I knew I wasn’t connecting with Waverly, and the choices made by almost every single character frustrated me. Yet I kept reading. The action is incredibly well-written, with the pace pushing you page after page, until the next thing you know, you’re halfway through the book. Too bad the entire time I was reading it, I was growing more and more horrified by the ugly and unsympathetic characters.

Kieran is a nice enough boy, but he lacks any real leadership skills, despite being set to inherit the ship from the captain. Seth is set up as an interesting counterpoint in a potential love triangle, but the minute he’s left alone with Kieran the two of them duke it out in an over-the-top power competition where they torture each other. Without any accompanying backstory, we have no other frame from which to analyze their actions, leaving the reader stuck watching two boys do very bad things without any understanding of why they’re doing them.

*very slight spoiler alert!* Over on the New Horizon, Waverly is doing the best she can to take charge of the girls who have all been kidnapped from the Empyrean. *end spoiler* Waverly turns out to be a mostly effective leader, who questions what she is told by the adults around her, and strives to rescue her friends and family that were attacked by the New Horizon’s crew. She meets their captain, Pastor Anne Mather, who is nothing but a shrill old woman who uses religion to control her ship’s passengers.

Pastor Mather could have her own post entirely. She is a villain for whom Ryan creates a sympathetic angle (years of misogyny and abuse by the male elite), yet her actions are so indefensible that I couldn’t possibly side with her. The answer to violence and oppression is never more violence and oppression. This is something Waverly begins to understand while interacting with Mather, and I suspect it will be explored in future books.

Given how much I disliked the experience of reading this pessimistic, depressing tale, I worried I wouldn’t finish it, or would give it one measly star. However, the dramatic action and the fact that I had such visceral reactions to the material made me realize that it was probably just not the book for me. I think there are plenty of people that would eat this one up with the vivid characterizations and interesting plot around the power of religion and fertility in human development, but in my opinion, this one fell flat.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Let’s Talk About…Virginity in YA Fiction

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately stewing privately over thinking about various issues/trends in YA books I’ve read, and I want to start discussing them here on the blog. I’ve been whining so much in the past few weeks about how I want more content besides reviews and memes, so…here we go. I hope to hear your thoughts on these topics as well!

One thing I’ve noticed a lot of in YA fiction is the reliance on virginity as a key plot point. Whether virginity helps keep the population under control, or helps the heroine fulfill her destiny, there seem to be more than a few instances where remaining a virgin becomes critical to the novel’s positive outcomes. Lately I feel as if I, as a YA reader, am getting clubbed over the head with the message “Virgin good, slut bad!”

There are a variety of techniques used to keep heroines virgins in books. There’s the “I don’t want to hurt you” technique. This is epitomized by Bella and Edward, where he couldn’t possibly have sex with her because he wouldn’t be able to control himself and might accidentally damage internal organs or something. This is most often seen in paranormal romances where sex is denied because the vampire/werewolf/whathaveyou is FAR too dangerous and therefore they can’t possibly be together. Because sex makes you lose control and that is BAD.

There’s the “if you lose your virginity you fail to fulfill your destiny” technique. The one that most readily comes to mind is Rampant, where Astrid can only be a powerful unicorn huntress if she abstains from sex. Forever. Girls can’t possibly juggle a job AND a sex life, right? In order to be 100% focused on their futures, they must deny themselves love and the natural expression of it and just be happy killing unicorns.

Then there’s the “doomsday” scenario. This is where the girl can’t have sex because Bad Things will happen to her or the people she loves. I spotted this one in The Mephisto Covenant, where having sex meant that Sasha would turn into a homing beacon for the villain and he would instantly be able to track her and kill her. Again, sex = bad.

Bad, bad, bad.

Now, I’m not saying I want to see a bunch of books about irresponsibly promiscuous teenagers. I don’t want to read a book about irresponsible promiscuity, period. I would, however, like to see books where young women make informed choices that reflect what is best for them and their lives. If a girl wants to have sex, and has the maturity and knowledge to do so safely, why not have a book explore that decision?

I’m sure there are books out there that deal with this topic in meaningful ways. I don’t doubt that there are a lot of girls getting good information about sex from books that deal with it in a pointed fashion. What bothers me is the sense that a lot of these messages about the value of virginity are undercurrents that slip past the radar. If you read enough books about sweet, heroic virgins that are better people because they have chosen not to have sex, you start to think that’s the only right choice. It devalues the many teen girls that have chosen not to remain virgins. And if you follow teen sex statistics at all, you’ll know that’s a very high number.

I’m tired of reading books where the protagonist must remain a virgin or bad consequences follow. I’m tired of our culture’s insistence that virginity is something precious to young women. More than anything, I’m tired of these characters’ decisions being taken from their control and passed along to someone else. Whether it’s Edward sticking to his dated chivalrous guns, or an inherited vocation dictating their choice, or even the threat of certain death, young heroines are not being given the power to make their own decisions when it comes to whether they are ready to have sex. Instead, the decision is handed to them by external circumstances, and that’s not something I like to see.

Have you noticed other ways in which virginity is celebrated in YA fiction? Do you think I’m way off base? Sound off in the comments, and let’s get a discussion going.

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer & I Read Banned Books! There are over 250 blogs signed up for this giveaway hop, and each of them is giving away some book-related prize. This hop is celebrating Banned Books Week, so lots of hosts are featuring banned books or related information. Included below is the Linky for this hop, so be sure to check out all of the other awesome giveaways!

My giveaway is for two frequently banned books: The Hunger Games (one of my all-time favorites) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (a National Book Award winner and one I hope to read soon) AND it is open internationally! If The Book Depository ships to you, you can enter! As always, you must be at least 13 years old to enter, and only one entry per person.

Following is not required. This giveaway is open from 9/24 to 10/1, and the winner will be announced on 10/2. To enter, fill out the form below. Good luck!

Don’t forget to hop around to the other giveaways!

River of Time Giveaway Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered my River of Time series giveaway! The results have been tabulated, and with a little help from, the winners are…

Congratulations Denise and Michelle! Be sure to check your email so I can get your books out to you as soon as possible. Happy reading!

Not a winner? Starting tonight at midnight, I’m participating in the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer! and Jen at I Read Banned Books. It’s running all week long, so be sure to check back here to enter!

TGIF at GReads! (14) & Weekly Recap

This Friday blog hop is run by Ginger at GReads! (who also created this beautiful button). Each week she posts a new question for us to ponder. Click the button to join in!

This week’s question is:

Reading Challenges: Did you sign up for any this year? How has your progression been?
I finished one! Finally! I’m officially done with 12 books for the Debut Author Challenge. That was by far my favorite challenge of the year, and I hope to read a few more before the year is out.

As for the other challenges, I’m progressing pretty well. I’m on track to finish by the end of the year, which was the goal, and I’ve narrowed down my choices to books I already own in an attempt to avoid a lot of book buying before the holiday season. I can’t wait to do a big recap post in the new year for all of the cool books I read for these challenges!

My weekly recap is inspired by the phenomenally talented, kind and generous Small Review. If you are not already following her, you are really missing out. Also, have I mentioned how much I love Cool Text? They’re the folks that allow me to make these cool (and simple) text buttons – for FREE!

If you’re a first time visitor, or just didn’t get the chance to stop by this week, here’s what you missed:

PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White
4/5 stars
YA Paranormal Challenge

5/5 stars
Fantasy Reading Challenge

4/5 stars
Debut Author Challenge

Waterfall Wednesday

Enjoy your weekend everybody!

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Book: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: September 27, 2011
Source: ARC for review from Around the World Tours

Summary: (from Goodreads) Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.

There is.

She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.

She’s wrong.

First impressions: I tried really hard to avoid reading much on this book before I read it. It was majorly hyped at BEA this year, and everyone has been buzzing about it since. I wanted to keep this one fresh, so I had few expectations. That made the beginning a lot of fun to experience, with no idea where we were going. I loved the letter up front that tells us “Mara Dyer” is a made up name to protect her identity. Mystery for the win!

Lasting impressions: Without question, the best thing in this book is the romantic interest, Noah Shaw. He is my new book boyfriend.

Conflicting impressions: Our heroine has a big change in direction in the last part of the novel, and her motivations went against the character we’d followed for so long. It made her actions disappointing and let me down as a reader.

Overall impressions: There are two big reasons you should read this book: Noah Shaw and masterful intrigue.

The entire book is spent playing catch-up, as we follow Mara Dyer trying to remember the blacked out portions of her memory where she may or may not have killed her friends. As she slowly pieces the story back together, we learn more about her and that she has strange powers that can have devastating consequences.

When she arrives in a new school for a fresh start after her family moves to Florida, she meets the notorious Noah Shaw. He’s a playboy who has worked his way through most of the female student body, but he’s not just a pretty face. He’s insanely intelligent, incredibly caring, and feisty to boot. The banter between Noah and Mara is TO DIE FOR. Noah’s witty comebacks, coupled with smoldering looks, had me fanning myself as I sped through the pages.

I was not crazy about the plot of this book once all of the information came to light toward the end. There were a few moments that didn’t make much sense to me. Noah arrives in the middle of the night and leads Mara on a crazy trek through alligator-filled water, yet she never questions him on what they’re doing. Really? Later, she makes a life-changing decision that seemed to go against everything we thought we knew about her and her feelings for her family and Noah. I didn’t understand the motivations behind that choice, beyond the obvious need for retribution.

And the ending! If you are not a fan of game-changing twists, do not read the last page. It sets up a strange new chapter that I’m not sure I want to see explored. I made the mistake of skimming the last sentence while doing a page count check, and sort of ruined it for myself, so I repeat: DO NOT read the last page of this book!

I liked the supernatural elements in this one, although I do wish we’d gotten some more information along the way. Still, the overall story was intriguing and fun to read, and I haven’t been this into a romance since Bella and Edward in Twilight. Noah is majorly swoon-worthy, and his chemistry with Mara is white hot. No matter what the novel’s other shortcomings, it is completely worth a read just to spend some time with Noah Shaw.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Amazingly beautiful and painstakingly crafted signature courtesy of Small Review

Waterfall Wednesday (4)

Hosted by Tina at Tina’s Book Reviews, Missie at The Unread Reader, Joy & Serena at Edgy Inspirational Romance, Nic at Irresistible Reads and Jenny from Supernatural Snark, each week we’ll be reading and discussing a set of chapters from the book. There will be prizes for participants, so click the button for more information and to sign up!

Discussion Questions for Chapters 18-23

1. Gabi and Lia both face several life and death situations in these chapters, having to pick up weapons in defense of those they love and experiencing first hand the brutality of close combat. If you had the choice between picking up a weapon and standing on the front lines or staying behind to tend to the wounded as necessary, which would you choose?

I am a walking contradiction on this one. I always loved the idea of the military, and really really wanted to become a Marine for a while, but when I think about this scenario I would be much more comfortable behind the scenes. I have no desire to be caught on the front lines, thank you very much. I’ll just enjoy the hard-fought rewards combat buys me.

2. Both girls get to wear extraordinary gowns to their victory celebration; what would your dream medieval gown look like?

I always wanted a sumptuous velvet dress, preferably with as much gold trim as possible. If I could be dripping in jewels that would also be acceptable.

3. Gabi has crude stitches put in and must endure both their removal as well as the cauterization of the wound. How is your threshold for pain? Do you think you would have simply gritted your teeth as Gabi does?

I have a pretty high pain tolerance, actually. I can take a lot. That said – I am a baby when it comes to anticipating pain. If I know it’s coming it puts the fear of God in me, but after it starts I’m usually just fine. Maybe they work in tandem – I freak out so much that the reality never lives up to the hype?

4. Marcello wants to properly court Gabi after they express mutual feelings of affection, wanting to speak with her mother about his intentions. What do you think is the most romantic aspect of medieval courtship?

I think the feeling of being pursued would be nice. Not that this doesn’t happen today, but there are certainly more ways for women to express their feelings. I think just knowing that a man had to come to you and beg you to be with him would be kind of cool.

5. Gabi and Lia find themselves with conflicting desires toward the end with Lia wanting to return home and Gabi hoping to stay. Do you think that Gabi is being unfair to Lia for wanting to stay, or is Lia being unfair to Gabi for demanding they go? A little of both?

I’m Team Lia on this one. No way would I be convinced to stay in medieval Italy just because my sister thought she was in love. Love you sis, but no. I’d tell her to suck it up and find a modern man. It’s been a fun trip, we’ve got lots of nice memories, but let’s get back to civilization. Sorry Gabs.

Amazingly beautiful and painstakingly crafted signature courtesy of Small Review