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Book Review + Giveaway: Arise


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AriseArise
By Tara Hudson
June 5, 2012
HarperTeen
Reviewed: ARC from publisher
Author’s Website
Hardcover | Kindle

Amelia—still caught between life and death—must fight for every moment of her relationship with the human boy Joshua. They can hardly even kiss without Amelia accidentally dematerializing. Looking for answers, they go to visit some of Joshua’s Seer relatives in New Orleans. But even in a city so famously steeped in the supernatural, Amelia ends up with more questions than answers…and becomes increasingly convinced that she and Joshua can never have a future together.Wandering through the French Quarter, Amelia meets other in-between ghosts, and begins to seriously consider joining them. And then she meets Gabrielle. Somehow, against impossible odds, Gaby has found a way to live a sort of half-life…a half-life for which Amelia would pay any price. Torn between two worlds, Amelia must choose carefully, before the evil spirits of the netherworld choose for her.

JENNA’S REVIEW:

Fans of Hereafter will find even more to love with ARISE, the second installment in Tara Hudson’s deathly romantic series. But be prepared, all is not well with Amelia in this chapter.

The story starts off with Amelia, Joshua and his family heading to New Orleans for Christmas vacation. After an unfortunate encounter with demons who apparently want to take Amelia by any means necessary (even to the point of hurting those she loves) Amelia is left thinking that she is a danger if she sticks around Joshua. Much of the plot is centered around the decision: Should she stay, or should she go? When it came to how she addressed this question, I personally thought that Amelia acted selfishly, which hurt her “likability factor” in my book. I also am not a fan of the “martyr complex” when they crop up in YA reads.

New characters are introduced in the book, as we meet Joshua’s family in New Orleans. No single character really pops out to me as being unique or overly interesting, since fairly little time is actually spent with the family. Joshua’s grandmother, Ruth, pops up, albeit a lot less than you would expect. Instead, the new character we learn most about is Gabrielle (or Gaby). Gaby throws the biggest wrench ever into the story, one that definitely packs a punch when it comes to the direction that this series is taking us.  While I saw it coming as to who we could and could not trust in this book, this knowledge didn’t dampen my excitement when things actually did pick up. And in the end things “picked up” quite a bit indeed. As far as the pacing goes, while I wish that the first half could have been sped up a bit, the end was totally worth it. Amelia even redeemed herself a bit in my eyes once she got some sense (and a whole lot more than that) knocked into her.

I have high hopes for whatever the future brings for the leading couple in this series. I look forward to whatever Tara has in store for us in the third, and final, installment. If you like romantic ghost stories, you really must check out Hereafter and ARISE by Tara Hudson.

Plot: 8 (the tension is high in this one, but involved too much angst for a large part of the plot)
Characters: 7 (Amelia’s angst ruled the show early on, friendships were forged a bit too quickly)
Setting: 10 (New Orleans graveyards anyone? Yes, please!)
Pacing: 8 (the first half could have been cut down a bit, the second half was exceptional)
Style: 8 (Tara is a master of romantic love scenes, her ghostly creativity is superb)

Grade: 91

How about a giveaway?

Win an ARC of ARISE by Tara Hudson!

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE.
If you have entered in the past, do not worry! Your entries have been recorded.

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Open to US and Canada only.
Ends at midnight on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

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Pretty Amy Blog Tour: Review + Interview + Giveaway




Pretty AmyPretty Amy
By Lisa Burstein
Published May8, 2012
Entangled Publishing
Ages 15 and up

Paperback
Author’s Website
Paperback | Kindle

Amy is fine living in the shadows of beautiful Lila and uber-cool Cassie, because at least she’s somewhat beautiful and uber-cool by association. But when their dates stand them up for prom, and the girls take matters into their own hands—earning them a night in jail outfitted in satin, stilettos, and Spanx—Amy discovers even a prom spent in handcuffs might be better than the humiliating “rehabilitation techniques” now filling up her summer. Worse, with Lila and Cassie parentally banned, Amy feels like she has nothing—like she is nothing.

Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it’s worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.

JENNA’S REVIEW:

To begin, I would like to thank Entangled Publishing for giving me this opportunity to read and review PRETTY AMY and be part of their blog tour. I knew that Pretty Amy would be the perfect read for me, since I have recently become obsessed with contemporary YA literature. I could tell from the description that Amy would be a girl that I’d relate to (minus the whole jail thing). The description gives you a good idea what to expect as far as the story goes, but what it doesn’t tell you is that, although she is plenty lost and unsure of her place in the world, Amy is actually a very snarky and strong willed teenager. A good deal of the plot centers around her thoughts and actions as she copes with the deep doo-doo she has gotten herself into (and the even further doo-doo she gets herself into because of her continued actions.) This book could easily have been called Pretty Jenna, a comical (albeit exaggerated) retelling of my youth. To sum it all up, if you are a woman and you currently are or ever have been a teenager, I welcome you: this is the story of your life.

Lisa is a master of the element of surprise, and her surprises come via her characters. Each of them has their own unique personality, from the “self-involved and overly helpful in all the wrong ways” mother, to the convenience store clerk who walks his own pace in life, to the two “bad girls” who compliment each other in a “back-handed compliment” sort of way. And then there’s Amy. Pretty Amy… Kudos to Lisa for successfully putting every insecurity and fear of the modern teenage girl into one single individual. Pretty Amy… more like Poor Unfortunate Amy. I swear, if I was her I would have probably had the same exact self-esteem complex that she does. I do admit, there were many characteristics in her that I saw in myself 10-15 years ago. But if I had to deal with ALL her insecurities, I would probably implode! While I don’t blame her for having a hard time “helping herself” throughout the book, I still couldn’t help but be a bit annoyed at times by her behavior. Then again, with a mom as horribly annoying, controlling and self-absorbed as hers is, I have to wonder, would I have behaved the same?

Ah, the setting… High school. We all know how it is, whether we’re experiencing it now or have in the past. Kids are cruel. Heck, I was telling my mother just this morning that my four year old (A FOUR YEAR OLD. IN DAY CARE.) is dealing with “mean girls” in her “class”… Just this morning she told me that she didn’t want to go to “school” (day care) because she doesn’t like it there. She’s FOUR! Kids these days certainly have it tough, and Lisa perfectly brings out the worst of this tough new world in her story.

The pacing is one area where Pretty Amy falters, but only just a bit. The story begins fairly quickly, as we learn about what type of people Amy and her friends are. But then Amy has to deal with the outcomes of her crime and that’s where the pacing suffers. Not to say that things don’t happen, because they do. And the events that take place are more often than not quite entertaining for the reader. But at the same time we have to get inside Amy’s head… Her typical teenage brain is a place of “two steps forward, two steps back”, if you know what I mean… Over and over she dances – forward and back, forward and back. Realistic? Yes. Testing on my patience? Most definitely. But then, perhaps this is just a sign of my age. I’ll bet plenty of teenagers could read this book and simply nod their heads in agreement when she takes a mental step backward, whereas I find myself smacking my forehead, groaning, “Oh, Amy!

One of the highlights of Pretty Amy is the snarky voice that the main character provides. Lisa is the Queen of One-liners, most of which are downright hilarious in a dark and cynical sort of way, are reflective of her writing style. I found myself laughing out loud more than once. The situations that Lisa puts Amy into are examples of the very worst things a creative imagination could possibly conjure up for a teenager. Poor Unfortunate Amy, to be the victim of such creativity… But at least it gets the story across and makes it interesting at that!

In the end, I found Pretty Amy to be a highly enjoyable contemporary read. It is one of the most realist books about being a teenage girl that I have read in some time. For this reason, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA lit.

Plot: 10
Characters: 8
Setting: 10
Pacing: 7
Style: 8

Grade: 93

An interview with the author, Lisa Burstein:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I just turned 36. I am married and have a dog and two cats. I love laughing and PRETTY AMY is my first novel.

What do you do when you’re not writing? (For fun, that is!)

I love reading and watching movies and I love to cook.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you, either growing up or as an adult?

Growing up one of my favorite books was Catcher in the Rye. I was like, wow, a book about me, that talks about the weird things I feel and think about. The only bummer was it was about a boy. Not that I would even compare PRETTY AMY to the masterpiece that is Catcher in the Rye, but I wanted to write a book about a girl that *might* be a modern, funnier Holden Caufield.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, because I had a reviewer compare PRETTY AMY to it and was curious to check it out. Sam’s “voice” is quite similar to Amy’s, but Lauren Oliver is a master.

Regarding Pretty Amy, what was your inspiration? Did you draw upon any of your own experiences to write this story?

I write YA because I felt like I still had all these things to say from when I was a teenager that I never got a chance to say. I also feel like teens need books in a way adults don’t. At least I know I did, I looked to books to help me make sense of what I was feeling. I guess I hope teens will use PRETTY AMY in the same way. I was arrested during my senior year of high school, not for the same reason Amy was, but that was where the kernel came from. I also knew I wanted to write a “shocking” book from a teenage girl’s point of view. I feel like you can get away with your character being a murderer, or a jerk, or just a smart ass more easily if your book isn’t contemporary and I wanted to try to break that mold with PRETTY AMY. I also wanted to write a contemporary YA book that was about what real teens go through. I feel like teenage girl’s lives are complex and I hoped to show that in PRETTY AMY.

What was your favorite chapter (or part of the book) to write and why?

I wouldn’t pick a chapter necessarily, but Amy’s one liners were a lot of fun to come up with.

If there is ONE THING you would like readers to know about Pretty Amy, what would it be?

That I am so happy it is touching them. It means a lot to me.

How has the road to publishing been for you? Any particular memory that stands out?

Probably when I first started querying and agents were telling me they liked my work, even if it wasn’t something they felt like they could represent. It was the point I was like, hmmm, maybe this is something I could do.

Can you reveal anything about your next book? *eye wink*

It’s a companion novel to PRETTY AMY called DEAR CASSIE. It’s due out next March and follows Cassie’s post-prom arrest to a rehabilitation retreat in the woods, told in Cassie’s irreverent voice via her diary entries.

Chocolate or vanilla? Swirl

Pepsi or Coke? Pepsi

Tom or Jerry? Jerry 😉

Thank you, Lisa, for taking the time to talk to Making the Grade!

Enter to WIN an e-book copy of PRETTY AMY!

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE
If you have entered in the past, do not worry! Your entries have been recorded.

You must be 13 or older to enter.
Open to US only. Ends at midnight on June 10, 2012.

Book Review: Angel Eyes Blog Tour

Angel EyesAngel Eyes
By Shannon Dittemore
Published May 29, 2012
Ages 14 and up
Nelson Thomas, Inc.
Reviewed: e-book provided by publisher
Author’s Website
Paperback | Kindle

Once you’ve seen, you can’t unsee. Everything changes when you’ve looked at the world through…

ANGEL EYES.

Brielle’s a ballerina who went to the city to chase her dreams and found tragedy instead. She’s come home to shabby little Stratus, Oregon, to live with her grief and her guilt . . . and the incredible, numbing cold she can’t seem to shake.

Jake’s the new guy at school. The boy next door with burning hands and an unbelievable gift that targets him for corruption.

Something more than fate has brought them together. An evil bigger than both of them lurks in the shadows nearby, hiding in plain sight. Two angels stand guard, unsure what’s going to happen. And a beauty brighter than Jake or Brielle has ever seen is calling them to join the battle in a realm where all human choices start.

A realm that only angels and demons—and Brielle—can perceive.

HOLLI’S REVIEW:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12 (KJV)

Thank you to the author, the publisher and to YA Bound for allowing Making the Grade to be part of the Angel Eyes Blog Tour!

Shannon Dittemore’s debut novel, Angel Eyes, is an amazing first installment to a new trilogy for the YA paranormal genre.  To say I loved it would be an injustice as there aren’t words ostentatious enough to describe how much I truly enjoyed this book!   I feel obligated to say that although this book resonated with me, it may not be for everyone.  Angel Eyes has heavy spiritual undertones that are vital to the plot of the story.  HOWEVER, even though it tackles concepts of Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, and God, it doesn’t come off as “in-your-face” or “preachy”.  Dittemore gives a twist on some biblical references … short retellings on stories of Elijah the prophet, to support the back story. There are dictums of the celestial, their purpose, the atmosphere of Heaven, as well an element of pure evil, the devil, his fallen angels, and their purpose.  This story had me so enraptured it gave me goosies!!!  If you decide to give this book a shot, which I highly recommend that you do, please keep in mind that this is not gospel.  It is fictional literature.  Although for believers, it is easy to find the truth that is interwoven into the fictional material.  Shannon Dittemore’s writing is ingenious and I commend her for her brashness in tackling spiritual fiction!  You go girl!

Plot: 10

Brielle went to the big city in pursuit of a career in fine arts.  After the tragic death of her best friend, Brielle abandoned that pursuit and returned home in an attempt to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams.  Brielle meanders through life, going through the motions, lost and consumed in her grief and guilt.  That is, until a chance meeting with a new kid at school named Jake.  Or is it a divine appointment?  For reason’s she can’t explain, being close to Jake eases Brielle.  It gives her a sense of peace she hasn’t experienced since the loss of her best friend.  More than that, he brings warmth into her life that was otherwise frozen by fear.  Jake introduces Brielle to a world that she didn’t even know existed; a world she can’t help but struggle to accept as reality.  But the more she experiences, and the more she sees, the harder it is to deny.  With new eyes to see, and an awareness of a war that extends beyond the natural, Brielle and Jake set out on a journey to discover the purpose they were both designed to fulfill, together.

Characters: 10

Dittemore is a brilliant writer.  The technique she uses to build her characters makes them nearly palpable.  Beyond that, they are believable.  From the emotion they emanate during some pretty tough circumstances, to the choices they make in the face of danger, makes these characters stand out in a very unique way.

Brielle is emotionally complex.  There is no hiding the fact that she is very troubled.  She has dealt with some serious loss in her life that makes her question God.  When she isn’t questioning His ability to stop terrible tragedy, she is questioning His very existence.  To add to it, she blames herself for situations that are not her doing, taking responsibility that isn’t hers to take.  She has a habit of putting her guard up due to her past losses and has a hard time trusting people.  As the story progresses, we get to watch Brielle embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing that transforms her into a more stable minded, emotionally sound, individual.

Jake is a breath of fresh air.  He is a very upbeat and light-hearted character whose very presence brings life to the story and evokes a smile from the reader.  Where Brielle waivers with whom she is as an individual and what she stands for, Jake is a solid pillar of faith.  Jake also experienced a great deal of tragedy in his earlier childhood.  Dittemore doesn’t sugar-coat the complexities of the situation that led Jake to being cared for by a guardian named Canaan; a guardian who helps mold him into an unwavering man of faith who exudes peace, stability, and confidence that is humble, but certain.

Setting: 10

Dittemore took her time depicting the surroundings of the story and she did it in a fashion that was purely majestic.  As a reader, I was pulled into the story almost immediately and found it hard to depart from the world she created in the story.  Whether it was on the terrestrial or in the celestial plane, Dittemore crafted a story so vivid that it lives on long after you finish the book!  This is defiantly a meat and potatoes kind of read full of grit and lots of food for thought!

Pacing: 10

It is always nice to come across a book that doesn’t sag in the middle.  The book was written well, balanced well, and had smooth transitions that kept it moving forward without any hold-ups.  I honestly found it difficult to find a place to stop reading.  If not for the fact that I am a stay at home mother of five children, I would have finished this read in one sitting.  I was that engrossed in the story!

Style: 7

Dittemore’s writing is superb with intricate plot twists that are established from the very first page.  The story starts off with morose foreboding and you get a real sense of Brielle’s torment with the death of her best friend.   The technique she uses in building her story adds a fantastic element of mystery that only adds to the depth of the plot.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the way she wrote each chapter in alternate perspectives of Brielle, Jake, Canaan (Jake’s guardian or shield, a Heavenly angel), and Damien (a demonic/fallen angel).  It gave me an intimate look at each of the characters in the story and their particular motives or intentions.

Dittemore manages to bring many biblical principles to life in a world of fiction and I am grateful for her boldness to engage readers in the subject of spiritual warfare.  As a woman in the ministry that deals with spiritual warfare, this is a subject that is very dear to my heart, and it is refreshing to find it portrayed in a fictional story that all readers can enjoy no matter what their beliefs are.

I want to put one last disclaimer out for parents of younger readers that may be considering this book.  Though this is a clean read and promotes good morals and integrity, there are some strong scenes of violence, human trafficking and concepts of Hell’s army that can be a bit menacing.  Review the content before giving it to young readers.  I personally wouldn’t recommend it to anyone under the age of fourteen.

Grade: 97