Goodbye 2011

2011 was a great reading year for me. I started this blog, met some amazing bloggers and writers, and read a bunch of great books. I hope 2012 will be equally great. As there are mere hours left in 2011, I wanted to take a minute to look back on my favorite reads of the year. 

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magicians introduced us to Brakebills Academy in all of its weird wonderfulness. It was the book I recommended to anyone who would listen: co-workers, friends, people on the train. This year's release of The Magician King was my most anticipated read of 2011 and it did not disappoint. 

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

I was lucky enough to interview Victoria Schwab before the release of her debut novel. The Near Witch is a hauntingly beautiful tale that takes readers away on an amazing journey. A contemporary fairy-tale of sorts, this story will transport you. There are very few books I re-read, but this will be one I'll make a point to read again and again, it is not only one of my favorites of 2011, but one of my all-time favorites. If you've not had a chance to read this yet, it would be a wonderful way for you to start 2012!

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Ah, this book. Shine made me laugh, it made me cry, it brought me face to face with the ugliness and beauty that is the world. This book touched me and resonated with such force that I have a hard time articulating exactly how much I loved it. Myracle's writing is raw and honest, her characters are flawed and real. This tale is not an easy one to tell, but it is a necessary one. The characters' journeys in this novel will force readers to challenge their own biases and perceptions, it is a book that has left me forever changed. 

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

I knew from the description that Wither would be a book I'd enjoy, but I was blown away by Lauren DeStefano's writing. Her descriptions are beautiful and precise without being overbearing. She builds characters who are believable and makes the readers care about their fates. Wither was a great story on many levels, it kept me turning pages well into the night and I am anxiously awaiting February, which brings the release of Fever

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna captured the hearts of many bloggers who couldn't stop raving about it on Twitter. Not my typical read, I wasn't sure what I would think of it; but, when I received a copy as a random act of kindness, I knew it was time to find out what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, I owe Jess, from Gone with the Words a huge thanks for introducing me to what would end up as one of my favorite reads of 2011. This is a sweet story, not the over-the-top teen romance I thought it would be. I can't wait to finally read Lola and the Boy Next Door, which is currently sitting atop my TBR pile.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Neither light nor easy, this book is a necessary one for anyone involved in education in America. The events at Columbine High School in 1999 forever changed the way schools function and set in place some dangerous stereotypes that, as it turns out, were not entirely true. Dave Cullen's carefully researched book presents the events leading up to the day and the fallout that lasted long after the news trucks left town. Cullen deals with difficult issues respectfully and presents a more detailed picture of what lead two boys to commit such atrocious acts. This should be required reading for anyone hoping to work in a high school or anyone who works with teenagers.

While there were many other books I read and loved this year, these are the ones that stood out the most as I was looking back. No doubt, as soon as I hit "publish" on this post, I'll think of others I should have added. There are an abundance of titles I am looking forward to in 2012, but that will be left for another post.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading :)

2012 Reading Challenges

Because I can't say no to a challenge and because I love to read, I've decided to participate in a few reading challenges in 2012. Most of the challenges will have some crossover, so that makes it a little easier and all seem fun. Here's what I've signed on for so far.

Book Chick City's 100 Books in a Year 2012 Challenge

Book Chick City came up with this challenge and it will be my primary challenge. I made it through almost 75 books this year, so I'm hoping to get to 100 next year. We'll see . . .

Book To Movie Challenge

Martina "Bookaholic" has come up with a great challenge--to compare the films to the books. This could be new releases or re-reading old classics and comparing them to their films. I think this will be a fun challenge. The goal is 12 in 2012.

2012 Debut Author Challenge

The Story Siren is hosting a YA Debut author challenge--read 12 YA/Middle Grades books by 2012 debut authors. If you've spent any time on my blog, you know I love YA and am always looking for new authors, so this challenge should be easy. I already have a list of titles in mind.

The Books I Should Have Read in 2011

Reading With Martinis has designed a challenge for all of us who have ginormous TBR piles. This will be my chance to catch up on all those books I meant to read but never got to.

I'd  also love to find a Steampunk, Fantasy, or Sci-Fi challenge to add to my list, but this should keep me busy for now.  (Do you know of one?)

It would be great if some of you could join in on the reading challenge fun. What books are you looking forward to reading in 2012? Any suggestions for titles I should be adding to my challenge lists?

Best Books of 2011

2011 was full of great books. Among my favorites were The Near Witch, Shine, and Wither.

This is definitely not a complete list of the books I loved this year. I was lucky to have had a great year of reading -- discovering many great authors (some brand new, some just new to me), and exploring a variety of genres.

My "To Be Read" pile keeps growing, and I have high hopes for 2012. To end this epic year of reading, I'm giving a $20 gift card to one lucky person who will hopefully discover one of their new favorite books.  All you have to do to enter is follow the directions on the Rafflecopter widget below. Anyone aged 17+ in the US, Canada, or the UK can enter. Good luck and happy reading :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This is a giveaway hop hosted by Kathy at I am a Reader Not a Writer. Check out these other awesome blogs on the hop:

The Future of Us

Goodreads synopsis: It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long - at least, up until last November, when Josh did something that changed everything. Things have been weird between them ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto their Facebook pages. But Facebook hasn't been invented yet. And they're looking at themselves fifteen years in the future. By refreshing their pages, they learn that making different decisions now will affect the outcome of their lives later. And as they grapple with the ups and downs of what their futures hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right - and wrong - in the present.

I loved this book. 

I loved the dialogue, the references to 90s technology and pop culture and all the quips about what they hoped for the future.

I loved that the characters felt real and their responses to glimpsing their futures made me question what 15 year old me would think about present-day me.

This was one of those books that I devoured and annoyed my husband and friends by reading passages aloud to them. 

The story is narrated by Emma and Josh, two teens who have stumbled upon Facebook in 1996 and can see their futures. Their observations of future life are sometimes profound and often hilarious. Why do so many people post what they are eating for dinner? Emma realizes there are parts of her future she'd rather change, while Josh seems perfectly content with his. Emma starts making small changes to her daily life in an attempt to change her future, and the results are a mixed bag, eventually she will learn to stop focusing so much on the future and start living for the now. Josh learns that what seems perfect at first glance, often is not so upon closer inspection. In all, this is a fun story that is sure to please anyone old enough to remember the late 90s. 

Teens who were born in the late 90s may not fully appreciate all the little nods to that time, but they will certainly be able to relate to the insecurities, drama, and mishaps of the the protagonists. The characters feel authentic and relatable, the dialogue moves the story along at a rapid pace, and there are plenty of laughs. 

This is definitely a book that is worth more than one read and will appeal to a broad audience. 

The Zombie Bible: Death Has Come up Into Our Windows by Stant Litore

 “The crisis created by an outbreak of the walking dead offers a telling diagnostic of those flaws in the human condition that resurface, century upon century: our tendency to let problems fester untended until they become crises, our frequent inability to work together for a common good, our quickness to forget the lessons our grandparents learned at the cost of much sweat and blood, and the extent to which our privileged classes ignore and deny responsibility for the plight of the impoverished and the disinherited.”

When I first heard about The Zombie Bible, my brain was flooded with a cacophony of thoughts.

1.       Is this going to be another unnecessary Bible “translation” like the LOL Cat Bible or the Conservative Bible?
2.      Is this going to cause Fred Phelps to visit Stant Litore carrying “God Hates Zombies” signs?
3.      This isn’t this Zombie Bible is it?
4.      Do we really need more zombie stories?

Intrigued, I downloaded Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, and settled in with my Kindle and some hot chocolate. Whatever I had been expecting, this was not it.
From page one, I was greeted with intelligent, eloquent, academic prose. The tale begins with a note, ostensibly from a historian, giving readers some background of the rise and fall of the zombies. It is here that we learn what it is about zombies that fascinates us so—they reflect the worst of ourselves, that thing inside us we are afraid to face.  After a lengthy but necessary introduction, the story begins in proper. Death Has Come up Into Our Windows is based on The Old Testament events of Jeremiah 38, where the prophet Jeremiah is thrown into a well for warning the King of the impending fall of Jerusalem. Kings, it seems are so caught in their own hubris, any hint of impending doom is taken as blasphemy, treason, or both. And so it is, that Stant Litore’s telling of the tale finds our protagonist, Yirmiyahu (the Hebrew, non-Anglicized version of the name Jeremiah)  tossed into a mud filled well where he is forced to wrestle the undead for the amusement of the king’s guards. Clearly, this is not a line by line retelling of the Old Testament story, rather a retelling based loosely on the biblical account.

What really drew me into this story is that (like most well-told zombie tales) it is not a story about the walking undead, but a story about humanity. That is not to say it is a zombie story missing zombie gore, for there is gore in abundance; however, there is not gore for the sake of including some blood and guts. Instead, we are presented with a world where we are forced to question exactly who is the antagonist—is it the shambling undead, hungry for flesh or is it the living humans who have created this problem due to their own inequities? 
While in the well, Yirmiyahu has time to ponder his life, to reflect on his own shortcomings, to battle his faltering faith, and to reflect on what his society has become.  Far from the typical brainless (see what I did there?) zombie fare that is in excess these days, Stant Litore has presented his readers a well-written philosophical dilemma wrapped in zombie paper. The result is a mash up of literary fiction and zombie action. This story deals with very real human issues in a smart and sensitive manner and forces readers to look inward while also entertaining the hell out of them.  Fans of zombies will not be disappointed by Death Has Come up Into Our Windows, but it is also an excellent entry point for those new to the genre.  I am glad that I took a chance on this story and am looking forward to more from Stant Litore.

You can find The Zombie Bible on and The author's website (which is worth a visit)

And, in case you’re wondering, the answers to my cacophony of questions are:

1.       No. But, the LOL Cat Bible is a fun way to kill time waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
2.      Maybe, Fred Phelps & the crew do enjoy a good sign waving.
3.      Thankfully no, not at all, not even a little.
4.      Of course we do, why would I doubt this?

Review: Dark Eden

What is Dark Eden?
Is it a book? An app? An interactive adventure? A multimedia experience?
Yes. Dark Eden is all of these things.

Patrick Carman has put together something special with this tale. While Dark Eden is available as a traditional book, it is the app and the enhanced e-book version where this story really shines. Combining audio, video, and e-book elements to tell a tale, Patrick Carman has pushed the e-book format to its limits and the result is spectacular.

The story follows Will Besting as he tries to figure out the mysteries of Fort Eden. In the app, we come across the clues Will has left for us in the form of video clips and audio recordings. He and several other teens have found themselves in Fort Eden, ostensibly to conquer their phobias. However, it seems there are more sinister forces at work and Will makes it his mission to uncover all the secrets of the fort.  Dark Eden combines elements of mystery and horror to keep readers immersed in a world where they are forced to confront their deepest fears. This is a suspenseful tale that will keep readers guessing and wanting more.

I experienced Dark Eden as an iPhone app. iPhone and iPad users can download the app and sample the first chapter for free. This interactive reading experience is like nothing else, and I hope more writers start taking advantages of the interactivity afforded by e-readers, tablets, and smart phones. 

From the home screen, it's easy to select the chapter you wish to access.

Once you've chosen your chapter, you'll be taken to that chapter's home screen, where you will navigate between elements.

This particular chapter begins with video footage, narrated by Will, where we get a feel for Fort Eden and its "patients." The footage is grainy and dark, giving it a homemade feel--adding to the suspense. You believe that your watching video taken from someone's cell phone as they feel their way around an unfamiliar environment.

Section two is an audio section, recorded by Will on a hand-made recording device. It's these audio interludes that introduce us to Will and give us insight to his psyche. Additionally, we get to hear sessions between Will and his therapist, giving us more clues about what exactly Fort Eden is and why Will and the others are there.

The next section is traditional e-book format. 

The blending of media makes the act of reading feel almost like playing a video game and immerses readers entirely in the world created by Carman. For me, this was an unforgettable and highly enjoyable experience. 

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