Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review: Movies and TV

Even though I don't usually blog about movies or tv, I do like my year end list summaries.

2011 Movies I saw this year

Young Adult
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Captain America (on demand)
Columbiana (on demand)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Horrible Bosses (plane)
Bridesmaids (plane)
Bad Teacher (plane)
X-Men: First Class
Super 8
Tree of Life
Water for Elephants (on demand)
Hanna (on demand)
Something Borrowed (plane)
The Debt (on demand)
Cedar Rapids (plane)

Total of 18 (3 less than last year)

Notable movies I saw in 2011 that were released before 2011

127 Hours
The Social Network
True Grit
Never Let Me Go

2011 movies I’d still like to see

Like Crazy
We Need to Talk about Kevin
The Help
Crazy Stupid Love
Source Code
In Time

TV series I watched in 2011

Germany’s Next Top Model – Season 6
True Blood - Season 3 + 4
Fringe - Season 1
Big Bang Theory - Seasons 1- 4
The Vampire Diaries - Season 1 + 2
Pan Am - Season 1 so far
Revenge - Season 1 so far
Game of Thrones - Season 1
The Walking Dead - Season 1 & Season 2 so far
24 - Season 8

How was your year in movies?

Books Read in 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Reviews on a Theme: Afterlife Books

At the tail end of this year, I read a bunch of books with the common theme of being set in the afterlife, so I thought I'd review them all together + give a shout-out to a few others that fit the category.

You might remember that LEVEL 2 is also set in the afterlife, so it was fascinating for me from a writerly point of view to see these other afterlife visions.

EVERLOST by Neal Schusterman (Simon & Schuster, 2006)
My editor at Simon & Schuster sent me this one as an example of excellent world building, and after reading it, I fully agree with her assessment.  It's the story of Allie and Nick, two teens who die in a car accident and meet for the first time in Everlost - a place where the souls of some children (and objects) end up if they don't go into the light for some reason.  As Allie and Nick try to make sense of their new environment, they meet Mary Hightower (Queen of afterlights), the fearsome monster MacGill, and more colorful characters.

Although there were some ultra depressing thoughts here (souls of some children sink to the center of the Earth and wait, trapped, for the end of time), I loved the creative elements to Everlost and how everything logically came together.  Highly recommended!  Find out more about EVERLOST at Goodreads. (FTC disclosure: gift)

HERE LIES BRIDGET by Paige Harbison (Harlequin Teen, 2011)
What do you do when the five people you meet in limbo all want you to go to hell?  The meanest of the mean girls, Bridget, finds her rule slipping when a new girl shows up at school.

This reminded me of A CHRISTMAS CAROL in that a hugely unlikeable character (I guarantee you will hate Bridget) gets to see how she affects others and may have a chance to change for the better. This one didn't have a lot to say about the afterlife, but was more focused on character revelation. How much you will like this one may depend on if you can stomach Bridget's nastiness and pettiness.   Find out more about HERE LIES BRIDGET at Goodreads. (FTC disclosure: review copy)

BETWEEN by Jessica Warman (Bloomsbury, 2011)
Pretty, popular Elizabeth wakes up the morning of her 18th birthday to discover she's dead.  She meets Alex, an unpopular teen from school who died before her, and he helps her come to terms with her death and life as well as to find her killer.

Despite guessing the ending of this murder mystery very early on, I still found some of the twists and turns surprising and the story kept me interested.  Elizabeth grows on you as a character and even manages to garner a good bit of sympathy. As far as world building, this one sticks close to Earth, and the afterlife rules are fairly standard.  Find out more about BETWEEN at Goodreads. (FTC disclosure: bought)

MY BEATING TEENAGE HEART by C.K. Kelly Martin (Random House, 2011)
Though she has no memory, Ashlyn figures that since she has no physical form, she must be dead.  Somehow linked to grieving teen Breckon, Ashlyn gradually regains her memories (starting from birth, in chronological order) as she watches him slowly sink into despair.  

This is a very raw look at grief and death. Ashlyn witnesses many of Breckon's intimate moments - some of which may make more sensitive readers very uncomfortable (and may make you paranoid that ghosts are watching you shower, etc).  I wondered throughout what Ashlyn's connection was to Breckon, and though the reveal was pretty mundane at face value, the implications made the last two chapters especially heartbreaking and powerful. Find out more about MY BEATING TEENAGE HEART at Goodreads. (FTC disclosure: bought)

THE CATASTROPHIC HISTORY OF YOU AND ME by Jess Rothenberg (Penguin, 2012)
When Brie dies from a broken heart (literally), she must pass through the five stages of grief with the help of spirit guide Patrick in order to move on.

I'm not going to say a lot about this now because I'll be featuring it on Apocalypsies Love in late January, but WOW.  This inventive, imaginative debut took me on an emotional roller coaster of the best kind. Brie is funny, sweet and also seriously frustrating and achingly real.  There were so many fun afterlife world building elements here, and though I was never 100% sure of the rules for the D&G (dead and gone), I highly enjoyed the experience.  Find out more about TCHOYAM at Goodreads. (FTC disclosure: review copy)

Some other afterlife books I've reviewed:

DEAD RULES by Randy Russell (HarperCollins, 2011) 
"On the surface, this is a wickedly funny story of Jana’s obsession interspersed with anecdotes of the other students about their deaths (all very bizarre – involving lawn darts, birds and drunken uncles). But there is so much tragedy underneath the hijinks as Jana is revealed as a terminally lonely soul who doesn’t understand her own worth." Read my entire review. Add DEAD RULES to Goodreads.

THE EVERAFTER by Amy Huntley (HarperCollins, 2009)
"Madison visits seemingly random scenes from her life, but they all fit together like a puzzle to help her (and us) solve the mystery of her death - leading to a surprising and bittersweet ending that really packs a punch." Read my entire review. Add THE EVERAFTER to Goodreads.

THE FETCH by Laura Whitcomb (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)
"Whitcomb’s vision of the afterlife is never completely revealed since these scenes are all through Calder’s eyes and he seems to have missed the official employee memo about a lot of the specifics, such as what exactly hell is, but what we do see is certainly thought provoking." Read my entire review. Add THE FETCH to Goodreads.

Some afterlife books I'm looking forward to reading:

TOUCHING THE SURFACE by Kimberly Sabatini (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
When Elliot dies for the third time, she knows this is her last shot. There are no fourth-timers in this afterlife, so one more chance is all she has to get things right. But before she can move on to her next life, Elliot will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.

DEVINE INTERVENTION by Martha Brockenbrough (Scholastic, 2012)
Jerome is not the best guardian angel - he lets Heidi drown. Neither realizes that Heidi has only 24 hours before her soul dissolves forever. And that might not be enough time for them to figure out how they were meant to live.

(No cover yet)

VELVETEEN by Daniel Marks (Random House, 2012)
Velvet Monroe won’t be “resting in peace” until her killer is either behind bars, catatonic, or 6-feet-under. Somewhere between Beetlejuice and Jennifer’s Body, this dark debut introduces a vibrant and violent new heroine (and hero). Readers will be breathless for more of its quirky blend of horror, humor, and one twisted romance.

ELSEWHERE by Gabrielle Zevin (FSG, 2005)
Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth.

What are you favorite afterlife recommendations?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Apocalysies Love! Starter Pack Giveaway #1

It's almost 2012 and that means lots of great Apocalypsies debuts including a little book called LEVEL 2 (which now has over 1,000 adds on GoodReads - thank you all)!  I have a bunch of books and swag that I'll be giving away over the next week or so, divided into 4 different starter packs so you can get reading some of these fabulous novels.

Starter Pack # 1 includes:

CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally (finished paperback)

UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi (ARC)

INCARNATE by Jodi Meadows (ARC)

CRACKED by KM Walton (pre-order of hardcover, comes separately)

+ the following swag:
(3) postcards from AC Gaughen's SCARLET
(5) signed bookmarks + 1 sticker from Jessica Spotwood's BORN WICKED
(5) bookmarks from Lissa Price's STARTERS (1 signed)

+ 1 signed bookmark from:
KISS THE MORNING STAR by Elissa Janine Hoole
REUNITED by Hilary Weisman Graham

+ 1 bookmark from:
MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose
CINDER by Marissa Meyer
FRACTURE by Megan Miranda

In order to win, you must have a book review blog or an active GoodReads account.  An extra entry will be given to those who are signed up for The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge 2012.

Open US and Canada until Jan 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm CST.  Enter here!  And good luck!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best/Most Memorable Reads in 2011 + Giveaway

I read just over 100 books this year (full list coming soon), which was down from last year's 160, but certainly more than I was expecting to considering I also wrote a novel!

My most memorable read in 2011 was Megan McCafferty's BUMPED - and since Megan sent me an extra signed hardcover of this amazing novel, I'm going to start this post out with a giveaway. Enter here by Dec 31st, 2011 at 11:59 pm CST to win!

Memorable Dystopian Moments
Thanks to two whole dystopian theme months, this was my most read genre. I already pointed out my top 5 2010 faves at The Book Smugglers (you'll have to go over there to see which I picked), but really most of my dystopian reads were awesome.

Most memorable first line

WHEN SHE WOKE by Hilary Jordan starts out: "When she woke, she was red." Perfect first line for this novel. I love it paired with the last line (which I won't spoil here).

Most memorable first chapter

This award goes to Kimberly Derting's THE PLEDGE for her ultra-creepy prologue featuring the most dastardly queen this side of SNOW WHITE.

Most memorable laugh

Last year, Leila Sales’ MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS won this award, and this year it has to go to her PAST PERFECT. And not just because it was the only humorous book I read all year.

Most memorable cry

I haven't reviewed CRACKED by K.M. Walton yet because it comes out in 2012, but this book made me cry multiple times. It's so rare that a book hits me THIS hard emotionally. Wow.

Most memorable couples

June and Day from LEGEND, Jordan and (spoiler!) in CATCHING JORDAN, Juliette and Adam (major chemistry alert!) in SHATTER ME.

Most memorable male leads


Most memorable locations

I loved Laini Taylor's use of setting in DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.  I adored pretty much everything about the novel, but the fascination of locations such as the Prague locale Poison Kitchen and Brimstone's shop where he bought and sold teeth really drew me in.

Most memorable WTF

Definitely the gator scene in THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER.

Most memorable animals

Bundle in Lauren Oliver's LEISEL AND PO. Is he a cat or a dog? Doesn't matter - he's adorable!

Honorable mention: The possum in Jen K. Blom's POSSUM SUMMER.

Most memorable outfit

Lola's Marie Antoinette dress in LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR.

Most memorable scene that gave me chills

There is something that happens near the end of Randy Russell's DEAD RULES that was subtle, but changes an interpretation of a character and his motivation in a big way. It still gives me chills to think about it.

Most memorable scene that gave me chills (in a good way)

I love the scene between Isabel and Cole in FOREVER (Maggie Steifvater) when they're hiding under the counter and he drives his die-cast Mustang up her arm.

Most memorable scare

THE DARK INSIDE by Jeyn Roberts was without a doubt the scariest novel I read this year.  Though that hell house in SMALL TOWN SINNERS by Melissa Walker was also super freaky.

Most memorable villain

So, he did do a lot to redeem himself in SINISTER SCENES (the third book in Paul Bracegirdle's JOY OF SPOOKING trilogy), but I've always loved the complexity and moments of unfettered evil glee that Mr. Phipps brought to the equation. I will miss him dearly.

Most memorable cover

Lizzy Bromley designed this gorgeous art for WITHER by Lauren DeStefano. And guess what guys?! Rumor has it that Lizzy Bromley is designing the cover for LEVEL 2 as well. I am deliriously excited about it!!

Most memorable unexpected reveal

The end of VARIANT by Robison Wells. I knew I was in for a big. shocking. twist! But I never saw THAT coming.

Most memorable backlist reads

EVERLOST by Neal Schusterman

Most time spent on describing chickens

HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I meant to read a classic a month this year, but after spending nearly two weeks reading this one, I abandoned that lofty goal.

What were some of your memorable reading moments in 2011?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Return of Cat Tuesday (57)

Don't mess with Lu ...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Return of Cat Tuesday (56)

Kitties are lurking ....

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review: Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

Ari Mitchell has always felt overlooked in the midst of her more beautiful sister and best friend.  So when she transfers to a new school and meets a glam classmate who introduces her to her cute cousin, Ari falls for him hard.

Despite what it sounds like, I wouldn’t really classify this as a romance.  It’s much more about Ari discovering who she is, and not really liking what she discovers.  She doesn’t even meet her love interest until a third of the way through the book, so the beginning of the novel is all about Ari interacting with her friends and family.

What I really loved about this book was how achingly honest it felt. - from the way Ari steals a shirt from her sisters husband so she can breathe in his scent, to the very raw depiction of first love.  Even when the narrative veers into decidedly melodramatic overtones late in the book, Ari felt real.

I’m not really sure why this was set in the 1980s (a pet peeve of Kelly J. from Stacked blog), so I had to think of her when I was reading.  I guess it sort of added a sense of nostalgia – the kind you feel for a first love – that wouldn’t be there if it were a contemporary setting.  So there’s that.

OTHER WORDS FOR LOVE is available now.  Find out more about it at the author’s website.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Return of Cat Tuesday (55)

After the paw holding last week, Kaia got even closer to Emmy and started to give her a bath.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dear 20-something me ...

I'm guest posting over at Reclusive Bibliophile today.  The idea was to write a letter to my 20-something self, so I just had to ask her why she didn't attempt a book earlier.  Well, she kept writing back ... so head on over to check out our conversation about writing, inspiration, and publishing ....