Code Orange

51y8rt-xxwl-_sy344_bo1204203200_First Lines: On Friday, Mr. Lynch walked around the classroom making sure everybody had written down the due date in their assignment books.  Luckily, he started at the far side, giving Mitty Blake time to whisper to his best friend, “Due date for what?”

I discovered this book on accident…sorta.  My fellow teacher and I were searching our book room at school to find books that we could teach soon.  We’re both pretty new, so we haven’t read many of the books there.  But she pointed out this one to me and told me that a coworker of ours had taught this book for years before she moved from 7th to 8th grade.  I thought it looked interesting (better than Call of the Wild, at least).

Mitty Blake, a carefree slacker, always feels pretty safe and content with life, even in post-9/11 New York City.  Sure, there’s still the lingering fear that terrorists may try to strike again, but he’d rather be watching college basketball than worrying about something like that.  And he’d rather be doing anything than researching for a paper on infectious diseases for his Advanced Bio class.  But, if he doesn’t had something in, he’ll be forced to drop the class, and that means less time with Olivia.  So when Mitty finds old medical books in his family’s library, he takes it as a sign.  When he finds an envelope with scabs inside the book, he doesn’t think too much of it.  But those scabs contain a disease called Variola major, a disease that, if it spreads, could decimate New York City.  Suddenly, this isn’t about passing Bio…it’s about life and death.

Right from the beginning, I loved Mitty, which is totally ironic.  Mitty is a complete slacker and the kind of clueless student that I hate having in class.  (You know the type; the class has been working on a project for weeks and yet this kid is completely oblivious to the whole thing.)  He could major in Procrastination and minor in Homework Avoidance.  But he’s endearing and charming, all the same.  Even though I kind of wanted to hate him for his habits, he was sweet.

The only downside to his character is that he tended to make stupid decisions.  Maybe it’s just me, but he seemed to sometimes lack common sense.  For example, why would you touch scabs period, let alone scabs that could have anything to do with an infectious disease?

The plot was really cool, though the pacing could have been better.  I loved that Mitty was researching this disease (which, if you’re unfamiliar with “Variola major,” it’s smallpox).  It was really gripping as he started to get into all of this stuff, but then after that it seemed to drag.  I kept waiting and waiting for this one particular thing to happen and it never did…and never did…and never did.  But I will add that there was a delightful twist at the end that I did not see coming.

The setting of New York 3 years after 9/11 really also impacted the story.  I mean, even now we’re hyperaware of terrorists and everything, but it seems like it was just as bad if not worse in this setting.  Because 9/11 was still fresh in their minds and they were almost waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Overall, really interesting.  Pacing is really my only complaint.

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The Girl From Everywhere (The Girl From Everywhere, #1)

9780062380753First Lines: It was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer.

I received a copy of this from the publisher *cough* an embarrassingly long time ago.  But I was super stoked to read it.  When I finally remembered that I had to set aside time to get through my ARCs (because I tend to forget, believe it or not), this was the first I started on.

Because the plot is so complicated, I’m going to copy the summary from Goodreads: Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

My initial thoughts going into this book was that it had an incredibly unique and intriguing premise, and that it was going to be amazeballs.  History from random times and places that I didn’t know much about?  Totally up my alley.

But the execution didn’t work for me.  I did, generally, like the characters.  Nix is smart, but she’s got a lot of bottled up anger, which is kind of understandable considering that her father’s dead set on essentially erasing Nix from his life if he manages to get back to 1868.  Kash is charming in an exotic kind of way, a quick thinker, while Blake is more of the boy-next-door charming.  And Nix’s father is just as lost as any teenager, constantly trying to decide what he really wants out of his life.  (Honestly, I really liked that about him, even if it also comes across as uncaring or selfish.)

I was not so much a fan of the there-but-not-there love triangle.  That was rather infuriating as Nix kinda-almost has feelings for two boys, but doesn’t ever like, do anything about it.  The story kind of teased that there would be a love element without actually having it.

The history was really interesting.  I knew a little about Hawaiian history going into this (from those bazillion diary books that are published about all kinds of historical events like Titanic, the dust bowl, and princesses.  Know what I’m talking about?), but I certainly didn’t know a lot of this.  There’s actually a lot of political turmoil and a great infusion of native myths.  Those were fascinating.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the time travel that completely confused me.  Many times, I’d be almost done reading a chapter before I realized that I kind of had no idea when we were and what was going on.  There are some time travel “rules” that only seem to be explained after it’s already happened.  For example, Nix will do something bizarre and after it works, it’s explained like, “Oh, it will always work when you do X.”  I can’t tell if it was meant to enhance the suspense or if it’s some confusing attempt to show-not-tell.  Whatever it was, it did not work for me.  And there’s one big twist at the end that I’m still totally scratching my head over, completely clueless as to how Nix came to understand what happened.  Because I don’t see it at all.

Something that didn’t exactly help the situation either is the fact that Nix and her dad can travel to fictional places as long as they have a map.  (So theoretically, if they had a map of Hogwarts, they could go there.)  While utterly fascinating, this point was A) never made very clear, B) was part of the rotating-door of rules I’ll never understand, and C) not well explained when they are actually in a fantasy world.  One of the characters is even from a fictional place and I seriously had no idea until I read the author’s note after finishing the book.

I feel like this is the kind of book I might understand if I could sit and read it five times straight.  But I didn’t like it enough to be that committed to figuring it out.

Three (Article 5, #3)

9780765329608First Lines: The dream was changing.  Even asleep I sensed it.

THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS!  I have only THREE more days until I am on Spring Break!  (See what I did there?  😀  I’m so punny.)  That means I will (hopefully) have a ridiculous amount of time to read and I can make a huge dent on the books I have scattered haphazardly around my room.  But until that time, I have plenty of reviews that we can do!

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

For weeks, Ember and Chase have been running from the Bureau of Reformation, AKA the Moral Militia.  On the top of the Most Wanted list, Ember and Chase have been frantically searching for the safe house, hoping to finally be able to stop running.  Only when they find the safe house, it’s a pile of ashes.  Their hopes gone, the only thing they can do is follow the footsteps that walk away from the ruins.  They are forced to find shelter in the wilderness and in ruins of other cities…until they find survivors of the fire, including someone Chase never thought he’d see again.  Joining forces, the two groups hope to find another safe location, this one possibly home to the mysterious organization known as Three.  This may be Ember’s only chance of surviving, of fighting back.

This sat on my shelf for weeks until I finally felt like reading it and honestly, I don’t remember a whole lot of books 1 and 2.  Sure, it came back to me eventually.  I had notes.  But nothing really beats that fresh memory, unfortunately.

This time, the book is incredibly doom and gloom (not that the previous books are all unicorns-farting-rainbows-and-happiness).  There was always a little bit of hope in the previous books, a little of the fresh feeling of Ember and Chase’s love.  But that’s not here this time, seeing as they are A) a solid couple and B) kind of losing all hope that they’ll ever be safe.  And the MM is really tightening their hold, making it seem incredibly possible that there aren’t going to be many survivors by the end.

The plot was pretty good.  There were definitely moments of suspense that kept the story rolling.  It was interesting to keep reading, though I will say that there were parts that seemed to drag or seemed a bit confusing.

Normally, I’d take this moment to wax poetically about the characters and their development, blah blah blah because I’m an English major and I nerd out over that, but I really didn’t feel it here.  I mean, I actually seriously lacked empathy for Ember and Chase.  Sure, I’m sympathetic to their plight.  But Ember and Chase never really changed in this book or did much to make me fall in love with them again.  It was like we were expected to already love them unconditionally and support them completely.  And that was difficult for me when nearly the entire story was Ember and Chase with competing hero complexes and the desperate desire to save each other.  Hint: It’s not growth if they’re doing that the whole novel.  So that was incredibly frustrating for me.

While it was good, it was not my favorite novel in this series.  There are others that felt far more dangerous and others that were far more character-driven.

Spotlight Friday (148)

Hello my lovelies!  It’s Friday again, which means we get to look forward to more new books!  YAY!  Let’s take a look at some new books coming out in April (because IT’S ALMOST A NEW MONTH!).

glittering-courtThe Glittering Court (The Glittering Court, #1) by Richelle Mead

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): For a select group of girls, the Glittering Court offers a shot at a life they’ve only ever dreamed of, one of luxury, glamour, and leisure. To high-born Adelaide, whose wealthy family is forcing her into a loveless marriage, the Glittering Court represents something else: the chance to chart her own destiny, and adventure in an unspoiled, prosperous new land across the sea.

After a chance meeting with the dazzling Cedric Thorn, Adelaide poses as a servant to join the crop of impoverished girls he promises to transform into proper ladies. But her familiarity with upper class life comes with a price: she must hide her identity from her new friends, mysterious refugee Mira and fiery former laundress Tamsin, and most importantly, from Cedric himself—even though she’s falling in love with him.

Everything begins to crumble when Cedric discovers Adelaide’s ruse, and she catches the eye of a powerful young governor, who wants her for a wife. She didn’t leave the gilded cage of her old life behind just to become someone else’s property. But nothing is as daunting—or as wonderful—as the potent, forbidden attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. One that, if acted on, would make them both outcasts in a wild, dangerous, uncharted world, and possibly lead them to their deaths.

What’s To Like: I am so flippin’ excited that I am talking about Richelle Mead again.  I truly don’t think anything she writes is going to be as epic as the VA and Bloodlines series, but that doesn’t mean this can’t be amazing.  Also, I’m stoked that she’s about to make the name Cedric hot again.  I don’t think anyone’s been talking about a Cedric since Diggory.  Oh my God, I’m already fawning over this guy.  Moving on.

lord_whenwecollided-cover_cata-678x10242bfor2btaylor2bagent2bpageWhen We Collided by Emery Lord

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): Meet Vivi and Jonah: A girl and a boy whose love has the power save or destroy them.

Vivi and Jonah couldn’t be more different. Vivi craves anything joyful or beautiful that life can offer. Jonah has been burdened by responsibility for his family ever since his father died. As summer begins, Jonah resigns himself to another season of getting by. Then Vivi arrives, and suddenly life seems brighter and better. Jonah is the perfect project for Vivi, and things finally feel right for Jonah. Their love is the answer to everything. But soon Vivi’s zest for life falters, as her adventurousness becomes true danger-seeking. Jonah tries to keep her safe, but there’s something important Vivi hasn’t told him.

What’s To Like: Slowly but surely, I am becoming a diehard Emery Lord fangirl.  Her books are real, with imperfect characters that usually have big hearts.  The romance is usually ace, so I’m really excited to see what this has to offer.  I’ve already seen people on Twitter saying there’s a big twist that will have you chucking the book at the wall.  So that’s positive, right?

fierce-and-subtle-poisonA Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

Release Date: April 12, 2016

Summary (from Goodreads): Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.

Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers–and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.

What’s To Like: So mysterious!  I have this as an ARC right now, and I’m really excited to dig into it and see what it’s all about.  I’m really wondering if A) Isabel truly has powers or it’s just a rumor out of hand and B) if she does have powers, can she really grant wishes…or kill?  I definitely want to know more!

To Finding Courage and Confidence

Hello my lovelies!  This week has been full of interesting challenges for me, and I thought I’d share with you a little about what I’ve learned this week on finding courage and confidence.

Anyone who knows me (or knew me in high school or college, when I was particularly introverted and reserved) knows that I didn’t exactly have a lot of self-confidence.  In fact, my self-esteem was always pretty low.  I knew I was smart…and that was about it.  When it came to looks, I always found something I didn’t like.  When it came to big group conversations or group projects, I stressed myself out by not knowing the right things to say and then beating myself up over it afterward.  I preferred to be an observer, sometimes for the fun of it, but mostly because then I didn’t have to worry about making small talk.  And then I wallowed in self-pity because I was lonely.  It was an awful cycle.

But I realized this week that I’m not that person anymore.  While I still feel introverted at times (trust me, I still need to find at least 45 minutes in a day to sit and read if I want to feel at all relaxed), I feel more confident in groups.  I’m a little more likely to step out on a limb and take a chance.

My discovery began in mid-February.  I had known since October that my old high school drama teacher and dear friend, Mr. D, was stepping down as the head of the drama club.  I have been going to his shows since I was a freshman in high school 10 years ago, with my senior year as a member of the club and a lead in both of the shows I was in.  (That’s a whole ‘nother story, but suffice it to say that this man and his wife, who worked on costumes and props, changed my life.)  Even during college and after I no longer knew anyone in the shows, I still came back to catch up with Mr. D and see how things were going.

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In February, I impulsively sent a mass Facebook message to old drama club members, many of whom I hadn’t seen or talked to in at least 5 years offering to make a scrapbook of pictures and letters of thanks for him.  This alone had me shaking with nerves–and a hint of adrenaline.  I was excited to be doing something special for him, something that would show him just how much we care.

But I immediately hit my first roadblock–the first person to respond told me that two other people were already making scrapbooks.  It was a rejection of sorts, and it immediately took me back to my low self-confidence, a level I hadn’t felt in months (because, obviously, there are always going to be highs and lows in life).

About three weeks ago, the same girl who told me two others were making scrapbooks came back and said actually no one was, and was I still up for doing it?  I was.  Three weeks wasn’t very long of a time frame, but I was determined.  I asked my friends and anyone who had been in the club to send me whatever they had.

And you know what?  It has been a really amazing process.  I know how important Mr. D has been to me, but it’s been really fabulous to see how much he means to others and to create something that he can hang on to and treasure from us.  I have had old members send me amazing letters and a few that told me they cried as they put together their letters–which I certainly also did.  But I also know that a few years ago, there is no way I would have found the confidence to send that first Facebook message, knowing that there was a chance someone would think my idea was stupid.

btr-big-time-rush-24057112-500-300

Tomorrow, we will present him and his wife with the book on stage at the very end of the last show he’s going to do.  A bunch of old alumni are going to join me on stage for this, and I’m really nervous about it.  I’m sure he’s going to love the gift, but it’s been 6 years since I was last on stage, in front of that many people.  (I can guarantee that as a final show for him, it’s going to be sold out.)  It’s going to be nerve-wracking, but worth it.  I’m all jumbled up inside and I still have something like 20 hours to go before we get to that point.

While that has been the catalyst for a lot of other small changes, there are still other moments where I stop and take stock of myself and go, “Woah.  A few months ago, I never would have done that.”  Like wanting to be the center of attention in the middle of salsa dancing lessons.  Like going out on a date with someone new.  Like intentionally giving myself a double chin to make someone laugh.  Little things, really, but things I did without much–if any–hesitation.  Things that I would have decided not to do before because it would have been ridiculous or too outside of my comfort zone.

So why am I suddenly more confident?  I’m not really sure.  It could be that I’m finally feeling more comfortable talking in front of groups of people who don’t always like me, which I do every day as a teacher.  It could be that I’m starting to care less about what others think of me as I realize that it doesn’t matter what someone who hasn’t seen me in 5 years thinks of me.  Or it may be that focusing on what I was like in high school while I made this book made me realize just how far I’ve come since then.

Whatever it is, I really encourage you guys to stop and take a look at yourself.  You may think that you’re body isn’t perfect or you say/do stupid things in front of others, but you are still beautiful people.  And once you start noticing that, your life will feel so much different.  It’s more fun to forget about your limitations and enjoy what you can instead of fearing what may happen.  Insanity makes life fun.  Just ask these two.

when-you-take-pics-with-your-best-friend

Assassin’s Heart (Assassin’s Heart, #1)

assassinsheart_sarahahiersFirst Lines: I squatted quietly on the sloped, tile roof of a bordello, cloak pulled around my body for warmth, bone mask secured against my face.

I received this…a while ago…as an ARC…and it’s been out since February… #ARCFail  Well, it happens.  Life happens, but at least I got around to it, right?

In Lovero, there are nine Families that will kill your enemies for a price.  It’s actually lawful–and a religious duty.  This is the world in which Lea has grown up.  As a member of the Saldana Family, she has been trained as an assassin since birth.  She’s always trusted that her Family was strong–until the day her home goes up in flames, with her family murdered inside.  Lea knows it has to be the work of the Da Vias, the Saldanas’ rival Family.  Lea should’ve seen it coming, but her secret relationship with Val Da Vias blinded her and made her complacent.  But she won’t be anymore.  Broken by Val’s betrayal and vowing revenge, Lea sets off with one mission: revenge on the Da Vias.

The description on Goodreads bills this as The Godfather meets Romeo and Juliet.  Now, I haven’t seen The Godfather (yes, it is quite lovely beneath this rock I’m under), but I can say there are some similarities between R&JFaint similarities.  I’m actually really starting to hate how books bill themselves as being like some other book/movie/play/interpretive dance.  Just let the book stand on its own merits.

But, if we’re going to hypocritically compare this book to something, it’s like a more fantastical-less historical version of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers.  And this is a comparison I can totally get behind.  #girlpower  (…I honestly don’t know where this hashtag thing is coming from today.)

Let’s get real.  Lea was an interesting lead for this book.  She has one of those tragic backstories that epic tales of yore love so much (think like Hercules and Odysseus…wow, I am really all over the place today!).  So she spends much of the book yo-yoing between being sad and depressed about her family and enraged and vengeful toward the Da Vias.  She had some really good qualities, like her strength and loyalty, but it was almost like her backstory was partly a ploy in order to gain our sympathies.  …But I suppose that’s not Lea’s fault.

The other characters were interesting, but I did feel like we struggled to get to know them a little.  And that is Lea’s fault.  She’s so aloof and unwilling to trust after what happened that she keeps everyone at arm’s length and doesn’t even try to get to know them.  Hence, we don’t get to know them.  And honestly, I actually kind of enjoyed her interactions with her enemies over her friends.  That at least got an emotional response from her.

Ugh.  Now I feel like I’m making Lea sound like a revenge robot, but she’s not.  I did actually quite like her.  Now I’m going to change the subject before I say something else that ruins this.

The action, as you may expect from an assassin story, is pretty spectacular.  Not only do we have sword fights, fires, and poisons galore, we also have villains with questionable morals, ghosts that can literally kill you if they touch you, and a death deity that may or may not be forgiving if you cross her.  (Helpful hint: don’t cross death.  Just saying.)  Every chapter had some form of action, and that always kept the plot moving.

This was a pretty delightful read.  I quite enjoy stories with assassins, as I’ve mentioned many times before, but throw a death deity into the mix and I’m sold.  It always makes for an interesting read when death is a character (see: The Book Thief).

Between the Notes

btnoteshc_revealFirst Lines: I came home from school on a Thursday in early September to find my parents sitting on the couch in the front room, waiting for me.  I knew immediately something wasn’t right.  We never sat on that couch.

Yay, I finished a YA book!  I am so incredibly busy this month, y’all, between school and other obligations, that I’m barely holding myself together, let alone finishing books.  WHEN WILL IT BE SPRING BREAK?!

For the sake of time, I’m just going to copy/paste the summary from Goodreads: When Ivy Emerson’s family loses their house—complete with her beloved piano—the fear of what’s to come seizes her like a bad case of stage fright. Only this isn’t one of her single, terrifying performances. It’s her life.

And it isn’t pretty.

Ivy is forced to move with her family out of their affluent neighborhood to Lakeside, also known as “the wrong side of the tracks.” Hiding the truth from her friends—and the cute new guy in school, who may have secrets of his own—seems like a good idea at first. But when a bad boy next door threatens to ruin everything, Ivy’s carefully crafted lies begin to unravel . . . and there is no way to stop them.

As things get to the breaking point, Ivy turns to her music, some unlikely new friends, and the trusting heart of her disabled little brother. She may be surprised that not everyone is who she thought they were . . . including herself.

First of all, I kinda-sorta-may-be-over-the-moon about this book.  Which I didn’t expect.  I’ve let this languish on my shelf for over a month until I simply had to grab it because it was now-or-never.

This is a subtly cute read.  It’s not one of those where you get chills the whole time you read it (you know those books), but by the time I was done with it, I simply had to go back and reread like, half the book.  I couldn’t get the characters out of my head.  Hello, book hangover.  It’s been a while.

Ivy’s actually a far deeper character than you initially expect.  She starts off as a spoiled princess who cares about what everyone thinks of her.  But as the story goes on, you start to discover more about her.  My favorite quality of hers was her lack of confidence, simply because then I got to watch her go through the book and gain that confidence.  I love stories where that’s a theme.

And weirdly, it was really cool to explore the stereotypes associated with different socioeconomic statuses.  (Some of you just blacked out on me.  It’s cool; I did the same when those words came up in college.)  But for real, Ivy has all of these notions about people who live in the “slums”, but not everything is as it seems.  And a few times, she’s forced to confront her own feelings about the upper class.  It’s actually kind of awesome.

The other characters are also pretty awesome, as a whole.  I can’t even say I have a favorite minor character because they’re all so cool in their own way.  And a lot of that is because no one is quite who you think they are, just like in real life.  Just when you think you have a person figured out, they do something you don’t expect.  It was so realistic.

Ok, yes, the story does slide into the cliche from time to time.  There’s a bit of a love triangle here, but not an annoying Edward-or-Jacob kind of thing.  Just…subtle.  More real life-ish.  And some of the “twists” aren’t exactly surprising.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the reveal.  It’s like when you’re on a roller coaster and you can see the big drop coming; you still enjoy the trill of it, perhaps even more so because you see it coming.

Super super cute.  Just trust me.