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Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill

Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question. 
It's one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she's queen of following rules and being prepared. That's why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that's also why she's chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB ("meant to be"). 
But this spring break, Julia's rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she's partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love. 
Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.

In Meant to Be, Julia is convinced that the smart and dreamy Mark Bixford is her Meant To Be (MTB), her perfect match and the boy she's destined to end up with. Unfortunately, things don't work out quite as planned for the plan-obsessed Julia, who learns that people are often not what they seem, or what you want them to be, and that, ultimately, love isn't something that you can schedule. 

I wasn't Julia's biggest fan at first, but I think that might have been because I could see parallels between my younger self and this opinionated, grumpy, misguided girl. Like Julia, I found myself judging others a bit too quickly, and sometimes to harshly. Since I was so judgmental, I was grumpy and dissatisfied with my peers. Aaaaand of course I assumed my crush and I would somehow find a way into each others arms (despite his girlfriend, who he is now married to!) and he would be absolutely wonderful and charming. It didn't take long for my illusions to shatter, just like Julia's... and I can't help but recognize the Julia in both of my younger sisters, in my girlfriends, etc. Julia isn't all that likable through most of the book, but, to me, she was just going through that mean teenage girl phase that most girls go through at some point in their adolescence. 

The concept of MTB isn't limited to just teenage girls; women of all ages, shapes, and sizes have the potential to fall into the MTB, true love, trap. I love that Julia realizes that love and relationships are more complicated on both her own terms and in reference to her mother and father's relationship, which she used as her benchmark of a good, MTB relationship.

Julia's relationship with her mother was, for me, one of the highlights of the novel. I really appreciated their bond and the open communication between the two, which aides in Julia's become more aware of the world around her and herself. Their conversations never felt forced or false and I loved the warmth of their dialogue.

To properly enjoy Meant to Be, there's a certain amount of suspended disbelief on the part of the reader. The situation Julia and Jason find themselves in did not feel real at all, which I sometimes found a bit distracting, but it served its purpose. 

Meant to Be is mostly cute and the ending is more than a little predictable, but there's a heartfelt message beneath the fluffy plot and I have to give Morrill props for that.

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, November 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780385741774, 304 pages.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Teen Author Boot Camp

There is a famous line from a movie that says, “I was always a band geek. I just never joined the band.” I could relate. When I was in high school I was a president of the dance team, a singer in the choir, a hang-out-with-my-boyfriend-until-mom-and-dad-forced-me-home kind of person. But in my heart, I was a writer. This is why I tell people all the time, “I was always a writer. I just always hated English.”

Because I was a closet writer, I didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of, no one to tell me when I stank, no one to teach me how to craft a really great story. My teachers were the millions of books I read (not in a closet—but hidden away when my friends were around).  And I WISHED I could have had someone to talk to about my hidden obsession.

If this sounds like you…. Then I’m happy to say there is a solution.

The Teen Author Boot Camp, founded by the Utah-based group Writers Cubed and sponsored by Utah Valley University is one of only a few writing conferences nationwide geared solely for teenagers who have a love for the written word.  For the first time ever, Writers Cubed is offering the conference to anyone who wants to attend through Live Stream.

Interested? Here are the deets!

When: Saturday, March 16, 2013
From: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (MST)
Where: Worldwide via the internet
Who: Teens, teachers, librarians, book lovers
Cost: $4.99 for the Live Broadcast; $9.99 for the All Pass

The keynote address by Newbery Winning Author Shannon Hale will be free for anyone to watch. It will be on March, 16th, 2013 at 9 a.m. MST. A subscription to the Live Broadcast costs $4.99 and includes the following:
9 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.—Writers Cubed: Welcome
9:15 a.m. to 9:55 a.m.—Keynote by Newbery Award winner Shannon Hale (Princess Academy)
10 a.m to 10:45 a.m.—Tyler Whitesides (Janitors)  Class: Imagine and Create.
10:55 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.—Janette Rallison (My Fair Godmother)  Class: Bad dialogue can kill a story.
12:50 a.m. to 1:35 p.m.—NYT bestseller Kiersten White (Paranormalcy)  Class: Plot Like a Villain.
1:45 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.—J. Scott Savage (Farworld)  Class: Finding Your Voice.

2:50 p.m. to 3:25 p.m.—Journey to Publication Panel: Agent Amy Jameson & authors Chad Morris, Tess Hilmo, J. Scott Savage, Cindy Bennett
3:35 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.—NYT bestseller Aprilynne Pike (Wings)   Class: World-building is the invisible foundation to your book.
4:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.—Writers Cubed: Winner of the First Chapter Contest and closing remarks.

If you just can’t get enough of TABC, there is also an All Pass Subscription to the rest of the conference (including more than fifteen awesome presentations, including mine--haha). That only costs $9.99 and, as if it wasn’t a sweet enough deal already, you can watch the whole conference whenever you want for an entire year.

To register to watch Shannon Hale’s Keynote for free, visit and click on Livestream. It only takes a minute. While you’re there, check out the other presenters who will be teaching at the conference under the tab “Drill Sergeants.”
Stay tuned for details on how to win a subscription to the TABC Live Broadcast for FREE on this blog

Margie Jordan is a co-founder of Writers Cubed, a group of Utah writing activists who created the Teen Author Boot Camp in 2010. In her spare time, like when she isn’t writing, she is a Literacy specialist for her local school district. Please visit her website at

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fantastic Five: Cover Love

Fantastic Five is a new-ish feature at The Hiding Spot! These posts will always feature five of something - whether it be forthcoming novels, favorite authors, books with a common theme, or newly released covers.
This edition of Fantastic Five: Cover Love consists entirely of recently released HarperCollins covers. It's a good week to be a HC author!

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis 
Katherine Tegen Books/9.10.2013 
If she has water, she has life. 
Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all. 
Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand. 
But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it…. 
With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.
The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White
Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up. 
Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal. 
Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all. 

Descendant by Lesley Livingston
The last thing Mason Starling remembers is the train crossing a bridge. An explosion . . . a blinding light . . . then darkness. Now she is alone, stranded in Asgard—the realm of Norse legend—and the only way for her to get home is to find the Spear of Odin, a powerful relic left behind by vanished gods. 
The Fennrys Wolf knows all about Asgard. He was once trapped there. And he’ll do whatever it takes to find the girl who’s stolen his heart and bring her back—even if it means a treacherous descent into the Underworld. But time is running out, and Fenn knows something Mason doesn’t: If she takes up the Spear, she’ll set in motion a terrible prophecy. And she won’t just return to her world . . . she’ll destroy it.   
In this pulse-pounding sequel to Starling, Lesley Livingston delivers another electrifying blend of nonstop action and undeniable romance that will leave readers breathless.

3:59 by Gretchen McNeil
Balzer & Bray/9.17.13
Josie Byrne's life is spiraling out of control. Her parents are divorcing, her boyfriend Nick has grown distant, and her physics teacher has it in for her. When she's betrayed by the two people she trusts most, Josie thinks things can't get worse. 
Until she starts having dreams about a girl named Jo. Every night at the same time—3:59 a.m. 
Jo's life is everything Josie wants: she's popular, her parents are happily married, and Nick adores her. It all seems real, but they're just dreams, right? Josie thinks so, until she wakes one night to a shadowy image of herself in the bedroom mirror – Jo. 
Josie and Jo realize that they are doppelgängers living in parallel universes that overlap every twelve hours at exactly 3:59. Fascinated by Jo's perfect world, Josie jumps at the chance to jump through the portal and switch places for a day. 
But Jo’s world is far from perfect. Not only is Nick not Jo's boyfriend, he hates her. Jo's mom is missing, possibly insane. And at night, shadowy creatures feed on human flesh. 
By the end of the day, Josie is desperate to return to her own life. But there’s a problem: Jo has sealed the portal, trapping Josie in this dangerous world. Can she figure out a way home before it’s too late? 
From master of suspense Gretchen McNeil comes a riveting and deliciously eerie story about the lives we wish we had – and how they just might kill you.

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson
HarperCollins Children's Books/9.9.13
Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, especially if that authority orders her to wear a petticoat. She wouldn’t be caught dead eating tiny, crustless sandwiches, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags. 
Girls belong at Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies, learning to waltz, faint, and curtsy. But Hilary and her dearest friend, the gargoyle, have no use for such frivolous lessons— they are pirates! (Or very nearly.) 
To escape from a life of petticoats and politeness, Hilary answers a curious advertisement for a pirate crew and suddenly finds herself swept up in a seafaring adventure that may or may not involve a map without an “X,” a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a rogue governess who insists on propriety, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas. 
Will Hilary find the treasure in time? Will she become a true pirate after all? And what will become of the gargoyle?

Which covers have stunned you recently? Share your opinion of the covers shared above in the comment section below and/or create your own Fantastic Five post featuring your current cover favorites! If you create your own post, be sure to link back to The Hiding Spot and your post to the Mr. Linky below!

Read Aloud Review: Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear

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Vanessa's sister, Virginia, is in a "wolfish" mood -- growling, howling and acting very strange. It's a funk so fierce, the whole household feels topsy-turvy. Vanessa tries everything she can think of to cheer her up, but nothing seems to work. Then Virginia tells Vanessa about an imaginary, perfect place called Bloomsberry. Armed with an idea, Vanessa begins to paint Bloomsberry on the bedroom walls, transforming them into a beautiful garden complete with a ladder and swing "so that what was down could climb up." Before long, Virginia, too, has picked up a brush and undergoes a surprising transformation of her own. 
Loosely based on the relationship between author Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf is an uplifting story for readers of all ages. 
I absolutely adored Kyo Maclear's Virginia Wolf. Illustrated by the extremely talented Isabelle Arsenault, this is the story of sisters Virginia and Vanessa as battle Virginia's sadness and anger with imagination and colorful art.

I love that this book has the potential to inspire and guide not only the grumpiest, most wolfish child, but also adults who've also fallen prey to their wolfish tendencies. No matter your age, Vanessa's determination and the beautiful illustrations within Virginia Wolf's pages has the power to inspire and slowly tame the wolf within.

Key Words and Ideas
Learning to deal with and handle emotion
Using art as an emotional outlet

Be sure to watch the book trailer below!

Kids Can Press, March 2012, Ages 4-8, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781554536498, 32 pages.

Note: This is my first Read Aloud Review, but it's something I'd like to continue doing. Thoughts, opinions, suggestions? Comment below!

Review: Ghoulish Song by William Alexander

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A brave girl flees a ghoul while trying to save her town in this lively, fast-paced companion to National Book Award winner Goblin Secrets. 
Kaile lives in Zombay, an astonishing city where goblins walk the streets and witches work their charms and curses. Kaile wants to be a musician and is delighted when a goblin gives her a flute carved out of bone. But the flute’s single, mournful song has a dangerous consequence: It separates Kaile and her shadow. Anyone without a shadow is considered dead, and despite Kaile’s protests that she’s alive and breathing, her family forces her to leave so she can’t haunt their home. 
Kaile and her shadow soon learn that the troublesome flute is tied to a terrifying ghoul made from the bones of those who drowned in the Zombay River. With the ghoul chasing her and the river threatening to flood, Kaile has an important role to play in keeping Zombay safe. Will Kaile and her shadow be able to learn the right tune in time? 
Set in the delightful and dangerous world of Goblin Secrets, Ghoulish Song is a gripping adventure laced with humor and mystery from National Book Award–winning author William Alexander.

William Alexander's Ghoulish Song is a short read and an adventurous, magical tale. Though technically the companion to Goblin Secrets, in which readers are first introduced to the city of Zombay, it isn't necessary to read this previous offering to enjoy Kaile's story.

Kaile dreams of being a musician and following in the steps of her grandfather, who recently passed away. In Zombay, music is magic that musicians use to protect the city and its inhabitants. Kaile often refers to stories and advice her grandfather shared, which serves to give the reader an understanding of Kaile's devotion to her grandfather as well as an understanding of the power of music.
"Music ties knots, and unties them, he had told Kaile. Think about a lullaby, one that ties up the world to make it a safe place for sleeping. It doesn't just convince the child - it convinces the world. Think about a funeral song. It can untie the string we use to hold our grief and let it all spill out. The same song, the very same song, can tie us back together again after we've spilled out." - Pg 32-33 of arc
Kaile tries to be good and follow the direction of her mother, who she feels cares more about her bakery and her position as the best baker in town than about Kaile, but she can't seem to say no when it comes to the magic of music, even when she knows she should. After an unfortunate incident with a goblin troupe, Kaile comes into possession of a flute made of bone, which, when played, separates her shadow from her feet, and sets into motion the events of the novel.

One of my favorite aspects of Ghoulish Song was Kaile's commentary regarding the other characters, like her brother, Snotfish. These descriptions feel realistic. Though she lives in the magical city of Zombay, she still has to deal with her annoying little brother. 
"Doctor Boggs hadn't paid a visit to Broken Wall since the Snotfish broke his leg - again - by doing exactly the same thing he had been doing the first time he had broken his leg. He fell from a crate stacked on top of another crate, which he had stacked on a table in the public room. He had been tying several lengths of twine to the rafters. Kaile didn't know why the Snotfish had been tying twine to the rafters, and she had never asked. Either he wouldn't answer, or else he would for hours and hours, and either way she would regret asking." - Pg 47 of arc
Kaile's shadow becomes a central character as well. Like Kaile in some ways, yet a definite individual, Shadow's observations and dialogue offer depth and maturity Kaile has yet to achieve. In essence, Shadow completes Kaile and possesses half of the qualities that ultimately allow her to defeat the ghoul that's bent on destroying Zombay.
"'Tell me why you left,' Kaile said. 'Tell me why you aren't attached to my feet anymore.' 
I heard music, the shadow said. It was beautiful and wrenching. It unmoored me. It cut me away from you. I huddled in our room while so many other people came in. Then they all left, and you left with the lantern. You left me almost in the dark. I followed. The only thing I know how to do is follow you. I don't want to. You never noticed me when you dragged me across the ground while walking. You never noticed when someone else stepped on my face. I don't want to be anywhere near you. But near you is the only place I know." - Pg 55-56 of arc 
Ghoulish Song is creative with beautiful writing. I think young readers will identify with Kaile while enjoying the delightful world Alexander has created.

Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781442427297, 176 pages.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Giveaway: Order of Darkness: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

I've got two copies of Philippa Gregory's Changeling to give away to two lucky winners at The Hiding Spot. Find out more about this book (Gregory's first YA offering) below and enter for your chance to win!

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About the Book
Dark myths, medieval secrets, intrigue, and romance populate the pages of this first in a four-book teen series from the #1 bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl. The year is 1453 and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom and travel to the very frontier of good and evil. Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her from claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by strange visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and driven to accuse her. Forced to face the greatest fears of the dark ages—witchcraft, werewolves, madness—Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

Check out the Order of Darkness website and the book trailer:

About the Author 
Philippa Gregory is the author of several internationally bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. She lives in the north of England with her family and welcomes visitors to her website, Order of Darkness: Changeling is her first novel written for teens.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

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Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future. 
Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways… or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey. 
In a stunning departure from her New York Times bestselling Paranormalcy trilogy, Kiersten White delivers a slick, edgy, heartstoppingly intense psychological thriller about two sisters determined to protect each other—no matter the cost.

Kiersten White's Paranormalcy books missed the mark for me, but I was pleasantly surprised by her newest offering, Mind Games. I think it was actually the UK title, Sister Assassins, that really caught my attention - because I'm obsessed with assassins, especially female assassins - though, after reading, I feel that Mind Games is a more fitting title.

A detail that I feel I should touch on is that the book has been marketed as an "intense psychological thriller about two sisters determined to protect each other," and while this may be technically true, I felt that the older sister, Annie, wasn't focused on nearly as much as Fia. I knew she was there in the plot, doing things, but I simply wasn't as concerned about her and I certainly wasn't as invested in her character.

However, I really enjoy Fia as a character. She's a dangerously broken individual that has the potential to turn dark, but she's inherently good. Because she sometimes lapses into immaturity and shows unexpected emotion, emotion that is the very opposite of the cutthroat assassin she's been trained to be, it's easy to see the Fia she could have been if her life hadn't been hijacked by the mysterious group that runs the "school" she and Annie attend.

The atmosphere of this novel (i.e. Fia, her boss, love interest, and the group that controls the sisters) are reminiscent of the characters and plot of shows like Alias and Nikita, which I think has a lot to do with why I liked Mind Games as much as I did. So many of the characters are more than they seem, hiding something, or have the potential to give into the power they yield and use it for evil rather than good. 

I feel that Mind Games is a great introduction to the world of Fia and Annie. The action had really picked up by the end of the novel, which I think bodes well for the next installment. 

HarperTeen, February 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780062135315, 256 pages.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: Blind Spot by Laura Ellen

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There’s none so blind as they that won’t see. 
Seventeen-year-old Tricia Farni’s body floated to the surface of Alaska’s Birch River six months after the night she disappeared. The night Roz Hart had a fight with her. The night Roz can’t remember. Roz, who struggles with macular degeneration, is used to assembling fragments to make sense of the world around her. But this time it’s her memory that needs piecing together—to clear her name . . . to find a murderer. 
This unflinchingly emotional novel is written in the powerful first-person voice of a legally blind teen who just wants to be like everyone else.

I'm just going to come out with it: This book made me angry. Like, throw-the-book-across-the-room-and-glare-at-it angry. But, in an effort to calm myself, I'll start with what I actually liked about Blind Spot.

The main character, Roz, suffers from macular degeneration, leaving her legally blind. She constantly struggles to make up for this deficit as she maneuvers her way through high school, but her eyesight is, unsurprisingly, always on her mind, making her self-conscious and lowering her self-esteem. Constantly frustrated from feeling helpless and out of her element in many situation while still wanting to be able to handle everything herself and without help, Roz has a tendency to jump to conclusions and snap at those around her, even those with the best intentions. This aspect of the novel felt very realistic to me. My younger sister was born with glaucoma and I think she'd identify closely with Roz. I can't say what goes on inside my sister's head, but I do know how she reacted to things when she was in high school and, from my point of view, Roz had similar reactions and thoughts. In the novel, Roz points out that people don't realize how poor her vision is and are constantly asking why she doesn't just get glasses. She can't drive and isn't able to play sports because she's a liability. These are all things my sister struggled with. Also like Roz, my sister could be a bit angry. She didn't like wearing her glasses, which improved her vision but left her feeling dorky and unattractive (which is not fun for anyone, let alone a high school-aged girl), and new situations were extremely stressful because she couldn't see to figure things out. 

This is where the similarities between my sister and Roz end, right along with my positive feelings regarding Blind Spot. My biggest issue? I absolutely loathed all of the characters. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic... there were a few secondary characters that weren't mentioned enough to warrant such strong feelings. Still, when I can't stand any of the main characters, it makes it hard to want to keep reading. I just felt like I couldn't escape the negativity! I feel like I'm uniquely qualified to understand and handle Roz and her moodiness, but her self-centeredness and hurtful ways pushed me over the edge. The teachers, the police, Roz's friends, her mother, her boyfriend: all horrible, mean people motivated by self-interest and unwilling to see things from any point of view other than their own. I know it's a strong word, but I was truly disgusted. Realistically,  I know that there are people like this in real life, people that let power go to their head, etc, etc, but to have an entire novel populated with them was too much for me. I will say that I actually did enjoy the character Tricia, but she's dead from the first page, so it's hard to tell if my positive feelings would have lasted. Tricia, however, was the only character who, though monumentally messed up, actually seemed to do some genuinely nice, even protective, things for Roz without expecting anything in return.

I have to admit though, I don't really know whether my strong negative feelings were necessarily a bad thing. Yes, I said I was disgusted and unhappy and wanted to stop reading, BUT I didn't. And I keep telling everyone about this book and the messed up characters... So maybe the author, Laura Ellen, meant for her characters to be disliked. Or maybe she didn't mean for it to happen, but it still isn't the worst thing that could have happened. I suppose having no opinion of the characters or easily forgetting them would be even worse than hating them. It's hard for me to accept that, at least in this case, hating a book or characters might actually be a good thing rather than a bad thing.

Despite being very unhappy with pretty much all of the characters, I kept reading because I really wanted to know what happened to Tricia. It really bothered me that the one person who wasn't completely horrible ended up dead and I had to know what happened to her. I finished the final pages feeling pretty unsatisfied and upset, but Blind Spot hasn't been far from my mind since and I'm still trying to sort out my feelings.

In conclusion, I want to tell you to read this book. And avoid it. I can't decide. I want to know what you all think, but I also don't want you to feel so ripped apart and frustrated by what you'll find inside. I suppose you'll just have to read at your own risk.

Harcourt Children's Books, October 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780547763446, 336 pages.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Ambassador's Daughter Guest Post & Giveaway with Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff, author of the newly released novel The Ambassador's Daughter, joins me at The Hiding Spot with a quick guest post about being a Foreign Service officer and the impact it had on her writing process. 

Be sure to check out my review of this historical romance featuring the young Margot Rosenthal as she navigates her way through a foreign country, her first real experience with romantic love, and the fall-out of a horrific war. After, be sure to enter for your chance to win a finished copy below!

Have your experiences as a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. State Department in Europe helped you write your novels? 

In the mid-1990’s, I was sent to Krakow, Poland as a diplomat. Although I originally went to do consular work (stamp visas and passports and help Americans who got into trouble), I found myself there at a unique moment in history. Many of the issues from the Holocaust, such as anti-Semitism, property restitution and preservation of the camps, had remained unresolved through the Cold War when dialogue and exchange were stifled, and they now had to be resolved before Poland could join NATO and the European Union. I was given responsibility for working on these issues, and I became very close to the surviving Jewish community there. I was profoundly moved by these experiences, both professionally and personally as a Jewish woman living in Poland. My books have been inspired by the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met, especially in Europe. I’m moved to create stories based on the things I have witnessed.

Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to win a copy of The Ambassador's Daughter! 

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Review: The Ambassador's Daughter by Pam Jenoff

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Paris, 1919. 
The world's leaders have gathered to rebuild from the ashes of the Great War. But for one woman, the City of Light harbors dark secrets and dangerous liaisons, for which many could pay dearly. 
Brought to the peace conference by her father, a German diplomat, Margot Rosenthal initially resents being trapped in the congested French capital, where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But as she contemplates returning to Berlin and a life with Stefan, the wounded fiancé she hardly knows anymore, she decides that being in Paris is not so bad after all. 
Bored and torn between duty and the desire to be free, Margot strikes up unlikely alliances: with Krysia, an accomplished musician with radical acquaintances and a secret to protect; and with Georg, the handsome, damaged naval officer who gives Margot a job—and also a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie. 
Against the backdrop of one of the most significant events of the century, a delicate web of lies obscures the line between the casualties of war and of the heart, making trust a luxury that no one can afford. 

Pam Jenoff's newest release, The Ambassador's Daughter, is one of those books that I had a hard time putting down. In fact, I'm a bit divided about this book because, even though I did truly like it, I wasn't a huge fan of the main character.

For those that have read Jenoff's The Kommandant's Girl, this newest book takes place before the events in that particular books, so you may be happy to discover that some of the characters in that novel make appearances in The Ambassador's Daughter. As someone who hasn't read the Kommandant books, I found the descriptions of those books to be a bit spoilery, since they, in effect, reveal some things about the future of the characters in The Ambassador's Daughter. So, if you're first experience reading Jenoff is The Ambassador's Daughter, DO NOT read any reviews or descriptions of the Kommandant books until you've finished and are ready to move on!

I'd categorize this novel as historical fiction with strong romance elements, as, for me, I felt like the focus was more on the history and politics. Even though I know very little about the time period, I didn't find myself getting too confused by events. I think it helped immensely that the reader sees everything through the eyes of a naive 20-year old, meaning that everything is slowed down and simplified as she reflects upon the events and situations she finds herself thrown into. I can't say for sure that everything in the novel is historically accurate, but it felt realistic and, for me, that was enough.

As noted earlier, I didn't find much to like about Margot Rosenthal. She felt quite silly to me... she was terribly naive and almost seemed to let herself fall into unfortunate situations, which she then complained about and fretted over to no end. I like my characters to take responsibility for their actions and fight for what they believe in, and I did not see Margot as this type of character at all. In the end, she finally does what I felt she should do all along, but it wasn't something she actually made the choice to do. Instead, things just worked out. Dislike! Take some initiative, Margot! I had to keep reminding myself that she is only supposed to be twenty, which is quite young, but, in my opinion, she could have used a bit more fire.

I think, because Margot felt so young and silly to me most of the time, I found her relationship with Georg Richwalder, an older man, improbable at times. In retrospect, I even found it a bit uncomfortable. It'd be one thing if I felt Margot was mature with a sensibilities that made her feel older than her twenty years, but this was not the case. I'm a bit unsure as to why Richwalder would be interested in someone who, to me, was a child. Margot's father spent much of the book trying to both support Margot while warning against the match and I can't say I disagreed with him. I felt that Margot had a lot of growing to do and that a relationship with a broken, potential alcoholic like Georg was not in her best interest.

Despite my issues with Margot, I really did love the setting and even started to take interest in the political and military scheming of the era. I developed a soft spot for the Polish musician Krysia, displaced from home and without a country. My great-grandparents came from Poland and, though I don't know near as much as I should about the country and my heritage, I couldn't help but feel a kinship with her. I was very happy to discover that Krysia is also a character in Jenoff's other novels. 

I plan to read the rest of Jenoff's novels because, though I wasn't a fan of Margot, I really did enjoy Jenoff's writing, the complexity of the plot, and the secondary characters (which, thankfully can be found in the Kommandant books!). The romance is there if you're a reader that gravitates toward that in particular, but I appreciated this book much more as a historical drama.

Harlequin MIRA, January 2013, Paperback, ISBN: 9780778315094, 336 pages.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Interview: Kirsten Miller (Author of The Darkness Dwellers)

I'm thrilled to welcome the very talented Kirsten Miller to The Hiding Spot to talk a little bit about her newest book, The Darkness Dwellers, the third installment in the Kiki Strike series! Keep reading to learn more and find out why - *gasp* - Kirsten's favorite word might be of the four-letter variety.

The Interview

Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 
Now that I’ve taken three crazy adventures with the Irregulars, my band of unruly girl geniuses, they all feel like old friends to me. I know their quirks, their pet-peeves—even their shampoo preferences. Starting a new Kiki Strike book is like going on a road trip with a bunch of people I’ve known since childhood. The Darkness Dwellers scenes set in Paris were probably the most challenging, since I had to rely on my memory (and Google maps) to describe the city and the catacombs beneath it. 

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?
Coming up with the title for book #1 (Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City) was a bit of a challenge. My editor and I spent a few weeks trying to figure out what it should be. But choosing titles for book #2 (The Empress’s Tomb) and book #3 (The Darkness Dwellers) was a piece of cake. 

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 
It’s hard to say. I’ve been influenced by countless books and writers. But where the Kiki books are concerned, I’d have to say that one of my biggest influences was a picture book I read when I was small—Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer. It’s about a little bayou girl who singlehandedly rids the Yeller Belly Swamp of haunts, ghosts and witches. I guess you could say that Liza Lou is Louisiana’s version of Kiki Strike. 

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 
I have always had a job of some sort. As a kid, I had to work for my parents. (They renovated old houses—that’s how I learned how to fix things.) As a teenager I held a few different jobs—waitress, cleaning lady, etc. Since then, I’ve worked as a dental assistant (awesome job), a publishing copywriter and an advertising strategist. The point is, I’ve been working my butt off since I was in grade school—and that experience has made all the difference. Because of all the jobs I’ve ever held, writing is by far the hardest. 

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 
It would probably be something you wouldn’t want to print. If you saw a picture of me, you might understand. I am blond and rather sweet looking. I’m also from the South, and when I speak you can still hear traces of an accent. These three things have led many people in New York (my hometown of 20+ years) to believe that I am dimwitted or naïve. A well-chosen four letter word can quickly set them straight. (In fact, this strategy worked wonders the other day when a woman was trying to pick my pocket in the Container Store.) 

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 
My hiding spot used to be books as well. That’s one of the things that has changed since I started writing. These days, I have two hiding spots. #1 is the gym. I jump on a machine, put This American Life on my iPhone and totally zone out. #2 is the outdoor café at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Surrounded by greenhouse domes, it’s weirdly magical—and almost never full. There’s nothing I love more than having lunch there on a spring/summer/autumn afternoon.

Find out more about Kirsten and her books here

Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter

ME is Evelyn Jones, 16, a valedictorian hopeful who's been playing bad girl to piss off THEM, her cold, distant parents. HIM is Todd, Evelyn's secret un-boyfriend, who she thought she was just using for sex - until she accidentally fell in love with him. But before Evelyn gets a chance to tell Todd how she feels, something much more important comes up. IT. IT is a fetus. Evelyn is pregnant - and when Todd turns his back on her, Evelyn has no idea who to turn to. Can a cheating father, a stiff, cold mother, a pissed-off BFF, and a (thankfully!) loving aunt with adopted girls of her own help Evelyn make the heart-wrenching decisions that follow?

Me, Him, Them and It is definitely one of the best books I've read that takes on teen pregnancy. Caela Carter tackles the subject with a careful hand, and while it can be said that she pushes her heroine, Evelyn, in some directions more than others, I felt that the novel presents a well-rounded and realistic portrayal of a teen faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

Evelyn is a smart girl who makes some reckless decisions in an attempt to both punish and draw the attention of her very absent parents. While she used to have a relatively strong relationship with her father and at least a passably good relationship with her mother, that all changed when her father had an affair. Instead of her parents splitting up, her mother decided to take her father back and stay together, but things are far from normal. The house is always tense and silent and Evelyn rarely see her parents who are so busy avoiding each other they forget she's even around.

Evelyn takes what one might consider the stereotypical route and begins rebelling. She quits her extracurriculars, starts lying, distances herself from her friends, and decides to lose herself in meaningless sex. Except for what starts out as meaningless sex turns into more when Evelyn finds herself falling for Todd. And then finds herself pregnant.

One of my favorite aspects of Me, Him, Them and It is how real Evelyn felt. There are moments when she's brave, moments of realization, and moments of undeniable immaturity. At first, she's terrified of what will happen to her life and what people will think of her. Not only is she pregnant, but she doesn't have a boyfriend, which she knows will create all kinds of gossip. Her aunt, who she looks up to and considers one of the only reliable adults in her life, lives far away and has no idea how much she's changed and Evelyn fears disappointing her. Along with the fear of what others will think, come Evelyn's fears about losing her freedom, gaining weight, her grades slipping, and her entire future. Overwhelmed, Evelyn shuts down and attempts to push all the decisions regarding the pregnancy and the baby onto her parents and every other adult she comes in contact with. But the author doesn't let Evelyn off the hook that easily, which I feel is extremely important. Evelyn's mother would be more than happy to make all the decisions, but she doesn't. Instead, she stresses to Evelyn how important it is that she make the decisions because, ultimately, it is her life and no body can live it for her. This doesn't mean that our heroine is left all alone to figure things out, after all, she's only sixteen. There are many great secondary characters that form a support system for Evelyn that are integral to her decision making process.

In addition to Evelyn's parents, she also gains insight from her aunt, her partner, a counselors, and doctors. Despite her negative view of her parents, it's clear that they care a great deal for her and, though they've both made mistakes, are determined to be there for her no matter how she decides to proceed. Evelyn's aunts, who she lives with during the decision making process, are a fantastic support system, as one provides much needed understanding and the other provides structure, while they both provide plenty of love. 

One character who is notably absent from the decision making process is the baby's father, Todd. While he does have some input, more or less saying that the decision is completely Evelyn's and that he doesn't want to participate in the baby's life if she chooses to keep it, he is otherwise absent when it comes to the pregnancy. I came to appreciate this detail as Evelyn struggled internally with her feelings for Todd and the idea of the baby being a catalyst for them to start a family. I'm so glad that Todd wasn't physically near Evelyn as she sorted through her options because it would have been entirely too easy for her to succumb to that fantasy, but it was fantasy and his distance allowed her to see that.

I also appreciated that Me, Him, Them and It touched on every available option to consider when faced with an unexpected pregnancy and the pros and cons. Adoption, both open and closed, teen parenthood, alone and with help or the father, and abortion are all discussed and explored. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood, religion, and family opinion are all considered. I truly felt that all options were fairly represented.

In the end, I feel that Evelyn not only made an educated decision, she also made the decision that was best for her. Of course, I can't say much more without spoiling the ending, but had come a long way by the conclusion of the novel. Her situation, though not ideal, forced her to think about her future, change her lifestyle, and her take some time away from a pretty unhealthy environment to figure things out. Though the novel did wrap up neatly, I wasn't left feeling that things were too calm or perfect. The Evelyn at the end of  Me, Him, Them and It is clearly different than the one at the beginning and that, for me, allowed for a satisfying conclusion.

Bloomsbury, February 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781599909585, 320 pages.