Thursday, July 24, 2014

Major Crush

I read Jennifer Echols's Biggest Flirts earlier this year and fell in love. It was my first Echols book and I immediately decided I needed more. I knew Major Crush, while out of print, had recently been rereleased on e-book and so I bought it right away. Unfortunately, I just got around to reading it last week. I know two things: I need to read all of Echols's back list and I love books about marching bands.

(The top cover image is the redesign for the e-book. The lower cover is the original. Even though it is rather cartoonish, it actually captures spirit of book better.)

Tired of the beauty-pageant circuit, Virginia Sauter tosses her tiara, pierces her nose, and auditions for the most unlikely of roles — drum major of the high school marching band.
Virginia wins, but is forced to share the title with Drew, whose family has held the position for generations. Sure, Drew is hot, but because of his superior attitude, he and Virginia are constantly arguing. That is, until they share more than just their half-time salute...
But as the drum major's heated competition turns to sizzling romance, explosive rumors threaten everything — including the band's success. Love seemed to be a sure hit, but Virginia and Drew may be marching straight into disaster.

Virginia cherishes her role with the band and the time she spends with it. She is a great drummer, a dedicated drum major, and good friend to those she feels close to. She has a definite sense of who she is and what she wants to do. She is the first female drum major in the school's history and she wants to do well. Her problem is that Drew is a big something she wants, but feels she will never have because he hates her. Drew is the responsible one. He takes a lot of pride in it. But he also works really hard to break free and do the opposite of what people are telling him to when he has the chance. Drew is a legacy drum major-his dad and all his brothers had the position. Virginia intrigues him because of her sense of self and her free spirit. The two are opposites enough that sparks fly and it is wonderful. I love hate to love stories full of tension and this is a wonderful one. It is one of Echols's earlier works, and I could see a big difference in the writing between this and Biggest Flirts, but it is still incredibly good. 

At first I was a little put off by the band director, but I feel like his character grew. Also, I can see a young 22 year old new teacher making the exact errors he does in dealing with the students. His suggestion that Virginia buy a short skirt and boots for her uniform was inappropriate, but he's not the first male teacher to do something so sexist, she's not the first teenage girl to shrug and go along with it, and I feel they both reached a reasonable understanding of things by the end.

Major Crush is a fantastic romance and a great band story. I really liked all the supporting characters as well. Both Drew and Virginia's friends are a lot of fun. I appreciate how the mistakes each character makes are very typical of teenagers and play into the reality of the story well. There are some dramatic moments, but they are moments anyone can see actually happening. The book is full of humor too which is always a plus.

I'm really looking forward to digging into the rest of Jennifer Echols's backlist. I already have Such a Rush checked out from the library and can't wait to get to it. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Amour Et Florand

My friend Chachic is hosting this event at her blog Chachic's Book Nook. It is a celebration of the work of Laura Florand from around the blogosphere. My post for this event just went up today on how Laura's books were my gateway drug to contemporary adult romance.  If you love romance and want to check out Laura's books or don't love this genre but think you might want to try it, come by and see what all the fuss is about. Or if you already love Laura's books come and fangirl with the rest of us!

WoW: Shadow Scale

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

I was thrilled to see the reveal of this cover last week. Not only have I been waiting for this sequel since finishing Seraphina, but LOOK AT IT. It's absolutely beautiful in every way and is the perfect match to the first novel.

Here's the synopsis:
The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways. 

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

I can not wait to see what Seraphina's story has in store for her next. Shadow Scale releasees March 10, 2015. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TTT: Characters I Would Want With Me on a Deserted Island

This week's TTT topic: Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island

Irene and Gen (from the Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner): Irene is an amazing manager and strategist. Her ruthless administration tactics would be a major plus when sorting out food, shelter, and assigning tasks and then making sure they were actually carried out. Gen can come because he needs to be with his wife. He can also use a sword to protect the camp and climb trees no one else would dare to bring down fruit and look for oncoming ships.

Tom and Tara (from the Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta): Tom is good at building things and we will need a builder. And Tara is good at making Tom not be lazy and do the things he needs to do.

Taran and Eilonwy (Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander); Aluna and Dash (Above World series by Jenn Reese): These are the people who would provide the camp with food. They are all used to being in the wilderness and needing to do this. Aluna can even get us plenty of food from the ocean. They all also have skills that will help with the protection. (Now that the thought of these four adventuring together has invaded my head it's all I want to read about.)

Christopher and Millie Chant: It would be silly not to have someone around with the ability to do magic, and of all the magic users there are, The Chrestomanci is the best choice. He can move between worlds and has massive amount of power. He might actually be able to get us off the island within a couple of hours. Millie needs to be with him because of what her wedding ring contains (which is one of the most romantic parts of a story EVER), and also because every group needs a good mother.

I think this group would work pretty well as long as Christopher works his magic quickly enough. I can see Aluna getting annoyed with Gen rather quickly and Irene and Dash continually having to step between them. I also think Gen and Tom might get along a little too well and figure out some way to get drunk together at least twice a week. Then nothing would get done.

Bit (my 10 year old daughter) wandered into the room as I was typing this and wanted to join the fun too. Here are her choices:
Taran and Eilonwy from Prydain Chroincles
Aluna, Dash, Hoku, and Callie from Above World (She was REALLY not happy I didn't have Hoku and Callie on mine. Because this dream team can not be separated EVER.)
Hermione and Ron from Harry Potter
Kat from Kat Incorrigible
Gen from Queen's Thief

What do you think of my list? Who would you have on your island?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Swap

The Swap by Megan Shull takes a classic trope and gives it a slightly new spin. Usually in a body-switching plot the point is to learn that your life is not as bad as you think it is and other people have it just as difficult. In The Swap it is more of a case of the individuals learning to unlock their potential and let go of their insecurities. It was a nice change, but unfortunately there are several drawbacks to how it played out.

Ellie spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.
Then, BAM! They swap lives—and bodies!
Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties while Ellie’s reigning as the Prince of Thatcher Middle School. As their crazy weekend races on—and their feelings for each other grow—Ellie and Jack begin to realize that maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being someone else.

Ellie and Jack are both talented kids with some insecurities and fears holding them back. Ellie has recently been dumped by her best friend, who is behaving in the nastiest way possible. As a result, Ellie wants to withdraw from her life. No more soccer. No more sleepovers. Nothing. Coming close on the heels of her father leaving her and her mother, this is a particularly difficult time for Ellie. Jack is referred to by several of the girls in his school as The Prince (he has no idea). He is cute, athletic, and an all around decent guy. His main problem is his father, who is super strict, withholds praise, and has withdrawn emotionally since the death of his mother. Switching bodies leaves Jack and Ellie with a chance to help change the other's life, and learn a little themselves at the same time. Ellie's mom and Jack's brothers are great supporting characters and the way each kid reacts to their "new family" is sweet and endearing. 

For the most part this book is cute and fun. I especially enjoyed how it did NOT take the romantic turn the synopsis made me think it would. This was a pleasant surprise. I almost didn't read it due to that "and their feelings for each other grow" line, so I'm happy that their feelings were different than I had assumed they would be. 

I do have some fairly strong issues with the book though. The idea of a gender switch is fun, and there is so much the author could have explored thematically there, but all that potential is wasted on over-blown gender stereotypes. The guys in this book are GUYS, who practically speak a different language as far as Ellie is concerned. She doesn't understand 75% of what they say. Really???? The portrayal of the girls isn't much better. They play a mean game of soccer (Yay for athletic equality!), but the way they talk to each other is....not like anything I've ever heard. Almost like they are all tween TV show character rejects. Because they are too over the top even for those characters. I work with middle school and high school students and have NEVER heard groups of kids talk to each other the way both the girls and boys here do. Even when I'm simply just listening to them and not taking with them. It was corny as all get out. Then there was the portrayal of the bullies. The obnoxious boy Jack has to contend with is given a nice backstory and some nuance. There is good closure there. The mean girl Ellie has to deal with-her former best friend-is just a typical mean girl caricature. As are her minions. The end is ridiculously perfect. Not only is it wrapped up with a bow, but the bow has curlicues and glitter thrown on for good measure  There is just so much wasted potential with the themes that it ruined my enjoyment of the book overall. 

As a teacher I would not give this to a student any younger than 6th grade. It is definitely a MG book, but it is for upper middle grade. There is a lot of talk of periods and a mention of a morning erection. I think both these things would make the book potentially horrifying for many younger MG readers. It is one where I definitely recommend knowing your younger students/patrons/children in your life before you hand it to them. Know what they are comfortable with and are mature enough to handle. 

I wanted to love this book, but sadly the minuses outweighed the pluses for me.