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If you thought eighth grade was tough, try it with fangs and a fear of garlic.

Thirteen-year-old Vladimir Tod really hates junior high. Bullies harass him, the principal is dogging him, and the girl he likes prefers his best friend. Oh, and Vlad has a secret: His mother was human, but his father was a vampire. With no idea of the extent of his powers, Vlad struggles daily with his blood cravings and his enlarged fangs. When a substitute teacher begins to question him a little too closely, Vlad worries that his cover is about to be blown. But then he faces a much bigger problem: He’s being hunted by a vampire killer.

I picked up Eighth Grade Bites after reading Reno’s review on Ninth Grade Slays. Dracula in middle school? It sounded like a good read. I was right.

The main character Vladimir Tod deals with all the things we dealt with in middle school. Horrible bullies, annoying homework assignments, first crushes, and struggling to figure out who he is. What Vlad also has to deal with is coming to terms with the death of his family, exploring his developing vampire abilities, and unraveling the mystery of his path.

Heather Brewer gives Vlad a compelling voice, and makes vampires every day instead of mysterious and sexy. Vlad drinks out of blood bags as though they were capri suns, and still feels guilty for biting his friend years ago. Vampires admire corporate buildings instead of crypts. It’s easy to follow Vlad’s assumptions as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed his English teacher, but I do hope in the next book Vlad will do more sleuthing and less assuming.

There was a character in the book named Edgar Poe, who got one scene in the book. I hope in later books, we learn more about this character, because I am really curious to see how Heather imagines Edgar Allan Poe and Dracula would have gotten along!

I recommend this to any teens living through middle school, anyone who remembers how miserable those years can be, or want a modern vampire story with less romance. At 182 pages, it’s a quick read, and quite enjoyable. I hope you like it as much as I did!

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Running with Scissors comes Augusten Burroughs’s most provocative collection of true stories yet. From nicotine gum addiction to lesbian personal ads to incontinent dogs, Possible Side Effects mines Burroughs’s life in a series of uproariously funny essays. These are stories that are uniquely Augusten, with all the over-the-top hilarity of Running with Scissors, the erudition of Dry, and the breadth of Magical Thinking. A collection that is universal in its appeal and unabashedly intimate, Possible Side Effects continues to explore that which is most personal, mirthful, disturbing, and cherished, with unmatched audacity. A cautionary tale in essay form. Be forewarned–hilarious, troubling, and shocking results might occur.

Augusten Burroughs may be my favorite nonfiction author. I picked up Possible Side Effects because I read both Dry and Running with Scissors last year, and adored both. Augusten’s voice is humorous and tangible. Throughout these short essays, I found myself smiling at situations so unbelievable they can only be true–truth is stranger than fiction–and then feeling as though the author stole ideas straight from my mind. The paranoia of childhood and the self delusions depicted are things any reader can identify with.

Possible Side Effects is a perfect memoir of memories and self discovery. The short essays allow you to savor each story, or you can jump around Augusten’s mind from childhood to adulthood, and back to his teenage years. My only complaint with this book is that it isn’t longer! I look forward to his next collection.

I recommend Possible Side Effects to anyone who enjoys memoirs, humor, or wears the label weird or strange. Growing up with a psychiatrist gave Augusten an amazing ability to perceive and describe his thoughts and experiences, and I highly recommend this book!

A heartbreaking history of prejudice, family ties, and the loss of innocence.When twelve-year-old Titus Sullivan decides to run away to join his Uncle Amos and older brother, Lem, he finds an alien and exciting world in Oil Springs, the first Canadian oil boomtown of the 19th century. The Enniskillen swamp is slick with oil, and it takes enterprising folk to plumb its depths. The adventurers who work there are a tough lot of individuals. In this hard world, Titus becomes friends with a young black boy, the child of slaves who came to Canada on the Underground Railroad. When tragedy strikes in the form of a race riot, Titus’s loyalties are tested as he struggles to deal with the terrible fallout. Though the characters are fictitious, the novel is based on a race riot that occurred in Oil Springs, Ontario, on March 20, 1863. Grease Town is historical fiction at its finest.

Grease Town follows 12 year old Titus Sullivan’s move to Oil Springs, Ontario. Titus is like many children on the cusp of their teen years, full of quick retorts before thinking their words through.

The novel shows a unique history to an American reader. Seeing how Canadian residents responded to fleeing whites avoiding war and escaped slaves seeking freedom, was an eye opening experience. There wasn’t a hundred year’s worth of foul sentiment, and so the trouble in Oil Springs simmers before coming to a boil, to quote Titus’ account of how the riot came about.

Most of the characterization in the book is realistic. Titus is a little spitfire who’s continually fighting to be heard by the men in his community, who deem him to be a child. Isabelle was a refreshing case of the women’s rights movement growing. Sometimes, Uncle Amos’ character dismisses Titus’ concerns in order to forward the plot. When Titus shouts for the first time at the end of the book, I think his family would have noticed.

The ending was good, in that it was realistic while not depressing. Wrongs are dealt with, but everything isn’t happily ever after.

I recommend this book to early teens, or older readers who want another take on the civil rights movement around the American civil war.

ARC provided by Tundra Books via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. Review first published March 17, 2010

Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she’ll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters’ laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything–including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

This book started off slowly for me. Cremer has a talent for complex twists and turns in her plot, but Calla’s emotional vertigo made it hard to follow at first. Calla faces an oppressive cult like society of Guardians (wolves) who serve their masters, the Keepers, without questions. She distrusts the boy she’s grown up with, choosing to assume his actions, rather than seeing the boy she hurts that the reader sees.

Calla views her every interaction with new, human Shay as a mistake, perhaps because the boy draws her out of the brainwashed obedience she tries to cling to, as Shay fights for her to believe she’s allowed to think for herself. While she nurses feelings for both her fiance and the human who teaches her about self respect, they delve into the history of why the Guardians were created, if the Keepers are as altruistic as they claim, though we never get answers about who the villainous Seekers are.

Calla’s personality seemed incongruous to me. I had issues believing a girl who would yell or punch anyone who dared disagreed with her, would turn around, and allow two boys fight over her, while she hesitantly protested.

The society of the Bane and Nightshade packs did intrigue me, and I wanted to know how the Keepers commanded wolves, wraiths and other creatures, and I was disappointed the villains’ motivation was never explained. The book ended on a cliffhanger, so I hope these questions will be answered in the future book. For those of you who read this, I hope the opposite boy is the one who comes back for her.

ARC provided by Philomel via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. Review first published August 22, 2010

Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at riskand her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.

By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaks is a fantasy novel thats as much about this world as about the other one. Its about real love and loyalty, about real music and musicians, about false glamour and true art. It will change the way you hear and see your own daily life.

I picked up this book when an author mentioned it on her blog. I don’t remember if it was Holly Black or Melissa Marr, but it was someone who knows their stuff about faerie. I really liked the style, because it felt like a mash-up between Stephanie Kuehnert’s I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Melissa Marr’s Ink Exchange. Except for the fact this book was written decades before either of those came out.

Eddi’s motivations in the book are extremely solid. If anything, I’m surprised she handles her position as well as she does. Placed on a battlefield by supernatural creatures, manipulated by nearly everyone in this book, I’m surprised she keeps her cool.

She’s not perfect, and neither is her companion, the phouka. They aren’t sure of where the other stands, they regularly bicker and lie to each other, and occasionally do their best to piss off the queens of the Seelie and Unseelie courts, consciously or unknowingly.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the world of faerie. There’s not an overarching, love conquers all element to this book, so don’t expect a sappy love story. This is a novel about a woman thrown into a strange situation and figuring out how to survive–while forming her own rock band.

Originally published on November 25, 2010.

Twenty-five year old widow Emma Andrews grew up in the shadow of her mother’s madness, so when she arrives at Dulwich manor in the midst of a plague and soon thereafter begins to see specters, her family fears fate has finally caught up with her. But one guest among them knows Emma’s visions are more than a trick of the mist. Valerian Fox has hunted the great vampire lord Marius through time and continents, and he knows that Emma’s senses are heightened by her birth: she is Dhampir, vampire hunter.

When Emma’s young cousin is marked for death, Emma and Valerian must disregard propriety and their own passions to prepare for battle. Poised at the intersection of life and death, with madness nipping at her heels and the Pope’s secret society sabotaging her every move, Emma finds that, in order to save the most innocent among them, she must embrace the inheritance she has feared and denied.

Descent into Dust

The gothic mystery was well written, and reminded me of reading the Victorian classics I loved so much. The social etiquette is a strong, crucial element of the story, and Emma’s struggle to understand her dhampir heritage is convincing. The tone is dark and mysterious, while maintaining the Victorian social games, and occasionally indulging in romance.

I highly recommend this book to any who enjoy the Victorian era & Romanian inspired vampire lore.

ARC provided by Avon Books via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. Review first published April 8, 2010.

No one at Kayla’s school knows she’s the famous Oracle of Dating—the anonymous queen of dating advice, given through her own Web site. Kayla doesn’t even have a boyfriend. Two relationship disasters were enough to make her focus on everyone else’s love life. But then her advice backfires on her own best friend. And Kayla starts to seriously obsess about Jared Stewart—the very cute, very mysterious new guy in school. Suddenly, the teen queen of advice needs her own oracle of dating–and she knows just where to find one…

The Oracle of Dating was a fun, bubblegum YA novel. What made it unique from the dozens of novels it is shelved with is that the main character ran her own advice column. Results weren’t unbelievably explosive, but when Kayla gave bad advice to her friends or herself, she reaped the benefits of her actions. The love interest was the bad boy you kept hoping was better than his reputation, and the foreshadowing for the relationship started in the first chapter, and built in each chapter. I was happy with the conclusion, but a little upset it didn’t seem open to a sequel. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the oracle will return in a year or two with more advice.

The voice of the novel was young. Perhaps I’ve just spent too much time away from YA, but I can see this novel appealing to 12 to 14 year old readers, curious what high school and dating are like. I can see readers of any age reading this book, if only to page through the blogs Kayla wrote about flirting and when to move on.

ebook ARC provided by Teen Harlequin via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. Originally published on July 7, 2010.

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.

This book blew me away. I’ve been waiting for Black’s new series since Ironside came out two years ago. Let me start with this: Holly Black does not disappoint.

I always read critically when a female author writes a male character. Cassel is not the troubled boy who needs a girl to save him. Instead, he’s a troubled boy because he didn’t save a girl. The guilt and tension over his murder shades the book beautifully. The motivation to not lose control shapes his decisions as he slowly unravels the night he killed his girlfriend.

Another strength was Cassel not doing what he is told. Instead of going off alone, he takes his friends Sam and Daneca with him on his missions, using their strengths instead of trying to be a hero. This strikes me as another example of Black’s amazing characterization skills. When faced with a mafia that can curse you, I wouldn’t want to fight them alone. I also liked the way their strengths and weaknesses are addressed.

I can’t guarantee that mystery fans will love this book, but once I finished, I went out and bought some Raymond Chandler. If you like magical mysteries like The Dresden Files, pick up White Cat and tell me what you think!

Originally published November 25, 2010

Acclaimed author Syrie James approaches Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula with a breathtaking new perspective—as, for the first time, Mina Harker records the shocking story of her scandalous seduction and sexual rebirth.

Who is this magnetic, fascinating man? And how could one woman fall so completely under his spell?

Mina Harker is torn between two men. Struggling to hang on to the deep, pure love she’s found within her marriage to her husband, Jonathan, she is inexorably drawn into a secret, passionate affair with a charismatic but dangerous lover. This haunted and haunting creature has awakened feelings and desires within her that she has never before known, which remake her as a woman.

Although everyone she knows fears him and is pledged to destroy him, Mina sees a side to him that the others cannot: a tender, romantic side; a man who’s taken full advantage of his gift of immortality to expand his mind and talents; a man who is deeply in love, and who may not be evil after all. Yet to surrender is surely madness, for to be with him could end her life. It may cost Mina all she holds dear, but to make her choice she must learn everything she can about the remarkable origins and sensuous powers of this man, this exquisite monster, this . . . Dracula!

I am a huge fan of the original Dracula, and always wished we got more of Mina’s side of the story. Mina was attacked in the book, but she had a lot more strength in her convictions than Lucy did. This book tackles how Mina responded to being compelled by Dracula, and whether or not she fought back.

Syrie James fills in the gaps we have of Mina’s side in the original tale. We see Lucy and Mina meeting a dashing Mr. Wagner, and how the fear builds as the murders begin.

Mina is a woman, engaged to be married, who is charmed and courted despite how she believes a proper woman should behave. She eventually marries Jonathan, but her suitor still pursues her.

When Mina learns the truth behind Mr. Wagner and Dracula, she sees the manipulation, and begins to resist.

Dracula, My Love is a story of romance, mystery, and conflict. Mina Harker emerges from this novel a rounder character, revealing that a proper Victorian lady may not speak her mind as often, but she is just as quick witted as the men of her generation.

I recommend this book to fans of Dracula, Jane Austen, and anyone ready for a vampire story without a teenage cast.

Can a Canaanite harlot who has made her livelihood by looking desirable to men make a fitting wife for one of the leaders of Israel? Shockingly, the Bible’s answer is yes. At the age of fifteen Rahab is forced into prostitution by her beloved father. In her years as a courtesan, she learns to mistrust men and hate herself. Into the emotional turmoil of her world walks Salmone, a respected leader of Judah. Through the tribulations of a stormy relationship, Rahab and Salmone learn the true source of one another’s worth in God and find healing from fear and rejection.

I picked up this title, not knowing it was about a biblical figure. In the introduction, the author explains certain things about Rahab. How Rahab’s profession of Innkeeper was interchangeable with harlot. How she was not a temple prostitute, but a different sort.

Tessa Afshar takes the gap between Canaanite to mother of Boaz, and fills in the blanks. The people she meets do not ignore her profession, we feel the shame she has, her growing awareness of a God who doesn’t expect her to sacrifice children or fornicate as a form of worship. Her growing awareness leads her to betray her city, save her family, and learn more about the Israelite’s God.

Salmone, the other main character in the book was hard to like at first. The author spent a lot of time delving into what his sins were, I had trouble liking him. Once we’d established he was a prideful man, and he began to regret his arrogant outbursts, everything began to melt.

Both Rahab and Salmone each struggled with their faith and their sins, and I read most of this novel in one sitting, waiting for the conclusion.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoy books about biblical figures, who enjoy well researched historical novels, and any Christian who wants a little fluff on what led Rahab from Jericho to becoming Boaz’ mother.

e-book ARC provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Review originally published December 31, 2010.

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