Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hearts At Stake by Alyxandra Harvey

For me, summer has always been about sun and shucking the school year's schedule.

When I was little, that meant wanting to swim all day long and being oblivious to the sun.
(Nothing but good times when you're little, right?)

When I was a teenager that meant detassling and trying to assure a dark non-farmer's tan.
(Let's not talk about that, okay?)

This year, it means a quick trip to Florida, a longer trip to Italy, and an appreciation of sunscreen.
(Yep.  Italy.  Three weeks.  And it's work.  I swear.  And, yes, I have the coolest job.)

Knowledge and the aging process have brought on that appreciation for sunscreen.  (When I was in Florida last weekend, I became well aware of just how much of my own back I can't reach; I have the peeling, healing sunburn as a demonstration.)  But, no matter how much I don't want skin that looks like leather and no matter how much I like to sleep in, I still love the warmth of the sun.

Which is why, no matter how much I love vampire books, I would make a HORRIBLE vampire.

Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows
That's requires some serious SPF.
This look is just not for me.  ==>

However, if you want to slather on some SPF 45, throw on your shades, and read a fun YA vampire book while you bask in the sun's yellow glow, I've got a great recommendation for you.

Bonus?  It's part of a series (The Drake Chronicles), so if you like it you've got more to read!

Super bonus?  This one is only $2.89 right now for Kindle and Nook.  Holla!

Hearts At Stake by Alyxandra Harvey is the tale of two best friends, Solange and Lucy.  Solange was born into a vampire family (the Drakes), and on her fast approaching 16th birthday, she'll turn.  Lucy is a human whose parents have raised her to be an open-minded, loyal activist, so she's naturally (super-naturally?) a fit with the Drake family of vamps.  Just because they're different doesn't mean she should fear them. Instead, she loves Solange like a sister, and she might love one of Solange's brothers like, well, very much NOT like a brother.

Solange is not looking forward to turning.  She's a peaceful person, she doesn't like blood, and she knows her turning will make some other vampires very, very uncomfortable.  Solange just might be the vampire at the center of a prophecy that will cause a huge shift in the power structure of the vampire world.
Fun AND on sale!

There are different kinds of vampires in this book, and not all of them are good.  Even the ones who could be good can be pretty big jerks.  (Sounds like humans, no?)  There are also vampire hunters among the humans.  So a shift in the power structure is a very, very big deal.  Solange would prefer to avoid all of that, and she'd like to avoid all the safeguards her family has set up.  The Drakes want to protect her from the different vampire factions that believe that killing Solange before she turns will prevent the prophecy from coming true.

Lucy is significantly more bloodthirsty (har!) than Solange, and, as I mentioned, she's fiercely loyal.  While this battle could be considered the Drakes' alone, there's no way Lucy would abandon her friend at this important, dangerous time.  Lucy's ideas for assistance are sometimes more dangerous than helpful, but her dedication can not be questioned.

This was a fun book to read with a little bit of romance and quite a bit of danger and political intrigue.  (Thus the PG rating.) The point of view switches from Solange to Lucy, but the chapter headings make it clear whose voice we're hearing.  The two girls are different enough in personality that it also helps make the jumps fairly easy to follow.  What's a little less easy is keeping track of the difference factions.  There are more than five, and some of them have similar and mostly unpronounceable names.  Still, it makes an ironically good beach read.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Confession time.  I broke my own rule.  I read a book in a series out of order and I have no one to blame but myself.  I knew it was my turn to post and had no fresh "BeTween" material to review.  I dove into my daughter's closet (where all of the 'already read' books sit waiting for either me to read or put in the next garage sale) and came out with A Year Down Yonder.  However,  I consider my foray into the closet a huge success for two reasons.  One, the book was an excellent choice.  Two, I escaped the closet without getting a Polly Pocket shoe jammed in my knee cap.  Success, indeed.
Mary Alice is 15 and is used to spending her summers along with her brother Joey, in a small town in Illinois.  She and Joey help their grandma on the farm and in the garden but always look forward to going back to their native Chicago before school starts each year.  The year is 1937 and times are extremely tough for the family. Joey is now 18 and out west working for the forest service.  Mary Alice's parents have been hit extra hard by the depression and this summer she isn't just going to visit the farm for the summer.  She'll be there to stay...for an entire year!  Mary Alice is not exactly thrilled with her new arrangements.  And neither are her new classmates, as they quickly dub her as the "girl from Chicago".  Mary Alice must try to fit it in at a new school, adjust to being on the farm without her brother and build a relationship with her no-nonsense grandmother. 

It was very easy for me to fall in love with this book and it's many themes.  First and foremost was the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter.  While not the most outwardly loving grandmother,  Grandma Dowel would do anything to protect and help her granddaughter fit in, she just has an unusual way of showing it.  Reading as Mary Alice discovered this for herself was touching. 

Also central to the book was the theme of community and hard work.  Even though the small Illinois community was suffering as much if not more than the rest of the country at that time, the townspeople never turned their backs on each other.  Grandma Dowel was front and center when it came to setting the example, too.  Mary Alice watched as she baked pies for hungry neighbors, returned a stolen horse to it's rightful owner and freed the town's grumpiest old man from downed tornado damage.  Can you think of more powerful lessons than those? 

I would recommend this book for children ages 9-13 and even younger if they are more of an advanced reader.  This would be a great family read aloud book, too.  The lessons about family, hard work and community are simple and clean.    I give the book a G rating because there is no language and there are no inappropriate themes whatsoever.  I give myself an A for finding an excellent book. Maybe I should break the rules more often.