Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review of Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood

Popularity is the best revenge.

In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls--and now, at the start of her senior year, she's the cheerleading captain, the quarterback's girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she's ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.

But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she's moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn't dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that's ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.

Watch out, Lauren Wood. 

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Teens...or anyone else who remembers high school
High point: Helen's journey of self-discovery
Low point:  Mean girls
Reader maturity: 15+

This is a horrible way to start a review, but bear with me:  I'm really, really surprised that I liked this book. But I did! I really liked it! Everything from the cover to the plot to the ending, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood is a fun and awesome novel.

I don't like stories about revenge or high school or angst or mean girls, and before I read it, the backstabbed doll on the front creeped me out a little. However, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood gets into the emotional side of being a mean girl and how being a mean girl affects the nice girl that lives inside (assuming that a nice girl exists there at all, that is).

Eileen Cook struck a delicate balance between explaining Helen's past and a pity party, which would've ruined the whole charade. She also deliberately walked the line between Helen's indoctrination as a full on mean girl and her reluctance to let go of being the person she knew she should be. Both of these are tricky, but important, plot points, and they're spot on.

Helen's not a good role model, by any stretch, but she's an interesting narrator, and Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood is a well executed tale about how hard high school is--for everybody.

Title:  Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood
Author:  Eileen Cook
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won from The Bookologist

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Infinite Days

Lenah Beaudonte is, in many ways, your average teen: the new girl at Wickham Boarding School, she struggles to fit in enough to survive and stand out enough to catch the eye of the golden-boy lacrosse captain. But Lenah also just happens to be a recovering five-hundred-year-old vampire queen. After centuries of terrorizing Europe, Lenah is able to realize the dream all vampires have -- to be human again. After performing a dangerous ritual to restore her humanity, Lenah entered a century-long hibernation, leaving behind the wicked coven she ruled over and the eternal love who has helped grant her deep-seated wish.

Until, that is, Lenah draws her first natural breath in centuries at Wickham and rediscovers a human life that bears little resemblance to the one she had known. As if suddenly becoming a teenager weren’t stressful enough, each passing hour brings Lenah closer to the moment when her abandoned coven will open the crypt where she should be sleeping and find her gone. As her borrowed days slip by, Lenah resolves to live her newfound life as fully as she can. But, to do so, she must answer ominous questions: Can an ex-vampire survive in an alien time and place? What can Lenah do to protect her new friends from the bloodthirsty menace about to descend upon them? And how is she ever going to pass her biology midterm?

 [from Goodreads]
Rating:   3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Tried-and-true vampire novel readers who'd like a little twist
High point:  The blend of historical and contemporary
Low point:  The drama!
Reader maturity: 15+

Infinite Days is a unique story in and of itself, even before taking into account the ex-vampire aspects of it. From a time travel perspective, Rebecca Maizel did a wonderful job of giving Lenah the wonder and confusion that would be expected of someone who leapt forward 100 years. Lenah's acceptance of 21st century life is speedy, but that's explained by her life as a centuries-old vampire who spent her years adjusting to the modes of the time, if not the morals.

I was fascinated by Lenah's adventures in our day and age, almost as if reading a diary. Infinite Days is written from Lenah's perspective, which, while not quite historical, isn't like most modern fiction. It was an interesting choice, daring even, but it works really well to showcase Lenah's story.

Like most YA vampire novels, Infinite Days is a little bit campy and dramatic, but if you were looking for serious fiction, you wouldn't be in the supernatural YA section anyway, now would you? The camp, the drama, Lenah's former wickedness and the devotion of her coven--they're all tied together so skillfully that even though I knew what happened to Lenah in the present day, my curiosity was still piqued as I read about her past exploits.

This is one of the more serious YA vampire novels I've read, which is strange for me to say, because I can't put my finger on what, exactly, was so different about it. Lenah's past was pure evil, of course, and her presently evil coven is out to get her. And Lenah engages in certain...adult pastimes before she's reborn as a mortal...But beyond that, there's something that takes Infinite Days out of the realm of fluffy paranormal fiction to something more classically literary in nature.

Along with my warning about adult vampire activities, there was also some swearing, but neither of those is too prevalent or descriptive. Infinite Days is a great start to a new vampire series that paranormal YA readers will really enjoy!

Title:  Infinite Days
Author:  Rebecca Maizel
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won from Reading Nook

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Books: Letting Go

I own a lot of books.

That's the understatement of the year. I'm a bit of a packrat by nature, and when combined with my love of reading, this turns into insanity. I don't even want to think about what the collected dust has done to my lungs over the years. Fortunately for my imagination (and maybe unfortunately for my health), I refuse to stop buying and keeping the books I love.

However, since becoming a book reviewer and winning books or receiving them for review, my scale for Books That Can Stay has changed. I've sold three bags of books (What? That's a lot for me!), and I'm preparing another bag or two. I've found so many new books that I love and have to get rid of some of the old ones that I thought I loved.

I have three criterion for whether or not to keep books:
  1. Did I love it? This is obviously the most important. If I didn't love it or it's not special to me somehow (got me through a rough time, gifted to me, etc.), then does it really need to be taking up space?
  2. Re-readability. Will I ever read it again? No? Probably not? Then get rid of it!
  3. Condition. This is the least important of the three, but if I'm vacillating based on criterion 1 or 2, then I consider #3.
Now that I'm entering so many book blogger giveaways, there's also a slight consideration for a criterion #1b:  Is it signed by the author? Is it personalized? How much does that signature mean to me?

What do you use to help you decide which books stay and which books go? How do you convince yourself to get rid of books that you know you don't really need?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review of Before I Fall

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all—looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12th should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it’s her last. The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. In fact, she re-lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she had ever imagined.

[from Goodreads]

Rating:   5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Anyone?
High point: The concept and execution
Low point:  As a rule, I dislike mean girls, so...
Reader maturity:  15+

Before I Fall is one of the most powerful--if not the most powerful--YA book I've read to date. It's poignant and sad and dramatic and inevitable, all rolled up into one completely consuming package.

Before my sprint through Before I Fall (it was sooo good!), I read some interviews with the author, Lauren Oliver, where she talked about what she was thinking while writing this novel. I don't know how she managed to craft something so intense into her first novel, but she did a brilliant job of it.

It's going to be hard to review this without spoiling anything so proceed with caution. Samantha Kingston lives Friday, February 12 as if it's just another day. But it isn't. It's her last. However, she gets the chance to try again--seven times. Each time she tries the day a little differently, trying to stumble upon the magic formula that will save her.

Before I Fall could easily have turned into a boring, repetitive, Groundhog-Day-type novel, but that comparison completely left my thoughts after I read through the second day. Each day reveals something new and important, both to the reader and to Sam. We get to see her evolution from alive Sam Kingston to post-alive Sam Kingston. The changes are so subtle and yet so thorough that it's impossible not to empathize with her, even though she was insufferable in the beginning. She grows more in those seven days than she ever had in her entire life, and the transformation is amazing.

As for the maturity rating, Before I Fall contains some drinking, innuendo and talk of a sexual nature so it's a book for mid-to-older teens, but it's nothing too mature.

In summation, Lauren Oliver is an extremely talented author, and her writing is amazing, as is the entirety of Before I Fall. But don't take my word for it--this is a book you really need to get your hands on!

Title:  Before I Fall
Author:  Lauren Oliver
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won from BookLove:  Teen

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Low Red Moon

The only thing Avery Hood can remember about the night her parents died is that she saw silver—deadly silver, moving inhumanly fast. As much as she wants to remember who killed them, she can't, and there's nothing left to do but try to piece her life back together. 

Then Avery meets the new boy in school—Ben, mysterious and beautiful, with whom she feels a connection like nothing she's ever experienced. When Ben reveals he's a werewolf, Avery still trusts him—at first. Then she sees that sometimes his eyes flash inhuman silver. And she learns that she's not the only one who can't remember the night her parents died.

Part murder mystery, part grief narrative, and part heart-stopping, headlong romance, Low Red Moon is a must-read for teen paranormal fans. 
[from Goodreads]
Rating:   3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Werewolf phenom fans
High point:  The emotional aspect
Low point:  The lightning fast romance
Reader maturity: 13+

Low Red Moon follows Avery Hood as she tries to piece together the events of the night her parents were killed. She was there, a witness, but she can't remember more than flashes of color and movement. And then there's the new boy in town...

I read Low Red Moon on a sunny Friday afternoon, but I was transported to Avery's woods, with its deep, dark rumors of shapeshifting, bloodthirsty creatures. For a supernatural novel, it's very subtle, exploring town and family politics over the myths and abilities of the superhuman, which makes it an emotional read rather than a thriller.

Since the novel is set in the wake of the death of Avery's parents, she is, obviously, consumed with grief. While the reader sympathizes with her, we're never bogged down by it. Her grandmother is, though an unlikely candidate, the rock that holds her firm and allows Avery to move forward with her life. Then there's the new student...

He was a stunning love interest, but, while I could certainly understand Avery's attraction, their romance progressed really, really fast, which made me a little uncomfortable as I turned the pages, unsure of what exactly I would find. But it's okay--the author allowed the two to remain chaste, enabling the book to appeal to a wider range of readers.

Title:  Low Red Moon
Author:  Ivy Devlin
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won from Sarah's Random Musings

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Amaranthine Review: Ender's Game

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Sci-fi fans, especially those new to or unsure about the genre
High point: The twist at the end
Low point:  The emotional manipulation
Reader maturity:  10+

One of my friends bought me Ender's Game and one of the companion books, Ender's Shadow, and the first thing I have to say about it--after "thank you," of course--is this:  "Why didn't anyone put this book in my hands earlier?!"

I'm not much of a sci-fi fan (well, ask the friend who bought this for me, and she'd probably tell you that my nose goes up a few inches upon a mere mention of that genre), but this was amaaaazing. My lunches last 30 minutes every day, and I finished Ender's Game in 4 days. Yeah, that's how fast I read it, all 324 pages, because it was that good!

Ender is an eerily smart little boy at the beginning of the novel, and he's shaped and manipulated into one of the greatest combat masterminds of all time. Unlike the other boys his age, he stops to think about the consequences of his future actions, but he's so young and still so naive that he's swept away in war games and battle simulations. Rather than being a far-fetched sci-fi novel full of techno-babble and pseudo-science, Ender's Game plays to the human sacrifices and reactions of those who allow themselves to be--or choose to be--pawns in someone else's game.

And the twist at the end?! Oh my goodness, I never saw it coming!! I was floored as equally as Ender. Now that your interest is [hopefully] piqued, go grab a copy of Ender's Game!

Title:  Ender's Game
Author:  Orson Scott Card
Genre:   Science Fiction
Year:   1985
Book Source:  Received as personal gift

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This Box is Bookish

I got this from Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time. It's been making the blogging rounds so you may have seen it. Here's how many I've read! (And it's waaaaaay more than the 6 the BBC thinks most people have read. Does that make me an avid reader or an avid American reader? Or just smarter than the average bear?)

I'm going to copy Nicole's method of using bold for books I've read all the way through and italics for books I've read part of (either started or read excerpts).

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma -Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Inferno - Dante
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguri
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

My score is... ("Drumroll, please!")...38! Honestly, that's not as many as I thought it'd be. It's interesting that I've read many of the ones in bold more than once, or even twice, like Harry Potter, The Secret Garden and Brave New World, among others. That is the mark of a great book--one that can be read for edification and entertainment again and again.

What are your favorite books to re-read?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review of Jane

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   1.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Readers not yet introduced to the classics
High point: The concept
Low point:  Predictable and graphic
Reader maturity:  17+

First off, I feel it's only fair to point you to my review of the original story of Jane Eyre, of which I'm not particularly enamored. The saving graces of Charlotte Bronte's version are the classic elements of the writing and upstanding morals of the heroine, neither of which are possessed by the modern retelling, Jane.

Because Jane is an updated version of Jane Eyre, the author stuck to the general outline of the original, which, while truer to the story that way, made the novel very predictable. This in itself would not be a bad thing except that I was hoping for a stronger heroine for today's readers. The Jane in this story is as blank a canvas as the original, if a bit more boring in her lack of personality. She is, like the original, dedicated to her 6 year old charge, Maddy, and very responsible.

While I understand the difficulties in finding a decent modern-day equivalent of Mr. Rochester--brooding, moody, something of a gentleman bad-boy--I had a hard time picturing him as a rock star. Though I didn't care for Mr. Rochester, his affection for Jane was obvious; however, Mr. Rathburn (the rock star) didn't convince me of his love for Jane, possibly due solely to being the former bad-boy rock star.

Readers of Jane Eyre will be familiar with Jane's flight from Thornfield Hall. In Jane, Jane's time spent with the siblings Diana, Maria and River were lovely. Jane began to develop a personality and some good sense. The sisters were richly written, and even their occasionally inscrutable brother was believably portrayed. Actually, I prefer the new version of River to the original character. I saw the attraction and the misunderstanding between Jane and River much more clearly in the remake. If the rest of the novel had followed in a similar vein, with a determined Jane, I think I might have enjoyed it more.

Jane, presumably as part of the attempt to create something hip and edgy, has several adult scenes in it, one in detail. My cleanliness preferences aside, I found this untrue to the character of Jane, who, in the original, is intensely defined by her propriety.

If this weren't a remake, I probably wouldn't be so critical. Weak heroines aside, there isn't anything wrong with the plot or the writing. In fact, I think if the author had been writing a similar novel separate and apart from Jane Eyre, there would've been more wriggle-room for Jane's development, which could have created a great story in its own right.

Title:  Jane
Author:  April Lindner
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won an ARC from Stories & Sweeties

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Seers of Light

Lillian Hunt has never truly lived. Always sensing more to the world than is easily perceived, she fears that her instincts are stubborn flights of fancy, or worse, mental instability. But some things—disappearing strangers, tangible dreams, and visits from malevolent creatures—cannot be ignored. Before it's too late, Lillian is ripped from the only existence she’s ever known and thrust into a reality that she always suspected, but could scarcely believe. She must learn the truth about who she is, the powerful beings that wish to destroy her, and the two men who would die to protect her.

Jennifer DeLucy has created a unique, enchanting tale of destiny and the ageless power of love in her debut novel, Seers of Light. DeLucy's novel charms readers with quirky characters, while sketching a haunting portrait of one woman's journey on the path of the supernaturally gifted. But be prepared. Once you've entered the world of Seers, you will never be the same.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Adult paranormal readers
High point:  The plethora of supernatural beings
Low point:  The needless mature content
Reader maturity: 17+

While I enjoyed the plot and details of Seers of Light, I feel that its prudent to warn you:  Seers of Light is not a YA novel. I mistakenly thought it was and got quite the surprise about halfway through. Due to some explicit content and repeated swearing, this is definitely not a novel for teens. Please keep in mind that, below, I am reviewing the plot of the novel and not the adult content.

Seers of Light is an interesting take on the plethora of supernatural creatures dotting the current literary landscape. The take on vampires, ghosts and clairvoyants is fresh, and I love the combination of all these creatures under one roof. Lillian's training was interesting, as were some of the cases that the Seers were called to take care of. I would've liked to see more of them in action, because that's where the meat of the story really existed for me.

Aside from being too easily swayed by others' opinions, Lillian was a decent narrator--appropriately cautious and confused, if also too quick to anger, like another Seer, Christian. At first, her mentor, Abram, seemed too all-knowing and reticent to be taken seriously, but his even keel and careful conversations keep him from coming across as too cheesy.

There were a lot of supporting characters in Seers of Light, some of whom had a bigger role than others. The main two besides Lillian--Christian and William--were well thought-out, if somewhat predictable characters. The minor characters varied between standing at the sidelines or stealing the show with random antics.

Overall, I was somewhat disappointed with Seers of Light because of the adult content. Take all that away, and you're left with a solid paranormal novel that could appeal to audiences of many ages and preferences. There's action, mystery, romance and, obviously, paranormal. As it stands, if you're not the type to be bothered by anything 17+, you might enjoy the interesting themes in Seers of Light.

Title:  Seers of Light
Author:  Jennifer DeLucy
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Received for review from Omnific Publishing

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm a Little Late to the Party...

But better late than never, right?

Last week, Border's offered their first ever 50% off coupon, and since Border's is my favorite new-book store (there aren't any indies around that I know of), I bought this:

Just the first one, and I can't wait to get started! Have you read The Hunger Games? What did you think? (But don't leave me any spoilers; I want to be surprised!)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review of Ever

Falling in love is never easy, but falling in love with an immortal god while your days on earth are numbered is almost more than a young girl can bear.

Gail Carson Levine has created a stunning new world of flawed gods, unbreakable vows, and ancient omens in this spellbinding story of Kezi, a girl confronted with a terrible destiny. Attempting to thwart her fate, Kezi and her love, Olus -- the god of wind and loneliness -- embark on a series of dangerous and seemingly impossible quests.

[from Goodreads]

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: 
High point: 
Low point: 
Reader maturity:  10+

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine was one of my favorite stories growing up, and I always meant to read more by her, entertained as I was by the retelling of the fairytale. Ever, the first book I've read of hers since Ella Enchanted, is another mystical tale, but the pages of this one ripple with magic and mythology rather than a simple Cinderella story. A comparison is hardly fair, but as that was what I did while reading, I have to say that Ever lacks the spryness and laughter of Ella Enchanted but comes with a new blend of delectable storytelling spices.

Ever follows Kezi, a mortal, as she attempts to find a way to live with her love, Olus, god of the winds. It's a mythological story based on made-up legend that feels like it could be real. Kezi was delightful, if a bit annoying in her precociousness, and Olus was a decent love interest, if a bit...creepy in his watching of Kezi. (He's not really creepy, but I've been reading too many vampire novels and that's what I thought of.)

The story invested me in its outcome;  I'll admit that I flipped ahead to see exactly what the "ultimate loss" and "supreme sacrifice" were. I wish that the trials had been a little more...trial-y, but this is an MG novel and can't be expected to have chapters upon chapters of angst. In a way, it was quite refreshing for two level-headed heros to triumph without the need for two or three sequels.

The story is written for middle grade or early teens, and though it has romance and action, the simplicity of the story and the trials may not capture the attention of older readers. As an MG novel, it's completely safe for anyone advanced enough to read it.

Title:  Ever
Author:  Gail Carson Levine
Genre:   Fiction - Middle Grade Fantasy
Year:   2008
Book Source:  Purchased

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Possessions

Lindsay is hoping for a fresh start, to get out of San Diego, where everyone remembers when she had her breakdown, and get away to boarding school, even if it is a boarding school as creepy as Marlwood Academy. But Lindsay is happier, and even manages to make a great new friend, Julie. Then, the school's most popular girl, Mandy starts acting super creepy. Rumors abound, but it's becoming more and more clear to Lindsay that something else is at work...something darker and more dangerous than just a houseful of mean girls.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:   3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Insomniacs; people who enjoy not being able to sleep...
High point: The scare factor!
Low point:  It's kinda cheesy
Reader maturity: 15+

Honestly, I thought I was going to intensely dislike this book. I picked it out during a time when I was reading two other super interesting novels, and I thought I could just phone this one in. Was I ever wrong!

Lest I mislead you, Possessions isn't great literature or even on my list of favorite YA novels. It did, however, give me the creeps and nightmares more than once. Due to that, I don't recommend reading it right before bedtime. I do recommend finishing it one sitting and getting the heebie-jeebies out of the way in one go. If at all possible, I'll be picking up the sequel...and soon.

The writing falls somewhere in the middle, between okay and hey-that-was-pretty-good, and the plot isn't exactly groundbreaking, but Possessions really hit a nerve in the fear section of my brain. The tension is almost palpable, while the mysterious phantom of the night floats out the pages. Considering the title, the evils in the novel are surprisingly subtle, and that's what makes them so powerful, both in terrorizing the boarding school girls and the reader.

Other than being sort of scary, some swearing and a lot of angsty teenage rebellion, there's no questionable content. If you're looking for a scary read, Possessions is a great YA thriller...just don't read it right before trying to go to sleep.

Title:  Possessions
Author:  Nancy Holder
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Won from Writer's Block Reviews

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review of Sea

Haunted by recurring nightmares since her mother’s disappearance over the Indian ocean three years before, fifteen-year old California girl Sienna Jones reluctantly travels with her psychiatrist father’s volunteer team to six-months post-tsunami Indonesia where she meets the scarred and soulful orphaned boy, Deni, who is more like Sea than anyone she has ever met.

She knows they can’t be together, so why can’t she stay away from him? And what about her old best friend-turned-suddenly-hot Spider who may or may not be waiting for her back home? And why won’t her dad tell her the truth about her mother’s plane crash? The farther she gets from home, the closer she comes to finding answers.

And Sea’s real adventure begins.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   2 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Contemporary fiction readers
High point: Sea! She was an amazing character.
Low point:  Didn't engage me
Reader maturity:  13+

Sea was another case where my expectations were simply too high. Simply put, I was bored. I didn't dislike it; it just never grabbed my attention. I can't put my finger on why I didn't like it so I'll just run through a couple of points of interest.
  • Heidi R. Kling has great voice. I could hear the main character, Sienna, loud and clear, all through the book. 
  • Sienna was a well-written and complex character, changing throughout the novel and testing her limits without ever straying from her true self, just like a real teenager. She was mature for her age, and yet her grief revealed the little girl still inside.
  • Spreading awareness about the aftermath of the tsunami (and, really, any natural disaster) through a novel can be a recipe for a lecture, but while Sea provided education and a lot of interesting information about Indonesia and the culture, the tone remained light.
  • The beginning and the ending had a lot of potential; it was the middle, after Sienna started making some questionable choices, that my brain tuned out.
  • The novel is clean and safe for readers of [most] ages.
Title:  Sea
Author:  Heidi R. Kling
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won an ARC from Stiletto Storytime

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Paranormalcy

Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.
But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.
So much for normal.

[from Goodreads]

Rating:   4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Paranormal fans looking for a novel with a little bit of everything
High point: Evie, the writing, the appropriateness
Low point: I have to wait for the next one...
Reader maturity: 10+

Every once in a while, a book comes along that lives up to my expectations--Paranormalcy is one of those! I enjoyed it from the first page to the last and finished it in an afternoon.

Evie, longing to be normal, is refreshingly cute and innocent. She's selfless, but not angelic, rebellious but not a bad example, a teenager but not immature. Her crush on the shape-shifter made me giggle; her feelings are so sweet. Her enthusiasm about lockers and high school caused some genuine laughter.

The writing is wonderful, smooth and perfectly descriptive. I could picture the headquarters of the International Paranormal Containment Agency and all of its paranormal employees in perfect detail. Even the hard-to-describe shape-shifter becomes visible through Kiersten White's words. Paranormalcy not only impressed me as a singular effort, but the fact that its Ms. White's debut novel astounds me! It's a phenomenal first attempt and doesn't fall for any of the usual freshman mistakes. I highly, highly recommend it.

To boot, it's entirely clean, and it never feels like anything is lacking. I wish more novels would follow suit. A good plot and good characters make the story, and Paranormalcy has both.

Title:  Paranormalcy
Author:  Kiersten White
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won an ARC from Fantastic Book Review

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DNF: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical. Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:   DNF
Reader maturity:  15+

It makes me sad when I don't finish books, like I've failed as a reader. In the case of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, it's not so much that I couldn't finish but that over halfway through, I realized I had other books to read that I thought would be more worthy of my time.

Here at Bookish in a Box, I have no problem giving "bad" reviews because I feel that they're necessary in order for you to know where my enthusiasm lies on my rating scale. I also want to be honest with you. That said, I don't want to enter into anything overly negative, so I'll just quickly list why I didn't finish.
  1. Narration from a male POV (2 actually)--For some reason, I prefer female narrators.
  2. The topics--This is just personal preference.
  3. The plot--This is due partially to both #1 and #2, but I just couldn't get into it.
Age appropriateness:  There's some teenage-level swearing and topics, and the book also deals with one topic in particular that some people (and parents) may not be comfortable with.

Title:  Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Author:  John Green & David Levithan
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won an ARC from Stiletto Storytime

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Shade

Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan's band playing a critical gig and Aura's plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend's life. She never thought it would be his last.

Logan's sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He's gone.

Well, sort of.

Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan's violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.

It doesn't help that Aura's new friend Zachary is so understanding--and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.

As Aura's relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura's heart...and clues to the secret of the Shift.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   2 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Paranormal fans looking for something a little different
High point: The events surrounding the Shades
Low point:  I couldn't get into the story
Reader maturity: 15+

I've been thinking for over a week now about what I'm going to say about Shade. It wasn't that it was a bad book or even an okay book or a so-so book, but...there was something about it that I didn't like.

Things I didn't like:  I couldn't ever get involved in Aura's situation since I found her selfish and obsessive. I thought Logan was a self-centered jerk (which Aura admits frequently, making the excuse of "But that's Logan..." over and over again), and I couldn't even root for Aura to move on with the cute Scottish guy. I did want to know what was up with Stonehenge and Aura's mother, but that was never answered. Those two topics were touched on as a subplot afterthought and left me with very little to care about.

Things I liked:  The characterization of Logan's family is amazing. I could see them all as if I were in the room with them. The events and mysteries surrounding the Shades were well thought out. There are a lot of differences between those who can see Shades and those who can't, and many realistic quirks were subtly thrown in, like the younger generation translating in court or hiding out in the black-boxed bathrooms where the ghosts can't get in.

Overall, I wasn't a fan of Shade, but if you like ghost stories, this might be worth picking up. Be warned--although there's nothing explicit, there are definitely some...lead-ups to some adult scenes. This is not a book for younger YA readers.

Title:  Shade
Author:  Jeri Smith-Ready
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won from Pure Imagination

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review of Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country

The prehistoric saga continues in Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, the sequel to the award winning Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure. In this story, Zan s troubled twin brother, Dael, having suffered greatly during his earlier captivity, receives a ruinous new shock when his wife suddenly dies. Disturbed and traumatized, all of his manic energies explode into acts of hostility and bloodshed. His obsession is the destruction of the wasp men, his first captors, who dwell in the Beautiful Country. When he, Zan-Gah, and a band of adventurers trek to their bountiful home, they find that all of the wasp people have died in war or of disease. The Beautiful Country is empty for the taking, and Zan s people, the Ba-Coro, decide to migrate and resettle there. But the Noi, Dael s cruelest enemies and former tormentors, make the same migration from their desert home, and the possibility develops of contention and war over this rich and lovely new land.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:  3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Spear-wielding adventurers
High point:  The subtlety
Low point:  Dael
Reader maturity:  10+

Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, is, like it's predecessor, Zan-Gah, a great story for readers of all ages (especially those hard-to-find-books-for-boys). However, due to a few nitpicky items that I've detailed below, Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country didn't wow me as much as the original.

Some of the story lines were really good, like the one involving the Ba-Coro journeying to the Beautiful Country. The fight scenes, though sparsely described and withdrawn from the action, due to the third person past tense, had an unusual grace about them, and the tension between the tribes was palpable. While reading, I was constantly amazed at how the author portrayed such rich scenes using such simple descriptions.

However, I was really, really [spoiler alert!] fed up with Dael. His brother risked his life to save him in book 1, and what does he get for his trouble? More trouble!! Even though all the other goings-on were really interesting--Zan-Gah and Pax, Rydl and Sparrow, anything having to do with Chul--I just kept getting hung up over Dael and his meanness, as well as that of his two minions. [End spoiler.] While one of the overarching themes in the series is redemption (remember Zan-Gah going to search for his missing brother, who left while they were fighting?), I couldn't muster the sympathy required to stick with Dael. The ending partially made up for it, though I'm still aggravated with him.

Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country was written in the style of the first book, which is different from most YA, and I liked the writing of both because it set it apart from the prose-filled storytelling that composes most of today's literature. I would recommend Zan-Gah and Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country for anyone, particularly those hard-to-find-books-for preteens, looking for a unique prehistoric adventure.

Title:  Zan-Gah:  A Prehistoric Adventure
Author:  Allan Richard Shickman
Genre:   Fiction - Prehistoric
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Received for review from Earthshaker Books

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review of Zan-Gah

The hero, Zan-Gah seeks his lost twin in a savage prehistoric world, encountering suffering, captivity, conflict, love, and triumph. In three years, Zan-Gah passes from an uncertain boyhood to a tried and proven manhood and a position of leadership among his people. Themes: survival, cultures, gender roles, psychological trauma, nature's wonders and terrors.

[from Goodreads]

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Spear-wielding adventurers
High point:  The subtlety
Low point:  The simplicity
Reader maturity:  10+

I don’t normally read novels with male narrators or prehistoric action adventures, but I’d read so many good things about Zan-Gah that, when offered a chance to review it, I had to say yes. Lucky for me, I wasn’t disappointed.  Zan-Gah pleasantly surprised me, and something about it makes it a compelling read appropriate for every age and gender.

Though the writing is somewhat stilted in past tense, it works well for this novel, which is heavy on this-is-how-it-is commentary vs. exploring the main character's emotional state. Zan-Gah is an honorable, if simplistic, warrior from a long ago race. The reader adventures along with him as he searches for his lost brother.

While the words are short and the sentences uncomplicated, Zan-Gah never dragged or lost my attention. Rather, I was trying to read faster in order to find out what happens. Readers of all ages can enjoy Zan-Gah, but it is especially appropriate for pre-teen and younger teen guys. I know I'm ready to find out what happens next!

Title:  Zan-Gah:  A Prehistoric Adventure
Author:  Allan Richard Shickman
Genre:   Fiction - Prehistoric
Year:   2007
Book Source:  Received for review from Earthshaker Books

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Hex Hall

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It's gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie's estranged father--an elusive European warlock--only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it's her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters. By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.
As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Fans of Firespell, paranormal and boarding school stories
High point:  The complete package
Low point:  Archer
Reader maturity: 13+

Hex Hall is one of those books that grabbed my attention from the very beginning, not through action or a clever hook, but by engaging me as a reader. I became immediately invested in Sophie's story.

Hex Hall reminded me of Firespell a little bit--school with supernatural students, quirky roommate, lots of sneaking about at night, but it's written from a totally different emotional angle. Though Hex Hall sets up for a series, it never felt like a set-up book. The novel is full and complete in its own right. I have questions and want answers about the Prodigium and Sophie's father and past, but I'm not totally frustrated by having to wait for the next book in the series. The characterizations were just right, and the writing pulled me into Sophie's dark world. I could picture myself sneaking around with her and experienced the same confusion that she did when her spells went awry.

The only thing I didn't like is that I didn't get Sophie's attraction to Archer. It just...her head and her heart seemed to be yanking her two different ways to me, but she seemed pretty certain. I did appreciate that she respected (for the most part) certain relationship boundaries. And though labeled "wayward," she's a pretty cool teen with a good head on her shoulders.

Hex Hall isn't heavy on the "witch" aspect and it's fairly clean so it should be safe for most YA readers. I really enjoyed Hex Hall, and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel, Demonglass.

Title:  Hex Hall
Author:  Rachel Hawkins
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Won from Book Love:  Teen

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review of I Heart New York

Angela Clark is in love—with the most fabulous city in the world! When Angela catches her boyfriend with another woman at her best friend's wedding, she's heartbroken and desperate to run away. With little more than a crumpled bridesmaid dress, a pair of Louboutins, and her passport in hand, Angela decides to jump on a plane for . . . NYC!Settling into a cute hotel and quickly bonding with benevolent concierge Jenny—a chatterbox Oprah wannabe with room for a new best friend—Angela heads out for a New York makeover, some serious retail therapy, and a whirlwind tour of the city. Before she knows it, she's dating two sexy guys and blogging about her Big Apple escapades for a real fashion magazine. But while it's one thing telling readers about your romantic dilemmas, it's another working them out for yourself. Angela has fallen head over heels for the city that never sleeps, but does she heart New York more than home?

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   2 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  20-something commitment-phobes
High point:  The comedy
Low point:  All the immaturity
Reader maturity:  15+

When I first started I Heart New York, I thought I was going to love it. It was funny and smart and reminded me of a cleaned-up Bridget Jones. About three chapters in, though, it became bogged down with material things, like handbags and clothes and makeup. Everything was so serendipitous, too...Only 2 "bad" things happened over the course of the novel. The main character didn't learn anything about herself except that, apparently, luck and good clothes bring good fortune.

One of the main characters' new "friends"--in quotes because she'd known them for about a week at the time--completely chewed her out for being selfish and self-centered and whiny, and all of it was true. I had a spark of hope when the main character promised a change, but she failed to follow through. The book was just more of the same, and I was relieved when I was finally finished.

There was also a great deal of swearing and sleeping around so it's not a book for the conservative crowd, and although it's not horrible, it's not one I'd recommend. Regardless of my opinion of the plot, the author has a knack for comedic writing, and I'd like to read something by her aimed at a younger crowd.

Title:  I Heart New York
Author:  Lindsay Kelk
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Won from I Just Wanna Sit Here and Read

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Full Moon

I may be promised to another...but thoughts of Rafe consume me. I don't know how much longer I can resist.
Lindsey is wild and reckless, a natural rebel—maybe because her entire life was laid out for her even before she was born. Her parents are among the most powerful members of the Dark Guardians, an ancient tribe of werewolves, and they arranged Lindsey's betrothal to Connor long ago. The next full moon is coming all too soon, and then her commitment to Connor will be final—no turning back. She should be happy...so why can't she stop thinking about gorgeous, brooding Rafe?

When a dangerous threat on the pack escalates, so do tensions between Connor and Rafe. A fight over Lindsey is imminent, but will it be to the death?

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Readers surfing the werewolf wave
High point:  The teasers for the next book
Low point:  Lindsay's indecisiveness
Reader maturity: 13+

If you remember, I gushed over Moonlight, the first in the Dark Guardian series. Though predictable and formulaic, something about the book was comfortable and refreshing.

Full Moon follows the same formula but fails to deliver the same sense of amazement and fantasy. It is, by no means, boring or terrible, but it lacks that special something.

Full Moon follows Lindsay, a Shifter, one who grew up expecting to shift and expecting to spend the rest of her life with her best friend, Connor. However, when a fellow Shifter returns, she realizes Connor may not be right for her after all. It's a classic love triangle, but instead of sympathizing with Lindsay, I wished she'd just make up her mind. I can understand indecision and confusion, but it seemed like she did a lot of things she knew weren't very kind behind her boyfriend's back. It's one thing to feel confused and another to act at someone else's expense. My imagination was also stretched to the limit by the patience of both guys in her life.

On the plus side, the characters introduced in the first novel, Kayla and Brittany and the boys, were included in a very smooth manner, showing up long enough to round out the story but allowing the spotlight to shine on Lindsay. Also, there were a ton of hints about the next book in the series, which I am really excited about. While Full Moon wasn't anything groundbreaking, it's a decent 2nd novel in this series. It may have lacked pizazz, but Dark of the Moon holds great promise if the teasers are anything to go by.

Title:  Full Moon
Author:  Rachel Hawthorne
Genre:   Contemporary Romance
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Purchased

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review of Witch Child

Mary's grandmother is executed for witchcraft, and Mary is forced to leave her home to avoid the same fate. At first she flees to the English countryside, but when the atmosphere of superstition and suspicion becomes all consuming she leaves on a boat for America in the hope that she can start over and forget her past. But during the journey, she realizes that the past is not so easy to escape.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:   2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Paranormal historical readers
High point: Strong writing
Low point:  Didn't engage me
Reader maturity:  13+

Witch Child follows Mary Newbury as she flees England's wild witch hunts, only to fall into the hands of witch hunters even more zealous and unrestrained in the early American wilderness.

Though I'm usually a fan of historicals (especially when combined with a hint of the paranormal), Witch Child just didn't light the spark of imagination in me. I don't know if I wasn't in the proper mood for a historical or what, but...something was missing. I don't want to dissuade you from trying it out, though, because I feel certain that it's got strong writing and an interesting tale.

In retrospect, I wonder if my tastes have been spoiled by too many witch trial novels when I was younger. Since the ending could have gone one of two ways, I already had an idea where the book was going. Perhaps the anticipation of the known was too much for the hints of danger lurking in the pages.

Whatever the problem, I was more interested in Mary's mother, back in England, than I was with the folks of Beulah. I also wondered, time and again, why Mary did not leave her situation and return to Salem. It seemed that she could have done so and avoided many of the events in the novel. Of course, then where would the story be, right?

Regardless of my lack of excitement for Witch Child, I believe Celia Rees is a good writer, and I'm interested in trying out some of her other work, even if I can't heartily get behind this one.

Title:  Witch Child
Author:  Celia Rees
Genre:   Fiction - Historical
Year:   2002
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Want to Read Wednesday: Entwined

Azalea and her younger sisters dance in the mysterious silver forest every night, escaping from the sadness of the palace and their father’s grief. What they don’t understand—although as time passes they begin to get an inkling of the danger they are in—is that the mysterious and dashing Keeper is tightening his snare with deadly purpose. Luckily, Azalea is brave and steadfast. Luckily, a handsome young army captain also has his eye on Azalea. . . . Lush, romantic, and compelling, this debut novel by Heather Dixon will thrill fans of Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley, and Edith Pattou.

[from Goodreads]

This meme is hosted by Boy with Books. I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review of The Way It Is

To Ellen Manery, a brilliant, introverted, socially isolated fifteen-year-old, there is nothing good about the summer of 1967, especially when her parents decide to move to a small town in the interior of British Columbia. None of the big ideas of the decade – the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, women’s rights – have had much of an effect on this small community.
Ellen has always been more interested in studying than a social life, but that begins to change when she meets Tony Paul, an eighteen-year-old who is a Shuswap Indian and lives on the nearby reserve. It is Tony’s friendship that gives Ellen the strength to endure the loneliness, racism, discrimination, and antifeminism she must face during her last year in high school. But as their friendship turns into something deeper, they must decide if they can break free of the small minds around them and forge their own future.

[from Second Story Press]
Rating:   4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Anyone who's ever been on the outside looking in
High point:  The history
Low point:  Tony's melodrama
Reader maturity:  13+

When I read the synopsis for The Way It Is, I automatically assumed it would be about sexism, prejudice and racism in the US, so when I opened it to find that it was about Canada's First Nations, I was pleasantly surprised. That's not a topic that occurs often in the books I read, and I knew very little about Canada's history except through Kathy Reichs' mysteries.

The Way It Is is a 1960s historical novel that doesn't feel stuck in the past because the message is as applicable today as it was 50 years ago. The main character, Ellen Manery, has been raised by her parents to buck the norm and be all that she can be, but when her family moves to a small town, the prejudices of the people there begin to infect her own family. In fighting back against small town minds, she discovers that it's okay not to be invisible.

Ellen is a great role model, even for girls of today. She's polite but firm in her dealings with the chauvinists and bigots around her. Her mother, too, is a strong female character, both in the way she raised Ellen, but also in her support of Ellen and Ellen's father.

Tony, the only Indian in Ellen's high school class, was a tad melodramatic, but beyond that, he made some very good arguments about the treatment of the First Nations without sounding preachy or whiny. He teaches Ellen some valuable lessons about blossoming versus just subsisting, while fighting his own battles to overcome his past.

I really enjoyed learning about the 1960s in Canada, not only because that's a time period and setting rarely seen in my YA experience but also because it provides a very interesting backdrop for this type of coming-of-age story. Vivid descriptions enabled the characters to come alive from the pages, as well as the woods surrounding the resort run by Ellen's family.

The writing is solid, the plot is smooth and the message is unmistakable, though it never ventures toward reading like a tract or a history textbook. There are a few awkward moments in The Way It Is that make it suitable for readers in their mid-teens and above but nothing too shocking.

Title:  The Way It Is
Author:  Donalda Reid
Genre:   Fiction - Historical
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Received for review from Second Story Press

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Want to Read Wednesday: Where I Belong

Corrinne Corcoran’s upscale Manhattan life is perfectly on track—until her father announces he’s been laid off and she’s shipped off to Broken Spoke, Texas, to live with her grandparents. All alone in a big public school and forced to take a job shoveling manure, Corrinne is determined to get back to the glamorous life she’s supposed to be living. But as she grudgingly adjusts—making new friends and finding romance along the way—this city girl begins to realize that life without credit cards and shopping sprees may not be as bad as it seems....

In this sparkling debut that flawlessly balances romance and humor, readers will grow to love sharp and sassy Corrinne as she goes on her totally reluctant but completely irresistible journey of self-discovery.

[from Goodreads]

This meme is hosted by Boy with Books. I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review of Old Photographs

Fourteen-year-old Phoebe Hecht is slowly making her way through the long boring days of summer vacation. It doesn’t help that her mom’s marriage to a wealthy heart surgeon means that they’ve left their old, comfortable lives behind – so much so that her mom now seems ashamed at the merest mention of their humble beginnings. Now they live in a fancy Toronto neighborhood where she doesn’t belong, and the only friend she made at her new school, Yuri Kimura, has gone to Tokyo for the summer. The only thing getting Pheobe through the summer is her obsession with Agatha Christie mysteries and her covert spying on Colin, her crush who works at the local grocery store.
A chance meeting with a kind elderly neighbor named Mrs. Tomblin changes everything and brings all Phoebe’s interests together. When Mrs. Tomblin is robbed and assaulted she can’t remember anything about what happened, due to the fact that she is in the early stages of dementia. It is up to Phoebe and Colin to try and solve the mystery of the robbery. Could Mrs. Tomblin’s collection of old photographs be at the centre of the puzzle?

[from Second Story Press]
Rating:   3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Aspiring young detectives, anyone looking for a solid read
High point:  Phoebe and the writing
Low point:  A little simple
Reader maturity:  10+

Old Photographs is a really cute story about Phoebe, a bored Canadian girl stuck in a new town with no friends for a summer. She's an aspiring detective, inspired by Agatha Christie, and stumbles onto a mystery of her own when she befriends an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

Phoebe is a fun narrator, obsessing just enough over her crush, Colin, and not complaining too much about her new family. She sticks up for what she believes in, helping out an elderly woman and finally finding the strength to tell her mother the truth. The only thing I didn't like about Phoebe is that she lies--A LOT, like it's no big deal. I understand why she lies, but it still bugged me.

At first glance, Colin is too perfect to be true, but it soon becomes clear that the reader's view of Colin is through Phoebe's rose-colored (for Colin) glasses. After that point, her idolization becomes endearing because she's not oblivious but rather blinded by puppy love.

I didn't like Phoebe's new family (and I wasn't supposed to). They were well-written and believably unlikable, with both good and bad traits blended together for realism. Mrs. Tomblin provided an outlet for Phoebe's detective skills and also showcased Phoebe's kind side, which was often hidden under the smothering of her personailty by her mother and stepfather.

Old Photographs provides a strong, if simple, plot to keep the reader engaged. The whodunit is a little predictable, but this novel isn't so much about the end as it is the journey, navigating relationships, finding a voice and growing up. The writing is a little simpler than most YA, so it's probably best for younger YA readers but is also accessible for anyone wanting a solid novel to while away the summer (or fall) hours. It's also completely clean so it's appropriate for anyone able to read it.

Title:  Old Photographs
Author:  Sherie Posesorski
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Received for review from Second Story Press

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Buy, Borrow or...Are those the only choices?

How do you decide what books to buy? I've got books running out of my ears, and yet I can't stand to be without some of my favorites. Due to book-blogging and giveaway-entering, I've definitely got more books coming in than I have going out of my bookshelves. I now have a rule that I can't buy a book that's not part of a series I already started. If I win a book in a new series, that's fine; I can keep it. But I can't buy it. I won Shiver a few weeks ago, and I'm so excited to dive in because I wasn't "allowed" to buy it! It may seem like a silly rule, but it's the most strict I can be with myself. I just love reading too much to enforce a strict no-buy rule, but I could use some ideas.

What do you do to keep your book pile from growing? Do you borrow from the library or enforce a "book budget"?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Want to Read Wednesday: Steel

When Jill, a competitive high school fencer, goes with her family on vacation to the Bahamas, she is magically transported to an early eighteenth century pirate ship in the middle of the ocean.

[from Goodreads]

This meme is hosted by Boy with Books. I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review of Pretty Little Devils

Hazel Stone wants nothing more than to be a part of the hottest clique in school, the Pretty Little Devils. She's got the style, she's cool enough, so how did she end up at a lunch table full of high school C-listers? Hazel has resigned herself to life as a nobody, when suddenly everything changes. Sylvia, queen bee of the PLDs, invites Hazel to one of the group's famous soirees—held at the site of their babysitting jobs.
Before Hazel knows it, she's in with the in crowd—and she couldn't be more thrilled!
But popularity comes with a price. Especially when one of Hazel's classmates becomes jealous of her newfound status—deadly jealous.
And you know how school gossip can just rip a girl to shreds . . .

[from Goodreads]

Rating:   1 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Tweens?
High point: The twist
Low point:  Teenspeak
Reader maturity:  15+

What to say about Pretty Little Devils? It really wasn't my thing so I'll keep this short and sweet.

While reading, I had a flashback to grade school, back before (*gasp*) YA could be good literature. Pretty Little Devils felt like a novel for teenyboppers who couldn't be convinced to read anything that wasn't full of LOLs and OMGs and backstabbing gossip.

Though overshadowed by too many abbreviations, the mystery in the book actually isn't half bad. The ending--worthy of Shyamalan if he wrote for people not yet old enough to drive--definitely surprised me. That's really the only redemption for me. I just couldn't get past all the mean-girl spirit.

Title:  Pretty Little Devils
Author:  Nancy Holder
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2007
Book Source:  Won from Writer's Block Reviews

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review of The Agency: The Body at the Tower

This is another colourful, action-packed Victorian detective novel about the exploits of agent Mary Quinn. At a young age, Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. The school turns out to be a front for a private detective agency. At age 17, Mary takes on her first case (A Spy in the House). In this, the second book of the series, Mary Quinn sets out to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death at St. Stephen's Tower, better known as the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The accident occurred after hours in a highly public part of town and despite the presence of night watchmen. Mary, disguised as Mark Quinn, becomes a builder's assistant to find out the truth about the body at the tower.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:   4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Mainstream YA fans, devourers of historical fiction...anyone, really
High point:  The mystery (of the body at the tower)
Low point:  Not enough James
Reader maturity:  13+

The Body at the Tower is exactly what YA historical fiction should be:  adventurous, exciting, engaging and, of course, historical. Y. S. Lee nailed it again with the 2nd of The Agency series. The main character, Mary, grapples with her differences from mainstream London society and does some pretty awesome things for a woman of any day and age along the way. The budding romance between Mary and James is perfect as well. It buds more slowly than most and in its slow progression, clearly defines the feelings that the two have for each other.

Ms. Lee's portrayal of historic London blends seamlessly with the story, casting a gorgeous (albeit dirty and smoggy and malodorous) backdrop to Mary's adventures. Issues of class and race and poverty are explored in The Body at the Tower, making this not only an entertaining read but an emotional one. Mary's exploits as an errand boy vary from the hi-jinks (fistfights) to the emotionally crushing (hunger and illness). I was constantly amazed at Ms. Lee's skill in entertaining and enlightening the reader, while retaining deliberate historical accuracy with tidbits of events at the time that seem inconsequential but really set the stage for the action.

In my review of A Spy in the House, I commented that the supporting cast was two dimensional. Well, that's certainly not so for The Body at the Tower! All the characters pop off the page, as if running through my living room. It's no easy feat to bring so many characters to life, to give them all a personality and the energy to jump through centuries, but The Body at the Tower delivers with excellence.

Though The Body at the Tower picks up where A Spy in the House left off in terms of Mary's growth and employment, this sequel is complete as a novel in its own right. Readers who haven't picked up the first in the series won't be confused, but readers of the first won't be bored.

The mystery (of the body at the tower) had me guessing until the end and left me both pleased and surprised with the ending. As with the first, the ending paves the way for the 3rd book in the series, and I'll definitely be pre-ordering to read more about the possible shake-up at the Agency and the future of the relationship between Mary and James.

Title:  The Agency:  The Body at the Tower
Author:  Y. S. Lee
Genre:   Fiction - Historical
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Want to Read Wednesday: Desires of the Dead

The missing dead call to Violet. They want to be found.

When Violet Ambrose's morbid ability to sense the echoes of those who've been murdered leads her to the body of a young boy, she draws the attention of the FBI. She is reluctantly pulled into an investigation that will endanger more than just her secret...but her relationship and possibly her life as well.

[from Goodreads]

This meme is hosted by Boy with Books. I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

To Recommend or Not to Recommend

I had a friend visit me this past weekend, and she made the mistake of innocently glancing over my bookcase while I was looking up something on IMDB. Of course, being a good little book blogger, I pounced and starting yanking books out right and left, giving synopses and brief reviews and recommending whether to buy or borrow. Her eyes were saucer-huge by the time I took a breath and realized there was no way she was going to remember any of it. I felt a little silly because I sounded just like my reviews--sort of professional-thorough and crazy-random at the same time--in other words, totally different from how I actually speak. (Do my reviews sound that way to you?)

So anyway, I was wondering, how do you deal with recommending books to people? Do you wait until someone asks? If your friends and family know you're a book blogger, do people ask for recommendations? What all information do you give them when you recommend something?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Want to Read Wednesday: Beautiful Darkness

Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.

Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems.

[from Goodreads]

This meme is hosted by Boy with Books. I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.