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