Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Secret Letters

Inquisitive and observant, Dora dreams of escaping her aristocratic country life to solve mysteries alongside Sherlock Holmes. So when she learns that the legendary detective might be her biological father, Dora jumps on the opportunity to travel to London and enlist his help in solving the mystery of her cousin's ransomed love letters. But Dora arrives in London to devastating news: Sherlock Holmes is dead. Her dreams dashed, Dora is left to rely on her wits--and the assistance of an attractive yet enigmatic young detective--to save her cousin's reputation and help rescue a kidnapped heiress along the way. 

Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this gripping novel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice in young adult literature. 

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, 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, May 29, 2012

Review of Winter Town

Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent's divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she's changed. The former "girl next door" now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, "Old Lucy" still exists, and he's determined to find her...
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  2 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Fans of graphic novels
High point: The included sketches and cartoons
Low point: Didn't like Lucy and didn't understand Evan
Reader maturity: 13+

I'm not, historically, a fan of male narrators or POVs so Winter Town had me a little concerned. But Evan wasn't the one who turned out to be the problem; it was Lucy. I found her rude, conceited and insufferable. Evan's attraction made no sense to me. However sweet Old Lucy may have been, New Lucy was disdainful, self-righteous and, as it turns out, hypocritical. Characters tend to make a lot of mistakes in coming-of-age novels so Lucy's flaws weren't the whole problem; it's also that I can't get over why Evan still had feelings for her and allowed her to belittle him.

I also took issue with Lucy's stance that going to college and having a family were choices that only lame people make. To me, if that's someone's choice, then no one else has a right to judge them for settling down and providing for a family. (In other words, Lucy and I would not have gotten along very well...)

I *did* like the addition of the drawings and inclusion of Evan and Lucy's comics. In that way, it wasn't like anything else I've read, and branching into a new style (graphic novel combined with regular novel?) was cool. But otherwise, Winter Town isn't my kind of book.

Title:  Winter Town
Author:  Stephen Emond
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Won from I Like These Books

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review of Sphinx's Queen (Sphinx's Princess #2)

Hunted...Overnight, every aspect of Nefertiti’s life has changed. She is no longer living at the royal palace as the intended bride of the crown prince. Instead, she is being chased by the prince and his soldiers for a crime she did not commit.

Hidden...Traveling with two of her dearest friends, including the crown prince’s brother, who helped her escape, Nefertiti takes shelter in the wild hills along the Nile’s west bank. She must rely on her own resourcefulness and skills (all those secret archery lessons prove very useful) as the fugitives fight to survive.

Haunted...But the need for justice gnaws at Nefertiti. She is determined to plead her case to the Pharaoh and set things right. As she begins to question long-held sacred beliefs—a questioning that could alter the fabric of Egyptian society—her extraordinary journey from commoner to royalty brings adventure, intrigue, and romance.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Mainstream YA fans, devourers of historical fiction...anyone, really
High point:  The blend of myth and fact
Low point:  The excitement was missing
Reader maturity:  13+

Much as I love YA historical fiction (especially that written by Esther Friesner), Sphinx's Queen was lacking something that it's predecessor, Sphinx's Princess, possessed. I can't put my finger on what it is because it's well-written and the plot and characterization are in line with what occurred in Sphinx's Princess but I couldn't manage to get excited about it.

There were lots of things I loved; for instance, the novel contains many mentions of Egyptian customs and events that are fascinating and play naturally into the events of the story. Esther Friesner also does a wonderful job of including discussions of the Egyptian gods and the "Habiru" god while remaining perfectly respectful and neutral. As for the ending, it was a wonderful place to leave our hero and heroine. Though unsurprising, it was satisfying.

These positive aspects are why I can't decide what I didn't love about Sphinx's Queen. I think I summed it up best in the first paragraph of this review--I just couldn't get excited over it. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood for a historical at the time and didn't realize it. But as for you, fellow readers, if you enjoy historical fiction, I'd still recommend it.

Title:  Spinx's Queen
Author:  Esther Friesner
Genre:   Fiction - Historical
Year:   2010
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: The Last Princess

Happily ever after is a thing of the past.

A series of natural disasters has decimated the earth. Cut off from the rest of the world, England is a dark place. The sun rarely shines, food is scarce, and groups of criminals roam the woods, searching for prey. The people are growing restless.

When a ruthless revolutionary sets out to overthrow the crown, he makes the royal family his first target. Blood is shed in Buckingham Palace, and only sixteen-year-old Princess Eliza manages to escape.

Determined to kill the man who destroyed her family, Eliza joins the enemy forces in disguise. She has nothing left to live for but revenge, until she meets someone who helps her remember how to hope—and to love—once more. Now she must risk everything to ensure that she not become... The Last Princess.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, 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, May 22, 2012

Review of Beauty Queens

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program - or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan - or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  2.5  out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Any female who could use a pick-me-up
High point: The resourcefulness of the Miss Teen Dreamers
Low point: There were a few things...
Reader maturity: 13+

While I enjoyed Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, I didn't have the same experience with Beauty Queens.

When I first started reading Beauty Queens, I thought I was in for a real treat. It was funny, wry and sarcastic with loads of thinly veiled pop culture references poking fun at both society and its mindless entertainment. There was mystery and an omnipresent sense of dystopia that held eerie similarities to the world as we know it.

And then Beauty Queens developed an agenda.

Now, I don't mind a book with a message. However, I prefer that message to be distributed via food for thought. I like books that make me ask, "Why?" and then allow me to draw my own conclusions. Beauty Queens forces its lesson on the reader, to my irritation.

Much as I disliked the agenda, the end of the book was more about action and adventure, which made for an engaging and humorous conclusion. Libba Bray has the gift of wit, and I'd like to see more light-hearted works from her in the future--sans the soapbox.

Though there were some things that I took issue with, I enjoyed the girl power message and the underlying theme that girls (and women) need to stop living up to impossible expectations and decide their own fate.

Title:  Beauty Queens
Author:  Libba Bray
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary,
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Won from Stories & Sweeties

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Supernatural Saturday Review: Cinderella: Ninja Warrior (Twisted Tales #1)

Seeking to escape the clutches of her evil stepmother, Cinderella perfects her ninja skills and magic talents in secret, waiting for the day when she can break free and live happily ever after. In a special twist, readers have the opportunity to make key decisions for Cinderella and decide where she goes next.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Younger YA readers and maybe older MG readers
High point:  Cinderella as a ninja warrior
Low point:  Ninjas should probably stick to the big screen
Reader maturity: 10+

The thing I had to keep telling myself while reading Cinderella:  Ninja Warrior is that I had to redirect my expectations. When I finally managed to look upon it as a book that's supposed to be a little cheesy and over-the-top, it was a much more fun experience.

Fairytale retellings can feel confined to a set storyline, but Maureen McGowan maneuvers around that issue by making Cinderella a magician/ninja warrior. Regarding that particular aspect of the book, I understand the link between the two (discipline and self-control are necessary for both) but fail to see the connection otherwise (or how Cinderella managed to teach herself acrobatics with just a cat and a book as guides...).

This book has a neat set-up in that it's kind of a choose-your-own-adventure, only less cheesy and with much better plot development. Cinderella has to put up a convincing fight for what she believes in. However, I found her character to be a bit wishy-washy. She's all about girl-power one moment and self-doubt the next, traits that were expressed as extremes rather than nuances. Ninja skills also don't translate very well to text; the descriptions tended to lose my attention.

On the positive side of things, I thought the magician/ninja warrior angle very creative, and I had a lot of fun reading about Cinderella. Yes, the rules of magic and Cinderella's captivity weren't fully fleshed out, but overlooking that allows a lighthearted novel of action and adventure to shine through.

Title:  Cinderella:  Ninja Warrior
Author:  Maureen McGowan
Genre:   Fiction - Fantasy, Fairytale
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Won from Lost for Words

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Enchanted

It isn't easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past - and hers?

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, 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, May 15, 2012

Review of The Dark and Hollow Places (The Forest of Hands and Teeth #3)

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face before Annah left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the Horde as they swarmed the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah's world stopped that day, and she's been waiting for Elias to come home ever since. Somehow, without him, her life doesn't feel much different than the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Until she meets Catcher, and everything feels alive again.

But Catcher has his own secrets. Dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah has longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah: can she continue to live in a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?
[from Goodreads]
Rating: 4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Dystopian fans, readers who enjoy immersing themselves in another world
High point: The emotional intensity
Low point:  Annah was hard to spend time with
Reader maturity: 13+

As usual, Carrie Ryan delivered a stunning novel about love, loss and betrayal, filled to the brim with existential questions and intense introspection. I'm always amazed at how much emotion she can pack into a story about zombies, of all things.

I didn't enjoy The Dark and Hollow Places as much as The Dead-Tossed Waves (although I like the conclusion better than that of The Forest of Hands and Teeth). It felt very repetitive, like we were stuck in Annah's head, and she wasn't going anywhere. That's probably part of the point, that she felt so trapped and thus the reader does too. However, The Dark and Hollow Places is a very emotionally gripping novel, which compelled me to keep turning pages (although I cheated and read the ending about halfway through so I'd know who I could get attached to). Coincidentally, my favorite scenes are near the end. They're full of symbolism and layers of meaning that provide unexpected depth.

I wish I had read this sooner after The Dead-Tossed Waves because it references the events in Vista, which I couldn't recall. The Dark and Hollow Places provides enough background information to follow the story without trouble, but since I've read The Dead-Tossed Waves, it was bugging me that I couldn't remember what the deal was with Elias, Gabry and Catcher.

Title:  The Dark and Hollow Places
Author:  Carrie Ryan
Genre:  Teen Fiction, Horror & Suspense
Year:  2011
Book Source:  Purchased

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Supernatural Saturday Review: The Lost Saint (The Dark Divine #2)

Grace Divine made the ultimate sacrifice to cure Daniel Kalbi. She was infected with the werewolf curse while trying to save him, and lost her beloved brother in the process.

Desperate to find Jude, Grace befriends Talbot, a newcomer to town. But as the two grow closer, Grace's relationship with Daniel is put in danger - in more ways than one.

Unaware of the dark path she is walking, Grace begins to give into the wolf inside of her - not realizing that an enemy has returned and a deadly trap is about to be sprung.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:  3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Fans of the paranormal and those who need a vampire break
High point:  More Grace and Daniel...
Low point: ...but Grace is very different
Reader maturity:  13+

I don't know if I waited too long to read The Lost Saint (I pre-ordered it and put off reading it for almost a year and a half because I didn't think anything could top The Dark Divine) or if it's because it's radically different from the first Dark Divine novel, but The Lost Saint was missing the key elements that I loved about The Dark Divine.

For one thing, Grace is much wilder. I appreciated her non-saccharine-but-still-a-good-girl personality in The Dark Divine and realize that, once infected by the werewolf curse, she's going to be different. However, it felt like she was changing to meet with someone else's expectations (two different someones, actually), and that didn't seem like Grace at all.

In The Dark Divine, her family is a huge part of her life, but they let her down in The Lost Saint. One scene in particular made me indignant on her behalf, when her (oft absent and extremely secretive) father scolds her for being "self-absorbed." Rash? Irresponsible? Dishonest? Check, check, check. Selfish? Not so much. She develops a bad habit of lying and The Lost Saint contains a lot of secrets and fibs; if everyone had been honest, the story would be a lot less painful (lying is a plot-killer for me), if a good deal shorter.

It's not that The Lost Saint isn't well written or even a good story, but since Grace Divine abandoned her noncomformist, intelligent personality, I found her a lot harder to relate to and sympathize with. Hopefully there's redemption in store for more than one of the Divines in The Savage Grace.

Title:  The Lost Saint (The Dark Divine #2)
Author:  Bree Despain
Genre:  Teen Fiction Horror & Suspense
Year:  2010
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Hemlock (Hemlock #1)

Mackenzie and Amy were best friends. Until Amy was brutally murdered.

Since then, Mac’s life has been turned upside down. She is being haunted by Amy in her dreams, and an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Mac’s hometown of Hemlock to hunt down Amy’s killer: A white werewolf.

Lupine syndrome—also known as the werewolf virus—is on the rise across the country. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control.

Wanting desperately to put an end to her nightmares, Mac decides to investigate Amy’s murder herself. She discovers secrets lurking in the shadows of Hemlock, secrets about Amy’s boyfriend, Jason, her good pal Kyle, and especially her late best friend. Mac is thrown into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal that puts her life at risk.

Kathleen Peacock’s thrilling novel is the first in the Hemlock trilogy, a spellbinding urban fantasy series filled with provocative questions about prejudice, trust, lies, and love.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, 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, May 8, 2012

Review of Little Women and Me

Emily is sick and tired of being a middle sister. So when she gets an assignment to describe what she'd change about a classic novel, Emily pounces on Little Women. After all, if she can't change things in her own family, maybe she can bring a little justice to the March sisters. (Kill off Beth? Have cute Laurie wind up with Amy instead of Jo? What was Louisa May Alcott thinking?!) But when Emily gets mysteriously transported into the 1860s world of the book, she discovers that righting fictional wrongs won't be easy. And after being immersed in a time and place so different from her own, it may be Emily-not the four March sisters-who undergoes the most surprising change of all. Lauren Baratz-Logsted's winning confection will appeal to fans of Little Women as well as anyone who enjoys a modern twist on an old favorite.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  2  out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Either those that love Little Women or those who can't stand it--I'm not sure which
High point: Emily's commentary
Low point: Being restricted to the original story
Reader maturity: 13+

Unlike (it feels like) every other book-reading female on the planet, I'm not a fan of the original Little Women. I feel like I ought to be, since it's a classic beloved by many, but something about it rubs me the wrong way. While this certainly isn't the point of Little Women and Me (the remix, if you will), it gave a name to all the things that have bugged me over the years (with the exception of Laurie and Amy--I still like them together better than Laurie and Jo).

As for the plot of Little Women and Me, I found it restricted by the events of the original, as retellings often are. The narrator actually points out the jumps in time and the sudden appearance of characters who seem to be important but only show up once or twice. Another problem with retellings is that they tend to be predictable, and unfortunately, Little Women and Me is no exception. While I liked the idea of the book, I found it a little dull, although I did enjoy Emily's commentary on Jo's personality and other happenings in the story.

As for age-appropriateness, Little Women and Me contains language and topics that would make Louisa May Alcott blush, but it's not too wild for today's intended audience.

Title:  Little Women and Me
Author:  Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Genre:   Fiction - Fantasy
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Won from I Like These Books

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Supernatural Saturday Review: The Eternal Sea (Everlasting #2)

Romance and adventure are just around the corner . . .After the thrilling journey that led Camille through the dangerous discovery of love, secrets, and a magical stone that grants immortality, Camille has everything she wants. She's escaped the men who wanted her dead, and now she is ready to build a new life with Oscar, her one true love. But things are not to be so simple. Oscar is acting strangely, and before they can even board a ship from Australia back home, to San Francisco, Camille learns that the journey is not over. If she does not follow the magic of the curse of Umandu, her life and Ocar's could be in grave danger.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  1 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Historical fiction readers
High point: Filling the readers in on what they missed in Everlasting
Low point: Camille!
Reader maturity:  13+

The First 1/3:
Unfortunately, I spent the first few chapters of this book (chapters, not pages) flipping back and forth and checking the back cover to see if my copy was missing a few chapters or if I had jumped in on the middle of a series. A virtual trip to Google informed me incorrectly, which left me with a poor first impression of the novel, and I was about a third of the way through the book (and thoroughly out of step with the story by that time) before Goodreads corrected me. This is the second book in a series, so I was right to be confused.

To be fair, The Eternal Sea does a decent job of filling the reader in on what they need to know about the events in Everlasting. It does not, however, convince the reader to sympathize with Oscar. I assume from Camille's thoughts and feelings that Oscar was actually quite nice before (although Camille isn't much of a lady, what with two-timing on her gentlemanly fiance), but since my only experience with Oscar is in The Eternal Sea, I just wanted to shake Camille and tell her to stop being so dumb. Without having read Everlasting, I had no emotional connection (and no reason to have one) to her suitor of choice.

The Remaining 2/3: 
Even after the issue of publication was sorted out, I still wasn't impressed. Camille is a weak character, a negative trait compounded by the love triangle she forces into existence. And she's such a jerk! She lies to Randall, who is not only her fiance and financial savior, but also a perfectly nice and faithful man; she nags Oscar and can't take a hint; and she's petty and mean to Maggie, who isn't nearly as rude or stuck-up as Camille accuses her of being (I think Camille is projecting--she's the rude one). It's hard to support a character I don't like.

I finished The Eternal Sea, but due to Camille, I'm going to have to categorize it as "not my cup of tea."

Title:  The Eternal Sea
Author:   Angie Frazier
Genre:   Teen Fiction - Paranormal
Year:   2011 

Book Source:  Won an ARC from I Like These Books

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: The Academie

Eliza Monroe—daughter of the future president of the United States—is devastated when her mother decides to send her to boarding school outside of Paris. But the young American teen is quickly reconciled to the idea when—ooh, la-la!—she discovers who her fellow pupils will be: Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte; and Caroline Bonaparte, youngest sister of the famous French general. It doesn't take long for Eliza to figure out that the two French girls are mortal enemies—and that she's about to get caught in the middle of their schemes.

Loosely drawn from history, Eliza Monroe's imagined coming of age provides a scintillating glimpse into the lives, loves, and hopes of three young women during one of the most volatile periods in French history.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, 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, May 1, 2012

Review of Delirium (Delirium #1)

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Dystopian and YA romance readers
High point:  The introspection
Low point:  It left a lot of my questions unanswered
Reader maturity: 13+

Delirium was all kinds of awesome. I actually pre-ordered it last year and then didn't get around to reading it until now because I was miffed about the cover change. (Who doesn't like their series' covers to match?) But whichever cover you prefer (I'm partial to the one shown here, the original cover), don't let the publisher's indecisiveness stop you from reading it!

Delirium is a steady, extremely introspective novel, similar in tone to Before I Fall. Several reviewers have described Delirium as "slow," but I don't feel like that's a fair or complete descriptor. True, Delirium has few moments of real action, but there is a constant evolution within Lena and her interactions with her world.

The world-building is to be commended as well, although there are a lot of unanswered questions about how love came to be considered a disease. Lauren Oliver didn't turn the US on its head; she closed it off. There are a few new technologies (the "cure," for one), but mostly the US in Delirium is a collapsing, frightened version of its current self. Quotes from The Book of Shhh and "banned content" from familiar novels were a great addition at the beginning of each chapter. Maintaining 21st century technology and culture keeps the dystopian aspect realistic and allows Delirium to focus on food for thought rather than science fiction-- Is pleasure worth the pain? To what lengths is our society willing to go to be "safe"? Is peace without choice still peace?

I'm not usually interested in short story tie-ins, but I'll admit that I'm curious about Hana's story. She did not turn out like I thought she would...

I'm so glad there's a sequel because Lena's story isn't finished. I have so many questions!

Title:  Delirium (Delirium #1)
Author:  Lauren Oliver
Genre:   Fiction - Dystopian
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Purchased