Tuesday, May 31, 2011

William and Kate: Celebrating A Royal Engagement

William and Kate: Celebrating a Royal Engagement by Robin Nunn
Pavilion, 2010
144 pages
Non-fiction; Pictures
3/5 stars

Source: Library

Unlike the previous books I've read about the Royal Engagement, this book was originally more focused on Will until the realization of how important Kate is in his life.  Additionally this is more of a photo-essay book as large glossy pictures accompany the text.  Consequently the writing is much less in-depth and less important than the pictures.  There is no essay for the engagement photos other than the caption and date.

What is different is some "new" photographs of young William and his mother (I am not familiar with them, showing that they were not in the previous books I've read but they may be familiar to long-time royal watchers) and even some new ones of Kate.  There is also a brief chapter about modern royal marriages in Europe, with the examples of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Monaco, Spain, and Belgium, showing how commoner/royal marriages have been well-received in their countries and how they can serve as models.

I know it's been a month since the wedding itself but this was the first opportunity I had to schedule this book.  It's certainly worth at least a skim to see the pictures but the text does not really present anything new.

Cover: Her hair looks so good and the blue is such a gorgeous shade!

British Books Challenge

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Summer Before Boys

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011
196 pages
MG; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-galley via Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab in exchange for an honest review.

Why haven't I read any other books with the main character's parent deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan? I prefer contemporary YA and yet I don't think I've read any other books that touch on this war. Any recommendations?

Anyway Julia and Eliza are best friends and family.  While Julia's mother is deployed overseas, Julia is spending her summers with Eliza.  Both girls are twelve and share many similar interests.  But Julia's interest in a boy and fears for her mother disrupt their usual harmony.

I enjoyed following the story but there didn't seem to be a main conflict or point to the story.  It's not entirely in chronological order as Julia would narrate something and then go back in time to explain the events.  She's a pretty mature twelve-year-old and the two girls have a fun friendship.  They liked to pretend the lived in the olden days, although the shifts to accommodate that perspective were awkward.  The boy who Julia likes isn't very well-defined and the other characters don't have much personality either.

The other side of the story is Julia's anxiety over her mother's tour.  Throughout the book, information about women serving in war are included, focusing on the deaths as Julia fears that most of all.  She also shares these fears with a boy from her school Peter, whose dad is also serving.  I liked their scenes.

Overall: A sweet meandering story of pre-adolescence.

Cover: The girls should probably be wearing shorts given that they are summering in humid New York state but it's okay.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011
309 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-galley via Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab in exchange for an honest review.

Agnes Wilkins is surprised to find a jackal brooch when she participates in a mummy-unwrapping party at Lord Showalter, her prospective husband and the most eligible bachelor in London.  As she seeks to uncover the message within, with the assistance of the surprisingly dashing Caedmon at the British Museum, she realizes that it might have more modern repercussions than just ancient Egypt.  For there is a spy who is working so that Napoleon just might receive supernatural benefits during his return from Elba. (I worked hard on this summary because the Goodreads summary for the kindle edition has a major spoiler in it!)

What a cute book! Just about all I knew going in to this book was that the cover was gorgeous and it hooked me right away as the main character Agnes Wilkins adores Jane Austen's writing.  That is my kind of heroine!  Besides her appreciation for "A Lady's" writing, Agnes is also learned in ten languages with varying degrees of fluency and possessed with a strong sense of adventure and a keen intellect.  Her partnership with Caedmon begins uneasily but they quickly form a rapport as they seek out threats to England.  Although most of the supporting characters do not play a big role, I was able to create images of them in my head to complement Agnes and Caedmon's story.

The pacing of the story is pretty good although I felt there wasn't much suspense over who the spy might be.  There was a good mix between Agnes attempting to be a proper debutante but also puzzling out the mystery with Caedmon.  I believed in their relationship and rooted for them to be together.  The writing is fine; there were a few funny moments and the language seemed formal enough for the time period.

A point of interest is that issues of gender and class pepper the book.  Agnes is piqued when her father consigns her to the ladies area at one point and makes the decision to NOT tell him about the message despite the fact that she had said she would.  She bristles at being looked down on by men although in general her father is a man committed to gender equality.  She also laments her position in life that prepares her only to be the wife of some lord without being able to travel and study as she'd liked to do.  Caedmon is a lowly duster for the British Museum who wants to be so much more, especially in the heart of Agnes, but finds structures stacked against him.

Overall: A fun mystery with dollops of history and romance!

Cover: Beautiful-this is what originally intrigued me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Julian Game

The Julian Game by Adele Griffin
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010
200 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I originally wrote this book off because of the weird cover-what the heck is up with the wig and the gloves?! But after reading Small Review's championing of the story inside and that the cover relates, I decided that I would give it a chance.

At first it seemed to be going on a pretty routine path with new, smart, scholarship girl Raye being drawn into the games played by popular girl with a cruel streak Ella, falling for the hottie Julian, and ignoring her heretofore best friend Natalya.  That is actually about the first half of the book but then it veered off in a different direction, surprising and pleasing me.

Despite the short length, there was a lot packed in here with vivid characterizations of the four characters I mentioned plus family members and other students making memorable impressions.  I almost wish the book was longer so that I could have spent more time with Raye.  However I appreciate Griffin for having a story to tell, telling it very well, and then stopping instead of inflating the page count with needless exposition.  The story within is to the point and packs a wallop.

That story deals largely with bullying and cyber pranks within a high school context, a highly relevant topic.  But it is never preachy here and is often laced with humor that helped get me into the story.  Also despite the short length, I did not fly through this book because there was so much to savor and think about.

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by JW Rinzler
Ballantine Books, 2010
351 pages
Non-fiction; Movie
5/5 stars

Source: Library

Like the previous book The Making of Star Wars, this book takes an in-depth look at the making of a film with new pressures.  The success of "Star Wars" had many implications.  Its financial success enabled George Lucas to retain more control as it was a proven commodity but no sequel had ever done as well as its predecessor so the entire operation was dicey. Lucas was drained from directing so he wanted someone else to direct but that also took away some of his control.  Most of the cast and crew returned, eager to attempt to top themselves but also struggling with new technical demands.

I was most eager to find out about the script and the creation of Yoda, which is duly covered.  For me, there was a bit too much of the technical side but that's my own lack of knowledge. I was able to just look at the pictures (so many!) and skim the text when it became too complicated for me.

Overall: This is another fine look at the Star Wars saga; I'm excited for the third book to come out in 2013 (they're being released on the 30th anniversary).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Keturah and Lord Death

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
Front Street, 2006
214 pages
YA; Fantasy; Fairy Tale
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

This book had a very beautiful lyrical style that really put me in mind of fairy tales.  It also helped that Keturah is a storyteller who uses keeps putting Death's claim off in exchange for stories without end a la Scheherazade in Arabian Nights.

The setting is a small, poor town in the corner of the kingdom. Keturah has long been marked as different but is protected by the esteem with which her grandmother is regarded.  When she meets Death in a forest, the villagers further ostracize her due to their fear of her relationship with Death.  She however needs their help in order to avoid being claimed by Death; if she can wed her true love, then she will be freed.

Her two best friends were so cute! They accept Keturah as she is and they eagerly help her search for her true love, even offering the men they love as they claim they don't.  But the course of true love ends rightly as all three women wed their true loves.

Overall: This story cast a magical spell, drawing me into a quiet story of community and love.

Cover: I like the colors but it just seems a little blurry to me.

Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Follow Hop 27May11

About Me:
I return follows but I would greatly appreciate it if you left a link in the comments to make it a bit easier on me.

I mostly review YA but I also read mystery, romance, historical, classics, and fantasy. Recent reviews include:  The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge, Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky, Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott, Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt, The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan, and Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt.

Q. How many books do you read in a week? And in what format do you read them, or listen to them?

I guess 8-9 books a week; split about 50/50 between hard copies and ebooks. Only very rarely do I listen to an audiobook: maybe 6 a year.

Book Blogger Hop
Q: "What book-to-movie adaptation have you most liked?  Which have you disliked?"

The adaptations that spring to mind first are the Harry Potter, of which the third is my favorite while the sixth is probably my least favorite (why was the Burrow destroyed?!)

I also think the LOTR films were fantastic and I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  A controversial choice is Ella Enchanted, which bears little resemblance to its book but introduced me to Hugh Dancy and thus is one I liked.

The Thin Executioner

The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan
Little, Brown and Company, 2010
483 pages
YA; Fantasy; Adventure
5/5 stars

Source: Library

This is a book I would have never read if not for the Overlooked Book Battle. Which means that I am very grateful to whoever nominated it because I loved this book!

I began uncertainly because the world in which Jebel lives is very cruel.  There is a warrior society and all Jebel wants is to succeed his father as the executioner and marry the beautiful Debbat Alg.  Unluckily both of his older brothers are stronger and more obviously warriors than he is.  However when he feels shamed by his father, he makes the rash decision to journey to the mountain of the fire god Sabbah Eid to request invincibility.  He acquires a slave Tel Hesani, who will be sacrificed to the god and they set off.

Jebel is cocky, proud, and closed-minded at the beginning of his journey.  He looks down on slaves and feels no compassion, which would be defined as weakness in his society. But Tel Hesani faithfully serves him as they embark on their adventure.  He is a peaceful man who came on the quest in order to save his family even though he knows it means his death.  As they experience incredible hardships, Jebel learns some important lessons and begins to rethink his entire outlook on life.

I really had no expectations with this book.  It looked long (it is) and like a "boy" book (fitting since there is only a smidgen of romance and a great deal of killing and even cannibalism).  However I flew through the book as I was kept in a constant state of suspense and it's not at all fair to reduce the potential audience for this book or to generalize that there's one kind of book preferred by boys and one kind preferred by girls (we all like lots of different things.)  I ended up blown away by the incredible plot and characters.  Jebel's character transformation made me so happy and the villainous characters who appear really freaked me out at times (cannibalism!)

Also apparently the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn served as inspiration although as I haven't read that, I can't comment.  There is also possibly some political commentary as two trickster traders are named Blair and Bush; I'm not entirely sure what it might mean but I can say to be wary of their intentions.

Overall: A good reminder to not judge a book by its cover/plot summary! Highly recommended!

Cover: His eyes are scary but I like the fonts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sean Griswold's Head

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt
Bloomsbury, 2011
274 pages
YA; Contemporary
5/5 stars

Source: Library

I probably wouldn't have read this if it weren't for the Contemps Challenge and if I hadn't read some other reviews that mentioned that the main character was actually female rather than Sean Griswold.

That main character is Payton Gritas, who upon discovering that her father has MS (multiple sclerosis) and that her family has been keeping that from her for about six months, and consequently she is rebelling.  She gives her parents the silent treatment and her guidance counselor suggests that she choose a "Focus Object."  After discarding several options, she chooses Sean Griswold, the boy who has sat in front of her for classes since third grade but to whom she's never given much thought.

Encouraged by her hilarious and outgoing best friend Jac, she starts by investigating Sean's head but she quickly befriends the boy himself, learning some important lessons along the way.  One is about not judging people by their exterior.  While Payton had written people off as being defined by one particular characteristic, Sean helps her to look beyond that.  He also indirectly helps her let go a bit instead of being so tightly wound.

Sean himself is practically perfect.  He's good looking and athletic (a biker who introduces Payton to the sport); he's a decent student; he loves his mother and is a good friend; he's funny, nice, gives good advice, and is forgiving.  He likes "Seinfeld" and has memorized the episode numbers just like Payton has.  He's the perfect first crush-how could anyone not like him?

Additionally this book also features a good family relationship.  Although Payton is angry at her parents and two older brothers for not telling her earlier, there are still hints of the generally strong family unit they have.  Food and traditions play a big role.  It was nice to see a main character with good relationships with her parents, even if they are strained for much of the book by Payton's anger and fear.

Besides the friendship, the cute boy, and the family bonding, this book is hysterical.  I laughed so many times from the way Payton phrased things and from her actions. Luckily I was mostly in my room so no one saw the weird girl laughing at her book.

Overall: A laugh-out-loud delight, touching on first love, family illness, and Seinfeld. Highly recommended!

Cover: I don't really like his sweatshirt and I feel like a whiteboard is more appropriate for school in in this day and age but I like it.

Read for the Contemps Challenge.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Between Here and Forever

Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse, 2011
252 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-galley via Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab.

Summary: Abby can hardly bare it that her perfect older sister Tess languishes in the hospital.  In a desperate attempt to pull Tess out of the coma, she enlists hot guy Eli to speak with Tess.But as she single-mindedly pursues that plan with Eli, her world is rocked by revelations about Tess, Eli, and herself.

I flip-flopped on this book as I read it.  Some parts were achingly beautiful, grabbing me by the gut and making me feel more intensely than other books I've read recently.  Other parts made me want to grab Abby and shake her though as her constant putdowns of herself drove me crazy.  Because one guy wanted Tess more than Abby, she views herself through that prism resulting in constant self-pity that she tries to say is her being realistic.

She also is very unaware of the secrets of Tess, some of which I uncovered before Abby confirmed them.  Abby persisted in the belief that her sister was perfect, blinding her to the pain Tess caused both to herself and to those she loved. Tess was cruel, compromising her own happiness but Abby begins to learn to separate herself from Tess for her own sake.

Meanwhile, Abby is kind of slow to recognize those truths.  It was SO obvious that Eli liked her from the very start and she kept pushing him off toward Tess. She also learns about how everyone has something about themselves that marks them as “different” even if outsiders can’t tell. My description sounds trite but I thought Scott’s writing was beautiful and it made me a little teary-eyed. Those parts were the standout to me; Scott's writing is fantastic although it could not rescue my opinion of the annoying Abby.

Overall: I didn’t love the plot or the characters but I loved the writing and that’s what made this book for me.

Read for Contemps Challenge and e-book challenge.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
309 pages
YA; Dystopia
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-galley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I started out really enjoying this book.  Maddie seemed like a cool independent girl.  I was intrigued by her family life and her obvious intelligence and rebellious strike.

Interestingly the setting is 2060, less than fifty years from now.  There are many similarities in terms of technology but the big change is scope as people barely leave their houses, instead fulfilling their desires through technology and specially delivered food to their houses.  However I wonder about relationships.  People still seem to value marriage and I believe a courtship can be conducted through email and such but how do they have a married life when people can barely communicate in person?  And why does Maddie play soccer in real-life with an actual friend (who basically disappears from the plot once she hooks up with the guy) instead of just online?

The main problem, for me though, was the romance.

Have you ever heard that women either pick a guy who's like their father or is the exact opposite? Well, Maddie kind of follows that, falling for a distant, fanatical, controlling guy whose main distinctions from her father are that he fights against the Digital School that her father created and he's better at acting like he cares about her.  Justin is also very lecture-y, which is a trait I thought I could tolerate but it turns out that only Mr. Knightley may lecture his lady-love; all others should cease.

Their relationship began when Justin  invested three years in searching for the person who had hacked into her dad's computer and aided Digital School protestors.  Once he found her, he and his friends spent a lot of time attempting to win Maddie over to their side. Maybe they genuinely do like her (now) but their relationship was founded on lies. The result is that I normally want my books and series to end with a happy romantic attachment for the main character but in this case I would be happier if Justin ended up dumping Maddie once she could no longer help the cause.  She would be shattered but it would be fascinating and way different from most YA that I've read. 

Overall: Some interesting questions raised by this dystopia but it didn't make much of an impression on me.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge and for e-book challenge.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Iron Thorn

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge
Delacorte Press, 2011
492 pages
YA; Steampunk; Fantasy
4.5/5 stars

Source: Won

I wanted to read The Iron Thorn because I remembered how much I had enjoyed Kittredge’s story in Kiss Me Deadly.   Some of the same things I remember liking about that story reappear here-a sympathetic heroine, evocative descriptions, and a story that drew me in.  However as a full-length novel, there is more opportunity for world-building and character and plot development.

The world is a sort of steampunk 1950s New England, based on the writings of HP Lovecraft, which I must confess I have never read or even really thought about reading (I don’t think he has many female characters in his canon).  Thus there are probably many references to his writing that I missed.  Regardless I enjoyed the world created and I’m going to attempt to break down the plot in an effort to give you insight into my impressions.

The novel opens on Aoife with her mother, who resides in an insane asylum in the city of Lovecraft (I think it used to be Boston but perhaps it did not replace one of our cities).  Consequently Aoife is a ward of the state with very little knowledge of her father and with an older brother who has also been deemed insane.  She goes to the School of Engineering, the only female student (in her year or overall, I’m not sure) where she takes comfort in numbers, iron, and the other tenets of the Lovecraftian faith.  Anything outside of this rationality is dubbed heretical and causes suspicion.  When Aoife receives a letter from her on-the-run brother, Conrad, she sets out to leave Lovecraft for Arkham, their family’s ancestral home.  Compounding her desire to find her brother is her fears about her possible pending insanity.  The theory is that it begins at the age of sixteen and Aoife’s birthday is approaching.  In order to escape, Aoife and her only friend Cal engage the services of a guide Dean and flee the city.

Once they have arrived at Gatestone, her father’s home, there is no sign of Conrad but there is an extraordinary house and collection of books just waiting for Aoife to learn about.  Through them she begins to discover her ancestral gift and the terrifying world of the Kindly Folk (who are misnamed; us YA readers may know them better as the Fae, a capricious and wily people).

Aoife was a great heroine.  She bristles at those who would treat her differently because of her gender and she’s incredibly headstrong.  She’s also loyal and curious, which is good for that spurs on her adventures.  Her best friend Cal alternately pleased and annoyed me.  I was glad that he traveled with her because she needed company but as the book progressed, his patronizing attitude toward her increased.  Then came a surprise that twists everything but confirms Cal as loyal to Aoife.  Then there was their guide Dean, the love interest.  Although many times his attitude was also annoying (calling her “princess), something about him made me melt; this was helped by his willingness to believe Aoife even when she feared she was going crazy and he always gave her a (figurative) shove to keep going.  Unfortunately Dean smokes, a habit he’ll need to kick if he wants to secure a coveted place on Bookworm1858’s Top Ten Boys in Books list.

Overall: A long, luxurious read full of details and atmosphere. While I loved this, I would definitely recommend doing a bit more research before you buy it to make sure that it really appeals to you.

Cover: Not a fan; I guess it conjures up darkness and fear but I don't find it very enticing.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shortlist-Book Battle

Yay! The YA Overlooked Book Battle was released recently. Thus I am sharing the actual list with asterisks denoting the books I have read as well as the top ten list that I submitted with my picks.  I'm pleased that my favorites made the actual list and I can't wait to see how the battle shapes up.  Also check out The Shady Glade to see the AWESOME trailer Alyssa made celebrating the Round 2 books.

The Actual List:
*Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
Intrinsical by Lani Woodland
*John Belushi is Dead by Kathy Charles
Kathleen's Story (Angels in Pink) by Lurlene McDaniel
*Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth
*Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
*Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kristen Miller
Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Polly and the Pirates, Volume 1 by Ted Naifeh
*Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
*Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
*StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
*Stork by Wendy Delsol
Storm Thief by Chris Wooding
Stravaganza: City of Masks by Mary Hoffman
The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda
*The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
*The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle
*The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan
*Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner
*Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro
*Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

My List (In order):
1. The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan
2. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
3. Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
4. StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
5. The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
6. The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell
7. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
8. The Last Knight by Hilari Bell
9. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
10. Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe

It looks like my top 5 all made it on and I will certainly be rooting for them as Round 2 kicks off!

India Black

India Black by Carol K. Carr
Berkley Prime Crime, 2011
296 pages
Historical Thriller
4/5 stars

Source: Won from Felicia at Geeky Blogger's Book Blog; Her review.

I saw several positive reviews of this and then was lucky enough to win a copy. I was hoping for a good mystery although I would classify this as more of a thriller.  India becomes deeply involved in the political intrigue of the late nineteenth century, especially the diplomatic differences between England and Russia.  This results in masquerades, debauchery, imprisonment, and gunfights among other thrills.

It starts off very bluntly with “My name is India Black. I am a whore” although technically she’s a former whore, who now runs her own brothel, not that most people would make that distinction.  Anyway a British governmental official dies while being “helped” by one of India’s girls.  As she attempts to move the body under cover of night, she is met by another official Mr. French, who, upon discovering that an important satchel has gone missing, blackmails India into helping him recover it, thereby beginning her thrilling adventure.
India was a hilarious, self-deprecating woman. She knows that most people look down on her but she’s proud of running her own business and of her brains (and justly so).  She’s self-sufficient and can look out for herself.  Her narration provided some hilarious moments and usually broke right through the tension and suspicion of some scenes.
I wanted more Mr. French-I’m predicting a bit of a romance eventually for the two of them and it will be delicious! I enjoyed his role as well as the appearances of Benjamin "Dizzy" Disraeli and William Ewart Gladstone, dueling prime minsters with very different aims.  Other characters provided additional color.

The sequel is listed on goodreads: India Black and the Widow of Windsor.  I haven't seen a summary and I don't like the cover as much as this one but it looks like it might involve Queen Victoria more which I would enjoy.

Overall: A great start to a series; can't wait to continue!

Cover: I love a gorgeous colorful dress on the color.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Grimm Legacy

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010
325 pages
YA; Fairy Tale; Fantasy
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I can't believe I didn't read this sooner after loving Shulman's Enthusiasm.  But seeing it on the YA Book Battle Longlist prompted me to pick this up.

I'm so glad I did as its mixture of contemporary with fairy tale was a great deal of fun.  Elizabeth Rew is living an almost Cinderella life with thoughtless stepmother and stepsisters, a father who almost completely ignores her now, and no friends.  But after writing a paper on the Grimm Brothers, her favorite teacher Mr. Mauskopf recommends her for a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, like a library but with objects other than just books and containing the Grimm Collection among other priceless treasures.

At the Repository, Elizabeth meets many new people, most notably: Anjali, a sweet girl flirting with Marc, Marc, the basketball star at her school, and Aaron, jealous and cranky that Anjali doesn't like him.  They help her learn about the fantastical objects but they also warn her about the dangers.  It seems like someone is stealing objects and sapping them of their magic.  An atmosphere of distrust builds but the students need to work together to solve the mystery. 

Like much of YA, none of the kids tell the adults about what is going on although Elizabeth does want to.  They claim that the some of the adults might be involved in the scheme (one is although against his/her will).  This irked me because they don't know as much about the collections as the adults do even if they are very determined and smart.  However the words of their mentors do help them in times of distress and they do eventually reveal everything to the adults.

Besides the four student pages, there are also siblings!  Anjali has an adorable little sister Jaya, whose help proved instrumental and Marc's little brother Andre also helped despite only being three! They sounded so cute. They were also very brave as some bad magic attacks the students.  Various items from the Grimm fairy tales also make appearances, such as the twelve dancing princesses' slippers and the cudgel in the sack. 

If movies didn't have a tendency to mangle books I love, I would enjoy seeing this as a film.

So while Aaron originally seemed to like Anjali, he ends up liking Elizabeth (and she reciprocates) which is so totally obvious to everyone except for the two of them.  It leads to a very Sam-and-Diane from "Cheers" back and forth that was so pleasing to me! I adore Sam and Diane and Aaron and Elizabeth's banter was so cute!

Overall: Although not hardcore fairy tale, the elements are there creating an exciting magical story!

Cover: I actually don't find the darkness very appealing.  I love the title font but the tag seems kind of lame to me.

Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Follow Hop 20May11

About Me:
I return follows but I would greatly appreciate it if you left a link in the comments to make it a bit easier on me.
I mostly review YA but I also read mystery, romance, historical, classics, and fantasy. Recent reviews include: Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready (Loved!); Shine by Lauren Myracle; Mercy by Rebecca Lim (Loved!); Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin; Like Clockwork by Bonnie Dee; Clarity by Kim Harrington; and The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman (for Fairy Tale Friday).

List 5 Quirky Facts About You:
1. In general, I don't like my food to touch and I usually eat all of one food on my plate before moving on to another.  Like for my last dinner, I ate all of my corn on the cob, then my hamburger, then my rice a roni, and lastly my salad.
2. I prefer even numbers to odd, for example leaving the volume of the TV on an even number.
3. I have a Theodore Roosevelt bobblehead. It is awesome.
4. I'll check my watch two or three times in a row just to make sure that I really read it right.
5. I can't take a nap after 3 or else I can't sleep at night. I hope to someday be like my mom who will sleep for twenty minutes at 9 and then go to bed at 11 like it's nothing.

Book Blogger Hop
"If you were given the chance to spend one day in a fictional world (from a book), which book would it be from and what would that book be?"

The obvious first answer is Harry Potter's magical world at Hogwarts but I'm not sure that is in fact my number one choice. I'm kind of interested in the world of Paranormalcy by Kiersten White but I think I will choose the BookWorld of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.  Surrounded by books and getting to meet ALL of my favorite characters would rock.


Clarity by Kim Harrington
Point, 2011
242 pages
YA; Paranormal; Mystery
3.5/5 stars

Source: Won from Katie at Sophistikatied Reviews

I didn't realize when I won this that it's a mystery, which is what appealed to me the most.  I had several theories and I was kind of right but I didn't quite piece everything together.  Clare does not either until the moment of confrontation.

Which is odd, as she possesses certain psychic powers as does the rest of her family.  Her mother can read minds, her brother Periwinkle, Perry for short, can speak to the dead, and Clare can capture memories from objects.  Together they have a business that is very appealing to the tourists who go through town.

When one of those tourists is killed, Clare is surprised but pleased to join in the investigation for a variety of reasons.  First, no one wants an unsolved murder in town.  Second, competition for her mother has arrived in town and she wants to prove that her family is not faking their powers.  Third, the new cop in town has a hot son hanging around.  And lastly, Clare starts to suspect that her brother may have had something to do with the murder and she desperately hopes that is not true.

I was not really a fan of the romance; surprise, there's sort of a love triangle.  Mysterious new guy Gabriel hates Clare's powers and thus hates one of the defining characteristics about her; this does not stop her from crushing on him nor does it stop him from kissing her.  Her other love interest is ex-boyfriend Justin, who may have gotten a bad rap.  It seems that he was at a party, got drunk, and slept with another girl but I think it might have been rape because the girl may have been fully sober and aware of what she was doing while he was past the point of consent.  However Clare finds herself unable to forgive him (at least at this point).  This could very well be a series so there's plenty of space for development.  In fact there are many places where more could be elaborated and if this does become a series, I hope to see more depth added.

Overall: Cool mystery and heroine; hated the romance.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge.

Like Clockwork

Like Clockwork by Bonnie Dee
Carina Press, 2010
94 pages
Romance; Steampunk
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was a pretty enjoyable novella.  Victoria Waters helped invent automatons but has since regretted the rapidity with which they have  spread through society, taking on roles far beyond the scope she had imagined.  Dash is part of the Brotherhood, a group of concerned citizens who may take radical action to raise awareness about the plight of the unskilled masses who have been displaced by automatons.  Their first radical act is kidnapping Victoria...until it turns out that she willingly agrees to help, eager to do right and to spend more time with the charming Dash.

This is pretty much a case of love at first sight, which I think works in a novella because there's only so much space.  Although their classes are basically opposite, the two struggle against expectations (she was supposed to be a wife and mother while he is a thief yet both aspire to more academic lifestyles) separately and together.  Thus although their romance was quick, they had least had some commonalities.

The other aspect is the steampunk; although the issue of automatons grips society, I didn't feel that steampunk elements played a very big role.  It is much more about human emotions, a point made very clearly.

This all occurs against the background of the Slasher, a sort of Jack the Ripper serial killer who cuts the hearts out of female prostitutes.  I briefly fingered the culprit but quickly dismissed that idea focusing on someone who seemed more likely-shows what I know! 

Overall: A quick little romantic read with a very steamy conclusion.

Read for e-book challenge.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Girl Wonder

Girl Wonder by Alexa Martin
Hyperion Books, 2011
292 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I did not much like this book, largely because of the character of Charlotte.  And it was not because she made a number of incredibly stupid decisions (although she did) but because her motivations were imperfectly described for me and I did not like her.

First her parents have uprooted her from Florida to Seattle, meaning she has to make a brand new set of friends.  Their marriage also begins to break up from a variety of tensions, largely the father's adultery.  Her father also puts pressure on Charlotte to attend a big-name Ivy, something that won't happen with her grades and that results in her feelings of inferiority.  However Charlotte is less concerned with this, managing to put it out of her mind as school concerns overwhelm her.  Because of her dyscalculia (difficulties with math), she is unable to attend the same swanky private school as her younger brother nor can she participate in the gifted program at her public school, resulting in too-easy classes.  Thus when gorgeous bright Amanda and hottie Neal notice her and invite her to become involved in debate, she jumps at the chance.

I understood her desire to have friends (who doesn't want that?) but I was always suspicious of Amanda and Neal and how they could destroy her life.  Thus as she struggled in debate, in her relationships with those two, in using drugs, I was shocked.  I could have been sympathetic, had there been a foundation for me to empathize with Charlotte but I just didn't feel it.  She was a superficial passive sometimes mean girl.  To her credit, she recognized her superficiality and seemed to be moving past it at the end of the book.  But it was too little, too late.

In all honesty, I think I would have preferred a story from her younger brother James Henry's perspective.  He was much more interesting and less surly.  He adored his sister and his mentor Milton in such a sweet way.

Cover: I like the bright hair; very eye-catching.

Read for YA Debut and Ebook challenge.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Mercy by Rebecca Lim
Hyperion, 2011
269 pages
YA; Paranormal; Suspense
5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had no expectations for this book going in, nor did I look closely at the cover so I had no idea that this was an angel book.  It starts with "Mercy" waking up in an unfamiliar body, knowing that she has taken it over and that the other person is still present but being able to overpower it.  All she has are memories of the two previous bodies she has resided in and the beautiful Luc who calls to her.

As Mercy settles into the body of Carmen, she discovers that she has a purpose there.  Two years ago Lauren was taken from her family's house and her body was never recovered. While the rest of the town thinks she is dead, her twin brother Ryan maintains that she lives and he has committed his life to finding her.  As a visitor to the town and staying with Ryan and his family, Mercy approaches the case with fresh eyes and a believing heart.  She juggles controlling Carmen's body and her beautiful soprano voice with investigating the disappearance of Lauren.  Mercy also attempts to puzzle out her history, helped only by brief glimpses of Luc and the mysterious Eight.

Mercy goes through a great transformation over the course of the book.  She starts out sarcastic and strong with walls built up high to keep people out but she becomes interested in Ryan romantically and attempts to give Carmen more of a backbone.  Attachments are formed and her interest in rescuing Lauren becomes the main focus of her life.  These all infuse Mercy with more human characteristics and make the ending quite heartbreaking.

Personally I was caught almost completely by surprise by the kidnapper.  I had started to suspect him/her but his/her actions moved quicker than I had anticipated.  The showdown reveals more of Mercy's powers, confirming that she is definitely not human but that she is compassionate and brave.

Despite the cover, it is never explicitly said that Mercy is a fallen angel, although the goodreads summary and this cover support that explanation.  That resulted in more intrigue for me while reading because I wanted to confirm what she was and find out her history. I think Luc is supposed to be Lucifer but I still have so many questions.

Although this is a trilogy, the book as a whole is self-contained, leaving me wanting more without a big cliffhanger.  It looks like the next book has Mercy in a new body but still searching for answers with Luc and Ryan making appearances.

Overall: A fast, thriller with a great MC and just enough paranormal and romance to please me: the complete package!

Cover: I've seen a lot of different covers for this book and I *think* this is the US cover being released by Hyperion.  Personally I like some of the other ones I've seen more but this does make the angel theme obvious and I like the color of the title.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Shine by Lauren Myracle
Abrams, 2011
350 pages
YA; Contemporary
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-galley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had read at least one of Myracle's TTYL series and was thus familiar with what I thought was her style.  Then I read this AMAZING review by Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf, which alerted me that I would be getting something else entirely.

This story opens on the news that Patrick, a gay teenager, has been brutally assaulted and is in a coma with little optimism about his future condition.  The story then shifts to Cat, formerly best friends with Patrick but withdrawn since an incident three years earlier.  Of course she is still devastated by the treatment of Patrick and begins investigating who would have committed such a heinous act.  Her immediate thoughts are a gang of toughs including her brother Christian (who she easily absolves), Tommy (her bane), Beef (the nice guy), and Dupree (druggie).  Although Patrick ran with their crowd, they never fully accepted him; although those were her prime suspects, there were options aplenty.

Surprisingly for me, I fingered the perpetrator much earlier than Cat did but that's also partly because the book unfolded at a pretty leisurely pace, as descriptions of the landscape and characters as well as flashbacks are tantalizingly revealed.  She was blinded by her memory while I looked beyond to the darker side.

Besides Cat's investigation, there is a lot going on in this novel.  Cat and her brother have had a fractured relationship that is somewhat repaired through the book.  She also becomes a stronger person, recovering from the incident that had caused her to cut everyone out of her life.  Cat gets a love interest in, what was to me, a pretty uninteresting side story with a blah guy. And I read about one of the most annoying characters ever, Robert (seriously-pretty much no one in the book could tolerate him either).

The setting is a rural town, somewhat reminding me of Winter's Bone and Justified's environments especially when the meth cooking and addictions were added in.  Additionally because of the setting there was a great sense of isolation.  Unlike many 16 year-olds in contemporary books, Cat does not have a cell phone and must rely on either a landline or traveling by bike.  Guns also play a big part in the final denouement, which strikes me as very accurate for the setting.

Language: A lot of four letter f-words as well as the six letter derogatory f-word for a gay person-fitting for the context but still shocking for me to read.

Overall: A gripping story of the ties in a small-town led by a heroine who gains strength and purpose.

Cover:  I feel like the cover suggests a happier story but amidst the darkness there is light and beauty so I guess it works.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences

Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences by Brian Yansky
Candlewick Press, 2010
227 pages
YA; Fantasy
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for Best Overlooked YA Book Battle.

 It takes ten seconds for the aliens to invade Earth, killing most of the population but allowing a few with higher mind powers to live and serve as slaves.  One of those is Jesse, narrator and high school student.  At the reassignment camp, he meets four others who survived and they plan a desperate escape from the aliens.

This was a pretty fast read, alternating between Jesse's descriptions and entries from the head of the alien invaders Lord Vertenomous, who has his own concerns such as for his wife and family and trying to live up to his father's expectations.  The aliens view the humans as lower lifeforms but something about them enables a resistance to sprout, a resistance in which Jesse wants to participate.  Fleeing through the American Southwest and discovering new abilities forms the bulk of the narrative.

For me, this book was fine but nothing extraordinary that made me fall in love. I liked the treatment of the aliens and the general sci-fi tone.  There were quite a few humorous moments and even a sprinkling of romance.

Cover: Very plain, not to my taste.

Whale Talk

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
Greenwillow Books, 2001
220 pages
YA; Contemporary
5/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

I loved this book!  I wasn't sure about it going in because it's told from a male perspective and the synopsis mentioned sports, which is not my biggest interest.  However I completely fell for TJ and his quest to fight racism and the jock bullies who dominate his high school.  In order to do this, he assembles the unlikeliest bunch of guys in his school to form a swim team.

I can't begin to express how much I adored this book but a large part of that was because of the character TJ. He narrates the book providing insight into how he thinks and he's pretty aware of his motivations for his actions.  When he was happy, I was happy; when he was angry, I was upset.  I loved that he was an upright character who was concerned to continue being so.

My one tiny quibble was toward the end, when I cried because I could not believe what had happened.  I would have preferred that scene didn't happen but I completely understand why it was included.

Overall: Go read this! Now!

Cover: TJ is black, Japanese, and white but that guy looks mostly white to me so it's not entirely accurate.  I'm also not sure why he's running instead of swimming.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready
Simon Pulse, 2011
367 pages
YA; Paranormal
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free ARC via GalleyGrab in exchange for an honest review.

My review of the first book, Shade.


I enjoyed the first book and thus was pretty excited to see it in GalleyGrab.  I was nervous because sometimes the middle book in a trilogy is just filler.  However I ended up liking this book even more as Smith-Ready just made everything better: more intense, higher stakes, faster paced.

The book opens with Aura still calling for Logan after he shaded at the end of the first book.  Finally he reappears as a ghost instead of a dangerous shade and for about fifteen minutes, he even solidifies, freaking them both out.  Unfortunately his reappearance throws some wrinkles into the budding relationship between Aura and Zachary (who I think got even hotter).  They had cautiously been negotiating something but with Logan back, there's conflict.

A lot more is revealed about the Shift, the abilities of Aura and Zach, and Aura's parents.  It is still not all explained but a lot more pieces have fallen into place. We receive a lot more information than I expected, which I think helped make this an exciting second book instead of just a place-holder.

I felt like this book is more tightly focused on the two of them (plus Logan), so while almost all of the secondary characters from the first book are back, none receive much more character development.  Some new characters are also introduced such as Nicola, from the DMP, who is trying to help repair their reputation by helping Logan in his new quest to form a band with and for post-Shifters.

The love triangle (which as a general plot device is still not a favorite of mine) becomes a sort of pentagon, when Aura and Zach make some hasty prom invitations.  There is also a lot of making-out (which I enjoyed when it was Aura and Zach, less so when it was Aura and a guy she should not be kissing) and discussion of sex, which I include as a warning to those who prefer a cleaner read.

The ending is a cliffhanger, promising one thing in the third book but probably going another way until everything's sorted out. Can't wait!

Overall: A second book better than the first with great pacing and some steamy times!

Cover: I don't like Aura's positioning and pose but the red around the title is great.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Entwined by Heather Dixon
Greenwillow Books, 2011
474 pages
YA; Fairy-Tale
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a copy through Amazon's Vine Program

My mom always read fairy tales to me when I was growing up.I adore fairy-tales and retellings and since "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" was one of my favorites, I knew that I'd want to read this one.  Luckily I was able to get my hands on it and I devoured it.  Despite its length, this book moves fairly quickly while still allowing me the chance to savor the story.

The main character is Azalea, eldest of twelve daughters in the royal family.  All of the daughters are named alphabetically, which was very helpful for me to keep track of them.  The eldest three, Azalea, Bramble (!), and Clover, seemed to have the best defined personalities and they are also the ones who get suitors.  But the other sisters make their presence known and all together, the sisterly affection and camaraderie was one of my favorite parts.

Filled with their mother's love of dancing, the sisters are devastated that after her death, their father banishes dancing as the family moves into mourning.  However Azalea vows to help them continue and thus the girls are ecstatic to discover a mysterious secret passage leading to a pavilion with the Keeper where they can dance to their heart's content.  But the Keeper is not as benevolent as he seems and his wishes will threaten their familial structure and their lives.

While not entirely understanding the thrill of dancing, I could see how dancing helped the girls remember their mother and further how their father's standoffishness pushed them toward the Keeper.  The girls sneak out to go dancing every night to his bewilderment thus resulting in the advertisement that brings to mind the original story.

Of course there's plenty of magic around such as that which infuses the castle from a previous magical owner.  An enchanted tea set, a sort of invisibility cloak, and silver play an important role in the final showdown.  I, however, was much more interested in the relationships than in these magical elements.

The way the three romances proceeded was familiar.  Bramble acted cold to her suitor while secretly harboring deeper feelings.  Clover's is conducted somewhat behind the backs of everyone.  And Azalea falls for the very nice guy who is frequently around although they are not without their difficulties.  I liked all three guys and they all seem honorable and decent chaps.

But the story is really about family and love.  The sisters love each other very much but have a weak relationship with their father.  He also seems to struggle with how to love them. Over the course of the book, they build stronger bonds and that just warmed my heart.  I'm a sucker for books with strong family units.  They all draw closer toward the conclusion.

Recommended especially for people who love rich fairy tale retellings.

Cover: Beautiful-I love the elaborate dress although I do wish we had a better view of it.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge.
 Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Story of the Bible

The Story of the Bible by Larry Stone
Thomas Nelson, 2010
96 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free copy for review via booksneeze in exchange for an honest review.

I chose to review this book because it had pretty pictures, simple as that. The inside and back cover showcases a colorful timeline covering the history of the Bible, from Abraham to today.  Inside the pictures include photographs as well as beautiful Renaissance artwork and other art.  There are also pull-out pages which show pages from some of the elaborately decorated Bibles of olden times, such as the Codex Vaticanus.

The history shared is about how Bibles were made and distributed.  I learned about the oldest copies we think we have and about different agendas when translating and sharing.  It actually ends with information about the JESUS film, a filmed adaptation of the book of Luke which apparently about 225 million people have seen worldwide.  Some of the information was repeated several times, which annoyed me but most of it was well-written and new.

Overall: A beautiful book with information on the production of Bibles throughout history.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Prom and Prejudice

Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, 2011
227 pages
YA; Contemporary; Austen
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC via Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

This book is pretty much exactly what you would think it is based on the cover and title: a YA contemporary romance inspired by Jane Austen's beloved novel Pride and Prejudice (aka my favorite book!) This one stars Lizzie Bennet and her best friend Jane Netherfield as they navigate the tricky social scene culminating in prom at their boarding school Longbourn and their relationships with Will Darcy and Charles Bingley at the neighboring Pemberley Academy.

Although largely faithful to the novel and bringing its own sense of humor (there were many laugh out loud passages), there were some changes that I simply have to mention!

First it's told from Lizzie's point of view instead of third person like the original.  I have found this very common in YA lit and I think it helps you sympathize with the character much faster.  Second I found Lydia much more grating in this novel than I ever have in P&P; girl was so annoying!  Another change was that Darcy's family is actually accepting of Lizzie although a de Bourgh does still attempt to interfere.

Probably the most important change, in my mind, is that no longer is Lizzie seeking a mate for life and in order to protect her upon the death of her father; instead the big event is prom, which while important to the characters is hardly the same situation.  This takes away some of the dramatic tension that has made P&P so beloved. I understand though because it's hard to modernize P&P.

One change I did not entirely like was a very unsubtle emphasis on the snobbery of the girls at Longbourn in their relations with scholarship student Lizzie.  It was repeated so many times and I didn't think it needed to be hammered home so much.  That would be my only complaint about this book.

Overall: A quick modernization of P&P with an admirable Lizzie and many funny bits.

Cover: I love the bright pink and I feel that the dress conveys a plot point in the book but it's not entirely accurate.

Bless the Bride

Bless the Bride by Rhys Bowen
Minotaur, 2011
260 pages
Mystery; Historical; Series
4/5 stars

Source: Library

The tenth book in the Molly Murphy series, this time featuring Irish immigrant Molly's last (?) case before her marriage to New York police detective Daniel Sullivan.  Molly is requested to find an exquisite jade piece by a wealthy Chinese man, later discovering that she is actually meant to find his new (illegal immigrant) bride and return the girl to his domain.  Molly has to figure out the whole story in order to make sure she's doing what's right.

The story starts with Molly in the country, meeting her future mother-in-law Mrs. Sullivan, who seems to think that Molly is highly unworthy.  Thus Molly is happy to return to the city and pleased to take on one more case before retiring after marriage.  The case seems straightforward but new complications keep popping up.  The most interesting part was seeing the discrimination against the Chinese immigrants.  I did not know that Chinese women were forbidden from coming to America (although this was circumvented by the very wealthy) although I did know about the general stereotype of Chinese as ignorant and lazy, despite many examples of the exact opposite (um, Trans-Continental Railroad?)

Through Molly's investigations, she also comes to question her future with Daniel; she doesn't want to be a woman who's under his thumb with her spirit crushed.  Luckily Daniel is less imperious in this book than in others, which makes me like him more.  I think Bowen walks a tricky line well to make him palatable to modern readers but also era-appropriate.  I would not want to read a book with a stereotypical male hero of the time-period, who would resent all rights for women.

As to the mystery: I basically figured it out! This indicates that it was perhaps not as difficult as others because I really am not good at solving mysteries in general.  I tend to trust the characters too much.

SPOILER: Wondering if the series will continue; there is an interesting path it might take (involving head of the Secret Service John Wilkie from the previous book The Last Illusion) and I would love to read about that.

Cover: I like the colors but I'm not a fan of the cut-off head on book covers.

Read for Cozy Mystery Challenge and British Books Challenge.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Carrie Pilby

Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner
Harlequin Teen, 2010
330 pages
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was an interesting read, balancing YA and adult.  I guess it's supposed to be more YA due to its publisher but given that Carrie lives alone in her apartment having completed college by the age of 19, she's also almost an adult.  However her father pays for her apartment and for her to attend therapy because Carrie has some problems.

She skipped three grades in school, leaving her the smartest in her grade but far behind in social skills.  Her father promised her that things would get better in college (she went to Harvard) but they were not; she was just as out of place there as she had always been.  Her sessions with her therapist, which were some of my favorite parts, consist of him encouraging her to get to know people and to be more open and less judgmental.  Carrie considers most people hypocrites and obsessed with sex so she spends most of her time alone.  As she begins to talk her therapist's advice though, she discovers a brand new world.

I started off really liking Carrie but she was such a pessimist and so sure of her own superiority that by a third of the way through I was a little tired of her.  Luckily she began changing then, which made her a lot more enjoyable to read.  Since the book was told in first person, it was very helpful to me once she changed. I must say that I did enjoy her personality and I think we could have been friends even though she is much, much smarter than me.  Happily I have more social skills than her so I think we could balance each other out.

Overall: I can definitely see Carrie's voice grating on people but if you stick with this book, you'll see a warm-hearted young woman who learns so much about the world and about herself.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Losing Faith

Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
Simon Pulse, 2010
377 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I was excited about this because a. I love a good contemporary and b. I love sister stories.  This doesn't entirely fill either criteria.  Yes, it is about Brie coping with the sudden and mysterious death of her sister Faith; yes, it explores questions of religion and faith; and yes, it's set in the contemporary world.  But the whole didn't gel for me.

Brie has some qualities of a sympathetic main character but often she was annoying.  She's dating a loser who only wants to sleep with her and her "best" friend Amy isn't much of a friend.  Thus when her sister Faith dies, Brie finds herself foundering.  Her parents are similarly shocked and withdraw to extremes: her mother hides in the house, her father throws himself into work, leaving Brie very much alone. I felt so bad for her but her interests in clothing, makeup, and popularity as well as her assessment of her locker neighbor Tessa made her seem superficial.

However Tessa is one of the few people able to connect with Brie, having suffered her only tragedy when younger.  I loved Tessa-she had attitude to spare and took no prisoners, encouraging Brie to investigate her sister's death even as the police officers seem content to deem it a suicide.  The other character Brie meets is Alis, a mysterious boy whose sister Reena may know more about Faith's death.  He also helps them investigate, turning the story into a detective novel.

As they investigate, they come across a cult, whose leader has twisted scripture to encourage branding and martyrdom as ways of salvation.  This leads to a very dangerous situation for Brie, filled with suspense but ultimately answers about Faith (and faith). I had expected a novel slightly more preachy but there is no preaching so if you were worried about that, no need!

Remember how I found Brie kind of annoying? Well, part of that was because I wanted to know more about her grief for her sister. I guess she expressed that in part by investigating her sister's death but I didn't feel it; I just read it.

Overall: An average contemporary about grief and faith.

Cover: The whiteness is so stark and surprising-I feel like usually YA novels eschew white backgrounds but this cover makes effective use of it.

Read for Contemps Challenge.

Like Mandarin

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
Delacorte Press, 2011
305 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I had really high expectations for this book as people had gushed about it for months but in the end, I was left feeling, "so what?"  I didn't hate it but I didn't think it was outstanding or astonishingly fantastic.  It was maybe a bit better than average.

I'll admit that I wasn't thrilled with the premise and mostly read it for the Contemps Challenge.  Grace, a native of Wyoming, longs to leave and wants to be like Mandarin, the beautiful confident older girl who has also been dubbed the town slut.  One day, Mandarin seems to actually want to be friends and they embark on plans to finally leave their crappy town.  But all is not as it appears with Mandarin as Grace learns to her dismay.

I don't know if it's because I'm older than the 14-year old Grace as well as the 17-year old Mandarin but I didn't think Mandarin was anything special.  The revelation Grace has toward the end mirrors what I figured out fairly early on thus I spent most of the book waiting for Grace to catch up to me. The many pages wasted on speculations about Mandarin's motivations and actions just bored me.  Grace, as someone so interested in Mandarin, was fairly boring herself except for her passion for academia, which I did enjoy.

The plot I was interested in was Grace's younger sister Taffeta, a beauty queen with an amazing voice.  Their mother seems to prefer Taffeta because of their bond over beauty pageants whereas Grace had embarrassed their mother spectacularly in childhood by flashing the audience at her final pageant.  The interplay of the family was much more fascinating to me.  They seem broken but by the end, they look to be on the path to healing.

The writing was quite good with amazingly evocative descriptions of the small-town in Wyoming where they reside.  However I felt it could have been more spare; some sentences felt unnecessarily long with details I didn't care about.

Cover: I really the orange hints (the spine and the book itself are orange) because when I hear Mandarin, I think Chinese language first and orange second so I find that fitting.

Read for Contemps Challenge and YA Debut Author.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Art of Romance

The Art of Romance by Kaye Dacus
Barbour, 2011
319 pages
Christian Romance
3.5/5 stars

Review of the first Matchmakers book, Love Remains.

Source: Received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I did not like this book as much as Love Remains but the ending still made me a little teary-eyed as I ended up invested in the relationship of Caylor and Dylan, both of whom believe they have significant baggage.

Caylor lives with her grandmother, having moved in after the death of her grandfather to provide transportation and support.  She has resigned herself to never getting involved in a relationship due to her obligation to her grandmother.  Instead she celebrates Zarah and Bobby's pending marriage and throws herself into life at the college where she is tenured and into her inspirational romance novels.

Dylan has legitimate baggage and then baggage I found ridiculous.  The legitimacy comes from a verboten relationship with the head of his department at the art school in Philadelphia where he used to work.  She was controlling and slowly changed most of his personality and cut him off from his family.  The fact that she was older and more established in the field than him gives him worries in relation to Caylor, who is also older and already has tenure.  The other baggage? Well...

Dylan refers to his big shameful secret about what he did to put himself through college before revealing it to his three brothers in a very sweet "intervention" scene. I expected this to be that he stripped and/or served as a gigolo to wealthy older women.  Instead his secret is that he designed and modeled for romance covers.  Um, kind of lame? Not worth as much anguish as he spent on it.  Funnily enough, his covers were for Melanie Mason...the pen name of Caylor, under which she wrote increasingly steamy novels and was inspired by the handsome model on the cover.

I definitely liked the book more once they got together because their whingeing before that dragged on too long.  Besides their romance issues, Caylor has conflict with her irresponsible younger sister Sage and Dylan struggles with his parents's expectations and their inability to accept his art as a legitimate career path.  Those stories were okay but I wanted more romance.  I also would have liked more God; although finding a church is an important part of the story, I wanted to see more of each of them having a relationship with God instead of having church signify such a relationship.

The romance novel plot was interesting to me because I'm pretty sure that such inspirational romance writers as Francine Rivers and Robin Lee Hatcher wrote secular romances before switching exclusively to Christian romances in order to write cleaner novels and include mentions of God.  I think Caylor is supposed to have followed the same path as them.  It also makes me wonder if Dacus used to write secular romances?

Overall: An okay romance with some interesting subplots; I'm hoping the third book, Turnabout's Fair Play will be more to my taste.

Cover: Caylor's not the painter but it fits in with the pattern established by Love Remains.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Diamond of Drury Lane

The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding
Roaring Book Press, 2006
419 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Book Battle and also because the sequels looked really intriguing.

Cat Royal is an orphan living in the Theater Royal in 1790 London.  She has been unofficially adopted by the theater folk and has lived there as long as she can remember.  Living among the actors, writers, and designers as well as the gangs that control the seedier sections of town is a not too bad existence.  Then one night she hears about a diamond hidden in the theater, which sends her off on vivid imaginings and kick-starts this story.

The next day she meets a new friend, Pedro Hawkins, a former slave (not sure how as slavery wasn't abolished in the UK until 1833) with a remarkable agility and incredible talent with the violin.  His skill attracts the interest of Lord Francis and Lady Elizabeth and a mystery around the treasonous cartoons of "Captain Sparkler" springs up.

Cat is a great heroine.  She's a colorful heroine with the plentiful sprinkling of the slang of the times and she speaks her mind.  In general, she's up for any adventure and she's very loyal.  Cat also begins writing, something I bet becomes more prominent in later books as she ages.

Besides being a fun adventure, this book also treats themes of gender, race, and class. Cat would love to be part of her friend Syd's gang but he will only let boys join, even if he's only known them for a few hours.  She protests the unfairness of this and hopes that Syd doesn't harbor deeper feelings for her.  Pedro is easily accepted but some of the meaner characters do mock him based on the color of his skin and claim their own superiority over him because of that.  Class is another element; lords have the final say while penniless orphans can only hope for some protection.

My main quibble is that it was a little long and the mystery is a bit simplistic (my rationale is that I figured it out and I hardly ever do that).  There's a lot of promise for future books.

Overall: Great historical mystery with an engaging main character-definitely excited about the sequels.

Read for British Books Challenge.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine
HarperCollins, 2011
215 pages
YA/MG; Fantasy; Fairy Tale
3/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-galley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really like Gail Carson Levine so I was excited to see another book by her.  The cover indicated a dragon and hopefully another spunky heroine in the vein of Ella Enchanted.  I got that in the dragon Meenore and the would-be actor Elodie.

And I did like those two elements but the book as a whole didn't cohere for me. It felt disjointed and it seemed like a character would be introduced for a few chapters and then leave just as I was starting to get to know him. This happened several times.  I also found Levine's made-up words and names more annoying than cool, which might have been different if I'd read this when I was ten.

However I did enjoy the wrapping up of the plot.  Elodie unravels a mystery and I really liked how she deducted and induced clues.  Happily it didn't take her too long to do this and I was caught completely off-guard by the villain.

Overall: The pieces for a great story are there but it didn't come together as I hoped.

Cover: For those who've read the book, I like that Elodie isn't wearing a cap ;)
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