Thursday, June 30, 2011

Starcrossed

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini
HarperTeen, 2011
308 pages
YA; Paranormal
4/5 stars

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

Wow-I have some conflicting feelings about this book although as you can see from my rating I ended with positive feelings and I'm interested to read the second book as there will be a lot to develop.

Helen Hamilton lives on Nantucket with her father and her best friends.  One day the large and mysterious Delos family arrives and Helen takes an immediate dislike to them, going so far as to try to strangle Lucas Delos in the hallway the first time she sees him.  Although their loathing is immediate and virulent, when Lucas and Helen save each other's lives, their hatred dissipates and turns very quickly into love.  As they fall for each, Helen is brought into the Delos family to learn about their heritage as Scions, descendants of the Greek Gods.  The Delos come from Apollo's house while Helen's is a mystery due to the disappearance of her mother.  As more secrets unravel, the danger amps up, and no one is safe.

On the one hand, I've read reviews that compared this to Twilight, which is not a positive comparison and I can see that in the almost instant love of Helen and Lucas as well as his dominating nature when he thinks he knows better than her and his refusal to be seduced by her (although for very different reasons).  There's also a big family filled with amazing fighters, opposing relations across the Atlantic, and Helen lives with her father.  However for me the big difference is that Helen has a personality and skills.  There is also thankfully no love triangle although there are still complications aplenty.

The part I really liked though was the use of Greek myths to create something different and fascinating.  Personally I wanted to know even more but we have our main theme for the series: how Helen with the help of others will eventually either raise Atlantis or break the curse of the Gods.  I also appreciated that there was a lot of death and injuries even though, as demigods, they can heal themselves much faster than normal people.

My favorite character was probably Cassandra, who is like her namesake in that she can predict the future has the dreadful fate of being claimed and she is slowly turning into an Oracle, where she will forsake her family.  She is also interested in learning more about Helen's past, just like me and she is very sweet at the start even as she has to start distancing herself.  I wish I had liked Helen more but there was something about her that I couldn't warm to: how she kept herself apart; how she didn't want to learn how to fight and harness her powers (initially); her inexplicable attraction to Lucas.

Speaking of Lucas, I feel like there wasn't much romance, which reassured me as I didn't much like the romance.  Perhaps it's because they're starcrossed and aren't allowed to be together (it would literally destroy everything) or perhaps because I skimmed those sections in favor of more of the kick-butt action and revealing of mythology.  Either way, I would probably recommend this to people who are less interested in romance in the hope that the action scenes would grab them.

Overall: A different take on mythology that makes a worthy entry into the YA paranormal genre.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sharks and Boys

Sharks and Boys by Kristen Tracy
Hyperion, 2011
264 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

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

This book starts with Enid struggling with insecurities about her relationship with Wick in the light of her father's repeated adultery.  After he suggests they take a break, she takes those insecurities to the brink of crazy by driving from Vermont to Maryland to make sure that Wick doesn't hang out with the beautiful Simone while he's visiting there with friends.  Then she stalks them on to a boat, which ends up in a storm, sinks, and the eight have to attempt to survive.

I didn't really like Enid, who drove something like 500 miles because she was so insecure about her relationship.  I wanted to smack her on the head or something because she was so clingy and annoying-I sure wouldn't want to date her.

Once the boat has sunk though, is what most of the plot covers.  The eight on the boat are four sets of twins, all boys except for Enid and known to each other due to a study in which they have participated for most of their lives.  This results in a lot of talking and some interesting facts courtesy of one of the smartest twins.  This also results in some conflict and some disaster as not everyone makes it off the raft alive.  While their discussion is interesting, not much actually happens given that they are all stuck on a raft.  Thus although the writing style was very engaging, the plot was not.

Read for Contemps Challenge and ebook challenge.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Day Before

The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder
Simon Pulse, 2011
307 pages
YA; Contemporary; Verse
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-ARC through Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

I've long had attitude about books written in verse form; I hadn't read many and I didn't have a very high opinion of them despite largely enjoying the few I had read.  But I wanted to give Schroeder a try after seeing some positive buzz and I want to read all of the books in the Contemps Challenge.

The result was me pleasantly surprised by the emotional punch packed within this book.  As someone who ordinarily loves a page crammed with text, the layout of this book is very sparse with unique spacing and plenty of white space in stark contrast to the books I normally read.

The plot itself is pretty simple; Amber is going out on her last day before...something, which is slowly revealed through the book.  Although she starts the day by herself, she soon meets Cade, who is also having his own day before.  There could be tears aplenty for the both of them (and I got a bit misty-eyed due to the writing) but they focus on this last day, largely avoiding the unwanted topic of the next day.  It's pretty simple but the level of the writing elevated this book, making an imprint on my heart.

Cover: I think it kind of looks like she's dead, which is not actually what the title refers to (it's not The Day Before I Died).  The grass is really pretty though.

Read for Contemps and E-book challenges.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bumped

Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Balzer + Bray, 2011
242 pages
YA; Dystopian
3/5 stars

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

There was a lot of buzz around this book as McCafferty's official YA debut and as another variation on dystopia.

In the future, women lose their reproductive capabilities by the time they're twenty, meaning that teenagers become extraordinarily important in order to keep humans alive.  There are multiple ways of approaching that.  Some teenagers have sex with someone they love and then essentially auction off the baby to the highest bidder; sometimes both partners are brought together and paid money for the child they create; and the third option presented in the book is a religious community were partners either reproduce or adopt children.

The two main characters of this book have not reproduced yet but the action is leading them toward that path.  Melody and Harmony are separated at birth identical twin sisters who share their perspective in alternating chapters.  Melody has lived in the secular world and has been prepared her entire life for the moment when she secures a lucrative contract and goes on to "bump" with someone, hopefully eventually producing three babies.  Harmony has grown up in the religious community but upon discovering the existence of her sister, she sets out to ostensibly bring Melody into the fold.  One other important character is Zen, Melody's best friend who is too short to actually father a child (prospective parents want tall genes) but whose chemistry with Melody is strong.

I mostly liked the plot, especially the scenes between Melody and Zen because they were so cute.  He especially was a great character and probably my favorite because of his sweetness and his obvious love for Melody.

What I really didn't like was all of the new words and slang that ran throughout the book; they drove me crazy and are the main reason for the low rating.  When I don't like the writing, I don't like the book even though it flowed well and I wanted to keep reading.

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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Wedding of the Century

The Wedding of the Century and Other Stories by Mary Jo Putney, Kristin James, and Charlotte Featherstone
Harlequin Books, 2011
381 pages
Romance; Historical
5/5 stars

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

Summary: Misunderstandings abound in these three lovely romance stories.

The Wedding of the Century by Mary Jo Putney: 5/5 stars
This is a classic story of misunderstandings and miscommunications, which ordinarily drives me crazy.  Why can't the hero and heroine just talk to each other?! And yet here, it felt appropriate and, because it was only a novella, it didn't drag on and annoy me.  Justin is the new duke of Thornborough, the traditional repressed Englishman who can't speak of his feelings.  His wife Sarah "Sunny" Vangelder was raised by a mother who loathed her marital duty and warned her daughter about it; additionally Sunny was burned by an Englishman she thought truly loved her.  He also needs her money for his estate.  Not the most auspicious start to a marriage but these two eventually get to a point of honest communication and mutual respect and love.

I loved the alternating perspectives as we see Justin fall for Sunny right away while she takes longer and both of them struggling to be good spouses without knowing what to do.  They are both good, kind well-read, opinionated people and it was a joy to watch them fall for each other.

Jesse's Wife by Kristin James: 4.5/5 stars
One night Amy walks out with a man who actually seems to prefer her to her beautiful younger sister; but when his intentions turn sinister, she is faced with the prospect of marrying a fortune-hunter.  Until Jesse, who works for her father, volunteers to marry her.  She thinks he's attempting to fulfill a debt while he thinks he's the luckiest guy ever to get to marry the smart and charming Amy and he promises not to force intimacy.  Soon though they're both attempting to get their spouse to fall in love as they build a new life together on a ranch in Texas.

I loved Amy and identified very strongly with her as someone who loves to read and daydreams a lot.  My favorite part was when she attempts to get Jesse to seduce her; very funny with their alternating perspectives on what is happening.  I took off half of a star for the ending, which I figured was coming but didn't really like.

Seduced by Starlight by Charlotte Featherstone: 5/5 stars
For years Blossom has been betrothed to Samuel until he declares that he's in love with someone else and she releases him so that they can both find love and passion.  This clears the way for Samuel's brother Jase, the dashing rake, to finally go after Blossom, the woman he's lusted after for years.

I loved how Blossom has been raised to be independent and daring; she paints for commissions, she fly-fishes in trousers, and she speaks her mind.  Jase's efforts to seduce Blossom were quite lovely and his many passages about how much and how long he loved Blossom were a delight.

Note: The first two stories were originally published in 1994 so they may be familiar to long-time readers of romance.

Overall: Very charming stories that just left me grinning from ear to ear!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Royal Blood

Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen
Berkley Prime Crime, 2010
305 pages
Mystery; Historical
3/5 stars

Source: Library

I was all set for the delightful further detective adventures of Lady Georgiana as she embarks on a trip to Romania (more specifically Transylvania) as a representative of the royal family for a wedding of an old school friend.  There are appearances by her brother and sister-in-law, her best friend Belinda, her mother, her love interest Darcy, and her would-be husband Siegfried.  But this book just did not do it for me.

First Georgie's imagination absolutely runs away with her, provoking her to imagine vampires, werewolves, and other creatures.  And not just once but multiple times.  I was so annoyed by those lunacies and normally I really love Georgie but I did not during those parts.

Second the mystery occurs at a snowed-in palace which is fabulous because I love when all of the suspects are gathered in one place.  However it took what felt like a long time until the mystery unfolded and I felt that there was not sufficient time to properly identify the murderer, which felt like a cheat to me.  I enjoy being confounded but I want it to be fair.  SPOILER: You can probably guess what he looks like but not his actual name or his motive END SPOILER.

Overall: A disappointing outing with Georgie but I hope the next, Naughty in Nice, will be better.

Read for Cozy Mystery Challenge and British Book Challenge.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Henry Holt and Company, 2010
343 pages
YA; Contemporary; Fantastical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for Best Overlooked YA Book Battle.

As I think back on this book, I actually have quite a few problems with it but the overall tone and style swept me away and kept me flipping those pages very quickly!  I was satisfied with the conclusion; there were just some problems along the way.

The book starts with Sam's perspective; it turns out he's a necromancer and he has come under the interest of Douglas, a powerful necromancer who brooks no competition.  Most of the story is told from Sam's perspective but occasionally it shifts to third-person to examine other characters mainly Douglas although some other characters briefly are the focus.  I can handle books with shifting perspectives but it was too inconsistent for me.  Brid, a were-human, is the focus of a couple of chapters and then it just ignores her.  Other characters only have their perspective highlighted once toward the end; I just didn't see the point of that.  If it couldn't be told from the point of view of the characters already established, then maybe it needs to be rethought.

Douglas is super evil: ambitious, cruel, and supposedly super-smart.  Yet in the final showdown he seemed to not notice that Brid's cage was empty despite it being big and in the center of his basement.  I did not believe that this intelligent man would not notice that rather important circumstance.

There were also some threads left hanging such as Ramon, Sam's friend who is injured, and questions about Sam's family, who are also strong in necromancy.  I want to know that they will all be okay.

Other than that though, this was a quirky (and fast-moving) novel touching on family ties and all sorts of cool paranormal creatures and abilities.

Cover: The crow is important but I think Sam looks a little smug, which is not in character.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Stork

Stork by Wendy Delsol
Candlewick Press, 2010
357 pages
YA; Folktales; Paranormal
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I was really liking this book and then I got to the ending, which disappointed me.  But first let's look at the beginning. Katla has just moved with her divorced mother to Minnesota from sunny LA.  She hates just about everything there: from the cold to the backward fashion to the unfriendly kids at school.  Then one night she starts scratching her head and discovers that she is part of an ancient Icelandic order known as the Storks who choose vessels to have babies.  Katla is understandably shocked but she bears up well.  Additionally she starts to make friends with Penny, do-gooder and super involved in school, and Jack Snjosson, the guy she's inexplicably drawn to.  As Katla juggles her Stork duties with her schoolwork and social life, she also faces possible threats from someone who doesn't want her to be a Stork.

I was unsure about this book at first but I was drawn in immediately by Katla's narration and great personality. She's upset about being in Minnesota for her junior year without friends but she seems determined to make it through.  She also handles the knowledge about the Storks pretty well, attempting to learn more instead of freaking out-I admire the way she could just roll with the punches throughout the story.

Of course there's also a bit of romance.  Although Jack had some mood changes, he was overall a pretty nice well-rounded guy (editor-in-chief of the school newspaper AND first-string quarterback of the football team).  He also has his own mystery that he reveals at the end; I was fine with that revelation.

I figured that the ending would have something shocking (it does-the reveal of a Raven who wants to harm Katla) but before that it has something that shocked me even more.  Jack reveals his belief that he and Katla are destined to be and that he's basically been in love with her since they were twelve.  Although she lived in California, he maintained his belief that she would return and so he kept patiently waiting.  Although Katla loved hearing this, I was kind of creeped out.  Then the ending with the reveal of the Raven and the showdown were over much too quick.

The book as a whole was pretty good and I do still want to read the sequel, Frost, out later this year.

Overall: A page-turning contemporary with fascinating mythology and good characters.

Cover: I think the cover icked me out with that girl just staring at me-why is she doing that?!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eona

Eona by Alison Goodman
Viking, 2011
637 pages
YA; Fantasy
4/5 stars
Standalone sequel to Eon

Source: Library

Because I've been reading more than one book a day, I am way ahead on reviews.  Consequently although I read Eon at the end of April and Eona at the end of May, I am not getting around to reviewing both until today.  That is also why there are sometimes two reviews in a day: in an effort to catch up.

My first comment is that this book is SO long.  It was a little awkward to hold, especially compared to the sleekness of my nookcolor and I definitely think some parts could have been edited down.  Instead of breathlessly anticipating the conclusion, I just wanted to know who lived and who survived and I kept calculating how many pages I had until I was finished.  Perhaps Eona would die; except she wouldn't since the story is told in first-person, robbing it of some suspense.

In some ways though this book was sleeker as the reader presumably already knows a lot about dragons and the royal succession crisis because of the first book.  No major new character is introduced (I think Yuso was in Eon) but new facets of the characters are explored especially gender dynamics as Lady Dela and Ryko in particular struggle. Eona adjusted quite easily to being female; I would have enjoyed seeing her struggle a lot more in this regard.

The new mystery revolves partly around Eona's ancestor Kinara, who sometimes tries to act through Eona to take the pearl from Kygo's throat, which would kill him.  She must fight those instincts as well as learn to control her power as well as attempt to protect Kygo from the ruthlessness of his uncle.  Although I knew that Sethon was a threat, there were many sections were his terrifying presence did not hang over the rebellion; it made it hard to remember why there were fighting. However, I mostly enjoyed those segments as well as the twist, which I think will be genuinely surprising to the majority of readers.

Kind of Spoiler:
In the first book, Eona seemed to be drawing closer to Kygo in what would be a tricky romantic relationship.  However this is challenged by the reappearance of Lord Ido who turns out to only be 24, while I had been imagining him as Mulan's father (who is no villain so I don't know why that's the image in my head).  His and Eona's power works through a powerful connection, physical, mental, and sexual.  I wasn't thrilled with her feelings toward Ido after he almost raped her in the first book but...this part ends as it should.

Overall: Not as good as the first due to length and pacing but one you'll probably want to read if you enjoyed the first.

Eon

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Viking, 2008
531 pages
YA; Fantasy
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

If you enjoy Tamora Pierce's Alanna series, I think there is much to enjoy in this book too.  Similarities include a woman posing as a man in order to attain a specific military and court position.  She will have to use all of her powers to save herself and the ones she loves from destruction.  However this is a completely different story with much to enjoy in its own right.

Eona, posing as Eon, is attempting to become a Dragoneye, one of twelve dragons aligned with animals such as the Rat Dragon, Tiger Dragon, etc. There seems to be much that is drawn from Chinese culture in particular and Asian culture in general.  Goodman did a great job describing Eona's feelings and building the world around her.  Although the book is long, I flew through it because I was able to picture myself in the world.

One of the big themes is exploration of gender.  Eona hides as Eon and attempts to sublimate every part of her femininity, described as her moon side while allowing full rein to her sun side.  Two helpful companions are Lady Dela, born as a man but who dresses and appears as female, and her bodyguard Ryko, a eunuch who helps Eon immensely in many ways.  They open the discourse for these this theme.

There was a lot of action and suspense that thrilled me to no end.  I did have one big disappointment (not a spoiler): the book ends with no mention of what happened to Kygo, an almost friend of Eona's; in fact, he seems largely forgotten.  I assume he will appear in the sequel Eona but the reviews I've read have been sketchy on details.

Overall: A fast-moving adventure story with a complex mythology and interesting characters.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Girl in the Steel Corset

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
HarlequinTeen, 2011
473 pages
YA; Science-fiction; Steampunk
4/5 stars
Steampunk Chronicles #1

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

After loving The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, I was psyched to start this book although I drew pause at seeing the length due to my general belief that books can and should be edited down as much as possible.  I did end with some complaints about length but overall I think it was appropriate to have all the included scenes.

Just as with the prequel, this book opens with Finley Jayne in trouble at her place of employment and fleeing in search of new work.  Instead of returning to her home though, she is taken in by a motley crew helmed by the Duke of Greythorne aka Griff.  His compatriots are Emily, the brilliant scientist; Sam, half-man, half-machine after an encounter with the villainous Machinist who is skulking London's streets; and Jasper, an American cowboy who has befriended Griff.  There is also his aunt and guardian Cordelia because his parents died in a tragic accident some years ago.

Finley doesn't entirely know what's happening because of her powers that baffle and frighten her.  But as she settles into the household, she discovers she is not the only one with mysterious abilities as the rest of the group slowly reveals what they can do.  Her personality seems to mimic Dr. Jekyll (good and upright) and Mr. Hyde (violent, seductive, and incredibly strong) but there are more twists in the abilities of the other characters.  This part was great; the action was thrilling and well-paced just as in the prequel.  The bit I was less enthused about was the love triangles, which were not a part of the prequel.

In comparison to many YA, this book has TWO love triangles.  First the lovely Emily who is interested in Sam, despite the fact that he is a MORON, and Jasper who also has an interest although he is unable to express it.  Sam, in a move I hate, doesn't want Emily to be with Jasper but doesn't think he is deserving of her, resulting in his annoying thoughts.  In fact, I quite loathed Sam who will hopefully be redeemed in the sequel I'm looking forward to reading.

The other love triangle is Finley with Griff and Jack Dandy.  Now I can see many YA readers falling for Jack Dandy but I always want the straightedge guy so I prefer Griff.  The two segments of herself each appeal to a different guy and fears about her inferiority to the duke hamper her relationship with Griff but I have confidence that as the trilogy(?) progresses, she'll realize it's the right choice.

Overall, I liked all of the characters except for Sam and Cordelia and I really enjoyed the abilities of the characters and the combination of machines with what seems like magic.  I am very excited about the second book, which looks like it will have its own self-contained story set in New York City!

Cover: I've said it before: I love a cover with a bold, eye-catching dress; it just speaks to me and promises an interesting read. I hope the second book also has a gorgeous dress.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Strange Case of Finley Jayne

The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross
HarlequinTeen, 2011
72 pages
YA; Steampunk
5/5 stars
Steampunk Chronicles #0.5

Source: Free Nookbook

I was so excited to see this prequel show up for free in Barnes & Noble's nookbook selection as I had already fallen for the gorgeous cover of The Girl in the Steel Corset.  My expectations were met and exceeded with a short story detailing some of the amazing powers of Finley Jayne as well as her investigative abilities.

Cross effectively tantalized me with the character of Finley as well as with the larger streampunk world.  It does not intrude except in the frightening person of Lord Vincent, fiance of Phoebe, whose mother hired Finley as a companion to protect against the suspicious Lord.  Gender issues are also introduced as Finley, Phoebe, and her mother are limited by Lord Vincent's desire for Phoebe's body and Phoebe's fathers debts.  The men make the decisions forcing Phoebe into an unwanted marriage but when it becomes too much, the women step up and take charge to effect a happy ending.

I enjoyed this and I think it would be worth a read for people who want to sample Cross's world without buying the full-length book as well as for people who loved the full-length book and can't wait for the second.

Check back later for my review of The Girl in the Steel Corset!

The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose

The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose by Mary Hooper
Bloomsbury, 2006
334 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for Overlooked YA Book Battle.

I wasn't entirely sure about this book because it's set in Restoration England and features a closer look at one of Charles II's many mistresses, Nell Gwyn.  She befriends Eliza Rose, who undergoes a remarkable journey.  Eliza's stepmother kicked her out, so she traveled to London to find her father who was looking for work there.  She lands in jail but is bailed out by Nell Gwyn's mother.  After narrowly avoiding having her virginity sold to a wealthy man, she becomes the maid to Nell as she begins her affair with the king.  Eliza learns more about the world and her family background.

I thought the most striking feature of this novel was the comparison of three paths followed by vulnerable young women in seventeenth century England.  Nell is a poor actress who confidently manipulates men with her sexuality, steadily rising in the world as a mistress to powerful and wealthy men until she secures a place with Charles II and conceives a child by him.  Their friend Jemima was wealthy but she fell for the charms of a scoundrel who only wanted her wealth; her fake marriage and their very real baby lead to her fall from grace.  Eliza walks a sort of middle ground, avoiding the advances of men and attempting to live respectably.  However all three girls achieve relatively happy endings.

Eliza's ending, while hinting at respectable marriage, was too pat for me.  She finds out early on that the people she thought were her parents were not.  Through a series of events, she discovers who her family actually is but I didn't buy it.

I was also disappointed with the historical details.  I've read historical novels where I felt immersed in the world, could see the details, could smell the scents.  This was not one of the novels.  Nothing felt anachronistic; I just didn't disappear into the world as I would have preferred.  Part of this might have been a general dislike for this time period.  I've always disapproved of Charles II's excesses, especially the behavior encouraged in his illegitimate son and his rowdy crowd, which is highlighted in this novel.

Overall: A fine historical novel, of particular interest to fans of Restoration England or YA historical fiction in general.

Cover: Eliza is a pretty girl with lovely hair but it doesn't really look like a historical fiction novel to me although I feel like the title and font of her name signals another time.

Read for British Book Challenge.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Battle Bracket Choice

The YA Bloggers Best Overlooked Book Battle 2011 hosted by The Shady Glade

The contenders in this bracket are: Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda and Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro.


This was a tough bracket to judge because on the one hand, we have British, dark, action, paranormal, intersections of history and religion; on the other hand, there is American, light, comedy, romance, teenage angst.  Totally different, right? But what it came down to was how connected I felt to the characters, which only happened in Top Ten Uses.  I immediately loved Nic and the writing style.  Despite my interest in the exciting plot of Devil's Kiss, I always felt at a distance from main character Bili even though she grows a lot as a character.

Winner: Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress-good luck in the rest of the battle!

Make sure to keep checking The Shady Glade for more updates on the battle.

Crowned

Crowned by Julie Linker
Simon Pulse, 2008
290 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

I really enjoyed the conversational tone of this book as Presley directs her narration toward the narrator with frequent asides.  I also enjoyed the setting, which is focused on a beauty pageant, as might be guessed by looking at the cover.  The main focus is Presley's rivalry with Megan at the pageant and many hilarious events happen over the course of the novel.  Presley is brash and rather confident but she frequently acts ridiculous and I found myself laughing a lot.

Although I think I've only watched Miss America maybe once, I'll admit that I have long been interested in the whole concept of the beauty pageant circuit (too many viewings of Miss Congeniality?)  This provides many insights on the process from talent to interview portions and they added verisimilitude although I admit that I can't actually judge on the accuracy.

Of course there are also some cute guys.  There is the very nice but gullible Gabe who breaks up with Presley by making out with Megan in the hallway of their school early in the book.  However Robbie, the very hot senior, takes more than a friendly interest in Presley.  Neither guy occupies much page space but being possessed of a vivid imagination, I was able to conjure up pictures of them, which added a lot.

Overall: A funny and opinionated main character in the cut-throat world of beauty pageants.

Cover: The main character's hair is actually stated as blonde in the beginning although that changes...but I really like the purple and the tiara is very pretty.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have)

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
HarperTeen, 2011
354 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon's Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

When April's dad announces that they're moving to Cleveland in the middle of the school year, she is understandably very upset.  She petitions to be allowed to stay with her best friend Vi under the supervision of Vi's mother.  Except Vi's mother is about to go on tour meaning the two girls will be living alone and will almost certainly do ten things they shouldn't have (the moving in the middle of the school year also happened to me so I totally sympathized with April there; needless to say, I did not get to stay but instead had to move across the country.)

I had this on my radar for a while and had high expectations once I saw it compared to the work of Sarah Dessen (love) and E. Lockhart (haven't read very much but enjoyed what I have read).  And I loved the writing-so funny and absorbing; I flew through the book.

April is a hilarious character albeit one with very poor judgment and little common sense.  Girl is thrilled to live with her best friend without parental supervision until she realizes that real life is hard.  April does not know how to cook, clean, or budget, resulting in some shenanigans.  She does however know how to party, which also causes some crazy scenes.  One of my favorite aspects of the book was the presence of an adorable cat, which made me want to go grab mine.

April also takes advantage of the freedom to get even closer with her long-time boyfriend Noah; I appreciated Mlynowski's insertions of sex ed, describing April's trips to Planned Parenthood and real-life results of sexual intercourse.  She thinks carefully about her first time and plans for it, which I liked seeing.

Although there is a lot of fun bits in this book, there is also a deeper plot around the breakup of April's family and her feelings toward that and toward her town.  It didn't quite work in contrast to the hijinks and hilarity of the rest of the story although I appreciated the psychoanalysis of April's actions and mind.

KIND OF SPOILER:
It's fairly obvious as you go through the book that Noah is kind of sketchy, which only increases as you read further on.  April, however, does not figure this out until nearly the end, when she does dump him and ends up in a new relationship with hottie Hudson.  Alas there wasn't enough of their chemistry for me to fully root for this relationship.  I loved every little bit of time we got to spend with Hudson but I wanted more!
END SPOILER

Content: Language, sex, underage drinking-a lot of all although not too explicit.

Cover: Reminds me of Not That Kind of Girl but fortunately I received this in the mail so no judgmental comments were made; in other words, dislike.

The Rise of Renegade X

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell
Egmont, 2010
340 pages
YA; Fantasy
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

Damien has been waiting for his sixteenth birthday and the "V" that will appear on his thumb signifying his future as a supervillain.  However on the big day, he discovers an "X" indicating that his supervillain mother slept with a superhero and leaving Damien's future up in the air.  His father and family take Damien in to teach him about heroism with Damien stubbornly resisting all the way. But a villainous crisis sends Damien into questions about what his future path will be.

I really loved Damien; he was so set on being a supervillain and some of his plans were quite ingenious but his compassion keeps tripping him up.  He didn't want to hurt lab rats, he wants to mend his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Kat who had cheated on him but who he still loves, he helps the weird girl in school Sarah, and other deeds.  His narration was amazing and I loved his point of view.  Not only did he describe things well, he also made me laugh a lot!

I also really liked the supporting characters, in particular Kat and Sarah.  Kat got her "V" early with the super cool ability to shape shift herself.  Kat and Damien endure a physical separation as he lives with his dad and he suffers embarrassment over his "X."  Sarah is also cool; she's technically ordinary but she has a brilliant name and comes up with Damian's name.  She creates his costume and gadgets and offers herself as his trusty sidekick.

The world created was okay. The setting is Golden City which has the highest concentration of heroes and villains in the United States.  Obviously there are distinctions because of the presence of them and the Banking and Finances Building, the tallest around, plays a very important role but overall it was the characters that shined for me.

Overall: A cool concept, well-written and executed. Sequel please?

Cover: The cover probably wouldn't make me pick up this book because I tend to look for female narrators but it's definitely fitting.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On Viney's Mountain

On Viney's Mountain by Joan Donaldson
Holiday House, 2009
224 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

This historical novel is set in very rural Tennessee in the late nineteenth-century.  Although Viney loves her mountain town her older sister Lizzie loathes it and hopes to escape one day.  She might get her wish when a group of Englishmen arrive in Rugby to found a new utopia.  Despite Viney's hopes, the changes wrought by these foreigners will forever alter her life.

Viney was a tricky character.  Although she professes to hate the changes inflicted on her town by the Englishmen and to be uninterested in courting, her actions did not always follow that.  Sometimes she was cruel and spiteful; the next moment warm and welcoming.  I felt a bit unbalanced while reading her story.  However I did admire most of her actions.  She lived in a very difficult time and place, especially as a young single woman who is effectively orphaned.  She is also a skilled weaver who incorporates the mountains into her artwork and is eager to read.

Her relationship with her sister Lizzie is important but as Lizzie jumps at the opportunity to flee their small cottage in the hopes of being in the way of an eligible gentleman, the reader doesn't spend much time with her, at first.  After tragedy strikes, we learn more about Lizzie and she shows her real mettle.

Although many of the Englishmen are useless twats, there are a few good men.  One is Seamus, who's actually an Irishman and a skilled fiddler.  The other is Charlie.  Viney takes the opportunity of their arrival to feign an interest in courting in order to appear normal to her neighbors.  Of course, this manipulation of the decent men does not entirely end well and Viney is forced to make difficult decisions.  There are some very cute moments between her and Charlie, I must say.

The historical elements were great and the writing was fine.  Quite a bit of the dialogue is told in the vernacular with "ain't"s and such filling the text but I understand the historical accuracy of that; I don't like it but I understand it.

Overall: A fine historical novel of an often ignored time and region in American historical fiction.

Cover: Pretty plain; doesn't jump out at the reader to attract attention. I think it has a fairytale-esque element to it like a young maiden on a quest.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The 10 P.M. Question

The 10 P.M. Question by Kate De Goldi
Candlewick Press, 2008
245 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

The main character of this book is Frankie Parsons, who has anxiety over many of the situations in his life leading to frequent 10 pm talks with his mother as he seeks reassurance.  Among those pressing items: his relationships with his siblings Louis and Gordana, his friendships with Gigs and Sydney, and household worries.  One thing that is never discussed is why his mom hasn't left the house in nine years and why he spent months with his great-aunts while his mom suffered a nervous breakdown.  However Frankie's world seems to be unraveling and there's nothing he can do about it.

I really felt for Frankie, whose tendency toward worst-case scenarios mirrors my own (although I would say his was worse).  His quirky family also captured my heart.  Despite their many flaws, in general, their love for each other and their willingness to help each other warmed me.

The story itself maintains tension through hinting at his mother's mental problems but with Frankie working to ignore them for as long as he can and attempting to control what he can.  As the story continues, though, that control falters and Frankie has to face it.

The language was great; there were some difficulties for me in understanding New Zealand talk and cricket but nothing that interfered with my enjoyment of the book and my love for Frankie.

Overall: A zany cast of characters with real heart in the story.

Cover: I do actually like this and how it relates to the story (partly because of Frankie's interest in birds).

The Third Pig Detective Agency

The Third Pig Detective Agency by Bob Burke
The Friday Project, 2009
149 pages
YA; MG; Fairy Tales; Mystery
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for Overlooked YA Book Battle.

This is a cute little mystery story.  The third pig is Harry Pigg of "The Three Little Pigs," who built his house of bricks.  He has turned his attention to solving crimes in Grimmtown.  One day Aladdin comes to him and commands Harry to find Aladdin's stolen lamp.  Through a tangled twist of lies and deception, Harry manages to solve the case and bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.

I was really excited about this because I love fairy tales and mysteries.  I thought they were well-combined here in a light and humorous way.  Harry has a straightforward way of speaking to the audience and the pacing was excellent (it's a pretty short book).  There were many twists and turns as Harry keeps running afoul of different dangerous people and having to scramble to get out of traps.

Personally I would have liked a bit more fairy tale but there were many references; I just wanted more.  The inclusion of Aladdin threw me a bit because I kept his stories separate from the Grimm fairy tales; this proves that various oral literary traditions should be thrown together in order to provide more amusement.   Keep an eye out for the sequel The Ho Ho Ho Mystery involving the disappearance of Santa Claus!

Overall: A quick mystery with a likable detective; recommended for fans of Jasper Fforde.

Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blog Tour: Cinder and Ella



Welcome to the Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon blog tour!  I was asked to write a review of this retelling of "Cinderella"

Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon
Bonneville Books, 2011
198 pages
Fairy Tale; MG/YA
4/5 stars

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

As I've mentioned before, I adore Cinderella and love to find new retellings.  The main twist for this is that Cinderella is actually two girls, known as Cinder and Ella.  Although both grew up in a loving household, magic has twisted their lives. Their father disappears under the influence of an evil prince. Cinder becomes a servant for their two self-centered sisters and mother while Ella fades into the background and ends up completely ignored.

Eventually both girls get sick of their lives.  Cinder finds a servant job at the palace, drawn into the glitz and glamour of the prince and his machinations.  Ella runs away but is drawn back into the intrigues in an attempt to save her family.

At first I was completely mystified by the magic, which seemed to revolve around trees and their life-force. What did it mean? How could Ella break the curse and save her family? Would either girl find love? (What would a Cinderella story be without a romance?)  But as my questions were answered, I found myself enchanted with this new twist on a classic story.

Thanks to Bonneville for the opportunity to review this book! Expected publication is November 8, 2011.

Links for more about Melissa Lemon:
Facebook Fan Page
Twitter
Author blog
Goodreads

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Infernal Devices

Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
Angry Robot, 2011
Originally published 1987
227 pages
Science-fiction; Steampunk
3/5 stars

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

I wanted to read this book because Jeter is credited with coining the word "steampunk" and such books have seemed to have a renaissance in recent years; not as much as vampires and dystopias but a definite resurgence.

I had such a hard time getting in to this book, with its language as impenetrable as the stereotypical Victorian novel and with sentences just as long.  The style was very off-putting and kept me distanced from the characters.  When difficult style and unsympathetic characters combine, I find myself less interested and I really had to force myself to read this, hoping to understand more about the steampunk genre.  My difficulty can be seen in that it took me four days to read this 227 page book, whereas I routinely polish off 300+ page books in a day.

The main character had little idea what was occurring for most of the book and consequently I had little idea about what was going on.  The world shown had some interesting bits and there were  instances of humor.  My favorite was the Brown Leather Man, as he is dubbed by the MC, who speaks like Yoda, an observation that never failed to make me giggle.  I also liked two characters with a villainous slant who, having spent so many hours looking into the future, talk like stereotypical '20s gangsters.  However the MC was so blah, that I only cared about him insomuch as I wanted to understand what was going on as much as he did.

Overall: Style not to my taste; made the book drag.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hourglass

Hourglass by Myra McEntire
Egmont, 2011
397 pages
YA; Time-Travel; Paranormal; Romance
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon's Vine Program.

I was intrigued to receive this book as I hadn't heard much about it beforehand.  The mention of "time-slips" caught my attention because I love time travel and it's my not-so-secret dream to someday travel back in time (that's why I'm a history major and I read a good deal of historical fiction). And I loved those aspects, even if the time-travel was significantly different than I had anticipated.

See, Emerson has long been seeing people who no one else can see.  This combined with the death of her parents resulted in her institutionalization for a period of time.  However she feels that she maybe has a grip on the visions.  Until she meets Michael who has the same ability except he sees people from the future while Em sees them from the past.  Together they have extraordinary power that enables them to move through time (to my disappointment they only go back in time about six months rather than to the late nineteenth-century).

And in fact, I really enjoyed all of these paranormal aspects.  Michael was hired by her brother from an organization called Hourglass, which has been involved in exploring and researching such abilities that deal with manipulating time.  Everything about this was fascinating from the other characters introduced including the villainous Jonathan Landers and his associates to the only barely glimpsed powers of the other people.  I'll admit that sometimes the explanations confused me but re-reading them cut through the fog.  I still have questions but I'm content to wait for the next book.

However while the paranormal aspect was great, I was less thrilled with the personal aspects.  Emerson has basically one friend who has stuck by her even through her psychotic periods.  Lily and Emerson are supposed to be close but Lily barely appears as Emerson quickly becomes absorbed in Michael and Hourglass.  I would have liked this friendship developed more especially as Lily seems to have her own paranormal ability.

The other aspect is the romance, of course.  Emerson and Michael seem to fall for each other right away, which is too bad as they are not supposed to get involved: her brother doesn't want his employee with his sister and Michael knows they shouldn't fall for each other.  Additionally Michael knows a lot more than he tells Emerson and she repeatedly has to call him out on that.  He keeps thinking she can't handle it and she keeps demanding the opportunity to know more.  There is also a bit of a love triangle with Kaleb, another Hourglass member.  I didn't really like either guy as I found them both too overbearing and alpha toward Emerson.

Overall: Fascinating creation of paranormal aspects and pretty good heroine.

Cover: Quite accurate; Emerson actually wears the exact dress in an early scene in the book.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge.

13 Little Blue Envelopes

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
HarperCollins, 2005
217 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Free NookBook

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

I was so disconcerted that this book was written in third person instead of first.  Every time it referred to Ginny instead of her referring to herself made me mentally rewind.  I just felt like it was a book that would have worked as first person.  Not that I didn't like it in third.

The plot is that Ginny's aunt died and after her death, Ginny received a bundle of 13 envelopes sending her off on a trip around Europe.  I have to agree with the boy Ginny meets, named Keith, who correctly observes that her aunt is flaky and kind of nuts to have come up with this plan for Ginny.  Her adventures were interesting but I was worried about her safety and her mental health in still dealing with the loss of her aunt.

Once I ignored that quibble though, I loved Ginny's adventures.  She traveled all over western Europe, seeing many places that I hope to see some day.  The descriptions were great and there was a lot of hilarity.  Ginny meets some many different people and they all teach her something valuable about life even if she doesn't realize it at the time.  I can also see how the sequel will start, based on the ending to this book.  Hopefully I can read that soon.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nevermore

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010
543 pages
YA; Paranormal
3/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Best Overlooked Book Battle.

Summary from goodreads: Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game.

Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.

Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind.

Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.

I was excited about this book once I found out that it incorporated Edgar Allan Poe.  Sadly the main story used was Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," which I hadn't read before. I was hoping for a wider variety of stories and though there were some allusions to "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Raven" as well as others, Masque was the main one.  That's not a bad thing; I just would have preferred a different reference story that I knew better.

Second, this book is LONG.  And I think some of the scenes were expanded past the point they needed to be.  Luckily there are a few excerpts from the actual Poe story so that explains part of the length but I ended up skimming some scenes because they were boring and they didn't contribute to my understanding or enjoyment.

My main criticism stems from the main character Isobel-girl is not bright.  She starts the story dating creepy possessive Brad, QB for their school's football team but once she is paired up with goth boy Varen for an English assignment, she becomes interested in his art and writing.  Isobel is a cheerleader who had previously failed to complete an essay so she has to do well on this project.  However I don't think she ever reads a Poe story despite Varen lending her a collection of Poe's work.  She is a poor judge of character as her original group of friends screw her over because of her assigned association with Varen.  She's not as mean as them but she's not exactly nice.  Her family life was bizarre as her dad grounds her from even working on her English project because he's suspicious of Varen and in general he had some mood swings, from angry, angry man to helpful father.

Varen is somewhat of a cipher as he is constantly fleeing.  The paranormal aspects of this book are a dreamworld designed by Varen and similar to what Poe accessed before his death.  They were not explained until very late in the story and even then it was very imperfectly described.  The mysterious Reynolds character confused me.  I think he's also known as Pinfeathers or was that a typo at one point?

I did like secondary characters Gwen, a new friend Isobel makes, and Danny, her little brother who despite their sometimes combative relationship comes through for her in several ways.

Regardless of these complaints, I flew through the book and I'm eager to read the second, Enshadowed, which appears to be shorter and hopefully more cohesive.

Cover: So the actual cover does not feature Varen wearing a lip ring although the character does have one. I'm not sure where I found this picture (I merely googled the book) but I guess it's an early version?

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell
Feiwel and Friends, 2007
357 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Vassar has the next few years of her life completely planned out from the summer before her senior year to her achieving a PhD and marrying a surgeon (or judge) by age 25 to receiving a Pulitzer.  But a few days before that summer, she receives a package from her grandmother and embarks on a trip with her to collect found art around Southeast Asia, including stops in Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos, which completely shakes her worldview.

I alternated on liking Vassar.  I admired her ability to plan and her commitment to seeing those plans through (I tend to lack follow-through) but she was also very supercilious and closed-minded in a lot of ways.  Judgmental would be a great word to describe her for much of the book.  However what she undergoes during this trip was startling.  Toward the end, she is basically held for ransom by opium addicts in a tiny Laotian village! So there's that.

Just as I sometimes liked and sometimes didn't like Vassar, I also alternated on the plot.  On the one hand, I think her grandmother's art sounds crazy. I don't get modern art, preferring a nice landscape and flowers as you can see in my icon over there on the left (it's Monet).  Everything that the grandmother picks up is garbage...or priceless antiques that would cause the police to intervene.  One the other hand, she really challenges Vassar's notions of the "correct" way to live and is the reason for much of the crazy things that happen. 

Besides Grandma Gerd, there is also Hanks, a Malaysian cowboy who further challenges Vassar's preconceptions and helps her to loosen her rigid stance on life.  The descriptions of places and food in Southeast Asia were fascinating.  I became interested in the region when I studied abroad in Singapore and thus those parts were the most exciting for me.

Overall: Some fascinating descriptions but all of the place in terms of quality. I appreciate the message that there's more to life than school and that not everything can be planned but I didn't love this book.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Princess for Hire

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
Hyperion Books, 2010
239 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I loved Leavitt's Sean Griswold's Head so I wanted to check out this series, which looked super adorable! I mean, look at that cover! Princesses, pink, makeup, and candy=super fun.  And that's what this was.

Desi is a teenager in Idaho, feeling like an outcast both among her peers and within her own family.  Thus when she reads an ad that promises her adventures as royalty, she is thrilled.  She jumps right in to her role as a princess substitute, challenging the conventions and attempting to improve the lives of the actual princess.  When she starts to go too far though, the leadership puts her on trial possibly quashing her excitement.

I mostly liked and admired Desi, who works a crappy job at a pet store due to a new law that allows for almost 14-year olds to work.  Her father prosecuted her former best friend's father for his crimes and that friend blames Desi, causing her social life to be nil.  Said ex-friend is also dating Desi's longtime crush.  Her enthusiasm for the job mirrored what mine would be and she took that opportunity not to lounge around but to make an impact.  I appreciated the attempt to make princessing about a larger purpose, whether it's on a local or worldwide level.

There were also tantalizing glimpses of other characters who will probably play a larger role in later books.  Meredith is the woman who recruited Desi; her prickly exterior covers a broken heart and a difficult past.  Karl is a prince whose relationship with a princess entangles Desi more than it ought.

Overall: A delightfully fluffy fast-moving joy to read.

Cover: I love the cover and I find the bright pink very appealing.

Saving Maddie

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson
Delacorte Press, 2010
231 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

I remember seeing this book last year and being interested that the character had a cross on her neck; I really enjoy reading about modern struggles with the Christian faith, which is largely what this book about.

Maddie is a character who has been largely written off as irredeemable; by her father, by her congregation, by almost everyone except for her aunt and her best friend Joshua.

Now Joshua is the narrator who has been fascinated by the boldness of Maddie for most of his life.  She examines her life, questioning and challenging sources of authority unlike Joshua.  He's a preacher's son whose girlfriend dumped him when he wouldn't sleep with her, who doesn't really have any friends because they all feel like they have to be perfect around him, and who feels severely constrained by the expectations of his parents and their congregation.  But the reappearance of Maddie pushes him outside of his little bubble to a big new world.

I really enjoyed the debates between Joshua and Maddie but also between characters over what the appropriate behavior is and over how Christians ought to behave.  I don't agree with every conclusion (premarital albeit protected sex among teenagers is unduly championed, in my opinion) but the fact that they're discussed is promising.  Joshua starts to question his beliefs and tries to prove to Maddie that she is worth saving.

The conclusion of the book is open-ended with Maddie leaving to find answers but Joshua unsure if she's safe/content/happy. I felt it was abrupt and I didn't really like it but then I generally prefer more closure in my books.

Warning: Language, drugs, and sexual content for those who may be wary.  I think they are all important for the story though.

Overall: Interesting questions explored in this book with a good plot and characters.

Cover: Very accurate! Maddie's purple lipstick is especially important.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Escape Artist

Escape Artist by Ed Ifkovic
Poisoned Pen Press, 2011
241 pages
Mystery; Historical
4/5 stars

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

I wanted to read this mystery because I saw that the sleuth was Edna Ferber, renowned author of Show Boat, Giant, and other American classics and that it featured magician Harry Houdini, who played a role in a Molly Murphy mystery by Rhys Bowen.

Before the mystery is even revealed, several interesting threads are presented.  Edna Ferber is a girl reporter in the early twentieth century (1904); besides the prejudices she receives due to gender, she is also Jewish and receives various anti-Semitic slurs too.  Then there is her family life with a blind dying father, domineering mother, and conflict with her older sister who disapproves of Edna's unfeminine profession.  Furthermore Edna wants more out of life than her small town (she's like Belle!) and she bristles when her plainness is overlooked for the beauty of other girls.

Needless to say, the mystery is not always the main focus as a rich historical fabric is woven for the reader, skillfully juggling the main threads.  I didn't know much about Ferber beyond her authorship of Giant nor do I know this time period so it was easy to lose myself in the flow of Ifkovic's writing and set my mind to deducing the murderer (which I was unsuccessful at doing but so what?)

Overall: I would classify this as more of a historical novel that happens to feature a mystery because of the long sections that don't focus on the mystery; for the lover of historical fiction, though, this is quite a delight.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Song of the Sparrow

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
Scholastic Press, 2007
383 pages
YA; Historical; Camelot
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for the YA Overlooked Book Battle.

I was very skeptical about this book at first.  It's a story about Arthur and Camelot, told in verse from the perspective of Elaine, better known as the Lady of Shalott.  I'm not a big fan of poetry nor am I the biggest reader of the Camelot myths.

Elaine lives in a military camp surrounded only by men.  She misses her mother, slayed by brutal Saxons long ago.  She respects Arthur, second in command to his uncle Ambrosius Aurelius.  She approaches romance in her assessment of Lancelot, who had saved her from a drunkard when she was younger.

But everything is changing.  Ambrosius is dead and Arthur is in command, supported by his mysterious sister Morgan and the Merlin; Arthur plans an offensive campaign instead of the defensive he had always pursued.  Another woman arrives at camp; the beautiful and snotty Gwynivere, who has Lancelot completely under her thumb.  And her friend, Tristan, heartbroken by Isolde (!), is starting to treat Elaine differently, which confuses her.

As I said earlier, I was skeptical about the verse style.  I've read a few novels in verse (Sonya Sones) but it's not my favorite method in telling a story.  I ended up thinking that it really worked with the story; the descriptions of nature are especially beautiful-the colors, the textures, the overall look. It's also very personal, fitting as Elaine attempts to understand her growing womanhood and the vagaries of life.

Elaine is very stubborn and headstrong, which leads to the final conflict.  As Arthur and his men embark on a final showdown, she follows and ends up captured by enemies.  I couldn't believe her nerve!  Gwynivere is also really mean at the start but more insight into her feelings (no one asked her if she wanted to marry Arthur) and redeeming actions won me over.

This story definitely gave me more sympathy to Gwynivere, who I had always judged harshly for her adultery.  Lancelot, however, was an unredeemed jerk, in my opinion; his behavior was inappropriate in regards to his friend and leader Arthur and he was also quite rude to Elaine.  Arthur is a good man, who appears little in the narrative, alas! I've always liked Arthur.  The Merlin also does not play a big role because this is more Elaine's story.  She is rescued from the tragedy of Tennyson and given her own voice and feelings by Sandell.

Overall: Beautiful language move the story along; recommended for fans of Camelot.

Cover: I feel like it's really stark with the plain white background and Elaine's hair grabbing most of the attention.  The green is really striking too.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Waiting Place

The Waiting Place by Eileen Button
Thomas Nelson, 2011
229 pages
Non-fiction; Essays; Inspirational
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free copy from Booksneeze in exchange for an honest review.

Expectation: I hoped for a companionable writing style and I got that in spades as Button drew me into her life. I got that in spades.

I wanted to read this as I am currently in my own waiting place; trying to figure out what I should do now that I'm graduated, submitting loads of job applications and hearing nothing in return, feeling like I should be out on my own instead of living with my parents has been really tough for me. 

Thus while not every essay was as powerful for me (I sympathize with Button's worries over her youngest son's health but I haven't had children yet and can't quite grasp the experience), the overall message of the stories rang true for me.  Some left me teary-eyed; some left me smiling in recognition; but all left me wanting more of Button's writing.  Immediately she engaged me and drew me into her life with her family and Christ.

I had expected more to read more about her relationship with Jesus but that is not the focus as she looks at the people in her life and especially her relationship with her pastor husband and his commitments to his mistress, The Church.  But she does see some higher power involved: as the back says, "To wait is human. To find life in the waiting place, divine."

I will definitely keep this book to reread over the years as I mature and learn firsthand some of the insights that Button shared about marriage, children, and adulthood.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Amulet Books, 2010
141 pages
Middle-Grade; Humor
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for Best Overlooked YA Book Battle.

This story is the investigation of Tommy, Harvey, and Kellen to see if the origami Yoda designed and voiced by Dwight is actually Yoda who can give help for the future.  In order to discover the truth, Tommy gathers stories from his classmates in grade 6 before he decides to make a big decision based on Yoda's advice.

I was super excited about this book because it references Star Wars and I'm definitely a fan.  Bonus: at the end of the book, there are instructions on how to fold your own Yoda!  I didn't give them a try but they looked simple enough to follow.  I loved the format of the book which is told in journal entries (plus illustrations by Kellen) from the various classmates to explain when Yoda gave good, bad, or cryptic advice.

I enjoyed meeting the classmates, who all had their unique voice and experience with Yoda.  Dwight was probably the most compelling character for me.  Despite being the creator of Origami Yoda, he didn't always follow his own advice, frequently ending up the butt of jokes and teased by the other students.  Regardless, he marched to his own beat and ended up okay.  Harvey is the skeptic who attempts to rain on Origami Yoda's parade but the ending is very cute and satisfying.

Overall: A very fast read looking at lives and motivations of a group of great kids; recommended for younger readers and those who like Star Wars.

Cover: I'm pretty sure Origami Yoda didn't have a light saber (although how cool would that have been?) but it signals who he is more effectively.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hereafter

Hereafter by Tara Hudson
HarperTeen, 2011
247 pages
YA; Paranormal
4/5 stars

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

I was interested in this book as it proclaimed a romance between a dead girl as a ghost and a living human boy as well as strong paranormal elements.  After completing, I was very impressed with the plot and writing, especially as other paranormal elements had fallen short for me in other books.

Amelia is a ghost and has been for she doesn't know how long as she spends her days by the High Bridge.  One night she saves Joshua from drowning in the water after his car goes off the bridge; somehow he can see her and they can even touch.  In the days after, they quickly fall in love, bonding over the strange circumstances in which they have found themselves, curiosity over her past, and similar taste in music.  I really appreciated that even though they fell fast, they also spent a lot of time together talking about everything under the sun and thus that there was a basis for a relationship beyond admiring looks.

The other element of the story was the paranormal.  Why is Amelia still haunting the area where she died? She finds some answers from the terrifying Eli, a fellow ghost who understands his powers and is willing to teach Amelia...for a price.  His sinister intentions were well-described but his background also explained his motivations and could create sympathy for the character; I didn't have any but I can see others doing so.  Another character who provides some explanation is Joshua's scary grandmother Ruth, a Seer who can also see ghosts and does not look kindly on Amelia and Joshua's new relationship.  But Amelia also digs deep within herself to become a powerful spirit, figuring out some of the answers to her questions and helping to save the day in the climax.

Besides these characters and plot, the writing was great.  It flowed well and was a delight to read.

Overall: A good paranormal debut; I'm excited for the second book, Arise.

Cover: I think this cover is very gorgeous and haunting. I like it.

Read for YA Debut Author and Ebook challenges.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Lost Crown

The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011
427 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Recieved a free ARC via Simon & Schuster's Galleygrab program in exchange for an honest review.

This was a hard book to read.  It covers the years 1914-1918 from the alternating perspectives of the final four Russian Grand-Duchesses: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, daughters of Tsar Nicholas II and brutally murdered by Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. As I read, I kept waiting for the girls to realize the danger they were in and although they knew it was not good, they didn't, they couldn't have known their final outcome.  It was absolutely heartbreaking.

The writing was fantastic; I felt completely immersed in their world.  Traveling from peace to their nursing work to their days in increasingly cramped living quarters, I liked being with the girls.  They each had a distinct personality but I found their chapters difficult to differentiate as their voices were similar.  Luckily each started with a picture and the name of the girl so I could keep track.  They were sweet girls if somewhat naive and uneducated, which only made my feelings of foreboding worse.  I mean, I felt physically sick from worrying over them.  I wanted to change the course of history to protect them but I could only read on.

Thus I recommend this for those already familiar with the Romanovs and for the stouthearted.  I barely made it through (and yes it does end with their execution) so if that sounds like too much for you, then stay away! But it really is a good book, just a tough topic.

Possession

Possession by Elana Johnson
Simon Pulse, 2011
404 pages
YA; Dystopian
2/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC via Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

I knew this was dystopian but I didn't know what the parameters of the society were.  Even now, I'm not entirely sure.  I will attempt to explain what I undestand but that won't take too long-SPOILERS?

Violet is "matched" with Zenn but ends up in jail with bad-boy Jag (not a fan of the names for the boys) and spends much of the book alternately questioning who she is interested in.  Zenn's her best friend and they were supposed to get married but Jag apparently attracts her.  He attracts her because he is "bad" and she has always been called "bad."

Together they seem to have various powers that involve mental manipulation.  The most annoying part was Jag repeatedly promising not to use his power of voice manipulation and saying that Vi can trust him and then turning around and betraying her.  I did not count how many times that happened but it was enough for me to want to yell at the book.  There is also some relationship that connects the three but I'm not entirely sure I understood it.

The other problem was I didn't understand the dystopian society.  I think the "Thinkers" brainwash the citizens but I don't know how society degenerated to that point, I don't understand how the current leadership works (over what parts do they have jurisdiction; how is their hierarchy structured?), what powers are possessed by people, etc.

The part I did like was the ending, which completely shocked me.  I kept reading, not expecting much but that blew me away and actually left me NOT desiring a sequel unless said sequel would explain the world more clearly to me.

Overall: Very confusing

Read for YA Debut Author's Challenge and E-book challenge.

Monday, June 6, 2011

John Belushi Is Dead

John Belushi Is Dead by Kathy Charles
Gallery Books/MTV Books, 2009
309 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

Hilda and her best friend Benji share a unique fascination with the death of celebrities; whether it's memorabilia once owned by Janye Mansfield or the site of John Belushi's death, they want to see it.  As they live in LA and it's finally summer, they're at their leisure to explore everywhere.  But after barging into Hank's apartment to look at the bathroom where a silent film star killed himself, Hilda begins to rethink their life.  Benji, however, seems intent on moving even farther into the darkest places.

As you can probably tell, this is a pretty dark book filled with tidbits about the deaths of celebrities, apocryphal or not.  I was pretty disgusted with their behavior which is positively ghoulish much of the time.  Hilda is a good narrator, describing how she and Benji were drawn together by their shared fascination when younger.  Hilda has her own dark past due to the death of her parents while she survived.

I was more interested in Hank, the old man she befriends, who has dark secrets in his past and his neighbor Jake, a young screenwriter.  Meeting them and seeing Benji's journey into darkness is what helps Hilda learn more about herself and to begin to rethink her life path.  She doesn't have all of the answers by the end of the book but she's a little bit stronger.

I also enjoyed the references to old Hollywood such as when they view Sunset Boulevard (highly recommended) and Rear Window (not my fave but still good).  Due to my interest in classic movies, I recognized the actors and films mentioned although I realize many in my peer group probably wouldn't.  But most of the references are to 70s-90s singers and actors who died of drug overdoses; their tragedies attract Hilda and Benji's interest.

Overall: Although pretty well-written, the subject matter was too dark for me.

Content: Language; some drugs and sexual content.

Cover: I don't know about the outfit represented by Hilda has pink hair for most of the book so that's appropriate.

The Sky Is Everywhere

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Dial Books, 2010
272 pages
YA; Contemporary; Grief
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.

First things first: I could appreciate the writing as very lyrical and beautiful but it was not to my taste. Alas I am unable to describe how.  The writing was fitting for the setting of a hippie town in northern California and the lyricism helped explore the grief of everyone.

Then there's the plot.  Lennie's beloved older sister Bailey died suddenly of arrhythmia living her struggling with grief.  She seeks comfort in the arms of Bailey's boyfriend Toby as well as in new guy Joe in a complicated love triangle (although that's not really the focus).

Anyway who cares about Lennie because I have a new YA boy crush: Joe! He's amazing with long eyelashes and a smile that lights up the room. And he has two older brothers who look similar-there are three of them!  Of course, Joe is not perfect; he's very pigheaded and basically gave Lennie the silent treatment for way too long with no chance for her to apologize for her improper behavior.  However all ends right.

While I loved Joe, I didn't feel much for Lennie.  I mean, while I was reading I was caught up in the story (and I sped through it) but once I finished, she hadn't left much of an impression.  I feel for mourning the death of a beloved sister (I haven't had to do that but it would suck; I probably won't ever have to do that either as my younger sister will most likely outlive me).  I liked that she was a band geek, even though orchestra is SO much better.  But I don't feel like I understand her nor do I really care to try and understand her after the conclusion.

Overall: Really a 3.5 based on my enjoyment but bumped up to a 4 because of Joe *contentedsigh*
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