Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers--Lynn Weingarten

Title: The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers
Author: Lynn Weingarten
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2011.
Pages: 352 p.
Source: VOYA
Compensation: None

Lucy starts her sophomore year with a plan—to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Alex. Alex also starts the year with a plan—to break up with Lucy. Embarrassed and broken hearted Lucy meets up with three strange classmates who claim to be able to heal her heart but only if she can get a guy to fall in love with her and break HIS heart within seven days. At first Lucy balks at the plan, but then she gets the brilliant idea that she will use the magic the girls promise her to get Alex to fall in love with her again and hold on to him for good. Things do not quite work out the way she plans in this paranormal romance.

Although the backdrop of the book is magical, Lucy learns some real life lessons as well. She starts the week very naïve and insecure, but by the end of the seven days she has realized that love does not mean being someone’s biggest fan and always trying to please him. Lucy becomes a much more independent and powerful girl. The story starts slow but picks up speed quickly and the three girls—the sisterhood—are interesting characters. They are much more mature than Lucy and their lack of parental involvement leads to a lot of drinking, cursing and late hours. Nothing is out of character and the language makes sense for the story, but it makes this a definite teen and not tween book.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Cabinet of Earths--Anne Nesbet

Title: Cabinet of Earths
Author: Anne Nesbet
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2012.
Pages: 272 p
Source: VOYA
Compensation: None

“It was his own grandmother who fed Henri-Pierre to the Cabinet of Earths, long ago when he was only four.” Anne Nesbet’s fantasy novel instantly hooks readers with this opening line and keeps them engaged throughout the entire story. Although it opens up with poor Henri’s tale, thirteen-year-old Maya and her five-year-old brother James take center stage when they move to Paris and discover the Cabinet of Earths and its sinister secrets. Henri’s ancestors found a way to merge science and magic and to use that merger to achieve immortality, but at a terrible cost. Maya has enough on her plate, dealing with her mother’s cancer, homesickness, and jealousy, but the Cabinet of Earths chooses her as its next keeper. She must decide between saving her mother’s life and doing what she knows is right.

Nesbet has written a unique, interesting fantasy with just enough suspense to keep readers turning the page long into the night. The language is descriptive and lively; the Cabinet of Earths and the mysterious Henri-Pierre’s house leap off the pages. Fantasy readers of all ages will enjoy this story, especially middle school students.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Borrowing Abby Grace Episode 2: Girl Steals Guy--Kelly Green

Title: Borrowing Abby Grace Episode 2: Girl Steals Guy
Author: Kelly Green
Publisher: Backlit
Source: Kindle eBook from the author
Compensation: None

Fans of Borrowing Abby Grace are in luck... As of December 2011 Amazon has both of the first episodes in the series on sale for just $0.99. Don't miss your chance to get these books at a bargain price. 

We first met Abby Grace when she woke up in the back of a van during a kidnapping attempt and discovered she was a shadow--a soul sent into other bodies to solve a crisis. In this second episode, Abby thinks her mission is pretty cut and dry. Her best friend is inconsolable over her breakup with the star quarterback, so clearly she needs to reunite them. It turns out to not be quite as clear-cut as she thought. Abby's (host's) best friend has a pretty big secret and the fact that she's *not* pining for the quarterback is only a small part of it. Abby also helps her host body with an overly aggressive boyfriend.

Girl Steals Guy is just as enjoyable as The Shadow, although the romance aspects might turn off some boy readers. The more we read of Abby--the real Abby underneath her host body--the more we like her and hope that she is able to find her way back to her true self. Kelly Green's writing is sharp and witty. There's just enough information to help Abby (and the reader) solve the mystery without a bunch of boring backstory. The stories truly are episodes--quick reads that we hungrily devour and eagerly look for the next one.
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Borrowing Abby Grace Episode 1: The Shadow--Kelly Green

Title: Borrowing Abby Grace Episode 1: The Shadow
Author: Kelly Green
Publisher: Backlit, 2011
Source: Kindle eBook from the author
Compensation: none

Borrowing Abby Grace had me hooked from the very first line:
"The first thing I realized when I woke up in the back of the van was that I had no idea at all how I'd arrived in the back of the van."

A young girl wakes up (in the back of the van) not knowing who she is or why she is there. She quickly feels the danger of her situation and jumps out of the back of the moving van. She is brought to her home--that she doesn't remember--and the image she sees in her bedroom mirror does not match the image she sees when she looks down at herself.

This exciting new episodic series is reminiscent of Quantum Leap, but not a blatant copycat. In this first episode we learn that Abby is a shadow: people in trouble "borrow" her soul, her essence, her being, so that she can solve their problems. In The Shadow, Abby must help find "her" missing brother and reunite her dysfunctional family. Once she does, she leaves that body and goes on to the next, always hoping the next will be her own body. She's helped by a mysterious boy Will who is only visible to her and can only tell her certain things. She guesses that she (and Will) are dead and ghosts, but Will never confirms this. Okay, so it's pretty close to Quantum Leap for teenagers (without the time travel), but as a big fan of Quantum Leap I didn't feel offended.

The Shadow is an excellent introduction to the series. Kelly Green has written a suspenseful page-turner (or whatever one calls the quick swiping of digital pages). Each episode is short and packed full of action with a strong snarky, yet vulnerable, female lead character. We're interested in the mystery Abby has to solve, but also in *her* mystery. This series is perfect for reluctant readers, particularly those who may not be interested in picking up a hardcover printed book, but will check out anything with technology. Although the main character is a girl, this isn't an overly girlie series, and boys shouldn't be ashamed to read it.

Readers will be eager to continue Abby's adventures and see if she ever makes the final leap home (I couldn't resist).
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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wanted: Hero by Jaime Buckley

Title: Wanted: Hero Prelude to a Hero
Author: Jaime Buckley
Publisher: On the Fly Publications, 2011
Pages: 106 p eBook
Source: the author
Compensation: None

Wanted: Hero is just what it says--a prelude to a larger story. It's only 106 pages long (eBook edition) and a very quick read. The prelude sets up the universe in this fantasy series and introduces the major characters.

A destined Hero is sent to Earth as a young child to protect him from the evil dangerous Lord Mahan. When the time is right the Elders are supposed to summon the Hero to battle Lord Mahan and save their civilization from slavery and ruin. There is a conflict between the High Elder and his son Shea, who holds the responsibility of correctly identifying the Hero. The High Elder goes against tradition and has a teleporting troll collect the Hero instead of his son. The troll picks up Wendell, a normal teenage boy interested in girls and girls who happens to be sitting outside of his perfect heroic best friend Evan's house when the troll appears. Wendell is less than thrilled when he is transported to another planet and thrust into the middle of their war. The High Elder is surprised by his lack of willingness to defend his people, until Shea makes a startling observation.

This is definitely a prelude intended to whet one's appetite for the real story. The universe and characters are interesting and people will want to know what happens next in the series. I'd actually like to read more about Shea and his father and hope that their relationship is explored in future stories.

The eBook and paperback versions can both be bought through Amazon.
I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

First Day on Earth--Cecil Castellucci

Title: First Day on Earth
Author: Cecil Castellucci
Publisher: Scholastic, 2011
Pages: 150 p
Source: Unsolicited submission from the publisher
Compensation: None

Sometimes random books show up in my mailbox. Sometimes I'm really excited.

This was one of those times.

I've been a fan of Cecil Castellucci's for a while (see Rose Sees Red review), so when I received her latest book without even asking for it, I was pretty psyched. This book is both similar to and different from Castellucci's previous work. The main character feels out of place, like he doesn't quite belong, until he meets another loner and makes a connection, just like Rose and other characters from Castellucci's past books. But First Day on Earth has a bit of a twist--Mal feels so out of place because he was abducted by aliens as a young boy. Ever since then he has wanted to find a way back, thinking that perhaps out there in space he can find the peace he's needed all these years. When he meets another teen, Hooper, at an abductee support group he comes closer to his wish than ever before.

Although this has a science fiction edge, First Day on Earth, is very realistic as well. Even without the abduction Mal's childhood was less than ideal--his father abandoned them when Mal was just a little boy and his mom sank into a deep alcoholic depression. He's been on his own emotionally for years and it's not surprising that he feels more of a connection to an alien experience he can barely remember. Mal finds a kindred spirit in Hooper, another lost soul, and also connects with a girl classmate who seems to have an easy perfect life but has secrets of her own. These connections help Mal realize that maybe life on Earth isn't such a bad thing.

First Day on Earth is very short, some of the chapters are not longer than a sentence, and will appeal to boys as well as girls. Readers who are not fond of science fiction should not overlook this book. It's not a sci-fi book, but rather a realistic fiction book or "problem novel" with a sci-fi twist.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wildefire--Karsten Knight

Title: Wildefire
Author: Karsten Knight
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Pages: 400 p.
Source: VOYA
Compensation: None

Ashline Wilde is a girl with a past. She’s just transferred to a private school on the other side of the country in an attempt to escape the horrific memory of her volatile sister’s deplorable actions against Ash’s classmate. She thinks her past ends there, but it’s only the beginning—Ash is actually the reincarnation of a Polynesian goddess and she discovers that several of her friends are gods and goddesses as well. She needs to help save the future of the gods, as well as win the crucial tennis match and find the perfect dress to the Big Dance.
         Karsten Knight has written a riveting original multicultural fantasy. Most readers are familiar with Greek gods and goddesses, but there’s only one Greek character in this story. The rest of the supernatural beings are Polynesian, Asian, Haitian, Norse, and Egyptian. The multicultural aspect is a unique fresh touch to the storyline. Knight mixes the fantasy elements with realistic fiction quite nicely. Ashline may be a goddess, but she’s still a teenage girl, struggling with hormones, boys and friends. Knight sets the stage with this first book and leaves his readers wanting more. Teens will quickly devour this story and will be relieved to know a sequel is on its way. 

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye--Sarah Dessen

Title: What Happened to Goodbye
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking, 2011
Pages: 402 p
Source: Friend
Compensation: None

I was lucky enough to get a copy of this book from a good friend who reviewed it for the BlogHer book review club. Check out her review.

I love Sarah Dessen (Along for the Ride, Lock and Key, Just Listen). My absolute favorite was the first book I read, Keeping the Moon, but it was before-blog days. Whenever I read a new Dessen book I feel like I'm back with a familiar friend; I can pretty much tell you what the framework will be--a troubled girl will connect with a troubled boy (usually over the summer, but not always) and although there will be bumps along the way, their friendship will blossom into romance and help the both of them. It is a testament to Dessen that she manages to do this while creating fresh characters and putting them in different situations that keep readers coming back for more.

In her latest offering, Dessen tells us of Mclean, a daughter of divorce and upheaval. Mclean, named after a famous basketball coach, once had a good childhood, until her mom decided to cheat on her Dad with the new basketball coach in town. Her parents divorced and her mom married the coach, had twins, and completely changed her life. Unable to forgive her mom, Mclean lobbies the court to allow her to stay with her father--a traveling restaurant manager who takes over failing restaurants and rehabilitates them and then moves on. This nomadic life style allows Mclean to abandon her past and the nosy gossip of her friends and to recreate herself in each new town. She changes her name, her hobbies, her style, her personality and doesn't get close to anyone knowing that it will all be over soon. Until she gets to Lakeview and she finds herself slipping and letting people know the real her, including neighbor Dave, a teen boy with problems of his own.

In addition to the troubled girl meets troubled boy theme, Dessen also likes to throw in the importance of friendship--true friendship--in her books. Girls, teens, humans, need to make meaningful connections with other people. Mclean had "friends" in all the towns she lived in, but she didn't trust any of them to tell her real name or to share her real feelings. It wasn't until she came to Lakeview and met Dave that she found her "3 a.m."--the person she knew she could call at 3 a.m. when she needed help. Connecting with Dave also allowed her to open up to other kids in school, including Deb, a girl who needed friends just as much as Mclean.

Dessen got me again with What Happened to Goodbye. I knew how the problem would be resolved, how the story would end, and yet, I still wanted to keep reading. Dessen continually creates characters that I want to connect with and stories I want to read.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spellbound--Cara Lynn Shultz

Title: Spellbound
Author: Cara Lynn Shultz
Publisher: Harlequin Teen, June 2011
Pages: 352
Source: egalley through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

I read this book back in June, but I am clearly on summer vacation because this is the first chance I've had to sit down and try to write a review. 

Emma just wants to get through school unnoticed, but she's a new student in an expensive prep school so that's not likely to happen. It's even more unlikely when she catches the eye of the hottest guy in school-Brendan--who doesn't give the time of day to any of the other girls. Emma is instantly attracted to him and thinks Brendan feels the same, until he inexplicably withdraws from her. Weird things happen around her and she starts dreaming about past lives with all signs pointing to Brendan being dangerous for her. She consults with her only real friend at school--a Wiccan--who confirms that Emma and Brendan have a long history together in their past lives and that each life ended tragically for them. Armed with this knowledge Emma needs to decide if she should pursue her "soulmate" or try to ignore her destiny.

Spellbound is a quick entertaining read that will surely appeal to all the paranormal romance readers out there, as well as regular romance readers who like the forbidden love angle. Emma is an interesting character who has a horrible tragic background but still approaches life with a snarky sense of humor. She was fun to read and her instant romance with Brendan made sense. Teen boys will probably not be interested in the story except for the Twilight-loving boys who are becoming more common these days.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Interview with Rachel Karns

I have an interview with Rachel Karns, author of Gray, over at the Examiner:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Karns is a mom, a runner, an indie author. Go ahead and read the interview. Then read the rest of the stuff I write over there. My birthday is in 16 days, it'll be an early present for me.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gray--Rachel Karns

Title: Gray
Author: Rachel Karns
Publisher: Self-published through, April 7, 2011
Pages: 221 p.
Source: The author
Compensation: None

Gray opens up with a brief preface about a broken man on his way to a blind date who gets hit by a car. The main story starts with a nineteen year old girl Maggie celebrating her birthday alone. Maggie's parents are vacationing in Europe and all her friends have moved on to college, leaving Maggie alone to work in her Dad's jewelry store and reflect on her empty life. She becomes obsessed with a John Doe in the newspaper--a man who is in a coma after recently being hit by a car--and feels a connection with this unclaimed man. On her 19th birthday she does something crazy and decides to visit him in the hospital. The only way she can get to him is by claiming to be his fiance. Her presence helps him and what started out as a one time visit turns into a full blown relationship. He wakes up, they fall in love, but there's a problem. He's 32. And she's lied about everything. There's a subplot about Peter's job studying the reintroduction of wolves into Idaho that is interesting and helps highlight the differences between the grown-up Peter and still teenaged Maggie.

Although this sounds like a romance story, it's really not romance. This is a coming-of-age story. Maggie is young and needs to do a lot of growing up. She needs to find herself and her own identity, outside of her parents and "John Doe". I wanted her to be happy and found myself agreeing with her actions and wanting her to be with Peter, her "John Doe", but author Karns does the right thing and gives her characters what they need and not what we want. The surprise twist at the end was actually pretty predictable, but still satisfying.

Gray is a short quick read that will mostly appeal to girls, especially the young confused ones who don't know which direction their lives should take. There's nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, but it's an enjoyable story. And Maggie likes to run, which *always* makes stories better.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Ashfall--Mike Mullin

Title: Ashfall
Author: Mike Mullin
Publisher: Tanglewood, expected pub date October 2011
Pages: 472 eGalley
Source: Netgalley courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

I read this back in May, but May was not a good month for me so I am just now reviewing it. 

Alex is a normal high school boy living in Cedar Falls Iowa when a super-volcano erupts. Although the volcano is at Yellowstone, it's a SUPER one so it causes lots of problems for people all over the country. Unfortunately for Alex, he is alone in his house when the volcano hits it--literally. A piece of rock flies hundreds of miles and destroys part of his house. His parents and sister are visiting family in Illinois, so Alex is completely alone. He starts out staying with his neighbors while the volcano continues to cause havoc and deafening thunderous booms, but quickly decides he needs to get to Illinois to be with his family. There's no public transportation or working cars because of all the falling ash so all Alex can do is walk. Luckily he finds a pair of his father's skis in the garage which makes the walking slightly quicker. Along the way Alex finds helpful people and murderous people. He spends the bulk of his journey with a young girl named Darla, a MacGuyver-type resourceful farmer who teaches him how to survive off the land.

As with most "post apocalyptic" books (and movies), in Ashfall the worst in human nature often comes out. Most people are just out for themselves and are not above killing and raping to get what they want to survive. But author Mullin does a good job of balancing the dark forces of humanity with some genuinely good people who help Alex and Darla on their mission. He also does a good job of showing how truly connected we are as a nation--the volcano physically affects neighboring states but it also has a severe impact on the nation's economy and the food supply. Money is useless if there's no food to buy.

Alex is a little naive at times but he grows up quickly on his journey. He's a good kid and we want him to reach his family. He and Darla fall in love, but it's done realistically and slowly. They endure horrible events together and it matures them in ways that most teens don't go through. Romance is not the crux of the story however and it will not be enough to turn off boys. The main story is survival and adventure. This is not a boy book or a girl book. It will appeal to both. Boys will like the harsh survival story. Darla is a strong character and girls will like reading how she is just as crucial to their survival as Alex.

The book ends how we expect it to with a little twist and sets Alex and Darla up for further adventures. Readers will be happy to know the sequel, Ashen Winter, will be published in the fall of 2012.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Angel Dust Blues available as eBook

In case you're interested:

Todd Strasser (author of many YA books that I read before my blogging days) has released his very first YA book, back from 1979, as an eBook. I wrote a tiny bit about it over at the examiner.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Slayed--Amanda Marrone

Title: Slayed
Author: Amanda Marrone
Publisher: Simon Pulse, 2010.
Pages: 240 p
Source: the author
Compensation: None

When I was at the Albany Children's Book Festival, I was lucky enough to meet some amazing YA authors. One of those authors, Amanda Marrone, gave me a free signed book. Just because.

Daphne Van Helsing just wants to be a normal teen girl worrying about school, boys and going to the Prom. But Daphne is far from normal. She's a teen Slayer, charged with dusting vampires and keeping the world safe. She comes from a long line of slayers (Van Helsing!) including her overbearing parents who have kept her on the road since she was born and inducted her into the business at the tender age of 12. Daphne is so childhood-deprived that she keeps a binder full of things she never got to experience. A crude drawing of a house, pictures of "best friends" she invented, magazine cutouts of prom dresses and potential dates. Of the best friends she drew only one was a real person, Maybelle Crusher, former child star of the kids TV show The Disco Unicorns until her parents replaced her with a more attractive, less chubby 5 year old. The last thing Daphne expects when she and her parents arrive at their latest job is to find Maybelle, now known as Kiki, in a local bar. When Kiki's bodyguard is bitten by a vampire and Daphne saves him she is completely unprepared for Kiki's response: she wants to join the business and slay vamps too.

There have been lots of vampire books but this book is refreshingly different in that it focuses on the slayers, not on the vampires. The vampires and demons are peripheral and BAD. Daphne very clearly explains to Kiki that what she's seen on TV and read in books is false. Vampires are not romantic creatures that are just misunderstood and would make great boyfriends. Vampires are bad and need to be slayed. While Marrone doesn't specifically name other books or TV shows, it's clear what Daphne is talking about... there is a subtle reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Kiki asks Daphne if she has any special powers and has been Chosen to slay vamps. She hasn't been chosen, she's been forced by her parents, and she has no special powers besides being aware of their existence.

Vampires and slaying are just the backdrop to the real story about a young girl whose childhood was stolen from her by her oblivious parents and her desperate longing for a normal life. In many ways her story mirrors Kiki's, which is not supernatural at all. Kiki's parents replaced her on a national TV show because she was too chubby without once thinking about how that would make her feel. They don't see HER, much like Daphne's parents are blind to their own daughter.

Slayed is well-written and fun to read. Daphne and Kiki have a good chemistry together. The vampire-slaying story will satisfy paranormal fans. There's a bit of romance between Daphne and the son of her parents' slayer competition that will appeal to girls expecting a brooding misunderstood boy--who is human and not vampire. The ending is wrapped up neatly and nicely, but that's okay because we want Daphne and Kiki to find their happy endings.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Heist Society--Ally Carter

Title: Heist Society
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Hyperion Teens
Pages: 287 p.
Source: Local library
Compensation: None

I'm a big fan of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series, so it was just a matter of time before I got around to Heist Society, the first in a new series. Carter has a knack for writing strong, yet vulnerable, girl characters. The Gallagher Girl Cammie is a spy-in-training who can kick ass and still worry about boys. In Heist Society, Katarina is just as daring and talented at deception--but on the other side of the law. Kat is an art thief who comes from a long line of art thieves. She briefly tries to escape the family business by enrolling in boarding school and trying to be "normal." It doesn't take long before she's dragged back into it and planning another heist. It's not really her fault though; her Dad is being fingered for a job he didn't do and in order to save his life, she needs to find the paintings he supposedly stole--and steal them back.

This wouldn't be an Ally Carter book without some romantic tension thrown in as well. Kat's partner in crime is Hale, a dashing rich thief, who can make the calm Kat lose her cool. There's no overt romance, nothing that slows down the action, just the appealing tension a la Moonlighting (I know that show is wicked old, but that's always the first show I think of when I think of romantic tension. Even more so than Who's the Boss? Yes, I do know what decade it is.)

It's hard to write a morally ambiguous character who is both appealing and likable, but Carter pulls it off well. Kat is a thief and she's not proud of it. She tries to escape the life, but it's not just her life, it's her family as well. Kat knows she shouldn't be doing these things, but she does live within a certain set of rules. They don't steal from honest people. They're not muggers or violent criminals. In Kat's latest job she's stealing something that was already stolen (more than once) and is trying to return the art to its rightful owners. Carter doesn't pretend that it's okay to steal, she's not glorifying thievery, she's just written an exciting thrilling suspenseful story with a main character who is not black or white, not good or bad, but a little of both.

The sequel, Uncommon Criminals, will be coming out in June 2011. Teens will be eager to read Kat's further adventures.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Saving Zasha--Randi Barrow

Title: Saving Zasha
Author: Randi Barrow
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2011.
Pages: 229 p
Source: VOYA courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

Mikhail is a young Russian boy living in the aftermath of World War II. His soldier father has been missing since the end of the war, food and resources are limited, and there is still a large amount of fear and distrust. The Russians are so angry at Germany that they have outlawed owning a German-breed dog and have executed any they find. When Mikhail discovers a dying man in the woods with a German shepherd he understands the dangerous risk of adopting the dog, but decides to do it anyway. He and his family must keep Zasha a secret from the government, dog thieves, and even their own neighbors but that proves hard to do with a young nosy girl asking too many questions.

There are many books about kids dealing with war and its ramifications, but this book is unique in its focus on dogs. An afterward describes the real development of the Black Russian Terrier dog as a response to the decimated dog population in Russia after the War. Unlike most dog books, Saving Zasha has a happy ending with all loose ends tied up nicely. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking or remarkable about the writing, but it will be popular with dog lovers as well as students who need to satisfy historical fiction requirements but do not like to read traditional historical fiction.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to be a Zombie--Serena Valentino

Title: How to be a Zombie
Author: Serena Valentino
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2010
Pages: 144
Source: VOYA, courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

Zombies have always been popular with a certain segment of the teen population. That popularity has increased recently due to the success of movies like “Zombieland” and the TV show “The Walking Dead.” Serena Valentino capitalizes on this attraction for the undead with a unique, funny, interesting guide for zombies. There have been books telling humans how to survive a zombie apocalypse, but this book is geared for the newly risen zombie instead and serves as the “Essential Guide for Anyone Who Craves Brains.” Valentino counsels the novice zombie on his origins, offers suggestions on finding fresh brains to eat, and gives advice on the latest fashions for the undead. She also lists the essential zombie books and movies for further information.

Even non-zombie fans will find Valentino’s book to be a fun and worthwhile read. The book is full of useful hilarious information. In the chapter “How to Pass as a Human,” Valentino warns that “Humans rarely lurch, moan, or bite each other, so you should cut back on these habits.” Colorful photographs of zombies are interspersed throughout the book adding to its visual appeal. Zombie fans will most likely want to buy their own copy, but libraries should have one as well. 

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mercy--Rebecca Lim

Title: Mercy
Author: Rebecca Lim
Publisher: Hyperion, expected date 5/17/2011
Pages: 276, e-galley edition
Source: Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher.
Compensation: None

Written in the first person, Mercy tells the story of a lost angel stuck inhabiting the bodies of humans. Like the TV show Quantum Leap, Mercy solves some sort of problem for her human host before she can move on to another. She retains very little memory from one body to the next. She doesn't know what she is, only that she is different and lost and desperately wanting to go home.

In this particular story, Mercy inhabits a young girl attending a retreat for talented singers. She's staying in a house that used to be home to another young singer--before she was mysteriously abducted nearly a year before. Mercy must use her special divine skills to find the missing girl and catch her abductor, as well as teach herself how to sing and not mess up her host's chance at glory.

Mercy is an interesting story and a quick read, but not without its flaws. The line describing a man with a secret as having it "linger about him like a detectable odour, a familiar on his shoulder gnawing at his flesh" stands out not only for its wonderful description, but also because it is repeated four more times. It is unclear if there is a specific reason the author decided to repeat this phrase. Other than details like that, Mercy is an enjoyable story and will leave readers wanting to know more about its main character and whether or not she ever makes it back home. Hopefully those questions will be answered in the next books in the series.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bumped--Megan McCafferty

Title: Bumped
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, expected release date April 26, 2011
Pages: 244 p.
Source: Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

Megan McCafferty's Bumped is a dystopian tale with a twist. There aren't zombies or natural disasters or government-sanctioned killing of children. But there's a lot of teen sex. A mysterious virus has wiped out the reproductive abilities of everyone over the age of 18. If our species is to survive, teenagers have to pick up the slack in the fertility business. This has caused a major rift in society. Half the population thinks teenagers should marry young and have babies young and fulfill "God's plans." The other half have taken baby-making to the flipside extreme and made it a profitable business. Teen girls are matched up with wealthy couples who want babies and are contracted to produce those babies ("deliveries" since the girls are dissuaded from using the word "baby"). The girls are then matched up with the most genetically attractive boys. Within this group there are the amateurs who have sex, get pregnant, and then look for a needy couple and the professionals who are contracted first and get paid lots of money. Getting pregnant is the coolest thing for teen girls to do but they have very little choice. Sex for pleasure is unheard of, protected sex is taboo if not downright outlawed, and girls who aren't interested in having babies are accused of being unpatriotic. At the heart of this story are two twin girls separated at birth. One belongs to the religious family camp and one is a professional surrogate. They are both secretly unhappy with the roles that were forced on them and looking for a way to break out.

McCafferty has written a funny, unique story of the control of teen sex taken to extremes. It's a quick light read on the surface, but so much more meaningful underneath. This is an excellent book discussion group selection. There are those out there that will totally miss the point and claim that McCafferty is glorifying or advocating teen sex. She's not. She's showing how dangerous it can be if we try to control too much and take choice entirely away from teenagers. They need to be a part of the decision making process too. Bumped is not about teen sex. The book barely even talks about the actual "act." It's all about the business and the outcome.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011

I went to the 2011 Empire State Book Festival

I had the chance to go to the Empire State Book Festival yesterday. To sum up my day:

I hugged Laurie Halse Anderson
Talked to Rachel Cohn
Took a picture with Eric Luper
Met Julie Chibbaro
Developed a crush on Ned Vizzini (and added him to my TBR list.)

Pretty good day. If you want the full story with pictures, check out my examiner article.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Meet the Author: Julie Chibbaro

If you enjoyed my review of Deadly, you should check out the interview I did with the author over at the examiner.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Deadly--Julie Chibbaro

Title: Deadly
Author: Julie Chibbaro
Publisher: Atheneum, 2011
Pages: 293 p
Source: Publisher
Compensation: None

When I was first contacted to review this book I was a little hesitant. I'm not a big fan of historical fiction. There are exceptions, but for the most part I'm a fantasy/science fiction gal. But the author is coming to a local book festival so I thought I'd give it a chance.

I'm so glad I did.

Prudence is a young Jewish girl living in New York City in the early 1900s. She attends a part time finishing school so that she can aspire to be a secretary or a book keeper, more "proper" careers for women than her mother's job as a midwife. She assists her mother with births and longs to do something more with her mind than take dictation and type notes. Her school allows students to take jobs in the afternoons and urges them to seek secretarial positions. Prudence applies for one at the Department of Health and Sanitation and her keen mind and interest in science and medicine make her an attractive addition to their team. She's hired not as a secretary, but as an assistant to a Sanitation Engineer investigating the causes of diseases and why they spread. Prudence winds up leaving her school and working full time for the office hunting the source of recent typhoid outbreaks--Typhoid Mary.

The novel is written in diary format and told from Prudence's point of view. Chibbaro lets the historical setting come through in Prudence's speech and actions without being preachy. While Prudence is aware of the women's lib movement, she has no idea that women can go to medical school and be doctors. She dreams of contributing to society in a big meaningful way--fighting death on the scientific level--and is amazed that her dream can be reality and not just fantasy.

The investigation of Typhoid Mary and how they connect the dots between her and various typhoid outbreaks is fascinating. The story reads like a suspenseful scientific mystery. Prudence plays a large role in discovering the connection between the healthy Irish cook Mary and the typhoid afflicted communities.

There are side plots as well--Prudence's missing father, forbidden office romance, changing friendships, and growing up--but the main story of the investigation is the most engrossing. There's nothing in here not appropriate for middle school students. This is a good choice for those historical fiction reports. An author's note explains which characters were based on real people and which were invented and how the author changed the timeframe to suit the fictional story (what took place over the course of years is condensed to just months). Fans of historical fiction will not be disappointed.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Last Little Blue Envelope--Maureen Johnson

Title: The Last Little Blue Envelope
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperCollins, expected date April 26, 2011
Pages: 213 p (eBook edition)
Source: Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, I got lucky that I had somehow overlooked it and didn't have to wait six long years for this one to be published.

If you too have been under a rock and haven't read the first book, go do that now and then come back here. Although I try to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, any discussion of the sequel is going to spoil elements of the first. You have been warned.

We last left Ginny heading back to the states with some extra money in her pocket. Although her backpack had been stolen--along with her little blue envelopes, including the 13th unopened one--she was able to discover her aunt's hidden artwork and auction it off to the highest bidder. She returned home with more than just money though, she also left with a serious crush on Keith, the Londoner with whom she had "kind of something" by the end of her first journey.

The Last Little Blue Envelope opens up with Ginny preparing her college applications and wondering why her once daily communication with Keith has slowed down. She gets the perfect chance to investigate when she receives an e-mail from an English man claiming that he has her backpack and her envelopes. If she wants them back she needs to meet him in England. Ginny agrees and heads back to Europe for more foreign adventures. It's not all fun and games though since the mysterious English man decides to blackmail her for return of the envelopes and Keith seems to be hiding some secrets of his own. But Ginny soon learns that people are not always what they seem.

Johnson has once again written a funny adventure story that will also tug at your heartstrings. She wraps up all the unanswered questions in a clever and satisfying way. When we leave Ginny this time, we know that she'll be okay. Fans of the first book will devour this one.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes--Maureen Johnson

Title: 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2005
Pages: 317 p
Source: Local library

I have no idea why I didn't read this book back in 2005. None. I only had one child. I was not yet pregnant with my second. I was still a YA librarian. But, as it turns out, I'm glad I didn't read it back then. Why? Because I didn't have to wait 6 years for the sequel!

17 year old Ginny receives a mysterious letter from her aunt instructing her to pack a backpack, leave her home and prepare to go overseas. The first letter leads her to her aunt's apartment in NYC and a bundle of little blue envelopes--all containing letters to be opened at specific points throughout her journey. It's a little like a scavenger hunt. Ginny has no idea where she's heading or what her ultimate goal is because she follows the rules faithfully and doesn't open the envelopes until she is directed to. The biggest mystery though is how her aunt was able to pull all of this off when she's dead.

Ginny starts off as a quiet shy reserved character forced to step out of her comfort zone and ends up strong and confident. She finds unexpected romance and friendship during her travels and leaves her foreign vacation a much deeper and richer person. By the end of her journey there are still some questions about her aunt's life and death and the direction that Ginny's life will take, but don't worry. The sequel will be released on April 26, 2011.

Johnson has written an emotional and meaningful book about identity, grief, and growing up. She's done all this while maintaining the humor we've come to expect from her.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Goddess Test--Aimee Carter

Title: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimee Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen, expected date April 19, 2011
Pages: 304 p
Source: Netgalley courtesy of Harlequin Teen
Compensation: None

I requested this as an eGalley through the wonderful Netgalley website and was lucky enough to be approved. The only downside is that now I have to wait even longer for the sequel to come out since this one isn't supposed to be released until April 19, 2011.

There have been a slew of "paranormal romance" books lately thanks to the success of Twilight. It's hard to find one that hasn't been done before. Vampires and werewolves have been making the rounds for a long LONG time. Luckily though, every once in a while someone comes up with a different story. Aimee Carter has done that with The Goddess Test.

The Goddess Test opens up with a curious prologue that immediately sets the mysterious tone--Henry and Diana are examining a young dead girl and questioning why the girls keep failing and dying. Attention is switched to the main story with 18 year old Kate driving her dying mother to her childhood home. Kate is only interested in prolonging her mother's life and spending as much time with her as she can, but she's reluctantly drawn into high school drama. Things turn ugly when she agrees to go to a party with another high school girl Ava, who winds up dying. A mysterious man--Henry--appears and offers her a chance to revive her friend but only if she will agree to his proposal. Shocked and traumatized, Kate agrees to spend six months of the year with him, like the Greek Persephone myth.

It is nearly impossible to write a good summary of this book without spoiling all of the wonderful twists and turns.

Kate is a strong sympathetic character. She's had a rough life, caring for her ailing mother for most of her teen years. It's made her appreciate other people's lives, even if she's not overly open to friendships. All of Kate's actions are understandable and make sense for her character. The inevitable romance between Henry and Kate begins slowly and builds up deliciously until we are rooting for Henry as much as for Kate. The story is not all romance though, there's mystery and mythology as well. The Goddess Test is very well written and completely engaging. It is most definitely an engrossing page-turner (or the equivalent on an iPad) that is hard to put down. I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel (and hoping I can read that one early too!).
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Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond--Victoria Foyt

Title: The Virtual Life of Lexie Diamond
Author: Victoria Foyt
Publisher: HarperTempest
Pages: 310 p.
Source: The publisher
Compensation: None

14 year old Lexie Diamond has a strange worldview. She's sure that she's just a virtual pet trapped in a meaningless existence while the real masters of the universe watch life on Earth and laugh at all the clueless humans. She doesn't have any friends and spends all her time on the internet--the only place where she feels at home. She's mostly okay with this until a horrible tragedy happens and her mother is killed in a car accident. Her estranged father moves in to take care of Lexie, bringing along his new girlfriend, Jane. Lexie is still in shock and denial about her mom's accident, resentful of her father's new relationship, when she sees and hears her mom--through the internet.

Victoria Foyt has written a really interesting novel. Lexie's worldview is so messed up that we wonder if she is a reliable narrator until the very end of the novel (no, I won't tell you if she is or not. You'll have to read for yourself.) Is she really seeing her mom alive on the internet? Are her fears and suspicions of Jane--that she is responsible for her mom's death--accurate? Or is Lexie just a grieving lonely girl looking for someone to blame? Foyt does a good job of keeping us guessing, while keeping Lexie a sympathetic character. In Lexie's quest for the truth she's forced to accept help from unlikely people and make connections in the real world and not just online. She grows as a person.

Science fiction fans and computer geeks will be attracted to the cover of this book, but mystery fans will also like its suspenseful plot. Although the main character is a girl, boys shouldn't have a problem reading this. There's nothing inappropriate for middle school readers.
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Giveaway winner: The Haunting of Charles Dickens--Lewis Buzbee

Using (see pic below) the winner of The Haunting of Charles Dickens is comment #2, the Dewey Review!

Congratulations! If you don't hear from me, please e-mail me your snail mail address. I hope you enjoy the book and I look forward to reading your review!
I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Savannah Grey--Cliff McNish

Title: Savannah Grey
Author: Cliff McNish
Publisher: Carolrhoda LAB, expected pub date April 2011
Pages: 272 p
Source: The publisher, courtesy of Netgalley
Compensation: None

Savannah Grey is a teenaged girl with a big secret. She's never felt comfortable staying in the same place for very long and chooses to move from foster family to foster family, she doesn't make connections with other people, and she makes weird noises when she sleeps. Unbeknownst to her Savannah is nature's weapon against the ultimate alien evil and the big showdown is quickly approaching. Luckily for her she meets Reece, a guy who seems to have the same secrets, but can she really trust him?

This is the very first eBook I have ever read. I'm glad I chose this title, it was riveting and engrossing and hard to put down. I ignored many Words with Friends games to continue reading it on my iPad.

The story is a quick-paced one; it is very much like an action or horror movie--there's a brief intro to the protagonist and then we are thrust into non stop action. Most of the story is told in first person, but interspersed throughout the novel are chapters describing the history of the evil, the Ocrassa, giving the reader some background knowledge Savannah doesn't have. Savannah's chapters lure us in with the suspenseful action, but these other sections are thoughtfully interesting. While some might argue that Savannah learns too much about her power too easily, it makes sense in the story. She is awakening to that which she has always known; nature has a plan for her and her body forces her mind to accept it. This is a unique girl-power story, part horror, part science fiction, part growing up and accepting one's fate. I highly recommend it to readers looking for something just a bit different from the norm.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Giveaway: The Haunting of Charles Dickens by Lewis Buzbee

Title: The Haunting of Charles Dickens
Author: Lewis Buzbee

I read this as an ARC in November, but was sent the finished book as well. I truly enjoyed it and would like to pass it on (the finished book) to another reader. Read my review and then enter the contest.


1. Leave me a comment telling me whether or not you think Dickens should be required reading in high school and why.

2. Live in the US.

3. Deadline: Friday, February 25, 2011. Winner chosen by and announced on Saturday, February 26. I've extended the deadline. The last couple of weeks have been really busy and I haven't been able to promote this as much as I would like.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Scarlett Fever--Maureen Johnson

Title: Scarlett Fever
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Point (Scholastic)
Pages: 336 p
Source: library

Scarlett is your typical teenage girl--she lives in a hotel, works for a theatrical agent, and helps her brother figure out the best way to die while trying to fasten a seatbelt on an airplane. Scarlett is actually far from typical. Her family runs a small hotel and barely make ends meet, her older brother is a struggling actor, her older sister is dating a rich guy the family doesn't like, her younger sister is a cancer survivor who lives to make her siblings miserable but comes back from camp "nice". Scarlett is obsessed with a young actor and intrigued by a new classmate she's supposed to spy on for her agent boss. She has a lot of things on her plate, but manages them all with humor.

This is the first Maureen Johnson book I have read and I understand now why she has such a cult following on twitter. Although this is a sequel to Suite Scarlett, I didn't feel lost or confused at all. Johnson does a good job of alluding to previous events with just enough explanation to advance the current story. Scarlett is funny and likable. I loved her family and the close relationship she had with her brother. The characters are realistic and while not perfect, their actions are understandable. The book is thoroughly enjoyable and will prompt new readers to seek out the first one and to hope a next one is published very soon. The book ends rather abruptly like a friend hanging up the phone in the middle of the story. We're left saying "What next??"and hoping we get an answer soon.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Haunting of Charles Dickens--Lewis Buzbee

Title: The Haunting of Charles Dickens
Author: Lewis Buzbee
Publisher: Fiewel & Friends, 2010
Pages: 309
Source: ARC through VOYA

This review was written in November 2010 and published to coincide with the February edition of VOYA. 

Yet another reason why I love reviewing for VOYA and am so glad I am doing it again. I would never have picked this book up. I'm more of a fantasy girl (as you can see from the blog) and not so interested in mysteries or period pieces or books like this. I would have missed out on a seriously good book had VOYA not sent this to me to review.

The story opens with a young girl, Meg, lamenting the absence of her older brother. For 6 months she wondered what had happened to him, until finally she can't take it anymore and she decides to go find him. She climbs to the roof and jumps to other roofs and notices an eerie light coming from an abandoned building. While peering in a skylight she can see a séance taking place, but she's not the only one out walking the roofs and spying on the building. The famous author Charles Dickens, who happens to be a family friend, crouches next to Meg and witnesses the séance as well. She tells him of her brother's disappearance and is certain that he is participating in the séance below. Dickens and Meg decide to investigate as a team and search for both brother Orion and inspiration for Dickens' next novel.

Buzbee draws a realistic vivid picture of 19th century London and manages to capture the "feel" of a Dickens book. He has made the fictional Dickens into an interesting and likable character. The importance of the written word, the printed word, and the authors behind them shines through in this novel. In 19th century London the printed word has power and Dickens is treated like a celebrity and recognized as a Great Man. He uses that celebrity to help the plight of children (a trait based in fact as explained in an addendum to the novel called "Children and Charles Dickens"). Although the book starts with a séance, this is not a supernatural read. The haunting in the title refers to Dickens' writer's block and not being able to connect with the people of London to create a new novel. It also refers to Dickens' concern for the children of London and the harsh conditions they lived in.

I am not a big Dickens fan and have only read the novels of his I needed to read in high school. And I LOVED this book. It piqued my curiosity and I wound up researching Dickens (a little). I discovered that sure enough Buzbee had done HIS homework and events he created in his book as inspiration for Dickens appeared in Dickens' novel Our Mutual Friend. In another nod to Dickens, names of secondary characters in the book were taken from Our Mutual Friend as well.

The main story, the disappearance of Orion, is a good one, the writing is engaging and the characters are well-written. Although Dickens fans will get the most enjoyment from this book (recognizing names and places) I highly recommend The Haunting of Charles Dickens to all readers, young and old.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb--Antony John

Title: Five Flavors of Dumb
Author: Antony John
Publisher: Dial Books, November 2010.
Pages: 352 p.
Source: ARC through VOYA

This book marks my return to reviewing for VOYA. I'm writing the review in late October, but it won't be published until the VOYA review comes out sometime after that despite today's publication date (January 26, 2011). I'm sure my VOYA review will have fancier words so if you have access to VOYA you should go ahead and read that too.

Piper enters school and stumbles on a rock band trio--Dumb--playing an impromptu set on the school steps. Not wanting to be rude she stays and watches the performance. Lead singer Josh Cooke is animated, his bass playing brother Will sedated and lead guitarist Tash Hartley is the tough girl. They all do their own thing on stage and even Piper can see that they're not really playing together as a band. When it's over she winds up giving the band some unsolicited advice and they make her a deal--if she can find them a paying gig within the month she can be their new manager and share in the profits. She needs the money since her parents raided her college fund so she agrees. There's only one problem--she's deaf.

Dumb becomes a band of five when Piper recruits her classically trained percussionist friend to help the band learn to play together and the lead singer recruits the "hot girl" of the school to be eye candy and the face of the band. Kallie--the hot girl--thinks she's there to play guitar, even though she doesn't play well enough for live performances. All together they become what Piper refers to as the five flavors of dumb and it's up to her to help them mix up the flavors and become a solid band. With the help of her music-loving brother and a washed-up musician she sets out to do just that.

I loved this book. Piper is realistically written; she's not a perfect person. She's flawed. She's bitter about her baby sister's new implant that allows her to hear when Piper is stuck with old hearing aids and moderately severe hearing loss. She doesn't want to be treated differently because she's deaf, but she's often the one bringing it up to other people and thinking the worst of them. She's so fixated on making money that she misses the true spirit of making music. But she's still a likable character and we want her to succeed. We root for her as she makes one mistake after the next and cheer for her when she finally gets it right.

There's some romance in "Five Flavors of Dumb" but it's not overwhelming or a turnoff for boys. There's also family issues--Piper's relationship with her father is strained-- but mostly this book is about discovering the joy of making music. Even someone who can't hear all the notes can still feel the emotions when the right music is played. The cover might make boys think this is a girl book, but if they can get past it and focus on the music of the story it'll all be worth it.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rose Sees Red--Cecil Castellucci

Title: Rose Sees Red
Author: Cecil Castellucci
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2010
197 pages

Rose is a dancer at the school of Performing Arts and like most teenage girls she's struggling to find her way. She's never been very good at making friends mostly because she's been under the control of her best friend Daisy for years. But when Rose offends Daisy in the worst possible way--by having her own opinion and making a decision without her--Rose is left alone and friendless. She doesn't know how friendships work because she never really had one with Daisy. She was Daisy's puppet, not really her friend. All of that changes one fateful day when Rose smiles at the neighbor she has seen for years but never talked to. That one smile snowballs into a tentative friendship, solidified during the course of one crazy night in NYC. Unfortunately this is NYC in 1982 during the height of the Cold War and Rose's neighbor is the daughter of a Russian diplomat.

Castellucci's characterization of Rose is spot-on. Rose is a realistic floundering girl. The description of Rose's emptiness and blackness because she doesn't have a true friend and feels like she doesn't belong is heartbreaking and genuine as is the shy hopeful joy she feels when the hole within her chest begins to heal and close with each new connection she makes. It's not just Yrena (the neighbor), but also a few school friends, who see Rose as she can be and help her out of the dark.

I managed to read this in one sitting, during a particularly pleasant nap/quiet time. I couldn't stop reading. Seeing Rose, well, blossom (no pun intended) was beautiful and poignant. I've read many books about teenage girls looking for acceptance and friendship, but Castellucci has really nailed the description of just how dark and depressing it can feel and how all it takes is for someone else to make a little extra effort to completely change things. I also love the title--Rose is stuck in her black friendless world and then sees the color red, a color not only associated with roses but also with communism and Russia. This is definitely a girl book, I don't see many boys (unless they are really thoughtful sensitive types) picking it up, but I heartily recommend it.

(not related--this is my first review typed up on my new iPad!)

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Goddesslibrarian is on the eBook bandwagon

FYI, I couldn't wait anymore. We bought an iPad so I can facebook twitter goof off read eBooks! I've downloaded Bluefire so I can read library eBooks and I've signed up for NetGalley so I can start requesting galleys. I'm trying to finish up my current library reads before I request anything though.

If you are a publisher who has been just waiting for me to get in the eBook game, I'm in it.

No, I'm not reading Treasure Island.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rats Saw God--Rob Thomas

From the Vault
This review was originally written--handwritten no less--in December 1999 before the Age of Blogs. I'm not editing it at all because I don't believe in tampering with history. For other old reviews, click on the "From the Vault" tag.

Title: Rats Saw God
Author: Rob Thomas
Genre: realistic; problem novel
Subjects: high school, adolescence; fitting in; divorce; fathers and sons

Summary: In order to graduate, Steve York must complete a 100-page writing assignment. Although he balks at first, he ultimately comes to a better understanding of himself and his life. 

Critique: Thomas has a good understanding of teens and their dialogue. His writing is effective and makes the story more interesting than it first appears to be. 

Recommendation: Yes

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Half Brother--Kenneth Oppel

Title: Half Brother
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2010
375 pages

I'm a fan of Kenneth Oppel's fantasy series Airborn, so I was curious to read his new realistic fiction novel. The cover shows a typical stick figure family, Dad, Mom, Son and then an outline of a chimp. When I first picked it up I thought maybe there would be a little Eva-action (Peter Dickinson) with some sci-fi, but this is purely realistic.

Ben Tomlin is celebrating his 13th birthday by leaving all of his friends behind and moving to a new house and new school because his father got a new job at a university. There was nothing wrong with his old job except they wouldn't buy him a chimp but his new job comes with his very own chimp. Ben's dad is a behavioral scientist and wants to teach sign language to the chimp, radical thinking back in 1973. Ben's mom picks up the 8 day old baby chimp and brings him home swaddled like a baby. The plan is that they will raise the chimpanzee as a human, treat him like a son, and see if he will communicate with sign language. They tell Ben to treat the chimp like he's a little brother and not a pet and although he's reluctant at first he very quickly falls in love with "Zan." Unfortunately although Ben's dad teaches Zan to call him "Dad" he doesn't actually behave like one and all too soon Ben must choose between his father's scientific process and the brother-chimp he has grown to love.

Do not read this book without a box of tissues close by. Oppel is superb at pulling on one's tender heartstrings as we too begin to see Zan as more than just a chimp, more than an animal test subject, more than a project. We fall in love with Zan as Ben does and when the inevitable separation comes it hurts us as much as it hurts Ben. Ben is an angry young kid, but he has every reason to be. His father is distant and critical, not showing any affection for Ben or Zan unless they are doing something academically smart. He uproots their lives for this project but then leaves the actual care of Zan to Ben's mom and Ben. He is the image of an absentee-dad for both Ben and Zan and it's no wonder that the project "fails" in his eyes.

As angry as Ben is, he is also naive. But it's not entirely his fault. His parents never consulted him about the project, never asked his opinion or how he would feel about treating Zan as a brother. They just told him to do it. And then when he does and he loves his brother--because that's what brothers do--his father tells him he is too attached and not scientific enough. Ben believes that Zan is his brother and they will always have him in their lives, but Zan is NOT his brother. Zan is just a baby chimp who should be living with other chimps.

Half Brother is a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking story of what defines a family and just how far you go to protect the ones you love. There are side stories of Ben's school troubles and girl troubles, but the crux of the story is the project with Zan. It's definitely worth the crumpled pile of tissues you'll have sitting next to you on the couch.

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Girl Parts--John M. Cusick

Title: Girl Parts
Author: John M. Cusick
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2010.

David and Charlie attend the same school but couldn't be more different. David has lots of friends, is rich, and spends his time surfing the 'net on his special 3-monitor computer (each monitor feeds off the other one. If he's looking at a website about cars on the first monitor, the second one will show him websites about engines, and the third will show him websites with scantily clad women. It is the definition of information overload.) He's so virtually connected he feels no real connection to people. He witnesses a girl commit suicide on the internet and never once thinks he should try to stop it or feels bad about it at all.  

Charlie doesn't have any friends, is not rich, and spends his time doing puzzles and crosswords and doesn't even have a computer. Charlie is not as callous as David, but he has a hard time talking and relating to people as well. He would rather be alone than try to make small talk. But he's a decent person when it counts. 

Both David and Charlie are diagnosed with "dissociative disorder" by the new school counselor. The treatment is called a "Companion." Companions are robots--all girls--supposed to teach the young boys how to get to know another person. David thinks he's hit the jackpot when a beautiful red haired companion arrives in a box in his driveway, but much to his dismay he is given an electric shock any time he tries to touch her before her "intimacy clock" says it's okay. Charlie refuses the treatment. 

I gobbled this book up. On the surface it's a funny book about a sex-crazed boy (David) who can't score with his robot and unwittingly pushes her into the arms of another boy (Charlie). But there's so much more to the story--today's obsession with the internet and social media and how teens (and adults) can have hundreds of friends online but not have a single person in real life to confide in and talk to; gender identity and how girls are more than just their "girl parts" and not all boys are sex-crazed. Girl Parts is one of those books that can be read for fun, but is also a really important book to be read. It's a logical book group choice because of all of the different discussion points it raises. Boys might initially be turned off by the title and the girl on the cover, but it's an important book for them to read as well. They may need a little more hand-selling, but once they open it up they won't be disappointed.

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