Wednesday, July 31, 2013

review: HOLES by Louis Sachar

HOLES by Louis Sachar
Series: Holes #1
Scholastic: Yearling
Released: September 2, 2000
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 233

Rating: It was okay

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys' detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys "build character" by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn't take long for Stanley to realize there's more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.

My Thoughts
I’ve heard many good things about Holes over the years but never read it until this class. It was… okay. I wasn’t a huge fan and quite honestly could have gone the rest of my life without reading it – not because it was bad, but because I simply couldn’t bring myself to care. The story was too exaggerated for my taste.

Kids would like this book for the humor and the ridiculous level to which the camp takes its prisoners’ punishment. The family’s history could also be a draw. I don’t remember many of my friends being interested in this book, which came out when I was in middle school. The teachers and school librarian pushed it a lot, but most of us weren't interested. That’s been the same attitude I’ve seen in other kids at the library.

Monday, July 29, 2013

review: THE THIRD PLANET FROM ALTAIR by Edward Packard

THE THIRD PLANET FROM ALTAIR
by Edward Packard
Series: Choose Your Own Adventure #7
Bantam: Skylark
Released: November 1980
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 117

Rating: Really liked it!

The reader, en route to the third planet from Altair to seek the source and meaning of extraterrestrial messages, is given choices to make determining the course of the spaceship and the survival of its crew.

My Thoughts
Choose Your Own Adventure books are such a great option for kids! There are titles that work for both boys and girls, as well as a few crossovers. I think the books are so popular because kids have so little control over their own lives that they are fascinated with the idea of controlling the stories they read. CYOA books are also published in just about every genre, so there’s a book for everyone.

With this book, I finally had the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do with the CYOA books: map out all of the reading paths. (I’m kind of a dork like that.) There were 98 different ways to read this book! Considering there were only 38 separate endings, I thought it was pretty interesting that there were so many paths to get there.

Besides the many copycat CYOA series for kids, such as Give Yourself Goosebumps by R.L. Stine, adult publishers are also starting to get in on the genre with titles like Can YOU Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier. It’s as though the kids who grew up reading the CYOA books are seeking something similar as adults. One can only hope that the kids who love today’s CYOA books will have the option to read adult-level CYOA books when they’re grown up, too.

Friday, July 26, 2013

review: THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson
Penguin: Dial
Released: March 9, 2010
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 288

Rating: Loved it!

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.

My Thoughts
I was put off of reading this book for the longest time, because I was afraid that it would be too much for me to handle. But while it is certainly a sad book, Sky is also filled with hope and light. I had to put it down to eat dinner and kept tapping my foot the entire time, wanting to get back to it. I ended up staying up late to finish it and am so glad I did. It is wonderful to find an author that recognizes how some of us deal with our grief.

I was three years old when I lost my sister. She was just a baby, only about four months old. And, well, she wasn't really my sister - not yet, anyway. She died before her adoption was finalized. But regardless of legalities, I still consider her my sister, and, even though I had so little time with her, I miss that little girl with every fiber of my being.

Worst of all, though, was that since she died, my parents were moved back to the bottom of the list for adoptions, and they decided they were too old to wait another three to five years. I was an only child until about the time I turned eighteen and contacted my birthparents - but it will never be the same as growing up with my little sister. As much as I love my half-siblings, I am still reminded every time I see them of the gaping hole in my heart where my sister should be.

My parents never sheltered me from death, and for that I am grateful. That doesn't mean it's easy to deal with, though, especially when it strikes so often in my family and my community that I count the years by who died in them, rarely getting a year off (only one since middle school, and I'm 23). The natural causes are easier to deal with, most of the time. Except when my friend's little brother died of the same disease that took my sister. But it's the terrible reasons, like murder, that get to me the most.

Grief makes you do terrible, stupid things, things that people look down on you for doing. It makes you reach out to the wrong people for comfort. Half the time these things end up making you feel worse, but you keep doing them because it's better to find temporary peace than to feel empty on the inside.

This is why I understood Lennie.

This is why I am so glad I read this book.

Not everyone goes through the stages of grief in a neat, clean way. Real life is messy, and people make bad choices. I was so happy to see that the author understood this.

Why? Because it means I'm not alone.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

review: THE INVASION by K.A. Applegate

THE INVASION by K.A. Applegate
Series: Animorphs #1
Scholastic: Scholastic Paperbacks
Released: June 1, 1996
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 184

Rating:  Really liked it!

The Earth is being invaded, but no one knows about it. When Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, and Marco stumble upon a downed alien spaceship and its dying pilot, they're given an incredible power -- they can transform into any animal they touch. With it, they become Animorphs, the unlikely champions in a secret war for the planet. And the enemies they're fighting could be anyone, even the people closest to them. So begins K.A. Applegate's epic series about five normal kids with a limitless amount of forms and abilities.

My Thoughts
I was so excited to find out that this series is being re-released! I was only able to read a couple of these books growing up, and I’ve always wanted to go back and read them. Of course, it wasn’t until after I’d spent far too much money on the original series that I found out it was being released… but I love the original covers, so I can’t complain too much.

I think kids love this series for the same reasons that I love it: Kid power! These few kids are the only people on Earth who know what’s going on with the alien invasion, and they do everything in their power to fix the situation. The series alternates through various points of view, so both boys and girls are bound to find a character they’ll connect with. It’s science fiction that concentrates on the human characters, so it’s not too overpowering. With action, suspense, and humor, there is potentially something for everyone in this series.

Monday, July 22, 2013

review: AMY, NUMBER SEVEN by Marilyn Kaye

AMY, NUMBER SEVEN by Marilyn Kaye
Series: Replica #1
Bantam Books: Skylark
Released: October 13, 1998
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 208

Rating: Liked it

Twelve-year-old Amy Candler is perfect in every way. She has superhuman powers: Amy can perform like an Olympic gymnast, she knows the answer to every question in her classes, and she can see and hear things from a distance out of range for a normal person.

But the one thing Amy cannot do is remember anything about her past. All she knows is that she keeps having a recurring nightmare that seems almost too real. She has a birthmark she is certain wasn't there yesterday, a strange man is taking pictures of her, and she keeps getting anonymous warnings to keep her talents to herself. Amy is in a race against time to piece together her identity before it is too late!

My Thoughts
As an adoptee, I have always had a fascination with adopted characters. Replica was one of the first series that I remember reading with that motif. I recently had a chance to repurchase the series, and this class was the perfect excuse to break them out! Rereading this now, as an adult, it’s not quite as good as I remembered, and I don’t really appreciate that the adopted kid is considered a freak.

For kids, though, this is a great sci-fi cloning thriller. This particular title is all set-up for the series and focuses a lot on puberty as the catalyst for the changes that Amy is going through as a result of the genetic experiments that spawned her. As such, this first book is more appropriate for girls, as boys would probably be uncomfortable with those references. Later on in the series, though, there is a lot more action – and even a male clone named Andy – that would make the series enticing to boys as well.

Friday, July 19, 2013

review: GOSSIP GIRL by Cecily von Ziegesar

GOSSIP GIRL by Cecily von Ziegesar
Series: Gossip Girl #1
Bloomsbury
Released: January 1, 2002
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 201

Rating: Didn't like it

Welcome to New York City's Upper East Side, where my friends and I live, go to school, play, and sleep--sometimes with each other.

S is back from boarding school, and if we aren't careful, she's going to win over our teachers, wear that dress we couldn't fit into, steal our boyfriends' hearts, and basically ruin our lives in a major way. I'll be watching closely . . .

You know you love me,
gossip girl

My Thoughts
I could not believe how vulgar this book was! Wow! I should have expected the debauchery, considering the commercials for the TV show, but I had assumed that the producers had sexed up the books for the CW audience. Obviously, that was not the case! This is not something I would ever choose to read on my own. I don’t mind reading about sex – all of the adult books I read include it. That said, I don’t like to read books that have such cavalier attitudes toward sex. I much prefer monogamy and limited/no consumption of drugs and alcohol.

I find adult attitudes toward these books fascinating. Consider this: a teenager I know read these books in middle / high school, yet her mother freaked when she read a (fairly tame) Nora Roberts series after she turned eighteen. She assumed, because the Gossip Girl books were written for a younger audience, that they would be “appropriate.” But at least the Nora Roberts books, while still including sex, have monogamous relationships and no cavalier attitudes towards drugs and alcohol. How could Gossip Girl possibly be considered more appropriate than Nora Roberts?

I would hope that only kids from the older end of the grade spectrum we are studying would pick up these books. I have no problem with kids reading about sex, but I would prefer for them to read about it in a less destructive setting. Also, I find it very difficult to believe that kids actually behave this way. That said, I can see this book appealing to a large female audience. Girls growing up today would probably pick it up because they see their older sisters reading the books and/or watching the show.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

review: MAYHEM ON MACKINAC ISLAND by Jonathan Rand

MAYHEM ON MACKINAC ISLAND
by Jonathan Rand
Series: Michigan Chillers #1
Audio Craft Press
Released: February 1, 2000
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 160

Rating: Liked it

Trapped in a strange world!

Sandy and Tim Johnson spend every summer on Mackinac Island . . . but this year, something goes very wrong! After being swallowed by an old tree, they find themselves trapped in a strange world filled with weird creatures and a curious old miracle-maker. Their only hope is to find the mysterious Stone Key . . . the key that will return the Isle of Mayhem back into the Isle of Miracles, and open the door that will allow Sandy and Tim to return home.

But in a land filled with dangerous Wartwings and Blinkmongers and other scary creatures, how can they possibly succeed?

My Thoughts

First of all: For those of you not familiar with Michigan, Mackinac is pronounced like "Mack-in-aw." Yes, I know it's weird.

I bought this book on a whim last year at Meijer, because I love books set in my home state, but kept putting off reading it because the cover just didn’t do anything for me. Since all of my siblings live out of state, I always seemed to find something else for them to read.

This was an interesting story. I really like the concept of alternate realities. The relationship between Sandy and her brother was also pretty cute. However, I did NOT enjoy the overabundance of exclamation points. By the second chapter, I was cringing every time one showed up on the page. The story was also overly simplistic for my tastes. My original estimation of the book turned out to be correct – it’s a cute book, but it’s definitely not to my liking.

Even though Mayhem is narrated by a girl, I think the subject matter makes it accessible to both girls and boys. It’s an adventure without anything really gross happening, so it appeals to a fairly wide audience. In fact, it’s probably easier to describe the type of child that wouldn’t like this book (little ballerina-type girls) – as opposed to those who would (everyone else).

Monday, July 15, 2013

review: THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN by John Marsden

THE OTHER SIDE OF DAWN by John Marsden
Series: Tomorrow #7
Scholastic (US)
Released: 1999
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 336

Rating: Loved it!

A NEW DAY IS NEAR.

Since their worn was invaded by enemy soldiers and transformed into a war zone, Ellie and her four surviving friends have been fighting for their lives. One year later, a resolution may finally be in sight. But as enemy forces close in on her hideout, Ellie discovers that the final bttle may be the most dangerous yet. And not every soldier is fated to see the end of every conflict.

There are no more hiding places left in this exhilarating conclusion to Ellie's struggle for freedom, dignity, and, above all, a sense of peace.

My Thoughts

After all these years, I think I've finally nailed down why I love Ellie so much. Yes, she's a strong character - that's easy enough to see. But the type of strong characters that I tend to read about are ones with some sort of hidden paranormal ability, and in their time of need they dig deep and discover how to harness that ability. Marsden's story, however, is disconcertingly realistic, and Ellie's only option in her time of need - war - is to dig down into some reserve well of inner strength and continue to plow through to the end. She is strong through no other power than her own will - and, at least to me, that makes her stronger than any character in a paranormal book.

Grade: A+

Friday, July 12, 2013

review: THE GODDESS TEST by Aimee Carter

THE GODDESS TEST by Aimee Carter
Series: Goddess Test #1
Harlequin: Harlequin Teen
Released: April 19, 2011
Source: NetGalley
Page Count: 293

Rating: Really liked it!

Every girl who has taken the test has died.

Now it's Kate's turn.

It's always been just Kate and her mom--and now her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate's going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won't live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld--and if she accepts his bargain, he'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he's crazy--until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she'll become Henry's future bride, and a goddess.

If she fails . . .
 
My Thoughts

First impression: The cover art is beautiful, and the title font is perfect! I don't think I've ever not liked one of your covers, but this one sets the bar even higher. Kudos once again to the Harlequin Teen art department.

Greek mythology is one of my favorite not-so-guilty pleasures, and on top of that it's set in Michigan and written by a Michigan author, so it should be no surprise that I liked this book! Carter does a fantastic job of weaving modern elements into classic Greek mythology and molding it to fit her story. Kate was an easy character to like, as she was actually a rather pleasant person, and all of the secondary characters were well-developed enough that it was easy to see why Kate liked them, too. I thought the ending of the story was fantastic, though I won't spoil anything for you. I am really looking forward to book two!
 
While I enjoyed the story, I was a little disappointed by Kate's easy acceptance of her fate. I don't think I could fall in love with someone who constantly gave me the cold shoulder in favor of a dead lover. It would be too easy for that person to constantly compare me to the other woman. That was really the only part I didn't like, though.

The Goddess Test is the first book in Amy Carter's first trilogy, and she has sold the first two books in a second, unrelated trilogy as well. It's going to be a long wait for these next books to start rolling off the presses!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

review: THE NIGHT IS FOR HUNTING by John Marsden

THE NIGHT IS FOR HUNTING by John Marsden
Series: Tomorrow #6
Scholastic (US)
Released: 1998
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 256

Rating: Loved it!

NO PLACE IS SAFE.

Amid an epic conflict with no end in sight, Ellie and her four remaining friends discover that their hidden refuge is quickly becoming a crowded place - now that they've taken in an uncooperative crew of orphans. Things only get worse when Ellie and Homer learn that mysterious visitors have discovered their sanctuary. Is the enemy approaching?

As their parentless young recruits expose the true cost of war, five ordinary teenagers must fight to stay safe - and sane - in a military zone that was once called home.

My Thoughts
Parts of this book are so hard to read from a humanitarian point of view. These characters have worked so hard to inflict damage on the enemy, and now they're just trying to stay safe so they can take care of their new charges, yet the war is slowly starting to leak into their last safe zone.

Monday, July 08, 2013

review: DEAD IS NOT AN OPTION by Marlene Perez

DEAD IS NOT AN OPTION by Marlene Perez
Series: Dead Is #5
HMH: Graphia
Released: May 2, 2011
Source: Star Book Tours
Page Count: 240

Rating: Loved it!

It’s springtime of senior year, and psychic sleuth Daisy Giordano is preparing to say goodbye to Nightshade High. But no college acceptance letters have arrived yet, and she’s beginning to worry about where she’ll end up come fall—and if it will be anywhere near her boyfriend, Ryan. But that’s not the only uncertainty Daisy’s dealing with. There’s a vamps versus shifters war going on in Nightshade, and things are so tense that there is talk of canceling the prom. The conflict is carrying over to the Giordano home, since Rose and Daisy are both dating werewolves and Poppy’s new boyfriend is a vampire.

Daisy’s investigations involve mysterious new folks in town—and some old familiar faces, like her nemesis, celebrity chef/sorceress Circe Silvertongue. Can Daisy convince Circe to free the spirit she trapped in a jukebox long ago, and to change her pet pig, Balthazar, back into the man he once was? Can the paranormal community in Nightshade finally find peace? And will Daisy and her friends survive graduation? All of these questions and more are answered in the explosive final installment in the Dead Is series.

My Review
Dead is Not an Option is, sadly, the last in the Dead Is series starring Daisy Giordano. There is hope, though, for us rabid fans: there will be a spin-off of the Dead Is series with Jessica Walsh - who you'll meet in this book - as the main character! The first two books in the new spin-off series are: Dead is a Battlefield and Dead is a Killer Tune. The other piece of good news is that Dead is Not an Option does not disappoint! Now, for those of you who are like me and hate spoilers for the final book in a series, I will try to keep this review as vague as possible:

Daisy is wrapping up her senior year at Nightshade High and hoping that there won't be any more supernatural occurences to ruin what's left of this last year with her friends and boyfriend. However, when bad guys from the first four books begin to pop up all over town - along with general chaos, Daisy suspects that something is up. Will she be able to figure out what's going on before it's too late? Will her relationship with Ryan survive this latest strain? More importantly, can Daisy and her friends survive until graduation?

I had a great run with this oh-so-clever series and am sad to see it go, but at least we can look forward to more tales from Nightshade High. If you haven't yet read the Dead Is series, well, what are you waiting for?

Friday, July 05, 2013

review: BURNING FOR REVENGE by John Marsden

BURNING FOR REVENGE by John Marsden
Series: Tomorrow #5
Scholastic (US)
Released: 1997
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 272

Rating: Loved it!

A BATTLE THEY DIDN'T CHOOSE.

The journey to Stratton isn't an easy trip, especially when the enemy's headquarters lie somewhere on the way. And that's exactly where Ellie and her friends unwittingly find themselves - right in the middle of a heavily fortified airfield. With only five of them against hundreds of armed soldiers, escape seems like a suicide mission. But Stratton is where Ellie's grandmother lives, so the journey must be made - even though the odds couldn't be worse.

My Thoughts

I've never felt that the back cover description for this book quite does it justice. Ellie realizes that the chances of her grandmother still being in Stratton are slim to none. In fact, that part of the story, at least to me, was secondary to the bit at the airfield. That was a spectacular action sequence. And - there's that word again - it was an honest portrayal, especially Kevin's actions.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

review: IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS by Jordan Dane

IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS by Jordan Dane
Harlequin: HarlequinTeen
Released: March 22, 2011
Source: NetGalley
Page Count: 320

Rating: It was okay

Two years ago I did a terrible thing. I accused my best friend of being a killer after seeing him kneeling over a girl's body. That moment and that outcast boy still haunt me.

Now my mom is forcing me back to Oklahoma and I can't get White Bird out of my mind. But when I find out he's not in juvie—that he's in a mental hospital, locked in his tormented brain at the worst moment of his life—I can't turn my back on him again..

No one wants me to see him. My mom doesn't trust me. The town sheriff still thinks I was involved in the murder. And the other kids who knew the dead girl are after me.

I'm as trapped as White Bird. And when I touch him, I get sucked into his living hell, a vision quest of horrifying demons and illusions of that night. Everything about him scares me now, but I have to do something. This time I can't be a coward. This time I have to be his friend.

Even if I get lost, as well . .

My Thoughts
I was a little unsure about this one going in, but I ultimately decided to read it because Harlequin Teen has yet to disappoint. And though this will probably never be my favorite book, it was much more interesting than I had anticipated (as evidenced by my exhaustion after staying up until 1:45 to finish it).

After two years of a "normal" life in North Carolina, Brenna is being forced to confront the town back in Oklahoma that hates her when her grandmother dies and they need to go pack up her belongings and get the house ready for sale. Her mother is a little more optimistic about the trip, but Brenna knows that going back is a mistake. Brenna's right, of course - after being implicated in the murder investigation of a popular local girl, no one wants her around. When she discovers that White Bird, the boy she turned in for the murder, is still unresponsive after two years in a mental institution, she begins to question what she really saw that night.

There were parts of this book that I liked and others that just did nothing for me. For the most part, I think everything that I didn't like boiled down to the fact that I had a very difficult time connecting with the narrator, Brenna. Sure, she had a good reason for being depressed, but it's not something I can easily relate to. I also really didn't like the way she didn't talk to people - not her mother, not the sympathetic policeman, no one - about what happened to her at the party at Chloe's house. Not talking about something doesn't make it go away - it just lets the wound fester. What I did like, though, was a storyline in which one person knowingly faces essentially a mob of angry townspeople because they want justice to prevail. What Brenna does for White Bird is loving and selfless, and there aren't too many people like that left these days.

As stated before, this isn't my favorite book, but it does have quite an interesting storyline. Those interested in white/Native American relations and/or a dash of Native American mythology may enjoy this book.

Monday, July 01, 2013

review: FUTURE IMPERFECT by K. Ryer Breese

FUTURE IMPERFECT by K. Ryer Breese
Series: Future Imperfect #1

Macmillan: St. Martin's Griffin
Released: April 26, 2011
Source: Star Book Tours
Page Count: 310

Rating: Didn't like it

Ade Patience can see the future. Pretty cool, right? But there's one small problem. During his latest vision, he sees himself murdering a classmate from his high school.

When 17-year-old Ade Patience knocks himself unconscious, he can see the future. However, he's also addicted to the high he gets when he breaks the laws of physics. And while he's seen things he's wanted to change, Ade knows The Rule: You can't change the future, no matter how hard you try.

His emmory is failing, his grades are in a death spiral, and both Ade's best friend and his shrink are begging him to stop before he kills himself. Luckily, the stunning Vauxhall Rodolgo recently transferred to his school and, just like Ade saw in a vision two years previously, they're destined to fall in love. It's just the motivation Ade needs to kick his habit. Only . . . things are a bit more complicated than that. Vauxhall has a powerful addiction of her own. And after a vision in which Ade sees himself murdering someone, he realizes that he must break the one rule he's been told he can't.

Ade and Vauxhall must overcome their addictions and embrace their love for each other in order to do the impossible: change the future.

Future Imperfect melds the excitement of a classic Marvel Comics hero with the modern romance of Twilight, and the result is a genre-bending Young Adult tour-de-force.

My Thoughts

The premise for this novel was intriguing, but Future Imperfect just didn't deliver. It was too easy to get caught up in Ade's addiction to seeing the future - by somehow getting a concussion, whether through his own actions or provoking someone else. Vauxhall was an incredibly difficult character to like. And let's not forget Ade's mother, the super Jesus freak who now only approves of her son concussing himself to see the future but encourages it! This was a disjointed read, and every aspect failed to grab my attention and sympathy. Not recommended.