Monday, September 30, 2013

review: SWITCHED by Sienna Mercer

SWITCHED by Sienna Mercer
Series: My Sister the Vampire #1
HarperCollins: HarperTrophy
Released: July 24, 2007
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 199

Rating: Liked it

When Olivia Abbott moves to town, she's excited to join the cheerleading team and make new friends. Then she meets Ivy Vega. At first, Ivy, pale and dressed all in black, looks like Olivia's opposite. Then the girls look beyond the glittery pink blush and thick black eyeliner to discover they're identical—identical twins!

Olivia and Ivy are brimming with plans to switch places and pull every twin trick in the book. But Olivia soon discovers that she and Ivy aren't exactly the same. Ivy's a vampire. And she's not the only one in town. 

My Thoughts 

I picked this up to read for my Children's Literature class last spring. The series is incredibly popular at my library, and all the kids I've talked to say that it's a great series, so I had to check it out.

The summary tells pretty much the whole story, so I can't add too much without completely ruining the plot . . .

I'm a total sucker for twin stories. Olivia and Ivy are interesting characters, and I loved the sense of mystery in Switched. However, the plot took a little too long to develop for my tastes, and I found it unbelievable that the main and supporting characters would take so long to figure things out.

If you're interested in checking out this series, it's now up to eight books!

Friday, September 27, 2013

review: I NEED MY MONSTER by Amanda Noll

I NEED MY MONSTER by Amanda Noll
Illustrated by Howard McWilliam
Flashlight Press
Released: April 1, 2009
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 32

Rating: Loved it!

When Ethan checks under the bed for his monster, he finds a note instead:

"Gone fishing. Back in a week." - Gabe

What will Ethan do? He needs a monster under his bed.

Substitute monsters appear but none are as perfect as Gabe. Herbert's teeth aren't sharp enough, Mack's slobbering induces giggles, Cynthia's tail isn't scary at all, and Ralph has nail polish on his claws! This will never work! How will Ethan ever get to sleep without his monster?

I Need My Monster is a unique monster-under-the-bed story for all monster-loving kids. The perfect balance of giggles and shivers will keep you under your covers, and you'll soon be sleeping soundly.

My Thoughts

Ethan can't sleep without his monster, Gabe. A parade of substitute monsters tries to take Gabe's place, but none of them are quite good enough. What is Ethan supposed to do?

I Need My Monster is one of the cutest kid books I have ever read! I loved that Ethan actually wanted to have a monster under his bed. This would be a great book for kids who (like me when I was younger) are total scaredy cats and think that there are big bad monsters hiding in the dark corners of their bedrooms.

McWilliam's illustrations really make the book, bringing to life the various monsters that try to take Gabe's place while he is on vacation.

I love it!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

review: MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN by Bruce Coville


MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN by Bruce Coville
Series: My Teacher #1
Simon & Schuster: Aladdin
Released: June 12, 1989
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 124

Rating: Really liked it!

SIXTH GRADE IS JUST . . . OUT OF THIS WORLD

Susan Simmons can tell that her new substitute teacher is really weird. But she doesn't know how weird until she catches him peeling off his face - and she realizes that "Mr. Smith" is really an alien!

At first no one will believe her - except Peter Thompson, the class brain. When Peter and Susan discover Mr. Smith's horrible plans for their classmates, they know they have to act fast. Only they can get rid of their extraterrestrial visitor - and save the rest of the sixth grade class from a fate worse than math tests!

My Thoughts

Bruce Coville was one of my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured just about everything he wrote. The two alien series - My Teacher and I Was a Sixth Grade Alien - were my favorite of his books. So imagine my excitement when I found near-pristine copies of a bunch of those books at the local Friends of the Library bookshop!

My Teacher is an Alien starts out with Susan and her sixth grade class coming back from spring break to discover that their favorite teacher, Ms. Schwartz, is gone and Mr. Smith will be their substitute teacher through the rest of the school year. Nobody likes Mr. Smith, and he clearly doesn't like them or the way their former teacher ran their classroom.

One day, Susan is writing a rather unfriendly note to her friend when she accidentally allows it to be collected with her test. She decides to follow Mr. Smith home to see if she can somehow sneak it out of his briefcase. She's about to grab the note when she hears an awful noise coming from inside the house and decides to go in to make sure Mr. Smith is all right. As it turns out, he's find, but Susan isn't. She saw Mr. Smith peel off his human face - he's an alien! Even worse, he's planning on kidnapping five kids from her class to take back and study! Susan only has a few days to get everyone to believe her and stop the alien abduction from happening.

Kids' books are always interesting to go back and read with an adult perspective. Coville fills the first chapter or two with his ideas about education, and Susan's father also seems to be Coville's voice throughout the story.

This is a really cute book about kids showing independence and demonstrating to adults that sometimes they really do know what's going on. After all, isn't that what all kids want adults to realize? Also, the book is classified as science fiction because of the alien aspect, but really it's more of a mystery.

If you or your kids have never read Bruce Coville's books, I highly recommend them!

Monday, September 23, 2013

review: BUZZ BEAKER VS. DRACULA by Scott Nickel & Andy J. Smith

BUZZ BEAKER VS. DRACULA by Scott Nickel
Series: Buzz Beaker
Illustrated by Andy J. Smith
Capstone: Stone Arch Books
Released: January 1, 2009
Source: Library
Page Count: 33

Rating: Really liked it!

Dracula can live forever, but he really just wants to hit the beach! To catch some waves, the blood-sucking bat will need a little help. That's why he's captured the brainy Buzz Beaker. Now, this wacky whiz kid must turn the Lord of the Vampires into the King of the Beach, or he could be the monster's next meal.


My Thoughts

This is a really cute book! It's my first Buzz Beaker, so I can't say if that applies to the whole series, but the sense of humor is very kid-friendly and the illustrations are not too scary. It's the perfect book for a kid who can't handle a lot of horror but still wants to read about it anyway (like me :] ). Dracula kidnaps Buzz Beaker because he needs a great scientist to figure out a way to let him sunbathe. A surprise twist at the end will keep readers on the edge of their seats!

Friday, September 20, 2013

review: BUNNICULA by James Howe

BUNNICULA by James Howe
Series: Bunnicula #1
Simon & Schuster: Aladdin
Released: 2006 (for this adorable cover) / 1979 originally
Source: Bookstore for several copies with different covers / library for audiobook
Page Count: 128

Rating: Loved it!

Move Over Dracula!

It looked like an ordinary bunny to Harold. But Harold was a dog by profession, so his judgement wasn't reliable - as he was the first to admit. But Chester, Harold's good friend and house-mate, was a very well-read cat and he knew there was something strange about bunnicula. For one thing, he seemed to have fangs. And the odd markings on his back looked a little like a cape. But when Chester started finding white vegetables, drained dry, with two fang marks in them, he was sure Bunnicula was a vampire bunny.

So it was up to Chester - with Harold's help - to alert the members of their household before another carrot was lost. Because as Chester warned, "Today vegetables, tomorrow the world!"

My Thoughts

James Howe's classic Bunnicula has remained popular over the years for a reason. Simply put, it's awesome!

The first time I read Bunnicula was in my third grade reading class. I fell in love with James Howe's writing then and there. The narration by the family dog (Harold) and the crazy antics of the family cat (Chester) add some much-appreciated humor as the odd couple pair attempts to discover the mystery of the family's latest pet - a rabbit named Bunnicula.

This time around, I listened to the audiobook version. It was actually a set with containing the first three books in the Bunnicula series, which also include The Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight. The narrator is the fantastic Victor Garber (also known as Sydney's dad on Alias).

It's always difficult for me to explain why I love this book so much, so let me leave you with the bit I wrote for an annotated bibliography:

"James Howe’s classic tale, Bunnicula, is not a traditional vampire story. Harold, the family dog, tells the tale of a typical suburban family as they adopt a bunny that they found at the movies, only to discover that he is not your typical bunny. This is the perfect book to introduce children to the world of vampires. Bunnicula is a mysterious and sometimes spooky character, but he is in no way threatening to the humans in the story. Chester, the family cat, provides much-needed comic relief. James Howe clearly understands what appeals to children, and the entire series and its spin-offs reflect the timelessness of his writing’s appeal."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

review: VAMPIRE ISLAND by Adele Griffin

VAMPIRE ISLAND by Adele Griffin
Series: Vampire Island #1
Penguin: Putnam Juvenile
Released: October 28, 1996
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 128

Rating: Liked it

Life isn't easy for ancient vampires trying to blend in with regular people in a new city - and if those vampires are schoolkids? That's a whole different story.

The Livingstone kids are fruit bat hybrids who have left the Old World dangers - and immortality - behind for a "normal" life in New York City. But normal doesn't necessarily mean easy, especially with lingering vampire traits complicating things.

Lexie's super speed, amazing strength, and unfortunate poetry-quoting habit embarrass her in front of her classmates, and worse - her secret crush.

Hudson can fly like a bat and is determined to save the planet, but with a vocabulary from the wrong century, he doesn't fit in with the other fourth-graders.

Maddy has a hard time sticking to her new vegan diet, and an even harder time convincing her siblings that the new neighbors are blood-drinking (i.e., rule-breaking) vampires.

In her offbeat portrayal of this not-quite-normal family, Adele Griffin uses her unique brand of humor to introduce readers to three siblings who face challenges growing up that most kids couldn't even imagine.

My Thoughts

Vampire Island is a solid middle-grade vampire story. I always find middle grade books difficult to review, because they're fun to read but tend to lack the substance that gains higher ratings for books for older kids. Kids should love this book, as it contains intrigue, elements of horror, vampire weirdness, unrequited love, and strange [fruit bat/vampire hybrid] kids who don't fit in well at school. What could be a better combination, right?

The ending was a little frustrating. On one hand, one of the storylines was neatly wrapped up. On the other hand, though, we learn something about one of the secondary characters that could lead into some interesting material for future books.

Vampire Island is a fun, light, entertaining read for appropriately-aged kids. Junior high-aged kids and up, though, will probably find it too immature for their liking.

Monday, September 16, 2013

review: DRACULA IS A PAIN IN THE NECK by Elizabeth Levy

DRACULA IS A PAIN IN THE NECK
by Elizabeth Levy
HarperCollins: Harper Trophy
Source: Bookstore
Released: October 3, 1984
Page Count: 96

Rating: It was okay

Is Dracula haunting Camp Hunter Creek?

Does Dracula really exist? Strange and frightening things have been happening at Camp Hunter Creek, and Robert thinks his Dracula doll might be the cause. Does the most famous vampire of them all hate plastic imitations of himself? Robert and his older brother Sam must find out what's going on - before it's too late!!

My Thoughts

Robert brings his Dracula doll with him to camp, and the other kids start calling him Dracula because of it! And also because, well, he's pale and has chicken pox scabs on his neck. Then... weird things start happening. The boys hear howling noises around camp, and even the counselors look a little scared. Is Dracula haunting the camp and causing all of these spooky things to happen? Or is he just hunting Robert?

I picked this book up because of the cover, and I was expecting, based on that alone, to have an actual vampire in the story. Instead, Dracula's only cameo is in the form of a plastic doll. That was a little disappointing for me. Younger children may find this story a bit scary, but anyone older than third or fourth grade will probably consider it more mysterious than spooky. Mordicai Gerstein's illustrations do add a nice ambiance to the story, though. The ending has a nice twist at the end that readers may appreciate. Overall, though, the story was just too dull for my tastes.

Friday, September 13, 2013

review: THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic: Scholastic Press
Released: October 18, 2011
Source: BEA
Page Count: 404

Rating: Loved it!

SOME RACE TO WIN.

OTHERS RACE TO SURVIVE.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live.

Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition - the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.

My Thoughts

I have to admit that this ARC sat languishing on my BEA shelf for almost two full months before I picked it up, and then it was only because Maggie Stiefvater herself came to town and mentioned that The Scorpio Races is her favorite of the books she's written. How could I resist a plug like that?

The book starts rather slow, and I probably would have given up (at least temporarily) had I been reading under different circumstances. However, I started reading Scorpio while waiting for Stiefvater to sign my books, and I was around #95 in line, so it was a decent amount of time. I found that by around page 80 I was familiar enough with the dual narrators to know who was talking without checking the chapter headings. Crossing that hurdle was, for whatever reason, the key to me enjoying the book.

Scorpio has a completely different feel to it than the Mercy Falls series, which is probably another reason why I initially had a difficult time connecting with the characters and storyline. Once I did, though, I couldn't stop. This is a fantastic book!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

review: THE SECRET CIRCLE SERIES by L.J. Smith

THE SECRET CIRCLE SERIES

1. THE INITIATION 
2. THE CAPTIVE 
3. THE POWER

by L.J. Smith
HarperCollins: HarperTeen
Released: 1992/2008
Source: Bookstore

Rating: Liked it





THE CIRCLE'S POWER HAS LURED HER HOME . . . 

Forced to move from sunny California to gloomy New England, Cassie longs for her old life. Even so, she feels a strange kinship to a terrifying group of teens who seem to rule her school. Initiated into the coven of witches that's controlled New Salem for hundreds of years, she's drawn into the Secret Circle, a thrill that's both intoxicating and deadly. but when she falls for the mysterious and intriguing Adam, Cassie must choose whether to resist temptation or risk dark forces to get what she wants - even if it means that one wrong move could ultimately destroy her.

The Initiation (The Secret Circle, #1) The Captive (The Secret Circle, #2) The Power (The Secret Circle, #3)


My Thoughts

The Secret Circle series follows Cassie Blake as she moves to New Salem with her mother, meets her grandmother for the first time, is initiated into a coven of witches, discovers her magical heritage, and is torn away from the boy she loves. It is written very much in the tradition of early 90s overly-dramatic fantasy, but it doesn't quite work because it would have been very easy for Cassie to get out of the bad situation she ends up in by the end of the first book. I liked some parts of the series, but others were just silly because it was so over-dramatized.

I wanted to read this series because the television show is premiering tomorrow night on the CW, and I'm really looking forward to it! Hopefully they won't screw it up too much, like they did with the Vampire Diaries. I am most looking forward to Phoebe Tonkin's performance as Faye - she played Fi in the Tomorrow When the War Began movie. While I enjoyed the books, I found that I did not enjoy this series quite as much as Smith's Vampire Diaries and Night World series. That's not to say that it's not worthwhile; it just wasn't my favorite.

Fans of the series should note: a fourth Secret Circle story is due to be released in March 2012!

Monday, September 09, 2013

review: GLOW by Amy Kathleen Ryan

GLOW by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Series: Sky Chasers #1
Macmillan: St. Martin's Griffin
Released: September 6, 2011
Source: BEA
Page Count: 307

Rating: Liked it

Pulse-pouding and addictive, GLOW begins the most riveting series since The Hunger Games.

In this thrilling first installment, a violent battle separates two young lovers on a ship bound for New Earth. Will they find a way back to their ship - and each other? And most importantly, will they survive and preserve the future of the human race?


My Thoughts

This is going to be short and sweet.

Oh, how I wanted to love this book! I practically pounced on the display at BEA and was highly anticipating reading it. In the end, though, it just didn't quite work for me. None of the main three characters - Waverly, Kieran, and Seth - were particularly relatable. And while the story had an interesting premise, the religious aspect really ruined it for me. All of this combined with the too-choppy switching viewpoints made it a very tough read.

I was invested in the story (even if I didn't like the characters and the format was difficult to slog through) up until the last few chapters, at which point I very nearly gave up. Again, it was the religious angle. I didn't like reading about it from either of the narrators' perspectives.

If you're looking for a good YA "spaceship traveling to a new planet" story, feel free to give this one a shot - the parts that didn't work for me may well work for you. However, I would recommend Across the Universe by Beth Revis instead.

Friday, September 06, 2013

review: BLOOD BOUND by Rachel Vincent

BLOOD BOUND by Rachel Vincent
Series: Unbound #1
Harlequin: MIRA
Released: August 23, 2011
Source: BEA
Page Count: 463

Rating: Loved it!

By blood, by word, by magic . . .

Most can't touch the power. But Live Warren is special - a paranormal tracker who follows the scent of blood.

Live makes her own rules, and the most important one is trust no one.

But when her friend's daughter goes missing, Liv has no choice but to find the girl. Thanks to a childhood oath, Liv can't rest until the child is home safe. But that means trusting Cam Caballero, the former lover forbidden to her.

Bound by oath and lost in desire for a man she cannot have, Liv is racing to save the child from a dark criminal underworld where secrets, lies, trauma, and danger lurk around every corner . . . every touch . . . every kiss.

And more blood will be spilled before it's over . . .

My Thoughts

I was so excited to discover this ARC at BEA because I have been waiting and waiting (not so patiently) for a new adult series from Rachel Vincent ever since I read the last page of Alpha!

Rachel Vincent has many writing talents, but her best by far is her ability to both create a new universe and lead you into it properly. She is seriously amazing. Liv's world is vivid, and it takes only a small leap of imagination to find yourself walking alongside her as she tries to keep her head above water and navigate the loopholes of her contract.

I don't want to give away too much. For once, the description from the back cover actually says enough. But I loved these characters and watching their relationships evolve. I loved picking up clues before they did, figuring out the mystery before they did, and watching them stumble around in the dark (but not for too long!) as they try to piece things together. I loved that even though I correctly predicted these answers, I was still blindsided by the ending.

Blood Bound is nothing like the Shifter series - there are no shifters, for one, and the characters are not interchangeable between the two series. But if you enjoyed her style of writing, you will absolutely love this new series.

(EDIT: I even got Boyfriend to read these books, even though he has previously refused to read anything that doesn't have vampire characters, and he LOVED it! Score!)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

review: TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN by Gini Koch

TOUCHED BY AN ALIEN by Gini Koch
Series: Kitty #1
Penguin: DAW Science Fiction
Released: April 2010
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 389

Rating: Loved it!

IT WAS JUST ANOTHER DAY IN ARIZONA - AND THEN THE MONSTER SHOWED UP . . .

Marketing manager Katherine "Kitty" Katt had just finished a day on juror duty. When she stepped out of the Pueblo Caliente courthouse, all she was thinking abotu was the work she had to get caught up on. Then her attention was caught by a fight between a couple - a domestic dispute that looked like it was about to turn ugly. But ugly didn't even begin to cover it when the "man" suddenly transformed into a huge, winged monster right out of a grade Z science fiction movie and wend on a deadly killing spree. In hindsight, Kitty realized she probably should have panicked and run screaming the way everyone around her was doing. Instead she got mad, searched her purse for a weapon, and, armed with a Mont Blanc pen, sprinted into action to take down the alien.

In the middle of all the screeching and the ensuing chaos, a tall handsome hunk of a guy in an Armani suit suddenly appeared beside her, examined the body, introduced himself as Jeff Martini with "the agency," called out to an Armani-clad colleague to perform crowd control, and then insisted on leading her to a nearby limo to talk to his "boss."

And that was how Kitty's new life among the aliens began . . .

My Thoughts

I love sci-fi romance, but there just isn't a lot out there. I read all of the applicable Jayne Castle and Sherrilyn Kenyon titles, and after that I stalled out because I couldn't find anything new.

Then I found Gini Koch.

Koch's Kitty books are hilarious, fast-paced, and romantic without being cliched - in other words, the perfect trifecta. Kitty is pushy but has the brains to back up her actions and attitude, which is a nice change of pace. Martini is a strong but emotionally healthy guy who would drop everything if he felt a negative emotion from her, which is sweet. These characters are the complete opposite of everything I've become so frustrated with in recent years in the PNR and UF genres. They are such a breath of fresh air.

The other awesome part: I read somewhere that Daniel dos Santos, who created the Mercy Thompson series covers, also did the covers for this series. That's enough for me to fangirl right there because hey, the guy does amazing work!

If you can handle your hero and heroine fighting aliens instead of some other baddie like vampires or demons, give this series a shot. You won't regret it.

Monday, September 02, 2013

review: COMETS, STARS, THE MOON, AND MARS by Douglas Florian

COMETS, STARS, THE MOON, AND MARS
by Douglas Florian
HMH: Harcourt, Inc.
Released: April 2007
Source: Bookstore
Page Count: 56

Rating: Really liked it!

Happy NASA Day, everyone!

(Well, I'm pretty sure that's not a real holiday. But NASA was founded on this day in 1958, so Happy 53rd Birthday, NASA! We still love you, even though the space program has been disbanded.)

The Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and Stars,
Comets, Meteors, and Mars,
Galaxies, and Black Holes, too -
all that and much more
for you!

My Thoughts

I discovered this beautiful book of poetry during my children's literature class. I loved reading about space as a kid and couldn't resist buying it!

Each of the poems is short and sweet, a whimsical definition of the galactic object being portrayed. Each of the planets is mentioned (even Pluto!), as well as other things such as asteroids, comets, and constellations.

My favorite part, though, is the illustrations. I really loved how creative Florian was with his use of different mediums - some of the illustrations are more of an artistic collage than anything else, which I think is a perfect way to think about the universe. Die-cuts add another layer of interest on top of that as well.

This is a great book to use to introduce the idea of space to kids.