31 January 2010

Aries Rising; Bonnie Hearn Hill

Aries Rising  (Star Crossed, #1) Aries Rising by Bonnie Hearn Hill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've never been a fan of the type of book that has a hook and hangs the story on it; this is one of those books. Astrology runs through an otherwise rather ordinary girl-wants-boy story. This is supposed to be a series, and I guess there's a market for it, but once is enough for this Aquarius.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

The Popularity Papers; Amy Ignatow

The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This was pretty standard fare: two girls want to be popular, so they try different things until they discover that they just need to be themselves. Of course they also learn that the people they think are so very cool/popular have their own issues, and they have a Big Misunderstanding. What will set this apart for most students is that it's written as a notebook, with handwritten text and drawings, rather than typeset.

I also think that the age range (8-13) is ambitious. 8-10, yes, but older? No.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

30 January 2010

The Help; Kathryn Stockett

The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this book made me think about the women who helped care for my extended family as I was growing up. In some cases they were daily maids, in others once or twice-a-week cleaners; they were all black. We lived in the Northeast, not the South, and I'd like to think that we treated them better than some of the women in The Help treated their maids.

I was glad that all types of women were shown here, not just convenient stereotypes. The men, on the other hand, were less well defined and sometimes appeared to be out of central casting. The real life events that occur appear to be almost at a distance - the quiet after Kennedy is shot, the March on Washington, the integration of Ole Miss seemed to be casually dropped in as though to say "here, this took place in real time, in a real way". Only a few of the blacks gave voice to rage against what was going on around them.

The three central characters, Miss Skeeter, Minny and Aibileen, and the risks they took to make the book were almost real people, until the end. While the book doesn't give them a completely happy ending, it does end with something of a hopeful note. For some reason, that bothered me. The other thing that bothered me was the way in which the Minny and Aibileen sections were written, in what I suppose today we call a "black accent". I've never been a fan of books written that way. Dialog is one thing, but the rest of it? I find it annoying.

I'm glad our Book Club chose this book and look forward to our discussion!

View all my reviews

29 January 2010

A Whole Nother Story; Cuthbert Soup

A Whole Nother Story A Whole Nother Story by Cuthbert Soup


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book proves that the mania for the Lemony Snickett/"Mysterious Benedict Society" genre hasn't died. Filled with semi-humorous winks and advice to the reader, a plot that is semi-suspenseful and all too coincidence-filled and characters that have just enough quirks to make them enjoyable for the target reader, A Whole Nother Story is clearly keeping the world of unfortunate events alive. As is often the case with this genre, however, adults will find that their amusement quickly fades.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

27 January 2010

The Thin Executioner; Darren Shan

The Thin Executioner The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the book to read if you're looking for another Darren Shan horror/gorefest: it is very unlike the Cirque du Freak and Demonata series. It is the book to read if you're looking for an adventure/trek story set in a different world than ours.

Jebel is a third son, thin and unlike his brothers, not to mention his father, the Chief Executioner in a city that prizes strength and skill. His honor at stake after his father fails to mention him as a potential successor, Jebel decides to go on a quest to find invincibility. With his newly purchased slave, Tel Hesani, at his side, he sets off.

This world feels vaguely Middle Eastern, and vaguely Middle Ages. There's no technology, much hand-to-mouth existence, slavery and religious ritual in a desert setting. One village has a definite Petra quality (never a bad thing). While on this quest, Jebel's attitudes and beliefs slowly - and I do mean slowly - change. When he starts, he's among the elite in his society yet by the end he's been a slave, starved and suffered many physical privations. One could argue that his mere survival is proof of his invincibility!

His return to Wadi fails to garner him his father's approval, and the lessons learned while on his quest ultimately have a great impact on this culture he left. I'm not sure I totally buy his "conversion", in part because we only get glimpses of it during the quest itself. However, by the end I felt that it was the only course for this character to have taken.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

25 January 2010

Rules of Attraction; Simone Elkeles

Rules of Attraction Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I usually love YA romance, this book was too filled with cliche for me to truly enjoy it.

Beauty who doesn't know she is one? Check. Troubled boy taken in by rich white family (think a Mexican version of Ryan from The O.C.)? Check. Gay best friend? Check. Forbidden romance in the air? Check. Capital T trouble? Check. Despite that, the story is better than the sum of its parts and will have readers rooting for Carlos and Kiara.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

Incarceron; Catherine Fisher

Incarceron (Incarceron, #1) Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is really a 4.5, but I'd rather give it the 5 than the 4... The missing is that unlike Inkheart, City of Ember, The Host or any of Robertson Davies' works, this is clearly the first book in a series, with no real ending. While I understand that many books (The Giver, anyone?) that have ambiguous endings, this isn't one of those books.

Anyway, on to the plot. The action is split between two people and two worlds. Claudia is the Warden's daughter, raised in a world of Protocol (where everyone is forced to live as though it were some semblance of the Middle Ages, though those rich or powerful enough do have access to forbidden technology). She's engaged to the Heir to the Kingdom, for the second time; her first fiance died/was murdered and now Caspar, a weak, unlikeable boy, is the person with whom she'll share a life and a throne. Finn, on the other hand, is a "cell-born" inhabitant of Incarceron, a massive, self-sustaining prison from which there is no exit or entry. Their worlds collide as Claudia tries to learn her father's secrets, finding a Key; Finn finds an equivalent Key as he captures a woman from a rival prison tribe. Things, of course, are never what they seem and the truth behind Claudia, Finn and Incarceron are sure to surprise most readers (although there are clues enough for the sharp reader).

Both worlds are imaginative, and this series is sure to captivate readers. I think that those waiting for the next in the Hunger Games series will find this fills the gap, and gives them an additional series to follow.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

22 January 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson; John Green and David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The is a well-done coming-of-age story about two boys named Will Grayson and their relationships with Tiny Cooper (among others). OWG (Original Will Grayson) has been friends with Tiny since they were young, and it's a love-hate relationship as Tiny is 1. anything but and 2. very much out while OWG lives by the maxim "don't care too much and shut up". NWG (New Will Grayson) is also one of the less popular students at another school, with one friend (female) and an online relationship with a boy named Isaac.

The ways in which all three characters interact and grow feels very real to me; their issues and 'crises' reminded me of what I see every day at MPOW. Tiny's breakdown on the swing set speaks for any teen that doesn't quite fit into the usual teen mold - be they gay, fat, overly tall or short, shy, whatever.

Both Will Grayson's speak in different voices, which makes sense since this book is a collaboration between two authors who really do get how to write for teens. Whether they alternated, with each taking one WG, or co-wrote the entire story ultimately doesn't matter.

View all my reviews

18 January 2010

The Grimm Legacy; Polly Shulman

The Grimm Legacy The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really liked Enthusiasm and was so pleased to get an ARC of Ms. Shulman's next book. It exceeded my expectations: there's humor, some romance, fairy tales and folklore, Acts of Bravery and - best of all - librarians. (seriously. librarians.)

Elizabeth is a semi-Cinderella (wicked stepsisters are in college, and they're really more annoying than wicked), doing chores and trying to fit in at her new school. When the opportunity arises for her to work as a page at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, she takes it and that's when the adventures begin. Forget the magical aura of some of the objects: this is a pretty neat place to work, filled with pneumatic tubes with which requests are sent to the stacks and objects sent to the Main Examining Room.

And then there are the special collections... which I won't describe because of the whole spoiler issue. The adventure Elizabeth goes on, her relationships with Anjali, Marc, Aaron, Jaya and Doc Rust, and the overall feel of this book make me think this has potential for next year's awards.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

Evermore; Alyson Noel

Evermore (The Immortals, #1) Evermore by Alyson Noel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before I say anything else, let me say that Mallory really loved this book - sometimes he nuzzles the edges to give a book his scent but I've never seen him actually lick pages before! So if your criteria for a book is one that a cat would literally love to eat, this is the one you want.

However, if you want a human's opinion, well, I thought it was good but not quite that good.

It's always difficult to know what an author has read before starting the writing process, whether they've deliberately taken things from previous reads/genres or if it's unconscious or if they've ever read what to the reader is a clear influence. I read what felt like a mash-up of the whole Twilight/Fallen genre, with the serious "girl with serious secret/problem starting over at a new school" overlay. There were tinges of If I Stay, Narnia/The Magicians and another book I know I'll remember the title of the minute I "publish" this. Summerland? My immediate thought was Michael Chabon's book. That's not to say that this Immortals series isn't a good one, it's to say I didn't find it terribly original.

One of the bits that irritated me the most was the whole "if this were a book then [whatever:] but this is real life" thing. I hate it when books do that - be they fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, etc.. Whomever started that should be sentenced to Death by Paper Cut.

Unfortunately, Ms. Noel's plans for the series, and this book, mean that the book went in a different direction than the one I'd hoped. It would have been a wonderful stand alone book - original, even - if the focus had been completely on Ever, her coming to grips with her new ability, her dead family and the fact that her younger sister Riley was hanging out and completely doing away with Damen and Drina. That's a story I would have given 4 or 5 stars to (I tend not to actually eat the books I like, not being a cat).

Free copy provided by publisher

View all my reviews

17 January 2010

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies; Andrea Beaty

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The age range given for this book is 8-12, and I'm guessing that it really won't appeal to those in the 11/12 group. Anyone that likes Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko series will enjoy this tale of FLUFFs crash landing near Camp Whatitooya and Joules and Kevin's work to save our planet.

I know, Famous Last Words.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

The Midnight Curse; L.M. Falcone

The Midnight Curse The Midnight Curse by L.M. Falcone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can see where younger readers (4-6 grades) will like this, but as an adult? Not so much. Every character seems to spend time screaming, yelling, fainting, crying, etc.; it's too extreme. The fear-factor of the curse is mild, just enough to keep readers tense but not enough to cause sleepless nights.

One thing that bothered me was the ending. All of a sudden, it seemed, characters reappeared for virtually no apparent reason than to tie up some loose ends (eg, Miss Briar and Mom), and other questions were left unanswered (Cornelius). However, the age group for which this is written may not notice (or care) about that. They will find the house, Blaxton Manor, interesting - all the numbered staircases and games. My favorite was the wooden piano player who took requests! Very inventive.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

16 January 2010

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda; Tom Angleberger

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a cute book - I can see 4th/5th graders enjoying this story of a misfit (aka "loser") who somehow makes his own interpretation of Yoda via origami and strange voice seem like the complete opposite of "loser". Whatever it is that Dwight is channeling, it works for the people he knows. The oddball advice (always open to interpretation), the way people actually respond to an origami figure and the outcome of this will appeal to the Wimpy Kid lover.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

14 January 2010

Enthusiasm; Polly Shulman

Enthusiasm Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for well-written YA romance. This book falls into that category; characters that seem relatively real, a romance that doesn't feel too far-fetched, and a plot that doesn't want to do much more than allow the characters to find each other (in other words, no causes and no massive misunderstandings/traumas to overcome).

The plot is a mixture of Pride & Prejudice and Midsummer Night's Dream, with people falling for the wrong person or assuming the wrong person is interested in someone else. As in "Clueless", the Austen-esque bits are there for those that know the book (and if you haven't read P&P, do so now) but not overwhelmingly so, and the updates feel real. For once, this is set today, with e-mail and cell phones, something I'm starting to appreciate as I read more and more books written in the proximate past before either came into being. The 70s and 80s were nice, but really? Update the action, please.

For those readers that think the Yvette/Yolanda subplot is an overreach, I have it on good authority that my grandmother and her twin sister used to switch identities in the middle of a date!

View all my reviews

12 January 2010

Liar; Justine Larbalestier

Liar Liar by Justine Larbalestier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When the controversy over the cover art exploded this summer, I was intrigued. Perhaps I missed it, but the discussion of the book itself didn't give me any clue as to how manipulated I'd feel when I read the book.

It wasn't manipulated in the sense one might imagine (Micah is, after all, an admitted liar). It was manipulated by the author, who didn't have any subtlety in terms of plot or writing: too many "oh, well, yeah, that was a lie... but there was some truth in it" passages, too many twists that were telegraphed from afar (the Big Reveal about the Family Illness? I guessed what it was long before), and what felt like too little respect for the reader.

The last few pages of the book are take up with author's acknowledgments - four pages worth. IMVHO, if you have to tell us about the Big Names (Holly Black, for example) that read the book in some draft form, then you're not bragging, you're justifying the book's existence. Sigh.

View all my reviews

09 January 2010

The March; E.L. Doctorow

The March: A Novel The March: A Novel by E.L. Doctorow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Doctorow certainly knows his sweeping saga genre! This historical fiction book couldn't be more packed with examples of different types of soldiers, Southerners, slaves and others - which is both good and bad. The breadth of types became tedious at times and often I wished for fewer characters to track. Still, the portrait he paints of Sherman's march through the South is vivid and interesting and makes for a good read.

View all my reviews

02 January 2010

The Ladder of Years; Anne Tyler

Ladder of Years: A Novel Ladder of Years: A Novel by Anne Tyler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An American Aga-saga: a woman, for reasons she doesn't quite understand, walks away from her family (husband, three children, sisters and nieces) and starts a new life in a random town. Delia's life in Bay Borough seems to agree with her more than her life in Baltimore - she's got friends, is independent and manages to survive on her own for well over a year. Then her daughter decides to get marries and she returns home; while it's left a little unclear, it seems that she'll stay home. Why? Because her husband asks her to. Which, apparently, was all she needed.

I've felt like Delia at times: unappreciated, gray and just in need of a complete change. Unlike her, I've never had the courage to actually escape.

View all my reviews