Friday, April 30, 2010

Crazy Beautiful

Crazy Beautiful
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Aurora Belle is a beauty.  She's beautiful both inside and out.  Her mother recently died after a very long battle with cancer and now Aurora and her father have moved to a new town, away from memories.  She wants to make friends and make her father proud.

Lucius Wolfe is a beast.  Or at least he looks like one.  A tragic accident has claimed both of his hands and he's chosen to have hooks instead of prosthetic hands.  Now he's in a new school to try and make a new start, even if his family doesn't believe in him.

When Lucius and Aurora first see each other on the bus to school, it's an instant connection.  Now Lucius needs to learn how to connect to others and Aurora needs to learn to stand up for herself and what's right.

Will this Beauty ever be with her Beast?

Final thoughts:  I usually love re-tellings of fairy tales.  This one was ok, but not great.  There were a few things that felt forced (Wolfe = beast; Belle = beauty) and the story itself was a bit of a mess.  There were moments of greatness, but as a whole, there were problems.  There are better re-tellings out there (Beastly by Alex Flinn, comes to mind).  Hold off on reading this one.

Rating: 2/5

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Seven Rays

The Seven Rays
by Jessica Bendinger

Beth has never been popular, but as long as she's got her brains, her best friend, and her mom, she's ok.  However, she suddenly goes from being an unpopular geek to complete freak when she starts seeing dots around people and those dots become insights into people's secrets if Beth touches the person.

Now she sees images of past and current events, feelings, and relationships.  She can tell when people are lying, who they are lying to, and how it makes both people feel.  She also sees the evil shadows that surround people, as well as their personal demons.

As things start happening to her, cards start arriving that seem to understand more about her powers than she does.  The first to arrive is "You are more than you think you are."  And the rest explain all that she sees.

Unfortunately, the cards come after she sees things attacking her; things no one else can see.  And now the whole world thinks she's insane.

Luckily, she's found a boy who seems to be bonded with her and gets that she's not crazy.

Can they find the truth before it's too late?

Final thoughts: I'm torn about this one.  It was a clean read.  I got through it quickly.  However, it was filled with plot holes that didn't bother me at first, but are bugging me hours later.  There are just too many confusing things and plot devices that are dropped in and then never fully explained.  The author has an interesting idea, but she can't quite get it right in the execution of it.  It also appears to be the first in a series, if the last couple of chapters mean anything, so I hope the author gets better (and maybe a better editor to help her out) and explains the many things that confused in the first.

Rating: 2/5

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Sisters Grimm : Book Eight : The Inside Story

The Sisters Grimm : Book Eight : 
The Inside Story
by Michael Buckley

Book Eight continues the plight of Sabrina, Daphne, and the rest of the Grimm family.  Now they are traveling through the magical book that contains every fairy tale ever written.  As they travel, they become characters in each story and must follow the story in order to get closer to Mirror and Pinocchio, who have kidnapped their brother in order to give Mirror a vessel to become mortal and leave his magical prison.

Of course, Sabrina, Daphne, and Sabrina's fiance, Puck (even though she's only 12, he's planning their eventual wedding), never do things the right way.  They cut through stories, making a mess of the worlds they travel through and confusing all of the characters left behind.  Now they not only have to get through the stories, they also have to stay a step ahead of the Editor, a creation whose entire purpose is to keep all stories on the correct path and on script. And hidden in the margins of the book is a terrible creature waiting to destroy anyone who goes too far away from the story.

So now they must argue with fairy tale characters, run from the Editor, keep away from the margins, try to catch a kidnapper, and get their nameless brother back.

What else can go wrong?

Final thoughts:  I love this series and this book was no exception, but I started reading this thinking it would be the last one.  Now I have to wait for the next, and I hate waiting, especially for another book in The Sisters Grimm series.  Every book is great, though it's very important to read them in order.

Rating: 5/5

Skunk Girl

Skunk Girl
by Sheba Karim

Nina Khan has always been an outsider.  She's the only Pakistani girl in her small school.  Her sister was a supernerd who excelled at every subject and got into every college to which she applied.  Her family insists on following a number of rules that Nina finds archaic, especially considering that she's lived in America her entire life.

No time alone with boys.  No boyfriends.  Especially no non-Pakistani boyfriends.  No parties.  No dances.  No overnight trips away from family.  And definitely, under no circumstances, never any kissing.

She's expected to go directly to school in the morning, come directly home after school, do well in all of her subjects, get into a good school, and marry a nice Pakistani boy that her mother chooses for her in a few years.

But Nina is completely Americanized, dreams of going to parties and dances, and dreams especially of a very cute Italian transfer student named Asher.

Can Nina learn to accept herself, her culture, and her family's rules?  Will she ever be able to experience a few of the typical teenage events that most Americans take for granted?

Final thoughts:  This was a very interesting insight into the lives of Pakistani families.  There was a mix of culture, food, and language that made the book feel like the reader was getting to watch through Nina's eyes, rather than just through a filtered non-fiction book.  Entertaining and enlightening.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead

By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead
by Julie Anne Peters

"Bullycide.  I know that word well.  Suicide as an escape from bullying."

Daelyn knows bullycide only too well.  After two botched suicide attempts, she's determined that the next time she tries, she will not fail.  She's got it all planned out including the date, time, and way she's going to do it.

What she hadn't planned on was Santana, a home-schooled boy who lives near her school and suddenly is very interested in her.  She also hadn't planned on meeting Emily, a girl who is just as fat as Daelyn used to be and is going through many of the same things she had.

So, as Daelyn plans her suicide and spends time on a website devoted to those who are planning to kill themselves, she also finds herself reaching out to others and being reached by them for the first time.

Is it too late for her to step back from that suicidal ledge she's balancing on?

Final thoughts:  Initially, this book frightened me.  It's very well written, but filled with far too much detail with regards to many of the different options available, IMHO.  However, as I continued to read about Daelyn's past and reasons for wanting to just die and get away from the pain, I could see where she was coming from, though a large part of me wanted to just reach through the book and comfort her.  The ending is ambiguous, but I can just see this book getting banned because of the content. (I hope I'm wrong.)  This is good for older teens, especially those who don't see a way out, but should not be kept in middle school libraries.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, April 19, 2010

Athena : Grey-Eyed Goddess

Athena : Grey-Eyed Goddess
by George O'Connor

The second book in the Olympians series tells the story of Athena from her mother's imprisonment in Zeus's head to the final element of her Aegis, the symbol of her power.

This book continues the amazing action of the first, showing Athena's major accomplishments and triumphs.  We also see some of the famous myths like that of Arachne and her pride becoming her downfall as she goes too far insulting the gods.

In this graphic novel, there are also the myths of Medusa, Perseus (hero of the Clash of the Titans movies), and Pallas (all of them).
Ever wonder why Athena's armor has snakes coming from it?  Why has Athena always been Zeus's favorite?  How did she rise in power to become one of the most respected and beloved gods?  What inspired whole cities to devote themselves to her and name themselves after her (Athens, Greece anyone?)?

Final thoughts: The artwork continues to be amazing and explain more than words ever could.  O'Connor has a talent for making what could be dry, uninteresting tales, easy to read and understand.  A must read for anyone who's ever been the least bit interested in Greek mythology or graphic novels.

Rating: 5/5

The Summer I Turned Pretty

The Summer I Turned Pretty
by Jenny Han

Every summer for as long as Belly has existed (even before she was born), Belly has gone to the beach house with her mother, brother, her mother's best friend and her two sons.

Every summer since she was about ten, Belly has wanted Conrad, the older brother, to notice her "in that way".

This summer, she's ready to make it happen.

Now she's 15 and Conrad is about to start college, so this is probably her last chance.

This may also be her last visit to the beach house, since the boys' mother is sick again, and this time there may not be a chance of remission.

So when it's all or nothing and possibly the last chance at everything, the only choice she has is to dive in.

Final thoughts:  This is a great summer book.  There's romance, jealousy, family, and sadness, all mixed in together in a realistic way.  The ending was a little off and felt like it might be leading to a sequel, but it was still a good read.

Rating:  4/5

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dancing Through the Snow

Dancing Through the Snow
by Jean Little

At just three years old, Min was abandoned in a restroom with all of her hair chopped off by a woman claiming to not be her mother.  Since then, Min has been through four foster families, trying to find people who will accept her for who she is, not how she was dumped.

Over time, Min has learned to be closed off, never cry, and avoid the bully who has taunted her with evil names.  Because she's not outwardly emotional, her current foster mother has decided, just days before Christmas, that she no longer wants to care for Min.  As she's complaining to Min's caseworker, Dr. Jess Hart enters, overhears the conversation, confronts the foster mother, and "kidnaps" Min, deciding to foster her herself.

Now Min must learn to trust her new family and herself.  She must also confront her personal demons and work to break out of her shell.

Final thoughts: The writing is a little stilted and the relationship between Jess and Min seems to peacefully resolve very quickly.  But overall this is a decent read and should be good for foster kids and adopted chidren.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bleeding Violet

Bleeding Violet
by Dia Reeves

Hanna is bipolar and biracial: two things that have always caused people to look at her strangely.  However, when Hanna runs away to Portero, Texas to be with the mother she's never known, Hanna finally gets to see what "strange" really means.

Portero is a small town filled with hidden doors to other dimensions.  And sometimes the creatures from those dimensions come through.  Now Hanna must contend with a mother who does not want her, a guy who doesn't want to have to watch over her, and creatures that just want to destroy her.

Being insane is now the least of her worries.

Final thoughts: (and there are many)  I've read a number of reviews complimenting this book and, if you judge it by the cover, it could be really great.  The author has created an entire new mythos here with new creatures mixed with known and a background for the town that could be very interesting.  
Unfortunately, she's not very good at making it great.  The writing is poor.  I'm suspecting that the author was trying to write from Hanna's point of view of being a little insane, but it came out just being a mess.  There were many times when things happened that made no sense, no matter how many times I re-read the passage.  I strongly believe that the ONLY reason that Reeves created Hanna as a person with bipolar disorder was as a contrivance in order to make the reader understand why Hanna would step into the middle of this crazy town and then stay there.  If she's insane, wouldn't all the insanity around her seem normal?  
Also, most of these people aren't doing anything to help themselves.  Why would anyone stay in a town where a person could be walking with friends one minute and slip through a hidden dimensional door the next without ever being able to return.  I understand why the green shirts stay, because they can manage the monsters.  But why anyone else stays is never explained.  As a parent, if I were there, I would grab my child and move as far from that town as possible to avoid him being hurt.  Yet these people not only stay, but let their kids run around even with thousands of Missing Person posters littering the streets on light poles and walls.
And lastly, there is an element of violence and gore that is not to be believed here.  This is NOT a book for children or even young teens.  At one point, the mother murders a teenage boy while her daughter watches and giggles.  Later, the daughter wakes up naked in her bed next to the now heartless and armless boy, covered in blood, and the most she seems to feel is a little cranky, as her mother smiles about the "joke".
This is a book to MISS.  Avoid.  Stay away from.

Rating: 0/5 - it's not worth anything more than glancing at the pretty cover.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Absolutely Maybe

Absolutely Maybe
by Lisa Yee

Maybe (real name: Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut) is the daughter of a former beauty pageant winner who is now the owner of Chessy Chestnut's Charm School for Young Ladies.  And since Maybe can't be bothered with going on a diet or wearing anything but XL shirts and sweats, she hasn't really lived up to her mother's high standards.  Of course, there isn't a day that goes by that Chessy doesn't have a word or two (or 100) to say about Maybe's appearance.  Do you think it could be the weekly hair color changes done in the bathroom sink with packets of unsweetened Kool-Aid that makes her cranky?

It doesn't help that Chessy is about to marry for the seventh time or that the fiancee is a scumbag who tries to rape Maybe in the middle of the night.  What's worse is that Chessy is too drunk and jealous during the attack to do anything but accuse her own daughter of leading her fiancee on.

And that, as they say, is the straw that breaks Maybe's back.

She and her best friend, Ted, hitch a ride with Hollywood, an aspiring USC film student, as he makes his way from Kissimee, Florida to Hollywood, California.

Of course, Maybe has an ulterior motive for going.  After years of never knowing, she's on the hunt for her biological father.  But things don't go as planned and Maybe has to suffer through hunger, homelessness, and the feeling of being betrayed by her best friends as she searches to find out who she really is (even though she always thought she already knew that).

Final thoughts: Overall an easy read.  A few things fell in line a little too easily for me, like Ted's insta-job after only one flyer and one interview. The ending felt like it was cut off a few pages too early, or that Yee is going to write a sequel.  It was definitely feeling unfinished, though that may have been intentional, since life always feels unfinished.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Red Necklace : A Story of the French Revolution

The Red Necklace : 
A Story of the French Revolution
by Sally Gardner

Yann Margoza is a magician's assistant.  He also happens to be a Gypsy, and just happens to be able to throw his voice, read minds, and predict the future.

Unfortunately, one night, while giving a performance for an aristocrat and his guests, Yann sees a vision of blood and death.  The magician he works for also happens to make the mistake of recognizing one of the most dangerous men in France.  That recognition earns him his own death and forces Yann and his friend to go on the run.

That fateful night, Yann also meets Sido, the daughter of the aristocrat and a prisoner of her father's hatred of her.  Even years after they meet, Yann and Sido cannot forget each other or the love that was created after only speaking for a few minutes.
Now, the winds of change are turning in France and there is talk of revolution.  Yann must return from England to rescue Sido and his old friend from that most dangerous man, while also avoiding the guillotine.

Final thoughts:  The premise is interesting and there could have been something great here.  Unfortunately, the author's writing is stilted and strange.  It often felt like watching television while someone else controls the remote.  The point of view and location could change in an instant.  Also, it often felt like the author wrote as if the reader could see what she saw.  She wrote lines that seemed to come out of nowhere about nothing else that had been seen, and then she would skip writing descriptions completely, so the reader has to go back and re-read that one line hidden in a paragraph that explains the whole next chapter.

Rating: 2/5 - good premise, bad execution (pardon the pun)


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