Saturday, October 30, 2010

Elves and Dwarves and Fairies, Oh My! Artemis Fowl A Fun, Fantastical Adventure

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Artemis Fowl is everything you'd expect a criminal mastermind to be. He's smart, he's savvy, he's ruthless, he's cocky, and he's very, very determined. The one thing you'd never suspect? He's only 12. With his parents out of commission (his father's MIA while his mother is, well, missing in her own way), it's up to Artemis to lead the family of thieves. He's got his sights set on a treasure that will not only solidify his reputation, but also save the Fowl family from ruin: fairy gold. It's the stuff of legends, legends Artemis just happens to believe.

When Artemis manages to procure the mythological Book of the People, a handbook for fairyfolk, he has all the info he needs to hunt down the treasure. He knows it won't be simple to trick the creatures out of their money, but he's not called a boy genius for nothing. It's only when Artemis captures feisty Captain Holly Short of the elite LEPrecon unit, however, that he starts to get a taste of what he's really up against. Still, with his brains, his Herculean bodyguard, and his iron will, Artemis is sure to triumph. Isn't he?

In Artemis Fowl, the first book in Eoin Colfer's popular series, the Irish author introduces an entire world (underworld?) of fantastical creatures. Artemis is interesting in his own right, but then we have his adversaries: a cigar-chomping Elf commander; a stubborn fairy captain; a wise-cracking, tech-savvy centaur; a kleptomaniac, digestively-challenged dwarf; and a whole lot more. Their interactions with the Mud People (humans) make for a fun fantasy adventure that is action-packed and clever to boot. While I did get a little bored with the tale, my kids hung onto every word. They've been boring through the sequels with a tenacity that would make Mulch proud. Even though my own reaction to Artemis Fowl is more lukewarm than head-over-heels, I'm still excited to see where the story goes. As long as it keeps getting better, I'll tag along for the ride.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG because of intense action, very vague sexual innuendo and language (a handful of mild invectives)

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Artemis Fowl from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion. Thank you!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Classic? Maybe. Depressing? Undeniably.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Patty Bergen's twelfth summer is shaping up to be just as dull as every other one she's ever experienced. America may be in the midst of a world war, but that doesn't change the fact that nothing exciting ever happens in little Jenkinsville, Arkansas. Maybe if she were prettier, more ladylike, or just less her strange, awkward self, maybe then she would have sleepovers to look forward to or parties to attend. Maybe then her parents wouldn't act as if she were an ant bent on ruining their picnic. Maybe then she'd have a friend, someone to pal around with besides her colored maid or dim-witted Freddy Dowd. As it stands, she might as well sit and watch the temperature shoot from hot to Hades; there's certainly nothing else to do.
Then, a group of POWs arrive in town en route to a nearby prison facility. Patty's never seen a real, live German before. She's startled by how ordinary they seem. She's even more surprised when one of the prisoners speaks to her in English and seems to find her - plain old Patty Bergen - amusing. Can this nice, polite German really be one of the evil Nazis she's always hearing about? When she spies the same man trying to jump a train out of Arkansas, Patty's curiousity prompts her to do the unthinkable. Hiding Anton means risking the wrath of her parents, defying her patriotic community, and committing treason against the U.S. Still, Patty can't help herself. Not only is Anton kind, but he's the only one who pays any attention to her. He might even like her in the way she likes him, which means when he finally escapes, maybe he'll ask her to go with him. And she will, she'll do anything for him ...
As Patty compares what she's been told about the Germans with what she's learned on her own, she begins to realize a lot of other things - truths about her family, her community and herself. Before she's truly had time to digest it all, she's facing the biggest trouble she's ever been in. What will become of Patty's German soldier? What will become of Patty herself?
First published in 1973, Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene is a thoughtful story about an unlikely friendship forged between would-be enemies. It's a harsher tale than I expected, one that brings up the usual WWII themes - prejudice, injustice, courage, etc. - as well as more domestic cruelty without softening their pointed edges with platitudes or a conveniently cheesy end. Patty's one of those irrepressible narrators whose vulnerability and naivete make her instantly empathetic, especially in light of the slights she suffers on a daily basis. Still, hers is not a happy story or an easy one. In fact, it's downright depressing. Realistic, yes. Galvanizing, not exactly. And, darn it, I wanted galvanizing. The book's downer ending actually soured the whole story for me. Overall, the book's compelling, just not uniquely or jaw-droppingly so. And it's super depressing. A classic, sure, but not one that earned my undying love.
(Readalikes: Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang; also reminded me a little of Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier)
Grade: B-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and depictions of domestic violence/physical violence toward a child
To the FTC, with love: Another library
fine
find

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Recipe Club Cooks Up A Surprisingly Affecting Tale of Friendship

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Twenty-five years ago, Valerie Rudman and Lily Stone swore they'd be best friends forever. They traded letters, swapped recipes, ranted about their parents, dissected first kisses, shared everything, and vowed to let nothing come between them. Now, two and half decades later, the thought of contacting Lily makes Val sweat. She wants to reconnect, especially when she sees an obituary for Lily's father, the enigmatic Dr. Stone, in the newspaper, but the last thing she wants is to reopen the wound that drove the friends apart in the first place. Has Lily matured enough to accept her renewed effort at friendship? Has Val? Will their shared past bond them together again? Or has it formed a chasm that can never be crossed?

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel is an epistolary novel that uses emails, letters, recipes and other scrapbook-y bits to tell the story of a friendship. It begins with two very different girls, one studious, one showy. It grows as the two mature, one slowly, one swiftly. It solidifies as they pull each other through the murk of adolesence, cracks when their paths diverge, and disintegrates completely when their families' secrets entwine in a devastating way. Years later, as Val and Lily reach out to one another once again, they'll discover that the secrets their parents leaked are nothing compared to those they kept and the truth that wrecked the women's friendship might be the very thing that glues it back together.

Although I didn't love, love, love this feel-good novel, I liked it a lot more than I expected to. Its format makes it a fast read, while the inclusion of recipes gives it a light-hearted tone that provides a nice counterpoint to the more serious plot twists. The story lacks a certain freshness, although it does take a few turns that surprised me. I was disappointed that, despite the book's intimate format, the characters never really come into their own voices. I kept having to look at the signatures to remind myself who was who. The ending also made me want to hurl with its cheesiness, even though I have to admit that it felt right somehow. That, coupled with some big plot holes, kept me from really devouring the book. Still, I found it to be a quick, enjoyable story that's surprisingly affecting.

(Readalikes: It actually reminded me a lot of the movie Beaches, but I can't think of a similar book. Can you?)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, sexual content and depictions of underrage drinking/smoking/drug use

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Recipe Club from the generous folks at TLC Book Tours, which is facilitating the authors' book tour. My review was written as part of the tour, but reflects my own, (very) honest opinions. You can visit the other tour stops by clicking here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Though Reminiscent of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner Offers Its Own Thrills

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Who: Dozens of teenage boys, one a month for the last two years

What: Thrust into the Glade, a walled fortress surrounded by a complicated stone maze with no discernible end

Where: If there's anything beyond the maze, the boys have yet to find it.

When: Memories of the "real" world - time, space, all that - are vague at best.

Why: That's the biggest question of all, isn't it?

When Thomas awakes in the dark of a moving elevator, he knows only one thing: his name. He can't remember his age, his address, his family - nothing. Only the vaguest of memories linger in his mind. And no matter how hard he searches its empty recesses, he can find no explanation for his arrival in this strange new world called the Glade. Dozens of boys already live in the ramshackle community, but nobody knows why they've been brought here. All they know is that every night the impregnable stone walls around the place close by themselves. And the boys are mighty glad to be locked in their fortress. What lies beyond is an impossible stone maze guarded by strange, bloodthirsty monsters. The Glade is hardly heaven, but what awaits outside it is, most certainly, hell.

Despite the fact that his memory's been emptied, Thomas has a disconcerting feeling that he's been in the Glade before. He can't figure it out, he just knows he belongs here somehow. He also knows he can't stay. None of them can, a fact which becomes crystal clear when, for the first time, a girl crawls out of the elevator. The strange event can only signal one thing: things are changing in the Glade. And not for the better. No one knows how to solve the maze, no one knows what - if anything - lies beyond it, no one knows how to defeat the creatures that roam its corridors. Leaving the Glade is suicide, but Thomas has to try. The questions ricocheting inside his brain need answers and he'll stop at nothing to get them.

Reminiscent of The Hunger Games, James Dashner's The Maze Runner introduces a violent new world where teenagers fight for survival every day of their lives. Dashner's characters, of course, know very little about the whys and wherefores that structure their new existence, which is the primary reason this book works so well. It's a modge podge of genres - mystery, adventure, dystopian, sci fi - blending together to create a story that's both intriguing and exciting. If Suzanne Collins had never burst onto the YA scene with her blockbuster trilogy, I would have found Dashner's series a lot more original. As is, the idea feels familiar, but certainly not wrung out. I did want a lot more freshness from this book, especially when it came to character development, dialogue and general wordplay. Still, the plot kept me guessing. And reading. And rooting for our doomed, but going-down-fighting heroes. So while I much prefer Katniss Everdeen to Dashner's ragtag cast, I still enjoyed The Maze Runner. Rumor says Book Two, The Scorch Trials, is even better. I happen to have me a copy. Guess what I'll be doing today?

(Readalikes: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner; The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins; also reminded me a little of the Gone series by Michael Grant)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence/intense situations and very vague sexual innuendo. While there are no real American cuss words in the book, the boys have their own lingo, some of which is reminiscent of modern profanity.

To the FTC, with love: I bought The Maze Runner with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Hee hee.

Friday, October 22, 2010

An I-Swear-I'll-Wipe-The-Keyboard-Down-With-Two-Coats-of-Windex-When-I'm-Done Update

I hadn't planned to post again today, but my husband's at work, my older kids are at school, my baby's at Grandma's and my house is quiet as a tomb. It seemed like the perfect time to sneak down and play on the computer. I still have to be careful about spreading my radioactive germs around, so I can't do housework or cook or anything (hurt me, hurt me bad), but my eyes need a break from reading. Who knew absorbing six books in three days would leave my peepers this bloodshot and sore? I will, of course, wipe everything down so well that not even Grissolm and his CSIs could find evidence of my being here (yes, I know Grissolm left the show - guess who's not quite over it yet?). It's just nice to leave my bedroom. And, I have to say that not being able to take care of my family for a week, even by doing little things like folding socks, makes me even more eager to kick cancer to the curb and get everything back to normal.

'Course, I'm so behind on life now that I seriously will never catch up. I know reviews are posting automatically, so you can't even tell how behind I am. Oh well. I'll get 'em written when I get 'em written, but I have to tell you that I may have just finished my favorite book of the year: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. It's similar to James Dashner's The Maze Runner, just with more complexity and depth (literally). And originality. It's reminiscent of The Hunger Games, too, but still its own thing. Hard to describe. Anyway, I loved it. The only problem is the sequel, Sapphique, doesn't come out until the end of December. I'm pretty sure I can't wait that long. My first-born may be available to the first person who can get me an ARC (well, he's pretty sweet - maybe my second-born or third- ...). Seriously, anyone have a copy??

Did I forgot to mention that my review of Courting Miss Lancaster by Sarah M. Eden appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Latter-Day Woman magazine. Check it out here.

I'm looking foward to a quiet weekend - more resting, more reading, more taking three showers a day and flushing twice every time I use the toilet ... Things should be back to normal by Tuesday, when my body will have expelled enough radiation that I can hug my kids again and get back to the grind that I have somehow missed this week.

Happy Friday, everybody!

Oh, and just because I'm skipping out on the Book Blogger Hop and Follow Friday this week, doesn't mean you should. It's a great way to find new blogs, drive traffic to your own, and strengthen this big, fun book blogging community. Enjoy :)

Dear Kirby Larson, I Love You

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you've read Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson, you know how well the author brings history to life for young readers. It's no wonder, then, that she has been chosen to kick-off the return of Scholastic's beloved Dear America series which was originally published between 1996 and 2004. Written in diary format, the books delve into America's history by allowing readers to see events through the eyes of children and teens like themselves. With upcoming books by reknowned writers like Lois Lowry, Kathryn Lasky, Karen Hesse, and more, the series is sure to win the hearts of a whole new generation of historical fiction fans.

Larson starts things off with The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose world turns upside down when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Before that fateful day, Piper's life is as typical as any other American teenager's. If that teenager happens to be a preacher's kid whose father expects her to be a Goody Two Shoes who gets high marks in school, never paints her lips with Tangee lipstick (even if she bought it with her own money), and wakes up at the crack of dawn to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to the needy. It's not that tough, really, it's just that she wouldn't mind a little freedom once in awhile. She also wouldn't mind having her father around more often. Piper admires his devotion to the congregation of Seattle Japanese Baptist Church, but sometimes, she wishes he would spend less time doing the Lord's work and more time paying attention to his family. Ever since Piper's brother, Hank, enlisted in the Navy, it's just been Piper and her older sister, who's always busy with homework or tending house.

Then, the radio blares terrible news: Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor. Not only are American ships sunk, but thousands of lives are lost, and the U.S. is forced to enter WWII. With all the chaos, it's days before the Davis' hear any word of Hank. In the meantime, things are getting difficult for the residents of Seattle's Japanese community, many of whom attend the Davis' church. There have always been people who looked down on the Japanese, but now they are getting yelled at, injured, and refused service at shops and restaurants. Piper can sort of understand people's anger - after all, her brother was on the U.S.S. Arizona - yet, these are people she's known all her life, good people. Why are they being treated so badly?

Things only get worse when the U.S. government decides to "relocate" anyone of Japanese descent. Piper's friends are being taken away, her father's congregation has dwindled to nothing, and worst of all, he wants to follow his flock to the internment camps. Piper hates the injustice as much as her dad does, but isn't moving to the middle of Idaho to perform his duties a little extreme? Can't he do good from the comfort of the Davises Seattle home? Piper can't stand the thought of leaving her friends and family behind - can she convince her father to let her stay in Washington or will she learn firsthand what it's like for the Japanese people incarcerated at Minidoka?

The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us is a quick-moving, compelling story that will instruct, enlighten and inspire. Piper's a believable (though fictional) girl, her character a perfect blend of strength and weakness. The diary-style novel allows an intimate glimpse at what life must have been like in the early 40s, making the events feel contemporary even though they happened almost 70 years ago. The fact that Pastor Davis is based on a real person (Reverend Emery "Andy" Andrews) makes the story all the more incredible. Although there are a few details which are never explained in the book (like why Davis [Andrews] was leading a Japanese church in the first place), I enjoyed this satisfying middle grade novel.

(Readalikes: Earlier Dear America titles; historical novels in the American Girl series; also reminded me a little of Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense scenes and mature themes (racism, war, death, etc.)

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Diary of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Middle Grade Disaster Series Asks: Are You A Survivor?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ten-year-old George Calder doesn't mean to get himself into scrapes all the time - it just kind of happens. His curiousity gets the best of him in the most normal of circumstances, but now he's aboard the largest moving object ever built. How can he possibly resist sliding down the banister of the Grand Staircase, sneaking among the immigrants on the lower decks, and creeping into the storage room to see if the rumors about an Egyptian mummy on board are really true? Even with his younger sister, Phoebe, and their recently-widowed aunt keeping their sharp eyes on him, George is determined to explore every inch of the Titanic.
When George sets out on one of his escapades on the night of April 15, he has know idea that it will lead to the most horrifyingly exciting adventure of his life. He's prowling through the ship's underbelly when the great Titanic starts to shake. As he scuttles back to First Class, he hears the news: they've nudged an iceberg. What begins with laughter and snowball fights soon turns into running, screaming, and all-out panic. The ship is sinking. George is not only a child, but a wealthy one. Unlike the lower-class passengers, he has both a life jacket and an escort to where women and kids are being packed into life boats. There's only one problem - his sister is missing. He can't leave her on the doomed ship. He has to find her, no matter what.


As the story of the Titanic unfolds through the eyes of young George, the reader can't help but be swept away in all the terror of that fateful night. We know how the story ends (at least what happens to the ship), but even after all this time, it's an incredible tale. George Calder did not really exist, but he represents the many passengers who scrambled for their lives while the "unsinkable" Titanic plunged to its watery death. Through him, we're there. His story resounds with one chilling question: Would I have survived?

Written for middle-grade readers, I Survived: The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 is the first in a series of books by Lauren Tarshis about children surviving infamous historical disasters. The next one (available now) concerns shark attacks in 1916 and will be followed by I Survived: Hurricane Katrina, 2005 (available March 2011). My kids and I agree that we need keep our eyes on this exciting, informative and well-written series. You can check it out for yourself on the I Survived website. Oh, and if your school happens to be in the throes of Scholastic Book Fair mania, these books should be available and would make good picks for classrooms, homes and school libraries. 'Course, surviving the Titanic's nothing compared to getting through a school book fair unscathed - if you can survive that particular adventure, you might just deserve a medal :)

(Readalikes: I can't think of any other children's books I've read about the Titanic. Can you?)


Grade: B


If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense/scary scenes (the book's written for younger middle graders)


To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of this book from the very generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ooo La La! Newest Another Thrilling Triumph for French.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Usually, hard-boiled crime fiction littered with enough F-bombs to blow the world to smithereens several times over isn't my thing. And yet, I just can't get enough of Irish author Tana French. There's something about her books that keeps me coming back for more. And more. And more. She's penned three novels - I've devoured each one. The woman cannot write fast enough to keep me satisfied!

Like In the Woods and The Likeness, French's newest introduces a compelling cast of fully-realized characters whose lives are about to be blown apart by a gruesome discovery. Faithful Place opens with a cozy domestic scene - undercover officer Frank Mackey is picking up his 9-year-old daughter for a weekend of pizza and kite-flying in the park. Two things which never happen. As soon as Frank steps into his apartment, he spies his voicemail button blinking rapidly. On the other side is the one thing he's always feared: his family. He's spent the last 22 years running from his chaotic childhood in Dublin's inner city with no intention of ever, ever going back. And yet, when "the bubbling cauldron of crazy that is the Mackeys at their finest" (15) comes calling, the ole boy answers.

In Faithful Place, the crumbling neighborhood where Frank came of age, few things ever change. A paint job here, a renovation there - it's enough to get the street in a twitter about folks getting above themselves. So, when a Polish building team finds an old suitcase wedged inside the fireplace of a long-abandoned apartment, tongues really start wagging. Especially when it's revealed to be the property of one Rose Daly, who just happens to be the same young girl who disappeared on the night she was supposed to leave for London with her boyfriend, a 19-year-old local by the name of Frank Mackey. Only Rosie never showed. For the past two decades, everyone - including Rosie's spurned lover - has assumed she's been living it up in England, too la di da to return to her pathetically humble roots. Everyone, it appears, was wrong. But what happened to the apparently love-struck girl with the neon-bright future all laid out before her? How did she end up going exactly nowhere?

Frank, whose scarred heart has always hoped to reunite with his first love, is shaken to his core. Although he's warned off the case by the egocentric Detective Kennedy, he can't keep himself away. He's been on the force long enough to know that the simplest explanation usually solves the crime, which means the answers he's looking for are right here on Faithful Place. Only, Frank's no longer part of the dirty streets, he's a police officer - and if there's one thing the people like less than a no-good Mackey, it's a cop. Especially one who would abandon his upbringing for something as suspect as a better life. If Frank's going to get the answers he so desperately needs, he's going to have to play his cards just right, which means sinking right back into the muck and mire with mates who would happily drown him in it.

As the story of Rosie's last days on Earth slowly unravels, Frank has to face all the ugliness he's been trying so hard to shove behind him: his family's violent, dysfunctional history; the fact that the girl he loved so fiercely might not have felt the same; and the guilt over his part in Rosie's tragic end. Is it, truly, his fault that Rosie died all those years ago? People he's known since toddlerhood think he murdered the sweetest gal on the block. Are they really going to rat out their own to help a monster like him, especially considering his uppity position as one of Dublin's finest? Can anyone, especially a hopeless Mackey, solve a case as cold as this one? Or is Frank doomed to become exactly what everyone always assumed he would be - a futureless nobody dragging himself through Dublin's grimy underbelly with all the other drunks and dole rats?

Like French's other novels, Faithful Place grabbed my attention with its first sentence, yanking me along for a swift, swervy thrill ride that kept me tottering on the edge of my seat, hardly daring to breathe. Although the killer's identity didn't surprise me, the orchestrated inevitability of it all did. French's skillful plotting, masterful character building, and grudging affection for Dublin's saltier citizens makes this one what it is - brilliant.

(Readalikes: In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French)

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, sexual content and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Little Sunday Morning Sampling Of My Random Thoughts

I usually don't post on Sundays, but I have a few things on my mind that I wanted to share:


- First off, my good friend Random.org picked a winner in my giveaway for a hardcover copy of Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill. Congratulations to Gaye of Inside a Book. Gaye's one of my most loyal readers, always leaving sweet, thoughtful comments that just make my day! I've sent you an email already Gaye, so get back to me when you can, okay?

Thanks to everyone who entered. As always, I'll be having more giveaways in the near future - definitely stay tuned.

- Second, a little health update: It looks as if I will be doing another round of iodine radiation for my thyroid cancer. When I did the first go-round in April, I was kind of disappointed by how anticlimatic the whole procedure is - basically, I go to the hospital, swallow a green pill, and stay in my room for a week. Since I'm radioactive, I'm not allowed to do housework, prepare food for anyone but me, go out in public, etc. It's not a bad deal for me - I get lots of reading and resting time - but it's hard on my husband, kids, extended family members, etc., who get to take care of everything in my absence. The upside is that I should be feeling good again very soon. I will, however, probably not be online for the next week since my computer is a desktop and it's not in my bedroom. I do have a couple of reviews set to post automatically - I just may not be reading/answering emails and commenting on other blogs. Thanks for your patience!

- Thirdly, I really want to comment on this post, but I can't figure out how. Am I hopelessly inept, or is there a way to leave my thoughts? Help!

- Lastly, Karen and Gerard tagged me for this meme that I've seen going around the blogosphere:

4 Things In My Handbag/Backpack/Briefcase:

- My wallet (of course - it lives there so it won't get lost)
- SoftLips lip balm (my fave)
- Gum (one of those gotta-have-it items)
- A pen (because I'm ALWAYS finding myself without one when I most need one

4 Favorite Things In My Bedroom:

- My bed - I have a California King-sized adjustable bed that is soooo nice. Although my side is busted at the moment, usually it lets me raise your feet, my head, get a massage, etc. I love it!
- The teddy bear my mom sent me after I had surgery earlier this year - I'm not usually the stuffed animal type, but this one's so cute that I adore it!
- The two-way fireplace - on one side is a comfy recliner, on the other side is a big bathtub - both are excellent places to read and relax, especially with a nice fire going.
- The balcony - although it's too hot to sit out there most of the year, it's fun to enjoy the lovely view of the valley, especially at night.

4 Things On My Desk:

- A big pile of mail and other stuff I need to sort through
- A ceramic horse my daughter painted for me a couple of years ago (actually there are two)
- My cell phone, which I should really charge before it completely runs out of juice
- A brand, spankin' new (still in its Amazon box) copy of The Scorch Trials by James Dashner. I'm really enjoying The Maze Runner and can't wait to delve into the sequel, which just barely came out.

4 Things I've Always Wanted To Do (but haven't yet):

- Visit the British Isles
- See a show on Broadway
- See U2 live (funny enough, the hubs and I had tickets a couple of years ago, but we were both too sick to go ...)
- Write a novel

4 Things I Enjoy Very Much At The Moment:

- Book blogging - Even though my family blog has definitely fallen by the wayside, I still love keeping this blog up.
- Chocolate VitaTops - I'm still not quite sure I'm supposed to be eating these on my low-iodine diet, but allowing myself one a day is keeping me sane :)
- My incredible husband who is not only a kind, supportive spouse, but an energetic, hands-on father whose love for his family is obvious to everyone around him.
- The Fall decorations on my front porch

4 Songs I Can't Get Out of My Head:

- Her Diamonds by Rob Thomas
- Hello, Seattle by Owl City
- Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam (this is my almost 2-year-old's current favorite)
- The Lady of Shallott by Lorena McKennitt (beautiful!)

4 Things You Don't Know About Me:

- I'm a huge Jeopardy! fan
- I'm pathetically bad at the Classic Literature category, but do pretty well with questions on modern literature/bestsellers
- I could eat milk chocolate at every meal and never, ever get tired of it.
- I always sing - loudly and badly - along to the radio/CDs in my car. I am not ashamed, but my kids probably are :)

4 Bloggers I'm Tagging:

- I've seen this one all over, so I think most people have done it already. Plus, I won't be around this week to see your answers, but if you haven't done this one yet, consider yourself tagged. I'd love to hear what you have to say!

* Have a great week, everybody! *

Friday, October 15, 2010

(Yet Another) Fuzzy-Headed Friday

So ... today is the last official day of my kids' October Break from school and I have done absolutely nothing. Unless, of course, you count waiting *patiently* for my blood test results to come back from USC while I slowly starve to death on my low-iodine diet. And trying to stay awake for longer than 3 hours at a time. Other than that, nada. Good times, I tell ya, good times. I don't know about you, but I could use a little distraction from my misery. That's where these two fun events come in handy:


I had almost decided to give up the Blog Hop for awhile since there don't seem to be too many new-to-me blogs on there lately, but wow, did last week change my mind. Lots of you stopped by to say hi, reminding me just how big and wonderful this book blogging community is. It really buoyed up my spirits. Thanks for that!

The Blog Hop is hosted by the lovely Jen over at Crazy for Books. Each week, she (or another book blogger) poses a question for us all to answer. This one's a really good one: Basically, what do you do when you start reading a book that you just cannot get into? Do you stick it out or move on?

- For me, it depends on where I got the book. If I bought it or borrowed it from the library, I just put the book down and move on. No biggie. A review book is a little different. If I can't get into a book I've committed to read for a blog tour or other event, I stick it out, if I can. If I can't, I e-mail whoever sent me the book and explain my problems with it. Usually, that kind of honesty is met with understanding. After all, every book is not for everyone, you know? My view is that I have way too many books on my TBR mountain chain to waste time on one I don't like.

How do you handle it?


Follow (My Book Blog) Friday is similar to the Book Hop. It's hosted by Parajunkee, who simply asks what books we're recommending these days.

- I have to mention Faithful Place by Tana French. My review won't post until Monday, but I can tell you now that I loved it. The book is a compelling murder mystery set in Dublin's grimy inner city. If you've read French's other books, you know how skilled she is - she creates well-rounded characters, twisty plots, and stories that just suck you right in. Her novels are definitely rated R, but I can't get enough of them.

Alright, bloggers, go Hop and Follow and find some great new blogs. If you're here because of either the Hop or FF, thank you so much for visiting. Have a look around, leave me a comment, become a Follower, all that good stuff - I'll return the favor ASAP. Oh! Don't forget that my giveaway for a hardcover copy of Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill ends today at midnight. Enter here to win your very own copy of this great Halloween read.

Hoppy Friday, everybody!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Despite Brave, Blind Heroine, Abduction Novel Dwindles Into Same Ole, Same Ole

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 16-year-old Chelsea Wilder stumbles along to a doctor's appointment with her stepmom, she expects only one thing: relief. Feverish from the pneumonia that's making her miserable, she can't wait to get some strong medicine and collapse back into bed. In the meantime, she's huddled in the backseat of her family's new Escalade trying to sleep while her stepmom fills her prescription at a nearby pharmacy. It's supposed to be a quick stop. Then, home to bed. Only the person who climbs into the driver's seat is a stranger. And his destination is definitely not her house.

Chelsea can't see her abductor, but she can hear the hesitation in his voice, smell his anxiety, and sense his panic. Legally blind since the car accident that killed her mother, Chelsea's been training herself to pick up non-verbal clues from everything around her. The vibe she gets from the car thief is that he's young, scared and just as flummoxed by the situation as she is. Still, Chelsea knows she can't rely on the hesitant promises of a thief. Will he really let her go as soon as he strips the car? She's not going to wait around and find out. She may be blind, sick and terrified, but, she's not helpless. Not yet.

As the situation worsens - she's trapped in an isolated house in the woods, her temperature's spiking, and her kidnappers are asking her wealthy father for a ransom - Chelsea tries to coax her captor into freeing her. Griffin's only a pawn in his dad's greedy games, after all. He still has a heart, which means she should be able to wrangle herself into it. But helping Chelsea would mean betraying his family, risking prison, and losing out on a whole lot of cold, hard cash. Can Chelsea convince him to help her or will he leave her to his cohorts, all of whom are nastier than even Griffin can imagine?

Despite the blindness angle, Girl, Stolen, a new novel by April Henry is a pretty typical abduction story. It unfolds with the usual bumbling criminals making a mess of things while a resourceful victim figures out how to save herself with the help of a sympathetic captor. That may be spoilerish, but it's also pretty obvious from the get-go. The book just doesn't hold a lot of surprises, which is unfortunate because the idea of a sightless teenage girl getting herself out of such an impossible situation is definitely a fresh one. Despite that initial promise, though, Girl, Stolen, dwindles into just one more book that intrigued me with its premise, but lost me with poor execution. I really wanted Henry to surprise me, to thrill me, if not with a twisty plot than with well-rounded characters or enticing prose - unfortunately, none of that happens here. The book had enough of a hook to keep me reading, just not enough to make me think anything more than, Meh.

(Readalikes: Stolen by Lucy Christopher)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs), intense situations, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Soulstice Leaves Me Hungry For More


(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note: Although this review will not contain any spoilers for Soulstice, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from The Devouring. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Six months have passed since Sorry Night, the fateful evening when 15-year-old Reggie Holloway unknowingly released an ancient evil into her small town. It's been six months since she wrestled the Vours for her younger brother's soul. Six months since the town golden boy disappeared. Six months of heart-slamming nightmares stealing her sleep. Just because she hasn't seen another Vour since the night she ran the creatures out of town doesn't mean they're not out there, waiting. With the summer solstice right around the corner, Reggie knows she needs to be on her guard.

When Quinn Waters suddenly appears in her bedroom, Reggie knows it's all starting again. Just six months ago, his presence in her house would have been the fulfillment of every dream she'd ever had. Now, it's the stuff of her worst nightmares. He's still undeniably good-looking, for a Vour, but she knows just how dangerous he can be. She's already killed him once, she's not sure she can do it again. So, when he offers her a truce - of sorts - she finds herself reluctantly accepting it. Even if he's on the run from his Vour pals, he's still privy to the kind of information she needs to rid the world of the monsters forever. Trusting Quinn could be fatal, but what choice does she have?

As the solstice nears, Reggie and her best friend, Aaron, work feverishly to uncover the secrets needed to vanquish the Vours. The closer they come, the more perilous the search becomes. Both of them are seeing terrifying visions, Reggie's brother seems to be slipping again, and the police are questioning them about their part in Quinn's (so-called) death. The scant information Reggie and Aaron are managing to glean about the Vours only makes them more anxious - Can a couple of teenagers really take on an evil that's been around forever? Are their souls already compromised? Is there anyone they can trust, or have the Vours already spread their vile touch to everyone Reggie and Aaron know and love? The summer solstice is close at hand - will they, too, be devoured?

After the edge-of-your-seat creepfest that was Simon Holt's The Devouring, I expected the same kind of intensity from Soulstice, the next book in the series. The novel definitely starts with a bang, but it drags a little as Reggie and Aaron spend most of their time investigating the Vours. We learn a lot about the creatures, yet we don't see all that much of them. There's still plenty going on in Soulstice - it's just more informational, less sinister than the first book. At times, it feels like a filler book, a way to get some data out without really furthering the plot much. The cliffhanger ending changes things, though. I'm so hungry to know what happens next that I'm practically foaming at the mouth. Whoever's got Fearscape, the conclusion of the series, checked out from my library, better read fast or I may not be able to control myself. Just sayin'.

(Readalikes: The Devouring and Fearscape by Simon Holt)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (a couple F-bombs plus milder invectives), violence and gore

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Moo-ving Sequel Has A Richness That's Satisfyingly Farm-Fresh

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note: While this review will not contain any spoilers for The Off Season, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from Dairy Queen. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Growing up on a crumbling Wisconsin dairy farm has taught 16-year-old D.J. Schwenk a few things: Constant, back-breaking physical labor is murder on a person's G.P.A. and social life; dominating on the football field tends to intimidate guys, especially when the one doing the dominating is an "oversized girl dairy farmer" (134); and if anything can go wrong, it will. In a big way. D.J.'s spent enough time shoveling poop to know that eventually, the cow pie always hits the fan and it's never, ever pretty.

Knowing this, she's naturally suspicious about how well her life seems to be going at the moment. Everyone's buzzing about her skills on the field; gorgeous Brian Nelson's always around to help with milking (as well as some clandestine fooling around); and her family seems to be mending after a bitter feud that's kept D.J.'s older brothers away from home for years. It's all good. Until suddenly, it's not. An injury in practice forces D.J. into a tough choice; Brian, who's so into her in private, seems embarrassed of her in public; and D.J.'s best friend, Amber, is taking off with her new girlfriend. Frustrated and lonely, she thinks things can't get any worse, but, of course, they do. More health problems hit the Schwenks, the farm's plummeting into bankruptcy, and D.J.'s frantic with worry for her older brother. Once again, it's up to her to keep it all together. Just like last year, she'll fight her way through, learning some valuable lessons about what she's made of, who her true friends are, and what really matters.

Although I didn't like The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock quite as much as Dairy Queen, I still find this series immensely enjoyable. It's original, funny, and filled with an optimism that's often lacking in YA literature. This book gets a little melodramatic, but it also pulls the story in a surprising new direction. Still, it remains a compelling and worthy companion to the widely-loved Dairy Queen. I'm anxious to see how the last book, Front and Center, pulls it all together. Although I'm still not wild about the Amber storyline (it seems a little contrived, as if it's there simply to keep things P.C.), I truly love reading about solid, farm-fresh D.J. Somehow, she manages to be both unique and utterly recognizable. A winner in every sense, she makes this series what it is - absolutely delightful.

(Readalikes: Dairy Queen and Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock; the parts about D.J.'s brother also reminded me of Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), mild sexual content, and depictions of homosexuality (more thoughtful than graphic)

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Monday, October 11, 2010

Despite Erudite Observations, Hummingbirds Becomes Downright Dull

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Working at an all girls' prep school is an ideal - albeit dangerous - job for a man who loves women as much as Leo Binhammer. It's not that he's some kind of pervert, it's just that he feels most comfortable with females, who are always glad to lavish attention on the handsome, laidback young teacher. He enjoys the lighthearted banter of his flirtatious colleagues as well as the energy of his students who remind him of hummingbirds with "their delicate, overheated bodies fretting in short, angled bursts of movement around a bottle of red sugar water" (11). It's all a bit of harmless fun for the happily-married Mr. Binhammer.

Then, Ted Hughes enters the picture. Quite suddenly, Binhammer finds his Top Dog status threatened by the charismatic new teacher who's not only replacing Binhammer in the girls' hearts, but also has a surprisingly intimate connection to Mrs. Binhammer. By all rights, Binhammer should hate Hughes. Only, he doesn't. He can see exactly why the other man seems to have everyone wrapped around his little finger. Which only makes the situation more infuriating. Why should Hughes be allowed to march in and confiscate everything that rightfully belongs to Binhammer? It's not fair, no matter how charming the man is.

While Binhammer scrambles to regain his favored status, he has to contend with the silliness of his students, the mutiny of his colleagues, and his growing admiration for a man he should loathe. When revenge comes calling for Ted Hughes, Binhammer finds it's not as sweet as he would have anticipated. Isn't Hughes, after all, simply another victim of the complicated female world they both inhabit? How can a man ever hope to survive, he muses, with all "those women - women everywhere, each one a tropical island with hidden estuaries. How not to be a pirate in this extravagance?" (316). All Binhammer knows is this - it won't be quite the same without Hughes in it.

It's difficult to summarize Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord because, really, not a lot happens between Page 1 and Page 322. What little does occur is, by turns, depressing, disturbing, and just plain dull. Gaylord does excel at drawing characters; indeed, the novel reads like a collection of astute observations about the principle players rather than an actual story. His writing is undeniably fresh, erudite and funny. I wrote down several pages of quotations from the book, just for the sheer pleasure of reveling in his clever use of language. Unfortunately, adroit word choice wasn't enough to keep me interested in this rambling novel. A snail-paced plot coupled with smug, unhappy characters and creepy observations like

He has, of course, picured her naked - just as he has pictured all of his students naked at one time or another ... This is the great secret of all the teachers at Carmine-Casey and, Binhammer is sure, all the other high schools, public or private, in the world: there is a massive naked cocktail party going on in the head of every high school teacher (139).

turned this into a perturbing snorefest. If I hadn't committed to reviewing Hummingbirds for a blog tour, I would have put it down somewhere around Page 30, brilliant quotations be darned.

(Readalikes: I really don't know of any. Ideas?)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, depictions of underrage drinking/smoking, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Hummingbirds from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Quotes were taken from the uncorrected proof and may have been altered for the book's final printing. This review was written as part of a blog tour for TLC Book Tours.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Intriguing Premise Lacks Execution It Deserves in New Carman Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Jacob Fielding survives a horrific car crash that kills his mysterious foster father, he feels something transfer from the older man to him. Some type of weird energy. As he inadvertently lends the power to a daredevil new girl, the truth hits Jacob like a ton of bricks: Not only is he indestructible, but he can make other people temporarily unassailable, too. Which comes in handy, considering his best friends are a short kid with a big mouth and a beautiful blonde who sees death-defying longboard tricks as an amusing hobby. Cool as Jacob's newfound ability is, he can't shake the feeling that it's dangerous. An orphaned high school kid really shouldn't be the one playing God, should he?

The more Jacob learns about his perplexing new "gift," the more he wishes he could just get rid of it. Several people, including his thrill-seeking girlfriend, Ophelia ("Oh") James, would love to wrench it away from him, use its extraordinary power to save every soul she can. It's not like he's indifferent to easing the suffering of others, but Jacob's more than a little reluctant to play Superman with a superpower he barely understands. He only knows that he can't save everyone and only God should be able to choose who lives and who dies. Besides, he feels a darkness in his strange ability, a hunger that seems intent on consuming him.

As Jacob studies the source of his invulnerability, he discovers some strange secrets about the power, his foster father, and himself. Even though he still doesn't know everything, he knows enough to be worried about Oh, whose obsession with the power is changing her from a lighthearted free spirit into someone the boys barely recognize. Can they unlock the secrets of invulnerability in enough time to save their friend? Or will the strength of an ancient force be the destruction of them all?

Thirteen Days to Midnight by veteran children's author, Patrick Carman, introduces one of the most intriguing premises I've encountered in a long time. Not the superpower thing - that's been done a million times. I'm talking about the idea behind the superpower, which, unfortunately, I can't discuss for fear of spoiling the story. You're just going to have to trust me on this one. It's a fabulous idea. Unfortunately, Carman's execution of the idea doesn't do it justice. As written, the novel feels like a first draft. It's as if the author's playing with different ideas, molding his characters, imagining a romance, and creating preliminary dialogue. A rewrite or two could have honed all this, smoothing out the clunky writing, sharpening Thirteen Days to Midnight into the taut, focused, highly original thrill ride it's meant to be. As is, the story meanders all over the place, the characters sound like robots, and much of the plot hinges on happenings that are annoyingly contrived. These are all fairly easy fixes, something I hope Carman takes into account when writing the next books (although I haven't seen it confirmed anywhere, I'm assuming this book is not a standalone). Even though I found this one disappointing, the series has so much potential that I'm eager for the next installment. I don't have the power to see the future, but I predict this is one of those series that will get better as it goes along.

(Readalikes: A little like Delcroix Academy: The Candidates by Inara Scott and a teensy bit like the Gone series by Michael Grant)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), gore, and very mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Thirteen Days to Midnight from the generous folks at Hachette Book Group. Thank you!

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Fuzzy-Headed Friday

I usually don't post twice in a day, but I auto-posted a review for this morning without realizing that today is Friday. Duh. I seriously need to get back on my meds. If any of you take levothyroxine (it's a generic of Synthroid), you know how awful it feels to be off it, even for a little while - it's a fuzzy-headed exhaustion you can feel from your head to your toes. I'm headed to the doctor this morning, so hopefully he can make sense of my blood results and give me SOME indication of what comes next.

In the meantime, let's celebrate that it's Friday! My kids get out early from school (a reason for them to celebrate - me, not so much) since they're annual October Break starts next week; I have an aunt coming to visit whom I haven't seen in years; and, of course, these fun events:


The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jen over at Crazy For Books. If you're a new blogger, it's a perfect way to find other blogs and drive traffic to your own site. If you're a veteran at this book blogging thing, it's a great way to welcome the newbies. Plus, it's just fun! Head on over to Jen's blog to join in. This week, Jen asks the question: What is your favorite beverage to drink while you read?

- Usually, I just like a nice, big cup of ice water. Lately, though, I've needed more of a caffeine boost (which, being LDS, I feel tremendously guilty about), so I've been all about the Mt. Dew. I like to stick it in the freezer until it's nearly solid, then let it melt to the consistency of a slurpee. Delish.


Friday (My Book Blog) Friday is another weekly meme, this time hosted by Parajunkee. It's another fabulous way to discover new blogs/bloggers and gain Followers for your own blog. You'll definitely want to join in! Parajunkee's question of the week is: How many reviews to you like to do in a week?

- Funny enough, I've been thinking a lot about this question lately. I don't like to post every day, because I think it gets overwhelming. My own feed reader is so out of control that I end up skipping a lot of reviews on blogs that post daily. I'm aiming toward more of a Monday-Wednesday-Saturday approach, with a misc. post on Friday. What do you think? Would you like more reviews? Less? More chit chat? Maybe I should do a poll or something ...

Anyway, for those who are here because of the Hop or FF, welcome! Please leave a comment so I can check out your blog also. Don't forget to check out the giveaway I'm running for a new, hardcover copy of Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill - you can get all the details on my right sidebar.

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I forgot to mention that I finished a reading challenge! It's been awhile since I actually completed one, so I'm pretty proud of myself. My reading list changed quite a bit since I realized reading both Under the Dome and The Stand in one month might be more of an undertaking than I first thought. So, here's what I ended up reading:

1. The Devouring by Simon Holt (Review)

2. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (Review)

3. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (Review)

4. Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill (Review)

I liked all of them, although the structure of I Am Legend confused and frustrated me. My favorite ended up being The Devouring, which is just a deliciously creepy Halloween read. I'm working on the sequels now. *Shivers* A funny: I was reading Soulstice yesterday when the FedEx guy banged on my door. Scared the crap out of me!

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Okay, I'm off to Hop around the book blogosphere. Well, first, I have to get the kiddos off to school, then go see the doctor, then clean my house, and THEN I will be clicking around. Have a fabulous weekend, everybody!

Ultimate Cliffhanger Ending Sours Me On Traitor

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As many times as I've confessed this on my blog, I can still hardly stand to type these words: I enjoy reading books about World War II and the Holocaust. Enjoy. What kind of monster does that make me? It's not that I enjoy reading about other people's suffering or delight in tales of hate and violence - for me, it's about the triumph. That human beings could endure the kind of horror Hitler brought on the world and not only survive, but actually possess enough resilience to continue living, is what draws me to these stories. Survival, sacrifice, stoutheartedness in the face of crippling fear ... it's depictions of those victories that fuel my addiction to this genre. I seriously cannot get enough. So, when the very generous folks at Carol Rhoda LAB offered me a copy of Traitor by award-winning German author Gudrun Pausewang (translated by Rachel Ward), I really couldn't resist.
The novel begins with 15-year-old Anna trudging through the forest to her family's farm in tiny Stiegnitz, Germany. She's arrived home for the weekend, leaving behind the larger city of Schonberg, where she attends school and lives in the attic room of a local widow. Although her hometown is a miserable bore of a place, it offers a nice reprieve from the incessant talk of war that permeates the larger town. Here, in her little village, politics are less important than the weather, the abundance of the harvest, and the fact that pickles are available, without a coupon, over the border in Czechoslavakia. The dreary war has left no place untainted, but at least here, life goes on in nearly the same manner as it always has.
Anna is thinking of her grandmother's cooking, the possibility of a letter from her soldier brother, and the warmth of the indoors, when she spies peculiar tracks in the snow. The impressions appear to have been made by men's boots, but none that look familiar to her. So, why do they lead straight to her family's barn? When Anna discovers their owner - a gaunt, frightened man who refuses to speak - she assumes he's a lunatic who's slipped away from the nearby asylum. It's only when she hears that a group of Russian prisoners of war have escaped, intent on sneaking across the border, that she realizes the man's true identity. The war's gone on long enough for Anna to have grown disillusioned with the Fuhrer, but that doesn't mean she wants to risk the Nazis' wrath by aiding the enemy. Still, the man is obviously ill. If she doesn't help him, he'll die. If she does, she risks being shot as a traitor to her country.
Gossip in the village says the war will soon be over. Germany will surrender and the Russian's presence in Stiegnitz will no longer matter. Surely, Anna can keep him safe for that long. An abandoned bunker in the woods seems the perfect place to hide the escapee, but for how long can she keep up the charade? How will she sneak him the things he needs, especially when she spends her weeks at school? What if someone finds the Russian? What if they recognize the stranger's clothes as belonging to Anna's brother? What if someone like Anna's overzealous younger brother finds the prisoner? What will happen to him then? What will happen to her? As she juggles all these worries in her head, Anna considers the even bigger questions: Are the Russians as evil as the propaganda films make them out to be? Are the Germans as good? Are the rumors of Jewish death camps true? How can human beings inflict those kinds of horrors on one another? Is there any good left in the world, anywhere? What will become of a human race capable of doing such things?
Although Traitor has all the drama and intensity inherent in a WWII novel, it's more contemplative than edge-of-your-seat compelling. Still, it's a decent enough story and would have been perfectly satisfactory if it wasn't for one thing: it has the worst ending I've ever read. Why? Because right when the story is finally climaxing, it stops. And I mean, stops. Like right-in-the-middle-of-the-action stops. Not in an artfully ambiguous way either. It just halts without finishing the scene, without resolving any of the story conflicts, without coming to any kind of finale. I was seriously combing through the book trying to find the rest of the chapter. Never in my life have I been so aggravated by the end of a novel. Just thinking about it makes me grind my teeth. So, not only do I not know what happened to Anna and her Russian, but now I'm totally soured on a book that I liked right up until its last page. Grrr.
If you think this ultimate cliffhanger of a crap ending might turn you off as well, I recommend not even starting this book. Or at least not reading the last page. You can just imagine a happy ending and be done with it. Which is exactly what I should have done. Double grrrrrr.
(Readalikes: Although I haven't read it (what is wrong with me?), I'm guessing Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene is similar.)
Grade: C
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs), intense scenes and some sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Traitor from the generous folks at Carol Rhoda LAB. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Heavens to Murgatroyd! '60s Novel is Quite A Ride.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For thirteen terrifying days in 1962, Americans lived in abject fear of the unknown. Glued to their newspapers, televisions and radios, they waited with bated breath. Would today be the day the U.S.S.R dropped its bombs? Would the U.S.A. still be here tomorrow? What did the future hold - World War III? Total annihilation? Days, months, or years of eking out an existence in underground bomb shelters? As they hoped and prayed for President John F. Kennedy and Russia's First Secretary of the Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev, to settle the issue peacefully, they waited. And watched the skies.

With everyone's focus on the crisis in Cuba, 11-year-old Franny Chapman is feeling downright invisible. No one seems to notice that her best friend is acting strangely, the cute boy next door might actually like her, and her eccentric uncle's getting crazier by the second. Franny can't talk to her father, a pilot in the Air Force who's constantly on the go; or to her mother, whose melancholy makes her nearly unapproachable; or to her older sister, whose mysterious secret keeps her away from home more often than not. Normally, Franny would confide in her closest pal, Margie, but there are some things you can't even tell your best friend. Not that Margie's interested in listening anymore - she has more popular girls to impress. That leaves Franny to work things out for herself.

It's a terrifying time to be invisible, especially when you're a kid who lives within throwing distance of the nation's capitol. Even with all the ducking and covering practice she's done at school, Franny's not sure she's really ready for a bombing. She acts strong for her younger brother, but she's just as scared as everyone else. It doesn't help that her personal life is in such a mess either. How is she going to fix it all and watch out for bombs at the same time? When did her life become such a complicated mess? And what's she going to do about it? What do Margie's snide little comments really matter, anyway, when the world's about to be blown to bits?

Countdown by Deborah Wiles is a documentary novel based on the author's recollections of living through the incident now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book, which features a scrapbook-style format interspersing Franny's story with photographs, quotations, advertisements, newspaper clippings, etc. from the period, is the first in a planned trilogy about the '60s. The turbulence of the time makes for an intense, but fascinating background, as Franny comes of age in one of the most chaotic eras of America's history. Painstakingly detailed, the book brings it all to life in brilliant, almost psychedelic color. Although it unfolds slowly, the story builds momentum as it goes, resulting in a strong, compelling tale about a young girl trying to sort herself out in a time when confusion reigns all around her. Whether you lived through the '60s or not, you'll find yourself in this unique historical novel. And Heavens to Murgatroyd! It's quite a ride.

(Readalikes: Hm, I don't know. Any ideas?)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense scenes and vague references to puberty/the female body

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Devouring A Deliciously Creepy Halloween Treat

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With Halloween fast approaching, everyone's got monsters on the brain, making it the perfect time to pose this question: What kind of creatures stalk your nightmares? Ghosts? Zombies? Psychotic circus clowns? Or something more mundane like spiders, snakes or wolves? Are your personal horrors, perhaps, of a more practical nature: fire, drowning, hospitals, abandonment, the death of a loved one? Whatever it is you fear, you'll likely find it between the pages of Simon Holt's teenage creepfest, The Devouring. It's like Stephen King with training wheels. But don't let that fool you - I've still got goosebumps.

The book opens with 15-year-old Reggie Holloway reading her 8-year-old brother, Henry, a bedtime story. Their mother (had she not recently walked out the door and not bothered to come back) would no doubt disapprove of sending a young boy off to slumber with such a dark tale, but Reggie's a horror buff whose tastes tend toward the macabre. So, she picks a spooky vignette from a handwritten diary she recently discovered at work. It's about creatures called Vours who steal human souls and inhabit their bodies, something so outlandish even Henry will recognize it as fiction. When Henry starts freaking out, Reggie realizes her mistake. What was she thinking reading him something like that before bedtime? She's so exhausted from playing mom she can barely think straight. And she's gone and spooked herself as well.

In the light of the morning, the whole story seems ridiculous. Except that Henry's changing before her eyes from her sweet little brother into something ... else. He's overdue for a reaction to their mother's swift departure, but his sudden rage seems extreme. Not to mention terrifying. Henry's acting strangely, muttering to himself, and becoming increasingly violent. When a death in their home elicits no reaction whatsoever from her once hypersensitive brother, Reggie's convinced - Henry isn't Henry anymore. He doesn't need a psychiatric evaluation, he needs an exorcism.

Reggie and her best friend, Aaron, will do anything to save Henry. It may already be too late, but they have to try. As they research the origins of the journal, they learn the chilling truth about the Vours. The creatures feed off human fear and Reggie's already terrified. Can she step into her worst nightmares to bring her little brother back? Is saving him even possible or has his soul been ripped from his body forever? The journal says nothing can stop the Vours, but what if it's wrong? And what if it's right? It's up to Reggie to find out.

The Devouring sucked me in so completely that I burned through it in a few short hours. Each page is creepier than the last, with an intense, unrelenting montage of nightmarish horror lurking inside its every paragraph. The heroes are a perfect blend of unique and relatable, frightened and fearless, vulnerable and valiant. Their courage made my heart pound, keeping my eyes seared to the page even when all I really wanted to do was burrow under my blankets, clamp my hands over my eyes, and chant, "It's not real. It's not real." The Devouring's perfect ending made me smile through my shivers. I may be jumping at every single creak the house makes, but I'm also clicking over to my library's website to get my trembling hands on the next installment in this deliciously spooky series.

Book trailers don't usually do much for me. This one, though, just might be creepy enough to do the book justice. Take a look:




(Readalikes: reminded me of Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender and several Stephen King novels)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and gore

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Heroes Meets Sky High In Cliched Super Powers Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Fourteen-year-old Dancia Lewis has spent so much time keeping herself inconspicuous (average grades, forgettable looks, dingy wardrobe, no real friends) that she's shocked to learn she's being recruited for prestigious Delcroix Academy. Although she's never actually been inside the gates of the exclusive boarding school, she knows it's reserved for the super rich and super smart. So, why does the principal want her? It's definitely not for her grades, her involvement in extracurriculars, her bold crusades to save the world, her family's glittering fortune - in fact, she can't think of one reason anyone would want her at Delcroix. Well, there is one reason, but no one knows about her ... power. She's made sure of that by remaining absolutely, completely ordinary. So, what is it the recruiters see in her? A potential for greatness? A token charity student? Someone with a multitude of talents just waiting to be discovered and nurtured? Who cares? Between the stellar education, the full scholarship, the diverse student population, and Cam, the very hot, apparently interested recruiter, Dancia really can't say no.

Her first steps on campus convince Dancia that Delcroix truly is different from other schools. The student body runs the gamut from drama geeks to computer nerds to musical prodigies, all of whom are accepted and respected for their unique abilities. Cliques are replaced by "teams," the members of which help, support and hang out with each other. For the first time, Dancia feels accepted. Even though she's yet to find her special talent, she's hopeful that she will. It doesn't hurt that she's got two guys vying for her attention - Cam, the golden boy senior, and paranoid bad boy, Jack.

As tranquil as Delcroix seems, Dancia can't shake the feeling that there's something more to the school than meets the eye. Jack, who's concealing his own dark secrets, sees conspiracies around every corner. Is he just mad that he can't seem to assimilate in a place that accepts even the most eccentric kids? Or is there something to his crazy theories? She can't deny the strange electric shock she got from shaking Cam's hand the first time she met him, but he's the most normal boy in the world. Can he be hiding a power of his own? Or is Jack's paranoia making Dancia as distrustful as he is?

When Jack finds what appears to be incriminating evidence in Cam's dorm room, Dancia's forced to accept the truth - something very, very strange is going on at Delcroix Academy, something big, something so dangerous it has Jack running for his life. Torn between helping Jack and believing Cam, Dancia has to figure out the truth about what she is, what she can do, and how far she's willing to go to protect the people she loves.

Delcroix Academy: The Candidates is the first book in a new series by debut author Inara Scott. A tiny bit Harry Potter, a little bit X-Men, and a lot bit Heroes, the novel leans so heavily on cliche that this series will never be able to stand on its own without a serious originality intervention. The plot's been done countless times, making freshness an absolute necessity. Unfortunately, Scott introduces nothing unique - no daring new angles, no captivating new characters, no surprising plot developments. Nothing. Nothing to make The Candidates memorable, nothing to keep it from fading into dull, lifeless predictability. Worse, there are no sparks between any of the characters, the story inches along at a snail's pace, and it takes Dancia the entire length of the novel to see what's perfectly obvious to the rest of us. All of these things contributed to me putting this book down twice before deciding to soldier on. I'm sure the series will get better as it goes along, but I won't be sticking around long enough to find out. My super reading powers are telling me to move on.

(Readalikes: Weirdly, it's movies and tv shows that come to mind - the book's kind of a cross between Heroes and Sky High.)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs) and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion. Thank you!

Friday, October 01, 2010

T.G.I.F.??

Okay, I'm going to be totally honest with you, even if it makes me look like a terrible mother: These days (with three of my four kids in school all day) I actually look forward to weekdays more than the weekends. Horrible, right? I'm going to go ahead and blame it on my health issues (since it's just so dang convenient) and the resulting exhaustion, but the nice, all-day quiet is awfully appealing these days. Still, I'm looking forward to this weekend, which promises to be both fun-filled and uplifting. If you're LDS, you know that General Conference starts tomorrow (that's the uplifting part) - it always gives me a much-needed boost, even if my restless children make it a tad difficult to concentrate on what the speakers are sayng. Conference weekend also means lots of family together time. We're going to be decorating for Halloween, celebrating a cousin's birthday, eating homemade grilled pizza and lots more.

As if that wasn't enough, it's also time for my two favorite weekly bloggy activities:
This week's question from our hostess, Jen, over at Crazy for Books, is about using social network sites to promote our book blogs. Even though I don't think I really "get" Twitter, I do use it for occasional giveaway announcements and such. As for Facebook, I just recently set up a fan page. You can use the link on the left sidebar to become a fan. All in all, though, I think the resource that has most help me advertise my blog is the Book Hop and Follow Friday, as well as visiting and commenting on all the blogs on my feed reader (there are hundreds). I really love finding new book blogs and keeping tabs on all my favorites.

Your turn - head on over to Crazy for Books and get Hoppin'!


I've only been doing Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee, for a couple of weeks, but I'm really enjoying it. Click on over there to join in the fun!

If you're here because of either of these events, leave me a comment and let me know. Welcome, everybody - enjoy your stay :)

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