Monday, November 29, 2010

P.B. Does It Again With Fun Dangerous New Book

(Image from Indiebound)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for This Isn't What It Looks Like, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier books. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

If I haven't convinced you by now that reading Pseudonymous Bosch's "secret" series is dangerous for one's health, check this out: When This Isn't What It Looks Like begins, Cass is in a coma. A coma! True, it's self-induced, but still ... she never would have eaten the chocolate in the first place if it wasn't for that most vile of organizations, the Midnight Sun. So, consider this your warning - these books really are dangerous. Don't believe me? Read on and see for yourself what kind of danger follows when innocents dare to tango with the white-gloved ones.

As our story begins, Cass is lying in a hospital bed, lost to the real world. Try as they might, no one can wake her, not her mother, not her grandfathers, not even her best friend, Max-Ernest. Despite all their attempts, she sleeps on. And dreams. At least she seems to be wandering in a dream world - her surroundings are so surreal they can't be real real. Can they? The more Cass explores the medieval world she's somehow landed in, the more she's convinced that the chocolate she swallowed actually worked, sending her back in time to explore her own beginning. It's not just the mystery of her personal history that Cass wants to solve, though; she's also desperate to find a secret. The Secret. The one members of the Midnight Sun will stop at nothing - nothing - to get for themselves. Cass knows she should make herself wake up, but she has to gather information. It's the only way to save herself and her friends in the real world.

Lost without his best friend, Max-Ernest hardly knows how to function. His hands are full enough without adding loneliness and worry to the mix. For one thing, his suddenly lovey-dovey parents have a surprise for him. And then there's a former classmate who shows up out of the blue acting very suspicious. A note written in code confirms his fear - the Midnight Sun is up to something. He needs Cass' help, but he can't rouse her. Will his friend be stuck in a coma forever? Is Max-Ernest clever enough to stop the evildoers on his own? Or will the Midnight Sun triumph at last?

While This Isn't What It Looks Like isn't my favorite book in Bosch's fun (I mean, dangerous) series, it's still a spirited (I mean, perilous) romp that's clever (conniving?), silly (sinister?), and a whole lot of fun (there's that word again - it's not fun, it's dangerous). For your own good, you should probably stay far, far away from this series (the Midnight Sun has excellent spies, one of whom could be posing as your friendly neighborhood bookseller), but I can't because, seriously, it's as addicting as sweet, creamy chocolate, which just happens to be P.B.'s favorite food. Coincidence? I think not.

(Readalikes: the other books in the Secret series; A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense situations

To the FTC, with love: I received a copy of This Isn't What It Looks Like from Hachette/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers at the request of P.B. himself. Thank you!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lucy the Giant Grabs My Heart in a Big Way

(Image from Indiebound)

"Things Lucy the Giant couldn't even imagine, Barb the Adult has in spades. Barb has everything I ever wanted. Except a way to hold on to it all" (165).

At home in Sitka, Alaska, 15-year-old Lucy Otswego's known for two things: her size and her father. As if being called "Giant" all the time isn't enough to make her into a total freak, she also gets the privilege of dragging the town drunk home every night. Lucy dreams of escape, of leaving Sitka forever, just like her mother did. But, how does a kid disappear like that? And who would take care of her father?

When Lucy loses the only thing that's ever mattered to her, her grief propels her to run away from her miserable life. Before she even knows what's happening, she's boarding a plane headed to Kodiak. The other passengers are college-aged kids looking for work on fishing vessels. As large as she is, Lucy fits right in. With little money and nowhere to sleep, she ends up in a bar facing a surprising challenge. It ends with an even bigger surprise - a job aboard a crabbing boat called the Miranda Lee. No one questions her age, especially when they see how hard she's willing to work. Still, not everyone's happy about having Lucy (who's calling herself "Barb" on board. With the help of warm-hearted Geneva, Lucy finds that the hard work, hefty paychecks, and camarederie of sea life agrees with her. Sitka seems far, far away.

Lucy may be feeling like an adult, but a chance encounter that threatens to reveal her true identity has her trembling like a child. What will happen if she's discovered? She never meant to hurt anyone with her charade - now she's putting others at risk. Coming clean could mean legal trouble, wounding people she loves and, once again, losing everything that's important to her. She can't survive that kind of pain again. It all comes to a head one stormy night when Lucy the Giant has to make a very adult decision, one that could mean losing everything, including her life.

Sherri L. Smith's Lucy the Giant, is one of those You-Had-Me-At-Hello stories. It grabbed my heart from the very first line and hasn't let go yet. Poignant and warm, the novel looks unassuming, but packs a powerful punch. With a unique setting, a cast of interesting characters and a compelling plotline, the book's an all-around absorbing read. Add a heroine who's wholly sympathetic and utterly endearing, and what's not to love? Although I wanted a picture-perfect ending for Lucy, the fact that she has to create her own Happily Ever After gives the story an authentic bent that makes it both hopeful and satisfying. It all works together to create an exciting, yet tender story about growing up, a story I absolutely loved.

(Readalikes: The descriptions of professional fishing/crabbing remind me of The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw, while Lucy's character reminded me of D.J. in Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen series and Beth from Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison)

Grade: B+

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

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Unluckiest Cookie Baker in the World Is At It Again In Blueberry Muffin Murder

(Image from Indiebound)

You may have noticed I've been slacking a bit on my Light & Fluffy Fluke-a-thon. Other books have taken precedence, yes, but I've also been waiting a very long time for Blueberry Muffin Murder, the third installment in Joanne Fluke's popular series. Apparently, a whole lot of people in my library district are hungry for more Hannah Swensen. And, although I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it, so am I. When I finally did get my hands on the illusive novel, I delved right into it, glad to be back in cozy Lake Eden, Minnesota with the unluckiest cookie baker in the world.

If you're not familiar with Fluke's culinary mysteries, here's a rundown: Hannah Swensen, the busybody owner of The Cookie Jar, has a knack for discovering dead bodies. When she's not baking up scrumptious confections in her shop's kitchen, she's "helping" the police investigate the mysteries behind the deaths of all the corpses she happens to come across. With the aid of her fashionable sister, her overbearing mother, her sorta boyfriends (Norman, the dentist and Mike, the police officer), and her assistant, Lisa, she always gets the cases solved - before the professionals, of course. If you're looking for great literature, you're not going to find it here. The characters are flat, the dialogue's not much better, and the mysteries are always predictable. But, if you're looking for something light and fun, well, you can't go wrong with Joanne Fluke. Did I mention the books are mostly clean? And they include yummy recipes? They are. They do. So, while the series isn't ever going to earn A's from me, it is a whole lot of fun.

Blueberry Muffin Murder opens on an icy day in February, the dreariest month in Lake Eden. To perk everybody up, the town is hosting its first annual Winter Carnival, a festival that will include, among other activities, a dogsled race, a snowman building competition, an ice fishing contest and a special appearance by celebrity baker Connie Mac. Hannah's promised to bring dozens of cookies to the big event, meaning she's got her hands full with her own baking. The last thing she has time to do is play tour guide to America's cooking sweetheart, especially when Connie Mac turns out to be a controlling, hypercritical witch. Hannah's more than happy to turn her escort duties over to her sister, Andrea, who's much more enthusiastic about hanging with the spoiled star. Naturally, Hannah's less than thrilled when an emergency baking situation brings the woman into The Cookie Jar's kitchen. She's even less excited when she finds Connie Mac's dead body in her pantry. Hannah didn't like the woman, but no one deserves that kind of death.,/p>

Since The Cookie Shop is an active crime scene, Hannah needs to find another kitchen. She finds salvation at the Lake Eden Inn, where she can bake while questioning Connie Mac's employees, every one of whom had a reason to want their boss dead. Even Janie, a close friend of Andrea's, is starting to look guilty. Ignoring Mike's warning to stay out of police business, Hannah keeps digging, determined to clear her friend and solve the murder. But the closer she comes to the truth, the more secrets she uncovers, and the more vulnerable she, herself, becomes. Can she solve the murder in time? Or will the next corpse to turn up in little Lake Eden be Hannah's own?

If you can willingly suspend your belief, look past the stumbling prose and hurdle the gaping plot holes, you'll probably enjoy Blueberry Muffin Murder. Just remember not to take it too seriously. This series isn't about sparkling dialogue, intricate plotting or characters who pop off the page. Good, clean fun - that's what you're going to find here. And why not? We reviewers take ourselves far too seriously as it is ...

(Readalikes: Other books in the Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 (If it weren't for a couple references to people sleeping together, it would be PG as there is no profanity, graphic violence or sex)

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Like A Blue Lobster, Touch Blue Is A Rare and Beautiful Thing

(Image from Indiebound)

Maine's superstitious lobstermen know a lot about luck. They'd never curse a fishing trip by whistling aboard a boat, uttering the "d" word (drowned) at sea, or letting a redhead aboard without first counteracting his bad karma. Sticking to tried-and-true good-luck routines is the only way to ensure a successful haul. 'Course, touching blue to make your wishes come true doesn't hurt either. Eleven-year-old Tess, who's been fishing with her dad more times than she can count, knows all the tricks for avoiding bad luck and bringing on the good. And she's using them all today.

Tess, who's lived on Bethsaida her whole life, can't imagine dwelling anywhere else, but that's just what's going to happen if the island's schoolhouse shuts down. Ever since the Hamiltons moved, taking their five kids back to the mainland, the state of Maine has been threatening to close the school's doors. If it happens, Tess' mother will lose her job, obliterating the family's health insurance as well as their only reliable source of income (even with all the luck in the world, Tess' dad's lobstering is a financial gamble). The only solution will be the most unbearable thing Tess can think of: leaving the island. None of Bethsaida's residents want that, so they're solving the problem by taking in a boatload of foster children. Not only will the kids up the school's enrollment, but they'll be taken care of by good, solid island families. It's clearly a win-win situation. So why is Aaron, the 13-year-old boy living at Tess' house, so sullen and uninterested?

Maybe bringing the foster children to the island began as a ploy to save the school, but Aaron's quickly becoming important to Tess. He's not the chummy big brother she imagined or an orphan destined to become her best, bosom friend like Anne of Green Gables - he's a sulky teenager, hurt by his mother's abandonment. Still, he's hers. Surely, among all Bethsaida's quirky townsfolk, there's a place for a boy like him. As Tess puts her dynamite Make-Aaron-Feel-Welcome plan into action, she discovers that life beyond her island home can be a cruel place, and that seen through someone else's eyes, Bethsaida might not be the paradise Tess feels it to be. Most of all, she discovers that wishes don't always come true in the way you imagine and that the best luck of all is the kind you make for yourself.

Cynthia Lord's heartfelt Touch Blue is a simple tale, but one that rings with humor, warmth and wisdom. Tess is an understated, down-home kind of heroine - funny, sincere and difficult not to love. Minor cast members are equally as engaging, the setting's unique, while a streamlined plot keeps things moving right along. Touch Blue isn't the kind of story that blows you away with its intensity, it's the kind that makes you smile, the kind that sneaks quietly into your heart and stays there long after you've turned its last page. Like Tess' blue lobster, it's a pleasant surprise, a thing of unusual beauty. And since that's enough sap to color the weathered cheeks of any Maine fisherman, I'll put it simply: Ayuh. I loved it.

(Readalikes: I can't really think of any. Can you?)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for one instance of very, very vague sexual innuendo and subject matter (parental abandonment, alcoholism) most suitable for kids over the age of 8 or so

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Here-There-And-Everywhere Plotline Gives Me Trouble

(Image from Indiebound)

Once upon a time, 13-year-old Dellie belonged to a normal, happy family. But that was before the car accident that killed her little brother, Louis. Dellie's mom hasn't smiled since. She hides in her room, sleeping away her grief, while Dellie's father watches, helpless. As much as Dellie wants to run outside, flee the sorrow that permeates their apartment, she can't. Her mother's too paranoid to let her go anywhere other than school. Although Dellie craves freedom more than anything else, she knows deep down that she deserves the punishment; after all, it's her fault Louis is dead.

Things start to change when a hungry 5-year-old boy shows up at Dellie's door. She's seen Corey around enough to know his story - the kid lives with his deadbeat mother who often leaves him home alone while she goes out with different boyfriends. When she is at home, everyone can hear her yelling at the boy and the bruises she leaves all over his body are difficult for anyone to miss. Although she knows she shouldn't get involved, Dellie can't ignore the needy child who reminds her so much of her brother. She failed Louis, but she vows not to let Corey down.

The more Dellie gets involved, the riskier the situation becomes. She's seen Corey's mom in a temper before and it's not a pretty sight. Still, she has to do something. In the meantime, she has to deal with her best friend, who's suddenly not speaking to her, and Michael, who, surprisingly enough, is. She's been crushing on him forever and now he wants to hang out, something Dellie's mother will never approve of. How can Dellie convince her parents to give her the freedom she needs to grow up? How can she help Corey when she couldn't help Louis? How can she do what she knows is right when the thought of stepping up gives her panic attacks? Most importantly, will life ever be normal and happy again?

The Trouble with Half A Moon (available January 2011), a debut novel by Danette Vigilante, is a poignant story about grief, compassion and courage. With its inner-city, housing project setting, it's no surprise that the book touches on disturbing subjects like domestic violence, depression, poverty, and addiction. Still, it's a hopeful tale that promises redemption through kindness, understanding and faith. While this sometimes gritty tale carries an important message, the story suffers from choppy writing, a here-there-and-everywhere plotline, and characters who don't get the development they deserve. Vigilante's trying to cover so much territory that the book lacks the focus necessary to make it truly effective. A little streamlining would have made a huge difference here. As is, the book makes for a very disappointing read. Unless Vigilante's skills improve big time by her next book, I won't be reading her again.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Bang! by Sharon Flake)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mature subject matter (although it has no profanity or sex)

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Trouble With Half A Moon from the generous folks at Putnam.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Three Kids + Three Treasures = One Big Adventure

(Image from Indiebound)

Three children. Three treasures. One big adventure.

Hannah, Frederick and Giuseppe are strangers living in the same city whose lives are about to converge. Each of the kids harbor a secret desire: Hannah hopes to cure her bedridden father, Frederick longs to make journeyman so he can open his own clockwork shop, and Giuseppe just wants to flee his cruel padrone and head back to Italy. They are impossible goals for a hotel maid, an apprentice, and a street musician, but when each of the kids finds a mysterious treasure, their goals actually seem achievable. Rumors of hidden money could mean the best doctors for Hannah's father; a valuable Magnus head could complete Frederick's automaton, a creation sure to earn him fame and fortune; and a magic violin is bringing in enough money to satisfy Giuseppe's employer as well as purchase a boat ticket. Only secrets never stay secret for very long - as desperate as the trio are to hold onto their gems, someone's even more determined to take them.

When, by chance, the kids meet, a fast friendship forms. As they share their stories, they realize that the only people they can really count on are each other. By working together they just might be able to solve the mysteries of their individual treasures, making all their dreams come true in the process. What seems simple, though, soon turns into a grand adventure, forcing the children into face-offs with everything from street thugs to a cougar to mechanical bodyguards. Getting the things they most desire won't be easy for the determined trio, it may even be impossible, but they have to try - for their families, themselves and each other.

The Clockwork Three, Matthew J. Kirby's exciting debut for middle graders, mixes a whole bunch of genres (historical fiction, fantasy, adventure, steampunk, etc.) to create a thrilling ride sure to capture the imaginations of readers of all ages. Empathetic characters, solid writing and an intriguing plotline make the story both compelling and moving. While the tale touches on dark subjects (poverty, child labor, kidnapping, and other issues common at the turn-of-the-century), it remains a hopeful, magical tale of children gathering the courage to change their own lives. The ending offers enough mystery for several books, which I sincerely hope are forthcoming. And soon.
(Readalikes: Reminded me a teensy bit of Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Can you think of any others?)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for subject matter best suited for older children

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Clockwork Three from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Has My "Hands-Down Favorite Book of the Year" Met Its Match(ed)?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Remember when I boldly declared Incarceron to be my "hands down favorite book of the year"? Well, I almost had to retract that statement when I finished Matched by Ally Condie. While the novel didn't blow me away as completely as Incarceron, it seduced me so subtlely that I can't stop thinking about it. So, while Matched may not finish first in my 2010 favorites race, it earns a close, close second because, let me tell you, I have a serious case of book love here. It's not so much about the storyline since the novel follows a fairly typical dystopian pattern - it's more about the way Condie spins the yarn. It's got a soft, old-fashioned cadence that makes this futuristic drama read like a fairy tale.
Matched takes place in a world not so unlike our own. In fact, it's been created from the ruins of the society that came before, a population which destroyed itself by overusing technology, natural resources, and independent thought. Having learned from the mistakes of their ancestors, the Officials now control everything in the Society: meals are prepared based on an individual's carefully-calculated caloric needs; careers are assigned according to whom statistics deem most able; Aberrations are kept out to ensure a pure gene pool; lives are terminated at 80 so the elderly never feel useless; and girls and boys are precisely Matched to others whose histories indicate an ability to produce healthy offspring. Everyone follows the rules for the good of their world. After all, "This is as close to perfect as any society has ever managed to get" (114).

Since the Officials never make mistakes, 17-year-old Cassia Reyes expects them to choose her a perfect match. And they do. No one is better suited to her than Xander Carrow, the boy who's been her best friend since childhood. Most girls are given mates from other Provinces - Cassia's ecstatic to be Matched not only to someone from her own city, but to someone she already knows and trusts. She couldn't be happier. Until another face pops up on her matching screen. Another face with which she's familiar. Although the Officials blame the error on a practical joker, assuring Cassia the rulebreaker will be severely punished, the whole situation unnerves her. Seeing the faces of two boys on the Matching screen opens Cassia's mind to something she's never even considered before: the possibility of choosing something - or someone - for herself.
The more Cassia tries to convince herself that Xander is the only Match for her, the more her thoughts fly to the other boy. Ky Markham came from the Outer Provinces as a child and has always been secretive. What does he know of the world outside the Society? Why do his ideas cause her heart to soar, her mind to flood with unimaginable prospects? His ideas challenge and endanger everything she knows. So, why does she want more of them? More of him? The Society has already chosen the perfect man for Cassia. She can't break all the rules for something as illogical as love. Or can she?
While Matched lacks the complexity and nuance of other dystopian epics, it has a refreshing frankness that makes it more variegated than it seems at first glance. Condie asks all the usual questions, but also digs deeper, questioning things like the cost of abandoning creativity and passion in pursuit of greater efficiency or the effects of choice on the health of a human being. Not that the story is all deep, philosophical pondering. It's not. It's also an enthralling romance disguised as a tense, suspenseful adventure. I mean, really, what's not to love? Because, truly, I adored every word.
(Readalikes: Although it has a gentler touch, Matched reminded me of other dystopian classics like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood)
Grade: A-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense scenes
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Matched from the generous folks at Dutton. Thank you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dolls Unite Against Rogue Toy in Fun Toy Storyish Romp

(Image from Indiebound)

Long before Toy Story came along to confirm it, most kids suspected the truth: toys are alive. Sure, they put on a good act while children are in the room, but the moment their owners vacate the premises, all the Barbies, action figures, stuffed animals and green Army men wake up. They play, they fight, they flirt, they watch out for enemies (namely humans and pets), they live out their own lives. Obviously, they freeze the moment they hear danger approaching - after all, their secret must be kept at all costs. One wrong move could equal exposure, which would spell disaster for every plaything in the world. So, what happens when a rogue toy comes on the scene? Well, as Woody can tell you, it ain't always pretty.

At the Palmer house on 26 Wetherby Lane, Annabelle Doll and Tiffany Funcraft live a pretty uneventful life. Oh, they sometimes get tossed around by the girls who live there and they have to watch out for the family dog - all in all, though, it's a peaceful existence. Not that they mind an occasional adventure, of course. Still, when the girls hide themselves in Kate Palmer's backpack, they get a little more adventure than they bargained for. Navigating elementary school proves challenging, but nothing can prepare them for the kind of problems they face when they land in the wrong home. A controlling princess doll wants them off her turf, even if it means war. Her carelessness could mean the end of Annabelle, Tiffany and all of Dollkind. Do two timid dolls stand a chance against a menace like Mean Mimi? Or will they end up frozen permanently, trapped in Doll State forever?

The Meanest Doll in the World is the second entry in a fun Toy Story-ish series written by Ann M. Martin (of The Babysitter's Club fame) and Laura Godwin and illustrated by Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret). Although I read it at the request of my kids, I enjoyed this lighthearted romp as much as they did. At its heart, the story is about facing your fears, believing in yourself, and working together to solve problems. The lessons are hidden in an exciting, adventure-filled story which will capture their imaginations as well as their attention. Even my 12-year-old son couldn't wait to find out what happened next (although he wouldn't admit it in a million years). While it's not the most original story in the world, The Meanest Doll in the World is one of those tales that holds a timeless kind of appeal. It's a clean, enjoyable read that might even inspire kids to take better care of their toys - what more could a mom ask for?

(Readalikes: Reminded me of the Toy Story movies; The Doll People and The Runaway Dolls by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin are sure to be similar)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: G

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Meanest Doll in the World from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion. Thank you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Spending Too Much at the Grocery Store? The Coupon Mom's Here to Help!

(Image from Indiebound)

When my husband saw me reading The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills In Half by Stephanie Nelson, he said, "Couldn't you have written that book?" To which I (very modestly) replied, "Yep." After 13 years of religiously clipping coupons, mailing in rebates and scouring stores for great deals, I think I know what I'm doing on the saving-money-on-groceries-front. And yet, books like this one still grab my attention because, heck, who doesn't want to save even more money? I certainly do. Unfortunately, Nelson didn't have any new-fangled ideas to help me out. She mostly sticks to the basics, walking newbies through the ins and outs of coupon use. So, while the book's a helpful guide for beginners, it's a bit disappointing for us veterans.

If you're new to the savings game, though, you'll want to check Nelson out. The expert shopper runs Coupon Mom, a website dedicated to helping people learn how to shop more strategically. On the site as well as in her book, she explains how to save money by watching for sales, using coupons to further reduce prices, and stockpiling items while they can be purchased most cheaply. Of course, none of that can happen without first learning where to find coupons, how to organize them efficiently, and how to use them to save the most money, all topics Nelson addresses. Since not everyone has the time to turn frugality into a part-time job, she tailors her ideas to fit different shopping styles. She also offers some time-worn tips that can help everyone, even those who never clip coupons: Compare unit prices before automatically buying the biggest can/jar/box of a product; consider growing your own herbs and vegetables; Cook at home to avoid spending at restaurants, etc.

While Nelson's tips are aimed at helping people trim their own budgets, what I most appreciate about her book is the section on using coupons to aid others. From passing on coupons you can't use to people who can to sharing your surplus groceries with friends to donating items to shelters and food pantries, there are so many ways to use your savings to help other people. Scoring groceries for pennies or even free makes it that much easier to pass it on to those in need. Even the expired coupons you're tempted to dump in the trash can be helpful - military families living overseas can use them at their base commisaries. Spreading the savings around is a huge high, especially at this time of year.

If you've been using coupons for awhile, you might not find much that's new in The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half. It's a great refresher course, though, and an excellent guide for newbies. Regardless of your saving "style," you should check out this book trailer. It's hard not to be impressed when watching Nelson in action:


(Readalikes: I haven't read a book like this is some time, apparently. But, if you're interested in saving, try Miserly Moms and Frugal Families by Jonni McCoy.)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: G

To the FTC, with love: I bought this book with some of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lackluster Writing Kills Compelling Concept in The Clone Codes

(Image from Indiebound)

In all of her 13 years, Leanna Deberry's only met one clone: her friend's housekeeper, a womanish figure the girls call Deuces. Like all domestic clones, Deuces is a capable cook/cleaner, but that's about all "she" is able to do. Like all clones, she's been programmed not to lie, not to question orders, not to think. Why Leanna's mother thinks clones deserve rights, just like the humans from which they were created, is completely beyond Leanna. Obviously, they are mindless robots with the ability to do one thing and one thing only: serve humans.

Leanna knows her mother's views on cloning are a little radical, but she's shocked when a ruthless bounty hunter arrests Dr. Deberry on orders from the Clone Humane Society. Could she really be a member of the mythical Liberty Bell Movement as the authorities are suggesting? Turns out, Dr. Deberry's been keeping all kinds of secrets, some of which are dangerous enough to put Leanna in danger. On the run from the same bounty hunter who captured her mother, Leanna's got to figure out what's going on. And fast. Unraveling the mysteries will take Leanna on a journey of discovery unlike anything she's encountered in the virtual world to which she's become addicted. This time, she's finding truths about her family, herself and the tenuous future of the world around her.

The Clone Codes, a new sci fi adventure by the parent/son team of Frederick, Patricia and John McKissack, is yet another example of a book with great potential that sinks because of poor execution. With three writers working on this slim novel (it's only 165 pages), you'd think the flat characters, choppy writing, and stilted dialogue would have been edited out. Um, no. It's there. Middle graders may be more interested in the cool, futuristic world the McKissacks have created than in the mediocre way they present it, but I had a hard time getting past the rough writing. It's such an interesting concept, with themes of tolerance and compassion, ideas that are especially affecting when comparing clones to slaves, I just wish the McKissacks had taken a little more care to make the story as compelling as it could have been. Maybe the series will get better as it goes on, or maybe The Cyborg Codes will be a disappointing clone of this one. You'll have to let me know because I won't be wasting my time on it.

(Readalikes: It reminded me a tiny bit of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card)

Grade: D

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for intense action scenes

To the FTC, with love: I received a finish copy of The Clone Codes from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Huh? Friday? Again?

*Yawn* So, Friday again, huh? How did that happen? How has your week gone? Mine's been busy. And loud. The busy part comes from the flurry of activity that always accompanies this time of year. Between celebrating birthdays (3/4 of my kids were born this month, even though none of them were actually due in November), trying to whip the house into shape for Thanksgiving visitors and the daily shuttling of bodies to T-ball, art class, church activities, doctor's appointments, etc, well, it's been a tad chaotic. Add to that a loud, but very successful, remodeling project and you pretty much have my week! Our loft/library has turned out very well. The place is looking spiffy with its new addition plus the new light fixtures/fans that have been added. Now, we just need to carpet the loft, re-carpet the guest room (the previous owners had enough animals to populate a zoo - 'nough said), paint the whole downstairs (I don't know if I can handle the stress of choosing colors!), install one more ceiling fan, replace a damaged window, install hand railings in the loft, and put wood flooring down on a couple new stairs. When I say we, I of course mean someone else, but wow, it's a lot of work! The plan is to have it finished by Thanksgiving. I can't wait to put the place back together - just in time to take it apart for Christmas decorating. *Sigh*

On the reading front, I've finished several great books. I'm actually way ahead in writing/posting reviews - well, in posting anyway - so you'll have to wait a bit to see what I have to say about Matched by Ally Condie, The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby and Touch Blue by Cynthina Lord. I can't wait. In the meantime, we have my two favorite book bloggy events:


This week, our hostess Jennifer asks: When you read books in a series, do you have to start with the first volume?

- My answer is yes. I'm just anal that way. I cannot, will not, do not - ever - start a series at any point but the beginning!


Parajunkee, host of Follow My Book Blog Friday asks about our yearly book-buying budget.

- Um, huh? Do people have those? I don't have any set amount that I spend/don't spend. Actually, since I have so many review books weighing down my shelves, I haven't bought many books this year. I'd say I spent maybe $100 this year and those were either gifts or books published by companies with whom I do not have a relationship.

If you're here because of either of these events, welcome to Bloggin' 'bout Books. If you're here just because you love me, well, thanks :) Have a look around, leave me a comment, give me a recommendation, and, most of all, have a great time. Enjoy your weekend!

Jane Eyre Retelling Needs A Little Bronte-ish Charm

(Image from Indiebound)

What is it about classic novels that make them, well, classic? For me, it's about timelessness - an appealing story peopled with rich, complex characters endures beyond wherever or whenever it takes place. Jane Eyre certainly fits the bill. So, why doesn't it have the same appeal when re-told with a contemporary cast moving in a modern setting? Is it the story itself that doesn't translate or does the tale simply lose its charm when not told in Charlotte Bronte's words? I'm guessing it's the latter because, while Jane by April Lindner stays very true to the original story, it doesn't enchant the way the classic does. But I guess that's another part of the definition: no matter how often it is imitated, a classic can never be equaled or surpassed.

Lindner's version features 19-year-old Jane Moore, a freshman who's been forced to drop out of Sarah Lawrence following the sudden death of her parents. In order to return to college, she'll have to save a significant amount of money, hence her appearance at Discriminating Nannies, Inc. Although Jane feels dowdy and unsophisticated next to the other applicants, it's her plainness that lands her a coveted position in the home of rock star Nico Rathburn. Not one for celebrity gossip, Jane knows little about the legendary musician, although a Google search turns up a dubious history that includes drug use, failed relationships, and a host of other bad-boy tendencies. Despite her misgivings, Jane takes the well-paying job.

It doesn't take Jane long to settle into Thornfield Park, Mr. Rathburn's luxurious country estate. Her boss is away; his staff is friendly; her charge is sweet, if precocious; and the girl's preschool/nap schedule affords plenty of time for Jane to pursue her painting. There's only one thing that bugs her: She hears strange noises at night. Loud bumps and maniacal laughter drift down from the third floor, a part of the house Jane has been forbidden to explore. Although the others blame it on an eccentric housekeeper, Jane can't help but wonder why a man like Nico Rathburn would tolerate such strange behavior from an employee. It's only when Jane actually meets her boss that she realizes he has his own peculiarities, one of which is his seeming fascination with her. What can Nico Rathburn, a celebrity who is constantly surrounded by glitz and glamour, possibly see in a nobody like Jane?

The more time Jane spends at Thornfield, the more attached she grows not only to the estate itself, but to little Maddy and her confounding father. Nico seems attracted to her as well, so why is he dating a flawless blonde? And what isn't he telling her about his mysterious third floor occupant? When all is revealed one wonderful, terrible day, Jane will have to make an impossible choice - stay at Thornfield, the only place that's ever felt like home, or leave behind the only happiness she's ever known?

If you've read Jane Eyre, you won't find any surprises in Jane. Like I said, it stays quite true to the classic story. The modern setting, however, renders it a little ... creepy. Mr. Rochester becomes a rash and selfish cradle-robber, Jane's dull and irritatingly naive, and what is so deeply romantic in the classic book seems forced in the modern version. In the original tale, the age difference between the main characters doesn't bother me - in the 21st Century, it does. If the world-wise Nico really loves young, sheltered Jane, wouldn't he insist that she complete school, date around, and sow her wild oats instead of pressuring her into marrying him? I would think so. Predictability also becomes a problem in a retelling like this - I, for one, wouldn't have minded a clever twist or two. Overall, I have to say that Lindner writes well, her prose just lacks the Bronte magic that makes Jane Eyre so irresistibly charming. I think making the story more her own would have made it much, much more appealing.

(Readalikes: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

Grade: B-

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Because I'm Not Vindictive At All ...

(Image from Indiebound)

I don't consider myself to be the vindictive sort. Or the type to hold a grudge (Besides the lady who had the gall to suggest my beautiful infant daughter might be cross-eyed, of course, because she is still on my black list...). Other than that, though, I'm pretty forgiving. Which is a good thing for author Christopher Pike. You see, way back when I was a kid, he was my favorite author. He wrote YA mystery/suspenses that kept me up reading way, way past my bedtime. I loved his stories so much I wrote him a long, gushing fan letter, laying it on so thick I was sure he'd send me a reply the moment he received my note. When I didn't hear from him, it crushed my little heart. Obviously, I'm over it now. Still, when I received Pike's newest novel for review, I have to admit I almost didn't read it. Just to show him what it feels like to be ignored. Luckily, my magnanimous nature won out. Or maybe it's not so lucky since The Secret of Ka doesn't get very high marks from me. I just want to be clear on this: It's not sour grapes. Not at all. Really, though, it's not. It's not.

A departure from both his mysteries of old and more recent ventures into vampire territory, Pike's newest is a fantastical adventure, Aladdin style. The story begins with a very bored teenager. Fifteen-year-old Sara Wilcox has traveled with her father to Turkey, where he will be spending the summer working at the hydroelectric plant his company runs in Istanbul. Although he promised to spend all his free time with Sara, she's barely seen her father. Wiling away the hours alone in a hotel isn't how she wants to use her summer vacation, so when she spies an opportunity to do something, she takes it. Bribing a flustered errand boy to take her to her father's job site, Sara not only makes a (very good-looking) new friend, but she comes across an amazing artifact: a magic carpet. Amesh, Sara's partner-in-crime, suggests selling the rug on the black market. Sara can't stand to part with it - it belongs in a museum. After she's done with it, of course.

The more Sara studies the carpet, the stronger her connection to the object becomes. It's almost as if it's beckoning to her, begging her to discover its secrets. When she and Amesh allow it to guide them away from Istanbul, they're shocked to find themselves on a secret island controlled by djinns (genies). The possibility of having all his wishes granted proves to be too much temptation for Amesh, who unknowingly unleashes an ancient evil into the human world. Desperate to save her friend, Sara must pit her own cleverness against the conniving djinn. If she can't stop the powerful genies, it could mean disaster. On a global level. In the meantime, she's learning truths that are changing everything she's ever known about her family, her world and, most of all, herself.

There's so much potential here for a sweeping, richly-imagined fantasy epic that its poor execution is almost painful to behold. Pike's characters are flat, annoying creatures without dimension, personality or complexity. The dialogue is stiff, the prose lazy, the plot flimsy, and the know-it-all carpet makes for a mystery that is solved way too easily. What The Secret of Ka resembles more than anything is a rough draft. Its premise definitely intrigues, the story just needs some serious editing and polishing. I know from personal reading experience that Pike can do better than this. Way better. Instead of a fan letter, maybe I need to offer up my manuscript-improvement services. Think I'll get a reply this time? Yeah, me neither.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud)

Grade: D

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Secret of Ka from the generous folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thank you!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Flygirl Soars With the Spirit of the WASP

(Image from Indiebound)
"The dreams of one little colored girl don't matter to a world at war. But they matter to me" (18).

All Ida Mae Jones has ever wanted to do is fly. Since the moment her father first hoisted her into his Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny," she's been addicted to hurtling through the clouds. Now that fuel's being rationed due to the war, Ida can't even carry on her father's crop dusting business. She's been grounded and it's killing her. With her father dead and her brother off at war, Ida knows her family needs her at home. Still, she refuses to lose sight of her goal: As soon as she saves enough of the money she's making cleaning houses, she's headed straight to the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago. It's the only institution where a colored woman like herself can get a pilot's license. No matter how many floors she has to scrub, Ida Mae's determined to reach her goal.

When she sees an advertisement for the newly formed WASP (Women's Airforce Service Pilots), Ida Mae knows it's a golden opportunity, not only to get herself back into the air but also to help her country. Although the ad doesn't forbid colored women from applying, Ida Mae's not about to take the chance. With her light skin and "good" hair, she's always been the envy of her friends - if anyone can "pass" as white, it's her. When she's sent to Texas for training, Ida Mae's filled with gut-twisting anxiety. "Passing" in Slidell, Louisiana, is one thing, getting caught in the Lone Star State could end with a noose around her neck. But, she has to try. Between proving herself to the WASPs naysayers, remembering not to act like a housemaid, and attempting to forget the white man who occupies too many of her thoughts, Ida Mae's got her work cut out for her. She may lose everything she knows - her family, her friends, her very self - in the process, but nothing will stop Ida Mae from flying. Nothing.
Embracing the soaring spirit of the WASP, Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith is the triumphant story of a woman determined to make her dreams come true, no matter what. Although it touches on dark subjects, the novel has a gentle cadence that makes it affecting in a quiet, understated way. At times Ida Mae's plight seems a little too easy and a tad unrealistic (How is it that none of her new friends ever ask to see a family photo?), but I still found Flygirl immensely compelling. The fact that it didn't end with a neatly tied-up finale made it even better. I loved it.
(Readalikes: It reminds me of the movie Amelia. I can't think of any books, though. Can you?)
Grade: B
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs) and very mild sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: I bought Flygirl with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Farm-Fresh YA Series Satisfies ... to the Last Drop (Um, Word)

(Image from Indiebound)

(Note: Although this review will not contain spoilers for Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its prequels. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After 5 months of helping her older brother get back on his feet (so to speak), D.J. Schwenk is ready for life to get back to normal. Not girl-making-headlines-by-joining-the-football-team normal, but D.J.-blending-into-the-background normal. It doesn't take long for her to realize that normal is so not happening. First, there's her locker, which the girls from the basketball team have decorated to welcome her back. That's definitely never happened before. Then, there's Beaner acting all lovestruck. What's that all about? And, finally, there's the mound of recruiting letters from colleges all over the Midwest. For D.J., who's only a junior. Looks like she has to decide - and fast - what to do after high school. It's overwhelming, especially when the only thing D.J. really wants to do is milk cows, shoot some hoops and hang out with Brian Nelson. Who, by the way, is keeping his distance from a certain dairy farming girl football player.

D.J. should be elated by how everything in her life is turning out. She's being courted by the best college basketball teams in her region, she's going out with a guy who's proud to be her boyfriend (unlike certain QBs who pretend not to know her when they pass each other at Taco Bell), and her family actually seems to be on the mend. So, what's the big problem? Well, for one thing, it's not enough for her to just read the letters from the basketball coaches, she has to respond to them. Like, with a phone call. Talking isn't exactly her strong suit, especially when she's not even sure she's cut out for District III basketball. To add to the pressure, she needs a scholarship in order to afford college; to win one, she has to show leadership on the court. That means speaking up during games, something she generally leaves to everyone - anyone - else. And with Beaner? He's as comfortable as her favorite athletic shorts, but that's it. She's not in love with him. As for her family? Well, not everything has changed.

Front and Center, the satisfying conclusion to Catherine Gilbert Murdock's charming series about an oversized girl dairy farmer, follows the always empathetic D.J. as she makes pivotal decisions about her future. It really is impossible not to feel for her, laugh with her and root for her as she navigates the bumpy road to adulthood. I got a little bored with all the sports talk, but I still found this to be an enjoyable installment in a story I've enjoyed from the start. With all the dark, broody YA books on the shelf, this trilogy stands out with a sweetness that's home grown and down-to-earth. It tackles tough issues, but does so in a way that's fresh, funny and inspiring. I love it!

(Readalikes: Dairy Queen and The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for (non-graphic) make out scenes and references to homosexuality

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Friday, November 05, 2010

A Little I-Can't-Believe-I'm-Old-Enough-to-Have-A-12-Year-Old Bookishness

What were you doing 12 years ago today? I was making my way to the hospital, trying to breathe through some fierce labor pains. At 29 weeks along. I was sure the doctors were going to take one look at me, laugh, and send me home. Didn't happen. Instead, I gave birth to a tiny little boy who weighed only 3 lbs. 6 oz. After a roller coaster ride through the NICU, he came home in time for Christmas. Today, he's a sweet, funny 12 year old who's as tall as I am. Where does the time go?

Anyway, it's Friday - time for my two favorite book blogging events. I haven't participated in either for a couple of weeks, so I'm ready to do some Hoppin' and Followin'. How 'bout you?

The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy For Books. This week, she asks: What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog? She's also issuing a mini-challenge that kind of goes along with the question, so check that out.

- I guess the answer to this question is kind of obvious based on the fact that I participate in the Hop and Follow Friday almost every week. Of course, I want followers! And by followers I mean people who officially Follow me on Google Connect, people who subscribe via feed reader, those who check in regularly without any kind of reminder, and especially those who leave comments. I love my readers! I do realize, though, that there are hundreds of book blogs out there. If you don't have time to check mine, I completely understand.

My Google Reader, I have to tell you, is full of book blogs. Several hundred, in fact. All of which I check on at least monthly. I just love book blogs and when I leave a comment on yours saying that I'll be back, I mean it.

Yes, I have stopped following blogs, but usually it's only when the blog goes inactive, the blog's content is offensive, or I go months without looking at it. That doesn't happen often, though.

How about you?



Follow My Book Blog Friday is hosted by Parajunkee. Her question this week is a toughie: Who are your favorite authors?

- I'm too indecisive to have a favorite anything, but here's a list of some of the authors whose work I consistently enjoy:

  • Jodi Picoult
  • Tana French
  • Adriana Trigiani
  • Maeve Binchy
  • Kathy Reichs
  • Robyn Carr
  • Cassandra Clare
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Many, many, many more

Who are your favorites?

Have a wonderful Friday, everyone. Happy Hopping, Following and, of course, reading!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

And My Hands-Down Favorite Book of the Year Is ...



(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In a prison as vast as Incarceron, prisoners don't even bother dreaming of escape. Everyone knows it's impossible. According to legend, only one man has ever made it to the Outside, but that's just a story, told and re-told with endless embellishment. There's nothing left beyond Incarceron anyway, so what's the point of running away? The only thing that matters is survival. And even that seems impossible most days.

Finn hates his hardscrabble life in the Wing. Planning raids, stealing from other gangs, pandering to the sadistic Winglord - it's all so degrading, so pointless. It's a cold, miserable way to live, especially since Finn remembers the light and warmth of the real world. At least he thinks he does. The memories are vague, but they're there. At least he thinks they are. Everyone else laughs at his visions of Outside, scoffs at his desire for escape. Even Finn doesn't know what's real and what's not, he just knows he has to leave the dungeon that's housed him for as long as he can remember. Gildas, an elderly scholar, believes Finn when no one else does. Maybe - probably - they're both crazy. Still, Finn can't live the desperate gang life for one more day. He'll either find Outside or die trying.

A startling discovery leads Finn to a girl named Claudia. She claims to be the daughter of Incarceron's warden, professes to live outside its walls. Maybe she's just as deluded as the rest of them, but Finn can't deny the feeling that he knows her - knew her - somehow. Doomed to marry a man she doesn't love, Claudia promises to help Finn in exchange for a favor of her own. The question is how can they help each other when their only connection is a curious bit of magic? Defeating Incarceron will take more than parlor tricks, especially since the prison isn't your average jailhouse. It may be made of steel and stone, but Incarceron is alive and it's not about to let anyone evade its clutches.

Incarceron, a brilliant new novel by Welsh poet and sci fi/fantasy master Catherine Fisher, introduces a dystopian trilogy that's sure to rival Hunger Games in popularity. With fully-realized characters; a mysterious and complex storyworld; constant action; and even some good, old courtly intrigue, it's an engaging mix of everything that makes a book worth reading. I whipped through all 442 pages in one sitting, empty stomach and stinging eyes be darned. If a raging fire had engulfed my house, you probably would have found my charred remains poised on the edge of my recliner, peepers still glued to the page. And no, I'm not exaggerating. Incarceron is, hands down, the best book I've read all year.

P.S. I know some of you were worried after this post, but I'm happy to report that a copy of Sapphique, the next book in the series, is winging its way to me even as we speak. My wonderful friend Amanda secured me a copy, earning my absolute, undying devotion. Click on over to her fabulous blog and show the girl some love. She deserves it!

(Readalikes: the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins and The Maze Runner by James Dashner)

Grade: A

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

To the FTC, with love: I bought Incarceron with some of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Medium Meets Twilight In Over-Hyped Evermore

(Image from Indiebound)

Imagine if Bella could see dead people, if she knew from the start what Edward was or at least what he wasn't (alive). Imagine if she could hear the whispers of everyone's thoughts swirling around her 24/7 - except Edward's. Now, imagine Edward lived alone, there was no Jacob, Bella's parents died in a car accident, and her dead little sister hangs around to give her fashion advice. Oh, and they all live in sunny California. Voila! I give you Evermore, the first book in The Immortals series by Alyson Noël. Okay, there's a little more to it than that, but the title of this post pretty much sums up the book: It's a little Medium mixed with a whole lotta Twilight.

Want a real book summary? Oh, alright, here goes:

After a horrifying car accident, everything changes for 16-year-old Ever Bloom. Her parents and younger sister are dead and she's alone in a hospital bed with just her guilt to keep her company. Then, she realizes that not only can she see people's auras, but she can actually hear their thoughts. It's all thoughts, all the time, a constant buzzing in her head that won't go away, even when she recovers enough to move into her aunt's seaside mini-mansion. Ever's aversion to contact (she drowns herself in oversized clothes, keeps her iPod on full blast and never touches anyone) brands her a freak at her new school. She's got a couple outcast friends and her dead sister to keep her company, which is about all the socializing she can handle.

Then, Damen Auguste saunters into Ever's high school. Even with all the tanned blondes roaming the halls, he stands out with his exotic movie star looks. Everyone notices the new kid, even a startled Ever, who sees right off why Damen's different - he has no aura and she can't read his thoughts. It's weird. It's also addicting; when she's with Damen, the cacophony in her head shuts off, giving Ever a peace she never knows otherwise. He seems totally into her, too, except when he's ... not. Just when she thinks she's got him figured out he disappears, flirts with other girls, refuses to answers questions about his past, and slips into weird, old-fashioned speech. The closer she gets to him, the weirder their friendship becomes. Who - or what - is Damen Auguste? Why is he paying so much attention to Ever? Does he know her secret? Will he expose her for the freak she is? Or is it she who will be exposing him?

Okay, I admit the story has potential. Unfortunately, it travels too-familiar roads, leading to pretty much exactly the kind of finale you would expect. The characters never get beyond empty cliches, Ever's fights seem too easy, there's no real chemistry between Ever and Damen, and their story just goes on and on and on and on. I was still 100 pages from finished when I realized I couldn't wait for the book to end. Instead of clamoring for the sequel, I closed the novel with a sigh of relief. Really. It was that irritating.

After reading Evermore, I can see why some book bloggers are declaring themselves over the whole YA paranormal thing. Reading the same story time and time and time again is getting old. Or maybe it's just me? Am I the only genre fan out there who wants something fresh? Or is everyone else okay with the Twilight reruns?

(Readalikes: the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; The Dark Divine by Bree Despain; The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting; a hundred others ...)

Grade: C-

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

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

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