Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Love It. Read It. Amen.

(Image from Indiebound)

(Note: Although this review will not contain spoilers from Monsters of Men, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessors. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

I've tried to write a summary for Monsters of Men, the last book in the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, but nothing's coming out quite right. The description on its jacket, however, lays it all out perfectly, I'm going to cheat and use it:

In the electrifying finale to the multi-award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, the choices of one boy and one girl will decide the fate of a world.

As a world-ending war surges to life around them, Todd and Viola face monstrous decisions. The indigenous Spackle, thinking and acting as one, have mobilized to avenge their murdered people. Ruthless human leaders prepare to defend their factions at all costs, even as a convoy of new settlers approaches. And as the ceaseless Noise lays all throughts bare, the projected will of the few threatens to overwhelm the desparate desire of the many. The consequences of each action, each word, are unspeakably vast: To follow a tyrant or a terrorist? To save the life of the one you love most or thousands of strangers? To believe in redemption or assume it is lost? Becoming adults amid the tumoil, Todd and Viola question all they have known, racing through horror and outrage toward a shocking finale.

Good, right? As is this series - all the way to its very satisfying end. And, really, that's all I have to say about it. I love these books. Read them. Amen.

(Readalikes: The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness)

Grade: A-

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

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Friday, January 28, 2011

Doin' the Hop!

I really missed doing the Hop last week, so I wanted to make sure to participate this week. If you've never done the Hop, click on over to Crazy For Books and sign up. It's a lot of fun!

This week's question is: What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011? Why are you anticipating that book?

- There are sooo many good ones coming out this year, it's really hard to pick, so I'll just name a few - Desires of the Dead by Kimberly Derting (because I loved The Bodyfinder and can't wait to see what happens next), City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare (because I adore this series), three new books in the Virgin River series by Robyn Carr, Plague by Michael Grant (again, I just love the series) and Possession by Elana Johnson (I met her last year and am excited about the premise of her debut novel).

How about you? Which books are you looking forward to?

Happy Hopping!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Mean, Seriously, Could Patrick Ness Get Any More Brilliant?

(Image from Indiebound)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Ask and The Answer, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from The Knife of Never Letting Go. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

"'But that makes you powerful, Todd Hewitt. In this world of numbness and information overload, the ability to feel, my boy, is a rare gift indeed'" (459).

The Ask and The Answer, the second book in Patrick Ness' brilliant Chaos Walking trilogy, begins right where the first one left off. Well, not right where it left off, but pretty close. After walking for miles, killing a fanatic preacher, battling a Spackle, and outrunning the sadistic mayor of Prentisstown, Todd and Viola finally stumble into Haven. Where the Mayor has taken the city. Todd vows to do anything - anything - to save the dying Viola, and the Mayor holds him to that promise. Before he knows it, he's doing manual labor beside hundreds of Spackle, with Davy Prentiss' gun pointed right at him. He can handle it, knowing that Viola's safe. Except, how does he know the Mayor's keeping his end of the bargain? How can he trust the most manipulative man on the planet? Especially when the Mayor's purposely keeping Viola away from him?

Viola's taken to a healing center, where her wounds are treated by the skillfull Mistress Coyle. The healer treats her well, but it's obvious she has ulterior motives. When she's slipped a secret note, Viola finally understands: Mistress Coyle leads a resistance group called The Answer. If Viola joins, she can help convince the people on her ship to join the fight against the tyrannical Mayor Prentiss. While Viola would never help the Mayor, the man does have one thing she wants - Todd. She won't do anything that would cause him harm. Besides, Mistress Coyle might be just as conniving as the man she's warring against.

With two powerful factions fighting for control of the town that was once Haven, Todd and Viola are stuck in the middle. All they want is peace, safety, but who can wrestle harmony out of the chaos around them? Mayor Prentiss, whose army has killed hundreds? Or Mistress Coyle, who's so power-hungry she'll use anyone to get what she wants? With all the violence and bloodshed, Viola can hear something changing in Todd's Noise - can she still trust him? Can he depend on her? How can they decide which side they're on when the world makes even less sense than usual?

Turns out, I was right to take a breather between The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer because, whoa, the latter starts intense and just never, ever lets up. Ness takes the world he introduced in the first book, adds about a million twists, complicating everything, then leaves us hanging. I tried, I really, really tried, to pick up another book before diving into the last book of the trilogy, but I couldn't. The second I put down The Ask and the Answer, I snatched up the final chapter (*sniff*) of the series. If I had any self-control at all, I'd wait a little so I can savor the finale. Yeah, so much for that. A hundred pages from now, I'll know exactly how it all turns out. I did mention I have no self-control ...

(Readalikes: The Knife of Never Letting Go and Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness)

Grade: A-

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

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Debut Proves Knudsen's One To Watch

(Image from Indiebound)

When 20-year-old Chris Kerry heads to the University of Utah to take advantage of a full-ride scholarship, he promises his aunt one thing: He will not become a Mormon. Although he no longer believes in the Baptist church to which she's devoted, he's not exactly shopping for a new religion either. No Mormons? No problem. He can do that much for the woman who's raised him since toddlerhood. Besides, she made him swear on a Bible and, no matter which church you go to, there's no arguing with that.

Despite a rough beginning, the young Texan soon settles into college life. He's got a steady job, a vermin-free apartment, and two Idaho coeds who make sure he doesn't starve to death. The work's nothing spectacular (it's a tuxedo rental shop, after all), but his eccentric co-workers keep him entertained; his bachelor pad houses exactly one piece of furniture, but it's enough; and the girls are not cover models, but sweet, thoughtful and fast becoming his best friends. There's only one problem: Angie and Kelly are some of the most Mormon Mormons he's ever met. Not that he's going to marry either one, or even thinks of them as anything more than pals, but he's spending a lot of time with them and there's something about their innate goodness that's undeniably attractive.

As things heat up at work (the store manager's embroiled in a tawdry affair, ownership's changing hands, and the machinery's acting up just in time for the busy holiday season), his friends confront their own problems (Is Kelly really ready to get married? Why is Angie being so frosty all the sudden?), Chris is forced to confront his past (an alcoholic-fueled adolescence), puzzling dreams about his parents (Why are they dressed all in white?), and the crisis of faith that's led him away from God (Baptists? Mormons? Who's right? Does he care?). Sorting it all out means deciding what he really wants for his future. Even Chris is surprised by how his dreams have changed. Can he figure out what - and who - he is in time to get the things he wants? Can he do it without breaking his promise to his aunt? Or is there something to this Mormon thing, after all?

The Rogue Shop, Michael Knudsen's newly-published debut, is pretty typical LDS fiction. Except when it's not. It's got a good, but troubled hero (no surprise there), a vow to stay away from religion (to keep our hero internally conflicted) and some goody-to-shoes Mormon kids (to inspire Chris with their wholesome happiness) - all elements readily found in this genre. Surprisingly (and pleasantly so), Knudsen gives us a few characters not typical in LDS books. Among his cast members are a man who refuses to step inside a meetinghouse, despite his strong testimony; another whose bitterness toward the church has led him to another religion completely; and yet another who's "active," yet flagrantly breaks the 7th commandment. These are the kinds of characters Deseret Book won't touch with a 10-foot pole, the kind I find most genuine and, therefore, most interesting. Forget the Mollies from Idaho, these are the types of people I want to read about. Knudsen's willingness to take a more honest (but always respectful) look at the Mormon people is the thing I like most about his book. That and the inside jokes. I'm still snickering over Travis' instructions to search trouser pockets for "anything of good report or praiseworthy" (42).

On the downside, Knudsen makes a whole lot of rookie mistakes in his first novel. First and foremost is the newbie's tendency to describe everything - every meal, every outfit, every thought, every word. The unnecessary detail weighs the story down so much that it becomes increasingly monotonous and dull. Same with the plot. There's so much extraneous information that the tale wanders here, there and everywhere, never really finding a clear direction. Secondly, Knudsen allows his minor characters to upstage his stars. While I knew and liked Travis, for instance, neither of the Idaho girls had enough personality to stand out. Even Chris lacks the depth to make him truly intriguing. From the moment we meet him, we know exactly where he's going, exactly what he'll do, and exactly how he'll end up. No surprises = dull. Thirdly, Knudsen saves all the real action for the final fourth of the book, but even that comes off as contrived and melodramatic. Fourthly ... well, I'll stop there. It's a first novel. 'Nough said. Still, none of these problems are unfixable - a good editor could have solved the majority of them by hacking at least 100 pages off the manuscript, forcing Knudsen to make every word count, streamline the plot, and breathe some life into his leading man/woman.

All in all, I liked The Rogue Shop more than a lot of LDS novels I've read. It offers a broader look at the Mormon people, proving that we're not mindless, flawless or even sinless. The book's predictable, sure. It's also sometimes cheesy, often preachy, and always overwritten. However, it's got an authenticity I admire as well as some flashes of real cleverness (I love the pay phone scene), proving that Knudsen's a writer to watch. The man's got potential written all over him.

(Readalikes: Um, I can't think of anything specific, really. Can you?)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for references to alcoholism, extramarital affairs and "hot-blooded American" men :)

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of The Rogue Shop from the author. Thanks!

Monday, January 24, 2011

This Dashner Dude Has Potential, Methinks

(Image from Indiebound)

Atticus "Tick" Higginbottom has always lived a fairly ordinary existence, until one day, it takes a turn for the super strange. When the 13-year-old receives a mysterious letter in the mail, he's sure it's a joke. Except that something about the cryptic message seems almost ... familiar. And yet, it makes no sense at all. Nor do all the strange things that are suddenly happening to Tick. Or the funny people he encounters in the woods outside his home. The more clues he gets, the more anxious he feels - some crazy, catastrophic event is coming and he still can't figure out what it is or how he's supposed to prevent it from happening.

When Tick sends out a plea on the Internet, he finds two other kids who are also receiving confusing messages. Together, they piece together a very odd story, one that involves alternate realities, a greedy bald lady, time travel, and even more confounding clues. Only one thing is clear: life as they know it will be altered forever unless Tick and his friends can figure out how to stop a powerful villain. But that will require courage. And cunning. Tick can't even stand up to the kids who bully him at school. How can a kid like him be expected to save the world?
Although James Dashner may be most well-known for his YA dystopian novels (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials), he began his career writing middle grade fantasy. The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters is the first book he published nationally, and the beginning of what promises to be an intriguing series. Although the story crawls along at times, it is, for the most part, an exciting adventure that will appeal to both boys and girls. The writing's so-so, but there's enough mystery and humor to keep children engaged. Like I mentioned, though, it does drag in places - by the time we hit about Page 300, my kids were bored with the whole thing. Neither one wanted me to finish reading the book to them. I ended up reading the finale on my own. Although the book could definitely use some slimming down, I enjoyed it for the most part. The sequels don't hold any interest for my kids, but I'll be checking them out. This Dashner dude has potential, methinks.
(Readalikes: Other than the other books in the series, I'm not sure what to compare the book to. Any suggestions?)
Grade: C
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for fantasy violence
To the FTC, with love: I bought The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters using a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Knife Of Never Letting Go Leaves Me With Exactly Two Words: Read It

(Image from Indiebound)

"Your noise reveals you. Reveals us all" (7).

Anyone who's heard me rant about the infernal sameness of the YA novels being published these days probably wonders why I still bother to read them. I wonder that myself. Then, I come across a book so stunning in its originality, so compelling in its telling, and so completely unputtdownable, that I remember why I drag myself through all the Twilight copycats - it's worth wading through the muck to find the gems. The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, is a brilliant case in point. I read every single one of its 479 pages in a matter of hours. That should tell you everything you need to know.

No?

Okay, let's try a plot summary: The story opens with 12-year-old Todd Hewitt talking to his dog while he wanders the swamplands looking for fresh apples. Could be the opener to a Twain novel, right? Not exactly, because in this case, the mutt responds. Not out loud, but that doesn't matter. In Todd's world, every being emits Noise, a constant stream of internal dialogue audible to all other beings. In a place like this, there are no secrets. At least that's what Todd thinks. Until he catches a disturbing murmur running through the minds of Pretisstown's menfolk. It's indistinct, yet he knows it has something to do with his thirteenth birthday, an anniversary that is fast approaching. As the last child in town, he's been looking forward to the day he'll finally become a man, even if he's unsure exactly what that entails. Of this, however, he's sure: there's an anxious buzz to everyone's Noise. And it has something to do with him.

When Todd makes a strange discovery out in the swamps, everything changes. Suddenly, the men who have raised him are shoving Todd out the door, pushing a pre-filled rucksack onto his back, and screaming at him to run for his life. But there's nowhere to go. The planet's empty save for Prentisstown, at least that's what Todd's always been told. Except, as he's now discovering, everything he's been taught is a lie. There is no time for explanations - the only answers are buried in his mother's journal, a volume he didn't know existed (books were outlawed long ago by their prophet), one that's virtually useless anyway, since he can barely sound out written words. No, it's up to Todd to figure out all the mysteries of the world he thought he knew, while fleeing everything he's ever known.

What results is a desperate journey, a frantic search for truth. As Todd ventures out into the barren land, he'll learn everything the Noise won't tell him, terrible things he can barely stomach. And he'll run, as far and as fast as he can, which is never far or fast enough to leave behind the horrors of the past ...

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a difficult book to classify. It's dystopian, absolutely, but it's also an adventure, a survival story, a romance, all with a little sci fi twist. While elements of the novel are familiar, the tale as a whole is something unique. The prose might take a little getting used to (Todd's spotty booklearning is reflected in misspellings and redneck grammar), but it's so absolutely authentic that it's impossible not to get caught up in Todd's story. It's all so totally absorbing that I literally - literally - could not put the book down. Initially, I planned to start The Ask and the Answer the second I closed Knife, but the story's so intense I'm forcing myself to read something lighter first, just to make sure my heart doesn't pound its way right out of my chest. I need the ticker to stay put, at least 'til I find out what happens to Todd. After that, I can rest in peace knowing I've found a series that makes all those Bella/Edward knockoffs worth it. Chaos Walking. Read it.

(Readalikes: I can't think of anything really similar except, of course, for the other two books in the series)

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (1 F-bomb), violence, and some sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Vesper: Just Your Average, Ordinary, Everyday Paranormal

(Image from Amazon)

Sixteen-year-old Emily Webb is not the kind of girl that sneaks out of the house, talks her way into night clubs, steals other girls' boyfriends, or flirts shamelessly with older men. At least she wasn't. But lately, every night actually, the little homebody who geeks out over cheesy horror flicks is turning into something ... else. It's like she's possessed by some bad girl supervillain. And it's freaking her out. Big time.

Emily can't explain what's happening - not to her dad, not to her best friend, not even to herself. All she knows is that Nighttime Emily is ruining Daytime Emily's life. Thanks to her wild, nocturnal adventures, she's even more of an outcast than she used to be. It doesn't help that she's got the sudden urge to smell every guy she sees. Something is seriously wrong with her, but what?

The more Emily learns about her "condition," the more unbelievable the situation becomes. Is she being controlled by a classmate who was recently killed? Or is something even weirder going on? Who are the shadowy men following her? And, most importantly, who - or what - is Emily Webb?

Vesper, the first YA novel from middle grade fantasy writer Jeff Sampson, hits bookshelves in four days. I've seen some buzz and, frankly, am wondering what's the big deal. While the book is better written than some of the paranormals I've read lately, it brings absolutely nothing new to the genre. Basically, it's a mash-up of Twilight and the t.v. show Heroes (you know how Jessica has an evil twin? It's kind of like that), with a heavy dose of Shiver. Like I said, it's not bad, just not different enough to stand out. Plus, it suffers from character undevelopment (although I like Spencer anyway), melodrama (high school - 'nuf said), and some not-so-realistic plot curves (Emily sneaks out, steals a car, is out all night, etc. and her loving parents don't notice or care?). I have to admit, though, that I liked the ending. It made me want to read the sequel (Havoc, coming in 2012) despite not loving the first book. Funny how that happens sometimes. All in all, this one was pretty meh for me. I'm getting burned out on this genre and keep waiting for something new to pop up. Guess I'll just have to keep waiting ...

(Readalikes: It's like every other YA paranormal out there. Just take your pick.)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence, and depictions of underrage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Vesper from the generous folks at HarperCollins/Balzar+Bray. Thank you!

Lush, Pitch-Perfect Yarn the Kind Zora Herself Would Appreciate

(Image from Indiebound)

" ... Zora had eyes to see the world and the wits to express what she saw" (87).

No one can spin a yarn quite like young Zora Neale Hurston. Her imagination gives life to everything around her - flowers become royal guards, lightning bugs turn into fairies, and ordinary swamp gators become shape-shifting monsters. She sees little Eatonville, Florida, in ways no one else does. Ten-year-old Carrie Jones, Zora's best friend, doesn't always believe her friend's tales, but she knows one thing: life's a whole lot more interesting with Zora around.

When a drifter is found murdered by the railroad tracks, everybody's got a theory about the crime. Zora's may seem far-fetched, but she's dead serious - the vicious killing could only be the work of the gator man/monster. No one else in the small town could be capable of such cruelty. While the idea seems solid to Zora and more or less so to Carrie, they can't convince the adults in town to take them seriously. Everyone in Eatonville knows Zora's a teller of tales. Carrie's not sure about the whole thing, but when she sees the monster for herself, she realizes that this isn't just another one of Zora's stories. Since no one else believes in the ferocious gator man, it's up to the girls and their friend Teddy to trap the villainous animal. In their attempt to catch the mysterious beast, the kids stumble onto secrets Eatonville's been hiding for years, secrets that will make things just about as clear as swamp water ...

Zora and Me, a fictionalized account of Hurston's childhood based on her stories and recollections, is a lush, magical story that celebrates the wonders - and dangers - of a child's imagination. The authors, Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon, do an admirable job of bringing the colorful writer to life while not romanticizing or glossing over some of the less pleasant facts of her girlhood (her father's explosive temper, for one). Zora is presented as a willful child, feisty and independent, who fearlessly insists on doing her own thing. Nevertheless, she's loved by the people of Eatonville, who enjoy her bright, curious nature. Tentative Carrie is the perfect counterpoint to Zora - she appreciates her friend's creativity while at the same time recognizing the dark side of Zora's constant flights of fancy. With a unique setting (Eatonville was the first incorporated black town in the U.S.), a compelling adventure, pitch-perfect prose, and a cast of warm, colorful characters, Zora and Me gets everything right. It's a tribute, a mystery, but, most of all, the kind of yarn that would thrill Zora Neale Hurston herself.

*To learn more about the book, the authors and about Zora Neale Hurston, visit the book's excellent website here.

(Readalikes: I can't think of anything off the top of my head. You?)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language (including several uses of the N-word), some mature subject matter, and some violence (not graphic)

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Zora and Me from the generous folks at Candlewick Press. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Watery Dystopian World Makes For Wide-Eyed, Gnawed-Fingernail Adventure

(Image from Indiebound)

Ever since massive flooding drowned the old world in mucky water, killing off most of Earth's population, chaos reigns in what were once civilized countries. Gentle England of yore no longer exists, replaced by a hardscrabble land where food, clean water, and safety are luxuries few can afford. Life on the mainland is so bleak that its residents will offer anything, even their children, to escape. Young boys are taken to The Island, a place rumored to have adequate shelter, plenty of food, and guaranteed protection for kids willing to work for it. When Baz wins a coveted spot on the transport ship, he's elated. He'll miss his father, but life can only be better on The Island. How could it possibly be worse?

It doesn't take long for Baz and the other newbie, 13-year-old Ray, to figure out that X-Isle ain't exactly Eden. Once a posh girl's school, the island's crumbling buildings now house a trio of sadistic brothers; Preacher John, their father and self-appointed prophet; the ragtag group of boys who do the family's bidding; the diving equipment necessary to the Ecks' salvage business; and rooms full of canned food, water bottles, pots, pans and other relics from the world Baz once knew. The treasure's locked up, of course, away from the greedy stomachs of starving boys, who work from dawn to dusk sorting the bounty for the Eck brothers to sell on the mainland. Bullied by the older "capos," the boys get one tin of food a day, sleep on soiled pallets, and are forced to slave away at whatever tasks the Ecks assign them.

Maybe his stomach's fuller on X-Isle than it was on the mainland, but Baz is getting tired of his island prison. It's becoming clear that, despite what the Ecks tell their families, boys never leave the island. When Preacher John's fanaticism reaches terrifying new heights, Baz and his friends know they have to escape. But nothing in this new world is easy. Overthrowing the bizarre little island kingdom is tantamount to suicide. And for what? The nightmare that passes for freedom on the mainland? It's up to the boys to decide, up to the boys to survive.

X-Isle, Steve Augarde's gritty YA dystopian novel, introduces a harsh new world where the battle for survival has become as desperate and bloody as any war. Young Baz represents innocence lost and found as he struggles to preserve his humanity in the face of grim reality. He - along with the rest of the island's lost boys - is instantly empathetic, his story constantly compelling. Not all of the tale's surprises are that surprising, but that hardly matters. X-Isle is a tense, action-packed adventure that will appeal to even the most reluctant readers (though they may be put off by the book's bulk). Dystopian fans know the genre's never light and fluffy, and this book's no exception. Still, it's one of those stories that had me racing through the pages with wide eyes and gnawed fingernails, knowing I wouldn't - couldn't - stop until I read every last word.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 (possibly R) for language (no F-bombs, although Augarde is British so I'm not familiar with all the expressions he uses), violence, and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tiger Mother Infuriates This Rabbit Mommy

(Image from Indiebound)

What do you call a mother who forces her 10-year-old to practice playing the violin seven hours a day, then screams at her, says she's "trash," and accuses her of shaming the family if she dares to complain? I'll tell you who I'd be calling - Child Protective Services. But, according to Amy Chua, author of the new memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the scenario I described is just another day in the trenches for a Chinese mother (which she defines as someone who parents in a Chinese manner, regardless of ethnicity or nationality). What we Westerners would label abuse, they identify as "parenting." Lest you think Chua is exaggerating or making assumptions based on cultural stereotypes, let me tell you straight up: the mother I'm talking about is her. And, although her parents immigrated from China (via The Philippines) in 1960, she's American. Having been reared in a strict Chinese household herself, she chose to bring her daughters up in the same unyielding manner, a process which included bullying them both into becoming musicians. Honest and unapologetic, her book chronicles the years she spent trying and - in the case of her youngest - failing to make her girls into exactly what she wanted them to be.

Chua, a Yale law professor and author of two previous books, is married to Jed Rubenfeld, also a law professor and writer. Although Rubenfeld had the gall to believe kids should enjoy childhood, he allowed Chua to rear their young daughters in a traditional Chinese way (whether or not he is in real life, Chua portrays him as a spineless doormat). This, according to Amy, involved pushing their girls into not only getting perfect grades but also playing the piano and violin. A weekly lesson or two was not enough for Chua, who aimed to get her daughters into Julliard and beyond. While Sophia, the eldest of the girls, practiced more or less willingly, the youngest wanted nothing to do with music. Stunned by the child's rebellion, Chua yelled, screamed, threatened, mocked, shamed, bribed and otherwise coerced young Lulu into playing the violin. And not just at home, but on vacation, in intense lessons with world-class musicians, in auditions before stern judges, during "wasted" school periods - for hours and hours and hours every day.

As a result of Chua's constant pushing, the girls did become accomplished musicians, collecting awards, honors and accolades that bought their mother's affection. Chua remembers Saturdays, which the girls spent taking lessons at the Neighborhood Music School, as "the highlight of my week" (45, emphasis added by me) and the Spring her daughters performed to great admiration as "some of the best days of my life" (49, emphasis added by me). When Lulu finally breaks down, an event which causes Chua to (very reluctantly) let her quit violin, Chua recalls how she, not Lulu, "wandered around the house like a person who'd lost their ... reason for living" (213). As much as the author insists that "everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters" (148), it's pretty obvious from the descriptions of her obsessive, controlling, self-serving behavior that the only person she does anything for is herself.

Considering the subtitle of the book ("This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old."), I expected Chua to experience the kind of epiphany that makes her realize she's ruining her life with her own ridiculousness. And it is. Kinda. Because her daughter's unhappiness does eventually wake Chua up, but not enough to make her admit that by stubbornly insisting on perfection, she might have destroyed her child's life. There's no self-deprecating humor here, no humble admittance of mistakes, just a half-hearted acknowledgment that Chua's dictatorial parenting style might not work for every child.

Since I can't stop ranting about this book, you might think I detested it. Not so. I found it fascinating. Fascinating in the same way I think TLC's My Strange Addiction is fascinating, but still ... It's always interesting to get a glimpse into someone else's psyche. Plus, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is inarguably compelling, well-written and provocative. So, no, I didn't hate it. I just have issues with the behavior and conclusions Chua discusses in the book. While I do agree with Chua that American parents are often alarmingly overindulgent, I also don't think saying, "All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that" (63) is enough to excuse Chua's monstrous behavior. She may be Chinese (-American), but she is also (presumably) human (not that you'll see much evidence of that in her book). This, in the end, was what I found most disturbing about the book - not the writing, the editing, the construction, the content, or even the cover art, it was the author herself. I couldn't stand her. What I really wanted to do was rip the "It's All About Me" sticker off her forehead, crush her rose-colored glasses under my heel and force her to face reality. Call me a consummate Westerner, but I can't stand people who willingly shred a child's self-esteem in order to bolster their own. I guess I'm just American like that.

(Incidentally, I was born in the Year of the Rabbit which, according to the ultimate authority [i.e. Wikipedia] means I am sensitive, flexible, and amiable, pretty much the exact opposite of a Tiger. Might that have something to do with my strong reaction to this book?)

(Readalikes: Although I've only ever read her fiction, Amy Tan's books come to mind.)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for one use of strong language (no F-bombs) and the verbal/emotional abuse of children

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother from the owners of TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written. Thank you!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Danger Box Immensely Enjoyable

(Image from Indiebound)

No one understands 12-year-old Zoomy Chamberlain like his grandparents do. Gam keeps him supplied with fresh notebooks and purple pens so he can turn his obsessive worrying into nice, orderly lists, while Gumps' gentle humor keeps everything on an even keel. The kindly couple, who've cared for Zoomy since his birth mother left him on their front porch wrapped in nothing but an old sweatshirt, make him feel safe and loved. So what if he's a little odd, can't see very well even with his Coke bottle glasses, and has no friends his own age? Zoomy's perfectly happy to craft his lists, help Gump at his antique store, and tend the garden with Gam.

When his father shows up out of the blue, Zoomy's peaceful existence erupts. Buckeye Chamberlain's a drunk who's caused Gam and Gumps nothing but trouble. He barely acknowledges Zoomy's existence, staying at the house only long enough to dump a box in the toolshed. It's only after the police come around, informing the Chamberlains that Buckeye's driving a stolen pickup, that Zoomy gets curious about the box. Inside, he finds a crumbling journal full of lists, notes, and scientific observations. The almost inscrutable entries look so similar to Zoomy's lists that he feels an instant connection with the author of the diary. He wishes he knew who wrote it. The only clue is a date: 1835. There are plenty of old books in Gumps' antique store, so Zoomy knows it's probably not valuable. Except, what if it is?

The more Zoomy examines the diary, the more he learns - about friendship, family, and a world-reknowned scientist whose obsessive compulsions seem awfully familiar. Zoomy's fascinated by the journal and, even though he knows he should turn it over to the police, can't make himself give it up. With Buckeye on the loose and a strange man watching Zoomy's every move, things are getting downright dangerous for the boy who craves calm. Can he solve the journal's mystery before someone takes it from him? Or should he turn it over to the police before Buckeye makes good on his threat to harm the two people Zoomy loves most?

The Danger Box by Blue Balliet is the kind of adventure that will appeal to readers of all ages. With a cozy, small-town setting, warm, interesting characters, and an intriguing, unique mystery, it's a fun, heartwarming story that manages to be both exciting and educational. I enjoyed it immensely.

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

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some mature themes (alcoholism, child abandonment, etc.)

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

7 Teens + 1 Vicious Nor'easter + 1 School With No Heat, Electricity or Cell Reception = 1 Desperate Struggle for Survival

(Image from Indiebound)

While falling snow is, arguably, one of the most beautiful sights to behold, it doesn't take much to turn a few gentle flakes into a fierce, driving nor'easter. It's just a fact of life in New England. Fifteen-year-old Scotty Weems has heard the old-timers at the coffee shop yapping about the "big ones" enough to know how dangerous, how deadly the storms can become. Which is why he's a little concerned when school's released early due to an oncoming storm and he's still waiting for his ride to show two hours later. As the snow piles up around Tattawa High School, it becomes obvious that Scotty and the six others who didn't escape in time, are stranded. Trapped. With no cell phone reception, no electricity, and no hope of rescue, the only thing they can do is hunker down until the storm subsides.

When it becomes clear the blizzard won't be abating any time soon, the kids have to face the facts: they're stuck at school for the forseeable future. Food isn't really a problem, but staying warm's getting more and more difficult. Then, there's the missing teacher, the hacking coughs that could spell illness for everyone, and the roof that's slowly collapsing under the weight of all the snow. Completely cut off from the outside world, the kids can only rely on themselves. With some people flirting, some fighting, and some immobilized by fear, it's going to be a long, hard fight for survival. One that will have devastating consequences.

In Trapped, Michael Northrop's sophomore novel (which releases February 1), the author returns to Tattawa High School, the setting of his first book, Gentlemen. As he told me on his blog, "Just when I thought I was out, Tattawa pulled me back in! I already felt so familiar with and invested in that setting that I thought, you know, why not pound it into submission with a massive blizzard? I guess I’m just sentimental that way…" The new characters are on a higher social tier than the last bunch, but they're still struggling with a situation that's quickly spiraling out of their control. Scotty's an engaging hero, whose voice rings mostly true. His self-deprecating humor makes him likable, while providing some levity in spite of the story's increasing tension. While the plot does drag a little in places (after all, there's not a lot to do in a dark, cold, empty school building), and the characters never develop enough for me (especially the girls), it's still a pretty intense ride.

If it wasn't for the ending, I would leave it at that, recommending Trapped as a compelling novel guaranteed to suck in even the most reluctant readers. However, there's the small issue of the book's finale. The last 100 pages is where the story really starts getting good and intense. It stays that way until the last page where it just abruptly cuts off. Now, my copy is an ARC, so there's a chance I'm missing a chapter or two. I hope that's the case, because otherwise I'm going to have to call this conclusion one of the most ambigious, least satisfying ends I've ever read. This kind of survival story really doesn't lend itself well to sequels, so I have a sinking suspicion I'm never going to know what happens to the gang at the school. I've never liked those cop-out "What do you think happened?" finales, I want the author to spell it out for me. Darn it, Northrop, and I was really starting to like you ...

(Readalikes: Although Trapped is not dystopian,the survival aspect reminded me of Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Last Survivors series)

Grade: C

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

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Trapped from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Problem? Who Has A Problem?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I said I wasn't joining any more challenges, but this is another one that's not really a challenge since I was already planning to read a bunch of books from the approved list. I'm joining at Level IV, which involves reading 20 books off a list of bloggers' favorite reads from 2010. Here's my game plan:

1. The Stand by Stephen King (also reading for the Stephen King Challenge)
2. The Thirteenth Crime by Emma Michaels
3. Room by Emma Donaghue
4. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (also reading for Dystopia Challenge)
5. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (also reading for the 2011 Page to Screen Challenge)
7. Atonement by Ian McEwan (also reading for the 2011 Page to Screen Challenge)
8. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
9. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
10. Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
11. Fallen by Lauren Kate
12. Halo by Alexandra Ardenetto
13. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
14. Vampire Academy by Rachelle Mead
15. Peeps by Scott Westerfield
16. Mockingbirds by Katherine Erskine
17. Torment by Lauren Kate
18. Austenland by Shannon Hale
19. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
20. Spells by Aprilynne Pike

We'll see how I do ...

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

(Image from Indiebound)

The new year is barely a week old, so there's a good chance that, in the coming months, Bruiser by Neal Shusterman might be unseated as my favorite read of 2011. Still, there's something to be said for a novel that hooks you from its very first sentence ("If he touches her, I swear I'm going to rip out his guts with my bare hands and send them to his next of kin for lunch" [3]) and keeps you riveted for every single one of its 328 pages. And that something is, "You had me at hello." Not very original, but you get my point: I love this book.

When 15-year-old Brontë Sternberg starts seeing Brewster Rawlins, a kid once voted "Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty," her twin brother's ready to tear the guy apart limb by limb. Tennyson knows he's being overprotective, but really, what does Brontë see in a loser like the Bruiser? Brontë herself can hardly explain the attraction, except that Brewster's different than the other boys at her school. For one thing, he's a stray, and there's nothing she likes more than a good rescue mission. Plus, Brewster seems to have some kind of knack for making her feel better, emotionally and physically. When Tennyson decides to stalk the Bruiser into leaving his sister alone, he comes to a startling realization: Not only does Brewster take Brontë's pain away, but somehow, he suffers for every person he cares about. The ugly scars criss-crossing his body are vivid proof of that.

Even though Tennyson doesn't understand Brewster's "gift," he knows it needs to be protected. But standing up for the Bruiser's not the easiest thing to do. Even for a scrappy lacrosse player like Tennyson. He'll do it, though, because as long as Brewster's around to take the hurt away, the Sternberg home is calm and peaceful. Without Bruiser, Tennyson's happy family would fall apart in an instant. It's only when Brontë and Tennyson realize how addicted they've become to Bruiser's unique kind of drug that they realize they've turned into the worst kind of abusers. Can they face their own emotions in order to spare their new friend? Or will they finish him off with the weight of their pain?

It's hard to summarize this book or to explain why it touched me so completely. Bruiser simply captivated me with its humor and heart. It made me think, it made me sniffle, it made me smile. I loved the characters, the writing, the story, just everything. What else can I say? How about two words: Read it!

(Readalikes: Reminded me of Whisper by Phoebe Kitanidis and a little of Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult)

Grade: A-

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

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

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Coupla Things

I know I said I wasn't going to join any more challenges this year, but I always say that! It doesn't mean I'm actually going to do it. Besides, these two "challenges" aren't really challenges at all - at least, they require no more work than completing the challenges for which I've already signed up. 'Low me to explain ...


Reading Challenge Addict

The Reading Challenge Addict Challenge is simply a fun way to track the challenges you're already doing. The hosts will be giving away prizes, so you will want to check out the blog they've set up. Basically, all this challenge really involves is tracking the challenges for which you've signed up this year. Easy, right? Go check it out!

The Bookmark Break Challenge, hosted by AubrieAnne over at Who's Your Editor?, just involves reading more books than the host. If you beat her, she'll feature your blog on hers and post your button on her sidebar for a whole year. Clever and fun! I love it. Go sign up if you think you're up to it. Even if you're not, check out AubrieAnne's blog - I just discovered it and it's great.

See, I told you, two more challenges that aren't really challenges at all. I'm not a reading challenge addict AT ALL.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Cookin' the Books: Cinnamon Crisps

Cinnamon Crisps


2 c. melted butter (4 sticks)
2 c. brown sugar (loosely packed)
1 c. white sugar (granulated)
2 beaten eggs (just whip them up with a fork)
2 t. vanilla
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar (critical!)
1 t. salt
4 1/4 c. white flour (not sifted)

Dough-ball rolling mixture:

1/2 c. white sugar
1 t. cinnamon

Melt the butter. Add the sugars and mix. Let the mixture cool to room temperature while you beat the eggs, and then stir them in. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, baking soda, cream of tartar, and sat. Mix well. Add flour in increments, mixing after each addition.

Use your hands to roll the dough into walnut-sized balls. (If dough is too sticky, chill for an hour before rolling.)

Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl to make the dough-ball rolling mixture. (Mixing it with a fork works nicely.) Roll the dough balls in the mixture, then place them on a greased cookie sheet, 12 to a standard sheet. Flatten the dough balls with a greased or floured spatula.

Bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes. (They should have a touch of gold around the edges.) Cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then remove the cookies to a rack to finish cooling.

Yield: Approximately 8 dozen, depending on cookie size.

Hannah's note: Lisa loves these cookies - it's the only time I've seen her eat a half-dozen of anything at one sitting.

My thoughts on the recipe: If you love Snickerdoodles (and I do), you're going to enjoy this recipe since Cinnamon Crisps are basically crispy Snickerdoodles. They're not crispy like hard, but crispy like delicate, and only around the edges. The centers are all moist, buttery yum-ness. I loved these, as did my children, at least one of whom said, "These are the best cookies you've ever made, Mom!" They're easy to make and always turn out nicely - what's not to love?

(Note: This recipe was used by permission from Joanne Fluke. The photo was snapped by yours truly.)

Another Hannah Swensen Adventure Keeps Me Light and Fluffy (Emphasis on the Fluffy)

(Image from Indiebound)

(Note: Although the books in Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen series work quite well as standalones, I'm reading them in order. Thus, while this review will not contain spoilers for Lemon Meringue Pie Murder, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier books. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

In order to enjoy Fluke's cozy, culinary mysteries, there's a little mantra I have to repeat to myself before opening one:
  • Even though our cookie-baking heroine talks, acts and dresses like a frumpy 65-year-old, Hannah Swensen is supposed to be in her late 20s. So what if she doesn't own a cell phone, wears elastic-waisted slacks to work, and dates a guy named Norman? She's not even 30! Just accept it already.

  • No small town has as many murders as Lake Eden, Minnesota. Nor do real cops allow ordinary citizens to interview witnesses, creep around crime scenes, and chase down killers. Just sayin'.

  • Lake Eden's finest are the naivest, most bumbling police officers on Earth - if Hannah Swensen wasn't around to guide them toward clues, motives and possible suspects, they would never solve a crime.

  • Just because I have the mysteries figured out by Chapter 2 doesn't mean I can't enjoy Fluke's books for their light, fun, mostly clean content.

Repeat ten times, then read on ...

In Lemon Meringue Murder, the fourth installment of Joanne Fluke's popular culinary mystery series, Hannah is gearing up for Lake Eden's annual Fourth of July celebration. She's got cookies to decorate, a float to put together for the parade, and a pair of slacks that are suddenly way too tight. Even though she spends the majority of her days baking cookies, Hannah's never thought of herself as overweight. But, as any amateur detective knows, the evidence never lies - not only are her pants too tight, but her boyfriend's building the dream house they designed together and planning to live in it alone. If she were 10 lbs. lighter would she be showing off a diamond engagement ring right about now?

With so many thoughts clanging around in her head, Hannah's really not in the mood to go treasure hunting with her mother. And yet, somehow, she finds herself scouring the old Voelker house for antiques, Dolores by her side. While the pair discover full sets of Carnival glassware in the kitchen, the real discovery is in the furnace room where Rhonda Scarf's body lies, half-buried in the dirt. Rhonda was a drugstore cosmetics saleswoman who flirted with every customer, but not an unlikable sort. Who could have wanted her dead?

Although Hannah vows to keep out of the small town's latest murder, she gets roped into investigating. The only real suspect in Rhonda's death is a supposed boyfriend, the identity of whom none of the townspeople know. As Hannah digs deeper, she uncovers the man's surprising identity. That's not the only mystery in Lake Eden, though - someone's spending suspicious bills at local businesses and Hannah's growing more anxious about the troubling past of her maintenance man. Are the mysteries related somehow? Or is Hannah's tiny town becoming some kind of hub for illegal activity? One thing's for certain: she's going to get to the bottom of things.

Lemon Meringue Murder is typical Fluke fare: the writing's nothing special, the characters have as much depth as a kiddie pool, and the mystery's not all that mysterious. I knew who the killer was pretty much from the get-go, even though the case had Lake Eden's finest stumped. Hannah, conveniently, followed all the right leads, taking her to yet another showdown with a vicious murderer. Far-fetched? Oh yeah. Such is life in a Fluke book. A willing suspension of belief is a must in order to enjoy them (see mantra above). And I did enjoy this one, simply because it's a light, fluffy read that requires very little brain power. Willpower, on the other hand, can be a problem when reading this author. Unlike Hannah, I can't resist sweets and each book is filled with scrumptious recipes, few of which are low-cal. So much for light - if I keep reading these books and drooling over the desserts, I'm going to be as "fluffy" as Garfield.

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

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some violence and vague references to extramarital affairs

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Friday, January 07, 2011

Hoppin' Happy

It's been a few weeks since I've participated in the Book Blogger Hop, so I'm excited about this first one of the new year. The question this time kind of stumps me, though: Ivan over at Ivan Bookworm asks what book influenced or changed your life and how? I can't really think of one specific book. What a cop-out, huh? Are you as stumped by this question as I am? What's your answer?

If you want to join in the Book Hop fun, click on over to Crazy for Books and sign up now. Happy Hop!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dragon Adventure Story Lacks the Magic

(Image from Indiebound)

If 10-year-old Ansel could speak, he'd tell people the truth: Johannes Brock, dragonslayer extraordinaire, is a fake. Although Brock looks the part with his muscular frame, dented armor, and convincing scars, he's never even seen a dragon. In fact, he reveals to Ansel, there is no such thing as dragons. It's a truth the phony hunter will only share with a mute like Ansel - if anyone else got wind of it, Brock's dragonslaying scam would be ruined. Since the boy can't rat out his master, he follows him to the little hamlet of Drachenberg. High in the mountains, say the superstitious villagers, lives a fire-breathing beast who kills their sheep and carries off unsuspecting townspeople. If Brock can kill the dragon, he'll be rewarded handsomely.

Even though he doesn't feel right about tricking people, Ansel's life with Brock is a hundred times better than the one he left behind. So, he'll lay low with his master for a few days before reappearing in town with the corkindrille skull Brock lugs along as "proof" of his kills. Only, their sojourn into the mountains doesn't turn out quite the way they planned. Turns out, there is something hiding up there. And it's up to cowardly Brock, terrified Ansel, and a feisty village girl to take care of the menace. As Ansel comes face-to-face with a beast that's not supposed to exist, he realizes that Brock's lied to him once again - not only is there such thing as dragons, but Brock's got no idea how to defeat the creatures. If the trio's going to escape with their lives, the children are going to have to think of something. And very, very quickly.

No Such Thing As Dragons, Philip Reeve's newest book for middle graders, grabbed my attention with its colorful jacket art. The cover seemed to promise a fun, magical adventure. Did it deliver? Kinda. The story's interesting (if not wholly original), the characters are rounded (especially Father Flegel), and the tale takes at least one unexpected twist (and a bloody one, at that). However, it comes to a predictable end, one that doesn't feel very satisfying for those of us who prefer to see tricksters get their comeuppance. Although it's got some dark points, the story remains fairly lighthearted. Still, it lacks the kind of whimsy that makes fairy tales so charming. Without it, No Such Thing As Dragons remains just okay. It's a quick, fun read, just nothing super special.

(Readalikes: Hm, apparently I don't read many dragon books. Ideas, anyone?)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: I'm going to have to go with PG-13, even though the book's geared toward a younger audience. There's some violence, one suggestive line, and a smattering of profanity, including the repeated taking of Christ's name in vain.

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of No Such Thing As Dragons from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Why, Yes, I Am A Bit Challenged. Thanks for Asking.

Okay, I admit it. I'm weak. I love reading challenges. Even if I don't complete most of the ones I join, they get me excited about the books on my TBR mountain chain. So, I'm joining another one. The last one, I promise. This one's the Dystopia Challenge hosted by Dutchie over at Bookish Ardour. Since I'm already planning to read a ton of dystopian this year, the challenge fits right in with my reading goals. Perfect, I know. So, I'm joining at the Contagion level, which requires the finishing of 15 dystopian novels. Here's my list:

  1. The Scorch Trials - James Dashner
  2. The Stand - Stephen King
  3. Under the Dome - Stephen King
  4. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  5. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness
  6. The Ask and the Answer - Patrick Ness
  7. Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness
  8. Restoring Harmony - Joelle Anthony
  9. Sapphique - Catherine Fisher
  10. The Dead-Tossed Waves - Carrie Ryan
  11. The Dark and Hollow Places - Carrie Ryan
  12. The Wind-up Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
  13. The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood
  14. X-Isle - Steve Augarde

    Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Another Challenge? Bring It On!

Because I'm weak, I'm signing up for yet another 2011 reading challenge. What's wrong with me, you ask? Seriously, I don't know. I just love challenges. So, for this one, I'm going for Level Two, which entails reading 10 books that have been made into movies/t.v. shows and then watching the movies/t.v. shows. Sounds fun, huh? Head on over to Reading Extensively to sign yourself up.

Here's my list:

  • Blindness - Jose Saramago
  • Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane
  • Atonement - Ian McEwan
  • Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate DiCamillo
  • In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
  • Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis (re-read)
  • Prince Caspian - C.S. Lewis
  • Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C.S. Lewis
  • Let Me In - John Ajvide Lindqvist

Wish me luck!

Whisper Another One of Those Books

(Image from Indiebound)

If you could listen in on people's thoughts, what would you hear? Wishes? Dreams? Secret desires? Truths you wish you never knew? The women in 15-year-old Joy Stefani's family have always been able to Hear. Unlike her older sister, Joy believes in using her ability to do good, to make people happy, to fulfill the simple wants of her friends and family. Jessica (whom everyone calls "Icka"), on the other hand, Listens to people only to hurt them. She doesn't care about fitting in, only about drowning out the Whispers around her with drugs, alcohol and a sneer that keeps even the most intrepid souls at arm's length. Joy's learned to avoid her sister, ignoring her pointed jabs, so when Icka issues her a warning, Joy tries not to let it get under her skin. Except Icka seems to be right - Joy's ability is growing and she may not be able to handle it.

As Joy Listens to the frantic Whispers of her friends in a way she's never been able to before, she's shocked by what she Hears. Do her besties really see her as a people-pleasing doormat who wouldn't recognize an original thought if it landed on her nose? Does her doting grandmother truly think Joy needs to lose 5 pounds? And act more like a lady? For the first time, Joy wishes she didn't have her "gift," didn't have to hear the subtext behind every conversation she has. Is this heightened awareness of everyone's phoniness what turned Icka into such a freak? For the first time since she was a child, Joy needs her sister's advice. Only, Icka's not around. She's supposed to be checking out colleges in downtown Portland, but Joy's worried. The vibes pouring off her big sister are not the kind of hopeful, excited, happy-about-starting-college emotions you'd expect from a 17-year-old, they're anxious and panicked. Terrified.

As frightening as it is to tune into all the world's angst, Joy knows she has to immerse herself in the Whispers in order to find her sister. With a surprising ally by her side, she sets off on a journey that will reveal more than she ever wanted to know - about her family, her abilities, and herself.

Whisper, a debut novel by Greek-American Phoebe Kitanidis, is yet another book which intrigued me with its premise, but lost me through poor execution (is it just me, or am I saying this a lot lately?). The idea of Hearing people's thoughts has been done before, of course, but this story seemed to be taking it in a new direction. Still, I didn't feel tons of connect with Joy - who really is a wimpy do-gooder - or any of the other characters. Since the action doesn't rev up until about 3/4 of the way through the book, I found myself yawning through the cast's petty dramas. When Joy finally sets off to find Icka, I reengaged with the story, speeding through pages to see what would happen. Although it all ends on a hopeful note, the ending was a little too saccharine (not to mention far-fetched) for my tastes. Overall, it just wasn't tight enough or original enough or really anything enough to keep me attention. I'm not writing Kitanidis off, as she seems to have potential, but I'm not exactly clamoring for her next novel either.

(Readalikes: a little like Evermore by Alyson Noel and Fallen Angel by Heather Terrell)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, some violence and depictions of underrage drinking/drug use.

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Whisper from the generous folks at Harper Teen. Thank you!

Monday, January 03, 2011

What Looks Like A Compelling Novel, Acts Like A Compelling Novel And Is A Compelling Novel?

(Image from Indiebound)

Losers like Micheal, Tommy, Mixer, and Bones don't get respect. If they're not being completely ignored, they're being eyed with suspicion. They look like thugs, they act like thugs, they are, for all intents and purposes, thugs. Except for weird Mr. Haberman, no one expects them to care about school. It's obvious they probably won't be graduating high school, let alone applying to Harvard. But Haberman calls them "gentlemen," asks questions like he might actually get answers, and takes great pains to teach them remedial English. The guy's strange, for sure.

It's not until Tommy goes missing that Micheal, Mixer and Bones start looking at their English teacher in a whole new light. Haberman's always been odd, but he's been taking it to whole new levels lately. Could he have had something to do with Tommy's disappearance? Why is he assigning Crime and Punishment now and why does every lecture he gives on the book seem to have a double meaning? Is he trying to send Tommy's friends some kind of message?

Fifteen-year-old Micheal Benton (who's so screwed up his name isn't even spelled right) is determined to figure out what happened to Tommy. The kid may have been a loser, but Micheal's not about to let anyone - especially a teacher - get away with murdering his friend. He's got a plan, but when that plan goes horribly awry, Micheal finds himself trapped in his own escalating drama. What happened to Tommy? Who will pay for what happened because of him? And, most importantly, what will become of the boys Mr. Haberman always called 'gentlemen'?

Gentlemen, the first novel by Michael Northrop (author of the recently-released Trapped), is a gritty mystery told in the frank, authentic voice of a compelling anti-hero. Since Micheal cares so little about what happens to himself, I really shouldn't have either. And yet, I did. His tightly-woven, fast-paced story kept me enthralled, despite its chilling rawness. Although I wouldn't hand this book to anyone under 16, it would make a perfect pick for reluctant readers. It's a dark, riveting story, filled with complex characters who crawl right under your skin. Gentlemen's not exactly light, fluffy reading, but it is taut, hypnotic and enthralling. Thugs and all.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual content and depictions of underrage smoking, drinking and criminal activity

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

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Out With the Old (Stats), In With the New

Happy New Year, everybody! Thanks for making life here at BBB so fun for me last year. I appreciate your support. I hope you're looking forward to 2011 as much as I am - I'm planning lots of reviews, giveaways, author interviews and more. You're definitely going to want to stay tuned.

Speaking of last year, how did you all do reading-wise? What were your favorite books? What are your reading/reviewing resolutions for 2011?

I ended up falling 15 books short of my goal to read 200. Oh well. I still managed to do pretty well. I'm going to roll over my 2010 goal and see if I can hit 200 this year.

I read 185 books in 2010. That's 45 more than last year and 70 more than in 2008. Wow! Even I'm impressed. Of the 185:
  • 173 (94%) were fiction, 12 (6%) were non-fiction
  • 51 (28%) were adult books, 105 (57%) were YA, and 29 (16%) were children's/middle grade - I don't include picture books when compiling my yearly stats
  • 143 (77%) were written by women, 36 (19%) by men, 3 (2%) by a woman/woman team, 1 (.5%) by a man/woman team,1 (.5%) by a woman/woman/man team, and 1 (.5%) by a man/man/woman team
  • 107 (58%) books were sent to me for review, 49 (26%) came from the library and 29 (16%) were from my personal bookshelves
  • 21 (11%) of the books were written by LDS authors
  • 170 (92%) of the books' authors were from the U.S., 5 (3%) from England, 2 (1%) from Wales, 2 (1%) from Ireland, 2 (1%) from India, 1 (.5%) from New Zealand, 1 (.5%) from Australia, 2 (1%) from Germany, 1 (.5%) from Poland, 1 (.5%) from South Africa, and 1 (.5%) from France

Books I read in 2010 are listed below. Asteriks denote favorites.


185. How to Be Totally Miserable by Jon Bytheway
184. Gentlemen by Michael Northrup
183. America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right On the Money by Steve & Annette Economides
182. Empty by Suzanne Weyn
181. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
180. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi*
179. Rules by Cynthia Lord*
178. Fallen Angel by Heather Terrell
177. Brava, Valentina by Adriana Trigiani
176. Starfish by James Crowley
175. The Lying Game by Sara Shepard
174. How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart
173. The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy
172. Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
171. Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine*
170. The Neighbors Are Watching by Debra Ginsberg
169. When Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke
168. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson*
167. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
166. This Isn't What It Looks Like by Pseudonymous Bosch*
165. Lucy the Giant by Sherri L. Smith*
164. Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke
163. Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord*
162. The Trouble With Half A Moon by Danette Vigilante
161. The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby
160. Matched by Ally Condie*
159. The Meanest Doll in the World by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin and Brian Selznick
158. The Coupon Mom's Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills In Half by Stephanie Nelson
157. The Clone Codes by Frederick, Patricia and John McKissack
156. Jane by April Lindner
155. The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike
154. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith*
153. Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
152. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher*
151. Evermore by Alyson Noel
150. The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
149. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
148. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
147. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
146. Dear America: The Diary of Piper Davis by Kirby Larson
145. I Survived: The Sinking of The Titanic, 1912 by Lauren Tarshis
144. Faithful Place by Tana French*
143. Girl, Stolen by April Henry
142. Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord
141. Soulstice by Simon Holt
140. The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock*
139. Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman
138. Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang
137. Countdown by Deborah Wiles
136. The Devouring by Simon Holt*
135. Delcroix Academy: The Candidates by Inara Scott
134. The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
133. Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill
132. Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs
131. Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
130. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
129. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare*
128. Chasing Orion by Kathryn Lasky
127. Chosen by Chandra Hoffman
126. Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
125. Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star (Book 2) by Brandon Mull
124. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
123. Come Sunday by Isla Morley
122. The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst
121. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
120. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collns*
119. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins* (re-read)
118. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins* (re-read)
117. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
116. Take Me With You by Carolyn Marsden
115. She's Gone Country by Jane Porter
114. Plus by Veronica Chambers
113. Courting Miss Lancaster by Sarah M. Eden*
112. Touch by Francine Prose
111. Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs
110. Firelight by Sophie Jordan*
109. Jellicoe Road by melina Marchetta*
108. Annexed by Sharon Dogar
107. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
106. Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim
105. Georgia's Kitchen by Jenny Nelson
104. Rowan the Strange by Julie Hearn*
103. Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier*
102. Fragile by Lisa Unger
101. Thumbing Through Thoreau compiled by Kenny Luck
100. I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan
99. The Passage by Justin Cronin
98. The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams
97. Beauty by Robin McKinley
96. Everlasting by Angie Frazier
95. Tweet Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick*
94. Sell-Out by Ebony Joy Wilkins
93. Dark Life by Kat Falls
92. I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells
91. Simply From Scratch by Alicia Bessette*
90. Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams
89. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin*
88. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
87. Heist Society by Ally Carter*
86. Purge by Sarah Darer Littman
85. The Enemy by Charlie Higson*
84. The Silence of God by Gale Sears*
83. My Double Life by Janette Rallison
82. A Summer in Sonoma by Robyn Carr*
81. The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
80. The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver
79. Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi*
78. Moonlight Road by Robyn Carr*
77. Stolen by Lucy Christopher*
76. Good Things I Wish You by A. Manette Ansay
75. Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen
74. Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen*
73. Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
72. Wish by Alexandra Bullen
71. Coop by Michael Perry
70. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
69. Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
68. Birth Marked by Caragh M. O'Brien*
67. The House On Olive Street by Robyn Carr
66. After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick*
65. My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison
64. The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams*
63. The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum*
62. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum*
61. Mistwood by Leah Cypress*
60. Mother's Daze by Jane Isfeld Still
59. Angel's Peak by Robyn Carr*
58. Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
57. The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith
56. Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten
55. A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler*
54. The Ocean Between Us by Susan Wiggs
53. Midnighters: The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld
52. Albatross by Josie Bloss
51. A Golden Web by Barbara Quick
50. Disappearance by Judy Watson (Blundell)
49. Premonitions by Judy Watson (Blundell)
48. The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
47. The Treasures of Weatherby by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
46. The Line by Teri Hall
45. 12 Finally by Wendy Mass
44. 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
43. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
42. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare*
41. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare*
40. The Hidden Girl: A True Story of the Holocaust by Lola Rein Kaufman with Lois Metzger
39. Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner*
38. Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr*
37. This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer*
36. Forget-Her-Nots by Amy Brecount White
35. Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu*
34. The Earth, My Butt, And Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler*
33. Wake by Lisa McMann
32. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
31. Lies by Michael Grant*
30. Captivate by Carrie Jones
29. House Rules by Jodi Picoult
28. Heaven by Angela Johnson
27. The Girl with the Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron*
26. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
25. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare*
24. The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
23. Almost Home by Pam Jenoff
22. Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix
21. The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff
20. My Ridiculous Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite
19. Hunger by Michael Grant
18. The Dead & the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
17. Chasing Normal by Lisa Papademetriou
16. In the Company of Angels by David Farland
15. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer*
14. Gone by Michael Grant*
13. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson*
12. The Cradle by Patrick Somerville
11. Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers
10. June Bug by Chris Fabry*
9. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
8. Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison*
7. The Penderwicks of Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall*
6. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall*
5. The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Kidnapped by Yxta Maya Murray
4. Call Me Kate by Molly Roe
3. The Evolution of an Identity by Diya Das
2. Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? by Claire Mysko and Migala Amadei
1. Ruined by Paula Morris

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