Friday, November 30, 2012

Nightingale: It Gets Great Reviews—Just Not From Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After being bounced from foster family to foster family for sixteen years, Bron Jones barely knows the meaning of the word home.  Until he gets to St. George, Utah, where he meets Mike and Olivia Hernandez, his new foster parents.  The couple, who own a cattle ranch that seems to be as down-to-earth as they are, wants to adopt Bron.  He only sees one problem with the arrangement:  Olivia.  Bron's mom-to-be is certifiable.  There's no other way to explain her panic upon being approached by some random guys in Best Buy.  And then there's the car chase, the weird weapons Olivia has hidden in her glove compartment, and the woman's absolute refusal to consult the police.  Olivia's insane, that's the only conclusion that makes sense.

When Olivia finally tells Bron the truth, he's convinced—she needs to be locked in a padded cell.  Except that her words make a weird kind of sense.  Olivia explains that she and Bron are different than other people.  In fact, they're not people at all.  They're Aels, supernatural creatures with special abilities.  Bron's powers are especially rare, so rare that the Aels' ancient enemies will stop at nothing to control them (hence the confrontation at Best Buy).  While the Draghouls hunt for him, Bron has to do his best to stay under the radar—not an easy task when you're a guitar prodigy attending an elite performing arts academy.  

Trying to understand who—and what—he is is only part of the conflicts Bron faces in his new home.  He's got several girls falling all over him, an angry classmate who's eager to put him in his place, and a mysterious past that holds important clues to his present situation.  Survival will require everything Bron's got—and more.

Since I had a monster cold while reading Nightingale, a new YA novel by adult sci fi/fantasy author David Farland, I lugged the book with me to the doctor's office when I went to beg for death antibiotics.  Because she somehow missed the fact that my throat hurt every time I opened my mouth to breathe, let alone talk, the doctor asked me what the book was about.  When I told her it concerned a teenager who discovers he's a paranormal creature of some kind, the doctor rolled her eyes and said, "Ugh, another one of those?"  I laughed (even though it hurt) because that pretty much summed up my thoughts on Nightingale.  Not only is the story unoriginal, but it's also plotless, melodramatic and just not very well-written or edited.  It zigzagged all over the place, making the whole thing feel unfocused.  Then, there's Bron.  Our hero is sympathetic to a point, but his macho attitude and constant lusting after anything female (including his foster mother—eeeewww!) make him difficult to like.  Bottom line on this one?  If I hadn't agreed to review this book for a virtual tour (with a company I'd already bailed on once), I wouldn't have read past the first chapter.  

Now, this may be another case of me just plain getting it wrong because Nightingale has actually won a number of awards (whether this is for the print version or the enhanced e-version I'm not sure).  It also gets great reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads.  Just not from me.  Oh well.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Twilight and every other teenager-finds-out-he/she-is-a-werewolf/pixie/angel/mermaid/paranormal creature of choice type book)

Grade:  D

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

To the FTC, wit:h love:  I received a finished hardcover copy of Nightingale from East India Press via Rachelle Christensen's blog tour company.  Thank you!        

      

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dark MG Historical Makes Me Think

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

All 10-year-old Sasha Zaichik wants is to be a hero like his father.  A loyal Communist, the older man works for State Security (the secret police), hunting down spies and traitors.  Sasha longs to prove his own worthiness to Comrade Stalin by joining the Young Soviet Pioneers.  He has only one more day to wait—then his father, a true Party hero, will tie a red scarf around his neck with all his classmates watching.  It's a big step, one that will show everyone he's ready to serve his country, just like his father.

Sasha's hopes and dreams are dashed when State Security comes for one of its own.  Sasha can't understand why the police would take his father away, he only knows they have.  With no one to care for him, Sasha will be sent to an orphanage.  Even worse, he'll be known as the child of a traitor, a status that will prevent him from being accepted into the Young Soviet Pioneers.  There's only one thing to do—Sasha must tell Comrade Stalin that he's made a horrible mistake.  Sasha's father needs to be freed from prison!

Turns out, raising your voice is not an easy thing to do in a Communist country, where the smallest dissent may be seen as outright rebellion.  Sasha's finding out the hard way that it's easier to remain silent, compliant, even if it means that others will be punished.  He wants to be an honorable Communist, but what will it cost him?  And is he willing to pay such a very high price?  

Breaking Stalin's Nose, a middle grade novel written and illustrated by Eugene Velchin, a Russian-born writer whose father survived the Great Terror, describes an era not often explored in children's literature.  In fact, I've never read a kid's book about life during Stalin's reign.  Maybe there's a reason for that—even though Breaking Stalin's Nose is ultimately hopeful, it's a dark book on a difficult subject.  Young readers will be drawn to Sasha, no doubt, as his adventures are risky, life-and-death endeavors.  Children may miss Velchin's subtle irony, but in the end, they'll get the point:  Industrial progress isn't worth the sacrifice of a person's—or a people's—integrity.  Although this one didn't blow me away, it definitely made me think.  If it does the same for younger readers, then I say it's done its job, even if it didn't win my eternal book love.       

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

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for subject matter that might be disturbing to younger children (prison camps, executions, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Award-Winning MG Novel Long on Personality, Short on Plot

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Other New Yorkers might be excited about spending a summer in sunny California—not 11-year-old Delphine Gaither.  She'd rather stay home in Brooklyn with her father and Big Ma.  Delphine hardly knows the mother who abandoned her four years ago; she can't fathom why she's being forced to spend a whole summer with the woman.  At least she'll have her little sisters for company.  Except the combined forces of 7-year-old Fern and 9-year-old Vonetta are enough to make even sane people crazy—and, as far as Delphine remembers, her mom's already a little loopy.  Maybe more than a little.

It's clear from the get-go that Cecile Johnson has no interest in getting to know her daughters.  She doesn't play with them, cook for them, talk to them or care a whit about what they do all day.  Finding their way in this strange, new world is hard enough—how are Delphine and her sisters supposed to get their mother's attention?  And what is Cecile up to anyway?  There's got to be a reason she's hiding from the Black Panthers.  As the summer rolls on, Delphine will make discoveries that will change what she knows about her family and, more importantly, about herself.

One Crazy Summer, an award-winning middle grade novel by Rita Williams-Garcia, is difficult to describe because, although it's long on personality, it's a little short on plot.  The story, which takes place in 1968, talks about racism, revolution, and civil rights, although its real focus is on family.  Delphine, Fern and Vonetta are a formidable trio—they're sympathetic, funny, and lovable.  Sisters in every sense of the word.  Although I wasn't as swept away by this story as I wanted to be, I did love the Gaither girls.  My favorite part of this book may, in fact, be the cover (of the paperback version).  Illustrated by the enormously talented Frank Morrison, it bring the sisters to vivid life, perfectly capturing the spunk that makes them the best and most memorable part of One Crazy Summer.   

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

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for subject matter that may be disturbing to younger readers (racism, parental abandonment/neglect, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of One Crazy Summer from the Scholastic book fair at my kids' elementary school with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Between having a monster cold and getting my house ready for a big family Thanksgiving celebration, I haven't had much time to read, let alone review.  So, let me just take a quick moment to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  Among the many, many things I'm grateful for are all of you, my faithful  readers.  You make this blogging thing a whole lot of fun.  Thanks for your loyalty, your kind words, your reading recommendations, your support and just for making it such a pleasure for me to write BBB.  Have a wonderful holiday!  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quick MG Adventure Novel Funny and Uplifting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Now that Andrew Jensen's turned 12, he's ready to take on the grown-up responsibilities that come with being a deacon (if you don't know what this means, click here).  Maybe.  Turns out, it's not as easy as he thought it would be.  Passing the sacrament is scarier than it looks (especially when no one tells you your fly's down), getting along with his quorum members may be downright impossible (especially after his big Capture the Flag blunder) and joining his Scout troop on a backpacking trip through the desert is starting to feel like the worst decision he's ever made (especially considering the unceasing rain, his irritating bunk mate and, oh yeah, the bear).  Andrew may not survive his first Scout overnighter without some divine intervention—luckily, he's the one who's saying all the prayers.  Oh, wait ... 
When the outing takes a serious turn for the worse, Andrew has to rally all of his courage, all of his cleverness, and all of his faith to save himself and his friends.  But, nothing's gone right for him so far, can he really expect his luck to change now?  Or will his first Scout campout turn out to be his last?

The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero, a debut middle grade novel by Matt Peterson, is exactly what it appears to be—a fun story that teaches a valuable spiritual lesson.  True, it's like an extended version of something you'd find in The Friend (except with a few more mentions of, um, unmentionables, particularly of the Transformers variety), but it's still pretty funny.  While I found the story a little lacking in plot and character development, I'll probably be the only one to notice or care.  Kids will be too engaged in Andrew's escapades to worry about analyzing story elements.  Beware, though, of handing the book to boys like my son, a wizened teacher (as of last week).  When I read him the plot summary of The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero, he said, "I don't think being a deacon is really that dramatic."  Probably not, but don't tell that to your favorite 8- to 10-year-old, because they're the perfect audience for this short, fun, uplifting read.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of tween boy books by Gordon Korman)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for some scary images

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero from the generous Matt Peterson.  Thank you!    

Monday, November 12, 2012

Compared to Latest, Zarr's Debut Feels Stiff, Distant

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

What if one mistake defined you for the rest of your life?  

When 13-year-old Deanna Lambert is caught with a high school boy in the backseat of his car, she earns the unofficial title of "town slut."  Three years later, she still can't shake her reputation—even though she hasn't so much as kissed a guy in the time since her dad yanked 17-year-old Tommy Webber off her.  She could have become a nun and guys would still proposition her in the school hallways.  Deanna can't wait to leave her small California town in the dust, can't wait to ditch the catcalls, the assumptions and, most of all, the constant look of disappointment in her dad's eyes.  There's nothing Deanna craves more than a fresh start.  

Deanna's determined to move out of her parents' house the moment her big brother Darren does.  She'd rather live with him, his girlfriend and their baby than spend another night under the same roof as her shamed father.  But leaving requires money, which requires Deanna to take a crappy job at the same grungy pizza parlor where Tommy Webber works.  As she comes face-to-face with that blast from the past, Deanna will have to work through her own insecurities and fears in order to prove to everyone that she's more than just a label—much, much more.

After falling in love with Sara Zarr's most recent novel, How to Save a Life, I knew I needed to read everything the author's ever written.  Like, now.  I decided to start with Zarr's debut book, Story of a Girl.  Since it was a contender for the 2007 National Book Award, I figured the story must be as good, or better, than How to Save a Life.  Except it really wasn't.  The book's well-written, in that the prose is strong, the characters are real and the plot is compelling enough to keep readers engaged.  And yet, it didn't wow me.  In fact, I found the story anticlimactic and depressing.  Compared to the warmth of How to Save a Life, Story of a Girl feels stiff, distant.  As much as I tried, I just didn't love it.  In fact, it left me torn—should I take a chance on another Zarr book?  Because her writing is so strong overall, I'm voting yes.  So, now the question is: Which of her books should I read next?  Which one is your favorite?

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

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language, sexual innuendo/content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

   

Saturday, November 10, 2012

And Then There Were None ... Kinda

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

UCLA-bound Meg Pritchard really isn't much for parties.  She'd rather spend her time writing in a quiet corner than drinking beer or singing karaoke.  So, when Meg gets an exclusive invitation to a secret 3-day bash at the lake house of the most popular girl in school, she's not as thrilled as she probably should be.  Her best friend, on the other hand, couldn't be more excited.  Minnie can't stop talking about the upcoming party—and T.J. Fletcher, the gorgeous football player who will no doubt be there.  Meg's got a bad feeling about the whole thing, but there's no way she can let Minnie go alone.  No one at school is aware that Minnie has bi-polar disorder, no one else knows what to do when it gets bad.  Only Meg.  And then there's T.J.; Minnie's not the only one who's interested in spending three days getting to know him better ... 

As Meg and Minnie cross the Puget Sound on a chartered ferry in the middle of a storm, Meg's reluctance turns to fear.  The girls have both lied to their parents about where they're spending the weekend—if something happens to them, no one will know until it's too late.  Meg's reassured when she arrives at the island and meets the nine other teens at the party.  Their hostess hasn't arrived yet, but T.J. has, which makes Meg think maybe the weekend won't be a total loss.  

Then, the partygoers find a mysterious DVD, one that makes a chilling promise:  Vengeance is mine.  The kids try to laugh it off, but it quickly becomes clear that the message is no joke.  As the guests in the lake house disappear one by one, the survivors realize just how cut off they really are.  With the storm still raging, they have no power, no phone reception, no internet and no safe way to get home.  They're stuck on a remote island with a vicious killer who has reason to want every single one of them dead.     

If you've read And Then There Were None, then Ten, a new YA novel by Gretchen McNeil, will offer few surprises.  Which is a real bummer since the story had the potential to be a very clever and compelling update of Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery.  Unfortunately, Ten is just so-so—maybe not even that.  While McNeil creates an appropriately atmospheric setting, she populates it with too many characters, few of whom are individual enough to really stand out.  I couldn't keep track of who was who and, since I didn't feel like I really knew anyone but Meg, I didn't care all that much when the others died.  As for plot, it pretty much follows And Then There Were None, making few original detours.  Add in bumpy writing, poor editing, and an overall depressing storyline and, you get a book that could have been a whole lot better.  I'm all for putting a modern twist on classic novels—as long as it's done well.  This one needed work.


Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language, sexual innuendo, violence and depictions of underage drinking/partying  

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

Thursday, November 08, 2012

O Sister, Where Art Thou?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Bee Hemming always looks out for her younger sister.  Always.  It doesn't matter that they're 26 and 21 respectively or that they live in different countries—when Tess needs her, Bee's there.  She's used to Tess's drama, her emotional neediness and her impulsive decisions, so when Bee learns that Tess has disappeared, she assumes it's just another one of Tess's stunts.  Still, she boards the first flight she can get to London, intending to give her flighty sibling a piece of her mind.  Then, the police find Tess's body.  Although the death is ruled a suicide, Bee knows her sister would never take her own life.  She refuses to leave England until she not only convinces the authorities that Tess was murdered, but also catches the killer.

The more Bee delves into her sister's private life, the more disturbed she becomes—she learns Tess was pregnant by her married lover; bothered by an obsessed stalker; and involved in a controversial medical trial.  Any of these situations could have led to her death.  And then there's the possibility of suicide.  It's not an option Bee wants to believe, even if it's looking more and more likely.  Bee's dogged pursuit of the truth is taking a toll on her own personal life, but she refuses to quit.  She must solve the mystery of Tess' death before she can move on.  Even if it kills her—which it just might.

Sister by English author Rosamund Lupton is the kind of book I usually enjoy.  It's got a mysterious death, it's got a strong, but complicated sister bond, it's got some twisty plot curves, it's got solid writing.  So, yeah, totally my thing.  Except I didn't love it.  I liked it, but the truth is, the story's pretty anticlimactic until right at the very end.  And Bee's not the type of character that steps into your heart and never leaves.  She's sympathetic, but too cold to be really likable.  Still, there were enough surprises in Sister to keep me (mostly) interested.  Is Lupton my new favorite writer?  No.  Will I try her again?  Probably, although I'm not rushing out to get everything she's ever written.  Sister kept me reading, but didn't win my eternal book love.  Oh well.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything off the top of my head.  Can you?)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language, violence and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Who Needs The Electoral College When You've Got True Randomness?

After all the nastiness and mudslinging involved in the race for the U.S. presidency, I'm grateful for the simplicity of selecting a winner via Random.org.  The chosen one is (are?):


Congratulations!  Carissa, if you will please send me your mailing address (blogginboutbooksATgmailDOTcom), I will forward it on to Melanie Jacobson, who will be mailing out your book.  

Thank you to all who entered this giveaway.  I enjoyed reading your responses!  There were many, which makes me think I should give away more LDS books.  Yes?  Okay, I'll plan on it.  

If you didn't win this time, never fear—I'll have more book giveaways coming up this year and next.  Definitely stay tuned.  

Thursday, November 01, 2012

And the Winner Is ...

I hope you all had a fun and safe Halloween.  My legs are sore from walking all over our hilly neighborhood with my trick-or-treaters.  It's a good thing I got some exercise, though, because now I've got mounds of candy all over my house.  The good stuff (meaning anything chocolate) has this funny way of disappearing while the kids are at school—into my mouth!  Just another reason I'm not the biggest fan of Halloween ...

At any rate, I thought you might be interested in seeing who won my giveaway for Shadows, the second book in Ilsa J. Bick's YA zombie trilogy.  It was ...

Jake Rideout

Congratulations!  If you would please send me your mailing address (blogginboutbooksATgmailDOTcom), I'll get the book out to you just as soon as I can.  

If you didn't win this time, never fear—I always have more giveaways coming down the pipe.  You'll definitely want to stay tuned.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin