Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: The Power of Six

The Power of Six
By Pittacus Lore
Expected publication August 23, 2011 by HarperCollins

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the first book in the Lorien Legacies series and some spoilers for this title as well.

This was one of the books I was most excited to come home with after ALA. I had read and really enjoyed I Am Number Four, the first book in the Lorien Legacies series, right before the film adaptation came out. I, along with many of my friends, was relatively surprised by how much I enjoyed the book - I don't traditionally go in for books about aliens. Or movies about aliens. Or aliens in general. But I got sucked in by John Smith's (a.k.a. Number Four) story and was beyond eager to see what happened next.

The Power of Six picks up almost right where the first book left off, though you may not realize that right away. This one opens with a new narrator, Number Seven, who is currently assuming the name Marina while living in a convent in Spain. The book then proceeds to alternate narratives between Marina and John, as John lives on the lam after his exploits in the first book and Marina struggles with a guardian who refuses to acknowledge their heritage any longer or prepare her for the upcoming battle. This book keeps up the unrelenting pace of the first, even through the expository sections as we get to know Marina better. I think Marina's narrative provides a greater depth and excellent contrast to John Smith's - Marina's guardian, Adelina, is a direct foil to John's, Henry. Adelina has fully embraced life in the convent, taking the teachings of the Bible directly to heart and choosing to forget her Loric past. She is no longer supportive of Marina, does not make any attempts to train with Marina, and nearly deprives her of her Inheritance. I really enjoyed this contrast and the thoughts it provoked - how long can you live on an alien planet before you totally acclimate to its culture? How long can you keep running from a terrible past before you get tired? At the same time, Marina's story now parallels John's, as he no longer has a guardian to teach him about his Inheritance or prepare him for what's to come. One of the strengths of this novel is watching how these characters try to figure out the intentions of ancestors they don't remember, tools they've never seen, and destinies they can't fully comprehend alone.

This book was full of revelations that furthered the story and took it in a direction that I quite enjoyed. One of my favorite things about this book was the increased focus on Sam - he's a great character to have along for the ride and I was heartbroken by the situation he is left in at this novel's end. I love the interactions between John and Sam - they have a natural chemistry that is great to read. Additionally, I liked the theory about why John and Sam have found each other and any new information about Sam's dad feeds my desire for his backstory.

For me, the novel's greatest weakness is John's sudden attraction to Six (which, really, wasn't that hard to see coming) and his constant ruminations about what that means for his love of Sarah. It just seemed out of place in this otherwise enjoyable and action-packed novel.

As expected, this one really kicks things up a notch. I loved John and Sam's heroic quest into the den of the Mogadorians. Additionally, I love the idea of having all the survivors coming together to gear up for the final fight. The Power of Six ends in the middle of the action and I am beyond impatient for the next book.

As a final note, I want a Bernie Kosar. SO FRICKING BAD.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: Dragon's Tooth

Dragon's Tooth (Ashtown Burials, Book 1)
By N.D. Wilson
Expected publication August 23, 2011 by Random House Children's Books

I had heard of Wilson prior to ALA, intrigued by an earlier series (100 Cupboards), but never read him. This is the first book in a new series, scheduled to release in August. Cyrus Smith is an ordinary 12-year-old, though he's living in some unusual circumstances. After his father's death and his mother's coma, Cyrus lives with his older brother and sister in a motel once owned by their parents. But then, a strange man with his skeleton tattooed on the outside of his body shows up and Cyrus is plunged into a mysterious and confusing world. He must battle alongside his sister, Antigone, to save his brother and mother from a very evil man and his "children."

Okay, this is how to start a series. I actually care about what happens next. Wilson has crafted a book that could tap into the huge post-Harry Potter audience. An incredibly interesting and complicated ancient secret history, a villain to rival Voldemort, magic, and a breakneck pace - all these things add up to create an impossible to put down read. I really enjoyed reading this. The level of detail and imagination used to create this world is pretty impressive. Dr. Phoenix is a very believable and scary bad guy. Plus, this book has the heft of Harry Potter - comes in just shy of 500 pages. However, there are a few things that make me wonder if this could really inherit the mantle of the boy who lived. First, Cyrus is not as compelling of a hero as Harry. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about him, but I just didn't get totally behind him. There is something just slightly off-putting about him. And my other big issue with the book is that I still don't really know what's going on. Nothing is explained, even partially, until over 250 pages in - which is quite a long time to wait for some understanding. And even then, the explanation of the Order and how it functions is haphazard and incomplete. I'm left at the end of this book with a feeling of confusion. I don't need to know everything, but I don't feel like I know enough.

Regardless, this is a very strong first entry in a series and a compelling fantasy that I think will appeal to a great number of kids. Thanks to the publisher for an advanced reader's copy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Janitors

Janitors (Book 1)
By Tyler Whitesides
Expected publication August 3, 2011 by Deseret Book Company

Did you know there is a secret magical society of janitors? Yeah, me neither. But two kids will discover how dangerous and powerful these janitors can be...

So, this book was basically thrust upon me at ALA as I walked by the publisher's booth. But I'm always willing to give new things a shot so I took it and added it to my pile of books to read. Now that I've finished it, I'm a little torn about how I feel about it. I think it has a lot going for it - easy to read, lots of action, magic, easy to relate to characters. On the other hand, maybe it's just me, but I don't really see a lot of kids clamoring to read a book about janitors, even if they are magical. So I don't know if this book will really be able to find an audience. I think the book is good, but there was nothing about it that blew me away. One thing that really bugged me is that the chapters are named, but they are simply sentences from within that chapter. They're not very descriptive or interesting, generally, so it seems really unnecessary to have them named at all. My overall impression of this book is that it was decent but I don't think it has a strong enough pull to find a big audience.

Thanks to the publisher for an advanced reader's copy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Between

By Jessica Warman
Expected publication August 2, 2011 by Walker & Company

So, the girl who handed this to me at ALA said I had to have it because it was going to be the next big thing. After finishing it, I don't really agree.

First, this book was not what I expected. I thought this was going to be a murder mystery story. There was no indication on the back cover blurb of the ARC that this was narrated by the dead girl (though I see the Goodreads summary gives that information). So I guess this is supposed to fall in the same vein as Before I Fall, If I Stay, Elsewhere, and The Lovely Bones, etc. Unfortunately for me, this doesn't hold up against the two of those titles I've read. This book is just not that interesting. There is no creation of another world, as in The Lovely Bones, and as Liz revisits the place she grew up and her childhood memories, there is a severe lack of description. This book is overflowing with dialogue, and pretty much the only good thing about that is that it makes the book move relatively quickly. Additionally, I found myself supremely annoyed every time Liz visits one of her memories because she says the same damn thing every time - i.e. "I'm such-and-such an age. I can tell because of blah blah blah." Learn some new way to say it!

I think we are supposed to feel bad for Liz, especially as the mystery surrounding her death is unraveled (I'll talk about the "mystery" in a little bit) but I found myself just not caring. She's a pretty boring and self-absorbed character. Her interactions with Alex, the poor kid in town who died about a year earlier, are painful and terrible to suffer through. They are clearly meant to antagonize each other and at the same time grow and learn from each other. But it feels forced and phony.

In terms of the "mystery" surrounding both Alex and Liz's deaths, I had it figured out about 175 pages before the end of the novel, which made reading the rest of it a bit tedious. I'll admit I didn't have every single detail figured out, but I had the two biggest parts of the mystery solved. And that's saying something, because I am really terrible at figuring out mysteries ahead of time. So for me, the whole intrigue of the novel failed.

Despite all the aspects of this novel that let me down, I don't think it's a bad book. It just could have been a lot better. In the end, it's a pretty compelling read (even though I had the mysteries figured out, I kept reading) with the dark overtone that's very popular these days. I think this book will do well.

Thanks to the publisher for an advanced reader's copy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Claire de Lune

Claire de Lune
By Christine Johnson
Published 2010 by Simon Pulse

So, I picked this one up because I have an ARC of the sequel that I got from ALA. Obviously, I wanted to read the first before I delved into that one, so, ta-da. Anyway, this book is about Claire, who, shortly after her 16th birthday, finds out that she is a werewolf. Not only that, but the boy she has been crushing on forever (and who finally expresses interest in her, too) is the son of a man determined to "cure" the werewolves at any cost. Now, after reading Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, I was a little burned out on werewolves. I don't really like them that much to begin with. So I really just wanted to burn through this as fast as I could. It was a pretty quick read, so I was happy about that. I also liked the twist of all female werewolves and the French slant. It made me wonder if that's actually French werewolf lore. If I had more time, I might actually look into that. Anyway, the book was okay. I didn't care all that much about the characters but the action was well-paced. My biggest issue here is that there is absolutely no need for a sequel. I'm just getting annoyed that everything has to be a series. I understand that perhaps authors have enough ideas about a character to create a series around them and it creates a built-in audience. But sometimes it's okay to write stand-alone novels. The only reason I'm interested in finding out what's next for Claire is because I already know there's another novel. I don't know. I don't think I'll keep reading beyond that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Revolution

By Jennifer Donnelly, audiobook read by Emily Janice Card & Emma Bering
Published 2010 by Random House Audio

WARNING: Spoilers. Probably.

SIGH. I wish you could hear how big that sigh is in real life. I don't want to write this review. Because it's going to be mean (maybe) and I hate being disappointed. I wanted so badly to like this book. I really liked A Northern Light - it was interesting and well-written and captivating. Plus, this was getting lots of attention and good reviews. So I downloaded the audiobook and finally got around to listening to it when driving to and from the ALA conference in New Orleans.

I don't know where to start. This book was a HUGE let-down. First, it was nothing like I expected. I thought it was strictly historical fiction - but it's actually mostly contemporary. Okay, that's fine. Not what I expected but I read both so I can deal. Second, maybe it's because I had just seen Monty Python's Spamalot, but I could never quite get past the "ridiculous French accent" for Alexandrine's part of the story. But these were pretty minor things that I could get over. Here's what I couldn't get over. Andi is maybe one of the most pathetic and stupid characters ever created. Yes, I get it. She is DEPRESSED. Okay. But that doesn't mean she has to attempt suicide every chapter. I could have very easily gotten the point of her depression without being beaten over the head with it. It wasn't very far into the book when I started rolling my eyes at every mention of Andi's OVERWHELMING SADNESS. You are supposed to feel sympathetic for a character like this but I felt annoyed. In addition to her HORRIBLE DEPRESSION, she is so fricking stubborn that I don't understand how anyone puts up with her. Not that she has many friends, but seriously, she can't seem to get over herself. Also, she clearly refuses to see any situation from anyone else's point of view - there were a number of moments when she was complaining about her dad or someone else and it was clearly just because she didn't want to try to understand their side of things. Finally... TIME TRAVEL?? REALLY? This was a completely ridiculous and unnecessary "twist" on the story. Andi could have gotten to the same place of healing just by continuing to explore Alexandrine's story without the absolute crap time travel.

SIGH. I wanted this to be so much better than it was.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: Forever

By Maggie Stiefvater
Expected publication July 12. 2011 by Scholastic Press

WARNING: There are probably going to be spoilers here, and certainly spoilers for the first two books.

Grace and Sam have fought to stay together. Now they must fight to stay alive.

Linger was a bit of a low point for me, so I was interested to see how this one would go for me. I guess ask and you shall receive - this one featured more of Shelby and her attempts to assert dominance in the pack. The main story here is Tom Culpepper and his single-minded focus on destroying the wolf pack, while the human "members" of the pack attempt to figure out a way to escape. I felt less annoyed with Cole in this one - I was glad he was finally trying to do some good. Isabel annoyed me more in this one - I understand she's got some stuff to be angry about, but mostly it seemed a bit excessive. Also, her fixation on Cole - I guess their mutual fixation on each other - seemed more forced than natural, especially in comparison to Sam and Grace's relationship. I liked the attempts to find a true cure, and I really hope the series stays ended here - we don't need to know if it works for Grace, or the other wolves. We just need to know that they made it this far. I am really excited to read Stiefvater's next novel. I think she's a great storyteller and good at creating believable worlds with interesting characters. I don't think fans of the series will be disappointed in this conclusion to the series - unless they get greedy and want answers to all the questions.

Thanks to the publisher for an advanced reader's copy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Review: Zoozical

By Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown
Expected publication August 9, 2011 by Random House Children's Books

Wild About Books is one of my favorite picture books, so I was excited to see this new story about the animals of the zoo. It's winter and no one is going to the zoo; even the animals are a little bit down in the dumps. But then, a jumping hippo and a hoppy kangaroo wake up everyone and decide to put on a zoozical! I didn't like this one as much as the first book. Some of the rhymes didn't flow as well - the first one is such a great read-aloud and I feel like I would need to practice more with this one so I didn't stumble over the rhythm. Also, the story didn't tug at my heartstrings quite as much - after all, the first one is about the animals learning to read and discovering the magic of books. And, though I do love musicals, this one didn't hit quite as close to home as the first. However, the illustrations are absolutely adorable - they really make the whole book for me. They have a soft quality that just warms the heart. An adorable story that I think children will love.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Never Forgotten

Never Forgotten
By Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon
Expected publication October 11, 2011 by Random House Children's Books

An award-winning author teams with award-winning illustrators to illuminate the story of Africans taken during the slave trade. McKissack weaves a beautiful narrative and tells the story through one family - a blacksmith with a newborn son. The son is taken while out collecting wood one day and ends up part of the slave trade. The blacksmith, Dinga, calls on the elements to find out what has happened to his son. The elements work together to find the truth. It's a touching and uplifting story, except for one line at the end that bothered me a little. It was something along the lines of "well, my son's a slave but at least he's happy!" It just struck me as a bit out of place and callous, but perhaps that's how the people left behind in Africa would have actually felt. The illustrations here are gorgeous. I don't know how the Dillons do it - they create art in so many different styles and with so many different mediums and they are consistently beautiful. These look like stained glass and the colors they use are striking and evocative. The illustrations of the elements are so, so wonderful. This is a lush and beautiful picture book for older readers. Additionally, there is a nice author's note at the end that explains the genesis of the story. A beautiful way to let those descendants of slave that they were never forgotten in Africa.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an advanced reader's copy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: An Annoying ABC

An Annoying ABC
By Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley
Expected publication September 13, 2011 by Random House Children's Books

I think the title here is a misnomer. The ABC itself isn't annoying, at least, not to the reader, which is what I was expecting. This is a little alphabet book where the ABC's are represented by a classroom full of children who annoy each other in various ways. I suppose it's a cute little idea, but I didn't really find it that entertaining. I did enjoy the nice variety of names and the illustrations of the kids show a nice diversity. For me, the illustrations are the best part of this book - they are cute and whimsical, lovely to look at and just more fun than the story itself.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Linger

By Maggie Stiefvater
Published 2010 by Scholastic Press

WARNING: There are probably going to be spoilers for the first book here and potentially spoilers for this one, so be mindful.

If I didn't really know what to say about the first book, I find myself even more at a loss for this one. I definitely didn't enjoy it as much as Shiver; I feel like a lot of the magic and suspense from discovering the story and watching the romance unfold was gone in this one. I feel like there were unnecessary obstacles introduced to Sam and Grace's relationship and that just made me mad. Additionally, I really hated the new character, Cole. Completely unsympathetic and obnoxious, I had a really hard time relating to or caring about him at all. I liked the addition of Isabel's voice as a narrator - I think she's a wonderful character and a really great contrast to Grace's syrupy sweetness. I still love seeing how Grace and Sam's relationship develops but I didn't enjoy the plot of this one as much as the first. It seemed completely ridiculous to me that Grace's parents would all of a sudden care about what she's doing with her life, considering how hugely absent they've been for the first 17 years. I can understand why Stiefvater chose to change the "cure", but it sort of feels like a cop out to me. I think there were many other ways to continue exploring Sam and Grace's relationship (the reappearance of Shelby, for one) without changing the entire conclusion of the first book. I don't know. Maybe it just makes me mad that I totally followed her logic for the cure and then she went and changed it on me. But I definitely wish this had gone a different way. I really don't care to read anymore about Cole so I can only hope he doesn't play a big role in the last book. I guess we'll see what happens but this was a miss for me.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review: Shiver

By Maggie Stiefvater
Published 2009 by Scholastic Press

So, I've been interested in this series ever since it began, and despite many pleas by friends to read it, I just couldn't find the time. However, having recently returned from ALA with an ARC (advanced reader's copy) of the third title in the series (set to be published July 12th), it got bumped up on my to-read list.

Grace has always watched the wolves in her backyard. Especially the yellow-eyed wolf who saved her once upon a time. Sam desperately wants to remain Sam, though the struggle to change from wolf gets more difficult every year. What happens when these two finally meet? I don't know why, but it's always more difficult for me to talk about books I like than books I didn't. I can't really put my finger on why, but I definitely enjoyed this. Perhaps partly it's because the comparisons to Twilight are so easy and this is such a better executed supernatural romance. Grace is a stronger, more clearly defined heroine than Bella. Sam's struggle for humanity is much more believable and sympathetic than Edward's. The secondary characters don't feel like they exist as excuses for exposition. This book is populated with interesting characters who all feel like they serve a purpose. The action is well-paced and the plot goes in some directions I definitely didn't expect but that definitely proved far more interesting than I could have imagined. The romance here is sweet, not scary and I actually want to root for Grace and Sam rather than punch them in the face. I really got sucked into the emotional world of this novel - I teared up along with Grace and I felt exhilarated at the novel's conclusion. That being said, I'm a bit skeptical of this as a series - I felt like this book was nicely concluded and left you wanting more, but not so that you would die without finding out what happens next to these characters. Sometimes I think authors have forgotten that occasionally, it's okay to leave unanswered questions. But, I'm willing to give it a shot and see where it goes. I can only hope it doesn't go crazy, ridiculous Breaking Dawn on me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: Hereville

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
By Barry Deutsch
Published 2010 by Amulet Books

I had heard about this book from a few different sources and wasn't really sure what it was all about. Then I found out it was a graphic novel and I picked it up almost as soon as I saw a copy in the library. This tells the tale of Mirka, an Orthodox Jewish girl living in Hereville, who desperately wants to be a dragonslayer. But her stepmother just wants her to knit properly and her sister (well, one of her sisters) wants her to think about finding a husband and how her actions might affect everyone else's chances of finding a husband. The lack of dragons doesn't faze Mirka, and soon she is becoming a true heroine and undergoing a challenge put forth by a strange witch.

I'm so glad I picked this up. It's a bewitching little tale. In fact, I wish it were longer. It seemed like Mirka had so many stories and adventures in her that I can only hope this is just part one. Mirka is a dynamic and fun character, and another one that I think many girls could relate to. She doesn't want to disobey her family traditions, but she does want to do things for herself and develop her own personality. The art is whimsical and lovely to look at and I enjoyed learning bits of Hebrew throughout the story. I think it's great that Deutsch chose this community for his story - it provides an excellent foil for Mirka's adventures. This was a very fast read and I really enjoyed every second of reading it. It didn't last long enough for me. Delightful - I hope there is more to come! After all, Mirka has just gotten her sword - what challenges await her now that she is armed??