Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Everybody Sees the Ants

Everybody Sees the Ants
By A.S. King
Expected publication October 3, 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lucky Linderman doesn't really feel like he lives up to his name. First, there is the fact that he has a squid and a turtle for parents. Second, there is Nader McMillan, who's been bullying Lucky since he was seven and never getting in trouble for it. And lastly, there were his grandmother's last words to him, telling him he is responsible for rescuing his POW/MIA grandfather from Vietnam. Will Lucky find a way to bring his grandfather home? And, in the process, could he maybe address those other two issues of his?

I didn't really know anything about this when I picked up a copy at ALA. But I did read King's Printz Honor book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and enjoyed it. This is similar in tone and style. It deals with some heavy issues in a non-traditional sort of way. Once again, King keeps the chapters pretty short which makes the book flow and move quickly. And again, King creates a very realistic and sympathetic main character, while also creating a good arsenal of secondary characters for the main character to play off. I didn't enjoy this quite as much as Vera Dietz, though. I didn't feel as compelled by Lucky as I had by Vera. And this book didn't have as many endearing and quirky aspects as the other - I didn't enjoy Lucky's dream sequences as much as the alternating viewpoints King used in Vera's story. I did like Lucky's character growth throughout the novel and where his character ended up. However, I didn't really enjoy the final chapter - it seemed a bit magical and out of place. It was similar to the end of Vera's story in that everything wasn't explained. And I find that frustrating in both of these situations. I wish there were a more complete ending. But, this was still a good read with an easy to relate to main character.

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
By Laini Taylor
Expected publication September 27, 2011 by Little, Brown & Company

Around the world, black handprints are being scorched into doors by mysterious creatures. Angels prepare to execute their revenge. A devil's supply of teeth is running out. And in the middle, a blue-haired art student in Prague wants to know the truth about where she came from. But will she still want the truth if it changes everything she's ever known?

This book is getting tons of buzz. And I read one of Taylor's other books earlier this year and absolutely loved it. So I greedily snatched this up at ALA. This title does not disappoint. Once again, Taylor has crafted a thrilling and engaging new world, populated with fascinating and unique characters put through unbelievable twists and turns. From almost the very first sentence, I was hooked. Taylor has a truly amazing way with words. I wish there were more books of hers to read (luckily, there are still two I haven't read yet!). She is definitely an author with a long career ahead of her. Her ability to write makes it easy to get sucked into the incredible worlds she creates in her books. I would pretty much believe anything she told me because I just want to keep reading what she's written. Her way with words also helps her create fascinating characters - she is able to describe them in more unique ways than most other authors. I absolutely fell in love with Karou and Brimstone and everyone else. These things make the pages fly by, so before you know it you've reached the "to be continued..." on the last page and can't believe you have to wait to find out what happens next to these characters. I didn't realize this was the beginning of a series and felt a mixture of emotions when I reached the last page and discovered those three little words: elation that there would be more to come from this wonderful story and utter depression that I couldn't read the rest of the story now. I will impatiently wait out the months until the next installment of this story and in the mean time, I will thrust Laini Taylor's books into as many hands as I can.

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Sharon Creech Verse Novels

Love That Dog
By Sharon Creech
Published 2003 by HarperTrophy

Hate That Cat
By Sharon Creech
Published 2008 by Joanna Colfer

Jack doesn't want to write poetry - only girls do that. But he gives it a shot. Turns out, maybe Jack does have some things he'd like to write down. And maybe, just maybe, he's a poet at heart.

I read these back to back the other day and they were quick, heartfelt and engaging. Jack is a believable character and very easy to identify with. I have a soft spot for novels written in verse (I'm not really sure what got me started on this kick but now I can't get enough), but I especially love that Jack's story is told through poetry. This way, we get little bits and pieces of his life, through his poems, and slowly, wonderfully, complete our portrait of him as a real person. I loved how Jack found his inspiration for his words through poems easily recognized by me, the reader (and that these poems were provided for readers in the back of the books). I also loved the appearance of Mr. Walter Dean Myers and Jack's incessant need to know if an author is alive or not. I loved how each novel told a specific and poignant story - first about Sky and then about Jack's mom. These novels were a delight. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Glow

By Amy Kathleen Ryan
Expected publication September 27, 2011 by St. Martin's Griffin

Every other book at ALA was billed as "the next Hunger Games." Well, I still haven't read Hunger Games (yes, you may boo and hiss), so that doesn't mean too much to me. This book was no exception.

Kieran and Waverly are two young lovers aboard a ship bound for New Earth. They've been traveling all their lives, tending the heirloom crops and learning about their mission. This day will be different, though. This day the New Horizon, another ship bound for New Earth that left a year earlier, appears through their windows. And this will change everything in Kieran and Waverly's lives.

Okay, I'm just going to say it: this book takes place in space AND I LIKED IT. That is huge. I hate space - I don't watch movies or TV shows that take place there and I usually don't read too many books with space as their setting. I don't know why this is; it's just never appealed to me. And I had an especially scarring experience with Ender's Game last fall so my dislike for all things space only deepened. However, I'm also willing to give most anything a shot so I didn't hesitate to try this novel. I'm glad I did, because I really enjoyed it. It was a compelling and intriguing read that I didn't want to end. I think what I liked most about this novel was the backstory - I really liked the history that Ryan created for this story. I found the whole idea of the twin ships with their differing characteristics quite appealing. I enjoyed the personal history of each character that received some authorial focus - particularly the stories of the adults. I liked all the twists and turns that came along - especially the contrasting development of Kieran and Waverly's characters. However, even though this was a compelling novel to read, it's the first in a proposed series and that compulsion doesn't really carry all the way through to the end of the novel. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger and I'm curious to find out how the mission continues. BUT I don't feel an overwhelming NEED for the next book to BE IN MY HANDS NOW. It's more of a mild curiosity. This book had a few logical flaws throughout, but the breakneck pace and interesting plot make it easy to ignore these things. All in all, this was a really interesting novel that has the potential to find a big audience.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review; A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
By Patrick Ness, from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, with illustrations by Jim Kay
Expected publication September 27, 2011 by Candlewick Press

I heard a lot of buzz about this one, so I grabbed an ARC when I had the chance. I wasn't really sure what to expect - I've never read a book by Siobhan Dowd or Patrick Ness, though I've heard heaps of praise for both of them. Apparently Dowd had the idea and characters planned for this when she abruptly passed away. Ness was approached to turn this into a book and this is the result.

One night, at 12:07, a monster shows up outside Conor's window. But it's not quite what he expected. See, Conor's been having nightmares since his mother first started feeling sick - and that's the monster he expected to see. But this monster, the one he actually encounters, claims Conor called him. We're about to find out why.

So, I'm not sure what I expected but this book was a wonderful surprise. It's terrifying and heartbreaking all at once. Ness has crafted a beautifully original story about loss and truth that should speak to all readers. The monster here is scary and yet has so many things to teach Conor that he is only intrigued. But he also needs the monster. He needs to understand what the monster means when it says that Conor called him here. He needs to understand the monster's confusing and irritating stories. He needs to understand why the monster insists that he talk about the nightmare - the horrible, awful, gut-wrenching nightmare. Conor's story is hard to listen to, especially because, to readers, it becomes clear where it's going very early on. However, part of the brilliance here is that Ness still makes you want to keep reading even though you're pretty sure how this story is going to end. I ached for Conor and understood him and his truth. This book is powerful and wonderful.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Juliet Immortal

Juliet Immortal
By Stacey Jay
Published 2011 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

After I read her Megan Berry series, I would have told you that I would follow Stacey Jay to the ends of the earth. That series was fresh and funny, a quick and easy read with one of the best heroines in recent YA history. So when I heard about this book - a complete reimagining of Romeo and Juliet?!?! - needless to say, I was beyond stoked. I happily snagged an ARC at ALA.

I don't think I can provide a decent plot summary here. There is so much going on in this book that I don't know how to accurately describe it all. Let's see if I can get at least some bare bones down here: Romeo was recruited by the Mercenaries (that would be the bad guys) to kill his soul mate, Juliet, and aid their evil cause. As she lay dying, Juliet was rescued by the Ambassadors (the good guys, naturally) and became one of them. Through the years, both have returned to Earth for their respective causes and fought each other bitterly each time. Juliet is sent to protect soul mates, inhabiting a person close to them, while Romeo must convince one to kill the other, only able to possess the bodies of the dead. In the present day, something feels wrong about this visit from the beginning and Juliet struggles to find the answers before Romeo's side wins.

Okay, I think that's a pretty good description of the basics. But, like I said, a lot of things are going on in this book, so there is far more that I could have said. At times, I felt like it was way too much to digest - I understand we are suspending belief here, but maybe this might be a little overkill? No, okay, I guess I'll roll with it. So, for me, there was a little too much happening. Additionally, because of the wealth of plot elements going on, it was sometimes difficult to get the characters all straight. Is this really Juliet that I'm reading about? Or is it the person she's inhabiting? This made it difficult to get really attached to any of the characters. However, I think for all that she's got going on, Jay still manages to craft a compulsively readable novel that will potentially appeal greatly to a wide audience of teens. So even though this wasn't as spectacular for me as the Megan Berry series, I'm pretty sure I would still follow Stacey Jay to the ends of the Earth.

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review: Perfect

By Ellen Hopkins
Expected publication September 13, 2011 by Margaret K. McElderry

Cara, whose twin brother is undergoing psychiatric care after a suicide attempt, begins to understand his struggles as she comes to some realizations about herself...Kendra, who used to date Cara's twin, now wanting to do anything it takes to have the perfect body...Sean, in love with Cara, desperate to succeed in baseball, willing to choose illegal paths...Andre, under pressure from his parents, longing to be a dancer, falling for a girl who needs more help than he can offer...

Told in Hopkins' signature style, this is apparently a companion book to her earlier Impulse; however, it is not necessary to have read that to fully appreciate this one. I don't have much to say about this one - I really enjoy all of Hopkins' books. She knows how to create compelling characters with complex plots, all told wonderfully through poetry. They are quick and easy reads, dealing with the tough issues that teens find most interesting. For me, this is not her strongest - Andre doesn't really seem to fit into this story and his plotline is not as compelling as the others. However, it is always great to get lost in a Hopkins' novel - I can't wait to read her adult debut (I have an ARC sitting in my living room!). Additionally, she was a delight to meet.

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: Wonderstruck

By Brian Selznick
Expected publication September 13, 2011 by Scholastic Press

I, like many others (including the Caldecott committee), fell in love with Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. So, when I saw copies of his next novel (what is the right word for these two books? Novels with pictures?) at ALA in June, I frantically grabbed a copy. I don't even know if I asked first - that's how much greed I had for this title.

Here, Selznick tells the stories of Ben - growing up in northern Minnesota, trying to cope with her new orphan status and wondering if the answers to his questions can be found in the clues his mother left behind - and Rose - in the early part of the century in Hoboken, keeping a scrapbook of a glamorous actress, looking for an escape. The adventures begin as, decades apart, these two people set out for New York City, searching for their truths.

Once again, Selznick has created a beautiful book. His illustrations are so, so gorgeous - I want to frame them all. Here, Selznick tells one story in prose (Ben's) and the other in illustrations (Rose's). There is a bit of a mystery element as we try to figure out how these stories are connected and the resolution of this mystery is done beautifully, I think. Again, Selznick tells a story that is unique and rare in children's books - both main characters are deaf. Similarly to his earlier book, discovery is a big theme here. Both characters are trying to discover who they are and where they belong, as well as discovering a heap of other things along their adventures. I think both characters are well-defined and easy to relate to, though I think Selznick falters in his creation of Jamie - his situation and presence throughout the end of the book seemed a bit out of place to me. However, it was easy to get lost in this book and it's another truly great addition to children's literature.

That being said, though, a little bit is lost between The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. Part of the magic of the first was that is was so surprising, unique and new. Now, we have seen this type of story before, so some of that magic has gone. It is still a beautiful way to tell a story - it's just not as surprising and fresh as it was the first time.

I will treasure this book. Highly recommended. Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: You Against Me

You Against Me
By Jenny Downham
Expected publication September 13, 2011 by David Fickling Books

I'm probably one of the few people who hasn't read Downham's debut novel, which was a bit hit. When I spotted this ARC at ALA, I picked it up so I could give her a try. Mikey's sister says that she was raped. Ellie's brother is accused of the crime. When Mikey and Ellie meet, both their worlds will be upended.

This book was good. Really compelling and fast read - I didn't want to put it down and it was easy to devour. That being said, though, most of the book is highly predictable. If you've ever read a story about star-crossed lovers, then you pretty much know what's going on here. And it's obvious almost from the beginning. Additionally, the mystery surrounding the alleged assault didn't feel like much of a mystery to me. It seemed pretty clear what had actually occurred. However, I think readers will be drawn to this title. An interesting plot and a romantic element plus characters you want to believe in - it's a well-done book but not quite all I expected it to be.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Blood Wounds

Blood Wounds
By Susan Beth Pfeffer
Expected publication September 12, 2011 by Harcourt Children's Books

So I got swept up in Pfeffer's end of the world trilogy and was anxious to see how she tackled a more realistic story (although I guess that depends on your definition of realistic). This tells the story of Willa, a teen in a blended family whose happy life is disrupted when the news breaks that her birth father's wife and two children have been murdered, he is the prime suspect, and it looks like he may be heading right her way.

This premise sounded awesome. I loved the idea that this novel would explore what it felt like to be in a blended family and how your birth family could affect your life and what it means to suddenly discover you're related to someone who has committed a truly heinous act. However, this book never goes that deep. Everything about this feels superficial. I don't feel like we are ever really given a chance to connect with the characters and all their interactions with each other seem phony and unrealistic. Additionally, the very premise of the book - that her dangerous birth father is coming for her - is played out in the first 70 pages. From there, the book moves into another story - about Willa visiting her hometown and trying to deal with her life now. But, like I said, it all feels superficial. We are told very on that Willa cuts - but the reasons for this never feel fully explained. It seems like nothing in this book is really fleshed out and the whole thing very much suffers for that. I didn't really care for the direction that this book ultimately went and the whole thing just ended up being a big disappointment. It had a lot of promise but unfortunately fell far short.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review: Wisdom's Kiss

Wisdom's Kiss: A Thrilling and Romantic Adventure Incorporating Magic, Villainy, and a Cat
By Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Expected publication September 12, 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

This is the story of Princess Wisdom, who longs for adventure, much to the dismay of her grandmother Benevolence. This is also the story of Fortitude, more commonly known as Trudy, a common maid who longs for her soldier to return. And this is the story of Tomas, called Tips by his friends, a soldier who wants to change his life for the better. And it may be the story of the mysterious Felis el Gato, a master swordsman who sees the potential in Tomas.

I had read the first two books in Murdock's series about DJ Schwenk and enjoyed them well enough. I saw this one at ALA and the premise intrigued me, as well as the narrative, so I picked it up and gave it a shot. I'm glad I did. This book was delightful and fun and especially what I needed after all the sad and crazy stuff I've been reading. Lighthearted and fun and filled to the brim with wonderful characters, I really enjoyed this book. Murdock makes the bold choice to tell the story through eight different points of view - and every single one of them works. The novel I read before this had the same multiple point of view idea going on, but in this book, it actually worked. I think it worked so well because each point of view and character is so well-defined and nuanced. This type of narrative works brilliantly for this story - you get to see the major plot points from nearly every perspective. I would have to say the only thing I didn't like was how things turned out between Dizzy, Tips and Trudy - I know the author interview in the back said Murdock worked hard (after input from her kids) to make Dizzy more likable and her actions more justified, but it still didn't feel that way for me. However, I loved Escoffier and the role he played in the story and I especially loved the ending (though, I must admit, I totally saw it coming). I think whimsical is the best way to describe this book. A highly recommended read.

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

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Review: Envy

Envy (Empty Coffin, Book 1)
By Gregg Olsen
Expected publication September 6, 2011 by Splinter

Twins Hayley and Taylor get feelings about certain events. And when their former best friend, Katelyn, is found electrocuted in her bathtub, they begin to get those feelings. Using their feelings and their special bond as twins, they are determined to find out if Katie's death was an accident, a suicide, or something much more sinister.

Oh jeez. Here we go. First, a confession: I did not finish this book. So maybe I missed out on a whole bunch of awesomeness that happens after the first sixty pages. But, this brings me to my point.

I did not finish this book because I was unable to force myself to read anymore of it. This book, the first sixty pages of which I read, is horrendous. I don't even know if I can describe how bad this book is. Because I can't exactly put my finger on it. I was pretty excited to read it - I'd heard some buzz about it and it seemed like it could be a really cool premise. Plus, Olsen is an author I've heard of in the adult world. I guess maybe I don't actually remember what I've heard about Olsen - because if his adult books are like this one, WHO READS THEM? AND THINKS THEY'RE GOOD? I know I only read 60 pages here but in that 60 pages, I was pained. I learned nothing about any of the characters beyond stereotypical notions of who they are supposed to be. The narrative is frantic and almost feels schizophrenic - I don't have any idea who is allegedly telling this story because I think Olsen tries to give every possible point of view - and absolutely fails. I think this is probably my biggest problem with the book - I absolutely could not endure this narrative for a moment longer. Additionally, Olsen so clearly inserted himself into the story - and not in a clever, endearing way. The main characters' father is a true crime writer - though I suppose I don't know enough about Olsen himself to know how similar this character actually is to him. Regardless, it seems like a pointless decision. I have some desire to see where this story is going to go, but I don't think I can put myself through it. Maybe I'll skim the rest. But I somehow doubt it.

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