Monday, November 29, 2010

Suite Scarlett


Suite Scarlett is a YA contemporary novel written by Maureen Johnson.

Scarlett Martin lives in the Hopewell, a small but arty hotel in New York City. Her family owns and runs it - which includes the tradition of giving full responsibility of one of the eclectic rooms to each Martin when they turn 15. Scarlett gets the Empire Suite, one of the most expensive and least used suites at the Hopewell. But it very quickly becomes occupied when the highly unusual and wealthy ex-actress Mrs. Amberson moves in for the entire summer. Since the hotel isn't in the best financial times, pleasing Mrs. Amberson becomes the ultimate goal for the family. Unfortunately, this mission tends to fall at Scarlett's feet more often than not, since Mrs. Amberson seems to take a liking to her.

And before Scarlett knows it, what looked to be a boring and eventless summer of helping out at the Hopewell is turning into a crazy succession of events. Especially when she meets the too-good-looking-to-speak-properly-to young actor, Eric, who is working with her older brother Spencer. Adding a splash of possible romance only makes things more hectic for Scarlett - but living in Manhattan in a family like the Martin's might just give her enough moxy to survive it.

The positive blurbs on the back of the paperback version of Suite Scarlett from some of my favorite authors (Meg Cabot, Libba Bray, and Michele Jaffe) was definitely a good sign when I got the opportunity to read the book. And may I just say that Suite Scarlett more than met the praise!

Suite Scarlett's cover gives off a lighthearted, fun feeling that was reflected in the contents of this delightful read. Maureen Johnson easily evokes a luxurious, charming image of the Hopewell that enticed the bibliophile in me. Before ten pages passed the vibes of family, siblings, and a truly colorful palette of characters already sparkled radiantly!

Not to mention, starting the story off with Scarlett's truly sucky b-day really set a great tone for the character and the path her life often takes - keeping the narrative voice joyful. There are so many chuckle-inducing lines, I can't even tell you!

I seemed to instinctually want to read Suite Scarlett slowly, wanting to really savor the almost rhythmical quality it has. One of the most fun (and funny) books I've read lately.

Mrs. Amberson is one of those awesome characters that just comes to life (though you can say that for pretty much every character in Suite Scarlett), sort of like Grandmere in The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. She is kinda crazy and is quite the scene-stealer - throwing Scarlett into all sorts of whimsical shenanigans (I love that word, don't you?).

Plus, Scarlett's dealing with her crush on Eric is both relatable and hilarious - she is an excellent main character, one of many in a novel full to the brim with glow-in-the-dark personalities, refreshing family life, and entertainment up the whazoo!

Suite Scarlett is like cold lemonade in a sea of angsty YA hot cocoa. It's like a fluffy, enjoyable, irresistible dessert. Flavorful, scrumptious... yummy.

And with it's surprisingly gripping, must-read quality and smile-worthy end - I was more than happy to have the sequel Scarlett Fever waiting in the wings for me to crack open immediately.

So after all that, I'm sure you'll all be astonished to know that I highly, highly recommend Suite Scarlett. ;)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Time Quadrants


Time Quadrants is an ebook-only anthology by YA sci-fi author Henry Melton.

This is a time travel science fiction sampler that was put out to whet appetites before the publication of Golden Girl. Since I've already read Golden Girl and loved it (read my review here), I was super excited to read this anthology.

It's four short stories, and overall only a little over 100 pages long - and well worth reading!!!

Let's break each story down, one by one, shall we?

Litterbug: This story centers on seventeen-year-old Jerry who helps to clean up near the railroad to make sure his small town is spotless before the President of the United States makes a short stop there. He finds an odd-looking candy bar wrapper that he tries to put through a gadget he has made to sort recyclables - yet for some reason it refuses to work, unlike anything he has ever experienced. What is it? Well, you gotta read it to find out, don't you? I don't want to say too much more since in short stories there isn't much room to tease without spoiling! But I'll say this: it was a crisp, smart, interesting, and surprising tale! Just what I've come to expect from Henry Melton.

Echoes: A fascinating, extremely short and compact story that wowed me. With its amazingly brief length I can't think how to tell you what it is about without ruining it, except to perhaps say that it involves the inevitable ripple effects that a time machine would cause. Excellently written and astoundingly creative!

Far Exile: Starts fast with the awakening of a calm-minded 1930s man that is, at first, unnamed. He finds himself in an unusual, unknown place of extremely tall towers, where no one ever goes outside and the world is controlled, voluntarily, by a computer-like being. There is something so intriguing about the concept of a man from our past being in a future we have not yet reached. Again, can't give away too much... but what an awesome, stimulating story! The writing kept me constantly involved and absorbed in this futuristic world. It exercises your brain in a way that is actually fun. I'm not crazy, honest. You gotta read it to know what I'm talking about, bibliophile!

Making It Fit: This is a quieter, more scientific tale that actually is about a bunch of (whaddya know?!) scientists. But don't mistake quiet for dull - because it ain't. Focuses on some lab coat geniuses working on the possibility of a time traveling machine, and what happens when they start to use it to work twenty-four hours a day. Along with the more brainy smarts comes an unexpectedly romantic, touching story! Very well done and perfectly understated.

As you can see, I'm a fan. Science fiction can be one of the most intelligent, intricately plotted genres out there - as Henry Melton has constantly proved since I've begun reading his work earlier this year. I most definitely encourage you to check out this sampler of the kind of stories he writes. Check out his website here to see how you can read Time Quadrants!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Girl, Stolen


Girl, Stolen is a new YA thriller by author April Henry.

Cheyenne Wilder is sixteen-years-old and tired. She's waiting, sleepily, in the back seat of her stepmom's car as said-stepmother picks up the prescription that is meant to treat Cheyenne's pneumonia. She begged her stepmom to leave the keys in the car so that she could keep warm during the brief interval.

When Griffin sees the car keys in the expensive car, it is as if the car is beckoning to be stolen. He sees an opportunity to impress his father and create a big payday. He doesn't know that there is a sick girl in the back. He doesn't know that she's blind.

Everything turns from bad to terrifying as Griffin's dad realizes that Cheyenne's father is a rich president of a big company. Soon, Cheyenne faces the reality that she is going to have to somehow fight for her own survival.

Come on, bookworms. Tell me that synopsis doesn't send a chill up your spine. You know it does. At least it did mine. I mean, she is terribly sick AND blind AND kidnapped?! Scary. So, Girl, Stolen definitely swept me and my imagination away into a fast-paced, tense, teeth-grinding start.

Cheyenne's blindness makes her unique and causes an early sympathy and extra dose of suspense. The very thought of this frightening situation, plus the added handicap of not being able to see - wow.

I'll admit there were some moments that Girl, Stolen was a teeny-tiny-bit predictable. I guessed a couple of twists right before they happened. However, Cheyenne is a heroine to root for and the engrossing setup and writing often overshadowed any guess I happened to get right.

For me personally the pages were flying and I found it easy to finish within a two-day period - which is a big deal for a bibliophile that is working and is often sadly deprived of quality book time. Goes to show how lightening fast the pace is, and how determined a junkie bibliophile can be when motivated.

Besides the immediate situation of Cheyenne, we also get wonderful memories of how she became blind and how her mother died, etc. It is sad but emotionally effective and character driven. Made it more than just a thriller.

Girl, Stolen is full of shocks and scares, and a gritty realism that frayed my nerves. It made for a movie-like visual in the mind, and a highly entertaining and taut read.

Any more said and I might slip out some spoilers, so I shall zip my lips now and leave it up to you - the obsessive, insatiable book lover - to find a copy and start reading. :)

On a separate note: HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I am thankful for YOU reading my blog and helping to make it so successful this year! I hope you all have a great day gorging on turkey, or whatever food option may be your preference! And I WILL be having a new review up on Friday, so please check back! :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Raised by Wolves


Raised by Wolves is a YA paranormal novel by author Jennnifer Lynn Barnes that came out last June.

Bryn isn't like most fifteen-year-olds. She doesn't have a boyfriend, nor does she care that much that she doesn't. She doesn't obsess over her looks. She doesn't think about college. And, oh yeah, she was raised by wolves.

And not just regular, Discovery Channel wolves. Nope. Werewolves.

See, when she was four-years-old a "Rabid" werewolf attacked and savagely killed her parents. She was going to be next, if not for the last-minute rescue of Callum, the alpha of his pack. He took her in and had her raised as one of the Pack, despite her relentless humanness.

This life is all she has ever known, and despite her resistance to being "obedient" to Pack rule - the Pack is her family. But when her security is upped by Callum, her curiosity is peaked. Her search for answers brings her to a startling discovery: a newly turned werewolf, about her age, locked in a cage in the basement of Callum's basement.

Bryn's entire life is turned upside down when she realizes that everything she has known to be true since she was rescued by Callum may have been a lie.

Raised by Wolves wastes no time in acquainting you with Bryn's witty, snappy voice - making it clear early on that she is a unique protagonist. At first she came across as a bit frustrating to me, especially with her dogged stubborness - but it didn't take long for me to find Bryn very, very likable and easy to root for.

Quickly, you realize that Raised by Wolves is an intense novel. And I mean intense in the best way possible. But this is lightened by humor-laced first-person narration. I'll admit that I felt some of Bryn's cleverness came across as forced, not as organic as I like - yet this later was disproved. Bryn's voice becomes more and more natural and believable, and I'm sure if I were to reread it, it would no longer sound strained in the earlier pages.

As the many layers of the plot are peeled back and more is revealed, the more nail-biting it becomes! With increased involvement in the Pack I became truly fascinated with the detail Jennifer Lynn Barnes gives to this world. It's fascinating and feels dangerous. Extremely cool.

I just have to say in plain English here that I LOVED Raised by Wolves. As the pages turned, the hypnotic pull deepened - especially at the halfway mark. And, whoo-boy, I know I've used the word intense more than my old English teachers would appreciate but, really, it is INTENSE. Unpredictable. Suspenseful. Epic. Obsessive. Addictive.

Definitely a must-read for fans of the Twilight Saga, I feel. Definitely.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes creates such a fully realized, barely explored, incredible world - her writing is extremely strong, writing that wraps you up in the story, writing that makes you forget about what else is going on around you.

The plot hums with electric energy - and then moments of laugh-out-loud dialogue shake you a little from the insane, edge-of-your-seat stuff. I was pretty much yanked through an amazing, paranormal story and couldn't stop reading unless I absolutely had to. Raised by Wolves leads up to a breathless climax, having weaved Pack-like, emotional connections to the expertly drawn, individualistic characters.

Raised by Wolves is an extraordinary YA novel that deserves a huge audience! With the heart-pounding action, goosebump-causing scariness, and exquisite storytelling - I was soooooooo relieved when I found out that there is going to be a sequel coming out in June 2011.

And if you take my advice and read Raised by Wolves (which I can almost guarantee will make your bibliophile DNA tingle), I'm pretty sure you will too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Contagion


Contagion is a YA historical mystery recently released and written by Joanne Dahme.

Eighteen-year-old Rose Dugan is finishing up her first year of marriage to her long-betrothed, powerful husband, Patrick. On the surface everything is going very well for her - wealth enough for everything she'd need or want and a wonderful best friend, Nellie, to bring light to her days. Yet things take a disturbing turn when intimidating letters begin turning up, threatening Patrick and Rose, demanding he stop his petitioning of big changes to the city's Water Works systems - changes that could mean even more money and power for Patrick - and the destruction of the beautiful site.

But as harmless as Patrick finds the letters, Rose finds them worrisome - and when someone quite dear to Rose is murdered while wearing her cloak, her worries are proven. Or are they? Could it have just been a robbery gone bad?

Rose finds herself enlisting the help of the good-looking and kind young man that maintains Philadelphia's Water Works, Sean, as panic breaks out - typhoid is returning to the area and seems to be in the water. Is there any chance that all of these events are somehow connected? Rose can't get rid of the nagging feeling that they are. But how come everyone's finger seems to be pointing either to her husband Patrick or her newfound friend Sean?

Okay, so anytime I hear about a YA book that mixes historical fiction with murder and danger (usually can't have the former without the latter, I suppose) - I'm there! Usually a quite awesome combination...

The prologue to Contagion brings to us a picture of a thirteen-year-old Rose meeting her future husband, Patrick, who is already twenty. There was something so disturbing about seeing (in the reader's mind's eye) this young girl have no say about her future - and is no less disturbing when the novel picks back up in 1895, in which Rose and Patrick are married. It is so odd, yet fascinating, to have Rose and her best friend Nellie so young, yet mistresses of households.

However, despite this rather interesting beginning it doesn't take long for Contagion to switch narrative viewpoint to Sean (as it will do throughout the entire novel), where the talk of the Water Works system and grounds is full of passion, for sure, but not of much interest to me. Especially as it veers more into politics than I prefer, or care for...

And sadly, the suspense being created by the author felt, to me, superficial and never authentic... You could completely disagree with me and be on pins and needles the entire time - so don't take my word for it! Just gotta be honest here... I was disappointed with the lack of creepiness, with the lack of a true sense of danger or mystery.

Plot-wise, Contagion certainly takes its time, which is not necessarily a bad thing - as slowly I began to care a bit more for the characters, and the murder at least affects me a little. However, though the period feel is good and seems well-researched, the slowness of anything actually happening can't help but make me feel a little, well, bored.

The focus and detail of the city's Water Works is probably fascinating to some people - clearly a passion of the author and all of the characters in Contagion - and is certainly a worthy cause and work to magnify. Yet in a novel, in my opinion, it seemed to drag the plot down and the controversy surrounding it never reached a compelling point for me, and instead was tedious.

I felt like Contagion needed more to happen - as if there were far too many pages for far too little going on. It lacked the atmosphere and whodunit quality I expected after seeing the blurbs. I have to admit, regrettably, that I had to resort to skimming many of the later pages as the 399 pages continued to refrain from riveting me. I hope that many of you find more entertainment in the novel... as I am sure there are many reader's out there that will love Contagion.

One thing for sure that Joanne Dahme shows us is how terrifying typhoid was back in 1895 - the fear and panic related to such a ravaging, deadly disease. And the way in which she portrays someone able to, perhaps, purposely poison people's water and cause an outbreak for their own gain is quite rattling. However, I did feel that even this part of Contagion was told to us, not shown... like most of the novel, from my view.

As the final quarter picked up a bit of speed, I did see the admirable quality of the narrative voice of Sean and Rose, yet they still never connected with me. And though by the end I recognized the nobility in Contagion and the possibility of someone loving it - that person was just sadly not me, not this time.

But please read Contagion for yourself and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lockdown


Lockdown is the first book in a new YA horror/thriller series Escape from Furnace, written by Alexander Gordon Smith.

Alex isn't a good kid. It isn't just that he's a moody 14-year-old boy. No, he made a decision a while back that he liked money... and he didn't always get his hands on it legally. He knows it's wrong, but Alex keeps on down this wrong track, until something happens. Something horrific.

Furnace Penitentiary was created as a way to dissuade minors from committing violent crimes, after a wave of atrocious acts were perpetrated by young offenders. People became suspicious and frightened of kids... But Alex knows Furnace is no threat to him. He would never hurt anyone. He just likes money.

But when during the burglarization of an empty home, he is framed for a monstrous murder he did not commit - he finds himself running from the police. Before he knows what is going on, Alex is caught, tried, and found guilty - and sent to the underground Furnace... where no one ever comes back.

My synopsis is a little sparse because I'm trying to not give away some of the more shocking surprises that take place in the first few chapters. Hopefully, I kept it spoiler-free enough - yet allowed it to still sound interesting! Because, um, it most certainly is!

The opening chapter of Lockdown is instantly freaky, a tone that is set securely for the length of the entire novel. It gives you a whisper of the irrepressible intensity to follow.

After this prologue of sorts, time shifts to a first person narrative of how Alex will become an inmate of Furnace Penitentiary. The action slows (only for a short period) to let us get a real picture of who he is. Then a horrifying, startling turn of events kicks up the volume and you go flying into a fast-paced, breathless page-turner.

Thing is, for some reason, at first I was hesitant to connect with Alex and his story... I was skeptical of being sympathetic of him - but I believe this might have been purposeful on the part of the author. But once the questions and mysteries begin being presented, it doesn't even matter if you care about Alex yet - you just want to know what the heck is going on!

Once things started snowballing (and, man, do things start snowballing) and Alex ends up in Furnace, I became convinced. Smith's writing is very skilled in turning my opinion around and really throwing the reader into an entirely different world, which is presented as part of our world (almost makes it scarier). And before I really even knew my perception of Alex had changed, I found myself worried to death for him!

I don't know if I am explaining myself very well, but I am so reluctant to give any details away!

Here's the thing: Lockdown is one of those books that is very testosterone-driven and gory - but once you start reading you really can't put it down. Furnace Penitentiary isn't a regular prison - it's full of abnormal guards, dudes that have gas masks sewn on to their faces, and creatures that are supernatural and really, really creepy. I shudder just thinking of some of the scenes.

This is a book that I would kind of have to put out of my mind when I went to bed... because it is actually quite scary, crazy intense, and soooooooo nightmarishly suspenseful.

Lockdown had me in its grips up to the insane cliffhanger and definitely had me ready for the next book, Solitary, which is apparently not coming out until winter 2011. Ahhh! (If you are wondering, that was a cry of dismay.)

I don't always seek out these truly horrifying, don't-turn-out-the-lights novels, but Lockdown convinced me that every once in a while it is awesome to get freaked out... and lose some sleep. ;)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blood on My Hands


Blood on My Hands is a YA thriller/murder mystery by author Todd Strasser.

It is with shock that 17-year-old Callie finds Katherine Remington-Day, her high school's most popular girl, dead in the dark woods during a keg party. Mindlessly, she finds the knife and Katherine's blood on her hands. Before she is fully aware of what is happening, her fellow classmates are snapping cell phone pictures of her in this guilty position.

She runs.

Callie knows she's innocent, but she doesn't trust the police to disregard all the evidence and believe her. She believes the only way to clear her name is to figure out who the real killer is. Before the police find her first.

Especially since, with her history with Katherine - she had motive.

But so did many others...

As a longtime fan of Joan Lowery Nixon when I was younger (I'm sure I'd still love all the novels if I were to reread them today), I was enthusiastic about reading Blood on My Hands, since it is a teen murder mystery. I love that kind of story.

Blood on My Hands certainly cuts to the chase - the murder is immediate and conclusions of guilt are drawn so quickly that before you know it Callie is on the run. On the one hand, this is a fast-paced way of jumping right into the action of the story - but on the other hand, I felt it was too fast. I barely knew who was who or what was what before the plot was taking off, expecting me to follow behind blindly.

What helped to make me identify with the characters a bit more was how Strasser does take moments to slow down the pace and flash back to past incidents with these characters, memories and moments between them. Some of them reveal a shocking, unexpected, dark family past for Callie that explains to the reader why her panic is so palpable and understand her reluctance to go to the police and talk to them instead of flee, which is easy to dismiss as ridiculous and dumb. And who ever wants a dumb heroine? So even though it is still, perhaps, unwise as a decision - at least the author helps you to understand the motivation behind it.

It took me a while to really become involved or invested in Blood on My Hands, mainly because my first impressions of the characters and plot felt shallow. But as layers were peeled back in the narrative and we start witnessing first hand how Katherine was the ultimate mean girl with a violent streak, and the various secondary characters begin to form a shape more secretive and suspicious - the novel starts to finally pick up.

Patience was necessary for me to get into the story, but that might not be the case for you. But if it is, I implore you to continue reading - because Blood on My Hands does begin to have that ominous, suspenseful twinge you usually get from murder mysteries and sleuth novels. The clue finding revs up, as well as the tension of Callie's situation on the run.

A sense of danger and violence brews beneath the surface and paranoia takes forefront. I started to have some good ol'honest fun trying to figure out whodunit! And since Todd Strasser did, eventually, turn up the heat on character development, it stopped feeling so superficial and became where I did care about Callie and the people in her life. The narrative became more thoughtful and introverted in an interesting way.

As Blood on My Hands picks up MAJOR speed later one, with the persistence of a seasoned bibliophile I became quite desperate to get answers. I was riveted to the final page, breathless with the conclusion (though I was partially correct with my guess - I was also partially wrong, which is always good!), and left feeling pretty satisfied, overall, with the book.

Todd Strasser has another YA thriller that came out earlier in the year called Wish You Were Dead, and is apparently going to write another one here soon. While early on in Blood on My Hands I wasn't sure how interested I was going to end up being in reading more of his work, I can say that I definitely wouldn't mind it now. I personally had to keep with it with more patience than I necessarily prefer, but I did feel rewarded for it by the end. I think you might be too!

Special Note: Because I am still super duper busy with reading and reviewing, the Friday posts will continue in November! In fact, because there doesn't seem to be enough Mondays and Fridays in the month to post all the reviews I am writing I will now be adding in a temporary WEDNESDAY posting for November, as well. Please check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new reviews and ramblings from a crazy bibliophile (me)!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mockingjay


Mockinjay is the third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

First off I want to say that I am super sorry for it taking me so long to review Mockingjay. I know it was a big release, as it was for me too - and probably most of the book bloggers out there have already reviewed it. My main reason for the delay is a lack of good writing time and an influx of reading material. I read it many books ago, just haven't gotten the chance to write about it. And since I bought my own copy, other deadlines pushed this one down to a lower priority. So, sorry about that. But here it is! Finally! ;)

You know the drill, reader. If you haven't read The Hunger Games and/or Catching Fire (the first two books in the trilogy) do NOT, I repeat do NOT, read this review. Read the other reviews and read the books, you crazy bookworm! To read my reviews of those books, simply click on the titles.

I was not able to reread The Hunger Games and Catching Fire before Mockingjay, which is my usual custom. Therefore, I have a harder time writing a decent premise of this final book. But I'll give it a shot. :)

Katniss Everdeen survived the Hunger Games. She survived the Capitol's hatred. But the Capitol's hatred garnered a way to rid themselves of the rebellion inducing Katniss. The Quarter Quell. Yet, again they failed. Because a long planned revolution made itself known in rescuing Katniss from the arena - a rescue that was in part planned by the long time thought extinct District 13.

But though Katniss is safe and her family is safe and her best friend Gale is safe - her District 12 fellow survivor Peeta has been captured by the Capitol and the bloody revolution has no end in sight. The answer to reaching the end of the war and freedom from the Capitol's longtime tyrannical grip, it seems, is Katniss accepting the role of Mockingjay - the symbol and encouragement of the revolution. But what will she choose? And how will any of it end well?

I was almost scared to start Mockingjay because of how crazy suspenseful I suspected it would be! But also super-duper, addict-like excited!

Mockingjay begins so hopelessly, so sadly, so discouragingly that it broke my heart. The pace picks up to a steady clip, building tension to the point where my teeth sat on edge. My eyes stung, there was a lump in my throat, and my heart ached and I hadn't even reached 100 pages yet. Suzanne Collins writing ability makes me care so much, it literally hurts.

As the pages kept flying by, I miss Peeta and I'm scared by the plot development. This is one of those really rare reading experiences, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (not to mention the rest of the books in that series).

Mockingjay is, at times, truly painful for me to read as the phenomenal character studies and dismal dystopia barely gives me a chance to breathe as it stresses me out. Everything soon becomes about getting Peeta back and I realized that I was, and am, truly Team Peeta - I know many of you disagree. But I finally picked a team.

Somehow this final Hunger Games novel manages to be tragically romantic, increasingly heartbreaking, touching, inspiring, beautiful, and jarringly raw. The conclusion had me wiping tears from my eyes, stunned, and blown away by the poetic strength of one of the most depressing ends I have ever read. It still lingers in my mind.

To be honest, I hoped for a bit more levity. I hopes for a bit more excitement and thrill. Instead I was torn to shreds with excellent writing, but not the most happy of turns. But Mockingjay never was about fairy-tale endings. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll stop with my analysis and make sure you know that YOU might not find it sad and YOU might feel differently.

But I was flabbergasted, that is for sure. I'm just left feeling a bit, well, bittersweet. A mixture of different opinions and emotions. Maybe that is the point. But it was one hell of a book. Bravo, Suzanne Collins!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wereling


Wereling is the debut, YA paranormal novel of UK author Steve Feasey.

Trey Laporte is fourteen-years-old and has been living in a home for orphans, Apple Grove Care Home. He doesn't exactly love it, especially since the head care worker always seems to have it out for him. But when he wakes up one morning in complete and utter pain, inexplicably naked, sick to the point of vomiting, and no memory of the night before - things take a turn for the worse in such a way that Trey wishes he'd never complained about Apple Grove.

Before he even gets a chance to figure out what is going on, or why all his possessions are torn up and trashed - Trey gets a visit from an "uncle" he's never met before. This "uncle" doesn't look at all familiar to Trey - in fact, he doesn't even look all that normal.

That doesn't stop his newfound relative from whisking him away, though, or from letting him know that leaving the Care Home is vital in saving his own life - not to mention everyone else's.

That's when things start getting really weird...

One thing that I really liked when beginning Wereling was that we, the readers, are literally thrown immediately into the puzzle that is Trey's horror when he first wakes up on that fateful morning. There is no preamble, no getting to know him first - just, WHAM! It's instantly intriguing and mysterious.

As the story quickly progresses in an intense, eerie, interesting manner, I couldn't help but notice shades of Harry Potter - without magic and wizards, that is. Of course, that is always a compliment from me, the Harry Potter maniac. ;)

Lucien (the "uncle") is an engrossing character, a sort of enigma for a good while. And Trey is refreshingly hesitant about the world that he is thrown into. I know that is a bit vague, but I don't want to give too much away to you, bibliophile! Let's just say we all assume he is given some information that is contrary to what the ordinary person would believe is possible - and that for once, it takes him a very long time to accept it - which I found believable and relatable.

Wereling is fast-paced (clearly) and a page-turner, for sure. I would often think of it when I was doing something other than reading (even bibliophiles have to work, sigh). I found myself really enjoying the characters, flavor, and tone of the novel - there is something compulsively readable, entertaining, and engaging about it.

However, there were times when certain plot lines were just a little too reminiscent of other YA and middlegrade fantasies I've read in the past - leading it to be occasionally predictable and disjointed. Though it was still fun, Wereling began to become a tiny bit laborious in the last third - but the climax was definitely worth the patience!

With a spectacularly gross-out, freaky, scary end, the sometimes repetitive wording and other faults were overwhelmed by the suspense of the great cliffhanger.

So, with the strong ending I am more than curious to see where a sequel would go - because surely there must be one!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Possessed


Possessed is a YA supernatural thriller/horror book by Kate Cann from back in February 2010.

Sixteen-year-old Rayne hates her life. She hates the noise of London. She hates the crowded-ness of it all. She wants quiet. She wants solitude. She wants away from her mother. She wants away from her possessive boyfriend. Desperate to finally get away, as she feels her very life is being sucked from her in the crime-infested portion of the city she lives - she decides to take a year off before college and find a job that will take her anywhere. Anywhere that is not where she is now.

So, when she finds a job at a secluded, extremely old and historical country estate, Morton's Keep, she takes it. Rayne loves the absolute silence of it. Thing is, the rumors about the place are pretty weird. And she can't help but notice the creepy, frightening energy that seems to encompass it. The nights are... hard.

But Rayne is determined to stay away from her home - to be independent and alone. But will the prison she left be replaced by a new, more subtle sort of prison? Because as she stays, she becomes more and more convinced that there is something here that wants to keep her... forever.

Oooh boy! Okay fellow readers, one BIG suggestion: try not to read Possessed at night, alone, or right before bed. Sadly, I did all three of these things and paid for it dearly. Lol. Quite a goosebump-inducer, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, Kate Cann shows her immense writing talent (I have previously appreciated some of her other novels, like Grecian Holiday, Spanish Holiday, and California Holiday, back before I was blogging) by creating a believably moody, smoggy atmosphere where Rayne's misery is palpable. The dark, urban feel has an eeriness early on that hearkens to what may come. And come it does.

Rayne is so suffocatingly unhappy where she lives that I am happy for her when she leaves - despite the ominous cover of the book and title. I almost immediately sympathize with her and soak up the dramatic (not melodramatic) sensations Possessed causes early on in the novel.

Like a ghost story that makes it hard to go to sleep, or even move, in the dark - Possessed is spooky, creepy, and pretty darn scary. There is that raw, real freaked-out feel of, "Who's watching me?" And the isolated, hushed and maybe not altogether paranoid feelings that come with that.

Possessed manages to be seductive and alluring with a strong hypnotizing quality that continued to draw me in, yet also continued to, well, scare me. Lol. Let's be honest here, people! Possessed is extremely successful at its aim - to make you want to look over your shoulder every time Rayne does.

There is a haunting perception to Possessed that there is always something being kept from you - a secret, unspoken fear that keeps the suspense crackling. The reader feels like he/she is on the rainy, stormy, foggy, eerie, terrifying grounds of Morton's Keep - not to mention in the mansion itself where the descriptive information makes you not only see the interior in your mind's eye, but makes you want to get the heck out of there (but of course you don't really, because you're loving the read)! Kate Cann really revs up the atmosphere.

Possessed gives you heavy helpings of rumor-ridden woods to add to the, er, "fun", as well as other myths and legends about the place and town... that may not be as much legends and myths as history. Of which the revelations far exceed the horrifying imaginations of the rather frightened reader - happily.

It's strange to explain how a scary book like this one can be so entertaining - but I can tell you that I never wanted to stop reading it - ever. And the writing quality is truly great. There's something kinda fun about getting all shivery and horrified and watching the pages fly by so fast. That is, not right before bed.

When I found out that Possessed is going to have a SEQUEL (looks like it is entitled Consumed and has an awesome cover, too) I was honestly excited, as well as filled with trepidation. Lol. I would love to continue to follow Rayne's rather terrifying story and see where things will go at Morton's Keep.

I doubt you'll be able to resist its unearthly pull either. So, let's not fight it but embrace it! Pick up your copy of Possessed and be ready for chills!

Don't forget your bookworm nightlight! ;)

Special Note: Because I am still super duper busy with reading and reviewing, the Friday posts will continue in November! In fact, because there doesn't seem to be enough Mondays and Fridays in the month to post all the reviews I am writing I will now be adding in a temporary WEDNESDAY posting for November, as well. Please check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new reviews and ramblings from a crazy bibliophile (me)!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The End of the World Club


The End of the World Club is the second middlegrade/YA book in the Jaguar Stones trilogy coming out in December, written by the husband and wife team J & P Voelkel. To read my review of the first book in this exciting trilogy click here. Which I heartily suggest to any of you that have not yet read it. Do NOT read this review of The End of the World Club if you are uninitiated to the trilogy. Please. You'll break my fragile bibliophile heart. You can also read my interview with the authors back in July here.

Alrighty. Now we pretty much pick up where we left off. Or at least, soon after. Max Murphy is nervously awaiting the results of his deal with the ancient Maya Lords of Death, in which he rescued his parents from the horrible Maya underworld Xibalba. Because he agreed to owe them a favor... and he doesn't fulfill his end of the bargain not only will his parents be dragged back to Xibalba, but Hermanjilio (a friendly archaeologist and university professor) and Lucky Jim (Max's Uncle Ted's foreman and bodyguard, who currently is not so lucky) will stay in the underworld forever... and Max will die a not so pleasant death.

As Max is dealing with his worries about this (and who wouldn't be?) and figuring out why his parents seem to have become suspiciously amnesiac over everything that happened San Xavier - the Lords of Death call in their favor. Ends up there is one jaguar stone that they do not yet have. The Yellow Jaguar. They want Max to find it and deliver it to them within ten days.

Horrified by the time limit and the fact that every time Max asks his parents a question they break out in some kind of terrible, painful illness or injury - Max calls up his adventurous and pretty Maya friend that helped him in San Xavier, Lola, and her two howler money pets that have been inhabited by the ancient Maya king Lord 6-Dog and his mother, Lady Coco. But even with their help, there is no way that this task is going to be easy - or unhindered.

As a huge fan of Middleworld, I was thrilled to read The End of the World Club - and my expectations were exceeded. First we get a creepy, nightmarish start that is still infused with the Voelkel's fantastic, biting humor. And, thankfully, they gave a good, fast, little recap of Middleworld to help me out - as I am still too desperately busy with new books to have a chance to reread the first book.

Max's parents' desperate attempts at denial over their experience in Xibalba and the existence of the Maya mythology provides much excellent fodder for our lead character's signature, awesome sarcasm, which is truly beloved to me. With San Xavier apparently having followed Max's family home to Boston (jungle in the hallway, snakes, exotic birds flying about the kitchen, pouring rain nowhere but on the Murphy residence) it makes it particularly funny when Frank and Carla Murphy continue to grasp for "sane" explanations. Especially since this remnant of San Xavier has brought along the same vibrancy, dangers, and mystery of its colorful jungle.

The End of the World Club has great details and strong character traits, mixed with absolutely beyond amusing bits - such as Max's dad still finding time to correct Max's grammar as Max is trying to have a conversation with him over the seriousness of the world ending. These slices of laughter-inducing dialogue keeps this second Jaguar Stones book disarmingly snappy and thoroughly entertaining.

I, of course, don't want to give too much of the novel away and steal joy from your reading experience. So, I am keeping most of the details I provide from the very early stages of the book. You seriously do not want to have anything given away from The End of the World Club! :)

Though The End of the World Club is officially a middlegrade novel, I stress the importance of, well, ignoring that. In my opinion it is a fantastic read for every age, and some of the jokes (for example, the Death Lords have replaced their messenger due to focus group results) can only be savored by an older book nut - such as moi.

There is a fun, refreshing irony that juxtaposes the gross, rather disturbing hellhounds and Death Lords. The End of the World Club zooms along with an adventurous buzz, taking the delighted reader (i.e., me) to Spain, constantly piquing interest, introducing new questions, and visually stunning the imagination with crystal clear scenery.

The action/adventure mixed with hair-raising mythology and zany humor is a truly terrific combo. In fact it is sometimes scary, gory, and yucky - keeping it fresh and different from most books out there that are still acceptable to be read by nearly any age. With twists and turns and lots of surprises, The End of the World Club is easily recommendable.

And I am already wondering when the third book will be coming out. And if it really must be the last. Because I would love more than one more book of these characters!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Haint Misbehavin'


Haint Misbehavin' is a paranormal/fantasy novel in the YA/middle-grade genre, written by Maureen Hardegree and the first in a new series called The Ghost Handler.

Heather Tildy is lounging in the summer before her first year of high school, desperate to get a tan and get the hot lifeguard at the pool to notice her. Not to mention get her older sister to stop hating her. But Heather just isn't that lucky. When a momentous event in her female life occurs, everything kinda falls apart. Because all of a sudden she is seeing a 10-year-old Laura-Ingalls-ish ghost haunting her father's beloved grapevines - and she refuses to leave. And seems to just be tickled by making life pretty darn horrible for Heather. Even more horrible than Heather's insanely sensitive, abnormal skin already makes it.

In the first couple of pages of Haint Misbehavin', Heather is already instantly relatable with her vulnerability, bacne (I shudder at the memory), and sibling rivalry. Her dilemmas and issues are more straightforward and honest than most YA dares to go.

The first-person voice that narrates the entire novel is fun, humorous, and perfect - as far as the age of our main character is concerned. Heather's first encounter with a ghost is funny, and immediately sets the tone for breezy reading. And there is always a place for breezy reading.

I had honestly no idea what "haint" meant in the title - but apparently it means ghost. So, the title is pretty relevant to the plot. It could also be called Boy Crazy & Hormonal - because poor Heather truly is. Again, the truthfulness in the portrayal of this point in a girl's life, dosed with lots of laughter, is startling - because Maureen Hardegree does not shy away from it at all.

There's a slapstick comedy element to Haint Misbehavin' that I could almost say I've never experienced in a book before. Maybe in small amounts, but Heather endures a looooooot of humiliation, as her ghost causes crazy, embarrassing things to happen to her in (what else?) public. I became just as frustrated with the ghost as Heather did! But it's great humor, and Amy (the ghost) does become more sympathetic as the story goes on. Which I thought was next to impossible, so props to the author there. ;)

Haint Misbehavin' is a good, sweet, somewhat predictable but enjoyable read - there's an extremely relatable voice to accompany the over-the-top scenes, and some surprisingly racy yet realistic dialogue to keep it from becoming too sugary.

And with a great last line, I can't help but be very interested in where the Ghost Handler series will go next - hopefully Heather won't have to deal with a ghost that makes her life quite so miserable... but that's probably too much to wish for, right? :)