Monday, January 31, 2011

Memento Nora


Memento Nora, a YA dystopia coming out in early April, is the debut for Angie Smibert.

Terrorist attacks are nearly a daily occurrence, but Nora has never witnessed one first-hand. But one day, as she's out shopping with her mother, the bookstore they're about to enter explodes and a body falls to the ground directly in front of fifteen-year-old Nora.

Per standard procedure after such tragic events, Nora's mother takes her to TFC - a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic - as keeping such memories can cause serious mental damage. It's her first time, and she'll have her Mom with her to example how you first describe the terrible memory and then take the pill to erase it.

But... a mysterious guy that Nora only sort of recognizes from her school catches her eye. And he does something that is unheard of.

He spits out the pill.

No one else notices. And Nora's mind is reeling as she enters the room with her mother.

Then her mother's memory isn't the one she expects to hear - it horrifies her.

And though it goes against everything she's ever known, Nora spits out her pill when no one is looking. Because someone needs to remember...

But remembering may prove far more dangerous than forgetting.

First off, is that an awesome premise or WHAT? And what's even better about it is that this slim YA novel packs all the punch you hope for from a synopsis like that, and more.

I really loved Memento Nora! It has a Minority Report-like futuristic world that is in many ways like ours, but more violent and bleak. The people are blank, having holes where memories used to be. We see a freedom-starved country that make their people zombie-like and fuzzy minded for their "own good".

And the catalyst of the story, Nora's first visit to TFC, is quickly and startlingly surprising, setting off a turn of events that feel BIG. Angie Smibert's writing ability is tremendous, as she is able to use few words to create a huge impact.

I can't really say much more about the story itself without giving away little spoilers, and believe me you're going to want to read Memento Nora for yourself! But I can say, safely, that the characters are easy to relate to and fascinating. And that this is one heck of a page-turner with an excellent plot - one of those books you get really into.

Memento Nora is utterly engrossing, soaked in a cloak 'n dagger suspense and a starkly imagined world where deeds can be done and consequences can be erased for compensation. Angie Smibert digs deeper than the superficial, though legitimate, fear of this prospect, and looks at the more human level. What could people get away with? Why? Who would the beneficiaries be? The result is a chilling, magnetic YA thriller that every dystopia fan should (and will) clamor for.

With its disarming simplicity and ege-of-your-seat suspense, Memento Nora managed to be scary, incredible and awesome right up to its breathless, astounding end! I honestly cannot wait for the sequel and must implore all of you to look for a copy in April!!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dorris Bridge


Dorris Bridge tackles the legends in a small town in 1970s California, and manages to be half YA novel and half adult novel, written by Clive Riddle.

High school senior Kyle Burgess likes pranks, partying, and the new girl in school who doesn't seem to notice him except for the guy that bullied her brother (he didn't know). His father, Randall Burgess, is the Chief of Police and is nearly always dealing with small town politics and infighting with the local Sheriff.

But when a series of deadly hit-and-runs begin to plague the town, Randall is determined to get to the bottom of it. These tragic occurrences only strain Randall and Kyle's relationship further, as they've never seen eye to eye anyway. But Kyle can't ignore the legend of the Lights - as he's seen them himself. Blinding bright Lights that dance in the sky and make your head hurt. They've been reported every night of the accidents.

Randall scoffs at the legends and instead focuses his attention on the hit-and-runs and a thirty-year-old cold case, in which a man went missing after trying to return home to Dorris Bridge.

Could it be that all of these events, legends, and mysteries are in fact intertwined...?

The 70s vibe is evident quickly, and not in a kitschy kind of way - it creates a clear atmosphere of a time period that seems both recent and far away. Dorris Bridgehas a feeling of a 70s movie, giving off an authentic and gritty, but also entertaining and interesting, aura. The full cast of characters is large and varied and the often testosterone-laced dialogue is realistic, if not always to my liking.

The real strength of Dorris Bridge, in my opinion, is the different legends and small town mysteries that are presented. The first hint of the Lights has a spookiness and intrigue. The suspicious death of a man peering at the Indians frowned-upon dancing, the disappearance of the poor Japanese man returning to his beloved inheritance, and the spotty past of the Sheriff all have an equal amount of impact on Dorris Bridge, presenting its secrets and puzzles with inscrutability.

However, there were times when I felt a bit frustrated with the lack of a more consistent thread of progress in the main plots. It did come together eventually, and the relationships, rivalries, and human flaws are very well-written - but some of the legends felt more like great story beginnings, than a complete tale.

Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle did start to fit and my confidence grew near the end, but I was still left a little unsatisfied and unrewarded. But Dorris Bridge is, truly, an honest portrayal of life, pain and secrets and was surprising at some turns. It was just one of those books for me, as someone who has read very many, that seemed to take longer than it should to read. It really has nothing to do with length or quality of the book, per se... it's more a pacing issue and a personal opinion thing. I found a lot to be admired in Dorris Bridge - the characterizations, the enigmas, the revelations, the healing of families - but never seemed to love the novel. It just went slower than I'd like, and lacked the dramatic punch of answers I thought would be waiting at the final turn.

Yet Dorris Bridge remained, for me, a very interesting and, more often than not, appealing look at the present from the past. So, don't hesitate to pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Solitary


Solitary is the second book in the six book YA series Escape From Furnace, by Alexander Gordon Smith.

So, ya'll remember my review of Lockdown, the first book in this series? Well, if you don't you can read it here. But to summarize a bit, it was freaky. Freaked me out. Lol. Makes me wonder if Alexander Gordon Smith gets nightmares from his own novel.

If you haven't read Lockdown you should definitely avoid this review, as it will contain inevitable spoilers from the end of Lockdown. So, scurry along now, all right? ;)

All of you who read Lockdown probably don't need much convincing or description of Solitary to check it out. Instead I'll just remind of how Lockdown ended - Fourteen-year-old Alex, framed for the murder of his best friend and thrown in Furnace Penitentiary, was desperate to successfully, improbably escape from the Furnace - something no one has ever done. With him, he had the following fellow prisoners: violent and unstable Gary (that blackmailed his way onto the team of escapees), Zee, and Toby. They broke through the walls and got access to the raging river they hoped would lead them to freedom.

Well, I'm just gonna let you think this through for yourselves... six books in the series, and Alex escapes in the first one? Um, yeah. Doesn't go so well. I won't give you any details, but the title screams at where Alex ends up. That's right. The dreaded, horrifying solitary confinement...

After the first book, I was a bit apprehensive of what Solitary was going to have in store for me - but I also really wanted to read it. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

Thing is, despite being extremely creepy, the beginning of the novel lacks the true suspense it could have had by giving away their apparent eventual capture with the title and jacket description. Like I said, most of us probably would have guessed they'd get caught, but it takes away the hope of their success, which was too bad.

But beyond that, the horrors of Furnace are still, well, horrifying. And the mental anguish of solitary is palpable and spine-tingling, though the transition back to this world didn't feel smooth to me, and at first less intense. Yet notice, I said at first. That's right. It came back pretty darn fast.

Jarringly freaky and admittedly nerve-wracking, Smith is skilled at creeping you out and putting the reader right there with Alex, whether you wanna be or not. Plus, the unexpected new form of possible hope is original, and both scared and enthralled me.

Solitary is engrossing, sickening, and effective. Need more adjectives? How about: shocking, revolting, dire, and flat-out crazy! And the cliffhanger ending leaves you feeling like you're actually hanging off a cliff - by a fingertip.

I don't want to give more away and ruin all the twisted twists. It's a horror book at its core, and a thriller in its execution. That sound like you're cupcake of choice? Check it out. Meanwhile, I'll be keeping an eye out for the next book coming out in April 2011 with the oh-so-ominous title Death Sentence.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jane


Jane, written by debut author April Lindner, is a modern-day YA retelling of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel Jane Eyre.

Jane Moore finds herself in a difficult situation. Her parents sudden death has left her mourning and penniless, forced to drop out of the esteemed college that she'd worked so hard to get into. Not sure what she's going to do once the college forces her out of the dorm rooms, and facing the reality of homelessness, Jane desperately tries to seek out a job.

Being a nanny was never something that striked Jane as a career choice, but it sort of falls into her lap. She lands the position of the nanny at Thornfield Park, the estate of the famous, brooding rock star Nico Rathburn, who's on the edge of a new tour and album.

Despite being plain and completely inexperienced in romance, nineteen-year-old Jane and scandal-ridden Nico seem to have a connection - and though his unpredictable moods are impossible to decipher, Jane finds herself involuntarily drawn to him.

But there are secrets and mystery at Thornfield Park. Abnormal-sounding laughs echoing from the forbidden upstairs stairwell, a suspicious fire started in Nico's bedroom, and questions stubbornly unanswered. Jane finds herself struggling between her intense feelings for Nico, and her own personal sense of values. How can she decide between the two?

As a huge fan of Jane Eyre, I was quite eager to read Jane. Especially because I'd heard that April Lindner was faithful to the original. Which is happily very true -

Jane vibrates with atmosphere and a quiet, yet heavily mysterious, restraint right from the get-go. Jane is relatable and likable with her unassuming personality and grief. The new Thornfield Park that April Lindner has created is a great contemporary version, oozing sophistication and secrets.

I was blown-away by the way Lindner gave Jane Moore a childhood of cruelty and a sore lack of love - just as our beloved Jane Eyre. Though she created this past in different circumstances, the inner pain of Jane is both understandable and heartbreaking, making Jane all the more haunting and engrossing, setting up a main character that is as courageous, soft spoken, sweet, and strong as her classic counterpart.

Moody in the best way, hypnotic and mesmerizing with its hush-hush passions and unspoken meanings, Jane had me flipping pages fast. And the gruff, flashy, inscrutable, seductiveness of Nico clashes with a sublime appeal with Jane's somber, polite, delightfully straightforward, in-the-shadows personality, to create an intensity in the characters and writing that is palpable.

April Lindner made me very happy. She took a beloved novel and simply retold it in the present day. In keeping with the original, she left Jane to be what it is at its very core: a story of two damaged people that fall painfully in love, with all the bruises and euphoria that go with it.

Jane is saturated in breathtaking statements that take the reader aback, creepy, frightening moments that keep you glued to the pages (even when you know what's going on, like me), and a constant sense of torment and raw emotion that is beautiful in an understated way.

After reading some Amazon reviews of Jane I found a common thread: a large majority of readers who loved Jane Eyre loved Jane, those who didn't like Jane Eyre didn't like Jane. However, I want to encourage you to read it either way. And if you haven't read Jane Eyre at all, read Jane! It'll be a little introduction to Jane Eyre for you. April Lindner has truly honored Charlotte Bronte's tale of love, healing, and self-awareness. Though there were a couple liberties I didn't adore in Jane, I overwhelmingly found it to be a lovely contemporary vision.

To wrap up, Jane is wildly romantic, poignant, sensitive and rough-around-the-edges. It is a fantastic, heart-rending debut from an author I will now watch.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Allie Carson: Interpreter Extraordinaire


Allie Carson: Interpreter Extraordinaire is a middlegrade/YA novel by Marilyn Kinghorn.

Since Allie's mother died in a tragic accident, Allie has noticed that her ability seems to be getting stronger. You see, she can speak with animals. She has regular conversations with her dog Whisper, in fact. But in the midst of everyday life, soccer, school, helping to take care of her special needs brother Jonah, and picking up the slack of her forgetful and busy, but well meaning and kind, dad - she can't imagine telling anyone about it. So, she keeps her ability to herself.

In the meantime, Allie has to keep an eye on her suspicious and unfriendly houseguest Gina, a girl her own age that is staying with them for a short time. From Allie's perspective, it can't be soon enough. But when marine animals suddenly begin getting sick and dying, Allie communicates with a young seal and decides to try her best to help. But what can a 6th grader do, even if she can talk to animals?

Allie Carson: Interpreter Extraordinaire is a fusion of Dr. Dolittle and light, meaningful, mystery. I found Allie to quickly be established as a normal, likable, bright young girl that is just starting to like boys, beginning to feel an awkwardness that was never there before with her male best friend Sam, with family responsibilities and hobbies. Plus, there's the added stress of keeping her ability a secret - but other than that, Allie is refreshingly angst-free and down-to-earth.

Marilyn Kinghorn presents a lovely consciousness of animals (perhaps inevitable in a novel like this, but done very well), a believable foray into the first days of Junior High, and a representation of taking care of and loving a special needs brother with sensitivity and a touching bittersweet awareness. This grounded quality makes Allie Carson: Interpreter Extraordinaire a great read for animal lovers of any age (like me).

Not to mention the perfectly written mean-girl-esque Gina and the horrible, but sadly realistic, plotlines her presence in the Carson house take the novel. I was in quite a state of suspense in some of the later scenes, as a direct result of her evilness. Okay, maybe she's not evil... but close. ;)

And the portrayal of a single-parent family will resonate with a lot of girls Allie's age out there. Yet again, it wasn't written from the standpoint of pity, nor was her father a bad dad. Life can be hard sometimes, and Allie Carson: Interpreter Extraordinaire didn't have any qualms about showing that - without ever becoming depressing or whiny. Instead you get a wiser-than-her-years, smart heroine that you can root for and relate to.

Admittedly, there were times early on that the plot seemed a bit too light - but the down-to-earth sensibility of the book and sweet animal scenes were enough to keep me involved. And as you can see, I grew more and more convinced, as the novel continued, that Allie Carson: Interpreter Extraordinaire was a great read.

In the end, I can say with assurance that Allie Carson: Interpreter Extraordinaire is an engaging, complete, human tale - despite having a cast of characters that are probably at least 50% animal!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire, and Other Hands-on Activities for Monster Hunters


How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire, and Other Hands-on Activities for Monster Hunters is a handbook for young wizards and all of you self-proclaimed fantasy geeks out there, written by A. R. Rotruck.

Have you been dying to learn how to capture a werewolf? How about figuring out how to spot, and make, traps? This is the guide for you if you want to become a master adventurer/moster hunter! No need to wait to get into some fancy wizardry school, How to Trap a Zombie, Track a Vampire, and Other Hands-on Activities for Monster Hunters will help you get there using nothing but your smarts and reading ability, with step-by-step instructions and easy-to-learn monster profiles!

With its full-color, large pages How to Trap a Zombie is full of interactive activities that will get kids to participate and become quite creative! This is a great gift for children that are fantasy inclined. How to Trap a Zombie sparks the imagination and fosters it in a fun, arts and crafts sort of way - putting forth the possibility of creating fantastic, amazing adventures using handy kitchen items and old, unwanted clothes. Kids will actually want to participate in these handbook instructions - I think I personally would've loved it when I was younger! Probably would've been a blast!

How to Trap a Zombie is full of unique games for groups, as well as an individual kid. With such an interactive flare, this book will keep children's' minds active and delighted.

So I definitely encourage you to hand over these advice, tips, and instructions to any young monster hunter in training. For the adults, its fun to look at it and think of how much you would have adored it as a kid, but How to Trap a Zombie is for the young ones - for sure! :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dragons of Noor


The Dragons of Noor is a YA fantasy novel by Janet Lee Carey. It is also a companion novel to The Beast of Noor.

Children are being taken by the wind, a wind that seeks out and whisks away only those it chooses. And it only ever chooses children. One of whom is Hanna and Miles' little brother, Tymm. The grief in the kingdom is palpable, and only getting worse as the waytrees begin dying and falling - breaking the magical ties that bind the lands of Noor and Oth more and more. Everything is changing in the worst way possible, and Miles and Hanna both decide they must try and stop it, and find small Tymm and the rest of the wind-taken children. But first they need to know where the dragons stand.

Hanna hopes her Dreamwalker ability will somehow help. And Miles hopes his training as a meer (one who wields magic), will keep him from giving into the temptation to use his dangerous and rare gift of shape shifting - in which he could lose himself completely before rescuing anyone at all...

I hadn't read The Beast of Noor before picking up The Dragons of Noor - but despite sometimes feeling that I was missing some experiences and character development that was alluded to, I didn't find it to be too much of a problem to jump in to The Dragons of Noor.

Immediately, there is a tingling sensation of high fantasy, with inventive terms and creature names that make you glad there's a glossary in the back. I was instantly entranced by the ancient war between dragons and men, resulting in a secret exile of the dragons for a whopping 700 years. An exile that is coming to an end...

The waytrees are powerfully magical and the only way between the two worlds - this comes across very strongly and suspensefully. The author knows how to bewitch and captivate the fantasy lovers, that's for sure! It's a great, detailed, creative start, though of course confusing at first. Most of the best fantasies are, until you pick up on their language.

The Dragons of Noor is beautifully wrapped in ominous mist, dying waytrees, mournful deyas (the gentle, striking beings that indwell in the trees), and haunting winds that whisk away beloved children - creating a unique, impressive, rich atmosphere. It's full of lovely, ethereal, tinglingly magical descriptive images and a thorough, serious, involving plot.

There's a maturity level to The Dragons of Noor, that sets it apart from some other adventure fantasy novels. The characters are solemn, and the gravity of the situation is rarely leavened. Not that it is a depressing story! It is an enrapturing one, emotional and poignant at its core. Definitely for the reader who enjoys his/her fantasy with a deeper, more meaningful plot.

Though the novel flowed seamlessly and wove a tale of imagination and stark beauty in my mind, it did make me sad that I hadn't read The Beast of Noor first. I just got the feeling reading The Dragons of Noor would've been an even richer experience, and now I have spoilers for the first book, which probably is (and probably still will be, even with the spoilers) an extraordinary YA fantasy novel. I am going to read The Beast of Noor as soon as I can - and I encourage you to read it first, too.

There is a truly disquieting and foreboding sense of urgency as the land of Noor seems to be draining of color, of magic. The Dragons of Noor is a passionate, sensitive, provoking, lyrical novel that deserves a ton of attention from adult readers, as well as all you smart YA lovers.

With its stunningly remarkable imagery, The Dragons of Noor is a special, elegant, vivid tale of courage, bravery, and beauty that I can't recommend enough!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lighter Than Air


Lighter Than Air is the last book of Henry Melton's YA sci-fi series (which doesn't need to be read in order) Small Towns, Big Ideas, that I hadn't yet read. At least for now. I hear he's going to be publishing another in 2011!

High School student Jon Kish has always enjoyed tinkering with stuff. He finished building the amazing treehouse his now missing dad had designed for him with his best friend Larry, and has always enjoyed making model airplanes. But what his next door neighbor is working on blows him away - a lighter than air foam that is perfect for building. And it isn't long until Jon begins to get ideas of how he and Larry could put that foam to use in the construction of an absolutely perfect prank flying saucer for Munising High School's unofficial Prank Day.

Maybe that'll take his mind off his mother's surgery and his little sister's obsessive and mysterious use of the family's old, slow computer...

It doesn't take long at all to recognize Henry Melton's customary relatable characters in Lighter Than Air - providing us with issues and people we can identify with: money issues, single parents, a dial-up PC in the world of high technology, and health issues of a serious and expensive nature.

Jon's experiments and the hushed online goings-on of 12-year-old Cherry make for a slight, but interesting, start. There is a sensitivity and sense of reality to the parent-child relationships portrayed and a little CIA/NSA intrigue to throw a little spice in the mix.

Sadly, though, I never really felt like there was enough spice in Lighter Than Air. All the merits of the novel that I mentioned are admirable and some of my favorite things about Melton's writing - but this particular outing didn't have the sci-fi flavor to really get my mind whirring. In fact, I hate to say it but I became a little bored and felt the need to skim some parts. Perhaps part of the problem was that I didn't find much fascination in the topic at hand, this lightweight foam and the building of it into a faux flying saucer.

The family issues remained dynamic and very well-written, but Lighter Than Air lacked that science fiction flare I love so much, in my opinion. There didn't seem to be a hook, and instead had more technical language than I personally prefer. For me, there was a want in excitement, unfortunately. Cherry's unflapping search for her father and the mess she gets into was drawing more of my interest, but I still wasn't as into the novel as I'd like.

But, you know, this is just one bibliophile's opinion. I have listed my favorite Henry Melton novels on the Bibliophile Support Group before, as well as naming two of them as Stand Out Books of 2010. All of our opinions and personalities are so different, that I want to make sure and tell you that Lighter Than Air could most certainly be the one that is your favorite! Especially if you are a more scientifically inclined, technical-loving kind of reader. :)

There is a sweetness to Lighter Than Air - but just not enough to rank high on my list of Henry Melton rankings.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Drought


Drought is a sort of thriller/fantasy in the YA category, written by Pam Bachorz.

For 200 years the congregation has lived in the forest, aging very slowly, staying alive because of the Water they harvest by scraping the drops of dew off the leaves of the trees. Only Ruby and a few select others know the truth - it is her blood, a few drops a day, that make the Water special. As the daughter of their beloved, absent Otto, whom they wait ever patiently to return, she has inherited his gift. But her mother keeps it a secret, afraid that Darwin, the man who has enslaved them at the beginning of those 200 years and profits from their backbreaking work, will use the knowledge to harm Ruby.

But Ruby is getting tired of waiting and doing nothing. She's tired of watching her fellow congregates get beaten when they didn't harvest their quota for the day, of seeing her mother take their punishment. And when a new, somehow kind Overseer arrives, Ford, Ruby finds herself drawn to the forbidden stranger. His words of the modern world make her long for freedom - but how can she leave the loyal congregates who unknowingly rely on her for their very life?

The lovely, haunting cover of Drought only hints at the depths of the story within. Ruby's predicament is quickly revealed to be dour and suffocating, immediately intriguing and compelling with its cult-like atmosphere mixed with a tyrannical rule.

At first, the religious aspect of Drought was really turning me off - their mindless zeal irritating me. Also, the fact that her blood was keeping the congregation alive wasn't quite hitting the right note for me. However, Ruby's individuality and urge to fight what the other congregates took silently kept me patient - and I am so glad it did!

With more pages and more revelations of the life of these people, what they endure, and why - Drought is soaked with an emotional grief that is powerful. Plus, the dangerous, hushed, impossible romance that develops in a suspenseful manner between Ruby and Ford, in addition to the increased character development gets the pace of Drought moving. A lot.

My early doubts disappeared as the nail-biting tension of Ruby's mere thoughts of escape, of rescue, creates a deeper curiosity for where the plot is going to go - causing Drought to become incredibly impressive, disturbing, and constantly provocative. This is an edge-of-your-seat page turner that just needed to establish its rather jarring premise (for me, at least) before convincing me. But convince me it did.

Pam Bachorz has penned Drought with an intensity that kept me glued to the pages - pages that were chilling, shocking, and unexpected. My only complaint was that it ended too soon. What a beautiful, stunning close - but I want more! I have a feeling that there is not a sequel, but I can't help but hope a little bit.

You need to check out Drought, an unexpected fuse of the supernatural and slavery, revealing the different shades of cruelty in both the one enslaving, as well as the enslaved - it will blow you away.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Aldwyns Academy


Aldwyns Academy is a YA/middlegrade companion novel to A Practical Guide to Wizardry, from the Dungeons & Dragons series of books, written by Nathan Meyer.

Dorian Ravensmith has no interest in being a wizard, though his mother is a well-known one. He'd rather be a warrior, like his father. Especially since he hates trying to focus and study, which is required of wizards. But his mother is insistent and puts her reputation on the line to get him into the prestigious, world-famous Aldwyns Academy for Wizardry.

Before sulky Dorian and his stubborn Mom even reach the gates of Aldwyns, dire wolves attack them. And in the midst of panic and fear, Dorian attempts a bit of magic and ruins a spell of his mother's, causing more harm than good. When Lowadar, the headmaster of school, comes to their rescue, this dangerous inadequacy of Dorian's does not enchant Lowadar, and his Mom has to fight to keep his spot at Aldwyns. So, when Dorian meets his stubborn second-year mentor, Helene, and learns of the mysterious occurrences at the school of late (ghosts, banshees, spying, missing students and whispering professors) - he sees a way to get himself back in Lowadar's good graces (even if he doesn't want to be at Aldwyns, it rankles him that the headmaster doesn't think he's good enough). He happens to see Helene sneaking out that very same night and decides to follow and help clear up the issues with Aldwyns, thinking that could make him a hero.

But Dorian doesn't realize what he's about to face, nor the magic required to face it properly...

Aldwyns Academy has a magical, otherworldly start, but with how fast the action of the story takes off, it is a bit confusing. And though I love detailed fantasy novels, some of the exposition feels almost like quotes from the practical guide Aldwyns Academy is a companion to, causing the book to lack an easy, smooth narrative flow.

The variety of creatures, elves, wizards, half-orks, banshees, hobgoblins and the like create a favorable atmosphere of fantasy and adventure to younger readers, I'm sure... yet, for me personally, it seemed to not have that factor of sink-your-teeth-into-it entertainment and escapism for me as an older reader, with its sometimes murky storytelling.

However, Aldwyns Academy is in no way a bad book - and as I got farther into it, there is an air of creepiness that does begin to sink in. The themes of family issues and friendship bring a slightly more grounded quality to it, and the action/adventure of the story has a feel of a videogame - not very approachable to me, but highly interesting and fun, I'm sure, for other readers.

I in no way wish to be harsh, because Aldwyns Academy has its merits as a frenetic journey of magic and danger. It is only in my individual opinion that it was more of a mishmash of spells and beings that forgot to let us learn with Dorian instead of be a befuddled observer that may end up finding these numerous, quickly mentioned details to be tedious. For me, I would've liked to have seen more character development and a restrained hand when it comes the plot, pacing, and direction the novel took. But, again, this is just me. I never, ever, want to dissuade you from reading a book!!! Read it for yourself!

Though Aldwyns Academy did sometimes come across as a pale comparison to Hogwarts in my Harry-Potter-lovin' opinion, the author did successfully create vivid visualizations of almost everything he wrote, including the gross stuff.

When it comes to the companion novels to the practical guides in the Dungeons & Dragons series, Nocturne and Monster Slayers (click on the titles to read my reviews) were more enjoyable. But Aldwyns Academy is an entertaining, if overstuffed and maybe flawed, fantasy romp that will be delightful to many.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Extreme Makeover


Extreme Makeover is, yes, another YA sci-fi by Henry Melton.

This one came out back in 2008 and features Deena Brooke, an overweight senior high school student with a painfully overprotective single mother. Without any real friends (it's kind of hard when her Mom wants her to focus primarily on homework and is leery about new kids), Deena is rather lonely, but faces her situation with frank reality and a smart, if underachieving, head on her shoulders.

But when during a school run a sudden, violent storm breaks out and one of the huge redwood trees in her small California town of Crescent City falls on her - she survives. It's probably the most remarkable thing to ever happen to nearly invisible Deena, since everybody is shocked (and relieved) that she is relatively fine after the event.

Of course Deena knows how much pain she is (silently) in, but she's fine enough in her estimation. Yet when she wakes up - she has healed surprisingly fast. And out of nowhere she has a hankering for exercise, a fever that doesn't make her sick, and an urge to return to the scene of the accident - something she doesn't understand, since she has no idea why she wishes to do such a thing. Nor why she is suddenly addicted to rubbing pennies against her skin.

Could it possibly be... aliens? Could she possible be part of a grander plan? And how come handsome fellow senior Luther Jennings is interested in her (at least scientifically, even if she'd like to imagine more) now that has these strange new "quirks"?

Okay you addicted, obsessive readers, have you picked up a Henry Melton book yet? 'Cause if you haven't you really need to check him out, ya hear? I'd suggest, perhaps, Pixie Dust, Golden Girl, or Follow that Mouse as your first foray into his world of sci-fi (click on the titles to read my reviews), but once you enter it - well, ya start to love it more and more.

Extreme Makeover brings us yet another example of Henry Melton's ability to make teens seems realistic and approachable, now giving us Deena who is overweight, which is an issue a lot of us gals deal with. And he doesn't sugarcoat it, nor make Deena completely disaffected by it (now suffocated by insecurity). Plus, the issue of her overbearing, paranoid mother is quite a, well, issue. Lol.

The point is, it doesn't take long at all to like her - and once, er, something begins to control her - it's creepy. Luther has secrets that are slowly revealed that make him intriguing as well, especially since a lot of what he is hiding come in to play heavily later on in the novel.

I did, early on in Extreme Makeover, feel there was a bit of a lack in pacing and real hook, but I was prepared to be patient. Meanwhile, I certainly was not bored! I was just... waiting. But as more and more changes begin to happen to poor Deena, the stronger the sci-fi vibe. And the changes are not only puzzling and mysterious, they are also truly scary and kind of fascinating.

Extreme Makeover is an interesting story that grows more compelling as the pages turn. Melton's talent for mixing grounded characters with out-of-this-world plots takes an extra step this time around and includes a criminal element. The finished product is full of twists, surprises, and shocks galore, in which tables are turned and questions are answered. Though at times I felt it was convoluted and muddled, it had its romantic side and, despite not being perhaps my favorite Henry Melton book, Extreme Makeover is a good, solid YA sci-fi.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Linger


Linger is the second book in the YA paranormal trilogy Wolves of Mercy Falls, written by Maggie Stiefvater.

You know the drill. I sound like a broken record. If ya haven't read Shiver (the first book), go read my review of THAT here, and avoid this review for possible SPOILERS of Shiver, okay? OKAY? All right.

Now, continuing...

Sam is cured. He can stand out in the freezing temperatures without feeling the urge, the involuntary pull, of the wolf inside of him needing to take over. Sam can now be with Grace. But instead of just enjoying his new permanent humanity, he finds himself obsessed with the new wolves Beck turned - especially one particularly unstable one named Cole, whom Sam can't quite figure out. Does he take Beck's place and help them?

Grace has Sam back - but something is wrong with her. She doesn't feel well, and she's never been one to get sick. She fears that whatever is wrong with her may still keep Sam and her from being together forever... Has her time finally come to join the wolves in the forest, now that Sam is no longer part of the pack?

All you awesome followers of this blog know that I hate to give too much of a premise for a sequel, because if you read and loved Shiver - then there is really no need to have any details about the next book - you're already sold, right?! :)

Again the cover, with a matching green print, is one of the most eye-catching out there. Love it. Now onto the actual book...

The first line of Linger is breathtaking - murdering any doubts I had left over from the middle portion of Shiver and returning me to the awe I was in at the end of the phenomenal first book. Stiefvater has an elegant, mesmerizing way of creating a sort of contemporary fairy-tale. Linger has its moments of humor to give a little levity to its mostly darker tone that deals melodically and poignantly with drug abuse, childhood trauma, and suicidal thoughts. All of these startling layers bring about an utterly unique magical romance.

Unlike in Shiver, Linger gives us Isabel's viewpoint as well as the new character Cole's. This give us more insight into these two flawed, damaged people - and convinces me that Isabel is pretty awesome, even if she does need help.

Grace's sudden, nagging headaches are ominous, and Maggie Stiefvater continues to give her characters enormous depth. You yearn for their redemption, for their relief from their sadness and hopelessness. This, again, is why this trilogy reminds me more of a tragic myth or legend, rather than a fun, fast-paced paranormal YA. It is of a different genre, in my opinion. Not necessarily of a higher caliber than these other novels out there... more like just as awesome, but in a different way. Linger can sometimes be disturbing, horrifying, and unpleasant, yet always hypnotic and romantic.

An effortless tension wraps me up in this journey of a story - Linger is full of so much pain and so much love. I am fascinated with its conclusion and cannot wait to see where Stiefvater will take these fragile, yet strong, characters in the Wolves of Mercy Falls' final book coming out in July - Forever.

I will most definitely be finding out ASAP!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dangerous Neighbors


Welcome to the first post of the New Year of 2011! How exciting to face a brand new year with brand new books to tickle the fancy of all of us slightly crazy, totally passionate bibliophiles!

Dangerous Neighbors is a YA historical novel, written by National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart.

It is the time of the Philadelphia Centennial fair of 1876 and Katherine has decided that she is no longer willing to live. Her twin sister Anna has died - and Katherine's entire life has always been about protecting her reckless and emotional other half. But she failed her. She is gone. And Katherine is ready to rid herself of her future at the fair.

This is the story of the day she decides to do it and what happens.

First off, I have to say how strange it was to go from Wish by Alexandra Bullen, directly to Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart. Why, you ask? Well, if you read my review of Wish you'd remember that it was about a girl dealing with the death of her twin sister! I couldn't believe the coincidence! However, the two novels are very different.

The dramatic starter (which announces pretty much what I wrote above as a synopsis) pushes things off determinedly. Beth Kephart's poetic imagery juxtaposes the startling events of the day of Katherine's planned suicide in a uniquely written, jarringly present-tense way.

There is a quality about Dangerous Neighbors, a slim but pretty little book by appearances, that makes it difficult to read. At least, in terms of my own reading experience. Katherine's sheer and complete depression is suffocating. And the (as the backcover description calls it) kaleidoscope of colors, visuals, sights, and smells of the Philadelphia Centennial fair causes an almost sensory overload.

Through flashbacks and memories of Katherine's past with Anna, Anna is revealed to be a spoiled, selfish, unkind, and unlikable girl. This made Katherine's devotion and catering to her hard for me to take. I kept wanting to reach through the pages into the story and shake Katherine silly until she realized that Anna wasn't worth her unconditional love.

But this strong reaction did serve a purpose, I believe, in the overall novel. Dangerous Neighbors has a near-constant edgy feel about it, breathless and suspenseful. It is not an easy book, but there is an undeniable beauty about it. There are elegant nuances and a stunning grittiness that lead me to feel that I would like to reread Dangerous Neighbors someday to understand the complexity of it better, and be more ready to withstand the uncomfortable character of the inevitably poignant, but perhaps still overdramatic, novel.

Dangerous Neighbors is not a breezy, fun, or even necessarily entertaining book... it is just different. Whether it is different in a good way or a bad way is still up in the air.