Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso

This first book in the new graphic novel series about a young witch, The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, opens with irrepressible young witch Salem learning about an upcoming spelling bee at school. She assumes it’s a contest for casting spells, not spelling words, and when a classmate taunts her for being unable to spell “dinosaur,” Salem inadvertently turns the elderly school crossing guard into a dinosaur and gets into trouble at school. Salem’s parents, who possess no magical talents (although Salem’s aunt is a witch), decide that Salem needs an animal companion to help her sort out her spelling ability, not to mention her impulsiveness. But when the companion, a cat named Whammy who is scared of flying (but is a good magic teacher) arrives, Salem is not interested. She wants a monkey butler. Or a unicorn. Definitely not a boring old cat.

This is a sweet and fun story that will appeal to fans of Calvin and Hobbes and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, full of humor and heart. Salem treads a thin line between independent and slightly bratty, but she kept my sympathy and made me curious to follow her next adventures in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #2: The Big Birthday Bash. This will be a very easy sell to young readers at my library.

Books in the Misadventures of Salem Hyde series:
1. Spelling Trouble
2. Big Birthday Bash
3.Cookie Catastrophe

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde #1: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso (Amulet Books, 2013)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Joyland by Stephen King

It's been years since I picked up a Stephen King novel, not because I don't like them (I do), and not because he isn't a fantastic storyteller (he is), but because they can be so scary and intense that, given all the stress and demands of my life right now, I prefer a slightly less heart-pumping, under-the-skin experience when I finally have the time to relax with a book. However, I heard King interviewed on Fresh Air back when this book first came out, and it sounded so appealing that I had to give it a try.

I'm so glad I did! It turned out to be a fascinating, character-driven read set in the 70s about a young man named Devin who, recovering from a broken heart, takes a job at Joyland, a seaside theme park in North Carolina. There Devin lives in a boarding house, makes friends with his fellow teen employees, and becomes fascinated by a years-old mystery about a girl who disappeared from a ride called the Horror House. The first part of the book is atmospheric and almost relaxing - yet it has the feel of a roller coaster car slowly creeping up the track to that highest point. The second part of the book has the reader hurtling back down, hanging on tight. King is a wonderful storyteller, giving us characters worth caring about, and a story that is romantic, spooky, mysterious, and ultimately very satisfying. This is the perfect summer read.

Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime, 2013)

Monday, July 14, 2014

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

There's not a whole lot to say about this book that hasn't been said by dozens of other book-reviewing bloggers out there. But this blog is about reviewing whatever I happen to read, so here we go. Our hero is Colin Singleton, a young man who for some bizarre reason has only dated women named Katherine. Nineteen Katherines, in fact, all of whom have dumped him. Colin is also a former child prodigy, and now that he's nearly grown up, he has to come to terms with the fact that for the most part, child prodigies tend to turn out as normal in adulthood as everyone else - as far as performing amazing feats of genius and saving the world goes, at any rate.

Having just been dumped by the most recent Katherine, Colin is completely heartbroken. He needs a fresh perspective, and what better way to attain one than going on a road trip with his best friend. And that's where the fun begins. Friendship, humor, romance, coming of age - all these elements combine with unforgettable characters and a plot that never fails to surprise and delight. Highly recommended.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton Books, 2006)

Also by John Green:
Looking for Alaska
Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with David Levithan)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Libby Kelting loves Jane Austen novels, historical romances, and everything to do with the past, so she is delighted when she gets a summer internship at Camden Harbor, the Museum of Maine and the Sea. It's a place like Williamsburg, except in Camden Harbor the year is always 1791. She gets to wear period costumes and teach summer campers about all the things she loves about the past. Unfortunately, her dream job involves some unpleasant aspects, including a difficult roommate situation and rumors that Camden Harbor is haunted. Soon Libby finds herself bunking in a period ship with a geeky reporter, all the while falling for a super hot sailor named Cam.

I really liked the premise of this book, and I think it would be a good summer read for teens who enjoy romance and humor. I did find the characters to be stereotypical to the point that it was difficult to identify with them as closely as I would have liked to. I found it difficult to believe that a summer camp would permit a teenage female employee to share a bedroom on a ship with a boy. Libby was also annoyingly obtuse about her relationships and allowed herself to be treated terribly by one of the boys, putting up with more than I felt was believable for the strong, independent teen she is purported to be. Still, she gets a clue by the end of the book, and it turned out to be a light and entertaining "historical" romance with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Books in the Pilgrims series:
1. Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink
2. Confederates Don't Wear Couture

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink (#1 in the Pilgrims series) by Stephanie Kate Strohm (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Although this is technically the second book in the Goodnight Family series, it really is a standalone novel featuring a different character from the first book. Even though I'm a huge stickler about reading things in order, even I would say you could read either one of these books first without any spoiler issues arising.

Our heroine is Daisy Goodnight (little sister to Texas Gothic's Amy Goodnight), a teen who is yanked from her classroom by the FBI and whisked off to Minnesota to help them solve a kidnapping/murder case through her ability to communicate with the dead.  Before she knows what's going on, Daisy herself is kidnapped and thrown into a perilous situation that involves ancient Egypt, a mysterious (but hot) boy, and all kinds of unexpected elements that kept me laughing, happy to hang on for the ride.

Daisy has a strong narrative voice that drew me in immediately. I knew from the first page that I was going to have fun with this one, particularly when Daisy tells us at the crime scene: "I like to pretend that I'm all Daisy Goodnight, kick-ass teen psychic, when really most of the time I'm all Please don't let me puke in front of the FBI." 

Spirit and Dust is the perfect gripping summer read, with action, adventure, humor and romance, a mystery to be solved, creating that sense of wonder I've come to expect from Clement-Moore's books.

Books in the Goodnight Family series:
1. Texas Gothic
2. Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust (#2 in the Goodnight Family series) by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Delacorte Press, 2013)

Also by Rosemary Clement-Moore:
Prom Dates from Hell

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Professor's Daughter

I picked up this graphic novel when I found it on the shelves at my library. The cover was intriguing, and when I flipped through the pages, I found the artwork was so attractive that I had to bring it home to read. The story is, disappointingly, not as compelling as the illustrations, but it is silly and fun. Set in Victorian times, it tells the story of Lillian, the daughter of a prominent Egyptologist, who is in love with a mummified ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

There's a little be of everything here - romance, comedy, action, adventure, and drama. The characters are not very well developed, and the plot doesn't actually make a whole lot of sense when you stop to think about it, but the story is still fun and engaging, and the artwork is delightful.

The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert (First Second, 1997)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Don of the Dead by Casey Daniels

One of the many mystery fans among the patrons at my library recommended this series to me, so I thought I'd give the first one a try. Our heroine is Pepper Martin, a once-rich girl reduced to working for a living after her father was convicted of fraud, the family fortune evaporated, and in the wake of these troubles, her fiancé dumped her. So now Pepper works as a cemetery tour guide.

Following an accident in which Pepper sustains a head injury, she can suddenly see ghosts - namely, the ghost of Mafioso Gus Scarpetti. Gus has some unfinished business, and when he realizes Pepper can see him, he refuses to leave her alone until she agrees to help him. Pepper finds herself on the trail of an unresolved mystery, and her own life becomes even more complicated by an attractive neurologist as well as a sexy cop.

What I liked: it was an interesting paranormal mystery, and the mafia boss was a fun and entertaining character. The mystery itself was solid and held my attention. What I didn't like so much: Pepper was kind of annoying, not terribly likeable, and if she'd had a more engaging voice I'd have been drawn into the book more quickly. Still, it's a promising start, and once the book got going, it was a fun read. I will probably give the second book a try.

Books in the Pepper Martin series:
1. Don of the Dead (2006)
The Chick and the Dead (2007)
Tombs of Endearment (2007)
Night of the Loving Dead (2008)
Dead Man Talking (2009)
Tomb with a View (2010)
A Hard Day's Fright (2011)
Wild Wild Death (2012)
Supernatural Born Killers (2012)

Don of the Dead (#1 in the Pepper Martin series) by Casey Daniels (Avon Books, 2006)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

I finally got to read the second book in this series (which, I don't know why, I did not realize was the first of a series when I read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children last year - everything is a series these days, right?). The story begins where the first book ended, which was nice because the first one ended with a dramatic cliffhanger.

Jacob and his friends have survived their harrowing experience that occurs at the end of the first book, but now their beloved Miss Peregrine is trapped in her bird shape. They must find another Peculiar of her type in order to change her back - before she is stuck in the falcon shape forever. The book recounts their quest across the country during wartime. Jacob, our hero from the first book, is determined to help all he can, as much out of love for Emma as from his desire to keep them all safe.

It was fun to revisit these characters, many of whom I'd come to care a lot about during the course of the first book, and I was pleased to see that Riggs included additional evocative vintage photos, weaving their images seamlessly into the story line.

Admittedly I opened this book with very high expectations, and I did enjoy it as I read. However, I found myself a bit skeptical of a major plot twist toward the end that just didn't seem to make enough sense. It felt contrived, leaving me disappointed as I closed the book. While I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first book, it is an engaging, creative tale that definitely stands out among the YA books on my library's shelves.

Book sin the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series:
1. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
2. Hollow City

Hollow City (#2 in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar children series) by Ransom Riggs (Quirk Books, 2014)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

As hesitant as I am to try a new urban fantasy kick-ass heroine series, I find myself constantly taking the plunge because when this kind of book is good, it is so much fun. This one was recommended to me by a few people, so I thought I'd give it a go.

This first book in the Jane Yellowrock series has an interesting premise and features a likable protagonist. Our heroine is Jane, a shapechanging native American vampire hunter. She's been hired by a very old and powerful vampire to come to New Orleans and hunt down a rogue vampire, and she is determined to keep her own secrets from the vampires while she tries to hunt down an unusual and deadly creature.

I liked the premise, and the mystery is interesting. The writing is a bit uneven, with some narrative wandering and a bit too much description, which tended to lessen the tension during key moments. The concept of Jane's beast and her dual nature was handled well and gave the book some interesting complexity. I found her detective skills to be a little baffling, though - she tended to just sort of react cluelessly to what was going on and then stumble across pertinent information. I like to be extra charitable to the first book in a series, and while this had some issues for me, there was enough good stuff that I plan to give the second book a shot and see how things go.

Books in the Jane Yellowrock series:
1. Skinwalker (2009)
2. Blood Cross (2009)
3. Mercy Blade (2011)
4. Raven Cursed (2012)
5. Death's Rival (2012)
6. Blood Trade (2013)
7. Black Arts (2014)
8. Broken Soul (2014)

Skinwalker (#1 in the Jane Yellowrock series) by Faith Hunter (Roc, 2009)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Affliction by Laurell K. Hamilton

Anita Blake is one of the original kick-ass heroines of the modern urban fantasy/mystery/dash-of-romance genre that has become so glutted with mediocre titles these days. This series has been going for twenty years (!) now.  It started out with books that were more mysteries with supernatural elements, then it veered into some fairly explicit erotica spiced with a mystery that was often cast aside in favor of exploring relationships and issues among the growing cast of characters. The past few books have veered back to the vein of the earlier books, with complex mysteries that are more at the center of the plot line.

This one involves Micah, one of Anita's lovers, whose past has always been kept rather close to his chest. But when he finds out that his estranged father is in the hospital, close to death, he, Anita, and some others in their group fly to his hometown. They discover there are confusing, mysterious things about the attack on his father, and that others who have been attacked are turning into something that an imaginative person might call zombies...

This one is a fun, fast-paced, exciting read. I've been with this series since the beginning, and I'm always up for seeing what's going to happen next in Anita's dark, dangerous, exciting world. I imagine readers unfamiliar to the series would find some scenes a bit tedious and drawn-out, not having the background and history of the characters to inform them of the undercurrents in the characters' interactions. It might be daunting to consider starting out with a series that has so many books in it, but starting at the beginning would definitely pay off here. Readers who enjoy supernatural mysteries and strong heroines should certainly give this one a try.

Books in the Anita Blake series:
1. Guilty Pleasures 
2. The Laughing Corpse
3. Circus of the Damned

4. The Lunatic Cafe 
5. Bloody Bones
6. The Killing Dance
7. Burnt Offerings
8. Blue Moon
9. Obsidian Butterfly
10. Narcissus in Chains

11. Cerulean Sins 
12. Incubus Dreams

13. Micah 
14. Danse Macabre
The Harlequin 
16. Blood Noir
17. Skin Trade
18. Flirt
19. Bullet
20. Hit List 
21. Kiss the Dead
22. Affliction

Affliction  (#22 in the Anita Blake series) by Laurell K. Hamilton (Berkley Publishing Group, 2013)