Monday, December 26, 2011

The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas

I remember reading this picture book/novella to my children quite a few years ago. We'd checked it out from the library, and it was old and battered and clearly nearing the end of its days.  Now my library no longer holds any copies of this book at any of its branches.  When I saw it offered as an ebook for just a few dollars recently, I immediately purchased it.  It was a charming, nostalgic read, revisiting the Austins, one of my very favorite literary families, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them during their 1950s New England holiday season.

This story predates the first book of the Austin Family series, Meet the Austins.  Here Vicki is seven years old, and she is very excited because she has been chosen to play the part of the angel in the Christmas pageant.  Unfortunately, she overhears an unkind remark made by the adults directing the play, commenting on the fact that she is awkward and clumsy, not the best choice for the part after all.  While Vicki is crushed, she turns to her parents for help, and she works very hard to improve her performance. Just as things seem to be looking up, the alarming possibility occurs to her that her mother, who is nearing the end of her pregnancy, might not be able to see the pageant if the baby comes.  She might not even be home for Christmas!  As Vicki thinks about all the ways in which Christmas is only Christmas if the entire family is together, she becomes more and more worried about what might happen if the baby comes early.

The Austin family's Christmas is likely a much simpler affair than most children today experience.  Every day they do something together to prepare and celebrate the advent season.  They put out the figures from the nativity set one day, and they make a Christmas mobile from recycled tin cans the next.  There isn't any mention made, really, of gifts and presents and what Vicki would like to receive for Christmas - it's about being together and enjoying holiday traditions, and I liked that.  I think younger readers would enjoy the story as well, and they would definitely relate to Vicki's hopes and anxieties.  Their eyes might not mist up as mine always do at the end of this story, but they'll be sure to enjoy it all the same.

Source: Purchased ebook

Books in the Austin Family Chronicles:
1. Meet the Austins
2. The Moon by Night
3. The Young Unicorns
4. A Ring of Endless Light
5. Troubling a Star



The Twenty-Four Days of Christmas by Madeleine L'Engle; illustrations by Jill Weber (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1964)

Reviews of other books by L'Engle:
A Wrinkle in Time
The Joys of Love

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

It's a scrapbook.  It's a diary.  It's a novel.  What's not to like?

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt tells the story of a girl growing up in New Hampshire in the 1920s.  She is a bright girl, but her family doesn't have much money since her father died, so when she is accepted at Vassar College with a partial scholarship, she turns it down, knowing what a financial burden it would be on her mother, who works as a night nurse, to pay the rest of her tuition.  However, events conspire to enable her to accept the scholarship, following a most disappointing experience in love, and she sets off to gain an education and follow her dream of becoming a writer.


The story is told through text, photographs, old-time advertisements and magazine clippings, and is filled with authentic memorabilia such as ticket stubs, menus, greeting and post cards, and photographs. Throughout the book Frankie's strong and honest voice shines through.  She makes mistakes, suffers disappointments, celebrates victories,documenting everything faithfully in the pages of her colorful scrapbook.


This book would make an excellent gift for anyone who enjoys scrap-booking, and it's also a wonderful look at life in the U.S. and Paris during the 20s.  I'd recommend this to teens as well - it's a great coming-of-age story, and the historical details are fascinating. The list of clothing required for girls at Vassar College, for example, was hilarious. My grandmother lived and went to college during this time period, and it was fun to imagine her having some of these same experiences as Frankie. Although it made me wish I'd asked her more questions about that time in her life.


At any rate, this is a delightful story that is told in a unique way, and I highly recommend it.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston (HarperCollins, 2011)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thresholds

Maya is recovering from an unimaginable loss - her very best friend has died, and her family has just moved from Idaho to Oregon, hoping that a change of scene will help Maya to move on and focus on new things, instead of on all the things that remind her of her friend. Maya is doing her best to move forward with her life, but it is of course not easy. When a fairy flies through her open window one evening, followed by an unusual encounter with a strange boy at school in which something scary, wonderful and inexplicably strange happens, Maya's life becomes much more interesting and bearable.  As she comes to know the kids who live at the mysterious Janus House apartments across the street, entire worlds open up for her - literally.

This story for younger readers may lack some of the intense complexity and bizarre quirkiness of her Hoffman's books for teens and adults, but it is immensely enjoyable nonetheless.  Maya is a tough, likable character, and the magical concepts that underlie the book are fresh and intriguing. As always with Hoffman's books, there is more than meets the eye to the characters and their situations, and she never relies on cliches or stereotypes in her storytelling.  I recommend this one to tweens and younger teens (Maya attends middle school) who enjoy thoughtful and exciting magical tales.

Books in the Magic Next Door series:
1. Thresholds
2. Meeting

Thresholds (#1 in the Magic Next Door series) by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Viking, 2010)

Other reviews of books by this author:
A Stir of Bones
Hoffman, Nina Kiriki - Fall of Light
Past the Size of Dreaming 
Red Heart of Memories
Spirits That Walk in Shadow
The Thread That Binds the Bones 


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Orphan's Tales, Vol. 2: In the Cities of Coin and Spice


Despite the fact that over a year had passed since I read the first volume of these interconnected short stories, I was sucked right back into the evocative world of the tale-telling orphan who lives, alone and neglected, in the lush wilderness that is the sultan's garden.  This second volume begins a new cycle of interconnected stories, but it continues the events in the lives of the storyteller and her ardent listener, picking up where the first volume left off.  If you love intricate stories with a fairy tale flavor - tales that pull no punches, contain soaring flights of fancy and veer into dark and disturbing realms, I advise that you pick up The Orphan's Tales, Vol. 1: In the Night Garden immediately.

There is not much to say that I did not mention in my review of the first volume in this series.  I continue to enjoy Valente's deft and lyrical prose, and I was once again caught up in the fantastical stories told by the orphan. This story cycle takes the reader to the City of Marrow, a ghost town that will forever eclipse all ghost towns in my mind, as well as to the Lake of the Dead.  There are firebirds and manticores, stars and spiders, poisoners and sentient shoes with an agenda.  And throughout the stories is the sense that the orphan's own story is about to come to a surprising conclusion, somehow connected to the characters and events that have been so mysteriously inked onto her skin.  I highly recommend these two volumes of unforgettable stories within stories within stories.

Also reviewed by Catherynne Valente:
The Orphan's Tales, Vol. 1: In the Night Garden
Palimpsest

The Orphan's Tales, Vol. 2: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Books, 2007)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ghostgirl

Charlotte Usher is a marginalized teen who fantasizes about dating the most popular boy in school.  She has big plans and schemes, but one day, in school, she chokes on a gummy bear and dies.  She finds that the afterlife is just as difficult to deal with as her life was, as she still has a strange version of afterlife "school" she must attend.  Her fellow dead students are just as hard to take as the live ones were, and she still finds herself obsessing about her crush, Damen Dylan.  She finds a way to interact with the living, despite the fact that she is warned against such methods, and despite the fact that her fellow ghosts are in dire need of her help. She slowly comes to understand that she has people counting on her, but all that really matters to her is Damen and her "popularity plan."

The packaging on this book was what first caught my eye - the sequel arrived at my library, so I put this first one one hold to check out.  It appeared to have many elements that I enjoy - an intriguing version of the afterlife, interactions between the living and the dead, a humorous take on a dismal situation, etc.  But I found Charlotte to be so very self involved and superficial that I could not really care what happened to her.  Plus I have very little patience (ahem, Bella!) with characters who only define themselves based on their relationships with boys.  I find "You complete me" to be a creepy, suffocating and unhealthy sentiment.  At first I thought the book was going to be funny and satirical - choking on a gummy bear, for instance, seemed to indicate that the story was headed in that direction.  But it felt as though the story wavered between taking itself very seriously and not taking itself seriously enough, if that makes any sense.  Either give me a character to care about in a situation with consequences that make sense, or give me a story that is clever and funny enough that I don't care if I connect very well with the characters. This one was right in between, and I guess that's why it didn't work well for me.  Teens at my library seem to love the series, though, if the books' dilapidated condition is any indication, and this may just be one of those novels that younger readers will enjoy on levels that adults(at least this adult) just don't get.

Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley (Little, Brown and Co., 2008)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The True Meaning of Smekday

This was my family's favorite audio book from last summer, and I'm ashamed that it's taken me until now to write about it!  I had heard good things about this book and love Adam Rex's sense of humor (Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich is one of my favorite poetry collections and never fails to make me giggle - particularly the ones about the Phantom of the Opera, who can't compose because he has "It's a Small World" stuck in his head).  When I learned that The True Meaning of Smekday had won the ALA's Odyssey Award (for excellence in audio book production), I checked it out from our library's collection.  After about an hour or two of listening to it, I knew my children would love it, so I started all over again and listened with them.  And I was right - they adored it.

I hesitate to say too much about this delightful novel.  It is set in the near future and is told from the point of view of young Gratuitiy Tucci, as an entry in an essay contest in which school children are asked to write about "The True Meaning of Smekday," i.e. the day in which the alien Boov invaded the earth, which, coincidentally, happened on Christmas Day.  Gratuity tells her story with humor and honesty, and we learn about the day her mother was abducted by aliens and go on an unforgettable road trip with Gratuity and an alien Boov named J. Lo.  During their cross-country trek in Slushious, a floating car, Gratuity learns things from J. Lo that no other humans understand, which puts her in a unique position when the invasion shifts into a new and alarming situation.  Unfortunately none of the adults think that a young girl could possibly have anything useful to contribute, so Gratuity and J. Lo have some quick thinking to do.

I love, love, loved this book.  It is funny and moving, exciting and thoughtful.  The audio production is a delight - narrator Bahni Turpin does an excellent job with voices and accents, particularly the aliens, and really brings the story to a whole new level.  There are a few small sections of the story that are written (by J. Lo) in comic book format, and while they are described perfectly in the audio version, I of course had to see the pictures.  So I checked the hard copy out from the library so we could read those sections ourselves.  It would be nice if audio books contained pdf files of images and such so readers could see them, or even a link to the publisher's website with a code to access them, or something like that.  This book should be appealing to male and female readers, and would make an excellent book club read - there are lots of interesting ideas and concepts here, and my kids and I found a whole lot to talk about as we listened together.

At any rate, I highly recommend this book!

Also by Adam Rex:  Pssst!

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex; narrated by Bahni Turpin (Listening Library, 2010)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Steel

Sixteen-year-old Jill lives and breathes fencing, and she has her eye on an Olympic gold medal one day in her future.  But when she suffers a defeat by being one half of one second too slow, she finds her confidence and ambitions are shaken.  Her parents whisk her off to the Caribbean for a change of scene they hope will improve her state of mind, but Jill still finds herself mulling over the defeat. Then when she is walking along the beach one day, she comes across an old rusty bit of metal washed up on the shore.  Most people would probably stepped right over it and walked on, but Jill immediately recognizes it for what it is - the tip of an ancient rapier.   The sword tip has a a connection to the past that is so strong that it transports Jill back to the time it was once a shiny, sharp blade.  When she finds herself aboard a pirate ship, her previous worries seem small and unimportant.

This is a fun piratical romp, full of swashbuckling adventure, with strong female characters, a touch of romance, and a bit of enchantment.  At the beginning I found Jill to be a bit too self-involved and whiny, and she makes some incredibly scatterbrained decisions along the way, but she does come to terms with her situation so that by the end I found myself rooting for her.  I passed this one to my 12-year-old daughter, who has expressed an interest in learning fencing, and she enjoyed it but also found that she did not connect with the main character as much as she would have liked.  Still, it was a fun read, and teenage fans of piratical adventure will be sure to enjoy it.

Steel by Carrie Vaughn (HarperTeen, 2011)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Something Deadly This Way Comes

This third book in the Madison Avery series features a teen who, in the first book, dies and becomes a reaper, one of a group of supernatural beings that fight over human souls.  Madison has been stirring things up a bit because she does not believe that they way things have always been done is necessarily the right way to do things.  In the second book, she was able to win over some unlikely allies to help as she tries to prove herself.  Her life is complicated by her relationship with Josh, a human boy who actually knows what's going on in her life and isn't completely freaked out by it all. When she finally discovers an opportunity to get her body back, which would enable her to go back to being a normal, teenage girl again,  Madison has some serious decisions to make.  But when she catches a glimpse into the future and sees flames and destruction - and the potential demise of a soul - she needs to focus on the here and now.  This continues to be an entertaining series.  I would personally prefer a little more depth to the characters, as with Harrison's Hollows series, but I think teens will be sure to enjoy the action-packed pace and interesting fantastical premise.


Books in the Madison Avery series:
1. Once Dead, Twice Shy
2. Early to Death, Early to Rise
3. Something Deadly This Way Comes 


Something Deadly This Way Comes (#3 in the Madison Avery series) by Kim Harrison (Harper, 2011)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Horton Halfpott

Due to the recent demise of my laptop (sniff.) and my increasingly hectic schedule, I have an enormous backlog of books to review.  So I'm back to last year's strategy of nutshell reviews: reviewing the books in ten or fewer sentences.  My goal is to get caught up with all my books by the end of the year.

This book is by the same author as The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and while the humor is still there, this one is set in Victorian England rather than a modern American middle school.  Our hero is Horton Halfpott, a servant at the elegant Smugwick Manor.  A bizarre and humorous chain of events begins when M'Lady Luggertuck, mistress of Smugwick Manor, loosens her corset one fine morning, culminating in the mysterious disappearance of a precious family heirloom, the Luggertuck Lump.  Of course the scrupulously honest Horton is innocent, despite the accusations against him.  A lively and unusual cast of characters combine to make this an intriguing, amusing and absurd mystery novel that I enjoyed very much.

I did wonder as I read whether younger readers would appreciate the humor as much as I did, however.  My ten-year-old adored Origami Yoda but sadly only made it partway through this one before she gave up.  So I would suggest Horton Halfpott as an excellent choice for a read-aloud - I think if we'd read it together, I could have stopped to explained things so she'd have appreciated the humor much more.  Fans of humor and historical novels should definitely give this one a try.

Also by Tom Angleberger: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Horton Halfpott or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books, 2011)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Manifest

This is the first book in a paranormal series for teens about a Krystal, a fifteen-year-old who moves to a small town in New England with her mother, following her parents' divorce.  She feels very disconnected being in the suburbs after growing up in New York City, and she is depressed and upset about her the divorce.  The fact that her mother is already with someone new, someone who feels he has the authority to boss Krystal around despite the fact that he is not Krystal's father, only makes matters worse.  Then when Krystal starts seeing the ghost of a boy from her school who died before she moved up from New York, things really get strange.

There were things about this book that I liked - I really liked the fact that Krystal is black - and part Cherokee - because there aren't many books in this genre that do not feature white heroines.  The supernatural element was interesting, too, something a little different from the usual vampires and werewolves that proliferate the pages of YA fiction these days.

But as much as I really wanted to love this book, I just didn't. Aside from the fact that the book is written in the present tense, which is something I have personal issues with, the characters simply weren't very real.  Krystal did nothing but whine and complain and be rude to the people around her.  She was so negative and self-involved that I could barely bring myself to finish the book.  Plus she just wasn't very bright.  She receives suggestive, overtly sexual text messages when she knows there is a local sexual predator on the prowl - and people have been killed by this person - but she doesn't tell an adult?  Argh!  The writing was at times awkward and uneven, with punctuation and grammar issues, to the point that I kept getting yanked out of the narrative to reread sentences over again in order to figure out what the author was trying to say.
"I don't want to go," I say in a voice that sounds sulky and juvenile - I mean elementary-like.
and
While me, on the other hand, can't stand to be in the house Janet works so hard to create and walks around with enough friction in my mind to fill a psych ward.
Seriously?  What does that even mean?  I found myself getting angry that, as paranormal YA novels featuring minority teens are rare, shouldn't such books be even better than the norm?  Shouldn't standards be even higher for such books?  It is not good enough to have a lovely, slick cover and a good marketing campaign - for any book, particularly books for young readers.  I wish I could say that this first book stands head and shoulders above its peers, but sadly, I can't.

Books in the Mystyx series:
1. Manifest
2. Mystify
3. Mayhem
4. Mesmerize

Manifest (#1 in the Mystyx series) by Artist Arthur (Kimani Tru, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Charlotte's Library "... although this first book of the series was somewhat uneven, the second book promises more -- Krystal's grown up somewhat, and I know longer want to shake her, and the paranormal plot is about to really get going!"
Do Not Disturb My Books "I felt disconnected from the characters while reading the story. I felt like there was so much devoted to the story itself but the characters were left out of that."
Insert Book Title Here: "I really enjoyed this one. It had romance, supernatural powers, friendship, twists, turns, and mystery."

We had a good run...


...but sadly, I had to bid my faithful old laptop goodbye a couple weeks ago.  I've had it so long I was a little surprised to count up the years we'd been together.  Seven?  Eight?  Maybe Santa will bring me a new one - I've been pretty good this year. :-)

So forgive me if I'm lag even further behind on my reviews during this busy, laptop-free time of year.  I can't kick my kids off their computer when they're trying to get their homework done (as tempted as I may be), but I will try to keep visiting everyone's blogs and posting here as much as I can.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 2: Research


It had been such a long time since I'd read the first volume of the wonderful, quirky Gunnerkrigg Court (which I'd discovered back when it was still only available as a webcomic - and it still is, for free, here), that I thought I'd better reread it before starting on with this second volume, and I'm glad I did.  First, because it is delightful, and it was fun to revisit those dark and mysterious boarding school corridors, and second, because I might have been a bit confused about the continuing events in the second volume if I hadn't done that reread first.

Volume 2 continues the story of young Antimony Carver, at the strange boarding school known as Gunnerkrigg Court.  This is her second year, and she and her best friend Kat continue to explore the mysteries that the school - and Annie's past - have to offer.  There's the strange relationship between the school and its emphasis on technology and robotics and the forest with its nature spirits and deities.  There is the ghost that we met in the first book, who may have some answers to offer.  And there's also the secret room beneath Kat's workshop and the strange ancient robots that the two girls discover there.  Aside from the magical, robotic and mythological aspects of the girls' school days, there are also the mundane but no less important issues of navigating the ins and outs of friendship and change.


Where the first book was more episodic, with each chapter telling its own short story, this one is more cohesive, with a single narrative arc that runs throughout the volume.  It has the same quirky humor and compelling plot, and the colorful illustrations are a visual feast.  I love that I find this book just as engaging as my ten- and twelve-year-old daughters do, and while we may derive our enjoyment from different aspects of the story, we have a great time sharing our thoughts about the enigmatic hints and clues that always keep us guessing.


We are all very much looking forward to reading the third volume.  I own the first volume of this series, and while I checked the second one out from the library, this is one series that I intend to purchase in its entirety for our own personal collection.  I know it's one we'll all be reading and rereading over the years.

Books in the Gunnerkrigg Court series:
1. Orientation
2. Research
3. Reason

Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 2: Research by Tom Siddell (Archaia, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Back to Books:  "Gone are the seemingly random vignettes, instead to be replaced by a full blown plot of magic and mayhem between the court and the forest, the humans and the non-human creatures living at Gunnerkrigg Court. "
Finding Wonderland: "Though fans of school stories like the Harry Potter books would probably enjoy this one, Gunnerkrigg is no Hogwarts. Though it, too, hides secrets everywhere and has a few ghosts hanging about, nothing is quite as clear-cut; there's no easy division between wizards and muggles, no complete separation between life and death and clockwork, between human and faerie."
Mama Librarian: "Siddell never takes himself too seriously, and we find ourself falling hard for his characters. A worthy heir to Buffy."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Prom Dates from Hell

Maggie Quinn is the photographer for the yearbook, an aspiring journalist, and a high school senior, very much looking forward to exiting the high school scene and moving on.  She isn't among the most popular kids (nor does she have any interest to be), and she has some very good friends.  A bullying incident occurs, and she just happens to have her camera handy.  She uses the incriminating photo as a means of ending the incident, only to find that not only has she made enemies of the football players who were involved, but the victim is furious with her as well, for not allowing him to handle the situation himself.  Nothing worse than being rescued by a girl, after all.

The incident sparks a very strange situation.  Maggie begins to have dreams, the true kind of dreams, which she'd somehow been avoiding having for years.  Her grandmother, a woman with "the sight," has been urging Maggie to learn to use her talent for a long time, but Maggie has found it much more convenient to pretend it isn't there and try to live a normal life.  But when these dreams involve the very real odor of fire and brimstone, and horrible accidents begin happening to students at Maggie's school, she realizes she can't stand back and let these things happen.  Luckily her father, a university professor, introduces her to Justin, one of his students,who is studying the supernatural aspects of folklore, and Justin is willing to help her out.  It doesn't hurt matters that he is a total hottie.

After I read Texas Gothic and enjoyed it so much, I knew I had to read everything else I could find by Rosemary Clement-Moore.  Her sense of humor absolutely tickles me, and her writing is excellent.  Maggie's strong, snarky voice carries this story, and while the storyline isn't anything terribly out of the ordinary as far as YA fantasy/horror stories go, there are some fun and surprising elements.  The dialogue works beautifully, the pacing is excellent, and the characters are well developed and fun.  I knew I was going to love the book when I came to paragraphs like this one:
I should point out that on Halloween, my chemistry teacher dressed up like Professor Snape from the Harry Potter books, and he sometimes referred to his course as "Potions Class" even when it wasn't October.  He had a last name out of a Bronte novel and he looked like the mad scientist from Back to the Future.  I love Professor Blackthorne.

I also enjoyed the fact that the author avoided the stereotypical scenario in which the clueless parents go about their day-to-day lives completely oblivious to the supernatural woes besetting the heroine.  Maggie isn't completely on her own as far as her clairvoyance is concerned.  Her grandmother is there to support her (but is willing to stand back and allow Maggie to deal with things herself), and her father is, too.  Her mom is more of a pragmatist, who would clearly rather cover her ears with her hands and yell "La la la! I'm not listening" when Maggie has one of her terrifying prophetic dreams.  I enjoyed Maggie's relationship with her dad, and they way they conspired to avoid freaking out her mother as much as they could. The book is smart and funny, using the situation and the supernatural themes as an effective way of examining many of the issues that high school students deal with without being preachy or patronizing.

I am sorry to see there are only three books in this series, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing with Maggie's Girl vs. Evil adventures.  Fun, fun, fun!

Books in the Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil series:
1. Prom Dates from Hell
2. Hell Week
3. Highway to Hell 
 
Prom Dates from Hell (#1 in the Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil series) by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Delacorte Press, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Book Dweeb"This story starts out good, but fizzles toward the end. The fantasy laws at work here are too contrived, and (unlike Buffy) it’s not funny enough to make up for the flaws in internal logic."
Reading Rants:  "I just loved this outrageous supernatural romp. Among  the sheer number of Buffy rip-offs and Twi-wannabes that crowd the book and DVD shelves these days, Rosemary C-M’s mystical offering manages to stand out, mainly because of Maggie’s snarly, sassy voice."
Teen Book Review" This fast-paced, well-written adventure had me hooked from the start, and kept me that way!"

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Deadliest Bite

This is the eighth and, sadly, final installment in the action-packed, hilarious and wickedly clever Jaz Parks series, and I held out as long as possible before finally giving in and reading it because I am simply so sorry to see it end.

The first thing you need to know, if you've never read any of Rardin's books, is that the eight books each contain their own individual plot line, but unless you begin at the beginning of the series (with Once Bitten, Twice Shy), you will be lost.  Past events continually influence events in the present, and you will miss a whole lot if you just pick one up randomly and start reading.

As usual, it's tough to provide a synopsis without offering spoilers, so let me just say that the series involves a team of CIA assassins who possess supernatural or paranormal powers, or who simply are amazingly intelligent and skilled.  Their targets are of the supernatural, immensely powerful and scary variety, and throughout the course of the series, the team comes together.  Through each adventure, their relationships evolve and progress, and they learn how to combine their various skill sets to make the most of their abilities.  Jaz is a stand-up heroine - she is believably kick-ass, flawed and likeable, and she has come a long way since the early books of the series.  There's a whole lot to like here:  very cool (and often funny) gadgets, swoon-worthy romance, gritty action and adventure, quirky and surprising plot twists, wonderful characters who grow and change from book to book, laugh-out-loud moments, and very spooky, disturbing villains. 

This final book did not disappoint, and the conclusion was immensely satisfying and rather bittersweet.  It felt just right.  I was so saddened by the death of Jennifer Rardin earlier this year, and I'm immensely grateful that she managed to finish this wonderful series.  I know I will be rereading this series again and again, so I can spend some more time with some of my favorite characters ever. 

Books in the Jaz Parks series:
1. Once Bitten, Twice Shy
2. Another One Bites the Dust
3. Biting the Bullet
4. Bitten to Death
5. One More Bite

6. Bite Marks
7. Bitten in Two

8. The Deadliest Bite 

The Deadliest Bite (#8 in the Jaz Parks series) by Jennifer Rardin (Orbit, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
A Book Obsession:  "All in all an excellent book, with a very satisfying ending that will make it a little easier to say goodbye to these fantastic characters."
Book'd Out:  "The Deadliest Bite is a fast paced, action packed final installment that leads to a definitive and satisfying culmination for the series."
e-Volving Books:  "I thought this might be a trite vampire love story, but the characters are really strong and fiercely written and saves the book from falling into a stereotype."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

City of Fallen Angels

I wasn't sure what to think when I first saw this fourth installment in The Mortal Instruments "trilogy."  While I had enjoyed the first three books immensely, it seemed to me that the relationship issues had been solved satisfactorily, and the big bad had been fought and defeated, and things were well on their way to happily ever after.  But of course other big bads could appear, and it would be fun to see Jace and Clary work as a team, unburdened by the many various obstacles they had faced in the first trilogy (much the way that Eve and Roarke, in J.D. Robb's "In Death" series, team up to solve cases as their relationship continues to develop throughout the course of the series).

Instead, I was disappointed to find the book seems total rehash of everything that was purportedly resolved at the end of the third book.  Same big bad issues (more or less), same villainous motivation - plus the relationship between Jace and Clary completely falls apart for pretty ridiculous reasons (you know, when if only characters would explain one little thing, everything would be okay - but for some inexplicable reason they don't, and everything spins out of control?) - undermining everything that was resolved at the conclusion of the trilogy.  I'm not sure what the intent was here, but while I was initially excited to revisit some favorite characters and see them progress into an interesting new future with different conflicts and issues, instead I got a redressed version of the earlier books, and it was all rather disappointing. 

Not that there isn't anything to like here - the writing is solid, and I always enjoy Clare's sense of humor and her skillful dialogue.  I just wish I had stopped with the third book, which left me feeling that happy, satisfied glow that comes with a solid conclusion to a good series. 

Books in the Mortal Instruments series:
1. City of Bones
2. City of Ashes
3. City of Glass 

4. City of Fallen Angels

City of Fallen Angels (#4 in the Mortal Instruments series) by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Reading with Tequila:  "As the first book in a new trilogy in this series, I can only hope that it was setting the stage for something bigger that will bring the frenzied "need to read as quickly as possible" feel back to the next two books."
So Many Books, So Little Time:  "
I don’t really know how to start with reviewing City of Fallen Angels other than it took my hesitant expectations and trampled on them."

YA Reads:  "This book is hypnotically well written, you get so comfortable reading it, 424 pages just doesn’t seem like enough. It comes complete with all the snark and sarcasm we’ve come to love from Cassandra Clare’s characters."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Girl in the Steel Corset

Finley Jane has a dark secret, one that she even tries to hide from herself.  She is employed as a housemaid in a Victorian London home, but when the young lord attempts to force himself on her, Finley is only too glad to give herself over to the dark being that lurks within her.  She might not be able to control it, but she can protect herself with the incredible strength it affords her.  She flees after knocking out the young man in question, and when she is struck by Griffin King's speeding velocycle, her life swerves in a most interesting direction.

Finley is not inclined to trust people (afflicted as she is with her secret), and Griffin seems too good to be true.  Can it be that he really wants her to join his group of most unusual friends?  They are working for the crown in an attempt to locate the nefarious Machinist, whose automatons are wreaking havoc in London.  There's the ingenious inventor, Emily, and Sam, who is part robot, and the polite but secretive Jasper, an American cowboy.  Griffin himself seems to possess an unusual ability, but Finley isn't quite sure what it might be.

Action and adventure follow, involving diabolical automatons, plots against the crown, whimsical and clever inventions, and a certain mysterious substance from the center of the earth that may just have a mind of its own. 

This was an entertaining steampunk romp with fun characters, gadgets and gizmos. The writing was occasionally a bit awkward, but it is the first of a series, and I did enjoy the interplay among the characters, as well as the homage to H.G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson.  My main issue with the book was the predictability of the plot.  Not only was the mystery glaringly obvious, but the plot was straight out of Disney's The Great Mouse Detective (minus the rodent characters), Victorian England setting, robots, evil scheme and all.  That said, I enjoyed the book and do intend to pick up the next installment of The Steampunk Chronicles.  This is a YA novel that will appeal to adult fans of Steampunk, and it's a great introduction to the genre for younger readers.  It might even inspire them to pick up some Wells or Stevenson, and that is definitely a good thing.

The Girl in the Steel Corset (#1 in the Steampunk Chronicles series) by Kady Cross (Harlequin Teen, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
The Story Siren:  "I'll admit that I had the bad guy pegged and his evil plan all figured out, long before the intelligent characters in this novel did! But it was still fun watching them putting all the pieces together themselves."
Tez Says"Kady Cross writes automatons so well that I dip my dirigible captain’s hat to her."
YA Reads:  "In addition to phenomenal character development, this book is packed with action. There are multiple plot lines and conflicts existing at once, thus there’s never a dull moment."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Passage

This is the third book in the Sharing Knife series, which picks up immediately following the end of the second book, making this series more a single story broken into volumes rather than the more typical standalone story within each book.  Each book does have a narrative arc to define it, but the series is more about the progression of events that began in the first book.  I know I always say you need to read series in order, but for this one it's crucial.

As always, I strive to avoid spoilers, but it's tough with a series such as this.  So if you are at all interested in a fantasy series that is first and foremost about character development, but is set in a unique fantasy world, is beautifully written and has a touch of romance to it, please read my thoughts on the first book, BeguilementI have been listening to the audio versions of this series from the start, as I have very much enjoyed Bernadette Dunne's narration of books by Tamora Pierce, and she does a fantastic job with these as well.

In this installment, Lakewalker Dag and Fawn, his farmer bride, have set out to travel around the land.  Their somewhat nebulous goal is to educate farmers about Lakewalker customs.  Because Lakewalkers are the only people in the land who have ground sense, a sort of extra sense that enables them to sense  the life force of the plants, animals, and people around them, they are uniquely qualified to combat the beings known as malices.  These creatures periodically emerge from underground, like locusts, and proceed to drain the life force from everything around them.  But superstitions have created distrust between farmers and Lakewalkers, and it is this very distrust that is jeopardizing the land - if farmers cannot trust Lakewalkers enough to call for help (or do not recognize the signs of a malice infestation in the first place), how can they hope to eradicate the malice in the short time they have before it molts and becomes nearly unstoppable?

Dag and Fawn secure passage on a riverboat heading downstream with some farmers, and they acquire a couple more Lakewalkers along the way.  The combination of farmers and Lakewalkers proves to serve as an excellent starting point to try out their plans.  Dag makes some startling discoveries about his magical gifts that go against everything he's ever been taught, and the farmers on board learn some new and interesting facts about the way Lakewalkers use their magic.  During this time, Dag and Fawn are easing into their new husband-and-wife relationship, learning a few things about each other, too.

This is a very enjoyable series, sometimes quiet and contemplative, at others of suspense and tension.  I like meeting some new characters during Fawn and Dag's journey and, as always, enjoyed my time spent in the delightful company of Dag and Fawn. 

Books in the Sharing Knife series:
1. Beguilement
2. Legacy
3. Passage
4. Horizon 

Passage (#3 in the Sharing Knife series) by Lois McMaster Bujold; narrated by Bernadette Dunne (Blackstone Audio, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Fantasy Book Critic:  "...expect characters you can’t help but fall in love with, a world that sometimes feels more alive than our own, and themes that we can all relate to including prejudice, sacrifice, family, and of course, love…"
Fyrefly's Book Blog: "...the series as a whole should definitely be of interest to anyone who likes well-developed non-traditional fantasy worlds, and doesn’t mind a little romance (really not much at all, at least in this volume) stirred into the mix."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mind Over Monsters


When I saw this title listed among the books on order at my library (I'm still loving the Wowbrary newsletter!), I knew right away that this would be a fun read for the R.I.P. Challenge, so I put it on hold.  It is the first in a new series called the F.R.E.A.K. Squad Investigations, about a group of people with paranormal and supernatural abilities who are recruited to be a sort of Mission-Impossible type team that fights against supernatural baddies.

Our heroine is Beatrice Alexander, an elementary school teacher whose telekinetic ability is revealed when she saves a student from being squashed by a Humvee in a dramatic maneuver that involved lifting the vehicle up into the air with her mind.  She is visited by a paranormal expert and, following an accidental use of her powers that injures her brother, Bea is convinced to at least give the squad a try.  They will train her, so that she will have more control and be less likely to injure someone accidentally.  She is not convinced this is the right thing for her - she'd much rather be teaching third graders, but she is shaken by the injury she's caused her brother, so she packs up, makes up an convenient excuse, and gives the squad a try.

Her first case involves a series of grisly, graphically-described murders that have taken place in cemeteries in a small town.  People have been literally ripped apart, and the deaths blamed on animal attacks.  Beatrice and her team quickly realize that the attacks can only have been from zombies, but the challenge of their investigation is finding out which of the people in the small town has been raising the dead, and without alerting the local authorities to the true nature of the problem.

This was a fun and often funny read, fast-pace and with an interesting, if a bit predictable, mystery to it.  I enjoyed the interplay among the characters, and of course I always find spooky combined with humor to be particularly appealing.  My main issue with this book was with the main character.  I felt she never really became a fully fleshed-out person to me.  One moment she's reluctant to be there, to be part of the team, the next minute she's having the time of her life whacking zombies with a machete, but then later she's packing up to go home because she can't handle it.  She's needy and vulnerable, and then she's annoyed that people aren't taking her seriously, despite the fact that she's the newest member of the team and very inexperienced.  She was kind of wishy-washy, and I couldn't believe in her because her motivation simply wasn't clear.  I am also growing tired of the whole love triangle thing that seems to be a prerequisite for modern paranormal fiction these days.  I found myself comparing the book to the Jaz Parks series by Jennifer Rardin, which hardly seems fair, as this is a first novel and that is one of my hands-down favorite series.  I also couldn't help but wonder why one of the team members, who can ignite fires with her thoughts, wasn't just picking off zombies by setting them on fire - and why she didn't simply target the necromancer in the first place. 

Still, I like the premise, and the characters are interesting, and this is a promising start to a new series.  Plus it has zombies.  Zombies, people!  And they are not nice.  Except maybe for one.  I do plan to give the second F.R.E.A.K. Squad novel a try - and this one was certainly a fun read for R.I.P.

Mind Over Monsters (#1 in the F.R.E.A.K. Squad Investigations series by Jennifer Harlow (Midnight Ink, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Karissa's Reading Review:  "It was a nice diversion, but there wasn't anything here that was super creative or all that different from a number of other authors out there that do this kind of light, fluffy, fun girl-next-door meets paranormal baddies."
Livin' Life Through Books" The details in this story were absolutely gory and creepy and I couldn't wait to read more. Well written, and fast-paced, Harlow leaves you wanting more."
Smexy Books"Smooth writing and fast pacing will have you racing to the end to see how Bea handles herself on her first mission with the FREAK squad."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hunt the Moon

I continue to completely and utterly adore this series.  I am so glad I picked it up a few years ago - I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed with the number of series I was following at the time, and thinking that I certainly didn't need to add another one to my towering stack of books - but I am so thankful I did!  This series just tickles me - it seems tailor made to fit all my admittedly peculiar favorite characteristics of books. 

The heroine, for one, is eminently likable, not to mention complicated and interesting.  She also grows and changes from book to book, as a result of her experiences as the series progresses (not something that is necessarily to be counted on in a series).  The plots are fun, fun, fun, and so smart and creative.  You may have noticed that I read a lot of books, and because of that it's become a little harder for me to find books that can still surprise and delight me with intricate, non-predictable stories.  This is definitely one of them.  And then there's the humor - serious, laugh-out-loud humor that pops up from time to time throughout the course of the narrative.  The fact that it's interspersed with intensely gripping plots and occasional dark and creepy situations is just icing on the cake.  The characters are solid, complex and engaging, and there are mythological elements that form the basis of the fantasy universe  that is the setting for the series, and I love that as well, particularly the unusual approach Chance has taken to weave those elements into the storyline.  And yes, evidently I can just keep going on and on here. I'll spare you further gushing.

It would be tough to say much about the plot without offering up spoilers, so if you are curious about this series, please stop reading here and check out my review of the first book, Touch the Dark.  Each book offers a stand-alone plot, typically a mystery with fantastical elements, usually related to Greek mythology.  Cassie is a powerful clairvoyant (the Pythia, in fact) - but her coronation ceremony hasn't yet taken place, so it's not actually official yet.  And when her enemies have the ability to go back in time and change the course of the past, and those same enemies are determined that Cassie not become the Pythia, Cassie has a lot on her plate.  When she realizes that her enemies have decided to make sure she is never born, she has to act fast to stop them.  Much time-travel-related, action-packed mayhem ensues.  Some questions about Cassie's past, particularly her parents, are answered in this one, and in a very interesting way that makes me very anxious to read the next book in this series. Fun, exciting, romantic, funny, suspenseful - and did I say fun?


Books in the Cassandra Palmer series:
 1. Touch the Dark
2.
Claimed by Shadow
3. Embrace the Night
4. Curse the Dawn

5. Hunt the Moon

Hunt the Moon (#5 in the Cassandra Palmer series)by Karen Chance (Signet Select, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Ink and Paper"...despite the fact that Chance is a genius and always, always, surprises and wows me more than words can say, I would never have expected to be blown away to such a level as I was when I had finished reading."
Literary Escapism:  "There is more mythology in this story than just “regular” history as well. As a big mythology geek, this made me quite happy."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Smokin' Seventeen

Stephanie Plum is back in the seventeenth book of her hilarious, mayhem-filled adventures.  In this installment, bodies are turning up at the empty lot that is the construction site of her bail bonds office, which burned down in the previous book.  Soon it becomes clear that the serial killer is stalking Stephanie.  Add to the story a dancing bear, a curse placed on Stephanie by Morelli's grandmother, and a fugitive senior citizen who thinks he's a vampire, and you have the typical screwball fun of a Stephanie Plum mystery.

I am always surprised by the mixed reviews of this series that I find when I browse through reviews online.  I find that my expectations just aren't that elevated when I pick up a Stephanie Plum novel.  Some books are funnier than others, true, and some have plots that offer more surprises, but I can't say I've ever been dreadfully disappointed by one of these books.  I open one knowing that I'm going to be at least smiling, and probably laughing, not to mention spending some time with characters I've been hanging out with periodically since the early nineties.  I figured out the mystery in this one way before Stephanie did, but that's okay - she clearly has a lot on her mind in this book!  I thought it was a fun, entertaining romp.   

Explosive Eighteen will be released next month, and I'm already on the waiting list for it at my library.  I am always delighted to take a break from the stress and frenzy of real life to hang out for a while with Stephanie, Lula, Ranger and Morelli.  What's not to like?


Books in the Stephanie Plum series:
1. One for the Money
2. Two for the Dough
3. Three to Get Deadly
4. Four to Score
5. High Five
6. Hot Six
7. Seven Up
8. Hard Eight
9. To the Nines
10. Ten Big Ones
11. Eleven on Top
12. Twelve Sharp
13. Lean Mean Thirteen
14. Fearless Fourteen
15.
Finger Lickin' Fifteen
16. Sizzling Sixteen

17. Smokin' Seventeen
18. Explosive Eighteen  (November 2011)

Smokin' Seventeen (#17 in the Stephanie Plum series) by Janet Evanovich (Bantam Books, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Book Series Reviews"It was a good story, so much better than the last half dozen or so offerings in this series."
Book'd Out"Smokin’ Seventeen is a fun, light read that is true to the series formula and sure to provide a laugh or two. If you are looking for more than that then you will likely be disappointed but take it for what it is and it’s a delightful way to spend an hour or two."
Lesa's Book Critiques:  "I picked up Smokin' Seventeen thinking I might get through a few chapters and quit. Instead, there were a few new twists to the story that made me laugh again at Stephanie's antics."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

It would be an understatement to say that Dwight is not a popular kid at school.  He has awkward social skills and a way of making people around him feel uncomfortable.  He gets in trouble, picks his nose, always "ruins it" for everyone (according to his teachers).  But one day he comes to school with an origami finger puppet he designed and folded himself, a finger puppet Yoda that starts giving other people advice and even, it seems, predicting the future.  While no one really wants to talk to Dwight, everyone wants to talk to Origami Yoda.

Is Yoda a supernatural creation, truly able to predict the future?  The jury is out.  But Tommy wants to find out, and not just because he's curious.  Yoda has given him some very strange advice, and Tommy needs to make a decision about whether or not to follow it.  The consequences will be major, and Tommy isn't sure what to do.  So he gets the kids in his class who have had dealings with Origami Yoda to tell their stories, and he's compiled them into a case file.  The book is illustrated by Tommy's friend Kellen, and the stories and pictures make for a very appealing package.  I brought this home from the library, and my 10-year-old immediately made off with it and wouldn't let me read it till she finished.  (And she enjoyed it immensely.)

At first it seemed this was going to be a light and funny read, with some humor that was perhaps a bit mean-spirited.  But as the case file unfolded, with stories about interactions with Origami Yoda told from different points of view, it became clear that this is no simple, funny school story.  It can be read on that level, of course, but there is unexpected depth here.  The relationships between the kids at school are much more complex than is usually depicted in this sort of book, and there is a lot here to make readers think, particularly about their assumptions about the kids they may be sitting next to in class.  Don't get me wrong - this is by no means a heavy-handed Message kind of book - it is sweet and funny, with enough crude and silly humor to please young readers, but there's more to it than that.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I've been recommending it to kids at my library, who have all been very pleased with it.  I haven't read this authors' books before, but I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of his work.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews:  "I enjoyed this one. It was a fun story with a cute premise. In times it's very silly--other times more serious."
MotherReader"I found it to be more enjoyable than blowing up a Death Star. And blowing up a Death Star, that’s fun."
Sassymonkey Reads: "The stories in the book felt to me like they were things my friends and I would have done at that age."

Friday, October 14, 2011

From Dead to Worse

Sookie Stackhouse has come a long way from the days when she was a simple (if telepathic) barmaid, wistfully dreaming about something otherworldly that might spice up her humdrum life.  She is now firmly enmeshed in vampire politics, not to mention the world of shapeshifters, including town's local werewolf pack.  This eighth book in the series deals with the aftermath of the massive upheaval that took place in the previous book, and while it's a quieter book in many ways, it delves into many of the unresolved issues from previous book in the series.

There is a lot going on in this book, and rather than one single, smooth storyline as we've had with some of the previous books, this one bounces here and there, from a series of murders, the issue with Bob the cat, vampire politics, the damage from hurricane Katrina, the disappearance of Sookie's boyfriend Quinn, and the appearance of a long-lost relative of Sookie's.  I didn't mind that the plot was a bit scattered in this way - these were all fascinating elements, and I was happy to go along for the ride.  This installment of the series felt like a little pause from the breakneck action of previous books - particularly as the overarching plot line goes - although it was definitely a gripping read.  (Or should I say a gripping listen?  I have come to adore Johanna Parker's narration of the audio books, so these days I exclusively listen to them.)  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing the series soon.

Books in the Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series:
1. Dead Until Dark
2. Living Dead in Dallas
3. Club Dead
4. Dead to the World
5. Dead as a Doornail
6. Definitely Dead
7. All Together Dead
8. From Dead to Worse
9. Dead and Gone
10. A Touch of Dead (short stories)
11. Dead in the Family

12. Dead Reckoning (2012)

From Dead to Worse (#8 in the Southern Vampire series) by Charlaine Harris; narrated by Johanna Parker (Recorded Books, 2008)

Also reviewed at: 
Fyrefly's Book Blog"But I think the real reason that I enjoyed it so much was that it was hugely, compulsively readable."
One Literature Nut: "To me, this seemed like a slower-paced storyline that helped the reader retrace everything.  I enjoyed this regrouping and appreciate the continued strength that Sookie goes on to show."
Whimpulsive:  "I felt like I was reading 3 or 4 shorter stories that got shuffled together without creating any smooth flow between or among them and as a result it just felt a little choppy."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fire and Fog

This second installment in the Fremont Jones mystery continues the events of Fremont Jones' life shortly after the first book ended.  Fremont is an independent-minded woman, in many ways ahead of her time, who has moved from the security of her father's home in Boston and is living on her own in San Francisco in the early 1900s.  She has set herself up in her own business, having attended a woman's college, and is working as a typist.

When the big earthquake hits, followed by a devastating fire, Fremont must leave her cozy apartment.  Her mysterious and attractive neighbor, Michael Archer, teaches Fremont to drive, and she ends up working as an ambulance driver, helping out with the many injured people who are now homeless in the wake of the disaster.  But she is also caught up in a series of strange events - dead animals are left at her doorstep of her temporary home, and murders follow.  Once again Fremont is caught up in the tangled web of a complex case, and when Michael disappears, Fremont is left on her own, determined to solve it.

I enjoyed this one, perhaps even more than the first.  The setting, with its many sensory details of the quake and the ensuing fire, really brought this story to life, and the mystery itself was deliciously complicated, with many strands and connections that were fun to try to unravel.  Fremont is gaining confidence as a woman trying to make her way on her own, and she learns some important things in this book.  I look forward to seeing how she fares in the next installment of this entertaining historical mystery series.


Books in the Fremont Jones series:
1. The Strange Files of Fremont Jones
2. Fire and Fog
3. The Bohemian Murders
4. Emperor Norton's Ghost
5. Death Train to Boston
6. Beacon Street Morning   

Fire and Fog (#2 in the Fremont Jones mystery series) by Dianne Day (Doubleday, 1996)

Also reviewed at:
A Few More Pages:  "Sometimes her independent nature makes her a bit too stubborn, and keeps her from seeing the big picture (this sometimes frustrates me about this character). But other than that, I truly enjoyed the book."
The Literate Kitten:  "I'm not a genre reader, but this one gives a good feel for what it must have been like to have experienced the quake and fire. And a pretty decent story, decently written."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Demonglass

I read the first book in this series during R.I.P. Challenge time last year, so I was a little worried that I might have forgotten too much about the first book to fully enjoy this one.  But Rachel Hawkins does a nice job of recapping the events of the first book (without dragging down the pace of this sequel) so that I was quickly able to refresh my memory and continue on with the series.  I do recommend (as usual) that readers begin with the first book, though, because this one picks up where the first book (Hex Hall) ends, and while I do strive to avoid major spoilers in all my reviews, if you're at all interested in a teen boarding school story with fantastical elements and a dash of romance, please head to my review of the first book.

Teenage Sophie learned a lot about herself in the first book, including the fact that she is not a witch after all.  She is a demon, and she is so upset by the destructive potential of her powers that she has decided to undergo a dangerous ritual called the Removal, a process that will divest her of her powers - but potentially of her life as well.

Her father shows up, determined that she change her mind about the Removal, and before she knows it, Sophie is on her way to stay with her father in England.  There she learns all kinds of things about the dreaded Council and how they operate.  She also learns that Archer is in England - the boy she fell so madly for at school who turned out to be singularly untrustworthy.  She has conflicting feelings about his presence nearby, particularly when she runs into him in a pub in London...

This was a fun sequel to Hex Hall, and it did a great job of answering some of the questions raised in the first book while raising further intriguing questions that, I hope, will be addressed in the next installment.  Some of the plot elements were fairly obvious to me, to the point where I felt like shaking some of the characters to get them to see what was actually going on, but teen readers may not feel the same way.  The characters themselves, however, are interesting and complex enough that it kept me reading, and I did enjoy Sophie's bravery and tenacity, particularly as she is once again thrust into a completely new situation that she doesn't fully understand  The book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, but the next book will be released in the spring, so there won't be too long a wait.  I'll be looking forward to another action-packed ride. 


Books in the Hex Hall series:
1. Hex Hall
2. Demonglass
3. Spell Bound (March 2012) 

Demonglass (#2 in the Hex Hall series) by Rachel Hawkins (Hyperion, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Bookalicious"Hawkins writes like my teenage head worked and I know that teens will enjoy Sophie and co. for all of her antics."
Inside the Mind"So much happened and so much changed and I loved almost every second."
Sassy Monkey Reads"Whenever I read a sequel to a really good first book I’m always a bit wary about it. What if it’s not as good? What if it doesn’t grasp me the same way? This one did."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Graveminder

Claysville is a small town, a predictable, safe, sleepy town, but something suffocating about the place spurred Rebekkah Barrow to leave as soon as she was old enough to get out on her own.  She has spent her early adult years traveling restlessly from place to place, never quite finding the right place to settle down.  When her grandmother dies unexpectedly, Bek returns to Claysville, where she quickly discovers that her grandmother held many secrets, and that nothing is quite what it seems.

Bek discovers that her grandmother was murdered, and she is baffled that the police seem reluctant to investigate the matter.  Her ex-boyfriend Byron has moved back to Claysville as well, and he is also anxious and puzzled by the unusual behavior of town officials.  As she and Byron investigate, they unearth dark secrets about the town's past, things that make them see the bizarre traditions of Claysville regarding the dead - the rituals Bek's grandmother invariably performed in the town's cemetery, the rule regarding no embalming of corpses - in an entirely new and disturbing light.

What a wonderful, creepy tale for this time of the year!  I have enjoyed Marr's Wicked Lovely series, but I have to say that this one is hands-down my favorite of her books.  The characters are engaging and believable, and the setting is evocative and memorable. This appears to be a stand-alone novel - and it certainly offers a satisfying conclusion - but I found myself becoming attached to the places and characters in the story so that it was hard to let them go at the end.  I'd certainly love to return for a visit some time soon.  This is my third book for this year's R.I.P. Challenge, and it fit the bill perfectly.  I'd definitely recommend this one to anyone looking for a creepy, complex and character-driven Halloween read.


Graveminder by Melissa Marr (William Morrow, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Bewitched Bookworms" This fresh, new mash-up of zombie and ghost mythology was fascinating and Graveminder is a page-turner that will leave you wanting more."
Bookalicio.us:  "I have read Marr previously off and on, I love her style, I love her writing but after Graveminder I am officially a fan. A huge fan."
The Guilded Earlobe"Graveminder works well as a moody, character driven ghost tale and fans of supernatural literature will defiantly find something to like here."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Texas Gothic

I was sucked into this gripping, funny novel from the moment I opened it, and I had that "Where has this author been all my life?" feeling as I read.  I knew right away that I'd just discovered a new favorite author, and isn't that just the best feeling?

Amy Goodnight has agreed to take care of her aunt's ranch in Texas while her aunt takes her first vacation in years.  Amy's sister Phin is there to "help" her, but Phin is always absorbed in her various esoteric experiments, so Amy ends up doing most of the practical chores around the place.  She tries to act as though everything is perfectly normal, but the fact is that her family is anything but.  They are a family of witches, each with their own specific skill set, but Amy tries to present a normal front to the rest of the world.

Keeping up appearances isn't easy, though, when a powerful ghost shows up, determined to communicate with Amy.  She is terrified, beset by disturbing childhood memories that made her turn away from her supernatural abilities in the first place.  But as the situation escalates, involving outsiders (including a handsome, highly annoying cowboy from the neighboring ranch, an archaeological dig, and a team of ghost-hunting grad students), it becomes clear that the situation is not only dangerous, but risks exposing all the secrets Amy has been striving for so long to keep hidden.

What a fun, quirky, creepy novel this is.  I loved Amy and her bizarre family, particularly the interplay between her and her sister Phin.  The supernatural aspects are skillfully woven into a story with engaging characters, a solid mystery, romance, and plenty of humor interspersed with spine-tingling moments.  This is my first book by Rosemary Clement-Moore, and I'm delighted that she has several others out there, which I've already added to my list.  Fans of Nina Kiriki Hoffman will be sure to enjoy this one - it has that same character-driven, contemporary/fantastical feel to it, and it really hit the spot as my second read for this year's R.I.P. Challenge.

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore (Delacorte Press, 2011

Also reviewed at:
Bibliophile Support Group:  "It's sexier, deeper, ghostier Nancy Drew-like fun! It's crackling with tension - both the sexual and the paranormal - and I was glued and totally invested in both the characters and the plot!"
The Ya Ya Yas:  "Overall, I liked Texas Gothic but didn’t love it. Mostly because I was lot more interested in the Phin-Mark romance than Amy-Ben, which I never completely bought into."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anya's Ghost

When a book says "A masterpiece" --Neil Gaiman on the cover, there's enough reason for me to pick it up.  That does, however, set one's expectations rather high, but in this case, it wasn't a problem.  This is a delightfully creepy, funny, sweet story, told through expressive drawings in shades of gray that suit the tale much better than full-color illustrations ever could.

The story is about a young girl named Anya who moved to the U.S. from Russia when she was just old enough to have issues about her accent and different cultural ways.  She has managed to shake the accent and get the right clothes, although she feels insecure about her weight and looks, particularly when she compares herself to svelte blonde Elizabeth, who happens to be dating the boy Anya thinks is the hottest guy at school.

The opening sequences of the graphic novel depict a fairly rotten day for Anya, but all of that pales in comparison to the accident that befalls her after school.  She runs off through the woods, not paying any attention to where she is going because she is feeling overwhelmed and thoroughly sorry for herself, and she slips and falls down a well. 

She survives the fall, but now she is stuck.  She is in a secluded location, and no one is around to hear her cries for help.  To make things even more horrific, she discovers a skeleton at the bottom of the well, lying not far from where she has fallen.  A ghost appears.  It is the spirit of a girl just about Anya's age, who fell down the well many years earlier.  It is clearly not a comforting sight.


When Anya manages to get out of the well, she is followed home by the ghost, who tells Anya that she has been murdered.  But when Anya tries to find out more so she can help lay the girl's spirit to rest, the ghost seems more interested in Anya's social life rather than in finding a way to move on.   The ghost seems to mean well, but as time goes by Anya feels a sneaking suspicion that all is not as it seems.


I truly enjoyed this graphic novel, and I would recommend it to all those who enjoy a good ghost story, as well as to fans of Hope Larson and Raina Telgemeier.  It's a fun combination of horror, humor, school story and coming-of-age, and it's told in a subtle, clever way that will get readers really thinking about the story and the relationships among the characters. 

This is my first read for the R.I.P. Challenge.  I'm off to a great start!

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol (First Second, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
The Blue Bookcase"Something I love about this book is the character design. Having read a lot of comics all my life, I've ached for more variety in characters and their looks."
Finding Wonderland: "It struck just the right balance between funny, poignant and creepy—an odd combination, perhaps, but it worked for me."
Stainless Steel Droppings: "author/artist Vera Brosgol combines clean lines and subtle retro-styling with tight prose to tell a compelling and sometimes mysterious tale about a young girl’s journey towards becoming herself."