Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck

Last fall, I was in the bookstore and saw a huge stack of signed copies of Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. I hadn't heard of the book, nor had I read his other well known book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I caved and bought Wonderstruck, because the cover was beautiful and the blurb mentioned the 1920s.

I didn't read it until recently, and it sat on my shelf for months. I finally decided to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, because the movie previews I saw fascinated me and it looked like it would be a quick read.

I'm doing a joint review of these two books, as I read them in such quick succession.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret centers around a boy, Hugo, who has been orphaned and lives in a train station repairing the clocks in the station and repairing an automaton his father discovered. He befriends the goddaughter of the toy seller in the train station and discovers this man may be a famous filmmaker.

Wonderstruck intertwines the story of a young girl in 1920s New York/New Jersey and a boy living in Grand Marais, Minnesota 50 years later. Ben, the boy, has lost his mother, and after finding a note and address in a book about museums, he makes his way to New York to find his father.

Both of these books are works of art. Melznick uses illustration to not just supplement the text, but to serve as part of the text. In Wonderstruck, the story of the girl is only told through pictures and in Hugo, the illustrations take the place of the written word. The illustrations are beautiful and really add to the overall story.

Melznick obviously does his research in regards to both books. I loved the exploration of film history in Hugo and the dwelving into Minnesota in Wonderstruck. When he does deviate from history, it's obviously deliberate. I am somewhat of a loss for words in regards to both books. They were both beautiful and Melznick captures nostalgia so well. I was probably more moved by Wonderstruck, because it has a Minnesota connection, though I loved Hugo Cabret, as well.

These are both amazing and moving works of art.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review: The Wednesdays

Author: Julie Bourbeau
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Pages: 256
Source: Netgalley
Why I read it: Got an ARC from Netgalley and the premise sounded interesting.

Summary: Max’s village is absolutely normal in every single way and on every single day—except Wednesday. Most of the townsfolk shutter their windows and lock their doors to hide away from the many peculiar things that happen—things like cats getting stuck in the vacuum cleaner and birthday cakes meeting fiery and horrific ends. But Max is too curious for that, and so, breaking every rule in the village, he searches out the cause of all the Wednesday weirdness. What he uncovers is a secret so devious—so dastardly and mischievous—that life as he knows it will never be the same. Max himself is not the same. Suddenly the mysterious little accidents so common on Wednesdays are happening to him on Thursdays, Fridays—even Saturdays! What’s come over Max? And more importantly, is there any cure for a case of the Wednesdays? Mystery, magic, mischief and monsters abound in this slightly fantastical story of a human kid who wants to stay that way.
What I thought: Max lives in a village that is pretty normal except on Wednesdays. One Wednesday, he discovers that there are creatures called the Wednesdays that cause mischief around the village. Soon he discovers that he has caught a "case of the wednesdays," and is turning into one of the Wednesdays. The plot centers around Max trying to understand the Wednesdays and how to stop his transformation.
I was pulled in because the premise of the book sounded interesting, and I liked the illustration on the cover. Who doesn't love quirky little towns? But when I found out that the "wednesdays" were actually monsters, I felt a little disappointed. I probably should have seen this coming, as the description alludes to it and the cover does as well. I guess it's a case of nothing is scarier. The plot was a little predictable and simplistic to me, and I was able to accurately guess plot developments. As for the characters, I liked Max. He was complex and showed bravery and apprehension at the same time. I did like the supporting characters as well; his parents being afraid of him, but at the same time caring about his well being; his relationship with his baby brother; his friends Noah and Gemma, who help him carry out his final plan; Mr. Grimsrud and Thursday helping at the very end; and finally, the mystical doctor that was both intelligent and bumbling.

While I did like the characters, I felt like the world wasn't explained enough. Who are the Wednesdays, why did they become Wednesdays, why are the older ones so evil? Why do they cause mischief? Why did they choose Max? What happened to One? I get that they are supposed to be somewhat mysterious, but I wanted to know a little more about the village and the Wednesdays.

Maybe it's just me, but I read the book as a metaphor for puberty. Max's body and feelings are changing, and it's a completely negative experience. He's frustrated by his family and people at school and imagines bad things happening to them. Because he has caught a case of the "wednesdays," bad things do happen. This reminded me of how teenagers have been accused of causing poltergeist activity. His body is also changing and his clothes no longer fit. He wants to go back to the way things are before, and he has to struggle against this transformation that is happening to him. Maybe this was an odd reading of the book, but that's instantly what I thought when he started outgrowing his clothes. Surely I'm not the only one that felt this way!

I would rate this 3ish stars. I didn't hate it, but I didn't fall in love with the book either. It was ok.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Ella Enchanted

Author: Gail Carson Levine
Publisher: Scholastic Books
Release Date: January 1, 1997
Pages: 240
Source: Purchased
Why I read it: I saw the movie many years ago, and because I love fairy tale retellings, I figured it was time for me to read it.

Summary (from Goodreads): At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you'll ever read.

Gail Carson Levine's examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.

I was really looking forward to this book, because I read so many good reviews of it, plus I love fairy tale retellings. However, while I loved the concept and the characters, the execution was not the greatest.

I loved the character of Ella. She was cursed with the "gift" of obedience, but at the same time, still had her own agency and was independent. I loved how she fell in love slowly with the prince and there was no "instalove" which is one of my huge pet peeves. I even liked the minor characters. At first, I was worried that the stepmother and stepsisters were really one dimensional, and in many ways they were, but they had underlying insecurities. I noticed this particularly with Olive, the youngest stepsister, who feels lonely and while she is greedy and wants money, she also wants someone to listen to her. I thought all of the characters were interesting, and I think this is the highlight of the book.

However, the execution, particularly the pacing and some plot details were confusing to me. I felt that the book jumped around in little episodes and the pacing was not as fluid as it could have been. I also felt some elements in the plot came out of nowhere, like the boarding school and the magical book that Ella's fairy godmother gives her. I felt that the boarding school didn't really add anything to the plot, except giving her a best friend, Areida, who is sadly lacking in the rest of the book. The magical book was a little creepy, and seemed to be as a crutch to move the plot forward.
I also felt the resolution, where Ella is able to stop being obedient, while it did show that Ella had the power all along, it was also fueled by the prince, which seemed a little bit like a cop out to me.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with the execution, but I did like how the author used the traditional Cinderella tale and turned it upside down. Ella was obedient, but she struggled against it and had to find her own way to crush this obedience.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Diviners

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is The Diviners by Libba Bray. This will be released in September 2012. I've read other books by Libba Bray and I have liked them, but the description of this one sounds just like something I would love. I love the name of the museum, "The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult." Can't wait!

Summary (from Goodreads): Evie O'Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City--and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies."
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer--if he doesn't catch her first.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: The Mastermind Plot

Author: Angie Frazier
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Release Date: March 1, 2012
Pages: 240
Source: Library
Why I read it: I read the first book in the series.
Summary (from Goodreads): A new, exciting Suzanna Snow adventure!Suzanna "Zanna" Snow can hardly believe her luck: She's just arrived in Boston, the city she's wanted to visit for as long as she can remember. Think of all the mysteries waiting to be solved here! Her grandmother and cousin, Will, welcome her warmly, but her famous detective uncle, Bruce Snow, seems anything but pleased. He doesn't want Zanna meddling in his current case involving a string of mysterious warehouse fires along the harbor front. But Zanna can't help herself. Is someone setting the fires? Just when she thinks she's on to something, a strange man starts following her. Is he a threat? Zanna needs to solve the case before she has the chance to find out.

What I thought: This is the second book in the Suzanna Snow series of mysteries. I feel like these books barely get mentioned on the internet, and I wish more people read them. I read the first one a while ago, so I can not remember all the plot details, especially the mystery, but I do remember the characters. Zanna is a great character. She's very plucky, curious and resourceful, very much an Edwardian Nancy Drew. While she is very plucky, I think she is also true to the time she lives in. She realizes that she is restrained by being a girl, but manages to work within these boundaries, even though she is forced into a girl's school along with other social restrainments she experiences. 

I also like, in this book and in the former, the dynamics between Zanna and the adults around her. While Zanna is obviously the most memorable character, I think her Uncle Bruce is the second most memorable character. He obviously does not think highly of children and is very dismissive of Zanna, which frustrates Zanna, as well as many other characters. And it frustrates me! Especially when Zanna was originally a big admirer of her uncle. An underlying theme to the series is the interaction between adults and children, and how children are easily dismissed and not believed. This is a typical theme for children's books, especially middle grade. Middle grade readers, and Zanna are frustrated by the adults, but the readers can see how Zanna is able to deal with this.

I enjoyed the book. It is a quick, light read, but I found the mystery a little easy to figure out, which is also how I felt about the first book in the series. I rarely am able to "figure out" the mystery while reading mystery books, but with both of these books, I figured it out pretty quickly. These are middle grade books, and I do not think they should be or are dumbed down, but I think this has made the mystery a little too simplistic for me. Maybe Nancy Drew was this way, too. It has been so long since I've read them that I cannot remember!

I read another review that commented that Zanna stumbled onto the solution of the mystery in comparison to the first book. As I wrote before, I don't remember all the details of the mystery from the previous book, but I find the other reviewer's comments to be true. I feel like Zanna did not put all the pieces of the puzzle together and was almost there when she walks into the resolution. I wish she had figured it out on her own, before being told the who, what and why.

I was a little surprised by the big twist at the end involving the strange man who was following Zanna. I don't want to reveal the twist, but I am interested to see where the author goes with this twist in subsequent books. It could add a very interesting dynamic to the story.

Overall, I find this series to be enjoyable, and I like the characters. I will continue reading the rest of the series

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A-Z Challenge

I found this challenge in a group on Goodreads. The goal is to read 26 Young Adult books in 2012. Each book's title or author must start with one letter from the alphabet. So my shelf on Goodreads looks neat, I am trying to read books alphabetically by title. This is proving hard for the letter Q. I also have a couple of non YA books on my list, but most of the list is YA.

So far I have read half of my list, which is pretty good, I think! This list may change and has gone through many changes, but here is what I have read/will read:


A - An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (finished June 15, 2012)

B - Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

C - Cinder by Marissa Meyer (finished April 24, 2012)

D - Divergent by Veronica Roth (finished May 3, 2012)

E - Ella Enchanted by Gail Levine

F - Fury by Elizabeth Miles

G - The Girl Who Owned a City by O. T. Nelson (finished January 8, 2012)

H - Heist Society by Ally Carter (finished February 15, 2012)

I - Impossible by Nancy Werlin

J - Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger

K - The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

L - Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor (finished February 29, 2012)

M - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (finished January 17, 2012)

N - The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (finished May 9, 2012)

O - Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

P - Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Q - The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker

R - The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman (finished June 30, 2012)

S - Struck by Jennifer Bosworth (finished April 13, 2012)

T - Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore (finished June 27, 2012)

U - Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

V - The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins

W - The Wednesdays by Julie Bourbeau (finished April 3, 2012)

X - XVI by Julia Karr

Y - The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci (finished June 18, 2012)

Z - Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (finished March 15, 2012)


Book Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes

Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Release Date: September 26, 2006
Pages: 319
Source: Library
Why I read it: I had read another book by this author and the concept intrigued me.
Summary: (from Goodreads)  When Ginny receives 13 little blue envelopes with instructions to buy a plane ticket to London, she's soon on an adventure that will change her in more ways than one.

What I thought: I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved the concept. A European/traveling adventure is my dream come true, especially one that involves a little mystery and discovering one's self. But I did have some issues with the book.

The concept, though I liked it, was very unrealistic. I can't believe that Ginny's parents, especially her mother, who seem to dislike Ginny's aunt, would let Ginny run off to a foreign country with only her backpack and some money. I think if Ginny had been a little older, maybe had just graduated or was in college, I would have found this more believable.

I felt that Ginny's characterization was not very well developed. She just seemed to let things happen to her, instead of propelling herself forward. Granted, her instructions were sometimes not clear, but she seemed passive in a lot of cases. I can see how the author intended the letters and her adventure to be a sort of coming of age story, but I felt that Ginny was sometimes a little stupid about her actions, especially when she went to Rome and her traveling with a family in the Netherlands.

I did like the characterization of Ginny's Aunt. I loved Aunt Peg at first, but as the novel wore on, she angered me with her flightiness. I liked how Johnson showed Peg as both admirable and also very irresponsible. Ginny obviously idealized her, and I wanted to idealize her, too, but Ginny was able to see how Peg was a deeply flawed person and easily ran away from her commitments. I think this understanding about her aunt was the most compelling part of the story.

That seems to be the whole point of the story to me, Ginny is bland and seems numb until she moves outside of her comfort zone. Aunt Peg's letters helped her to come alive and run off and have an adventure, but also, unlike Aunt Peg, Ginny is able to understand that personal connections are very important. Aunt Peg doesn't seem to learn this lesson until she is dying. I was touched when I learned that Peg and Richard (the first person Ginny stays with in London) had fallen in love, even though Richard doesn't learn this until after Peg dies. I teared up a little at the end, especially when Ginny writes the final letter to her aunt.

I also liked the travel parts of the novel, and Johnson clearly did her research. I have not visited all the places, but I think Johnson made them come alive in the novel. I like how Johnson sets books outside of the United States and they seem to be well researched.

Overall, I enjoyed the book with some reservations, especially in regards to the believeability of the plot. It was a nice, quick summer read.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Retro Friday: The Ruby in the Smoke

I first heard of this book over at Angieville. Phillip Pullman also wrote the more well known series His Dark Materials. I have never read the His Dark Materials series, but after hearing about this book, I wanted to give him a try. This is an older book, obviously, because I'm reviewing it for Retro Friday, but it's a new book for me.

The plot centers around Sally Lockhart, who has been orphaned after her father is killed after his ship sank. She is living in London and accidentally kills a man after uttering the words "the Seven Blessings." This pulls her into a mystery involving India, a ruby, opium and various characters, both kind and despicable.

The book is very Dickensian, and I will admit to not having read any Dickens, but the characters in this book remind me of some of the more famous characters from Dickens. The setting is also Victorian London, which I loved. Pullman also uses written dialect to convey the characters. Sometimes this can go horribly wrong, but I thought he pulled it off well without insulting the characters, some of which come from the lower classes of London

As for the characters, I liked how Sally was both unusual and typical for her time. Sometimes when I read historical fiction, the characters are so modern as to be unbelievable. I thought Sally was a nice balance. She obviously lives in the Victorian era where women did not have the same rights, but she is able to function independently, but Pullman also makes note the struggles that unmarried women with no family had to face. I thought it was a nice portrayal of being a woman in the Victorian era, especially showing how women were beginning to gain equal rights. I did like Sally, but sometimes she seemed too trusting. She automatically trusts a messenger boy, Jim, because he has an honest face. Luckily, Jim is honest and becomes devoted to Sally, but I think Sally's judgement is lacking, especially considering that people are out to kill her. I thought this was her major flaw and I'm amazed it didn't get her killed. Speaking of Jim, I liked him and his love of penny dreadfuls and his devotion to Sally. And of course, the book sets up Frederick and Sally, and they seems to meet on an equal level. That is one thing I liked about the the characters that befriend Sally, they view themselves as equal and readily accept Sally and each other.

As for the villains, Mrs. Holland was a very old fashioned, terrifying villain. Unfortunately, her motivations aren't shown until the ending, but she is brutal in the best. And despite being an old lady, she is terrifying.

I was confused by some plot points while reading the books, especially why the man at the end wants to kill Sally. Maybe I read too quickly, but it felt a little jarring to me and didn't make sense. I would have liked more back story with that man, because I felt that part was explained too quickly.

I posted three different covers I found. The middle is the cover of the version I bought, but I do like the current cover on the left. The one on the right feels a little dated to me, plus I don't like the hat Sally is wearing in the illustration.

I am currently reading the second book in this series, The Shadow in the North. I like this one so far, too, but it's jumped 6 years into the future and I am still trying to get my grounding. I think I will finish out the series. The best way I can describe these books so far is cozy.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Texas Gothic

Author: Rosemary Clement-Moore
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Pages: 416
Source: Library
Why I read it: I've had this book on my to read list for a while, because I loved the title and premise. I'm originally from Texas and my family has a ranch in Texas. I like the idea of mixing the paranormal with a Texas ranch.

Summary: (from Goodreads)  
Amy Goodnight's family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the family business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face.
This was a fun read! It's a mystery with elements of romance and the paranormal, well, actually, a lot of paranormal, because Amy is a Goodnight. And the Goodnights attract the supernatural and they and other label themselves as witches. Amy has been trying to avoid the supernatural all her life, but when a ghost attaches itself to her, she can't ignore it.

My favorite parts were the characters and the mystery, even though I had figured out the culprits towards the middle of the book. I liked the mixture of paranormal and mystery and good old fashioned sleuthing. It's obvious that the author really likes Nancy Drew (not a critique, I remember loving Nancy Drew!) and she is name dropped several times in the book. I started reading another one of the author's books and it also name dropped Nancy, so it seems to be an author thing! The plot moved beyond Nancy Drew with magic and real supernatural.

I found the plot a little confusing at first. Well, confusing is maybe not the right word. I felt that it was a little plodding at first and I was trying to distinguish between the different ghosts and histories. It wasn't until towards the middle of the book that I was starting to distinguish between the "Mad Monk" and the ghost that was haunting Amy. The resolution felt pretty predictable, but I'm glad the mystery and the resolution do actually involve the supernatural. It wasn't just a case of Scooby Doo with the villain using a ghost story to commit crimes.

I found the characters compelling and interesting. Amy and her sister, Phin, were a nice contrast with each other. Amy being uptight about her family, while still caring about them and Phin off in her own little world, but surprisingly more street smart than she seems at first.

However, at first, I was disappointed in the romance, because I wanted to focus on the mystery and the paranormal, but as the romance blossomed between Amy and Ben, it grew on me. Ben is a jerk, but underneath he is a caring person. I think Clement-Moore did a good job of balancing the two sides of Ben and made him a sympathetic character and showed his motivations for first clashing with Amy. I did start to like Ben towards the end of the book. He does redeem himself.

As I said before, I'm from Texas and I really appreciate the world the author creates without resorting to stereotypes. No one is really redneckish and besides some peripheral characters, the personalities are fleshed out. I was worried that Ben would be a cowboy stereotype, and he IS, but he also has another side to him.
I'm generally very sick of YA books always being made into sequels, but this is one of those cases where I wish there would be a sequel! The author seems to set it up to be a sequel, with Amy embracing her paranormal abilities, like the paranormal Nancy Drew, and a vague ending. I hope she does revisit these characters, because I am fascinated by all of the characters. I've also heard good things about the author's other books and have already checked them out from the library. I do hope she continues writing about Texas.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Poltergeeks

 Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is Poltergeek by Sean Cummings. This will be released in October 2012. This is from the new Young Adult imprint by Angry Robots, Strange Chemistry. Ever since I read Zoo City, I have been enamored by Angry Robots and I'm glad they will be publishing Young Adult novels soon. I also think they do a great job with their covers! Of all the YA books coming out from Strange Chemistry, I think this is the one I'm most excited about. 

Summary from Goodreads: 15-year-old Julie Richardson is about to learn that being the daughter of a witch isn't all it's cracked up to be. When she and her best friend, Marcus, witness an elderly lady jettisoned out the front door of her home, it's pretty obvious to Julie there's a supernatural connection.

In fact, there's a whisper of menace behind increasing levels of poltergeist activity all over town. After a large-scale paranormal assault on Julie's high school, her mother falls victim to the spell Endless Night. Now it's a race against time to find out who is responsible or Julie won't just lose her mother's soul, she'll lose her mother's life.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: The Year of the Beasts

Author: Cecil Castellucci
Illustrator: Nate Powell
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: May 22, 2012
Pages: 192
Source: Library
Why I read it: Saw this recommended on Clear Eyes Full Shelves' Book Matchmaker and wanted to read it right away. Luckily the library had a copy.
Summary: (from Goodreads)
Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food... and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone's love and friendship to the test.

Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time.

As stated before, I saw this on another blog and was instantly drawn into the book because of the cover. The cover is amazing. The expression on the girl's face shows her distaste with having snakes for hair and she looks intense and angry. From the blog posting and the cover, it seemed like this book is based on mythology, specifically, Medusa. However, after reading it, that is both true and not true. Spoilers are below!

Tessa and her younger sister, Lulu, find that jealousy begins ripping them apart after Lulu begins dating Tessa's crush. Tessa becomes very jealous and feels like she is losing her best friend and the boy she liked and also sees her sister blossoming into a young adult and gaining attention. At the same time, Tessa is falling for a boy that everyone else thinks is weird and she hides this from her sister and friends. The story culminates in Lulu being killed after they go swimming in the flooded river and the aftermath. The plot was pretty heart wrenching, although I saw it coming once Tessa, Lulu and their friends went swimming.

The book is both graphic novel and prose. It goes back and forth, and the illustrations mirror what is happening in the story. The graphic novel solely focuses on the Medusa story, except Medusa is a high school student. I had trouble figuring out how the graphic novel matched the story, but then towards the end of the book, the illustrations reflect how Tessa feels about herself and her sister. The illustrations also appear to "begin" towards the middle of the prose. Once I understood how the Medusa plot line tied in with the main plot line, it became an effective way to tell the story, but it was a little confusing at first.

I was expecting a little more Medusa and mythology from the book, so I think the cover is a little misleading. The story is mostly Tessa and her feelings, especially her jealousy of her sister and is a coming of age story, albeit, a very tragic one. I did appreciate how Tessa does not really solve any of her problems and is still grieving over her sister at the end. The ending is open ended and the reader does not know what happens to Tessa after her sister dies and after her secret boyfriend rejects her. This can be tied into the myth of Medusa, as Medusa does not have a happy ending either. However, I wish the mythology had been more apparent in the prose.

Overall, I liked the use of Medusa as an exploration of a teen's coming of age, but I feel like this wasn't utilized as well as it could have been. The cover was misleading, not only in the plot, but I was also expecting only a graphic novel.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand and illustrated by Sarah Watts. I want to read this book for the same reasons I want to read the book I picked last week, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy. The books seem similar with the creepy schools and the mysteries, but this one seems more old fashioned, especially the cover. Honestly, I can't wait to read both. 

Summary from Goodreads: Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does, too.)

But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that Mrs. Cavendish’s children’s home is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out . . . different, or they don’t come out at all.

If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria, even if it means getting a little messy.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: A Local Habitation & An Artificial Night

I was going to do separate reviews for these books, but as I read them in quick succession, I am combining the reviews. These books are the second and third books in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. There are 5 so far, and I'm already starting on the 4th one.

A Local Habitation is the second book in the series. It revolves around October Daye trying to solve a series of murders at the county of Tamed Lightning. An Artificial Night is the third book and this one involves Toby going up against one of the "first born" Blind Michael in order to stop him from stealing both human and fae children.

I do like the series so far. I think McGuire does an excellent job of world building. However, I feel like Toby repeats herself too much, especially by the third book, when I have a pretty good grounding of the world so far. Toby remarks several times that in the world of Fae, one must never thank anyone, and that she doesn't want to be a hero. I understand that Toby doesn't want to be a hero, and I think it's a compelling part of the books. She's a reluctant hero and just does what she thinks needs to be done. But the character mentions it too much. I don't dislike her, but she can be frustrating. She goes on suicidal missions with her friends and family worried about her. I understand that she is compelled to go on these missions, but she does it at the expense of her friends and family.

My favorite part of the books is the characterization. I love so many of the characters, especially the Luidaeg, May and Tybalt. Oh and of course Spike, the rose goblin. I have to admit that when Spike accompanied Toby to Blind Michael’s lands in An Artificial Night, I was worried more about Spike than I was Toby. I had to flip to the back of the book and skim quickly to make sure the rose goblin survived! As for Luidaeg, I like her relationship with Toby, but she seemed like more of a hero than Toby did. She was the one helping Toby make it to Blind Michael’s lands and back. And of course, Tybalt! The series needs more Tybalt! He is becoming less of a foe of Toby's and their relationship definitely hints at something else. I've heard he features more and more into the series as it progresses. And I really like May, and developing her own personality beyond Toby's.

I liked An Artificial Night a little more than A Local Habitation. However, I know very little of the mythology behind Tam Lin and the hunt, and had to look up the legend of Tam Lin and I had a better grasp of the book. I do love how McGuire incorporates legend and fairy tales to create her own world.

While the series isn't perfect, I am enjoying it so far and will continue to read it.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin. This will be published on August 21, 2012. I love the description and the cover. They both hint at a creepy mystery. I don't really have much else to write about this as I think the cover says it all. 

Summary from Goodreads: When Lorelei's old school mysteriously burns down, a new one appears practically overnight: Splendid Academy. Rock-climbing walls on the playground and golden bowls of candy on every desk? Gourmet meals in the cafeteria, served by waiters? Optional homework and two recess periods a day? It's every kids's dream.

But Lorelei and her new friend Andrew are pretty sure it's too good to be true. Together they uncover a sinister mystery, one with their teacher, the beautiful Ms. Morrigan, at the very center.

Then Andrew disappears. Lorelei has to save him, even if that means facing a past she'd like to forget – and taking on a teacher who's a real witch.

What Lorelei and Andrew discover chills their bones – and might even pick them clean!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Will Sparrow's Road

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman. This will be coming out November 6, 2012, which seems so far away now! Cushman wrote one of my favorite books, Catherine Called Birdy and I'm so excited about this new book and it will be a graphic novel as well! Unfortunately, the cover is a little weird, which is disappointing, considering that I love the cover of Catherine Called Birdy. 

Summary from Goodreads: In his thirteenth year, Will Sparrow, liar and thief, becomes a runaway. On the road, he encounters a series of con artists—a pickpocket, a tooth puller, a pig trainer, a conjurer—and learns that others are more adept than he at lying and thieving. Then he reluctantly joins a traveling troupe of "oddities," including a dwarf and a cat-faced girl, holding himself apart from the "monsters" and resolving to be on guard against further deceptions. At last Will is forced to understand that appearances are misleading and that  he has been his own worst deceiver. The rowdy world of market fairs in Elizabethan England is the colorful backdrop for Newbery medalist Cushman's new comic masterpiece.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday Rewind

This is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish. 

This week is a "Rewind" meaning I can pick any topic I want. I chose Top Ten Childhood Favorites. These books are in no particular order! I like revisiting this topic, as I've always loved to read and my parents even used to punish me when I was a child by not letting me read before bedtime.

The Nina Tanleven series by Bruce Coville - I think my favorite was The Ghost Wore Gray, but I loved all of these books. They center around a girl who can see ghosts and she solves the mysteries surrounding them and their deaths. 

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I did read some of the later ones, but this was always my favorite. I used to pretend to be Laura and and make mud pies. Growing up in West Texas, I think the fact that she lived in a huge woods always appealed to me. And now I live not far from where this book takes place!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis - I think I read some other books in the series, but I never liked any of them as much as I liked this one. I know a lot of people poo poo this book now because it's a Christian allegory, but when I was little, I didn't realize this and I loved Narnia.

D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'aulaire - I read this book so much when I was a child that my copy is falling apart. I loved the illustrations! I was also very visual, so I actually remember some of my childhood books by the illustrations rather than the plot.

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone - I was pretty little when this was my favorite, but I would beg my parents over and over to read this to me. I loved it so much! Well, still do!

Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume - My favorite Judy Blume book. I probably read it when I was a little too young, and I think I read the outdated version, so needless to say, when puberty started for me, I was very confused by the "belts!"

The Witches by Roald Dahl - While I've read many of Dahl's books, this was always my favorite. My copy is also completely worn out, I read it so much.

Wise Child  and Juniper by Monica Furlong - I loved the world that Furlong created. It made me want to be a witch like Juniper. I also loved the medieval and British Isles setting. This book probably fueled my love for all thing medieval when I was younger.

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman - Loved (and still love!) this book about a girl living in the 13th century.

Anything by Shel Silverstein - I especially loved his two books of just poetry, even if I didn't really understand some of them until I was older.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Links Roundup

Thanks to all the book blogs I've been reading, I'm getting overwhelmed with links to click on. I'm going to start posting the most interesting links I find. Some might be old, but are still worth a look.

Upcoming Trends in YA from YALSA's The Hub - I think the idea of a YA Game of Thrones the most interesting.

10 Ways to Support Authors You Love from Jody Hedlund's blog - Some interesting ideas that I hadn't thought of.

Fantasy by Women Who Broke Away from Europe from The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review - Wow, this list is so expansive, and since I've been getting into speculative fiction, I like the idea of settings that aren't Europe.

A rant from Stacia Kane on book reviewers and authors. I've read a lot about this topic recently, and as a new book reviewer, I sometimes worry about an author reacting negatively to one of my reviews.

Book Borrowing Etiquette from Literary Exploration. I have trouble lending out my books, because of these kinds of issues.

On not judging book choices from Clear Eyes Full Shelf. I know I have been bad in the past for judging people for what they read, but since I've discovered genre fiction, I've loosened up considerably. And I don't call any of the books I read "guilty pleasures" anymore.

This post from Readventurer about adult book series the bloggers made me realize how I need to get on reading Native Star. And glad I only read the first Sookie Stackhouse book.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Retro Friday: Rosemary and Rue

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! (From Angieville)

Summary from Goodreads: October "Toby" Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a "normal" life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas...

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening's dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening's killer.

This book isn't maybe the oldest or most under the radar books I could have chose, but I chose it anyway. I first heard about this author and this series on the Black Phoenix Alchemy forum. Seanan McGuire is a member over there and there is a whole thread dedicated to her books. I have been getting into sci fi/fantasy recently and have yet to read an urban fantasy. From all the glowing recommendations over at the BPAL forum, plus good reviews for the series on blogs like Fantasy Book Cafe, I thought I would give it a try.

The description on the back of the book made it hard for me to want to read it at first, however. I find that faeries have been watered down so much, that reading about faeries doesn't really appeal to me. I was hoping that McGuire went down the route of the traditional faeries, before they became like Tinkerbell. I wanted the faeries to have some edge and not just be light and happy pixies.

The story follows October (Toby) Daye, a half fairy, half human changeling. She was a private investigator for a member of the fairy nobility, and due to the drawbacks of a position like this, she was exiled in a pond as a fish for 14 years. The book begins not long after she has been transformed back into herself. Toby wants nothing to do with the faerie world, not surprising considering her past experiences. However, she is drawn back into the world, when an acquaintance/friend, Countess Evening Winterrose is murdered and Toby is the last person she calls. Toby is forced to investigate the crime and find the culprit, otherwise her own life may be in danger.

I had mixed feelings about the book. I did enjoy it, but there was a lot of info dumping from Toby and explanations of how the world worked. McGuire did a good job creating the world, but over half of the book felt like explanations of how the world functioned. The book is in first person, and it seems a little odd that Toby would be explaining things that are second nature to her, but I realize that McGuire has to set up the world. It wasn't until the end of the book that the action really started. There is a lot of build up and not enough action. I did like the world building, despite the info dumping. I loved all the little details that McGuire added, such as cats being in tune with the faerie world and the rose goblins. I really want a rose goblin after reading this book!

However, I have heard that the later books are excellent, so of course, I picked up the sequel, and I'm liking it so far, especially now that all the exposition on the world is mostly over.

I loved the characterization. Toby isn't a perfect character and even though she is a half faerie, she struggles with magic to the point that it can be crippling. My other favorite character is Tybalt. I have heard he features even more into the later books and I can't wait! Even Dare, a very minor character that dies, was well developed and I felt a little twinge of sadness when I realized she wasn't going to make it to the next book. I also liked how San Francisco was a character.

As said before, I'm on the second book and I can't wait to see where McGuire goes with these characters. Again, I love her characterization in the second book, and the ability McGuire has to make "monsters" likeable.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Worldsoul

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is Worldsoul by Liz Williams. This will be published on June 6, 2012 by Prime Books. What grabbed me was this, "What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job in the world?" Any book that starts with that will draw me in, of course!

Summary from Goodreads:  What if being a librarian was the most dangerous job in the world?

Worldsoul, a great city that forms a nexus point between Earth and the many dimensions known as the Liminality, is a place where old stories gather, where forgotten legends come to fade and die—or to flourish and rise again. Until recently, Worldsoul has been governed by the Skein, but they have gone missing and no one knows why. The city is also being attacked with lethal flower-bombs from unknown enemy. Mercy Fane and her fellow Librarians are doing their best to maintain the Library, but... things... keep breaking out of ancient texts and legends and escaping into the city. Mercy must pursue one such dangerous creature. She turns to Shadow, an alchemist, for aid, but Shadow—inadvertently possessed by an ifrit—has a perilous quest of her own to undertake.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Gifts of the Crow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans by John Marzluff and Tony Angell. This will be published on June 5, 2012 by Simon and Schuster. While the focus of my blog is on genre fiction, I love non-fiction books such as this. I am fascinated by crows/ravens and have been reading quite a bit recently about how they are more intelligence than people give them credit for. I love reading anything that redefines intelligence and/or shows the intelligence of animals. However, I don't love the latter half of the title, because I think there is more to intelligence than human intelligence.

Summary from Goodreads: Stan Coren’s groundbreaking The Intelligence of Dogs meets Bernd Heinrich’s classic Mind of the Raven in this astonishing, beautifully illustrated look at the uncanny intelligence and emotions of crows.New research indicates that crows are among the brightest animals in the world. And professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington John Marzluff has done some of the most extraordinary research on crows, which has been featured in The New York Times, National Geographic, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as on NPR and PBS. Now he teams up with artist and fellow naturalist Tony Angell to offer an in-depth look at these incredible creatures—in a book that is brimming with surprises.     Redefining the notion of “bird brain,” crows and ravens are often called feathered apes because of their clever tool-making and their ability to respond to environmental challenges, including those posed by humans. Indeed, their long lives, social habits, and large complex brains allow them to observe and learn from us and our social gatherings. Their marvelous brains allow crows to think, plan, and reconsider their actions. In these and other enthralling revelations, Marzluff and Angell portray creatures that are nothing short of amazing: they play, bestow gifts on people who help or feed them, use cars as nutcrackers, seek revenge on animals that harass them, are tricksters that lure birds to their deaths, and dream. The authors marvel at crows’ behavior that we humans would find strangely familiar, from delinquency and risk taking to passion and frolic. A testament to years of painstaking research, this fully illustrated, riveting work is a thrilling look at one of nature’s most wondrous creatures.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Blogs/Sites You Read That AREN'T about Books

This is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

This week it's "Top Ten Blogs/Sites You Read That AREN'T About Books.

Mine are:

1. Tom and Lorenzo: Blog that started about as Project Rungay, but has now morphed into a general fashion blog.

2. Cracked: I remember reading this magazine when I was little, and I don't know how I found the website, but they have a numbered list every day and some of them are VERY interesting.

3. Slate: Liberal news site with interesting articles, but my favorite feature is Dear Prudence, the advice columnist.

4. TV Tropes: Ok, maybe this one is cheating a little bit, but it's not just about books! It's such a good source for analyzing and thinking about all sorts of media and I don't even want to think about how much time I've wasted here.

5. Snopes: I check this website from time to time. I also have to use it quite a bit to refute a lot of things posted by Facebook friends.

6. Skinny Taste: Just discovered this cooking/recipe blog and I have tried making several of her recipes, all with good results.

7. Smitten Kitchen: Another cooking blog that I love.

I can only think of 7 that I really look at on a regular basis.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Retro Friday Review: Dani Noir

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! (From Angieville)
This is my first time participating in this weekly feature. I hope to continue reviewing older books. I'll see if I can maintain it. My pick this week is Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma. This book is only a few years old (2009) but I never see this book mentioned that much. I was first drawn in by the cover and the name of the book. The cover deliciously illustrates the mood and tone of the book. It harkens back to old film noirs, which is what the book is also based on. This is truly a cover that fits the book and the themes within.

It's the summer between 7th and 8th grade and Dani lives in a small town in upstate New York. She is obsessed with old movies, especially movies with Rita Hayworth. She uses films to narrate her life and to understand it, and she spends massive amounts of time at the local movie theatre, which shows old films exclusively. Her life is complicated by the fact that her parents are divorcing and her mother is falling apart while her father has moved across the river. Her best friend has moved away and Austin, son of the local theatre owner, spends his time annoying her or so she thinks. Dani is struggling with her parents' divorce and when she discovers that Jackson, Austin's older cousin, is being visited by a mysterious femme fatale, she finds herself in her own film noir. To unravel the mystery of this girl with the polka dot tights, Dani uses the detective skills she learned from watching these films.

The best way I would describe this book is cozy. I knew what was going to happen just from the first chapter, but I still enjoyed the book. The book is a mystery/noir and a coming of age story. I liked the combination of the two genres and thought the author did an excellent job of using the medium of film to illustrate the divorce between Dani's parents and the turmoil she is experiencing. Dani's favorite actress at the beginning is Rita Hayworth and this shifts at the end of the novel, which is a nice way to show the changes in her life.

The most interesting thing about the novel were the characters. Dani is not a perfect person, but she grows throughout the story. She is bratty, intelligent, selfish, curious and even caring at some points. At the beginning, she is selfish and while she doesn't completely outgrow this at the end, she has begun to realize that she has flaws, and that her parents, friends and acquaintances are flawed and complex as well. My favorite realization that Dani has is when she realizes that Austin has a crush on her and Taylor, her former best friend, has also changed and maybe their friendship can be rekindled. I also loved the character of Austin and while Dani found him annoying at first, his friendship with her was very sweet.

As this is Nova Ren Suma's debut, I thought she did an excellent job at making complex characters and I already have her second book on my to-read list.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: For Darkness Shows the Stars

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature at Breaking the Spine.

My pick this week is For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund. This will be published on June 12, 2012 by Balzer and Bray. I will admit I have been sucked into the hype over this book. I've never read any Jane Austen, but I do like retellings. I hope it's good!

 Summary from Goodreads: Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot’s estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret—one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: The Name of the Star

Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Pages: 372
Source: Purchased
Why I read it: I love anything to do with historical mysteries and/or Jack the Ripper.


The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London, it's the start of a new life at a boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago. 
What I thought: This book revolves around Rory (Aurora) a teen from Louisiana. Her family moves to England, where Rory decides to attend boarding school in London, at Wexford, a school in East London. While she is attending school there and adjusting to English/London life, a Jack the Ripper copycat begins killing on the same dates as the Ripper and leaving the bodies in the same locations. Rory begins seeing a mysterious man that no one else can seem to see, and finds out that she may be the Ripper's next victim.

This book really lived up to my expectations, especially after the disappointment of my last book. It had a nice blend of a mystery/thriller, some history and also a contemporary YA. The book is almost two genres in one. It starts out as a YA contemporary with a little romance and then morphs into a historical mystery/paranormal/thriller. I was expecting the paranormal from the blurb on the book jacket, so this didn't come out of the blue and surprise me. Rory also realistically dealt with the shock of realizing that she could see ghosts. Johnson had a nice balance between YA contemporary and thriller/mystery at the end.

One thing about the book that I loved was that the romance was not overdone. And it wasn't a love triangle! I have become very tired of books where the main character's life is in danger, but she cares more about what her love interest is doing or thinking and kissing her love interest. The hint of romance was nice, and I am so grateful that it didn't overpower the story, because honestly, I was reading this book for the serial killer madness, not romance.

There was a little info dumping, especially in regards to the history of Jack the Ripper, but it was done in snippets of newscasts, and in the character of Jerome, the main love interest of Rory. However, I thought his infodumping was fairly realistic, because I know I have a similar personality, and I have an interest in Jack the Ripper, as well. I also probably info dump about topics I'm interested in, like Jerome.

As for the other characters, they were all well developed, and I especially enjoyed that Johnson, in a nod to modern English culture, features an English/Indian character, Bhuvana, or Boo, as she likes to be called. I thought Jazza was a nice counterpoint to both Rory and Boo, but she wasn't a caricature. And I also liked Alistair, and the little twist with his story. I am excited about the ghost police and the dynamics of the group and their mission, especially in regards to the next book.

I thought the cover was misleading. The girl on the cover is definitely not Rory and the shadowy "Ripper" behind her harkens back to the original Ripper, but doesn't really pertain to this particular novel. I assume that the girl is possibly one of the victims, but I feel like the cover doesn't accurately reflect what is actually in the novel.

While I think Johnson did do a good job of making this a standalone novel, she did set it up at the very end for a sequel, and I can't wait for it! She has left me wanting more, with that little twist at the end and I'm interested to see how the next book will play out.

Overall, I give this book 5 stars. I really loved it.