Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: 19 Girls and Me by Darcy Pattison

Title: 19 Girls and Me
Author: Darcy Pattison
Illustrator: Steven Salerno
Publisher: Philomel
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
John Hercules Po's kindergarten class is made up of 19 girls . . . and him. His older brother warns him not to let all those girls turn him into a sissy, but as John Hercules Po discovers, he needn't worry. As he and the girls let their imaginations run wild during recess, they end up digging all the way to The Great Wall of China, floating on the Amazon river, singing to the Man on the Moon, and racing a car 600 miles per hour.  
So . . . 19 girls and 1 lone boy? Nope, even better —20 good friends.
Overall Rating: 4/5

I was pleasantly surprised by how good this book is. The cover didn't grab me at all and I was expecting a so-so book, but apparently my niece knows the good ones when she sees them. She took this right off the shelf and said, "I want this one."

The main message of this book is friendship. It teaches that no matter your gender, you can all play great games, have fun, and be friends. And it does this in a creative, fun way by delving into the world of children and imagining all sorts of activities they do and places they go. It is too easy to turn this sort of message into a preachy sermon, but Pattison stays away from that and keeps it fun. And oh my goodness are the words catchy! After reading it once, the catch phrase, "nineteen girls and one lone boy" stayed in my head for hours. It's very rhythmical. Children will love having this read to them.

The illustrations were also a lot better than I expected from the cover. Whenever the characters play a pretend game and "go somewhere," such as The Great Wall of China or the Amazon river, the pictures really come to life. There's a lot of detail and bright colors that kids will love. During one reading, my niece took the time to count all the birds and alligators (or was it crocodiles?) in the Amazon picture, so this story can be used for reading, geography, and counting too!

In short, I recommend this one. Children will love it, adults will love it, and it's a story that you can use for teaching a lot of different things. Definitely worth the money!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review: Never After by Dan Elconin

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Title: Never After
Author: Dan Elconin
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Paperback: 320 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
There is no place like a dysfunctional home. 
Leaving everything behind for the Island was Ricky's dream come true. When his happily ever after is not quite what it seems, he discovers that running away means running toward bigger problems. 
Trapped on the Island, Ricky must join together with the only people he can trust to help him face his fears and return home. But the only way off the Island is to confront the person who trapped Ricky and his friends in the first place. With countless enemies and true peril staring them down, Ricky's mission to leave this so-called paradise will become a battle for their very lives.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Never After is a retelling of Peter Pan. However, instead of a boy who lives in paradisaical Neverland taking care of his Lost Boys, flirting with mermaids and TigerLily, and valiantly fighting against Captain Hook, Elconin's Peter is a kidnapping con artist. Luring children of unhappy homes to the paradise of Neverland, Peter enters their dreams and makes them believe that all their worries will disappear once reach the island. Then, once they fly to this special place, Peter knocks them on the head, kidnaps them, and saves them for a purpose unknown to the kidnapped boys.

Luckily, the main character, Ricky, is saved by a gang of other kidnapped teenagers who have escaped Peter and remain on the Island, trying to find a way home. Their goal is to kidnap Peter, who is the only one that can fly, and somehow force him to take them home. The only problem is that Peter has a horde of zombies called the Lost Boys at his command, the Native Americans refuse to help, and a giant crocodile has it out for the oldest escapees -- Nigel Hooke.

Never After is imaginative, fun, and adventurous. There is always some intrigue going on, making this a fast and entertaining read. All the characters go through dramatic changes and grow tremendously while they try to find their way back to their dysfunctional homes. Some of the issues with the characters were overly melodramatic, but for the most part, I found myself liking and relating to them. The ending battle is fantastic and well worth the build-up in the beginning.

Yet, while the changes in the classic Peter Pan story are interesting, this was a bit too immature for me. There were too many penis jokes, "that's what she said" lines, and insults to each other's mothers. At first it was amusing, but after a constant barrage of them, it wasn't funny and it seriously detracted from the story. Also, the writing could have been better. There's a lot of telling instead of showing and things always "seem" to be one way, they never simply "are." Basically, just classic mistakes from a young writer. Nothing major, but definitely not as polished as it could have been. Aside from all that, however, this was actually a good story.

I think lovers of retellings and young adult fantasy will appreciate Never After. It's a fun re-imagination of the Peter Pan story we have all grown up with.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review: Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

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Title: Any Given Doomsday
Author: Lori Handeland
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Paperback: 352 pages
Series Order: The Phoenix Chronicles Book 1
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Elizabeth Phoenix once used her unique skills as a psychic to help in the Milwaukee Police Department’s fight against injustice. But when Liz’s foster mother is found viciously murdered—and Liz is discovered unconscious at the scene—her only memory of the crime comes in the form of terrifying dreams...of creatures more horrific than anything Liz has seen in real life. What do these visions mean? And what in the world do they have to do with her former lover, Jimmy Sanducci?
While the police question Jimmy in the murder, Jimmy opens Liz’s eyes to a supernatural war that has raged since the dawn of time in which innocent people are hunted by malevolent beings disguised as humans. Only a chosen few have the ability to fight their evil, and Jimmy believes Liz is among them. Now, with her senses heightened, new feelings are rising within Liz—ones that re-ignite her dangerous attraction to Jimmy. But Jimmy has a secret that will rock Liz to her core…and put the survival of the human race in peril.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Right from the beginning, Any Given Doomsday starts off with a murder and the main character, Liz, having a vision and going into a coma. Awesome start? Yeah, I thought so too. The stakes are high immediately, which makes for a great story. There was a bit of info-dumping going on in places, and there were times where I thought that Liz accepted her new life too easily. I also wish that the plot was more developed. By that, I mean that there isn't much in the way of suspense. The plot doesn't grow more complex as the story goes on, it just stays with the high stakes established from the beginning. While I felt like much of the humor was forced in this book, I still enjoyed it. It's not quite as snappy or witty as other urban fantasies out there, but it's got a great concept going for it. And, it's a fast-paced, intriguing read.

Liz finds out that she's the new alpha-seer and has to cope with accepting her abilities (new and old) and the responsibilities that come with being a seer. I like the concept of having a seer help demon killers rid the world of evil, and I especially liked how Handeland combined the Bible and the mythologies to create this world. All supernatural stories have their own twist on creatures, and I really like Handeland's take on things.

I loved the characters. Handeland obviously put a lot of work into them. They all had such complex histories and backgrounds, which made them interesting to read about. As the reader, we don't know all of what these characters have been through, but we do get a deeper sense of their history and it makes them seem like real people. The main thing that got me going through this book (aside from wanting to know about the murder!) was my interest in the characters. I cared about them right away and only got more interested as the story progressed.

In terms of romance, this one is only okay. I felt like I was just being told that Liz and Jimmy had an attraction for each other. Okay, they have a history, but I didn't understand why they still had feelings for each other. It didn't really show in their actions or the way they interacted. I was just told they really cared for each other and had to accept that at face-value. There's a point where Liz has to visit a shaman-witch-shapeshifter guy named Sawyer to help unlock her powers. These scenes with just her and him were way more romantic and intriguing than the ones with Liz and Jimmy. I hope Sawyer continues to be a major player in the series.

If you like urban fantasy, try this one out. I thought it was worth the read and it's good enough to make me want to read the sequel. Not an automatic favorite, but The Phoenix Chronicles definitely has potential.

*I received this book for free through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's Program in exchange for an honest review.*

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review: The Summer Set by Jay Province

Title: The Summer Set
Author: Jay Province
Publisher: CreateSpace
Summary: (excerpt taken from back cover)
In the summer of 1956... 
Solving the mystery of the sinister Noqumiut carries a set of friends far beyond the innocence of their small Pennsylvania hometown. Santa and his merry elf magically appear in June running for their lives from a town hall fire; a teen girl flies her Cessna from the scene of a refinery explosion; and a dating pair leave a dead body on a leather couch -- wrapped in a full-length mink coat and holding a red gift bot in its hands. 
Fourteen-year-old catcher Peter "Chumbucket" Miller and his best friend pitcher Mike DeSorcier are on a mission to capture their youth league World Series championship. Spying on a league meeting from a sweltering attic perch they uncover a group of extra-dimensional beings infiltrating the league's leadership. The boys gradually discover two things: they are in mountains of trouble and they need help. Assistance (and more trouble) arrives in the form of two daring and mystifying girls -- Karen Croft and Jo Munro. The four friends share adventure, romance, intrigue and danger throughout three hectic summer months.

Overall Rating: 2/5

The Summer Set is a young adult novel with a fairly good story. While I think this is more intended for a young male audience (there's a lot of baseball stuff in here!), the intrigue about magic and the Noqumiut is enough to pull in readers of all genders. For me, personally, this book was hard to get into and didn't work out very well.

What really pulled me out was the writing. In terms of story-telling, I like there to be much more narrative than dialogue. The Summer Set has a lot of dialogue in it, and I felt that it really detracted from the story. Not only did the story lack in detail due to the constrictive nature of dialogue, the characters' conversations seemed formal and stilted because of the information they needed to convey. This affected the character development as well, because they were so busy giving each other information that I felt like I didn't really get to know the characters as well as I wanted to.

The content itself is interesting. I was able to finish the novel and I did care about the characters and what was going to happen to them. If you're a fan of young adult fantasy and can get past the style of the writing, you'll most likely enjoy it.

*I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: While I'm Still Myself By Jeremy Mark Lane

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Title: While I'm Still Myself
Author: Jeremy Mark Lane
Publisher: Tate Publishing
Paperback: 127 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
A passionate December love affair. The meeting of an unexpected traveler. The consequences of protecting a young new acquaintance. A journey into an unknown past. 
In the stories of While I’m Still Myself, Jeremy Lane eloquently describes the life changing impact of the brief encounter, showing that life and love are not shaped by an entire lifetime, but by the fleeting moments with unexpected people in unexpected places.

Overall Rating: 3/5 

While I'm Still Myself is a good, quick read that has some lovely prose in it. I like how each short story focuses on a character meeting someone who changes their life in some way. It's a good topic to explore in the format of a short story and knowing that the story of these people won't last forever emphasizes the profound impact of this particular encounter. This collection deals with pretty much everything that is sweet and hard in life. Most of the stories deal with very sad things, but there are some hopeful notes.

Each story is linked through the theme of characters wanting to do something "while they're still themselves." For the first few stories, I thought this sentiment worked perfectly and the common theme made each of them have a greater impact. However, for many of the later stories, this theme seemed forced and didn't really fit into what was going on. I didn't understand why the characters felt they wouldn't be themselves later.

The character development is also not as thorough as I'd like it to be, even for short stories. However, for the most part, I enjoyed this collection. I liked the beginning stories much more than the ending ones, but like I said, that's only because the theme is successfully executed.

Short story lovers should take a look at While I'm Still Myself. I'm sure they will find at least a few stories that will resonate with them.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Other Reviews
Bibliophile's Corner - 4/5
Bound and Determined to Find a Good Read - 3/5
Life Between Pages  - 3.5/5