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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review: If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff

Author: Laura Numeroff
Illustrator: Felicia Bond
Publisher: Laura Geringer Books
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

They continue the tradition that began with such whimsical titles as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Moose a Muffin with yet another tale of actions and consequences: If You Give a Pig a Pancake. Once again, Numeroff follows the potential effects of one creature's chaotic demands.

Overall Rating: 2/5

If You Give a Pig a Pancake is cute in that it follows causes and effects and that's a good learning tool for children, but I think that they could learn about it in a more fun and entertaining way. Honestly, I found it to be boring and after only one reading, my four-year-old niece put it away and never got it out again. The words have no rhythm or musicality to them, and the illustrations are only okay. This isn't a children's book that will engross children in language or storytelling. They will enjoy guessing the next random thing the characters' actions lead to and it is fun that giving a pig a pancake could lead to such crazy things, but that's really the only entertainment value. This isn't one I'd recommend.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Succubus Heat by Richelle Mead

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Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Kensington
Series Order: Book 4
Paperback: 304 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Georgina Kincaid has been a bad, bad succubus...
…which should be a good thing. But lately, thanks to her foul mood over breaking up with bestselling writer Seth Mortensen, she’s been so wicked that Seattle’s ├╝ber-demon Jerome, decides to “outsource” Georgina to a rival—and have her spy for him in the process.
Being exiled to the frozen north—okay, Vancouver—and leaving Seth in the cozy clutches of his new girlfriend is unpleasant enough. Then Jerome is kidnapped, and all immortals under his control mysteriously lose their powers. One bright spot: with her life-sucking ability gone, there’s nothing to keep Georgina from getting down and dirty with Seth—nothing apart from his girlfriend that is. Now, as the supernatural population starts turning on itself, a newly mortal Georgina must rescue her boss and figure out who’s been playing them—or all hell will break loose…

Overall Rating: 4/5

I can't even begin to describe how much I love this series. I love how Mead is able to humanize these immortal "monsters" and make them completely relate-able. And I love how hell is characterized as a bureaucracy that functions through contracts and paperwork (if anything is hell -- it's bureaucracy!). I have enjoyed all three previous books, but there seemed to be more to Succubus Heat, which I really liked.

Now that the world is established and the reader knows most of the rules governing Hell, the demons, the lesser immortals, and the angels, Mead is able to delve into stronger character and plot development. That's not to say that it hasn't been good previously, but in Succubus Heat, the characters really start to grow and change. The internal conflicts are becoming tenser with Georgina and Seth broken up. Georgina never seemed much of an immortal to me before; she cared too much about the world and the people around her. In this book, we get to see a bit of her darker immortal side. She starts acting more like a succubus and less like a human. And, surprisingly, we get to see a darker side to Seth, which was a refreshing change. I'm all for a guy with strong morals, but hanging around all those vampires and demons had to do something to him, right?

The plot, while fast-paced and interesting, was a little predictable. I was able to guess one major player in Jerome's disappearance right away, so the resolution to that conflict wasn't as surprising as it could have been. Despite that, I couldn't put this book down. Mead is so good at sucking the reader in and making us care about her characters that the plot is kind of secondary at this point. I do feel something larger building up, though, and I can't wait to see what all of it is leading to. (Yes, that's vague, but I don't want to give spoilers!)

The writing, as always with Richelle Mead, is fantastic. Amid all damned souls, horrible situations, and working for hell, Georgina is still able to crack witty jokes and have hope for the future. She also makes some amazing insights in life that are at once funny and depressing.

This is one urban fantasy/paranormal romance that you need to be reading! I can't wait to get my hands on the rest of the series.

Other Reviews:
Bloody Bookaholic

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Book Review: 11,000 Years Lost by Peni R. Griffin

Title: 11,000 Years Lost
Author: Peni R. Griffin
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
This action-packed time travel book takes a young Texan girl, participating in an archaeological dig, back to the time of the mammoth. There she's adopted by a group of mammoth hunters that teaches her to forage for food, build fires, and protect herself from predators.

Overall Rating: 3/5

As a huge fan of time travel books, I needed to read this one, especially since it's pretty original. I've never read a time travel book where the main character travels as far back as around 10,000 B.C.

The one thing I wasn't a fan of  was the ending. There isn't much of the way in resolution, and I felt like it was rushed. It was never explained why Esther, the main character, went back in time, which I really wanted to know. Also, the pre-historic age and its characters seemed more realistic than the time and the characters from the present. That itself was a little disappointing. I wanted more from the present-day characters.

Regardless, the main story is fantastic. Griffin has obviously done her research, turning vague facts and little-known data about this era in time into an entire civilization and society. And she makes it work! I completely believed the situations and the reactions of the characters. Esther is especially likeable and made it easy for me to put myself in her place. If you're a time travel fan looking to learn a little bit about history, this is the book for you. It's fast-paced, adventurous, and entertaining.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong

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Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: Orbit
Paperback: 391 pages
Series Order: Book 3
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Chloe Saunders is fifteen and would love to be normal. Unfortunately, Chloe happens to be a genetically engineered necromancer who can raise the dead without even trying. She and her equally gifted (or should that be 'cursed'?) friends are now running for their lives from the evil corporation that created them.  
As if that's not enough, Chloe is struggling with her feelings for Simon, a sweet-tempered sorcerer, and his brother Derek, a not so sweet-tempered werewolf. And she has a horrible feeling she's leaning towards the werewolf... 
Definitely not normal.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

This was everything I hope for in a book that's the last of its series. I couldn't put this down at all. The beginning was a bit slow, but the characters' development and interactions kept me entertained until events started to progress.

By the end, the conflict is resolved, but it isn't wrapped up perfectly, which I really appreciated. I was afraid of an unrealistic ending (though I should have known better with Kelley Armstrong!), but that didn't happen. It ends on a positive, hopeful note, but all their problems haven't magically gone away.

The characters really grow up in this last book, which is why I loved it so much. They finally stop acting like over-emotional melodramatic teenagers and start facing their situation. Tori, especially, changed a lot. While I hated her character in the previous books, I kind of loved her by the end of The Reckoning. This book has some of the best character development in the series and I was sad to have to leave the characters just as they were starting to mature.

If you haven't started this series yet and you're a fan of young adult paranormal: start reading! You're going to love it. Kelley Armstrong has proven that she is the queen of paranormal, whether writing for adults or young adults.

Other Reviews:
Typing Tiara
Frequent Reader, Infrequent Blogger

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: The Tell-Tale Art: Poe in Modern Popular Culture by Christine A. Jackson

Author: Christine A. Jackson
Publisher: McFarland & Company
Paperback: 202 pages
Summary: (taken from back cover)
Greed and guilt, near-indecipherable codes, murder plots born of madness -- these motifs drive the best modern mysteries, but they are rooted in the early nineteenth century and the carefully constructed fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's methods of storytelling and suspense remain relevant, reappearing in detective novels and on screens large and small. This work examines a wide selection of today's mystery and thriller novels, films, television programs, and video games to explore Poe's continuing influence on popular entertainment. Authors such as Michael Connelly, Stieg Larsson and Dennis Lehane, television shows like The Closer and Dexter, and movies from Laura and Vertigo to Shutter Island and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all receive attention. The popularity of Poe's narratives in these contemporary guises is testimony to his visionary genius.
Overall Rating: 2/5

As individual essays about the themes found in modern-day mystery/thriller works and Poe's writings, this book may have worked. However, as a book with a supposed overarching theme of the influence that Poe has had in modern popular culture, it falls very flat.

While nobody can deny Poe's influence, Jackson discusses less about the direct connections between Poe and modern day works and more about common themes to be found in all of them. Some of this may be a direct influence from Poe, I thought many of the connections to be too tenuous to be labelled as "influenced by Poe." I would have been more comfortable if Jackson had said that there are echoes of Poe to be found in many works. Instead, she talks about his influence on shows such as the reality cooking competition show, Chopped. While the narrative structures employed by this show and Poe are similar, I think "influenced" is going a bit too far with the label.

The biggest problem for me was the overlong summaries and random anecdotes from the works Jackson attempted to link to Poe. Instead of focusing on how the works of Poe influenced a show such as The Closer, for example, Jackson spends two or three pages talking about the show in general and then detailing the characters, even though they seem to have no relevance to Poe's influence. This sort of thing happened for almost every film, television show, and novel discussed. It made the book incredibly tedious and added to the disorganization of ideas. It also made me confused as to exactly what Jackson was trying to make the connection between. There were only a few times where I actually understood what parts of the work in question were influences from Poe; most of the time I was left wondering how Poe came into the equation.

In short, I disliked The Tell-Tale Art. In terms of discussing themes, Jackson has some brilliant ideas and insights. However, it didn't deliver what the summary promised and the writing left a lot to be desired.

*I received a free copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review*