Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Playing Beatie Bow

Review: “Playing Beatie Bow,” by Ruth Park. The summary:
Abigail Kirk was an ordinary enough fourteen-year-old girl, except that she could not understand the adults around her. Why had her father gone off with someone much younger than her mother? And why, now that he wanted to come back, was her mother agreeable. What did love mean?

It was while she was angry and resentful about the whole thing that she began to watch children playing a game called Beatie Bow. She had never seen the game before, nor the odd child who always seemed to be watching but never taking part. When Abigail tried to speak to her, the child ran off into a part of the city called The Rocks. Abigail followed, and suddenly found herself in The Rocks of another time. Only the strange girl remained the same. And she proved to be Beatie Bow, a child of a century earlier.

Abigail was taken in by the Bows, amid whispered comments about "the gift," as though there was something she was supposed to do. She didn't want to stay until she met a marvelous boy named Judah. And then for the first time she began to grasp the meaning of love. But why was she in the past, and would she ever again see her own time?

Abigail's story takes place in modern Sydney, Australia, and the Australia of a hundred years ago. The book was named the best children's book of the year in Australia in 1981.
A friend lent me this book, originally written in 1980, and she might have told me something about it, but if so I don’t remember. So basically I was going into this book with zero expectations. All I knew from the cover summary was that it takes place in Australia and involves time travel.

Two things became clear pretty much immediately. First, that this is a younger YA. Abby, the main character is 14, and the story generally feels geared to younger teens. The second thing that quickly became clear was that Abby was going to annoy me, mostly likely because she reminded me too much of what I was like at that age—snarky and selfish with a bad attitude. But I guess as much as Abby frequently got on my nerves, I appreciated how honest her feelings were and how vividly they were written. There were multiple times when I thought, “Yep, I’ve definitely felt that exact same way before.” So I think if I had read this book in my early teens I would’ve connected a lot more to Abby than I do now with my 10+ years of hindsight about how self-centered I was as a teenager.

As for characters I did like, Beatie totally stole the show for me. She’s actually not in the book all that often, but when she is she’s just so dang spunky and feisty that I didn’t doubt for a second that even though she’s only 10 or 11, she’d eventually manage to pull herself out of poverty.

Plot-wise, I’m not entirely sure what was going on. Or rather, why it was going on. So, yes, Abby travels back in time to Victorian Australia, but it’s never actually clear what purpose her time travel serves. She’s told that it’s so she can make sure “the Gift” (magic powers that are hereditary in Beatie’s family) survives to the next generation, but why the Gift needs to survive is never explained. As far as I could tell, the Gift never actually accomplishes anything useful. It doesn’t save the world or change the course of history or anything remarkable. So why Abby needed to save it, I don’t know. Which made the whole point of the plot pretty vague to me.

Overall, a decent book, but one I think I would’ve connected with way more if I had read it 15 years ago.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: We Were Liars

“We Were Liars,” by E. Lockhart. The Goodreads summary:
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
True confession: I almost always read the end of books first, and I almost never regret it. But in this case, I really wish I hadn’t. Because so much of the book hinges on a secret that I wish I hadn’t ruined for myself. So word to the wise, don’t skim ahead in this book, if that’s your penchant. Just don’t.

I feel like I can’t talk too much about this book without risking giving everything away. But here are the two things I feel like I can say. First, that it was well written. I’ve read a few of E. Lockhart’s other books before, so I already knew she was a skilled writer, but I feel like “We Were Liars” is a cut above the rest in terms of writing. The other books I’ve read by this author tended to lean towards the witty (at least as far as I remember), but this book is more . . . artistic, I guess. Or stylized. Either way, the writing was a pleasure to read. And it was gripping. For real. Cady has amnesia at the beginning of the book, and you as the reader only get to discover the truth when she does . . . which subsequently resulted in my devouring this book pretty quickly.

Second, this book ended up being way more emotional than I was expecting. Even having ruined the ending for myself, this book ended up being about nothing that I thought it would be. Like, the story I came away with at the end wasn’t quite like anything I would’ve guessed when I started it. In a good way. Definitely in a good way. Despite the fact that it made me cry, which I hate.

Overall, a book that dealt with surprisingly heavy issues, but one that’s well written and well paced. Just remember: don’t skip to the end!

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: The Fiery Heart

“The Fiery Heart” (Bloodlines #4), by Richelle Mead. The Goodreads summary:
Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives.

In The Indigo Spell, Sydney was torn between the Alchemist way of life and what her heart and gut were telling her to do. And in one breathtaking moment that Richelle Mead fans will never forget, she made a decision that shocked even her. . . .

But the struggle isn't over for Sydney. As she navigates the aftermath of her life-changing decision, she still finds herself pulled in too many directions at once. Her sister Zoe has arrived, and while Sydney longs to grow closer to her, there's still so much she must keep secret. Working with Marcus has changed the way she views the Alchemists, and Sydney must tread a careful path as she harnesses her profound magical ability to undermine the way of life she was raised to defend. Consumed by passion and vengeance, Sydney struggles to keep her secret life under wraps as the threat of exposure — and re-education — looms larger than ever.

Pulses will race throughout this smoldering fourth installment in the New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series, where no secret is safe.
This book has been sitting by my bed waiting for me to read it since January. And despite liking the previous books in this series, I was seriously struggling to work up the motivation to read it. I have no idea why it was so hard. But since “Silver Shadows” (book 5) just came out, I finally buckled down and read “The Fiery Heart.” And it was a bit disappointing, I have to admit.

It was just. So. Slow. I feel like absolutely nothing happens until the last third of the book. Well, I take that back. What happens is Sydney and Adrian moon over each other non-stop. And usually, I’m all for the romance, but since there was basically no other major plot to break up the lovey-dovey scenes, it all got a bit tedious. They do work on tattoo and Strigoi stuff a little, but that stuff was totally tangential to all the mushy I-love-you scenes.

Also, this book was from split Adrian and Sydney perspectives, which I have no problem with in theory. But I just didn’t think Adrian’s narrative voice sounded like a guy very much. I mean, he describes himself as “flouncing” to a chair. I mean, really? Flouncing?

The book does pick up in the last 50 pages or so, and the cliffhanger was enough to commit me to reading the next book. I just really, really hope Richelle Mead is back on her game in book 5, and that this one being a bit lame was just an aberration. Though honestly, even if the series doesn’t pick up from here, I’ll probably finish it anyway just because I’m this far in.

Overall, not the strongest book in the series. Fingers crossed for the next book being better.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Roomies

“Roomies,” by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando. The Goodreads summary:
It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.
More than anything, I think this book made me realize how easy I had it when I went off to college. In “Roomies” it’s two girls stressing about everything to do with going to college, but I don’t remember it being that stressful for me. I mean, I was going out of state for college, but it was to a school that my older sister was already attending and my best friend from high school was going to be my roommate. Plus, I was the 5th kid my parents had sent off to college, so they knew the ropes pretty dang well by that point and I felt like I knew what to expect as well. But still, even though I didn’t necessarily relate to every fear and uncertainty that Lauren and Elizabeth had, I could definitely understand where they were coming from.

I think what stood out from the book the most for me was how adorable the two romances were. Both Mark and Keyon are way too good to be true, but I loved them anyway. I think I liked the romance between Lauren and Keyon the best, probably because out of Lauren and Elizabeth, I related to Lauren more, but also because I felt like Keyon came off as slightly less smooth than Mark. Neither of the two romances have all that much depth because they’re too busy being cute, but I guess when you’re trying to fit two romances into a book on top of all the other plot, there’s not a whole lot of page time to develop them.

Like I said, I related to Lauren more out of the two girls, but Elizabeth was plenty likeable as well, even if I felt she was a touch too dramatic about things sometimes. I liked seeing their relationship slowly develop from complete strangers into friends, and I especially liked how they both get to this point where they realize that their online friendship won’t necessarily translate into a real-life friendship unless they make the effort.

Overall, a cute and fluffy book that lives up to the tagline perfectly: “A novel about friendship, first loves, and random room assignments.”

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Wild Awake

Wild Awake, by Hilary T. Smith. The Goodreads summary:
Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I’d heard such good things about it. But I couldn’t connect to the main character at all. And it’s not only because Kiri’s having a mental breakdown. I really tried to understand where she was coming from and what she was going through. But the drug and alcohol abuse turned me off pretty quick, as did the fact that she made one dumb decision after another. Plus, there was about zero resolution with anything. Not that I expected everything to be all happily ever after, but some kind of resolution about her sister’s death or Kiri’s metal illness would’ve been much appreciated.

Overall, it was too frustrating for me to enjoy. Well written, though.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

“Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3),” by Laini Taylor. The Goodreads summary:
By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?
I love this series. I just really, really do. And I wouldn’t have expected that from the first book. I liked “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” but I don’t know that I was necessarily drawn in by it. But oh boy was I drawn in by the second book, and this third book as well, though the fact that its page count tops 600 did test my dedication a few times. Not because it wasn’t well paced or something, but because I have this unexplainable thing against long books.

But my prejudices against long books aside, I do realize that it had to be that massive, because the author took on A LOT. Happily, I felt that it managed to stay just on the right side of biting off more than it could chew, but it felt like a dangerously near thing at some points. Because not only do you have the story of Eretz and the war between chimera and angels, but you also have Karou and Akiva’s story, and the Stelians’, and on top of that Razgut’s and Eliza’s, and it all approached being a bit much at times. But I think the author generally managed to keep her grip on all the storylines and didn’t let it get out of control. I did feel like the story of the angels vs. chimera got left a bit by the wayside amongst all the other storylines, which left me hanging a little since it was the entire focus of the second book, but there were enough other things to make up for that lack, I thought.

The characters . . . the characters in this series are so great. Which is another thing I didn’t really pick up on in the first book. But in the second and third, other characters are introduced, and I just got so, so attached to them. Like Liraz. Like Ziri. Oh my gosh, I love those two. So freaking much. And of course, Mik and Zuzana were still in this last book which made me smile, because Zuzana is hilarious.

Karou and Akiva—I really liked the approach the author took with them in this book. In the first book, their relationship is all insta-lovey, which I was not all that big of a fan of. But in this book, I think their relationship takes on some more depth. Yes, they’re still basically soul mates and wildly attracted to each other, but they also realize that after everything they’ve both been through, love isn’t a given for them. And there’s uncertainty and wariness and a whole host of other emotions that have to be sorted through and worked at before they can be together. And even then, events conspire to throw wrench after wrench into their plans for happily ever after. In other words, I love every second.

Overall, a fantastically well-written book that’s gripping and involving while still having these moments of humor that kinda totally make the book for me. It’s such a strong series that ended up nowhere near where I thought it was going to after I finished the first book.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Other books in this series:
-Daughter of Smoke and Bone
-Days of Blood and Starlight

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Up a Road Slowly

“Up a Road Slowly,” by Irene Hunt. The Goodread’s summary:
The Newbery Award-winning novel

From the author of Across Five Aprils and No Promises in the Windcomes her most beloved story of a girl's coming of age.

After her mother's death, Julie goes to live with Aunt Cordelia, a spinster schoolteacher, where she experiences many emotions and changes as she grows from seven to eighteen.
First of all, the copy I read didn’t actually have the cover above. But I saw this one on Goodreads and totally fell for it. I’m not usually big on ‘80s covers, but there’s something totally compelling about this cover and I found myself going back to it more than a few times. So I chose it for this post. Obviously.

As for the book itself, it was first published in 1966, and it shows. Like, you can definitely tell from the get go that not only does the story take place a while ago, but it’s definitely written in that young-adult style of the past. Do you know what I mean? To me, the stories and characters in most YAs from 20+ years ago feel more removed—like, the emotions feel more sugarcoated and distant or something. Anyway, while there’s nothing wrong with that style, it did take me a while to get into the book because of it. Everything just felt like I was seeing it through the haze of the years rather than living it with Julie.

And really, that could’ve been entirely deliberate on the author’s part, since the story is written as Julie looking back on her childhood and teenage years, which she spent living with her older, unmarried aunt. To me this story felt a bit like the “Anne of Green Gables” series. Nothing too crazy happens—rather it’s a year-by-year account of her growing up and the normal adolescent things, good and bad, that she goes through as she matures.

The story generally felt quaint and sweet, and I thought it would stay that way throughout. And it does, but towards the end, you get a few glimpses of Aunt Cordelia and Uncle Haskell that give them surprising but much needed depth. And I think that depth catches Julie herself off-guard a bit, as she’s used to seeing them through the eyes of her childhood rather than the eyes of a near-adult. And that depth towards the end made it all more satisfying than I think I would have found it otherwise.

Overall, a book that’s short and charming, if a little slow. If I had a 10- or 11-year-old daughter, I think this is the kind of book I’d want to read out loud with her.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters. The Goodreads summary:
In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.
The best thing about this book was the setting: San Diego in 1918. Besides the fact that San Diego’s where I grew up, I liked it as the book’s location because I feel like I haven’t read too many books set in that city. And 1918 . . . my goodness, I never fully realized what a perfect time period that would be for a ghost story. Because, I mean, not only is there WWI going on, but there’s also the Spanish Flu epidemic. I knew prior to reading this book that the flu killed a lot of people that year, but holy hannah did this book bring the fear and paranoia and suspicion that went along with it to life.

Mary Shelley was a likeable main character for about the first half of the book, and then she started getting on my nerves. I can’t even pinpoint what it was exactly—probably something to do with the fact that she thinks it’s weird that everyone else thinks it’s freaky when she gets possessed by a ghost. Or maybe how she refuses to follow anyone else’s advice because she always thinks she knows what’s best. She just starts getting really full of herself, I think. But whatever it is, she started annoying me hard core.

The whole mystery with the ghost . . . it was a little predictable, but not enough for me to be 100 percent sure I knew what the truth really was. I didn’t think Stephen made a particularly likeable ghost, but I feel like I can’t really complain about that since I don’t think he was necessarily supposed to be likeable—we’re supposed to pity him, I think.

Overall, while the setting was awesome, the other aspects of the book were slightly less so. It does make me want to read more books about the Spanish Flu, though.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Emerald Green

Emerald Green (Ruby Red #3), but Kerstin Gier. The Goodreads summary:
Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is.

She's only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she's just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along.

"Emerald Green "is the stunning conclusion to Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red Trilogy, picking up where "Sapphire Blue" left off, reaching new heights of intrigue and romance as Gwen finally uncovers the secrets of the time-traveling society and learns her fate.
So if you’ve read this blog lately, you know I’ve been diggin’ the Ruby Red series. While I like the first book better than the second, I’ve just really enjoyed how light and funny these books are while still being an adventure.

I’d say Emerald Green was a satisfying end to the series. I definitely liked it better than Sapphire Blue, but not quite as much as Ruby Red (that book just seriously rocked my socks). All the things that needed to be tied up in the series were tied up, and everything was happily resolved in pretty much the way I was expecting it to be. While being fairly predictable, Emerald Green was entertaining enough that I didn’t really mind. For me, it was more about enjoying the journey to the resolution rather than the nitty-gritty of how I got there, mostly because Kerstin Grier is a really amusing storyteller.

Gideon, who you may remember fell from my graces in book 2, did mostly redeem himself in this book. However, his redemption was tempered by the fact that his and Gwen’s relationship gets a bit too schmaltzy for my taste by the end. I had to roll my eyes just about every time they declared their undying love for each other. Because I mean, they’ve known each other 2 weeks and in that time learned nothing about the other person besides they’re a good kisser. So yes, I was skeptical about the true love angle.

But overall, I had a really good time with this book. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Gwen is just totally hilarious. And the secondary characters, like Aunt Maddie, Lesley, Mr. Bernard, Nick, and Caroline, were in especially fine form in this book, so it was even more of an entertaining experience.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Other books in this series:
Ruby Red
Sapphire Blue

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Racing Savannah

Racing Savannah, by Miranda Kenneally. The Goodreads summary:
They’re from two different worlds.

He lives in the estate house, and she spends most of her time in the stables helping her father train horses. In fact, Savannah has always been much more comfortable around horses than boys. Especially boys like Jack Goodwin—cocky, popular and completely out of her league. She knows the rules: no mixing between the staff and the Goodwin family. But Jack has no such boundaries.

With her dream of becoming a horse jockey, Savannah isn’t exactly one to follow the rules either. She’s not going to let someone tell her a girl isn’t tough enough to race. Sure, it’s dangerous. Then again, so is dating Jack…
This book was exactly like the summary led me to expect: rich boy and poor girl fall in love, but their families don’t want them to be together. And I have no problem with that storyline. It’s just that the story never went beyond that—it was absolutely predictable in every single way. I kept hoping that the characters or plot would surprise me, but they never did. It’s like I never got anything deeper out of the book than I would’ve gotten if I had only read the plot summary. I still had a good enough time with the book (it has horses, after all), but I spent the whole time wanting more from it than it gave me.

Rating: 3 / 5
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