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Friday, December 16, 2011

Reincarnation by Suzanne Weyn

I read this book almost two years ago but it still sticks with me today. The compelling love story and beautiful historical details, combined with repetitive cameos from the same lovable and dreadful characters make this a great read.

It all starts in prehistoric times. A man and a woman fight in a cave over a beautiful jewel, but their attraction towards each other is so strong, it lasts…even after they both die. From there, the two souls reincarnate, and go into different bodies throughout the world and time, always destined to meet again. They become Egyptian slaves, ancient Greek patrons, Civil War soldiers, Parisians during the beginning of World War II and more. Every time they fall in love, some sort of tragedy happens and they die, but fate keeps giving them chance after chance to finally get things right. Because the moral of the story is that love will always triumph…even if it takes thousands of years to get it just right.

I adored this book. All the cool historical events it covered intrigued me, such as the Massachusetts witch trials. Suzanne Weyn did her research well. Another cool thing was that the two lovers weren’t the only ones who reincarnated. There were always two antagonists, another man and woman, who are always trying to get in the way of two protagonists finding each other.

As sad as it was that the two main characters kept dying over and over, I will assure you, the ending is happy. Have no fear.

A quick and enduring read. Beautifully romantic and tragic, but with a satisfying conclusion.
5/5 stars

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

What involves basketball, cooking, a sweetly-told story line, and enough deeply intense morals that could be the main idea of about 20 Hallmark Channel Movies? Sarah Dessen's latest novel.

McLean Sweet has chosen to live with her dad ever since her mom divorced him for a collage basketball coach. Mr. Sweet is a traveling restaurant consultant which means he and McLean move around a lot. With every move, McLean re-invents herself for each new high school. A new name and a new personality, such as peppy cheerleader to drama diva. It's gotten to the point where she's forgotten who she actually is. But in the new town she's just moved to, she's finally making friends and just being herself, whoever that may be. Her neighbor Dave might be the reason for this, he's the most real person she's ever met, and he thinks he knows who the real McLean is, even if she doesn't know herself. She better find out soon though, before she has to move and start all over again.

Such a sweet story. The characters, the setting, the might as well be watching a good teen chick-flick. Dessen makes McLean's world surround her reader as if they are flipping through a pop-up book rather than a YA novel. It's hard to describe McLean's character, since even she doesn't know who she is. And a reader will grow to love Dave, he's pretty funny and adorable, the exact type of guy you will never find in real life. I wouldn't label this a romance novel- there is so much more to it than the relationship between these characters. Kudos to Dessen for getting to the roots of the meanings of family, friends, and love. And McLean and Dave aren't the only characters worth a second glance. I found myself loving her new friend Deb, who is so perky and positive she will make you smile. She was my favorite, and she's only the beginning of the list of good people you will meet in this story.

I think it was slightly unrealistic how profound some of the thoughts McLean has are. She's a teenager, though she has been through a lot, I suppose. The somewhat distant relationship she has with her parents, her mom in particular, is interesting to watch progress. I found myself getting annoyed with McLean at points, since she can tend to be a bit over-dramatic when it comes to the issues that are thrown her way. But the story goes on this certain way that makes you want to keep reading. The story will stick to you. And of course the conflict was resolved emotionally and cutely, but maybe a little bit too quickly for my tastes.

Cute, funny, good. Valuable lessons are learned in the most simpleminded and sentimental ways. Go ahead, read it. Like good soup on a winter day, it will make you feel warm and satisfied.
4/5 stars

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld

Yes, I know I need to stop spamming this blog with my SW obsession, however, I see no end to it. Just hear me out here, because I am about to inform you of a vampire novel I actually enjoyed! Plus, it takes place during the supposed end of the world! I'm all over that. The Last Days is a sequel to Peeps, a book I haven't read, but that was okay, I still got the jist of the story. Here, I made a summary:

It's the hottest summer New York has ever seen. The streets are filled with rats, weird black oil, and garbage. A mysterious epidemic is spreading. It seems that all hell has broke loose. But to Moz, Zahler, Pearl, and Alana Ray, all that really matters is their new band. With an edgy sound and tons of potential, they have a shot at stardom. They recruit Minerva (a girl who has the epidemic) to be their lead singer. She has been staying in her house ever since she got a craving for human blood.

The world is ending, the city is in chaos, and Peeps (vampires) are taking over. With the apocalypse drawing near, the band might just be able to battle back because they basically rock so hard, they can can stop Armageddon. Without knowing it, they create the soundtrack to the end of the world.

Pretty intense huh? In short, this book was pretty cool for a vampire book. And I am pleased to say it was published pre-Twilight movie hype. Plus, you don't become a vampire from getting bitten. No, you get blood-thirsty qualities from getting an STD. Cliche? I think not. It's written in this cool, creepy way. It's funny too. The five band members are strong characters, and they trade off narrating the story. Minerva's point of view was the most enthralling. As a Peep, she had some interesting thoughts. I think "Mustn't eat Mosey" was my favorite line from the whole book, in the part where she is trying not kiss and/or kill and devour Moz.

I enjoyed the end-of-the-world vibe to the book too. Westerfeld's version of the possible apocalypse is unique, and the way the band saved the world was all in all epic. Though it got a bit confusing to me at some points, I was always entertained. It was kind of bizarre, but as long as you aren't creeped out too easily, you'll like it. Lots of cool stuff is worked into the story. For example, every chapter name is also the name of a band. And each section of the book has a little write-up about plagues and apocalypses. Thanks to this book, I now know that when little kids sing ring-around-the-rosey, they are singing about a horrible plague that occurred in the Middle Ages.

The ending was brief, but well-written. This a clever book and totally not your average teenage vampire novel.

About as cool as a book can get when it involves rock bands, sexually-transmitted vampire diseases, the end of the world, and (spoiler alert) gigantic black monsters.
4/5 stars

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Goddess Games by Niki Burnham

Last spring break, I got a boatload of new books to read on vacation. One of these was Goddess Games by Niki Burnham. Reading chick-lit on the beach is kind of my idea of vacation, you see. So here's a self-written summary:

Claire, Seneca, and Drew are three very different girls who all have decided to take a summer job at King's Crown Resort, the most luxurious mountain getaway in Colorado. They each have their reasons for coming. For Claire, coming to King's Crown meant helping get her life back on track and restrengthening her relationship with God. For Drew, it meant getting to train in the mountains (she's a competitive runner) while escaping the trouble back home. For Seneca, the daughter of a famous movie actress, it means getting back on the A-list by kissing up to celebrity resort guests.
All 3 have different goals, hopes, and dreams, which makes it tough when they have to share a cabin. At first, their differences are all they can see, but somehow through fate, they learn to help and support each other.

Since the jacket of the book sends off a spa vibe, and claims that this book helps celebrate the goddess in us all, I assumed it would be a cute, inspiring read. Not exactly.
The book started slow and the first few chapters seemed to lag on. We meet former party-girl Claire, sad and determined Drew, and stuck-up Seneca. Things got a little more interesting once the girls move into their cabin together, but not really. I liked finally learning Claire's secret, which is revealed to us when she tells it to her ex-boyfriend, this was probably the most suspenseful part. We also later learn something about Drew.

So it is your typical girls-who-fight story up until near the end when they finally decide to be friends and bond over a special yoga class, "Goddess Yoga". I suppose this is where the book title comes from. It was weird to me how they suddenly just became friends all of the sudden. That part didn't really seem realistic. And leading up to that turning point, there is some guy drama and emotional issues circulating throughout the three of them. And that's pretty much the book. I wasn't particularly impressed in any way. It was good enough to keep my attention, but I feel that at points it got kind of predictable and lame.
I'd say the most exciting thing that happened was when Drew encounters a bear in the mountains. At least I can thank Niki Burnham because I now know how to fend off a bear if I ever cross paths with one.
One thing that drove me crazy? The fact that the word 'favorite' was always shortened to 'fave'. It was just annoying. I think I was able to tolerate this book due to the fact that I was relaxed at a resort myself while reading it.

An okay book if you're on vacation and want something laid-back to read. But other than that, you can skip this one. Nothing amazing here.
2/5 stars

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I'm not one to read a book just because it is the latest obsession, or a NYT Bestseller. In fact, I mostly picked up The Help just because I was sick of my friends, my mom, and my friend's moms urging and nagging me to read this so-called "great" piece of literature. So I read the first few pages, and immediately noticed the excellent writing style. So I read more. Actually, I read the whole thing. And if you don't know what it is about...

It is 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen is a black maid who is raising her 17th white child, and is becoming more upset about the way things are in the world. Her best friend Minny has just been fired from her job as a maid (again) and has just taken a new job with a mysterious and troubled woman. And Skeeter is a white socialite who has just graduated from collage and dreams of being a writer, but her mom urges her that finding a husband is more important.

Skeeter takes more notice about how wrong blacks are treated in Jackson, and decides to write a book of interviews taken from various black maids in town. She asks Aibileen and Minny for help with the book, and the 3 women band together to work on this dangerous and controversial project. The stakes are high, but making even a little difference just might be worth it.

This book is certainly worthy of all the buzz and credits it has gotten, and the blockbuster movie that was based off it. Stockett has created lovable characters who each have their own unique voice as they narrate the story. Aibileen is the wise soul, Minny is bold, and Skeeter is observant and thoughtful. Their points of view all blend together to create a nicely-told tale. Miss Hilly Holbrook, the antagonist, was especially snaky and easy to hate. Stuart, who is Skeeter's beau for a good part of the story was a bit of a let down. It is always kind of sad when a relationship that developed through most of the story fails. But it was certainly understandable and Skeeter became even more independent in the resolution.

The Help has both humorous and dark bits intertwined in it. A reader may laugh out loud and then shudder a few chapters later. It's message is empowering and somewhat beautiful. Be warned that it has an open ending, and the final pages are bittersweet. But that was perfectly fine with me. This is a pretty good book, and is worth your time.

Funny, jarring, notable. This is a special book.
5/5 stars

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I actually read this one over a year ago, but I thought of it today for some reason, and I figured, why not tell you about it? It was a pretty good book, and quite cute. A summary for ya:

4 misfit children have just been recruited to join a queer society. Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance have passed all the odd and unusual tests required to join. They are taken to Mr. Benedict's house, where the kind old man asks them to help him take down an evil man named Mr. Curtain. Mr. Curtain has a machine called The Sender that sends subliminal messaging through airwaves. These messages are picked up by the human mind (though the human themself is unconscious of it) and causes their minds to be influenced and controlled in negative ways. The kids go undercover at L.I.V.E. (Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened) which is a private academy ran my Mr. Curtain, where the evil man and The Sender are located. The 4 children each posses their own odd and exceptional talents, but they will need every bit of wit, brain power, and courage that they have to take down evil.

This book is clever. It's like a big puzzle. My favorite part was the beginning, where the kids have to pass all the tricky tests in order to join The Mysterious Benedict Society. This book is part mystery, part brain teaser. Twists and turns will surprise readers and amuse them.

I also liked the characters. They are young and lovable. Reynie is the clever one, Sticky is the genius, Kate is the agile one, and Constance is...Constance. The children bond throughout the book, forming a close-knit and trusting friendship with one another. Mr. Benedict was your typical sweet old man, though he suffered from narcolepsy. Mr. Curtain was evil. Enough said.

This book probably can't be classified as YA, it was more for younger middle school-level readers. But you may want to give it a chance. It was a longer novel too, almost to a point where it seemed like things were being dragged out. But the conclusion is well-done and heartwarming.

Cute, exciting, and smart. This book will keep you guessing.
4/5 stars

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Internet Girls series by Lauren Myracle

It can be difficult to come up with a completely original idea for a novel, and that is why I tip my imaginary hat to Lauren Myracle for thinking outside the box on her Internet Girls series. Why? Because it is a story told completely through instant messaging. Seriously. Open up any one of the books in the series (TTYL, TTFN, or L8r G8r) and reluctant readers will discover a whole new format of story telling that is unlike anything they have ever read. This is smart, since a lot of adolescents would rather be on Facebook or text messaging instead of reading. This thought pains me, but it is the truth. So these books are an interesting compromise.

The 3 book series centers around its 3 main characters: Bubbly, enthusiastic Angela, wild child Maddie, and intelligent overachiever Zoe. The 3 best friends vow on the 1st day of their sophomore year to never let any of high school's lameness get in the way of their threesome, but this proves harder than they think. Through all of the ups and downs of 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, the besties encounter guy drama, peer pressure, fights, gossip, and more. Join them on their adventures trying to navigate through their high school lives, which is all narrated by their humorous IM chats.

As long as you're not easily offended, you'll love these books. The 3 main characters always have a lot to IM about. If there is one thing this series stands for, it is friendship. Through their online chats they are always there for each other. Like I said, it is such a cool format! They are super quick reads too.

But note that these are also on the Most Banned Books list. There is a reason why Lauren Myracle has been referred to as "the Judy Blume of this generation". There is controversy involved because of sexual themes, language, drug references, and religious topics. These are definitely made for teens who are around the same age as the characters and no younger. I can see why this series can be considered offensive. I felt that the novels were somewhat disdainful towards topics like religion and human rights. It seemed to me like the 3 main charries often turned a blind eye to morality. They go to parties with underage drinking, for example. So note that they should be rated around PG-13.

I like these books and have read them all more than once, they are funny and well-crafted. Just keep in mind: morality!

Humorous and clever, this series is about the ups and downs of high school and the people who see you through it.
3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Angel by James Patterson

I waited way too long to read this book.

I just didn't feel like forking over the cash and buying a hardcover copy when all my other Max Ride books are in paperback. Am I the only one with the series-must-be-either-all-in-paperback-or-all-in-hardcover-but-never-both obsession? My point is, just now was I able to get a copy from the library and read it.

Maximum Ride is a killer series. James Patterson is definitely one of the greatest authors ever, not just basing it off of this series but his dozens and dozens of other books as well. But here's my review on Angel, the 7th book in the series. A summary:

Max Ride, the human-avian hybrid who is basically a teenage girl with a fifteen-foot wingspan, is back. She and her friends have saved the world several times before, but now they may be facing their biggest challenge yet when they make it their mission to take down the Doomsday Group, a creepy and disturbing cult that is spreading across the globe. This group has a motto: Save the planet. Kill the humans.

All this might not be as hard if Fang, Max's former flock member and her supposed true love hadn't left her and started his own "Fang gang" also made up of genetically-enhanced teens set on saving the world. And scientists begin pushing Max to be with Dylan, the boy who was created to be her perfect other half. Max resists, but eventually admits to herself that she may be falling for Dylan as well, even if it means leaving Fang behind.

But then the two groups are forced to work together, Max & flock and the Fang gang head to Paris to take down the Doomsday group, which is more dangerous and explosive than they previously thought. And this time, it might just be little Angel who saves the day.

I've been a fan of these books since I picked up the 1st one years ago. James Patterson is one of those authors who never slows his books down, there is always something happening. His short, choppy chapters, which nearly all end in cliffhangers ensures this. Before this book, I always saw Max Ride to be a science fiction series. And now, I am sad to announce that after reading Angel, I think it is more of a science fiction/romance series.

We now stumble upon the issue of love triangles, or, sort of, my issue with them. Sure, love triangles work for flimsy vampire fantasy novels, basically because without it the author would have no story line because in most cases vampires just aren't interesting. It's a fact of literary life. What I'm trying to say here is that I don't think Patterson needs a love triangle to make his stories interesting. They are already fascinating enough, and his unique ideas of a world that is constantly threatened by apocalypse-loving scientists can stand on its own and make a great story. It doesn't need a complex love triangle! I honestly don't care which winged suitor she chooses anymore, I just want her to pick one and get on with it!

Looking past all this, the book was still GOOD. There was still the epic battles that are MR staples. Max still narrates the books in her hilarious, spot-on way. I love how funny these books are! And the mysterious Doomsday group? Loved it. The book is fast and exciting, just like any other in the series.

The final Max Ride book comes out next year. I love how Patterson chose to end his apocalypse-implemented series on the year the world is supposed to end, 2012. Maybe those Mayans have it wrong...the world isn't going to end, Max Ride is. And for the thousands of fans of the series, this truly does seem like the end of everything.

Exciting, explosive, romantic. The pages "fly" by.
4/5 stars

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

Here's a review on yet another Catherine Fisher book, but this time it is not on Incarceron, it is on the sequel, Sapphique. These books reach new heights in the fantasy, sci-fi, and steampunk genres. I really liked the first book, so reading the second was a must. (Plus, Incarceron is going to turned into a movie in the upcoming years, and I have this obsession with reading books before they get turned into films. Not to mention the fact that Taylor Lautner is going to star in it...)

If you don't know what Incarceron is about, check out my review on it, which you can find in the June archive of my blog. If you haven't read the first book, don't read my review on the second. It has spoilers galore.

Okay, now moving on to Sapphique:
Finn has at last escaped the cruel labyrinth that is Incarceron. He now lives in the Outside, and is ready to take the throne of the Realm, as he is the lost Prince Giles. Claudia has put all her faith in him, that he will one day be king and overthrow Protocol. But Finn soon discovers that being Outside does not mean he is free. The Realm is ruled by the evil Queen Sia, who is still plotting against Finn, Claudia, and her beloved teacher, Jared. But when a new claimant enters the scene, also claiming to be the lost Prince Giles, Finn must do everything in his power to convince everyone that he really is the true prince, because his life and Claudia's depend on it.

Meanwhile, Finn's oathbrother, Keiro, and former dog-slave, Attia, are still trapped inside Incarceron, seeking a way out. They search for a magic glove that Sapphique, the legendary man who escaped the prison, supposedly used to get out. But Incarceron, the prison that is alive, wants the glove too.
It's all great adventures and high stakes in Catherine Fisher's Sapphique.

This book was different from it's precursor, because in Sapphique, we don't only get to read through the views of Finn and Claudia, but we also get to learn more about Attia, Keiro, and Jared. This fact made the first book a bit more...tidy. But Fisher has the type of writing style where she leaves off every chapter and passage with a cliff hangar. I hate to say it, but to me it seemed a bit choppy. At least it kept the story moving though.

There were some new characters, but the best one was madman-magician Rix, who is there at the beginning and end parts of the novel. Gotta love the crazy guy. I also think the author did a great job with keeping the main charries true to themselves. Finn is still Finn (yeah, I can totally see Taylor Lautner playing him.) Claudia is still her cold and practical self (Emma Watson is rumored to be optioned for this role. She would be perfect!) Keiro is still Keiro, providing the comic relief at the perfect moments.

The worst thing about the book was the ending. I felt like not enough was explained. Maybe there will be a 3rd book? Even a simple epilogue would have been much appreciated, to me the end was rushed and a bit confusing. The end itself was not happy nor sad, more bittersweet. I read the final page with a question mark over my head.

I'll say it was good. I'll say it was interesting. The plot was constantly moving, there wasn't a dull moment to be found. I'm not sure whether I liked this or Incarceron better. But I can't wait for the movie! These are pretty good books, totally original and clever.

A new adventure filled with action, bizarre situations, and cliff hangars.
3/5 stars

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Luxe by Anna Godberson

Yes, I'm doing it to you again. I'm posting yet another review on a book seemingly revolved around girly glamour. Bare with me here though, I'm about to tell you about a very good book that I can't help but gush about.

The Luxe is a dramatic, romantic tale full of scandal, intrigue, and some very fancy party dresses. Here's a summary I wrote for it, 'cause, ya know, I just love summarizing.

Welcome to Manhattan in 1899, where a life of luxury and splendor is a privilege, not a right. Girls in ballgowns chase after the men with the most money. The newspapers are abuzz with gossip about last night's parties and the people who were there. Servants work endlessly to make the society girls seem flawless. Elegant ladies buy the best they can afford at Lord & Taylor. The people of the high class would rather die than fall from social graces. And a midst all this, 5 teenagers have their own personal struggles.

There's Elizabeth Holland, society princess who is adored by all of Manhattan.
There's Diana, Elizabeth's rebellious little sister, who would rather be out having adventures than stuck at stuffy balls.
There's Penelope Hayes, Elizabeth's backstabbing best friend who will do anything to get what she wants.
There's Henry Schoonmaker, the wealthiest, most attractive young bachelor in all of New York who just wants to have a good time.
There's Lina Broud, Elizabeth's personal maid who is secretly jealous of her and is determined to one day rise above her mistress in Manhattan's social scene.

When Elizabeth and Diana learn that they are suddenly very poor after their father dies, their mother sees only one solution if they want to keep their wealth and status: Elizabeth must marry Henry Schoonmaker. Henry himself has no interest in Elizabeth, but his father threatens to disinherit him if he doesn't. But once he and Elizabeth are engaged, he falls for mischievous, romantic Diana, who returns his feelings. Elizabeth does not know this, she's too busy having her own affair with Will, the family coachman, a man she could never have a future with without giving up everything. This enrages her maid Lina, who also has affections for Will. And on top of it all, when Penelope learns that her best friend Elizabeth is engaged to Henry, the man SHE loves, she begins plotting revenge and vows the luxe wedding that is being held for the two will never take place. It's a dangerous life, there in the folds of Manhattan's elite, so dangerous and full of hatred that someone is almost bound to end up dead...

Ohmuhgosh, this book was awesome. Perfection is the only way to describe it. Anna Godberson is crazy talented in the way she flawlessly transports the reader into another era. Her descriptions and detailed insight were really something, there isn't dull moment to be found. Each chapter is told from the point of view from one of the 5 main characters. My favorite point of view was hands down Penelope. Getting into the head of scheming, vengeful rich girl is loads of fun, she's a fantastic antagonist expertly crafted by Godberson.

The story was laid out cleverly. It begins with a prologue that takes place at, in fact, the funeral of one of the main characters, Elizabeth. I found it shocking and disturbing that after that, the first chapter, and many chapters after that were told from Elizabeth's point of view in the days leading up to her death. At the end of the preface, it is mentioned that Diana was smiling at her sister's funeral, and on the very last page of the story, we learn exactly why she did this. I thought this was (what can I say?) cool.

The multiple love triangles of the book were also done well, not too confusing but filled with enough drama. But the best part about the novel wasn't that, or all the scandalous intrigue. For me at least, the highlight was the fashion. The author never failed to describe an outfit that a character was wearing, especially for the leading ladies of the story. The descriptions of their fancy dresses really made the book.

A flawless, breathtaking read that takes you to another time and will leave you wanting more. (Thank God for sequels!) I loved it, and hope you will too.
5/5 stars

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Airhead Trilogy by Meg Cabot

Today I pay tribute to one of the founding queens of chick lit, the one and only Meg Cabot. Aspiring writers can only dream of having her level of success. How she manages to churn out such radical books in almost no time at all astounds me. So here's a feature on just one of her many series. The Airhead trilogy has 3 volumes, Airhead, Being Nikki, and Runaway. Here's a longer summary, but bare with me, because I'm reviewing 3 books here, not just one.

Emerson (Em) Watts is your typical high school misfit. She's never been very pretty, her sister laughs at her if she even attempts to put on eyeliner. She has one friend, Christopher, the guy she's played video games with and has secretly liked for forever. Too bad he doesn't seem to acknowledge that she's a girl.

But all that's about to change. One day Em is forced to take her little sister Frida to the grand opening of the new Stark Megastore in SoHo. But while she's there, a bizarre accident happens to her and teen supermodel Nikki Howard, the face of Stark.

When Em wakes up in her hospital bed weeks later, she discovers that she is literally not herself anymore. Supposedly, both she and Nikki died in the accident, but the scientists at the Stark Institute for Neurology have put her brain into Nikki's head. Suddenly, Em is inside the body of the hottest girl in the world.

The company Stark, which has been sweeping the globe with it's Wal-Mart style empire, forces Em to pick up where Nikki left off. She may be a genius on the inside, but on the outside, the world sees her as the same supermodel. She inherits Nikki's career, money, designer clothes, apartment, friends, and fame. Suddenly she has everything she could ever want...except safety.

The company she works for, Stark is out for something, but what? Em learns that she's constantly being watched, and suddenly nowhere is safe. The secrets of Stark begin to unravel, but the more she learns, the more danger she puts herself in. Deadly danger.

As great as chick lit is for us bored females to indulge ourselves in, Meg Cabot adds a sci-fi element as well, which I love. Brain transplants are a recurring theme in the trilogy. She puts in mystery as well, what exactly is the evil empire of Stark trying to accomplish? And of course, being Meg Cabot, she puts in romance. Em may be in love with Christopher, but Nikki Howard throws herself at every guy she sees. This creates some...dilemmas. It bugged me how Em kept kissing like, three different guys, and the whole time she blamed it on Nikki's lustful body. Right. But by the last book, things calm down.

Em's observations of Nikki's supermodel lifestyle and the people who inhabit it are usually witty and humorous. She's truly a fish out of water by the 1st book. By the 2nd one, things get more serious. Em/Nikki is in grave danger, and she teams up with Christopher to try and unravel the secrets of Stark. By book 3, the stakes have never been higher. People are dying, her parents are severely disappointed about things Em can't control, Christopher has turned into some crazed super villain trying to take the company down, and yet she still has to walk in the Stark Angel Fashion show.

The series progressed well, and Cabot's plot is clever and well-written. They were gripping books, though at some points things got a little dull. But things always got exciting again.

Mysterious, romantic, and somewhat creepy, this is a trilogy to check out.
4/5 stars

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Girl Who Was On Fire (edited) by Leah Wilson

Anyone who knows me is well aware of just how obsessed I am with The Hunger Games series.

I have read each book in the trilogy multiple times, check the fan sites daily, have gotten into seriously heated debates on Team Peeta vs. Team Gale, have had dreams about is all true, as much as I hate to admit it. What? They are my favorite-est books in the whole wide world! (No exaggeration.) So naturally I devour everything having to do with it, and that included getting this book, which contains a bunch of essays numerous authors wrote concerning several topics found in the books.

If you are scratching your head right now, wondering, what in blazes is the Hunger Games, I suggest you call a real estate agent so they can assist you in moving out of that rock you've been living under. (Sorry, bad joke.) But these books are hot, and will only continue to grow more popular, with the movie coming out next year. And it's already set to take over as the top movie franchise now that Harry Potter is well, an archive, and once the world sheds its increasingly annoying Twilight obsession. So do yourself a favor and read these amazing books, and at least in a year or so when the movie is huge you can say you were a fan even before the films exploded.

But let's get down to it. The purpose of this collection of essays was to get fans of the series thinking, to expand their thoughts and ideas, and to explore the many concepts found in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Here are the essays:

Sarah Rees Brennan on what makes this series so appealing and good. Jennifer Lyn Barnes on understanding the character that is Katniss Everdeen. Mary Borsellino on how the concept of love played a huge part in the story. Elizabeth M. Rees on the fact that we cannot trust anything or anyone in these books. Lili Wilkinson on the power of surveillance in the Hunger Games. Ned Vizzini and Carrie Ryan on the roles media and reality TV have in the books. Cara Lockwood on the monster-esque creatures and science found in the story. Terri Clark on the crucial role of fashion and appearance in the series. Blythe Woolston on the mental problems the characters face. Sarah Darer Littman on the politics of Mockingjay. Adrienne Kress on the element of decadence in Panem. Bree Despain on community in the face of tyranny.

I found a lot of these extremely well done. There was a good variety of ground covered. Some essays were very light and humorous, others were rather serious. All of these writers had their own unique view points on the philosophy of this thought-provoking series. Even though I felt that some of them were a little long and/or dull at some points, it felt good to read what people who have pondered the Hunger Games inside and out had to say. Each reflection comes from the writer's point of expertise. Political journalist Sarah Darer Littman's essay was one I enjoyed, it talked about the political attitudes of the characters and examined them well. Cara Lockwood's essay about how the science fiction-like creatures in the books was one that was also well done. And of course, Terri Clark and her write-up on style and fashion was also a blast to read. The ones that discuss how the reality TV obsession that both we in the world today and the citizens of Panem share were good too. Essays that talked about the heavier topics are contained in the book as well, and most of these were enjoyably insightful.

Since The Girl Who Was On Fire is not a novel containing a story, there isn't too much to reflect on here within this review blog, so I can't exactly rate it with stars like I usually do in my regular The Bottom Line segment. All I can say is that if you like the series and want to read about what some of today's accomplished writers have to say about it, then go out and pick up a copy.

A good collection of essays on one fantastic series.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

This book is a true music-lovers read. Overflowing with album and song recommendations, any lover of classic sound will eat it up, but any fan of YA lit should like it as well. It's a book you can really rock out to, literally, since it had killer song suggestions. Here's a summary:

It's summertime in Berkeley, California, and 16-year-old Allie is spending it exactly how she wants to: working at Bob & Bob Records on Telegraph Avenue. It's the perfect job for her, since she gets to spend her day surrounded by the thing she loves most in the world: vinyl records. And she's devoted to preserving vinyl music from being killed off by 21st century ways like iPods and online downloading. So she decides to start a blog devoted to classic music and takes on her new online alias: The Vinyl Princess. After all, she can't be the only one out there who prefers LPs to iPod nanos, right?

But big changes are headed her way. Her separated parents are both trying to make new lives for themselves. Her mom's trying to get back in the dating game, and her dad is trying to start a family with a way-younger woman. Her best friend Kit is still obsessing over her ex who cheated on her, and often it's up to Allie to console her. A mysterious yet attractive stranger has caught her eye, a guy who Allie can't help but daydream about. And a string of robberies is shaking Telegraph Avenue, and who knows if Bob & Bob Records will be next? One thing is for sure: it will be a summer like no other.

I will say, I really liked it. Allie is a cool, street smart kid who really knows her music, and it's fun watching her blog become more and more popular. She serves as narrator for the story, and had a refreshingly real voice. I got a sense of her world right away, her and her mom's clutter-filled house made a great setting. Her BFF Kit kind of annoyed me though, because she spends the entire story dwelling on the one guy who did her wrong, though she gets over him, eventually. Her dad was kind of a let down too, they don't have the best relationship ever since he moved in with that twenty-something.

And then there was that mysterious guy who dominated Allie's thoughts, which was a let down because there was another totally nice, LP-obsessed guy right in front of her. I thought it was sweet how he eventually won her over with a mix CD. (The dork beats the bad boy, yes!)

And as a blogger myself, I liked reading about how her blog expanded. The Vinyl Princess' rise to fame really rocked.

The whole Telegraph Avenue robbery thing was kind of obnoxious, since it was so easy figuring out which characters were the thieves. But whatever, it added some action to the tale.

I also mentioned earlier how music lovers will enjoy the novel since Allie describes her favorite music passionately. I might go and look up some of songs she said were great, because hey, I'm always up for new music.

A totally cool novel about the ultimate music insider. Good story, good soundtrack.
4/5 stars

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Magnolia League by Kate Crouch

I was all set to give this book the worst rating I have ever given a novel on this blog, when I got the common sense to check and make sure there wasn't a sequel before I vented my anger via the web.

There is a sequel, thank goodness. Or at least, there's going to be. Otherwise I would have thrown my copy of The Magnolia League against the wall in anguish because the ending was so terrible, it explained nothing. But fortunately, there is no need for this, so the yellow paint on my wall will remain unchipped.

Now that I know that this was only the first book in what could be a series, I can focus on other praise and complaints. I almost stopped reading this book after chapter 1, basically because it opened up with the main character complaining to you about how much she hates sweet tea, and then about a page later, you learn that she's smoking pot. Yeah, not the best way to start a story. But here's what it's really about:

Sixteen year old Alexandria (Alex) Lee is forced to leave her home, an organic farm commune in California, after her mother dies in a tragic car accident. She moves in with her grandmother, who resides in Savannah, Georgia. Sadly for this chunky, dreadlock-dawning hippie, Alex's grandmother is the leader of the town's most prestigious debutante society, the Magnolia League. And the wealthy woman expects Alex to swap her Birkenstocks for Prada heels and give up her boho ways and adapt to the high-class social lifestyle of the women in the Magnolia League. Alex's grandmother lets two young Magnolia girls, the freakishly pretty and privileged Madison and Hayes assist her transformation.

But Alex will soon discover that the Magnolia League is no ordinary stuffy debutante society. It's members have attained their wealth, youth, beauty, and social status by black magic concocted by local hoodoo family the Buzzards. The Magnolia's pay for the spells that put them on top of the social ladder. Before she realizes it, Alex finds herself entangled in the mysterious and magical Magnolia League, but she's about to find out that all the endless glamour comes with a dangerous and deadly price.

I mentioned before that I almost stopped reading, because I found the opening very poorly done. We meet a bitter, pot-smoking Alex and her snuffy grandmother, and then the next chapter is about the strange Magnolia League having a meeting. But I kept pushing on, and it did get better once Alex's past is exposed and we meet Madison and Hayes, who work on her makeover. And peppered in with all the drama going on in Alex's life are hints that the town of Savannah and the Magnolia League aren't quite normal, and that there is something paranormal going on within both. It was interesting learning about the Buzzard family, and how they use old African hoodoo rituals as a family business, selling their spells. I enjoyed Alex's voice narrating the story, and I enjoyed her reactions to the snotty ways of the South, which I doubt was portrayed accurately in this book.

One thing I found annoying was how while some chapters were narrated by Alex, others were narrated by some unknown person when there were scenes where Alex wasn't present. It left me wondering why the author chose to do this. I also disliked the plot, because at some points it seemed to be going nowhere, and then it would pick up again. The part where Alex runs away back to her home in California, only to return back to Savannah, came across to me as an obnoxious plot twist. And I will say again that if there wasn't a sequel coming out, I would say that the conclusion was worse than Lois Lowrey's The Giver, it explained nothing! I felt like the end was very rushed, and too many things happened in the final chapters, and in addition to the black magic, we learn that spirits of the dead are also part of this world, which I thought was pretty weird, and I sadly didn't fully understand it. I also hated how Alex smoked pot, and how doing weed is portrayed without consequences in this book.

On the side of praise, I think the author certainly did her homework when looking up hoodoo rituals and botany. Reading about the bizarre spells is tons of fun, I'm not sure if they are legitimate rituals or not, but if not, Crouch was certainly creative making them up. And the elements of food, fashion, romance, and parties make it lots of fun. All this falls a bit flat though with the sad ending. But once you got into it, it's a gripping story.

Alluring, and both parts fun and tragic, this is a book that draws you in.
3/5 stars

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Well, I've read this book and now my life is complete.

Several weeks ago I blogged about my love of the two previous books in the Leviathan trilogy, and how I couldn't wait for the conclusion. Words can not describe how happy I was when I finally got my hands on an Advanced Reviewers copy! After a brief period of fangirl spasms, I began to read the 543 page-long novel. (Which I finished in less than 24 hours, thank you very much.)

If you aren't familiar with the Leviathan trilogy, go back and read my previous post on it or be hopelessly confused!

The two main characters, Alek and Deryn, are back on the airship Leviathan. This time, the ship is bound for Siberia, where they have orders to pick up an important passenger, who is none other than Nikola Tesla, a mad scientist who claims to have a weapon called Goliath that could put a halt to WWI. This weapon could possibly threaten the enemy into agreeing to peace. Alek decides to politically support Tesla, as he is the possible heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and all he wants is peace.

Things get complicated when he finally learns Deryn's deeply kept secret. He finally discovers his best friend and ally is actually a girl in disguise so she can serve in the air service, and he also learns that she's in love with him.

Then, upon an unexpected turn of events, the Leviathan begins an around the world trip to the United States of America, where Alek and Deryn face scandal, drama, and surprises at every turn, while Tesla prepares to fire his weapon that could destroy a major city, and it's up to the two of them to stop him before it's too late.

An excellent, exciting, and gripping conclusion to a wildly creative series. This book delivers what all the fans want: action, adventure, humor, and a love story like no other. The thick volume goes over quite a bit, completing the around the world trip in this alternate version of earth where amazing machines and beasts lurk. And there's always enough action and intrigue supplied to keep readers turning pages. Alek and Deryn are chased by bears as tall as houses in Russia, experience unique dining in Japan, ride on top of the airship in the middle of a hurricane, attend fancy banquets, and star in Hearst's motion pictures. There was never a dull moment. And all the beautiful illustrations captured the text and made it visual, it really brought the book to life.

It was a bit crazy of course, I think there was enough going on that Goliath could have been split into two books instead of having one massive series-ender. But it was fine all the same. The battle scenes, as always, were well done, plus the illustrations keep you from getting confused.

Since everything in the series is based on an alternate version of World War I, it doesn't always match actual history, but there's plenty of historical fact and characters incorporated. We meet actual historical figures, such as the crazy Nikola Tesla, girl reporter Adela Rogers, newspaper and film mogul William Randolph Hearst, and Mexican Revolution leader Poncho Villa. The book has an Afterwards where Westerfeld explains fact from fiction.

Another element that was overall well done was Alek and Deryn's complicated relationship. I can't stand reading straight-up romance, so I liked that it wasn't overly focused on, since this is a book about war. How he found out that she was a girl was really interesting and unpredictable, and how it played out afterwards was pretty awesome. But it was really well crafted, and at times utterly sweet. Pretty soon Alek is doing whatever it takes to protect her secret, helping her hide her body and whatnot. It was great how much he cared. Their transition from best friends to soul mates was carried on well without overkill, and it definitely builds upon the story.

The ending was nice, even though I wish things were slightly more explained. This wasn't vital, but it would have been appreciated. Then again, we can pretty much assume what happens...

Overall an outstanding way to end a best-selling trilogy. I'm so sad it's over!

A thunderous, exciting, and gripping final book to a unique war-meets-fantasy series. It was good enough to deserve...
5/5 stars!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Let's just say that I'm sick of fantasy novels.

Paranormal fantasy is the worst, in my opinion. Back in 2005, a book entitled Twilight was published. I enjoyed it thoroughly, it's always good to experience a little bit of everything (especially book genres!). But then it was proven that too much of something is never a good thing. Along came a slew of other novels all about werewolves, vampires, ghosts, faeries, demon-hunters, and MORE vampires. The fantasy revelation/take-over had begun. I'm not too keen on mythical creatures, so let's just say my patience has been tested these past few years. There are a few diamonds among the rough, (Harry Potter anyone?) but the paranormal fantasy trend has gotten out of hand with it's copy-cat ways and endless fandom.

I'm being quite harsh aren't I? My point is, I think the quality of fantasy novels has gone down in the past few years. But my view had been shaded by vampire fiction, and remember how I mentioned diamonds in the rough? Well, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher has the potential to be one.

It is like a Chronicles of Narnia adventure with both parts fairy tale and grit, except Fisher's novel kept me wanting to read. (My apologies to the great C.S. Lewis!)

It takes place in the future, where the rulers of the world have decided to stop progress. There are no new inventions or technology known to the public, and the world has gone back in time as if they were living in 19th century England (perhaps?) But among this world, is Incarceron, a gigantic, mysterious, confusing labyrinth of a prison like no other. It's millions of inhabitants live in realms of metal forests, dark holes and caves, worn down cities, and other eerie places. The prisoners have no conscience and do what ever it takes to survive, while dreaming of escape, even though they aren't sure if there is an Outside or not.

We meet Finn, a young prisoner who can't remember anything about his past. He has faint memories of the Outside, but the others say that it's impossible for anyone to get in...or out. He has visions and is known as a starseer.

Claudia is a girl who lives on the Outside, and she is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She has grown up in luxury, but is doomed to an arranged marriage to an awful prince, who will one day rule the Realm.

When Finn comes across a mysterious crystal object that could possibly be the key out of Incarceron, he, his devilishly handsome-yet-wicked oathbrother Kiero, a wise old Sapient named Gildas, and cunning slave-girl Attia all set out on an epic journey in hopes of finding escape. Claudia finds an identical object, and is able to communicate with Finn inside the Incarceron. They must help each other escape. (Finn the prison, Claudia her arranged marriage.)

But this will be no small task. Because Incarceron is alive. It breathes and speaks and watches it's inhabitants every move. And it will do whatever it takes to keep it's prisoners locked inside.

The story itself is spilling over with mystery, suspense, and danger. Fisher knows how to spin a tale, no doubt. The first few chapters are rather confusing, I felt lost after reading the first, but felt that the quality of the writing was so good, it would be a shame not to give it more of a chance. I'm glad I did. Readers who possess imagination will love the idea of the ultimate labyrinth full of realms and beasts and fascinating characters. Secrets are unraveled, and at one point they actually caused me to gasp out loud.

The downside to the constantly moving and mysterious plot though, was that I was always a little confused, mostly in the end. Not enough was explained, so now getting a hold of the sequel is on my To Do list. But I also had trouble understanding the multiple identities of the characters, picturing action scenes, and occasionally some of the places in Incarceron, though at other times it so perfectly described I felt that I was there inside the gritty metal world.

I wish Finn's character was built upon more. I liked him, the fact that he was a good guy in the hell that was the prison made me. The other characters I felt I knew well, but Finn is such a vital character, he should have had more depth.

Despite the flaws, this book is worth your time. It's beautifully written and sensual, and the plot was well done. Switching constantly from Finn's and Claudia's points of view was a way that the author added loads of suspense and plenty of cliff-hangars. Anyone with imagination will be intrigued. This book made my view of fantasy a more positive one.

Expertly planned out, Incarceron will keep you guessing as you turn page after page.
3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Aries Rising by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Whether you're into astrology or not, Aries Rising by Bonnie Hearn Hill is one to check out. The first book in the Star Crossed series is the one I'm reviewing.

Logan McRae can't stand her life. She's a nobody, a shy sophomore, but has a passion for writing. Her high school is giving away a fellowship to the summer writing camp of her dreams, but only one student gets it, and Logan knows she has no chance against some of the more prominent writers in her class. Her chances are even worse because she knows her teacher Mr. Franklin, the one deciding who snags the fellowship doesn't like her at all. Not to mention that Nathan, the hottest guy at school, won't give her a second look after kissing her the other week.

So when she stumbles across a book called Fearless Astrology, she figures she has nothing to lose. Logan learns more and more about how people under different astrological signs work, and how to figure them out. She becomes deeply interested in reading the stars. Soon, her life is transformed. She works her way into Nathan's heart. (She wins over this Leo by giving him attention and flattery.) She gets on good terms with Mr. Franklin (a Taurus) by making him care about her. Her astrology column in the school newspaper is a hit. Logan knows she now might have a chance at the writing fellowship. Soon, more people at school take notice of her, and she becomes popular by her remarkable knowledge of astrology.

But there's a mystery involved: a gang of students who call themselves the Gears of War have been playing pranks on the school. Logan knows that with the help of the stars, she might be able to figure out who the Gears are, and is soon predicting the future. But when the pranks go from immature to dangerous, Logan knows she better act fast before it's too late.

This book was a fabulous read for people who are into astrology, and for those who want to learn more about it, it's totally informative. But the story is decent enough that those who don't like it will still be entertained. You definitely learn a lot.

I liked watching Logan go from a nothing to an astrology star, it was interesting how she was able to figure out her friends (and enemies) just by knowing their birthday. I didn't feel that her character really stood out, but then again, she is a shy girl at heart. Logan's a person we can relate to, with dreams of her own. The ways she won over people by knowing what traits they valued later revealed her to be strategic.

As for the mystery element, it wasn't too hard figure out who the Gears of War were, but I still found myself getting chills when they threw a rock through a window to threaten Logan. Observant readers will identify the gang members sooner than she does. But it had a surprise twist at the end, which was bizarre but fine with me, even though I thought it was a little odd.

This book flowed along nicely, and it reminded me of a book ABC Family might base a show on. (There is, of course, no show planned, but if they added more drama and danger to the Gears, it could be!)

Interesting, informative, compelling. Astrology buffs will adore it, anti-astrologers have a chance of liking it too.
3/5 stars

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Season by Sarah Maclean

Drama? Romance? Intrigue? It's all part of the Season.

Welcome to Regency London, an era where the wealthiest and most powerful seriously live it up. This book gives you a glimpse into the high society social life that was lived by England's first class citizens. Once every year, the Season takes place, it's full of grand balls, dinner parties, and social outings, all for one purpose: to help London's finest men and women find the perfect match.

Lady Alexandra of Stafford has just turned 17 and is dreading her first Season, in which her mother intends to get her married off by it's end. Alex dreads the dress fittings, the stuffy parties, and the men who only want her for her money and power. She's not alone though. Her two best friends, Vivi and Ella don't know how they'll survive the Season as well, but they rely on each others friendships to make it through.

Then she finds herself becoming more and more attracted to Gavin Blackmoor, the handsome young earl whom she's loved like a brother. He's a close family friend who'd do anything to protect her, and suddenly Alex isn't sure about how she feels towards him.

Aside from that, Gavin's father has been killed recently. People believe it was an accident, but then Alex uncovers that it might not have been, that there's a killer among London's first class. The murderer is out for Gavin next, and possibly her as well, but who could it be?

Can Alex catch a killer, fall in love, and survive the extravagant whirlwind that is the Season, all while proving that she's more than just another girl in a ball gown?

This was an utterly predictable, fluffy, yet fun book. It's typical chick-lit historical fiction, though well done chick-lit historical fiction. The relationship between Alex and Gavin Blackmoor is a complicated one, filled with fights, love triangles, and passion. But I think you can easily guess how it turns out by the time you flip to the last page.

And then there's the mystery part of it, which sadly, isn't much of one at all. It's basic and uncomplicated, and guessing the killer is easier than operating a toaster. I think the novel could have been greatly improved if there were more suspects and plot twists. This truly could have been an outstanding mystery if only it was more detailed. So that was disappointing, to say the least.

Of course, it wasn't all bad. It's a modern Pride and Prejudice, there's lot's of drama and gossip involved, and Alex is your typical feminist. Her this-close relationship with Vivi and Ella celebrates female friendship. The way the world of the main characters is portrayed is done well. It's a grand world, where fine food, trips to country mansions, glamorous gowns, and rides in luxury carriages are all part of a day-to-day lifestyle. It's wonderful how the author transports you to this elegant era flawlessly, right down to the witty conversations of the main characters. It's like Gossip Girl set in a different time period (though not nearly as naughty.) Anyone who enjoys reading about fancy lifestyles and English courtship will devour it.

Fabulous and fun, The Season is a juicy novel that will have you turning pages for the purpose of sheer enjoyment.
3.5/5 stars

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

I waited quite awhile to read Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan after it was published, because to be honest, it looked nowhere near as good as his Uglies series was. He wrote an amazing series about a girl who was trying to take down her technologically advanced society that revolved around beauty, and now he was writing books about World War One? It seemed like quite a leap.
But then along came the yearly camping trip that I go on with my family, in which I got a frenzy of books to read while out in the wilderness. Leviathan was one of them. On a boring, rainy day in the woods, this book was my salvation. Not only was it catchy and action-packed, it was (get this) illustrated!

It's a strange book series. Like the blockbuster movie Avatar, it can appear silly and bizarre. After seeing previews full of blue alien people doing epic stunts, you are a bit weirded out. But then you actually see the movie and are like, whoa, this is awesome! (That's how it was for me anyway. Never mind the fact that this was only one of the most successful movies of all time.)

But getting back on track, the Leviathan books take place in 1914, when the planet was on the brink of it's first World War. But as the book trailer for it urges, put down your history books there. This is no historical fiction. In the world of Leviathan, the Austro-Hungarian Clankers are trying to win the war by using their mind-bending robots and machines as weapons. The British Darwinists are fighting against them using fabricated animals that can do amazing things. So it's robots verses monsters in this alternate history novel. There are 2 main characters.

There's Alek, a fifteen year old Austrian prince and heir to a European empire. When the Germans assassinate his parents, his people turn on him and he is forced to run away with his men and a wickedly awesome stormwalker machine. The Germans are after him and he has nowhere to go but try to get to the safe place his father left behind for him, but it won't be easy getting there.

Then theres Deryn, who is probably one of the best and boldest feminist characters ever created. She's a fifteen year old girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can serve in the British Air Service. She winds up becoming a midshipman on the Leviathan, the biggest airship in the British fleet, where she struggles to keep her identity hidden.

When Alek and Deryn's paths collide, they have no choice but to become allies when they should be enemies. It's up to them alone to save the Leviathan from destruction and possibly change the course of the whole war. Over the trilogy they are taken around the world on an epic adventure as they encounter strange new places, interesting new people, bizarre monsters and machines, and scary new enemies, all while fighting out a war.

Yeah, so it's not your typical book series. It's definitely original. Book 1, Leviathan, focuses mainly on how the 2 main characters eventually meet, save the airship, and form an alliance. Book 2, Behemoth, is about Alek and Deryn trying to overthrow the Ottoman Empire as things get more dangerous and strange as they grow closer. Book 3, Goliath, is a mystery. It isn't even released yet, and won't be until mid September, but in order to rap up such a story, I have the feeling it will be quite the book. It will complete the Leviathan's journey around the world and will feature the characters quests to either win or put a halt to the war.

To be honest, I can't wait for Book 3 to come out. I thought the 2nd book, Behemoth, was better then the first book, Leviathan. Normally a sequel is never better then the 1st book, but I thought this was the case here. By Book 2, the setting had been established and you could focus in on the characters and what was happening to them without needing as much of an exposition. I have high hopes for Goliath, which will hopefully contain lots of fast-paced action.

Remember how I said before that they were illustrated? Well I'm not lying. An newly published, illustrated YA series exists! Beautiful black and and white pictures are featured every few pages, and they enhance the story. Sometimes in a battle scene, it's hard to picture everything because the author has so much to describe, things get crazy. But here you have pictures that help you understand everything. And they are big and frequent pictures too. This isn't Harry Potter where readers are only treated to an tiny illustration at the beginning of every chapter, no, it is here that you get big, detailed pictures that often take up a whole page. It definitely contributes to the books coolness.

It's also fun to hear about (and see, thanks to the pictures) all the crazy things that exist in Leviathan world. There are talking lizards, air balloon jellyfish, walking beds, beetle taxis, and an enormous flying whale (which is the airship.) It's fantasy at its best. Very weird, very creative. The characters are great and make you smile. There's some good guys, some bad guys, and then the just-plain-messed-up guys. One person you meet is a scientist named Dr. Barlow. She's the cunning and clever granddaughter of Charles Darwin. And then there's a certain creature (they're called beasties in the books) that is adorable and can talk, and becomes a sidekick to Alek and Deryn in the 2nd book. Just Google the word "loris" and you'll get an idea of what it looks like, and you'll probably like what you see. Yes, there's other abnormal animals too, but this one is easily a favorite.

The action scenes are intense. I normally hate war books, but these are fine by me as long as I have pictures to show me what's going on. It can get a bit confusing, I will warn you. Uneducated readers, like I was when I first picked up Book 1, won't understand it as well as they could if they were familiar with WW I history. You have to adapt to everything, the setting, the historically driven plot, even the early 20th century slang they use. Really, be prepared to hear the expression "barking spiders!" used A LOT.

With all the fantasy and randomness in the series, people who don't have imaginations won't like it. But there is some historical accuracy in it, more then one would expect. And Alek and Deryn, despite being a prince and a soldier in disguise, are pretty normal in personality and act like teenagers when they can. For example, Deryn has fallen hard for Alek, (of course) so it's too bad he doesn't know she's a girl, or he would feel the same way. Fortunately, Westerfeld assured his fans over a U-Stream chat he did a few months back that Alek would find out her true identity in the 3rd book. This should be good, I'm looking forward to it. Beside that element, they are 2 great characters, especially Deryn who shows serious girl-power. So there is some realistic themes to it, thank goodness.

So while thousands await the final book in the trilogy, I will encourage fans of the steampunk and fantasy genres to give the series a try. Even though it's about war, it's a lot of fun. I think you either love or hate this series, or possibly think it's just plain weird. Weird but good.

Books that combine so many themes together to make one crazy and new world. Fun, illustrated, and action packed.
4/5 stars

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler

With so many novels out there today about scandal, war, intrigue, drama, and violence, sometimes we just need a break from the heavy stuff. So what are supposed to read then? Well, one book you can check out is The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler.

This was a cute book all about finding where you truly belong. It involves all the good stuff, a rock-paper-scissors league, pink frosting, a beauty pageant, cats, Jolly Ranchers, and much more. But here's what really goes on:

Penny Lane (named after the Beatles song) feels like her life has fallen apart. When her parents separate, this New York City gal is forced to go live with her mom in the small town of Hog's Hollow. At first, Penny hopes that the move is only temporary because she can't stand living there. She is constantly bullied by some mean girls at school ever since the Queen Bee's birthday party was ruined by some cupcakes that Penny and her mom made at their bakery, The Cupcake Queen. But life slowly starts looking up. She makes a few new friends, does some serious cupcake making, and a certain good-looking-but-mysterious boy catches her eye. So Penny begins to adapt to her new life. But one important decision she must make could shatter it all. Should she go back to her old life in New York or stick with the town she's come to love?

So yeah, you don't exactly come across life or death drama in this story. Don't expect any serious action, because at times it can be as sweet as it's title. But it was still nice, even if it was a bit slow at times. Penny is a girl we can all relate too, and we are right by her side through every page. This is an innocent book too. No suggestive themes, violence, language, or drugs here! It was a most well-behaved story! The most intense it gets is when the characters go into their personal lives. Penny's parents have their problems. Her friend Tally's dad ignores her while he's on the road. Her friend Marcus' mom is dead. But with support, they overcome these parental issues.

I think my only problem with it was that it was wrapped up far too quickly. It didn't explain much, I was expecting more out of the ending. I guess it didn't go into as much detail as I wanted. Oh well. I think people will enjoy it anyway.

So basically if you are looking for something sugary-sweet and adorable, The Cupcake Queen is the way to go.

Cute, fun, and at times, possibly
heart-warming, this book is a great read when you don't want anything too intense.
3/5 stars.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

I had been in a local bookstore for an hour and a half, looking for a new treasure to bring home, when my eyes fell on a certain book that was on display. The hardcover was rather attractive looking, on the front was a girl in a green gown who appeared to be trapped in some type of bubble or glass ball. It was pretty. I had seen Facebook ads for it before, and had previewed it online, and it looked good. The next thing I know, I'm handing over money, and poof! Matched was all mine.

So here's what happens:
Cassia, a 17 year old girl, lives in a future where your whole life is planned out for you. The Society chooses who you marry, what your job is, and even when you die. Cassia believes her world is perfect, especially when she is matched with her best friend Xander. When you are matched, it means that the Society selects the ideal mate for you, the person you will love and eventually marry. But then another face appears on the Matching Screen, just for an instant. The face belongs to a mysterious and handsome local boy named Ky.
The Society tells her it was only a mistake that she saw Ky's face, and she should go back to loving Xander. But Cassia finds herself drawn to the boy anyways. And meanwhile, life in her city is growing more and more uncomfortable. Personal space is being invaded, and precious objects are being taken away from families. Before her grandfather died, he told Cassia to fight against the rules the Society is set. Cassia is shocked at this, but then she begins to learn that her world isn't nearly as perfect as she was led to believe.
Pretty soon, she's doing dangerous things that could destroy her and the people she's close to. She falls in love with the forbidden Ky, and feels trapped in her strict world. Now she's going to have to risk it all and eventually make big sacrifices while the world around her begins to fall apart.

You can tell right from the first chapter that it was definitely written by a poet. It's lyrical, descriptive style is fluent, and makes the story float right along.

At first, the story was so fluffy and light though, I almost got annoyed. Cassia, the main character turned me off at first, but then she grew stronger in her character throughout the book, and it was much appreciated by me. Hence, I enjoyed the exposition because it was so interesting learning about her world. And the whole Xander vs. Ky thing created the nice little love triangle conflict I've been seeing more and more in YA sci-fi. I found Ky to be a beautifully illustrated character, I think he was my favorite. And Cassia's narrations were always so poetic and descriptive, it was another lovely element.

But a problem I had was once Cassia started to see her world for what it really was, it got quite depressing. Everything starts to go wrong, the people she loves are taken away, and she can't be with got a bit sad. The whole rhythm of the story shifted from an interesting futuristic culture into a sad struggle to gain control of one's life. And this continues for the rest of the book, forcing us to wait for the promised sequel, Crossed.

So I guess you can say I had mixed feelings over this book. Apparently, it's been highly successful so far, a New York Times Best Seller, and it has had a lot of praise and good reviews. I will say that Matched was a good story, despite it's saddening plot, and tragic love story. It was written in a lovely way, and it was certainly interesting.

A dystopian romance novel that can grasp itself on to you, making you curious, and it's characters will work their way into you, making you feel plenty of sympathy.
3.5/5 stars

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Postcard Killers by James Patterson & Lisa Marklund

Well, this was rather intriguing...
I'm no-doubt a James Patterson admirer,the guy is just plain skilled. He's able to crank out new books all the time and they're GOOD. Of course, he gets paid enough to do this.
Anyways, up till now I have only read his Maximum Ride series (which are radical, by the way), and I was curious about his other thrillers. Apparently, European author Lisa Marklund composed the 1st draft, and Patterson did the 2nd. I had seen in on-display in store aisles and it had always looked interesting, plus, it had a TV commercial. How cool is that? You don't see commercials for books everyday.
But media aside, this was a "unique" story. It opens up in the prologue describing the murder of a tourist couple in Paris, France. It goes into the rather disgusting and horrific process the pair of Mac and Sylvia, aka the Postcard Killers go through in order to slay their victims. I was definitely grossed out, but I told myself to keep reading to see if it got less vile. I suppose it did.
The story then cuts to NYPD detective Jacob Kanon investigating the case. But this is no ordinary killing, because all over the European continent, young couples are found dead in hotel beds, and their bodies are arranged in the most curious of ways. Whenever a pair is killed off, the assassins send a postcard to a local newspaper, followed by a photograph of their victims. All over Europe, this is happening. "But why?" is the question we readers ask, "Why are Mac and Sylvia doing this?"
Jacob Kanon is desperate to find out, ever since his only daughter, Kimmy, and her boyfriend, are murdered in Rome. For 6th months he's been tracking the killers all through Europe.
Then we meet Dessie Larsson, a Swedish reporter who receives the postcards of death in Stockholm. She and Jacob join up with a police force to find out who the killers are, and exactly why they are doing this.

I'll admit, it was strange and horrific. But it was a good story with an expertly planned plot. Though it was revealed in the prologue who the killers were, we don't find out their reasoning until much later. To me, the purpose of the killing was a little iffy, and a bit unrealistic, but it still fit. Readers will be astounded at some points, but don't expect a traditional murder mystery story, because it's really only half of one. One thing that was cool about it was that the bodies were arranged to mimic famous works of art. Okay, I know that it sounds disgusting, but it only adds to the cleverness of the killers. I certainly won't recommended this for younger readers, this an adult book with the works: language, sexual content and themes, and violence and gore. But overall, I thought it was awesome.

A choppy, fast-paced thriller that will have you turning page after page. It will charge you up like a double-shot Starbucks expresso drink, making you excited and wanting more.
4 out of 5 stars.