Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Favorites! The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

I accidentally loved this book.

It's one of those times where I picked it up from the library, not remembering I had put it on hold, didn't read the summary, and so began without any idea of what it was about. That certainly helped with the Joyfully Entertained factor. That, and I was lying on Zuma beach in Malibu in the sunshine with a Diet Coke while reading it.

Abby is ready to get out of her hometown. Oh sure, her senior year is going fine. The school play is coming along (though it's quite Stressful), her next door neighbor turned best friend is now her boyfriend (though he's something of a yawn), and her college applications have been sent off (even though she's interested in attending only one). Enter the Italian foreign exchange student Dante Alexander. He's handsome, dark and brooding, and totally Mysterious. That's when strange things start to happen, and Abby's normal life starts to spin out of control. Friends, school, romance - it's all heads south. Nothing about Dante seems to add up, but she can't deny her growing infatuation with him. Ancient Secrets are revealed and Abby finds herself caught in what could be an epic battle over power.

While I did enjoy this book immensely and can't wait to begin the next in the trilogy, The Golden Spiral, I do have some slight hang ups . . .

First. It has some slight echoes to Twilight in the romance department. Apparently we just can't get enough of our Hot, Mysterious And Quite Possibly Dangerous heroes. Fear not though, Dante is no Edward. He is unsure of himself and what he needs to accomplish. He's brave but more of an artist than a fighter. Abby, while not a whimpering clumsy annoying Bella, is likeable but I didn't love her. She's like many a Mary Sue heroine who is pretty mediocre and yet miraculously finds herself to be The True Love of Every Female's Desire. Both are like most YA characters who suffer from the I Am A Teen But I Express Myself In Ways That Make Me Sound Middle Aged syndrome. And, like every other teen romance, they're rife with teen angst, tension and make-out sessions behind the bleachers. For all Twilight haters, this will undoubtedly irk you since there are plenty of flowery similes regarding the perfection of Dante's eyes or back or whathaveyou. But then again, if that sort of thing makes you vomit then you have probably come to the wrong blog. With YA it's just part of the package, and don't pretend you don't secretly love it.

Second. POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT! The Hourglass Door deals with time travel. And while I do love me some sci-fi time dilemmas, rarely do people succeed in attempting to make a comprehensible story involving time travel. There are just too many paradoxes that are confusing and muddy my head. This element has the effect of both 1) making the story much more interesting, and 2) creating confusion that can detract from the story. You'd think that those two would cancel each other out, but I guess it's just another example of yet another paradox.

Now for the pluses. Mangum is a gifted writer. She has good command of language, the pace flows quickly, and the suspense and mystery make it hard to put down. Really, it's just some good ole' storytelling. I appreciated that both the story and the characters were allowed to build. I liked that Abby was dating someone else, someone she really cared about, and thus struggled over how to handle the obvious chemistry with Dante. And while we all knew that What's His Name Boyfriend wouldn't last, it was nice to see her grapple with decisions and repercussions.

I also enjoyed that I was trying to figure out mysteries at the same time Abby was. I really didn't know what was going on, and I loved knowing it had nothing to do with vampires or werewolves. The Slight Twists & Surprises were creative and intriguing, and I was never confused or felt bogged down by details.

I often rank books by how much I think about them when I can't read them. It's probably not the best way to determine whether the book has true merit, but for me it's a good guideline of how entertaining I find the read. And really, I don't aim for much more in life other than finding happiness in reading something enjoyable. I was only a couple chapters into Hourglass Door and was put-out that I had to go to some party or something instead of staying home to finish it. And the whole time I was out, while people blathered on to me about things, I kept thinking about What Might Happen Next in the book.

In all, a Fast & Furious read that I'll probably re-read in the near future.

4/5 stars.

Book source: Local library.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Audiobook) by Carrie Ryan

There's nothing like a good bout of rage to get you out of your blogging slump. Not that I'm ready to go on a rampage or anything, but I think if I were reading this book as opposed to listening to it on my iPod I would have chucked this book as hard as I could against the wall at the end.

Let me preface.
So, there's Mary. A fairly blah protagonist who lives in a village which is weirdly pretty much the same as the village in the movie "The Village", sans porcupine monsters and Adrian Brody. Also, there are zombies. And a love triangle. Or square, I guess. Anyway, Mary's life has been devastated by The Unconsecrated (zombies); her parents are gone, her brother is distracted and her marriage prospects are Complicated. So she lives with The Sisterhood - like freaky governing nuns with Secrets. A stranger appears from the woods one day, which is kept under wraps but Mary discovers this by accident. Oops. Because supposedly there is nothing out there in those woods except more flesh eating Unconsecrated.

Smells like Dirty Secrets . . .

At first I was feeling it. I'm probably one of the 6 people who actually really liked the movie "The Village" and I am always intrigued by a good zombie flick. I was enjoying the Suspense and Mystery and True Creepiness, and we all know I love me a good love triangle. The narrator bugged me a little because she's monotone, but I get the feeling that Mary would be too since she just so bllecchhh. So it was all okay.

And then I got to the middle.

Mary was becoming more and more obnoxious, what with the Unrequited Love Despair and Obsession With The Ocean. The zombie attacks were becoming depressing, and then . . . then it became REALLY DEPRESSINGER. Seriously. Imagine a night where you do nothing but sit around in your grubby sweats and eat chips and ice cream alone while listening to Dashboard Confessional and then puting in Tristan & Isolde because no one has called or texted you all day and you just continue to feel crappier as the night goes on, and that would be kind of cheery compared to this. Okay I feel myself starting to get worked up -

**Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert**

so you better stop now if you want to read this.

Mary becomes more and more hooked on the idea that such a thing as an ocean exists, and since her village is destroyed by The Unconsecrated, she takes her merry band of Love Square and Jaded Brother into the woods, which pretty much dooms them all. The whole first part of the book Mary's all, Woe-is-me-because-my-true-love-is-marrying-my-best-friend - but THEN when she and Travis are trapped for a few weeks in a tree house she's like, I have to ponder on the great mysteries of what lies beyond the woods. And I'm like, Okay but you've got a wonderful loyal boy with you whom you should probably talk to sometimes because he just keeps sacrificing things for you, and you also love him and have ached for him for the first half of this book, remember? And she's like, Ya I love him and I like playing house but we have to leave the tree at some point. And I'm like, True. And she's like, But I think I'll choose the ocean before Travis. And I'm like, WHAT?! WHY?! Because The Ocean can cook for you? and massage you? and protect you and make you laugh and be a good companion AND GIVE THEIR EFFING LIFE BECAUSE YOU ARE A STUPID SELFISH MORON?!?! AARRGGHHHHH!

(taking some deep breaths)
**Spoilers Over**

Okay. Obviously, I don't like things turn out in this book. I feel a bit betrayed because YA, while often graphic and sad and dark, is usually more hopeful than this depressing monstrosity. In all fairness though I need to put it out there that Carrie Ryan has written this very well. The story is gripping, and while not always fast-paced, it's always intriguing. The Love Square feels heart-wrenching sometimes, and is always Unjust/Unfair/Frustrating. (Personally, I like Love Triangles because there is always a loser. And while you can argue that everyone loses because they're ridiculous and overly-dramatic and all parties involved retain emotional baggage, there is always one person who walks away with nothing but TWO who walk away with each other. Not so here. In this Forest EVERYONE loses.)

The characters, while nothing out of the ordinary, are interesting and sympathetic enough. EXCEPT MARY. Ugh. I wish she had died in the end. I think I would have liked that better. I know the next book, The Dead Tossed Waves, is about her daughter but I just have no intention of going there because I actually like my life.

2.5 mangled zombie bodies because I wanted to slit my wrists at the end.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. When the premise is "Teen Gets Stuck Helping Old Relative For A Season" you kind of know what to expect. Usually it involves a Disaffected Youth, a Crotchety Geezer, some Life Lessons and A Mournful Yet Fulfilled ending. Cardturner was that, and also somehow not.

Alton, while not truly disaffected, is kind of blah. He isn't really anything. Nicer than his parents, stupider than the lead girl, somewhat swayed by his best friend, a fairly decent card player. I didn't dislike him but I didn't love him either. Uncle Lester, known as Trapp, comes off as your typical C.G., what with all the bossing about and putting people down and such. Usually I find these characters delightful in all their grumpiness and hating of life, but Trapp didn't sell me on it. I wish there had been more from him. More surliness, more put-downs, more depth to the character. And more gross old people stuff, like pranks with dentures and wacking kids with canes and other delights that only old folk can do.

The story involves A LOT of bridge, and by a lot I mean that if you are the type to 1)fall asleep or 2)get violent because card games bring up bad memories of that fateful weekend in Vegas or something, than this is not the book for you. As I've mentioned on NRL, I'm not much of a card player. I think that was a big part of my problem, because I found my eyes glazing over on a few occasions when bridge explanations got technical. I do have a new respect for the game though, and I plan on taking up bridge when I get a maid, become a trophy wife and the day increases from 24 to 30 hours.

My biggest issue came from The Twist that came about halfway through. I'm not sure if it annoyed me or if I liked it that way, because it tweaked my previously stated Known Formula Of Old People Plots.

For character development that left something wanting, I give Cardturner 3/5 Aces. Also, I don't get the cover. There was never a mention of a train station, Alton reading, or Alton being a bum at any kind of transportation station. Weird.

Book source: Local library.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

So I've been reading a lot this past week but have a major case of the lazies.

Need I give a summary of this? I mean, what more do you need to know besides it being an account of good ole Honest Abe and his secret life as a Vampire Slayer? Not much. Here, though, are my thoughts:

First, I liked it better than the author's previous work Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. It was more compelling because of some (obvious) liberties taken with the life of Lincoln. There are a host of fictional characters thrown in, a secret journal, an unexpected friendship with a mysterious vampire, and an underground network of powerful undead who may hold the fate of the nation in their cold and deadly hands. It all adds up to a mediumly funny spin.

Second. It's Lincoln. How many people do you hear these days say, "Oh I don't think that Lincoln bloke was much of a president. In fact, I forget he even was president." Right. So you can't help but like the main character. Grahame-Smith does a good job at making fictional journal entries capture the essence of Lincoln. I was going to quote a few passages but I returned it without writing them down. So, sorry. But I appreciate the journal aspects because the language fits the times and also includes some rather charming dry wit. Example: After defending his client whom he later learns is a vampire and therefore has to destroy, Lincoln writes down in his journal, "Well I suppose that may be the only time I ever defend a client in court and behead them in the same day." Or something to that effect.

Third thought. It's not the page-turner that some other recent reads have been. It does read like a biography, and as I'm not in the mood for a biography, I found myself trudging through parts. And now that I think about it, I wonder how many people actually think this is a real biography of Lincoln . . .

Anyway. Good but not awesome. 3.5 bloody axes for creative writing and lack of sparkle-in-the-sun vampires.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Favorites! Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett is the third of four children in the Martin family. The Martins live in and manage a shabby hotel in NYC that dates back to the 1920s. When Scarlett turns 15, she is put in charge of one of the hotel's 27 rooms- the Empire Suite. Into this room moves Mrs. Amberson, a failed 1970s starlet who has returned to New York to write her memoirs. Soon, Scarlett is taking dictation, running around town with Mrs. Amberson, and getting caught up in her Auntie Mame-meets-Bianca Jagger adventures. In the midst of all this, Scarlett falls in love - or so she thinks - and it takes Mrs. Amberson to help her see the light. Taken from Goodreads.

I'd heard good things for quite some time - but I saw it in the library and that was it. Because HELLO red lipstick with adorable black dress straps on what is presumably a fantastic dress from the neckline down? Sold.

As it turns out, the inside was as delightful as the outside. Meet Scarlett, 15, who is about as endearingly normal as any heroine you'll (not) find. She writes, she does chores, is kind of poor, is obligated to assist an eccentric and winning Mrs. Amberson, is devoid of any spectacular summer plans (unlike her rich Manhattanite friends), and still has some growing up to do. Plus, she isn't simpering, whiny, tom-boyish, manipulative, rude, stupid, or clumsy. A breath of fresh air let me tell you. She's got some quirks and flaws, but she reminded me of what is what like to be 15 (sans most of the awkwardness) and have a crush and sometimes think you're a victim of your parents' ridiculousness.

The Charm Factor of the book, though, is the Martin family. I admit I had a few moments where I was like, Can I trade my family in for them? Not really, but you know what I mean. The Martins certainly are not perfect though - the siblings constantly bicker and lie to their parents. But they're also very close and exchange lots of witty banter and IOU's and Game Plans and moral support and things.

“Chip has a boat. Fancy boat,” Spencer went on. “And he did promise Marlene a ride.”

“This is my ex-boyfriend we’re talk about,” she [Lola] said.

“I know,” Scarlett said. “It’s asking a lot. I’m not asking you to get back together with him...”

“She’s definitely not asking that...” Spencer cut in.

“This is just asking him to take a little boat ride,” Scarlett finished.
“You mean you want me to use him.”

“Stop it,” Spencer said. “You’re making me love you more.”

Also, they live in a vintagey hotel.

This is my idea of a good summer read. Talented writing, fun story, jogging pace, clever lines, fun characters you actually care about. It merits some hammock-time and an ice cream sandwich or four.

3.5 glittery stars for sweetly lingering in my head long after I finished it, much like an exchanged glance from a sexy mysterious passerby.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Airhead by Meg Cabot

Emerson Watts, 16 and female, loves playing video games, hanging out with her best friend, Christopher, and has made peace with her less-than-supermodel-esque looks. But when she's involved in a mysterious accident, she wakes up to find she's now in the body of...a supermodel. Who was behind this switch? What was the motive? And how can she get Christopher to realize she's still the same person inside? Taken from Goodreads.

So, confession: I've never been interested in reading anything Meg Cabot. And that is based solely on the opinions of others, overly-fluffed plot descriptions on the back cover, and also the movie Princess Diaries, which I normally would've liked but I just CANNOT handle Anne Hathaway. Maybe not the best reasons to dismiss an author, but whatever.

And that is pretty much how I feel about this book: What. Ever.

The premise is too out there for such a cotton candy read. Freaky Friday I can handle, but this? Just not working for me. And what is with my constant referencing of Disney films featuring starletts who crashed and burned? (Okay, not Anne. She was actually very classy through her whole My Ex Is Now In Jail Because He Is A White Collar Criminal ordeal, and sported some truly lovely dresses and hairstyles while probably feeling like a hot mess inside. I was, in fact, referencing Lindsay Lohan . . . and, well. I need no further explanation I think).

So the storyline never felt real or solidified. The main character, Em, is another "heroine" who hates fashion (don't they always? or they're totally sloppy and don't know what to do about it. PLEASE.) and has a boy BFF (enough already! get a girl friend for a change) and disdains anyone who finds wearing sweats in public pathetic (read: anyone who hasn't given up on life). It's apparent that I am really over the main girl who is Clumsy And Dresses Like A Slob And Hates All Things That Seem Too Girly Including Other Girls And Whines A Lot About Everything.

I knew going into this that it would be short and silly and your typical teenage pool read. And it is. But after reading Suite Scarlett, which I found to be flufftacularly delightful, this just seemed a bit sloppy. The writing wasn't very tight, the characters never develop, the dialogue is more movie-like than real life. And that, I suppose, it just how the whole thing feels: like it's written solely to be made into yet another Disney starlett movie. Actually, I bet it already is one. A straight-to-dvd perhaps. I bet my little sister would know . . .

Also, it ends weird. Like how a chapter ends. Cliffhangers I can do, but this isn't really a cliffhanger. There is absolutely no resolution to anything, a new sub-plot has just begun, and BAM. Over. Please See Book 2. And I'm like, This obviously wasn't written to be a trilogy. (Rolling my eyes). Which is how I've heard about these books - the 3rd one recently came out people have been talking about them. And despite my unthrilledness with Airhead, I just might read the other two because of a charming secondary character, Lulu, who thinks that Em and Nikki had a "spirit transfer" a la Freaky Friday and isn't bothered by it in the least.

All in all, Meh in high heeled shoes.

Book source: Local library.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blue Bloods (Blue Bloods #1) Audiobook by Melissa De La Cruz

When the Mayflower set sail in 1620, it carried on board the men and women who would shape America: Miles Standish; John Alden; Constance Hopkins. But some among the Pilgrims were not pure of heart; they were not escaping religious persecution. Indeed, they were not even human. They were vampires. The vampires assimilated quickly into the New World. Rising to levels of enormous power, wealth, and influence, they were the celebrated blue bloods of American society. The Blue Bloods vowed that their immortal status would remain a closely guarded secret. And they kept that secret for centuries.

But now, in New York City, the secret is seeping out. Schuyler Van Alen is a sophomore at a prestigious private school. Suddenly, when she turns fifteen, there is a visible mosaic of blue veins on her arm. She starts to crave raw food and she is having flashbacks to ancient times. Then a girl from her school is found dead... drained of all her blood. Schuyler doesn't know what to think. Could those vampire legends really be true? Steeped in vampire lore and set against the heady backdrop of the rich, young, and powerful in the heart of New York City, Blue Bloods will be devoured by Melissa de la Cruz's legion fans. Taken from Goodreads.

Sigh. I just . . . I know I'm not the only one who is over vampires. I feel like I don't need to explain that. But my friend gave me these cd's, knowing I was looking for something else to listen to while working, I couldn't just say NO now could I. It was free after all. So despite the big bite marks on this chick's neck that was hard to overlook, like a big red WARNING sign I blew right past, I put the cd's on my iPod and . . .

City of Bones first draft?! That was my first thought. Because it starts off with Schuyler (pronounced Skylar - I've always disliked that name so I was tainted from the get-go) who is nervously standing in line with her boy best friend (strike #2 - must all BFFs be of a different gender these days?) to get into a nightclub with fake IDs. Much like City of Bones sans the Simon witticisms. And after openly declaring my love for the Mortal Instruments series, you can imagine how thrilled I was by something that seemed like a janky spin-off. By which I mean - not thrilled at all.

To be fair though, as far as vampire stories are concerned, I thought there was some creative spin on the mythology of the undead. The connection to fallen angles, the phases of vamp evolution, the fact that there is something ancient and mysterious that is hunting them. It makes for some good storytelling.

But. But but but.

If there is anything I've learned lately, it's the importance of connecting with characters. And without relatable or sympathetic characters, it doesn't matter how interesting the story is. If you've watched all 6 seasons of LOST I'm pretty sure you're with me on this one. And I love the Losties. The Blue Bloods though? Not so much. I didn't connect with any of them. In fact I think it's safe to say that I don't care whether they all Live Happily Ever with their true loves and an endless supply of Grade A blood, or whether they all get struck by God's holy lightening bolts and are forced to do the Macarena in Hell with Lucifer till the end of time. And as much as I dislike not having resolution to a story, I just don't think I care enough about any of them to read (or listen to) the rest of the series.

Part of the problem is that I don't know what any of them want. I don't know or understand their motivations. They all seemed one-dimensional. And while there are multiple perspectives from different characters, and therefore multiple conflicts and love interests, none of said conflicts- and particularly said love interests- were believable or compelling. Jack and Schuyler lack chemistry, We Could Make An Awesome Power Duo togetherness, or any kind of emotional bonding. He's gorgeous, she is gorgeous and vulnerable, he doesn't understand why he is attracted to her, yada yada yada. Which, by the way, I find valid because I don't know what he sees in her either. She's boring and whiny, kind of like everyone else in the story. Are you having flashbacks to any other famous vampire series right now? Because I know I am.

My other problem was the narrator. She just sounded too old to be reading first perspective views from teenagers. Kind of like a grandmother. And let me tell you, picturing my grandmother reading a kissing/heavy flirting scene or something made me slightly squeamish. Speaking of - there are one or two scenes that are really innapropriate. If I had a teenage daughter I wouldn't let her read these.

Frankly, I would really only recommend this to fans of Twilight-ish books, unless you're dying for a fluffy summer read where the setting isn't limited to high school.

2.5 out of 5 stars. It just fell flat for me.

Book source: Friend (who got it from the library).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is. Taken from Goodreads.

I checked this out some months ago, but could barely get through the first chapter because it was too . . . weird. After seeing that the third one (yes, another trilogy) is due to come out this fall, and stumbling upon more raves over this book, I decided to give it another go. I think I should address my initial hang-ups, because I think there are others who would shy away from The Knife of Never Letting Go for the same reasons.

First, the language. The voice of Todd, and a handful of other characters, read the way I always imagined The Blue Fugates (you know - the Blue People of Kentucky/West Virginia) would probably sound. Thick southern drawls where creatures are "creachures" and lots of "a-ridin off" and "ain't ya's" and certain men's Noise is IN Different font. This can either be an effective attention-grabber or a jarring distraction - I think it's supposed to be both, actually. I like it. Ness wisely uses language, punctuation (or the lack thereof), and font choice to evoke a certain momentum or emotion. For example:

"And he's grabbing her by the neck with one hand and smashing a cloth over her nose and mouth with the other and as I call out and take a step forward I hear her scream from beneath it and she tries to fight with her hands but Aaron's holding her tight and by the time I've taken my second and third steps she's already swooning from whatever's on the cloth and on my fourth and fifth steps he's dropping her to the ground and Manchee is still in my arms and on my sixth step he's reaching behind his back and I don't have my knife and I have Manchee with me and I can only run toward him and on my seventh step I see him bring around a wooden staff that's been strapped to his back and it swings thru the air and strikes me full on the side of my head with a CRACK . . ."

The Punctuation Rejection works well to keep the scene fast and gripping. Love it.

Initial Hang Up #2: there is this creepy aura about this world Todd lives in. The whole environments feels like the color of the cover - like the way the sky looks when there has been a huge fire. Red-orangey gray without true sunlight, swamps and tumbleweeds and poverty and cruelty. The Noise of the men is usually desperate, bleak, and hopeless. And while Todd hints at some of the things he regularly sees in the Noise of their memories of women, it never gets graphic or offensive.

I think when I did my First Attempted Reading I just wasn't in the mood for something dark and despairing. Now that I've rejected the pleasurable things in life and have begun kicking puppies and making rude gestures to old people I guess this genre is more fitting to me now. Anyway. I found this to be a great read; compelling characters, fast-paced storytelling, gripping suspense and a dash of mystery.

Highly recommended to dystopian/sci-fi fans.

Book source: Local library.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Favorites! Spilling Ink by Ellen Potter & Anne Mazer

Dear Ellen Potter (and, ahem, Anne):


Truly. I've gone through a number of Books On Writing, and Spilling Ink smothers the competition. I knew that it was aimed for younger readers, but I'm very much a beginner writer and I've never taken a creative writing class, so the clear and concise way the information is presented is exactly what I need. And honestly Ellen, I just gobbled it up because it felt like reading one of your fictional books; funny and interesting and delightful. That part on Suspense - with the man crawling up the window sill towards your little friends - I was sitting on the edge of my seat just like you knew we all would be.

I loved the way it was itemized. The chapters are short, easy to understand, and illustrated with helpful stories/examples and drawings. I found the I Dare You sections to be helpful prompts before I begin a writing session. I learned new things, like the different kinds of third person narratives. Um, Third-Person Limited what? Yes, I graduated from college. All very informative.

What I really needed though, and found such great help in, was the bits on Character and Voice. It's completely changed the way I approach my stories now. Needing to know the desires of your characters? Duh - why didn't I ever think that was important? I found this book so helpful that I brought it with me to Friend Sherry's house for Weekly Writing Night. I rushed to explain my Duh moment, and she looked at me while I pointed to the chapter and I knew she just had a Duh moment too.

Lastly, I'd like to thank you for the age accessibility of this book. When Patron X FINALLY saw fit to return it, and I ran down to the library to pick it up, my eleven year old sister was just as excited as I was. We poured over it together, her with a notebook and pen in hand. The layout was perfect for her - not just a lot of small words crowding a page, but easy to read print with fun pictures and clear-but-not-dumbed-down language. It will make for some great sister bonding time, and it will help her refine her already-impressive talent.

So thanks for this winning collaboration! Two thumbs way up for Spilling Ink. I'm giving mine back to the library for others to enjoy, and buying it on Amazon to have for keeps.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Lamplighter (The Foundling #2) by D.M. Cornish

Rossamund has begun training as a lamplighter, which he quickly realizes he doesn't have much talent for. Just as he begins to settle into his routine, the barricaded city of Westermill is beset by monster attacks, a girl joins the ranks of the lamplighters (which is unheard of), and old friends and acquaintances make sudden reappearances in Rossamund's life. Mysterious dark deeds, political hoodwinking and strong-willed females have Rossamund caught in one undesirable net of confusion.

You know, after mentally trudging through 600 pages (not including the index) I'm a bit worn out. Not that it was painful per se, but recounting it all certainly would be. As you probably noticed with my incredibly detailed and verbose story summarization. How about I do us all favor and itemize this one? Okay then.

- What I said originally about the world Cornish has created still holds true in The Lamplighter. I enjoy his world, and his pictures!, of strange lightening-wielding humans and good-or-evil monsters, etc. All very creative.

- It's SO long. And wordy. I like certain kinds of Wordy, but this story just gets so bogged down in the details. The immense descriptions and overuse of invented terms seem wrong for the genre (adventure-fantasy for kids). Perhaps I've become rushed, impatient and slightly ADD in my old age, but I feel confident in asserting that I would've never gotten through the second chapter a child or teen.

- Not enough action. For the plot and length of the book there should be plenty of action/adventure/intrigue scenes, but they're few and far between and often seem flat. The intrigue that was there was . . . well, unintriguing. The Mystery was fairly obvious a few hundred pages before Rossamund ever put it together and I found myself doing lots of eye-rolling and audible sighing whilst thinking that Rossamund really is just as daft and oblivious and he often seems.

- I about threw the book across the room when I got to the end because - low and behold - it's NOT THE END. And because I hate not having resolution I know I'll end up reading the next one, whenever that comes out.

This sounds all very bitter doesn't it? The thing is, I did like it. But I wanted to LOVE it, so there's something of a let-down.

3 out of 5 turkeys. Recommended if you have an upcoming family reunion you're dreading and need an excuse something along the lines of "I made a commitment to read ALL of this before I return home and I keep my promises!"

Book source: Local library.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

In the sequel to Perfect Chemistry, the story shies away from Alex and Brittany, who have started college in Denver, and focuses on Alex's younger brother Carlos. Carlos is sent to live with Alex after getting into some trouble down in Mexico, and he makes it known that Denver is just not his scene. But when he gets to know Kiara, the shy granola girl from school, he starts to realize that maybe being surrounded by people with direction might not be such a bad thing.

When my friend gave me this to borrow, the first thing I thought when I looked at the book in my hand was, "Oohh THAT looks like fun! Maybe I should be doing more of that instead of sitting around typing book 'reviews.'" I think I feel a new summer goal coming on . . .

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the extent of my excitement over this book.

I think that if you substitute the name "Carlos" for the name "Alex" it would be the EXACT SAME STORY as Perfect Chemistry. Carlos is whinier than Alex I suppose, so there's one difference. He's certainly Troubled. He's got some baggage from events in the previous book, and likes to cover said Hurts with a dollop of sarcasm and a sprinkle of Bad-A Behavior. Gang activity? Check. Acceptance of A Crappy Life? Check. Spanglish Foul-mouthery? Check. Falling for the good girl after an initial strong dislike of her? Double check.

Enter Kiara Westford. She is shy and unpopular, probably as a result of wearing men's t-shirts and stuttering when she talks. Her interests are hiking (it is Denver after all), fixing up cars, volunteering at the old people home, and hanging out with her best friend Tuck. She is likeable enough, but not very interesting. For that reason alone her relationship with Carlos "Hot bod and a face that Angels weep over" Fuentas feels way too forced and much less realistic than Alex and Beauty Queen Brittany.

Rules of Attraction is fairly predictable since Elkeles uses the same formula as Perfect Chemistry, which goes something like this: Every other chapter is seen through the eyes of Carlos or Kiara. Both overly-angsty teens have A Trial to overcome; her a stuttering problem and he a Nihilistic Mindset and a quickly growing police record. Then, after some "witty" banter mixed with sexual tension, the Troubled Boy falls for the Good Girl despite loads of Misunderstandings and social stigmas (read: Forbiddenness). She hands him her virginity on a silver platter because "he's worth it," and Boy becomes a better person because of said Previously Misunderstood But Now Beloved Girl. There is a Miraculous Escape from the clutches of The Inescapable Gang, the Bad Guy gets his in the end, and they all Live Happily Ever After.

I've actually learned a lot of Life Lessons from these books so far. I decided to ditch my good-girl persona in favor of a more Closet-Girls Gone Wild kind of lifestyle, because that will get me a hot and loving husband in the end. And I'll do this under the roof of my parents' home, since Kiara did and her dad didn't care. In fact, I think I'll tell my dad to be more like Mr. Westford - you know, the type who lets known gang members live in his house, in the room right next to his teenage daughter. The type who tells them to just "be safe" about the shenanigans they'll get into late at night. Yeah I think my dad might go for that.

The highlight, nay - saving grace of the book is Tuck. Not only does he have some great one-liners, but also cons Carlos into playing ultimate frisbee on an all-male gay team.

2.5 stars for gang violence, teen drinking, drug use and sex, but still maintaining a compelling writing style.

Book source: Friend.