Sunday, March 30, 2014


Whaley, J.C. (2014). Noggin. NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Young Adult Fiction / Speculative Fiction?
356 pages

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars -- So ORIGINAL!

Check out the trailer:

Is this not an AWESOME cover? And AWESOME premise? Accept the scientific premise - that human heads can be frozen for future reattachment to healthy bodies -- and everything works swimmingly and you'll love this book. I read it straight through in a day. The story feels amazingly like realistic fiction and not science fiction because author John Corey Whaley didn't spend time bogging down the readers with how the science worked.

Whaley did an excellent job of realistically conveying how those closest to Travis -- his best friend, girl friend, and parents --  must have felt and the variations in where they were in the grieving process. Some had let Travis go, some hadn't, but all of them suffered and grew and changed as a result of Travis's basically returning from the dead.

I found myself thinking that somehow Travis should have matured through this advanced scientific procedure -- but then there would be the reminder that he hadn't matured. He was sixteen before he died, and he's sixteen when he comes back, and he thinks, acts, and makes decisions like a sixteen-year-old boy. He has to come back to the same school, and even some of the same horrifying teachers, but all his friends are in college and have matured, where Travis feels like they were just hanging-out and clinging to him a few weeks earlier. There was hilarity and heartbreak and times when I just ached from his awkwardness and embarrassment.

Travis does have a moment of clarity when he realizes the impact his decision made on the people he loved, and that was very insightful. Whaley fleshed-out his characters very well and makes readers feel SOMETHING for each of them: sympathy, frustration, anger, and more.

I'd recommend for grades 9 and up.  There's mild language and violence, and some kissing and references to sex, but nothing is graphic or detailed.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Atheneum Books for Young Readers for providing this ARC digital review copy in exchange for a fair review. Book is set to release the first week of April, 2014.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Screaming Staircase: Lockwood & Co. Book 1

Stroud, J. (2013). The screaming staircase. NY: Disney Hyperion.
Middle Grade / Young Adult Fantasy / Mystery / Paranormal

I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Check out this CREEPY trailer:

Spooky stuff! When I saw the recommended age range for the book was ages 8-12, I was surprised. There are some pretty intense, violent, and gory -- and very well written - scenes.  I would say this is more for middle grades than elementary, and even highschoolers can enjoy it since the writing is so good and the vocabulary is more challenging.

I struggled with when exactly the story was supposed to take place. It seemed very old London at times, in the way the characters dressed and talked and the general descriptions of surroundings; however, there were modern conveniences and items that indicated it was probably more modern times. I would have liked that spelled-out, but it didn't really affect the overall story.

The premise was unique and intriguing: something has shifted in the universe and ghosts of different type and strength cause havoc after dark. Children and young teens have more acute sensory perceptions than adults, so it is young people who are the basic workers to control and eliminate the spirits.

Our main characters, Lucy, Lockwood, and George, each have their own "talents" when it comes to detection and elimination of the "visitors," as the ghostly presences were called. And Stroud does a good job of letting readers have some insight into each of them, though not as much depth as we'd like -- my guess is more background will come in the next installments.

It took quite a bit of the book to build the world of London, but I didn't mind. I was glad to have the details and the many stories of hauntings and encounters. Did I mention the scenes were pretty scary? It didn't take a whole lot of hard thinking to figure out who was the culprit of the main mystery in this one, but it unfolded in an interesting and nail-biting way, and it certainly had some unexpected turns.

Thank you to Disney Hyperion for this ARC that I received nearly a year ago -- I'm just sorry I sat on it so long before reading! Ready for the next book!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy, #3)

Nielson, J. (2014). The shadow throne. NY: Scholastic.

Middle Grade / Young Adult Fantasy
336 pages
3 out of 5 Stars

And the trilogy is tied-up in a nice, neat bow! I liked this final book of THE ASCENDANCE TRILOGY for just that reason: questions were answered, predictions were confirmed, connections made, loose ends tied.

Our main character, Jaron, is maturing and as happens with maturity and the responsibilities he has, he is not quite as amusing as he was in prior stories. None of the characters are as amusing, but that's a logical consequence of war and the problems war brings.

Though war is a central theme, it is not an overly violent book -- truly, less violent than its predecessors. Most war scenes are summarized or vaguely described, so that the readers know the battlefield is littered with the dead and dying, but not a whole lot more than that.

There are plenty of positive messages, which was a plus, but the story got a bit repetitive and formulaic with Jaron's decisions and their consequences. Those formulas also pushed the boundaries of being believable when they worked time and time again.  I needed a big fat failure at some point!

Happily, there was one surprise in the ending, and the need to know how everything would turn-out drove me, not unpleasantly, forward; however, each of the first books I read in one day and this one stretched to a week, so that says something. Recommend for ages 10-14 who have read the first two books.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Snicker of Magic

Lloyd, N. (2014). A snicker of magic. NY: Scholastic, Inc.
Children's/Middle Grade Fantasy

I gave this book a 4.5 out of 5.0 stars!

Scroll down for post update!

Refreshing, fun story for kids grades 3 through 7! This story was happily unlike anything I've read before. The author had a Fannie Flagg-ish feel to her writing, maybe because it's so clearly southern, which was delightful to me.

Felicity, our main character, is so real you want to squeeze her. She has struggles and fears and a gift that sometimes feels more like a burden, and with her mother constantly moving her and her sister from place to place, Felicity longs for roots and for a place to call home.  I think there are lots of readers who can relate to her character, and certainly plenty who will sympathize.

The supporting characters are also very real and well written. Jonah is just the friend that Felicity needed and readers will wish they knew him. Felicity's family members are interesting and each have enough personality to make them tangible.  Only Felicity's mom remains a little blurry around the edges, but it is intentional and makes sense given her story.

The townspeople and back stories are many, but it's not overwhelming or unnecessary.  All of the parts to the story end up making a whole by the end, where readers will see the magic unfold into a very satisfactory ending.

This story is age appropriate, clean in all ways (no language, violence, or sexuality), and flows very pleasantly.  There is an overall mystery to be solved, there are relationships that need tending and mending, and there is a lot of reality in the magic.

So, why not a perfect 5.0?  There were times when the story dragged a little -- never enough that I didn't want to keep reading, but it slowed.  Also, I wasn't fully satisfied with where we end with Felicity's mother, but I think kids reading the book probably wouldn't ponder it.

I won this ARC in a giveaway from the Sam Houston State Holiday Break Reading Contest. Thank you SHSU!

UPDATE: Was just my luck that Ms. Lloyd attended the Texas Library Association Conference in April, 2014, so of course I got a signed copy of Snicker while gushing about how much I loved it. Also listened to a panel where Ms. Lloyd was a speaker, and I think she's super fabulous!!
Me, the fan-girl, with Natalie Lloyd.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

One Man Guy

Barakiva, M. (2014). One man guy. Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Expected publication May, 2014
Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary Romance, LGBTQ

I gave this 2.5 of 5 stars.

Maybe I am just too jaded, but this story seemed completely unrealistic.  On the other hand, I am not a fourteen-year-old boy, nor am I gay, nor am I Armenian, so perhaps this story would make perfect sense if I was any of these things.

What worked for me was the Armenian angle, and it was interesting to me to get some insight into that culture -- though was it stereotypical? I don't know, but it did at times seem quite critical of the Armenian culture. The story does bring to light the Armenian Genocide that took place in Turkey after World War I, and I imagine that many readers would otherwise be unaware of that history. I am appreciative of how Barakiva made that a part of his story, and that storyline was effective. What also worked was that it was a quick read at 278 pages, which is a draw for reluctant readers.

What didn't work for me was how easily things happened for our main character, Alek. One day he doesn't know he's gay, the next day he does, and he's immediately fine with it -- as is everyone else in the world, including random little old ladies commenting on the cuteness of him and his boyfriend.  I just don't believe it. In this strict household, where his parents are constantly concerned about appearances and what others think, they're okay with their son being gay as long as his grades are good? Again, I don't believe it. It was just too easy and normal. More like how things SHOULD be, but how they aren't -- at least not in my experience, though it's getting better.  So maybe that's what the story was supposed to be -- a picture of what should or could be?  If that was its intent, then okayyyyyyy, but it still doesn't work for me.

Another problem is Alek's insta-love with our second most prominent character, Ethan, who I never can quite get fully developed in my mind. The problem isn't really the insta-love, rather the lack of definition of Ethan. There is gay-with-Alek Ethan, who seems to be a bit stereotypical with his boyfriend talk, hair stylist, and blowing of kisses. Then there's skater Ethan, who is rough and tumble, tough talking, fighting, hanging with the guys Ethan. Barakiva attempts to bridge these two versions, but they never quite connect and the reader is left unsure about Ethan. One excellent character was Becky, Alek's BFF. She was well drawn and really easy to imagine, and she was the best character in the story.

There is also a focus on Armenian food, which in itself isn't a problem, but the better part of an entire chapter is devoted to spelling out the preparation of several dishes. This bored me to tears. I just flipped through it to get to the point of the chapter.

I'd say this is appropriate for ages 13-17.  There's some language, a little bullying, and kissing with the suggestion of heavy petting. Some reference to underage partying as well, but overall, fairly innocuous.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for the ARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Riggs, Ransom. (2011). Miss Peregrine's home for peculiar children.  Quirk Publishing.

Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal

I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

Imaginative, fantastic, inventive! I really liked this book and pretty much read it straight through in one sitting. What seemed to be a turn-off for some(that the cover was creepy but the story wasn't quite creepy enough) was fine with me. The creepiness was not found in the peculiar children (though the child who can reanimate the dead is CREEPY) so much as in the creatures hunting the peculiar children -- but make no mistake, there was a creepy element. 

And as for the pictures: I loved them! They harkened back to carnival side shows of old and the fascination with the freakish, and in later years, of being drawn to something that had been defined as politically incorrect and inappropriate, but - like the proverbial train wreck - you can't stop looking. Whew!

I found myself quite impressed with how Riggs found these pictures and then incorporated them into the story. True, some pictures were simply mentions, but not one seemed like it didn't belong. He weaves a great story, with plenty of plot twists and turns, and richly described characters. Some of the characters seemed familiar (hello Charles Wallace from A WRINKLE IN TIME?), but overall, this book was unique and entertaining, and as soon as I finished it, I ordered the sequel.

The book is appropriate and entertaining for anyone over the age of twelve (adults included), I'd think, though younger readers may find the monsters and their attacks a little too intense.  There is some fairly bloody violence and disturbing situations, war, and death. Adults drink alcohol readily, and heavily. Also, there is reference to adultery, a budding romance and some kissing, but the language is clean.

Why not a 5? Can't go into that without revealing spoilers, but let's say that I found our main character's relationship with his parents and decisions and situations in relation to them a bit unrealistic.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Giver

Lowry, Lois (1993). The Giver. Bantam Double Day Dell Books.
Young adult, middle grade.  Dystopian
Newbery Medal Winner

I gave this 4.5 out of 5.0 stars.

I really wish I had read this when it first came out, as Lowry clearly planted a seed for many of the future generations of dystopian writers. She painted a very detailed picture of a world in which science and technology have developed to a point the government can create sameness for all its citizens. To swipe a line from Willy Wonka, happiness and harmony are what it's all about. Only a very limited few know what the rest of them are missing, but that's really all it takes for a yearning to start, and when there's yearning, there's change. Think Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD, minus the sex.

In all the harmony, the characters and this world are deeply disturbing, and the story poses many points to ponder about what makes us human -- free will, choice, guilt, sexuality, and morality to name a few qualities -- and what we are if those aspects are removed.

THE GIVER has an outstanding plot, intentionally written characters (we are only supposed to form specific feelings for those we do), and wonderful, rich writing. It has very minimal violence, no language issues, and no sexual situations -- only a reference to a teenaged boy's stirrings and no elaboration on that.

So why the 4.5 and not the 5.0? The ending. The ending just didn't do it for me and was a little disappointing, whether future companion novels were coming or not. I will probably continue to read the other three books, but I'm not sure they will mend the ending to the first. Want to see my signed copy? Click here.

UPDATE: Movie coming out in 2014! Watch the Movie Trailer HERE!