Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong Book Review

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
(HarperTeen, Hardcover)


When Chloe was a little girl, she heard and saw ghosts. She's managed to forget about it for years until she sees a ghost at school and freaks out. Next thing she knows, she's admitted to the Lyle House, a group home for mentally disturbed teenagers. Chloe tries to fit in and take her medication, hoping that she'll get to go home soon. Then she realizes that the other teenagers all seem to be hiding secrets and that perhaps Lyle House isn't what it seems. Will she be stuck here forever?

When reading this book, I just couldn't get the scene out of my mind from "Sixth Sense". You know, the one where the kid says, "I see dead people." Chloe has managed not to see dead people for 10 years; then she hits puberty and one day she sees them everywhere. She understandably freaks out. When she gets to Lyle House and her new psychiatrist tells her that she has schizophrenia, Chloe doesn't argue. She just shrinks into herself and starts to wonder if she really is going crazy. Meanwhile, she's stuck with a bunch of teenagers who are also supposedly mentally imbalanced. Armstrong uses the idea of a group home to enhance Chloe's feelings of abandonment and being trapped. I really wanted Chloe to come to terms with her necromancy, but she shies away from calling ghosts to her. When she realizes that she is not the only one with super powers, she forms a tenuous relationship with the other teens, cute Simon, bubbly Rachelle, and anti-social Derek. Armstrong writes each character with skill and a dash of deception. Even though I liked Rachelle and Simon, I found myself wondering if I really knew them. Is Rachelle really just happy-go-lucky or is she hiding something? And is Derek as self-centered and bullyish as he seems? I'm excited that this is the first book of a planned trilogy called Darkest Powers. There were several plot lines left open and the ending left me wishing the second book was already on bookshelves.

The Summoning
has been nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.

Bliss by Lauren Myracle Book Review

Bliss by Lauren Myracle
(Amulet Books, Hardcover)


Bliss has lived on a commune with her hippie parents for most of her life. Then her parents decide they want to flee to Canada and they drop Bliss off in Georgia at her grandmother's house. Georgia in 1969 is full of talk about integration and the Manson murders. Bliss is excited about making friends at her new high school, but when she arrives, she starts to hear voices. A voice that pulls her towards the abandoned third floor of a building and that speaks of a long ago death.

As Halloween looms near, I found that Bliss was the perfect spooky treat. Part horror, part ghost story, this book pulled me in from the beginning. Bliss, as a main character, was instantly likable. Having lived on a commune for most of her life, Bliss was used to honesty and courtesy. Not exactly how you would describe high school. So Bliss stands up for her beliefs and engages in some entertaining internal sarcastic dialogue as she navigates the halls of Crestview Academy. Skip to the horror part. Bliss hears the voice of a dead girl whenever she walks near one of the buildings on campus. Bliss' new friend Sandy has a sick fascination with the occult and with breaking the rules. At the beginning of each chapter is a pop-culture quote from the late 60s, early 70s. Some of these are funny quotes from The Andy Griffith Show, while others are creepy quotes from the Charles Manson murder trial. The quotes added an eerie quality to the book, disorienting the reader by intermittently offering humor, horror, gossip, and time period information. I did get a little tired of these interruptions by the end of the book. It was a device that could have been used more sparingly, at least for me. The book, however, does not disappoint in the horror element. Bad things happen. Relationships are tested and left wanting. Scary ghosts come to life. And the ending is downright chilling. Perfect for reading on a dark and stormy night...

Bliss has been nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sucks To Be Me by Kimberly Pauley Book Review

Sucks To Be Me by Kimberly Pauley
(Mirrorstone, Hardcover)


Mina is the daughter of two vampires and she has to make the biggest decision of her life in just four weeks. Mina's parents have kept her hidden away from the Vampire Council and now she's been found and is being forced to decide whether or not to become a vampire. Mina's parents became vampires after she was born so she knows quite a lot about vampires but isn't sure she wants to become one. Luckily, there is a four week course in becoming a vampire and Mina's all signed up to begin her education.

Sucks To Be Me is a quirky, humorous look at being a vampire. The other kids in Mina's vampire class run the gamut from goth-girl Raven to cheerleader Lorelai. The idea of vampire classes was enough to make me roll my eyes and chuckle, and Mina's sarcastic voice brought humor to the novel. It was a quick, easy read and, though the characters were somewhat two-dimensional, it was still a good read. It suffered a little because Mina had a crush on not one, but three guys throughout the book. She seemed to be wishy-washy in her feelings and got over her crushes a little too quickly. There were some basic plot elements that were unbelievable, such as when Mina blurts out to her best friend that she's about to become a vampire and her best friend takes it surprisingly well. All in all though, this was a fun spin-off of the normal vampire tale.

Sucks To Be Me has been nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.

Switch by Carol Snow Book Review

Switch by Carol Snow
(HarperTeen, Hardcover)


When Claire turned thirteen, she found out that she could switch bodies during electrical surges, like thunderstorms. Not just any body, though. Claire would be automatically transported into the closest female body born during the same moon cycle. Usually, she's back to her normal body by morning. Then, she switches bodies with a girl who's visiting her beach town for the summer. A girl who is beautiful and who seems to have everything that Claire wants. Maybe just this once, Claire will try to stay in her new body for a couple of days.

This was a fun book to read. It had all of the elements of quiet-girl-wants-to-be-popular novel, but with the added twist of the body switching. When Claire lands in Larissa's body, she realizes that she can finally get cute junior lifeguard Nate to like her. I think this book offers a lot in the way of body issues. (Not just the switching part.) Claire has always been okay with her body because she's got a strong swimmer's build. Landing in Larissa's body gives her a chance to see what it feels like to have a skinny, girly body. There are some dicey moments, but eventually Claire realizes that she likes her swimmer's body. What would have been a normal teen novel plot is made interesting and original through the science fiction aspect. The writing style also kept me intrigued throughout the novel. It was a perfect mix of description, dialogue, and notes/lists. After all the doubts and misgivings that come with body switching, there's a nice little part at the end about a pair of comfortable flip-flops that I enjoyed. I'm not sure if Carol Snow has a sequel planned for this but I know I can't wait to read her next book for teens.

Switch has been nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.

Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin Book Review

Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin
(Random House, Hardcover)


Jill is a girl for most of the month. Then right before she has her period, she turns into Jack. Jill trys to forget about the days that she is Jack, even going so far as to meditate as soon as she turns back to a girl so that she can shut out Jack's memories. Jack, on the other hand, is locked in Jill's room during his 4 days of being every month. He's not allowed to go outside, talk to anyone, or surf the internet. So he relives Jill's memories, until he decides to break free.

I think that the concept of this book was so far in left field that I just couldn't get into it. I mean, a girl that turns into a guy when she's premenstrual? Gross me out. For the first fifty pages, the book didn't move anywhere and I was a little put off by the detailed accounts of Jack's affinity for dirty magazines. Neither of the characters really spoke to me. Jill was in denial and Jack was just a perv. The plot did pick up when Jack decided to break out of the house. Ramie, Jill's best friend, was a fun character who played a part in the lives of both Jack and Jill. However, the ending was a little too neat. Although, after all that Jill and Jack had been through, I guess they deserved a break. If you're intrigued by crazy plot lines (Scott Westerfeld did give this book a good blurb), then this might be a book for you.

Cycler has been nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison Book Review

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
(HarperTempest, Paperback)


Told in diary form, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging is about the life of Georgia Nicholson. Georgia is a 14-year-old British teenager who attends an all-girls school, owns a poodle-stalking cat named Angus, believes that she is the last girl in the world without a boyfriend (despite the fact that most of her friends are boyfriendless), has a mom who flirts with the handyman because G's dad has moved to New Zealand, and often finds her little sister's dirty nappies in her bed.

Confused and somewhat overwhelmed by that description? Well, wait til you meet Georgia. This book was fun to read because Georgia over analyzes everything, gets herself into some hilarious jams, and never fails to delight. Part of the fun of this book for me was flipping back and forth between the story and the glossary of British terms in the back (put there for clueless Americans, like myself). This was an easy, quick read and the ending left me wishing I had the second book in the series close at hand. In fact, I plopped myself in a corner of my local bookstore on Friday afternoon and devoured half of the second book, On The Bright Side, I'm Now The Girlfriend of a Sex God. The titles may seem a tad scandalous, but it's all in good fun and the books actually contain very little sexual content aside from kissing. Also of interest, there's currently a movie out based on the first two novels in this series. It's not playing in my town, so I guess I'll have to wait to rent it. The movie is called "Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging" and is directed by the same people that did "Bend it Like Beckham." If you're luckier than me and you've seen it, let us know what you thought!

Paper Towns by John Green Book Review

Paper Towns by John Green
(Dutton Books, Hardcover)


Quentin Jacobsen hasn't always watched Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. They used to be best friends in elementary school until they found a dead guy in the park. After that momentous day, Margo Roth Spiegelman drifted away, became popular, and, in fact, almost legendary. Hardly anyone calls her plain "Margo." Her crazy adventures are whispered about in the hall between classes and Quentin's only knowledge of her is based on these wild stories. That all changes one night when Margo crawls into Quentin's bedroom window and asks for one small favor: "I need a car. Also, I need you to drive it, because I have to do eleven things tonight, and at least five of them involve a getaway man." When Margo disappears the next day, Quentin must figure out just who Margo Roth Spiegelman is.

This is the second book that I've read by John Green, the first being Looking for Alaska. The two have a lot of similarities (besides the fact that I love both of them). The main character is a somewhat-shy, quiet guy and the girl is wild, unpredictable, and unreachable. There are several differences though. The most notable being that in Looking for Alaska the book works towards a major event that happens in the middle of the novel and then the second half of the novel shows how the characters react to and cope with that event. In Paper Towns, the plot just keeps building until the end. Margo brings excitement into Quentin's life the night that she shows up in his room. She takes him away on a whirlwind of deception, revenge, laughs, and nostalgia for a lost friendship. Quentin becomes obsessed with finding her when she disappears; in fact, he is positive that Margo wants him to find her and has left him clues to follow. Paper Towns is ultimately about how well you can ever know another person, about how our images of other people is often far from the truth. This is artfully illustrated by the poem Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman that Margo leaves behind. At first, Quentin reads only parts of the poem and tries to understand Margo in that framework. Only when he reads the poem in its entirety does he begin to really understand Margo. This book was an absolute page-turner, with quirky friends, weird parents, laugh-out-loud moments, and a serious undertone that elevates the book to literary status. John Green knows how to write about teenagers and each character (no matter how minor) comes to life.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Violet in Private by Melissa Walker Book Review

Violet in Private by Melissa Walker
(Berkley, Paperback)


Shy-girl-turned-model Violet is on her way to college. She's decided to put the runway behind her and focus on being a normal girl for awhile. New friends, parties, and late night snack sessions await. But can Violet really turn her back on modeling? Pretty soon Violet is heading back to New York City every weekend for her editorial internship at Teen Fashionista. But did Violet get the internship on her own merit or is she still a wallflower off the runway?

This is absolutely my favorite Violet book yet. I've enjoyed reading the other Violet books, Violet on the Runway and Violet by Design, and I think Melissa Walker has really come into her own with this third book in the series. Violet is incredibly smart and talented off the runway, but she isn't so sure that people like her for her. Violet faces the insecurities that we all face but she has the added question of wondering if people only like her because of her modeling. As Violet adapts to life at college, it was this extra doubt that really made her character appeal to me. Life is messy (as her relationships with friends Veronica and Roger show) and Violet learns that sticking up for her principles is never a bad thing. I loved that Violet's new friends were so supportive of her, her decision to stop modeling, and her opinions about body weight. Melissa's writing style makes it easy to get caught up in this book and makes it feel as if Violet is an old friend. I can't wait to see what's next for Melissa Walker. Hopefully another Violet book...or two or three or four! I've said it before and it bears saying again, I know nothing about fashion and I still love these books. Violet is a great role model with the added benefit that she's tons of fun to read about.