Monday, August 24, 2015

The Shadow Behind The Stars by Rebecca Hahn

Title: The Shadow Behind The Stars
Author: Rebecca Hahn
Publisher:
Atheneum Book for Young Readers
Release Date:
Sept 1, 2015
Rating:
3/5

The Gist: Heed this warning, mortal: stay far away from the three sister Fates. For if they come to love you, they might bring about the end of the world…

Chloe is the youngest. Hers are the fingers that choose the wool, that shape the thread, that begin it. The sun smiles upon her. Men love her without knowing who she is. She has lived forever and will live forever more. She and her sisters have been on their isolated Greek island for centuries, longer than any mortal can remember. They spin, measure, and slice the countless golden threads of human life. They are the three Fates, and they have stayed separate for good reason: it is dangerous for them to become involved with the humans whose lives they shape.

So when a beautiful girl named Aglaia shows up on their doorstep, Chloe tries to make sure her sisters don’t become attached. But in seeking to protect them, Chloe discovers the dark power of Aglaia’s destiny. As her path unwinds, the three Fates find themselves pulled inextricably along—toward mortal pain, and mortal love, and a fate that could unravel the world.


Review: 
The Shadow Behind the Stars features the three fates of Greek mythology.  On a desolate island the sisters spin, measure, and cut, shaping the lives of humans they were sure to never meet.  Until Aglaia appears on their doorstep and forces them to once again engage with the human world.  While many books will feature encounters with the fates, this is the first time I have read one where they are the main characters.  I loved the concept and the humanization of such epic characters.  With only a handful of details written about the sisters in Greek mythology, it allows a wealth of opportunity to expand their story and imagine their world.  Hahn capitalizes on this in the best way possible, creating characters that are interesting and intricate with thousands of years of experience to motivate their actions. 

As with her previous book, A Creature of Moonlight, Hahn's writing is beautiful and haunting.  She keeps true to the spirit of the old Greek tales and also makes a nod to Shakespeare with the inevitability of death that features so prominently in Macbeth.  However, The Shadow Behind the Stars is not a particularly fast paced novel and does require a patient reader who can appreciate the beauty of the writing and forgive the sometimes slow crawl of the plot.
I loved this book almost all the way through, but it did take a downturn in the ending.  After the novel was over, nothing really seemed to have changed for the characters.  I don't think life after the story would have been all that different for the sisters if Aglaia had never shown up in the first place.  As such, I'm not sure what the point of the entire adventure was.

Bottom Line: The Shadow Behind the Stars is beautifully written and, despite some pacing and plot issues, will surely be a hit with readers who love Greek Mythology.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
16 and up
Sex: None
Violence: Rape, Murder
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

Title: A Curious Tale of the In-Between
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date:
September 1, 2015
Rating:
4/5

The Gist: Pram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

Review: 
I love a good first line and A Curious Tale of the In-Between certainly has it.

"Pram died just before she was born"

Is that not a great line to open a new series about a young girl who sees ghosts?  I haven't really loved anything of DeStefano's I have read up until this point but that first line pulled me right into this story.  The writing style continues in this fashion.  It is delightfully whimsical and perfect for a middle grade novel.

Pram is a wonderful new character.  She is curious and sweet but very cautious and will definitely appeal to young readers, especially those who might prefer the company of books to people (as I did as a child).  As an orphaned child raised by her spinster aunts, she questions her place in the world and begins searching for a trace of the father she never knew.  Pram is joined by Felix, the ghost boy who lives outside her home and has watched her grow up and Clarence, her first real, living friend.  Clarence is still reeling from the death of his mother.  He and Pram set out to find her ghost and, along the way, encounter Lady Savant, a medium who takes an unhealthy interest in Pram.  When she lures Pram away with promises of messages from her long dead mother and information on the father she has never known, the story takes a dark turn and Pram must push her powers to lengths she never dreamed of, or give them up forever. 

The first half of this novel is extremely charming, introducing us to Pram and her world.  I loved that she sees the ghosts not only of people but also animals and insects.  This small detail added a whimsical new layer to an old theme.  We are also treated to a sweet, age appropriate romance.  The second half of the novel is exciting and a little bit scary.  There are points where I really feared for Pram's well-being and a few surprises that I didn't see coming.  Lest you think this is just another straight-forward, middle grade novel, there is also a great deal of introspection as Pram sees exactly what motivated Lady Savant and proposes that even the villain of the story has more to her story.     

Bottom Line: A Curious Tale of the In-Between is a promising start to this new series.  I can't wait to read more about the little girl who talks to the dead. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
10 and up
Sex: None
Violence: Murder by drowning, kidnapping
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Monday, August 10, 2015

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Title: Secondhand Souls
Author: Christopher Moore
Publisher:
Harper Collins
Release Date: August 25, 2014
Rating: 4/5

The Gist:
In San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing—and you know that can't be good—in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore's delightfully funny sequel to A Dirty Job.

Something really strange is happening in the City by the Bay. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone—or something—is stealing them and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Death Merchant Charlie Asher is just as flummoxed as everyone else. He's trapped in the body of a fourteen-inch-tall "meat" waiting for his Buddhist nun girlfriend, Audrey, to find him a suitable new body to play host.

To get to the bottom of this abomination, a motley crew of heroes will band together: the seven-foot-tall death merchant Minty Fresh; retired policeman turned bookseller Alphonse Rivera; the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; and Lily, the former Goth girl. Now if only they can get little Sophie to stop babbling about the coming battle for the very soul of humankind...


Review:
I was so incredibly excited when I saw this book was up for review.  I am a big Christopher Moore fan and Dirty Job was the first of his books that I ever read (I fell completely in love after I discovered the cover glowed in the dark).  The story stayed with me and I always wondered whatever became of the little girl who was the big bad death.  Secondhand Souls picks up about a year after the first.  All has been quiet on the soul collecting front, Charlie remains stuck in the body Audrey created for him, Sophie continues to think he is dead and the death merchants persist in their trade - except when they don't.  As the forces of darkness rally behind a new leader, those on the side of good must once again pick up their sword-canes and fight for the the souls of San Fransisco.

Secondhand Souls has everything that makes Moore fans keep coming back: dark and dirty humor, madcap adventure and just a touch of depravity.  The plot was occasionally bogged down with diatribes about Buddhism and the state of the soul but otherwise moved quickly, especially once the main characters were brought back together.  There were unexpected twists and turns sprinkled liberally throughout the plot and I particularly enjoyed watching the Squirrel People reach further depths of creepydom. 

I was a little disappointed in how little there were of the things that made me giggle in the first book, namely, Sophie (and her potty mouth), the grandmothers (with personalities big, like bear) and the indestructible and irreplaceable Goggies.  I loved checking in on my favorite characters once more, but I wasn't all that interested in the newer characters.  The expanded cast made it difficult for any one or two characters to truly shine.  It also wasn't quite as funny as the first.  It was still humorous, but often left me smiling rather than guffawing as I had reading Dirty Job

Bottom Line: Secondhand Souls is a fun read and a great addition to the Christopher Moore library, though if you are a first time reader you might want to jump into Dirty Job or Lamb first. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Daughter of Dusk by Livia Blackburne

Title: Daughter of Dusk
Author: Livia Blackburne
Publisher:
Disney Hyperion
Release Date:
August 4, 2015
Rating:
3/5

The Gist: After learning the truth about her bloodlines, Kyra can’t help but feel like a monster.

Though she’s formed a tentative alliance with the Palace, Kyra must keep her identity a secret or risk being hunted like the rest of her Demon Rider kin. Tristam and the imprisoned assassin James are among the few who know about her heritage, but when Tristam reveals a heartbreaking secret of his own, Kyra’s not sure she can trust him. And with James’s fate in the hands of the palace, Kyra fears that he will give her away to save himself.

As tensions rise within Forge's Council, and vicious Demon Rider attacks continue in surrounding villages, Kyra knows she must do something to save her city. But she walks a dangerous line between opposing armies: will she be able to use her link to the Demon Riders for good, or will her Makvani blood prove to be deadly?

In this spellbinding sequel to Midnight Thief, Kyra and Tristam face their biggest battle yet as they grapple with changing allegiances, shocking deceit, and vengeful opponents.


Review: 
Daughter of Dusk picks up shortly after the events of Midnight Thief.  Kyra is working for the council and struggling to keep her birthright a secret.  In this second book, a former background character steps forward as the big baddie.  His aims go far beyond the destruction of the Makvani race and Kyra must discover his secrets before both sides suffer tragic losses. With one foot in both worlds, Kyra is the only one who can prevent a war and save those she cares about.  
I stopped and started Daughter of Dusk a couple of times as the beginning was quite slow.  There is a little too much political drama and too little action. Kyra spends a great deal of time contemplating whether or not she is a monster and has a difficult time coming to terms with who she is.  This is not necessarily a BAD thing as it makes for good character development, but I was pretty anxious to see her meld both sides of her heritage and kick some serious butt.  Things picked up at about the halfway point when circumstances demand that Kyra leave Forge and come out of hiding as half-human and half-Makvani.  During this time we also get to learn more about Kyra's family history and there are one or two interesting surprises.  

The characters are enjoyable and I was particularly happy that we got to see another side of Flick.  I was quite pleased that he never became a serious love interest and thrilled that he found his own match (can we get a story about them please?)  The romance between Kyra and Tristam continues to be teased as both realize their stations make a serious relationship impossible.  While I like these two characters together and we got to see a deeper side of Tristam as he struggles with his own prejudices towards the Makvani, I didn't feel a great deal of chemistry between them, so that part of the plot fell a little flat.  

Daughter of Dusk has a satisfactory end that leads me to believe it is the last in the series (at least the last that tells Kyra's story) but there are still stories to tell.  We may see these in novella form or in additional books set in this world, but concentrating on other characters - at least that is what I am hoping. 

Bottom Line: Daughter of Dusk is a solid second book in a series with potential for more. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
13 and up
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Swordplay, Knifeplay, Violence towards a child
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Title: Pointe
Author: Brandy Colbert
Publisher:
Penguin
Release Date:
April 10, 2014
Rating:
5/5

The Gist:
Theo is better now.

She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor.

Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.


Review:

Just after I read Pointe I had a family emergency that took me away from home for a few weeks.  As a result, this particular review got left by the wayside.  I normally write my reviews within a few days of finishing a book, and since several weeks have now passed, this will be a little different from most of my reviews.
 
First of all, I LOVED Pointe.  I am usually drawn to books that feature the darker side of ballet (a sort of gritty, behind the scenes look) and that is what I was hoping for in Pointe.  It is not what I got, but I wasn't actually disappointed.  Our main character, Theo is terribly broken.  She has suffered an eating disorder, the disappearance of her best friend and horrible guilt over her involvement.  She creates falsities that she convinces herself are true and makes terrible decisions.  When Donovan suddenly reappears, she is forced to confront her role in his disappearance and the awful circumstances that led to it.  There is a great deal of internal struggle as Theo tries to decide not only whether she will tell her side of the story but also come to terms with what happened to her as a child.  Looking back through more mature eyes, she is able to see things she never realized as a young girl and finally confront the past that has haunted her.
 
Pointe covers A LOT of ground.  We have a ballet competition, an eating disorder, a missing friend, rape, drugs, and a cheating boyfriend.  In the beginning, things are a little slow as the plot appears to concentrate mainly on Theo's burgeoning love interest, which is pretty boring.  Things pick up once we get into the meat of the story and we learn more and more about what happened to Theo and Donovan.  Through flashbacks we learn more about the circumstances of the disappearance.  Theo doesn't seem to have any idea how horrific this thing that happened to her is and we watch in silent horror and pity ans she self destructs under the weight of her story.  The plot continues at a slow burn until the climax.  

Bottom Line: I loved the pacing and character development in Pointe and will definitely be picking up Brandy Colbert's next book.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
16 and up
Sex:  Sex between teens
Violence:  Kidnapping
Inappropriate Language: Asshole, Pussy, Shit, Bitch, Fuck
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Smoking, Marijuana Use
Other Issues: Stuatory Rape

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: A History of Glitter and Blood
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: August 4th
Rating:
3/5

Cover Impressions: Meh. Moskowitz has had much better.

The Gist:
Sixteen-year-old Beckan and her friends are the only fairies brave enough to stay in Ferrum when war breaks out. Now there is tension between the immortal fairies, the subterranean gnomes, and the mysterious tightropers who arrived to liberate the fairies.

But when Beckan's clan is forced to venture into the gnome underworld to survive, they find themselves tentatively forming unlikely friendships and making sacrifices they couldn't have imagined. As danger mounts, Beckan finds herself caught between her loyalty to her friends, her desire for peace, and a love she never expected.


Review:
I have a love/hate relationship with Hannah Moskowitz.  I love her creative settings, enthralling characters and well paced plots.  I hate how very, very, very, dark her books are.  A History of Glitter and Blood was no exception.

The reader was treated to a book in progress.  Scrap writes about events as they unfold, with a back and forth between before Cricket's death and after.  The tenses change to differentiate between the two and helps keep the reader on track.  The idea of reading the events as they happen gives a unique sense of suspense as we are never quite sure where the story will go or if it will end abruptly.  It also adds an interesting element as Scrap is clearly not the most reliable of story tellers.  He self-edits as he goes, leaving chastising notes for himself and also writes about events for which he clearly could not have been present.  The text itself is sprinkled with additional elements like pictures and pasted in parts from other books.  This adds beautiful visual interest and my only complaint is that I wanted more! I was left really longing for more photographs, particularly of the trio and the different races.
 
Moskowitz creates a really intriguing world in this novel.  Fairies that live, not flitting about in forests but anchored in a city with real jobs.  I was really fascinated by the idea that the fairies never really died.  Instead, they can lose pieces of themselves, but they will always feel them.  No one really knows at what point the fairies stop existing - if they every do.  The plot is evenly placed but, other than the final few scenes, does not have a great deal of excitement.  Rather, it spins a steady tale in which we learn the history of the war and its eventual end.

As always, Moskowitz's world is strange and dark.  She always seems to feature some type of sexual exploitation, especially with young characters and I think it is this inclusion, more than any others, that make me uncomfortable in reading her books.  Perhaps it is being a teacher of teenagers, or having children, but I just find this part of her writing very difficult to get through.  In this book, she explores prostitution.  Beckan, Scrap, and Cricket sold their services to the Gnomes in exchange for food.  However, it is written about in a very strange way.  The characters seemed to revel in their work, despite the very dangerous situations they were placed in and the fact that it had already resulted in the "death" of their friend.  I think it is this that made it so difficult for me to connect to the characters.  I found that I had much more sympathy for the character that was already "dead" than for any of the ones I was supposed to be left rooting for.

Bottom Line: Though this novel didn't quite work for me, it certainly had a unique world and an interesting style of storytelling.  It will be a fantastic read for those readers who are already fans of Moskowitz and those who wish to delve into a dark fantasy with an unreliable narrator who will leave you questioning most of what he writes.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
16 and up
Sex:  Sex between teenagers
Violence: Gunplay, Knifeplay, Eating of other creatures, Loss of limbs
Inappropriate Language: Fuck, Bitch, asshole, Whore, Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking
Other Issues: Prostitution

Monday, June 22, 2015

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls

Title: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls
Author: Lynn Weingarten
Publisher:
Simon Pulse
Release Date:
July 7, 2015
Rating:
4/5

The Gist: June barely has time to mourn the death of her best friend Delia, before Delia's ex-boyfriend convinces her Delia was murdered, and June is swept into a tangle of lies, deceit, and conspiracy.

Review:
The synopsis for this book is just a couple of lines.  When I first saw that, I was nervous.  It means going into this book knowing next to nothing, but it is perfect.  Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a book where you think you know exactly what is happening.  Up until close to the halfway point I was thisclose to putting it in the DNF pile and moving on.  Am I ever glad I didn't.  Just when you think you have everything figured out and know exactly where this plot is going (and start getting annoyed at it for being so dang predictable) EVERYTHING CHANGES.  I mean it.  I can barely write this review because discussing the awesomeness of this book means also revealing some of the twists and turns that make it incredible.  And there are some twists and turns.  My entire view of the plot and the motivation of the characters changed several times.  Weingarten seems to have mastered the art of allowing the reader to get comfortable in the plot and then smacking them in the face with something they never would have expected but which makes a lot of sense on reflection. 
The plot in the beginning is a little slow which lulls the reader into a sense of security.  It starts to look like this is going to be just another run of the mill mystery with an easily guessed outcome.  But once the first big twist is revealed everything changes.  The plot becomes intriguing and exciting as we try to figure out exactly what is happening.  The writing flashes back and forth in time as we discover what led up not only to the "break up" between June and Delia but also to her suicide.  The side characters come off a little bland and could use some development but June and Delia are fantastic.  Everywhere that June is careful and thoughtful, Delia is wild and erratic.  It is really her character that is the standout.  Much of the novel concentrates on discovering just what motivates Delia's actions and examining the odd relationship between her and June.  

There are some issues within this novel that would stop me from recommending it for younger teens.  There is a great deal of underage drinking and drug use as well as crude sexual remarks and attempted rape.  Some of this is pivotal to the plot, but I'm not sure all of it was strictly necessary.   

Bottom Line: If you think this book is just an average, run of the mill mystery, stick it out.  It will surprise you in the most incredible ways. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
16 and up
Sex:  Kissing, Sex between teens, Sexual Language
Violence: Death from fire, Fist fighting, Murder
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Fuck, Pussy, Dick, Tit
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking, a great deal of drug use

Unanswered Questions: Once she had actual physical evidence that Delia's death wasn't suicide why didn't June go to the police?