Monday, July 15, 2013

ARC Book Review: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Title: Asylum
Author: Madeleine Roux
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: August 20th, 2013
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: 
This cover is awesome.  The first one that I saw had similar shading but just featured a set of keys.  It wasn't nearly as creepy.  I believe this is the final cover and it is a great change.  The shadows draw your eye into the frame and the blurring coupled with the lace adds the perfect spooky factor.  Although, I do wish they had given the book a more stand-out name.  Asylum is just far too common - a Goodreads search provides 837 results.....

The Gist:
Dan Crawford has finally escaped the opression of his foster home and high school.  At New Hampshire College Prep, a summer program for teens, he is excited to spend his days with students that share his thirst for knowledge and geeky tendencies.  He soon discovers that the dorm in which they are to spend the summer is actually Brookside, a former asylum that featured drastic experiments meant to cure the criminally insane.  Feeling a strange connection to the building's history and suffering from nightmares that don't always come at night, Dan and his new friends begin to explore the bowels of the building and find that there are some secrets that should stay buried.


That cover is sure to pull in any horror fan.  However, the book itself is not strong enough to hold them there for long. 

The characters in Asylum are far too one dimensional.  It seems important to the plot that we understand the drastic changes in their personality that are brought on by living in the asylum, but we are given little to no time to actually get to know them before those changes begin.  We are expected to believe that the three are the best of friends after having known each other for only a week.  Couldn't the author have at least had them "meet" online, prior to attending the summer school program?  What's more, there is an underlying plot featuring Jordan's obsession with an "unsolvable equation" that seems to completely drop out of the storyline without any resolution.  Is this meant to be a series? Am I missing something?

The setting for this novel is phenomenal.  A student dorm built in what used to be an asylum and featuring a (sort of) locked basement with the trappings to spell out the horror that once occurred there.  That has all kinds of potential!  The author does do a good job of creating a tense and spine-tingling atmosphere whenever the kids are in the basement.  This is aided by the addition of pictures which puts this book in that new sub-genre of multi-media fiction a la Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, though I do wish that the EARC had actually contained more of the pictures that will be featured in the final edition - since that is what interested me in the title in the first place.
The plot of Asylum starts off strong by weakens as we get further into the mystery.  There is some meandering into the past via dreams and visions which give us a glimpse into the mind of the madman who once ran the asylum, but we never learn any real details about what went on there other than a vague notion of horrific surgeries.  One the murders start, we get to watch the cops bumble around and the kids go into Scooby Doo mode.  The constant arguing and teenage drama that comes with the three main characters gets tedious rather quickly and, eventually, when the killer is finally revealed the dialogue becomes downright laughable.  Rather than being scared, I found myself rolling my eyes and wishing the plot had gone in any direction other than the most obvious.

Asylum may represent one step towards the road to a new genre as more and more authors attempt to bank on the commercial success of Ransom Riggs.  However, until an author is able to seamlessly weave together pictures with a strong plot and compelling characters, I will be staying away.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Murder of Teens
Inappropriate Language: Asshole, Shit, Bitch, Pissed
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: Legacy by C.J. Daugherty

Title: Legacy
Author: C.J. Daugherty
Publisher: Brown
Release Date: January 3, 2013
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: 
I like the colors and the contrast between her hair and the font with the snow.  Otherwise, there isn't much to make this cover stand out from the others on the shelf.

The Gist:
Having survived her first semester at Cimmeria Academy, Allie is returning to classes with a new sense of the danger that surrounds her and an enrollment into the mysterious Night School.  Here, Allie hopes to finally learn about the secrets surrounding her family and to find a way to save her brother from the clutches of the mysterious Nathaniel.


Having just finished Night School and gotten little to no answers about any of the big mysteries, I moved straight on to Legacy hoping for some enlightenment.  I was sorely disappointed.  Daugherty is the queen of the lengthy conversation in which absolutely nothing is reavealed.  During the course of one conversation Isabelle tells Allie:
"And if I try to explain it now we'll be here for hours."
"It really would take me ages to tell you the whole story."
"That ... is a conversation for another time."
"I know you want to know everything, Allie, but just trust me when I tell you, this is complicated."

Forget everything, Isabelle, I would just like you to tell her SOMETHING!  And she is not the only one, even the bad guys speak in these oddly vague terms.  Naturally, this lack of information leads to Allie making stupid decisions and running off into dangerous situations which make me want to strangle her myself. 

The love interests are equally infuriating.  Yet again, in this book, we flip-flop from one boy to another.  I am only able to be okay with Sylvain is if I completely ignore the almost rape scene in the last book - which I find very difficult to do.  I am still not sure why the author wrote that scene.  Surely she knew where the story would be heading.  Could she not have found some other way for Sylvain and Allie to split up, something for which he could stand a hope of gaining forgiveness from the reader?  Carter is also considerably more annoying in this book than he was in the last one.  His overprotectiveness has gone into overdrive and he has gotten petty and jealous.  The female characters don't seem to play as important of a role this time, though I enjoyed the addition of Zoe as the quirky character who constantly speaks her mind - which was important as Rachel not being a part of Night School meant that she could no longer act as Allie's sounding board.

Legacy is considerably racier than Night School was.  It includes steamier make-out sessions, more vulgar talk and a risque game of truth or dare.  Against this backdrop, Allie becomes stronger and learns to defend herself, however despite having lots of action and a fairly entertaining story, there is no real movement forward on the larger plot or much character development.  As this series is scheduled to continue up to at least book 5, I think I will be bowing out at this point.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing, Nudity (not described), risque talk
Violence: Hand to hand combat, murder by knife, attempted kidnapping
Inappropriate Language: Pissed, Bitch, Bastard, Jesus, Tits
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking

Monday, July 8, 2013

ARC Book Review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Title: The School for Good and Evil
Author: Soman Chainani
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:
Very nice, if a little cutesy.  I understand that it is middle grade, but I usually prefer for these books to have an appeal to older students as well.  The background images are beautiful and the crest and banner title are very well done.

The Gist:
For hundreds of years, the children of Gavaldon have been going missing.  Every four years, two at a time, one beautiful and one ugly.  After a time, the children of the town realized that these former playmates were appear within the pages of their favorite fairy tales.  Sophie has spent her entire life preparing for this day, maintaining a beauty routine, sewing dresses and doing good deeds.  Agatha, on the other hand, would do anything to remain at home with her gravestones and evil pet cat.  When the two are swept away, they find that a serious mistake has been made and their fortunes have been reversed.  Beautiful Sophie to the School for Evil and ghastly Agatha to the School for Good.  As they try to fight for their hearts' desire, the girls learn about themselves and the barrier between Good and Evil.


The School for Good and Evil opens on the eve of the night when children regularly disappear from their homes.  Most children are trying to make themselves as undesirable as possible, while Sophie attempts to flaunt her assets as a princess.  She is determined to be spirited away from her home to the School for Good where she will meet her prince charming.  Along side her, will certainly be her friend Agatha, the child for whom the term "witchy" was coined.  As her counterpart, Agatha will enter the School for Evil and the two will find a way to maintain their frienship despite the rivalry of their schools.  The premise for this book is very unique and charming.  The thought of children being stolen from their homes only to show up in the pages of storybooks is both wonderful and terrifying.  I do wish that we were able to spend a little more time with Agatha and Sophie within their village and to learn more about the mysterious town from which no one can choose to leave.  

This novel features some fantastic characters.  Sophie was difficult to like, but that was kind of the point, while Agatha did lose a little of herself by the end of the novel.  Sophie's roommates where a fantastic addition.  They had the best lines and often left me laughing out loud.  These characters could easily hold a story or series of their own (hint hint!).

The School for Good and Evil was a beautiful mix of Wicked, Harry Potter and the humor of Roald Dahl.  It was really fun to see the juxtuposition between Good and Evil.  The schools were truly equal but opposite, down to the smallest detail.  I must admit, I had more love for the School of Evil as they had more interesting characters and it was enjoyable to watch them revel in the dank, dire and disgusting.  The world building is truly fantastic and well fleshed out, though it is a little difficult to keep track of all the rules and the names of the students.  This was aided by the alternating point of view which worked well to show the thoughts and feelings of both girls as well as to give a glimpse into the inner workings of both schools.

The plot was a little predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless.  The ending was a little strange, and I can't wait to see how this plays out in future books. I am very excited to see this on film.  I think that it will translate really well and that the setting will play out beautifully on the big screen.  Overall, an excellent addition to the Middle-Grade section of my classroom library.  I cannot wait to jump back into this world in 2014.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

10 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Magical Violence
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (18)

Stacking The Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!



I am super excited this week.  Freak boy pulled me in because I am still searching for that great teen transsexual novel.  Citadel is the third book in the Languedoc trilogy (adult series) and I have been waiting for YEARS for it to come out.  Finally, Never Fade and Dream Thieves are sequels that I have been highly anticipating.  The first novels in both these series were on my top ten list last year and I can't wait to dive back into these worlds!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Night School by C.J. Daugherty

Title: Night School
Author: C.J. Daugherty
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: Original: January 1st, 2012 Re-Release: May 21st, 2013
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: 
I like the colors and the illumination on the path but there isn't anything about this cover that will make it stand out from the other YA mysteries on the shelf.

The Gist:
Having been arrested for the third time in a year, Allie's parents decide to send her to Cimmeria Academy.  There are, however, a couple of problems.  First, Allie has never heard of this school and her parents won't tell her so much as where it is.  Second, Cimmeria doesn't actually specialize in troubled youth, they are a school for rich kids, of which Allie is NOT.  When the mysteries at the school start to pile up along with the list of the injured, Allie finds herself in a world far more dangerous than the life of alcohol, drugs and crime that she left behind.


In Night School, Daugherty plays a long game of "I can't tell you" and "Now is not the time" and, even by the end, doesn't really reveal anything about what is going on.  This appears to be yet another book in which everything must be kept from the super-special main character in order to keep her safe, except not knowing any of the secrets is the reason that she is constantly putting herself in dangerous situations.  I sincerely hope that the series does not continue in the same track.  I despise books that dangle the Ihaveasecret carrot and never reveal a thing.  If the second book had not already been released, I would be PISSED.  As it is, I will be starting the next book, but if they continue to play the withholding game, I will just end up skimming to the end.

 In beginning, the main character gives in far too easily.  Allie is set up as this bad girl with serious attitude.  She rebels against any authority figure and has been arrested several times.  But the minute she is taken out of her comfort zone she does everything she can to fit in.  When she reaches Cimmeria, she immediately changes the way that she dresses (couldn't she make the uniform her own?) and stops wearing makeup, at several points she actually revels in how much happier she is now that she has assimilated.  

Naturally, Night School features they oh-so-overdone typical teenage love triangle.  However, I can actually see the appeal of both characters (if you pretend that one particular, almost rape scene didn't exist - Allie appears to, so we might as well *scoff*).  There are some swoonworthy make-out scenes but nothing that is too racy for the target audience. The female sidekicks are decently fleshed out and have their own issues to deal with.  I liked both Jo and Rachel and enjoyed that there was some addition drama and conflict with them.  I am hoping that they get further attention as the series continues. 

Oddly, I kept expecting for something supernatural to jump up, but instead there was some strange story about a secret corporation that runs the world.  Perhaps this says more about my own reading habits than about the book itself but I found myself putting together small tidbits and theorizing my own supernatural elements (chased by something that growls - Must be a werewolf!  Murals depict fight between good and evil - Maybe the Night School kids are actually angels and/or demons!  MC keeps spilling secrets to one character - She must have secret powers!).  Did anyone else notice this?  Or has anyone does this with other books?  Basically, I am looking for confirmation that I am not alone in this strange behavior.

Even though Night School had enough of a mystery to keep me reading, I found myself  a little disappointed at the end.  I was really expecting more of a twist, some kind of revelation that would make me clamor to read the next book.  Instead, I am approaching Legacy with trepidation and if the author somehow fenagles her way out of having the mother reveal some of the truth in the beginning of the next novel, I am out!

This novel does include some swearing/mature scenes but not all that frequent and nothing that would prevent me from recommending it to most teenagers. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:
13 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Murder by Knife, Fires, *Almost* Rape scene
Inappropriate Language:  Dick, Bastard, Bitch, Asshole
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

ARC Book Review: The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

Title: The Bookstore
Author: Deborah Meyler
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: 
This cover is very pretty and I am loving that there is just a hint of cleavage (nothing distasteful).


The Bookstore is the story of a young woman who escapes England for the excitement of New York.  While completing her degree, she meets and falls in love with a suave and wealthy man.  When she finds herself pregnant and jilted, she takes a job at a local bookstore and contemplates the path that her life has taken.  It is a story with very little action and a plot that meanders through scenes that compel the reader to smile or grimace, rather than to laugh or cry. 

The love interest/future father was a truly despicable character.  From the first few scenes, I found myself hoping that he would meet a timely demise.  Unfortunately, Esme's infatuation with him and her inability to see how badly he was treating her, made me dislike her whenever they were on the page together.  To be fair, at least Mitchell managed to make an impression.  The Bookstore features an almost entirely male cast and I did have some difficulty keeping them straight.  I could never remember which characters worked in the store and which were homeless men thrown in with some type of attempt at social commentary. 

The Bookstore itself, The Owl, is what piqued my interest in this title.  I was hoping for a magical realm full of interesting characters.  However, I found the scenes within the store to be some of the most tedious.  The author had an unfortunate habit of referencing obscure authors and artists that I found pretentious.  I often ended up skimming during those parts.

The ending of The Bookstore was unsatisfying.  There is some character growth, but no real closure and I am still unsure as to how Esme is managing to support herself and her child without being deported.  This novel is nice for a slow read in a park/at the cottage but simply did not have enough action to distract me from the other demands on my time. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

First Lines: June 2013

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in June.

Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn
"The field didn't end so much as trail off, beaten back by the rusted-out trailer and circle of junked vehicles surrounding it."

 The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
"Sophie had waiting all her life to be kidnapped."

 Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
" 'I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.' "

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
"I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess."

Night School by C.J. Daugherty
" 'Hurry up!' "

Wow, small month.  Work is always crazy busy this time of year but this June felt especially hectic. 

My favorite first line this month had to be from School of Good and Evil.  It was also my favorite book of this month and I can't wait to see what else this author has in store. 

My least favorite was Night School.  Here's hoping that it is able to redeem itself from the cliched and uninteresting first line.