Monday, September 30, 2013

ARC Book Review: Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Title: Unbreakable
Author: Kami Garcia
Publisher: Little Brown
Release Date: October 1st, 2013
Rating: 2/5

Cover Impressions: 
I am a little underwhelmed by this cover.  I like the font and the effect but I feel like maybe it needs another color or two - it is just too much of the same... And it certainly doesn't scream "ghost hunters". 

The Gist:
Kennedy hadn't planned on spending her evening traipsing through a graveyard, searching for her cat and she certainly hadn't planned on encountering a girl who looks oddly out of place - and floats.  When the ghost follows her home and takes the life of her mother, Kennedy finds herself in the company of a group of ghostbusters claiming that she is part of the Legion - a century old organization designed to protect the world from a demon.  Kennedy takes her place in the group while still doubting the validity of their claims and joins on their search for a mysterious device that may be their only hope of saving themselves, and the world.


Have you ever felt like an author is flying so high on the success of his/her previous book(s) that he/she is under enormous pressure to produce his/her next book in 1/4 the time that the first one took to write?  I do not know if that is the case with Unbreakable, but it certainly feels like it is.  Ultimately, it feels like what was meant to be a 500 page novel has been condensed into under 200 pages.  Everything in the novel seems to happen too fast.  Blink.... there's a ghost.  Blink..... Your mom is dead.  Blink..... a demon want's to kill you.  Blink..... you are part of a ghostbusting crew.  This also means that there is no time to SHOW the reader what is happening and Garcia instead relies on pages of info-dumping.  During these sessions we learn about a century old order of which Kennedy's mother was supposedly a part.  Now, I can suspend disbelief with the best of them but, you would think that there would have been some type of clue - even something that wasn't evident until after this new knowledge.  But, no.  Even at the end of the book, we still know NOTHING about the mother's involvement with the League and haven't gotten any answers to the big questions.

The condensed version of this novel also mean very little in the way of character development.  I did enjoy Priest, but Alara felt like the typical female rival who hates the main character at the beginning but grudgingly comes to respect her by the end.  I also had a big problem with the twins.  First of all, I kept mixing them up and had to constantly go back to remind myself which as the broody one.  If you are going to write twins - you had better be able to make them sound different from one another.  Then there was their immediate infatuation with Kennedy, their immediate rivalry over Kennedy and the fact that they had SEVERAL arguments over who was going to "take care of" Kennedy every time they went out on a mission.  Seriously, does the girl not have any self respect?  It seemed the Kennedy's only job was the fuck things up.  This is an all too familiar ploy within the YA world and one that I am beyond tired of.  I hate watching the main character have to be rescued over and over again.  I hate listening to her brood over how useless she is instead of learning some actual skills. 

There are some scenes in Unbreakable that are pretty damn scary.  The part in the Children's Home was freaky-deaky and the setting of the final battle was downright terrifying.  I really could have gotten on board if there were more of these scenes and less "I like you but I'm not good enough for you" moaning between Kennedy and Jared. I also was temporarily hooked by the teaser of a twist at the end (see bottom of review for spoiler)*.  But it turned out to be no where near as cool as I had hoped.

Unbreakable just didn't hook me but it may be different for those people who were big fans of the Beautiful Creatures series.  I may give the second book a shot when it is released.  Here's hoping for more ghosts, less whiny romance.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Supernatural Violence
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

* For just a moment, I thought that the ghosts were going to be the good guys, that the "League" was going to turn out to be the bad guys and that they had used Kennedy but, alas, Garcia copped out just making the device evil and Kennedy goes on her merry way with the Scooby Doo gang with no new information that what we started with.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (22)

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!



Fauna is the chosen book for One Book Nova Scotia, a movement that encourages readers in my province to participate in a province-wide adult book club.  Once a year, a book is chosen and people are encouraged to read it and discuss it.  In a world where workplace conversations tend to discuss tv shows and movies at length, but rarely venture into the world of literature, it is a welcome program. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

ARC Book Review: Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken

Title: Never Fade
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: October 15, 2013
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: 
I seem to recall that, when this cover was released, people were less than enthusiastic.  But I kinda like it.  It isn't all the awesomeness of Darkest Minds, but it is still a solid cover.  I like the colors and the star (compass??) under the ice.  I do wish the imagery linked more closely with the book itself.

The Gist: 
Ruby's time with the Children's League is cut short as she is sent on a secret mission to recover a flashdrive.  The information she is seeking could change the world as she knows it and, naturally, it rests in the hands of Liam Stewart - the boy she thought she left behind for his own good.  Tracking him down means exposing herself, and her terrifying abilities, to those she loves and trusts.  As she crosses the country she encounters danger at the hands of adults and teenagers alike and must decide whether her loyalty lies with her friends, or with her promises to the League.


I am a huge fan of The Darkest Minds.  I have read it twice and I recommend it to all of my students and colleagues.  I loved the way that Bracken managed to fill a young adult novel with cruelty and brutality but still maintain a warmth for her characters and a sense that things could get better.  Though this theme continues in Never Fade, things do tend to seem a little more bleak.  Ruby thought she had seen the worst that humanity had to offer, but she soon finds she has been mistaken.  Nothing with the league is what it seems and her ability to trust has been destroyed time and time again.  I still rooted for Ruby, and I love that she is a wonderfully broken character who continues to grow, but I found it a little difficult in getting to know the new characters.  Perhaps, it is a testiment to how well Bracken wrote the characters in the last book, as I was simply awaiting their arrival.  As such, I wasn't able to develop a love for the new characters while still mourning the old ones.  Once we meet up with Chubs and Liam I almost sighed in relief and was finally able to relax into the story.

I almost wish I had done a re-read of The Darkest Minds before picking up Never Fade.  There are very few reminders in the beginning of the book and I had a little trouble remembering the details of what had taken place already.  I did really enjoy getting to see the inside of the League and the intrigue involved in determining exactly who was in charge.  As the novel continued, it proved to be just as action packed as its predecessor, and just as poignant in its observation of the cruelty, but also the glimmers of kindness, possible by mankind.  The ending did an excellent job of setting up for the next book in the series and leaving the author wishing the time away until the release date of #3.

I am most definitely in this series for the long haul.  Buying a copy of this book for my classroom, recommending it to my student book club and anxiously awaiting my next foray into this world.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Fist Fighting, Gunplay, Knifeplay
Inappropriate Language: Frequent: Jesus, Fuck, Shit, Dick,
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking

Monday, September 23, 2013

ARC Book Review: Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Title: Freakboy
Author: Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Publisher: Macmillin
Release Date: October 22, 2013
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: 
I like the strange breaking of the silouette on this cover but it doesn't give much information about the subject matter.  I would love to see something with a little more powerful imagery to represent the powerful story.

The Gist:
Freakboy is written in verse and tells the story of a seemingly all American teen boy who is struggling with gender issues.  Through the narratives of Brendan, his girlfriend, Vanessa and his friend, Angel we get a special insight into the struggles of transgender teens and those people that love them through it all.


I will admit, this is my first time reading a book in verse.  It had seemed a little gimmicky to me in the past and, even in Freakboy, the writing style takes some getting used to.  Some of my issues may have come from the fact that the advance ebook that I received was either a) pretty poorly formatted or b) just didn't get along with my Sony Reader.  Once I had pushed through 20 or 30 pages, however, I did start to understand the appeal of this type of writing and even highlighted a few passages that made me stop and think.  It is clear that Clark chose each word carefully and really got a feel for how they would fit together.  I did dislike some particular elements, like the word art, which didn't quite format on my reader, but they can easily be overlooked.

I think the author made a fantastic choice in following three characters and choosing those characters to represent several individuals who are affected by transgender issues.  We have Brendan, the questioning teen, Vanessa, the devoted girlfriend and Angel, the teen support worker who has been there.  I was particularly fond of Angel.  She ha been through the absolute worst that life could possibly throw at her and had emerged on the other side with an intact sense of self and a strong support group.  I was very happy to see this perspective and I hope that her message of "paying it forward" will be inspiring to young readers.  I also really liked the relationship between Brendan and Vanessa.  Vanessa was so devoted to him, in a way that was clearly unhealthy, and which she realized by the end, and he was just so completely and utterly lost.  There were several moments during Vanessa's passages where I wanted to shake her and several during Brendan's where I was left thinking "Yes! I am so glad that the author put this struggle in the book!"  There were also characters that I absolutely loathed, but that were all too realistic in a world where cruelty is at least, tolerated, or at worst, celebrated.  Characters like the wrestling coach remind us why the kind people in this world must be extra kind because the mean people in this world are particularly heinous.

Clark clearly knows her subject matter and is able to write about teenagers in a way that is realistic and respectful.  I love that in Freakboy there is no tidy ending.  There is hope, but there is no perfect solution.  It is clear that these characters, like real teens with these issues, will continue to struggle and to grow, but that they have a chance at a happy life, with people who love them.

I had my doubts about a book written in verse, but Freakboy won me over.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing, Sex between teenagers, Some vulgar talk of sexual activities
Violence: Beatings,
Inappropriate Language: Tits, Bitch, Fag, Ass, Pussy, Piss, Dyke, Dick,
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking
Other Issues: Prostitution

Favorite Lines:

"Pinning girl thoughts to the mat and gaining control of my brain."

"Do I want to do her, or do I want to be her."

"I wanted to beg her for more words but was scared they'd hurt."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Audio Book Review: Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

Title: Such Wicked Intent 
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Brilliance Audio)
Release Date: August 21st, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: 
This cover works really well with that of the first in the series.  I love the font treatment and how the author's name is incorporated.  The muted colors are reflective of the tone.  I am really happy that Elizabeth is also featured on this one and the pose suggests familiarity and closeness without leaning to romance. 

The Gist: 
Having failed to save his twin brother from the clutches of death, Victor Frankenstein is ready to leave the world of the occult behind but, it seems, the fate is not quite finished with him.  He stumbles upon a portal to the spirit world and finds his brother in a strange, in-between state.  With his new found power and confidence, Victor, Elizabeth and Henry promise to bring Konrad back - by any means possible.  Even if it means dabbling in dark forces that they may not be able to control.


Such Wicked Intent tells the story of Victor Frankenstein's first steps on the path to creating one of the most feared and villified creatures in the literary world.  Victor is an incredible character who is both magnetic and repulsive.  The reader cannot help but root for him, even when he shows the most vile characteristics.  He is accompanied by is friend, Henry who, in this installment, shows some depth of character and begins to step out from behind the shadow of the Frankenstein twins.  While the other characters were interesting and complex, can someone please explain to me the draw of Elizabeth?  Is she the only teenage girl that these boys have been exposed to?  Why does EVERYONE fall in love with her?  In the first half of the book, she was shrill, annoying and nauseating in her piousness.  It is not until the spirit world begins to reveal the cracks in her perfect persona that I begin to even be able to tolerate her.  I often found myself rolling my eyes or even yelling at her for her actions (a common practice I have developed with irritating characters in audio books).

The creatures in this book are pretty terrifying.  One in the very obvious, deep down gut kind of terror and the other in the much more sinister, there's something wrong but I can't quite put my finger on it kind of way.  I absolutely loved the treatment of the butterflies and the crucial part that they played throughout the entire book.  I couldn't help hearing the voice of Bart Simpson in my head "Nobody ever suspects the butterfly..."  The world building in Such Wicked Intent was incredibly detailed.  The laws behind the Spirit World were clear and the possibilities that this setting opened up were endless.  It was clear from the beginning that the power held there would be far too tempting for Victor's own good, but it was also interesting to see the impact that it had on the other characters.

The pacing of this novel was spot on.  The darker aspects of the character's nature lend well to the sense of building tension.  There are some true moments of excitement and terror as we watch the characters explore the new world that has opened itself and battle the monsters that it has breathed forth.  I do hope that any further books will take the story beyond the halls of Chateau Frankenstein.  One could suspend disbelief at it having secret passageways, staircases and libraries but to now add a mysterious cave filled with dark and dangerous drawings - eventually the teens are going to have to search beyond the ancestral home for their next adventure.

I did have a few issues with the narrator for this audio book.  His voices for the young male characters were a little too close for easy understanding, but it was his female characters that were downright laughable.  They always came out oddly breathy and over-dramatic.  I was very glad that there were not more of them and that, other than Elizabeth, they didn't have much to say.  

I actually enjoyed Such Wicked Intent much more than the first in the series - a feat that happens very rarely.  I have not yet seen anything to indicate that there will be a third book, but I certainly hope that this is the case. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Fist Fighting, Swordplay, Attempted Rape
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Monday, September 16, 2013

ARC Book Review: Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: October 1st, 2013
Rating: 1/5

Cover Impressions: 
Kinda boring background, but I enjoy the font


I quit 70 pages in. I could not, for the life of me, find anything the least bit interesting about the main character. She is whiney and self absorbed, complaining about her situation and waiting for a man to swoop in and save her.

I became more and more frustrated by her constant struggle with her writing. Clearly, she had seen success in children's stories but was trying to write something more prolific that would pay more. I am not one to bash artistic endeavors, but perhaps in attempting to put a roof over the heads of your children you might deem to lower yourself to write something THAT ACTUALLY SELLS! She spends countless pages moaning about her monetary situation but decides to spend her time attending frivolous parties and walking the streets of New York rather than actually writing anything.

I was also bored and appalled at the characterization of Poe and his wife. They were simplistic characters with little color and nothing to hold one's interest.

With a plot that crawls and characters that make my skin do likewise - I quit.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stacking The Shelves (21)

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 PUMPED about this book.  I was a huge fan of The Thirteenth Tale and I didn't even know that Setterfield was releasing a new book until I got an invite to review it!


This week I got:

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
The Bad Queen by Carolyn Meyer
The Tithe Series by Holly Black
The Brothers Grimm 101 Fairy Tales

This is my second time purchasing the Anna series.  These copies are actually for my classroom.  Anna Dressed in Blood is the first book that my student book club will be reviewing this year and I hope the kids really enjoyed it.  The Bad Queen was a bargain book and I am looking forward to seeing how it stacks up against other Marie Antoinette historical fiction.  I have been wanted to try out the Tithe series for a while, this set is also going in my classroom.

Last, a purchase for myself, I love the original fairy tales and this book (and its sequel - soon to be ordered) promises them in all their gruesome glory!

Monday, September 2, 2013

ARC Book Review: Marie Antoinette Serial Killer by Katie Alender

Title: Marie Antoinette Serial Killer
Author: Katie Alender
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: 
I like this one a lot.  The piercing blue eyes draw you in and the blood splatter elevates it from the "pretty girl in a dress" typical fare.  I do wish there was something in the background; a room, a palace, even the Eiffel tower.  Also chuckling at the tagline. 

The Gist:
Colette's life has fallen apart.  Her parents are separated, she has had to move into a tiny apartment and, despite being able to stay at her fancy prep school, she can't tell her snotty friends or they will ditch her.  BUT, there is one shining hope - a class trip to Paris that Colette hopes will change her life.  Upon landing, however, she discovers that there have been several gruesome murders in the city, and that they may have something to do with the mysterious family heirloom that she discovered in a long forgotten box. 


I am a huge fan of Katie Alender's Bad Girls Don't Die series.  So, naturally, I was all in when I found out that she was releasing a new book.  I don't know a great deal about Marie Antoinette, but the premise seemed really interesting.  The thought of the famous queen hunting down and decapitating those who had wronged her made me giggle and the promise of a Parisian setting had be intrigued.  I loved following the characters through some famous sites and hearing tidbits of history (punctuated by the appearance of a few dead participants!).  The plot is fun and unfolds at a brisk pace.  Once the mystery is laid bare, there is a real sense of urgency that kept me reading late into the night. 

I did have a little difficulty connecting with the main character.  Even though Colette is the better of her friends, she is still pretty shallow and vapid.  I had a hard time taking her seriously and I kept rolling my eyes at the very "teenagerness" of her every thought and comment.  I remember not being particularly fond of the main character in the Bad Girl's Don't Die series, but Alender had three books in which to let her grow and mature, this (as far as I know) is a stand-alone and Colette's transformation is a little too quick.  It was nice to watch her finally make some good choices when it comes to her friends.  The other characters are fun, but not particularly well developed.  Audrey didn't have much personality other than being the complete opposite of Hannah.  Brynn seemed completely unnecessary.  Hannah was completely heinous - Regina George would be proud of this one and I honestly felt bad for Pilar, she seemed so sweet and talented and kept putting up with Hannah's abuse.

The love interest is sweet, but doesn't overtake the plot.  This is not the story for someone looking for passion in Paris!  Jules is cute, sweet and respectful.  He is the complete opposite of Armand, who had developed a strange fixation on Colette and gave me a serious case of the heebie jeebies (also, I completely pictured him as Gaston from Beauty and the Beast).  I did really enjoy getting to see the relationship between Jules and his family, but the way it impacted Colette's own relationship with her brother was a little unrealistic.  By the end, Colette is a completely changed person.  She stands up to her friends, is generous with her mother and kind to her brother.  If this had happened at the end of a series of books, it could have felt like a genuine change, but the fact that it all occurs in 10 (I think) days, makes me doubt that it would last beyond the first few days at home.  Overall, the ending is a little too clean and easy.  All the loose ends are tied up, everyone is safe, Hannah is alone, Colette is a better person and everything goes back to normal.

I am definitely an Alender fan.  I will stick around for any other books that she writes, but here's hoping that she goes back to the series format that allows for some realistic character development.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

12 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Death by decapitation
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Lines: August 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 August.

 Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
"Sophronia intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegoose was taking tea."

Just the names in this one have me rolling my eyes..... 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
"There was a boy in her room."

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
"Theoretically, Blue Sargent was probably going to kill one of these boys."

"In her apartment high above the streets of Paris, Gabrielle Roux stood in front of the bathroom mirror, still wearing her daringly short purple dress and platform heels."

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
"A pronoun is a ghost 
of who you really are
whispering its presence, 
taunting your soul
in you
of you
but not
all you."

Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken
"The crook of my arm locked over the man's throat, tightening as his boots' rubber soles batted against the ground."

Oh Never Fade, I really wanted it to be you this month.  And don't get me wrong, your first line is pretty decent as first lines go, but I have to give ultimate props to Freakboy.  I loved the word choice here and the way the line flowed.  It was a first line that I kept wanting to read over and over again.  

My least favorite first line this month was from Etiquette & Espionage.  I just couldn't get past the silliness of the names to take anything else on that first page seriously.