Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Rebel Wife - Taylor M. Polites

Summary:  Augusta Branson, born of a prominent Southern family made destitute by the Civil War, is forced into marriage with a wealthy upstart.  Ten years after her marriage and the end of the war, she watches her husband, Eli, die from a horrifying blood fever.

Newly widowed, Augusta begins to wake to the realities that surround her:  her social standing is stained by her marriage, she is alone and unprotected in a community that is being destroyed by racial prejudice and violence, the fortune she thought she would inherit does not exist, and the deadly blood fever is spreading like wildfire.  Nothing is as she believed, everyone she trusts is hiding something from her, and if Augusta can't find a missing package, she and her son face certain death.

Using the Southern Gothic tradition to subvert literary archetypes likes the chivalrous Southern gentleman, the good mammy, and the defenseless southern belle, The Rebel Wife shatters the myths that still cling to the antebellum South and creates an unforgettable heroine for our time.  (Summary from book - Image from www.taylormpolites.com - Book provided free for an honest review)

My Review:  Augusta Branson is a recently widowed southerner caught up in the chaos of Reconstruction. While the executor to her husband’s will claims that money has run out, Augusta and others aren’t so sure. As racial and political tensions mount, sickness begins to spread throughout the land and Augusta must uncover the truth and find a missing parcel that, if it exists, could be her family’s salvation.

The Rebel Wife exposes the South as a region plagued by corruption, racism, political maneuvering, poverty, greed, sickness, cruelty and paranoia following the Civil War. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know enough about this period of history to gauge this books authenticity – my knowledge of the era is based entirely on Gone with the Wind – but my gut tells me that it was infinitely more realistic, and less glamorous, than anything starring Clark Gable and Viven Leigh.  On each page, I could feel the oppressive heat, the stifling humidity, and the crackle of racial tension. 

Some might say that writing a character you can’t help but hate is a sign of excellent writing. If that is the case, then Polites’ has a bright future. The vicious racism and undiluted ignorance displayed by most of the white characters was difficult to stomach. Though some were more openly hostile than others, they all made my blood boil. Unfortunately, this also made it difficult for me to connect with the story or invest in the characters, including Augusta. Freed slaves, Simon, Emma, and Rachel, were another matter.

Augusta is hardly an “unforgettable heroine for our time”. She spent most days wringing her hands, whining about the heat, and waiting on the men in her life to save her. I loathe weak-willed female characters and although I’m sure this was asomewhat authentic female behavior for the times, I wanted to shake Augusta senseless and tell her to grow a spine. It wasn’t until the end of the book that I felt any kind empathy towards her. Yes, eventually she transforms from a paranoid, na├»ve, and helpless waif into a fierce woman with her own mind and mettle – it just took a really long time.

My main complaint about this novel is really a matter of personal preference. The author chose to write in first-person present tense and often used short, choppy sentences as a matter of style. For example:

"Henry climbs on his narrow bed beside me. His solitary games always stop when I appear. He wraps his arms around me and lays his head on my lap. His hair is like corn silks under my fingers. I am petting him. My pet. He breathes out of his nose in short, discontented bursts. His is confused by all this emotion.”

I’m not a fan of first-person, present tense; for some reason I prefer the comfort of –ed endings. Usually I can push these feelings aside, but the frequent addition of short sentences made Polites’ writing feel stilted. About halfway through the story, things began to pick up and I stopped noticing the short sentences, but until then I had a very difficult time keeping my mind in the book.

My favorite moment in this book was near the end when Augusta had a conversation with Rachel, one of the black women who worked in her household, who was helping her bathe. Augusta always thought Rachel was “too familiar” with white folks, but this conversation changed something between them:

"Miss Gus,” she begins suddenly, “I know there were white folks who tried to be good to their people under slavery, but there ain’t a way you can be good to someone when you’re taking things away from them. And that’s what slavery was, people taking things that weren’t theirs. Their work. Their bodies. Their love for themselves. And we’re free now, all of us. God has given us our freedom. But He says it’s up to us to do something with our freedom. ‘Cause there are always going to be people who want to take things from you. Some of them are white folks, and some of them are colored folks, even. It’s the way God made the world. There are always going to be people trying to take your freedom away. John and me, we know that we’ve got to fight to keep free…”

Overall, The Rebel Wife is not for the impatient reader. It had some very tense moments and some rather dull ones, but ultimately it showed how hatred, bitterness, and the horrors of war can bring out the very worst, or the very best, in people. Augusta’s story may have taken a while to unfold, but I am glad that I stuck around till the end.

My Rating: 3 stars, but just barely. If it hadn’t ended the way it did, I would have rated this in the high two’s.

For the sensitive reader: A few instances of profanity (nothing major) and numerous racial slurs (the N* word, primarily), which are expected given the context of the story. Some racially-motivated violence typical of the times and a mildly graphic sexual assault.

Sum it up: The Rebel Wife reveals a seamy side to the oft-portrayed genteel south.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fallout - Ellen Hopkins

Read Kari's review of Crank and Glass.
Summary:  So You Want to Know
All about her. How
she
really is.  (Was?) Why
she swerved off
the high road.  Hard
left
to nowhere.
recklessly
indifferent to
me,
Hunter Seth Haskins,
her first \born
son.  I've been
choking 
that down for
nineteen years.
Why did she go
on
her mindless way,
leaving me spinning
in a whirlwind of
her dust?
Hunter.  Autumn.  Summer.
Different homes.  Different guardians.  Different last names.
Diffferent lives.
But there is one person who binds them together.
Kristina

Nineteen years after Kristina Snow met the monster--crank--her children are reeling from the consequences of her decisions.  Instead of one big, happy family, they are a desperate tangle of scattered lives united by anger, doubt, and fear.

A predisposition to addiction and a sense of emptiness where a mother's love should be leads all three down the road of their mother's notorious legacy.  Sex, drugs, alcohol, abuse--there is more of Kristina in her children than they would ever like to believe.  But when the thread that ties them together brings them face-to-face, they'll discover something powerful in each other and in themselves--the trust, the hope, the courage to begin to break the cycle.

Fallout is bestselling author Ellen Hopkins riveting conclusion to her trilogy begun by Crank and Glass.  It is a revelation and a testament to the harsh reality that addiction is never just one person's problem.  (Summary from jacket cover and image from http://lifeinthethumb.blogspot.com/ )

My Review:  I almost didn't finish this book.  The first 150 pages were far too depressing and graphic for me.  I barely made it through Glass, but watching Kristina's children fall into the same traps she was bound to was just too depressing.  A friend who'd finished the series last year changed my mind.  She said I just needed to give this one more time because it was the most hopeful and positive of all the books.  While I still found it incredibly vulgar and depressing, because of the choices Kristina's children made, they did leave the book with less screw-ups and less perversion.  At least, they knew they were making poor choices and were angry with themselves for doing so. 

I was particularly bothered by the sex scenes and the characters' willingness to obsess and crave it with little or no restraint.  I don't like the message that sends adolescents.  I'm more hesitant to recommend this book to students than the first, because Crank was at least meth-induced insanity and not a purposeful choice to enter a world with little or no morals.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Read at your own risk:  Lots of sex, drugs, alcohol done/used by minors interspersed with crude swearing.

Sum it up:  A message about the consequences of drug addiction on not only the addict, but everyone associated with them. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Virtuous Woman - Kay Gibbons

Summary:  When Blinking Jack Stokes met Ruby Pitt Woodrow, she was twenty and he was forty.  She was the carefully raised daughter of Carolina gentry and he was a skinny tenant farmer who had never owned anything in his life.  She was newly widowed after a disastrous marriage to a brutal drifter.  He had never asked a woman to do more than help him hitch a mule.  They didn't fall in love so much as they simply found each other and held on for dear life.  (Summary from book - Image from tower.com )

My Review:  In A Virtuous Woman, I was fascinated by the quiet, steadfast love between the two main characters, Jack and Ruby.  Their love wasn’t a passionate affair, certainly not the kind you find in romance novels.  Jack was just a good man who’d never had much opportunity or inclination to marry, until he met Ruby.  He saw in her a kindred spirit – one in desperate need of protection, kindess, and love – and knew he could give that to her if only she would have him. 

Their story is told in short chapters, alternating between Jack and Ruby’s strong, singular voices as they look back on their past, the trials that brought them together, and the life they shared.  I enjoyed the character’s different perspectives and felt that, collectively, they created a brief, but well-rounded picture of their life together. 

One glance at the reviews on Good Reads will tell you that even though this book was an Oprah Book Club selection, it still has both fans and detractors.  Some, including myself, find the stark and simple nature of this book quietly compelling while others called it a snooze-fest (or something along those lines).   Others complained about the character’s vernacular, which leaned towards the uneducated southern dialect.  It took a little getting used to, but I felt that it added to the over all flavor of the book and the feel of the characters.  Here’s a quote (of Jack, writing about Ruby’s battle with cancer) that I loved that will give you a little taste of the author’s writing style:

“If you want to see a man afraid just put him in a room with a sick woman who was once strong.  See, I know now that this world is built up on strong women, built up and kept up by them too, them kneeling, stooping, pulling, bending, and rising up when they need to go and do what needs to get done.  And when a man sees a woman like that sick and hurt, especially the kind of man who knows a woman’s strength but can’t confess it, when he sees her sick or hurt it terrifies him, like he’s witnessing a chunk of the universe coming loose and he knows he doesn’t have what it takes to stick it back together.  And that man will feel guilty and foolish then too because henever made himself say what he always knew.” 

Another of my favorite quotes from the book was a little shorter:  “..half the job of finding peace is finding understanding.” It seemed to me that through years of marriage and shared hardship, Jack and Ruby mastered the art of seeing one another clearly and loving each other regardless. They understood one another. I think we all hope for that kind of love and I loved its reflection in this book.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:   I didn’t really count, but I’d estimate around 20-30 instances of profanity, mostly (but not entirely) bibical in nature.  Also, Jack and Ruby weren’t particularly fond of organized religion and didn’t like it being forced upon them, but that didn’t bother me one bit. 

Sum it up:  A story full of heartbreak, contentment, and a quietly compelling love.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

Summary:  It begins with absence and desire. It begins with blood and fear. It begins with a discovery of witches.

When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.

For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.

Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.  Summary from Deborah Harkness website, http://deborahharkness.com/ - Image from rwww.read-all-over.net) 

My Review: Witches, vampires and daemons living amongst humans in a modern day society.  A world full of secrets. A forbidden love affair. Layers of mystery unraveling, each uncovering another stunning revelation.  Add in an ancient breath-taking castle and who can resist? Really, what more can you ask for in a book?

Diana Bishop has spent her life ignoring the fact that she is a witch, developing instead into a history scholar. When her research leads to the discovery of a mysterious manuscript, Ashmole 782, Diana finds herself suddenly surrounded by vampires and daemons, as well as other witches. All are closely monitoring her next move with a threatening force, each wanting to get ahold of Ashmole 782 for different reasons. At the same time Diana’s magical powers seem to have come unleashed.  Her only chance at survival is to go against her instincts and learn how to effectively use her powers.

Readers will travel with Diana as she struggles to understand her inner power by digging up secrets of her past. Her love for a vampire, Matthew, will take her on an unexpected journey. He longs to serve as her protector yet puts her in immense danger. Diana soon learns that some secrets must be shared while others require close guarding. Unexpected friendships develop and Diana finds she is more powerful than she thought. As the mystery surrounding the manuscript unravels Diana discovers that this is about more than just her. The future of all creatures is in danger.

This is a thick novel, yet it feels that it is over in a moment. Unexpected twists and turns cover the pages. A condensed history lesson is comprised within the story. Do not feel surprised to find yourself lost at times amongst the historical fact only to find enlightenment a few pages down the line. This is a trilogy. This first installment ended at a place where a commercial break would fit nicely, yet I wasn’t entirely satisfied. The next book, Shadow of Night, isn’t due out until July of this year. So if you don’t like waits, put off reading this book until the entire trilogy comes out. I assure you once you interlace yourself in Diana’s life it won't be easy to get untangled.

**Also Warner Brothers is in the early stages of putting together a movie based on this book, so this isn’t the last you’ll hear of it!

Rating: 5 Stars

Sensitive readers: This is PG-13. There are a couple fairly mild love scenes with little detail and only a couple occasions of swearing that I can recall.

To Sum it up: A book you’ll be happy to lose yourself in.  This reads like a more adult version of Twilight, with a much more sophisticated writing style.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The 100 'Greatest Books for Kids'

This list is from USA Today as ranked by Scholastic Parent & Child magazine.  You didn't think I came up with it myself, did you?  That's way too much work. I only did the parts in parentheses. I got the list here.

1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White     (Any book where the spider dies is fine by me.)

2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown  (The cadence of this book is very soothing.)

3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

4. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jacks Keats  

5. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak  (Loved the book.  Not the movie.)

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling  (Well, duh!)

7. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss  (I always try to read the "I will not..." parts of this book in one breath.  It's fun.)

8. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank  (Absolutely moving)

9. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein   (Personally, I think this book is a disturbing.  The boy is kind of a selfish turd.)

10. Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

11. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (My mom read me these growing up.  I always pretended I was Anne.  I'm still in love with Gilbert Blythe.)

12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle  (My kids love this one.  I mean, the caterpillar gets to eat all sorts of junk food (and healthy stuff, too, but they don't care about that.))

13. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans  (Eh.  The illustrations bug me, but the story is cute.)

14. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

15. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

16. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt   (Really liked this one.)

17. Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

18. When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan  (What!? I thought I'd read all her books.  Poo.)

19. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

20. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein  (I love Shel.  Everything but that tree book is wonderful)

21. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

22. Corduroy by Don Freeman (a little bear finds a home at last...)

23. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

24. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper  (a great moral to this story -- believe in yourself and never give up!)

25. The Giver by Lois Lowry  (ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOKS)

26. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

27. Black on White by Tana Hoban

28. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems   (Persuasive little pigeon.)

29. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

30. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco

31. The Mitten by Jan Brett

32. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

33. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins  (Yes, please!  Love the series!  Though I'd definitely recommend reading it first before handing it over to your child.)

34. Swimmy by Leo Lionni

35. Freight Train by Donald Crews

36. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

37. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don & Audrey Wood

38. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney  (Great for reluctant readers.  Not my favorite.)

39. Zen Shorts by John J. Muth

40. Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton  (Sandra Boyton rocks my socks.)

41. Matilda by Roald Dahl

42. What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry

43. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis  (It's been a while since I've read this series, but I remember them fondly.)

44. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann  (This one is always getting requests at my house.)

45. The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta

46. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis (a book that celebrates the imagination.)

47. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle  (My two-year-old's favorite book right now.)

48. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

49. Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

50. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

51. Mother Goose by Sylvia Long

52. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan  (LOVE this series.  Greek mythology with a modern twist.)

53. The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne  (Winnie the Pooh freaks my husband out.  He's not allowed in our home.  Sorry Pooh.)

54. Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

55. Smile! by Roberta Grobel Intrater

56. Living Sunlight by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm

57. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket  (Kaisa, my 8-year-old, is reading this series right now)

58. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull

59. Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

60. Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes… by Annie Kubler

61. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

62. Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin

63. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick  (I keep hearing about this one....)

64. My Truck Is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis

65. Birds by Kevin Henkes

66. The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

67. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan  (Absolutely FABULOUS...especially if you majored in Latin American Studies...which I did.)

68. Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book by Karen Katz

69. The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks by Joanna Cole

70. Blackout by John Rocco (When the lights go out in the big city, what do you do?)

71. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson  (a great read, but SAD!)

72. Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman (a cute little board book.)

73. Tea With Milk by Allen Say

74. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

75. Holes by Louis Sachar (Love, love, love this one!)

76. Peek-a Who? by Nina Laden

77. Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

78. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

79. Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney  (The first and best of ALL of the Llama books)

80. What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

81. Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

82. Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows

83. Yoko by Rosemary Wells

84. No No Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli

85. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

86. Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

87. Rules by Cynthia Lord

88. Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

89. An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston

90. Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault

91. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

92. What Shall We Do With the Boo Hoo Baby? by Cressida Cowell  (We don't have this book, but we should.  When we checked it out form the library, my kids made me read it about 9 million times.)

93. We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States by David Catrow  (I haven't read the book, but I love the illustrator!)

94. I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis

95. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (a fascinating story with a powerful message.)

96. Gossie by Olivier Dunrea  (an adorable little goose in red boots.)

97. The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

98. First Words by Roger Priddy

99. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

100. Animalia by Graeme Base

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Glass - Ellen Hopkins

Read Kari's review of Crank, Hopkin's first book in the series.

Summary:  One little bit, my heart revs
high, then settles into quick-
step mode.  How I've missed
that race and pound.  How
I've missed the lack of control

Crank.  Glass. Ice.  Crystal.  Whatever you call it, it's all the same: a monster.  Kristina thinks she can control it.  Now with a baby to care for, she is determined to be the one deciding when and how much, the one calling the shots.  But the Monster is too strong, and before she knows it, Kristina is back in its grip...and it won't let go.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://www.examiner.com/)

My Review:  The second book in Hopkins' train-wreck addicting series, steps further, much further into the vile world of drug abuse, addiction, and desperation.  It was obvious where Kristina would end up, but what surprised me and probably shouldn't have, was her loss of values and morals.  Things she used to hold sacred and questioned herself doing in the first book were hardly thought of and then cast aside very quickly in this book.

Crank felt like an accurate portrayal of what happens to the brain and decision making abilities of someone addicted to hard drugs.  Throughout the story, Kristina makes one poor decision after another, leading her further and further away from the person she used to be -- a person most of society would understand and love.  As long as you value the things she is giving up, it was easy to dislike her, disdain her decisions, and shun her lifestyle.   

I hope this book is a cautionary tale to anyone considering hard drug use, particularly meth.  If it's not, I worry for the world we're a part of and the future generations who will be plagued by the rot that meth creates of human beings. 

I find Hopkins writings to be thoughtful, compelling, with a firm anti-drug message, and therefore I see value in the books.  It's not for the average reader and definitely not for just any teen, but I do believe there is an audience and an authentic message that would be valuable for teens who need this kind of drug awareness education.  Simply telling some teens that drugs are bad is not enough.  This book, and series, may be what finally convinces them not to traipse down the path of no return.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader:  Lots of swearing, drug use, and law infractions--although all of it written in a way to dissuade the reader from ever using meth.

Sum it up:  The next installment of Kristina's demise into meth addiction.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Inside Out - Maria Snyder

Summary:  "Imagine every space in this room filled with people.  Constantly being jostled and pushed.  In the lower levels there is no quiet place.  No peace.  To a scrub, this room is paradise."

I drew a deep breath.  I'd spoken more in one burst to this stranger whose room I'd invaded than anyone else in weeks.  And with a single word he could alert the Pop Cops and send me to the Chomper.  We stared at each other for a few heartbeats. 

Before I could retreat he said, "My name's Riley Narelle Ashon.  Any time you need peace, you're welcome to use my hideaway."

Keep Your Head Down.
Don't Get Noticed.
Or Else.

I'm Trella.  I'm a scrub.  A nobody.  One of thousands who work the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers.  I've got one friend, do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops.  So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels?  The only neck at risk is my own...until I accidentally start a rebellion and become the go-to girl to lead a revolution.  (Summary from book - Image from beverlypubliclibrary.org)

My Review:   Inside Out is one of those books that I could take or leave without losing sleep.  I enjoyed the premise, but Snyder’s writing lacked fluidity and felt rather undeveloped.  The story was focused mostly on actions ( very Trella did this.  Then this happened and  Trella did that .) without the emotion, detail, or character development that would have given the story more dimension and depth. 

One of the disadvantages of one-dimensional writing is that it is often quite difficult to surprise the reader or create tension within the story.   The identity of Trella’s mother was painfully obvious.  Also, the conflict that Trella faced throughout the story did not feel genuine.  Nearly every obstacle she encountered was overcome with only token effort and, because of the action-oriented writing, often resolved in a matter of paragraphs.  In shorter books, I expect that kind of pace, but at just over 300 pages I wanted more tension and less predictability. 
The most bizarre aspect of this story involves a stuffed sheep that two characters  use to have weird third-person conversations.   These moments felt entirely out of place, and I felt uncomfortable while reading them – like I was eavesdropping on someone’s private therapy session.  It made me wonder if the author doesn’t just really like sheep, or have an inside joke involving them, that she wanted to insert into the story.  Regardless, the words “The Force of Sheep” should never be used in any book again.  Ever.

In spite of the somewhat stilted writing style, plot predictability, and the author’s bizarre obsession with sheep, I was still consumed by one question – What was Outside?   My curiosity kept me reading when ordinarily I might have stopped.  I wasn’t expecting the answer but it did raise my opinion of the book.  I also appreciate Trella’s final discovery….but  I will say no more.
I think Inside Out has the bones of a phenomenal story, but lacks the rich language or descriptive setting that would have allowed me to disappear inside its pages.  While it was difficult to ignore this book’s flaws, it is possible that a tween or younger YA reader might not even notice them.  I will probably keep this book on my YA shelf, in case my daughters would like to read it, but I don’t plan on continuing in the series. Now that my curiosity has been satisfied,  Snyder’s next book, Outside In, doesn’t hold as much interest for me. 

My Rating: 3 Stars, but juuuuust barely, and only because I think younger readers wouldn’t pick up on half of my complaints.
For the sensitive reader:  Unless you count a little kissing, this book was fairly tame.  I didn’t notice any profanity or excessive violence.

Sum it up:  A futuristic tale that might entertain younger YA readers or tweens, but probably won't find many fans old enough to vote. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Perils of Cheap E-Books (aka A Big Ole Review of Some Very Bad E-Books)

Our thanks to occasional guest reviewer Melissa Paul for her courage in tackling the sometimes scary world of inexpensive e-books.  You are a brave, brave woman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(Note to the Universe: the following review contribution, being hereby submitted to RFS, shall, in no way constitute a request for a pregnancy, planned or unplanned. I am a GUEST reviewer performing a community service out of sympathy for the exhausted regularly scheduled entertainment. Thank you, in advance, for your understanding.)

Well then. 

I’ll read pretty much anything: paperback, hardback, ebook, cereal box, zine, whatever.  I love my Kindle for its portability, capacity, and simplicity.  HOWEVER, it does have some shortcomings, probably the biggest of which is the fact that it is so EASY to BUY books: click...click...magic happens...and I am now reading! (The credit card bill will arrive later.)  Consequently, I spend a lot of money on books. To help with my book bill, I have been keeping an eye out for steals and deals. But sometimes you get what you pay for.

I have fallen victim to the lure of cheap e-books on several occasions. I almost always regret it. Chances are good that if a book is available in “e”format only, it is because no publishers are willing to invest in it. Generally (although not always) this should be a warning to the reader. Glaring plot holes, horrible spelling and grammar, and badly written dialogue are only some of the headaches that the penny pinching book buyer may have to contend with. You may also find yourself unintentionally reading religious propaganda.  Even if the inexpensive entertainment only costs me a buck or two, often I think to myself later that my TIME could have been better spent, say, shaving my legs, cleaning the oven, or distributing home pregnancy tests to all of my friends (I know how contagious these things are, please Universe, I don’t want any more kids, okay?).

Oh and did I mention the series/saga/trilogy epidemic? The first book might be 99 cents, but the second one is going to be $1.99, and you can bet the third one is going to run you 3 bucks or more.  So the bait is a cheapie single book and the hook is the whole series that will end up costing you $12, for which price, you could have gotten that novel everyone at book club has been raving about.  

If you're not careful what you buy, the first thing you'll see when you go to the Kindle store is the cheap e-books.  And, I swear, if you buy one Twilight book, you will never get recommendations for anything other than YA paranormal romance.  Keep reading to see what I sucker I am, because in keeping with my philanthropic community service bent, here’s a roundup of some of the best of the worst that have made it to my e-reader screen.  

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The Complete Forever Trilogy (Grey Eyes, Brown Eyes, and Angel Eyes) - Brandon Alston and Quinteria Ramey (paid $4.32)

Summary (via Amazon):  15 year old Anastasia Adams has spent her entire life on run. She and her mother have never spent more than 18 months in any one location, often times leaving with just the cothes on their backs. Despite the havoc that this is wreaking on Ana's social and academic life, her mother offers no explanation as to why it is they're constantly moving, or even what it is they're running from. But that all changes one night in the woods of Pelion, SC--the night the terror catches up with them.

Fearing her mother dead, and having barely escaped with her own life, Ana is whisked away to world of privilege and tradition. It's a fairytale come to life. The poor girl used to living out of a suitcase is now a resident of one of the most exclusive addresses in the world. The people there adore her and she catches the eye of a young guardian who sees her as a refreshing change to the girls he's grown up with.

If only they could find her mother. If only she knew the consequences of being born a "conjurer." If only she knew who that green eyed stranger was, the stranger who'll tell her about a past too romantic, and too tragic to be real. In the end, she'll have to choose between the boy who has captured her heart and the stranger she can feel down in her soul, assuring at least one of them an almost certain death.

My Review: Okay first, why is this The “Forever” trilogy? All the books have titles ___ Eyes. Shouldn’t it be the “Eyes” trilogy? There is another “Forever” trilogy by Jude Deveraux, so that’s just confusing. But wait that’s just the beginning of the confusion!  Ana is a witch. A princess witch. A reincarnated princess witch in love with a vampire. A reincarnated angel princess witch in love with a vampire and also with a boy witch. And that was when I stopped reading and wished princess-angel-witch-Ana with the weird eyes could get my money back.

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The Fallen Star Series (The Fallen Star & The Underworld) - Jessica Sorensen
(paid $4.36 for the first two books in the series)

Summary (via Amazon): For eighteen year-old Gemma, life has never been normal. Up until recently, she has been incapable of feeling emotion. And when she’s around Alex, the gorgeous new guy at school, she can feel electricity that makes her skin buzz. Not to mention the monsters that haunt her nightmares have crossed over into real-life. But with Alex seeming to hate her and secrets popping up everywhere, Gemma’s life is turning into a chaotic mess. Things that shouldn’t be real suddenly seem to exist. And as her world falls apart, figuring out the secrets of her past becomes a matter of life and death.

My Review: This should have been one book, not two and certainly not four! I thought the concept of someone who couldn’t feel emotion was different and interesting and no sign of angels, witches, or vampires, so it was okay, until chapter two… witches, vampires, and fairies, oh my (and none of it in a good way)! Bad grammar, slow moving story line and dialogue that the writer prefers to summarize rather than type. I got the feeling that Sorensen didn’t know what to do with her characters half of the time. There were a lot of pointless expeditions that did nothing to move the plot along. So the end of book two was the end of this series for me.

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Fall of Angels Series (Branded & Forsaken) - Keary Taylor (paid $2.14 for the first two books in the series)

Summary (via RFS)Jessica's had the nightmares for as long as she can remember. Nightmares of being judged for people who have died, of being branded by the angels. Her friends and family think she's a crazy because of it all. Yet she carries the mark of the condemned, seared into the back of her neck, and hides it and herself away from the world.

But when two men she can't ignore enter her life everything changes, including the nightmares. The two of them couldn't be more different. She will do anything to be with one of them. Even tell him the truth about angels, why she never sleeps, and the scar on the back of her neck. But one of the two has set events into motion what will pull her toward her own judgment and turn her into the object of her greatest fear. 

My Review:  Branded has been reviewed by RFS previously. And as I said before, Mindy had a spot on review.  I got the feeling that Taylor, who may be Jessica Sorensen (see above) writing under a different name for all I can tell, isn't comfortable with dialogue. There is a lot of synopsis of the conversation without actual “he said,” “she said”. Also, Jessica, the protagonist not the writer, takes A LOT of showers. Seriously, this girl needs a hobby and some better decision making abilities. The lack of editing was really annoying, especially how every character says "ya" a lot and "alright". YA and ALRIGHT are not a real words people! I cringe every time one of them pops up on my Kindle screen (this happens A LOT, not alot (alot is also not a word)).

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My Blood Approves Series (My Blood Approves, Fate, Flutter, and Wisdom) - Amanda Hocking  (paid $10.79)  

Summary (via Amazon): Seventeen-year-old Alice Bonham's life feels out of control after she meets Jack. With his fondness for pink Chuck Taylors and New Wave hits aside, Jack's unlike anyone she's ever met. Then she meets his brother, Peter. His eyes pierce through her, and she can barely breathe when he's around. Even though he can't stand the sight of her, she's drawn to him.  But falling for two very different guys isn't even the worst of her problems. Jack and Peter are vampires, and Alice finds herself caught between love and her own blood...

My Review: Total Twilight rip-off. Don’t bother with it unless you want to be disappointed. In my own defense, My Blood Approves was one of the first e-books I bought. It had some decent Amazon reviews, which are completely worthless and untrustworthy (one more reason RFS is awesome). And I kept expecting it to get better. It didn’t.


However Hocking’s Trylle Trilogy (below) was not a complete waste of time.
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The Trylle Trilogy (Switched, Ascend,  and Torn) - Amanda Hocking (paid $7.55)

Summary (via Amazon): When Wendy Everly was six-years-old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. It isn't until eleven years later that Wendy discovers her mother might have been right. With the help of Finn Holmes, Wendy finds herself in a world she never knew existed - a world both beautiful and frightening, and Wendy's not sure she wants to be a part of it.

My Review: These books have actually been picked up by a real publisher and are set to be re-released in April. I don’t know if any changes are planned, but this was a solid storyline with decent character and plot development. For an inexpensive and mindless read, this series wasn’t a complete miss. Also: no vampires. It was okay. Not great, but worth about what it cost for time and money.




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  The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No: Memoir of a Teenage Mom  - Tracy Engelbrecht  (paid $1.07)

Summary (via Amazon): A sharp, occasionally shocking, memoir that will change how you look at teenage mothers, The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No is told with frank South African humour and refreshingly mature insight. Tracy Engelbrecht tells the story of how she came to find herself pregnant at 15, and how she coped with pregnancy, birth and homework. An eye-opener for teens and their parents alike, as well as a message of hope, empathy and respect for those who have experienced a teenage pregnancy.  No M-TV teen moms, no sugar-coating, no horror stories - just honesty, humility, humour and love. Real life.

My Review:  Tracy has the maturity of a seven year old. Actually, no, I think my seven year old could make better decisions and possibly write a better book (Tracy didn’t write this at 15, by the way). Here is the entire book in two sentences: “It’s not my fault, it just sort of happened and now everyone is being mean to me. Oops I got pregnant again.” (Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh right, M-TV Teen Mom!)

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In conclusion around $30 and countless minutes of my life were wasted because I was being CHEAP. With e-books, most of the time, you get what you pay for. Click with care.   

Here are some better e-books (all of which I have actually read and would buy again). Most are also available as regular books OR you can use your e-reader and still support independent booksellers by purchasing through these stores!

The Future of Us - Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
The Host - Stephenie Meyer
Blood Magic - Tessa Gratton
One Day - David Nicholls
The Peach Keeper - Sarah Addison Allen
Ember - Bettie Sharpe
The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff
Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Shiver, Linger, and Forever) - Maggie Stiefvater 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Persuasion : A Latter-Day Tale - Rebecca H. Jamison

Summary:  "I saw him.  We spoke.  Now I have nothing to worry about.  We can treat each other as old friends...

But all the logic in my brain can't change my feelings.  Eight years might as well be eight days.  I still love him."

When Anne broke off her engagement seven years ago, she thought she'd never see Neil Wentworth again.  But when Neil's brother buys the house she grew up in, it seems fate has other plans in store, and Anne is woefully unprepared for the roller coaster of emotions that come when Neil returns and starts dating her younger friend.

Convinced that Neil could no longer have strong feelings for her, Anne pushes away all thoughts of the past.  But when the handsome man she's been dating decides he can't live without her, Anne must come to terms with her past.

Fans of Persuasion will love this fast-paced, modern version of Jane Austen's most romantic novel.  (Book given free for review, summary from back of the book, and image from http://cedarfort.com/)

My Review:  Who can pass up an adaptation of a Jane Austen classic? It has been a while since I've read Persuasion, but that didn't change my appreciation for this version of the story.  This adaptation of Persuasion is heavily influenced by the LDS faith. While that doesn't change anything for me, I figure readers who aren't members of the LDS church would probably want to know up front that it does influence the writing and story. 

Initially, I thought I was going into another sappy/fun love story.  What took me by surprise was the intense situation, particularly the threat of harm in the climax.  I didn't mean to stay up until 11:30pm on a school night, but I couldn't stop mid-conflict to fall asleep.  There were some aspects to the story that I felt could have been fleshed out--specifically why Anne is such a doormat for her family, which is explained but not much and not until the very end.  Otherwise, it was a fast read, a great replay in a new form of a classic novel.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes clean LDS romance.

To read more about this book, visit the author's website: http://www.rebeccahjamison.com

Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing to worry about. Squeaky clean.

Sum it up:  A current twist on a classic tale with an LDS spin.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Entwined - Heather Dixon

This review is from Larissa W.  Larissa is a full time stay-at-home mom to the craziest 3 year old you'll ever meet. She and her husband own their own photography business and try to allow as much time as possible to go out and shoot (pictures)! She often spends more time reading then paying attention to her family. Not really. Well, kind of. At church, she interprets for the deaf and one day, if she ever grows up, wouldn't mind making a career of it.

Summary: Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it.

The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation.  Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest.

But there is a cost.  The Keeper likes to "keep" things.  Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

Larissa's Review: Azalea is the oldest of twelve princesses. She has just come out into society and there is no shortage of dancing in her life until tragedy strikes her family and the princesses are kept from their beloved past-time. But with bits of magic sprinkled throughout the castle, they soon find a way around the new rules. They dance into the wee hours of the morning in the silver forest while a mysterious "Keeper" looks on.

It felt like this book took forever to really get going. I didn't mind just reading about the day to day business but I did look forward to something actually happening. I really enjoyed the slightly eerie feel of this book and I found myself unable to put it down many times. If you like YA fantasy definitely pick this book up!

Her Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: If talk of girls' ankles makes you uncomfortable, this book might not be for you. Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about!

To sum it all up: A slightly eerie tale where magic and reality collide.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ella Enchanted - Gail Carson Levine

Summary:  At her birth, Ella of Frell was the unfortunate recipient of a foolish fairy's gift -- the "gift" of obedience.  Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it's hopping on one foot for a day and a half, or chopping off her own head!  But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate.  Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse -- once and for all.  (Summary from book - Image from wikipedia.com)

My Review:  Ella of Frell was given the gift of obedience at birth by a well-meaning fairy.   Now, Ella does whatever she is told.  While the gift of obedience makes her a star pupil at finishing school, always following orders has its disadvantages.  If Ella is told to go jump in a lake, to treat others unkindly, or be someone’s slave, she has no choice in the matter.   When someone discovers  the secret of her obedience, Ella knows she will never be happy until she’s free of  her “gift” and sets out on a journey to find the fairy that started it all.

I read this book several years ago, and thought it was a very clever retelling of Cinderella, but until a few weeks ago the only Ella Enchanted my girls were familiar with was the movie starring Anne Hathaway.  As is sometimes the case with books and their movies versions – the two are very different.   They both share similar themes and characters, but there are some significant  differences in the details and  especially the ending.  Personally, I enjoyed the movie, but much prefer the book’s expanded storyline and alternate ending.   

It didn’t take long before I realized that the author’s writing style and expression was flying way over the head of my six-year-old and even slightly over the head of my eight-year-old.  I’m not surprised, since this book is recommended for 8 and up.  However, both girls understood enough of the story to follow along and liked it well enough to beg me to keep reading. 

Ella goes on many adventures and makes quite a few new friends, but, as always, my favorite part of this fairytale retelling was Ella herself – the smart, spirited and stubborn heroine, who puts the needs of others before her own and rescues herself in the process.  

**Ella Enchanted is a Newberry Honor Book, an ALA Notable Book for Children, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and was voted Best Book of the Year by the School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. 

My Rating: 4 Stars
For the sensitive reader:  It gets a little mushy towards the end, but that’s all there is to worry about.
Sum it up: A classic fairytale with an elaborate twist.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri

Summary:  These eight stories by beloved and bestselling author Jhumpa Lahiri take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand, as they explore the secrets of family life.  Unaccustomed Earth  subtly renders the most intricate workings of the heart and mind.  (Summary from book - Image from www.literarychicago.com )

My Review:   Unaccustomed Earth is a national bestseller and a New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year written by Pulitzer prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri.  It has been hailed as "lucid and revelatory...universal and deeply felt" by the Washington Post Book World and "ferociously good" by Oprah magazine.   High praise.  Must be pretty amazing, right?

Meh

I wish that I could gush about the hours I spent lost in the pages of Unaccustomed Earth.  I've read some absolutely glowing reviews of this book and felt it was an insightful exploration of family relationships and the depth and breadth of human emotion, but mostly...well...I was just bored. Really bored.  Each story was thoughtful and well-written, and I just didn't care.  I tried to give it a chance.  I read all but the last 100 pages of this 333 page book (five of the eight stories), but finally stopped when I realized that I was just forcing myself to read something I had no interest in reading.  I don't have time for that.

Obviously, there are a lot of people out there who loved this book.  I think that right now, while I swim in pregnancy hormones and house-on-the-market stress, this book simply didn't do what I needed it to -- distract me from real life.  If anything, it threw "real life" under the microscope.  If you're up for a more intellectual read, give it a try.  You might like Unaccustomed Earth, even if I didn't.

My Rating: 2.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some scattered profanity, sexual situations, and sexually suggestive dialogue.

Sum it up:  Well written, but not what I wanted or needed at the time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What I've Been Up to...

Not reading, that's for certain.  I was reading, but the book was SO boring and then I got distracted...

In addition to putting our home on the market, keeping it freakishly clean, and waiting by the phone, I've also been watching BBC'sLark Rise to Candleford.  It's fabulous!  I just finished Season One, so DO NOT TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS!

It's an adaptation of Flora Thompson's autobiographical novel Lark Rise To Candleford, set in 19th century England.  Think of it as the Cranford of 2008.

I'm trying to think of it as research.  For something.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dreamland - Sarah Dessen

Summary: Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real.  Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known.  He's magnetic.  He's compelling.  He's dangerous.  Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else -- her missing sister, her lackluster life.  But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?  (Summary from book - Image from www.sarahdessen.com )

My Review:  Caitlin lives in the shadow of her older sister, Cass, who was the perfect daughter, successful and popular, until she ran away to live with her boyfriend in the big city.  Caitlin feels betrayed and lost, and struggles to find herself in a world without her sister.  Then she meets Rogerson Briscoe and that world – all the pain, confusion, and loneliness – falls away. 

It sounds like a fairytale, right?  It’s not.  Rogerson is a drug dealing control freak, who becomes increasingly abusive over the course of their relationship.  Caitlin soon fades into a world of underage drinking, drugs, and physical abuse that shatters her already fragile self-esteem.   She feels likes she’s in a fog – a dreamland – but too weak to pull herself out of the nightmare.  Caitlin needs someone to save her, but her parents are too distracted to notice.   

As an adult, it didn’t take long for me to spot the red flags in their relationship – especially Rogerson’s controlling behavior and Caitlin’s unhealthy dependence on him.  I’m not sure how long it would take for younger readers to shake the stars out of their eyes, but for me the entire book felt like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  I was filled with a sense of horror and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.  Every choice Caitlin made, every step she took down the wrong path had me screaming in my head:  STOP!  LEAVE!  TELL SOMEONE!  Unfortunately, leaving is never that easy.  SPOILER   For those who just need to know there is a happy ending, don’t worry.  Caitlin is finally able to escape from her relationship with Rogerson and, with the help of her family and friends, slowly begins to heal. END OF SPOILER

This book came with some brutal emotional transference – a side effect of my pregnant state, I suppose.   When Caitlin and Rogerson’s relationship became abusive, I was devastated and furious.  I felt trapped inside Caitlin’s relationship, seeing it first through her eyes and then from the outside as my daughters began to take her place.  I saw each of their sweet faces in the pages of this book and each bruise felt like a mark on their skin.  My desire to rescue Caitlin and beat Rogerson Briscoe to death with my bare hands made for a very difficult, very emotional read.

Unfortunately, the topic of abusive teen relationships is extraordinarily relevant to today’s teens.   At first, when I felt this book was glamorizing an unhealthy romantic relationship, I hated it.  I was ready to throw it across the room, give it 2 stars, and be done with it, but I’m glad I hung on because eventually a deeper message began emerge.   I know that there are kids out there who are feeling Caitlin’s pain – the desperation, loathing, confusion, despair, and self-loathing that comes from living in an abusive relationship – and it breaks my heart to think that anyone could feel the same way Caitlin did.  I’m not sure if this book is suitable for younger teens, but it might fit well into the hands of older teens who are likely to absorb the book’s message.  If you are planning to recommend this book to a younger reader, I suggest you read it and decide for yourself. 

My Rating: 3.25 Stars (up from 2, so that’s quite a comeback)

For the sensitive reader:   Frequent teenage drinking, drug use, and eventually physical abuse.  Also, there are a few instances of profanity and some vague references to sex.  

Sum it up:  A painful, but valuable, perspective on contemporary teen relationships, domestic violence, and a young woman trying to reclaim and rebuild her life.

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