Monday, August 13, 2012

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

The Land Of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Pages: 448

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers

“Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales.

The Land of Stories tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about.

But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.”

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell was one of those titles that I wanted to pick up out of idle curiosity. I wanted to see if Chris Colfer could actually write, and the plot sounded pretty good – what bookworm hasn’t dreamed about falling into a book. So when I happened to see it while I was out running errands I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, by the way. I will admit that the dialogue can be a little stilted at times, especially in the first chapter, but dialogue is really difficult to write. And the plot really makes up for this minor flaw.

Twins Alex and Connor have personalities that remind me of Hermione and Ron, respectively. Alex has the answer to every question but lacks social skills, and Conner finds himself with a slew of friends and without the ability to stay awake in class. Fairy Tales, however, connect both twins and provide a sense of stability in their lives when personal tragedy strikes – enter a book with the power to take them into the world of these stories.

The plot of this novel is fast-paced and frolicking. It has the special ability to create the simple joy I remember when reading books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a child. Even though the action has its roots in fables, someone with only a surface knowledge of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm can certainly enjoy this tale. Still, having a more in-depth knowledge of their works does add to the story. As someone who heard these stories while growing up, I was delighted by every reference to the original tales.

And then there are Colfer’s smart quips. One character exclaims “Son of a witch!” – both a play on the similar colorful metaphor in our society and a reference to Wicked’s sequel? I think so. Connor provides a majority of the comic relief in the story. Although a lot of it is smart and funny, some of the humor can be a bit heavy-handed. All the same, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Everything from the expanded title to the set-up at the end of the story seems to suggest a sequel. (Fear not, there is no soul-crushing cliffhanger.)When and if a second book comes out I have no doubt that I will read it, and I hope to see appearances from a few less well-known fairy tale creatures.

The Big Picture: This book may have some flaws but it truly is a creative, fun, and rewarding romp. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good vacation read and especially to fans of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and ABC’s show Once Upon a Time (you will truly appreciate the development of “bad” characters).

Just as a side note,I’m sort of starting over fresh with my blog. This doesn’t really mean anything for anyone reading the blog other than the fact that I am going to start posting reviews again. Thanks.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Pages: 272

Publisher: Knopf

“Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?”

It doesn’t get much better than a love story that starts in a bookstore. At least that’s my opinion. After I finished reading this book, I was dying to find my own little red notebook in my local bookstore – I even considered putting one there myself. For about a nanosecond. While Dash & Lily’s romance is completely adorable and fun, there are just too many creeps in the world for people to do something like this in real life.

Anyway, enough of the real world. In the world created by Cohn and Levithan, the notebook ends up in the right hands and a wonderful love story ensues. Dash and Lily are both utterly engaging protagonists – and their correspondence makes for an utterly enjoyable read. I particularly like their creative placement of the notebook – of course the bookstore is the best place but the make-your-own-Muppet room comes in as pretty close second.

While this story takes place around the winter holidays, it’s not what I would call a “Christmas” story. You know what I’m talking about, the ones that make you long for winter if you read them at any other time of year – especially in 100+ degree heat. However, the juxtaposition of Dash and Lily’s attitudes toward Christmas makes for an amusing opening to the book.

A quick note about the authors: I have to admit that, at least in my mind, a bit of a stigma surrounds books written by two or more people. (Like the Warriors series. I think Erin Hunter is about 500 people now.) Dash & Lily’s book of dares is the perfect co-authored book. The way in which it was written, with one author writing the voice of Dash and the other writing Lily, was absolutely flawless.

The big picture: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is a cute, well – written romance. The perfect fluff book to take your mind off of the trials and tribulations of writing that looming English essay.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon

The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon
The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon

Pages: 352

Publisher: Voice

When beautiful but aloof Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room one spring morning, prestigious Armitage Academy is shaken to its core. Everyone connected to school, and to Claire, finds their lives upended, from the local police detective who has a personal history with the academy, to the various faculty and staff whose lives are immersed in the daily rituals associated with it.
Everyone wants to know how Claire died, at whose hands, and more importantly, where the baby that she recently gave birth to is a baby that almost no one, except her small innermost circle, knew she was carrying.
At the center of the investigation is Madeline Christopher, an intern in the English department who is forced to examine the nature of the relationship between the school s students and the adults meant to guide them. As the case unravels, the dark intricacies of adolescent privilege at a powerful institution are exposed, and both teachers and students emerge as suspects as the novel rushes to its thrilling conclusion.
With The Twisted Thread, Charlotte Bacon has crafted a gripping and suspenseful story in the tradition of Donna Tartt s The Secret History, one that pulls back the curtain on the lives of the young and privileged.

May I begin by saying wow? The Twisted Thread exceeded my every expectation; from plot to characters, this book is spot on. I have to say that I’m not usually a big fan of mysteries (sure I went through a Joanne Fluke faze, but that was more about the cookies than the murders). The Twisted Thread, however, does not emphasis the “murder mystery” aspect so much as the impact that the murder has on the lives of the people involved with Armitage. While the investigation into Claire’s murder does proceed throughout the novel, the writing holds a certain air of literariness that seems to pull it out of the ranks of “mystery” and place it somewhere closer to a Jodi Picoult novel.
The chapters revolve around four main characters, Madeline, the English teacher who seems to do more sleuthing than the police officers, Fred, the art teacher who wants more art and a little less teaching, Jim, the middle aged and divorced maintenance man who looks after his aging mother, and Matt, the police officer and former Armitage student who is forced to revisit unpleasant memories when Claire turns up dead. The real beauty of this story is the complex web woven between all of the characters, the way their stories all come together and break apart. This method of storytelling allows the reader to experience the novel in the fullest, most fulfilling way possible. Each character brings their own set of experiences, thoughts, and insecurities to the story, creating what I have now dubbed, the uber subplot. I truly enjoy the fact that each character has their own story that unfolds simultaneously to the major plot – this obviously being the ongoing murder investigation.
Now on to my one complaint (you knew that was coming, didn’t you). This book has no AHA! moment. I don’t just mean the moment where you find out who the murderer was and all that jazz. Even if you guessed who the murderer was half way through the book (which I did), there should still be a moment where all of the pieces click perfectly into place and everything becomes crystal clear. (For example, my favorite AHA! moment of all time is when Harry Potter discovers the existence of the Deathly Hallows and suddenly everything makes sense, even the title. In other words, the book’s universe has to align and converge into one perfect moment of clarity that alters the course of the novel). Charlotte Bacon tries to create this moment, but falls short – she had some twisted threads, so to speak. Really, the main problem is that she forgot to put the gun she wanted to use in the last act on the table during the first. The introduction of completely new information without hints preceding it deflates the AHA! moment and makes it more of a “well…okay” moment.
The big picture: The Twisted Thread is a good, thought-provoking novel with character development that warmed the cockles of my heart. I hate, hate, hate underdeveloped characters (I’m looking at you Stephenie Meyer).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult

(Yes, I'm branching out here.) Like many of you, I received my introduction to Shakespeare in the form of Romeo and Juliet. I begrudgingly admitted that Shakespeare was perhaps the most prolific author ever and then made a clean break with the story, hoping to never endure such stupid characters ever again. (I mean come on, the story goes to pot because of lack of communication and shear stupidity. Plus the whole thing is based of the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe, so yes, we would have West Side Story without Romeo and Juliet). Anyway, time rolled on and I read Julius Caesar, and (aside from my embarrassing tendency to call him Julius Shakespeare) I enjoyed the play. Then I read Much Ado About Nothing...and I loved it.

Apparently, comedy is tragedy closely averted. Weird huh? Anyway, Much Ado could have easily gone down tragedy lane. We've got ruined reputations, dastardly villains (the main one's name is Don John, the Bastard), and a Friar. (I have nothing against friars, but the one in Romeo and Juliet messed up big time). The story has two main plots, one being the near disastrous relationship between Hero and Claudio, the other a banter-filled, unlikely romance between Beatrice and Benedick.

I absolutely fell in love with the characters in this play (Well, almost all of the characters. Claudio is a real butt and Hero deserves better.) My favorite one? That would be Beatrice. How many of you would expect to find a strong female character in a play written before the equality of women was even a blip on most people's radars? Not me. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to meet Beatrice, an intelligent, independent woman who can hold her own against any man. Beatrice rocks! Also, her relationship with Benedick is priceless; it creates some of the funniest, most endearing scenes in the play.

The big picture: Much Ado About Nothing is AMAZING. I recommend it to everyone, but especially to those people who were forced to read Romeo and Juliet and then swore off Shakespeare.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

Based on the screenplay by David Leslie Johnson

Pages: 329

Publisher: Poppy

“Valerie's sister was beautiful, kind, and sweet. Now she is dead. Henry, the handsome son of the blacksmith, tries to console Valerie, but her wild heart beats fast for another: the outcast woodcutter, Peter, who offers Valerie another life far from home.
After her sister's violent death, Valerie's world begins to spiral out of control. For generations, the Wolf has been kept at bay with a monthly sacrifice. But now no one is safe. When an expert Wolf hunter arrives, the villagers learn that the creature lives among them--it could be anyone in town.
It soon becomes clear that Valerie is the only one who can hear the voice of the creature. The Wolf says she must surrender herself before the blood moon wanes...or everyone she loves will die.”

"Once upon a time...there was a girl, and there was a wolf."

Yes, this is the book behind the thriller Red Riding Hood. Well, actually this is the book based on the screenplay of the movie. At first I was a bit skeptical about this book. A book based on a screen play...ugh. But then I read the book, and OH MY GOODNESS it is so good. The main character is engaging, the premise entrancing, and trust me when I say that they don't make plots more exciting than this one. This novel is charged with an air of mystery and suspense that kept me flipping pages as fast as I could. This is not your grandmother's little red riding hood.

Valerie, our "Little Red", is a strong female protagonist (which I absolutely L-O-V-E) who leads us into a world steeped in fear, superstition, and utter...epicness. (Yes I have just used that word.) The raw feel of the world with its twisted, scared characters and its dark impenetrable depths just sends delicious tingles through your mind. It draws you in, slowly, inch by inch, until you are completely absorbed in the story. The village of Daggerhorn is a scary place. (Though nothing can scare me more than the world of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. A world without books...the HORROR!) Still, the wary nature of the villagers tends to rub off on you a bit - I do not recommend reading this in your yard at night. Trust me when I say that the neighbors gigantic hairy dog will scare you senseless. This, obviously, is because the novel centers around one very big, very hairy, very scary werewolf. This is most definitely not one of those versions where the wolf ends up running a muffin shop with Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother, (by the way, I've read this version and like it very much). I don't think I've ever read a reinterpreted fable darker than this one, and believe me when I say that I read a ton of them. Now, don't let me scare you off. This novel may be dark and creepy and gory and...anyway, it also has romance! Who can't resist a good love triangle set in the middle of a bloodbath, right?

Now on to the downside (you just new that was coming, didn't you?), this novel doesn't have a proper ending folks. That's right, in an attempt to milk you for every cent they can, the geniuses behind this trap finish up the book with "Is this truly the end of Valerie's Story? Visit to find out". Guess what? When you get to the site, there is nada, zipo, zilch more story. So looks like I'm gonna be heading to the movies pretty soon...

The big picture: Red Riding Hood is a surprisingly good novel with some definite entertainment value. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t mind it when people mooch money off of you (which I do mind, but hey…)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Not My Usual Bookish Fodder

I saw this great article about a Book Expresso Machine. Yes, you heard me right, a book expresso machine. After reading the article and watching the video, I just had to share it with you guys. This machine literal pops out books. Out of stock books, out of print books, your own books. How cool is that?

Check out the article here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Pages: 472

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Revolution completely blew me away. Jennifer Donnelly has without a doubt written the best young adult novel of 2010. With beautifully crafted prose, this novel captures the heart and the mind and entangles them in the life of Andi Alpers, one of the most engaging protagonists to ever grace the pages of a novel. Andi and her eighteenth century counterpart Alexandrine’s struggles leap off the pages and truly draw the reader into the story. This folks is one of those novels that you read under your desk during class instead of balancing equations, even though you risk the wrath of your professor by doing so. It’s that good.

When we meet Andi Alpers, she is lost in grief. Her grades are falling, her heart is broken, and she just doesn’t know what to do with herself, except for playing her guitar. To top it off, she’s on the verge of being expelled. Enter the father that’s been absent from her life for months and months. He got a letter from the school about her abysmal grades, and now he wants to take her to Paris with him so he can make sure that she finishes the outline for her senior thesis. And he’s also putting her mother in a mental hospital. Sounds great, huh? Needless to say, Andi is very angry. Heck, I was angry for her when I read it. But when she gets to Paris she meets an amazing young man named Virgil and becomes entangled in the life of a young woman who died over two centuries before Andi was even born. This young woman of the French Revolution, Alexandrine Paradis, leads Andi on a journey that sets her on the path to healing the wound that has almost pushed her over the edge numerous times. The blend of modern and historical, fact and fiction, all adds up to create a novel like nothing else you’ve ever read.

Revolutions is so incredibly captivating that my attempt to review the main points of this novel turned into an entire re-reading. The moment I picked it up again, I just couldn’t put it down. The emotions, the history, the relationships, all seem so real. Immediately after finishing this book I began recommending it to everyone I know, from my best friend to my grandmother. The ending of this novel – it’s as far from floppy as you can possibly get. At first, I was a little bit saddened that Andi didn’t really get closure with her dad. But as her guitar instructor, Nathan, sagely tells her “This word closure…it is a stupid word, ja?” It wasn’t until after I read Revolution for the second time that I realized Andi really does make peace with her life and that maybe closure is a stupid word. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see applications in my own life. Everybody has their own pain, including me. I began to see that letting go of past suffering, but never closing the door on it, might be the best way to heal.

The big picture: Jennifer Donnelly created a masterpiece. Revolution truly transcends time, in more ways than one. Not just with its beautiful writing, captivating characters, or historic details, but with its ability to reach out and touch anyone who has ever felt lost.

*On a side note, reading this novel sparked an interest in the French Revolution that allowed me to better appreciate Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. After reading Revolution, I encourage anyone who did not like reading A Tale of Two Cities in school to give it another try.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Pages: 324

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Girl in the Arena has a good premise. A bit of dystopia, some Roman influence, and a mite of romance. However, (don’t you just hate howevers) the execution was a little lacking and the ending…ugh. To put it nicely, the ending qualifies as one of the floppiest flops of all time, in my very humble opinion. But Wait! I’m not saying you should give up on this book entirely. It’s definitely not a classic, but it does have some entertainment value. And what I consider to be a flop might not be what you consider to be a flop. One woman’s floppy ending is another woman’s not-so-floppy ending, or something like that.

To be fair, this book is fast-paced and exciting. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy reading it. From the initial introduction of Gladiator Sports Association (GSA) to heart wrenching deaths and a disturbing final showdown, the plot of this novel moves at the speed of light. So the score is evened up, minus one for floppy ending, plus one for fast-paced plot.

Granted, this book does address some of the problems we face in the US and other countries. For instance, violence. You can’t turn on the news or pick up a magazine without news of some war or tragedy slapping you across the face. And it’s hard to hear sirens without worrying that someone you care about is the victim in need of help. As if there isn’t enough violence in the world, people then go see movies where heads roll and pain is entertainment. It brings to mind the French Revolution, when beheadings were an event for the whole family to enjoy. Well, the family can once again enjoy violence together by watching the gladiators duke it out to the death. Sounds pretty coldhearted, right? But when you really think about it, the jump between our society and theirs really isn’t that far. Lyn, the main character, details the evolution of the sport from backyard games to death matches between death-row prisoners to the bloody center of American culture. As is the true purpose of dystopian literature, Girl in the Arena points out a path that society could take, and makes the reader reexamine the world around them. I think that deserves five points in favor of Girl in the Arena.

Now on to the main character, Lyn. First impression: I like Lyn, she’s a strong, independent young woman who truly loves her family. But then she had to go and fall for the guy who murdered her seventh father. The guy she was going to be forced to marry. (Okay, I love a good arranged marriage romance, but I like them set on the western frontier during the 1800s. And I don’t like it when the guy in question killed the girl’s father. Although this is the only book I’ve ever read where that happens.) So the romance in this novel, that’s minus two points. If I’m correct the score now stands at 4 for and 3 against.

For details on the floppy ending, you’ll really need to read the book yourself, but I just want to say something about willing suspension of disbelief. Magic and all sorts of crazy stuff can be believable in a story as long as it is realistic to the world in which it is created. That’s willing suspension of disbelief. But the ending of this novel…it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit into the world that the author created.

The big picture: Don’t write off Girl in the Arena, but if you’re looking for the next Katniss, you won’t find her here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Dust by Joan Frances Turner

Dust by Joan Frances Turner Dust by Joan Frances Turner

Pages: 384

Publisher: Ace

*Readers should note that this is a work of adult fiction. Dust contains frequent use of coarse language and disturbing imagery.*

“Jessie’s gang is the Fly-by-Nights. She loves the ancient, skeletal Florian and his memories of time gone by. She’s in love with Joe, a maggot-infested corpse. They fight, hunt, dance together as one—something humans can never understand. There are dark places humans have learned to avoid, lest they run into the zombie gangs.

But now, Jessie and the Fly-by-Nights have seen new creatures in the woods—things not human and not zombie. A strange new illness has flamed up out of nowhere, causing the undeads to become more alive and the living to exist on the brink of death. As bits and pieces of the truth fall around Jessie, like the flesh off her bones, she’ll have to choose between looking away or staring down the madness—and hanging onto everything she has come to know as life…”

To Zombie or not to Zombie, that is the question. When it comes to the characters from Dust, it would be in your best interest not to mention the ‘z’ word. The Fly-by-Nights, the main zombie gang in this novel, live in the woods where they eat very fresh meat, fight amongst themselves, and complain about how much it itches to have bugs devouring their flesh. Sounds like your typical zombies, right? Wrong. Dust is a new zombie novel, one that will have you sympathizing with, even routing for these flesh devouring foes of humanity. In fact, Jessie, the engaging protagonist of this novel, is a zombie herself.

Jessie died nine years before this story starts, but she is still very much alive. She eats, sleeps, walks, and feels. She’s even in love. But she and her gang are most definitely not human. They prefer to eat flesh still warm with the heat of the dead animal, they can communicate telepathically, and they’re basically walking corpses.

In a grotesque way, the lives of these living-dead are absolutely fascinating. Sure, it takes a little while to get used to all the raw meat, fighting, and decomposing, but who can resist a good zombie novel, especially one with as much heart as Dust. Part one establishes the regular inner workings of the gang, and introduces the cast of characters. Part two is where things start to get fishy. Humans are starting to behave more like zombies and zombies are starting to behave more like humans. It’s unclear if either race will survive.

Dust is an adventure. Albeit a slightly disturbing one, an adventure none the less. A faced paced novel (frankly it’s a good one to read on the treadmill because it helps you lose track of time) that will keep you on your toes. Many of the harrowing final scenes had me bighting my nails, hoping against hope that Jessie would receive a happy ending.

The big picture: While Dust is not a novel for the faint of heart, it certainly brings an intriguing new slant to the world of zombie fiction.

Sequel Alert: The author announced that the sequel to Dust, Frail, should be arriving in a bookstore near you sometime during the next two years.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Whisper My Name by Jane Eagland

Whisper My Name by Jane Eagland Whisper My Name by Jane Eagland

Pages: 395

Publisher: Macmillan

Jane Eagland is one of the best historical novelists, ever. Her first novel, Wildthorn, blew me away, and Whisper My Name is even better. Both of her works have such twists and turns, such mystery – you just never know where the next page will take you. Her novels remind me a bit of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books. High praise indeed as they were very important to my childhood. I have no doubt that Whisper My Name is a novel that will pass the test of time. Its portrayal of Victorian London, its shocking mystery, its intrepid heroine, all create a book more than worth its weight in gold.

Whisper My Name achieves an amazing feet by appealing to both lovers of historical fiction and those who tend to avoid it. The plot is so enthralling that it’s easy to forget the genre of the work. However, it still contains various historical nuances that will appeal to the history lover. As the novel begins, Meriel, the heroine, has just lost her mother, been sent away by her father, and is now journeying to live with a grandfather she has never met. While her grandfather turns out to be just as cold and distant as he is odd, Meriel finds a friend in a maid named Sally and a medium named Sophie. With their help, she begins to unravel a mystery that could change her life…

Meriel is the perfect protagonist for this novel, flawed, but with her heart in the right place. It’s easy to take her side against the injustices dished up by her grandfather and to cheer her on in all her endeavors. Behind her stands a memorable cast of characters who truly enrich the story. I have to say that Sophie, the reluctant medium, is my favorite character in this novel. She is just one of those people who are truly, truly good at heart. Sophie offers quiet support and friendship to Meriel, even when she might face unpleasant consequences for her actions. She just might be the most perfect friend who ever existed (besides my BFF, of course).

The big picture: Whisper My Name is historical fiction for the most ardent history lovers and those who avoid the genre at all costs. It has an intriguing plot full of twists and turns and well-crafted writing. Jane Eagland is an author to watch.