Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Circle Nine

Heltzel, A. (2011). Circle nine. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
YA Mystery / Contemporary /Psychological Thriller

QuickNEasy*, 260 pages, ages15+

I gave this one 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

It is hard for me to say this is a good story, as it's really pretty disturbing what the mind will allow when it is traumatized.  The brain will allow and accept alternate truths and delusions so that it doesn't have to deal with reality and repress anything disturbing. 

But it is a good story, intelligently written with good characterization where it was important. I pretty much read it straight through because the pieces of the puzzle were enticing me to want to see the whole, completed picture.  There were enough hints that I knew the complete picture was going to be ugly, but I had to know.  I desperately needed an explanation.

Our main character, seventeen-year-old Abby, lives in utter bliss.  She doesn't remember anything except Sam, and Sam is everything to her and she everything to him.  Their life seems like a fairy tale, but there is blurring at the edges to signal something's terribly off.  Abby's reality is richly descriptive, and like Abby, the reader wants to believe in the decadent life Abby is living.

Abby's complete and utter dependence on Sam is frustrating, and Sam's complete and utter control over Abby even more so; but there is so much below the surface and neither is truly completely in control or completely controlled. Again, running beneath the surface was this NEED for me to find out why Abby was so passive and easily manipulated. . . I kept on reading.

Recently, the books I've been reading haven't had satisfactory resolutions at the end, but that is not the case for Circle Nine.  Though we don't have all the answers, and we don't know exactly what happens around the bend, the direction the story leads makes sense.  There is some hope for Abby, even after the dire and depressing life she's lived.

I could definitely see this being made into a movie. . . 

So, the Clean-O-Meter is tough on this one.  There is abuse -- serious, ongoing psychological and sexual abuse.  The sex isn't graphic or detailed, but it's there and the context makes it sickening.  There is some mild vulgar language -- though a day later, I can't remember specifically which ones, indicating they were apropos for the situations.  There are references to underage drinking and drug use, and drug addiction is a major component of the story though not blatantly so.  So, maybe a 6.5 because it's done so well.

*I initially read this because due to the length, I thought it might appeal to reader who has little patience for lengthy stories; however, this isn't written at a low-level. The vocabulary is better than I'd expected, and there are plenty of literary references that the average reader may not know. Having said that, I don't think the vocab or references are show-stoppers to those who don't understand them, and they definitely enrich the story.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Vrettos, A.M. (2011.) Burnout. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
YA / Mystery

QuickNEasy, 193 pages, ages 12-17

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Told in alternating viewpoints "Today" and "Remembering," we get the picture of our main character, Nan, who's been through rehab and sworn off drinking, only to find herself in a place she doesn't remember, in clothes she doesn't remember wearing, having blackouts and nausea as the realization that she's fallen off the wagon washes over her.

Nan is a very well-written, realistic character. She struggles with her body image and yearns for friendship and acceptance.  In steps Seemy, who initially is the answer to Nan's prayers but eventually becomes a negative influence through her self-centered and destructive behavior.  Nan is smart enough to be able to recognize the emptiness of the friendship, but she has nothing else.

I was not satisfied with the lack of information about Seemy -- there were a lot of unanswered questions by the end, and how things played out seemed a little unrealistic.  Nan's actions didn't make sense given the circumstances, but I did like that Nan found her inner strength -- that needed to happen.

The writer did a very good job of conveying blackouts, which was a pretty powerful reminder that whatever Nan had done was still in her system and could cause permanent damage. It made it scarier that even though she seemed to be distanced from the danger, it was really right inside her still.

On the Clean-O-Meter rating, it's probably an 8 out of 10.  The subject matter of alcohol, drug use, and addiction is handled without a lot of details.  There is some minor swearing, and though it's clear Seemy is sexually active, there aren't details. Really, that sums up everything that could be controversial -- it's in there, but it's just mentioned and not spelled-out in any way, making this pretty safe reading.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What We Saw At Night

Mitchard, J. (2013). What we saw at night. NY: Soho Press, Inc.
YA Fiction / Mystery / Contemporary
ARC from NetGalley and Soho Press -- thank you!

QuickNEasy, 272 pages, ages 15-18.

I gave this 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. . . if there had been another chapter, I'd probably have given it 5 stars.

So THERE is my gripe.   I hate, hate when I'm reading along and a book ends, and -- GUESS WHAT??? -- keep reading for a preview sampler of the next book in the series. HUH?  I didn't know there was a next book in the series, and when I saw I still had twelve pages left, I assumed they would include a nice tie-up/resolution/conclusion to the book. Instead, it practically ended mid-sentence.  Truly, I thought my reader had frozen or blanked out because there was just no way that was the last sentence of the story.

Until that point, I was thoroughly enjoying this page turner.  I had never heard of XP, a condition where a person is allergic to sunlight, so it was really interesting to read how this group of friends lived given they couldn't be in daylight. Their yearning to be wild and free was completely rational -- even more so than an average teenager's yearnings -- and despite their difference from the norm, many of the same issues with trust, relationships, and friendship are there. 

But all is not quiet in the nights of this small town. There is murder (or is there?) and mystery and danger around corners.  Yes, there are some improbable situations (namely that a teenaged girl would keep a secret from her best friend for so many years) and there are plenty of times the reader must suspend the disbelief and not think things through too thoroughly.  Even so, it was entertaining and hopefully will correct its shortcomings in book two, What We Lost in the Dark. 

On the Clean-O-Meter, it's probably about a 6.5.  There is teen sex (though not explicit), though it is safe sex. There are some swear words s**t and its derivatives, and of course, though there are murders (or are there??) they are not explicit, explained, or graphic in any way.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn

Proimos, J. (2011). 12 things to do before you crash and burn. NY: Roaring Brook Press.
YA / Realistic Fiction / Humor / Contemporary

QuickNEasy, 128 pages, ages 15-18

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, but really, for some readers I'd say it's a 5 and others a 1!

This is an extremely quick read -- I think if you removed all the white space and condensed the text, it might make 30 pages. . .maybe.

That said, for so few words, it really had quite a story.  The main character, Hercules, is a sixteen-year-old witty slacker, and we quickly figure out his feelings about his recently deceased father.  What happens over the course of the story, though, is that Hercules develops a self-awareness, thanks to his uncle, and grows enough to put his life in perspective.  And he does all this via some pretty humorous situations.  A little unbelievable at times, but I was willing to go with it because it was fun.  I liked this kid.

Boys and girls alike will recognize Hercules because he has so many comfortable, familiar ways.  You want to hang out with him and know that he'd be a crack-up.  And even a reluctant reader will read this straight through because it is a page-turner.

As far as the Clean-O-Meter rating, I'd have to give this one a 5.5.  There's a fight, but it's funny. There is quite a bit of vulgar language (ranging from s**t to F-bombers and more), but it fits and really helps give a portrait of the character, so it's not completely gratuitous.  There is also a teenage sexual situation that isn't detailed, but it is basically a one-night-stand and there is no indication that it was safe-sex. And finally, there is one scene of underage drinking, but again, it helps define the characters in the scene.

The Dead of Winter

Priestley, C. (2012). The dead of winter. NY: Bloomsbury.
YA / Horror / Paranormal

QuickNEasy, 224 pgs, ages 12-17

I gave this 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, though a 3.5 would be better.

AWESOME cover, huh?  Doesn't tie-in with anything in the book (other than the snow), but it's AWESOME!  

This is a creepy story with enough suspense and mystery that I pretty much read it straight through. It's not particularly original, but I didn't mind.  Lemony Snicket fans will like the narration, I think.

Given the setting (Victorian England), style, and speech used, it seemed very Woman In Black-ish to me. But I liked Woman In Black well enough, so that wasn't a bummer. We never learn our main character's age while the events were happening to him, and the author never fully explains the evil of the house where our main character, Michael, is spending Christmas, but those aren't deal killers.  

The descriptions paint a cold, desolate picture of the house alone in the countryside and its secrets.  The characters are well-done enough that the reader has a clear opinion about each of them, though there's not enough time to get to know anyone too well.

Great ending for this story -- again, very Woman In Black-ish, but really quite perfect for the story.

Clean-O-Meter rating is a perfect 10.  There is no vulgar language, sexual references or activities, or violence (though there one unnatural death).  The scary factor isn't enough that young readers will have nightmares.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hokey Pokey

Spinelli, J. (2013). Hokey Pokey. NY: Random House.

*Young-YA or YA or New Adult or Adult / Fantasy

*ARC provided by Random House Children's book via NetGalley -- thank you!

*QuickNEasy, 304 pages, Ages 10-14? Over 30?

*I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

In case you can't tell from my notations above, I am just not sure what to think or do about this book.  I had a hard time getting into it and the place called Hokey Pokey but perhaps it's because I'm too far removed from childhood.  In any case, I am glad I stuck with it and would recommend it to others. . . maybe. depending. . .

The book is a quick and easy read, and it's written in elementary language; however, I am not sure if anyone who's either still a child or freshly out of those carefree days will want to read it.  They probably don't yearn for the lost days of childhood like those who have serious distance from it.  It would probably be confusing to a younger audience, but by the same token, a younger reader might actually experience suspense and mystery in the book.  As an adult reading it, the ending was pretty predictable and the literary tools obvious.

The descriptions of Hokey Pokey -- a child's world -- are very detailed and the creative, made-up words the kids use are perfect.  So, from a writing perspective, this would be a great example of rich words to create a certain feeling and mood.  It is easy to imagine herds of bicycles like horses, and monsters floating above a dreaming child. Hokey Pokey is familiar and safe.

There are layers of meaning in the story, some much deeper than others, but the real struggle for me is who is the intended audience.  It's clearly not for everyone. Who would I gift this book to? Just not sure.

On the Clean-O-Meter scale, it's a near perfect 10 out of 10.  No sex, no vulgar words (though there's some pretty amusing name-calling), no violence.  Subject matter is safe.

Of course, I have to nit-pick. . . 

If kids have grown-up and disappear on a regular basis, why doesn't anyone in Hokey Pokey remember them? I needed a flashback chapter of the remaining two amigos, for example, to see if their life was going on as if Jack never existed (will no one remember there were three amigos yesterday??) or if they were mourning or dealing with it somehow.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Blood Wounds

Pfeffer, S.B. (2011). Blood Wounds. NY: Harcourt Children's Books
YA / Realistic Fiction / Contemporary

QuickNEasy, 256 pages, ages 14+

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

I really wanted to like this more, but it became too scattered with just too many heavy, heavy issues to cover in less than 300 pages. I have to give it snaps for some unexpected twists, though; however, some of those twists were because I thought this book was about one thing when it's actually about another.

With the jacket blurb about the murderous father on the run, it seems like it's going to be a thriller! And you keep waiting and waiting, and guess what -- it's not.  And if you're looking to dissect the father and his motives and intentions, you can't. Oh! But you can if. . . . you want to believe the main character, Willa, who hasn't had any contact with her father in ten years, can zone-out and "connect" to what her father was going through because his blood courses through her.  Rrrright.

Willa has serious psychological problems that are not really given much consideration, which is a concern. Her blended family is highly dysfunctional, though not on the surface.  The characters aren't well-constructed and truly, I couldn't feel too much towards any of them -- there just wasn't enough time given all the other drama.  That was unfortunate, as their were some indications that several of the characters were worth getting to know.

On the Clean-O-Meter, the book is pretty violent with fairly graphic descriptions of blood splatters and vicious wounds.  I don't recall any vulgarity (should have written right when I was done, so if there are some words I missed, apologies), and there certainly weren't any sexual references or situations - I can't imagine if that had been thrown into the mix as well.  So, for violence and disturbing subject matter, it rates a 6 out of 10.

Now, I must say. . . 
******SPOILER ALERT******* ******SPOILER ALERT******* ******SPOILER ALERT******* 
Did anyone else do the math on the insurance policy pay-out and think, "no way!" Willa gets $750k, and divides it 3 ways.   With her $250,000, she pays the mortgage, has money to pay for college, and will take voice lessons, etc. ?  If the step-sisters' mom was as well-to-do as she sounded, that money won't cover the mortgage, much less anything else.  These numbers just don't work and it really bothered me. Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.

As I Wake

Scott, E. (2011). As I wake. NY: Dutton Books.
YA Lit / Dystopian /Sci-Fi / Mystery

288 pages; ages 14+

I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

The cover is awesome.  Quite possibly, this is the best YA cover from 2011. (hooray for not having a view from the back of a girl in a formal gown.)  And it's a very quick read, even with having to re-read so many paragraphs for clarity. And the whole parallel universes/existences premise is great!  Unfortunately, these are about all of the positives I can say about this story.

The book starts off intentionally confusing, but even as the reader begins to understand the main character's confusion, the repetition and pounding of the same messages gets old.  We get it already!  We were paying attention the first (and second, and third) time you told us that Ava (main character) can't remember diddly squat, doesn't recognize anyone, doesn't beloooooong here.  Her memories of her "other" life are painful and she faints a lot.

A pet peeve of mine is when a published book has typographical errors, and there were more than a few in this book, which brought things to a screeching halt for me.  Also, there were a few unanswered questions that were fairly important to the plot, and leaps of faith the reader was expected to take that weren't worth the jump.

There was so much potential in the premise -- that everyone exists in multiple lives in multiple planes and that sometimes they can move between these places.  That true love remains throughout existence. That deep-down, people are basically the same regardless of the environment.  Unfortunately, the message was delivered in a rather clunky and confusing way.  Truly, I have no idea how the book ended. I re-read it three times and just don't have a clue.

On the Clean-O-Meter rating, I have to give this one a 6, but it easily could have been a perfect 10. The parts that dropped it down were completely unnecessary and even awkward.  There's really no violence other than a fist-fight.  There was one F-Bomb dropped about 3/4 of the way through the book, and it was really out of place and sudden. The character who said it hadn't even uttered a "damn" before that. And the weirdest thing was the odd inclusion of someone overhearing masturbation and in turn masturbating and then later recalling the whole thing. No details of the actions, but odd inclusion of it and completely out of place with a story that doesn't have pining, yearning, or fondling. Just a few kisses that were nondescript.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Desert Angel

What makes the hunted turn hunter?
Price, C. (2011). Desert angel. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.
YA Lit / Thriller / Realistic Fiction

QuickNEasy, 233 pages, ages 12-17

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

An interesting but improbable storyline kept me reading, but the climax was disappointing and everything resolved a bit to quickly and tidily. 

 The main character, Angel, is fourteen and alone but stalked, and she gets help from all kinds of unlikely sources, but she doesn't seem destined to get the real help she needs, which is psychological since she clearly has regular suicidal thoughts and mood extremes. I found it hard to believe the people who were helping her continued to do so when the cost was so high to their own families and lives.

The narration bothered me, jumping from Angel narrating in first-person to an omniscient point-of-view, one paragraph to the next; however, that was an efficient way for the reader to see all the things going on around the corner, that Angel didn't know about and that moved the story along.  Those omniscient narrations gave us information that then seemed to dissolve -- like parts of the story were missing and those extra pieces of information went unexplained. 

Having said all that, it is an easy book to read and is compelling enough that I wanted to find out more.  Seems like a couple more rounds of revision (I did find some type-os as well) could have taken this book a peg or two higher.

On the Clean-O-Meter, I'd give this a 7 out of 10.  It's violent, and the violence includes references to domestic violence and sexual violence. There is reference to multiple incidents of sexual abuse of a minor, but no actual sex scenes or discussions. The book is NOT sexy. I was surprised when late in the book, the first swear word showed-up (g*damn); it actually seemed weird.  Additionally, there are references to drug use and drug selling, and fairly clear descriptions of how to load a gun and use it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cross My Heart

Gould, S. (2011). Cross my heart. NY: Delacorte Press.
YA Historical Fiction / Mystery
QuickNEasy     12 - 17

I gave this book 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads

Venice in 1585 was the perfect setting for this story of mystery and intrigue, and happily, the romance element wasn't overdone. The descriptions of the city and society were rich and detailed, and despite a fairly large cast of characters, each was distinctive.  I liked that there were strong and powerful women in the story, and that they were able to control so much from behind the scenes.

It's a quick & easy read, so the reader doesn't have to invest much to really enjoy the book. 

On my Clean-O-Meter, I give this a 7.5.  The book makes it until the final pages before a swear word appears (b**ch), and there is no sex or sexual situations (though some kissing without description)and only vague references to a young woman's marital duties and prostitution. There is, however, a fair amount of blood and violence though it is mildly described and not haunting.

My only gripe in this story is that Laura's father doesn't get what he deserves. He is an awful man, he has behaved awfully to his daughters, and he basically gets all his dreams fulfilled by the end of the story. I really wanted something to happen to him to make him either come around and beg his daughter's forgiveness, or that he just got killed off or something. Arrgh.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beneath a Meth Moon

Woodson, J. (2012). Beneath a meth moon. NY: Nancy Paulsen Books.
YA Lit / Realistic Fiction /Contemporary Fiction (12-17)
182 pgs. Quick ‘n’ Easy.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, but I’d give it a 4 ½ if I could.

The story is about addiction, but at its roots is a story about a teenager trying to recover from the aftermath of Katrina.  Laurel, the main character, is so broken and vulnerable as a result of the devastation to her life and family, and Woodson’s writing really brings out the heartache, the regrets, and the uncertaintly that Lauren feels.  The writing is outstanding in format and word choice. It’s real – it’s so realistic that I felt the cold, the shivers, the highs. . . 

There is a small LGBT byline in the story, but it's more of a statement than a secondary story; however, the small amount of time devoted to it makes an impression.  

I generally don’t discuss specifics or synopses of stories, but I want to point out one thing that bothered me about the book.

*****SPOILER ALERT **********SPOILER ALERT **********SPOILER ALERT *****
There was just one part of the book that didn’t ring true to me, and it was in the initial scene where Laurel tries meth.  I can believe that a girl that age, in that state, and with a cute boy would try a drug, but it really didn’t fit with the character that she’d have no hesitation.  I could set that aside, though.  But that she immediately was calling it “the moon” and waxing (no pun intended) poetic about it just seemed awkward. There were absolutely no indications that she’d had exposure to meth/the moon before, so that rang a littl false, and it bothered me throughout the book how she talked about “the moon.”  Maybe I missed something that made that work. . .

On my Clean-O-Meter, the book is squeaky clean, so it gets a 10.  There are not any swear words, there is no sex, sexual references, or sexual innuendo. (kissing, but not details) Of course, the subject matter is teen drug use, but it’s handled tactfully and certainly isn’t as gritty and ugly as real drug use can be.  Having said that, I suppose that the topic itself could offend some readers.

A great, short interview with the author, Jacqueline Woodson, about her mindset in writing this book and 
a short book trailer can be found by CLICKING HERE.  Scroll down on B&N's page to see them.

Also, there apparently is an audio CD coming out in February 2013 titled Beneath a Meth Moon: An Elegy.  I can't tell if it's a sequel or if it's voiced differently from the book, like a true elegy. Here's the blurb from Goodreads:

laurel would do anything to turn back time ? to tell her mother and grandmother not to stay home near the beach with a hurricane coming to say no when her boyfriend, T-Boom, the co-captain of the basketball team, offers her that first hit of moon ? the drug that makes her feel bigger than all she's lost to have been there for her little brother and her best friend, Kaylee, when they needed her, instead of chasing the moon But she can?t. All she can do is move forward now. And only she can decide whether to face the pain and joy that is a part of living, or follow the moon to numbness and probably death. Only she can decide to choose to be there for her family and friends ? or give them another thing to grieve. Kaylee says, ?Write an elegy to the past . . . and move on.? She says it's all about moving on . . .