Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Different Girl

Dahlquist, G. (2013). The different girl. NY: Dutton Books.

ARC provided by Dutton Books via NetGalley -- Thank you!
Just published February 21, 2013!

YA Dystopian / SciFi / Fantasy

QuickNEasy, 240 pages, ages12 and up.

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

What a THOUGHT PROVOKING, stand-alone book!  This is NOT your typical dystopian story. Dahlquist's very subtle release of details allows readers to draw their own conclusions about the characters, why they are on the island, and their future. One thing that was interesting to me was how the hints dropped over the course of the book caused my vision of the island girls' physical appearance to change.  It was masterfully done so that my end image was vastly different from when I started reading.  I loved the clever delivery of information instead of the typical in-your-face pages of catch-up and back stories.  Th

The book is dystopian, I think, though it's difficult to tell how far into the future the book is set -- or if it's the future at all.  Dahlquist intentionally leaves this vague, possibly because of the state of our intolerant society and the divisiveness about science "improving upon" humans. 

Impatient readers may find there's not enough action or information to keep them interested, but the careful reader will find much to ponder between the lines.  The story lingers long after the ending.

This would be a great book club choice because there is so much to talk about that's left to the readers' imaginations.  Plenty of points to debate!

CLEAN-O-METER RATING  9 out of 10.  No sex, sexual situations, thoughts, or references. Absolutely no vulgar language (except for "bloody hell"), and what little violence that occurs is mostly implied and not described.

About the cover -- COOL, COOL.  I am all about the covers, as anyone who follows my reviews is aware, and this one is neat. The subtle little button on the girl's ear is a nice tie-in.  Of course, I have a gripe: if redheaded Veronika was the narrator, why isn't she the one on the cover??

Monday, February 18, 2013

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Sáenz, B.A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. 
     NY: Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers.

AWARDS: Stonewall Book Award (2013), Printz Honor (2013), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (Top Ten) (2013, Pura Belpre Author Award (2013).

QuickNEasy, 359 pages, ages 14-17
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

So. . .  the reason I read this book was because I was asked to do so by a local librarian who wanted to know if it belonged in the collection or not.  My short answer is YES, YES, YES! READ THIS BOOK!

"Maybe we just lived between hurting and healing."   Wow. . . so much said in so few words.

This story and writing flow like honey out of a jar -- slowly, deliciously worth the wait.  The writing was absolutely beautiful, and though it flies in the face of logic that the narrator, a fifteen-year-old boy, would be so poetic in his narration, it works perfectly.  Ari is insightful, introspective, and angry, and it takes the full spectrum of the two years spanned in the story for Ari to figure out why he feels how he feels and recognize his feelings and reactions, which were sometimes misguided and at other times spot-on.
The strange thing about this book is that though Ari narrates it, I feel like I better know his best friend, Dante.  Both Ari and Dante are recognizable characters, as are both boys' parents.  In reading, I felt like these were people I'd met at work or church or down the street.  It was refreshing that though these families weren't perfect (find one that is) and slightly dysfunctional (again, whose isn't), these parents were THERE for their boys. They care, they love, they do the best they can and they are working to be better parents. There were times that my heart ached; it was painful to hear Ari's thoughts and his descriptions of what he was observing.  I just wanted to shake him and say "TALK to your dad! He is ready!"  And likewise, "Come on, Mom! Just tell him what he needs to hear!"
This book is about the often painful process of finding one's identity and finding acceptance of it -- both internally and from others.  The short chapters and lots of white space on pages made it very readable, which is why I labeled it a QuickNEasy book despite the number of pages.  So much to learn and think about including the value of family, friendship, trust, and love -- and the destructiveness of anger and silence.
The CLEAN-O-METER rating is a 7 out of 10.  There is some violence: a character gets severely attacked for being gay, but only the bodily injuries, not the attack is not described. There is a quick but bloody fistfight that results in a broken nose, and there are references to murders from fistfights. There is no sex, but there is some kissing between opposite sexes and same sexes. There is mention of masturbation, but no details.  There is discussion of sexual orientation and sexual identity with gay, lesbian, and questioning characters. As far as vulgar language, there is a bit of it, including the all powerful Fbomb, but sometimes it's used intentionally because Ari wants to see how his mom will react to it. One humorous use is in the word ba***rd, as it's in a William Carlos Williams poem that the boys like because they can say a swear word if it's in a poem.  There is underage drinking and purposeful drinking to get drunk, and also one incident of smoking pot and another of a person encouraging Ari to shoot-up heroine (he declines). 

Side Note:  I was fortunate enough to attend the Texas Library Association's 2012 Conference in Houston last year. Mr. Sáenz was on a panel of TAYSHA's authors, and though I had never read any of his works, I was impressed by the tips he gave for encouraging students to write.  He also talked about how life experience influences his works.  Now I see it in action, as he is a professor at UT El Paso, and this book's setting is El Paso and two boys' Mexican-American experiences there.  COOL!


Meyer, M. (2013). Scarlet. NY: Feiwel and Friends.

ARC received in contest I won, but I don't know who sponsored because the package had no return information to help me out. EEK!

YA Dystopian / SciFi / Fantasy
Book Two of The Lunar Chronicles

452 pages, ages 13-17
I gave this 5 out of 5 stars on GoodReads

Scarlet smoothly begins where Cinder finished, but this time with a fairy tell parallel to Little Red Riding Hood. My one word for Scarlet? MAAAAHHHVELOUS! This book rocked, and I am eagerly anticipating the next installment, Cress (a Rapunzel tale), to be released in 2014.  As a matter of fact, I would almost recommend waiting to anyone who hasn't started the series, as this is the kind of series you just want to devour one after another. 

In this installment of The Lunar Chronicles,  Cinder's story continues to unfold, but we are introduced to new character Scarlet.  The story is told from alternating points of view between Cinder, Scarlet, and now Emperor Kai.  Though this has potential for disaster, Meyer transitions between the stories smoothly and it really works well -- there may be two or three chapters about Scarlet and just when you don't know if you can handle any more twists or turns, Cinder will take over and build-up the reader in an entirely different direction -- and next a quick chime-in from Kai to see his turmoil in dealing with his conflicting feelings over Cinder, his country's welfare, and to remind us of the purely evil Lunar Queen Levana. Boo! Hiss! She is bad, bad, bad to the bone. HATE HER and just hope that when the series finishes, she goes down memorably.   What's truly remarkable is that Meyer manages to weave the seemingly independent stories of Cinder and Scarlet together in a believable way -- super snaps to her for doing that very well.

Where Cinder was smart but subtle in her debut novel, Scarlet is smart and IN YOUR FACE in hers.  Scarlet knows what she wants and goes after it, kicking-butt and taking names to anyone in her path. It was great fun getting to know Scarlet, but I am not sure what purpose she'll serve from here, though revenge must weigh heavily.  Happily, Cinder also has become a little more kick-butt/in-your-face and also stays singularly focused, doing whatever it takes to get what she needs.  We see some good growth and soul searching from Cinder, which results in setting the stage nicely for the next book.

Two new characters are introduced in Scarlet.  The first is Wolf, who is clearly big and bad. Err, maybe he's big and good. Wait! Maybe he's just pretending to be good! Yes, that's it! Or vice-versa! Wolf brings terror and tenderness and violence and romance to the stage. Love him. . . or loathe him. Not sure yet.  The second is "Captain" Carswell Thorne, who is clearly a womanizing con man.  Err, maybe just a con. Hmm. Maybe more like an opportunist.  In any case, he's excellent snarky, comic relief for the very serious Cinder.
(Side note:  The story of Scarlet's grand-mere could be a whole book in itself! I would love to see Meyer write a little ".5" about her!  COOL lady.)

I am so happy that the ending was such that we could have resolutions to a few things, breathe a little, and get geared up for Cress. Yes, of course there are plenty of loose ends, but they are not left for us in a frustrating way.  This was one action-packed roller coaster ride!

I give this book a 7 out of 10 on the Clean-O-Meter scale.  There is no vulgar language and no sex, though there's a little kissing and there is one pretty steamy kiss. The only other sexual reference was to androids who are escorts, and one scene where there's very mildly implied sexual domination when an escort droid is dragging a man, chained behind it. There are scenes of drinking and smoking, but it's not done by teens.  The book is pretty violent with bloody, illegal fights, a battle to the death between two Lunar creatures, torture (and some subsequent deaths) of prisoners, and most notably, the very bloody, savage attacks of Lunar creatures on Earthens. These creatures and scenes could be pretty haunting to the immature reader.
Here's Entertainment Weekly's trailer, but I don't think it does the book justice.  As always, I don't picture the main characters like they are portrayed.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Madness Underneath: Shades of London #2

Goodreads Cover
My preferred cover
Johnson, M. (2013). The madness underneath: the shades of London, book two. NY: G.P. Putnam & Sons.

YA Lit / Fantasy / Paranormal / Mystery
Expected publication 2/26/13 -- Thank you, NetGalley & G.P. Putnam for the ARC!

QuickNEasy, 354 pages, ages 13+
I gave this book 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads.


ARRGH! I literally thought pages were missing at the end of my book. How could it end like that??? Again, a whammy eReading it since I never saw how many pages I had left.

Even though I hadn't read the first book in the Shades of London series, this one caught-up the reader well enough it wasn't needed to understand book 2, The Madness Underneath. (though book one, The Name of the Star, sounds good and I will probably read it now). 

I really like Rory, the spunky main character and how she deals with all that's thrown her way. The additional characters are fleshed-out enough that they are familiar, but also intentionally vague because even Rory doesn't know them too well.  An added bonus -- and I'm not generally a history lover -- was some background on London.  Places that old have so many interesting tales to tell.

The author, Maureen Johnson,, does a good job of building unease where there should be unease and throwing curve balls when they are least expected. (for example, on the last 3 pages of the book. Did I say ARRRGH yet??)There definitely will be a third book, and Johnson has allowed herself a way to go in an entirely different direction. (I'm thinking of some elements of Pushing Daisies, here.)

Not sure how Rory's practical life issues will be believably resolved, given her age, but we'll see! I will be waiting to find out.

On my Clean-O-Meter, have to give this a 8 out of 10 There is no vulgar language, there is no sex, but there is a bit of kissing and borderline petting and references to make-out sessions. VERY mild. Much of the violence is in reference to the first book and the events of the Jack-the-Ripper copycat, but there are also a few violent moments in this book. Again, nothing overly graphic, but it's there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brooklyn Burning

Brezenoff, S. (2011). Brooklyn Burning. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab.

YA Realistic Fiction / Contemporary Fiction / Urban

QuickNEasy, 195 pages, ages 14+

I gave this 4 out of  5 stars on Goodreads.

I started reading this book for two reasons: 1) I am on a trek to find books appealing to kids who don't think they like to read, and 2) this book was under 200 pages and available at the library!

Going into a book cold-turkey is always interesting.  I hadn't read the book jacket or any reviews of Brooklyn Burning and assumed by the cover that the book was about a pyromaniac. (By the way, I like the cover and am so glad that it's not a back view of a teenaged girl wearing a formal gown and her hair blowing ever so subtly in the wind.  Thank you Steve Brezenoff. Never mind that the girl cover wouldn't fit in any way, shape, or form with the contents of the book.) So, not knowing what I was in for, I was initially frustrated because I couldn't tell if the main character, Kid, was male or female.  Enter character Scout, who also is not identified as male or female, and I started to get it. Ding! The author was being INTENTIONALLY VAGUE in stamping a gender label on these characters. Brilliant! People are just people with talents and skills and beliefs and feelings.

The book's main character is Kid, who writes some chapters directly to Scout, so that the readers almost feel like they are getting a peek into a journal or love letter.  Other chapters are written as general narratives, mostly filling in what the readers don't know about Kid's year prior to meeting Scout. Those back chapters made my heart ache for all the injustices poor Kid experienced, and they made me angry. Had Kid's parents been accepting and loving and acted like parents, Kid's life wouldn't have been so hard.  On the other hand, as a result of being rejected by Kid's father, Kid found love not once but twice and acceptance in places and ways that never would have been possible if Kid's parents had just loved Kid.  

The characters that showed love and acceptance towards Kid were really what made this story push forward.  With the presence of Fish, Jonny, and Konny, the readers didn't have to waste energy worrying about things that didn't matter -- Kid was going to be okay.  Imperfect as they are, these characters feel so real and familiar -- like you'd find them in any inner city neighborhood, looking out for their own. 

There are questions that aren't answered (namely, the genders of two major characters), but it's okay to be left wondering about some things.  And again, that intentional vagueness reminds us that sometimes there aren't clear answers for the questions in life. 

On the Clean-O-Meter rating. . . this is tough. There's an Fbomb fairly early on, but then I don't recall there being so much as a damn after that. There is significant underage drinking (mostly without any consequences, effects beyond the characters being identified as drunk), and drug references of shooting-up and junkies.  There is also a character who is a bisexual prostitute, but we are spared any details, and another character who is a minor and very sexually active with multiple partners, though we are also spared details.  Several of the characters are lesbian or gay or bisexual or questioning or not caring. Again, no details other than putting two and two together that character A - who is either male or female - is attracted to both males and females. There are several homeless teenagers, but they all seem to have food, money, shelter, safety.  There isn't any violence and nothing in the story is graphic.  I'm going to say a 7 out of 10.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Odd Squad: Bully Bait

Fry, M. (2013). The odd squad: bully bait. NY: Disney Book Group.

free ARC via NetGalley -- Thanks Disney-Hyperion!
to be released February 12, 2013

Young-Young Adult / Realistic Fiction / Illustrated, notebook style novel

QuickNEasy; 214 pages; ages 9-13 (but appealing to older, I think)

This book was hilarious, and even though the art wasn't finalized in the version I read, the sketches were great and really added to the storyline.  Nick is our main character, and he's "the shortest seventh grader in the history of the world" and bullied on a regular basis. His parents are divorced and he lives with his eccentric grandmother (Memaw - my favorite character) and his mom, and he's just trying to make do with himself and fly under the radar as much as possible.  His counselor puts him with two other oddballs so that together, they can belong to a group! And everything's better when you're part of a group, right?

Odd Squad is written in the style of Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries, but it stands apart because adults **GASP** are not incompetent and unhelpful!  There are four adults in the story, and they are all supportive and caring and **GASP** have good lessons to impart.  And two of them, Memaw and Mr. Dupree, the school custodian, are super-interesting, surprising, and funny! 

Though some of the things that happen in the story are a stretch, it's mostly realistic and humorously fleshes out what's typically found in most middle schools: the bullies, the bullied, the helpers, the loners.  Fry nails this slice of middle school life. I laughed out loud at many parts, while finding other parts poignant in their truth.  There are reminders that people are not always what they seem and that there is sometimes a fine line between being bullied and being a bully.

Some of my favorite quotes. . .
"A mystery is like a pig wearin' underwear. Don't make no sense 
till you see him puttin' on pants."  -- Memaw

"Hippies are dinosaur versions of skaters." -- Nick

"Karl's one of those kids you avoid eye contact with because he'll think you want to be friends. Then he'll latch on to you with his superhuman loser grip." -- Nick

Mr. Dupree: What does every bully fear? They fear losing control. If they lose control, they get afraid. If they get afraid, they run away.
Nick: How do you make them lose control?
Mr. Dupree: You take it from them.
Nick: How?
Mr. Dupree smiled as he leaned down and got right in my face.
Mr. Dupree: You bring the crazy.

Happily, this gets a perfect 10 on my Clean-O-Meter scale, which is only appropriate given the intended audience.  No sex, no swearing, no violence. 

Navigating Early

Vanderpool, C. (2013). Navigating Early. NY: Random House 
            Children's Books.
Free ARC received through NetGalley -- Thanks, Random House! Release date January 8, 2013

YA Adventure

QuickNEasy, 315 pages, ages 10-14 (though older kids will enjoy it)

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

OUTSTANDING. This is the best book I've read in a while, and I've been reading a whole lotta books lately. John is the narrator and main character of the book, but who really steals the show is Early, who could be the younger brother of Owen Meany -- or even Owen Meany himself.  These two characters are richly created and their voices are authentic, perfectly fitting for young teenaged boys.  They are flighty -- but also deep -- and most of all REAL.  They are imaginative and surprising and Early was absolutely fascinating with his quirks and perspectives.  He clearly is a genius, but he's awkward and thinks waaaay outside the box.  Probably Asberger's, but I appreciate that Vanderpool didn't try to label him as anything but unique.

John and Early are each dealing with loss, and since John is narrating, we get to feel him work through his feelings towards his dad and his mom and struggle with a broad -- and completely understandable -- range of emotions. By story's end, John has reached new conclusions about his life circumstances, and the reader just wants to hug him for getting there so well.

Navigating Early is layers of story -- really, it's several stories within a story.  This can often have disastrous results, but Vanderpool weaves the story perfectly so that everything connects, and no character is included by chance.  There are parallels that readers will love and recognize at face value, but there are also parallels that require deeper thinking.

This is a stand alone book (whoo hoo!!!) that ties-up its loose ends, makes surprising and wonderful connections, and leaves the reader with plenty of thinkin' material.

Clean-O-Meter rating is a perfect 10.  There is no vulgar language, sex, or sexual situations. There is mild violence (mostly suggested violence).  Immature readers younger than 10 could be a little scared at a few different points


Lu, M. (2013). Prodigy. NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
ARC -- thank you, Penguin!

YA Dystopian / Sci Fi / Romance

371 pages, ages 13-17 (though I think adults would enjoy as well)

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

I am always a bit anxious when I embark on reading series books because so often, I am sorely disappointed with the endings, or when the next book doesn't come out for a year or more (helloooooo, five years from Unwind to UnWholly and clock's ticking on #3). 

Marie Lu has done it again with Prodigy,  the sequel to her also awesome book Legend (which I forgot to review but gave 5 out of 5 to as well).  Yes, the ending leaves us hanging, but it's in a completely acceptable way. In both books, the particular stories they were telling were complete, but there are ticklers of stories to come.  It's okay that there is space between the publishing dates because it's not URGENT to find out the next story. It's coming, it's coming. And yeah, I'll snap it up as soon as I can (it's called Champion and is expected to release in 2014).

Prodigy allowed for some depth to be created in the complex relationship between our two main characters, Day and June.  We see more of the emotional impact they each are feeling about the losses of their families and of their identities.  We see them both exploring their feelings (love?) for each other, though they do it at a distance from each other for most of this book.

There are some serious twists and turns in this story and though it's heavy on dialogue, the action sequences make-up for it.  And this dystopian story is a believable snapshot of the future of what we call the United States, making significant (though mostly subtle) political and global warming commentary in the process.

There is a bonus book in the series called Life Before Legend, billed as Legend 0.5, that is two short stories, one each about Day and June in their twelve-year-old lives before they met.  Has gotten pretty good reviews, so I may read it just for grins.

I give Prodigy a 8 out of 10 stars on the Clean-O-Meter scale.  Lu is clever to use alternative swear words so that the reader gets the impact of the language without the offensiveness (certain rotten people are "trots" and the expletive is "goddy"). Character Kaede uses "damn" and "hell," but it seems appropriate for the situation. There is no sex, though a good bit of kissing, and given that the story revolves around war and revolution, there is violence. Lots of things blow up and people get shot, but there aren't any gory explanations.

Here's Penguin's trailer for the book (though June and Day aren't quite right in my assessment!). Enjoy!

Also, Marie Lu has playlists, artwork, and even movies and games for both books on her site .

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Sound & The Echoes

Pellucid, D. (2012). The sound and the echoes. 
     Charleston, SC: Echoland Publications.

YA Fantasy

582 pages, ages middle school and up?

I just won a SIGNED COPY of this book in a Goodreads giveaway -- whoo hoo! 
Here's the trailer, and it looks very interesting. I will be reading and reviewing soon, so stay tuned!