March 28, 2012

Three Great Reads for Tweens

While I tend to lean toward YA novels, I am also a lover of children and tween novels. Over the last couple of days I've read three that I really enjoyed, and they are worth your tween's time as well.

Cupcake Diaries: Mia's Baker's Dozen by Coco Simon

First let me say that I absolutely love this series, and I recommend it to all readers, but especially if your tween is a bit of a slow reader. The plots are engaging, fun, and full of cupcakes! Each novel focuses on one of four characters, and her troubles, which might seem silly to adults, really plays to their intended audience. What more could a tween reader want?

In this installment, the sixth in the series, the focus is on Mia. She has a bit of a problem and is unsure of how to solve it. School is important to her, but when her parents let the cat out of the bag - Mia can speak Spanish - it's decided that she should take an advanced class in the language. The problem? Speaking it and reading/writing it are two very different things. 

Not only that, but her mom has recently re-married, and she wants to stay fair to her father. Is inviting her step-dad to parent/teacher night the right thing to do? And does her mom forget to make sure to include her father in the conversations as well?

With the Cupcake Club sprinkled in with the plot, Mia must figure out how to solve her problems while keeping it all together.

This Totally Bites by Ruth Ames

If you have not picked up a Poison Apple book, I highly recommend them. They are paranormal for tweens - very appropriate for the age. Think of Cupcake Diaries with a twist - in this case, vampires.

Emma-Rose Paley is quite different from her parents - not just in the way she looks but in personality as well. She has always been pale with jet-black hair, but she also detests sunshine and garlic. Is this proof enough that she is a...vampire?

Great-aunt Margo is coming for a visit, and the two of them have quite a lot in common. During the visit odd things occur - like animals mysteriously dying in the park - and Emma-Rose witnesses strange occurrences herself - is this proof that Great-aunt Margo is a vampire as well?

Tween readers will be delighted with this mysterious tale and will ultimately be surprised with the outcome. If you've not taken a bite out of these books yet, you should add them to your mound of reads.

Miss Popularity and the Best Friend Disaster by Francesco Sedita

At the opposite end of the Poison Apple spectrum is the Candy Apple books. I fell in love with these books, and I read every one when they are published. They are such fun, empowering tween reads. 

In the latest installment of Cassie Knight's tale, she is preparing to celebrate her thirteenth birthday with a skating party. She left her home state of Texas just six months ago to move to Maine and has made new friends. But what about those she left behind? No fear, it's Cassie after all. She is a master of keeping her friends in Texas in her life as well, especially with the latest technology.

But what happens when her Texas BFFs meet her Maine BFF? Catty words, petty arguments, and sparks that lead to more than just a headache for Cassie. Can't everyone just get along? And how can Cassie convince her friends that they don't have to like one another, but they do have to come together for her sake.

March 27, 2012

Review: Spell Bound kept me captivated...

Rachel Hawkins is the queen of snarky dialogue. I wish I could make a crown for her to wear because she deserves it. I will miss Sophie Mercer and all of her Sophieisms, but at the end of this review I share a few of my favorites from the final installment of her journey.

If you have not picked up the Hex Hall series you really should because it is full of magic, kissing, swords, battles, and friendship. 

Summary (from book jacket):

Talk about terrible timing…

Just as Sophie Mercer has come to accept her extraordinary magical powers as a demon, the Prodigium Council strips them away. With her powers locked inside her, Sophie is defenseless, alone, and at the mercy of her sworn enemies—the Brannicks, a family of warrior women who hunt down the Prodigium.
Or at least that’s what Sophie thinks, until she makes a surprising discovery. The Brannicks know an epic war is coming, and they believe Sophie is the only one powerful enough to stop the world from ending. But without her magic, Sophie isn’t so sure.

The only known spell that can help Sophie regain her magic is at Hex Hall—the place where it all began, and now the headquarters of the evil Casnoffs. Together with her best friend, the vampire Jenna; her boyfriend, Archer; her fiancĂ©, Cal (yeah, her love life is complicated); and a ghost for a sidekick, Sophie must battle an army of demons. But even with her friends at her side, the fate of all Prodigium rests on her shoulders alone.

Sophie’s bound for one hell of a ride…Can she get her powers back before it’s too late?

My Thoughts:

Spell Bound has several things I love in a witchy novel – strong plot, clever dialogue, and an interesting use of magic. This series, not just this one novel, fits the bill, and it is the reason that I love getting my “hex on” while reading them.

The strong plot has it all – magic, demons, kissing, oh my! Oh, and there’s a battle as well. But really, the author ends the novel in the only logical way that she could, and since we are discussing a battle, there is a high price to be paid, so be ready for it. I wasn’t, but I am okay with the decision. But the one thing that Hawkins shows her strength as a writer is how she concludes her chapters. The final page/ paragraph/sentence moves the plot along quickly, leaving readers hungry for more.

Oh Sophie Mercer, how I love your dialogue, let me count the ways…No really, I do. I found so many amazing quotes in this novel that I finally started making a list – one that you will find at the end of this review. The clever dialogue award definitely goes to Rachel Hawkins. She is a master of it, and of course she gives Sophie the best lines consistently throughout the series. There were tense elements in the novel, moments that were not allowed to become too intense with that dialogue.

Finally, I really love the way this series incorporates the use of magic. I have stated over and over that I love a good witchy read, but I also love when authors develop interesting ideas for characters to use magic. This is true in this series, consistently. That is about all I can say for this particular installment without ruining the plot. But trust me…it’s good.

Reminiscent of Harry Potter - “I open at the close” – Hawkins has made a fitting conclusion to Sophie’s journey at Hex Hall. There are moments that will make you laugh, cry, and surprise. Hawkins made a clever move with taking readers back to Hex Hall, where it all began. It brought closure to the story in a way that I don’t feel would have happened in any other setting.  

A few of my favorite Sophieisms in this novel:
  • “I was normal, I reminded myself. Just a regular seventeen-year-old girl, about to face against a werewolf with nothing more than…Okay, well, I did have a big-ass sword and a ghost. That had to count for something.” (8)
  • “I’d gotten my butt handed to me by a sixth grader? That was embarrassing. Then the cold metal at my neck reminded me this particular sixth grader had a knife.” (12)
  • “No way had I survived demon attacks, and ghoul duels, and demonglass explosions to end up murdered by Raggedy Ann.” (16)
  • “Okay. Sophie Awesome Sparkle-Princess it is.” (70)

And that’s all folks – don’t want to spoil the entire book, and besides, I’m sure Rachel Hawkins would really like for you to buy this book so she can afford for her son to take a trip one day to find Big Foot. But really, you should buy the book because it is worth every single page.

Review: Fever

Wither was one of those books where I purchased it because I knew I would love it, but it sat there on the shelf because there were so many other pressing matters to attend to first. So, for the YA Teacher Reader book club, I picked it to give me a reason to read it - and because it was in paperback for the other teachers who don't like to buy hardback - and I could not believe I had waited so long to read it. 

I was excited to read Fever, but again, time was not my friend. But my senior girls were passing it around the room, and it had only been out a few days, so I knew I had to make it a weekend read. I am so glad I read this novel instead of grading papers. This was A LOT more fun - and rewarding.

Summary (from book jacket):

Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the Mansion, but danger is never far behind.

Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago—surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.

The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous—and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the mansion…by any means necessary.

In this sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price—now that she has more to lose than ever.

My Thoughts:

Readers are propelled back into Rhine’s world – one full of constant uncertainty. While Rhine and Gabriel may have escaped the Mansion, they have not escaped what they have left behind. Actually, that’s not true for both, only Rhine. And Vaughn is not letting her get away that easily. He seems to always be one step behind, like Michael Myers in the Halloween movies – he comes out of nowhere, and I like it. I think readers will too.

The two things I really enjoy about this series are plot development and Rhine.

As far as plot development, DeStefano paces this novel a little more slowly than the first. It allows readers to slow down, experience what Rhine and Gabriel experience, and to patiently wait for what is to come. After all, we have to survive Madame just as much as Rhine and Gabriel. Readers will be surprised with the outcome of the escape, of the plan to get to Manhattan, and with the ultimate result of it all. I found the conclusion of this novel not as satisfying as Wither, but that is because I wanted more, not because the author faulted on the story.

For Rhine as a character – I love this girl. I don’t know what it is about her, but I root for her. I’m not even 100% sure what I am rooting for – just that she plays a major role in it. Which, of course she does because she is the main character, but still. I witnessed Rhine’s development in the first book more than in this one, and at the time I did not see what the author was setting up, but looking back I now get it – she allowed Rhine to develop more in the first book, to plot and escape, so that Rhine could slow down and deal with the consequences. And she does!

While Rhine may be escaping from Vaughn, and while he may be absent for a good portion of the first part of this novel, she still pays the price for her escape through the “torture” of Madame. Madame wants Rhine to be her special girl, the one who really brings in the money, but this is not a part of Rhine and Gabriel’s escape plan. There is not more I can say without ruining plot points, but trust me, Rhine would have been better off in that Mansion than in the hands of Madame.

I felt satisfied with this novel as a whole. I felt there were a few elements that could have been tweaked, but I am sure those elements will prove important in the next installment of Rhine’s story. If you’ve read and enjoyed Wither, you should not pass on this sequel. If you’re not sure if you should read it but you have read Ally Condie’s Matched series, then you will enjoy this one (and vice versa).

I only have one complaint – and it’s a minor one, but I want to know if others felt the same. I did not get the sense of heat and tension between Rhine and Gabriel as I did in the first novel. It was more like they were brother and sister for me. Did anyone else have this problem?

March 3, 2012

Review: Partials

This novel came to me as an ARC by someone who believed I would enjoy it. Her words were, "This is the best novel I've read since The Hunger Games." That's a tall order, and I wasn't too sure if I would agree. BUT - last Saturday I found myself sitting in a chair for twelve hours while I finished this novel. It was worth every single page.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with partials--engineered organic beings identical to humans--has decimated the world’s population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. The threat of the partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to the disease in over a decade. Humanity’s time is running out.

When sixteen-year-old Kira learns of her best friend’s pregnancy, she’s determined to find a solution. Then one rash decision forces Kira to flee her community with the unlikeliest of allies. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that the survival of both humans and partials rests in her attempts to answer questions of the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

Combining the fast-paced action of
The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Battlestar Galactica, Partials is a pulse-pounding journey into a world where the very concept of what it means to be human is in question--one where our sense of humanity is both our greatest liability, and our only hope for survival.

My Thoughts:

Dystopia is hot thanks to The Hunger Games. I find myself eating them up, but this one was a surprise.

Readers are presented with a world where children are not a possibility. By this I mean, women can get pregnant and give birth, but the babies cannot survive the “virus.” Humanity is at stake, literally, and it is up to those who are left to find a solution. But nothing has worked.

Enter Kira, a feisty sixteen-year-old determined to find a cure. She is promising within her medical career field, but she cannot stand to watch another baby die. Kira decides it is up to her to find a cure that will save her best friend’s baby, and all of humanity.

Readers are thrust into this world where the youngest surviving person in the world is fourteen. The idea of no future causes panic not only within the pages of the novel but also within readers. Could this be a possibility? Could a super virus be produced that would end all of humanity is such a cruel way, by stealing the lives of the newborns?

This is a hard novel to review because there is not too much to say without ruining the plot. There is strong character development, action, romance, and even more action. It is the daring actions of Kira that kept me engrossed, unable to put the novel down until I finished. There are cringe moments, moments of relief, more cringe moments, moments of heroism, and moments of light romance. Like The Hunger Games, the action drives this novel, but that is where the true similarities end. There are no fights until the death - well, at least not in an arena on live television.

With a nice twist at the end, readers will feel satisfied at the novel's conclusion, but those who love this novel will find themselves anxiously awaiting to see where the author takes Kira, and readers, next.

This novel would appeal to both male and female readers, especially those who enjoy dystopia and fantasy novels.

Review: Fracture

Fracture was attracting quite a bit of Internet buzz, but it was a co-worker who mentioned I might be interested in reading it. I saw it at B&N and bought it because I was planning for it to be the next read for the teacher YA book club. But, there are too many tragedies happening around us right now, so we opted to go for something a little different for the next read. Since I had already purchased it, I made this my weekend read - and I could not put it down.

Summary (from book jacket):

By the time Delaney Maxwell was pulled from a Maine lake’s icy waters by her best friend, Decker Phillips, her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead.

But somehow Delaney survived—despite the brain scans that show irreparable damage. Everyone wants Delaney to be fine, but she knows she’s far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can’t control or explain, Delaney now finds herself drawn to the dying, and when she meets Troy Varga, a boy who recently emerged from a coma with the same abilities, she is relieved to share this strange new existence. Unsure if her altered brain is predicting death or causing it, Delaney must figure out if their gift is a miracle, or a freak of nature—or something else much more frightening…

My Thoughts:

I love mystery novels, but the problem is I usually can figure out the ending within a chapter into a novel. Not with Fracture. Miranda kept me guessing throughout, and I enjoyed every page of it.

The plot was an interesting concept – what would be the fallout for someone who has “died” to return to the world of the living. I enjoyed this concept because the author really captured the hardships of trying to understand the gravity of what has happened not only to Delaney but also to those who love her most: her parents and her best friend.

This was not a plot-driven novel; it was character-driven. The characters of the novel were all worth the reading investment.

The main character is developed nicely. Readers experience her ups, her downs, her confusions, and her realizations as she does. Having the novel told from her point-of-view really strengthened the novel as a whole. With Delaney guiding readers, readers experience everything with her at the moment she experiences it. This led to me investing in Delaney more as a character.

However, the minor characters are the ones who steal the show. Decker, the best friend, is what every girl is looking for in the opposite sex. Not only did he pull Delaney from the ice but he also keeps vigil next to her bed. He experiences survivors guilt in a way that I felt stayed true to the plot. Out of all of the minor characters, he was my favorite. Then there are Delaney’s parents. I am not usually a fan of parents playing a huge role in YA novels because they usually just complicate the plot, unnecessarily so; however, Miranda balances their role very nicely. Their role is vital to their daughter’s recovery, and before readers even realize it, they too are caught up and invested in Delaney’s recovery on the same level as her parents – as care givers. And then there is Troy. There is not too much I can comment on with his character without giving away important plot points. I will simply say this: read with caution. There is definitely more to him than meets the page.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys reading YA. I don’t think it appeals to one type of reader over another. It is just a nice YA mystery novel that will keep readers guessing until the very last chapter.