Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles #2)" by Rick Riordan

452 pages

In "The Red Pyramid," the first book of the Kane Chronicles, we met Carter and Sadie Kane, a brother and sister who are descendants of the House of Life from Ancient Egypt and therefore able to perform magic. However, being part of the House of Life brings some big problems into Carter and Sadie's lives. The first book in the series found them fighting to the control Ancient Egyptian gods that had been unleashed in the modern world. In "Throne of Fire," they face their most threatening enemy yet--the snake Apophis, who will bring Chaos to the entire world if he is released. If they don't prevent him from breaking free in four days, the world will end. To fight the forces of Chaos, the Kanes must revive the sun god, Ra. But first they have to not only search the world for the three sections of the Book of Ra but also learn how to say the correct spell.

Although I think the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series are better, I have been enjoying the Kane Chronicles. The characters are fun and charming, and the text is full of Riordan's silly, sometimes corny humor (and I love it!). I think some parts jump around too much so it's difficult to follow the story, but for the most part I like the fast-paced action. I'm looking forward to the final book in the trilogy!

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have)

by Sarah Mlynowski, 357 p.

Somehow April convinces her parents that she can stay with her friend, Vi, and Vi's mom while her dad and step-mom move to Ohio. Except Vi's mom will be with a touring theatre group.  And there is no adult supervision.  April and Vi do some pretty crazy things, and April finds out more about herself than she ever thought she would.

At first, I really disliked this book because a) April is obnoxious and horrid and b) I'm tired of reading about mean people getting away with things.  But the further I got into the story, the more I appreciated that April truly was growing up and that she wasn't just another snot.  Thank goodness for redeeming qualities...

Karma : a novel in verse

by Cathy Ostlere, 517 p.

In October 1984, Maya and her father are on a trip to New Delhi to return her mother's ashes after her death.  On their first night, Indira Ghandi is assassinated and the city erupts in chaos, separating Maya and her dad.  Maya is then pulled through the city by Sandeep, a guy she doesn't know but who ensures her survival in a city in turmoil.

This was a really beautiful story.  The turmoil between Sikhs and Hindus in Maya's personal life mirrors similar conflicts in India.  I also loved the idea of east/west love stories, and coming to terms with one's background.

Friday, July 22, 2011


By: Margaret Peterson Haddix, 223 pp.

Amelia and Anny Beth meet in a place that is doing what is called Project Turnabout. Both women are over 100 years old and as far as their families know, they have already passed away and had donated their bodies to science. However, in order for the science project to work, the bodies must be alive. Each of the people in this place have to have a certain type of body in order for the project to work. The project is an injection that each individual have had in order to "unage." The process is that they still have birthdays every year, but instead of aging, they are getting younger. By the time Amelia is 16 and Anny Beth is 18 (and out of 50 participants), these two are the only ones left as far as the agency knows and they must either go back to the agency and entrust themselves to be taken care of by the doctors there or find someone to care for them before they become infants again.
Will Amelia and Anny Beth find someone in time? Or will they decide to trust the agency to provide for them?
I really enjoyed this book. It took me just a few hours of reading - mostly because I could not put it down. In the author's note at the back of the book, Haddix explains where she came up with the idea of "Turnabout:"

"I bought a card for a friend, joking that it's actually good that we get older, not younger, on our birthdays because - as the punch line went - who would want to live through puberty twice? It made me wonder: What if someone had to? I already had age and aging on my mind because I'd just attended my grandmother's ninetieth birthday party, and I'd recently visited my husband's grandmother in Kentucky, a month before her death. Somehow all those things - the card's question, the ninetieth birthday, the Kentucky visit - meshed in my mind. Turnabout was the result."

"Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac" by Gabrielle Zevin

271 pages

Sixteen-year-old Naomi's life changed forever with the toss of a coin. If she hadn't lost the coin toss, she wouldn't have been the one to go back into her high school to retrieve the camera from the yearbook office. She wouldn't have slipped on a piece of trash on the stairs and hit her head. She wouldn't have lost her memory of the past four years. Now Naomi can't remember anything that happened to her after age twelve. Her family's been reshaped; she's involved with activities that she never cared about before; and she has a best friend and a boyfriend who are strangers to her. As Naomi gets more clues about the person she had been right before her accident, it seems like she had become someone totally different from who she was as a kid--and who she is after the accident.

Of the young adult books I've read this year, this is one of my favorites. The idea of losing one's memory and having to reevaluate everything is fascinating and made me think about how I'd react in the same situation. It also made me consider what my 12-year-old self would think of who I am today. There's some stereotypical teen drama and romance in here, but it seems more sincere and not quite as predictable as some other young adult stories are. The story made me laugh and is also touching without being too cheesy. I fell in love with the characters right away, especially Will and Naomi's dad. Great stuff all around!

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

"I'll know when you get your memory back."
"How?" said Alice.
"The way you look at me. As soon as you remember, I'll see it in your eyes."

Alice wakes up after a fall from her bike in Spin Class (boy have I been there) believing she is 29 and about to have her first child. Life couldn't be grander with her adoring husband Nick and the new fixer upper they just purchased. Trouble is, Alice soon discovers that she is actually 39, the mother to three children she doesn't remember and is in the middle of a horribly nasty divorce from Nick. Every single memory of the last ten years of her life is gone.

This could easily have been a fairly light chick lit book. Instead it is a unique take on the midlife crisis. What if everything you've become in the last ten years is wiped away and you are dealing with the present with your past mentality? How does that help you or harm your growth as a person? A strong character study with a touch of mystery as the reader hangs on wondering what really happened with Nick and how it will all play out. Two side stories-journal entries from Alice's sister about her troubles having a child and letters her Aunt Fannie writes to a mysterious man-add to the journey of discovery the book provides.

2011, 432 pages.

Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

Meh. You know the drill. Someone is killing people and sets his target on Stephanie. Stephanie is surrounded by crazy people including the lovable and feisty Grandma Mazur, the not fat but fluffy packed into a size two, Lula and of course the two guys in her life Ranger the mysterious and Morelli the cop. Both hot, both in some kind of love/lust with Stephanie. Killer is found, no decision is made and boom-the end. Only this time-you get stickers!

I know my reviews are not Library Journal quality-I like them this way.Still, this might be my harshest review yet. This is the seventeenth book in the series. Every single book follows the same plot device above. Enough already. I almost feel guilty when I get a customer hooked on the series because despite the funny and light read offered-eventually they get that glazed look. You know the one. 2011, 307 pages.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Brokeback Mountain

by Annie Proulx
(1997 | 55 p)

Brokeback Mountain recounts the love of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar, a couple of "high school dropout country boys brought up with no prospects." Both are looking for work wherever it can be found. During the summer of 1963 the work brings them together on the summer range of Brokeback Mountain. What begins as a casual relationship evolves into the most important thing in both men's lives, but the strength of their feelings for one another isn't enough to protect against the dark shadow of intolerance.

Again I'm mesmerized by Annie Proulx. She tells a story exactly the way I want it to be told and then adds a little something extra. Brokeback Mountain is, of course, heart breaking -- but not gratuitously so. It's a quick read (originally published in a book of short stories) and I'd recommend it to anyone who hasn't read any Proulx yet. Have a tissue handy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lock and Key

by Sarah Dessen, 422 pages

After Ruby Cooper is abandoned by her mother, she is sent to live with her older sister, Cora, who she hasn't seen in nearly ten years.  Cora is now married and living in a rich neighborhood which leads to a major culture shock for Ruby who was living in disorder and poverty long before her mother split.  All Ruby ever wanted was to be left alone long enough to make it to 18 when she could claim her independence.  Her new life changes more than just her circumstances- it changes her ideas about family, friendship, accepting help, and giving it in return.

This is an author who's been on my need to read list for a while now.  I'm glad I finally got around to one of her books.  I cared about Ruby from the beginning, and her rough edges only made me root for her more.  I appreciate the way the character was built up, piece by piece, with Ruby's background added in seamlessly as she adjusted to her new world.  The interaction between characters was well done, too.  There resolution took time with Ruby progressing then messing up in a way that seemed true to life.  It was a joy to watch her blossom and slowly overcome her painful past. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

by J.K. Rowling, 759 pages

Voldemort's power and presence is rising and all who stand against him are in mortal peril.  Harry knows that he can't return to school this year.  Instead, he must take on the challenge left to him by Dumbledore.  He must find and destroy Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes if he is ever going to have a chance at  defeating the Dark Lord himself.  Ron and Hermione accompany him as Harry sets out on a quest filled with dangers that can be met only with equal daring and bravery. 

This is the book where all all of Rowling's intricate plotting comes to a head.  The characters overcome challenges, both internal and external, and we can feel their triumph, uncertainty, and pain.  The big message that Rowling has been hinting at all along (especially through Dumbledore) becomes clear, and I think it's this that sets the book apart from the movie.  But I still think the movies were great!

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

by J.K. Rowling, 652 pages

Everyone in the wizarding world knows that Lord Voldemort is back.  Harry is once again a hero, and the Ministry of Magic would like to make him their poster boy in the fight against Voldemort.  Harry know's that the Ministry's efforts are hardly more effective under Scrimgeour than they were under Fudge.  He sides with Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix, and Dumbledore arranges for Harry to have extra lesson with him this year.  These lessons turn out to be a hunt into Voldemort's past.  Meanwhile, Harry has to deal with Quiddich tryouts (he's now captain), increasingly difficult classes, and sneaking suspicions that Draco Malfoy is up to something dangerous.

Much of this book is a look back into the past as Harry tries to find the clues that will help him defeat Voldemort.  He knows, even though most only suspect, that he is the Chosen one.  Rowling does an amazing job of balancing the weight of what Harry knows with everyday life at Hogwarts.  As always, I'm in awe of her fabulous mind and imagination!

"Clementine" by Cherie Priest

201 pages

Maria Isabella Boyd was so successful as a Confederate spy that she's too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Since her husband died, she's been especially desperate for employment, so she finally goes to work--reluctantly--for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago. To her further disappointment, her first big assignment comes from the Union Army. A Union-sponsored transport airship called the Clementine is being relentlessly pursued across the Rockies and the Yankees want Maria to stop the chaser. The dirigible is carrying a top secret load of military materials that must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without interference from whoever is chasing the ship. The evidence suggests that the pursuer is a runaway slave named Croggon Hainey who's wanted by authorities in the North as well as the South. Maria will stop at nothing to catch Hainey and his crew, but she certainly never expected to collaborate with him after finding him! That's exactly what happens after she discovers the real reason that Hainey is chasing the Clementine.

I loved this book from beginning to end. The action is pretty much nonstop and well-paced. The book is too short for much character development, but I liked the main characters and started rooting for them right away. I enjoyed the way that the early chapters alternate between Maria and Hainey's stories and then they come together in the late middle. The blend of real history (Pinkerton Detective Agency did--and still does--exist, and Belle Boyd was an actual Confederate spy) and made-up technology is super-fun. I found the ending as satisfying as the rest of the story. A great quick read for steampunk fans!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Accidental Tourist

by Anne Tyler
(1985 | 329 p)

Macon Leary is a sad sack of a guy who is obsessed with efficiency and finding the path of least resistance. Up to this point he's lived his life with a minimum of effort, including his 20 years of marriage and his career as a reluctant travel writer. Tragedy shakes Macon to his core when his 14-year-old son is murdered. Macon's wife, unable to cope with both her grief and her husband's seemingly cold demeanor, leaves the marriage. Macon begins to fall apart. Then he meets Muriel, a disheveled, youthful dog trainer. Her exuberance for life is equal parts exhausting and infectious for Macon, his frozen heart begins to thaw.

The story was very predictable but still enjoyable. The strength in the story was in the characters, each an extreme of one personality type or another. Considering that the tragic murder of Macon's son overshadows the whole story I felt that the novel's tone as a romantic comedy was a bit off putting. The characters are so unrealistic as to be funny, which (to me) felt strange next to a very real tragedy like the murder of a child. The novel carried me along, though, despite that mismatched quality, right up to the charming and predictable end.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by it's cover, but this one's beautiful golden tones and the large dressmaker's dummy called out to me and I just had to read it.  I'm glad I did.  It's my kind of story, a little mysterious, a little dark, a sprinkling of magical realism and a large helping of explorations of human nature.  I loved the honesty of the main character, Truly, and while I think Tiffany Baker could have done a bit better job of fleshing out some of the characters, it was enough for me.  It was more a book of impressions than the hard edge of facts and I'm glad she kept it that way.
pp 341
Kim F

Monday, July 18, 2011

B Negative

By: Vicki Grant, 125 pp.

Paddy has just graduated high school and his step dad, Anthony, wants him to go on the road with the band that Paddy is in or go to a music college. However, Paddy does not know exactly what he wants and in order not to do what his annoying stepfather wants, he tells his family he is joining the Army.

His mother does not say anything except that she wants him to get a complete physical. Paddy tries to tell her that the Army will take care of all that, but she still insists - so he agrees.

His pediatrician reads off his results of all the tests and he is looking good and healthy. The only thing is, Paddy is B negative blood type and the doctor warns him that this is a very rare blood type and that it would be difficult if he ever needed a blood transfusion.

Paddy doesn't think much about it - Until later Paddy finds out some strange secrets that his family has kept from him his whole life.

"Fire" by Kristin Cashore

461 pages

This novel is a companion to the popular young adult fantasy "Graceling" and takes place about thirty years earlier. In a kingdom called the Dells, there are monsters that have the shape of normal animals but are gorgeously colored and they have the power to control the minds of humans. Seventeen-year-old Fire is the last human-shaped monster, with unimaginable beauty that drives men mad and the ability to control other people's thoughts and actions. Though many envy her powers, Fire resents the complications they have brought to her life, particularly her relationship with her late father who as also a monster. Now a civil war is brewing in the Dells, and each side wants Fire's power to harm the other. Before she knows it, Fire is caught in the middle and it's the last place she wants to be.

I loved "Graceling" and this follow-up novel did not disappoint! I like that it gave me some background on one of the characters from "Graceling" and helped me understand how he got where he was, but some great new characters kept things new and interesting. Oddly enough, Fire was one of my least favorite characters. I'm sure that being insanely beautiful and controlling people's minds would make one really lonely and come with all sorts of other problems, but I just couldn't relate to her in any way and it's hard for me, personally, to like characters when I don't feel any kind of connection. Nevertheless, the storyline and the other characters kept me interested from beginning to end.