Monday, September 26, 2011

Cool project for book lovers!

Over on ohdeedoh there's a really cool tutorial for turning your worn-out paperbacks into pretty hardcovers.  I'd love to try this... though I'd probably get carried away and want to do my whole library.  Imagine how a full shelf of these would look!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review - The Other Side of the Island

The Other Side of the Island
by Allegra Goodman
Date: 2008
Publisher: Razorbill
Reading level: YA
Pages: 272
Source: Chapters

From New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman comes a post-apocalyptic novel about love, loss, and the power of human choice.

Honor and her parents have been reassigned to live on Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Life is peaceful there; the color of the sky is regulated by Earth Mother, a corporation that controls New Weather, and it almost never rains. Everyone fits into their rightful and predictable place....

Except Honor. She doesn't fit in, but then she meets Helix, a boy with a big heart and a keen sense for the world around them. Slowly, Honor and Helix begin to uncover a terrible truth about life on the Island: Sooner or later, those who are unpredictable disappear... and they don't ever come back.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was a strange book for me. It started off pretty well as a story that's being told after the fact by an unseen narrator. You get the feeling that a lot of things have since changed. More than half of the book is dedicated to building the world (which is interesting) and the characters (which are not). By the time the real action part of the plot started to take place, I was nearing the end of the book... with a somewhat uneasy feeling because there didn't seem to be enough pages to tie everything together satisfactorily. And there weren't. The story just stops, with a quick and happy ending, leaving the reader to speculate on the implications of what probably happened next. I would have liked to see it spelled out a little more; as it was, there were a lot of things in the last quarter of the book that seemed rushed and overly convenient. A better ending might have made me continue my first-impression sentiment of "Oooh!" rather than the "Meh..." I was eventually left with.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.43 out of 5

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review - Peter and the Starcatchers

Peter and the Starcatchers (Peter and the Starcatchers #1)
by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
Date: 2006
Publisher: Disney Editions
Reading level: MG
Source: Chapters

Don’t even think of starting this book unless you’re sitting in a comfortable chair and have lots of time. A fast-paced, impossible-to-put-down adventure awaits as the young orphan Peter and his mates are dispatched to an island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They set sail aboard the Never Land, a ship carrying a precious and mysterious trunk in its cargo hold, and the journey quickly becomes fraught with excitement and danger. Discover richly developed characters in the sweet but sophisticated Molly, the scary but familiar Black Stache, and the fearless Peter. Treacherous battles with pirates, foreboding thunderstorms at sea, and evocative writing immerses the reader in a story that slowly and finally reveals the secrets and mysteries of the beloved Peter Pan.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book has been sitting in my TBR pile for ages. I'm trying to complete the Off The Shelf Challenge, so I went back to that pile and chose to read this book. I'd heard good things about it and, even though it is a middle grade title (and not the YA or adult stuff I've gravitated towards lately), I was not disappointed. In fact, I really enjoyed this one.

Peter and the Starcatchers is a prequel to the Peter Pan stories by J. M. Barrie. Most of the main characters make an appearance here (with the exception of Wendy and her brothers; presumably, this story takes place quite a while before those events). Peter starts out as an orphan who, along with some other young boys from the orphanage, is put on a sailing ship bound for a strange land. It's the beginning of a great adventure and the authors do a nice job of providing backstory for the later, more familiar stories about Peter Pan and Neverland.

I don't want to say much more about the story, for fear of giving too much away. But I will say that I'd definitely recommend this book... to middle graders, as well as to anyone else who enjoys the story of Peter Pan and would like to know what happened before Peter met the Darling children.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.57 out of 5

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review - Ashes (DNF)

Ashes (Ashes Trilogy #1)
by Ilsa J. Bick
Date: 2011
Publisher: Egmont USA
Reading level: YA
Pages: 480
Source: NetGalley

It could happen tomorrow...

A cataclysmic event. An army of "The Changed."
Can one teen really survive on her own?

An electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky, destroying every electronic device and killing billions. For those spared, it's a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human...

Desperate to find out what happened and to avoid the Changed, Alex meets up with Tom---a young army veteran---and Ellie, a young girl whose grandfather was killed by the electromagnetic pulse.

This improvised family will have to use every ounce of courage they have just to survive.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I really enjoyed the author's first book, Draw the Dark, and I was hoping for another good read with Ashes.  Unfortunately, I couldn't finish this one... and I'm hesitant to try anything else from this author now.

This was the most incredibly gory, disturbing, and potentially traumatizing thing I've ever read... and I only got about a third of the way through.  I had nightmares after reading the book and I felt physically sick after some parts.  Ultimately, this is not a young adult title.  If anything, it more appropriately belongs in the "new adult" category.  I would never give this book to a 12- or 13-year-old kid.  Not unless I also gave them a gift certificate for therapy as well.

That said, the book itself was well written and engaging; it wouldn't have been so horrifying if it wasn't.  I've heard that things sort of fall apart after the midway point of the story, but I can't speak to that as I never got there.  If you're really into zombie novels or post-apocalyptic fiction, this might be your thing.  I'm afraid it was just too much for my sensitive self... and I wish I could forget what I read of it.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Ashes are as follows:
  • overly graphic and traumatizing scenes of the end of the world
  • subsequent nightmares
  • my NetGalley copy expired (though even if it hadn't, I still wouldn't have finished)

Thank you to NetGalley and Egmont USA for providing a digital ARC.

Review - Sovay (DNF)

by Celia Rees
Date: 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Reading level: YA
Pages: 404
Source: Chapters

It’s England, 1783. When the rich and beautiful Sovay isn’t sitting for portraits, she’s donning a man’s cloak and robbing travelers—in broad daylight. But in a time when political allegiances between France and England are strained, a rogue bandit is not the only thing travelers fear. Spies abound, and rumors of sedition can quickly lead to disappearances. So when Sovay lifts the wallet of one of England’s most powerful and dangerous men, it’s not just her own identity she must hide, but that of her father. A dazzling historical saga in which the roles of thieves and gentry, good and bad, and men and women are interchanged to riveting effect. (synopsis from Goodreads)

A while ago, frustrated by poorly written YA fare, I'd gone into a local children's bookstore and requested some suggestions for good YA fiction. Of the books recommended to me, I've since read and enjoyed two (Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi)... so I thought I'd really like Sovay.  But one of these books is not like the others... and Sovay was a huge disappointment.

It still boggles my mind that this was recommended to someone who specifically asked for a well-written YA novel.  It is not a well-written book, and I have no patience for authors who don't understand the basics of writing dialogue... especially when said author has been publishing books for almost two decades and should know better by now.  Characters cannot shrug their speech; no matter how many times you write it, it doesn't make it any less ridiculous.  The text was also filled with redundancies that were surely the result of a lack of editing and long passages of exposition that came across as the author showing off how much she knows about history.

I read over a hundred pages and just couldn't get into the story.  Actually, I didn't buy much of the premise.  Sovay is supposed to be this beautiful young woman that turns heads... and yet she's easily mistaken for a man when she puts on a pair of pants.  (I thought perhaps this was because she wore a mask over her face, but she can't have done that all the time when she was robbing people because it took the townspeople a while to figure out that this mysterious "young man" was actually a highwayman.  I'd have thought the mask would've been a bit of a giveaway.)  The whole highwayman premise was poorly done as well.  I don't find it believable that a genteel young woman such as Sovay would have developed a taste for robbing stagecoaches just for the heck of it.

So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Sovay are as follows:
  • bad writing
  • too much telling, not enough showing
  • seemingly endless (and boring) passages of exposition
  • barely believable premise

New Format for DNF Reviews

I seem to be having quite a few DNF (did not finish) experiences lately.  In the past, I've reviewed such books as I have all the others, grading them based on what I actually managed to read.  I'm now thinking that that's not really fair... and yet I still want to share my thoughts about these books.

So, from now on, DNFs will not receive numerical ladybug ratings.  However, I will be explaining why the book was a DNF for me and each title will still appear on the review pages.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review - The Lost Crown

The Lost Crown
by Sarah Miller
Date: 2011
Publisher: Atheneum
Reading level: YA
Pages: 448
Source: Chapters

Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. Like the fingers on a hand--first headstrong Olga; then Tatiana, the tallest; Maria the most hopeful for a ring; and Anastasia, the smallest. These are the daughters of Tsar Nicholas II, grand duchesses living a life steeped in tradition and privilege. They are each on the brink of starting their own lives, at the mercy of royal matchmakers. The summer of 1914 is that precious last wink of time when they can still be sisters together--sisters that link arms and laugh, sisters that share their dreams and worries, and flirt with the officers of their imperial yacht.

But in a gunshot the future changes for these sisters and for Russia.

As World War I ignites across Europe, political unrest sweeps Russia. First dissent, then disorder, mutiny, and revolution. For Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, the end of their girlhood together is colliding with the end of more than they ever imagined.

At the same time hopeful and hopeless, naive and wise, the voices of these sisters become a chorus singing the final song of Imperial Russia. Impeccably researched and utterly fascinating, this novel by acclaimed author Sarah Miller recounts the final days of Imperial Russia with lyricism, criticism and true compassion. (synopsis from Goodreads)

When I heard that Sarah Miller was working on a book about the Romanov daughters, I was really excited.  While this subject matter is not new in the YA genre (Laura Whitcomb's The Fetch and Joy Preble's Dreaming Anastasia come to mind), this is the first YA novel I've read about the Romanovs that is pure historical fiction (both of those other books deal with the survival myths and contain supernatural elements).

I've been fascinated by the family for a while, even before I was given Hugh Brewster's beautiful Anastasia's Album.  So I knew the basic story about the doomed family.  Strangely enough, though, even knowing how things are going to end doesn't make this book any less fascinating or engaging.  The character development is really strong.  It's easier to see the girls as real people, rather than just as characters in a story or as dry historical personages.  I learned more about some of the older girls that I hadn't known, since so much focus seems to have been paid to Anastasia in the last 100 years; in this version of the story, she actually takes more of a backseat to her sisters, which is refreshing.

The actual writing itself is excellent, and the author knows what she's doing.  It's lovely to see.  I think I'll have to read Miss Spitfire now, since I know I can count on good writing from this author.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.57 out of 5