Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter

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A witty coming-of-age story with friendship at its heart, cunning characters, and delightful prose, make Dawn O’Porter’s Paper Airplanes a real knock-out of a book.

paper airplanesIt’s the mid-1990s, and fifteen year-old Guernsey schoolgirls, Renée and Flo, are not really meant to be friends. Thoughtful, introspective and studious Flo couldn’t be more different to ambitious, extroverted and sexually curious Renée. But Renée and Flo are united by loneliness and their dysfunctional families, and an intense bond is formed. Although there are obstacles to their friendship (namely Flo’s jealous ex-best friend and Renée’s growing infatuation with Flo’s brother), fifteen is an age where anything can happen, where life stretches out before you, and when every betrayal feels like the end of the world. For Renée and Flo it is the time of their lives.

With graphic content and some scenes of a sexual nature, PAPER AEROPLANES is a gritty, poignant, often laugh-out-loud funny and powerful novel. It is an unforgettable snapshot of small-town adolescence and the heart-stopping power of female friendship.

This is the type of book every girl should read to know they are not alone in their experiences, and that every woman should read to remember what they fought through in their adolescence to become the person they are now. O’Porter’s writing is raw and emotional, and the fact that she was inspired by her own teenage journals just lends the book a real nugget of honesty that sets it apart from other books on similar subjects.

What’s lovely, as well, is the focus on a female friendship. Yes, romance is sprinkled throughout, and there are family issues that each character must cope with — but the real heart of Paper Airplanes is the bond between Renee and Flo. And this is oh-so-important for girls and women to remember: because as important as our romantic partners are, and as important as our family is — really strong, meaningful female friendships are also so critical. I don’t know where I’d be in this world with out my BFF — and Paper Airplanes just solidified her importance to me, while reading about the friendship between Renee and Flo.

Originally published in the UK last year, the U.S. edition is in stores now.

Book Review: Atlantia by Ally Condie

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There are three things I’d like you to know about Atlantia by Ally Condie:

  1. It is not about mermaids.
  2. It is a standalone.
  3. It’s wonderful.

atlantiaCondie’s first novel since her best-selling dystopian Matched trilogy is a brilliant tour-de-force of fantasy and science fiction, with a wildly unique spin on a classic premise: what if we were forced to live below the sea due to environmental catastrophe?

Atlantia doesn’t feel like traditional science fiction. It’s not bogged down by overly-complex world building, nor does it suffer from an over-abundance of gadgetry and wonder. In many ways, it feels very contemporary — despite its unusual setting and magical aspects. The story is easy and unassuming, as much as it is unique and captivating. Nothing about Atlantia feels forced. Condie has masterfully plotted and planned this story about life under the sea — and the world above that Rio longs for so desperately.

I expected good things from Condie; but Atlantia simply blew me away — it was so incredibly wonderful. Beautiful story-telling and writing, captivating characters, and a page-turning plot that kept me eagerly reading.

Atlantia is available now. Here is the official synopsis:

Can you hear Atlantia breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamt of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all her plans for the future are thwarted when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected decision, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long hidden—she has nothing left to lose.

Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the complex system constructed to govern the divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

Book Review: Misdirected by Ali Berman

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Ali Berman’s Misdirected is a charming examination of the different ways bullying can manifest, and how our own prejudices affect the way we approach the world and those with different perspectives.

misdirectedMisdirected is the story of fifteen-year-old Ben, who moves to a small conservative Colorado town where his atheism seems to be the only thing about him that matters to everyone. His classmates bully him for not fitting in, his teachers don’t understand him, and with his brother serving in Iraq and his sister away at college with problems of her own, Ben is left on his own to figure things out. Being a teen is tricky to navigate when you’re an outsider, and Ben struggles to find his place without compromising who he is. He rebels against his teachers, he argues with his classmates, and he rejects what others believe, bringing the reader with him on his enlightening journey as he learns the value of challenging accepted beliefs—including his own.

Religion, friendships, relationships, family, sexuality, war, and finding your place in the larger world — these are all issues every teen faces throughout their lives, and Berman does a lovely job of incorporating them all into her story in some way. We see Ben struggle to fit into a society that is less than welcoming when he refuses to share their belief system and values.

For the most part, Berman does a good job of offering a variety of perspectives on the hot button issues in her book — most notably religion. Tess — Ben’s classmate, neighbor & crush — especially proves to be a welcome voice of reason, both supporting Ben’s right to his own beliefs while standing up for her own, and rebuffing Ben’s own prejudices. But at times, Misdirected feels a little one-sided. Many of the other Christian characters felt one-dimensional and almost cartoon-ish in their zealotry and their refusal to accept Ben’s different belief system.The story would have felt more genuine had these characters been more fully realized.

The real success of Misdirected is Berman’s use of charm and humor to temper the more serious aspects of the story. Despite some heavy material, the book has an overall light-hearted feel, which makes for an enjoyable reading experience, despite any minor shortcomings.

Misdirected is in stores November 25th.

Book Review: Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, illus. by Zdenko Basic

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The holiday season gets a steampunk twist with Zdenko Basic’s new illustrated steampunk christmas carolversion of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol tells the time-honored tale of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, whose encounters with the ghosts of Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come lead him to examine his bitter existence. Haunting steampunk illustrations by acclaimed artist Zdenko Basic accompany the original story, transforming this Christmas classic like never before. Images of steam-powered machinery, a chilling industrial London, and ornate mechanical gears come together as Scrooge travels through his life on Christmas Eve night.

Additionally, Charles Dickens’ celebrated short stores, “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” and “A Christmas Tree” are included and paired with equally enchanting steampunk illustrations. Those of us who cherish each holiday with Dickens in our hearts—the man who has linked the Christmas spirit with love, forgiveness, and charity—will treasure this rare collector’s edition for this Christmas and many to come.

I’m a big fan of Basic’s previous steampunk-illustrated editions of classic works, but I have to say I’m a little disappointed by A Christmas Carol. The book itself is stunning – a gorgeous hardback with a beautiful jacket and case cover, plus copper-foiled page edges and full-color interior illustrations. And Basic’s work is lovely, as ever. But a lot of the imagery in this book rely heavily on photographs for the characters, and I feel like that took away some of the charm and appeal of a steampunk Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that can be told in so many different ways, and it’s always fun to see different twists on the classic holiday tale. Whatever your personal taste may be regarding Basic’s illustrations, this steampunk version of the tale is another fun chapter in the ever-expanding collection of Christmas Carol adaptations.

You can preview some of the pages from Basic’s Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol here, and purchase it now.

Book Review: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

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A fresh new science fiction twist, heart-pounding action, and a romance so powerful it endures across multiple dimensions — that’s the core of A Thousand Pieces of You, the first book in Claudia Gray’s spellbinding new Firebird Saga.

AThousandPieces_hc_cEvery Day meets Cloud Atlas in this heart-racing, space- and time-bending, epic new trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray.

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

A Thousand Pieces of You explores a reality where we witness the countless other lives we might lead in an amazingly intricate multiverse, and ask whether, amid infinite possibilities, one love can endure.

In some ways, A Thousand Pieces of You feels like several books in one — that’s how fully-realized each alternate universe is that Marguerite visits. The action starts off right away, and keeps up at a thrilling pace throughout the entire book. But it’s the tantalizing mystery of the Firebird technology, and what’s really going on across the multi-verse that keeps you hooked.

Gray has crafted a truly brilliant story on every level. She has wonderful, enchanting characters. A thrilling and fast-paced plot. A smart science fiction angle. Romantic tension to die for. And a mystery that’s just bursting through at every turn. A Thousand Pieces of You is the complete package.

And while all of these elements really shine, I feel like the romance deserves a little extra attention — because it is so noteworthy and all-encompassing. Because this isn’t just the love between two characters; it’s the love between two characters and every version of themselves across infinite alternate universes. It’s an insanely romantic notion, and Gray employs it perfectly in A Thousand Pieces of You. There is love and loss and love again, and it’s heartbreaking and swoon-worthy all in one. I ached with the romance and the tension between her characters.

A Thousand Pieces of You is in stores now.

Book Review: Fleabrain Loves Franny by Joanne Rocklin

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A beautiful tribute to love, friendship, family, and Charlotte’s Web, Joanne Rocklin’s Fleabrain Loves Franny is a charming and whimsical read that will appeal to readers of all ages.

fleabrain loves frannyThis gem of a novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952. Franny Katzenback, while recovering from polio, reads and falls in love with the brand-new book Charlotte’s Web. Bored and lonely and yearning for a Charlotte of her own, Franny starts up a correspondence with an eloquent flea named Fleabrain who lives on her dog’s tail. While Franny struggles with physical therapy and feeling left out of her formerly active neighborhood life, Fleabrain is there to take her on adventures based on his extensive reading. It’s a touching, funny story set in the recent past, told with Rocklin’s signature wit and thoughtfulness.

Rocklin has captured the essence of childhood friendship and imagination. With Fleabrain Loves Franny, she pays homage to Charlotte’s Web — while giving her own smarter-than-usual insect a life of his own.

But while her unique and magical friendship with Fleabrain offers the book much of its charm, the real appeal of Fleabrain Loves Franny is seeing Franny overcome the challenges of her illness. After recovering from polio, she is left unable to walk — and many of her friends refuse to see her, fearing she is still contagious (she’s not).

As much as Fleabrain Loves Franny is a whimsical account of a girl’s friendship with a brilliant flea and his magical serums, the book is also an historically accurate look at the polio epidemic and the hard work that would eventually lead to the March of Dimes foundation, the polio vaccine, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming at once, Fleabrain Loves Franny is certainly SOME BOOK! It is in stores now.

Book Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

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A gritty, fast-paced adventure awaits readers within the pages of The Walled City by Ryan Graudin, a story made all the more frightening when you learn it’s based on a real place.

walledcity_final cover730. That’s how many days I’ve been trapped.
18. That’s how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible….

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister….

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She’s about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window…..

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

Inspired by China’s Kowloon Walled City, Graudin’s story takes place in a similarly walled-in city where crime runs rampant and the police have no jurisdiction. Following three teens seeking asylum from the crime-ridden city, The Walled City sets up a fast-paced race to freedom.

Graudin’s story has a lot of the grit and toughness you’d expect from a dystopian world — but The Walled City is far more frightening than any imagined future, because it’s based on something that has already happened. And it’s through Graudin’s characters that this seedy world comes to life.

Dai, Jin, and Mei Yee are all beautifully realized characters with their own challenges, hardships, and traumas — but they come together in an unlikely alliance with the shared goal of escaping the Walled City. Seeing them unite and overcome their struggles is what makes The Walled City such a beautiful, and ultimately uplifting story — despite so much heartache and loss.

The Walled City is in stores November 4th.

 

Book Review: The Penguin Book of Witches and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Other Stores from Penguin Classics

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Penguin Classics has released two new bind-ups of some classic literature perfect for both the classroom, and the Halloween season. The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe features a collection of historical accounts and documentation of (alleged) witches in early America. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Other Stories features some of the finest work by American author Washington Irving, including his beloved Halloween tale about Ichabod Crane.

legend of sleepy hollowEach book would be perfectly suited to a school classroom — but offers readers plenty to enjoy on their own, as well. Anyone with an appreciation for macabre writing and imaginative stories will find plenty to feast their senses on in the bind-up of Irving’s stories.

For those familiar only with popular culture’s adaptations of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, it’s well worth the time to read Irving’s original story. Though it has few similarities to the FOX TV show “Sleepy Hollow” or the Johnny Depp movie of the same name, there are elements of the story that have survived in various modern-day adaptations. (Perhaps one of the most surprisingly faithful adaptations is the Disney short film found in The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad, with narration sung by Bing Crosby.)

Perhaps one of the story’s most iconic images — the shattered pumpkin found next to the bridge where Ichabod was last seen — comes straight from Irving’s text:

In one part of the road leading to the church, was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hate of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it was a shattered pumpkin.

penguin book of witchesMeanwhile, the historical accounts compiled in The Penguin Book of Witches offer a chilling but factual account of alleged cases of witchcraft in the early United States, starting in the pre-Colonial 16th century and running through the early 19th century — with plenty of pages dedicated to the infamous Salem witch trials and associated cases.

Edited by Howe, the compilation does a good job of “translating” (per se) the older texts for ease of comprehension for modern readers, such as updating vocabulary and punctuation. It’s a kindness I wish had been paid to the text of such similar manuscripts that I studied when I was in school!

Check out both books now for some excellent classics perfect for Halloween — or any time of year you’re ready for some historical spookiness! They are both available now.

Book Review: Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

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Imagine being plucked from obscurity, and cast in the hottest book adaptation. Imagine being cast alongside two of Hollywood’s hottest young male actors. Imagine filming in Hawaii. Imagine falling for both guys. Can you picture it? Because that’s what happens to Paige, the main character and narrator in Rebecca Serle’s new novel, Famous in Love.

famous in loveThe romantic story of a girl who gets plucked from obscurity to star in the next major feature film franchise based on a book and the ensuing love triangles she gets entangled in on—-and off screen.

Meet Paige Townsen, Rainer Devon, and Jordan Wilder…

When Paige Townsen, a young unknown, gets cast in the movie adaptation of a blockbuster book series, her life changes practically overnight. Within a month, Paige has traded the quiet streets of her hometown for a crowded movie set on the shores of Maui, and is spending quality time with her co-star Rainer Devon, one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive. But when troubled star Jordan Wilder lands the role of the other point in the movie’s famous love triangle, Paige’s crazy new life gets even crazier.

In this coming-of-age romance inspired by the kind of celeb hookups that get clever nicknames and a million page views, Paige must figure out who she is – and who she wants – while the whole world watches.

Serle brilliantly captures the essence of Hollywood today, and all the gossip that goes along with the latest and greatest YA book to movie adaptations. Echoing of entertainment headlines we’ve seen over the last several years, Serle examines the story from an insider’s perspective. Through Paige, the reader is able to put themselves in her shoes — because despite the character’s unique situation, she starts out in a very common place in the world, that readers can relate to easily.

As Paige moves from small-town nobody to Hollywood’s hottest new It Girl, readers can follow in her footsteps and imagine what they would do in her situation. That makes the reading experience all the more enticing. And speaking of enticing, let’s talk about Paige’s costars — Rainer and Jordan, who add a lot of spice and tension to Paige’s precarious journey.

What Serle does so brilliantly with Famous in Love is focus on MORE than the love story; more than the love triangle. The book is a love story, so those elements are important — but a good deal of the book also examines Paige’s experience, going from small town life to a Hollywood movie set. We see how this affects her friendships and her family and her plans for the future. We see her struggle to learn the ropes of a movie set, and stretch her acting skills.

It’s because Serle balances the romance and the romantic tension with these other key elements that Famous in Love is so successful. It’s a balanced, well-rounded story that is deep — and goes beyond the surface of the tabloid stories that may have inspired it. Readers will feel for Paige and ache for the tough choices she is forced to make. I, for one, can’t wait to see where the story goes next. (Yes, there is a sequel in the works!)

Famous in Love is an epic love story meets coming of age, all wrapped up in a glamorous Hollywood package. Look for it in stores October 21st.

Book Review: Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst

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There’s no fedora, no whip, no irrational fear of snakes (why’d it have to be snakes?!), and no trumpeting theme song, but Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst is still basically an Indiana Jones-style adventure, featuring teens and their supernatural abilities.

chasing powerLies, secrets, and magic — three things that define Kayla’s life.

Sixteen-year-old Kayla plans to spend her summer hanging out on the beach in Santa Barbara and stealing whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. Born with the ability to move things with her mind — things like credit cards, diamond rings, and buttons on cash registers — she has become a master shoplifter. She steals to build up a safety net, enough money for her and her mom to be able to flee if her dad finds them again. Well, that, and the thrill of using her secret talents.

But her summer plans change when she’s caught stealing by a boy named Daniel — a boy who needs her help and is willing to blackmail her to get it. Daniel has a talent of his own. He can teleport, appearing anywhere in the world in an instant, but he lies as easily as he travels. Together, they embark on a quest to find and steal an ancient incantation, written on three indestructible stones and hidden millennia ago, all to rescue Daniel’s kidnapped mother. But Kayla has no idea that this rescue mission will lead back to her own family — and to betrayals that she may not be able to forgive… or survive.

There are layers upon layers of mysteries within the pages of Chasing Power, and Durst deftly reveals each one at precisely the right moment. But that’s just the icing on the cake — as her book is already compelling, with its magically-gifted characters and Indiana Jones-style adventure, full of archaeology, ancient antiquities, and exotic locales. (Perhaps the only thing missing is someone to repeatedly declare, “That belongs in a museum!”)

I am a huge fan of Durst’s work, and something I love about ALL her books — and which holds especially true with Chasing Power – is how lovingly she creates each character, her thoughtful plotting and pacing, and the unique magical spin she gives to each story. Each book she writes is so different and unique, but oh so good and enchanting to read. Chasing Power is no exception.

Chasing Power offers readers the thrill-a-minute adventure they’d expect from Indiana Jones, combined with the powerful storytelling Durst is best known for. Look for it in stores October 14th.