"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

31 July 2013

Notes from the Blender

Cook, Trish and Brandon Halpin. Notes from the Blender. Egmont USA, 2011.

Declan's aunts run a church where Declan works on occasion.  It's in that same church that he runs into Neilly, his soon-to-be stepsister.  Neilly's mom is marrying Declan's dad, while Neilly's dad is marrying another man.  Declan, a death metal fan who spends his time playing violent video games, must learn to get along with Neilly, a popular girl who's also an accomplished gymnast.   Their two worlds collide as their parents move in together and plan to marry.

I didn't really like either of the main characters in this story, but I did enjoy watching the hijinks as their personalities clashed and then they (inevitably) learned to like each other in spite of their differences. This book is filled with teen drama: Neilly loses her boyfriend when he kisses her best friend, and then loses her best friend as well.  Declan has had a crush on Neilly for a long time and can't imagine living in the same house with her.  Neilly's dad attends Declan's aunts' church.  This book is chock full of crazy, but somehow the crazy all works.

Recommended for: teens, fans of LGBTQIA lit

Red Flags: Declan is a horny teenage boy.  He watches porn online and talks about wanting to see Neilly naked.  He also plays very violent video games and listens to death metal.  At one point, Neilly comes home to find her mom and soon-to-be stepdad wearing only towels.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

29 July 2013

Maggot Moon

Gardner, Sally. Maggot Moon. Candlewick, 2013.

Standish Treadwell lives in the Motherland, where everything is very tightly controlled. People live on the edge of poverty, and access to information is very limited.  Everyone is preparing for the lunar landing, when Standish and his friend find one of the moon men. What if everything they've been told their entire lives is a lie?

The narrative style and lack of background information in this book frustrated me.  I wanted to enjoy it and understand it better, but it was hard to get into.  I did enjoy the plot twists and the climax of the story, even if they were both pretty predictable.  I think it would have helped, with a setting so different from ours, if the author had spent more time world-building and introducing the characters before launching into the plot.  An interesting read, nonetheless.

Recommended for: teens, especially strong readers

Red Flags: none

Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

26 July 2013

The Sin Eater's Confession

Bick, Ilsa. The Sin Eater's Confession. Carolrhoda Books, 2013.

Ben is in the army, and he thinks he's going to die on his next mission, so he's taking time to confess everything before he heads out.  When Ben was in high school, Jimmy was beaten to death because some people suspected he might be gay.  Ben saw what happened and never told; since then he has felt responsible for Jimmy's death.

I didn't really like this book.  Ben's mother has been running his life, which is not an atypical storyline for a young adult novel, but Ben doesn't have that epiphany where he takes his life back and starts making his own decisions.  Also, he's obsessed with telling the reader, as well as anyone else who will listen, that he is. not. gay.  Perhaps he's deeply closeted, but if so, then he's still closeted at the end of the book.  And the whole church coffee shop and religious musical group and homophobic pastor thing is weird, too, especially since Ben's family isn't religious. This book rambles a bit, like a confession would, but it's not very engaging. I didn't like any of the characters, and I didn't get to know Jimmy well enough to do anything but feel a bit sorry for him.  Overall, this book felt like Absolute Brightness, but without the heart.

Recommended for: teens

Red Flags: alcohol use, profanity, graphic scenes when Jimmy is killed

Overall Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5

24 July 2013

The Language Inside

Thompson, Holly. The Language Inside. Delacorte, 2013.

Emma's family lived in Japan for most of her life, but when Emma's mom is diagnosed with breast cancer, her family moves back to New England so her mom can be treated at a hospital while the kids stay with family members. Everyone expects Emma to love being back in the States, but Emma misses Japan and wishes she were there to help her friends clean up after the earthquake. Emma volunteers at a hospital where she meets a woman who can only communicate with her eyes. Together they use poetry to open up and express themselves.

This book is written in free verse, which I don't usually appreciate since it seems that some authors use free verse to make their book different or cool, when actually they're still writing in prose, just with oddly broken lines. This book is no exception. I would have loved this story in standard prose format, but in free verse it seemed a bit inaccessible. The references to Japanese culture were interesting, as was Emma's relationship with the Cambodian boy that she meets. I would have liked to have heard more about how the dance to raise money for Japan went over, and I would have liked to get to know the other characters better. It wasn't a bad story at all; it just wasn't great.

Recommended for: fans of free verse; people interested in learning about Asian cultures

Red Flags: none

Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

22 July 2013

The Ruining

Collomore, Anna. The Ruining. Razorbill, 2013.

Annie lives in Detroit with her mom and step-dad, and she is desperate to get out of the house and on her own. After high school graduation, she accepts a position as a nanny to a family four in the San Francisco Bay Area. She heads out to the west coast and begins to care for an adorable three-year old girl while the girl's dad is at work and the girl's mom watches the baby and works from home. Everything seems to be perfect, at first.

Then things start happening. The mom calls her "Nanny" instead of "Annie." The mom alternates between trying to be super buddy-buddy with Annie and being an angry control freak. They take the door off of her bedroom. Annie feels herself slipping into insanity, and her grip on reality, along with her ability to juggle her college classes and her work responsibilities, slips away.

This book was very intense and also very strange. After a while it was difficult to determine what was really and what was only Annie's perception of reality.  The characters were believable and the ending was satisfying. My only complaint about this book, though, is that when Annie wants some time alone, she mentions wanting to go to Muir Woods to be in the forest and think. Muir Woods is beautiful, but it's a major tourist trap. At any point during the day there are maybe several hundred people there, so that wouldn't be a good place to "be alone." There are lots of other forests or parks the author could have chosen to use instead of going for the obvious San Francisco reference.

Recommended for: teens, especially those who enjoy suspenseful books

Red Flags: minor alcohol use, some profanity

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

19 July 2013

Beauty Queens

Bray, Libba. Beauty Queens. Scholastic Press, 2011.

The contestants of the Miss Teen Dream contest are flying to an exotic location for part of the competition when their plane crash lands on an island.  The survivors must band together and try to create shelter and find food while they wait to be rescued.  But when a secret plot is uncovered, the girls have to decide what's truly important to them.

Wow.  This is a really, really strange book.  As long as you are willing to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the absurdity of the story, this book is a lot of fun.  It mocks reality TV, beauty pageants, commercialism, political issues, etc. etc.  There is a character named Momo B. Chacha who is the ruler of his own country.  Momo keeps a taxidermied Lemur - General Goodtimes - on his shoulder and asks his advice periodically.  One of the contestants has an airline tray lodged in her head throughout the entire book.  Pirates land on the island, but they're rock star pirates.  It just keeps getting weirder and weirder, but it's hilarious and well worth the trip.

I appreciated the strong feminist message in this book, as well as the acknowledgement of LGBTQIA issues as well as persons with disabilities.  I was glad that the girls decided they did not need to just wait for someone to come rescue them.  I was also glad there was a transgender character in this book, but that the entire book wasn't about that person coming out as trans.  She just was, and more importantly, she was a contestant in a beauty pageant, too.

My only caveat: this book is long.  Ridiculously so.  The story is funny, and I wanted to see how it'd turn out, so I stuck with it, but I could see teens putting the book down when it just drags on too long.    However, this book definitely belongs in the library's collection.

Recommended for: adults and teens who enjoy satire, strong readers, people who enjoy mocking reality TV and beauty pageants

Red Flags: mild violence, mild language, alcohol use (rum, because we're on an island with pirates), some pretty explicit sexual scenes

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

17 July 2013

45 Pounds (More or Less)

Barson, K.A. 45 Pounds (More or Less). Viking Juvenile, 2013.

Ann lives with her perfect, skinny mother, her stepfather, and her twin siblings Justice and Liberty. Ann's mother is obsessed with her own weight, and Ann has been on every diet imaginable and has failed every one of them. But when Ann's aunt decides to marry her girlfriend and asks Ann to be a bridesmaid, Ann decides she needs to lose 45 pounds before the wedding. Thus begins Ann's journey on yet another diet, which leads her to see what has happened to Liberty, her four-year old sister, after living in a house with two weight-obsessed people.

I enjoyed this book. The characters were both believable and likable - except the ones I loved to hate, of course - and the drama in Ann's life was appropriate without being over-the-top. Ann does a lot of growing and changing in this book, and I appreciated the ending as well. Unlike some other books I have reviewed, Ann's life seemed very realistic: she lost weight by eating better and exercising, instead of attempting expensive and dangerous surgery; she reinvented herself at home, rather than insisting on being sent to a boarding school halfway across the country. I also appreciated that Ann's aunt is a lesbian, but that her orientation isn't the focus of the book, but rather simply a fact. I would definitely add this book to my library's collection.

Recommended for: teens

Red Flags: Ann's grandmother is a bigot, but she's a ridiculous bigot, similar to the grandmother on the failed TV series The New Normal

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

15 July 2013

The Lucy Variations

Zarr, Sara. The Lucy Variations. Little, Brown, 2013.

Lucy used to be a semi-famous child prodigy in piano, with her grandfather and her mother controlling her career. However, when she was forced to go to Prague for a competition and did not get a chance to say goodbye to her dying grandmother, Lucy gave up on piano and let her younger brother Gus take her place. 8 months later, Lucy is trying to decide whether she still wants to play, or if she wants to redefine herself as something else.

I was intrigued by the concept and enjoyed the mystery surrounding "why Lucy doesn't play anymore," but this book was only kind of enjoyable. Lucy is weirdly obsessed with older men, and she's uber-selfish (okay, so that is typical teen behavior, but still). I wasn't impressed with the climax of the story at all, and wished there had been more music throughout the narrative. I didn't see Lucy change as much as I'd like by the end, either. I also didn't sympathize with her as much as I would have liked, so it got to the point where I didn't really care what happened to her. I'm glad that there are more music-related books being published recently, but I'm just not a big fan of this one.

Recommended for: teens, people who enjoy classical music or play an instrument

Red Flags: Alcohol, Lucy's pretty much illegal and unhealthy relationship with her brother's piano teacher

Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

12 July 2013

Openly Straight

Konigsberg, Bill. Openly Straight. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013.

Rafe is tired of being the token gay kid.  His parents are beyond supportive, his friends at school are kind to him, but Rafe wants to be himself instead of representing the entire gay community. Also, Rafe feels like "gay" is the only thing that defines him in others' eyes.  So he decides to start over.  He convinces his parents to send him to boarding school in New England, where he doesn't come out as gay - not to his roommate, his friends, his teachers.  He doesn't tell his parents or his best friend what he's doing.  Although Rafe enjoys life as a pseudo-straight guy, he soon finds himself tangled in his web of lies and half-truths.

I enjoyed this story, both the coming-of-age and identity aspects and the fact that Rafe's parents were so supportive of him. It bothered me that Rafe was so self-centered, but he changed by the end of the book.  This book definitely should be in every library's collection of LGBTQIA works.

Recommended for: teens, adults who work with teens, people who enjoy LGBTQIA lit, as a read-alike for A Separate Peace

Red Flags: This a book full of teen boys at a boarding school, so there is drug use, alcohol, lots of foul language, some minor sex scenes between Rafe and his bromantic friend Ben.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

11 July 2013


Maurer, Paul. Touched. New Libri Press, 2013.

Jimmy hates school and can't wait until he graduates in three years. But when Renee shows up, he feels like he has finally found a friend. Renee's friendship comes at a cost, though; as she spirals deeper into depression, Jimmy finds himself wondering how to help her and if it's worth it to care about another person at all.

It took me a very long time to finish this book. I could blame it on graduation, my wedding, and our cross-country move, but the fact is I couldn't get into this book at all. Not only is there not really a plot (we figure out Renee's "secret power" early on and nothing more comes of it), but the writing is filled with little gems such as the following:

  • "Today I pulled a disappearing act like a cross-dressing Anne Frank and avoided everything" (63).
  • "We were all like balloons from the state fair tied to the end of wooden sticks slowly losing air and hanging limp" (107).
  • "But I've met girls like her before. Powerful in a pack but alone they fade faster than perfume from the Dollar Store" (118).
  • "The drifting that left her feeling as rudderless as a broken rowboat in a scuz-filled pond" (141).
  • "I wanted to talk about as much as I wanted old Dr.Brown to grab my junk and tell me to cough" (144). 
  • "She was paddling in Sh[*]t Creek with only a pair of chopsticks" (151).
  • "I never liked to write before.I thought it was pointless. Now the more I do, the more I want to. It's like you opened a faucet in my head and my sinuses are draining all over the paper." The teacher called this "Imagery at its best" (159).
  • "She literally bleeds her heart onto the paper drop by drop" (159).
  • "He made my crap seem smaller than a cat turd in a kitty litter box" (162).
  • "The sky was filled with corkscrew clouds that mixed white and grey like an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen" (200).
The "cross-dressing Anne Frank" comment I found blatantly offensive. The Dairy Queen comment is inaccurate, as the mixed cones come from places such as McDonald's and I'm pretty sure DQ doesn't sell white/grey ice cream. The stuff in the middle, and this is just a representative sample, is just bad writing. Teenagers don't talk like this or think like this at all.

I had difficulty sympathizing with the main characters. I felt like I didn't get to know them or any of the secondary characters. And most of them had few, if any, redeeming qualities. Also, no plot. Books must have a plot. And the climax scene was not very climactic. I barely reacted to it at all, and I've been known to go through a box of tissues in a single chapter (Dobbie's death, anyone?). Sorry folks, but this one is not worth your time. Find another book to read instead.

Recommended for: This book is written for young adults, but I doubt it will appeal to them.

Red Flags: Drinking, sex, language, violence - you name it, it's in this book. Including several homophobic comments about people acting like "lezzies" or "lesbos." Boys are called "pussies" for being afraid to do things.

Overall Rating: 1/5 stars. The author's bio states that he is a chiropractor, so I wanted to cut him some slack for lack of training in writing, but this book was just too much.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel through Goodreads' First Reads program for the purposes of review.

10 July 2013


Cooner, Donna. Skinny. Point, 2012.

Ever Davies has a voice inside her head, and it tells her that she's worthless, hopeless, an elephant, a freak. Ever weighs over 300 pounds and has tried every diet on the planet, to no avail. Finally, Ever decides to undergo gastric bypass surgery in order to lose weight and make the boy of her dreams notice her.  She works hard to lose her extra weight, loses that awful voice in her head, and realizes that the best person in her life has been there the whole time and has loved her no matter what her weight.

This book had a lot going on.  First, there's Ever's weight issues.  Second, there's Ever's family issues - she's in a blended family and is jealous of her stepsiblings. Third, there's the relationship between Ever and Rat, her childhood friend. Rat has always been there for her, and Ever has been clueless to the fact that he really, really likes her. I really enjoyed watching Ever find her voice and herself and banish that awful voice in her head.  I was glad that she was able to take care of the relationships in her life.  I was sad that she seemed to do everything just to please those around her; Ever lost weight to impress a boy, not to help herself.

My biggest concern with this book is that Ever gets gastric bypass surgery surprisingly quickly and easily.  It sounds like her new doctor has no idea of her dieting history and just takes her family's word (and money) for it and lets her have this dangerous surgery when she's still a teen.  I don't think that's a very realistic portrayal of this situation, nor do I think most families would have the money to get an expensive surgery at the drop of the hat like that.

Recommended for: teens, those who work with teens, as part of a collection of books on eating disorders

Red Flags: language, teen drinking

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

08 July 2013

Etiquette & Espionage

Carriger, Gail. Etiquette & Espionage. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Sophronia is not a stereotypical girl, and her mother is finally so frustrated with her that she sends her off to finishing school.  Sophronia soon discovers that this school - set high above the earth in a series of balloons - is a very different kind of finishing school.  Sophronia refines her manners as she learns how to finish other people, finish them off, that is.  When Sophronia discovers a mystery afoot, of course she has to get involved and see if she can stop the bad guys from doing bad things before it's too late.

I loved Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, but I didn't think they were entirely appropriate for teens, so I was quite glad to see a YA book with her name on it.  This book did not disappoint.  The same writing style that drew me to Carriger's adult books is present in this book, only without some of the red flags that are present in her adult novels.  This story is engaging, entertaining, fast-paced, and fun to read.  My only disappointment is that I have to wait for the publication of the next one in the series.

Recommended for: teens, adults, fans of steampunk, fans of the Harry Potter series

Red Flags: some violence

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

05 July 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Brunt, Carol. Tell the Wolves I'm Home. Random House, 2012.

June's favorite person in the world is her Uncle Finn, and when Finn dies, June feels as though she has been set adrift.  Her grief only intensifies when she discovers that Finn's apartment has been taking over by his partner, and that his partner is also dying. June becomes friends with Toby, Finn's partner, in spite of her family's and friends' reactions to her associations with a gay man.  Through it all, June learns more about her Uncle Finn and herself than she thought possible.

This book was a long, slow read.  It wasn't a bad book, but the 1980's setting made it exceptionally unappealing. As an historical look at the AIDS epidemic, this was a good book, but it didn't hold much appeal for me, as the main character must necessarily be much older than I am, and I'm an adult.  I cannot imagine a teen enjoying this story.

Recommended for: Adults. It's not an inappropriate book for teens, but I don't see it appealing to them. The story is just too dated to be modern, yet not dated enough to be historical.

Red Flags: Lots of alcohol and smoking in this book. Some mild profanity. The flower shop is vandalized, but no violence or sex at all.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

03 July 2013

Swans & Klons

Olsen, Nora. Swans & Klons. Bold Strokes Books, 2013.

Rubric lives in the Academy, where she is dating Salmon Jo and training for the job she will eventually take.  She lives on a world populated only by women; all the men were killed off in a dreadful disease.  The women are taken care of by Klons, non-human servants who wait on them.  Outside the city, beyond the protective barriers, are the Barbarous Ones.  These women actually have men - cretinous males - living with them! Rubric has been raised to believe that this is barbaric.  But when Salmon Jo makes some interesting discoveries at the hatchery, she and Rubric embark on an adventure to find the truth, no matter the cost.

This novel reminded me a lot of Lois Lowry's The Giver, when Jonas discovers that "release" means death and decides that he must leave his society and his way of life behind. These girls lived in a very tightly controlled society, were raised without parents, and then discovered that the Barbarous Ones aren't really that barbaric after all.  I enjoyed the science fiction aspects of this story, as well as the obvious feminist slant.  And I can't really complain about an entire society peopled by lesbians.  I will be interested to see if this author writes a sequel to this novel.

Recommended for: teens, science fiction fans, fans of Hunger Games, people who enjoy gender-variant literature

Red Flags: None

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars