Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Time of Miracles

A Time of Miracles
By Anne-Laure Bondoux
Delacorte Press, 2010. 180 pgs. Middle Grade Fiction

Koumail is a child living in the crumbling U.S.S.R. as the republic is crumbling. His guardian Gloria has told him that he was in a train wreck as a baby, and his mother passed him off to Gloria, along with their passports. Since then, Gloria has raised him and has told him that he is really Blaise Fortune, a French citizen, and as they move across Eastern Europe., trying to escape warlords and militias, that their goal is to get him to France. Along the way, Gloria teaches him to have hope, no matter what happens.

I liked the style of this book; Koumail/Blaise tells the story with the flair of a storyteller. At the same time, I felt like I really didn't fully understand the back story (perhaps my own fault for knowing so little about the history of the U.S.S.R.), and that sense that I didn't know enough about what was going kept drawing my attention away from the story, which in turn made it harder for me to really connect with and care about the book. At the same time, the writing had almost a poetic feel to it, which many readers will appreciate.

I feel like maybe I should have liked this one more, but now that I've finished it, it's not keeping me thinking about it, like some books do, so I can only give it 3 stars.

False Princess

False Princess
By Eilis O'Neal
Egemont USA, 2011. 319 pgs. Teen fiction

The narrator of this book has been raised in luxury--after all, she's a princess. However, one day, she is called in before the king and queen, informed that she is not the princess. The true princess was hidden away at birth after a prophecy that she might be murdered before her sixteenth birthday. So, both the true princess and the false were placed under spells and they were switched. Now that the unfulfilled danger has passed, it's time for them to be switched back. So Sinda, armed with a new name and not much else, is removed from the castle and sent to a remote village to live with an aunt who doesn't want her. While there, though, she finds that she has magic of her own, and as she sets out to find her place in the world, she stumbles upon a secret that could destroy the entire kingdom.

This book, part fantasy, part adventure, with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure, is a good choice for fans of Shannon Hale or Kristin Cashore. Sinda isn't quite as strong a character as those authors' heroines--it maybe takes her a little longer to find herself--but that coming-of-age is woven into a story that will appeal to many readers.

Four stars.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. 260 pgs. Teen fiction

Dash, who despises Christmas and has managed to escape both of his divorced parents for Christmas, finds a notebook with a series of clues in it at a bookstore. The notebook, left by quirky, Christmas-loving Lily, who has been abandoned at Christmas as her parents are in Fiji, her grandpa in Florida, and her brother busy with his boyfriend, intrigues him, and soon the two are leaving each other dares to complete, along with their innermost thoughts, forming a friendship through words, a friendship that helps them contemplate love, life, and themselves.

This book has a lot of witty wordplay and Dash and Lily are both likable characters. The beginning scenes of the book, when Dash initially finds the notebook, might put off some readers, but those who stick with it will likely find themselves swept up in the plot, the words, and the characters. (On the other hand, I can envision some readers not really connecting with either Dash or Lily; they're not your average characters, and really, some are not going to like content, which has some innuendo and language.)

3.5 stars.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bartimaeus Trilogy

The Amulet of Samarkand
By Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion Books for Children, 2003. 462 pgs. approx. 13 hours. Teen fiction

In present-day London, Nathaniel, a twelve-year-old magician in training, is humiliated by the powerful wizard Simon Lovelace. In order to get revenge, Nathaniel summons the dijnni Bartimaeus, instructing him to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Lovelace. This decision pulls Nathaniel into a plot deeper and darker than he ever anticipated.

This book is a great pick for those looking for interesting adventure and fantasy. It's also an excellent choice for an audiobook; Simon Jones is a terrific narrator. Bartimaeus is a witty, sarcastic dinnji, and I quite enjoyed listening him banter and bicker with Nathaniel, who is an interesting mixture of a child who has innate goodness and a magician who, like those around him, is ambitious to the point of disregarding others.

The Golem's Eye
By Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion Books for Children, 2004. 562 pgs. or appox. 17 hrs. Teen fiction

Nathaniel, now fourteen, is gaining power within the British government, comprised of the best and brightest of the wizards of the day. When a terrifying force is set loose in London, destroying everything in its path, Nathaniel is assigned to find out what it is and destroy it. Aided by the unwilling Bartimaeus, Nathaniel sets out to save his country--and preserve his own standing in the government, while at the same time, fighting the Resistance, a group of commoners that oppose the magical government.

This second installment in the series didn't pull me in quite as much as the first book, perhaps because Nathaniel has taken a turn for the worse; he's more arrogant, more self-centered, and decidedly less likable. Bartimaeus, however, is still his lovely snarky self and the book is still entertaining.

Ptolemy's Gate
By Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion Books for Children, 2006. 501 pgs. or appox 15.5 hrs. Teen fiction

As the book opens, Bartimaeus is on the verge of death; Nathaniel has kept him in bondage for so long that his essence is nearly destroyed. Nathaniel, now a high-ranking government official, is trying to help Britain win the war against the rebellious Americans, while at the same time, trying to prevent a rebellion within the ranks of the government. Meanwhile Kitty Jones, a former member of the Resistance, who once saved Nathaniel's life, wants to know more about Bartimaeus and his relationship with his former master, Ptolemy. While most magical creatures hate their masters and their forced servitude, Bartimaeus seems to have bonded with Ptolemy and Kitty wonders if something can be done to end the conflict between commoners, magicians, and the magical creatures. Soon, all three are joined together in a fight against foes they never imagined.

For me, this was the most exciting of the three books, a thrilling final book. I thought the series was pretty fun and a good adventure, one I would recommend to many teen readers, but this third book was the one that clinched it for me. I was hooked and couldn't wait to see how things turned out. I loved the chance to see the best sides of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, was intrigued by the back story of Bartimaeus and Ptolemy, and couldn't help but cheer for Kitty's tenacity and spirit. Anyone who has read the book won't be surprised to know that the ending was a bit difficult to swallow; although fitting, it was definitely hard to keep reading and I kept hoping for a twist that didn't come.


AH! I can't believe Nathaniel dies! He sacrifices himself in order to save his city, and he has come to see the error of his ways, how arrogant the magicians are and how wrong they've behaved toward the commoners, and even, to some extent, the magical creatures. Now, I love a good redemption book, but I'd like it even better if the main character didn't DIE, particularly since I was hoping he and Kitty would end up together. So...I highly enjoyed the series, but I'm quite upset about the ending! Even though it was fitting, well-written, and in some ways as sweet as it was sad, I don't like sad endings!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dirty Little Secrets

Dirty Little Secrets
By C.J. Omololu
Walker & Co., 2010. 212 pgs. Teen fiction

Sixteen-year-old Lucy doesn't exactly have a normal life. She has spent much of her life distancing herself from people as she tries to hide the fact that she lives with a mother who is a hoarder. However, as she has developed a friendship and her crush seems to be noticing her, she has an increased desire to hide her family's secret so she won't lose them. When her mother dies in their home, Lucy must figure out how to protect her secret from the authorities and especially the media.

This book was really interesting, although perhaps some readers will be put off by the large amount of text dedicated to describing the horrible living conditions. While necessary to convey the depths to which Lucy is affected by the hoarding, it seemed like there was more description than actual plot. The solution, which seems a bit simplistic, and which many readers may figure out long before Lucy does, is portrayed without any consequences, which is unlikely, but still, many readers will suspend disbelief and enjoy this story of coping with a horrific secret.

3.5 stars.