Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Kiss of a Stranger

The Kiss of a Stranger
By Sarah M. Eden
Covenant Communications, 2011. 252 pgs. Romance

Crispin Handle, Lord Carvatt, is not at all impressed with England's society ladies, and particularly not the bothersome Miss Bower, who seems determined to force him to court her. To settle the matter once and for all, he seizes a serving woman and kisses her quite soundly. However, she isn't a servant at all, and her formidable and abusive uncle insists that Crispin do the gentlemanly thing and marry her--immediately. And so, Crispin finds himself married to Catherine Thorndale, at least until he can negotiate an annulment. However, knowing that both their reputations will suffer, and she will likely be ruined, Crispin isn't so sure that annulment is a good option. However, a loveless marriage is hardly a better answer, is it?

I thoroughly enjoyed this Regency romance. I liked the witty banter between Crispin and Catherine and their developing romance.This is a gentle read and one that can be read it one sitting. I can't quite put my finger on what I liked so much about it, but I really liked it and look forward to reading more from Sarah Eden.

4.5 stars.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wolf Mark

Wolf Mark
By Joseph Bruchac
Tu Books, 2011. 377 pgs. Teen fiction

Luke King has always been different—how could he not be when he’s grown up with a CIA agent for a father? Now, though, his mother has died and he and his father are living in a trailer, Luke attending the local high school and his father escaping his pain with drugs and alcohol. Add in the fact that Luke seems to just kill all modern electronic devices (they shut down when he’s around) and the wolf mark on his left arm, and he’s pretty different. And soon, his life becomes not only different but dangerous. First, there are the seven members of the Sunglass Mafia (Russian students living in Luke’s town), who seem to have some special skills and are keeping a close watch on Luke. Then his father goes missing, and Luke finds that he isn’t as human as he’s always believed himself to be. Now, with his father’s life on the line and Luke the next target, he has to figure out how to control the wolf within, save his family, uncover the secret plot of those who are after him, and maybe, if he can swing it, take the girl he’s had a crush on for the past couple years for a motorcycle ride.

I liked Luke’s story; it’s adventurous and interesting, but at the same time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading a Twilight read-alike for guys. (I mean, come on--a motorcyle-loving werewolf? Mysterious elite students who happen to be somewhat vampire-ish?) There was more action and less focus on the love story, but still, it was a little to Twilight-y for me to completely love it. Overall, though, it’s fun and I always like how Bruchac incorporates American Indian and other cultures.

3.5 stars. A little bit of innuendo and language.

Princess Ben

Princess Ben
By Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Brilliance Audio, 2008. 7 hours. Teen fiction

Princess Benevolence, or Ben for short, is the niece of the king, and as he and his wife have not produced an heir, she, after her father, is next in line for the throne. When Ben’s mother and uncle are killed and her father lost after a brutal attack, Ben is set to be her country’s next leader. Her aunt, the Queen Sophia, rules as regent until Ben reaches her majority, and seems cruel, evil, and utterly disappointed with Ben’s failures to act as Sophia sees is becoming for her country’s next queen. When she is locked in a tower, Ben finds an entrance to a room where she learns magic, and, once she has mastered a few spells, she attempts to save her kingdom from their neighboring kingdom, a ruthless country that has always wanted their land.

I listened to the CD version, read by the author, and while I didn’t always like her reading of it, it was satisfactory. I like how Ben is not the typical princess—she’s chubby, doesn’t like needlework or courtly duties, and has grown up somewhat distance from castle life. I didn’t necessarily find the romantic aspect of the story believable (I wasn’t sold on Ben’s attraction to her suitor, nor his for her), but as far as fairy tales go, it was enjoyable.

3.5 stars. Clean read.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So Much Closer

So Much Closer
By Susane Colasanti
Viking, 2011. 241 pgs. Teen fiction

Scott Abrams is the love of Brooke's life. She knows it. But he's moving to NYC and they've never really spoken. So Brooke moves to NYC to live with her dad, runs into Scott at her new school, and vows that she's going to tell him how she feels. However, things are a little more complicated than she anticipated, since Scott has a girlfriend (at least kind of) and Brooke's new friends and teachers help push her to reach her potential, making her realize that maybe she wants more than what she originally thought.

I wasn't quite sold on some aspects of this book--including moving to NYC for a boy and just coincidentally ending up living in the same neighborhood and attending the same school--but when I suspended disbelief, I did find it to be an enjoyable read. I enjoyed seeing Brooke's growth, although was slightly irritated by her lack of growth in certain areas (such as thinking her failing friendships with the friends she left behind when she moved was all their fault, not hers. For example, on pg. 117, she complains, when April tells her she takes her genius brain for granted, "Unbelievable. April is one of them and I didn't even know it." Later, on pg. 212, she says she's let April go; maybe April will want to be friends again someday but there's nothing she can do to force it. On pg. 215, she feels bad that she never thought about a guy who liked her's feelings. And yet, she never seem to think about April's feelings...even though April is right. She DID waste her talent. And she could do something about their friendship by actually acknowledging that, for starters.). Overall, this is a better than average book, and clean, too.

3.5 stars. Clean Read.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Under Dogs

Under Dogs
By Markus Zusak
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011. 499 pgs. Teen fiction

This is a 3-in-1 version of Markus Zusak's earliest works, The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl.

In The Underdog, we meet Cameron Wolfe and his older brother Ruben, lovable losers living in Australia, doing not much more than disappointing their parents and older siblings, and even themselves, as they can't manage to follow through on any of their mischievous plans.

In Fighting Ruben Wolfe, the two brothers are offered a chance to be amateur boxers and they both agree, although Ruben is the better fighter. Cameron, still aching to become something more, doesn't know if he'll ever be able to get out of his brother's shadow.

In Getting the Girl, Cameron, who has always longed for love, finally finds it--with Ruben's ex-girlfriend, something that forces Cameron to figure out who he is and what he's willing to fight for.

Ah, Cameron. He's a doll of a narrator. I love getting to know him and watching this teenager find himself and realize that he isn't a loser, that he's more than just a poor, dirty nobody. As can be expected of any of Zusak's writings, you just get carried away in the style and the word choices. The books do get a little raunchy, but there's also that poetic sort of prose that makes Zusak so delightful.

4.5 stars.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet below the Chilean Desert

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet below the Chilean Desert
By Marc Aronson
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. 134 pgs. Middle grade/Teen Nonfiction

On August 5, 2010, a collapse in the San José mine in Chile trapped thirty-three miners underground, attracting the world's attention. For the next seventeen days, drillers and mining experts from around the world worked with native Chileans to try to reach the miners and determine if anyone had survived. Miraculously, they all had, but it took several more weeks, and more international assistance, to extract the miners from 2,300 feet below the earth.

Aronson's book is interesting in that it focuses not so much on the miners and their families but on the people who were anxiously trying to get them out--from the nine drill teams working to establish first contact, to the three teams that later were working toward getting the miners out. At the beginning, Aronson also provides some background theories about the tectonic plates and how the Chile is earthquake prone, as well as information about mining, venturing off into a discussion about Hephaestus and how, like the Greek god, miners are often under-respected. I enjoyed the background information about Chile and mining; the Greek tangent didn't quite work for me. Overall, though, I liked this concise account of what happened in Chile and the people who worked to make rescue possible.

3.5 stars. Clean read.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


By Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 321 pgs. Adult fiction

For his entire life, five-year-old Jack has lived in Room with Ma. They don't have much--Bed, Wardrobe, Table, Rug, 5 books, and little else. But for Jack it's enough. The only bad thing is that sometimes Old Nick comes in, punching in his special number in the keypad to unlock the door, and Ma doesn't like him, and doesn't like Jack being anywhere near him. Then Ma starts "unlying"--telling him that the things he sees on TV aren't just pretend and there's a whole world out there and she used to live in it until Old Nick stole her. Now she says they need to get out, and Jack has to help her make that happen.

This book is heartbreaking and disturbing and intensely thought-provoking. AHHHHHHHHHHH! (Trust me, you will need to vent somehow after you read this book; it's not an easy read by any means.) Jack is a precocious and unforgettable narrator, and it's interesting to see first Room and then Outside through his eyes. The book also provides a lot of food for thought about human nature, motherhood, basic needs, and more. Pretty much the only thing that I didn't like about the book were the very frequent references to breastfeeding--Jack has never been weaned and asks for "some" and describes when he has "lots" and how sometimes it's "creamy." Interestingly enough, there's a passage where the mother is doing a TV interview and the TV host says that it might startle viewers to know that she still breastfeeds Jack, to which Ma gives a profound response.
"Ma laughs.
"The woman stares at her.
"'In this whole story, that's the shocking detail?'"
So, feeling slightly chastened, I wondered why it's so disturbing for me, and I think mainly it stems from the fact that Jack's describing it--I don't want to hear about it being creamy or whatever...
So, I think I'm not alone in the descriptions of the breastfeeding being somewhat weird (and I don't totally understand why it continues--why didn't she wean him, especially if she was planning on escaping and knew they'd be back in the world? Granted, maybe the actual plan to escape came suddenly, but it's something she'd always wanted to do, so I'd think she'd be a little more prepared.)
Anyway, breastfeeding tangent aside, this is a gripping story, and I can't really do it justice in describing it, so just do yourself a favor and check it out.

4 stars. Pretty clean.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I'll Be There

I'll Be There
By Holly Goldberg Sloan
Little, Brown and Company, 2011. 392 pgs. Teen fiction

When Emily Bell's father makes her sing a solo of "I'll Be There" in church, it sets off a chain of events that changes her whole life. Emily doesn't have a good singing voice and doesn't want to sing the solo; during it, she focuses on the very back of the church, or more specifically, the boy sitting in the back of the church. Sam likes music and has attended church that day to hear the music. When an embarrassed Emily runs out after her performance, he follows. But their romance isn't easy, though in some ways it's completely simple. Sam's crazy criminal of a father has taken him and his unhealthy younger brother Riddle all over the country, stealing and lying everywhere he goes. Sam and Riddle are just trying to survive, and they've never connected with anyone before. That changes with Emily, but all too soon, their father creates problems that leave them fighting to stay alive.

This was a completely gripping story. I was so anxious, waiting to see how things would turn out for Sam, Riddle and Emily. I didn't necessarily care for the side story of Bobby Ellis, a boy who is obsessed with Emily, but I did appreciate the way the author did tie the details together. (So, Bobby was a necessary, if somewhat annoying, part of the story.) The writing style is sort of lyrical, lulling you in further and further as the chain of events unfold. It's a little bit different--but I liked it a lot.

4.5 stars. A very little bit of language.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dragon Castle

Dragon Castle
By Joseph Bruchac
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011. 346 pgs. Teen fiction

Many years before, Rashko's ancestor, Pavol was the sole survivor when his family was killed by an evil sorcerer. Pavol, keeping his identity a secret, trained intensely to be able to defeat the sorcerer, but he acted the part of a fool to keep himself nonthreatening. After his success, his kingdom had been left alone for years, living in peace. Now, however, Rashko's parents, who are pretty foolish themselves, mysteriously disappear, and Rashko is left with his foolish older brother Paulek to protect their home from the dark force advancing toward them. Rashko knows his brother has a good heart, but he seems taken in by their sudden "guests," while Rashko recognizes that they have only evil in mind. Although Rashko is wise, he doesn't know if he will be enough to save his family and his home.

Drawing on Slovakian culture, Bruchac has created a warm fantasy world. With adventure, a tiny (really, really tiny) hint of romance, humor, and the interweaving of Rashko's and Pavol's stories, this book is a lot of fun to read. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.

4 stars. Clean read.