Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: Small Damages

Title: Small Damages
Author: Beth Kephart
Teen Reviewer: Lexi DiTrapano
Rating: 4/5 Stars

Synopsis (From Amazon): It's senior year, and while Kenzie should be looking forward to prom and starting college in the fall, she discovers she's pregnant. Her determination to keep her baby is something her boyfriend and mother do not understand. So she is sent to Spain, where she will live out her pregnancy, and her baby will be adopted by a Spanish couple. No one will ever know.

Alone and resentful in a foreign country, Kenzie is at first sullen and difficult. But as she gets to know Estela, the stubborn old cook, and Esteban, the mysterious young man who cares for the horses, she begins to open her eyes, and her heart, to the beauty that is all around her, and inside her. Kenzie realizes she has some serious choices to make--choices about life, love, and home.

Review: "Small Damages" by Beth Kephart is a riveting novel about love, loss, and finding out who you are.  Kenzie is a good girl who makes a mistake. She ends up being sent to Seville, Spain, where she learns about love and loss, responsibility and freedom, and forgiveness and forgetting, all while going through pregnancy and its complications. I thought it was a great read and that it flowed really well. 4/5 stars.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book Review: Something Strange and Deadly

Title: Something Strange and Deadly
Author: Susan Dennard
Teen Reviewer: Irina Kustovskaya
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Something Strange and Deadly is a horror novel that revolves around the 16-year old protagonist, Eleanor Fitt, the daughter of a wealthy socialite family. She lives in a lavish house in 1878 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just after the Civil War. However, Philadelphia is being terrorized by resurrected corpses, and nobody knows why. These corpses, nicknamed The Dead, are apparently being controlled by an unknown necromancer. To make Eleanor’s life worse, her brother Elijah has not returned from a trip, and her whole family is worried sick. To seek help for her brother, Eleanor contacts the Spirit Hunters, a group of paranormal exterminators, and unofficially joins them. The matters get worse, the Dead get stronger, and Eleanor’s brother is nowhere to be found- worst of all, Eleanor has to please her family’s demands and live up to her family’s name. Will Elijah be found, and will the Dead be stopped?

Something Strange and Deadly is a novel by Susan Dennard, and is the first book in a trilogy of the same name. This is also Susan Dennard’s debut novel, so keep in mind that this is her very first published book (congrats to her!). She is a new author on the scene. The story itself is listed in the horror genre, but, to be honest, I did not find this book scary at all. Sure, the idea behind it was pretty terrifying- walking corpses are indeed freaky, but I do not feel as though this should be listed as a horror novel.  This just wasn’t written scarily enough. SSaD was more of a mild horror story- so if you want to read something that is technically a horror story but isn’t too alarming- then this is for you. Also, SSaD is relatively long with a 400 page span. However, the story only took me about three days of intense reading (on a Kindle), so it shouldn’t take one that long to finish.

The storyline of SSaD was, overall something that had great potential but did not quite live up to my expectations. Normally, I wouldn’t reach for a story about walking corpses, but this one seemed promising, so why not? Personally, I did actually find the story interesting. However, the writing style didn't work for me. It seemed like something a high schooler would write for a contest. If I were her, I would have edited the story big time before I even thought about publishing it. First off, the writer’s style is choppy. The descriptive scenes are extremely limited; maybe two sentences at most described the setting and characters of the story (then again, she describes them over and over many times, so eventually you get the idea). The action scenes are poorly written and are very confusing to follow- it is more like a list of actions in paragraph form. To this day, I am still puzzled as to what happens in the final battle scene! The main protagonist’s name, Eleanor, is not revealed for several chapters.

In short; everything is told to us. There is hardly any suspense or thought involved in this story, which makes it an easy read. We never wonder, “what is going to happen next?” or “could this person be the villain?” because it is apparent very early on. I had no trouble figuring out the main plot and the other characters’ personalities, since they are all quite static. This, however, was a pretty nice break from my English class reading list of Dickens and Shakespeare, so I am very much thankful for the ease of this story.

Despite the clunky style, I could not put the book down. It is incredible how this book got to me! I first got it and read about 20 pages and put it down for a while. After that, I picked it back up, and could not leave my Kindle alone! I even snuck the Kindle out in some of my classes just so that I could read it. The poorly-written, overly piled action (seriously, in every single out of the 27 chapters, something has to happen. You will not see a chapter without some sort of event.) captivated me and I literally could not stop reading the book! Maybe I was just drawn in by the constant amount of stuff going on. I am quite confused as to how I disliked the style, but got pulled into the story, but since that is how it is, I would not question it and just enjoy the story.

Continuing on with the positives, the one aspect that I think Dennard completely nailed is the romance aspect. There is a sort of third-wheel type of romance in the story between Eleanor and Clarence Wilcox, a wealthy, eligible bachelor. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler because this is one of those obvious givens. However, it does get quite interesting- I won’t spoil it here!- and Dennard leaves the readers hanging for a long time. The story would tease us about something that should happen, and yet it never does! This made me want to continue reading. The whole time the teasers showed up, I was screaming at my Kindle “Just kiss already!!” And it made me so happy when I was reading those love scenes that my heart was literally pounding. I am usually not one to overreact like this to love stories, but this book made me do it!!

Overall, the writing style did not work for me. It is chock full of choppy descriptions, confusing information, rushed action scenes and static characters. However, it is also one with an amazing love story which I will remember for a very long time. The plot is pretty original, too, and I will say I look forward to reading the second book in the trilogy as it comes out in July 2013. I already pre-ordered it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: The Edge of Nowhere

Title: The Edge of Nowhere
Author: Elizabeth George
Teen Reviewer: Shannon Finney
Rating: 3/5 Stars

The Edge of Nowhere, #1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George’s debut novel for young adults, is a multi-layered mystery full of suspense and intrigue. Readers that normally don’t go for mystery novels will enjoy the relatable teen situations, innocent romance, touch of the paranormal, and dark, enchanting setting. As a teen fiction novel, The Edge of Nowhere is exciting and enjoyable, and nails all the points that readers familiar with the genre expect. In a literary sense, however, I found the quality of the novel somewhat disappointing. 

The underlying conflict of the story is that Becca King, (whose real name is Laurel Armstrong,) is on the run from her mother’s husband, Jeff Corrie, who murdered his business partner. Her ability to hear peoples’ fragmented thoughts, called “whispers,” is how she knows about Jeff Corrie’s crime, and also what makes her his next target. She is sent to live without her mother on the remote Whidbey Island, where she is to stay until she is brought to live in their new house in Washington. The problems for Becca start as soon as she gets off the ferry, when things already don’t go as planned. If trying to conceal her true identity and special power is not complicated enough, things get worse for Becca when she gets tangled up in the many secrets of the island.  

Elizabeth George frequently introduces new mysteries, and compels the reader to turn the page to tie up the loose ends. The complexity of the novel is effective in getting the reader engulfed by the story, and eliminates the aspect of predictability, commonly found in teen fiction. The author’s expertise in spinning suspenseful and thrilling tales is what makes the novel all the more intriguing, and will leave the reader wondering what will happen next, until everything is resolved in the last chapter.        

To fully enjoy the book, however, I had to get passed a number of things; the style of writing, ambiguous character development, and unrealistic and sometimes frustratingly poor decisions made by Becca King, (such as opting to spend the night in a dog house already occupied by several Labrador retrievers instead of taking up an exceptionally hospitable island resident on her offer to help her out with anything she may need), make it hard to feel sympathy for the main character. It seemed like the standard of quality may have been lowered by Elizabeth George and her editor in producing teen fiction.  The novel was rife with awkward phrasing, punctuation errors, and unrealistic dialogue. If you are a teen-fiction fan who is more interested in the story-line than the quality of writing in a book, than these flaws will not detract from your enjoyment of the novel.

The characters in The Edge of Nowhere are contrasting in appearance and personality, but not very well developed. While this may be additive, in a few cases, to the mysteriousness of the novel, it fails to invoke that feeling of familiarity to me, especially with Becca King. I thought her ability to hear peoples’ thoughts should be accompanied by an intuition that is unique to her, but that aspect of her personality is not apparent. In fact, nothing about her personality is obvious, as she is an under-developed character. The opportunity to create an interesting, relatable heroin, which, to many readers, is a crucial aspect in creating a successful teen-fiction novel, was missed by Elizabeth George. However, there are plenty of other interesting secondary characters, including Seth Darrow, a misunderstood musician/high school dropout, Derric Mathieson, a kind, handsome Ugandan boy, and Jenn McDaniels, the mean spirited fussbudget that nobody likes. The romance that sparks between Becca and Derric that slowly develops throughout the book is endearing and adds to the suspense factor.

Overall, Elizabeth George’s The Edge of Nowhere has an enjoyable, enticing story line that will keep you turning the page. If you are less concerned with literary excellence and more interested in a novel with a mysterious, intriguing, and romantic story-line, then this is a book that you will enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Son

Title: Son
Author: Lois Lowry
Teen Reviewer: Timothy Wood
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 Claire is excited to have her first baby. As a birthmother in a dystopian society, it is an important job. But once the baby is delivered with complications, she is assigned to work at the fish hatchery, separated from her baby. Because of this, Claire stops taking a pill that stops the people in the community from feeling. She then becomes bored with her every day routine, and volunteers at the house for infants so that she can see her child. But something goes wrong, and after finding out that her child has been taken from the community, she leaves on one of the delivery ships and it crashes. Claire then wakes up, remembering nothing of her old life except small fragments of memories. Her goal now is to try to remember her life, and once she does, to find the child that was taken from her.

In her last book of the series, Lois Lowry has done a solid job in closing out the books. She does well in tying the books together and making connections between them. The Son is mostly Claire finding out who she is and what actions she takes once she finds that out, so there isn’t as much action as I would have liked. Still, in the action scenes that she does include, she provides great imagery and it is easy to picture the scenes as she is describing them. Lowry also does very well in the development of Claire herself. She provides scenes that reveal Claire’s character and her feelings about where she is living and what she is doing. Halfway through, the book switched gears, from Claire finding her child to Claire trying to understand her history. I was so involved with finding and re-attaching to the child, that when the switch came, I found that the momentum slowed down. However, I did find myself near the edge of my seat as the book came to a close.

Overall, I think that Lowry  does a good job of revealing the book’s purpose, without actually telling it to the reader. I would definitely recommend this book to people who like less action packed novels that explore themes of family, community, society and purpose.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece (Part II)


Title: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
Author: Annabel Pitcher
Reviewer: Mikaela Palandra
Rating: 4/5 Stars

Five years ago was when it happened. That was when Jamie’s sister, Rose, died. Ever since then, his family has been struggling to live on. His parents are broken up with grief. Rose’s surviving twin, Jas, has gotten piercings, pink hair, just to rebel against the expectations of her parents. And Jamie can’t understand why. To him, Rose is a vague memory, and her days on the mantelpiece are much clearer to him. So here we find a ten-year-old Jamie, and things have only gotten worse. Mom left on Jas’s birthday with a man from support group and Jamie, Jas, and their father are moving to the Lake District, for a new start. In this new place, Jamie is faced with keeping his new friend, Sunya, a secret from his dad, dealing with his dad’s drinking, and an increasing desperation to bring his family back together. In this new town, things seem like they could change, and here, Jamie’s family finally tries to come to terms with grief they’ve held onto for so long.

This book is short and sweet, but leaves you with a lot to think about. It provides an expansive perspective into the ways people experience grief, with the different struggles that Jamie’s family members go through to handle Rose’s death. The story is simply-written, which fits perfectly with the point of view of a ten-year-old. The author does a fantastic job with expressing the way Jamie sees situations, as opposed to his parents and sister. I absolutely love the style of the story; through simple thoughts and actions, you get all the emotion, all the drama. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a book that’s a quick read, but is still thoughtful and insightful.

Librarian announcement/interruption/yelling/hand waving:  Two fantastic reviews for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece! Both of our copies just landed back on the shelf as of the publishing of this post. Come and get it!!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Dark Companion

Title: Dark Companion
Author: Marta Acosta
Teen Reviewer: Brittany Palandra
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Jane Williams is another lost cause in a lost town, her English crippled and her education lacking. She’s been switching between foster homes since she was six, when her parents died, leaving her with no recollection of any memories. With hard work at school she wins a scholarship to Birch Grove Academy. She makes friends, and becomes infatuated with the son of the headmistress, a beautiful boy called Lucky. But the headmistress and her family are acting stranger and stranger, and recent events cause Jane to become more suspicious. The wife of a teacher commits suicide. The girl here before her left without a trace. As Jane discovers the truth behind these mysteries, she finds out why she was actually brought to Birch Grove, and has to decide whether it’s worth the fancy food and free housing.

Alright. I know what you’re probably assuming. Another vampire novel. That’s what I thought too, when I first saw it. To be fair, it really isn’t, but to be honest, the alternative is almost as bad. So in my mind, I still consider it just another vampire story. Boring and overused. Jane was an honest embodiment of a strong and lovely female, working hard and trying to get by. She wasn’t a foolish dreamer, with a love of chemistry and all that can be calculated and proven. She had personality. At the beginning. That soon shattered to a desperate damsel in distress when you add oh so handsome brothers Lucky and Jack. They become all she ever talks about, all she thinks about. She tutors Lucky in chemistry and quickly grows a borderline obsessive crush, considering they’ve only known each other for a week or so. Not to mention the fact that Lucky is a stupid, whiny, arrogant child who only cares about fulfilling his own desires. But at least he’s gorgeous, right? The only really redeeming part is Jane’s friends. From her old town, we have Wilde, who’s a great depiction of someone barely trudging along, doing what she must to survive. Wilde is broken and has gotten her hands quite stained along the way, but she’s honest. From Birch Grove, there’s Mary Violet, a fabulous girl with an art for poetry and a love for the color pink. MV may be harsh and superficial at times, but it makes her seem more human to me. 

So personally, I think the storyline and concept are trite and it gives all the wrong messages. “True love conquers all”? I don’t think so. It focuses entirely on Jack and Lucky’s looks, and how they’re both totally hot, but in “different ways.” It was all right, but personally I found it to be a bit lackluster and maddening. If you like vampire novels and want something a bit different, this would be quite thought-provoking and nice for you. I suppose it’s thought-provoking for everyone, but it provokes annoyed thoughts in the people who are sick of vampire books, like myself.