Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson
432 pages
Middle School+

Princess Elisa has never felt like a proper princess.  She is the younger, fatter, and definitely less attractive princess in the kingdom.  But despite this, she has been chosen to bear the Godstone, a privilege granted to one person a century.  In spite of this great honor, Elisa feels small and unremarkable. 

Then comes her abrupt marriage to a neighboring monarch, King Alejandro de Vega.  He marries her, takes her home across the desert, and then neglects to tell everyone in his home kingdom that they are wed.  While this marriage seems to be a farce, Alejandro still expects the troops promised with the marriage to help him in a war against the enemy kingdom.

Elisa feels so confused.  For the first time in her life, she must truly be a princess.  She must play the political games in court, stand up for herself, and also learn the truth about her Godstone.  Frightening scripture she had never read before hints at purposes for her Godstone that Elisa had never imagined.  Just as she is on the verge of gaining more information on it, she is kidnapped and stolen away from her husband.

Now even more changes face Elisa.  While she had been growing more attached to her husband, is has also seen his flaws.  In captivity, she can't decide if she misses her husband, or is glad to get away from it all.  More secrets are discovered and friends are found as Elisa journeys through the desert to the rebels hideout.  Here, Elisa must discover the true nature of the enemies threatening both her kingdoms, how to fight them, and where her heart lies.

So, I listened to this read on CD, instead of reading it to myself.  While that affected the pace a little, it still seemed a little slow to me at times.  Despite trying to like this book, I had a hard time getting in to it.  It might be because of the slow start (whether due to the writing or listening to it on CD is debatable), but I think it had to do with a couple of the themes throughout the book.

First theme I want to address is self image.  Elisa is fat.  Or at least starts that way.  When she is fat, she barely has a positive thing to think about herself.  As she journeys through the desert, she slims down.  While not exactly "skinny," she definitely changes enough that she gains attention because of her new body shape.  This is when she starts feeling confident, powerful, and positive about herself.  To me (as an overweight woman), this is sending the entirely wrong message about a connection between body weight and self worth.  Elisa has a hard time feeling positive about herself, and feeling in control of herself when she is fat.  While not all of her confidence is coming because of her body changes, I feel that there was too much connection between her feeling confident in herself and losing weight.  That is one reason why I couldn't give this book my full approval.

Another theme that I noticed was how fleeting her love was. ***SPOILER ALERT!*** When someone Elisa loves is killed in front of her and dies in her arms, she is upset.  I would usually cry buckets at a point like this.  But I did NOT cry.  There was something lacking, either in the writing or in Elisa's emotional attachment to this character.  To me, she recovered from this much too quickly, and was a little fleeting and shallow in her love interests.  And she even was attracted to someone twice, once after learning some harsh truths about him.  To me, that does not make sense.

Anyways, if I were to recommend this, I would give it to mostly high school, unless it was a mature middle school kid.  While nothing inappropriate happens between Elisa and her love interests, Elisa is very interested in something possibly happening, plus there is some graphic violence in it.  There are other books that will recommend before this one.  It was okay, but not spectacular.  I know there is a sequel out that I might read in book format, instead of listening, to see if that would make a difference in the pacing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost
by Vera Brosgol
224 pages
Middle School+

Anya feels miserable and lonely, or your basic teenager.  She's not skinny and beautiful like the popular girls, she's not incredibly smart like the nerds, and to top it all off, she's Russian.  While she lost the accent years ago, she still feels like an outcast and only has a few friends.

One morning, everything is going wrong. The hot guy is ignoring her, her mother tries to feed her greasy food for breakfast, and best (only) friend is mad at her.  She lets the bus go by and starts walking to school.  As she is walking through a park, she is so distracted by everything, she completely misses a step and falls into a dark hole.

At the bottom of this abandoned well is the one thing she really doesn't want to see: a ghost.  After getting over the shock, she meets Emily Reilly, another lonely girl just like her, just her loneliness has been for the past 90 years.  They talk while Anya waits for someone to find her or to walk by.  Eventually, someone find Anya, gets her out and Anya leaves Emily at the bottom of the well.

Then one day, while at school, Emily comes to visit Anya again.  A little bone that Anya took with her lets Emily follow her wherever that bone goes.  They ease each others' loneliness, helping the other be happier.  But is Anya really happy with the direction her life is beginning to take, and is Emily really a victim?

This was another graphic novel and was pretty fun.  The artwork was nice, but not spectacular.  This one I liked more for the story line than the illustrations.  The reader gets to see Anya's struggle with being a teenager, and also how these changes effect her.  Anya starts to see what is really important in life, and also that not everything you see is exactly what it seems to be.

Overall, this was a good, but not great, book.  Many issues are raised that are relevant to teens, such as self-image, family relations, cheating, truth versus embleshment, and how far you are willing to go to please other people.  I think many teens will identify with Anya and the struggles she goes through.

Monday, November 26, 2012


by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
256 pages

Norman Babcock is definitely not your average 11-year-old.  Like everyone else, he gets bullied, annoys his older sister, needs friends, and has a hard time talking to his parents.  But UNLIKE everyone else, he can talk ghost.  Not just one or two, but every ghost in town.  While for him it's normal, everyone else wonders why this wacky kid is talking to thin air.

Things just get worse and the 300th anniversary of the local witch trial. Norman is having strange dreams and visions about disasters that are threatening his town. When his great-uncle dies and visits him, Norman now has a mission to save the town.  But can he, a new friend, his one time bully, and his sister really make a difference when pilgrim zombies are invading?

This was a really fun book to read!  This is based off the screen play for the movie, and I can't wait to see it! Every time you turn the page there is another disaster, or another zombie, and somehow it is all hilarious.

As much as this is about pilgrim zombies, this is also about a boy finding his own confidence and also about relationships.  Norman has to develop confidence in his ability, plus come to value his own uniqueness.  When he embraces himself is when he starts being successful.  And as he does this, he starts seeing the value in others as well.  This is a neat little story that wraps everything up neatly in the very happy ending.

I would recommend this for all kids, with the humor and everything.  Boys will love it, and this is one to put on the list of kids that like Diary of a Wimpy Kid- similar humor and everything.  I had a lot of fun with this book, and really enjoyed it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Across the Universe

Across the Universe
by Beth Revis
416 Pages
High School+

Amy is boarding a spaceship, but won't remember her journey of hundreds of years.  She is cryogenically frozen, to be shipped as cargo to a new world with her parents. As she gets packed in her box, she hopes not to dream and to wake on a whole new world. Instead, she wakes 50 years too early, on a ship with a strange culture, without her parents.

Elder is in line to become the next leader on the ship when the current leader, Eldest, dies.  At only sixteen, Elder must learn everything he needs to know before Eldest leaves.  But it is hard for Elder to learn from someone who continually puts him down, plus keeps secrets from not only him, but also the rest of the ship.

Once Amy is woken from her sleep, she must adjust to her new life.  Elder must adjust to her presence, continually intoxicating for him.  Plus, someone is trying to thaw more of the sleepers.  Together, they must solve the mysteries of the ship, survive the Season for mating, and figure out what they need to do to arrive at their new planet.

This book raises a lot of issues and lots of great topics that could be analyzed.  This includes everything from what is natural, to how truth effects our lives, and organization of society.  On this spaceship, society has slid backwards, devolving into a more tribal community rather than an advanced, scientific based society like Amy left. The way that society functions and how it is controlled play big parts in this book.

One of the other issues heavily emphasized is truth and if it harms or helps people.  Elder wants to know more truth, and tell more people the truth, as opposed to protecting the general populace with lies like Eldest does.  This book is about demonstrating those differences and how they effect others.  Even the way Elder approaches Amy is influenced by truth, or the lack of it.

While Amy can be a little whiny, it's understandable in her situation.  She also makes up for it by having strong moments, and trying to get on with her life, which is completely different than what she thought it would become.  Elder is definitely smitten with instant love, but redeems himself with his own personal struggles. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book and had fun reading it.  I would definitely say high school age or older, since there are some more mature themes in this book as well.  Good plot lines, and the reader gets to see the book from both Elder's and Amy's point of view. It could appeal to both boys and girls, especially with the sci-fi theme. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Two Princesses of Bamarre

Two Princesses of Bamarre
by Gail Carson Levine
241 pages
Late Elementary+

Addie and her older sister Meryl could not be more different.  While they are both princesses, Meryl is adventurous, brave, and strong.  Addie, on the other hand, is timid, completely scared of spiders, and shy.  Since Addie dreads the day that Meryl will leave on her adventures, she makes Meryl promise not to leave her until she is married.

And then the unthinkable happens: Meryl catches the Grey Death, the sickness that no one ever recovers from.  When Addie's useless father fails to attempt to save his daughter's life, Addie realizes it is up to her alone to go adventuring to find the cure.

What a great book! This is definitely one to recommend to people of all ages.  There is nothing bad or objectionable in the book, and teaches some great lessons about what it really means to be brave.  Readers will enjoy following Addie on her adventure, and seeing how she changes throughout her journey.  This is a great gift idea for kids too (since the holidays are coming up!).

Monday, November 12, 2012


Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper
by Kazu Kibuishi
192 pages

Emily is moving to an old family house with her mother and little brother Navin.  After her father's death a couple years ago, her family is struggling to survive.  As they start cleaning the old house, they find an old library belonging to Emily's great-grandfather.  Underneath a book, Emily discovers a pattern like a hand.  As she touches it, her finger is pricked, and an amulet is revealed.  She puts it on, and they continue cleaning.

That night, as they are sleeping, they start hearing strange noises.  Not wanting to leave her mother alone, they descend into the basement to find the source.  A strange monster swallows their mother, and leads them down a disappearing hallway.  What exists down there?  What powers does the amulet have?  And how are they tied to everything?

So, while this isn't the first graphic novel I've read, it's the first I'm reviewing here.  This is the first in a series, and I will definitely go pick up the rest of them!  It was a very quick read, but I also feel that I can spend more time, finding each detail in the artwork if I choose to.  The story was quick paced, and keeps the reader engaged.

Readers will also form a connection with Emily and Navin.  The prologue is very emotional, and really helps the reader understand Emily.  Emotions are the motivation for a lot of what happens in the book.  I also really like the foreshadowing I've seen so far.  I can tell there are more twists and turns to come!

Overall, really enjoyed reading this.  The story and characters are engaging, the artwork and colors are beautiful, and this will appeal to kids and teens of many ages.  I will definitely recommend it to people!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena
by Rick Riordan
608 pages
Late Elementary+

This book joins together the heroes of Camp Jupiter and Camp Half Blood. Percy is finally reunited with Annabeth, new friends meet with old, and memories are back. Jason and Percy also get to meet the each other and size up the hero of the other camp. Now that the seven demigods of the prophecy are together, nothing can stop them, right?

The issues start right away when Leo uses his nifty new war boat to fire on Camp Jupiter.  The seven must flee the camp with little or no preparation, and rush as fast as they can all the way to Rome in order to save Nico, Hazel's brother. Along the way, the group meets more random gods and goddesses, fight each other, and evade possessed tourists.  Can they all get along long enough to defeat the giants and save the world?

This third installment of The Heroes of Olympus is fast paced, lots of fun, and a riot.  I really liked how Riordan brought out the tension between Percy and Jason, two very strong heroes, each used to leading the quest.  They have to learn get along and NOT be the main event on the quest. In addition to their strife, Hazel, Frank and Leo have got to resolve their issues.  I like how there is just more than actions; all the heroes must deal with their emotions and with each other, not just fighting monsters.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable book.  I like The Heroes of Olympus better than The Kane Chronicles, though they are fun too.  The ending is another cliff hanger (of course), and I can't wait for the fourth book, The House of Hades, which comes out Fall 2013 (too far away!).  Anyways, definitely a great book, one to recommend and worth the read!

Monday, November 5, 2012


by Matthew J. Kirby
336 pages
Middle School+

Solveig is the second daughter to a king, and not even the pretty daughter.  She constantly lives in the shadow of her beautiful sister and her younger brother, the crown prince.  Sent to hide from the war in a remote steading, she and a few others are set to survive all winter.

Then the trouble starts to happen.  More soldiers show up, with food thankfully.  The cows get eaten by wolves, and the remaining meat gets poisoned.  A traitor lies in their midst.  Solveig must figure out who it is before spring comes and war finds them.

Icefall was alright, but not spectacular.  Solveig is likable, the telling realistic, but the book just doesn't flow quick enough.  The read waits the entire book for the scene on the cover, and that is short and almost too convenient. 

If you like Norse mythology, this might be a good read.  The myths and the story telling aspect is good, but the plot feels like it was pulled out too long.  An okay book, but not necessarily one I would recommend to lots of people.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom
by Christopher Healy
448 pages
Elementary and up

Meet Prince Charming, or should we say, all the Princes Charming? Meet Liam, Gustav, Frederick and Duncan, princes from several fairy tales that in the stories are only known as "Prince Charming."  Each of them have different issues, from having to walk in the shadow of 16 older brothers to hating the princess he rescued.  None of them have gotten to live his "happily ever after."

Then more things start going wrong.  Briar Rose is a brat, Ella runs away, and even sweet Snow White tells her prince to go away.  The princes are captured by giants, chased by dragons, and even have trolls sitting on them!  Can they really work together to defeat the evil witch and save all of their kingdoms?

I laughed, and laughed and laughed some more.  Oh my goodness this books is funny!  I would so highly recommend this book to anyone!  While the length may seem a little intimidating for younger kids, the story moves very fast, plus there is a lot of small illustrations in the book that speed it along even more.  I had a hard time putting it down when it was time to go to bed!

Overall, great book to recommend to lots of kids.  Funny, fast paced, and has enough variety in the characters to appeal to both boys and girls.  Pick it up today!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


by Meg Cabot
320 pages
High School

Pierce was a normal girl.  Until she died. But only for an hour. And then she came back to life. 

It's not only that she died, but what happened while she was dead that has changed her life.  Instead of being the great student, popular with everyone, and having no cares in her life, Pierce is now moody, easily distracted and feels as if she is cursed.  She even has a strange man dressed all in black showing up when she needs him the most, like a warped guardian angel.

Pierce and her mom now live on one of the Florida Keys, a tiny island called Isla Huesos, or Island of Bones.  Pierce is trying to connect more with those around her, and participate in life instead of disconnecting from everything.  But when Death is following you around, it's hard to live a normal life.

This was the first Meg Cabot book I have read, and I have mixed emotions about it.  I really liked the story line, but the telling was so jumbled, it was hard to follow at times.  This retelling of the myth of Persephone and Hades certainly takes its time getting to the point! Flashbacks and memories are inserted everywhere, with little distinction between them and present time.  The transitions between them are chopping, and several times I had to go back a few paragraphs to make sure I understood which time I was really in.

Other than the choppy transitions, I really enjoyed this book.  Unlike a lot of other reviews I have seen on this, I thought that Pierce's understanding of John grew, and thus her relationship with him grew over time. You get to see her make an effort to change her life and change her behavior because she wants her mother to be happy. If the story line had been straightened out a little, or the flashbacks a little more distinct, I would have given this a better rating. 

This book has nothing inappropriate in it, but the disjointed story telling would not go over well with middle school or younger kids.  Girls will probably have more interest in it than boys, and this is definitely not your typical fantasy.  I will recommend it to people, but not everyone.  There is a sequel to it that recently came out, and I will be looking forward to reading it!