Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins #1) by: P.L. Travers

Published:  June 1st, 2006
Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins #1)
By: P.L. Travers
HMH Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780152058104

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life is forever changed at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house.  She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins.  Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial?  A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!


     I have read all manner of classic and modern classic children's books, during my childhood and as an adult.  But somehow while reading about red-headed orphan girls, wardrobes that led to magical worlds, a great Emerald city, and the immortal Tuck family, I somehow never managed to read any of the books about Mary Poppins.  This, the first book in the series, introduces us readers to Mary Poppins, a magical nanny who comes to the Banks family in their hour of need.  The children Jane, Michael, and the baby twins (John and Barbara) are in need of a nanny.  Mary herself is somewhat vain, no-nonsense, strict and yet somehow bordering on magical.  The most peculiar things truly do happen when Mary is about - but you'll never get her to admit to them.  This book follows Mary's adventures with the children, through a series of vignettes chronicling their life together.  That is, until Mary leaves on the wind just as she first came to them.
     Sometimes a series of vignettes instead of structured chapters can do a book some good.  It certainly didn't hurt Jean Webster at all and looking back, L.M. Montgomery's style was similar and on the border of it, if not quite uniform to this particular format of writing.  In regards to how much it resembles the Disney movie based on it, the answer to that would be not all that much.  There are a few scenes, such as the chalk picture day, although its a date between Bert and Mary, and doesn't include the children at all.  Also, Bert is only in the one chapter of the entire book.  Noticeably the same was the scene with Mary's Uncle Albert, who serves them tea in midair and the Bird Lady was also included.  The next door neighbor's dog Andrew has his own story, all about how he wants to be a common street dog, rather than the coddled thing that he is currently.  
     There are other stories with zero similarities whatsoever.  Mary Poppins takes the children Christmas shopping and they help one of the stars (Pleiades to be exact) find gifts for her sisters.  The one involving the night zoo, with all the humans as the attractions, quite possibly wins for most bizarre story.  And the one with the gingerbread lady and the paper stars was beautiful.  But the absolute best was John and Barbara's story, about losing their ability to speak to the winds and the starlings.  It was so melancholy for a kid's book!  It did seem somewhat choppy at times, and there was also the conundrum of Mary.  She definitely came across as a cold, strict, sarcastic bitch for a good portion of the book.  Then you'd get a glimpse of her caring heart and it would soften the blows of her words/actions.  All in all, I enjoyed it and I'm glad that I read it.  But I think that I would have been better served to be introduced to this world as a child and not a cynical adult.

VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Monday, May 26, 2014

Rollin' Old School, Newbury Style: Holes by Louis Sachar

Published:  August 20th, 1998
Holes (Holes #1)
By: Louis Sachar
ISBN-13:  9780439244190

Stanley Yelnats' family has a history of bad luck going back generations, so he is not too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Center.  Nor is he very surprised when he is told that his daily labor at the camp is to dig a hole, five foot wide by five foot deep, and report anything he finds in that hole.  The warden claims that it is character building, but this is a lie and Stanley must dig up the truth.


     Stanley Yelnats is in trouble again, and it's all his dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather's fault!  With his family's seemingly permanent cursed state, Stanley is convicted of a crime that he didn't committ.  Given the option of jail or Camp Green Lake, Stanley chooses the camp.  After all, he's poor and has never been to camp before - it won't be that bad, will it?  Guess again!  Stanley and the other boys spend their days digging 5X5 ft. holes (one per day), supposedly to build character.  But Stanley thinks the Warden is looking for something and using the boys to do it.  Spending his days tired, thirsty, and exhausted, Stanley makes friends with a somewhat lost boy named Zero.  Teaching Zero to read, Stanley feels like he has a purpose.  But when things escalate with the other boys, the counselors and the Warden, can Stanley find a survive until he can clear his name?  Or will it be too late.....
     I read this book either at the tail end of elementary school or the beginning of middle school when I was younger.  All I know is that it captured Small Anna's attention and imagination, making me sweat along with Stanley as he dug his seemingly meaningless holes.  I love that there is an intertwined plotline with the history of Camp Green Lake when it was still a town, and how notorious outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow went "bad."  Also we get to trace Stanley's family from his great-great-grandfather Elya Yelnats (a dirty-rotten, pig stealer cursed by a gypsy if you believe family lore), to his great-grandfather who was robbed by Kissin' Kate and the rest of Stanley's family who are currently affected by the curse; Stanley's inventor father is unable to make his inventions work the way he wants.  We never find out what Stanley's Grandpa's story really is, he's mostly the storyteller, giving the readers the family history.
       I will admit that Stanley is kind of placeholder character in the grand scheme of the book, mostly weak and just there to drive forward the plot.  My favorite characters were honestly Kissin' Kate Barlow and Sam the Onion Man.  My God, was her story devastatingly sad for a kid's book!  And poor Sam and his donkey Mary Lou are somewhat tragic figures as well.  Stanley does develop though, going from and overweight, detached, quiet outsider, to a part of the group (nickname -Caveman- and all) and far braver than he ever thought he could be.  The ending is a little too fairy tale-esque in its happy ever after quality.  But then again, I'm a cynical adult now and this book is basically the equivalent of a modern day, America fairy tale.  I definitely can see why it won the Newberry Award, with its sparse, but infinitely descriptive language and rich characterizations (the Warden still freaks me out to this day, I can picture Mr. Sir with his bag of sunflower seeds, and Mr. Pendanski is easy to see as well).  I will also say that the movie, while not completey faithful, is worth checking out as well.  I very much enjoyed it when I saw it in theaters in 2003/3004 (unsure which) and I rewatched recently.  It holds up very well.  All in all, a great book for teachers and also for anyone who wants to be entertained with a thoroughly original story.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stubborn Blog Tour - Review and GIVEAWAY ($20 INT. Amazon Gift Card)!!!!!

Release date: January 6th 2014
Purchase: Amazon


With a train ticket, a bad attitude, and an unfortunate scribbling of obscenities across her forehead, seventeen-year-old Avery Ross is tossed out of the frying pan and into the fire when she’s sent from New York to the vast oil field region of North Dakota. When a green-eyed boy with a sultry Texan accent comes to her defense, Avery has no clue that his actions will lead her into a passion-charged summer, full of temptation and loss. 

Defiant and relegated to work at her aunt’s boarding house, Avery discovers a connection between her aunt and the striking boy. He and his brothers are seeking revenge for the wrongful death of their sibling, and Avery becomes entangled in their battle over oil rights, loyalty, and love. Avery falls for the brooding, younger brother, Gabriel Halden, against her aunt’s forewarnings and creates more tribulations than any of them could anticipate.


Jeanne Arnold is the author of STUBBORN and other young adult romances. At a young age she found her creative outlet in art, and for years her fictional characters came to life in drawings and paintings, until they demanded a voice. Now they grace the pages of her stories. Jeanne shares her time with her fictional teenage counterparts and her human family in Central New York. 


     Avery has been sent to oil field rich North Dakota after getting in trouble at home.  Summer with her Aunt Meggie isn't something she's expecting to be very interesting.  After all, she's not there to have fun.  Then she meets the Halden brothers and they totally turn her life upside down...especially the youngest one, Gabriel.  But the boys are still recovering from the death of their older brother Eli, especially Gabriel who it hit the hardest.  Gabe is also still trying to take down Hunt, the guy he holds responsible for the drunk driving accident that killed Eli - and the guy that stole his girlfriend Jordan, who was also in the car.  Avery has her own issues and Gabe definitely isn't looking for a girlfriend, and flat out tells her so.  But they keep being drawn together, inexplicably and sparks are flying.  Now if only it didn't seem like his brothers (epsecially suggestive, flirtatious Caleb), her Aunt Meggie, and the whole universe were conspiring to keep them apart!  Can Avery get through to Gabe before it's too late, or will he just let her slip through his fingers?
     I kind of fell in love with this book.  The summary doesn't really do it all that much justice!  I loved Avery as a heroine so much!  She's just a regular, smart-mouther, tough as nails girl - but she definitely has a vulnerable side that she tries to hide from everyone.  I loved the reasons for the swear words on her forehead!  She consistently made me laugh out loud and her banter with Gabe and his brothers, Caleb and Lane (Caleb especially), was hilarious.  I loved the complexity to these characters, and how even when Gabe was pulling away he'd have moments that completely melted your heart.  And Caleb was a lascivious asshole, who kept hitting on Avery but Jeanne still managed to make me like him!  Probably my least favorite thing was how Jordan was portrayed as a complete and total moron, and like she could've left Hunt's abusive ass at any time.  Anyone who's ever suffered abuse of any type knows that its never that easy.  As one of my favorite T.V. characters ever once said, "We accept the love that we think we deserve."  It is extremely true, not to mention she was motivated by a fear for her own life as well.  Not that I liked the character (she was a sometimes underhanded, bitch in my opinion).  But the abuse storyline could have been played out better.  
     Aunt Meggie was wonderful and I loved the subplot involving her own romantic life and I loved Avery's cousin Josh (maybe a book about him in the future?), who was typical teenage boy, but loyal to a fault.  And you could tell he really loved his Mom and his cousin.  The characters and situations were just SO REAL in this book!  Getting caught making out in the car by a family member, climbing in bedroom windows, and no one was a "damaged drug-addict/rock star/billionaire that needed saving (I don't count Gabe, because its his Dad's money not his).  This was a New Adult book that I could be proud to recommend to a friend and it definitely stands out from the crowd.  Never once did I feel like I was reading a Mary Sue, written in by the author trying to live through her character.  This book exemplifies what I love about romance and the reality that sometimes teenagers are stupid and do stupid things - that doesn't mean that they can't surprise us.  I highly recommend this one!

VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars

**I received an ARC from the author and tour host for the purpose of this blog tour. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published January 6th, 2014.**


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Monday, May 19, 2014

It's a Love Story, Baby Just Say Yes

Published: 1970
Love Story (Love Story #1)
By: Erich Segal
ISBN-13:  9781441044140

Lose your heart to the novel that defined a generation then.....and now.

He is Oliver Barrett IV, a rich jock from a stuffy wasp family on his way to a Harvard degree and a career in law.  She is Jenny Cavilleri, a wisecracking, working-class beauty studying music at Radcliffe.  Opposites in nearly every way, Oliver and Jenny immediately attract, sharing a love that defies everything...yet will end too soon.  A love that will linger in your heart now and forever.


     This book is a yesteryear classic for people that love romance, especially after being turned into a wildly popular movie of the same name, released in 1970 (44 years ago)!  I have read this book before, but I've been revisiting the paperbacks on my bookshelves at home, due to the need for short and quick reads.  This is the story of Oliver Barrett IV, a young Harvard student, who is disillusioned with his family, his social status and just wants to stop feeling like such a disappointment to his father (Oliver Barrett III, otherwise referred to as the Sonofabitch).  Jenny Cavilleri is a student at nearby Radcliffe, and she's everything Oliver is not - sharp-tongued, brilliant beyond measure, close to her father, and truly poor.  Of course the two clash heads the first time they meet, but the underlying attraction between them is too strong to deny.  Pretty soon Oliver and Jenny are falling in love, getting married and planning the rest of their lives.  But when Jenny gets sick, can Ollie still find a way to go on without her?  And does love really mean never having to say you're sorry?
     I did enjoy this book on a base level.  I truly loved the fact that Jenny didn't make it easy for Oliver to win her over, and wasn't afraid to tell him to fuck off.  Jenny is the perfect example of a smart, capable woman who can make her own decisions and doesn't just bow down to what Oliver wants.  He has to work to get her, and as a rich, priveleged, Ivy League brat he definitely isn't used to that!  Oliver himself is also a complex guy, with a strained relationship with his father.  He thinks that his Dad is disappointed in him and Ollie feels like a piece of furniture, ignored 99% of the time and used when convenient.  But when push comes to shove, Ollie marries Jenny against his father's wishes and allows himself to be cut off from the family money.  Oliver and Jenny spend the four years of his law school pinching pennies and struggling along.  I have serious respect for that.  
     The part of the story where Jenny gets sick is handled less well.  I know this book is almost 50 years old, but when Jenny's doctor tells Ollie about her cancer and leaves the decision on whether or not to tell Jenny UP TO HIM!  WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK???!!!  I am sure any doctor that did that nowadays would have his license revoked so fast his head would spin!  And they basically find out Jenny is sick and then 15 pages later she's dead.  It kind of dimmed the emotional impact for me as a reader.  But I suppose that's the disadvantage when a book is under 150 pages long.  It definitely has less time, and space to tell a story or flesh out characters, so some things just get lost in translation.  Overall, I really did enjoy reading this book and would recommend it as a view at classic romance, if nothing else.  It's the precursor to Nicholas Sparks, particularly A Walk to Remember.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Friday, May 16, 2014

Romeo and Hamlet's Excellent Adventure

Published:  February 4th, 2014
Such Sweet Sorrow
By: Jenny Trout
Entangled Teen
ISBN-13:  9781622661589

Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo...  But true love never dies.  Though they're parted by the veil between the world of mortals and the land of the dead, Romeo believes he can restore Juliet to life, but he'll have to travel to the underworld with a thoroughly infuriating guide.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, may not have inherited his father's crown, but the murdered king left his son a much more important responsibility -- a portal to the Afterjord, where the souls of the dead reside.  When the determined Romeo asks for help traversing the treacherous Afterjord, Hamlet sees an opportunity for adventure, and the chance to avenge his father's death.

In an underworld filled with leviathan monsters, ghoulish shades, fire giants and fierce Valkyrie warriors, Hamlet and Romeo must battle their way through jealousy, despair, and their darkest fears to rescue the fair damsel.  Yet finding Juliet is only the beginning, and the Afterjord doesn't surrender souls without a price.....


     Romeo's poison didn't work quite the way it should have, and now he's alone dealing with the aftermath of Juliet's death.  He enlists Friar Laurence to help him find a witch who can tell him how to bring Juliet back from the dead.  The witch tells Romeo that he has to go North to a kingdom whose King has just been murdered.  By the time he reaches Denmark, Romeo meets Hamlet for the first time in a tavern.  And of course they pretty much hate each other on sight, which almost ends in a duel.  Then Romeo and Hamlet each learn about the other, resulting in them agreeing to work together.  Hamlet will let Romeo into the Afterjord, if he agrees to help along his quest to avenge his father's death, by telling Hamlet what he finds there.  Romeo of course, pulls Hamlet in after him and they are both thrown headfirst into battling mythical creatures and overcoming harsh tests, to prove themselves worthy of re-entering the world.  Can they save Juliet and make their way back aboveground, or will they be trapped in the underworld forever?
     So, the synopsis of this book led me to believe it would be one of two things: a hot mess, or an awesome retelling.  While a little bit of both, it was more of the first by a landslide.  This book just has way too much going on in it!  It not only tries to incorporate Hamlet AND Romeo and Juliet, but tries to bring in multiple types of mythology such as Greek, Norse, Celtic, etc.  I appreciate what she's trying to do, but it gets overwhelming in the scope.  I never really felt like the characters or the plot were fleshed out enough to give a new persepective to some old stories.  While reading, I just had such an odd feeling towards the entire book.  Juliet was nothing like her Shakespearian self and as other readers have pointed out, it was nice to see her be an ass-kicking, sword-wielding warrior girl.  But how exactly (and when) did that happen, when she's spent her whole time alive as a pampered noblewoman and her whole death chained up and unawares?       Romeo spent most of the book as a complete douchebag, with a hair-trigger temper and a serious problem listening to directions.  Hamlet was a jerk too, but at least him being the original emo, loner dude made that somewhat believable.  Also, how in the Hell did Friar Laurence and Romeo get all the way from Italy to Denmark?  Isn't this supposed to be somewhat medieval?  It's not like Romeo could just book a flight to Denmark and how did he find out where he was supposed to go?  The witch didn't even tell him an exact location, just told him to go to a kingdom with a murdered king!  All in all, especially with a cliffhanger ending that hints towards this being a series, this just wasn't the book for me.  Maybe if there had been more focus on building the plot, and less jumping from myth to myth I could have connected to it more.

VERDICT:  2.5/5 Stars

*I received this book from Entangled Teen, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published February 4th, 2014.*

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Frog Princess (First Love from Silhouette #104)

Published:  June 1st, 1982
The Frog Princess (First Love from Silhouette #104)
By: Cheryl Zach
Pocket Books
ISBN-13:  9780373524815


Life was a bad joke...a nightmare.  Shy, klutzy Kelly, a new girl, had just been nominated for class president.  Most of her classmates were quite sure she couldn't handle the job.  And Kelly had problems at home: an unhappy mother struggling to support them both now that her father had deserted them.

But -- Bam!  Wow!  Zowie!  Once Kelly got moving, nothing, but nothing, could stop her.  She didn't need a little bit of luck.  She didn't need a fairy godmother.  Shy, klutzy Kelly transformed herself into a princess -- and everyone knows that's when you find a prince!


     I picked this book up at a used book sale, inside a mall a couple towns over.  And yes, that synopsis is actually from the back of the book (I'm sure the cheesiness quotient is why it isn't on Goodreads or Amazon)!  I have an addiction to 70s and 80s teen books.  Most of them are absolutely horrible - but they are dirt cheap, usually under 200 pages and hilarious to read!  This one was no exception, but it did leave me cringing in complete horror at certain things.  Just so cliched and overly innocent, gee whiz type speaking.  I could definitely tell that Cheryl Zach was NOT a younger woman writing about teenage years she'd just left behind.  The way these kids talked was decidedly late 1950s/early 1960s.  
     Poor Kelly is slightly overweight, awkward and extremely clumsy.  It doesn't help her popularity any when she and her Mom move to a new town after her Dad leaves them.  They are poor, struggling to make ends meet and Kelly feels like one big disappointment to her unhappy mother.  Then someone elects her to be class President as a joke, which terrifies her.  Kelly has zero self-confidence and thinks she's doing a terrible job, but doesn't stop the other kids from pushing her around.  Then the principal tries to stop them from having a dance and its up to Kelly as class President to find a way to raise the money to get her class what they want.  But can they convince the Principal they are responsible enough for it?  And does she really like Bill or is Alan the guy for her?  All I have to say is that if you can handle the cheese factor (and possibly revel in it like I do) go ahead and find yourself a copy!  I could read it all the way through, it wasn't so bad that I had to quit.  And there is endless mocking material between these covers!  A fun time.  After all -- Bam!  Wow!  Zowie!  It was the 80s and we all know that was an awesome time! :D

VERDICT:  2.5/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Journey to the Past

Published:  January 1st, 2014
Timebound (The Chronos Files #1)
By: Rysa Walker
ISBN-13:  9781477848159

When Kate-Pierce Keller's grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional.  But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate's present-day life.  Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and Kate's genetic ability to time-travel makes her the only one who can stop him.  Risking everything, she travels to the Chicago World's Fair to try to prevent the killing and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost, however -- if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence.  And regardless of her motives, does she have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?


     I am one of those people who are kind of obsessed with the possibility of time travel and I absolutely love reading books about it!  After reading Timebound, I am still trying to figure out how to make my brain comprehend everything!  So many things can go wrong with a time travel book, but this one managed to weave all the threads of plot, the people and the action together in a way that was plausible and exciting.  Not to mention, this is the first book in a really long time that managed to capture me so much that I sat down, and basically finished it in one sitting!  Another thing that was impressive to me is that it's a debut novel.  I cannot wait to see what Rysa Walker does in her future books with this universe that she's created!
     We are introduced to Kate Pierce-Keller at the beginning of the book, who splits her time between living with her Dad and her Mom.  It's a mostly amicable divorced relationship and Kate gets along decently with both of her parents.  Introduce her estranged maternal Grandmother, also Katherine, to the situation and things start to get tense.  See, Mom thinks Grandma is a little bit crazy.  When she tells Kate that she's inherited the time travel gene and is needed to fix things that have gone wrong in the timeline, Kate thinks her Mom might be right.  Then Kate experiences a major shift in her reality, which causes her Mom to disappear from existence, her Dad to be across the country and married to someone else, and she herself doesn't exist either.  It turns out her Grandmother was born in the future, and time travelled as a historian.  But, Saul, the man she travelled with (who became Kate's Grandfather) wanted to use time for his own gains and began to change things.  Kate's Grandma is now training her to fix the timeline, back to the way it was before Saul began creating his own religion, and setting himself up to be a false prophet throughout history.  With the help of Katherine, Connor (her assistant), and Trey (a guy she meets along the way), it's up to Kate to pinpoint when exactly everything changed...and turn it back, before it's too late.
     So...yeah.  Everyone in this book has a reason for wanting the timeline to go back to the way it originally was.  Kate wants her Mom and Dad back, Katherine's assistant Connor wants his kids back because they disappeared during a timeline shift, Kate's best friend is now part of Saul's religious cult in this alternate timeline and if they don't outwit Saul her missing Aunt Prudence may never be found.  But then there are some cons to changing things back as well: Kate's newfound love Trey won't remember her or their time together, because they never would have met in the original timeline.  Kate's Dad is happily married with children in this new timeline, which also won't happen if they change things back.  Also, Aunt Prudence just happens to be working with Saul to destroy the universe as they know it - so she's a little bit beyond saving.  I loved the chunk of time that the narrative spends with Kate in the past, at the Chicago World's Fair.  It explains how she meets Kiernan (the mysterious guy another one of her selves in another timeline has a relationship with - he also happens to be Connor's ancestor), shows her interacting with her much younger, time-travelling Grandmother Katherine, and also gives us a subplot involving a historically real serial killer of the time.  It also allows us to meet Prudence, who is slightly crazy and happens to want Kiernan for herself.  Oh, the drama! :)
     Also, Walker gives some great worldbuilding in regards to the explanation for the Chronos gene, the rules of time travel and the reasons why things work or don't work.  I got a pretty clear understanding of what was possible and what wasn't.  It was also truly wonderful having a main character that didn't spend half of the book arguing that none of it was possible, she didn't want to save the world, blah, blah, blah!  I understand that it might have been more realistic, but I am so sick of the "poor me" schtick in YA books.  For once I was just happy to have a heroine kick-ass enough to willingly and easily take on the challenge.  She's not perfect and does do stupid things, like seeking out her Dad once she finds out she doesn't exist anymore.  But Kate is karate trained, willing to make a difference, has close friends and family, and doesn't mind fighting for what she wants.  Such a change - a welcome one!  The twists and turns of the plot, and how everyone was connected to each other were fresh and unique.  I enjoyed reading this and I'm not going to say anymore to avoid any really large spoilers, but some serious shit goes down at the World's Fair and it ends on a pretty big cliffhanger!  As the first series I have been truly excited for in a LONG time, I highly recommend it.  I cannot WAIT to read the next one!

VERDICT:  4.5/5 Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bite Sized Reviews: Emily and the Strangers #1

Expected Publication: May 27th, 2014
Emily and the Strangers #1
By: Mariah Huehner, Rob Reger, & Emily Ivie
Dark Horse Comics

In order to win a legendary haunted guitar, Emily is determined to create the most rockin' song the world has ever known!

But can she do it solo?

Emily isn't known well for playing with others, but she's going have to rely on the help of some strangers if she's going to succeed on her musical journey to the true heart of rock 'n' roll!


     I hadn't read an Emily the Strange comic in years, since The Lost Days circa 2009, to be precise about it.  I think what used to appeal to me the most about Emily and her world were two things: she was an outsider like me, and man was that chick mired in Gothic stuff!  I absolutely loved her cats, her laboratory, all the crazy inventions and the sense of a mystery solved at the end of that particular story.  I guess I outgrew this particular character, which makes me sort of sad.  But there were some things I just couldn't deal with in this particular story.
     Since when was being an outcast synonymous with being a complete jerk to everyone else?  Also, the way the story played out with the haunted guitar was extremely trite.  If you're going to make Emily a unique character who "doesn't play well with others," don't entirely bomb that premise by inserting some lame, after-school-special lesson about the value of working with others.  Her working with the other kids to form a band just didn't ring true to her character as portrayed thus far.  And the slang and made-up words got on my nerves after awhile too.  I would recommend this to my teenage self, but my adult self says no dice.  It was cute, a decently drawn comic, but definitely not my thing anymore.

VERDICT:  2/5  Stars

*I received this book from Dark Horse Comics, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication is May 27th, 2014.*

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Plague On Both Your Houses

Published:  February 4th, 2014
Prince Of Shadows
By: Rachel Caine
ISBN-13:  9780451414410

In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power.  The boys are born to fight and die for honor and -- if they survive -- marry for influence and money, not love.  The girls are assets, to be spent wisely.  Their wishes are of no import.  Their fates are written on the day they are born.

Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this.  He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives in him.  At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona -- and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet.  In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona...

...And will rewrite all their fates, forever.


     Retellings are something that I love to try, because I hate to see a good story end.  As a younger person I was NOT a fan of Romeo + Juliet, thinking that they were beyond stupid and I couldn't understand why people romanticized their story.  But as an adult I look at them and think, "Those poor, stupid teenagers.  That's not what love is and they never had a chance to figure that out."  I was intrigued when I learned that Rachel Caine, whose Morganville Vampire series I happen to love, was writing a R&J retelling from Benvolio's point of view I was excited.  I am definitely happy that I gave it a chance!  In this book, set months before the events of the infamous Shakespeare play, Benvolio is chafing at the bit of family responsibility.  His rebellion is to be the greatest thief Verona has ever known, the Prince of Shadows, and humilate all of his enemies.  One night, he decides to attempt a truly deadly theft and steal from Tybalt Capulet.  While in the Capulet household, Benvolio is seen by Rosaline and the interaction between the two promises that things will never again be the same.  Then Benvolio's domineering Grandmother orders him to retrieve Romeo's love letters to Rosaline, and stop his infatuation.  All this while Benvolio is trying to hide Mercutio's love affair with another man from everyone, for fear of his friend being put to death.  When everything comes crashing down around them, will both Montagues and Capulets be cursed beyond redemption?  Or will Benvolio and Rosaline be able to bring themselves out of destruction and start over again?
     The majority of this book was set before the events of the original play, which in and of itself was different than the majority of retellings.  Most of them seem to be set during and in the aftermath.  But this book chose to give readers a backstory and some reasoning for the whole disastrous sequence of events.  I love Benvolio as a narrator!  It was wonderful to get his side of the story, since in the play he's basically just Romeo's right-hand man.  I also liked seeing Rosaline as more than just a mere mention and learning a bit more of who she actually was.  In this version, she is strong, feisty and makes up her own mind.  But she is also a practical realist.  Rosaline just wants to go to the convent and be away from the whole mess between the Capulets and Montagues - and away from her brother Tybalt's rage and heavy hand.  Probably my absolute favorite thing about this retelling though, was the focus on Mercutio, his story and the reasons for his behavior, etc.  I loved the relationship between him, Romeo and Benvolio (both of whom are keeping Mercutio's secrets).  They has some great quips and banter going on, and the scenes with Romeo and Mercutio creating drunken diversions for Benvolio's thieving were hilarious.  
     I think the only thing that seemed abrupt and out of place were the random inclusions of Shakespeare's dialogue, sometimes slightly butchered, and the inclusion of witchcraft and curses.  The book has a decidedly modern feel to it, and though witchcraft was often in Shakespeare's plays and it was a plausible explanation for the whole mess, it still felt kind of odd and out of place in this particular book.  Overall though, this was definitely a great read for fans of R&J, but not necessarily the actual characters of Romeo and Juliet.  They are both shown to be what they were in this book: thoughtless, dreamy children with a penchant for leaping before they looked.  I would recommend this one though.  It was definitely worth my time.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Friday, May 2, 2014

Letters Say It So Much Better

Published: April 15th, 2014
To All The Boys I've Loved Before (To All The Boys I've Loved Before #1)
By: Jenny Han
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9781442426702

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them...all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her.  They aren't love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she's written.  One for every boy she's ever loved - five in all.  When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only.  

Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control.


     Lara Jean Song is living with her older sister Margot, younger sister Kitty and their widower father, working with her sisters to minimize their Dad's worries and keep the household running smoothly since their Mother's death.  But now things are changing, with Margot going away to college in a foreign country, and breaking up with her perfect, boy-next-door boyfriend, Josh.  Of course this only causes Lara Jean's long suppressed feelings to come to the surface, threatening to ruin her friendship with Josh.  Adding to the nightmare, Lara Jean's personal and for her eyes only love letters end up being mailed to the respective boys she happened to write them for.  One of the gets to Josh and she tries to shrug it off - when that doesn't work, Lara Jean enlists her semi-ex boyfriend Peter to help her make Josh forget the whole situation.  And by pretending to be her boyfriend, Peter can make the girl that dumped him jealous.  Can Lara Jean forget Josh herself though?  And what can she do when feelings she thought long since lost, for Peter, begin to get in the way as well?  Also, what about Margot?
     I feel like I was expecting Lara Jean to have a crazy showdown of all her ex-loves/boyfriends.  They would all get the letters, and come to find Lara Jean looking for answers.  That, or Lara Jean would have to go on some sort of adventure to collect the letters from the unintended recipients.  I have to say that I was REALLY disappointed.  Lara Jean basically spends a couple hours worrying about the missing hatbox full of letters (you'd think she's be more upset, with even just the hatbox itself having been from her dead Mom), then seeming blase about it when she gives up.  Then when Peter approaches her at school about the letter she "sent" him, Lara Jean is WAY too calm and collected about it!  Any normal teenager would be so humiliated to see someone reading their personal thoughts, when they were never intended to have access to them.  Even as an adult a situation like that would mortify me!  Instead of focusing on this, the letters basically disappear from the plot, and Jenny Han decides to focus on a love triangle between Lara, her sister Margo's ex-boyfriend Josh, and slightly creepy, opportunistic Peter.  
     This whole book is about Lara trying to convince Josh she is with Peter, so she doesn't give in to temptation and betray her sister by hooking up with him.  But then Lara starts to feel things for Peter too!  Overall, the characters were extremely weak, the plot was nothing like what I expected and just about the only thing I liked was the relationship between the sisters.  And even that was tainted by Lara Jean's obsession with her "true lurve" for her sister's boyfriend.  That is such a blight against the girl code it isn't even funny.  Also, the cliffhanger was such a cop-out.  This didn't need to be a series, and I feel like it only is to make more money.  Nothing was resolved and I feel like I wasted my time.  Also, I constantly wanted to slap Lara Jean across the face.  It was like reading about the antics of an annoying ten year old, instead of a teenaged girl.  So naieve and priveleged I just couldn't connect or relate at all.  So disappointed in this Jenny Han books, especially after loving "The Summer I Turned Pretty."  I definitely don't recommend this one.  It only gets as many stars as it does because of the sisters and the fact that I finished it.  I'm being generous.

VERDICT:  1.5/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is April 15th, 2014.*