Saturday, May 26, 2012

REVIEW: Bewitching by Alex Flinn

Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre: Supernatural Fantasy/Romance/Historical
Audience: Young Adult

Summary:  In this spin-off of Beastly, Kendra the witch tells her own tales including how she discovered she was a witch in the plague year of 1666, survived the Titanic, and has helped poor souls across the centuries of her life.  The latest of her "poor" souls is Emma, a plain, but beautiful within stepsister who just need to "get out from under herself." In addition, interwoven within the whole book are the tales of Cinderella, The little Mermaid, and The Princess and the Pea.

Lucinda's Views:   This book was a quick, enjoyable, light summer read.  Kendra is a sympathetic character, who somehow even makes cursing someone seem like the "thing" to do.  One can understand her need to "help" these poor souls as she comes across them.  However, her "help" has mixed results, but somehow things always seem to be set right in the end.  If you enjoy fairy tales, supernatural tales or teen romance...this is the book for you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

GUEST REVIEW: How to Ruin Your Boyfriend's Reputation by Simone Elkeles

Allison, our teen and adult programmer here at BCPL, is back with another guest review! This time, she's taking on one of Simone Elkeles's How to Ruin titles. I loved the first book in Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry trilogy (for me, the second two were disappointing) and enjoyed both of the Paradise books, so it looks like I have yet another series to add to my ever-growing TBR list.  –Tracy

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Chick Lit
Series: How to Ruin #3
Audience: Young Adult/Teen

Summary: Signing up for an overseas summer boot camp program where her hot and sexy boyfriend Avi is stationed might not have been Amy’s greatest idea—especially when she finds out that Avi is keeping a secret that could tear their relationship apart.

Allison's Guest Review: 
Only in the last year have I become acquainted with the writings of Simone Elkeles. This book is true to her form in that she finds a way to bring the reader a tale of a teenage girl coming into her own. Amy is a well-developed character, and the reader is given early insight into her inner turmoil. She is a confident, strong, and determined young lady who decides to attend a summer boot camp in order to see her boyfriend, Avi.  Amy thinks that she will spend time with Avi when she gets there, only to find out that her expectations are false. She is forced to get dirty, which is not on her list of favorite things to do. Through Elkeles use of bits of humor, we are able to watch as Amy faces and ultimately conquers her struggles-and see her emerge as a different person.

Well-written, excellent plot development, great storyline.  What more could you ask for?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

DUAL REVIEW: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Lucinda's Rating: 2/5 Stars (DNF)
Tracy's Rating: 2/5 Stars
Erotic Romance
Adult (Mature)

College student Anastasia Steele is just filling in for her friend and roommate when she meets and interviews powerful businessman Christian Grey, and it turns out to be a highly awkward and embarrassing experience. But when Christian seeks her out on her home turf then warns her away, Ana can't help but be intrigued by the undeniable attraction they share. Soon, Ana learns that any relationship with Christian will be far different from her expectations, as he has a taste for bondage, dominance, and punishment—and Ana must decide if she can be the submissive he needs.

First Line:
"I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror."

Lucinda's Views: 

I tried my best to read this, having been urged on to finish it by several of the library staff, but I couldn't. I don't know if it was the wooden characters or the stalkerish behavior of the main characters that turned me off of this book, but try as I might I could not bring myself to finish the book. It did start off with an interesting, if done before plot and I was at first intrigued by this groundbreaking offering of erotica by a major publishing house. Things seemed to go downhill in subsequent chapters, however. The characters never seemed to develop any depth and I just couldn't deal with Ana's whining. All I can say is that I just lost interest. I was trying to read the Hunger Games Trilogy simultaneously and this offering just didn't compete.

Tracy's Thoughts: 

Like Lucinda, I had several enthusiastic co-workers urging me to read this book. About a third of the way in I was ready to throw in the towel, but I stuck with it. And while I can't say I loved it, I didn't hate it either. At least, I didn't dislike it any more than I did the Twilight series (but more on that later).

EL James is the first to admit that she isn't a great writer, but her prose is... competent, if sometimes a bit robotic. She clearly has a fondness for certain words—many of them starting with the letter "P"—and I actually made a game out of spotting her frequent variations of the words purse, pout, and petulant. (These recurring word choices probably didn't help Lucinda's impression of Ana as an annoying whiner either.) What really captured me and kept me reading was the e-mail exchanges between Ana and Christian that begin midway through the book. This is the only time that the characters seem to come alive. In their e-mail conversations, they are playful, challenging, even funny. I especially loved the humor Christian showed in changing his e-mail signature to reflect their ongoing conversation. They have a personality in their e-mails—Christian particularly—that just doesn't come out in their face-to-face exchanges or in Ana's inner monologues.

Speaking of inner monologues... I got really tired of Ana's conversations with her "inner goddess" and her subconscious. It began to sound like Ana has a split personality, especially in a few really strange moments when she describes her subconscious/inner goddess/whatever as "hiding behind the couch." Not to mention how just plain WRONG it is for Ana to be observing and communicating with her subconscious, which is supposed to be, um, subconscious. As in, something she is unaware of. But whatever. As I said, EL James has no pretensions about being an accomplished writer.

As Lucinda points out, there is actually  potential for a really good story here. Christian and Ana love each other (for whatever reason), but they have a real conflict in their lifestyles and expectations. I would have loved to see more about how they deal with that conflict, or how sometimes people can love each other but be basically incompatible. Unfortunately, James goes more for the Twilight plot treatment, much of it focused on Bella Ana's inner angst and confusion. (Which isn't so surprising, considering the novel originated as a piece of Twilight  fan fiction). Here are just a few of the Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey parallels that struck me as I was reading:
  • Enigmatic, adopted hero with unpredictable mood swings? Check. (Well, unpredictable for the heroine anyway).
  • Self-esteem challenged heroine who mysteriously attracts every male within a mile radius? Check. 
  • Heroine parental issues, including a supposedly "scattered" mother and conversationally challenged father figure? Check.
  • Lots of immediate, internal obsessing on the part of the heroine over the hero? Check.
  • "Overprotective" hero that tracks down the heroine in unexpected places (i.e., behaves like a stalker) and is "concerned" over the heroine's means of transportation? Check.
And there are more similarities where that came from. Of course, Christian's deep, dark secret isn't vampirism. It is his BSDM lifestyle (along with whatever traumatic childhood event "caused" it). But believe it or not, this book wasn't nearly as explicit as I was led to expect. For the most part, it was more unsettling (at least in the scenes where Ana herself was most uncomfortable) than sexy. Of course, the subject matter is for mature readers only, but the language used to describe Christian and Ana's encounters is almost restrained, even clinical at times. At least it wasn't as shocking to me as a some of the scenes from True Blood!

So, for me this book was a mixed bag, with untapped potential. But the e-mails and questions about Christian's history still have me slightly intrigued. I have books two and three of the trilogy at home and am determined to give them a fair shot. (One co-worker told me not to judge by the first book, promising that the plot deepens as the saga progresses.)

A few questions for you:
For those of you who've read this book (and we KNOW some of you have!), what did you think? Are we being too harsh?

Just for fun, have you seen the police sketch of Christian Grey on The Composites on tumblr? What do you think? Does the sketch capture Christian as you imagined him?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

REVIEW: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Science Fiction/Fairy Tale
Audience: Young Adult

Summary: This is the story of Cinderella, but with a twist.  Cinderella is "Cinder" a cyborg who is a gifted mechanic and citizen of New Beijing.  As her world suddenly changes, Cinder becomes involved with intergalactic politics, a handsome prince, and some surprising news about her heritage the could change the world as she and everyone around her knows it.

Lucinda's Views:  As one of many fairy tale variants available on today's shelves, I must say this has been one of the most enjoyable to read.  I found the story to be engaging, well-written and just "twisted" enough to be a thoroughly new experience.  Cinder as a cyborg and the issues that are raised about how "human" could a cyborg or even an android be give one food for thought. Also the premise that a fairy tale heroine could be anything but a Disney look-alike just really tickles the heck out of me.  So if you like your heroines sassy, a bit rough around the edges, and in no way stereotypical, check out this book!

P.S. there is also a prequel to this story (no spoilers present).  It is called Glitches and be found here.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

REVIEW: Lost & Found by Shaun Tan

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre:  Picture Book, Short Stories
Audience: All Ages (9 and up)

Summary: Three (very) short stories, each beautifully illustrated, are collected in this fantastical volume. The first two stories, "The Red Tree" and "The Lost Thing," were written by Tan while the third, "The Rabbits," was written by his fellow Aussie, John Marsden (Tomorrow When the War Began). Each story deals with varying themes of emotional disconnection and physical displacement.

First Line: "Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to..." (from "The Red Tree")

Tracy's Thoughts:
The key to all three of these stories lies in Tan's moody, evocative paintings. The paintings are immensely detailed and often offer hidden treasures to observant readers. Some of the images are truly stunning, especially juxtaposed with the simple, lyrical text. In my favorite story, "The Red Tree," a young girl wakes up and moves though her not-very-good day, her feelings shifting from disappointment to alienation and depression. And yet all along, there are tiny glimpses of hope to find in Tan's artwork. "The Lost Thing" is a more upbeat tale of a boy who discovers a strange, lost creature in a chaotic and highly industrialized world. Both of these stories feel very intimate, but the final story has a wider scope. It is both an allegory about imperialism—specifically the invasion of Europeans in North America and Australia—and also touches on environmental concerns. Both of Tan's stories feel more personal—and, for me, more powerful—but each of the three stories calls to the reader's imagination and is strong enough to stand alone.

You might also be interested to learn that Tan adapted the second story in this volume into an Oscar-winning animated short. Here's a peek at the trailer:

Friday, May 11, 2012

REVIEW: Bones by Steve Jenkins

Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: All Ages
Genre: Nonfiction

Summary: In this offering from Caldecott winner Steve Jenkins, children of all ages can see in-depth the bones of both human and various animal skeletons.  Fold out pages and large illustrations fill the pages of this well-done non-fiction book for all.

Lucinda's Views:  With its detailed cut-paper illustrations of both human and animal bones, this book allows kids-of-all ages to compare their own bones with that of various other animals.  Many bones in this book are actual size and the cut paper illustrations are fascinating in a macabre way.  The text offers simply yet direct explanations of anatomy and physiology in a manner that most will easily understand.  On the whole, a very enjoyable, fascinating read.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

REVIEW: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Genre:  Biography
Audience: Older Teen/Adult

Summary: Four years after the sudden death of her mother from a highly aggressive cancer, Cheryl Strayed made a decision that would change her crumbling life. She decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the Western equivalent of the Appalachian Trail. Her rigorous 1,000 plus mile hike would change her life in ways that she little expected.  This book is the story of her hike and its ultimate alteration of her very being.

Lucinda's Views: I admit that I picked this up after having read about it in a fashion magazine. (Gasp)
But I was intrigued nevertheless.  This account of hiking the PCT and all its many dangers, hazards, and beauties almost had me convinced to go out and buy a backpack to start training for the Appalachian Trail.  (Anyone who knows me knows that that is so not my idea of fun.)  With well written, descriptive prose that draws you in and allows you a vision of a woman whose life is just beyond her control, Cheryl's hike is truly a test of courage, strength, and true grit that makes an enjoyable and motivating read.....(I was looking at hiking boots today....)
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