Book Review: Forgotten by Cat Patrick

ForgottenForgotten by Cat Patrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book source: ARC from publisher, by request

He’s not in my memory, which means he’s not in my future.

Every morning, London Lane wakes up with no memory of the day before. Or of any day before. Every night, she writes herself a note to prepare for the next day, because while her past is forgotten, she has memories of the future. It’s confusing, but she has learned to live with it. when she starts having some very dark memories, though, she begins to wonder both about her past and whether she can change her future.

Romance, mystery, and psychological thriller come together in this original tale, which has a paranormal feeling to it despite the lack of any actual otherworldly creatures. The details of London’s condition are revealed very slowly over the course of the first few chapters, with more background coming much later. London is a likeable character, striving to do the right thing (especially in light of her unusual knowledge) without becoming too goody-goody. Underdeveloped secondary characters and an abrupt conclusion are weak points, but the plot is engrossing, and Patrick’s smooth writing style aids the momentum through some sharp turns. Best not to question the details too much; just enjoy the ride.

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Book Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

ChimeChime by Franny Billingsley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Source: ARC giveaway via GoodReads

There are several kinds of silence. There’s the silence of being alone, which I like well enough. Then there’s the silence of one’s father. The silence when you have nothing to say and he has nothing to say. The silence between you after investigation of your stepmother’s death.

Briony Larkin has a secret, a secret she must never tell. Because of her secret, her twin sister was injured, her stepmother is dead, and if she tells her secret, Briony will be dead, too, hanged as a witch by the people of the Swampsea. So, she keeps quiet, keeping to herself in a town where she feels like an outsider despite having lived there all her life. It takes a newcomer to the Swampsea, handsome, cosmopolitan Eldric, to uncover secrets even Briony never knew she was keeping.

After reading rave reviews of Chime all over the place, I was a little nervous. What if it didn’t live up to the hype? I needn’t have worried. Briony is clever and self-deprecating, and her humor shines in the first-person narration. The setting is a rural village in early twentieth-century England, but an England in which the Old Ones are known to be present. In the dark swampland, mysterious creatures threaten humans who venture too far. In the village itself, there are brownies and Dark Muses. Most of the creatures remain unseen to those without the Second Sight. Briony can see them and wishes she could not, because she knows that it means she is a witch.

Briony knows many things, but as the reader learns, not all of them are true. She is a wonderfully developed unreliable narratorm and her distinctive voice is a pleasure to read. It is easy to be swept right up into the world of Chime. Billingsley blends fantasy and magic with the almost-magic real technological advances of the turn of the (twentieth) century, along with elements of mystery and romance. Recommend to fantasy lovers looking for something new and different.

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Book Review: Nerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus by Alan Sitomer

Nerd Girls: The Rise of the DorkasaurusNerd Girls: The Rise of the Dorkasaurus by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I have a 3.73 grade point average and my body looks like a baked potato. My eyes are brown, my hair is brown, and sometimes when I snack on too many fig bars and run real fast in PE, I end up with brown streaks in my underpants, too. I’m not just un-cool; I’m anti-cool. I mean, I even know hot to properly use a semicolon in a sentence. What could be more pathetic than that?

With that opening paragraph, Sitomer immediately pulled me in to Maureen’s story, and then just as quickly pushed me back out. I hate to grammar nit-pick, but splitting an infinitive in a self-congratulatory comment about the proper use of punctuation is just unfortunate.

Unfortunate is a good word for Maureen. Her two best friends both moved away over the summer, so she is left alone facing the trio of eighth-grade bullies known as “the ThreePees” (for Pretty, Popular, and Perfect). She tries to stop them from tormenting Alice, a new student who happens to be allergic to every substance known to man, but they retaliate by uploading a humiliating video of her to YouTube. Her own older brother and younger sister think they whole thing is hilarious, and her mother is the sort of unrelentingly positive thinker who simply refuses to deal with the problems right in front of her. Nearly against her will, she bands together with Alice and another class outcast known as Beanpole Barbara to get back at the ThreePees by beating them in the school talent show. Now, if only they actually had a talent….

Nerd Girls is reminiscent of Benton’s Dear Dumb Diary series, minus the illustrations. The characters and situations in this book feel about as realistic as an episode of Glee. Both teachers and students are caricatures, and convenient twists occur that simply could not happen in real life. The dialogue rushes headlong past “witty banter”, with characters uttering lines that sound like they should be accompanied by a laugh track. Barbara and Sophia, especially, get stuck with the comic relief roles. Plot points come pell-mell, with little to no foreshadowing or subtlety. The big secret that Alice is hiding is revealed in an info-dump late in the book, and, oddly, still does not explain something that seemed like it should have been a big clue. Perhaps it will be explained in a later installment in the series, if readers still care enough about the flat characters to read them.

On shelves July 2011

Book Source: e-ARC via NetGalley

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Book Review: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

The Goddess Test (Goddess Test, #1)The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spent my eighteenth birthday driving from New York City to Eden, Michigan, so my mother could die in the town where she was born.

Four years ago, Kate’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. Sure that the end is now near, she has insisted on moving back to her tiny (so tiny, it’s not even on the map Kate uses to get there) hometown in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She also insists Kate finish high school; Kate’s plan is to just keep her head down and spend as much time with her mother as possible. Still, she manages to get on the wrong side of Ava, the Captain of the cheer squad before the first week is out. And then, well, then things get weird.

After Ava dies playing a prank on Kate, a mysterious young man brings her back to life before Kate’s eyes. He claims to be Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and there’s a price to pay for Ava’s life: Kate must spend the next six months with him and face seven tests. He will keep her mother alive while she does. If she passes, she will become a goddess and Henry’s wife, spending six months of every year for eternity in the Underworld. But she is the twelfth girl to face these tests, and the others all died in the process. Can she pass the tests no one else has managed? More importantly, does she want to?

This retelling of the Persephone myth is first and foremost a romance, and readers uncomfortable with the genre may find themselves disappointed. For everyone else, this is a refreshing twist on the paranormal tales that have taken the YA world by storm, with a bit of murder mystery as well. Henry (Hades), in the role of romantic leading man, is dark, brooding, and tortured, and it will take a special leading lady to break through his emotional defenses. Kate – strong and independent, but inexperienced in matters of love and romance – faces tests of her character and moral fiber while falling in love for the first time. And also trying to stay alive long enough to pass those tests.

The book gets off to a bit of a slow and confusing start, with a prologue that provides information to the reader that Kate – the narrator – does not receive until much later. In the early chapters, the pacing is uneven, but once Kate enters Henry’s domain, the story finds its footing. Readers familiar with Greek mythology will figure out the major players (and solve the murder mystery) well before Kate does, but this is a solidly developed and satisfying romance.

Carter’s debut YA novel is the first in a series – volumes two and three are slated for publication in 2012 – and readers will be eager to find out what happens next.

On shelves in April 2011

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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Book Review: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

BumpedBumped by Megan McCafferty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Preparing to pregg is a full-time job with no days off — but I don’t have a choice. Not when there’s so much at stake.

Melody is sixteen years old, and according to the advertising jingle playing on a continuous loop at Babiez R U, she is the most important person on the planet. With just about everyone over the age of 18 rendered infertile by a widespread virus, fertile teenagers willing to bear children as “Surrogettes” have become a hot commodity. Melody’s economist parent shave been preparing her for a lucrative pregnancy contract practically since adopting her as a newborn. Miles away, in a religious community called Goodside, Melody’s identical twin sister has been raised within the Church and groomed to become an obedient wife and mother by her mid-teens. Both girls have their futures mapped out. That is, until Harmony decides to leave Goodside and meet this previously-unknown sister. Her decision will have serious consequences for both of their lives.

McCafferty plunges the reader right into Melody’s world, so the first chapter is disorienting. Melody throws out slang terms and jargon that the reader must decipher. The second chapter is narrated by Harmony, whose sheltered background provides a natural way to reveal important details without drowning the reader in exposition. The perspective alternates between the two characters over subsequent chapters with distinct voices underscoring the differences between the two.

Reminiscent of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Bumped is a fast-paced dystopian novel that distills issues of love, friendship, faith, loyalty, and family to their essence. McCafferty blends drama and humor effortlessly, populating a disconcerting world with refreshingly complicated characters. A cliffhanger ending will have readers clamoring for the sequel.

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request
On shelves April 26, 2011.

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Book Review: Junonia by Kevin Henkes

When I was a brand-new Children’s Librarian, I read Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum, and I fell in love with his picture books. He so perfectly captured the slights – large and small – that can cause a kid so much pain. (The fact that I was teased throughout elementary school for my own name may have had something to do with my particular sympathy for the little mouse.) And the drawings, of course, were adorable. I was thrilled to see that NetGalley had his forthcoming children’s novel on offer as an e-ARC, and I was not disappointed. In fact, my only complaint is that since I don’t have it as a hard copy, I can’t pass it on to my fourth-grade niece to read. I’ll just have to wait for May, I guess.

JunoniaJunonia by Kevin Henkes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alice concentrated entirely on the pelican. The bird was so odd and silly looking, a mysterious, mesmerizing wonder. Alice reached out, pressing her palms flat against the half-opened window. She’d seen pelicans before, every year that she had been here, but when you see something only once a year it’s always new, as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Everything is new here, she thought. New and exciting.

Every year, in early February, the Rice family travels from wintry Wisconsin to the sandy shore of Sanibel Island, Florida. The week coincides with Alice’s birthday, and this year is a big one: 10 years old. Double-digits. Alice looks forward to seeing the same people in the same cottages, doing the same things, as every year before. But this year is different. Mr. and Mrs. Wishmeier are there, but their three grandchildren have too much schoolwork this year and have stayed at home. Single, sophisticated Helen Blair is snowed in back in New York. Mrs. Rice’s college friend – Aunt Kate to Alice – is not staying with them this year. Instead, she has rented Helen Blair’s cottage and is bringing her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s six-year-old daughter, Mallory. All these changes have Alice off-balance, and the more she struggles to preserve her perfect vacation, the more things seem to fall apart around her.

Small illustrations at the beginning of each chapter complement the narrative, and Henkes includes a beautiful drawing of the various Florida shells that Alice collects.

Henkes brings Alice to life in simple, lovely prose. She is a quiet girl, comfortable spending time with adults. She is a girl on the edge of leaving childhood behind. She is caught between embracing the new adventures that changes bring and trying to find a way back to the security of the familiar. She is perfectly ten years old, and her complicated feelings are rendered with great skill. Recommend this sweet, wholesome coming of age story to 3rd to 5th grade.

On shelves May 2011

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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Book Review: This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson

This Girl Is DifferentThis Girl Is Different by JJ Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stranded, hurt, but I can handle it. No freak-outs. No worries. This girl is different.

Three days before the beginning of her Senior year of high school, Evie sprains her ankle hiking along the creek. She refuses to see herself as a damsel in distress, but it still comes as a relief when two local teenagers stumble upon her and help her out. Even better, it turns out that the two teenagers will also be Seniors in a few days, and they’re happy to help Evie get settled in her new school. She’s not exactly new in town, but she has been homeschooled (or, really, “unschooled”) by her mother. With plans to go to Cornell, Evie wants to experience a year of high school before heading off to college.

Once school starts, it isn’t long before Evie’s outspoken nature and commitment to social justice put her at odds with the high school Powers That Be. Her attempts to improve the situation for students, while founded on the best of intentions, risk destroying her new friendships and budding romance. She has always told herself that she is different, but can she stay true to herself and still get through a year in the Institution of School?

Evie’s unique voice is a welcome addition to the YA Lit scene. She is smart, strong, and self-confident, but also vulnerable to the emotional turmoil that comes with being a teenager. Having spent her whole life with her mother and uncle, moving from place to place, following her own interests in solitary study, she is unprepared to deal with the social side of high school. Her outrage at the injustices of school life (Why do the students have gross bathrooms while the faculty have nice, clean ones? Why are the students cooped up inside all day, instead of being allowed in the courtyard during lunch?) and the abuses of power she witnesses ring absolutely true, and her determination to do something about them will have readers cheering her on. Johnson’s debut YA title is a welcome breath of fresh air. Highly recommended.

On shelves April 1, 2011

Book Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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Book Review: She Loves You, She Loves You Not

She Loves You, She Loves You Not...

She Loves You, She Loves You Not… by Julie Anne Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Source: ARC sent from Hachette by request

The physics law works not only on objects but on people. Because of Sarah’s action, her force and thrust on your life, you went flying into space and spinning out of control.

At the beginning of her Junior year of high school, Alyssa thought she had things under control. She got along with her stepmother and her half-brother. She worked hard and got good grades. She was out to her friends Ben and M’Chelle and the other members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and closeted to everyone else, especially her homophobic father. When she met and started dating Sarah, it seemed like everything would be fine if they could just keep their relationship a secret from their families. But secrets have a way of getting out, and now Alyssa has been disowned by her father and sent to stay with the mother she barely knows.

Peters skillfully presents Alyssa’s intense emotions as she processes her anger and grief over her first love. The first-person present-tense narration gives her a compelling voice, bringing the reader into an immediate intimacy. While Alyssa tries to move on in the present, getting to know the mother who left when she was a baby, she recalls the last year in flashbacks. These flashbacks are written in second-person, an odd stylistic choice that unfortunately breaks up the flow of the narrative. That weakness aside, this is an excellent portrayal of first love and first heartbreak that will be familiar to anyone who has lived through it, regardless of orientation. Peters’ new novel is a welcome addition to a growing segment of queer YA literature – stories in which the character’s orientation is not the central issue. Alyssa is already comfortable with her sexuality. The challenges she faces are the more universal problems of growing up: recognizing an idealized parent’s flaws; learning to relate to parents as fellow adults; becoming a person with an identity separate from that of the family. The story of her relationship with Sarah – a romance between young people that is looked upon with disapproval by their families – is a classic tragic tale. Her struggle to move forward and allow herself to fall in love again speaks to anyone who has ever had a broken heart.

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