Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Jane, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, by April Lindner (NY: Little, Brown, 2010). [Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher to a librarian friend.]

Jane closely follows the plot of the original with modern tweaks, so the main character, Jane, has to take a job as a nanny to a rich man's daughter. Here the rich man is a famous broody and reclusive rock star named Nico Rathburn who is trying to regain some of his former glory. Jane is 18 and he's 36, and therein lies most of my problem with this novel. The age difference is just too vast and Nico comes off as creepy and stalkerish in his attention to Jane as well as the deceit he employs to test her. Their sexual relationship is much more prominently featured here than in the original, of course, and there, too, the impression is more creepy than romantic. If one can overlook the age difference, which admittedly is the same as in the original, then the novel is enjoyable enough and the contemporary additions and explanations for the original plot are fun to observe. Fine for ages 14 & up.

Strings Attached

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell (NY: Scholastic, 2011).

Blundell has a gift for richly evocative, historical fiction, as witnessed in her previous novel, What I Saw and How I Lied, and moreso in her latest effort, Strings Attached, set in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The protagonist here is a young dancer named Kit Corrigan who has recently broken up with her violently jealous boyfriend Billy Benedict, quit high school, and left her family and home in Providence, Rhode Island, to pursue her dream of fame and fortune on Broadway in New York City.

Kit scrapes by at first, finding a bit part and sleeping on a fellow dancer's couch, but she knows she needs something more. She happens to meet Billy's father, Nate Benedict, a lawyer with rumored mob ties, who says he can help her out with an apartment and a lead on a dancing gig, if she'll help him get back in touch with Billy, who has enlisted in the army and refuses to talk to Nate. Kit agrees, lands the gig, and writes to Billy, telling him where to find her if he wants to rekindle their romance. Meanwhile, Nate occasionally asks Kit to do other small favors at the club where she works and gifts her with lovely clothes. Initially Kit has no problem with the arrangement, but once a dead mobster, someone whom Nate had asked Kit to watch, turns up at the club, Kit wants out.

This is an excellent historical novel, well plotted and dense with authentic period detail. Kit's relationships with her family as well as with Billy and Nate are realistically drawn and highly satisfying, while Kit herself is an engaging protagonist caught in a web of deceit that she can't quite see until it's almost too late. Highly recommended for ages 13 & up. Mild language, sexual & intense situations.


Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton (NY: HarperCollins, 2011).

Ellie leads a carefree, privileged life in suburban Detroit until she starts having horrifying nightmares of brutal, dark creatures whom she must fight off with her magical, flame-spouting Khopesh blades. She's sure the dreams reflect nothing more than the stress of the start of her senior year in high school until she meets Will, who claims to be her Guardian, and the nightmares enter her waking world. During their training sessions, Will slowly reveals her role as something called a preliator who can kill these dark creatures, called reapers, that kill humans and carry their souls to hell so they can fight in Lucifer's army at the Apocalypse. Ellie resists her destiny, but ultimately has to believe that she must fight for humanity--and for her own mortal soul when an evil being named Bastion plots to kill her with the newly rediscovered Enoshi--the ultimate reaper.

On the plus side, Moulton has crafted a novel that's full of nonstop action as the brutish reapers pop up all the time and Ellie has to battle them. Blood, guts, gore, bashed cars, destroyed buildings, and shredded clothing regularly embellish the plot. Also, the romance between Ellie and Will develops as naturally and pleasantly as the monster killing allows. On the minus side, the angel mythology is unnecessarily complicated and difficult to follow with far too many levels of hierarchy given in more detail than necessary, and then ultimately altered with new developments. Ellie comes off as pretty dense for whatever she is--archangel? ninja monster destroyer? fire-summoning, blade-wielding killer? spoiled rich girl? Her mother and father are little more than types--distant and unobservant, though kind and caring mom, and emotionally abusive, workaholic dad (who has "changed"--though this is never explained but obviously something that will become pivotal in the next installment).

Not a bad read, but not overwhelmingly awesome. Recommended for ages 14 & up (though younger readers will no doubt find and enjoy it) due to violence, sexual situations, language, and alcohol/drugs.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Lipstick Laws

The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011); reviewed from Kindle ARC supplied by publisher via netgalley.com.

April Bowers can't believe her good luck in gym class (of all places) on the first day of her sophomore year. She gets paired with queen bee of the mean girl clique, Britney Taylor, and not only manages to avoid humiliating herself, but loans Britney a lip gloss and gets invited to sit with her crew at lunch. For a nobody like April, this is quite a coup. Even better, she gains entrance to the inner circle, though she has to squelch some of her misgivings about participating in such mean games a "Rank a Skank." That's just one of Britney's rude tactics and evil machinations, not to mention Britney's laughable stupidity (the nincompoopisms that spout from Britney's glossy lips are frequently hilarious). But April overlooks everything, just for the chance to be popular. Ultimately, April earns the honor of an official invitation to join Britney's clique--provided she's willing to sign her allegiance to "The Lipstick Laws," a set of tenets designed to ensure Britney's stranglehold on her friends' actions while boosting her own social standing. The laws are actually quite clever for such a brainless character. April signs on, despite a dire warning from her former best friend Haley (who moved away), and has to face Britney's wrath when she accidentally breaks one of the rules. Social destitution naturally follows, but April finds a way to wreak vengeance. But is it worth it? Or is April morphing into a mean girl herself?

April Bowers is a fabulous, funny, witty character who will engage readers and evoke empathy. Who hasn't wanted to be popular? Or harpoon the queen meanie? April makes some heady realizations through the course of this novel, and while she doesn't get THE guy at the end, she learns that maybe appearances aren't everything.

Excellent read for ages 13 & up, though there are sexual situations and language.


Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (NY: HarperTeen, 2011).

Clara Gardner's mother has already told her that Clara is one-quarter angel blood, but she's still awestruck by the intensity of the visions when they start: a boy, the orange cast of a fire-lightened sky, the choking smoke and searing heat, the tragic sadness pressing on her heart. Her half-angel mother tells Clara she's seeing her purpose, her reason for existing. As Clara sees more, the information leads her family to move from their home in California to a new place near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Clara immediately sees the boy, named Christian of all things, from her vision at her new high school. While she's drawn to him and knows she must fulfill her role in his life, she's also becoming friends with the brother of her friend Wendy.

Unearthly is an excellent read on all levels. The angel lore is intriguing and propels the plot, but the romance and conflict make the story truly compelling. Clara is a realistic teen who happens to be part angel, unlike some of the other angel fiction so popular right now where angel gimmicks dominate the plot, making the characters take a back seat and overshadowing the human drama. Family and friends play a natural role in this novel, and Clara's relationships with her mother and brother are particularly well drawn. Highly recommended for teens, ages 13 & up. Some intense situations.

Invasion (A C.H.A.O.S. Novel)

Invasion (A C.H.A.O.S. Novel) by Jon S. Lewis (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011).

The top-secret CHAOS agency exists to protect the world from alien invaders who are, apparently, on the brink of taking over the earth. But 16-year-old Colt knows nothing about the agency, despite deep family connections, when he visits a military-style academy for testing. A drug-induced amnesia keeps him in the dark, too. Then his parents are killed, he has to go live with his grandfather in Arizona, and he's suddenly thrust into dangerous situations involving shape-shifting monsters, flying vehicles, and biochip-controlled assassins! He overhears a conversation that makes him believe his parents' deaths weren't an accident after all and are, in fact, related to his mother's investigation of Trident Biotech. Mysterious messages and a clandestine meeting with a Trident scientist cement Colt's commitment to uncover the truth behind his parents' accident at the same time as he's learning that some of his comic-book heroes and situations might actually be real. With the help of his cousin Dani and new, yet strangely familiar, friend Oz, Colt unravels some secrets and attempts to foil sinister forces intent on destroying the earth.

This is an awesome read for tweens and teens, especially fans of the Maximum Ride series. Lots of cool technogadgets and futuristic machines plus nonstop action make this a super page-turner that will have kids begging for the next installment. Highly recommended for ages 11 & up.

Rules for Secret Keeping

Rules for Secret Keeping by Lauren Barnholdt (NY: Aladdin, 2010).

Samantha Carmichael's secret-passing business has earned her a nomination for tween entrepreneur from a top tween magazine, You Girl, and she's stoked for the bigger client base she's sure to find in seventh grade. Then competition rears its ugly head in the form of a rival e-business that makes Samantha consider revamping her paper-based business plan, until she hears that Olivia is actually reading people's secrets! On top of that, Samantha is dealing with new friends Emma and Charlie who are bit snarkier than she's comfortable with, her old best friends Daphne, who's a bit jealous of Emma & Charlie, and Jake, for whom Samantha has developed different feelings now.

This novel has all the ingredients for a great tween read. There's enough drama, romance, and snark to keep the pages flying and the laughs bubbling up. No sex, language, violence. Recommended for ages 10 and up.