Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Deliverers: Sharky and the Jewel

The Deliverers: Sharky and the Jewel by Gregory S. Slomba (New Fairfield, CT, 2012). Review copy provided by author.

The accidental death of his father haunts twelve-year-old Eric Scott, and he thinks he's dreaming again when Stig, a talking owl from another world, shows up late one night. Stig wants Eric to help him on a quest to deliver the small seaside town of Calendria from a greedy pirate named Sharky.  Eric agrees, but doubts his qualifications; could he possibly be a hero? Once there, Eric discovers that delivering the town is but one of the problems he'll have to solve. With Stig and new friends Kate and an outcast dwarf named Hallo Tosis, Eric battles for Calendria--and himself!

Slomba delivers an action-packed adventure that's sure to thrill middle grade and younger readers.  Even little ones (I'm thinking first and second graders) will enjoy this tale as a read-aloud because of its magical characters (a talking owl! a conniving pirate!) and wacky humor (like the name of the dwarf) in a fascinating and well-conceived setting. In addition to the quest to save Calendria, Eric struggles to regain own confidence, making this a lovely story of self-discovery as well. Highly recommended for ages 6 to 12.


Torn (Torn Series #1) by Ashley S. Morgan.  Reviewed from e-copy provided by author.

Isidora Rivers feels everything deeply, which helps her acting, but not her life so much. Recklessly riding her bike down the hill to school, she is nearly hit by a car driven by a hot new guy, Tristan Rhodes.  Worse, she's immediately drawn to this broody newcomer who seems to know too much about her.  Plus, he pulls her in one moment and pushes her away the next. What's a girl to do? 

With character names like Tristan and Isadora (so close to Isolde), this novel is obviously playing on the star-crossed, ill-fated love theme.  Tristan's odd familiarity and then the endless flashbacks make the reading sort of self-fulfilling, although there is a twist at the end. This may be enough to keep some readers going. For me the characters were somewhat flat and Morgan relies on telling rather than showing to demonstrate their traits.  Izzy's best friend Sarah seems to exist mainly to relay information about Izzy.  Overall, not a bad read, but not overwhelmingly good either.  Fine for ages 13 & up. Sexual situations, drugs, alcohol, language.

Calico Joe

Calico Joe by John Grisham (NY: Doubleday, 2012). Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Joe Castle was going to save the Cubs from the brink of another lackluster season. Like most boys, eleven-year-old Paul Tracey followed Joe's meteoric rise, watched him smash records every game, and thrilled to each success. He was somewhat ashamed that Joe meant a bit more to him than his own father, Warren Tracey, a pitcher for the Mets, and excitedly looked forward to seeing what would happen when his dad pitched against Joe in an upcoming home game. Little did anyone know that the clash would send vibrations throughout the baseball world, and many lives would be changed forever.

No one spins a tale like John Grisham, and his mastery is apparent in this story of baseball, life, and death. The past and present merge seamlessly as readers follow the rise of Joe Castle (aka Calico Joe because he's from the small town of Calico, Arkansas), Paul's immersion in that career and his sad life as the son of an abusive father, and the ultimate showdown that leads to Paul's estrangement from his father are only half the story, however.  The rest revolves around Paul's desire to bring closure to his dad's horrific deed--for himself, his dying father, and Joe. Baseball fans will enjoy the (fake) baseball history and game details, while the rest is good enough to sustain interest, largely because of Grisham's skills. I love baseball--and I'm a Cubs fan to boot--so this was a good pick for me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Annihilation of Foreverland

The Annihilation of Foreverland by Tony Bertauski (Smashwords, 2011). Review copy provided by author.

The island where thirteen-year-old Danny Boy wakes up should be every boy's dream--a tropical paradise, no parents, lots of other boys around his age, and plenty of time to play video games between visits to the ultimate alternate reality world, Foreverland. They're told that the island is a rehab center, and Foreverland is key to healing their minds before they graduate.They all have sockets embedded in their foreheads for the probe needle that transports them from the torture of the Haystack into Foreverland. But Danny can't seem to remember how he got to the island or much else about his life before he arrived at the island, and he doesn't understand why one of the boys, Reed, resists entering the alternate reality of Foreverland to suffer in a cold wet cell in the Haystack. There's also the question of what happens to boys--and their sponsors--when the Chimney smokes. Then Danny meets a girl who knows Reed in Foreverland and together they unravel the reasons why Foreverland must end.

This science fiction novel is most reminiscent of Ender's Game and has the same creepy overtones of adults manipulating children for their own gain. While the plot is a bit convoluted and some aspects of Foreverland remain nebulous, the gaming and alternate reality aspects will undoubtedly appeal to sci fi fans, especially boys, while the mystery broadens the appeal to all readers. Danny is an engaging character, and Reed's dilemma renders him highly sympathetic. Recommended for ages 13 & up.  Intense and violent situations.

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1) by Robin LaFevers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Reviewed from e-ARC provided by publisher via

Ismae Rienne bears the mark of St. Morain, the god of death, yet her hateful father arranges a marriage for her that nearly gets her killed. Rescued by the parish priest and village herbwitch, Ismae is spirited away to a convent of nuns dedicated to St. Morain, where she is trained as an assassin. Although her first assignment hits a small snag, Ismae quickly begins her next and greater assignment in the royal court of Brittany where she poses as the cousin of one of the deceased duke's bastard sons, Gavriel Duval, to seek out and kill suspected traitors to Anne, the Duchess of Brittany.

Grave Mercy offers a unique, quasihistorical blend of action, court intrigue, and romance. The world of the convent,where Ismae is trained, remains largely undeveloped, which may disappoint some readers. LaFevers portrays the inevitable romance between Ismae and Gavriel well enough, but the court intrigue drives the story. Kindle readers, like me, might need to consult Wikipedia for a fifteenth-century political map that shows Brittany and its neighbors as this illuminates the reasons for the political plotting; the map that accompanied the e-ARC was not readable on my Kindle. Suitable for readers 13 & up.  Violence, sexual situations.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Leaving Sophie Dean

Leaving Sophie Dean by Alexandra Whitaker (New York: Five Spot, 2012). Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Goaded by her best friend, Valerie forces her lover Adam to choose between herself and his wife and kids. Although Adam chooses Valerie, his wife, the eponymous Sophie Dean, takes the unusual route of leaving Adam in the family home with the kids.

I was hoping this would be a kick-ass, female power novel of take it to the man, and it sort of was, but not really. There were some good laughs at Adam and Valerie's expense as they dealt with the unexpected childcare. But mainly Valerie and her best friend are plain old nasty, and Sophie is a bit too nice. Adam just doesn't seem worth any woman's bother. The kids are adorable. The ending was reasonably good, though, and not as pat as I feared it would be.  Overall, not a bad read, but not as good as I had hoped.


Cycles by Lois D. Brown (n.p.: Levanter Publishing, 2011). Review e-copy provided by author.

After an accident, thirteen-year-old Renee Beaumont needs a blood transfusion, which shouldn't be a big deal, but it turns out her blood is unique. Her neighbor Dr. Dawson fortunately has some blood that he claims is hers that the doctors can use to save her life, but Renee can't remember ever giving him her blood.  When she and her best friend Sam investigate, they discover a cache of blood in Dr. Dawson's lab that's all labelled with his dead daughter's name.  What does it mean that Renee's blood matches his daughter's?

This novel seemed uneven and juvenile at the beginning until I realized the characters were only thirteen!  Action, suspense, and mystery propel the story, along with supernatural and mystical elements.  Many readers will enjoy the native American (Ohone indian) spiritual elements as well. The evil villains, especially the woman, make the story seem a tad melodramatic, but overall this novel works well as a middle grade read, not YA, as it is labelled.  Recommended for ages 10 & up.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Casey Barnes Eponymous

Casey Barnes Eponymous by E. A. Rigg (2011). Reviewed from e-book provided by author.

Sophomore Casey Barnes sees it as her mission, maybe even duty, to alleviate the misery that is high school one three-song playlist at a time.  She leaves the lists in library books for her unsuspecting victims--three perfect songs to boost them through the day.  Her killer taste in music makes her confident that her lists can make all the difference...and maybe even get her back the guy she sort of dated over the summer, Alex Deal. They have so much in common, too.  He's in a band, and she wants be a rock star.  She's got the guitar playing and song writing down, but she's not too keen on playing in public, but she will if that will help her get Alex Deal back....

Casey Barnes rocks--in all the right ways. Sharp, sarcastic, passionate, daring, slightly self-enthralled, obsessed and obsessive, yet a bit naive and vulnerable, she makes a great YA protagonist. While the plot focuses mainly on Casey's plan to get Alex Deal back (in spite of his obvious-to-the-reader flaws), Casey propels the story and makes it well worth reading, especially her supreme devotion to music and spreading the love of obscure bands to her fellow students; it's her own music ministry. She has a great cast of supporting characters, too, including her perfect (gay) older brother Yull, her best friend Leigh, the enigmatic new guy Ben (who happens to be a drummer), and the despicable Maxine French.  Highly recommended for ages 13 & up.  Language plus sex(ual situations), drugs (mentioned), and rock & roll.  Available @ Amazon!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Goddess Interrupted

Goddess Interrupted (The Goddess Chronicles #2) by Aimee Carter (NY: Harlequin Teen, 2012). Reviewed from e-ARC provided by the publisher via

Kate returns to the Underworld after her summer on the surface with James ready to be crowned Queen and live with Henry, though she feels sure he still loves Persephone.  The coronation barely begins when Henry is spirited away and an age-old rivalry between the gods and goddesses and the Titans, specifically Cronos, threatens to end everything--even the immortals! Kate is desperate to save Henry even as she doubts his love and must enlist the aid of Persephone to locate him and solve a tricky situation before she loses everything she loves, forever!

Carter spins a fine dramatic tale in this sequel to The Goddess Test. Kate's doubts about Henry, and indeed Henry's enigmatic actions, are a bit overdrawn, but seem realistic enough. The drama among the gods and goddesses, charged with ancient rivalries, spices up the plot, and the situation with Cronos adds a lot of interest and will undoubtedly draw in fans of Greek mythology.  Kate spends a bit too much time waiting around the Underworld and dithering about what she should do, which makes the cliffhanger ending a bit annoying. Her dealings with Persephone, though, add an interesting twist, as Persephone helps her understand Henry and her new goddess powers.  Kate's problems with Henry, largely due to misunderstandings and lack of communication, are somewhat overplayed, but overall, this is a solid sequel, recommended for ages 13 & up.


Spellcaster (Spellbound #2) by Cara Lynn Schultz (New York: Harlequin Teen, 2012). Reviewed from e-ARC provided by publisher via

Spellcaster picks up where Spellbound left off.  Emma and Brandon are blissfully in love and all seems perfect.  They successfully defeated the evil spell that had doomed their love for centuries, and now Emma is coming to terms with her newfound witch powers under the tutelage of her best friend Angelique. But the power of true love attracts others who would use it for nefarious purposes, so Emma and Brandon again find themselves fighting for their love--and their lives!

In this excellent, exciting, and worthy sequel, Schultz nicely depicts the growth of Emma and Brandon's relationship beyond the initial first flush of young (though centuries old) love. The minor misunderstandings that get blown into needless drama seem all to realistic, as does the cautious exploration of passion.  And that's just the romance angle!  Angelique has a bigger role in Spellcaster as she and her sister attempt to help Emma defeat the evil transgressor whose greed for power knows no bounds.  Yes, it's as melodramatic as it sounds, but it's well done and makes for a page-turning speed read.  Highly recommended for ages 13 & up.  Sexual situations, alcohol.


Starters by Lissa Price (NY: Delacorte Press, 2012).  Reviewed from digital ARC provided by publisher via

Callie Woodland, her little brother Tyler, and their friend and former neighbor Michael are barely managing on their own.  They are Starters--anyone twenty or younger--who survived the Spore War because the government opted to inoculate only the young and the old, leaving a lot of kids with no living relatives when the war ended. Callie desperately needs money to help Tyler get medical attention, so she decides to investigate Prime Destinations, a company that implants chips in the brains of Starters so Enders (the seniors who were also inoculated and survived the war) can rent young bodies. The first two rentals go well, but the third one gets tricky when the renter, Helena, gets the chip altered so she can communicate with Callie and then tries to enlist Callie's help investigating the disappearance of her granddaughter--a  situation that may call for desperate measures, even murder!  Meanwhile Callie finds herself involved romantically with Blake, the grandson of a senator who is at the center of a possible power grab.  But Blake seems to change every time Callie sees him, and the altered chip may be communicating in ways Helena and Callie hadn't foreseen....

Set in a post-war dystopic future, Starters is a riveting read with engaging characters involved in a fascinating plot. The huge divide between kids who having nothing because they had no older relatives who were inoculated and those who have everything because they had wealthy older relatives subtly critiques the current widening gap between the rich and poor, though mainly it serves to illustrate the huge difference between the hardships Callie, Tyler, Michael and other orphans suffer and the opulent lifestyle of those more fortunate, like Blake. The deviousness of Prime Destinations' manipulation of desperate children plus the possible government conspiracy to use Starters strikes a one-two punch at both corporate greed and political power broking. Lots of actions and some excellent twists at the end make Starters the page-turning dystopia no one should miss in 2012!  Highly recommended for ages 12 & up.  Violence, mild sexual situations, alcohol.