Monday, May 31, 2010


Author: Cynthia Voigt
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon and Schuster
Copyright: 1981, paperback released July 2003
Genre: Young Adult

A heart-wrenching story of four children's long journey - by foot! - to find a home. After their mother abandons them in a mall parking lot, Dicey and her three younger siblings travel for weeks by foot to their great-aunt in Bridgeport, only to find that she died and her daughter, who is somewhat strange, lives there instead. They try to settle in, but ultimately make the decision that this is not really the place for them, so they set out again to find their grandmother, whom they had only heard about after getting to Bridgeport. After many ups and downs, they strengthen their beliefs that family and staying together is the most important thing, and they begin building a new home.

Everything about this book is amazing. The plot, the characters, the tone and style... It all fits together so beautifully to create a stunning tale of hope and belonging. The proof is definitely in the details here. The nitty-gritty things that the kids have to consider just to make it through each day, the complex personalities of each character, and the multitude of secondary characters introduced along their journey add to the overall story and make the whole thing come alive. Following Dicey's constant reckoning of how much money she had and how much that meant they could eat was heart-breaking, and it made me realize what we take for granted on a daily basis. I loved the bits of humor inserted throughout this really moving tale, and I laughed and cried my way through it.

If you haven't read this book yet, you must read it as soon as you can! I don't say this about many books, but this is one that will make you a better person for having read it!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Enchanted Glass

Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Copyright: 2010
Genre: YA Fantasy

Another great Diana Wynne Jones book!

Aidan Cain comes to Melstone House after Stalkers start stalking him after his grandmother's death. Andrew, who inherited Melstone House when his grandfather died, takes Aidan in while they try to figure out what's going on. But strange things abound and since Andrew doesn't remember what his grandfather told him about keeping magic in check, chaos ensues until Aidan and Andrew can harness their magics and restore order and boundaries.

As usual with Diana Wynne Jones, the style of the book is witty and engaging. The language is clear and the magic rules are easy to follow as they're introduced, even without full explanations. I love the wry undertone to the whole story, and the running jokes like the cauliflower cheese and vegetables and the confusion over Aidan's name that keep popping up throughout the book.

The book is intelligent, funny, and magical - what more could you ask for?

Never Mind the Goldbergs

Author: Matthue Roth
Publisher: Push, Scholastic
Copyright: 2005
Genre: Young Adult

Hava Aaronson is a modern-Orthodox Jewish girl who doesn't fit the mold - any mold. She calls herself "punk" and mixes Jewish dress with punk outfits. The summer of her junior year in high school, she gets to star in a TV sitcom about a modern-Orthodox family, filmed in Hollywood. She moves to LA on her own and tries to fit in with all the other non-Jewish actors on the show.

Honestly, I did not like Hava at all. She is self-absorbed and not very sympathetic. When she runs away from the show for no good reason, and filming for that week is completely messed up, and she doesn't care - I wanted her to get punished! She gets away with everything, does crazy things and just goes on.

The story itself was OK, but I didn't really see the point to it. Hava doesn't grow or change in any way over the course of the book, she just has an adventure away form home, experiments with her level of religiosity, and then goes home and watches her show air. It's a fun ride, but personally I like books to have a point - not necessarily a moral, but a reason for telling the story.

Also, some details of the story are totally not believable. Like the baby on the show screaming "Osser!" (Hebrew for forbidden) whenever Hava does something forbidden. Yeah, right. And the producers... You only find out towards the end that they are actually three bekeshe-wearing black-hatted Orthodox rabbis and one Chasidish-sounding woman. I don't know so much about modern Orthodoxy, but I'm black-hat Orthodox, and I can tell you that that is just not a possibility! Sure, Orthodox people become producers and actors and whatever, but they chuck religion on the way. Maybe it's possible for a modern-Orthodox girl to star in a TV show during the summer and then return to her friends and school the next year, but if anyone in my community tried that, it would never work.

The style of the book, though, is fun to read.If you can stretch your imagination over some points and ignore some, this book is a wild ride.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Perfect Chemistry

Author: Simone Elkeles
Publisher: Walker & Company
Copyright: 2009
Genre: YA Romance

Although the concept of this book is almost worn out by this time - bad boy and rich girl thrown together and falling in love - I think that Simone Elkeles does a good job of portraying the dynamics of this relationship. By the end of the book, I was emotionally involved and interested in what finally happens between Alex and Brittany.

Brittany Ellis is from the "right" side of town and is the perfect "perfect girl." Alex Fuentes is from the wrong side of the tracks (literally) and is the perfect "bad boy." But both of these characters hide parts of themselves and maintain the facade that society expects them to have. When they are forced to be partners in chemistry class, and Alex's friend challenges him in a bet that he can't "seduce" Brittany, they find out each others' secrets and realize that they are not so different from each other. Amid family problems, gang problems, violence and distrust, a relationship blossoms between the two seemingly totally opposite "chemistry partners."

At the beginning of the story, both characters are very stereotypical, but I think that may have been intentional, to introduce stereotypes and then shatter them. They were shattered pretty early on into the story, as Brittany and Alex shared their thoughts. I liked that about the style of the book - the chapters alternate between Alex's and Brittany's points of view, both in first person and present tense. This gave insight into the situations from both Alex's and Brittany's perspectives, and revealed information about one while still creating a sense of confusion, betrayal, etc. for the other.

Most of the smaller characters were as well developed as the two main characters. Although most of them played no big roles in the actual story, they were believable and sounded real. I didn't think Brittany's mother sounded very real, but maybe there are mothers who think like that and I just don't know about them! I liked seeing the relationships between Brittany and her sister and between Alex and his brothers. Getting to see inside their families helped me to see them as multi-dimensional characters and added depth to the story.

I loved how the story ended. The last few scenes really tugged at my heartstrings. The choices Alex has to make, and what he ultimately does, ends up showing just how wrong his whole "tough guy" image was all along. Of course, in a book like this, the two main characters have to end up together, but the way they come back together after being apart is really touching and fits very well with their characters as they were shown throughout the book.

The one thing I would change is that I would have left off the epilogue. The last chapter closes the story of Alex and Brittany in such an emotional way that further explanation is unnecessary, and besides, the epilogue comes off sounding corny. I won't write here what happens, because I think the whole book itself is worth reading, I just think that the epilogue kills a little of the effect of the whole book.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Witness In Death

Author: J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Group
Copyright: 2000
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Futuristic Police Procedural

Part of the In Death series featuring Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Roarke, this book is full of the best features that make the series so addictive.

Because it involves the theater, the mystery has many more layers than usual. As I read it, I had a hard time figuring out "who-dun-it" - and in fact, the final arrest was a complete surprise to me! The added thrill of doubting every character's statement and trying to read deeper and second-guess everything that happens made the book that much more intense.

As with many of the books in the series, this case reminds Eve of her past in many ways. Seeing Eve in a vulnerable position is always sad, but it increases her humanness and compassion. In Witness, actually, we get to see very many different sides of Eve: she's romantic - which is an extremely sweet scene - she's pissed, she's compassionate, she's weepy... I love when so many aspects of Eve come into play in the story - and the way she deals with the end is just... sorry, can't find the words to describe it. I'll just admit to a few tears throughout the book. In addition to the tons of laughs that come with any In Death book!

The Ark

Author: Boyd Morrison
Publisher: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2010
Genre: Thriller

I don't normally read thrillers, but this was one amazing book!

Dilara Kenner's father went missing three years earlier, and now Sam Watson, an old family friend, tries to contact her with information. But before he can tell her anything other than that her father found Noah's Ark and that billions of people are now in danger, he is killed and only manages to gasp out a few cryptic words. Dilara tracks down Tyler Locke, whom Sam had mentioned, and convinces him to help her figure out what's going on. After several attempts on both of their lives, they figure out enough to realize that they have seven days to stop someone before he uses a relic from the Ark to wipe out all humanity.

The book starts off with a bang and never lets up after that. The tension starts building from page one and only increases as the story moves on. As each piece of the puzzle is figured out and taken care of, new ones constantly pop up so that the characters are kept in a constant race, with new deadlines being set as each deadline is reached. Instead of one big showdown, there are many smaller climaxes, all leading up to the final confrontation between the protagonists, Dilara and Tyler, and the antagonist, Ulric. This makes the book a real roller-coaster ride, with loops and drops, dips and rises, twists and turns.

What I like most about the book is the intelligence of the pieces of the story. So many ideas and gadgets are introduced, and they all fit together seamlessly. All of them make sense, and - what I think is the greatest possible pitfall in a thriller - nothing is there just by coincidence. Everything that is used is set up well in advance, and there is no "oh, look what's here." At the end of the book, Morrison explains which gadgets are real and which he made up, but they all seem so real in the story, I think because he takes the time to succinctly explain each one. (Not surprising to find out that Morrison has a Ph.D. in engineering and worked at places like NASA!) This actually helps develop the pace of the story as well - there are moments of action, offset by little lulls when explanations are necessary, and then immediately there is more action.

A book that combines intelligent exploration of an idea with electrifying action and tension - it satisfies on an intellectual level and on a purely fun level as well!

Thanks to Sulay Hernandez of Touchstone for providing this book.

Monday, May 3, 2010

At the King's Command

Author: Susan Wiggs
Publisher: MIRA Books
Copyright: 2009
Genre: Romance

Juliana Romanov is a Russian princess who had to flee her homeland for England after her family was assassinated. When she is caught trying to steal a noble's horse, King Henry commands them to marry.

I wasn't at all excited about this book. After reading "Charm School" by this author, I expected more than the typical romance novel structure, but At the King's Command doesn't really deliver.

The concept of the story itself is far-fetched. Why would a Russian princess fleeing for her life travel straight to England when there are lots of other countries along the way for her to hide in? And why does she spend five years in England before making any serious attempt to return if she's so determined to get revenge?

The plot is basically non-existent, and the events that happen are not connected to each other. I was intrigued by the constant references to something mysterious in Stephen's past, but that was really the only thing propelling the story forward. Juliana's wish to return to Russia remains a wish, and nothing is done about it through most of the book (maybe something happens at the end - I don't know, I didn't get that far).

Juliana and Stephen's relationship is not developed very well either. On one page, they're cold and remote to each other, and on the next, they're all over each other. They're supposed to be confused about their feelings for each other, but the changes were too sharp and too drastic to be believable.

If you're looking for substance and quality, this is not the book for it. For a non-thinking read, this book does just fine.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Immortal In Death

Author: J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
Publisher: Berkley, Penguin Group
Copyright: 1996
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Futuristic Police Procedural

I wouldn't dare to presume to review a Nora Roberts book. Besides, this book is third in the "In Death" series, and if I'd review each one I read, I'd end up repeating myself. That's not to say that the books repeat themselves - far from it! But each one has the same richness, of character and plot and wit, so saying it once is really enough. This is not the first book of the series that I read. The books don't necessarily have to be read in order, and I read them in a totally random order. Now I decided to get hold of all the books I have not yet read and actually finish the series up till the latest one.

The series follows Eve Dallas, a Homicide cop in New York, starting in the year 2058 - her interesting cases and her relationship with Roarke, the rich Irish former criminal. The relationship develops over the course of the series, and there is always some new facet of their relationship explored in each book - never a boring moment in the lives of Dallas and Roarke! The cases are also always exciting. Enough clues are dropped throughout so that you can almost figure out who the real culprit is, but most of the time you're left guessing until right before the end. Even when you can figure it out early on in the book, the way Eve gathers evidence and finally arrests the killer keeps you on edge the whole time.

In Immortal In Death, Mavis, Eve's friend, is the main suspect in a murder case that Eve gets. The case is intriguing, and the involvement of Mavis makes it especially tense for Eve. There are lots of twists and turns, as there are in every case of Eve's, and the final surprise was a real shock.

In this book, we also see the beginnings of some of the relationships that are a big part of the series. Leonardo, Mavis's love interest, is introduced, as is Trina - and the tone is set right away for all of Eve's encounters with her dreaded self-appointed stylist. Peabody begins officially working with Eve, and their friendship starts taking root. Eve also begins remembering more of her past in this book, and of course, Roarke is there to help.

Another great book in the series! What else is there to say?