Thursday, May 26, 2016
Today I'm going to be talking about a very good series for young people: Carolyn Meyer's "Young Royals" series, which tells the stories of three of the most famous women in the Tudor dynasty.
The first book in the series is Mary, Bloody Mary, which tells the tale of young Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry the 8th and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The story begins when Mary is just a young girl, and begins to hear whispers around court that her father is in love with someone other than her mother, a mysterious woman called Anne Boleyn. Mary hates and Anne, and believes that she has bewitched King Henry into loving her.
The book takes readers through the period in which Henry's marriage to Catherine begins to dissolve, all the way through to the king's second marriage to Anne, and the eventual unhappy ending of that union, all told through the eyes of young Mary as she deal with becoming a servant to her own family, and goes from being first in line to the throne if her father should die, to being cast out as a bastard and removed from the line of succession completely.
It is an excellent introduction to the Tudor dynasty for kids ages 8 and up, and does a good job of making sense of what can potentially be a very confusing period in history.
Final Rating: 4/5 bookmarks!
I continue my review of the series with what is actually billed as the third book in the set: Doomed Queen Anne. I personally think the series makes more sense to readers if this book is actually read second, so I will be discussing it second.
By the way, if you need a "spoiler alert" for this one, you really should demand a do-over on your entire education, just saying.
Anyhow, this book is told from the point of view of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry the 8th and the catalyst for the great Protestant reformation that led to the creation of the Church of England as separate from the Roman Catholic church.
The tale begins when Anne is a young courtesan in the French court. She has basically been banished there by her family, to whom she is a great disappointment. They don't consider Anne to be as smart or as pretty as her sister, Mary, since Anne is dark haired and darker complected and has not only a nasty birthmark on her neck but also an extra little finger (historically true facts, by the way! Kudos to Ms. Meyer for throwing this in!). Mary, the pride and joy of her parents, is known by all to be Henry the 8th's mistress, and her parents encourage this because they are social climbers who hope to use Mary's status to move up in the world.
When Anne meets the king she is immediately smitten, and basically spends the rest of her young life trying to outdo her sister by not just becoming another one of the king's side-women, but by replacing the aging queen Catherine as the next queen of England. Of course, as we all know, she succeeds, but only temporarily. The book takes us through Anne's life up to the morning of her execution on Tower Green.
Final Rating: 4/5 bookmarks!
Third in the series is Beware, Princess Elizabeth which takes us to a time several years after the previous two books. Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry the 8th is now a young teen, and despite the fact that she is the child of the most hated of her fathers wives, she is still very much aware that she could someday rule the country.
The story begins with the death of King Henry and takes the reader through the strange and short reign of Henry's only male heir, Edward. The scheming of his advisers is explained, and we are introduced to Elizabeth's friend Jane Grey - who will also very, VERY briefly take the throne of England when Edward creates his own succession orders.
As we know though, poor little Jane only rules for nine days, and the bulk of the story focuses on the real danger Elizabeth faced during the frightening and bloody reign of her sister Mary. Elizabeth is taken prisoner on several occasions, and even has to pretend to be Catholic for a time, fearing her sister will have her burned at the stake as a heretic, as she has been doing to other Protestants.
The author does a very solid job of explaining the very strange and troubled relationship between the two sisters, and the dangerous and treacherous road Elizabeth walked before her magnificent 45-year reign.
Final Rating: 4/5 bookmarks.
Monday, May 23, 2016
WARNING! MILD TO MODERATE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Beautiful Goodbye by Nancy Runstedler is an interesting case study. It's too short to be a novel, and just a little bit too long to be a novella. It's supposed to be a Young Adult title, but its writing style, plot and pacing is much more suited to middle-grade readers. Also, it seems to have no idea what genre it is supposed to belong to.
The story is basically this: teenage Maggie is having a very hard time coping with the loss of her dad, plus her family's move into a new and unfamiliar house. It is at this new house, which was once a small bed and breakfast, when Maggie, her younger brother and her best friend are exploring the home's attic that they find an old Ouija board. Of course they decide to play with it and IMMEDIATELY make contact with the ghost of one of the home's past residents. It is clear to the kids that this spirit needs help, but they don't really know what she needs help with, or how they can even begin to offer assistance to a ghost.
The story starts to become chaotic when all of a sudden, we are presented with time travel. But the time travel element makes no sense at all, since the second half of the novel is set during World War 1, but also somehow seems to simultaneously be set in the Wild West... but the author is Canadian, so is this actually set in Canada? And even though Maggie and her group often speak in a way that would CLEARLY make them seem pretty strange in 1914 so one really seems to make much of their use of the word "cool," or Maggie's friend asking for hair spray at the local clothing store....
Moreover, no one in the past seems to have the slightest issue with three kids staying at a hotel completely unsupervised for what has to be at least a week.
My biggest complaint is that the description I read prior to reading this hints at a much more complex story, and hints that the kids are actually supposed to DO SOMETHING to help this ghost so that they can get home... but they don't really do anything. AT ALL.
The book can be summed up like this: mopey teen girl travels to the past, helps a girl her own age do some dishes, and goes home.
Final Rating: 2/5 bookmarks. Starts out promising but completely falls apart once the magical stuff starts happening.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Today I will be reviewing a series. Do two books count as a series? Well, I guess they do in this blog. Today I will be reviewing the "series" Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Let's start with the original. Stargirl is told from the point of view of a High School student named Leo. A new girl arrives at his school in a (fictional) small town in Arizona. She is weird. Like, SO WEIRD. Her name is weird: Stargirl. Her clothes are weird: her mom works as a costume designer, so she makes all of them. Her pet is weird: a rat named Cinnamon (and she brings him to school with her). She plays a weird Ukulele and sings weird songs and used to be home-schooled, which is WEIRD.
Stargirl is also nice, and pretty, and sweet, and smart, and one of the most genuine people Leo has ever met. Everyone in school is fascinated by her, until the moment when they are not. Leo has to decide if his feelings for Stargirl are strong enough to make up for the fact that everyone in the entire school hates her, and by extension, hates him too. And Stargirl must decide if it's more important for her to fit in, for Leo's sake, or to be her weird, genuine self.
Of course, this is all stuff we have read a million times before. Teenagers go through this struggle constantly. We have all gone through this in our own lives at some point, I'm sure. The big difference here is the way Jerry Spinelli writes the story. The life he breathes into the characters he creates. Everyone here is fleshed out, even the rat. Spinelli is, of course a master at this, as we know from his award winning books like Wringer and Maniac Magee. The one and only complaint I have with this book is that even though the characters are teenagers in their last years of High School, they are written younger - they sound and act like kids in middle school. This may be due to the fact that most of Spinelli's books are middle-grade readers.
Still, this is a beautiful little book, and definitely worth reading.
Final Rating: 4/5 bookmarks.
WARNING: STOP READING HERE TO AVOID SPOILERS!!!
It is an extremely rare occurrence when a sequel is better than the original. This is one such rarity.
This time, the story is told by Stargirl herself as the self-described longest letter ever to Leo, who is now away at college, somewhere far away from Arizona, and even farther away from Pennsylvania, where Stargirl and her family now live.
As the book opens, Stargirl is recovering from the loss of her love, and trying to adjust to her new life, back in home-schooling, and for the first time ever, unsure about her life or who she is. As she begins to meet the colorful cast of characters that populate her new town, and tell Leo all about them,she begins to heal, and realizes some important fact about herself, and about life in general.
It truly is the characters that make this book an absolute gem. There's Dootsie, the high-spirited six year old who becomes Stargirl's instant best friend. Alvina, the local tomboy who responds to boys by beating the absolute crap out of them. Betty Lou, Stargirl's agoraphobic neighbor who longs to be brave enough to leave her house again. Even my least liked character, Perry, the new boy in Stargirl's life is well thought out and layered, even if I can't understand at all why Stargirl, or the rest of the girls in town find him attractive. (I mean, I do - because teenage girls are by and large morons when it comes to "bad boy" types). But then again, I didn't really care for Leo as a love interest either, to be honest.
What also makes this book great is that it's being told by Stargirl herself. Her unique perspective on the world and the people in it are refreshing and lovely. The ending made me cry.
Final Rating: 5/5 bookmarks. WOW!
Monday, May 16, 2016
Take a little bit of Matched, a little bit of The Hunger Games and a little bit of The Giver and you have most of the elements of Abberant by Ruth Silver.
Olivia is just days from her 18th birthday. That is the day when she will be assigned a marriage partner by her city's government. It's the way it works in her society - everyone gets married at 18 to an assigned spouse, they are given an assigned job, and then, if they are very lucky, sometime between age 18 and 29 they might get a baby, if they are chosen in the annual lottery. All the babies are conceived in labs, because no woman on the planet (which we assume is Earth?) has been able to conceive since the Red Plague that followed the 4th World War. Because of this, married couples no longer have sex or any kind of physical intimacy. They marry only so they can help each other if they are chosen to raise a baby.
Olivia is very lucky: she is matched and married to her childhood best friend Joshua. He has been her one true friend since the day her father died in a terrible fire at his office. But then Olivia's word falls apart - she is arrested on her wedding night and tossed in jail along with her mother, because of a crime her mother committed: she got pregnant. Olivia quickly learns her mother is the first woman to have naturally conceived a baby in generations, and this might mean Olivia herself could potentially also have babies.
Now the government wants to study her like a lab rat, and the rebels she turns to for help want to force her to have a baby... with ANYONE except Joshua.
The couple goes on the run trying to find anyone who can help them do the one thing that seems impossible in their world: make their own choices about their own future and their own bodies.
It SOUNDS like the premise for a really good book. The problem is, there are so many plot holes it becomes ridiculous quite quickly.
****** WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD!!! ******
First off, books are illegal in this society, but it just so happens that Olivia reads all the time. Because is just so happens that her dad had a whole bunch of illegal books in their basement. So Olivia is the only one who knows about kissing and sex and how babies used to be made. Except that she doesn't, because even though Joshua is completely shocked when she kisses him, (because no one has ever kissed him, since no one knows what a kiss IS in this world) a few pages later he is trying to get him to have sex with her.
During her marriage ceremony, Olivia specifically hopes she is not matched to Joshua because it would be way too weird to marry her best friend. But when the rebels tell them she can't be married to him anymore, she insists that he is only one she wants to be married to because she loves him... in a society where love is not a THING....
It goes on and on and on and on like this. Olivia has never seen a car, but somehow she knows how to drive. She needs to dye her hair (even though she has already told us that there are no luxuries in her world, so no cosmetics or hair dyes exist) but somehow ONE person in their entire universe manages to MAKE HER hair dye (from berries!) that doesn't come off even though she manages to shower almost every day.... even while on the run.
Joshua finds a map to a mysterious city hidden under another map... even though the map is in a museum.... and kept under glass... oh but it's ok because the glass is not locked, so he totally knew to lift up this ONE glass in this ONE museum and look under this ONE map and NO ONE IN THE MUSEUM noticed??? Oh and all of a sudden, a bunch of people have super powers. For NO DAMN REASON AT ALL!
This was clearly a case where an author tried to bite off WAY More than she could chew. She threw in so many things that did not need to be there that it just turned in a big confusing mess.
The book is (of course!) the first book in a three part series. I do not plan on reading the rest of the series, it's just too silly to want to continue.
Final Rating: 2/5 bookmarks. Only because it starts out with potential, and then squanders is horribly.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
One of my many odd interest is serial killers and mass murderers, I was actually really excited to pick up The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, especially after my boyfriend, who had only seen the movie, told me it was pretty dark and disturbing.
I have to confess, I was pretty disappointed.
With this particular book, I feel as if it was a Young Adult coming of age novel trying to disguise itself as an adult book. Yes, obviously this is written from the point of view of Suzie, a 13 year old murder victim, so her thoughts and reactions are going to be those of a young teen, but to me the author took this as an excuse to do some incredibly silly things.
Obviously, since the dead girl is telling the tale here, the story is going to, by necessity have supernatural or fantasy elements, and some of them are actually very well thought out and lovely. I especially like the concept that everyone's heaven is a little bit different, and that it evolves as the dead soul's feelings and needs evolve. However, did Sebold really need to throw in Suzie's sort of psychic classmate? Or the super weird and cringe inducing thing at the end with the buy Suzie had a crush on and.... well, you'll have to read it to find out but it was just so LAME to me, and was really kind just an excuse for some kiddie porn, which by the way, is also something this book has a LOT of for no real reason whatsoever.
Overall, that ending was the worst part for me. It caused a tremendous amount of eye rolling - as did several other elements of the story, particularly many of the characterizations. I kind of wonder if this was one of those rare cases in which the movie is actually better?
Guess I will be adding it to my steaming list and we shall see.
Final Rating: 2/5 bookmarks. It was just an almost total disappointment.
Monday, May 9, 2016
There is no one in the world of literature I love more than Will Shakespeare. That said, there is not one of his plays I loathe more than Romeo and Juliet. I was waiting for Juliet by Anne Fortier to be sappy, trite and gag-worthy. It really was none of those things, so I now take this moment to bow my head in apology to Ms. Fortier.
While there are some elements of the ridiculous about this story (sisters who have hated each other their entire lives patching up their relationship in about a half a page for example) it was thoroughly enjoyable! It was not so much a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet as it was a re-imagining of the story's origins. Julie, our protagonist, believes she is a descendant of the woman thought to have inspired the Juliet character. When the aunt who raised her after parents deaths passes away too, Julie thinks she is going to inherit a fortune. But, as it turns out her vile sister gets the pot of gold, and all Julie gets is a mystery that takes her back to her ancestral homeland of Sienna Italy. The story she uncovers completely changes how she sees herself and her entire life up to this point.
Of course, there is also the mandatory gorgeous Italian hunk and the cast of goofy supporting characters.
Again, there are some elements of the wildly unrealistic here (I would love to know how a girl who has lived her entire life in jeans and flip flops gets to Italy and within a day decides to spend weeks on end running through a Medieval city in 6 inch heels) but the plot moves along at a great pace, and the vivid descriptions of the beauty of Sienna really put me into the right mindset. Teh ending is as predictable silly as any Shakespearean comedy, but somehow even the sappy stuff works.
Rating: 4/5 stars. It suckered me in, darn it!!!!
For Further Reading:
Thursday, May 5, 2016
I think I enjoyed I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (not an actual person, by the way,) because I had such low expectations of it going in. I didn't know anything about this book other than that it had been a terrible flop of a movie starring Diana Agron from Glee and some blonde guy. I was expecting the book to be awful, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was not.
Here's the scoop: "John" is an alien. So is his "dad" Henri. They escaped their planet along with 8 other kids and the adults responsible for raising them (not their parents, more like teachers) when some evil aliens from a different planet started destroying their home world. The 9 kids were chosen because they have powers... or are going to GET powers when they hit puberty. Once they get their powers, the theory is that they will be able to fight the bad aliens, who followed them to earth and are hunting them down. For some reason, the planet's elders put a spell on the kids, so the bad guys can only kill them in a specific order. Three of them are dead already so the story is told from the point of view of John, who is #4.
The good stuff - there's a lot of mindless but entertaining action in this story. I liked the dog. I also liked Henri.
The bad stuff - the female love interest is unbelievably dull and bland (which is probably why they cast Agron, one of the dullest, blandest actresses of her age group), and though it was marketed as a teen novel, the story is so cookie cutter and simplistic, it should really be classified as middle grade. Still, it was entertaining for a quick read, though I am definitely not planning to read the rest of the series, which inexplicably contains 7 books. SEVEN books. That's probably 6 too many.
Rating: 3/5 bookmarks, just because it was so much better than I thought it would be, even though it was still pretty bad. The dog was cute.
Monday, May 2, 2016
You know how they say you're not supposed to judge them by their covers? Well, I did, and I picked up Hourglass by Myra McEntire simply because I really liked this cover. I didn't even read the description before I read it, so I was not sure what to expect.
So here's what you need to know: right around the time her parents died in a car accident, teenager Emmerson started seeing ghosts. She was seeing them so often, and they were making her so stressed out that her brother, who became her legal guardian sent her to an institution and had her medicated, which did stop her from seeing the ghosts. Now Emerson is back home, but she has not told her brother she has stopped taking her meds. Of course, she immediately starts seeing ghosts again, except now she is seeing them more often, and they are no longer just images, now she hears sounds, and the scenes are becoming more elaborate too.
It's not until her brother hires her a new counselor, the ridiculously good looking Michael, from an organization called "The Hourglass," that Emmerson begins to realize that her "ghosts" are not ghosts at all, but something a lot more complex, and potentially dangerous.
Despite the fact that every single character in this book is impossibly rich, impossibly beautiful, and impossibly intelligent, there is some genuinely interesting meat here. What starts out as a simple ghost story eventually comes to involve elements of science fiction, incorporating time travel and theoretical physics. Of course, since it's a teen book, there is a romance component, and even something that might be a sort of love triangle if you squint your eyes a lot and look at it from a strange angle.
The thing is, this is the first book in a trilogy, so it leaves a LOT of loose ends, but the writing wasn't super strong, so I have not made up my mind yet if I care to read the remaining books to see what happens. Too many supremely perfect people made this a little bit boring to me, and now I am ambivalent about how the story ends.
Rating: 3/5 bookmarks for some interesting elements but an unsatisfying ending and weak characters.
For Further Reading: