Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rising From the Depths Below

Expected Publication:  January 16th, 2015
By: Gina Damico
HMH Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780544307100

A devil is a bad influence...

There was a time when geeky, squeaky-clean Max Kilgore would never lie or steal or even think about murder.

Then he accidentally unearths a devil, and Max's choices are no longer his own.  The big red guy has a penchant for couch-surfing and junk food -- and you should never underestimate evil on a sugar high.  With the help of Lore, a former goth girl who knows a thing or two about the dark side, Max is racing against the clock to get rid of the houseguest from hell before time -- and all the Flamin' Hot Cheetos this side of the fiery abyss -- run out.


     Dark humor is something I tend to enjoy as a reader, and Gina Damico's sense of humor tends to run that vein.  I enjoyed her first novel, Croak, and was disappointed not to enjoy the two subsequent sequels nearly as much.  But this was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, so my grabby hands and my sense of faith both made an appearance!  I have somewhat mixed feelings on this book though.  I enjoyed it overall, but wasn't in love with it by the end.  It's definitely not a re-read for me personally.  This is a story about Max Kilgore, a shy, skinny geek kid obsessed with dinosaurs (paleontology).  The only things that he has in life besides his job at the convenience store, paleontology club, and videos games is his best friend Audie - and his Mom, who is in desperate need of a new heart and unable to help with anything.  Max is barely able to keep them afloat and the bills are coming due.  Then he does something stupid, and steals an ugly cat knick-knack from work.  A devil named Burg is summoned and shoves his way into every aspect of Max's life, making it worse and worse.  With the help of a (possible) demon worshipping girl named Lore, can they send Burg back to Hell before anyone gets hurt?
     What to say about Max?  He's barely coherent around other human beings, can't tell a lie to save his life and has a tendency to ramble.  Except for the one petty theft, he's basically a good person.  He just has no filter and needs some socialization - and more friends than just Audie.  Lore seems pretty stand-offish and downright bitchy at first, but as I got to know her better I liked her.  The trailer-trash parents who didn't care, unlikely job at a craft store, and her own checkered past made her the perfect accomplice for Max in getting rid of his devil infestation.  Then there's Burg (a.k.a. Burgandy Cluttermuck), one of many devils, and a complete asshole.  He loves video games, junk food of any kind and reality television.  He wants Max to acquire him a house and refuses to leave till then.  My favorite parts involved him turning into a Llyod Dobler look-alike so he could romance Max's mom and the scene where he gets Max drunk, with a running commentary on a fashion t.v. show!  It got slightly off-focus and confused for awhile in terms of plot, but wrapped up nicely near the end.  I just really hope this stays a single novel.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys some humor, pop culture references and fluffy reading.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

**I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is January 16th, 2015.**

Sunday, August 24, 2014

You Would Cry Too If It Happened To You

Expected Publication:  September 30th, 2014
Party Games (Fear Street)
By: R.L. Stine
St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN-13:  9781250051615

Her friends warn her not to go to Brendan Fear's birthday party at his family's estate on mysterious Fear Island.  But Rachel Martin has a crush on Brendan and is excited to be invited.  Brendan has a lot of party games planned.  But one game no one planned intrudes on his party -- the game of murder.  As the guests start dying one by one, Rachel realizes to her horror that she and the other teenagers are trapped on the tiny island with someone who may want to kill them all.  How to escape this deadly game?  Rachel doesn't know whom she can trust.  She should have realized nothing is as it seems...on Fear Island.  


     When I was a kid I used to devour R.L. Stine's books, like they were my favorite candy or something!  I read most of the Goosebumps books, plenty of the off-shoot series, and the choose your own fate books.  But my absolute favorites, were the Fear Street books.  Something about that creepy Fier/Fear family and their curse (along with their tendencies towards evil) really drew me in to their world.  Most of the stories take place on Fear Street itself, which seems to have absorbed its namesake's evil.  Some are about the history of Fear Street and some are about the present.  My favorites were always the ones that combined the two (i.e. the Fear Park trilogy, the Fear Street Saga series, & the Fear Street Sagas [completely different and not to be confused]).  This wasn't one of them, but that's okay!  I was still extremely excited to read it.  There's still a very childlike part of me that loves a good scare.
     This book centers around a girl named Rachel Martin, who is the definition of average.  She's nothing special lookswise, her sister got all the brains, she has a hard time socializing, and her family isn't wealthy.  In fact, Rachel's father lost his job recently and now works at the Wal*Mart a town away at significantly less pay.  Her Mom has been sick with Lyme disease and unable to work.  So Rachel has taken a job waitressing at Lefty's, the local teen hangout, to help with the bills.  Imagine her surprise when wealthy, interesting (if somewhat geeky) Brendan Fear invites her to his birthday party out on Fear Island.  She's always had a crush on Brendan, so she ignores the warnings of her best friend Amy and slightly creepy, possessive ex-boyfriend Mac.  She's going to the birthday party and she has a good time doing it - until people start turning up dead.  Is Rachel going to be the next victim?  Is the island really haunted?  Can she get out of there alive, or will the Fear family's curse of evil claim another victim?
     There have been better books in this series.  But there have been worse too and people need to remember, it's a less than 200-page, pulpy teen horror book.  It's not meant to have deep character development or even be that well-written.  It's sole purpose is to provide the aforementioned horror and bring some scariness into your life!  It was fun reading for me, even if it wasn't the next YA classic novel.  It had some especially creepy scenes, including the deaths (or were they?) of the other kids and a pit on the island that Rachel gets trapped in.  Probably the only thing I really though was overkill, was the taxidermist ghost.  It wasn't creepy, just kind of bizarre.  Also, Brendan Fear is a gamer geek and doesn't really have that spark of sadistic evil in him quite like the other men and women of his lineage.  It was a little disappointing.  The whole thing with the murders was something I had figured out almost immediately.  But then a secondary plotline I wasn't at ALL expecting hopped on the train!  Overall, I enjoyed reading it.  This book definitely took me back to a less complicated time and made me feel creeped out in the most delicious way.  I think it's a great step back into the pond for R.L. Stine and a good introduction to the series for new readers.  A solid effort, for the pulpy novel it is.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

* received this book from St. Martin's Griffin, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  The expected publication date is September 30th, 2014.*

Friday, August 22, 2014

Shattered Hearts and Broken Things

Expected Publication:  December 23rd, 2014
This Shattered World (Starbound #2)
By:  Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
ISBN-13:  9781423171034

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood.  Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children.  But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelenting war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner.  But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever.  He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.


     This had all the important things that the first book had: adventure, outer space intrigue, romance and character development.  Lots of conflict to keep me busy as a reader.  Yet, I didn't quite connect immediately with Lee or Flynn, quite like I did with Tarver and Lilac in the first book.  Maybe because Lee and Flynn seem to have a much clearer understanding of who they are and where they belong, etc. (not that this lasts for the entire book, but it didn't draw me in to have such self-assured characters).  Maybe it's because I'm such so insecure myself.  Also, Flynn came across as a pretty big idiot.  You're part of a fairly big rebellion, and your first instinct is to kidnap one of the opposing leaders when you have the chance.  Did he honestly believe he could convince his people to peacefully let her go once they had what they wanted?  As if!  Dreamworld buddy, total dreamworld - especially since his sister had been a violent rebellion leader herself, executed for her actions.
     Honestly, Lee was my favorite character and I still wasn't all that attached to her for whatever reason.  I did enjoy the flashbacks into her past.  It gives a deeper insight into the character, especially when you realize the purpose behind them and why Lee never seems to acknowledge these remembrances/hallucinations at all.  The romance in this one just felt too cliched and rehearsed to me.  It never really rang true.  I seem to be in the minority here, so don't mind me - form your own opinions!  So as not to spoil all that much, I will say that the ending resolves the conflict very nicely.  I think any further books will be about different characters again.  The conflict with the corporation owned by Lilac's father has a lot more mileage left in it for Kaufman and Spooner before it starts to get tired.  My favorite part was cameo by Lilac and Tarver (both of whom play a part in the climax of the action, near the end of the book).  I recommend reading this if you've read the first one and it really is a solid second series book.  It just wasn't anything special to me personally.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

**I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is December 23rd, 2014.**

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Scandal, Starlets, and Attempted Murder

Expected Publication:  March 3rd, 2015
Dead To Me
By: Mary McCoy
ISBN-13:  9781423187127

"Don't believe anything they say."

Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace.  Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her -- and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.

When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her.  But Alice isn't a kid anymore, and this time she won't let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly.  The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets -- and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime.  What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie's attacker behind bars -- if Alice can find her first.  And she isn't the only one looking.


     A bit of a change of pace from my normal reading, what with the noir and all.  Not my usual, but I do enjoy a noir mystery film from time to time - I even took a Film Noir class in college.  Would you believe that some of it actually stuck?  That said, this is also set during what could be conceivably called the Golden Age of Hollywood, when there were so many stars and great films it's almost unreal.  Add into that particular time period an average teenaged girl, with a father who is a promoter in the film business and whose sister left home years ago without a backwards glance.  The girl, Alice, is startled to receive a call from the hospital that her sister Annie has been found almost beaten to death and they need her to come up there.  When she meets a private eye in the hospital room, who claims to be Annie's friend, things spiral completely out of control.  It becomes a game of cat and mouse, with the very real danger of death just around the corner.  Is this a mystery that Alice can survive?
     I appreciated that it's pretty clear whodunnit, and that's not where the mystery lies.  The mystery of the story is the motivations, the connections and the how of the situation!  There is a lot of action and I was always on the edge of my seat.  No character was truly safe and the psycopathic movie star described in the book summary was truly terrifying once he became a major player in the novel.  The reasons were not quite what I was expecting, but with the sleazy side of 1940s Hollywood being what it was, it wasn't entirely surprising in and of itself.  Mostly, the bits and pieces of this one - story, plotting, characters, etc. - came together to form an entirely pleasant reading experience and genuinely intriguing mystery.  This is an author I will definitely be watching in the future.  Please excuse the vagueness of this review, as I'm trying to avoid spoilers due to the March 2015 release date!!!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

**I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is March 3rd, 2015.**

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dissonance and TSTL Syndrome

Published:  July 22nd, 2014
Dissonance (Dissonance #1)
By: Erica O'Rourke
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9781442460249

Delancey Sullivan has always known there's more to reality than what people see.  Every time someone makes a choice, a new, parallel world branches off from the existing one.  Eating breakfast or skipping it, turning left or right, sneaking out instead of staying in bed - all of these choices create an alternate universe in which an echo self takes the road not travelled and makes the opposite decision.  As a Walker, someone who can navigate between these worlds, Del's job is to keep all of the dimensions in harmony.

Normally, Del can hear the dissonant frequency each world emits as clear as a bell.  But when a training session in an off-key world goes horribly wrong, she is forbidden from Walking by the Council.  But Del's not big on following the rules and she secretly starts to investigate these other worlds.  Something strange is connecting them and it's not just her random encounters with with echo versions of the guy she likes, Simon Lane.

But Del's decisions have unimaginable consequences, and as she begins to fall for the
Echo Simons in each world, she draws closer to a truth that the Council of Walkers is trying to hide - a secret that threatens the fate of the entire mutliverse.


     Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a nut for anything involving alternate universes or time travel.  Basically, anything that lets us explore the greatest mysteries in the universe, all beginning with the words: "What if?"  But I felt like that potential was wasted in this particular book.  I seem to be in the minority, with so many glowing reviews on this one floating around.  But I honestly found the world-building, mythology and technical terms to be really convoluted.  I may not be the most scientific person ever, but generally I can follow along in these types of books.  The way things were explained about the Walkers, the dissonance, the alternate worlds, etc. was kind of a mess.  I felt like at the end of the book I still didn't get exactly why Del was able to "cleave" worlds, or why the Council was after her and what all Simon had to do with it.  The connections were not clear between any of the key points of the conflict.  
     As for the characters, Del was an arrogant brat.  Yeah, her parents were pretty absent and her sister was a bitch.  But Del acts without thinking, has no thought for consequences and basically trys to elbow around them when they happen.  She's always pouting and sneaking out, walking through other worlds even when she's not supposed to.  Her crush on Simon seemed more like an obsession, as she uses more and more of her walks to find and hook up with alternate versions of Simon, under false pretenses.  There were a lot of filler scenes that seemed to lead nowhere, and really weren't necessary in the grand scheme of things.  I found myself flipping through pages and skipping a lot, mostly out of sheer boredom.  This book was about two-hundred pages too long, and those pages did nothing for the plot.  They gave no clarity, development or resolution.  It needed a lot more editing, that unfortunately it didn't receive.  
     The love triangle between Del, Simon and Del's friend Eliot was disgusting to me.  She's totally leading on Eliot and using him the entire book, until he calls her on it, all under the excuse that she "didn't know" he had feelings for her.  If that's true, Del's even stupider than I thought she was (better than cruel, I guess).  The outright lack of reasoning capability on the part of the protagonist and the lack of direction in the plot (which led up to a big reveal that made even LESS sense to me personally), leaves this one as a do-not-recommend for me.  Not a fan, and I feel like I wasted my time.  It only gets the rating it does because I got through it and it had potential, even if it was unrealized.

VERDICT:  2/5  Stars

**I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's was published on July 22nd, 2014.**

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Classic Retread: The Pigman

Published:  2005 (first published in 1968)
The Pigman (The Pigman #1)
By: Paul Zindel
ISBN-13:  9780060757353

When sophmores John and Lorraine played a practical joke a few months ago on a stranger named Angelo Pignati, they had no idea what they were starting.  Virtually overnight, almost against their will, the two befriended the lonely old man; it wasn't long before they were more comfortable in his house than their own.  But now Mr. Pignati is dead.  And for John and Lorraine, the only way to find peace is to write down their friend's story - the story of the Pigman.


     John and Lorraine are both sophmores at the same school and became friends entirely by chance.  Neither one feels very wanted at home for one reason or another, and the two of them love to get into rebellious mischief with each other.  They have a game with some of the other kids to see who can call a stranger and keep them on the phone the longest.  One day they call Mr. Angelo Pignati pretending to be charity workers looking for donations and are surprised by how sorry they feel.  They go to his house to "pick up" a donation, and end up striking up a friendship with this lost man, who seems alone in the world.  But how far can things go and how much can John and Lorraine take advantage of him before harmful consequences are visited upon them?
     This definitely is a little bit dated, owing mostly to the after-school special dialogue and the movie of the week premise to it.  Plus, a book doesn't get read almost fifty-six years later and stay completely current.  The changing narrative between John and Lorraine was a fairly seamless trade-off and their specific personalities were very believable.  If I had read this as a teenager, or a younger kid, I'd probably sympathize most with John and Lorraine.  But now, somewhere in the middle of my twenties, I'm able to see both sides of the coin.  The behavior of the two of them, including it's destructive trend towards Mr. Pignati, isn't okay even when he seems to be encouraging it.  As a teenager from a screwed up family life though, I can understand having issues with limits when no one around you is setting them in ways that make sense, or is giving you what you need to not be a nutcase or juvenile delinquent.
     John's parents are uptight, and from an older generation (I think he said his Dad is in his early sixties?) and he's constantly being compared to his perfect older brother.  Combine that with a creative, intelligent mind and overabundance of imagination and it equals trouble!  Lorraine's Mom is a man-hating bitch, who basically let her own bad relationships sour her on the whole gender.  She's become bitter, steals from her home healthcare clients, and works Lorraine like a servant - while constantly telling her how ugly she is and overall useless.  So, yeah, not completely casting stones, but they know what they're doing isn't right either.  Lorraine talks about omens throughout her narrative and Zindel makes use of foreshadowing with the detioriorating health of the baboon, Bobo, that Mr. Pignati visits at the zoo (i.e. old, broken down like him, etc.) and as a reader you can see it coming.  The ending wasn't any real shock.  Overall a book that makes you think, but the humor was my favorite part.  The whole first chapter where John talks about his stint as the Bathroom Bomber of his freshmen class was pure gold!

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sweet as a Magnolia Blossom

Published:  August 5th, 2014
By: Kristi Cook
Simon & Schuster
ISBN-13:  9781442485358

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty.  Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbeques, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage.  So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.

Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents' wishes.  They're only seventeen, for goodness' sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other!  Jemma can't stand Ryder's nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing more than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn't exist.

But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma's and Ryder's true feelings for each other as the two discover the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.


     Jemma Cafferty is pretty much the perfect daughter for her parents: obedient, sweet, cheerleading and straight A student.  But she's beginning to want more for her life than they do, starting with film school in far away New York City.  Ryder Marsden is the local high school's football hero, the golden boy-next-door and he used to be Jemma's childhood friend.  Their families have been tied together for generations, since the Civil War when one of her ancestors saved one of his from death.  The Caffertys and the Marsdens have been wanting to unite by marriage but there's never been an eligible boy/girl pair - until now.  Too bad Jemma and Ryder had a falling out in eighth grade, and have hated each other's guts ever since!  But with a family emergency throwing Jemma's household for a loop and sending her parents away right before a hurricane blows in, can Jemma work with Ryder to secure the house and the animals through the raging storm?  And will they finally clear up an old misunderstanding, that's been keeping them separated for far too long?
     I loved the growth and development we see on the part of both Emma and Ryder.  They start out in blinded dislike, and the storm causes them to look at each other in completely different ways.  The ways Emma is a less-than fragile southern girl, full of etiquette but also able to outshoot any man in town and with a gun that she's given a name.  Ryder is dealing with the pressure of being his parents' only child and therefore the only one to shoulder all their hopes and dreams of the future.  Basically, Ryder and Jemma are star-crossed because they are both stubborn, and so contrary that they refuse to give one another a chance, solely because of their parents' expectations.  The romance is a slow-build and it is pretty swoon-worthy!  Even though it takes time for them to come around, once they do it is HOT, HOT, HOT!!!  The family dynamics in this one are also something that is wonderful.  With the crisis going on in Jemma's family, we get to see the relationships between her, her sister, their mom and their dad, as they cope with something they have no control over.  Plus, nothing like a natural disaster to bring people together!  Overall, a sweet fluffy, contemporary YA romance that has a cute beginning, middle and a fitting ending.  I'd definitely recommend it unless you need your books to be conflict-heavy and don't like fluff!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is August 5th, 2015.*