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Friday, May 28, 2010

Stringz by Michael Wenberg

Stringz by Michael Wenberg
Publisher: Westside Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: (12+)
Length: Full Length (216 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Cholla

Life hasn t been easy for Jace Adams, a mixed-race teen whose mom moves them from one place to another so often that sometimes he's been in four schools in a single year. To cope with all that instability, Jace has vowed to never let himself get attached to anyone or anything--other than his beloved cello. But when his mom takes them to Seattle, where they're living with tough, sassy Aunt Bernice, Jace wonders if this time things might really change. Because money is tight, Jace plays his cello on the street in downtown Seattle, and one evening, someone throws a folded $100 bill with a business card attached into Jace s open cello case while he's serenading. That card changes everything; it's from a famous cello instructor who offers to take him on, giving Jace a shot at winning a large cash prize. Will he make the grade?

When life deals you a rotten hand, do you lie down and die? Or do you stand up and fight for what’s right? Jace Adams, for one, has had enough of the lying down and is ready to try his hand at the standing and fighting. Despite all that is staring him in the face, his only concern is to change the course his life has been following and make it his own for the first time in his young life.

When we meet Jace, he’s withdrawn and a bit sullen. His only friend is his cello, the only thing in his life he can constantly count on to never let him down. He and his mother have just resettled, again, and this newest move lands them in Seattle. His promise to remain invisible deteriorates on the very first day of school when he rescues a very expensive violin from an imminent demise. From that moment on, he discovers that certain people in this new school refuse to let him fade into the background. Slowly but surely, Jace’s new friends help pull him out of his shell and an amazing transformation takes place.

The changes that overcome Jace are amazing. I have long believed in the power of music to overcome obstacles, and this novel furthers my belief in just that. When he lets down his walls and allows his two music-loving friends inside, the combination of the music and the support of someone close transform his entire world. Even his cranky Aunt Bernice begins to see him differently. I loved Jace from the very beginning, but the young man he is becoming by the end of the novel is even more lovable and enjoyable than the person he started out as.

With a little love, a lot of support and a handful of luck, we can all change our fortunes in life. I think that was the main message I got from this story. Jace goes from feeling like he’s worth nothing to no one and winds up realizing that he is an important part of many people’s lives with the added benefit of amazing musical talent. Hand in hand with his new friends and newfound confidence, he pushes forward to make a new life. An inspirational and engaging story for readers of all ages!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Magickeepers, The Pyramid of Souls by Erica Kirov

Magickeepers, The Pyramid of Souls by Erica Kirov
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Paranormal
Length: Full Length (208 pgs)
Agre Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

It was stolen from Alexander the Great. To keep it safe, Edgar Allen Poe bargained away his sanity. And somebody suckered P. T. Barnum to get their hands on it. It’s the most closely guarded secret in the magician community. And it’s missing.

What would you do to protect your family from an ancient pyramid capable of stealing your very soul?

Nick Rostov finally has the life he’s always dreamed—and he’ll do anything to protect it.

Nick has only now discovered he is part of an extended Russian family of magicians: the Magickeepers. He lives with his eccentric new relatives at the Winter Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where they perform daring feats of magic to a packed house. Real magic.

But Nick and his family face a new danger in the form of a stolen relic, the Pyramid of Souls. The tiny pyramid has traded hands many times throughout history. Its power can steal a magician’s very soul.

Nick knows who took it: Rasputin, leader of the Shadowkeepers. Using his unique ability as a Gazer—one who can see into the past—Nick enlists his cousin Isabella to help him find it. Soon, the two are hot on the evil sorcerer’s trail…until Isabella’s soul is trapped by the very relic they’re trying to find.

Nick will do anything to rescue Isabella and recover the Pyramid of Souls. But will it be enough to save his family?

From the first, the glance back at how it all started – Poe’s raven, to the argumentative deck of cards, nothing in this story met my preconceived expectations: Magickeepers, The Pyramid of Souls is all so vastly better!

Yes, it’s a middle-grade to early teen book and yes, it’ll please the ones that adore the magic and the unexpected most especially. The cover suits it nicely, and suggests this novel’s likely biggest audience, but it is also beautifully written with rich detail, singular characters, an intriguing setting. Let’s not forget the illusions: Illusions that are so much More than they seem.

Thirteen year old Nick Rostov, undercover magician, is the key player here. Nick, kidnap victim after all, adjusts to life at the casino pretty quickly (it’s a nice touch that he can order real Brooklyn pizza and have it arrive still hot. ) He performs illusions – at the permanently snowy Winter Palace and Casino in …yes … Las Vegas. Vegas or not, there is an unmistakable Russian flavor; it might be the pet Siberian Tiger, the odd bits of folklore, the borsht, or the whole Russian clan of cousins that run the show. The slips back in time allow Nick and Isabella to visit famous people (Isaac Newton say; which makes sense since much is explained by considering Newton’s ahem! Fourth law…) They travel through deserts then land at a too-proper Duchess’ home in time for tea. Amid the adventures, interestingly, we start to consider the obligations that magical ability requires.

The advantages to magic leap from the pages. So too, do the deadly, soul-killing dangers. Before the end, Nick must intervene to save cousin Isabella from a fate so dark it could only have been delivered by Poe’s raven. Kirov does a wonderfully clever job weaving together all these different, enchanting adventures. She has a delightfully delicate touch with humor, and at the same time keeps a level of suspense building. Middle-grade or not, this is charming enough for any age to enjoy.

I can’t sit and re-read this one though – I'm rushing out to get book 1: Magickeepers; The Eternal Hourglass by Kirov. I haven’t been so excited about a new series since…since…’quoth the raven, Nevermore.’

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saved by the Music by Selene Castrovilla

Saved by the Music by Selene Castrovilla
Publisher: WestSide Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (280 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Suns
Reviewed by Fern

Willow, 15, is sent by her unstable mother to spend the summer on her Aunt Agatha's barge in Rockaway, NY. As Willow and Agatha work on what appears to be a hopeless project, converting the barge into a floating concert hall, Willow finds herself both attracted to and repulsed by the hired hand, Craig. At the same time, she is intrigued by her emerging relationship with mysterious and reclusive Axel, who lives on a sailboat docked close to the barge. Frustrated by Axel's lack of romantic interest, Willow finally accepts Craig's advances but finds herself a victim of sexual assault. Axel intervenes before Willow can be seriously hurt and then assists her through the process of the investigation. Unable to face her aunt, Willow goes back to live with Axel and learns that he cuts himself to deal with the pain caused by his own abandonment and abuse.

Saved by the Music is a powerful story about two lost souls who find strength, power, and comfort in the presence of one another. Although the title might lead you to believe that it's music that saves them, it is in fact the close connection they share that provides an unforgettable journey readers are sure to enjoy. Dark, gritty, and brutally honest at times, you’ll get a whole lot more than you bargained for as you delve into the pages, which is always exciting in cutting edge YA fiction.

The story is told through the voice of fifteen year old Willow; a girl who views herself as ugly on the outside as she perceives herself to be on the inside. She can never be beautiful enough, thin enough, smart enough, or interesting enough. A summer spent on her aunt’s barge is intended to help but, thus far, it only fuels her resentment of her emotionally unstable mother and unhappy home life. It’s not until she meets Axel, an eighteen year old with issues of his own, that she emerges from her shell and begins to view the world through less jaded eyes. He’s beautiful, mysterious, and so sad she can’t help but question why. As a near tragedy disrupts their lives, the truth is slowly revealed, and it will take understanding, foresight, and love to circumvent fate and create a path to a brighter, happier future.

The material presented in Saved by the Music is dark, but I didn’t find it extreme or overwhelming. While rape is a very upsetting and difficult topic to broach, Ms. Castrovilla does a wonderful job of ensuring you get the ugliness of the act without alienating the reader. There are other subplots that are equally serious, including suicide and depression, but they are handled with tact and grace, so that the act isn’t glorified but treated as it should be, with total seriousness and respect.

This is definitely a book for the 14+ age range. The subject matter is something that anyone younger could possibly have an issue understanding or relating to. With that said, Saved by the Music is a thoroughly engaging story that I very much enjoyed. Willow is a fantastic heroine, while Axel is perfect as the young man who isn’t entirely as he seems. As the mystery unfolded, I became captivated, and couldn’t stop reading until I finished. I can’t wait to read more from the library of Ms. Castrovilla and am eagerly looking forward to her future works.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Posing as Ashley by Kimberly Joy Peters

Posing as Ashley by Kimberly Joy Peters
Publisher: Lobster Press
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (190 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

This spin-off of the YALSA Quick Pick, Painting Caitlyn, tells the story of Caitlyn's best friend Ashley, as she tries to break into the modeling industry.

Sixteen-year-old Ashley has always been an overachiever, eager to please everyone (especially her mother, who is battling cancer). Her grades are high, her boyfriend is gorgeous, and she is beautiful. Ashley also has a big heart, particularly when it comes to animals, and she serves that passion by volunteering at the local animal shelter. When her father's new girlfriend offers her the opportunity to give professional modeling a try, she jumps at the chance. One more responsibility to balance in an already demanding life, but it's something she's always dreamed of doing.

Just as she enters the competitive and hypercritical world of fashion, parental pressures mount (her mother supports her modeling, her father does not) and her long term relationship with Brandon crumbles. Ashley makes the difficult decision to persevere with this new career, telling herself, “... if I couldn't make Brandon love me, I was going to make the world love the idea of me.” As she tries to navigate the catty world of modeling wannabes, she is selected for an ad campaign that glamorizes fur – something she is utterly opposed to. Forced to choose between two passions, Ashley discovers that getting what you want isn’t nearly as important as finding out who you really are.

Imagine you have everything you could ever want, but somehow, you aren’t happy with it. You want more. What do you do? If you’re Ashley, you try to be what everyone else wants.

Posing as Ashley is a beautiful and sad book. Beautiful because it shows how one girl can rise above to become what she is destined to be. Sad because many teen girls can relate and understand her strife. Poignant because the transformation from Ashley the perfect to Ashley comfortable with herself is so well written.

When I picked up this story, I expected a breezy teen novel. I was wrong, but it’s a good thing. Ashley, like many girls, wants to be the epitome of what everyone else wants her to be. I felt her pain and frustration, thinking she can’t measure up to standards that she’s set. I liked the mirror to real life. Who hasn’t had issues in high school where they feel like they just don’t fit in?

The message that having everything isn’t what it’s cracked up to be is strong. She’s got a lot going for her, yet when she gets the chance for more, like many people, she comes to the realization that maybe what she had wasn’t so bad. That resonated with me. I also liked that she volunteered at the animal shelter. The little plot twist was sweet.

If you want a story about a girl who has to figure out who she is before she loses herself in the mix, then you need to read Posing as Ashley. I give this story 4.5 suns.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Stillburrow Crush by Linda Kage

The Stillburrow Crush by Linda Kage
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length Full Length (212 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Sixteen year old, Carrie Paxton, isn't the most popular girl in her small town of Stillburrow. But that's never concerned her before. Her life revolves around her writing, and she loves her job as the student editor of the school paper.

But when she gets assigned to interview the football team's beloved quarterback, she takes one look into Luke Carter's blue eyes and is a goner. Suddenly, she doesn't like her lowly rank so much.

Then her dreamy, popular crush surprises her when he starts to act as if he likes her in return. But there's no way Luke Carter could possibly ever like a nobody like Carrie Paxton.

Harsh reality sets in for teen Carrie Paxton as she stares at the mountain of flowers on a classmate's closed casket and thinks about the accident and the past. Small details, like the incredible number of cars in the motorcade, have enormous emotional impact.

But then, the story doesn't dwell on the funeral. Flashbacks slide seemlessly into the body of the tale and the reader is turned immediately to events at school. The main character, Carrie, is so real we easily share both her surprise, and perhaps a sense of triumph, that Luke Carter actually knows her name and remembers her from their trig class. Is it that surprise that makes her take a combative role in her interview with him? Or just too stern a grasp of High School reality?

For a high school sports legend, Luke isn't pompous at all. He is the best looking, most popular and richest guy in school, so she expects him to be a jerk and we expect him to be a jerk, heck, we almost want him to be a jerk! Especially since Carrie so hastily acknowledges she has 'no chance' with him. It would be so much easier to write him off, rather than acknowledge the attraction.

Secondary characters are not stereotypical at all, either (although sometimes Carrie seems to expect them to be.) Even brother Marty, who seems so typically a brother, has surprises in store. And we all like Luke more and more, even while kind of cheering for Carrie's 'bring it' style. Dialogue is snappy, believable, and frequently confrontational. Loved it!

Ms. Kage also has a gift for unusual, meaningful description. Tactile details enhance the evocative aura at the outset. We are beautifully in tune with our main character's emotions. Later, by the ending portion of the story, she sadly offers less in the way of evocative detail, and I'd have liked fewer flashbacks. However, by that point, I was so engaged in finding out what happens, I certainly continued reading...and suddenly, more unexpected conflicts, or outright disaster, leaped up. There are many emotionally charged moments. Occasional references to faith enriched the story, but sometimes seem a bit artificial.

The Stillburrow Crush is intriguing from the outset, and deals with issues teens hear about, may be curious or even worried about, but sometimes have not yet personally experienced. Ms. Kage exhibits a keen understanding of the social circles and impact of popularity in most high schools, (not to mention small town USA) and the impact of gossipy whispers: making this all the more plausible. You don't have to be high school age to be intrigued; do read The Stillburrow Crush.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Publisher: WestSide Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (233 pgs)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Fern

The scars that crisscross 15-year-old Kendra’s arms are not for public consumption. Her cutting is kept secret from her parents, her friends, and even her beloved therapist. But things change when she meets Meghan, a classmate whose promiscuity with boys belies her budding romantic interest in Kendra.

Scars is a dark, honest, and raw portrayal of what can occur to a victim of sexual abuse and addresses the unspoken issues that victim face. It’s not an easy read, but as someone who understands the source material, it is a very accurate depiction and I was unable to put the story down once I started reading.

Told through the voice of Kendra, a young-woman on the cusp of adulthood who has recently began reliving her abuse, the narrative is one that is impossible to deny or ignore. She’s terrified of her assailant and fears that once again he has returned to harm her or, if she doesn’t keep her promise to keep her mouth shut, kill her. As she teeter-totters from strong to frail, you’ll get sucked into the past and present. Her memories are the only thing that can save her, yet, are the very things she fears most. Adding to this is her inability to put a face to the attacker. Although she knows who it is, her mind is blocking the information. Counseling, a flourishing relationship, and her own desire to overcome the terror that has trapped her will reveal what she’s kept locked away. However, not is all as it seems, and when you finally learn the truth, you’ll struggle to breathe.

The writing is wonderful and the pace of the story never relents. Author Cheryl Rainfield has managed to get into the head of her character, breathing life into the pages. The stark realism makes what occurs credible, even if it’s not for the faint of heart.

I should warn that this is a story that should be targeted for an older, YA reader. While the book states that it is for a 14+ audience, I’d consider upping that number by a couple of years. It’s not that the message is bad but rather a parent should ensure their children are prepared to approach the subject matter (rape, molestation, homosexuality, incest, cutting, etc) with an open mind, heart, and understanding of how horrific the world can be. Not all of us live inside beautiful houses, living the dream, with only the monsters in our dreams to haunt us at night.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Heart's Desire by Jessie Coulter

Heart's Desire by Jessie Coulter
Publisher: Wild Horse Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 16+
Length: Full Length (169 pages)
Rating: 3 suns
Reviewed by Dogwood

Morgan Raines transferred to a new high school his senior year. Starting over doesn't bother him, but finding his mate pinned to her locker by her Neanderthal ex-boyfriend does... From day one, Morgan and Skye are inseperable, despite the fact her ex keeps getting in the way. But will Skye's feelings change when she realizes he turns into a panther every time the moon is full? Or can true love conquer all?

Nothing was going right in her life; Skye felt like an outcast at school and at home. Until the day Morgan Raines, the new guy at school, walks in with perfect timing and turns her life around. He saves her from her ex-boyfriend and her dad. It all seems a little too good to be true, and it's happening so fast. Skye is afraid to share her true feelings with Morgan - she's afraid he will be scared off by how strong her feelings are so early in their relationship. Little does she know, he is already aware, and he has a secret of his own. Will Skye be able to handle the secret? Will she be able to handle the stress from her ex-boyfriend and father?

Skye is your typical teenage girl, just trying to make it through high school so she can move out on her own. She is pretty easy to relate to and a very likable character. You find yourself rooting for her through the entire book. You also find yourself falling in love with Morgan Raines right along with Skye. There may be a few scenes in the book you will have to stop yourself from drooling.

Despite my enjoyment, I did have a few issues with this story. There were times I found it hard to believe two people could fall so hard so fast with one another. These two moved really fast for two high school kids. I also felt the characters were a little flat. I wish there had been a bit more information on who Skye and Morgan were as individuals, as well as, more time being spent on the two of them getting to know each other. The relationship was mainly hard to believe because there were more scenes of lust than love. The two were either pawing all over each other or arguing. What happened to the scenes when they went to Jo's diner together, instead of with other people?

Aside from all of that, you want these two together. You like them as a couple, so you want them to make it through all the trouble that seems to pop up around them. The trouble never seems to quit either. Between Chris the ex-boyfriend, and Lorna her arch nemesis, trouble is brewing around every corner.

The story also sends out a positive message. Skye is having to deal with an abusive father, and an oblivious mother. Several times you want her to either call the cops, or cross your fingers a neighbor does. The whole town seems to be aware of her problem, no matter how hard she tries to hide it, yet they do nothing about it. The positive message being, you can't just sit back and watch someone get hurt. Alcoholism is a serious disease and it needs to be addressed.

Chris is a classic ex-boyfriend, who you desperately want to turn good. No matter how annoying he is in the story you find it hard, like Skye, to dislike him. Her best friend Lindsay, seems a little less like a best friend, and more like a friend to eat lunch with. I really feel this book would have been more enjoyable if the author had delved more into the descriptions of each character. Nonetheless, I found myself wanting to finish this story.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book. I foresee a future series with this, since there were a few areas with room to explore further. If a series did come out I would be first in line to read them. I would love to know what happens next in the life of Skye and Morgan. What is life really like for the two now that she knows he turns into a panther? Is she really okay with it? If you enjoy a fast-paced fantasy romance with two main characters hard not to love, then you need to check this out. You will probably find yourself reading this in one sitting.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Turning: What Curiosity Kills by Helen Ellis

The Turning: What Curiosity Kills by Helen Ellis
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Gladiolus

Nobody can know your secret.

Nobody can know your power.

But if nobody knows who you are to begin with…what’s stopping you?

I whisper, “What’s so special about me all of a sudden?”

Nick says, “The Turning.”

Mary feels different, but can’t explain why. The fainting, the strange cravings…and worse, the things she’s noticed about her body.

Mary doesn’t know where to turn. If she tells her parents or her sister, she’ll risk losing everything. She has no other family, no way of knowing if what she’s going through is normal. Everyone she’s ever known and loved could reject her…

Being a teenager is hard enough...add in a mysterious shape-shifting ability and what do you get? This awesome book of course!

I totally enjoyed this one. I love shapeshifters so this book was a winner for me. The author managed to catch the "real" and diverse attitudes of teenagers. Ms. Ellis covered everyone from nerds to jocks in a believable fashion, which I really liked.

The main character Marcy was created well; she was one of those teenaged girls that could remind you of yourself or your best friend. The storyline was great, so different and interesting! Shapeshifting is a popular topic for paranormal fiction but I think the author managed to change it up and create something different.

The only two small issues I had were: I think some of the scenes could have been played out more and...the book was way too short! (I say that in a good way...) That's okay though, because this is the first in the series and that means more to come!

Overall, I thought it was a fun read. The characters were realistic and the story was unique. I certainly look forward to reading more in this series by Helen Ellis.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dead is So Last Year by Marlene Perez

Dead is So Last Year by Marlene Perez
Publisher: Graphia Publishing (Harcourt Mifflin)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (192 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Something very strange starts happening in Nightshade the summer that the eldest Giordano sister, Rose, gets a job working at Dr. Franken's research laboratory. People are starting to see double. Doppelgängers of Nightshade residents are popping up all over town. Daisy, Rose and Poppy think it's a coincidence, until the rumors start that their father, who disappeared several years ago, has been spotted in town. Meanwhile, Daisy's beau, Ryan is spending all of his time training for football, and like the other guys on the team, he's grown enormous almost overnight. Samantha Devereux's boyfriend's neck has doubled in size since school ended. Could the football players be resorting to extreme measures to win? Between summer jobs, sugar rushes, and beach parties, the Giordano girls get to the bottom of these mysteries and more.

He’s dead. No, wait, he’s not. Wait. No, that’s not really him. So who is it? You’ll have to read Dead is So Last Year to learn more and, trust me, you won’t forget it.

I love books that make me think of the breezy, crazy days of high school. I also love books that have storylines that grip me from page one. This is one of those books. Ms. Perez writes characters that seem like people I know—like I’ve seen them walking down the street or met at the park. But this book carries one heck of a paranormal twist. Vampires, werewolves, and psychics are real.

I liked the idea of the look-alikes wandering town. This book has lots of plot twists, as in the true identities of the doppelgangers that kept me involved with the story. And then there is the issue with Daisy’s father. He’s supposed to be dead. Or is he? There is so much going on in this story that it can be hard to sometimes keep it all straight, but it’s worth the read.

Again, Daisy is the center of the story, but because if the issues with her father, we meet her sisters Rose and Poppy. I loved the two of them because they rounded her out and made her more believable. I wanted to see a bit more character development, but there is so much else going for this story that the troublesome spots aren’t enough to trip up the reader.

If you want a book that’s part popularity contest, part angst and a whole lot of ‘wow, did that just happen?’, then you need to read Dead is So Last Year. I give it 4 suns.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dead is a State of Mind by Marlene Perez

Dead is a State of Mind by Marlene Perez
Publisher: Graphia Books (Harcourt Mifflin)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (175 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Welcome to Nightshade, California--a small town full of secrets. It's home to the psychic Giordano sisters, who have a way of getting mixed up in mysteries. During their investigations, they run across everything from pom-pom- shaking vampires to shape-shifting boyfriends to a clue-spewing jukebox. With their psychic powers and some sisterly support, they can crack any case!

There's a gorgeous new guy at Nightshade High: Duke Sherrad, a fortune-teller claiming to have descended from Gypsies. Even though she's psychic herself, Daisy is skeptical of Duke's powers. But when a teacher who was the subject of one of his predictions ends up dead, she begins to wonder if Duke is the real deal after all.
Maybe if Daisy can track down the teacher's killer, she can find out the truth. The only trouble is, all signs point to the murderer being of the furry persuasion. Is Daisy any match for a werewolf? Maybe she is . . . in more ways than she bargained for!

She wants a date for the dance, but her boyfriend isn’t exactly asking. So what’s a psychic girl to do? Figure out what his deal is, that’s what.

Dead is a State of Mind is a breezy read. The plot moves at a quick clip that kept me glued to my seat. I realized an hour later, I’d read the whole thing in one sitting. I got a great sense of what it was like to be a high schooler in Nightshade, California and how hard it is to be a kid with supernatural powers.

Daisy is an interesting heroine. She’s psychic, but that doesn’t mean she’s got all the answers and I think that’s what made me like her more. She’s flawed and, as a reader I could identify with her struggle. She wanted to fit in, to get along with her sisters, and to get her man to pay attention to her. I liked the plot twists that kept her from getting boring. I wished the author had developed her a bit more in that she came across as a bit whiny on occasion, but what teen isn’t moody?

I liked the addition of Duke and his irritation and attraction with Daisy. It gave Ryan, her boyfriend, a run for his money and diverted her attention nicely. Did he help harm the dead teacher? And why is Ryan becoming so buff? You gotta read Dead is a State of Mind to get the answers, because I’m not telling.

If you want a story that’s a quick read for a spring evening, then this is the book for you. I give it 4 suns.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane

A Wizard of Mars by Diane Duane
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (563 pgs)
Rating: Aurora Best Book
Reviewed by Orchid

In the hotly anticipated ninth installment of the Young Wizards series, Kit and Nita become part of an elite team investigating the mysterious "message in a bottle," which holds the first clues to the secrets of the long-lost inhabitants of Mars. But not even wizardry can help them cope with the strange events that unfold when the "bottle" is uncorked and a life form from another era emerges.

Though the Martians seem friendly, they have a plan that could change the shape of more than one world. As the shadow of interplanetary war stretches over both worlds, Kit and Nita must fight to master the strange and ancient synergy binding them to Mars and its last inhabitants. If they don't succeed, the history that left Mars lifeless will repeat itself on Earth.

Magic and Mars. Teenagers and ancient people. Mix them up and you have a great book which holds the imagination throughout.

Teenage wizards involved with recent discoveries on Mars now want to take the next step. Kit and Nita are in the forefront of the investigations. Kit finds himself drawn to Mars by a compulsion he is unable to resist. The young wizards work on opening the capsule or “message in a bottle” they have found. Both youngsters and their older mentors feel the capsule could hold the answer to the disappearance of the species who used to live on Mars.

Kit’s sister Carmela, although not a wizard, has powers of her own and a gateway pass to take her wherever she wants to go in space - usually the Galactic shopping mall.

With the help of their elders and the individual wizard manuals they search for the secret Mars has hidden for so long. Nita and Carmela discover an important work of history, but it is Kit who finds the way to unlock the past and bring forth the ancient Martians. The young wizards still do not have their full powers and at times find it difficult to cope with all that is thrown at them.

This book is attention grabbing. The reader is never quite sure what is going to happen next. For instance the young wizards meet up with Earth’s Planetary Wizard, a young woman who comes complete with parrot and baby. Then there is Mamvish, a senior wizard Species Archivist who has six legs and loves tomatoes.

The young wizards are ordinary teenagers with the usual ups and downs associated with that age, but with the added ability of wizardry. Wizards aims are to protect planets and objects and beings on the planet. One of their abilities is to talk to inanimate objects and receive a reply. Kit has talked the remote control into the ability to tune the TV in to alien television.

A Wizard of Mars introduced me to a rich, descriptive world of Mars, both now and in the distant past. The story moved quickly from one scene to another, but slowed at just the right time to enable total absorption of what was happening. There is humor, adventure, magic and even a sinister undertone to the reasons behind the disappearance and reappearance of the ancient Martian inhabitants.

This is not the first of the Young Wizard Series. I shall certainly look out for the other eight to find out what happens before the events that have unfolded in this, the ninth book.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Shadow Souls by L.J. Smith

The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Shadow Souls by L.J. Smith
Publisher: Harper Teen/Harper Collins
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (599 pgs)
Rating: 3 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

On the run . . .

Elena Gilbert's love, the vampire Stefan Salvatore, has been captured and imprisoned by demonic spirits who are wreaking havoc in Fell's Church. While her friends Bonnie and Meredith explore the evil that has taken over their town, Elena goes in search of Stefan.

In order to find him, she entrusts her life to Stefan's brother, Damon Salvatore, the handsome but deadly vampire who wants Elena, body and soul. Along with her childhood friend Matt, they set out for the slums of the Dark Dimension, where Stefan is being held captive. It is rumored to be a world where vampires and demons roam free, but humans must live enslaved to their supernatural masters. . . .

Elena will stop at nothing to free Stefan. Yet with each passing day the tension between Elena and Damon grows, and she is faced with a terrible decision: Which brother does she really want?

Back in Fell's Church, Bonnie and Meredith have made some dire discoveries. They hastily try to follow Elena and warn her—only to be caught up in Elena's most dangerous adventure yet.

What do you do when the love of your undead life is ripped away from you yet again and imprisoned in the scariest place possible? Go after him!

That’s just what Elena sets out to do in The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Shadow Souls.

First and foremost, there is a lot going on in this story. There is a multitude of characters to keep straight and a strained love triangle that still needs a bit of ironing—but if it all went smoothly, there’d be no action, angst, or story.

LJ Smith really got me entangled in this story when Stefan is in the Dark Dimension. Talk about a creepy place. I felt like I was really there with him and, trust me, I wanted to get out.

The issue threading through the series is perfect Elena’s seesawing decisions to love Stefan or Damon. I can identify with her dilemma. Stefan tends to get swept away and needs her rescuing. He also is very beta to her alpha and that got tiresome after a bit. But then there’s Damon. The bad boy is very, very bad, yet it’s so good. I can see the attraction to his dark moodiness, but there’s his bloodlust and ill will that gets in the way of his sexiness. And every time Stefan’s away, Elena feels the pull to Damon. What a conundrum—which brother to love.

Although there are bits of dialogue that seems stilted and still a bit of soap boxing, the story is worth the read. But be prepared for the ending. I didn’t see it coming and it totally saved the book for me. The ending is a real breath taker.

If you like moody antagonists, doting heroes, and strong heroines, then you need to read The Return: Shadow Souls. I give it 3 suns.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Now You See It... by Vivian Vande Velde

Now You See It... by Vivian Vande Velde
Publisher: Magic Carpet Books (Harcourt Books)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (277 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Wendy isn't as blind as a bat--there are bats that can see better than she can. Which is why, when her new glasses break, she's all too happy to wear the dorky pair of sunglasses she finds on the lawn. They seem to match her prescription, and that's all that matters if she's going to be able to make it through her school day.

But the glasses correct her vision too much. She begins to see things that no one else can see: cheerful corpses, frightening crones disguised as teenyboppers, and portals to other worlds--places where people are all too aware of the magical properties of her new shades . . . and will do anything to get them.

Imagine being able to see things through a magical pair of glasses... things you never expected to see come alive, right before your eyes. You’d be living Wendy’s life in the book Now You See It....

I liked the idea of this story... she sees things and has to deal with a past that isn’t her own. Ms. Vande Velde writes in such a fashion that I didn’t realize I’d read the whole story until I closed the book two hours later. The characters came alive and I felt like I was part of the story immediately.

Wendy is an interesting character. She feels like she doesn’t exist within her family. She’s relatable because lots of people feel invisible and only grow into themselves when they realize their powers or special abilities. Wendy meets her grandmother at a time when Gram isn’t stricken with Alzheimer’s. I liked the idea that she can connect and help even if she’s not totally sure of what she sees.

Although there are times when I had to read and reread sections to make sure I kept up, I liked that Wendy always exhibited emotions I could understand and feel right along with her. Doesn’t hurt that the elven prince was handsome. I enjoyed that Wendy got the chance to really know Elise as a person, not a frail older woman stuck in a bed.

If you want a story that’s a little left of center, but fun, a story that makes you think, then you need to read Now You See It.... I give this book 4 suns.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Witch Dreams by Vivian Vande Velde

Witch Dreams by Vivian Vande Velde
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Childrens Publishers
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Short Story (120 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Sixteen-year-old Nyssa can enter into people’s dreams. Although the authorities of the medieval town of Lindenwolde would put her to death if they realized she was a witch, she feels compelled to practice her unique brand of witchcraft to answer the biggest question of her life: who broke into her father’s woodworking shop and killed her parents? Six years after the murder, Nyssa finally gets her chance to enter the dreams of the man she suspects is responsible. Suddenly she finds herself on a reckless, relentless journey that leads her through a maze of adventures - both in the real world and in the world of the unconscious. Nyssa risks death as she finally identifies the murderer in a shocking and unexpected climax.

Imagine being able to place a token under your pillow, and as you dream, you enter the dreams of the owner of the token? Some might take this into selfish territory. Others might be more philanthropic. For Nyssa, she’s just trying to figure out who killed her parents.

I knew Witch Dreams would be a quick read. At only 120 pgs, it didn’t take me long to get through it. But saying I ‘got through it’ is a bit of a misnomer. This story moves at a quick pace and I hardly realized until I was finished that I’d read the entire thing in one sitting. The characters are engaging enough for younger readers to really get caught up in Nyssa’s story. I liked how she grew as a character and came into her own. Who can’t relate to those moments when we feel selfish for wanting something or someone—our parents, for instance? I wanted for Nyssa to get the closer she needed, as well as to find out who she was.

Nyssa has special powers. She can enter dreams. But at 16, she’s not totally sure she wants her powers. I could identify with her struggle because being a bookish person wasn’t always cool when I was a kid. She’s not the only one to not fit in and that made her more likable to me.

If you want a story with plot twists and convincing characters, then you need to read Witch Dreams. I give it 4 suns.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Marked by P. C. Cast & Kristin Cast

The House of Night: Marked by P. C. Cast & Kristin Cast
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 16+
Length: Full Length (306 pgs)
Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird's world, vampyres have always existed. In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire--that is, if she makes it through the Change. Not all of those who are chosen do. It’s tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx. But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers. When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends.

“I just want to figure out how to fit in here…”

That’s all Zoey Redbird has every really wanted. Zoey is a typical sixteen year old…mostly. She attends an average high school, has a best friend, an almost boyfriend, and parents who “just don’t understand”. For the most part, Zoey manages to blend into the rest of the crowd, until the day she receives the Mark. Everybody knows what the crescent moon on her forehead means. For the small Oklahoma town, with a formidable People of Faith congregation, it might as well be the mark of the Beast.

If you like books that jumps right into the meat of a story, as opposed to taking several chapters to build up to the good stuff, you will love Marked. I was hooked immediately. The writing is intelligent without losing the young adult appeal. You can tell Ms. Cast is around teenagers on a daily basis. She does an incredible job of capturing the attitudes and thought processes of typical teens. Zoey is forced to deal with real life personal difficulties with her friends, her parents and later the fledgling vampires at House of Night.

One of the themes of the book, that really touched me, was Zoey’s close knit relationship with her grandmother. You can feel that they are kindred spirits besides blood relatives. The lessons she learned from her grandmother stay with and aide her as she joins the House of Night. The House of Night represents a new beginning, a new life for Zoey. It’s scary but it forces Zoey to look inside herself to find strength and guidance. She has a great cast of supporting characters that make the journey with her.

Do yourself a favor: buy this book and indulge. It's a great read.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Frostbite by Richelle Mead

Frostbite (Vampire Academy book 2) by Richelle Mead
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Group)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (327 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Rose loves Dimitri, Dimitri might love Tasha, and Mason would die to be with Rose…

It’s winter break at St. Vladimir’s, but Rose is feeling anything but festive. A massive Strigoi attack has put the school on high alert, and now the Academy’s crawling with Guardians—including Rose’s hard-hitting mother, Janine Hathaway. And if handto- hand combat with her mom wasn’t bad enough, Rose’s tutor Dimitri has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason’s got a huge crush on her, and Rose keeps getting stuck in Lissa’s head while she’s making out with her boyfriend, Christian! The Strigoi are closing in, and the Academy’s not taking any risks.... This year, St. Vlad’s annual holiday ski trip is mandatory.

But the glittering winter landscape and the posh Idaho resort only create the illusion of safety. When three friends run away in an offensive move against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. But heroism rarely comes without a price…

Non-stop action, combined with vampire loving, harming, and redemption... Frostbite has it all.

This is the first Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. The characters in this story are compelling and grabbed my attention from the first page. The plot is complex yet easy to follow and it kept me on my toes.

There is a wry humor to the story as well. I loved Rose. She’s got man trouble, but like any other girl, she’s not sure what to do about it. She’s easy to relate to because we’ve all been in that situation when we want someone and the object of our affection wants someone else. And when she’s caught in her best friend’s mind when BF is making out with her boyfriend... it’s humorous. I loved how she grew through the story. She’s not the same innocent at the end as she was at the beginning and the shift made her stronger to me.

She gives her teacher and her heart a run for their collective money, showing herself she’s more than just a girl or a dhampir. She’s a positive role model and unique character in a world of stereotypes.

If you want a story that will captivate, entice, and draw out your deepest emotions, then you need to read Frostbite. I give this story 4.5 suns.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Fury by LJ Smith

The Vampire Diaries: The Fury by L.J. Smith
Publisher: Harper Teen
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (245 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Review by Tiger Lily

Elena: with Damon at her side, and wild with her craving for blood, the changed Elena struggles to control her desires.

Damon: his hunger for the golden girl wars with his hunger for revenge against Stefan.

Stefan: tormented after losing Elena, he will do anything to get her back. Even if it means becoming what he once despised. . . .

Getting what they want may come at a deadly cost.

What happens when a love triangle turns deadly? You have the start of a new love story.

That’s why I had to read the next installment of the Vampire Diaries: The Fury.

I love a story where there’s a scorned person, a person reborn, and a love strengthened. This book has all three. Those who see the television show won’t totally recognize the way the central characters are presented. I think this is one example of a book that better shows the characters. There is a depth in Elena and Stefan that wasn’t in the earlier books.

The more I read this novel, the more I liked Stefan. He’s in a tight place. He wants to undo his brother’s deeds while still showing Elena the depth of his devotion to her. Although he’s part of the undead, he’s still a worthy hero. Plus, he’s darn cute, too.

The thing that threw me about this story that wasn’t as prevalent in the earlier novels, is the scene jumping. As I read, I was smack in the middle of one scene and then, wham! I’m thrust into another one without any real conclusion. If read as a whole, then things make sense, but if the reader is like me, and has to put it down halfway through, it can be a bit confusing.

If you want a read that is fulfilling and has bite, then you need to read The Vampire Diaries: The Fury. I give this story 4 suns.