BOOK REVIEW (100): A Home in the Sky (Twice Told Tales #6)

BOOK REVIEW:
A Home in the Sky

Like its predecessors in the Twice Told series from author Olivia Snowe (and illustrator Michelle Lamoreaux), I read A Home in the Sky in one sitting yesterday. This book, like the others, sticks very close to the fairy tale it is re-telling: in this case, “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

Jack is a teenager in this re-telling, and like his peers he wants items of materialistic value. He’s raised by his mom alone in a crappy neighborhood housing thugs and thieves and he’s a smart kid who wants to climb his way out of his dead-end, poor stick at life, and he wants to take his mom with him.

So Jack, being a good boy, listens to mom and sells his awesome, super-fast bike to a creepy old man in a city alley in exchange for six magical beans. Mom freaks out and sends Jack back to get his bike and fetch it for real money to help catch up with all the overdue bills.

If you haven’t figured it out, this story is set in the 21st-century, though it gets pretty weird and I felt at time caught in a fairy tale parallel to a 21st century city setting, if you catch my drift.

Anyways, Jack tosses the beans when he can’t find the old man who “stole” his bike and the next day he happens across the empty lot he tossed the beans in and BAM! there’s a beanstalk where his beans were overnight.

Jack does the most natural thing: climb that stalk and find out where it goes.
And you know how the story ends.

Well, nothing changes. Relatively nothing. Which, honestly given the nature of this tale, I was hoping something would give. When you take this story and drop it in modern times, it just DOESN’T work. I mean, the magic harp, the hen laying gold eggs, the giant, were just all terrible facades rather than charming outside a more fantastical setting.

Jack’s mother is an idiot. I mean, she was pretty annoying in the original tale (or versions of the tale), but at least her greed made sense. It’s like by trying to redeem her in this story — put her in a better light — Ms. Snowe failed to acknowledge how the plot turned out. Why would Jack’s mother willingly go to a thug she knows is “a crook and a killer”?

And what’s with the ending. It felt TOO perfect, even for a fairy tale.
I’ll give it a one and a half because I liked the art as usual. Ms. Lamoreaux is really talented!

My verdict:

✮.5

(stars)

BOOK REVIEW (99): Haunted Memories (Saranormal #2)

BOOK REVIEW:

Haunted Memories

Since I sort of left the first Saranormal book with high hopes for the series, I decided to grab book 2 and join Sara and see what new ghostly adventures she’s unearthed. Book 2, Haunted Memories, follows 12-year-old medium Sara Collins to junior high in her new port-side town, Stellamar.

Sara is not too excited to be at school because 1) she’s not really social and as the new girl, she’s on display, and 2) there are a lot of ghosts popping up around the school halls and the cafeteria which makes her plan to act normal kaput.

There’s a bit of plot carry over from the first book, but I think it’s still safe to jump into this one without being too lost.

Book 2 like Book 1 doesn’t have a lot of ghost showdowns. The ghosts so far are benign: if you’ve ever stumbled upon the Ghost Whisperer series with Jennifer Love Hewitt then you’ll see what I mean. There are the Ghost Whisperer episodes were you have the ‘ghost-of-the-day’ and they’re usually ghosts who are stuck because of some problem they need to solve, so on, so forth.

But you know why I really loved this book: Sara has a love interest!

Jayden Mendes is the new kid from last year and he’s probably the only one who understands how Sara feels. It helps that he’s hot and Sara’s getting lovey-dovey vibes from him too. The thing is that she can’t seem to escape the whole seeing-ghosts part of her and every time she’s enjoying a moment with Jayden they’re interrupted by the spirit of his dead older brother.

I can’t promise action, but there’s enough mystery to last the short read, and it helps that Sara is actually coming into her powers a bit. Oh, and she isn’t sharing her secret with herself anymore! Want to know who’s in on her secret, pick up Haunted Memories and find out for yourself.

My verdict:
✮✮✮✮

(4 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (98): Fairest of All (Whatever After #1)

BOOK REVIEW:
Fairest of All
I really enjoyed the first book in author Sarah Mlynowski’s Whatever After series. If you haven’t guessed by the cover, the series re-tells some favourite fairy tales. This first book takes another look at “Snow White” and borrows elements from the Disney version, and a few local versions (i.e. poisoned apple, poisoned comb, poisoned pillow).

Whatever After #1Fairest of All, follows 10-year-old Abby and her 7-year-old brother Jonah into a magic mirror in their basement. From the mirror they land in the fairy tale kingdom of Zamel. Currently ruled by Snow White’s evil stepmother, Abby and Jonah realize they need to get home and fast before they are permanently stuck in the technology-free kingdom.

Snow White was annoyingly ditzy, and though she’s sixteen, it felt that Abby and Jonah could take care of her better than she could herself. I should go easy on her though. She was orphaned at a young age and she has a (funny) evil stepmother. The evil stepmother was more funny than scary: she was a bit of a loon, and her plans to poison Snow were laughable. At least I could admire her tenacity… *sigh* The dwarfs were useless for the most part, although they offered a bit of comic relief and they happened to be a big part of the climax.

Of course no “Snow White” re-telling is complete without an appearance from the Prince.

Prince Trevor from the neighbouring kingdom of Gamel is AWOL until about halfway through the book when Abby (or was it Jonah?) remembers the Prince’s role in the fairy tale. In the end Trevor is about as useless as the dwarfs (if not even more useless as he saves NO ONE), but the dude’s nice and though he seems a bit eager to marry Snow, he isn’t put out when she tells him to take things slowly:

“Listen, Trevor,” Snow says. “I’m not looking for a serious relationship right now. I need to focus on my duties here, now that I’m queen.”

“I get it,” the prince says, nodding. “Look, why don’t we take it a little slower? How about dinner?” (pg. 156)

And that, ladies and gents, is how fairy tales should be written.

Other than the endearing twists to this tale, the reason I really loved this re-telling and continued reading was to follow the relationship of Abby and Jonah. These two were hilarious! I could believe they were brother and sister. I’m so glad that each of the stories will feature these two together, otherwise Abby would come across too bossy and Jonah would be ‘act first, think later’. Like all good teammates (and siblings!) they share weaknesses and strengths.

If you’re at all interested, try this first adventure with Abby and Jonah.

My verdict:

✮✮✮✮✮

(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (97): The Baby Project

BOOK REVIEW:
The Baby Project
It wasn’t until I picked this title up from the library on a whim (while picking up other loans) that I realized I hadn’t read a Harlequin in months. I’ve been on a dry spell and I needed to end it. And what a way to end it!

Susan Meier’s The Baby Project, the 1st title in the Babies in the Boardroom trilogy. Each title features one of the three Andreas brothers. These trio of billionaires are powerful, intelligent, sexy…and damaged.

In The Baby Project hero Darius Andreas, the eldest Andreas brother, is in heroine Whitney Ross’ family legal offices to hear his late father’s will. When he walks out of the office, he’s learned two things: 1) his father lived up to his womanizing ways until the end, 2) Darius is a father to his baby half-brother, Gino Andreas, and 3) Darius has to share his new parental/custodial duties with Whitney, the best friend of Gino’s late mother.

6-month Gino is alone in the world, and Darius and Whitney have to learn to push aside their animal attraction to focus on raising the little boy in their care.

I liked this story because Darius didn’t shy away from pursing Whitney, and Whitney didn’t wilt like a flower (at least she didn’t once she shared her sad past with Darius). Their chemistry leaps off the page, it kept me turning page after page considering it starts off a tad slowly (and maybe a bit melodramatically).

I think it also helped that I loved Darius’ banter with his two brothers, Cade and Nick. These three were hiliarious. I only wish I was surrounded by these three. Seriously. I was jelly of Whitney.

I had nothing bad to say about this one. Even the build-up to the black moment wasn’t cheesy. It set up the cheesiness then — BAM! genius plotting saved the day and I closed the book grinning after a super-cute epilogue.

Now to hunt down Books 2 & 3.

My verdict:

✮✮✮✮

(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (96): Beauty and the Basement (Twice Told Tales #4)

BOOK REVIEW:
Beauty and the Basement

 
I wanted to save this book for later, but I not only ended up reading it earlier — I also finished it in one very short sitting.

It’s too bad. As the second book from the Twice Told Tales series by author Olivia Snowe (and illustrator Michelle Lamoreaux), this fairy tale re-telling was better than the first book I read from this series (that was the Little Red Riding Hood one and you can find it here).

The plotting was better with this one. The characterization didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, and though the external conflict was worthy a few eye rolls the ending was plausible and I could swallow it comfortably.

But let’s talk characters:

We got 15-year-old Belle Beaumont who has an obnoxious father — the guy was more of a butt-hole than the original fairy tale version or Disney’s take on the tale. I promise you’ll feel no sympathy for Belle’s father, Jack Beaumont.

Belle I liked.

She was spunky, optimistic, yet she had her morals all-lined up and that, IMO, made her a far better character than Scarlet in the LRRH Twice Told re-telling. Like I would actually want to meet this girl and have a chat with her and ask her why her parents thought it fit to call her ‘Belle’ when her last name already means ‘beautiful mountain’ (<– with the extent of my French)?

Carlo Mostro*, a.k.a. the Beast, was also pretty cool. Like Belle’s he is a 15-year-old boy whose become a summer shut-in since a tragedy befell his family. With his mother in and out of his life, Carlo becomes anti-social and mean. The thing is I LOVED watching Belle slip past his defenses without so much as saying a word at first: he just thinks that’s she’s really pretty and why not?

Then, of course, it goes the cliched way and I’m sure you can piece that together as it doesn’t stray too much from the original plot.

You have Belle whose physical beauty matches her internal beauty. And there’s Carlo, the misunderstood Beast. Disney added the twist of the cursed servants, and we get only one “servant” in this, the Mostro family chef.

If you can’t piece it together, might I suggest picking up Beauty and the Basement. This installment in the Twice Told Tales series is fantastic and should be shared!

I only wish that there was an epic transformation at the end, instead of a boring old change of heart. 😉 There is rain at the end, just no fingertip ‘light-show’ transformation.

*NOTE: Because it was bugging me, and it read like ‘monster’ I looked up Carlo’s surname. ‘Mostro’ does mean ‘monster’ in Italian. What a last name! Haha.

My verdict:

✮✮✮✮

(4 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (95): Ghost Town (Saranormal #1)

BOOK REVIEW:
Ghost Town
Back with another review: this time I didn’t stray too long after completing this one. Though I did read it super slow, I blame school (*ahem*andmybadtimemanagementskills*cough,hack*).

This is the first in the MG series Saranormal by Phoebe Rivers. This series stars heroine/MC Sara Collins and her ghost-seeing, medium-like abilities. Ever since Sara was four she’s been able to see ghosts — 12 now she’s trying her best to keep her secret just that a secret. But it’s getting hard with all the dearly departed hanging around her new home, Stellamar, a fictional seaside town in New Jersey.

She’s making friends and that’s keeping her over-protective dad happy. Still at this rate with a ghostly old man warning her about danger on the pier where all her friends hang out, Sara isn’t sure how much longer she can pretend to be normal without packing up and leaving Stellamar for good.

What I loved about Book One Ghost Town was Sara’s sarcasm and that she isn’t 100% confident in herself; that made her seem normal, and she isn’t exactly rushing out to save the world. She’s also not a pity case: sure she’s got powers, sure she doesn’t have a lot of friends, but she’s still a normal pre-teen (plus her extra special power).

I liked the pacing, too. I didn’t expect anything super deep. Don’t go in having watched too many episodes of College Medium and Long Island Medium and any other whacko reality show of that variety. It might go that way, sure, in the next 10ish books of the series, but Book one is clear of that nonsense.

Saranormal #1: Ghost Town was a quick, fun read. I recommend picking it up if ghosts and drama and MG is for you.

My verdict:

✮✮✮✮✮

(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (94): Alice in Rapture, Sort of (Alice #2)

BOOK REVIEW:
Alice in Rapture, Sort of
This is the newer cover — again, very pretty illustration here of Alice and sorta boyfriend, Patrick.
But here’s the original 1989 version, and that’s the one I borrowed from the library:

WARNING: this will be a short review. Although most of my reviews are short, this one will be definitely short short.


Once again Alice didn’t fail to make me laugh.
Alice and I get along now, especially after the dreck (and horror) that was the beginning of the first book in this series by author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

So this 2nd book picks up where the first book left off with Alice graduating sixth grade and moving on from elementary to junior high/middle school. It’s the summer before her seventh grade year and Alice has a boyfriend officially! And so do her two best friends, Pamela and Elizabeth. The group of six do everything together: until something happens to drive a wrench between them and get these tweens thinking about what it means to be “grown up”.


Alice wants to be with Patrick, but not at the cost of her friends — it’s really a vicious cycle of thought. I think what I really liked about this book is that Alice has matured in a lot of ways. She isn’t quick to judge people and there’s more depth to her decision making. She actually sounds WAY wiser than I did at 12. That’s why the title to this book was so awesome!


The ending is really great, too. You’ll understand if you decide to pick this next book up and read for yourself which is way I gave it…


My verdict:

✮✮✮✮✮

(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (93): Noelle’s Christmas Crush (Crush #4)

BOOK REVIEW:
Noelle’s Christmas Crush
Okay, I read this a couple weeks ago but I’m getting to the review now.
This is the 4th book in the Crush series by Angela Darling. And you can go check out reviews to the first three books here, here, and here.

That out of the way, let’s get to the review.

Like most of my Christmas-y reads this year, I read this a bit earlier then the actual season start (and now with American Thanksgiving over, Christmas and New Years’ are in full swing).

So this book, Noelle’s Christmas Crush is about, well, 12-year-old Noelle and her crush on a classmate, Noel. Hehe. I still giggle when I think or say their names together: Noelle & Noel sitting (under) a (Christmas) tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.


This is what I found when I searched up that old playground song. Best picture of this ever (look at their lips!)… Hahaha.


So Noelle likes Noel and she wants to invite him to her birthday party. She’s on of those (lucky? unlucky?) people born on (or near) a holiday: Noelle’s birthday is on Christmas. She hasn’t minded this before, but this year she’s 12 and older and she wants an un-Christmas birthday. Basically she wants a separate birthday party and she wants presents that are a combo of her b-day and Christmas.


Anyways, she’s in party planning mode and the best way to cap off her party would be if Noel were to accept her invitation. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he does.


What I liked about this book was the family element. The other stories had bits and pieces of it, but not to the degree of this book. I think that goes to say it went with the holiday theme, but it was still heartwarming following Noelle interacting with her older brother and her parents and aunts and uncles and Grandmother.


The one thing I thought was cheesy was Noel was born on Christmas Eve. That had me rolling my eyes, but I let it go since it didn’t get in the way…too much. The ending was my favourite surprise as Noelle comes to learn something really special about Noel’s life.


Again: you gotta pick up Noelle’s Christmas Crush to find out what I’m hinting at and join in on the fun and sweetness of this short read.


Other than making me hungry (the mention of holiday treats) I would recommend this book to anyone interested. Upside of picking this one up is that you don’t have to read the first three books to enjoy Noelle and Noel’s story.


My verdict:

✮✮✮✮✮

(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (92): Cassie and the Woolf (Twice Told Tales #2)

BOOK REVIEW:
Cassie and the Woolf
I found this series by accident.
I was looking around in the MG/juvenile section in my local library and I found this title by author Olivia Snowe and illustrator Michelle Lamoreaux. I’m happy for the accident, even if the read wasn’t so great.

I’ll explain: like most writers/readers, I love reading fairy tales, comparing and debating the themes and subject matter in fairy tales and folklore, so I was perfectly at home with this re-telling of “Little Red Riding Hood” in Snowe + Lamoreaux’s Cassie and the Woolf.


So in this version we have 13-y/o Cassie Cloak — *ahem* real original name, lol and instead of a “red riding hood” she’s got her nifty “red raincoat” — and she’s all grown up now to go fetch her grandmother’s daily meal and deliver it to her without the company of her mom. On this trip she’s caught up in a storm and she’s cornered by Caleb Woolf, the antagonist and Cassie’s school peer — although Caleb’s two grades older.


Caleb follows her to Granny’s and the rest is history, of course, or according to Perrault the corruptness of stupid mothers and older females and naive little girls who let “big bad” men into their homes and lives…and between their legs?


DISCLAIMER: Cassie and the Woolf is PG, if you don’t count the psychological eff-ery at the end of the book. Which brings me to the problem with this re-telling: how Cassie (or LRH) was portrayed and her character arc. There should have been some kind of warning that this read like a dark MG (think along the lines of Gaiman’s Coraline). There was even a hint of magic that wasn’t handled very well, because it felt more like a deus ex machina then a natural growth out of the conflict and plot.


Little Cassie was kinda…witchy. I mean, the ending was SO messed up. Like beyond levels of messed up. I really thought I was being Punk’d until I saw it was, indeed, THE END.



It was just weird. I won’t spoil it, so go pick it up, but I warn you be prepared to make that ^^^ face above.

One pro (worth this review’s 2 stars) was that the story stayed as true to Grimm version (and Perrault as well) as an MG read could without crossing parental boundaries and pissing people off. 
Basically the message remains the same, don’t invite trouble and stay vigilant as naivety is NOT cute all the time and can lead to real problems (plus the modern caveat of settling scores).

My verdict:

✮✮

(2 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (91): Athena the Brain (Goddess Girls #1)

BOOK REVIEW:
Athena the Brain
I’ve been meaning to read this series for awhile, but I only got around to it a couple weeks ago. I love mythology (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Native American, etc.) and I was excited about the MG feel.

I was right to be excited — Goddess Girls #1, Athena the Brain, was so cute and genius. I really admired the touches of Greek myth in the stories. So let me start with a background…

The Goddess Girls series is set at Mount Olympus Academy (MOA), a school for godgirls and godboys and other mythological creatures: each of the stories in the series features the problems of one of the girls. Athena is the brainiac goddess, the newest addition to the Academy and she’s making friends and trying to not disappoint her father, the King of Gods, Zeus.

This review is short because I liked the book. The author(s) used really inventive techniques, and I think it would be a great way to introduce young girls (and boys, not discriminating) to Greek myth. For instance, there was a competition for the best invention by a God (judged by the Greeks/humans) open to all the students attending MOA.

I also liked how some of the Greek myth traits/characteristics were entwined with the plot and conflict in interesting ways (e.g. with Medusa).

The only down side of this first story was the chronology — the age difference between the characters. I know that sounds weird since the Greek gods were immortal or ageless, but Hermes was described as being a young boy and the trio of brothers, Hades, Poseidon and Zeus were old men, and so on.

But suddenly Poseidon is a “godboy” in this and all the godgirls and other mythological girls are drooling all over him. (Check out the cover and look to Athena’s right and compare tween Poseidon from Goddess Girls to old man Poseidon who fathered many children.)

The end was a bit abrupt as well. It tied everything together, but the big “conflict” sorta fizzled out a bit…you have to go read the book though.

And so on that note if I interested you at all, pick up this first book and see if this series is for you. No harm, no foul. Bonus points for being a quick read.

As for me, I’m on the hunt for Book 2 already.

My verdict:

✮✮✮✮.5

(4.5 stars)