Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tween Tuesday (11): The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.

I'm a little behind in my reading of current MG books, so I'm going back to review some of my favorite books as a young teen. I expect I may be doing this for the next few weeks until I read a few more contemporary novels.

The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff


Summary

When Allegra was a little girl, she thought she would pick up her violin and it would sing for her—that the music was hidden inside her instrument.

Now that Allegra is twelve, she believes the music is in her fingers, and the summer after seventh grade she has to teach them well. She’s the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians’ Competition.

She knows she will learn the notes to the concerto, but what she doesn’t realize is she’ll also learn—how to close the gap between herself and Mozart to find the real music inside her heart. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I first read this book when I was 12 or 13 years old. I was unimpressed. The book is about Allegra's 12th summer and her preparation for a large violin competition. There is a very clear plot to the book, but nothing really happens. No huge conflicts or page-turning climaxes. Just a girl, her violin, and her family.

I finished the book and thought nothing of it...for awhile. Then little tidbits, little memories from the book popped into my head at random times. Allegra's nighttime, insomniac-driven walks; turning pages for her parents at an outdoor concert; Mr. Trouble; big vocabulary words; her music teacher; Mozart's fourth violin concerto; and more. I soon realized I treasured this book with its collection of vignettes about a girl on the cusp of adolescence.

I've since reread the book many times. For me, the book is neither plot-driven or character-driven. It is atmospheric. The book takes me to a world of cool summer outdoor concerts, to the intricate sounds of Mozart, to the love of a family, to the memory of starting to understand the world around me.

The Mozart Season is a beautiful book. Not engrossing or page-turning. But thoughtful and sweet. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a gentle read.

Rating: 5 / 5 (Realistically, I think this book deserves more or a 4 or 4.5 but it gets a 5 from me because it had such a significant effect on me)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Manga Mondays (13) - Emma vol. 2 by Kaoru Mori

Emma vol 2. by Kaoru Mori


Summary/Review

Warning: My manga "reviews" often contain spoilers. I find it hard to adequately discuss a volume of manga without talking about it in more detail than some might like.


Volume 2 of Emma is where the plot really starts to move. Three main things happen in this volume: Emma and William fall in love, Mrs. Stownar (Emma's boss and William's former governess) dies, and William's family disapproves strongly of Emma. Clearly, volume 2 is packed with substance. Yet I also felt that it was more of a transitory volume - getting in bits of action that are necessary to get us to the ultimate point. That's the point of all stories in a way, but there was so much going on in this volume, that it also felt like I was being bombarded with information from every direction.

I love how we see the contrast between the classes in this volume. We see Emma's background as an impoverished rag doll for whom working as a maid was a real step up in status. In another world, we see the splendors of a party with the Jones family, with fancy hair-do's, an elaborate dining table, and delectables such as sea turtle soup. The drawing style is distinct for each class. Depictions of the poor use more stark backgrounds and looser lines. The wealthy family's pictures have elaborate backgrounds and very careful, detailed lines to draw each character.

One thing that bugs me is Hakim: he's a great character, a wealthy Indian friend who seems to specialize in leisure and love. He pushes William and Emma's relationship forward, despite having pursued Emma himself. He professes confusion over why a rich man like William cannot be with a poor maid like Emma. I think it's quite unrealistic that an Indian man would not understand the complications of a cross-class relationship. I'd say the separation between classes in India both then and now were much larger and carried more weight than the separation of the classes in England.

Overall, I enjoyed how this volume moved the story along, but I doubt it will be my favorite of the series. I had some issues with it, but I still really enjoy the Emma series.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

In My Mailbox (9)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Won

 I won my first book contest! Thank you to My Neurotic Book Affair!


Evernight by Claudia Gray

Library Stash


The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink


Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa

CD Stash of the Week



Blacklisted by Neko Case

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dream Life by Lauren Mechling

Dream Life by Lauren Mechling

Summary

Claire Voyante's first semester at Henry Hudson High School was eventful, to say the least. As she heads into her second semester, things are calming down a bit. But Claire has a few secrets that are getting harder to keep. Her biggest secret of all? The onyx and ivory cameo necklace her grandmother gave her for her 15th birthday. Ever since she started wearing it, her dreams have been coming to her in black and white and turning out to be oddly prophetic.

Becca’s been hanging out with her old prep school friends and never seems to have time for Claire anymore. And soon, Claire discovers why—there’s a secret group of society girls with a mysterious identity. And, turns out, a mysterious enemy who’s out to get them. The second she sniffs out trouble, Claire jumps on the case. But is it someone close to Claire who’s in danger again—or could it be Claire herself whose life is at stake? (courtesy of Goodreads).

Review

After enjoying Dream Girl, I eagerly picked up the sequel, Dream Life. I was not disappointed. Dream Life picks up exactly where Dream Girl left us. But the book has a slightly different feel. Dream Girl was nominally a mystery, but really more of an everyday journey through Claire's life, with strong character development and rich descriptions of New York City. Dream Life has more of a plot without losing any of the fun of getting to know Claire, her friends, and family and the wonders of New York.

Claire is feeling left out as Dream Life begins. Her best friend Becca is ignoring her and hanging out with friends from her old school. Claire's secret boyfriend, Andy, is avoiding her for reasons she can't understand. It turns out that Becca's cagey behavior stems from her new membership in a secret society. Things get better as Becca brings Claire into her world. The Blue Moons are a secret do-gooder society. But their secret and corresponding ability to help the citizens of New York are threatened by someone who is trying to expose them. It's up to Claire to discover and stop the person(s) before the world knows all about the Blue Moons.

The plot of Dream Life sounds, and really is, rather silly, but I loved it nonetheless. Claire is such a fun girl - sarcastic, daring, and smart. She has a lot of self-confidence but still has the same insecurities about her appearance as every teenage girl. I love her designer vintage clothes - thanks to her fashion-maven grandma. Kiki, the grandma, is a shining star of Dream Girl and Dream Life. Claire really relies on Kiki both for moral support, fun, and advice. She loves her parents, but Kiki is the one who understands her. We also see more of Claire's friends, Becca, Lewis, Ian, and Andy, along with some new characters. Each person in the story has a distinctive voice and three-dimensional character. They felt real.

Claire's visionary dreams are extremely well-done. Claire doesn't see the future. She see hints - clues and symbols. She has to carefully observe life to make the subtle connections between life and dreams. Lauren Mechling plays to the reader's intelligence with the dreams. She requires Claire, and by extension, me, to actually think. Every dream is a fascinating read, in its zany weirdness.

I highly recommend Dream Life. The only part of the book I disliked was the last page - no more Claire to enjoy. I can't wait for Mechling's next book.

Rating: 4 / 5

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hop-day Friday

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old favorites.

Check out the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy For Books

Here's the question of the week: Do you use a rating system for your book reviews and if so, describe it?

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for two and a half months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books.

I use a 1 to 5 rating system for my books. Essentially I have a 10-step rating system since I do 3.5, 4, 4.5, etc. Most of the books I read get a 3.5 or 4 rating, since I usually read books I think I'll like.

Read my review policy in greater detail here!


And also check out Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday


Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling

Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling

Summary

Claire Voyante has been having strange visions ever since she can remember. But the similarity between her name and her talents is purely coincidental. The name is French and unlike the psychics on TV, she can’t solve crimes or talk to the dead.

But that all changes on Claire’s 15th birthday, when her grandmother gives her something a little more extraordinary than one of her old cocktail dresses: a strange black-and-white onyx cameo on a gold chain. It’s not long before Claire’s world becomes a whole lot clearer. And a whole lot more dangerous.

Review

I started Dream Girl expecting a paranormal romance but got something entirely different. Dream Girl is basically a contemporary realistic fiction with a hint of detective sleuthing and psychic visions. It's about 15 year old Claire Voyante (she does realize the irony of her name) who is growing up in New York City, adjusting to a new school, making new friends, dealing with her crazy lovable parents, brother, and grandmother Kiki. Claire has extremely vivid dreams which turn out to be something more; they predict the future.

Claire is a pretty typical teenage girl. Smart, quiet, kind, sarcastic, a bit unsure of herself. Her one unique quality are her dreams. They've always been strange and vivid, but on her 15th birthday her grandmother Kiki gives her an old cameo necklace that enhances her innate ability to see the future in her dreams.

Claire begins a new school when her parents can no longer afford her private school. Unfortunately for her, Sheila, her former best friend, is part of the ruling clan and strives to make Claire's adjustment to Hudson as unpleasant as possible. Claire isn't the type to immediately fight back but neither does she just stick her head in the sand. Her closest friend is the eccentric Becca Shuffleworth, who is a ketchup heiress and unbelievably wealthy. Becca and Claire become very close very quickly. That's where the mystery comes in... Becca's been getting strange text messages and someone from the rival Soyle clan is desperately seeking the secret ketchup recipe. They'll stop at nothing to get it - even death. Can Claire piece together her dreams to stop the Soyles from hurting her new friend and her family?

The mystery and paranormal elements of the book really don't become significant until the end of the story. And that was just fine. I typically get frustrated and annoyed when books fail to get to the point until halfway through. But I was having such a good time reading Claire's story that the mystery was just the icing on the cake. Claire's wry humor kept me smiling throughout the pages. I loved her interactions with Kiki, her parents and brother, Becca, and Becca's family. I especially enjoyed the detailed descriptions of New York City. The city is one of the biggest characters in the story. It makes me want to visit even more than I did before.

Dream Girl is a fun, fast-paced read. I'd recommend it to anyone. As long as you're not expecting a strong paranormal or mystery plot, you'll have a great time living in Claire's world.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Summary

In Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past…and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabel, who already lost her brother to the wolves…and is nonetheless drawn to Cole. At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love–the light and the dark, the warm and the cold–in a way you will never forget. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I recommend that everyone read Linger, as well as its predecessor Shiver, for one reason alone: Maggie Stiefvater's writing. Every sentence that comes out of Maggie's genius brain manages to physically affect me. If the sentence is happy, I feel warm and fuzzy; if it is sad, I actually feel colder and depressed. Maggie could write an entire book about pancakes or alligators and make them seem hauntingly beautiful.

The writing of both Shiver and Linger evoke winter, regardless of the seasons in which the books actually take place. When I was reading both books, I felt like I was sitting outside in a snow covered forest surrounded by stark, icicle-laden trees on a frigid, cloudless Minnesota winter day - the kind of day where the sun provides no warmth and every intake of breath feels like knives shredding your nostrils. There's something beautiful about the silence and starkness of winter. Both Shiver and Linger carry that feeling throughout the novels.

Linger starts off not long after Shiver finished. Spring has almost arrived. Sam is still adjusting to being human all the time and to his role as leader of the wolves without Beck. Grace is thrilled to have Sam with her all the time. But she is troubled by frequent headaches that seem to be turning into something more serious. Sam and Grace have a serious committed relationship - the physical aspects aren't emphasized as much but they are so connected that they seem like one person.

The book alternates from the points of view of Grace, Sam, Isabel, and Cole. Isabel played a small role in Shiver and now functions as one of the wolves' helpers and secret-keepers. She is an irritating girl, mean and moody, but I understood why she acted the way she did and really sympathized with her. Cole is a new character, one of the wolves that Beck turned the previous year. He seems like a real jerk - selfish and snarky. But seeing the world through his eyes helped me appreciate his demons. Isabel and Cole are a good break from emo-Sam and Grace. In fact, Cole may have been my favorite character.

I'd say the chief criticism of Linger (and Shiver) is its pace. It is slow - definitely not a page-turner. This didn't really bother me. I expected the pace to be slow, and I love the lyrical prose so much that I prefer to savor each word. But if you go into Linger expecting the fast pace of most popular YA novels, you will likely be disappointed. I love the use of poetry in both Shiver and Linger. Shiver had many references to Rilke poems. Linger also quoted Rilke, but I didn't feel as connected to the poetry as I did in Shiver. Linger also features lyrics of songs Sam writes - poetry just as much as Rilke.

I dislike the portrayal of Grace's parents. They are stereotypical YA parents - vacillating between absent and overbearing. I understand why they were portrayed this way, but I wish more books were written with good examples of parents.

All in all, Linger was everything I expected it to be. I wish I could have a little piece of Maggie's writing every day to treasure. I cannot wait for the third book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday (12): Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.

The new website The Contemps has been getting lots of blogger press in the last few days. I finally checked it out this morning and was really impressed with the selections of contemporary realistic YA fiction.

Celebrate realistic YA with The Contemps!

Here is one of the upcoming titles:

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
March 8, 2011
It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. When they're united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their Badlands town. Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin's unique beauty hides a girl who's troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Manga Mondays (12) - Emma vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori

Emma vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori

Summary

An upstairs gentleman and a downstairs servant share a secret love. The saga begins. In Victorian England, a young girl named Emma is rescued from a life of destitution and raised to become a proper British maid. When she meets William, the eldest son of a wealthy family, their love seems destined. But in this world, even matters of the heart are ruled by class distinctions. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Manga is not where I expect to find a novel set in Victorian England. Emma is different from other manga I've read, not only because of its subject matter but its artistic style as well. The artwork is gorgeous - realistically, richly drawn characters and detailed backgrounds. Something about the artwork itself evokes the Victorian era. The drawings look more like images from comic strips or graphic novels than manga. The only strong similarity I see to manga are the characters' eyes. They aren't oversized as many manga characters' eyes are, but they are a bit larger than normal and very detailed. The manga is told in numerous small story boxes - often 6 or 8 small boxes page page. The text is spare; the art is so strong that words are often unnecessary.

The developing love between Emma and William has a timeless feel to it. It's young and innocent enough to be appropriate for middle school but sweet and romantic enough to appeal to adults as well. Emma and William are both quiet, self-conscious characters. William is head over heels in love with Emma. Emma is attracted to William but shocked at his interest. And William is only the first prospective suitor. Soon, young men are lining up to woo Emma. Who knew that a shy maid could garner such attention?

I loved the first volume of Emma and cannot wait to read more.

Rating: 4 / 5

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In My Mailbox (8)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Another successful week of library acquisitions. I made a trip out to a recently remodeled library north of town on Saturday and picked up a few books on a whim.

Book Stash of the Week:


Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding
The Luxe by Anna Godberson



Emma vol. 3 by Kaoru Mori
Emma vol. 4 by Kaoru Mori
Emma vol. 5 by Kaoru Mori
Emma vol. 6 by Kaoru Mori

CD Stash of the Week:



Boxer by The National (love this one!)
I Speak Because I Can by Laura Marling (even better than her first album!)
Stir The Blood by The Bravery (still undecided)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bookstore Fun

My husband and I drove to Galena, Illinois last weekend. It's a great little tourist town just south of the Wisconsin border and east of the Iowa border. President Ulysses S. Grant lived there for many years and you can tour his home. But my favorite part is the shopping - Main Street is littered with shops selling everything from cool jewelry to cheap trinkets. I'd highly recommend Galena if you're looking for a weekend getaway.

On the drive home, we stopped by Dubuque, Iowa. It's only a few miles from Galena and neither of us had been there. We looked around a used bookstore for a little while. The bookstore itself was unremarkable and had a pretty poor selection of YA/MG books. But the labels on a few shelves amused me:

Nothing special about this label, but it's the first of a series.
I was tempted by an early edition of To Kill A Mockingbird but didn't feel like spending $50
Love the label for this one. The books were around 150 years old.

Here's a few pictures of Dubuque.


The Mississippi River valley
The shortest, steepest cable car ride in the world - a 60 degree grade. Only costs $2 for a round-trip ticket.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hopping

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old favorites.

Check out the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy For Books

Here's the question of the week: How many blogs do you follow?

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for two and a half months. I review mainly YA with a few MG books.

I follow about 250 blogs, but I keep adding more and more. I have a number that I read every day. And I like to flip through my dashboard to read posts that strike my fancy from all the blogs. 



And also check out Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday


The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander

Summary

Almost-15-year-old Austin Gray is tired of standing at the curb and watching the parade pass her by. Literally. She decides this is the year she’ll ride on the hood of a shiny pickup truck in the annual parade, waving to the crowd and finally showing the town bully that she’s got what it takes to be the Sweetheart of Prosper County.

But far from simply being a beauty contest, becoming Sweetheart involves participation in the Future Farmers of America (FFA), raising an animal, and hunting or fishing. Austin will do almost anything to become Sweetheart, and has the support of her oldest friend, Maribel, her new FFA friends (including the reigning Sweetheart, and a quiet, cute cowboy), an evangelical Elvis impersonator, a mysterious Cajun outcast, and a rooster named Charles Dickens. If only her momma would stop overprotecting her, and start letting Austin live her own life. But Austin can’t move on until Momma moves on, too—and lets the grief of losing Austin’s daddy several years before out into the open.

Here is a bighearted story that will leave readers agreeing with Austin that sometimes, it’s not what you ride, it’s how you roll. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Sweetheart of Prosper County is a nice, comfortable book about growing up in rural Texas. This book will appeal to fans of The Dairy Queen books by Catherine Murdock.

Fourteen year old Austin Gray is tired of being tormented by Dean Ottmer and vows to be someone special - specifically the Sweetheart of Prosper County who gets to ride in the annual Christmas parade. To accomplish her goal, she joins FFA and raises a bantam rooster named Charles Dickens for the fair. The book shows Austin taking every step toward her goal necessary, but also focuses on her relationship with her overprotective mother who still grieves over her husband's death six years ago. The book is full of colorful and interesting characters including Austin, her friends Maribel, Sundi, and Lewis, her mom, Mayor Nesmith and more.

I do have a few criticisms of the book. The pacing is problematic - sometimes months would pass between a single paragraph. It was quite confusing. Also, the supporting characters were rather one-dimensional. Dean Ottmer and the mayor are purely evil. Lewis Fortenberry is a purely weird Elvis impersonator (and unrealistic). Maribel is purely wise (too wise for a real teenager, in my opinion). Josh, the boyfriend, was so undeveloped that I barely realized he was there. Towards the end of the book, the author tries to emphasize the moral lessons a bit too much. She tells us what we should learn from the book rather than showing us through the characters' actions. It felt preachy.

Despite its flaws, the book is a highly enjoyable read. I loved learning more about the FFA and rural life. I enjoyed Austin's world and her friends. I look forward to seeing more from the author.

Rating: 3 / 5

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday (11): Girl Stolen by April Henry

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.


The new website The Contemps has been getting lots of blogger press in the last few days. I finally checked it out this morning and was really impressed with the selections of contemporary realistic YA fiction.

Celebrate realistic YA with The Contemps!



Here is one of the upcoming titles I'm most interested in:


Girl Stolen by April Henry
September 28, 2010


Sixteen year-old Cheyenne Wilder is asleep in the back of a car while her mom fills her prescription at the pharmacy. Before Cheyenne realizes what's happening, their car is being stolen—with her inside! Griffin hadn’t meant to kidnap Cheyenne, all he wanted to do was steal a car to impress his low-life dad. But once Griffin's dad finds out that Cheyenne’s father is the president of a powerful corporation, everything changes—now there’s a reason to keep her. Cheyenne is not only sick with pneumonia, she is also blind. Can Cheyenne survive this nightmare—and at what price?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tween Tuesday (10) - Dear Pen Pal (Mother Daughter Book Club) by Heather Vogel Frederick

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.

Dear Pen Pal (Mother Daughter Book Club) by Heather Vogel Frederick


Summary

For the mother-daughter book club, everything changes in eighth grade
Could the book club break up? When Jess is offered an anonymous scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, she's not sure that leaving home -- and her friends -- is what she wants to do. Meanwhile Megan's grandmother comes for a long visit and turns everything in the Wong household upside down; Emma crusades against hermiddle school's new uniforms; and Cassidy fi nds out there's a big change ahead for her family.
Inspired by Jess's unexpected opportunity, the book club decides to read Jean Webster's classic Daddy-Long-Legs, and there's an added twist this year when they become pen pals with the girls in a book club in Wyoming. There's plenty to write to their new friends about, from a prank-filled slumber party to a not-so-secret puppy -- and even a surprise fi rst kiss.
In this third book in the beloved Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the girls learn that as long as they have one another -- and a good book -- they're ready for whatever eighth grade has in store!

Review

Our favorite book club girls are growing up! This year they're in eighth grade. I love how they age with each book. I'm curious to see if the series' themes will change from MG to YA as the girls enter high school. As of now, they're still in that in-between stage. A little more confident and mature than as sixth graders, but without some of the problems that they will likely encounter in high school.

The Mother Daughter Book Club selection for eighth grade is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. As with the second book, I am disappointed that it doesn't talk more about the book club selection. It has fabulous tidbits about the author presented in worksheet format and incorporate plot-points of the novel, but you don't really learn much about the book. Luckily, I have read Daddy Long Legs so I understood what they were talking about. Otherwise, I'd be more confused than anything else.

Of course, the book club selection really is just a side-plot. I love this series because of the four girls and their mothers. I should say five girls, because Becca and Mrs. Chadwick are now firmly entrenched in the book club. I was disappointed that we never heard Becca's point of view, since I've grown to like her. I hope she will became a central character in later books.

Each girl faces challenges this year. Cassidy, never one for change, is horrified that her mother is having a baby. Jess is now attending a local boarding school on scholarship. She has to deal with a mean-girl roommate and discover how low she is willing to stoop in response. Megan is thrilled that her grandmother is visiting long-term; she is a kindred spirit. But it also presents a need to understand and re-evaluate her relationship with her mother. Emma, who is the most "blah" character - a low-self-esteem bookworm (very much like myself at that age) - is ironically the first girl to have serious boy issues. This year is a challenge for Emma to find her own voice. Becca is still Becca but getting nicer. We don't notice her growth as much since she's always seen through other characters' eyes.

The Mother Daughter Book Club has something for everyone. Each character, whether adult or child, is so different that every reader can find someone like herself. The plot does get resolved a bit too conveniently to be believable, but realism isn't why I enjoy this series. It's just good fun.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, August 16, 2010

Manga Monday (11): Fruits Basket vol. 8 by Natsuki Takaya

Fruits Basket vol. 8 by Natsuki Takaya

Fruits Basket and Twilight



Flipping through Fanfiction.net one day I noticed several crossover fictions featuring Fruits Basket and Twilight. My first reaction was laughter. What could a vampire romance have in common with a manga about cursed members of the Chinese zodiac? I thought about this for a little while. My conclusion? Fruits Basket and Twilight have a lot in common.



1. The Supernatural: This connection is both the most obvious and the most tenuous. Vampires don't exist and neither do humans who a cursed by the Chinese zodiac to shape-shift into representative animals. But aside from the fact that both series feature the supernatural, these elements have little in common. Twilight vampires are super-human with powers such as telepathy and clairvoyance and are innately dangerous to humans. The cursed Sohma family members really have no super powers other than shifting into animals and a little memory erasing. They are not dangerous to anyone other than themselves.



2. Bella and Tohru: The protagonists of the series share many characteristics. I think they'd get along well if they knew each other. Both are people pleasers. Bella lives to take care of others - her mom, her dad, Jacob, the Cullens. She wants to be helpful. Tohru also lives to serve. She delights in caring for the Sohma boys. She's like a little mother to them. Both Bella and Tohru have difficult family situations. Tohru is an orphan and lives with constant grief of her mother's death. Both Bella's parents are alive, but she spent much of her childhood essentially being the parent. The parent relationship is also a difference between Bella and Tohru. While both adore their mothers, when Tohru's mother was alive, she was the strongest presence in her daughter's life - a source of comfort and wise advice. Bella's mother seems to function as an example of what not to do. Tohru has two very close friends - Hana and Uo. In contrast, Bella has no close friends other than the Cullens and the wolves - she is friendly with Angela but she's more of an acquaintance than a confidant.



3. The Love Triangle: Bella pines over Edward and Jacob. Tohru has to choose between Yuki and Kyo. The boys are all hopelessly in love with the girl and in conflict with each other. Bella is about the same age as Tohru, but seems much older. Tohru seems absolutely clueless that Yuki and Kyo are head over heels for her. She also seems to be in love with both of them but doesn't realize it. Bella knows that she is in love with Edward. She doesn't realize until late in Eclipse that she also loves Jacob, but she just seems more "with it" than Tohru.


4. The Families: My favorite aspect about Twilight is also my favorite about Fruits Basket - the family dynamics. Both series feature a family with a secret, something that makes them different from everyone else. This draws the family unto itself. The family has its own infighting and drama to be sure, but the ties that bind them are inexplicably strong. I love getting to know each different family member of the Sohmas and the Cullens. Each character has his or her own story.



Volume 8: Summary / Review


Warning: My manga "reviews" often contain spoilers. I find it hard to adequately discuss a volume of manga without talking about it in more detail than some might like.

Not as serious as the previous three volumes. Summer is approaching and it's almost vacation time. Good thing too, because Hatsuharu is going "black" - essentially turning into Mr. Hyde - and destroying school property.

This plotline is quickly eclipsed by our introduction to Ritsu, a gorgeous long-haired kimono-clad beauty. Tohru is excited to meet another female Sohma only to discover that Ritsu is a man! Ritsu is the zodiac monkey. His self-esteem is abysmally low. Even the tiniest reaction causes him to violently apologize and imbue himself with more self-hatred. This volume was my least favorite I've read. I didn't feel as emotionally connected to the characters.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler

The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler

Summary

A confection of a novel, combining big city sophistication with small town charm.

When her mother moves them from the city to a small town to open up a cupcake bakery, Penny’s life isn’t what she expected. Her father has stayed behind, and Mom isn’t talking about what the future holds for their family. And then there’s Charity, the girl who plays mean pranks almost daily. There are also bright spots in Hog’s Hollow—like Tally, an expert in Rock Paper Scissors, and Marcus, the boy who is always running on the beach. But just when it looks as though Penny is settling in, her parents ask her to make a choice that will turn everything upside down again. A sweet novel about love, creativity, and accepting life’s unexpected turns. (courtesy of Goodreads)


Review

A light, enjoyable read. Penny moves to small town Hog's Hollow from NYC with her mother when her parents separate. Like any new kid, Penny is trying to find her place in a new town and new school. She very quickly finds that her place is NOT with the popular girls, led by Charity. A little cupcake accident at Charity's birthday party and a lifelong grudge between their mothers makes Penny the target of the local mean girls. Their little stunts are pretty amateur and fun to read - a locker full of pennies, dead fish in locker, etc. Penny's start in Hog's Hollow is pretty miserable. Thankfully, she does find a place in town. She loves working in her mom's new cupcake shop, has a close relationship with her grandmother, makes a great friend in Tally, and meets Marcus, the cute troubled boy.

Penny is a very normal girl. She doesn't have the sophistication that many books ascribe to girls from NYC. I like her normalness. She's timid but not too much; an obedient daughter but sneaky enough to investigate her parents' secrets; a good friend but unwilling to share her troubles or feelings with anyone. I loved Tally - Penny's blue-haired, artsy, animal-lover best friend. I loved her creative way of getting back at Charity, her devotion to the animals at ARK, her willingness to share her problems with Penny, how she's not afraid of what people think of her. Markus is a great love interest too. Cute, smart, nice, and funny, but also struggling with his family's past.

The summary makes a big deal over a "choice" that Penny has to make regarding her family. I thought the big "to-do" was rather silly. This book is really about Penny growing up, making new friends, and adjusting to a new life. Her family's troubles seemed more like an excuse for a plot point than anything else. It was the least important part of the book for me.

All in all, this is a thoroughly pleasant read. It's nothing to write home about - in fact, two days after finishing it, I'm having some trouble remembering the book. But if you're looking for a light, enjoyable read, The Cupcake Queen certainly fits the bill.

Rating: 3 / 5

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Blogger Hops

It's time for the weekly book blogger hops again! A great opportunity to meet new bloggers and say hi to old favorites.

Check out the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Crazy For Books

Here's the question of the week: How many books are on your TBR shelf?

I'm Alison. I've been blogging for two months now. I review mainly YA with a few MG books.

I actually don't have a huge number of books on my physical TBR shelf - maybe 20. I don't buy many books - I am one of the library's best customers. But those books that I do buy often sit on my shelf for months or years unread, because I'm so busy reading the library books before their due date.


On my TBR list? Who knows...the number seems to grow every day. They range from the newest books that sound great, to books I've been meaning to read for months, to classics that I aspire to read but probably won't.



And also check out Parajunkee's Follow My Book Blog Friday





Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Summary

Laurel was mesmerized, staring at the pale things with wide eyes. They were terrifyingly beautiful—too beautiful for words.

Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings.

In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The first description of this book that pops into my head is "a feel-good novel." This seems ridiculous - the book involves a girl discovering she's a faerie and that evil creatures are out to destroy Laurel, her family, and the faerie world. Why is this a "feel-good novel?" I think it's because viewing the world through Laurel's eyes is so pleasant. She is such a nice girl. She is simple and kind without being naive. She has the confidence that one often sees with naturally beautiful people but none of the arrogance. She loves her parents; no teenage rebellion. She has romantic feelings for two boy but goes out of her way not to hurt either.

Laurel has always been a little different, but never really thought about it much. She only likes fruits & vegetables, she never gets cold, she's most comfortable outdoors. But it doesn't seem weird to her. She realizes she truly is different when petals resembling butterfly wings start growing out of her back! She is understandably horrified. The only person she confides in is David, her sweet new friend. She gets an even greater surprise when she meets Tamani, a sentry living in the forest on her family's land. He tells her that she is a faerie - not human at all!

The land Laurel's family owns contains a gateway to Avalon, the fae land. It is important that it remains in the family name. Important enough that others will do anything to get it - including murder. It is up to Laurel, Tamani, and David to save Laurel's family and keep the land from getting into the hands of evildoers.

The plot of Wings is not all that surprising. I had no doubt of the ending. And the writing is a bit clunky, especially at the beginning. But that did not decrease my enjoyment of the book. Aprilynne Pike puts a unique spin on faerie mythology (unique to me at least). Fae are plants. Their wings are flower petals - not meant for flying. We get only an introduction to the traditional faerie names in this book (Oberon, etc). I think they will play a larger role in later books.

David and Tamani, the two love interests are both wonderful. I am Team Switzerland at this point. They are both kind souls and dote on Laurel - no bad boys in this book. Laurel can't go wrong, which makes her choice all that more difficult.

Wings is a great start to a series. I cannot wait to read the next book.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Waiting On Wednesday (10) - Prom And Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine spotlighting upcoming releases.

Prom And Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
January 1, 2011


No cover yet. :-(


I didn't love Elizabeth Eulberg's first book Lonely Hearts Club, but I liked it well enough that I'm excited for her next book. Plus, I love Pride & Prejudice tie-ins.


Summary

From the much-buzzed-about author of THE LONELY HEARTS CLUB (already blurbed by Stephenie Meyer, Lauren Myracle, and Jen Calonita), a prom-season delight of Jane Austen proportions. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single guy in his spring semester at Pemberly Academy must be in want of a prom date.
After winter break, the girls at very prestigious, very wealthy, girls-only Longbourn Academy are suddenly obsessed with the prom, which they share with the nearby, equally elitist, all-boys Pemberly school. Lizzie Bennett, who attends Longbourn on scholarship, isn't exactly interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be - especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.
Lizzie is happy about her friend's burgeoning romance, but less than impressed by Will Darcy, Charles's friend, who's as snobby and pretentious as his friend is nice. He doesn't seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it's because her family doesn't have money. It doesn't help that Charles doesn't seem to be asking Jane to be his prom date, or that Lizzie meets George Wickham, who tells her that Will Darcy sabotaged his scholarship at Pemberly. Clearly Will Darcy is a pompous jerk who looks down on the middle class--so imagine Lizzie's surprise when he asks her to the prom!

Will Lizzie's prejudice and Will's pride keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? From Elizabeth Eulberg comes a very funny, completely stylish prom-season delight of Jane Austen proportions. (courtesy of Goodreads)
 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tween Tuesday (9) - When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


Summary


Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.
By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: 

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late. (courtesy of Goodreads)



Review

Finally a Newberry book that has a wide appeal. When You Reach Me is a fabulous book that will suck readers in much like its muse, Wrinkle in Time. 

Miranda is struggling with the loss of her best friend Sal, who began ignoring her after an odd incident while they were walking home. Her life is further complicated by her new friends, her mom's boyfriend who wants more involvement in the family and a mysterious crazy homeless man on the corner. Then s she begins receiving notes that ask her do to things and seemingly predict the future. What should she do with these notes? Why is she receiving them? 

The story is clearly inspired by Wrinkle in Time. In fact, it tells the entire story over the book as Miranda, Marcus, and Julia talk about it. Miranda loves the book and carries a threadbare copy with her like a teddy-bear. I haven't read Wrinkle in Time since I was 10; I really want to re-read it now. 

The book is set in the late 70s in New York City. You can tell book is from a previous era by the lack of technology and references here and there. But for the most part, it's timeless. The book is really about the characters and the story. I love how Stead developed rich, 3-dimensional characters. We see their flaws and also understand why the flaws exist. The story unfolds wonderfully. I wasn't particularly surprised by the ending, but I was surprised by how Stead developed and explained the conclusion. All in all, it's a rich, satisfying story.


Rating: 4.5 / 5
 
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