Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: Uncommon Criminals

Title: Uncommon Criminals
Author: Ally Carter
Published: 2011 by Disney Hyperion
Obtained: Bought
Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life: Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners. There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long — and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous, and that is . . . the emerald is cursed. Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all, she has her best friend — the gorgeous Hale — and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses and realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time. Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules.

First Sentence:”Moscow can be a cold, hard place in winter.”

I am a big fan of Ally Carter. Whatever she writes (for YA) I’ll read. Her Gallagher Girls books are lovely. The Heist Society series is also amazing.

Although this is the second in the series, not a whole lot of this plot hinges on the events of the last book so you can read this review even if you haven’t read Heist Society (The first one). However, I would still strongly suggest reading them in order, as it’s a bit confusing if you haven’t read the first one.

Kat’s adventures continue and get crazier in this book. She attempts to get the Cleopatra emerald, and does, but once she’s got it that the true craziness starts. All of her adventures are so confusing and amazing at the same time. Basically this book (and it’s first book) are just plain fun. The writing is a little redundant and the plot is a bit hazy until you finally emerge from the novel and see how everything fit together.

Also, I LOVE Hale. I really want Kat and Hale to stop miscommunicating and to just like each other. It seems that all they can do is argue. This book they made some more progress in their relationship, but it was mostly one sided (in my opinion at least). I understand that for the sake of the series Ally must stretch out their relationship developments, kind of like a Tv show plot.

Ally Carter knows how to write a fun book with lovable characters and an interesting plot (also amazing covers!). This book is totally worth your time. Just read Heist Society first. :)

Rating: Capture878

Content Warning: Honestly, I don’t think there is anything offensive in this book. Correct me if I’m wrong.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: Reincarnation

Title: Reincarnation
Author: Suzanne Weyn
Published: 2007 by Scholastic
Obtained: Library
From prehistory to the present, theirs was a love for the ages. It starts with a fight in a cave over an elusive green jewel . . . and then travels over time and lives to include Egyptian slaves, Greek temples, Massachusetts witch trials, Civil War battlefields, Paris on the eve of World War II, America in the 1960s . . . and a pair of modern-day teenagers. For readers who believe that love is stronger than time or death, this is an unforgettable novel from a wonderful storyteller.

First Sentence:”And the next thing I knew I was a baby.”

So despite my dislike of the ultimate concept presented, I read this mostly to see how she went about writing this story, what time periods she would choose, how they would meet, how they would “die” or “move on” or whatever, and basically how she was going to make it all work.

Aside from the font choices, the attempt at fancy lettering came off looking rather amateur, I did kind of like this book. Until the end few “lives.”

So it all starts with them as “cavemen” or whatever and they get in a fight with each other and die. So from here they are sent around the world, through many time periods, they get close . . . and then are torn apart. It was rather depressing actually.

It was also very confusing.

The only way to tell who was who was to know their “trademarks” or whatever and then to associate that way. Throughout the novel, I learned certain things like a bad ankle, a beautiful singing voice, frequent headaches, jealousy of a certain character continuously, a hurting jaw, and other random stuff. The “guy” and the “girl” and the “sidekick jealous girl” and the “mean-ish jealous guy” were the main characters who were reincarnated through time.

While the author probably could have gotten a little more creative with her concept, she was already highly confusing. What mostly confused me was the whole “spirit phase” or whatever the characters would go into after they died. Actually, the whole rebirth cycle bugged me, because it was inconsistent and annoying. But what really got me was in one of the last stages, where the characters started figuring out what was going on and talked about the reincarnation and the religious elements of it. I would have rather read a story based on an abstract idea to make the romantic element more passionate, than have to deal with all the weird religion details.

The story does end nicely though. But when I got there I just wanted it to end, because it was getting on my nerves. Regardless, it was a nice concept that just dragged out a little too long for my taste.

Rating: Capture878 Not wonderful, but I didn’t completely hate it. 

Content Warnings: Possibly some mild language (I really don’t remember), and kissing.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review: Once A Witch

Title: Once A Witch
Author: Carolyn MacCullough
Published: 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Obtained: Library
Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The search—and the stranger—will prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the sins of her family, and unleash a power so vengeful that it could destroy them all. This is a spellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant.

First Sentence:”I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it.”

I really enjoyed this book. The writing was absent of serious blemishes (yep.), the characters were strong, and the plot was fascinating.

While not big on supernatural stories, I do love a good story about magic. The way that magic is presented in this book was creative and classic. Each witch has a “Talent” which lets them do a specific thing really well. Healing, finding, hiding, and persuading are just some of the Talents possessed by Tamsin’s family and friends.

Tamsin, however, does not have a Talent, even though she was supposed to be really Talented. Obviously this makes her feel lonely and out of the loop, so she avoids family functions whenever she can. Thus she attends a boarding school in New York and only comes home when she has to. From here her desire to feel powerful like her family, starts her on a journey to find an old clock. However the “handsome young professor” is not all together honest, and Tamsin gets swept into a crazy magical conflict.

As for the characters, they were quite impressive. Tamsin’s roommate Agatha was a lovely side character who supported Tamsin even without knowing all the details. Gabriel, the love interest, was charming. Each family member was very unique and complex. There was a lot going on with each of them, even though we only saw certain aspects of their character.

A lot of the conflict/plot comes from Tamsin’s feeling of failure from not having a Talent. This causes her to accept a task she probably couldn’t accomplish. Along the way she finds out powers she had but didn’t know about, and we see her coming to terms with herself.
So all in all, I really enjoyed the characters, concept, and plot of Once A Witch, and I look forward to picking up the sequel, Always A Witch, which just came out!!

Rating: Capture878

Content Warnings: Language, suggestive comments, witchcraft.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: How to Build a House

Title: How to Build a House
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Published: 2008 by Random House
Obtained: Library
Building a house takes time and hard work. But a home can be destroyed in one terrible moment – as Harper discovers when her dad and her beloved stepmother get a divorce. Even worse, the divorce separates Harper from her stepsister, Tess.
It’s time to escape. Harper joins a volunteer program to build a house for a family in Tennessee who has lost their home in a tornado – not that she knows the first thing about construction. Soon Harper is living in a funky motel and working long days with kids from all over the country. She works alongside Teddy, the son of the family for whom the house is being built. Their partnership promises to turn into a summer romance, complete with power tools. For Harper, learning to trust and love Teddy isn’t easy, but it could be the first step toward finding her way back home.

First Sentence:
”The world is drowning.”

I have very mixed feelings about this book. While I enjoyed the concept and the message about awareness of emotionally abusive relationships and messy divorces, I think that Dana Reinhardt killed her message in the end.

The book begins with a very environmentally conscious Harper flying on a plane over to Tennessee to help build a house. She was very struck by the tornado disaster that happened there, and wants to help the people affected. As the story goes on, she meets new friends and also relives moments from her past. We slowly learn that she was in a sort-of relationship with this boy Gabriel. She liked him, he occasionally used her for sex and then their relationship wouldn’t exist until the next time he wanted her. Also thrown into this mess of emotional problems, Harper was dealing with the divorce of her father and stepmother (her biological mom died when she was really young and her dad remarried soon after). This divorce creates tension with her stepsister Tess who was her best friend.
So coming from this giant mess at home, Harper now has to work with a bunch of other teenagers who she feels insecure around. However she quickly gets over it and starts making a friend in Teddy, who is going to live in the house they are building. Eventually Teddy and Harper get into a romantic relationship and, although you would THINK that Harper would be very hesitant to do so due to her past experiences, they have sex. A few times.

So here we wonder: what is Dana Reinhardt trying to convey to the readers? That it’s okay for teens to have sex with the boy they meet just that summer, and who they might never see again? That teenage sex is just fine as long as you’re in a “committed” relationship with the other person (who you might have just meet a few weeks ago)? She got her point across that guys who use girls for sex are despicable human beings and deserve to be alone. But from there she basically started saying it was fine to have sex with a boy like Teddy (who I found pushy at times), because he “loves” you.

I just didn’t really like the messages of this book. It was right in its portrayal of the effects of divorce. It was also very potent in the showing of abusive almost-relationships. But I feel like she defeated her positive messages by putting some negative messages in the story.

However, the writing was pretty nice, if concise and slightly choppy (it was first person, so that kind of writing can be slightly excused).

Rating: Capture878 It was alright, but I mostly disliked it.

Content Warnings: Sex (not too descriptive), language


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: Flawless

Title: Flawless
Author: Lara Chapman
Published: 2011 by Bloomsbury
Obtained: Library
Sarah Burke is just about perfect. She's got stunning blue eyes, gorgeous blond hair, and impeccable grades. There's just one tiny – all right, enormous – flaw. Her nose. But even comparisons to a beak don’t bother her much. Sarah's got the best best friend and big plans to make a name for herself as a journalist.
Then, on the first day of senior year, Rock Conway walks into Sarah’s journalism class and, well, rocks her world. Problem is, her best friend, Kristen, falls for him, too. And together, Rock and Kristen look like Barbie and Ken come to life. So when Kristen begs Sarah to help her nab Rock, Sarah does the only thing a best friend can do: she agrees. For someone so smart, what was she thinking?
Filled with hilariously misguided matchmaking, sweet romance, and a gentle reminder that we should all embrace our imperfections, this contemporary retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac is a delight!

First Sentence:”I love the first day of school.”

I believe this is the first book by Lara Chapman, and I think she’s going to do okay. While this book is predictable and rather clich├ęd, I also think that she executed it in a way that made you forget you knew exactly what was going to happen.

Sarah learns a lot through the book. She learns to stand up for herself and not to lean and depend on her friend so much. While her friendship with Kristen is solid, she’s a push-over which causes her to agree to stupid things. Her transformation through the story is very fascinating. She’s let herself deny that she still hides behind her imperfection, so when her friends and mother gently tell her she’s still insecure, it comes as a shock. I really like this aspect of the old “gaining self-esteem” story because many times we tell ourselves that we’ve gotten over something or that we’ve accepted something when we really haven’t. It is nice in those situations to have friends who’ll just tell you that you’re in denial.

However, I never could picture her nose! Many times it was described as “a beak” or just simply as really big. I had a really hard time seeing this in my mind. Maybe people really do have noses like that and I just don’t pay attention to people’s noses?

Sarah and Kristen’s friendship was interesting. While I could understand the friendship, I was also mystified by it. Their personalities didn’t seem very compatible and yet they had been best friends forever. Kristen simultaneously annoyed me and caused me to feel sorry for her. Her attempts to be “better” than she was were funny and yet pitifully sad.

Rock was an interesting character. He was smart, loved literature/poetry, cute, and friendly. Pretty much the perfect guy to any literature-loving girl (not necessarily me…). The depth he conveyed through his words and actions proved him to not be just any old cute guy in a YA novel. He was rather oblivious to many things… but many guys are, so I’ll let him off the hook on that.

This theme of liking your best friends boyfriend seems to be very prevalent in YA books. It’s a hard quandary. Do you tell them that you like their man or do you wait and see what’ll happen? Sarah originally reluctantly helps Kristen get Rock, but then she realizes that: a) Kristen is miserable pretending to be intelligent for Rock and b) She needs to stop only caring about her friends, she needs to think of herself too (that doesn’t mean that she’s going to hurt Kristen to get what she wants, just that she doesn’t think about herself AT ALL, and needs to). So anyways, she uses poetry like any English-loving person. :)

I hope you understood through this desultory review, that I did enjoy the themes explored in this novel, although it was rather cheesy.

Rating: Capture878

Content Warnings: Language


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