Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: The Fortunes of Indigo Skye

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed some of Caletti's other books; Colourful Reading Challenge

Description: "Eighteen-year-old Indigo Skye feels like she has it all - a waitress job she loves, an adorable refrigerator-delivery-guy boyfriend, and a home life that's slightly crazed but rich in love. Until a mysterious man at the restaurant leaves her a 2.5 million-dollar tip, and her life as she knew it is transformed.

At first its amazing: a hot new car, enormous flat-screen TV, and presents for everyone she cares about. She laughs off the warnings that money changes people, that they come to rely on what they have instead of who they are. Because it won't happen...not to her. Or will it? What do you do when you can buy anything your heart desires -- but what your heart desires can't be bought?

This is the story of a girl who gets rich, gets lost, and ultimately finds her way back - if not to where she started, then to where she can start again."

First lines: "You can tell a lot about people from what they order for breakfast. Take Nick Harrison, for example. People talk about him killing his wife after she fell down a flight of stairs two years ago, but I know it's not true. Someone who killed his wife would order fried eggs, bacon, sausage -- something strong and meaty."

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book - Caletti writes wonderfully. Indigo is very likeable and Caletti has some great turns of phrase like "spring delicious." Of course Indigo does have to become horrid to learn that money doesn't buy happiness, but that's par for the course for this kind of story. I really liked that Indigo truly enjoyed being a waitress because she got to serve people comforting foods and help them through their day just a bit. She made lots of good observations about what's important in life and what money can do to people, particularly when it gives them power over others. Her little sister Bex's desire to help tsunami victims and her twin brother's obviously doomed relationship with his boss' daughter made them endearing secondary characters and Indigo's boyfriend Trevor is a true gem. Indigo's journey, while not overly surprising, feels genuine and her affection and concern for others (except for the brief lapse into obligatory bitchiness), as well as her sense of humour, made her a joy to read about.

Review: Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning

Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth
3 stars

Reasons for reading: sounded good, Colourful Reading Challenge

Description: "Spunky, headstrong Violet Raines is happy with things just the way they are in her sleepy backwoods Florida town. She loves going to the fish fry with her best friend, Lottie, and collecting BrainFreeze cups with her good friend Eddie. She loves squeezing into the open trunk of the old cypress tree, looking for alligators in the river, and witnessing lighting storms on a warm summer day.

But Violet’s world is turned upside down when Melissa moves to town from big city Detroit. All of a sudden Violet’s supposed to want to wear makeup, and watch soap operas, and play Truth or Dare! It’ll take the help of Violet’s friends, her Momma, a few run-ins with lightning, and maybe even Melissa, for Violet to realize that growing up doesn’t have to mean changing who you are."

First line: "When Eddie B. dared me to walk the net bridge over the Elijah Hatchett River where we'd seen an alligator and another kid got bit by a coral snake, I wasn't scared - I just didn't feel like doing it right then."

My thoughts: My verdict is that this is a good read for preteens but for an old person like me it was pretty much a read-this-all-before book. It's the usual girl coming-of-age stuff, trying on make-up and bras, a mean (ish) girl, worrying about losing a friend, starting to notice boys, etc. I did like the rural, Southern setting, it gave it a bit of an old-fashioned feel. Violet was spunky but typical for this type of book, fairly self-centered and not wanting to grow up.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Review: My Life, the Musical

My Life: The Musical by Maryrose Wood
3 stars

Reasons for reading: musical term for What's in a Name Challenge; YA Challenge

Description: "To best friends and devoted theater fans Emily and Philip, Aurora is no ordinary Broadway musical. Their love for the hit show (whose reclusive author has never been named) is nothing short of an obsession. Thanks to a secret loan from Emily’s grandma Rose, seeing the Saturday matinee has become a weekly ritual that makes real life seem dull and drab by comparison. But when the theater chat rooms start buzzing with crazy rumors that Aurora might close, Emily and Philip find themselves grappling with some truly show-stopping questions. What, exactly, is the “one sure thing” in show business? How will they pay back the money they owe Grandma Rose? And why hasn’t Philip asked Emily out on a real date? As they go to hilarious lengths to indulge their passion for Aurora, Emily and Philip must face the fact that all shows close sooner or later. But first they’ll put their friendship to the ultimate test, solve Broadway’s biggest mystery–and spend one unforgettable night at the theater."

My thoughts: Being a big fan of musicals, I wanted to like this one more than I did. I can't pinpoint what made it less enjoyable for me, exactly. Maybe I'm just too old, but I found Emily's constant lying to her parents and the easy way she took money from her rather dotty grandmother (both by being given it and by actually stealing it) pretty hard to take. The grandmother's constant refrain that Zero Mostel was the best Tevye ever started off cute but got annoying after about the 10th time. And I think the pace was supposed to resemble a musical, but I just found that too much happened quickly and (I have to admit, like every good musical) things were summed it very quickly and neatly at the end. Philip's encyclopedia-like knowledge of musicals was fun, but it really jarred with me that he hadn't seen The Producers. Why not? He'd seen every other musical, film and stage versions, from the past 50 years. And the cliche thing about whether a boy fan of musicals is gay or not was a bit tired. It also seemed odd that theatre freaks like Emily and Philip weren't in the Drama Club, but I guess they spent all their free time at Aurora.

It's not that it wasn't enjoyable, it just left me a bit cold. Probably teens who identify more with immediate-gratification Emily would like it more than I did.

What's in a Name? Challenge 3: Wrap-Up

Thanks to Beth F for hosting this challenge! It was fun, as usual! I got it finished just in the nick of time.

Here are the books I read:

1. Food: Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani

2. Body of water: Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank

3. Person's title: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

4. Plant: Roses by Leila Meacham

5. Place name: gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

6. Music term: My Life: the Musical by Maryrose Wood

My favourite was gods in Alabama, which I had been meaning to read for ages, so I'm glad this challenge gave me a reason! I think my least favourite was The Other Queen because it was so repetitive.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Not a review: Christmas Cookie Club

I totally agree with this comment from Publisher's Weekly "Pearlman's effort tries hard not to be that lump of coal that it really is."

I was really looking forward to my annual Christmas story, but apparently it's not meant to be this year. I couldn't get past chapter 2. I liked the first couple of pages, where Marnie describes herself as the chief "cookie bitch" and outlines the strict rules for membership in the Christmas Cookie Club. But then we learn that:
- Marnie's first husband died of cancer when he was just 35
- her second husband was a serial cheater and she left him before her younger daughter was even born, making her a struggling single mother
- her eldest daughter is currently pregnant for the 4th time, having suffered 2 miscarriages and having to bring a stillborn baby to term and give birth to it (she describes it as "rotting inside her" and the baby is terribly deformed) - as the book opens they're waiting for test results to see if this latest baby will also be the victim of genetic defects

Wow, I feel full of the holiday spirit. There's then a bizarre 2-page essay on the history of flour before we get to meet Marnie's friend Charlene. Okay, I thought, here comes the comic relief of the wacky best friend. Nope. Charlene:
- has been divorced 3 times, including from one man who beat her
- she was also a struggling single mother to 3 kids to Marnie's 2
- her eldest son has just died, having fallen from an I-beam and been impaled on a spike of rebar
- this has caused her younger son to fall into depression and alcoholism

I was expecting the next friend to show up to have been blinded by household cleaning products and have just had her seeing-eye dog run over.

That was it for me, I don't care how good the cookies are.

(To be fair, the book may very well improve, but it was just way too much sorrow for me, especially on Christmas Eve eve.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen
3.75 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved the Luxe series; YA Challenge

"The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties.

Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey escaped their small Midwestern town for New York's glittering metropolis. All Letty wants is to see her name in lights, but she quickly discovers Manhattan is filled with pretty girls who will do anything to be a star. . . .

Cordelia is searching for the father she's never known, a man as infamous for his wild parties as he is for his shadowy schemes. Overnight, she enters a world more thrilling and glamorous than she ever could have imagined—and more dangerous. It's a life anyone would kill for . . . and someone will.

The only person Cordelia can trust is ­Astrid Donal, a flapper who seems to have it all: money, looks, and the love of Cordelia's brother, Charlie. But Astrid's perfect veneer hides a score of family secrets.

Across the vast lawns of Long Island, in the ­illicit speakeasies of Manhattan, and on the blindingly lit stages of Broadway, the three girls' fortunes will rise and fall—together and apart."

First line: "It's easy to forget now, how effervescent and free we all felt that summer."

My thoughts: Another hit from Anna Godbersen! I wasn't quite as swept up in it as I was the Luxe, but she still knows how to write good historical fiction. Her Jazz Age details are well researched, particularly the clothing descriptions. I didn't find the characters as well-defined as the Luxe ones - they have some personality, but not as much as, for example, the deliciously villainous Penelope Hayes in the first series. I liked feisty Cordelia the best, Letty seemed a bit too precious and naive. But Astrid sums up the F. Scott Fitzgerald-ness of the period the best, with her spoiled socialite life of parties and frivolity, while fears about losing Charlie and her income lurk underneath.

I felt that you could see a lot of what was coming, loud and clear (imagine, a sleazy Broadway producer isn't actually interested in Letty's singing voice!). This was probably at least somewhat intentional, but having almost every single plot point so telegraphed took some of the fun out of the story. I would have liked a few more surprises.

There is a bit of suspense from Godbersen's usual tell-it-in-the-prologue-but-not-quite thing:
". . . one would be famous, one would be married, and one would be dead" since I'm sure the descriptions won't match the girl you'd assume they would. I'll definitely be reading the sequel, I hope there are more surprises and more character development.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: Pretty Dead

Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block
3.25 stars

Reasons for reading: I've liked her other books, cool cover, YA Challenge

"Even if I wanted to die for someone, it wouldn't be that easy. They just keep dying for me.

Something is happening to Charlotte Emerson. Like the fires that are ravaging the hills of L.A., it consumes her from the inside out. Something to do with the tear in her enviably perfect nails. The way she feels when she's with the brooding, magnetic Jared. The blood rushing once again to her cheeks and throughout her veins. For Charlotte is a vampire, witness to almost a century's worth of death and destruction. But not since she was a human girl has mortality touched her.
Until now."

First line: "Teenage girls are powerful creatures."

My thoughts: Another lushly written book by Block. It's not much more than a novella, but her seductive writing and the fact that it's different from today's Twilight schlock vampire lore makes it worthwhile. It is for an older teen and adult audience, as her books tend to be, it's not for tweens.

I was a bit creeped out by the possibly inappropriate relationship between Charlotte and her twin brother (although I could have been reading that in where it didn't belong). And while the ending was interesting and a bit of a twist, I wasn't entirely sold - there were some holes in how it happened, I thought.

My favourite part was the section where Charlotte writes about her century of life for Jared, describing the sights and sounds of every era, from the 20's up until the 80's. I thought she captured the events very well. I also enjoyed the description of Charlotte's house full of "beautiful old things" that she's collected like vintage couture and perfume bottles.

A quick read, a nice change from the usual vampire stuff, and full of poetic prose.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review: Front and Center

Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I love this series!; YA Challenge

Description: "After five months of sheer absolute craziness I was going back to being plain old background D.J. In photographs of course I’m always in the background . . .

But it turns out other folks have big plans for D.J. Like her coach. College scouts. All the town hoops fans. A certain Red Bend High School junior who’s keen for romance and karaoke. Not to mention Brian Nelson, who she should not be thinking about! Who she is done with, thank you very much. But who keeps showing up anyway . . .

Readers first fell in love with straight-talking D. J. Schwenk in Dairy Queen; they followed her ups and downs both on and off the court in The Off Season. Now D. J.steps out from behind the free-throw line in this final installment of the Dairy Queen trilogy."

First lines: "Here are ten words I never thought I'd be saying . . . Well, okay, sure. I say these words all the time. It's not like school and good and to are the kind of words you can avoid even if you wanted to. It's just that I've never said them in this particular order."

My thoughts: Ah, D.J.! Thr first lines show that she's still her awkward, lovable, tongue-tied self. I felt that this was a good ending to the trilogy. Part of me wishes there would be more D.J. books, because I love reading about her, but the smart part knows that 3 books is good, I wouldn't want to suffer from series fatigue and end up not liking her as much. In this book, D.J.'s self-esteem finally gets to where it should be, after a long battle with herself. D.J. has to start thinking about college. Everyone but D.J. knows her basketball skills are scholarship worthy - for D.J., the idea of playing in front of thousands of screaming fans is terrifying. So maybe she should go to a very small college where her skills will be very much in demand, but the games won't be so demanding?

And that Brian Nelson keeps popping up. Even though D.J. has a perfectly nice boyfriend now, who lives in her town, goes to her school, and isn't afraid to be seen with her in public. But...he doesn't make her feel the way Brian does. Again, she has to choose safety or throwing caution to the wind and going for it.

While I'll really miss D.J., I think it was a good idea to end as a trilogy - always leave 'em wanting more. I was satisfied with the way the series ended and feel confident that D.J. will go far in life!

Review: Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
3.75 stars

Reasons for reading:
sounded good when I read reviews for purchasing it for the library, Young Adult Challenge

First lines:
"The Sullivan family's Christmas began in the traditional way that year. All six children gathered at the top of the stairs in order, from youngest to oldest, and waited for the signal from Daddy-o that it was safe to come downstairs and inspect the work of Santa."

Description (from Booklist): "On Christmas Day, the scion of the Sullivan family, Almighty, announces one of her grandchildren has offended her. Unless she receives a proper confession by New Year’s Day, Norrie, Jane, Sassy, their brothers, and their parents will be ripped from Almighty’s will and left destitute. Oh dear. So begins a cleverly plotted romp divided into three parts—the confession letters of each sister. Bunched together in age—18, 16, and 15—the girls have much in common, including a cheerful disdain for their parents, a healthy fear of Almighty, and the uneasy knowledge that their life of privilege isn’t how the rest of the world lives. The letters themselves are both thoughtful and funny, and if the voices of the three sisters sometimes sound alike, their confessions amply show the reasons Almighty might be angry, as one sister skips out on her cotillion to follow her heart, another blogs about her family’s evil road to power, and the third regrets killing Almighty’s fifth husband."

My thoughts: These interconnected stories kept me wondering which "crime" Almighty was angry about and wanting to get to know each Sullivan sister. As several reviews point out, it's nice to see a novel about wealthy girls who aren't bitchy, mean, label-whores. These girls are pretty normal (as normal as you can be in a rich family of 6 kids where the parents only vaguely seem to be aware that they're parents). My favourite sister was Norrie, who falls in love with an older man at her speed reading class and just can't make herself fit with the society boy her grandmother has picked out. Jane and her rather bratty blog about her "evil family" probably had the strongest voice and her bit of rebellion fit with her age and privileged upbringing. Sassy was sweet and a bit dumb, but I found her story, revolving around thinking she's immortal because she keeps getting hit by cars and not getting hurt, didn't really fit the tone of the other two mainstream stories, although it's basically the one that ties everything together. While I wasn't 100% on board with the ending, it did have a bit of a twist, which I appreciated.

The adults in the story are fairly well-drawn and pretty unusual. Daddy-o and Ginger (they can't stand the thought of actually just being called mom and dad) seem largely unaware of their children's behaviour, although Daddy-o is probably more with-it than he appears. Dramatic, fragile Ginger has furnished the house with fainting couches because she often finds it hard to remain upright. Almighty is a force to be reckoned with, a matriarch to the nth degree. She seems very cold and doesn't thaw much, although she does come to see the girls as more than just either irritants or extensions of her family name. The settings, both the family's enormous old house with its Tower Room and the location of Baltimore rather than NYC or LA add some interesting elements.

The Christmassy setting was a nice bonus for this time of year and while I didn't think the story was perfect, I enjoyed that it was actually an interesting story rather than the usual chick lit drivel. Definitely one to recommend to teen girls looking for a good read this holiday season!