Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Book: Paranormalcy
Author: Kiersten White
Published: 2010
Source: local library

Evie is an anomaly in the International Paranormal Containment Agency for any number of reasons. She can see the true form of paranormal creatures, and remains unaffected by (most) glamours. She’s one of the few humans in her social circle. But the thing that makes her the weirdest? She’s the youngest in the IPCA by oh, about forty years.

When she captures a strange paranormal creature and realizes he’s a teenage boy, then the trouble really starts. Who is Lend? Why was he sneaking around the IPCA, disguised as Evie’s boss? What’s with all the paranormal creatures suddenly turning up dead? Why is the ominous faerie Reth, who's tried to manipulate her before, suddenly dropping ominous hints that he knows much more about her than Evie herself does?

What's a girl to do? If you're Evie, you lace up your zebra-print boots, grab your sparkly pink taser, and set about determining whose butt to kick.

I’ll be honest: I was skeptical about this one. See my grumblings a few weeks back about how tired I am of paranormal. The cover didn’t help. Girl with wind-blown hair and swirly pink dress and semi-tragic expression? Whatevs. Fifty pages and I’m outta here.

Then I met Evie, who wouldn’t be caught dead with a tragic expression. (The swirly pink dress would have been fine.) She’s someone that Veronica Mars and Buffy Summers wouldn’t mind hanging out with. They’d be comparing taser brands before you got out of the room. (Oh, trust me. You’d want to be out of that room.) She’s snarky, sweet, enjoys being a girl, and even more enjoys kicking paranormal behind. And when her world goes to hell in a handbasket, she doesn’t waste time whining about it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Kiersten White for not making Reth a viable candidate for Evie’s heart. She’s pulled to him, but she knows he’s bad news. If this boy was any more bad news, he’s be the headliner on the Peter Jennings hour. Evie knows it, and fights it, and doesn’t trust him one tiny little bit, even when she’s forced to depend on him. Awesomeness.

Lend, while sweet, is also kind of bland, and I got the sense Evie likes him for his normal life, something she’s always craved. But he’s a good guy, and I’m hoping to get some interesting things out of him in upcoming books. He certainly has a thought-provoking backstory, rife with opportunities for conflict.

But the main reason I'm looking forward to the rest of this series? I want to spend more time with Evie. She's a girl worth getting to know better.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: From Anna by Jean Little

Book: From Anna
Author: Jean Little
Published: 1972

The youngest in her family, Anna is also the clumsiest and ugliest. She sees no reason to hope that things will be different in Canada than they were in Germany as they flee the Nazis. But Canada brings her to Dr. Schumacher, who realizes something nobody ever noticed before and changes her life for the better.

Why do I love ferocious little girls so much? Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden was one of the first, but my reading life has always focused with particular affection on the stubborn, angular, not-all-that-charming child who could probably navigate the world a little better if she was sweet and compliant, but seems constitutionally unable to be so.

Anna’s ferocity is easy to understand. Because of her visual difficulties, nothing has ever been easy for her to learn. She's not exactly graceful, either, simply because she can't see the thing she's about to fall over. It also doesn't help that she's not a sweet-faced blond angel like her siblings. Joan Sandin's illustrations really bring this out. Being called stupid, clumsy, and ugly all her life has understandably created a shell to rival that of a Galapagos tortoise.

Bless Jean Little for not immediately making her life sunshine and puppies, bestowing the love and approval of her family upon her when she gets glasses. While things are improving, her family still dismisses her because it’s so entrenched in her mind that this is silly, clumsy little Anna, and it takes a strong demonstration of her intelligence and capability to change their minds.

If you’re looking for a fleeing-from-the-Nazis story, this really isn’t it. Except for discussion of a changing Germany in the beginning as they prepare to leave their country, and an ongoing stubbornness over language in the remainder of the book, this might as well be the story of any family forced to relocate. From Anna is the story of a fiercely guarded girl finally coming into her own and forcing her family to recognize her as such.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book (Series) Review: Soul Screamers by Rachel Vincent

Book series: Soul Screamers (My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save, My Soul to Keep, My Soul to Steal)
Author: Rachel Vincent
Published: 2009-10 (with more to come)
Sources: Library (Books 1-3), electronic ARC from (Book 4)

Kaylee Cavanaugh doesn't have the best life in the world. Her mom is dead, her dad is AWOL, and she has to live with her obnoxious cousin. But she's doing okay. Except for the sudden urge to scream uncontrollably at the strangest moments. Even worse, when she screams, somebody dies. Well, crap. That won't do much for her popularity . . . or her sanity rating, if you want to be honest about it.

But what Kaylee thinks is a one-way ticket to the looney bin (been there, thanks, and she doesn't want to go back) is actually a gift. She's not human, she's a bean sidhe, or banshee, born with the ability to capture human souls with her screaming song to make sure they get where they're supposed to go. Even stranger, the one person who can clue her in on the ins and outs of her bean sidhe heritage is popular and gorgeous Nash Hudson. Hmmm.

Kaylee Cavanaugh doesn't have the best life in the world, but it's looking up.

I'm getting a little paranormal'd out here, people. Just a tad bit weary of Ordinary Girls with Extraordinary Powers, and the Mysterious, Beautiful Boys who seem to Know Everything (and Won't Quit It with the Ominous Hints, God, Just Tell Her What the Hell is Going On Already! It's called Communication with the Chick who can Save Your Heiney, helllllooooo). (Okay, that was a long and probably unnecessary parenthetical aside. But funny, I hope. Please tell me I'm funny and validate my existence.)

I'm also not entirely delighted with the number of adult authors hopping the bandwagon to YA. Said bandwagon being pulled by the Harlequin horse, and said authors being many, many romance novelists. I do love a good romance novel, but they're different genres for different audiences and skillz aren't necessarily transferable. Maybe I'm a bad person, but they definitely have to row hard to convince me to like these books.

All that being said, I'm really, really appreciating the Soul Screamers series from Rachel Vincent.

First, Vincent's really thought out her world. Her Netherworld and the people who slide back and forth across its boundaries are constructed with more stability than I've been seeing lately. Every time you think you've figured out the depths of the Netherworld (ha, see what I did there? I am funny!), you find out more, but the more is logically thought out and holds up next to what's been previously revealed.

Second, things from earlier books come back in later ones. Yes, teenagers can read analytically and they do remember details. And the books rarely end with Kaylee Saves the Day and everyone gets to go eat Cherry Garcia. Yes, the day is generally saved, for a certain value of saved, but there are people that can't be fixed, loose ends flying around, all this stuff that means Kaylee may have saved this day, but tomorrow is probably going to have to be saved all over again, in new and horrible ways.

Third, I love the Nash-and-Kaylee relationship. You see my cynicism up there about Mysterious, Beautiful Boys? I'm just so friggin' sick of Insta-Lurve and riding off into the sunset, and lucky for me, Vincent gives that a miss. There's a little Insta-Lurve in the first book (in fact, the first book is in a lot of ways the toe-dipper, and you don't really get the meaty stuff until the second one), but in later books, Kaylee and Nash don't just have snuggly-wuggly lovey times, they have a relationship. With problems. With issues. With real stuff that comes between them and you're not sure it can be fixed.

Finally, this series is going somewhere. The Big Bad (that's it; I'm cutting off my supply of capital letters) that's been around since the second book is clearly playing the long game, and just as clearly intends to make Kaylee one of his pawns. I have to believe she's a match for him, but it's a pretty even race, and that means that I'm waiting with bated breath for the next one. And you should be too.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Book Review: Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano (but she does love being in recitals) by Peggy Gifford

Book: Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano (but she does love being in recitals)
Author: Peggy Gifford
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Moxy is back, and more Moxy-ish than ever. This time, she’s got a big, big, big piano recital coming up. She’s all ready. She’s got her glittery crown, her fake-ermine-trimmed cape, her sparkly shoes, and of course, her bow. Yep, this is going to be the best piano recital ever, and even the fact that Moxy hasn’t exactly practiced all that much isn’t enough to dim her excitement.

Reading this, I was struck by the fact that the series, while merely called Moxy Maxwell, is really about Moxy and her mom and the relationship that they have. In this one, Mrs. Maxwell is just back from Africa, where her twin sister fell off a ladder (yes, really). Jet-lagged to within an inch of her life, Mrs. Maxwell nevertheless is on the case, frosting 150 cupcakes, keeping the kids from using The Sharp Scissors, discerning whether Moxy does, in fact, know how to stop playing “Heart and Soul”and most of all, being there for Moxy when (as it does) stage fright inevitably strikes.

Balancing out poor Mrs. Maxwell’s world-weary (and sometimes just weary, poor woman) point of view is Moxy’s wild enthusiasm and grand ideas, which will strike a familiar chord with anybody who is or was a kid with more energy than experience.

Bravo for Moxy, three cheers for Mrs. Maxwell, and plentiful huzzahs for Peggy Gifford. I can’t wait for more.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Reading Roundup: March 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 18
Tween: 4
Children: 9

Review Copies: 4
Swapped: 3
Purchased: 2
Library: 21

Teen: Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd
Armed with a red wig, foster teen Holly takes to the road as Solace, the daring, sexier, and more adventurous side of herself, on a quest to find the mother who gave her up. But will Solace endure when Holly's real memories start to surface? Even though I knew Holly was about to crash and burn emotionally any second, I couldn't put this down.
Tween: Here's How I See It - Here's How It Is by Heather Henson
Thirteen stinks any way you look at it. But June's summer stinks more than most. Her mom has moved out, her dad seems to be having a midlife crisis, and her special role in the family theater is being usurped by an annoying outsider. This first novel impressed me with its razor-sharp recall of just how bad the middle school years could be.
Children: Stage Fright by Meg Cabot
Allie Finkle and her rules are back, and this time she's navigating the tricky waters of friendship vs stage rivalry. What's a girl to do when her very, very best friend wants the exact same part in the class play that she does? I always say that Meg Cabot is just about the best writer of the modern girl character of any age, and this one did not prove me wrong.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Interesting Main Character: The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea Campbell
Not Nearly as Light and Fluffy as It Sounded: Donut Days by Lara Zielin
Will Remind You That Love Has Jagged Edges: Ballad: a gathering of faerie by Maggie Stiefvater
Gotta Read the Next One: Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti
Took the Entire Premise of the First Book and Turned It Inside Out: Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund