Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Saenz, cover
When a book has three medals on the cover, you feel like you are supposed to like it. Probably a lot. But for me, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a disappointment.

Ari is our narrator. He doesn't talk much, worries about not knowing who he is, has no friends, and prefers it that way. One day at the swimming pool, a boy asks Ari if he wants to learn how to swim. So Dante teaches Ari how to swim and a friendship is born.

Let's talk about what I liked about  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. The blurb talks about "breathtaking prose." I can see that. The writing is very good. The characterizations are excellent. I really felt like I got to know Ari and Dante very well. I loved the parents in this one. Especially Ari's conversations with his mother. Great stuff.

But, as you can probably tell, I had some problems. Nothing. Ever. Happens. Well, maybe things just happen very slowly. The "accident" happens at about the middle of the book, but it doesn't really move the story along very much. The last 50 pages were very interesting and almost wrapped things up too quickly. Maybe not too quickly, but it was startling after the slow development of the rest of  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. 

As the story meanders along, you become fairly certain how things are going to end. And I suspect Saenz wants you to know. But still, I wanted so badly for it not to end like that. It was just way too easy and happy. I was hoping for something different that would surprise me. But no. Totally predictable.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an LGBTQ book dealing with homosexuality. If the romance in this book had been heterosexual, it would have been boring and cliche. It was. I felt the same way about Rainbow Boys when it came out in 2001. At that time, it was somewhat groundbreaking, at least to me. But the only reason that book was interesting was because of the homosexuality. If the story had been written with couples of the opposite sex, it would have been a boring, cliche romance. I don't understand why predictable romance stories get so much attention just because they are about gay couples.

I'm obviously way in the minority here, and I'm probably being very controversial. Just remember, this is just my opinion and don't judge me to harshly.

I'm sure Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has a teen audience, and I won't hesitate to recommend it to them.

Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2012
Copy obtained from the library
359 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury @AHintofMystery

Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury cover, review
While The Sin Eater's Daughter has some familiar tropes, I found enough unique elements and thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling.

Twylla is the chosen one. She was removed from her home and everything she knows and brought to the castle to be the Daunen Embodied. Basically, she eats poison once a month and it doesn't kill her. But anyone who touches her is killed because of the poison in her body. So she serves as executioner for the kingdom by touching anyone the queen sees as a traitor. The queen and Twylla's betrothed, the prince, are immune to Twylla's poison.

The queen is vicious, evil, cunning, and ruthless. And that's at the beginning of The Sin Eater's Daughter. She gets worse as the story goes on. The prince has been gone for two years, so Twylla doesn't really know anything about him. He returns, and begins to spend time with Twylla.

Twylla's guards change often. No one wants to guard her because the slightest misstep could kill them. Twylla's one long-time guard gets injured, and she has only her new guard, Lief, to protect her. They become close. And then even closer.

There's a lot more I could say, but I really don't want to. I don't want to tell you the story, I want you to read it. The twists and turns will keep your interest. I liked Twylla, even though she was a bit stupid at times, and wanted her to prevail. The Queen's dastardly plans are slowly revealed and are quite unbelievable, so the reader can't help but want her to be stopped. The ending of The Sin Eater's Daughter brings you to the very edge of panic.

I was riveted and entertained. I will happily recommend The Sin Eater's Daughter to my teens. This reads like a stand alone, although there is more to explore in this world if the author chooses to.

Published by Scholastic, February 24, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 4.5/5

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: Ask the Dark, by Henry Turner

Ask the Dark by Henry Turner Cover and Review
Ask the Dark was difficult to put down. I simply had to know how this all played out.

You get the ending first. We are told that Billy Zeets figured out who had been kidnapping and killing young boys. Then Billy goes back and tells his story from the beginning.

Billy has a rough life. He admits to stealing and sneaking out after curfew. He knows a lot about everyone in the neighborhood, and it's because of that he figures out who this really awful guy is. A couple kids have disappeared. And a couple have been found dead. A couple are still missing. Billy knows some of them. He's enemies with some of them, but then, Billy has lots of enemies.

His father has no job, and their house is about to be taken away. Billy works so hard at odd jobs to make money to keep their house, but there's no way he can make enough. Billy puts himself in danger trying to figure out what is going on when he discovers an empty house with all the windows blacked out. He knows there is a man that drives an old car, and Billy sees this car parked at the empty house. How can he prove that this guy is the kidnapper/murderer?And that is all the details I'm going to give you about the story.

Ask the Dark is a compelling tale that moves at a great pace. The main character is Billy, and the secondary characters aren't that well developed, but they aren't that important. Billy is telling the story, and the story is his. The only slight difficulty that some readers may find is that the book is written in dialect, which I know is a problem for some readers, especially reluctant readers because they have to slow down.

The end is worthy of some discussion. The impressions that people have of us usually don't change. Unless you become a hero--then everyone forgets all your faults.

Ask the Dark is an exciting and mysterious read that all teens and even adults will enjoy.

Published by Clarion April 7, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
256 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Endangered by Lamar Giles @LRGiles

Endangered by Lamar Giles book cover and review
Endangered grabbed me right away and did a great job of pacing that kept my interest.

Lauren (aka "Panda") is invisible at school. She wants it that way. All she's interested in is photography -- and she puts her skills to use anonymously on her blog. She uses terms like "avenger" and "vigilante" and "karma" as she goes after people who have wronged others. She finds them in compromising situations and posts these pictures. The consequences can be huge, like losing a scholarship, or maybe just some serious embarrassment.

Her latest post exposes a teacher/student relationship. Much to Panda's surprise, someone else was there when she took the pictures and now is blackmailing Panda or else this "admirer" will expose Panda's secret identity.

Basically all hell breaks loose. The post has devastating consequences, unforeseen by Panda. The admirer gets nastier and Panda suspects he or she has become violent.

I loved how Panda comes clean to her parents and the police at about the middle of the book. That never happens, and I was so happy she did the right thing. Even though it didn't do a lot of good. Great parental figures.

I thought the ending was  bit far-fetched, but hey, it was exciting and I was all-in by then.

I thought it took Panda a long time to become repentant. To figure out she might be just as bad as her victims. Her best friend Mia was a great character and helped Panda through this process.

I didn't figure out who the "admirer" was! Bonus! (You might, but I didn't see it.)

I really enjoyed this quick, exciting read. Is it a book that will stick with me? Probably not. But I'm glad I spent the time to read Endangered. And I will happily recommend it to my adventure-loving readers. Even though the main character is a girl, there's no romance, and this would be a great selection for any teen, even those reluctant readers.

Published by HarperTeen, April 21, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
288 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Boy 21 by Matthew Quick

Boy 21 by Matthew Quick Book Review and Cover
Boy 21 is fast paced, easy to read, and will appeal to a lot of teens, both boys and girls.

Finley is white, and a minority in both his school and on his basketball team. He and his girlfriend, Erin, practice all summer in anticipation of their senior year playing basketball. They both hope to help their teams get to the playoffs and that sports will get them scholarships to college to get out of their mob-ruled, broken down town.

Finley's coach asks him to befriend a new kid, Russ, who came from California and is living with his grandparents because his parents were murdered. Russ is also a star basketball player, being nationally recruited. But Coach wants Finley to keep that a secret. Russ wants nothing to do with basketball and talks about outer space all the time. He thinks that's where his parents are, and they are coming to pick him up and take him with them. He insists on being called Boy 21.

Another thing that makes the coach's request difficult is that if Russ decides to play basketball, he will take Finley's spot--and his jersey number (21).

Finley also has his own problems. There are secrets in his family. His mother is gone, but the reader doesn't know what happened to her. His grandfather is a paraplegic who spends his time in a wheelchair.

Boy 21 is a quick read and the characters are engaging. The ending was very quick -- and a little hard for me to buy. The tension mounts nicely, and I think teens will find this exciting, but I had a difficult time believing it all.

Boy 21 would be great for reluctant readers and basketball fans.

Published by Little, Brown BFYR, 2012
Copy obtained from the library
250 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove White Raven Elizabeth Wein cover
I loved the story and the historical element of Black Dove, White Raven, but this is the second of Wein's books that I've been uncomfortable with the way it is narrated.

Teo's and Em's mothers are pilots. We're in the 1930s and blacks and whites just don't mix, so they have trouble getting flying jobs. Teo's late father is Ethiopian, so his mother longs to go live in Ethiopia, where Teo won't suffer the discrimination that he does in the United States. Everything changes when Teo's mother is suddenly killed in an airplane accident. Em's mother is devastated, and moves them back to her Quaker parents in Pennsylvania. After she recovers, she vows to keep her promise to Teo's mother, and the three of them eventually end up in Ethiopia.

There is a lot to the story. Em's mom works as a pilot in Ethiopia too. She eventually decides to teach the kids to fly when a war with Italy seems imminent. She worries about Teo because she can't claim him as her own son. Things get even more complicated as secrets are revealed.

There's a lot about flying, but also about the war with Italy. And the Arc of the Covenant. And slavery. And coffee. The story moves slowly and is rich with details. But...I just didn't like how it was told.

Most of Black Dove, White Raven is supposedly flight logs written by Em and Teo. But their voices aren't distinct and the POV changes abruptly sometimes. Then part of the book is the story that Em and Teo are writing about Black Dove and White Raven. That gets mixed in too. The narration jumps back and forth in time also. I just found it a lot of work to keep track of "who, what, and when" while reading. Some of it has to do with the names of places and people that were Ethiopian. Also, admittedly, I was reading an ARC so hopefully the formatting in the final copy will serve to help the reader understand when the POV is changing.

I like the story. It's a part of history I knew nothing about, and that always earns points with me. Just like Code Name VerityI would hesitate to recommend this to some teen readers because of the difficulty with the writing. Black Dove, White Raven is not a book for reluctant readers, but a more sophisticated reader who enjoys historical fiction will enjoy this one.

Published by Disney-Hyperion, March 31, 2015
eARC obtained from NetGalley
368 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Illinois Teen Book Choice Award 2015 -- The Results are In!

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award

First Place for 2015:

Eleanor & Park Book Cover - Winner - Illinois High School Book Award 2015

Here's the rest of the results as voted on by high school kids in the state of Illinois:

I think they made good choices. How about you?

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Stacking the Shelves -- I Couldn't Resist

Happy Weekend! And Happy Book Collecting! Here's what I added this week:

For Review:
The Sin Eater's Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury from Edelweiss
So, here's the story. Apparently I got approved for this eARC on Edelweiss, but didn't get notified (or missed the notification) so I never downloaded it. So, even though this book came out last month, I'm still hoping to read and review the ARC. I'm also ordering it for my library, but since my budget is gone, I won't get it until next fall.

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir from NetGalley
(the Kindle version is only $2.99 right now..don't know how long that will last.)
I've read some good things about this one--at least one starred review.

Aren't the covers of both of these books gorgeous! How can you resist?

Taking Pity, by David Mark from NetGalley and the publisher
Another Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy book!

From the Library:
Boy 21, by Matthew Quick
My current read.

So, how did you do this week? Anything good? Let me know so I can add to my list. Thanks for visiting and be sure to visit Team Tynga's Reviews, our hosts.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson @BrandSanderson

Steelheart grabs you from the first page and pretty much never lets you go.

The world has been taken over by Epics. These are humans that years ago were given special powers. An object, which the locals call Calamity, appeared in the sky and certain people changed.

These people, now called Epics, couldn't handle the power and eventually took over. Our setting is in what used to be Chicago, now called Newcago (I hate that name--I think Sanderson could do better.) The main character is David, who 10 years ago watched an Epic called Steelheart kill his father and has studied the Epics ever since, hoping to someday get his revenge. Steelheart then turned the entire city to steel (his superpower) and became the dictator, ruling over everyone and keeping them frightened, hungry, and tired.

There is a rebel group called The Reckoners who fight the Epics and try to kill them. Only the minor ones, though. No one can touch Steelheart or his minions. David works to find out who the Reckoners are, convince them to allow him into their group, and then convince them they should go after Steelheart. With information that David has collected his entire life, the group begins to plan their attack.

Steelheart is exciting and fast paced. There are a lot of surprises, especially at the end. Everything isn't easy for the Reckoners--they must work hard and experience some setbacks to reach their goal. There's plenty of violence and very little romance (although Daniel does have a crush), making this a good choice for all teens who enjoy their adventures a little rough.

I did suspect one of the surprises at the end -- but there was a pretty big hint early in the book. It didn't take away from the story at all. Also, I really hated that they used "calamity" and "sparks" as expletives -- over and over. Repetition usually doesn't bother me, but it took all I had not to get my pen out and start scratching out those words!

David is known for his horrible, awkward metaphors which served to lighten the mood a few times. Apart from that, the characters are distinct, but not really the memorable part of Steelheart.

I'd recommend Steelheart to anyone who likes a fast-paced adventure  mixed with some cool superpowers and interesting technology. The second book, Firefight, was recently released and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for The Reckoners.

Published by Delacorte, 2013
Copy obtained from the library
386 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Audio Book Review: The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova

Book cover: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
The characters in The Swan Thieves are what set it apart. The plot, while interesting, moves very slowly.

Robert Oliver has attacked a painting with a knife at a museum and is under the psychiatric care of Andrew Marlow, our main character and one of the narrators of The Swan Thieves. Other than initially speaking a few sentences when he checked into the hospital, Oliver hasn't spoken or even paid much attention to Marlow since that first day. Oliver did tell Marlow that he could speak to anyone he wanted.

Marlow gives the impression that this was a unique case for him and that he may feel there was some impropriety in his treatment of Oliver. Oliver himself is a fairly successful artist, and Marlow also paints so they have this in common. Not that it helps. Oliver obsessively paints the same woman over and over. Who is she?

Marlow ends up interviewing Kate, Oliver's ex wife. And also Mary, who I'm not really going to tell you about. These two characters are also narrators of the story. There's also a narration from the past -- 1889 -- which takes place in France and is based on some letters that Oliver possess, written in French, about a woman named Beatrice, also a painter, and a man who becomes her lover.

As you can see there are multiple layers to the story. What at first seems superfluous information ends up being relevant, so the reader must be patient while Marlow weeds through bits and pieces of information at a painstakingly slow pace.

Each character's story is told completely and serves to connect the reader to their story. The way everything comes together at the end is very clever and surprising (and worth the wait.)

I was a bit confused at times about the French portion of the narration. It starts out as just the letters that Oliver gave Marlow to read, but ends up telling a romantic story between two people. This divergence from the letters is subtle. I became confused because the reader is learning things that Marlow doesn't know, and it's hard to keep track of what is a letter (that Marlow knows about) and what is the rest of the story (that he doesn't). While not essential to understanding what is going on, it did bother me a bit.

I learned a lot about the life of artists--painters in particular. Their daily routine was something I've never thought about. And how one breaks into the art world and gets their work exposed was explored a bit too.

As I often say about audiobooks, I'm very patient. This is another one of those books that I'm not sure I would have had the patience to finish if not for the audio format. The narrators were spot on. The multiple narrations were read by different people which helped a great deal.

If you like epic, character driven stories that contain some sweet romance(es) and some surprises, you will enjoy The Swan Thieves. I highly recommend the audio version.

Published by Little, Brown & Company, (Hachette Audio) 2010
Audiobook obtained from the library
800 pages

Rating: 4/5

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