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Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls

ClaudiaClaudia and the Phantom Phone Calls by Ann M Martin
The Baby-Sitters Club #2

Pub: 1986

Claudia and the other baby-sitters receive mysterious phone calls while they’re at their jobs and think it might be a local jewel thief.

The evening was gloomy and windy, with rain streaming down from heavy clouds that blocked the moon.

I enjoyed reading the first Babysitters Club book so much that I grabbed the second right away. I was surprised at how much of the plot of this one I remembered so many years later.

What I liked: Though Claudia was never my favorite Babysitter (I couldn’t stand how she misspelled stuff in her journal entries and her sister Janine was the most awful character in the series), I found this book pretty enjoyable, or at least a quick, entertaining evening read.

What I didn’t like: Kristy’s line about “Now hear this! No running, no yelling, no jumping – and I mean it. One false move, and I’ll punch your lights out.” Um… what??

Also, the whole plot — besides being extremely outdated (HELLO CELL PHONES AND CALLER ID!) was really cheesy. The synopsis on Goodreads claims that Claudia “investigates” this mystery, but she doesn’t really. They hear weird noises, see someone outside, and call the police. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it didn’t make for a very exciting “investigation.”

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The Fault in Our Stars

FaultThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Pub: 2012

Hazel and Augustus meet at a cancer support group and quickly fall in love.

Opening line:

Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

This is one of those books that has been on my TBR list for long time, and I kept putting it off, mostly because I knew the subject matter was two teens dying of cancer and I’ve found it hard to talk myself into immersing myself in that particular topic. I finally picked it up when our book club decided to read it this month.

What I liked: Despite my expectations, this book wasn’t as emotionally difficult to read as I thought. There were elements of humor that kept it lighthearted enough to keep reading despite the tough topic. Even the mock-eulogies that Hazel and Isaac wrote for Augustus had a kind of dark humor that made you smile even as you felt sad. The tone of this book reminded me a lot of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler – fans of that would enjoy this (and vice versa)

What I didn’t like: First off, I was disappointed that the book that Hazel recommends to Augustus isn’t real — it sounded interesting.

Certain aspects of the characters bothered me. It may just be a personal thing, but they just seemed so precocious, going around quoting poetry and using inflated vocabulary and rambling about philosophy. And Augustus’ cigarette “metaphor”? Sorry, I just didn’t get it. Also, other little things that just rubbed me the wrong way… (*SPOILERS* kissing at the Anne Frank house just seemed weird to me and the fact that he waited until AFTER they were intimate before he told her that his cancer was back really rubbed me the wrong way, too)

Also, I’m not really sure if it was because of the MAJOR HYPE surrounding this book or because I already knew how it ended, but I felt kind of let down. It was sad, sure, but I didn’t cry. The end just kind of fizzled out without the emotional punch I was anticipating.

Heads up: Contains sexual content and references, mature language

We Were Liars

We

NEW this week…

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

★ ★ ★ ★

Cadence and her three best friends spend every summer together on her grandfather’s private island, until one summer when everything changes.

Opening line:

Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.

No one is a criminal.

No one is an addict.

No one is a failure.

There’s very little that can be said about this novel without giving way too much away, so let’s just suffice it to say that this is an awesome book with an unreliable narrator (Cadence has selective amnesia after her fifteenth summer), and a couple twists that will throw even the most careful reader for a loop.

It’s about love, friendship, family, and fallings-out, and written in lovely,  poetic prose, and even includes some mini-fractured fairy tales in which Cadence tries to sort through what really happened to her.

Heads up: A tiny bit of crude language (2-3 instances?)

Second Star

Second

 

NEW this week…

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Wendy Darling goes searching for her missing surfer brothers and finds herself in a mysterious cove inhabited by runaways.

Opening lines:

I can smell the bonfire before I even get out of the car. It’s dusk, and the sun is low on the water.

I picked up this book because, well, hello, Peter Pan! I was really interested in a modern-day retelling w/ Peter and the lost boys as surfers. Very cool premise, and lovely cover (though it is eerily similar to We Were Liars‘ cover)

What I liked: I loved the nods to Peter Pan, from an orphan boy named Peter who flies on his surfboard over the waves, to his ex-girlfriend tagalong Belle with blonde hair and major attitude, to a great big dog named Nana. The setting is fabulous; I loved how the whole story engrosses the reader in the life of a coastal surfer.

What I didn’t care for: A large amount of the plot revolves around a love triangle and a drug dealer who specializes in a new kind of drug, dust. The MC spends a good chunk of the story doing things that don’t really make sense as she tries to find her brothers. I don’t really understand why she makes some of the decisions she does, and the whole last part of the book goes off in another direction which makes you question if this is really an unreliable narrator (a la We Were Liars). The ending didn’t feel resolved to me at all, and made me wonder if this was intended to be a series.

Overall: A beautiful setting, cool Peter Pan references, but the unresolved ending made me unable to ‘think happy thoughts’ about it.

Heads up: Teen drug use

Feather Bound

Feather Bound

NEW THIS WEEK…

Feather Bound by Sarah Raughley

When Deanna’s friend Hyde (who has been assumed dead for nine years) shows up at his father’s funeral, Deanna gets pulled into a world of secrets and betrayals of the rich and powerful, and must fight to keep her own secret safe.

Opening lines:

At precisely seven in the morning, my oldest sister, Ericka, arrived at our Brooklyn shack and was horrified to find our dad sprawled out on the couch, basting in a sea of beer cans.

When I first read the premise for this story, the part about ‘human swans’ confused me, so I’ll tell you flat out: some humans are also swans. They discover this during puberty when they grow a robe of feathers out their back, feathers which show themselves when their “fight or flight” mechanisms kick in, but most the time are hidden from the world beneath skin. Swans are considered second-class citizens, and their feathers hold important powers. There, now doesn’t that pique your interest?

What I liked: The premise is brilliant. It’s based on traditional fairy tale The Swan Maiden, and the adaptation to the modern world is fascinatingly done, even integrating swans into the world’s history, economy, and social classes. It looks, feels, acts like the modern world, with the difference being the addition of swans. The characters were complex and relate-able, and their relationships were realistic. Deanna and her sisters remind me a bit of the March sisters from Little Women — each unique, each with her own struggles, but each fiercely devoted to one another.

What I didn’t like: Some really awful stuff happens to pretty much all the characters. At times it was hard to read simply because of the horribleness of what was happening. Then again, it really wouldn’t be the same story without these elements. Also, the father figure is quite useless.

Heads up: violence, sexual content/rape, language, human trafficking

Panic

Panic_HC_JKT_des4.inddPanic by Lauren Oliver

Pub: March 2014

Small-town teens Heather & Dodge participate in an elaborate game of daring feats to win $67,000.

Opening line:

THE WATER WAS SO COLD IT TOOK HEATHER’S BREATH away as she fought past the kids crowding the beach and standing in the shallows, waving towels and homemade signs, cheering and calling up to the remaining jumpers.

Lauren Oliver’s novels have been a bit hit-or-miss for me — I loved Liesel & Po, and I liked Before I Fall and Delirium, but the final books of the Delirium series didn’t hold up for me. I’d hoped that since Panic was a stand-alone, it’d be more like Before I Fall, and in a lot of ways it was, but there were some things that held me back from loving it as much as I wanted to.

What I liked: The premise of a high-stakes small-town dare contest sounded really neat, and for the most part, it was. The author really captured the atmosphere of a dead-end small town, and although I’m not always a huge fan of realistic, contemporary fiction — wow — there are some really intense scenes as the players are narrowed down and the stakes get higher.

What I didn’t like: There was so much of the setup that I just couldn’t buy into. Every single student is bullied into throwing a dollar into the pot for each school day? Events are announced publicly (one was painted on a water tower, for goodness sake) and yet somehow ALL of the adults in the town are completely clueless about what’s going on or too dumb to show up until after the fact? (Keeping in mind that this has been going on for YEARS.) NO ONE in the town thinks that these kids might be communicating the info via email or texts? And the parents? Where are ALL of these kids parents and why don’t they care that their kids are playing Russian Roulette and starting houses on fire? I just can’t buy into it.

My other major issue was with the climax, or — more accurately — the lack thereof.

(Warning: vague spoiler-y stuff ahead)

Everything’s been building and tensions are mounting and everyone’s scheming about how they’re going to win the final challenge — which is basically a game of chicken (in which at least two of the competitors had to borrow someone else’s car) — and things are in place to have some real serious stuff happen… and then it doesn’t. Or, it kind of does, but not really as bad as it could have been. And then someone wins not by being clever or cunning or smart, but by sheer dumb luck. The end. And, presumably, life goes on until the next year when another batch of idiots tries it again. Huge letdown.

Heads up: Lots of underage drinking, some smoking and drug use, sexual references, and teens doing dangerously idiotic things

The Boundless

Boundless

NEW this week…

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

 

4 of 5 stars

On the greatest train ever built, teenaged Will teams up with a traveling circus to save the train from bandits.

Something shifts inside Will, like a door opening.  Maybe it was meeting the circus girl, maybe it was the view of all these new mountains like a gateway to a new and dangerous world — but he feels like his whole life is about to be upended.

Fans of the Airborne series will absolutely adore The Boundless.  Will’s got the strength and courage of Matt Cruse, and Maren is similar to Kate de Vries in her spunk and devil-may-care sense of independence.  And, just like in Airborne, the heroes are working together on a fantastic piece of transportation — this time, the world’s longest, biggest train, that spans over seven miles long and contains over 900 cars.  The picture of the train itself is awesome and fabulous, and the world outside the train is just as exciting and unknown, with great beasts and mythical dangers lurking at every turn of the track.

Some may argue that this story follows a plot a bit too similar to Airborne, and, in fact, it did seem to take me a bit to get into the story simply because of that.  At one point, I wondered why the author didn’t just have Matt fly himself over to America, have Kate join the circus, and plop them both on a transcontinental train.

Overall:  A fun alternate history adventure in the same vein as Airborne

The Guard

GuardThe Guard by Kierra Cass

Pub: Feb 2014

The events of The Elite as told by Aspen. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re probably not going to care about this book.)

Opening lines:

“WAKE UP, LEGER.”
“Day off,” I mumbled, pulling the blanket over my head.

I figured if I’m going to finish out The Selection series (if nothing else, to see Celeste get her comeuppance), I’d better keep up with the novellas along the way. Let me tell you right off: there’s really no need.

What I liked: Seriously, I didn’t hate this novella. It was a quick read, and probably would be a really good catch-up for anyone who’d read The Elite right away and wants a quick recap before The One.

What I didn’t like: That’s all it was. I can’t think of a single thing in this novella that hadn’t already been established in The Elite. I was hoping for some sort of inside info — WHY he says Maxon is a good actor, for instance or what REALLY happened when the king and prince were supposedly in New Asia, even more about what happened when America ran away from the rebels. Something! Anything! Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed.

Feather Bound

Feather Bound

Feather Bound by Sarah Raughley

Pub: May 6, 2014

When Deanna’s friend Hyde (who has been assumed dead for nine years) shows up at his father’s funeral, Deanna gets pulled into a world of secrets and betrayals of the rich and powerful, and must fight to keep her own secret safe.

Opening lines:

At precisely seven in the morning, my oldest sister, Ericka, arrived at our Brooklyn shack and was horrified to find our dad sprawled out on the couch, basting in a sea of beer cans.

Full Review coming in May!

Overall: A fascinating premise (half-swan humans whose feathers hold magical powers!), interesting characters, and a world very much like our own.

Vigilante Nights

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Vigilante Nights by Erin Richards

Pub: 2013

When Lucas’ sister is killed in a gang-related car crash, he sets out to form his own group of vigilantes to take them down.

Opening lines:

Silver’s babbling continued at racecar speed. Seriously, I didn’t want to hear about the target of my sister’s lust.

This book is a bit outside what I normally read, but I figured I’d give it a shot. It’s a contemporary YA, but also has a bit of (ghost/spirit) paranormal and romance.

What I liked: The second half of this book was intense. High stakes, tough choices, desperate characters all made the last hundred or so pages hard to put down. Although the characters definitely didn’t make decisions I would make, they were well-developed enough that I still rooted for them, still liked them despite their flaws. I also liked the subtle paranormal aspect, which added to the story instead of stealing the spotlight.

What I didn’t like: I’ll admit, the first half was a bit hard for me to get into. There was a lot going on in the main character’s life, and at times it seemed rather unrelated. The narrator has a very unique, very descriptive voice (which I liked) but at times the unusual figures of speech made it difficult to understand what was actually going on.

Heads up: gang violence, teen drug/alcohol use, some strong language & racial slurs, some sexual content

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