Monday, July 13, 2015

MG Review: Rise of the Darklings

So my province is kind of on fire, and we're advised not to really go outside, so that kind of sucks for actually Doing Things... but I'm getting a lot of reading and reviewing done!

Rise of the Darklings by Paul Crilley

Published: September 28th, 2010 by EgmontUSA
Genre: MG Fantasy
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 333 plus the about the author and acknowledgements
Part of a series? Yes, it's book one of The Invisible Order series, with a second book published in 2011.
Got via: I got it for review ages and ages ago because I'm a terrible person, and nobody cares about me anymore, but I feel bad leaving books sent to me unreviewed, especially when I like them, so here we are.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Emily Snow is twelve years old, supporting herself and her younger brother on the streets of Victorian England by selling watercress. One early winter morning on her way to buy supplies, she encounters a piskie--a small but very sarcastic fey creature that has been cornered by a group of the Black Sidhe, piskies from an opposing clan. She rescues him and unknowingly becomes involved in a war between the Seelie and the Unseelie, two opposing factions of fairies that have been battling each other throughout the long centuries of human history, with London--and England itself--as the ultimate prize.

When the Invisible Order--a centuries-old secret society of humans that has protected mankind from the fey's interference--gets involved, things really start to get complicated.

Now she is the central figure in this ancient war that could permanently change Earth. With no one to trust, Emily must rely on her own instincts and guile to make the right choices that could save her family and all of mankind.

Review: Man, I would have loved this as a kid. A practical but spirited heroine who turns out to be incredibly important to the world, London, fairie type creatures. This so totally would have been ten year old me's jam. As an adult, I still really enjoyed it. I loved how much mythology is used, how much I recognized, and I did really like Emily. While I wasn't absolutely in love with this one, I think it would be a great rainy day read for kids.

Plot Talk: Emily's parents have disappeared, so she's left to take care of herself and her younger brother. One morning, she stumbles across a fight between mysterious creatures, piskies, and is drawn into their world. Basically, what the summary says much better than me. The pacing was fine, and I had no real problems with the plot itself.

Characters: Emily's a good character. She's like the female equivalent of the male "Chosen One" that can be very prevalent in fantasy, including middle grade fantasy. She's practical but feisty, stubborn, caring, protective, and I really enjoyed reading about her. I kind of loved the practical side of her personality, because it's a lovely strength to showcase that isn't strictly physical. Her relationship with her brother was nice, too, although he doesn't get much time for characterization.

I did enjoy the other characters. The villains are good villains, and I never knew exactly who to trust. I also liked her friend Jack, who's a thief, and I know I would have liked him as a kid, too. I do wish there had been more women, though, especially since almost every female character was a villain. Just, more women, please!

PG-13 stuff: You're pretty much good here. Maybe some implied violence that would make some sensitive readers uncomfortable, but pretty much nothing graphic.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Again, I wish there had been more women, particularly positive ones. I also didn't completely connect with the writing of this one all the time. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but it just didn't draw me in as much as I would have liked.

Cover comments: I quite like the cover. It's a really good representation of what happens in the book, and it fits the book well. I think it's "neutral" enough to be attractive to many young readers, and the lettering is also really neat. Maybe they could have thrown the title onto the front of the book instead of just the spine, but otherwise we're cool.

Conclusion: While it didn't rock my world, this was a solid read, and I wouldn't really have any hesitation recommending it to kids. I absolutely adored the wonderful mythology elements, there's a lot of action and adventure that would appeal to a wide audience, and I really liked Emily. I am also interested in the sequel, and would have seen if I could order it from the library, except for my library card expired on me, and it's Canada Day, so I can't renew it until tomorrow. All in all, I give it three and a half roses.



Peace and cookies,
Laina

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Cuteness: Or, Fun Things in My Inbox (4)

This is a new series on my blog of random fun things, usually book-related, that are emailed to me, and I think you guys would like to hear about. Got something you want to share? Hit my contact button and send it to me!

Random House sent me an email recently that had some really cool stuff in it. First of all, let's talk about the book:

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

To be released October 20th, 2015

(Summary from goodreads, but also it's the same one in the press release they sent me.)

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Amazon / IndieBound / Book Depository

This sounds really cool, and the website has several neat features like videos and character profiles, with new things being released each month around the 20th.

I particularly like this video.



What do you guys think? Is this one you're be interested in?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Monday, July 6, 2015

Things I've Read Recently (19): Summer Books

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason. Sometimes they're themed, because that's fun.

A World Away by Nancy Grossman

Published: July 17th, 2012 by Disney Hyperion, but the paperback I have came out about a year later.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback (obviously)
Page Count: 394 + acknowledgements
Part of a series? No.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Eliza Miller has never made a phone call, never tried on a pair of jeans, never sat in a darkened theater waiting for a movie to start. She's never even talked to someone her age who isn't Amish, like her.

When she leaves her close-knit family to spend the summer as a nanny in suburban Chicago, a part of her can't wait to leave behind everything she knows. She can't imagine the secrets she will uncover, the friends she will make, the surprises and temptations of a way of life so different from her own.

Every minute Eliza spends with her new friend Josh feels as good as listening to music for the first time, and she wonders whether there might be a place for her in his world. But as summer wanes, she misses the people she has left behind, and the Plain life she once took for granted. Eliza will have to decide for herself where she belongs. Whichever choice she makes, she knows she will lose someone she loves.

Thoughts: My first "summer" book and it's got a cover that's rainy and gloomy. SO SUMMERY. I borrowed this one as another possibility for my English project, but honestly, the cover made me unsure if it would work more than anything. I think the hardcover cover works so much better for the book. The paperback cover is pretty, yes, but it made me wonder whether it'd be a serious book, or a "Amish Girls Gone Wild" type book - whether it'd be respectful to the subject matter, basically.

I enjoyed this, and I liked the relationship Eliza has with the women in her life (that's kind of a theme with me, you may notice), but sometimes these books can feel almost voyeuristic, in a way. It's obviously an interesting subject matter, but it's just... kind of one of those moral questions I'm not sure about, you know? Also, I wasn't a big fan of any of the romances in it, there was a serious lack of nannying, and the drinking game mentioned was the most boring drinking game ever. "Let's sit around counting and watching each other get drunk." Seriously, why not just drink if you're gonna drink?

All in all, this was fine, not amazing, and I'm left with questions it can't answer. Better coming-of-age and family story than a romance, though.

A Summer in Paris by Cynthia Baxter writing as Cynthia Blair

Published: Originally in 1992 by Fawcet Juniper, but there was a Kindle copy released in 2013, and I'm using the cover of that because it's prettier.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 214 plus about the author, a summary of another book, and that "order more books through the mail" page books used to have.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Bought in a library sale post-weeding.
Amazon for the Kindle version, and you can find copies on Abebooks.

Summary (from goodreads): Nina Shaw loves everything French and always has. From cooking to irregular verbs, she can't get enough. For as long as she can remember, she has dreamed of going to Paris, and this summer, if she can convince her reluctant parents, she will, taking with her a secret that she has been keeping for years....

Kristy Conner thinks she can't compare to her little sister's acting career or her older sister's beauty. She might as well go to Paris, since her parents don't pay attention to her anyway. Maybe some Paris glamour will rub off on her....

Jennifer Johnson has absolutely no interest in anything remotely connected with Paris. She wants to spend her last summer before college hanging out with her boyfriend. But her parents think travel will broaden her interests, so she has no choice but to spend eight boring weeks with a dull old couple - unless she can open her eyes and her heart....

Although none of them knew it, Nina, Kristy, and Jennifer were about to embark on an exciting adventure they would always remember.

Thoughts: I may be having a situation in the future where it may be better to have less stuff than I currently do, along with my house just needing a generous round of summer cleaning. One area where I should do some weeding is definitely books, but I don't really like getting rid of books without having read them, regardless of what kind of book they are. So, I've been reading a lot of really random books, like this one.


This book is only a few months older than me, and honestly I'm hoping that I've aged better than this. It is quite dated, especially when it comes to the language, and how the characters speak. The writing style especially is very different from what we're used to today, and I actually had a hard time connecting to it. It's not a very long book, but it took me a while longer to read than I'd expect.

However, it was pretty cute. At the time it was published, it would have been a good beach or summer read. Not too heavy, lots of romance, Paris. Also, the cover on the copy I have is mostly identical to the one on the right, except it is much pinker. That could actually be a weird age thing, though, because the back of the book is yellow, except for along the spine where it becomes the kind of pinkish colour it is, pretty unevenly. I really don't know what that deal is, but regardless, it does seem like a very summer-y book. It is is set in summer, obviously, but it's also that kind of mindless "It's 30 degrees and sunny and I'm outside" read.

I didn't love it, honestly, and I will probably get rid of it now that I've read it, but I'm kind of glad I did read it before I do that, and if you're a Paris lover who wants something lighter and fluffy, you may wanna consider grabbing the Kindle edition of this since it's only a few dollars.

Oh, and one of the plotlines reminds me a lot of Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, so if you do get this or have read this, tell me, because I would love to talk about that!

Jenna's Dilemma by Melissa J. Morgan

Published: March 17th, 2005 by Grosset & Dunlap
Genre: Contemporary MG
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 148 plus an excerpt of the next book.
Part of a series? Yes, it's one of 25 books in the Camp Confidential series.
Got via: I'm not sure. Possibly a yard sale. It's in very good condition, barely read.
Amazon / Indiebound / Abebooks

Summary (from goodreads): Summer camp means lots of things: new friends, roommates, bug bites, bathroom duty...But it's also a chance to be on your own and to reinvent yourself. A shy girl can become the belle of the ball, and a jock might find new competition. Natalie, Jenna, Grace, and Alex have all found themselves at Camp Lakeview for different reasons. And each is keeping a secret. But if everyone is hiding something, how will they ever become friends?

Jenna Bloom is a Lakeview legacy. She's been coming to camp for three years and so have her siblings. All of her siblings. Jenna used to think that was cool, but lately she's been dying for some independence. Bubbly, outgoing Jenna has always been known for her pranks. But now her jokes are less and less funny. Are the family ties pulled too tightly-or is there something else going on?

Thoughts: This is really, really cute. It's one of those "girl groups doing things" books, you know? Think Baby-Sitters Club or Sleepover Friends, but modernized. Or that one series, Camp Sunnyside, would probably be pretty similar. (I own a copy of one, but have not read it.)

I have not read any of the other books in the series, but judging by the excerpt and how these things go, I'm going to guess they're fairly formulaic, somewhat unrealistic in tone or voice, and pretty predictable. However, I don't really have a problem with this book. It is really cute, and it would be really good for the intended audience. There are a ton of girls, and they're all different, and they don't act older than their ages. The plots are appropriate for the age of the character, as are their characterizations and emotional arcs. I really have no problems with this. This is a great summer book for young girls, and I will actually be keeping this because it was both adorable and would be great for kids in my life.

Plus the cover is absolutely adorable. It's a perfect cover for this book, really, and the change after book 7 is very strange to me. The later covers look much older, like for an older audience, than I'm assuming the books that follow this one are. But I don't have those ones, so I'll stick with liking this cover a whole lot! The colours are all sunset-y, and it just screams summer.

Killer Cruise by Jennifer Shaw

Published: September 23rd, 2008
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 344 plus an excerpt of another book
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: Apparently I bought it from the drug store for four dollars, according to an old blog post, but I totally did not remember that.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): ONBOARD FACILITIES

Pool 1, Caribbean Deck
Met hot crewmember while soaking up the sun!

The Santorini Restaurant, Olympia Deck
Heard about last year's mysterious disappearance on board. What could have happened?

Movie Theater, Fiesta Deck
Still can't stand horror flicks. Too scary.

Paris Boutique, Panama Deck
Then again, so was my near-death fall overboard last night . . .

Glamorama Spa, Bermuda Deck
Must relax. No one's trying to kill me—I'm just being paranoid.

Club Paradise, Diablo Deck
But what if someone does want me dead?

Thoughts: This was very fluffy and cute. This kind of reminds me of the modernized version of A Summer in Paris with added murder, or a more modern/fluffier Fear Street book. It is not groundbreaking or incredibly deep, but if you're expecting it to be, you're going in with the wrong idea and you're going to be disappointed. I mean, there are pink hearts on the cruise ship and on the anchor, people.

This is a very unrealistic, somewhat shallow, very fluffy book. It's the kind of thing that's perfect for reading next to the pool or on the beach where you can stop in the middle and go take a dunk, or fall asleep partway through, and not really get lost. The characters' outfits are described constantly, in a way that actually reminds me of the Baby-sitters Club (two references in one post - that's a new record), there's a ton of romance, there are multiple pop culture references which do date the book somewhat - and it's fun. It's definitely something you can read with very little thinking. The premise is pretty silly - a rich 16 year old on a cruise meeting a hot guy, shopping all the time, and eating tons of great food - but it's enjoyable to read about something so removed from my reality.

It's brain candy, basically. Go in expecting it to be what it is, a fun, fluffy summer read without a ton of substance, and maybe read it outside in the sun, and you may enjoy it. I thought it was kind of ridiculous, but in a good way, and quite enjoyed it. It gets to keep its spot on my shelf.

Here's a quick amusing thing - the excerpt at the back is for Sleepless by Terri Clark which looks cute in this same kind of way. But there's also Sleepless (Cyn Balog) and Sleepless (Thomas Fahy). Wouldn't that be a fun blog post?

What are you guys reading this summer?

Peace and cookies,
Laina

Friday, July 3, 2015

Friday Cuteness: Or Fun Things In My Inbox (3)

I thought this was neat, and since summer's coming up, and I like the idea of this feature, I'd share it!

FAVORITE CHILDREN'S AUTHORS COME TOGETHER TO GET KIDS READING THIS SUMMER

NEW YORK – May 4, 2015 – Recent research from The Kids & Family Reading Report indicates that 91% of kids say that their favorite books are the ones they picked out themselves - and summer is the perfect time for those fun books kids choose themselves. To encourage kids to “Power Up and Read” throughout the summer, 13 favorite children’s authors have written original short stories that kids can unlock as rewards in this year’s Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge. This free summer reading program, created by Scholastic and powered by Energizer, encourages kids around the world to log the minutes they spend reading in order to unlock more stories, earn rewards, and help set a new world record for minutes read – seeking to top the 304,749,681 minutes read in summer 2014. Children and families can sign up for the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge starting today at www.scholastic.com/summer.

The top children’s authors participating include: Blue Balliett, Patrik Henry Bass, Varian Johnson, Gordon Korman, Michael Northtrop, Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pierce, Roland Smith, R.L. Stine, Tui T. Sutherland, Lauren Tarshis, Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Jude Watson. Each of the authors has written a unique short story using the same opening sentence which is, “I glanced over my shoulder to make sure that no one had followed me into the shadowy library, then took a deep breath and opened the glowing book…”

“We know that summer is the ideal time for kids to discover the power and joy of reading,” said Maggie McGuire, VP Scholastic Kids & Parents Online. “The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge creates an environment where kids are encouraged to choose their own books and read all summer, setting kids up to succeed when returning to school in the fall.”

"I am a big believer in the power of choice when it comes to reading. In some cases, this freedom takes the pressure off reading, allowing a book to ‘just be a book.’ Other times, it allows readers to choose a book that serves as a mirror of their world or a window to a different perspective—or both! Whatever the reason, the power to choose gets us all reading, and the more we read, the more we grow," said acclaimed author Varian Johnson, one of the featured authors in this year’s Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge.

SUMMER READING FOR KIDS:

  • Ultimate goal of setting a new 2015 reading world record: Students read and log minutes, earn digital badges and rewards, and help set a new world record for summer reading
  • Read along with original short stories: Each original short story has a “read along” audio component, inviting children of all ages and reading levels to enjoy these engaging stories.
  • Dynamic creative writing game: Students can play a new “Innovation Machine” story starter game, powered by Energizer. This game encourages kids to create a one-of-a-kind story with fun story starters and wacky vocabulary combinations and enter into a contest to win prizes. Twelve winners will each receive a set of 12 signed books from the participating authors.

SUMMER READING FOR PARENTS:

  • Free daily tips: Parents can find something every day on the new “daily digest” with articles and tips from Scholastic Parents Channel experts at http://www.scholastic.com/parents/summer.
  • 2015 summer book list: Curated by Scholastic experts, this list features books for children in Pre-K through Young Adults.
  • Weekly sweepstakes: Parents can enter to win a “Power Up & Read prize pack,” including a Scholastic tote bag, a copy of Reading Unbound by Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith, $10 gift certificate to Scholastic Store Online, Energizer® brand batteries, Scholastic books and more.

SUMMER READING FOR EDUCATORS:

  • Grand prize for top school: The top elementary school that logs the most minutes this summer will win a visit from bestselling author Michael Northrop and the top middle school that logs the most minutes will win a visit from bestselling author Varian Johnson.
  • Classroom library sweepstakes: Educators who pre-register their students before June 30th, 2015 will be entered to win a free classroom library of 50 books.
  • Free summer reading tools: Educators can track their students reading minutes through the “Educator Dashboard” and their school’s progress on a virtual map, send automated emails to parents and access bi-lingual resources and printables.

For more information about the Scholastic Summer Challenge, please visit http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/SummerReadingChallenge.

SUMMER READING STATISTICS:

  • Teachers spend four to six weeks re-teaching materials students because of the “summer slide – the learning losses which can occur when school is not in session.
  • Children who read four or more books over the summer fare better on reading comprehension tests in the fall than their peers who read one or no books over the summer, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic level or previous achievement.
  • The majority of children of all ages (6-17) say when reading for fun, they want “books that make me laugh” (70%).

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You can read the full press release here, and the website for the Reading Challenge stuff is here. I think this is pretty cool - I read a lot of these authors as a kid, and those short stories look like a lot of fun, and I think I'll be checking a few out myself!

If you've got anything fun you think I'd like to feature, hit my contact button and email it to me!

Peace and cookies,
Laina