Review: Cupcake Diaries: Katie and the Cupcake Cure by Coco Simon

 

Title: Katie and the Cupcake Cure

Series: The Cupcake Diaries

Author: Coco Simon

Publisher: Simon Spotlight

ISBN: 978-1442422759

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

This first book in The Cupcake Diaries is told through the perspective of Katie Brown. We find Katie miserable on the first day of middle school. Her best friend Callie came back from camp boy-crazy and part of a whole new group of friends. When it’s made clear that Callie is in the PGC (Popular Girls Club) and Katie is not invited to join, Katie suddenly feels incredibly alone. Katie realizes if she’s going to survive middle school she needs to seriously regroup and find some new friends. But how? She bites into the cupcake her mother packed her for lunch and for a second closes her eyes. The sweet treat makes her happy—finally something goes right! Looking around her table, Katie notices the other students seeming a bit lost, as well. Which gives her an idea…With three new friends Katie forms a club as a way to spread the cupcake love and earn some cupcake cash.

Review:

Katie has no clue what kind of a mine field she is about to walk into when she heads out to her first day of middle school.  She and her BFF Callie have known each since they were babies, and they will have each other to lean on while dealing with any road bumps that they might encounter.  Wrong!  Over summer vacation, Callie has changed and now she’s got other friends to hang with.  What will Katie do?  Now she’s friendless, her locker is an alien monster, and some  of her teachers are scary and strict!

I really enjoyed this fast MG read.  Katie is a sweet girl, which is why it takes her so long to realize that she’s been ditched by her BFF.  She just can’t believe that Callie would do that to her.  She’s also a little embarrassed about the situation, and she doesn’t want to worry her mom, so she doesn’t have anyone to confide in about Callie dumping her for a bunch of mean, snobby girls.  I really felt her pain, but I wished more than once that Katie would defend herself against Callie’s new friends and their bullying.  It seems painfully obvious to me that if you need to call yourself the Popular Girls Club (PGC), you are just a bunch of cool-girl wannabes. 

Katie keeps making excuses for Callie instead of calling her out on her defection, and that frustrated me just a bit, too.  Thankfully, she makes some new friends with the help of some homemade cupcakes, and her new clique appreciates Katie for who she is.  They decide to call themselves the Cupcake Club, and together they discover the joy of baking cupcakes and then sharing them with each other.  It sounds kind of corny, but it didn’t read that way at all.  The baking and the cupcakes bonded them together, and their new mad cooking skillz gave them the courage to compete against the PGC at the school fund-raiser.  Though I wished that Katie and her friends had duct-taped their rivals lips shut, I did like how they competed against the other girls without lowering themselves to their level.

I thought this was a fun book, and I am eager to read the rest of the series.  I may hate to cook, but who can resist the wonderfulness of cupcakes?

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Red Glove by Holly Black

 

Title: Red Glove

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

ISBN: 978-1442403390

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe’s world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth—he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything—or anyone—into something else.

That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she’s human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila’s been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion worker mom. And if Lila’s love is as phony as Cassel’s made-up memories, then he can’t believe anything she says or does.

When Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue—crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too—they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can’t trust anyone—least of all, himself?

Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.

Review:

I love Holly Black’s Curse Worker series.  White Cat was a big surprise for me, because it seemed like it came out of nowhere.  I downloaded the free sample from Amazon to test out my (then) new iPad, and I couldn’t stop reading it.  White Cat was the second ebook that I purchased – The Enemy by Charlie Higson was the first, if you’re curious, and it, too, was a book that was outside of my normal reading zone.  I loved them both, and never would have read them if I hadn’t made that impulse purchase of my iPad (yes, I am just as susceptible to hype as everyone else).

I love the way Holly Black messes with your mind.  You don’t know who to believe or who to trust because everyone is trying to pull a con.  I think the only one in Cassel’s family who was straight with him was his grandfather.  His mom and his brothers don’t seem to have much use for him, except for when they are getting read to pull a scam or have job they need to carry out.  Then they put the pressure on him to lend a hand, and they pull the family obligation card if he resists.  And here I thought my family can be needy and demanding.  They are nothing compared to Cassel’s.  His mom definitely needs to attend parenting classes; no wonder he wants to stay at his boarding school!

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot, so I’m not going to delve into it.  Instead, I’m going to discuss the nuts and bolts of the world of the curse workers and why I enjoy it so much.  Much of this is a reiteration of my review of White Cat.  I love the “magic” system here, and I find it so much more believable because there is a price to be paid when a curse worker uses their talents.  That only seems fair, right? If you have the ability to kill someone with the briefest touch, a little bit of you should die as well.  If you can snatch away someone’s memory, you should have to sacrifice some of yours, too.  That would make you think twice before cheating and resorting to your powers to get ahead in life, don’t you think?

Well, no, not when you work for the mob. That is the other fun part of this world.  Cassel comes from a long line of mobsters.  Why is that?  Because his family is full of curse workers, and everybody hates them!  Why? Because they cheat!  They use their powers to get ahead in the world, and that’s just not right!  Curse workers are illegal, and the government is trying to mandate testing so that each and every one of them can be identified and labeled.  What’s next? Brainwashing?   Internment camps? Capital punishment?  With politicians these days, you never know!

Red Glove is a great book, and it is different from most of the YA novels out there.  I liked the male point of view, and I think that Cassel is a great character.  Somehow he ended up a decent guy, and with his less than stable family, that says a lot about his strength of character.  I enjoyed the time I spent with him, and I can hardly wait for the next book in the series!  If you haven’t read these, give them a chance; I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Grade: B+ leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

 

Title: Kat, Incorrigible

Author: Stephanie Burgis

Publisher: Atheneum

ISBN: 978-1416994473

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she’s inherited her mother’s magical talents, and despite Stepmama’s stern objections, she’s determined to learn how to use them. But with her eldest sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost. If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love?

Review:

To call Kat incorrigible is to understate the feistiness of this twelve-year-old.  She is Kat the fearless, Kat the unrepentant, Kat the reckless!  I loved Kat!!  She is smart, she has nerves of steel, and she will do anything to protect her family.  She is even willing to risk the wrath of her sisters and her stepmother to stop her oldest sister from making the biggest mistake of her life, and believe me, they are not people you want ticked off at you!

Regency England is one of my favorite time periods, and the setting is what originally piqued my interest in the book.  The dash of magic and the spunky character kept me engaged in the reading experience, and I stayed up far too late in a vain attempt to polish off the book.  I had to stop with about 30 pages left to go, and it was torture the next day waiting for the work day to end!  The fast pacing keeps the pages turning, and kept me wondering how Kat could get into so much trouble!  This kid is a disaster waiting to happen!  She is brave enough to dive blindly into danger, and thankfully, she’s also clever enough to extract herself from all of the messes she manages to leap into. 

I enjoyed all of the characters, even the villains.  Kat’s relationship with her sisters was very convincing to me; they are older, and they both look at her as being just a child.  They exclude her from secrets, and it leaves her feeling frustrated and left out.  To add to their conflict, her sisters remember their mother, while Kat was just an infant when she died, and she never got to know her.  This set of circumstances causes a great deal of tension between the sisters when a mishap destroys some of their mother’s belongings.  I felt so sorry for Kat after she finds her mother’s mirror, because her sister accuses her, quite unjustly, of being spiteful and willfully destroying these precious mementos.

The tone of most of the book is light, with snappy dialog to keep things rolling.  While I loved the banter, I sometimes felt that Kat, based solely on her dialog, sounded older than twelve. That is my only quibble with the book.  I loved the magic, the danger, and most of all, I loved Kat.  I can hardly wait for the next book in the series, to see what kind of trouble Kat finds for herself next!

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

 

Title: Wither

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 978-1442409057

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Wither is one of the big releases of 2011, but it left me disappointed.  This is another book with a great premise, but I found the execution wanting.  Though we aren’t given many details, Rhine’s world is a thought-provoking place.  Experiments and gene manipulation have eradicated cancers and birth defects, but they also have an extremely unexpected and unpleasant side-effect; everyone now dies at the cusp of adulthood.  Reaching your twenties is lethal.  All females now sicken and die when they turn twenty, and all males expire when they reach the ripe old age of twenty-five.

Rhine is kidnapped and separated from her brother after a bout of poor judgment places her in danger and leaves her vulnerable to the whims of the Gatherers.  She is whisked away to a secluded, and very secure estate, where she is expected to become House Governor Linden’s bride. Along with her Sister Brides, Cecily and Jenna, Rhine is forced to adjust to her new circumstances, where she is a pampered prisoner.  All the while she dreams of freedom, and being reunited with her brother.

I had a few problems with Wither.  The first is the leisurely pacing.  Jenna, Cecily, and Rhine spend most of the book lounging about, but it’s not their fault.  Like a trio of canaries, they are captives in Linden’s mansion.  He is kind and generous, and he bestows every luxury upon them.  They have everything they could ever long for – everything but freedom.  They move from one day to the next strolling through the elaborate garden, reading in the library, swimming in the pool.  They have beautiful clothing, personal attendants, a lavish bedroom.   Their lives are so much better than the danger-filled and furtive lives they lived before that I couldn’t understand why Rhine would want to go back to nights of standing guard, making sure intruders didn’t break into the home she shared with her brother.

And that brings me to my biggest disappointment with the story – why didn’t Rhine just ask Linden to let her brother live with them?  I wondered this the entire time I read the book.  Linden is in love with her, and would have granted her any wish within his power.  Why leave her brother to fend for himself, struggling and scraping to survive, when he could have lived the life of luxury with her.  Instead, Rhine keeps her life before meeting Linden a secret, and shares nothing of herself with him.  This made her unapproachable to me, and I don’t feel that I ever got to really know her.

There’s plenty of drama between Rhine and her sister brides, and each of them does have a very distinct personality.  They don’t always get along, and they often don’t see eye to eye, especially regarding Linden’s father.  To add the threat of danger to her new life, his father, Vaughn, is cruel and calculating.  He’s of the older generation, before the genetic manipulations doomed everyone to a short life.  He’s also a geneticist, and he will do anything to find a cure to save his son.  When Rhine suspects that he is conducting experiments in the basement, she is even more determined to flee from Linden.  I did get sucked into the all of the drama, and I found the interpersonal relationships very compelling.

Even though I was disappointed with Wither, I did find myself absorbed in the book. I couldn’t put it down.  I had, and still have, so many questions that I want an answer for.  While this wasn’t my favorite read of the year, it was still engrossing enough for me to want to read at least the next book in the series.  I just had a problem with some of the logic and plot drivers, and it occasionally drove me crazy!

Grade:  Waffling between a B- and a C+

In stores March 2011

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst

 

Title: Enchanted Ivy

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

ISBN: 978-1416986454

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

What Lily Carter wants most in the world is to attend Princeton University just like her grandfather. When she finally visits the campus, Grandpa surprises her: She has been selected to take the top-secret Legacy Test. Passing means automatic acceptance to Princeton. Sweet!

Lily’s test is to find the Ivy Key. But what is she looking for? Where does she start? As she searches, Lily is joined by Tye, a cute college boy with orange and black hair who says he’s her guard. That’s weird. But things get seriously strange when a gargoyle talks to her. He tells her that there are two Princetons—the ordinary one and a magical one—and the Key opens the gate between them. But there are more secrets that surround Lily. Worse secrets.

When Lily enters the magical Princeton, she uncovers old betrayals and new dangers, and a chance at her dream becomes a fight for her life. Soon Lily is caught in a power struggle between two worlds, with her family at its center. In a place where Knights slay monsters, boys are were-tigers, and dragons might be out for blood, Lily will need all of her ingenuity and courage—and a little magic—to unite the worlds and unlock the secrets of her past and her future.

Review:

Lily Carter only wants one thing – to be accepted into the undergrad program at Princeton.  Her grandfather is a grad, and she wants to follow in his footsteps and make him proud of her.  When a weekend on campus leads to more mystery and danger than she bargained for,  Lily begins to question what’s really important in her life.

I love the premise of this story.  There is another Princeton, a magical Princeton, in a realm of mythical creatures, that resides parallel to ours.  The university gargoyles are from the magic Princeton, but they have been trapped here without a way to return home.  There are other magical creatures lurking in our world, but they are dangerous and have to feed off of the life essence of humans in order to stay alive.  A secret society of knights has organized at Princeton, to protect humans from the Feeders running wild on campus.

Lily slowly discovers the truth about the knights and, more disconcerting, the truth about her family.  Her grandfather hasn’t been honest with her about her father’s death, or about her mother’s slow descent into madness. Throw in two handsome young men, and Lily is in for a rollercoaster of a weekend.  I loved how practical she is.  Despite the unsettling events careening out of control around her, there isn’t much that she can’t handle.  After initially freaking out, she proves how intelligent and clever she is, and with help from her new friends, she manages to work her way through all of the challenges thrown at her. 

I thought the end of the book dragged out a bit too long, and that is the main reason for the grade I gave to Enchanted Ivy.  My attention started to wander when it should have been glued to the frantic events occurring in the story, but I didn’t feel that the suspense was sustained at the end.  The pacing just felt off to me.  Also, as a side note, I think that the book is better suited to MG readers than YA.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review: Wolves by Emily Gravett

 

Title: Wolves

Author:  Emily Gravett

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 978-1416914914

 

May Contain Spoilers

I was drawn to this title because I wanted to know why a rabbit was on a book called Wolves.  Kind of wish I hadn’t found out.  Poor, poor rabbit!  I hope I am wiser and more aware of my surroundings than the knowledge-seeking rabbit in this book!

Since this review probably already has more words than the book, I’ll keep this short and to the point.  Wolves tells most of its story through its gorgeous illustrations.  Sure, there are spare sentences sharing facts about wolves, and even a shocker of an ending (with an alternative included for those, like myself, who couldn’t accept the original one).  But the magic of this book lies in the lush illustrations. 

The rabbit and his red library book are drawn with a more polish than the wolves lurking across the pages, and the only sparse colors are also found on the rabbit.  The wolves are a little more rough, like pencil sketches before the finishing touches are added.  This, in addition to the clever use of borders, gives the book a sense of texture.  I literally flipped through it four or five times, just to drink in the visuals.  The subdued use of hues makes the rabbit’s journey through the pages of his library book even more dramatic.  The empty backgrounds also add suspense to the read; the focus is on the rabbit, his book, and the images of the wolves behind and around him, the size of the wolves increasing menacingly as the book progresses.

I liked this picture book quite a bit, and have requested holds on more of Emily Gravett’s books. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy obtained from the library

The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 4: The Ironwood Tree by DiTerlizzi & Black Novel Review

 

Title: The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 4: The Ironwood Tree

Authors:  Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

ISBN: 9781416950202

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

First a pack of vile, smelly goblins snatches Simon. Then a band of elves tries to entrap Jared. Maybe now that Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You has disappeared, the Grace kids will be left alone. Don’t bet on it. At school, someone is running around pretending to be Jared, and it’s not Simon. To make matters even worse, Mallory has disappeared. Clues point to the abandoned quarry just outside of town. The dwarves have a mine there and they’ve captured a proper tribute for a king who is part of a plan to rule the world — they have found him a queen.

Jared, Simon, and Mallory aren’t any closer to finding out what happened to their uncle Arthur, and learning the truth is becoming increasingly urgent.  The magical creatures who inhabit the land around their new home want Arthur’s journal and they will stop at nothing to get it.  When an evil creature pretends to be Jared, he gets the boy in deep, deep trouble.  Then, when Mallory disappears, Jared and Simon are desperate to find her.

Poor Jared!  With all of his anger management issues, everyone is quick to believe that he threatened another student with a knife.  Considering all of the fights he’s been getting into lately, it’s not much of a stretch to think that he is turning into a violent delinquent.  I wonder how he is going to avoid being sent to reform school!  He truly is one misunderstood kid, and his mother is much too overwhelmed to find the patience to even try.  Though it would be kind of hard for him to explain how the fairies are destroying his life, all because he found Arthur’s Field Guide.  Talk about getting caught in a sticky situation…

Simon and Jared have to rescue Mallory after she’s kidnapped by dwarves, making Jared’s life even more complicated.  The dwarves, like every other unfriendly race of fairy they have encountered, want the Field Guide, but the siblings don’t have it anymore.  How are they going to save Mallory?  This installment of the series was a little darker than the rest, as the Grace siblings face danger and imminent death.  The dwarves aren’t the friendliest creatures they have encountered, and with their king’s ambitions to takeover the world, things are very dire indeed.

The kids prove once again how resourceful they can be, especially when they set aside  their petty bickering and work together.  Saving the world for a bunch of grumpy dwarves takes a lot brain power, so it’s a good thing that they are smarter than their menacing foes.  Fast paced and exciting, The Ironwood Tree is another wonderful installment in this fun fantasy series.  Only one left; I wonder how it will end?

Grade: B+

This book was rented from my local library.  Support our libraries!

The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 3: Lucinda’s Secret by DiTerlizzi & Black Book Review

 

Title: The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 3: Lucinda’s Secret

Authors: Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781416950196

 

May Contain Spoilers

Since today is Easter and I have a full schedule, I am posting some quick impressions of the third book of The Spiderwick Chronicles.  Today would actually be a wonderful day to just stay home and finish up the series, but alas, that’s not in the cards.  Have a happy Easter if you celebrate it – if don’t, enjoy the rest of the weekend!

From Amazon:

As if being attacked by goblins and a bridge troll weren’t enough, Jared is now being targeted by Thimbletack. Simon is keeping an injured and very hungry griffin hidden in the carriage house. And Mallory is convinced the only way to get things back to normal is to get rid of the Guide. But that doesn’t seem to be an option. With more creatures from Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You popping up, the Guide seems to be the only protection the Grace kids have. But why do the faeries want it so badly? There’s only one person to go to for answers — crazy, old Aunt Lucinda! 

The Grace siblings are  back, and this time they are in way over their heads!  The mysterious beings that inhabit the land around the creepy old house they live in want Uncle Arthur’s Field Guide, and they will do anything to get it.  While Jared tries to keep the book safe, events keep taking an ever more dangerous turn.  When Mallory wants to get rid of the book, they all decide to pay a visit to Aunt Lucinda to see what she knows about the book and Arthur’s disappearance.

This was the best volume to date.  Events are intensifying, and the kids are slowly starting to piece together the secret of the Field Guide.  Their visit to see Aunt Lucinda gives them some clues, and also opens their eyes to how perilous it can be to keep the book.  Or give it back!  It’s a no win situation.  

I am glad that I checked the rest of the series out of the library all at once, because now I really want to know what’s going on! What happened to Arthur?  Can Jared, Mallory, and Simon save themselves from the same fate?  Ever more powerful beings are taking an interest in them, and the kids are scrambling to stay out of trouble and not fall into the traps that have been set for them.  The Spiderwick Chronicles continues to be a fun adventure tale with an engrossing plot and eye-catching illustrations that enhance the reading experience. 

Grade: B+

This book was rented from my local library. Support your local library!