The Adventures of Jack Lime by James Leck Novel Review

 

Title: The Adventures of Jack Lime

Author: James Leck

Publisher: Kids Can Press

ISBN: 9781554533640

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Meet Jack Lime, private investigator, who solves problems for his fellow Iona High students. Sometimes he falls for the dames who hire him, sometimes he falls in the river and sometimes he falls asleep (he s narcoleptic). But rest assured that whether he s tracking down a missing banana-seat bike or a kidnapped hamster, or cracking open a trivia tournament betting ring, Lime will follow every lead.

Readers will identify with this funny, cynical sleuth who has the makings of a top-notch PI, though his personal life frequently goes awry. In these three stand-alone detective stories, readers will immerse themselves in an offbeat fictional world populated with eccentric characters where everything is not as it seems.

With its bland cover, I wasn’t expecting much from Jack Lime.  Happily, I was wrong.  This was a fun, fast read, and the lead character, Jack, made the book.  I love this kid!  He thinks he’s a tough guy private eye, reminiscent of hard-boiled PI’s like Mickey Spillane, but he’s got an Achilles’ heel.  He has this condition, see, one that causes him to fall asleep at the most inopportune times – like when he’s about to get into the fight of his life or get tossed into a river.  Makes it really hard to be intimidating.  Plus it’s just plain embarrassing!

Jack’s charismatic personality carries the book, which is comprised of three cases.  While I didn’t find the mysteries very compelling and wished that they offered a little more variety than finding the missing object/pet/person,  I did enjoy reading along to see what Jack would say or do next.  His escapades kept the pages turning. His bravado is tempered by a marshmallow interior, and the poor guy ends up with more black eyes than a family of raccoons.  His misadventures give his grandmother conniptions, and she sternly tries to keep him in his place.  Of course he’s much too dedicated to his clients to let a beating or two, or even his crabby granny,  get in the way of solving each new case.

Though on the short side and only weighing in at slightly over 120 pages, The Adventures of Jack Lime provides plenty of entertainment.  With an engaging hero who is humorous and insightful, Jack will have you smiling and wishing you could spend a little more time with him.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M Campbell YA Novel Review

 

Title:  The Rise of Renegade X

Author: Chelsea M Campbell

Publisher: Egmont USA

ISBN: 9781606840603

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Damien Locke has a plan: major in messing with people at the local supervillain university and become a professional evil genius, just like his supervillain mom. But when he discovers the shameful secret she’s been hiding all these years, that the one-night stand that spawned him was actually with a superhero, everything gets messed up. His father’s too moral for his own good, so when he finds out Damien exists, he actually wants him to come live with him and his goody-goody superhero family. Damien gets shipped off to stay with them in their suburban hellhole, and he has only six weeks to prove he’s not a hero in any way, or else he’s stuck living with them for the rest of his life, or until he turns eighteen, whichever comes first.

To get out of this mess, Damien has to survive his dad’s "flying lessons" that involve throwing him off the tallest building in the city–despite his nearly debilitating fear of heights–thwarting the eccentric teen scientist who insists she’s his sidekick, and keeping his supervillain girlfriend from finding out the truth. But when Damien uncovers a dastardly plot to turn all the superheroes into mindless zombie slaves, a plan hatched by his own mom, he discovers he cares about his new family more than he thought. Now he has to choose: go back to his life of villainy and let his family become zombies, or stand up to his mom and become a real hero.

What a fun read!  Until I saw the trailer for this book, I had no interest in it.  At all.  Then I watched the trailer and thought that it looked interesting, and the premise had me hooked.  I am a comic fan to the core, and The Rise of Renegade X puts a new spin on superhero stories.  The protagonist, Damien, is a young supervillain in training.  His mom aspires to be one of the most evil villainesses in  history, but Damien finds out that she has a little secret.  One that she has been keeping from him for the entire sixteen years of his life.  One that will turn his world inside out, and make him question everything he believes about himself.  Yeah, it’s pretty bad.

On Damien’s 16th birthday, instead of receiving a V on his thumb like he expects, which proves that he’s a supervillain through and through, he is appalled to discover that he has an X.  That’s really, really bad, and it puts his entire future in jeopardy.  It means that the father he never knew, the father he never cared about, the father he never bothered to even give a thought to, is a superhero!  Argh!  What self-respecting supervillain has a superhero for a dad?!

Mixing humor and lightening quick pacing, The Rise of Renegade X delivers an engaging coming of age tale about a good kid who longs to be bad. Forced to move in with his goody two shoes father’s family, Damien is in for a rude awakening.  He learns, the hard way, that even the best laid plans can be derailed, and that sometimes there is more to life than what you think you know.  As he makes both friends and enemies, he tries to scheme and manipulate events to produce the outcome he longs for.  It takes a lot more to being evil than having a supervillain for a mother, though.

In addition to dealing with his identity crisis, Damien also has a complicated love life to reconcile.  His ex, Kat, cheated on him and broke his heart, and even though she’s now his best friend, he’s not ready to trust her again.  New classmate Sarah is a dork, but she’s smart and a whole lot more interesting than anybody else at his new high school.  Sarah puts a fire under his quest to discover himself, and she proves to be a good person to have around when things take a turn for the dangerous.

I loved the characters, I loved the setting, and I loved this book.  My only quibble is that Damien didn’t end up with the girl I thought he should.  I guess there is no accounting for taste, even if you’re part superhero.  And part supervillain.  The book hits stores today, so go read it!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Under My Skin by Judith Graves YA Novel Review

 

Title: Under My Skin

Author: Judith Graves

Publisher: Leap Books

ISBN: 978-1616030001

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

All her parents wanted was for Eryn to live a normal life… Redgrave had its share of monsters before Eryn moved to town. Mauled pets, missing children. The Delacroix family is taking the blame, but Eryn knows the truth. Something stalks the night. Wade, the police chief’s son and Redgrave High’s resident hottie, warns her the Delacroix are dangerous. But then so is Eryn–in fact, she’s lethal. But she can’t help falling for one of the Delacroix boys, dark, brooding–human Alec. And then her world falls apart. A normal life? Now that’s the real fairytale.

This was a fun read because Eryn is such a strong character.  Her life is hopelessly complicated, and she is dealing with a lot of issues.  Her parents have disappeared, and she doesn’t know if they are alive or dead.  She is half wolven, and she is afraid of giving in to the wolf inside of her.  Without her father’s potions to keep her inner beast in check, it is only a matter of time before it takes her over.  The thought of losing control terrifies her, so to keep herself from completely wigging out, she falls back on old habits.  Her parents were hunters, responsible for taking out rogue paranorms, and Eryn quickly learns that Redgrave, the hick town she’s been relocated to, has some deadly secrets of its own.

The action never lets up, as Eryn and her new friends try to keep a powerful vampire from taking over the town. There’s a great love triangle to heat things up, too, as Eryn is torn between Wade, the police chief’s son, and Alec, her comrade in arms.  Wade is sleek and seductive, and he shares a bond with Eryn that no one else ever can.  Alec is earnest and brave, and he would give his life to protect her.  The tension really crackles between all three characters, and I still can’t decide who would be a better match for Eryn.  Usually, there’s one guy that you like better, and you hope all novel long that they’ll get together.  This time around, I am torn.  I like both Wade and Alec, and I like the way sparks fly whenever they are with Eryn.

I enjoyed the look of this book, too.  There are interior illustrations that add a little eye-candy, and left me wanting a few more.  It also made me wonder why more publishers don’t add more artwork to prose novels.

I have to knock the grade down just a bit because of the non-ending.  I hate non-endings!  At least throw us a bone while we wait impatiently for the next installment of the series!  When I came to the end of Under My Skin, I grabbed the book by the spine and shook it!  Hard!  Why?  I was hoping to jar just a few more words loose!  It didn’t work.  It never does!

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones Novel Review

 

Title: The Owl Keeper

Author: Christine Brodien-Jones

Publisher: Delacourt

ISBN: 9780385738149

Reading Level: 9+

 

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Maxwell Unger has always loved the night. He used to do brave things like go tramping through the forest with his gran after dark. He loved the stories she told him about the world before the Destruction—about nature, and books, and the silver owls. His favorite story, though, was about the Owl Keeper.

According to Max’s gran, in times of darkness the Owl Keeper would appear to unite owls and sages against the powers of the dark. Gran is gone now, and so are her stories of how the world used to be. Max is no longer brave. The forest is dangerous, the books Gran had saved have been destroyed, and the silver owls are extinct. At least that’s what the High Echelon says. But Max knows better.

Maxwell Unger has a secret. And when a mysterious girl comes to town, he might just have to start being brave again.

The time of the Owl Keeper, Gran would say, is coming soon.

While reading The Owl Keeper, I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for Max.  His life sucks!  He is allergic to the sun so he can’t go outside, he is kept isolated from his peers because of his delicate condition, and Mrs Crumlin, his caretaker, couldn’t prepare a tasty meal if her life depended on it.  The only things that keep Max from going over the deep end are memories of his grandmother, and his discovery of an injured silver owl, a bird that is supposed to be extinct.  Because the High Echelon, the repressive government, has declared the owls to be enemies of the state, Max has to keep his owl a secret.  When Rose, a disheveled young girl, mysteriously appears in his life, his entire world is turned upside down, and he begins to question everything that he has ever believed.

The world of The Owl Keeper is dark, dark, dark!  Not only is Max forced to stay inside because of his sun allergy, finding the freedom to venture outdoors only after the sun goes down, but the High Echelon controls its citizens with an iron fist. Anyone who disagrees with the party line is branded a traitor and thrown in prison – even kids!  His parents are forced to work long hours at the chocolate factory, coming home too exhausted to do anything but eat a tasteless meal and trudge off to bed.  Vacations have been outlawed.  The High Echelon has destroyed the weather, creating a winter that never ends.  That disaster alone made the setting very grim for me – a never ending winter would be unbearable!

Max is a timid boy who is beginning to chafe at the restrictions in his life.  Mrs Crumlin is an overbearing nag, and he misses his grandmother desperately.  She died years ago, and there is a deep void left in his heart because of her absence.  His gran had forbidden books, and she was full of stories of the Owl Keeper, a mystic being who would reappear when things were at their bleakest.  As he drifts through one unhappy day after another, Max waits with stoic patience for the Owl Keeper to return.  He feels a flash of hope when a silver owl brings him a cryptic message one night while he is waiting under the owl tree.  When overbearing Rose appears as well, his well-ordered life comes unglued.

I liked Rose much better than I liked Max.  They are polar opposites – Max is quiet and afraid, and Rose is loud and bold.  Max is immediately drawn to her, and he quickly begins to admire her.  She is everything that he is not, and she is everything that he longs to be.  Once events begin to reel out of control, Max is forced to take a good, long look at himself, and what he sees isn’t very encouraging.  He wants to be brave and assertive like Rose, but he isn’t.  One of my disappointments with the book is that he keeps telling himself he can’t change and that he passively accepts things as they are.  It is Rose who constantly pushes him into action, cajoling him to think outside of the small box he is trapped in.

The second half of the book was much stronger than the first, as Max and Rose fight to save the silver owl and find the Owl Keeper. Though the ending leaves many questions unanswered, and the final resolution is just a bit too convenient, The Owl Keeper offers an adrenaline inducing journey through a bleak and dangerous future that has almost been destroyed by the iron-clad control of an oppressive government.  Only two children find the courage to fight against the dark forces that oppose them as they search for the one thing that can save them – hope.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler Novel Review

 

Title: The Thirteenth Princess

Author: Diane Zahler

Publisher:  Harper

ISBN: 9780061824982

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Zita is not an ordinary servant girl—she’s the thirteenth daughter of a king who wanted only sons. When she was born, Zita’s father banished her to the servants’ quarters to work in the kitchens, where she can only communicate with her royal sisters in secret.

Then, after Zita’s twelfth birthday, the princesses all fall mysteriously ill. The only clue is their strangely worn and tattered shoes. With the help of her friends—Breckin the stable boy, Babette the witch, and Milek the soldier—Zita follows her bewitched sisters into a magical world of endless dancing and dreams. But something more sinister is afoot—and unless Zita and her friends can break the curse, the twelve princesses will surely dance to their deaths.

A classic fairy tale with a bold twist, The Thirteenth Princess tells the unforgettable story of a magical castle, true love, spellbound princesses—and the young girl determined to save them all.

Poor Zita!  She wanted her father to love her so badly, but he blamed her for her mother’s death and banished her to the kitchens to be raised by the servants.  Instead of living the life of a princess, she was expected to do chores, always kept from apart from her twelve beautiful sisters.  I liked Zita a lot, because even though she was rejected by her father and denied her place in her family, she never held a grudge, and instead cared deeply for her siblings.  She admired them for their beauty and was proud of them for their accomplishments.  When she suspects that they are in grave danger, she unhesitatingly risks her life for them.

All of the characters in The Thirteenth Princess were likable, except for Zita’s father.  It is hard to forgive him for his cold demeanor; first he pressures his wife to provide him with an heir, even though he can see that her health is declining after each birth.  Then, to make himself even more cruel, he refuses to acknowledge Zita and even has the audacity to blame her for the Queen’s death.  What a great guy!  How can he be entrusted with the welfare of his kingdom when he can’t even take care of his own family?  He does eventually redeem himself, but he will never be Father of the Year material.

Zita and her friend, Breckin, the new stable boy, share a wealth of charisma.  They are both resourceful, brave, and determined to do whatever it takes to save the princesses and the kingdom as well.  They put their courage to the test and resolutely face their fears, even when everything around them is going dangerously wrong.  Diane Zahler keeps the momentum moving steadily forward, delivering an enchanting tale that is strengthened by a solid cast of  characters.

Grade:  B+

Review copy rented from my local library.  Support your local library!

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken YA Novel Review

 

Title: Brightly Woven

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Publisher:  Egmont USA

ISBN: 9781606840382

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Wayland North brings rain to a region that’s been dry for over ten years, he’s promised anything he’d like as a reward. He chooses the village elder’s daughter, sixteen-year-old Sydelle Mirabel, who is a skilled weaver and has an unusual knack for repairing his magical cloaks. Though Sydelle has dreamt of escaping her home, she’s hurt that her parents relinquish her so freely and finds herself awed and afraid of the slightly ragtag wizard who is unlike any of the men of magic in the tales she’s heard. Still, she is drawn to this mysterious man who is fiercely protective of her and so reluctant to share his own past.

The pair rushes toward the capital, intent to stop an imminent war, pursued by Reuel Dorwan (a dark wizard who has taken a keen interest in Sydelle) and plagued by unusually wild weather. But the sudden earthquakes and freak snowstorms may not be a coincidence. As Sydelle discovers North’s dark secret and the reason for his interest in her and learns to master her own mysterious power, it becomes increasingly clear that the fate of the kingdom rests in her fingertips. She will either be a savior, weaving together the frayed bonds between Saldorra and Auster, or the disastrous force that destroys both kingdoms forever.

Sydelle made this book for me.  She is the kind of heroine I can’t help but admire.  She’s emotionally strong, resourceful, and determined to do the right thing.  Even when the right thing puts her in harm’s way.   She dreams big, doesn’t shy away from difficult tasks, and is determined to save the people she loves from the invading kingdom of Auster.  That’s a lot easier said than done, especially when the most powerful people in her homeland of Saldorra are working at cross-purposes, each faction trying to wrest power for themselves.  Not a pretty situation to walk into blindly, but Sydelle does exactly that, and her ignorance of the political wrangling almost brings ruin to everyone.

It’s very easy to empathize with Sydelle.  She wants to leave the tiny village she’s lived in all of her life, and she wants to see what’s out in the world.  Her yearning for change takes an unpleasant form, though, when a wandering wizard brings an end to the draught that has plagued the village for the last ten years.  He’s offered anything he wants in exchange for the rain, and what he wants is Sydelle.  Suddenly, the prospect of leaving home, and entrusting her future to a mysterious stranger, doesn’t seem as exciting.  When the village is overrun by enemy troops, she doesn’t have much choice, and she’s forced to set out with North to the capital, to try to convince the Queen and the wizards to stop the war.

During their journey, Sydelle learns just how powerful she is.  As she comes to terms with her own hidden abilities, she also tries to save North from the demons eating away at him.  I enjoyed reading along as her character gained confidence and developed into someone who cares deeply enough for her family and friends that she’s willing to die for them.  As she and North are pursued by the evil Dorwan, she even gains courage from each frightening encounter with him.  Sydelle was such a rich and interesting character, because she changed steadily throughout the book, maturing into a passionate, and compassionate, young woman.

North is so flawed that I had a hard time warming up to him.  I wanted to feel a bit of sympathy for him because his personal life is in utter chaos, but his behavior didn’t allow me to until almost the end of the book.  By then, I felt it was too little too late on his part, and I never accepted him as a good match for the much stronger and more likable Sydelle.  He used her from the very beginning, kept her in the dark about his true intentions, and was an ineffective protector at best.  It is a very good thing that Sydelle was such a resilient character, because when the chips were down, North often wasn’t around to pick them back up!

Brightly Woven is a solid fantasy title with a strong heroine.  It’s easy to relate to her as she is placed in one perilous adventure after another.  She never backs down from a challenge, and her inquisitive nature keeps her chasing after a resolution to her suddenly complicated life.  I just wish that her partner on her journey had been more worthy of her company.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins YA Novel Review

 

Title: Hex Hall

Author:  Rachel Hawkins

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

ISBN: 9781423121305

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father–an elusive European warlock–only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

When Sophie arrives at Hex Hall, she is at a distinct disadvantage.  She has been raised by her human mother, and has only had a distant relationship with her warlock father.  She’s never met the man, and he hasn’t been a part of her life other than through emails or occasional phone calls.  It has just been Sophie and her mom for the first 16 years of her life, and they have been on the move for most of it.  Whenever Sophie casts a spell and it goes horribly awry, they have to leave town and try to settle down somewhere else.  Sophie has a real problem with blending in, and even when she tells herself not to interfere in her classmates’ problems, she just can’t help but think a subtle spell here or there will make things better for everyone involved.  Wrong!  Instead, she gets herself tossed into the witchy version of reform school.

Trying to blend in with a bunch of magic-users isn’t any easier than blending in with a bunch a normal kids, she finds out.  Her roommate is a vampire, a clique of dark witches is trying to pressure her into joining their coven, and she gets drooled on by a shifter. Ick!  Worse, she has a crush on Archer, the hottest guy at school, but he’s already been taken by her rival, Elodie.  If that doesn’t suck enough, someone keeps trying to murder some of her classmates, and all fingers point to Jenna, her roomie!  Ugh! 

Once the introduction to the carefully crafted world of Hex Hall was complete, the story picked up momentum, adding a convincing tension between Archer and Sophie, as well as a gripping mystery.  Since Sophie is like a fish out of water, she struggles to fit into her new surroundings, while not making any waves.  It makes it easy to sympathize with her, as she begins to learn more about her father and the rest of her family, and the outside dangers facing the entire Prodigium community. 

Hex Hall is another take on a boarding school for students with magical inclinations, and though I thought it got off to a slow start, it had me captivated by the conclusion.  The first in a series, Rachel Hawkins takes some time to get the action cranked into high gear.  The pacing was a little leisurely until about halfway through the book, and then I couldn’t put it down.  Sophie is a fun, likable character, and I am looking forward to spending more time with her in future volumes.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves YA Novel Review

 

Title: Bleeding Violet

Author: Dia Reeves

Publisher: Simon Pulse

ISBN: 9781416986188

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Love can be a dangerous thing….

Hanna simply wants to be loved. With a head plagued by hallucinations, a medicine cabinet full of pills, and a closet stuffed with frilly, violet dresses, Hanna’s tired of being the outcast, the weird girl, the freak. So she runs away to Portero, Texas in search of a new home.

But Portero is a stranger town than Hanna expects. As she tries to make a place for herself, she discovers dark secrets that would terrify any normal soul. Good thing for Hanna, she’s far from normal. As this crazy girl meets an even crazier town, only two things are certain: Anything can happen and no one is safe.

This is, hands down, one of the oddest books that I have ever read, and mostly odd in a good way.  Hanna is one of the most unique protagonists that I have run across, and despite her mental instability, or maybe because of it, I found that it was very easy to relate to her.  I didn’t always agree with her actions; in fact, most of the time she behaved in a way that was the total opposite of what i would have done.  Because she is such a flawed character, her decisions made perfect sense for her and were appropriate for her.  If any other character had acted in the same manner, I probably would have disliked them intensely.  Dia Reeves gives Hanna such a profound vulnerability that her indiscretions, while I didn’t condone them, were certainly understandable.  She just wanted, more than anything else, to win her estranged mother’s love.  This is her obsession.  This is her motivation.  This is her reason for living, and if she can’t ever earn Rosalee’s love, there is no reason for her to live.

To compliment Hanna’s uniqueness, the city of Portero is one of the most bizarre places I have visited in literature.  It is a creepy and dangerous place, where monsters lurk behind every corner.  The threat of death is a daily concern, and the townsfolk try to stave off its murderous stare by trying to blend in with one another, wearing black and trying to keep a low profile.  When Hanna waltzes into town with her vibrant violet garb, it isn’t just her classmates who notice her arrival.  Hanna is like a spotlight beaming through the darkness, and even if she wanted to hide her presence, her bright personality commands attention.  She is not one to sit quietly in a corner, waiting to be drawn into the action. As soon as she enters a scene, you know that something big, something potentially shocking, and probably very dangerous, is going to happen, and the tension can be unbearable as events play out.

Bleeding Violet is a fast read, mainly because it is so engrossing.  I was in an agony of suspense to figure out what would happen next.  Hanna’s voice is confident and hypnotic, and I hung on her every word.  She doesn’t shy away from difficult decisions, she possesses an incredible amount of courage, and yet what she longs for most is something that most of us take for granted.  She just wants to feel a sense of belonging and to know that her mother loves her.  She has no one left after the death of her father but Rosalee, a woman she hasn’t seen in 16 years.  She pins her every hope and dream onto winning her love.  This one constant hope shone like a beacon throughout the book, overcoming the darkness that closed frighteningly around Hanna.

I do have one quibble about the book.  As events began to crescendo, building toward the conclusion, some of the Hanna’s activities seemed more about increasing the shock factor than moving the plot along.  Some of these scenes were brutal and more than a little disturbing.

Bleeding Violet is another title from a 2010 debut author, and it’s another impressive work.  It’s intense, gripping, and very hard to step away from.  Once you get sucked into Hanna’s life and the weirdness that is Portero, it will very, very difficult to leave them behind.

Grade:  B+

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