Review: Red Moon Rising by Peter Moore

 

Title: Red Moon Rising

Author: Peter Moore

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

ISBN: 978-1423116653

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Being only half-vamp in a high school like Carpathia Night makes you a whole loser. But Danny Gray manages to escape the worst of the specists at his school. Thanks to genetic treatments he had as an infant, most people assume Danny’s other half is human. Which is a good thing.   

Ever since the development of synthetic blood – SynHeme – vamps have become society’s elite, while wulves like his father work menial jobs and live in bad neighborhoods.  Wulves are less than second class citizens; once a month they become inmates, forced to undergo their Change in dangerous government compounds.

For Danny, living with his vamp mother and going to a school with a nearly all-vamp student body, it’s best to pretend his wulf half doesn’t even exist.  But lately Danny’s been having some weird symptoms — fantastic night vision; a keener-than-usual sense of smell; and headaches, right around the full moon.

Even though it’s easy to be in denial, it’s hard to ignore evidence.  There’s only a month until the next few moon, and Danny’s time is running out.

Review:

I am surprised by how much I loved this book!  When I first sat down with it, it just wasn’t clicking with me.  We weren’t bonding.  I put it down after just a few pages, and started reading something else.  Then, I went back to it, and I was puzzled by my prior response to it.  I got sucked right into the story, and didn’t want to put the book down!  I guess that proves that there is a time and a place for every story – you just have to connect at the right time.

I loved Danny Gray.  What a terrific character!  I feel that I really got to know him, and I appreciated his fears and doubts.  He’s half-vamp and half-wulf, and lately he’s been feeling pretty strange.  Vampyres never get sick, but suddenly Danny isn’t feeling too hot.  Synthetic blood nauseates him.  He’s suffering from intensely painful headaches. Slowly he begins to have a dreadful fear – what if he’s going to Change?

The world of Red Moon Rising had me totally convinced that vampyres, werewulves, and humans mingled together in society.   Vamps are shrewd and highly intelligent, and they pretty much run the show.  Wulves are discriminated against, thought to possess lower IQ’s, and are strictly regulated by the government.  They are forced to register, and are required, by law, to report to unsafe compounds every month during the full moon.  Unregistered wulves are considered no better than animals, and they hunted without mercy.  You can imagine Danny’s dismay when he starts to think that his werewulf genes are winning a battle for his body.

The relationships held my interest, and since the book is character driven, interpersonal dynamics needed to be strong.  They were.  Danny has many relationships to iron out, including dealing with his guilt about his father.  After being embarrassed at school by him, Danny dropped him like a hot potato and hasn’t had much to do with him.  Now that he’s showing signs of the Change, he needs his father’s advice, and it takes a lot for him to contact his dad again after not speaking to him in years.  Then there are the usual teenage boy issues for him to work through; his first crush seems to like him back, and he’s being bullied by the most popular guy in school.  Of all of the relationships, the one with Gunther was the least interesting for me.  One-dimensional bullies are getting stale, and I really wish that Danny’s antagonist had possessed more depth.

Overall, though, the book kept me engaged and transfixed.  I liked Danny, I thought the pacing was spot on, and I did not want to put this one down.  I am hoping for a sequel, because there were a few plot threads that didn’t get neatly tied up, and I would just like to spend more time getting to know the characters.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Roundup – How Rocket Learned to Read & City Dog, Country Frog

Title: How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills

Published by Schwartz & Wade

I checked this out based on the cover (again!).  It is so cute!  It didn’t even register that it is by the author of Duck & Goose, which I thought was a wonderful read.  Guess what? How Rocket Learned to Read is, too.  I hate to use this word, but adorable pretty much sums it up.  This is a fun book with engaging illustrations.  I loved it!

Rocket loves to play.  He also loves to nap under his favorite tree, so he can sniff the autumn smells.  When a lively little bird tries to get him to learn to read, Rocket isn’t interested.  Not until the little bird starts reading a book about a dog named Buster and his lost bone.  Then Rocket is on-board with his education.  He wants to find out what happens at the end of the book!

Like Duck & Goose, the illustrations make this book standout.  Rocket is so cute!  He has such an expressive face, and both Rocket and the bird have a ton of personality.  Since I love to read, I enjoyed seeing Rocket learn to love words as well.  I can’t recommend this picture book highly enough – it is one of the best I’ve read this year.

Grade: A

Title: City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems & Jon J Muth

Published by Hyperion Books for Children

Wow.  I don’t know how to adequately express my feelings for this book.  On one hand, it made me very sad, and I am embarrassed to admit that it made me cry.  On the other hand, it made me realize the importance of friendship and making new friends, which made me happy. In terms of word count, City Dog, Country Frog is on the lean side, but the narrative is precise and direct.  Combined with the gentle, engaging watercolors, the book works its magic with a minimum of prose.

Starting in the the spring, the book follows the growing friendship between a city dog and a country frog.  They teach each other games and play together, as the seasons slowly unfold.  Fall turns to winter, and the frog disappears.  As spring returns, the dog waits and waits for the frog to return.  When a curious chipmunk stops to talk to him, the cycle of friendship starts again. 

I loved this book and the emotional response it easily evoked from me.  Like How Rocket Learned to Read, it is easily one of the best picture books that I have read this year.  In fact, it is one of the best pictures that I have ever read – period!

Grade: A+

Review copies obtained from my local library

Review: Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon

 

Title: Dead Beautiful

Author: Yvonne Woon

Publisher: Hyperion Book CH

ISBN: 978-1423119562

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

A haunting love story about desire, danger, and destiny.

After Renee Winters discovers her parents lying dead in California’s Redwood Forest in what appears to be a strange double murder, her grandfather sends her off to Gottfried Academy in Maine, a remote and mysterious high school dedicated to philosophy, “crude sciences,” and Latin: the Language of the Dead. It’s here she meets Dante, a dark and elusive student to whom she feels inexplicably drawn. As they get to know each other better, Dante can’t seem to control his attraction either, and their desires gradually deepen into a complex and dangerous romance. Dangerous because Dante is hiding a frightening secret. A secret so terrible, it has him fearing for Renee’s life.

Dante’s not the only one with secrets, though. Turns out Gottfried Academy has a few of its own… Like, how come students keep disappearing? Why are the prefect-like Monitors creeping around campus during the night? And what exactly are the Headmistress and Professors really up to? Renee is determined to find out why.

Dead Beautiful is both a compelling romance and thought-provoking read, bringing shocking new meaning to life, death, love, and the nature of the soul.

Review:

Wow.  Dead Beautiful is a book that initially had no appeal for me, mainly because of the cover.  The barefoot girl, with her black cloak and green surroundings, reminds me of something that belongs in Lord of the Rings.  Every time I look at the cover, I think she resembles a hobbit, minus the hairy feet.  This unfortunate association turned me off the book for a while, so I solved the problem by removing the dust jacket.  Yay!  No hobbit girls to distract me, and I was able to pick up the book and enjoy it. 

I thought I was burned out on mysterious boarding schools, but Gottfried Academy showed me that there is still some life to be found in this particular plot device.  After the tragic death of her parents, on her sixteenth birthday, no less, Renee Winters is shipped off to school, where she has to try to deal with her grief, fit into her new, weird surroundings, and fight off her attraction for Dante Berlin, a young man who has secrets.  Dangerous secrets that just might get her killed.

Though the pacing was occasionally a little slower than I would have liked, this was an engrossing read.  Renee has a lot of emotional issues that make her a sympathetic character.  She is also talented.  She is the one to discover her parents’ bodies, quite a feat considering that they both suffered from heart attacks in the middle of the forest.  She seems to have a grisly knack for locating corpses, not exactly a pleasant skill to possess.  I’m not sure that would look very impressive on a college entrance application.

Renee’s attraction to Dante is instant and intense.  She can’t stop thinking about him.  Normally stand-offish and aloof, he seems to let his defenses down when she’s around.  Everything about him intrigues her, especially his relationship with the other students in Advanced Latin.  Something terrible happened the year before, something that resulted in the death of another student, and Renee is bound and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.  The circumstances of the death are eerily similar to those of her parents’ and she can’t help but think that the events are somehow related.

I couldn’t put Dead Beautiful down once I started reading it.  I wanted to know what happened next, and I stayed up way past my bedtime so I could keep turning the pages and find out.  The characters are compelling, the surroundings suitably gothic, the dangers surrounding Renee creepily eerie.  Best of all, the ending is perfect.  I was totally convinced and totally satisfied when I reached the last page, and Dead Beautiful is one of those books that has earned a spot on the Keeper Shelf.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan Graphic Novel Review

Title: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan

Adapted by: Robert Venditti

Art: Attila Futaki

Color: Jose Villarrubia

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

ISBN: 9781423116967

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

You’ve read the book. You’ve seen the movie. Now submerge yourself into the thrilling, stunning, and action-packed graphic novel.

Mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking out of the pages of twelve-year-old Percy Jackson’s textbooks and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. Now, he and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus.

Some of the biggest names in the comic book industry join forces with series creator Rick Riordan to tell the story of a boy who must unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

This is my first foray into the imagination of Rick Riordan.  I haven’t read any of his novels yet, but several are on my wishlist.  They always seem to be checked out of the library, so I am waiting patiently for the chance to read one.  I was looking forward to diving into this graphic novel, and while I love the concept of a world peopled with Olympians, I was a little disappointed with this adaptation.  It lacked any real suspense, and I thought that the pacing was very uneven.  I confess that I was expecting more because of all of the hype surrounding the series.

Things start off with a bang as hapless Percy is attacked during a school outing by a Fury.  As events spiral out of his control, Percy discovers that he is the son of a Greek god, and some very nasty creatures from Greek mythology are out to get him.  He is soon enmeshed in a quest of epic proportions, and failure means a war between the gods, which will have unpleasant repercussions for mortals.  Percy is desperate to put an end to the feud between the gods before the world dissolves into chaos.

I had a couple problems with the graphic novel adaption.  First off, I never felt an emotional connection to any of the characters.  Percy is an interesting character on the surface, but he lacked depth.  Despite several significant events, there really isn’t much of a response from Percy.  He just shrugs off setbacks as they come, but they don’t seem to affect him.   It’s like even he is emotionally distant from the events taking place around him.

The art offered another disappointment, because Percy didn’t look like a twelve year old.  I thought he looked much older so I found his appearance jarring.  Otherwise, the illustrations are very easy to follow, and I never got lost in the visuals.  The action scenes flowed smoothly.  The production values are high, and the book is very nicely put together.

I am very curious to see how this graphic novel stacks up against the prose novel, but I don’t know if I should read The Lightning Thief, or just jump into The Heroes of Olympus.  What do you think I should read first?

Grade: C+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Ghost and The Goth by Stacey Kade

 

Title: The Ghost and the Goth

Author: Stacey Kade

Publisher:  Hyperion

ISBN: 9781423121978

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

After a close encounter with the front end of a school bus, Alona Dare goes from Homecoming Queen to Queen of the Dead. Now she’s stuck as a spirit (DON’T call her a ghost) in the land of the living with no sign of the big, bright light to take her away. To make matters worse, the only person who might be able to help her is Will Killian, a total loser outcast who despises the social elite. He alone can see and hear (turns out he’s been “blessed” with the ability to communicate with the dead), but he wants nothing to do with the former mean girl of Groundsboro High.

Alona has never needed anyone for anything, and now she’s supposed to expose her deepest, darkest secrets to this pseudo-goth boy? Right. She’s not telling anyone what really happened the day she died, not even to save her eternal soul. And Will’s not filling out any volunteer forms to help her cross to the other side. He only has a few more weeks until his graduation, when he can strike out on his own and find a place with less spiritual interference. But he has to survive and stay out of the psych ward until then. Can they get over their mutual distrust—and the weird attraction between them—to work together before Alona vanishes for good and Will is locked up for seeing things that don’t exist?

This was a fun book.  Though I was never totally won over by Alona, she did undergo some much needed character development.  Will, however, charmed me from the start, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him mature and grow as events spiraled out of his control.  He’s dealing with a lot of difficult issues, and the fact that he can see and hear ghosts isn’t helping him much.  They are ruining his life, despite his best efforts to ignore their presence.  When the recently deceased, but lingering Alona blows into his life, things get very rough for him, and even he begins to think that it will be impossible to avoid an extended stay in the local loony bin.

Though both Alona and Will are dealing with some heavy emotional issues, the overall tone of the narrative remained breezy and accessible throughout.  Told through alternating viewpoints, Alona is the golden girl with a bitter secret to hide, and Will is an outcast, who is also harboring secrets of his own.  When Alona discovers that he alone can see and hear her, she is at first aghast.  Here’s a guy she wouldn’t have given the time of day when she was alive, but now that she’s had an unfortunate run-in with the front end of a bus, she doesn’t have much choice but to ask for his help.  Make that demand his help.  Alona, after all, is the school princess, a member of the first tier, and Will should be grateful that she’s addressing him at all.  Yeah, it’s an attitude like that that made me want to slap Alona more than a few times.  She doesn’t ask for help, she demands it, and even now that she’s dead, she still bullies people into getting her own way.  Yes, she desperately needed a major attitude adjustment.

Will, on the other hand, just wants to graduate and get the hell out of dodge.  There are so many spirits lingering around the school that he can’t completely shut them all out, though he does his best to ignore them.  With the nazi principal constantly on his back, waiting for him to screw up, Will is walking a tight rope to disaster.  Everyone thinks he’s nuts because of his little “episodes,” and with Alona there to pester him, things keep getting worse.  Still, he can’t help but be attracted to her; he’s had a crush on her for a while, which made me want to slap him!  

The Ghost and The Goth kept me turning the pages, mainly because I wanted to see how the romance between Will and Alona would work out.  That, and I wanted to see Will get a break, and finally take control of his life.  Because of a promise he made to his dad, he feels that he has to just grimace and bear the awful times he’s experiencing.  He doesn’t trust his mother enough to confide to her, but instead he’s given a chance to work through his issues with Alona’s help.  As she began to see Will in a different light, she began to give him the strength he needed to save himself.

This is the perfect book to pack in your beach bag.  The issues that Will and Alona must face aren’t so weighty that they’ll bring you down, and the swift pacing will keep you glued to the book.  It’s a fun story that kept me engaged in the plot, even though one of the protagonists failed to totally charm me.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

The Enemy by Charlie Higson YA Novel Review

 

Title: The Enemy

Author: Charlie Higson

Publisher: Hyperion

ISBN: 978-1423131755

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Goodreads:

They’ll chase you. They’ll rip you open. They’ll feed on you…When the sickness came, every parent, policeman, politician – every adult – fell ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry. Only children under fourteen remain, and they’re fighting to survive. Now there are rumours of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city – down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground – the grown-ups lie in wait. But can they make it there – alive?

OMG! Words cannot express how much I enjoyed this book.  The entire time I was reading it, I was consumed with the need to know what happens to the characters.   The world of The Enemy came to life for me, and the cast seemed so real.  This is one suspenseful, exciting read, and I could not put it down.  It’s a title that I decided to sample, thanks to Amazon and my Kindle application for the iPad, and I immediately purchased the eBook once I hit the last page of the teaser.  For a book that I didn’t think I would like, I came away one happy camper.  Now I just have to wait for the next book in the series, and believe me, that is going to be one heck of a long wait!

The premise is so wonderfully simple – a virus has transformed anyone over the age of 14 into a mindless, shambling husk that lives for just one thing, and that’s to eat.  The kids under the age of 14 have a very rude awakening, and many of them are slaughtered and eaten by growups.  The clever kids, the ones willing to work together, form into bands and struggle to survive.  Our little group lives in a market, and things are getting a bit dire.  They have scavenged all of the food within the local vicinity, they have to wander farther afield for provisions, and they are getting picked off one by one by the horrors that were once their parents, their older siblings, their aunts and uncles.  This bleak world is fraught with tension and terror, and created an atmosphere that is totally enthralling.

There is a rather large cast of characters, but it steadily shrinks as the novel progresses.  Without spoiling anything, characters who you have grown quite fond of end up victims of the zombie horde, and you quickly start feeling a little stressed wondering who is going to be next.  I guess you can’t have a zombie apocalypse without having casualties, but each new death is hard to bear. 

I loved the tensions and the infighting among the various groups of kids.  You have some very strong personality clashes erupting as the more forceful children attempt to impose their will on everyone else.   The zombies aren’t the only enemies, and there is a a tinder box waiting to go up in flames as the various factions jockey to be in charge.  Each confrontation is harrowing, with the threat of another young life snuffed from existence. 

The Enemy is one of the best horror novels that I have read.  Period.  It was fun, fast, and furious, and each page had the potential to explode into a life and death situation.  Oh, Book 2, where are you??

Grade: A

Purchased from Amazon

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

Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt YA Fiction Review



Title:  Princess for Hire

Author:  Lindsey Leavitt

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

ISBN: 9781423121923

From Amazon:

When an immaculately dressed woman steps out of an iridescent bubble and asks you if you’d like to become a substitute princess, do you

a) run

b) faint

c) say Yes!

For Desi Bascomb, who’s been longing for a bit of glamour in her Idaho life, the choice is a definite C–that is, once she can stop pinching herself.  As her new agent Meredith explains, Desi has a rare magical ability: when she applies the ancient Egyptian formula "Royal Rouge," she can transform temporarily into the exact lookalike of any princess who needs her subbing services. Dream come true, right?

Well, Desi soon discovers that subbing involves a lot more than wearing a tiara and waving at cameras. Like, what do you do when a bullying older sister puts you on a heinous crash diet? Or when the tribal villagers gather to watch you perform a ceremonial dance you don’t know? Or when a princess’s conflicted sweetheart shows up to break things off–and you know she would want you to change his mind?

Lindsey Leavitt’s debut novel, Princess for Hire, is an energetic romp that follows protagonist Desi as she gets to experience being a princess first hand.  Hired as a substitute when life is just too much for royalty, she fills in for young princesses with some help from a magic compact.  Applying a couple of swipes of enchanted blush alters her appearance so that she’s an identical twin to her current assignment.  She quickly discovers that while she is a dead-ringer for the princesses, she is pretty much clueless when it comes to acting like them. 

The thing I liked the best about Desi was her resourcefulness.  She gets dumped into situations where she has to rely on her noggin to get her through her impersonations, and given the limited guidance and training she has received, she does a very good job fumbling around in her roles.  When she sees that her princesses aren’t exactly basking in the good life, she decides that she will make a positive impact on their lives by initiating changes in their relationships with their families or friends.  Since she feels so helpless in her own life, she is determined to improve the lives of her employers.  Too bad it is against the rules of her employment contract!

Offering up a quick, light-hearted read, Princess for Hire proves that the grass is not always greener on the other side.  I thought that the adult roles were a little too one-dimensional, but Desi was an easy character to relate to.  She is dealing with self-esteem issues, and when she realizes that her princesses are too, she’s quick to find a solution to boost their morale.  The bonus is that she gets an ego lift at the same time, and she gets a new perspective on her own problems.  

For a feel good read, this whimsical novel is just the ticket for an uplifting escape from reality.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher