Review: Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman


Title: Aquamarine

Author: Alice Hoffman

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0439098649


May Contain Spoilers

This was another library find, and let me say, it was a treasure.  I don’t even know what attracted me to the book enough to pick it up, because at first glance, the cover is kind of plain (I have the older printing, not the one pictured above).  Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be mysterious and intriguing, the murky green hiding the faint shape of a mermaid.  Yeah!  Mermaids!  I’m so there!

Aquamarine is the poignant story of two girls, best friends, who are dreading the end of summer.  Hilary and Claire have been friends forever, but at the end of the summer, Claire is moving to Florida with her grandparents.  While both girls wish time would stop so they can stay together, the summer moves forward, the heat and humidity as stifling as their fears of the future.  After a terrible storm, they make the most amazing discovery; the raging winds and waters have stranded a mermaid in the crumbling pool at the Capri, the beach club where they have spent every summer for as long as they can remember.

The Capri’s days, like the girls’ time together, are numbered.  Neglected and falling into ruin, Hailey and Claire are the only customers the club has had all summer.  With only Raymond, the sole employee at the Capri, the season slowly spins to an end.  The buildings and pool will be bulldozed at the end of the summer, and like their friendship, the girls don’t want the club to become only a memory.  As one day stretches into the next, they try to stave off the end of everything that they know, and the comfort and security that come with them. 

When Aquamarine enters their lives, they are at first flabbergasted.  How can a mermaid be real?  Then, as she rudely tells them what she thinks of them, they are even more amazed.  The wonderful, beautiful being sharing their decrepit pool doesn’t have a sweet personality to match her looks.  Instead, Aquamarine is spoiled and used to getting her way.  When she falls in love with Raymond, she thinks she’ll get him too, even though lingering so far from the ocean will quickly cause her to turn to dust.  Will Hilary and Claire make her listen to reason in time to save her life?

I loved the tone of the book.  Starting with a pall of doom, the girls cling to their routine, stubbornly refusing to accept that change is coming. But when change does come, it is magical and empowering, and it does two wonderful things; it makes them both stronger, and it brings them even closer together. 

Grade: A-

Review copy obtained from library

Review – Cinderella Cleaners: Prep Cool by Maya Gold


Title: Cinderella Cleaners: Prep Cool

Author: Maya Gold

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0545129602

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

This week at Cinderella Cleaners, someone has dropped off a private-school uniform. Diana has always wondered what it would be like to attend a posh academy…and now she has the chance to find out. Her best friend’s cell phone is stolen, and in order to catch the culprit, Diana has to sneak into super-snooty Foreman Academy. But she never counted on mayhem, mean girls, and a pop quiz! Can Diana convince everyone she’s a prep-school student, or will she flunk big-time?

I enjoyed the second installment of the Cinderella Cleaners series better than the first.  All of background story and character introductions have already been done, so Diana can jump right into her latest adventure.  This time around, she and BFF Jess head out for a night of fun at Foreman Academy, a snooty prep school.  Their classmate, Will, is playing in his first gig, and he’s invited the girls to come and see his big debut.  An enchanted evening out turns disastrous when Diana is partly responsible for Jess’ phone getting filched.  Will she be able to get it back and made amends?

Espionage is the name of game after Jess’ phone falls into the hands of two students at Foreman Academy.  The girls are upset that dreamy Jason asked Jess to dance with him, and they try to get revenge after stealing Jess’ phone. They start sending nasty text messages to her friends, including sending them embarrassing pictures that were saved on the phone!  Oh noes!  Diana is terrified that Jess if find out that she snapped a few less than attractive shots of Jess and Jason getting down to Rock Lobster, so she will do anything to get that phone back!  Including borrowing a Foreman Academy uniform that’s at the cleaners and infiltrating enemy territory!

This was a fun, breezy read, as Diana relies on her friends at the cleaners to help her pull off her plan to get the phone back.  She dives head first into a nerve-wracking adventure.  The tension is kept elevated as she attempts to sneak into the exclusive school and get the phone back from the very mean ice princesses who have gotten their clutches on it.  Some of the plot devices were a little too convenient, but the stress levels were so taunt that I was able to suspend my disbelief and just go with the flow.

After seeing how the richer half lives, it was satisfying to see Diana begin to appreciate her school and her friends even more.  Her school might be on the humble side, but after her day at Foreman Academy, she sees it in a new light.  It’s not perfect, but it’s so much better than the stifling atmosphere and high pressure of the prep school, where the students are known more for who their parents are than for who they are. 

Diana’s character is beginning to mature, and she is making an effort to get along with her step-mother.  Fay is, admittedly,  kind of mean, and Diana will probably always have to carry a greater work load at home, but at least in this volume she tried to see Fay in a different light.  She knows that her father is having some financial difficulties with the cleaning business, and even Fay is not immune as the real estate market is struggling.  Seeing her try to make amends with her step-mom just made the overall impression of the book more cheerful and satisfying.

Prep Cool is a breezy read, and Diana’s feisty personality will keep readers engaged as she goes undercover and tries to make amends for letting her best friend down.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Cinderella Cleaners: Change of Dress by Maya Gold Review


Title: Cinderella Cleaners: Change of Dress

Author: Maya Gold

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 9780545129596


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Behind the counter at Cinderella Cleaners, Diana watches the clothes come and go. She loves to imagine the exciting events that the different outfits might be worn to. Then one day, Diana reaches into the pocket of a fancy coat – and finds an invitation to a glittering gala in New York City. Since the coat’s owner is out of town, Diana gets a wild idea. With the help of some savvy friends, one glamorous dress, and a lot of improvising, Diana pretends to be someone she’s not, and makes it into the party! Will she be discovered, or will her disguise come off without a hitch?

Eighth-grader Diana is having a hard time dealing with her new step-mother.  With the downturn in the economy, Fay insists that she help out at her dad’s dry cleaning business, so she can learn the value of hard work.  Diana doesn’t mind helping out, until she learns that she won’t be able to participate in the school play.  Acting is her passion, and she is heartbroken that she won’t be able to even attend the school play, let alone audition for a part.  Sometimes it is really tough being a 13 year old.

When Diana finds two tickets to the opening of the hottest play on Broadway,  along with invitations to the after-party as well, she thinks that things might just be looking up.  That is until her step-mother forbids her to go out that night, and instead expects her to babysit her twin sisters.  Diana is determined to go to the play, no matter what the cost.  With some help from her friends at the dry cleaners, she just might make her dreams come true.

Cinderella Cleaners: Change of Dress is a cute retelling of the classic fairy tale.  Diana is a spunky, cheerful kid, even though she is dealing with some trouble at home.  She is trying to work through her grief after her mother’s death, as well as accept the intrusive presence of her new step-mom.  Fay is hard on Diana, expecting her to help out at home and work at the dry cleaning business.  She picks at Diana for every little thing, and the two maintain a very uneasy relationship.  It’s easy to understand why Diana would rebel under her Fay’s demanding expectations, and when she denies even letting Diana go see the school play, Fay definitely resembles an evil stepmother.

Finding the tickets to the Broadway play is Diana’s opportunity to brush elbows with the rich and famous, and gives her a chance to make a little magic of her own.  The twists on the well-known events from Cinderella are clever and fun, though the pacing was very uneven.  Events either dragged and were overburdened with too much description, or rushed along like a runaway horse.  Diana’s bubbly personality kept me engaged in the story, despite the jittering journey to the end.  Magic moments, like Diana meeting the star of the play, kept pulling me back into the narrative.

I wasn’t blown away by Change of Dress, but I did like the characters enough to see what other adventures Diana can make for herself in future outings.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Clone Codes by McKissack YA Novel Review

Title: The Clone Codes

Authors: Patricia C McKissack,
Fredrick McKissack &
John McKissack

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 9780439929837


Review May Contain Spoilers

This is another book that offered an interesting concept, but failed to deliver.  I first noticed this one because of the arresting cover.  I love how the textures and colors play off each other, and how the girl’s face shimmers a metallic purple, giving her veiled, mysterious look.  The promised political intrigue and the conflict between humans, cyborgs, and clones grabbed my attention, too, so I decided to check it out of the library.  Clocking in at under 170 pages, it didn’t seem like it would be a big investment in time, so it came home with me for a short stay.

One of the biggest problems for me turned out to be the short length and the ambiguous ending.  Things were really starting to get rolling when presto, chango, I came to the last page, where I felt more than a bit cheated.  I really hope that there is a sequel in the works, because the conclusion was not very satisfying.

Leanna is your typical 13 year old girl in the year 2170.  She attends a virtual school and enjoys hanging with her best friend Sandra.  When her mother is arrested and accused of being a traitor, Leanna’s life is changed forever.  On the run from brutal bounty hunters, she learns about the mysterious organization The Liberty Bell Movement, a group that wants to give clones and cyborgs equal rights with humans.   With the government labeling the members of the Liberty Bell Movement terrorists, Leanna is scared and confused.  She doesn’t know who to trust, or why people are trying to hurt her.  Can she uncover the secret before it’s too late?

The book is very fast paced, and Leanna’s emotional distress is telegraphed throughout the narrative.  She is a girl of her time, and her thoughts, opinions, and biases have  been shaped by the people around her.  She believes that clones and cyborgs are less than human, more machine than living being.  She thinks of them dismissively, and can’t even imagine having one for a friend.  During the course of the novel, she is forced to reevaluate the way she thinks about them, and herself.

Drawing on parallels from the United States era of slavery and the Civil War, the authors pave the way for Leanna to reshape her world view.  As she uncovers secrets about the Liberty Bell Movement, she also learns unsettling truths about herself.  Leanna’s inner voice effectively communicates her thoughts, fears, and dreams.  Just as I was starting to become really engaged in the story, however, it abruptly comes to a screeching, and very disappointing, halt.  It seemed as though all of the tension and suspense was built up for nothing.

Grade: C

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