Review: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

 

Title: The Duke and I

Author: Julia Quinn

Publisher: Avon

ISBN: 978-0380800827

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Simon Basset, the irresistible Duke of Hastings, has hatched a plan to keep himself free from the town?s marriage-minded society mothers. He pretends to be engaged to the lovely Daphne Bridgerton. After all, it isn?t as if the brooding rogue has any real plans to marry – though there is something about the alluring Miss Bridgerton that sets Simon?s heart beating a bit faster. And as for Daphne, surely the clever debutante will attract some very worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, she soon forgets that their courtship is a complete sham. And now she has to do the impossible and keep herself from losing her heart and soul completely to the handsome hell-raiser who has sworn off marriage forever!

Review:

I love the Bridgerton series, but somehow I missed out on this volume, which introduces the family to readers.  I have no idea how I missed this book, and I think I jumped onboard with The Viscount Who Loved Me, which is Anthony’s book.  Since I don’t remember much about any of them, now is a wonderful time to reacquaint myself with the large family and their romantic adventures.   I picked this up when it was on sale for the Kindle for $1.99, so if nothing else, the Kindle sales are helping me fill in my book collection.

The Duke and I is Daphne’s story.  Having grown up in a boisterous household, it takes a lot to rattle Miss Bridgerton.  Once look at the rakish Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, gives her equilibrium a shake, though.  Handsome and possessing a vast fortune, he has no interest in marriage, so when Daphne voices similar sentiments, the two of them decide to pretend to be engaged to pacify Daphne’s mother and to keep the tittering debutantes at bay.  Despite Simon’s warnings, Daphne finds herself quickly falling for her handsome co-conspirator.  Simon will never fall in love and he will never marry, so she is headed down a one-way street to heartbreak.

Ah, I loved Simon.  Here is a guy who was rejected by his father, thoroughly and humiliatingly, all because he stuttered.  I hated his father.  What a jerk!  His only concern in life is passing on his dukedom to a worthy heir, and when poor Simon shows a reluctance to speak, and then, the horrors, stammers, the duke promptly labels him an idiot.  This is a guy who couldn’t even be concerned when his wife died giving birth to his heir.  Good god!  I hated this guy and how much of a hold he had over Simon, even from the grave.  Simon’s self-esteem took a drubbing every time he had to interact with his father, and the humiliation almost destroyed him and any chance he had to find happiness.  It’s a good thing Daphne is just as stubborn and unyielding as Simon, because she wasn’t about to let him ruin their happily ever after.

While I liked Daphne quite a bit, and found her a worthy partner for Simon, I had a problem accepting her incredible naiveté.  She had all of those older brothers, so surely she must have had some idea as to relations between men and women, and where babies came from.  That one little plot point kept knocking me out of the story, and I am not sure why it bugged me so much, but it did.  Maybe because I considered Daphne too intelligent and clever to be so in the dark about this? 

While I wasn’t completely captivated by The Duke and I, I did enjoy my time spent with the Bridgertons.  I am looking forward to getting to know the family better, and have to do an inventory to see which books in the series I missed out on.  I am sure there are quite a few!

Grade: B

Review copy purchased from Amazon

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Review: The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards


 

Title: The Book of Wonders

Author: Jasmine Richards

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 978-0062010070

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sorcerers, Cyclops, Djinnis . . . Magic.

Thirteen-year-old Zardi loves to hear stories about fantastical beings long banned from the kingdom of Arribitha. But anyone who is caught whispering of their powers will feel the rage of the sultan—a terrifying tyrant who, even with his eyes closed, can see all.

When her own beloved sister is captured by the evil ruler, Zardi knows that she must risk everything to rescue her. Along with Rhidan, who is her best friend, and an unlikely crew of sailors led by the infamous Captain Sinbad, Zardi ventures forth into strange and wondrous territory with a seemingly impossible mission: to bring magic back to Arribitha and defeat the sultan once and for all.

Review:

I spent most of my holiday vacation reading.  I am amazed by all  of the great stories I was able to enjoy during my time away from work.  The Book of Wonders is one of the titles that I devoured, and I literally spent most of a day flipping the pages of this fun middle-grade adventure.  An exciting spin on the 1001 Nights, there is plenty of action, adventure, and death-defying feats to keep readers entertained.  I liked the characters, especially the spunky Scheherazade (nicknamed Zardi).  She managed to get herself into, and back out of, an alarming amount of trouble over the course of the book.  With her best friend’s help, she remained surprising unscathed even during the most trying of circumstances.

Zardi lives with her family and her best friend, Rhidan, in the city of Taraket.  Her country is ruled by the evil sultan, Shahryar, who has outlawed all magic from his kingdom.  He is a cruel and vicious ruler, and he delights in the discomfort and pain of others.  When Zardi’s older sister, Zubeyda, is chosen to be the sultan’s next praisemaker, Zardi knows only fear.  The career of each praisemaker is terrifyingly short, and each ends with a hunt.  Zubeyda will be tracked down and killed!  Zardi is determined save her gentle sister from this cruel fate, and she will risk her life to save her!

This is a fast-paced read, with one frantic adventure following another.  With the help of Rhidan, Zardi leaps into the adventure of a lifetime.  She thinks that the key to saving her sister is finding the Varish, a group of rebels threatening to overthrow the sultan and return Aladdin, the rightful ruler, to the throne.  Rhidan, who was abandoned by his family and raised  by Zardi’s family, believes that the sorcerers of the Black Isle will hold the key to his true identity, as well as help save Zubeyda.  And so the two sneak away in the middle of night, and soon find themselves working on Sinbad’s ship.

I thought Zardi was a fun character.  She refused to allow anything to get in the way of saving her sister.  Not even being a shipwreck,  the Cyclops, or the queen of snakes could deter her from her goal.  Each new challenge was met with the grim knowledge that she could not fail, or her sister would die.  This thought kept Zardi and Rhidan’s trials even more exciting, because if they took too much time to get out of each new scrape, there wouldn’t be enough time left to save Zubeyda.  This really cranked up the tension!  I didn’t want Zubeyda to die any more than Zardi did!  Her frustration with delays rang true, as did her desperation to do anything to save her sister.  I couldn’t have been as brave, but failure wasn’t an option for Zardi, so she firmly stifled all of her fears and charged head first into each new challenge.

If there is one element to the story that I did not enjoy, if was the sultan’s one-dimensional character.  I wish that he had been just a little more fleshed out, instead of just being a convenient catalyst to jump-start Zardi and Rhidan’s journey.  He needed a backstory, or something to make him just a tiny bit sympathetic; instead, he is just evil, evil, evil, and that made him a little boring.

I think that with the strong adventure elements, The Book of Wonders will appeal to both boys and girls.  It’s hard to resist the pull of a good adventure story, and this one keeps galloping along, never allowing the reader to catch their breath.  While the story is satisfactorily wrapped up, there are enough open story threads that I am curious to follow Zardi and Rhidan on future outings.  There’s that Aladdin guy they never found, and Rhidan still has to learn more about who he truly is.  And how to control his powers.  I am looking forward reading more about both Rhidan and Zardi.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by {Teen} Book Scene

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Review: The Detention Club by David Yoo

 

Title: The Detention Club

Author: David Yoo

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

ISBN: 978-0061783784

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Detention

The best worst thing to happen to Peter Lee?

Peter and his best friend, Drew, used to be so cool (or, at least, not total outcasts) in elementary school. But now they’re in middle school, where their extensive mica collection and prowess at kickball have earned them a new label: losers. Then Peter attracts the unwanted attention of the school bullies, and his plan to become popular through his older sister, the practically perfect Sunny, backfires.

Things go from bad to worse when Peter gets detention. But what at first seems to spell his utter doom turns into an unlikely opportunity for making friends and influencing people. . . .

Review:

The Detention Club is a fun book, but as I read along, I realized that I am not the target market.  This is a boy book that will actually appeal to boys, and because it’s written from such an authentic male perspective, I occasionally wanted to grab protagonist Peter and choke him.  Truthfully, it was more than occasionally, and I found his pre-teen personality grating.  He could be equal parts annoying, clueless, and selfish.  Then he’d have a rare moment of insight and realize that he’s being a twerp, so it’s hard to dislike him.  I could totally sympathize with his older sister, though – I wouldn’t have wanted him for a brother, either!

Peter is basking in the glory of his elementary school days, where he and his best buddy, Drew, were the cool kids in class.  Now that he’s in middle school, he has one awful realization – he’s not cool any more.  In fact, he’s a nerd.  His predilection for collecting things, any little thing, really, has branded him a loser.  He and Drew are standing on the outside of the popularity club, and it’s not a position that either one of them likes to be in.  Peter is determined to regain his social status, and he cooks up one scheme after another to get himself noticed and elevated back into the social circles he longs to be in.  Instead, the plans backfire, leaving him looking even nerdier than before.  While his old friends have reconnected in more mature relationships, he sits on the sidelines and longs to be invited to parties and to just hang out with them.  Poor Peter.  I felt sorry for him to a degree, but as he continues to dream up ways to make himself look cool, he just brought more isolation to himself. 

When he finally ends up in detention, the world of Peter Lee changes drastically.  He makes friends with the two bullies who were making his life miserable, and he suddenly sees an opportunity to use them as his ticket to the big time.  Until things don’t work out quite as he planned – again!

The Detention Club is a funny read.  It’s strength comes from Peter’s unwavering belief that he’s always doing the right thing – even when he knows that he’s not.  He manages to put a spin on everything so that he doesn’t have second thoughts about some of the stupid, and I mean stupid, things that he’s going.  He jeopardizes his friendship with Drew, his grades are awful to say the least, and his behavior puts him at odds with his teachers and his family.  Mixed into this mine field that he’s created is a mystery for him to solve, too.  Someone is stealing from the kids at school, and fingers are slowly starting to point to Peter.  He is a lot of things, but a thief isn’t one of them, so he tries to absolve himself of the crimes, in addition to remaking himself into one of the cool kids.

I liked how Peter’s relationship changed with his older sister.  Sunny seems to have it all.  Brains, drive, the determination to succeed.  But Sunny is hiding insecurities and unhappiness too, and I was pleasantly surprised when Peter stepped up to bat for her.  He was surprised, too!  That is one of things that I did like about Peter. When the chips were down, he was there for the people he cared about.  Even if he didn’t want to be.   

The Detention Club should appeal to middle grade boys, and they will empathize with Peter and his misadventures. There’s a lot of humor here, and  despite my occasional annoyance with the protagonist, he is very relatable.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review: Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton

 

Title: Splat the Cat

Author: Rob Scotton

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780060831547

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

It’s Splat’s first day of school and he’s worried. What if he doesn’t make any new friends? Just in case, Splat decides to bring along his pet mouse, Seymour, and hides him in his lunchbox. The teacher, Mrs. Wimpydimple, introduces Splat to the class and he soon starts learning all his important cat lessons. But when Seymour escapes and the cats do what cats do (they chase mice!), Splat’s worried again. Maybe now he’ll lose all his friends, old and new! Just in time, wise Mrs. Wimpydimple takes charge and teaches everyone an important new lesson. Maybe Cat School is going to be okay after all! 

Review:

This book is adorable!  There is no other word for it!  From the cover, with a very excited Splat raising his hand to ask a question, to the inside of the back cover with the small illustration of a mouse hole, this book is full of personality.  It is visually appealing, with so many textures and dashes of color to engage the eye and keep you flipping back through the book. 

Splat is a cat, and he is about to head off to school for the very first time.  To say that he is a little apprehensive is the understatement of the year.  He isn’t the least bit excited to go to school, and he is worried about everything.  He sneaks his pet mouse, Seymour, into his lunch box, and is literally dragged to school by his mom.  What follows is a fun frolic through the classroom when the other cats see poor Seymour.

This is such a fun picture book, and it tackles a common childhood concern with humor and playfulness.  How many kids have been nervous about going to school for the first time?  Pretty much all of them!  This book has universal appeal, because we have all felt uncomfortable in new situations and surroundings.  When I showed the book to Dean, even he laughed at the cover.  I don’t think there is a kid out there who will be immune to the charming character designs and the bursts of energy that blast across the pages.  I don’t think there are many adults who wouldn’t as least smile when they read through this book.  Go on, I dare you to not like Splat the Cat!

Grade: A

Review copy obtained from my local library

Review: The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin

 

Title: The Trouble with Chickens

Author: Doreen Cronin

Illustrator: Kevin Cornell

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

ISBN: 978-0061215322

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

J.J. Tully is a former search-and rescue dog who is trying to enjoy his retirement after years of performing daring missions saving lives. So he’s not terribly impressed when two chicks named Dirt and Sugar (who look like popcorn on legs) and their chicken mom show up demanding his help to track down their missing siblings. Driven by the promise of a cheeseburger, J.J. begins to track down clues. Is Vince the Funnel hiding something? Are there dark forces at work—or is J.J. not smelling the evidence that’s right in front of him?

Bestselling author Doreen Cronin uses her deadpan humor to pitch-perfect effect in her first novel for young readers. Heavily illustrated with black-and-white artwork from Kevin Cornell, this new series is destined to become a classic.

Review:

I originally read a digital galley of this back in October.  I loved the book, but decided to wait for a finished copy before I wrote up my thoughts on it.  The title was released at the beginning of the month, so I ordered my very own copy from Amazon.  This is such a fun book, and I enjoyed revisiting the story.  Doreen Cronin’s prose kept me engaged for the entire length of the re-read.

J. J. Tully is a retired search and rescue dog.  He’s been there, and he’s seen it all.  When a chicken disturbs his quiet life in the country, he just can’t say no to the distraught mama hen.  Well, the promised cheeseburger seals the deal, and Tully is on the hunt for Moosh’s missing chicks, Poppy and Sweetie.

I love Tully, and I am happy to see that more adventures are planned for him.  He is rough around the edges and tells it like it is, kind of like a canine Sam Spade.  He knows that life isn’t all candy and roses, and he knows that not all missions are of the rescue kind. Some are much more unpleasant.  He is hoping for a joyful reunion between Mooch and her chicks, but as he searches, he discovers that she, and her two other chicks, Sugar and Dirt, aren’t being completely upfront with him.  Dealing with the frantic mama hen, her too smart for their good chicks, and the devious inside dog, Vince, with equal aplomb, Tully  puts aside his personal feelings to ensure that the quest for Moosh’s missing chicks has a happy ending.

The illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are charming and fit the tone of the narrative perfectly.  The Trouble with Chickens is for the younger set, Grades 2 – 4, but there is so much to love for older readers, too. 

Grade: A-

Review: The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine

 

Title: The Princess Tales: The Princess Test

Author: Gail Carson Levine

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0060280628

 

May Contain Spoilers

I love retellings of fairy tales, so when I discovered this series by Gail Carson Levine, I had to investigate further.  The library had three volumes on the shelf, and I chose one randomly.  Well, not entirely randomly – I picked the pink one.  I didn’t look at anything else, except the girly pink.  That’s a sad reason to pick a book to read!

I haven’t read anything by Levine previously, so I was interested to see if I’d like her writing style.  I did, quite a bit.  This is The Princess and the Pea re-imagined, with a hopelessly clumsy and persnickety heroine and a wimpy prince.  Lorelei is a walking disaster area, and she is fragile beyond belief.   The slightest chill sends her to bed, sick for days, anything but the softest satin sheets gives her ugly rashes, and as for helping with chores around the house? Forget it!  If she doesn’t cause bodily harm to herself, she breaks something or injures someone else.  About the only thing she can do is embroider.

Young Prince Nicholas knows nothing of Lorelei’s shortcomings when he falls hopelessly in love with her.  When his parents decide he must marry so they can retire, they decide to have a Princess Test to find the perfect match for him.  When Lorelei unwittingly gets caught up in the competition. she wonders if a simple blacksmith’s daughter can convince anyone that she’s a princess.

The Princess Test is a fast and humorous read, peopled with very unique personalities. Most of these individuals wouldn’t survive without a large staff of dedicated servants to wait on them hand and foot.  Lorelei, despite being clueless about how destructive she can be, it sweet and kind.  She is so good-natured that everyone loves her.  Well, except for the new housekeeper, but you will have to read the book to find out more about that!

Now that I have enjoyed this volume, I wonder what shade of The Princess Tales I should tackle next.  Blue? Green?  I don’t think it matters; I bet Levine does a great job fracturing fairy tales regardless of hue. I hope nobody else has checked them out!

Grade: B

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: The Zombie Chasers by John Kloepfer & Steve Wolfhard

 

Title: The Zombie Chasers

Author: John Kloepfer

Illustrated: Steve Wolfhard

Publisher: Harper

ISBN: 978-0061853043

 

May Contain Spoilers

This is one of the most popular MG books in the library network.  I waited weeks and weeks to make it to the head of the line, and when a copy came in, I was told I could only have it for 2 weeks, instead of the usual three.  Whoa!  Then I realized a very sad fact – there aren’t a lot of books in this age bracket that are so appealing to boys. 

The Zombie Chasers is a fun, action-packed read.  When the zombie apocalypse catches Phoenix unawares, lumbering, rotting corpses take to the streets.  Zack, upset after being humiliated by his sister and her friends, suffers further abuse when the meanest of the girls,  Madison, eats the last piece of his birthday cake.  The thought of enjoying that last, delightful slice of cake kept Zack going all day long, too! 

Quicker than he can blink, everyone on the block, except for vain, bossy Madison, has turned into a murderous, brain-craving zombie.  Now that last piece of cake is the last thing on Zack’s mind, and he is seriously worried about living through the night.  With Madison and his best friend, Rice, by his side, Zack ventures into a nightmare to find someplace safe to hide.

This was a fun read.  Full of comedic gore and sentences that occasionally caused me to cringe due to the tremendous “ick!” factor, I couldn’t put it down.  Zack is a feisty guy, and he rises to the challenge of surviving a zombie infestation with wit and lots of snarky comments.  He even proves to be quite gallant, by refusing to hurt his sister, even though she’s been turned into a zombie and she keeps trying to eat his brains.  Madison turns out to be not so awful, even though she remains bossy and demanding to the last page.  Rice, well, despite being a zombie “expert,” he’s a dweeb, and will remain one until the end of time.

Overflowing with humor and buckets of gore, The Zombie Chasers sets a blistering pace that never slows down.  Steve Wolfhard’s illustrations give the story added depth, both by providing amusing drawings and giving a visual representation of tons of gloppy zombies.  The book even has a zombie puppy!  How cute is that?!  My only disappointment with The Zombie Chasers is the non-ending, but, hey, at least the first chapter to the next installment of the series was included in the the back of the book.  Wonder how long I’ll have to wait to be at the head of the line for that one?

Grade: B

Review copy obtained from the library

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!