Review: Red Glove by Holly Black

 

Title: Red Glove

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

ISBN: 978-1442403390

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

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

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+ leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – Storm Front Vol 1: The Gathering Storm

 

Title: The Dresden Files – Storm Front Vol 1: The Gathering Storm

Authors: Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Ardian Syaf

Publisher:  Del Rey

ISBN: 978-0345506399

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

A graphic novel based on the bestselling Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher!

If circumstances surrounding a crime defy the ordinary and evidence points to a suspect who is anything but human, the men and women of the Chicago Police Department call in the one guy who can handle bizarre and often brutal phenomena. Harry Dresden is a wizard who knows firsthand that the everyday world is actually full of strange and magical things—most of which don’t play well with humans.

Now the cops have turned to Dresden to investigate a horrifying double murder that was committed with black magic. Never one to turn down a paycheck, Dresden also takes on another case—to find a missing husband who has quite likely been dabbling in sorcery. As Dresden tries to solve the seemingly unrelated cases, he is confronted with all the Windy City can blow at him, from the mob to mages and all creatures in between.

Review:

I am new to The Dresden Files, and I have been putting off reading this graphic novel adaptation of Storm Front because I was afraid I wouldn’t understand what was going on.  This is the second comic series based on the novels, which made me doubly apprehensive; I haven’t read any of the novels, I wasn’t familiar with the Welcome to the Jungle GN series, and I didn’t even know that there is a TV show based on the series.  Dean told me about the show when he saw me reading the book.  I felt like I have been living under a rock!

It didn’t take long for me to get caught up in the story, and by the end, I was totally engaged.  Dresden is pretty darn cool!  He even battles a demon in his birthday suit! Do you know how hard it is to look tough and intimidating when you are fighting for your life while you are as naked as a jay bird??  Harry pulls it off with aplomb.  I love his character – he makes mistakes, doesn’t really learn from them, but he sure can roll with the punches.  And the baseball bats!  I hope he has a generous health insurance policy, because he sure does get beaten up a lot!

In this adventure, Harry is helping the police track down a killer.  He’s quickly threatened by a mobster and a vampire, and neither one would shed any tears if anything fatal happened to him.  Even the White Council is out to get him; they think he is the only person who could have committed the grisly crime.   They are also good at holding grudges. Despite everyone warning him off the case, and the threats against him, Harry is determined to solve the mystery.  Whoever the killer is, they aren’t joking around.  The murderer is dangerous, and needs to be found before someone else turns up very, very dead.  Such an unpleasant and painful way to die. too!

I enjoyed my first foray into Dresden’s world.  The magical and the mundane mix together, disrupting Harry’s life.  Fairies, vampires, and demons all manage to cause him grief, some much more than others.  Harry’s life is complicated, and when you start tossing mobsters, vampires,  and women into the picture, it’s no wonder that the guy is still single.  He gets the crap beat out of him, pisses off several people by just breathing, and even double books a Saturday night date.  Oops!  I’m not surprised that his cat is about the only one who has his back.

Storm Front was a fun introduction to the Dresden Files.  I hopped on over to the library catalog and placed a hold on the first graphic novel, Welcome to the Jungle.  I am out of luck on the next volume of Storm Front though; I’ll have to keep checking the library and hope that they eventually get a copy.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Human.4 by Mike A Lancaster

 

Title: Human.4

Author: Mike A Lancaster

Publisher: Egmont USA

ISBN: 978-1606840993

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exit.

Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister?

Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far.    

Review:

What an odd book!  Odd in a good way, too, but Human.4 is hard to classify.  What is this?  Sci-Fi, mystery, psychological thriller?  I’m still not sure what I would call it, but I do know one thing; I could not put the book down, and I polished it off in just a few hours.

Kyle Straker volunteers to be hypnotized by his friend at the annual community talent show.  He doesn’t really want to, but he doesn’t want to see his friend crash and burn when nobody else wants to help him with his act.  Kyle finds himself onstage with three other townspeople, and when he wakes up from the hypnosis, the world is completely different.  He’s not sure what’s going on, but he can tell that it is not the same.  His parents are acting very oddly, and the phone lines are all dead. So are the computers and the television sets.  Is he losing his mind? Or did something happen while he was hypnotized?

The suspense is overwhelming!  I wanted to find out what was going on just as much as Kyle did.  Have aliens invaded? Is he trapped in a nightmare?  Is he nuts?  The narrative is tense and exciting, and the pacing never slows.  The story is so fast-paced, and the short chapters add to the urgency of Kyle’s predicament.  I kept telling myself I would only read one more chapter before I turned the light off to go to sleep, but then I would say – just one more!  I couldn’t stop reading!

Kyle’s narrative kept me engaged in the story, but the occasional editor notes were very jarring.  The narrative is supposed to be a transcription of Kyle’s audio tapes, which described his ordeal.  The premise is unique and I thought it was very interesting, but the research and scientific notes slowed down the pace of the story.  They just didn’t fit well into the narrative, and I grew tired of them very quickly.

The book ends neatly, with all of my questions answered.  I found the reason for Kyle’s extraordinary ordeal to be kind of “meh,” but the run up to the final revelation kept me engrossed in the story.  The ending was a bit of a let down, though, and I don’t want to say much more because it will spoil the suspense of the read.  I think that this book will have a lot of appeal for boys, and readers who enjoy thrillers and mysteries.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

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: Clarity by Kim Harrington

 

Title: Clarity

Author: Kim Harrington

Publisher: Point

ISBN: 978-0545230506

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

This paranormal murder mystery will have teens reading on the edge of their seats.

Clarity "Clare" Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It’s a gift.

And a curse.

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare’s ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case–but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare’s brother–who has supernatural gifts of his own–becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

Review:

Clarity is a fun mystery romp with a down to earth protagonist who just happens to be a psychic.  She’s not alone in her paranormal talents; her mother is a telepath, and her brother is a medium.  Clarity lives in a tourist town, and during the summer, she works at the family business entertaining out-of-towners with readings.  She’s resigned to another summer of being stuck inside instead at the beach when a tourist is murdered.  Her brother, Perry, is the prime suspect, and if Clare doesn’t want to spend all of her weekends in the foreseeable future visiting him in jail, she has to find the real killer.

I loved the family dynamics at play here.  Clare’s mom can read minds.  Think about it.  What if your mom could read your mind?? Do you think you would get away with very much?  Forget about keeping a secret.  Even if you have yourself convinced that you are keeping your thoughts all nice and safe, you are only fooling yourself.  And what if your brother could communicate with ghosts?  That could get kind of weird. 

Clare’s gift can be unsettling, too.  With just a touch, she can pick up thoughts and emotions from objects.  Her gift can be unpredictable, and there are times she wishes she didn’t have it.  Like when she touches something and discovers that her boyfriend has been lying to her.  Now that sucks big time.  But when her brother is suspected of murder, she is going to use her powers to the fullest to clear his name.

The setting is very vivid, and the relationships between Clare’s family and the townspeople is carefully fleshed out.  Few in town believe in their abilities and everyone  thinks that they are cheating the tourists out of their money.   Clare is quite surprised when the mayor asks her for help apprehending the killer.  Then she discovers that the town’s new police detective thinks she’s a fraud, and worse, his drop-dead gorgeous son, Gabriel, has an intense dislike for psychics.  How can they possibly work together to solve the case?

The character interactions were the highlight of the book for me.  Sparks fly between Clare and Gabriel, and you can almost hear them sizzle as you read along.  Clare also has a lot of unresolved issues to work through with her ex, and he is only complicating matters between her and Gabriel.   He hasn’t gotten over her, and it’s questionable whether she’s over him.  The tension between Clarity and her classmates also felt real and was convincing, adding yet another obstacle for her to overcome. 

I don’t usually like mysteries, but Clarity made me reconsider my stance on the genre.  It’s a solid read, with fun characters, a great setting, and a paranormal twist. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, because there are a couple loose ends that have me wondering what is going on.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Mystery on the Great Lakes by Carole Marsh

 

Title: The Mystery on the Great Lakes

Author: Carole Marsh

Publisher: Gallopade International

ISBN: 978-0635074485

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Publisher Website:

Christina, Grant, Mimi and Papa fly the Mystery Girl, and take the mystery boat, Mimi, to all the Great Lakes on a wild and watery adventurous mystery of shipwrecks, haunted lighthouses, and island intrigue! This mystery incorporates history, geography, culture and cliffhanger chapters that keep kids begging for more! Each mystery includes SAT words, educational facts, fun and humor, Built-In Book Club and activities. Each Carole Marsh Mystery has an Accelerated Reader quiz, a Lexile Level, and a Fountas & Pinnell guided reading level.

Review:

Ah, I was disappointed with this adventure featuring Christina and Grant and their vacation through the Great Lakes.  I think I was disappointed because it was about the Great Lakes, and this time I didn’t feel that Carole Marsh captured the magic of these fascinating bodies of fresh water.  I have lived in Michigan my entire life, and I have vacationed on most of the Lakes, so I am very familiar with most of the locations highlighted here, but other than Mackinac Island, I felt disconnected from the traveling aspect of the book.  I did not feel that way while reading other books in the series, and I thought that the travelogue components of my previous journeys with Christina and Grant enhanced the mystery and the reading experience.  It didn’t here.

The mystery was a disappointment, too. I missed Grant and Christina interacting with new friends, far more than I thought possible, and I missed the addition of the usual young locals as tour guides and companions in their adventure.  As I write this review, I realize how much personality the other kids brought to the stories, and how much I enjoyed how they interacted.  The mysteries caused them to bond together quickly, and it was fun reading along as they tried to solve the puzzles presented to them. 

While I didn’t enjoy this book as much as others in the series, I am planning on visiting Las Vegas next with Christina and Grant.  The Mystery of the Great Lakes was on the shelf at the library so I checked it out.  Hopefully the bright lights and the city that never sleeps will be more to my liking than this one.

Grade:  C

Review copy obtained from my local library

Arisa Vol 1 by Natsumi Ando Manga Review

 

Title: Arisa Vol 1

Author: Natsumi Ando

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345522412

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Tsubasa thinks that her pretty and popular twin sister, Arisa, has the perfect life. Everyone at school loves Arisa—unlike the hot-tempered Tsubasa, whose nickname is “the Demon Princess.” But when Arisa attempts suicide, Tsubasa learns that her seemingly perfect sister has been keeping some dark secrets. Now Tsubasa is going undercover at school—disguised as Arisa—in search of the truth. But will Arisa’s secrets shatter Tsubasa’s life, too?

I like Tsubasa.  She’s impulsive and has a temper that has earned her the nickname “Demon Princess.”  She’s tough, and doesn’t hesitate to let people know that she’s pissed.  She gets into fights, has little patience for anyone, and has pretty much scared off anyone who would have been willing to be her friend.  Instead, she is now a loner, and she wishes that she could be more like her gentle, well-liked twin sister, Arisa.

What Tsubasa doesn’t know is that Arisa is desperately unhappy.  The two girls haven’t seen each other in three years, and instead keep in touch through letters after their parents’ divorce.  When they meet again, Arisa convinces Tsubasa to take her place at school. When Tsubasa expresses how jealous she is of her sister because her friends are so nice and her school is so much more enjoyable than her own, Arisa responds by trying to kill herself.  Whoa!  Suddenly Tsubasa is questioning everything about Arisa’s life, and she is determined to discover the reason for her desperate unhappiness.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would.  With the flowery cover, I was expecting a much lighter tale than the one I found.  The danger cranks up as Tsubasa searches for the truth about Arisa and her life.  By taking her place at school, she finds a mystery slowly enveloping her.  The King is a sinister being who exerts a dark control over Arisa’s class.  The King makes things happen, from a student getting good grades to the disappearance of the perverted gym teacher.  If a student questions The King’s method, they are marked as traitors and everyone turns on them, like a pack of rapid dogs.

With expressive art and an intriguing storyline, I’m hyped to read more of the series.  I only hope it doesn’t become a casualty of the Kodansha/Del Rey shakeup.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Chihuahua Chase by A. E. Cannon

 

Title: The Chihuahua Chase

Author: A. E. Cannon

Illustrations: Julie Olson

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

ISBN: 9780374312596

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Teddy Krebs’s speedy if homely little dog goes missing right before the town Chihuahua races, fourth-grader Addie May Jones can’t resist Teddy’s plea for help. Soon she has two mysteries on her hands: Is there a dognapper on the loose? And why won’t Teddy stop making a pest of himself? Addie May turns detective to find the vanished pooch and at the same time discovers a bad case of puppy love.

I waited forever to read this book!  There is only one copy in the entire library network, and it had a gabillion holds on it.  I  just couldn’t resist the goofy looking Chihuahua trotting happily on the cover, so I added my name to the hold list.  Several months later…

The book appeared at the library!  This is a fast, fun read, with two likable protagonists.  Addie May can’t stand Teddy Krebs, because he throws dodge balls at her head during recess, leaves her nasty notes, and constantly makes fun of her.  When his ugly little dog goes missing before the Chihuahua races, Addie May is SHOCKED when Teddy asks her for help finding Phantom.  Teddy hates her, doesn’t he?

As the mystery deepens, Addie May learns that looks can be deceiving, and not everything is what it seems.  It seems that gorgeous Zack likes her, but does he really?  It seems that Teddy can’t stand her and lives to make her life miserable, but is that true?  It seems that Teddy’s grumpy neighbor may be responsible for Phantom’s disappearance, but did he dognap the little canine?

It’s a good thing Addie May wants to be a detective, because she is going to need all of her sleuthing skills to figure this mess out!  Addie May is one determined young lady. She is going to save Phantom, even though she can’t stand Teddy Krebs and wishes he would get sucked into a volcano.  The tenuous relationship between the two leads brought a smile to my face.  While it is obvious to everyone else that Teddy is just having a communication issue with Addie May, she wants to keep as much distance between them as possible.  Even while she’s helping him track down the missing Phantom, Teddy just can’t stop being mean and nasty to her.  Why is he so nice to everyone else?

With its rapid pacing and engaging characters, The Chihuahua Chase will appeal to the kid in everyone.  Peppered throughout are charming illustrations by Julie Olson, which capture the mood of key scenes in the book.   This breezy read was worth the wait.

Grade: B+

Review copy obtained from my local library