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One of the Best: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Happy Sunday everyone!

Writing reviews when I truly enjoyed/loved a book can either be difficult (fear of too much gushing) or really easy (the love just flows). Writing my review for Doll Bones by Holly Black was incredibly easy. This book is that good.

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Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining Doll Bones by Holly Blacka magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

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If you asked me for one of the best titles to introduce you to middle grades fiction, Dolly Bones would be the book I pressed into your hands. Everything about this book is well done. This is quality middle grades fiction right here people!

As I look back on some of the best middle grades books I’ve read (and coming of age tales in general) I’m noticing a major commonality between them; that perfect yet strange mix of realism and fantasy mixed together (think the Sandlot with “the beast” for example). When a book succeeds at weaving both the realistic and fantastic together what you get is a blindingly beautiful portrayal of that preadolescence stage in life where you’re stuck in limbo between childhood and the teen years. The characters, Zach, Poppy and Alice are each exploring (in different ways) their new teenage interests, yet are still clinging to the comforts of childhood, like imagining and playing games. This struggle is exemplified so flawlessly well on the cover. I love how this cover sets the stage for a coming of age story (yes the kids are on a physical and emotional journey) set in and spurred on, by the atmosphere of a ghost story.

Another major factor in this whole coming of age theme is realizing that adults, specifically your parents, are human being with flaws. We see this primarily in the strained relationship between Zach and his father. Because it hurts so much to realize that his dad isn’t perfect Zach longs for the days when his father wasn’t there; its easier to ignore him than face the truth. When in reality this often painful father/son relationship is caused by a hurt man doing the best he knows how with a son he doesn’t quite understand. There is just so much truthful emotion going on here!

There are some slightly creepy goings on in Doll Bones, but it is completely appropriate for middle grade readers and up (perhaps even a mature fifth grader) who crave a good adventure tale. The audiobook would make for a good family listen as well, so if you haven’t read Doll Bones yet, please get it added to your (or your reader’s) TBR stack; you wont be disappointed.

Author: Holly Black

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 7, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Narrator(s): Nick Podehl

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

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Ups and Downs: The Flame in the Mist by Kitt Grindstaff

Welcome back BookTasty Friends!

I’ve been working pretty hard to get caught up with my book reviews, because as of now I’m still a month or two behind! *GASP* I just read so much faster than I can write a review, which isn’t really a problem! haha

Today’s review is for fantasy read, The Flame in the Mist by Kitt Grindstaff.

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Set in an imagined past, this dark fantasy-adventure is for fans of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and features Jemma, a fiery-headed heroine held captive in Agromond Castle, yet destined to save mist-shrouded Anglavia.

Fiery-headed Jemma Agromond is not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaffand lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. Ghosts and misfits, a stone and crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient prophecy—all these reveal the truth about Jemma’s past and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than she could have imagined in her wildest fantasies. With her telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and her trusted friend, Digby, Jemma navigates increasingly dark forces, as helpers both seen and unseen, gather. But in the end, it is her own powers that she must bring to light, for only she has the key to defeating the evil ones and fulfilling the prophecy that will bring back the sun and restore peace in Anglavia.

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Fantasy is most definitely my favorite genre. I just love the idea of different worlds where magic is the norm! Because so many of my favorite books are fantasy, so I was excited to pick up The Flame in the Mist. In the end this book had it’s ups and downs. I didn’t love it, nor did I totally hate it either.

First of all the pacing of Jemma’s story is pretty slow, which was a struggle for me because the book is well over 400 pages (which makes for a long audibook!). It’s not that I don’t have the attention span for slowish story-lines, but Jemma makes two perilously long journeys that just felt like they dragged on and on at times. These journeys were necessary and many significant events occurred on them both, but I found myself thinking that the story could have been condensed a bit to make it seem less sluggish.

Jemma is one of those characters that are, from the beginning, pretty easy to cheer for. Her life has been full of so many secrets and betrayals relating to her detestable family that the reader turns every page with the hope that the Agromonds will get what’s coming to them. Although Jemma is easy to root for however, she isn’t that multifaceted a character, which makes the cast of secondary characters all the more exciting because they all (mostly) are surprisingly complex, especially some of Jemma’s family members. In fact, I believe that one of this book’s strongest qualities is it’s characters. Also, let’s not forget about Jemma’s two sidekick rats, Noodle and Pie – I loved them!

The Flame in the Mist is definitely a middle grades fantasy novel, but will appeal to older fantasy lovers as well. As with most fantasy novels magic is a common theme in this story, but there are times where I wonder if some of the said magic is too dark and creepy for younger middle school readers. Although this wasn’t the best fantasy I’ve read, it was still a fun audiobook to listen to and it kept me entertained.

Author: Kitt Grindstaff

Publisher:  Delacorte Press (April 9, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 13 hours and 29 minutes

Narrator(s): Rosalyn Landor

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

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Completely Underwhelmed: Icons by Margaret Stohl

Well hello there!

I hope everyone had a fun-filled Fourth of July!

After celebrating my Husband’s birthday on the 3rd with a shin-dig at our house, we spent the holiday hanging out with friends and basically just relaxing. That’s what summer is made for!

Now, on to more bookish things. Sometimes I disappoint myself. There are way too many awesome books out there for me to stick with one I’m just not that into. Do I follow my own advice though? Nope! I tend to stick it out until the end because I hate putting down a book. Well, recently I stuck with Icons by Margaret Stohl until the bitter end…there very bitter end.

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Everything changed on The Day. The day the windows shattered. The day the power stopped. The day Dol’s family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn’t know it was fighting. Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside — safe from Icons by Margaret Stohlthe shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can’t avoid. She’s different. She survived. Why?

When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador’s privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn’t a coincidence. It’s a conspiracy.

Within the Icon’s reach, Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas discover that their uncontrollable emotions — which they’ve always thought to be their greatest weaknesses — may actually be their greatest strengths.

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The idea behind Icons is kinda cool. One day alien ships visited earth, everyone but a small few died, leaving those behind to fight for humanity. Sounds cool right? Well, I think what we have here is a classic case of poor execution. This interesting premise was not matched with strong writing or characters. As a reader, I just felt completely underwhelmed.

Honestly, it took me a while to figure out that I just wasn’t into this book so when I finally did I felt like I was too far along to quit. The dystopian setting Stohl has created is not bad, especially with the insertion of poems, government documents and letters which give the reader more insight and context for the type of world this story takes place in. But that was pretty much it. I just didn’t care enough that these alien creatures were oppressing humanity at large.

This lack of connection also carried into the characters as well. The characters and their relationships were so flat and predictable that there was nothing that made me like, hate, or relate to them. I just didn’t care and on top of that I really didn’t understand why these characters were doing the things they did. They fight, love, follow, trust and betray each other all too easily. I get the feeling the characters are supposed to group together like the the kids in Captain Planet to save the world “with their powers combined”, but in the end I actually am still not completely sure what exactly the four main characters can do.

It really is a shame because there was a lot of potential in Icons, (and I really liked Beautiful Creatures) but for me, it just fell flat. I’ve read other reviews where the readers absolutely loved it though, so don’t ignore Icons on my account if it sounds like something you’d really enjoy. I just think there are much better dystopian, sci-fi titles out there for you to sink your teeth into.

Author: Margaret Stohl

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 7, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (AudioGO)

Length: 9 hours and 30 minutes

Narrator(s): Therese Plummer

Series: First in the Icons series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book:

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Well Played: The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

Welcome back BookTasty friends!

James Dashner is one of my favorite YA authors and his Maze Runner series is always my number one recommendation in my library. So, I was pretty excited to see that he had another book coming out! The Eye of Minds is the first book in the Mortality Doctrine series.

Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to Eye of Minds by James Dashnertechnology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team.
But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

Let me start by saying that The Eye of Minds is not as good as The Maze Runner books, but it is an entertaining adventure that has Dashner’s signature non stop action style!

In typical Dashner fashion, the first scene is so intense that you’re automatically captivated by the story! We quickly learn that, Michael lives in a future where many people get their entertainment in a virtual reality experience, the VirtNet. I like this take on futuristic technology and the idea that there is someone, or something, in this “game” that is hurting people in real life, as well as in the virtual one. It makes for a very menacing and mysterious villain.

One thing about this book I enjoyed was that Micahel isn’t in it alone. He doesn’t leave everyone else behind to achieve his goal. He takes his friends with him because he knows that they all have different strengths and weaknesses. Although the characters fell a tiny bit flat at times, I still really liked Michael and his friends mostly because of the way they interacted together, which is a change from the usual YA “only you can save the world”.

The Eye of Minds reminded me of a giant game of Mouse Trap, in that each chapter is action packed with hurdles and challenges for Michael and his friends to overcome (they reminded me a little of Doctor Who episodes sometimes). However, there is a sense of predictability in the overall plot. Until you get to the twist of course! I remember standing in my kitchen cooking dinner while listening to the audiobook and having to relisten to the final chapter because I was so stunned and surprised by what had happened! Well played Mr. Dashner. Well played.

Although this is not the first Dasher title I’d recommend to people, I think that those who are fans of his writing will ultimately enjoy The Eye of Minds. It’s not as strong as I would’ve liked, but it was still a fun and exciting read.

Author: James Dashner

Publisher: Listening Library (October 8, 2013)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 8 hours and 36 minutes

Narrator(s): Erik Davies

Series: First in the Mortality Doctrine series

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

 

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Nothing to Write Home About: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Hi there!

I’m so behind in reviews! But that’s okay. I’m going to “shrink the change”. I’m going to write one review tonight instead of focusing on the 20 I want to write, so I won’t feel overwhelmed.

A while ago, I read Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she’s never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He’s searching for someone too. He’s also wild – a savage – but might be her best hope at staying alive. If they can survive, they are each other’s best hope for finding answers.

Honestly, I was surprised that I actually enjoyed this book in the end. It is such a different take on the dystopian genre that I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first. I didn’t love it, but it was entertaining.

First, I have to comment on the names. Ughhhh. Aria? Peregrine? Lumina? Paisley? Soren? Echo? I found myself rolling my eyes at times because I just can’t handle the names. I feel like books set in futuristic settings throw in these overly strange names to make up for a lack of world building. “Oh it’s the future! I know! Let’s give them weird names because it’s the future!”  Sorry. Sometimes a weird name is just a weird name.

The plot as a whole was really interesting. The whole idea of Reverie and the Realms is plausible as our society gets more and more lethargic because we’re interacting more digitally instead of physically. It reminded me of the society in WALL-E that just floats around in their little lazy-boy chairs with everything handed to them. It’s far out there, but plausible. In addition, I liked how the world outside of Reverie is so tribal. It seems like the two worlds have both reverted to the far ends of the spectrum. You have Reverie where society is so advanced that reality is virtual and in contrast you have Blood Lords and cannibals running around in the woods being chased by wolves. There was just so much potential!

Aria as a character fell flat, as did most of the other characters, with the exception of Peregrine in my opinion. I actually enjoyed learning more about Peregrine’s tribe and his back-story and I really liked the relationship with his friend Echo; the way they played off of each others strengths to do what needed to be done.

All in all, this one was simply entertaining and nothing to write home about. I think fans of dystopian YA will probably enjoy it, but I’d recommend other titles in this genre before Under the Never Sky for sure.

Author: Veronica Rossi

Publisher: Listening Library (February 14, 2012)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 9 hours and 39 minutes

Narrator(s): Bernadette Dunne Flagler

Series: First in the “Under the Never Sky” series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: Under the Never Sky

 

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It’s a Weird One: Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

Hi!

I recently finished Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, after years of passing by it in my library as I straightened out the shelves and I have to say, this was such a weird book!

Fever Crumb is a girl who has been adopted and raised by Dr. Crumb, a member of the order of Engineers, where she serves as apprentice. In a time and place where women are not seen as reasonable creatures, Fever is an anomaly, the only female to serve in the order.Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

Soon though, she must say goodbye to Dr. Crumb – nearly the only person she’s ever known – to assist archeologist Kit Solent on a top-secret project. As her work begins, Fever is plagued by memories that are not her own and Kit seems to have a particular interest in finding out what they are. Fever has also been singled out by city-dwellers who declare her part Scriven. The Scriveners, not human, ruled the city some years ago but were hunted down and killed in a victorious uprising by the people. If there are any remaining Scriven, they are to be eliminated. All Fever knows is what she’s been told: that she is an orphan. Is Fever a Scriven? Whose memories does she hold? Is the mystery of Fever, adopted daughter of Dr. Crumb, the key to the secret that lies at the heart of London?

As I said before, this was a weird book. I originally wanted to read Fever Crumb because I thought it was steam-punk and that I’d really enjoy Fever as a character.  Well, the world Reeve has created isn’t quite steam-punk, in fact, Fever’s world is so far ahead in the future that it is this strange “futuristically backwards” society.  It’s almost as if society became so advanced that it had no where else to go and simply regressed, so much so that technologies like computers are considered ancient, yet most of Fever’s world runs on steam power. I do think I misclassified Fever Crumb at first, and it is not strictly steam-punk so much as it is just sci-fi, but readers who are fans of the steam-punk genre will probably enjoy this one too. Whatever it is, it’s an incredibly interesting setting.

I also originally thought I’d enjoy fever as a character, but I struggled to really like Fever. Because Fever was raised with the order of Engineers, she was taught that emotion was irrational and that practicality was key, she is rather unsympathetic. She could be so straight forward and harsh at the wrong times, which just make it hard for me to like her. In her defense however, after leaving the Engineers and experiencing the outside world, Fever does struggle with her own emotions verses being rational and she does learn that it can be a good thing to act on one’s feelings. She was just too practical for me to really love her like I was hoping I would.

Despite not really liking Fever, I was so engrossed in her story. The more time that she spends away from the protection of the Engineers, Fever’s personal history begins to unfurl and she starts to learn things about herself that she never knew. This is what I enjoyed about this book. I wanted to know where Fever actually came from and how she fit in with the turmoil of her society. The story really is pretty interesting and action packed, despite having Fever as a lackluster subject.

So, if you enjoy sci-fi and strange futuristic worlds you may really like Fever Crumb. I recommend the audiobook too because it was narrated by the author which is always fun! Although it wasn’t my favorite, it was an entertainingly strange read!

Author: Philip Reeve

Publisher: Scholastic Audio (March 1, 2011)

Format: Audiobooks

Length: 6 hours and 59 minutes

Narrator(s): Philip Reeve (yes the author!)

Series: Book 1 in the Fever Crumb series.

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book: Fever Crumb

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Again! Again! 2014 YA Audiobook Challenge

Who else likes audiobooks?

I do! A lot!

For the past two years I’ve participated in the YA Audiobook Challenge hosted by Jen at  Book and a Latte.

2014 YA Audiobook ChallengeThis is my favorite bookish challenge because I seriously LOVE audiobooks. Just ask my husband! I always have one going and I listen while driving, running, folding laundry etc… My husband knows I’m listening to a particularly good audiobook if I offer to do the dishes (it’s the chore I dislike the most!). hahaha

Last year I reached the “Rocking Out” level of the challenge because I was literally one audiobook short of my goal of 36. One! Ugghhhh The shame! hahaha If you’re interested, can see my 2013 YA Audiobook Challege Wrap Up here. I listened to so many awesome books in 2013!

This year I am participating again (of course!!!), and am shooting for the “Head Bang’n levelOver the course of 2014 I need to listen to 36+ audiobooks and review at least 24 of them.

I know I got this!

If you like audiobooks and young adult fiction, you should join us! Check out the Challenge Info Page to find out more and sign up.