Category : Fantasy Books – My Reviews

This month’s Spotlight Week features ABOVE WORLD by Middle Grade Author Jenn Reese.

*********************************************************************************************************

 

368 pages, Hardcover

Genre: MG, Ages 10 and up

Published on February 14, 2012 by Candlewick

ISBN-10: 0763654175

ISBN-13: 978-0763654177

Synopsis:

A suspenseful sci-fi escapade plucks two children out of the ocean for a thrilling adventure.

Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colonys survival is in doubt. The Kampiis breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people.

But can Alunas warrior spirit and Hokus tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adaptgrowing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountainshere is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.

 

My Review

Opening Line: Aluna swam toward the outpost, her heart pounding, her breathing necklace pulsing at her throat.

Opening Paragraph: Aluna swam toward the outpost, her heart pounding, her breathing necklace pulsing at her throat. She kicked her legs harder, wishing it were tomorrow. Wishing she already had her tail. With a tail, she could speed through the water, fast as a dolphin.

The opening lines hooked me right off the bat, and questions about this character and the world she lived in began swimming in my head. What was a breathing necklace? How would she get a tail? What kind of underwater world did she live in?

Author Jenn Reese did not disappoint. The world she’s created is a fascinating one—full of wonder, surprise, and danger. In this dystopian story, environmental problems and overpopulation has forced humans to seek out alternative habitats, and adapt their bodies to their new environment.

Like the rest of the Kampii, Aluna lives deep underwater, but through her adventures, she gets to meet people from other splinters of the new world. She befriends the Avians, winged people who live in the high mountains, and even makes friends with an Equian, a member of the half-horse race living in the deserts.

Aluna is a strong-willed, and defiant heroine. She takes it upon herself to find out a solution to the growing problem of breathing necklace malfunctions, when the Elders in her society refuse to seek help. She journeys to the above world, where she realizes that working with the other races might be the only way to save them all from a common enemy.

Aluna and her friends all have distinct, likeable characteristics. Her best friend Hoku, who helps tell the other half of the story, is the ultimate geek, and often helps calm hot-headed Aluna. Brave Dash and shy Callie also add fun and sometimes drama to the adventure.

The setting is so original and vividly described. I love how science fiction and fantasy seem to meld in Above World. Technology began all the amazing transformations of the human race in this story, but ceremony and ritual from the different tribes lend an almost magical feel to everything.

I also loved the little details about the world, which author Jenn Reese has sprinkled throughout the text. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovable pet raccoon named Zorro, a talking dog, and a half human-half crab mechanism who longs for a kiss.

Boys will especially enjoy the book’s fast pace and every action-packed chapter. There is hardly time to breathe, as the friends are thrown from one adventure to the next. The author’s background in martial arts shines through in the fight scenes she’s written. I could clearly picture the action in my mind, and I almost felt like I was watching a movie.

Girls, on the other hand, will enjoy reading about Aluna’s journey of self-discovery, and the budding romance that will blossom later on between two of the other characters.

I enjoyed reading Above World and can’t wait for the next two books in the series.

** Book 2, Mirage, will be published in February of 2013, while Book 3 will most likely come out in 2014.

 

**************************************************************************************************

Stay tuned for an interview with ABOVE WORLD’s author Jenn Reese on Wednesday!

2,745 total views, no views today

This month’s Spotlight Week features Sci Fi novels CassaStar and CassaFire by author and ninja blogger Alex Cavanaugh.

*******************************************************************************************************************

CassaFire by Alex J. Cavanaugh

6×9 Trade paperback, 240 pages, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Science fiction – space opera/adventure
Print ISBN 978-0-9827139-4-5 $15.95
EBook ISBN 978-0-9827139-6-9 $4.99

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockipit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron’s tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive and Bassa must make a decision that  could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

My Review

Alex Cavanaugh accomplishes a rare feat in his first novel, CassaStar. He has created a character-driven Sci-Fi story that isn’t weighed down by scientific jargon or technological lingo.

The story is set primarily in space and there is no mention of Earth or what galaxy the Cassans live in. The Cassan race appears to be similar to the human race except for the fact that they have mental powers that allow them to communicate through thoughts and even teleport from one place to another.

Alex doesn’t waste time explaining the use of telepathy and mind power to pilot ships. Instead, he incorporates these cool concepts into the plot itself. Trusting his readers to understand these concepts, along with other world building  aspects, Alex focuses on the development of his two main characters, Byron and Bassa.

Byron, the rookie pilot and Bassa, the experienced commander, are very likeable characters. Their own individual journeys and the path that leads them to each other is at the very heart of the story.  Byron has trouble trusting people and Bassa’s regrets constantly haunt him. In the end, Bassa gets his second chance through Byron, and Byron in turn learns to open up his heart through Bassa.

The plot in itself is fast-paced and the battle scenes between the Cassan fleet and the enemy Vindicarn ships are thrilling. Although Alex doesn’t describe the actual fighter ships in detail, it’s easy to picture the powerful Cosbolts and speedy Dartens going up against the invading armada.

The one thing I miss in CassaStar was the presence of female characters. I didn’t miss having a love story, but I did long to see a mention of female pilots at least.

Lack of female characters aside, however, I truly enjoyed reading CassaStar. It’s a fast-paced, thrilling Sci- Fi adventure, but it’s also a heartwarming story about friendship, trust, honor and self-sacrifice.

CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh
6×9 Trade paperback, 246 pages, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
Science fiction – space opera/adventure
Print ISBN 978-0-9816210-6-7 $15.95
EBook ISBN 978-0-9827139-3-8 $2.99

The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend – to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities.

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…

My Review

In this sequel to CassaStar, Alex Cavanaugh proves once again that he is a master of character development.

The story is set primarily in the newly discovered planet of Tgren, and there aren’t as many space battle scenes as there were in CassaStar. However, this doesn’t in any way make the story less exciting.  Alex still manages to thrill his readers through some fast-paced action scenes and key plot points.

CassaFire follows veteran war hero Byron in his new life. Byron has kept his promise to mentor and friend Bassa and has become a pilot on an exploration team. Years ago, Bassa took Byron under his tutelage and became his only friend. Now Byron finds himself befriending an insecure, yet brilliant computer analyst named Mevine. Using the things he’s learned from Bassa, Byron coaxes the young officer out of his shell and becomes both friend and mentor.

In this book, I found what I’d been missing in the first installment of the story: a strong, female character. Athee is independent, free-spirited and just as excellent a pilot as Byron was when he was younger. She’s also a jumper like Byron, capable of teleporting  from one place to another, without the use of a power source. But unlike Byron, she possesses other mental abilities that makes her a valuable asset to both her native land of Tgren, and to the Cassan fleet. I actually loved how she was far more powerful than Byron in terms of mental powers.

I enjoyed witnessing her growth as a character, and seeing her relationship with Byron blossom into something more than friendship. Giving Byron a love connection made the story even more of an emotional aspect than the previous book.

I also liked the fact that the sequel explains the lack of women in the Cassan Navy, and the difference between Cassan men’s and women’s mental abilities.

Alex Cavanaugh continues his wonderful story-telling in CassaFire. It is an exciting and enjoyable read, containing equal measures of action-adventure and drama. It’s definitely a must read for any Sci-Fi fan.

Links to purchase CassaFire:


*******************************************************************************************************************

Tune in this Wednesday for the 2nd installment in this Spotlight series, where I feature an interview with author Alex Cavanaugh!

7,009 total views, 1 views today

Today, we begin my first Spotlight Week Series for 2012, and boy am I excited!

This week, the spotlight is on one of my favorite YA authors, and one of my dearest friends, Lissa Price.

Her book, STARTERS, a YA Futuristic Thriller, came out this March.

I am so thrilled that I finally get the chance to review her book!

*********************************************************************************************************

In a future Los Angeles, becoming someone else is now possible. Sixteen-year-old Callie discovers the Body Bank where teens rent their bodies to seniors who want to be young again. But when her neurochip malfunctions, she wakes up in the mansion of her rich renter and finds she is going out with a senator’s grandson. It’s a fairy-tale new life, until she discovers her renter’s deadly plan.

My Review

When I first read STARTERS, it wasn’t even in stores yet. Lissa was kind enough to give me a copy of the chapter sample they were giving away as promotional tools.

I had two thoughts when I finished reading the chapter sample.

  1. Holy cow! This is amazing!
  2. When can I get my hands on the whole book?

When I finally got my hands on a copy I didn’t want to sit down and read it until I knew I could devote a few hours of my time to it. And I’m glad I waited—because I read the story in one sitting.

I just could not put it down. STARTERS reeled me in at the first sentence and didn’t let go until the end.

Of course, I’m not just saying this because Lissa is a friend. I take my blogging duties seriously and I fully believe in the saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I will never review a book unless I have positive things to say about it. Luckily, I have a lot of good things to say about STARTERS.

Author Lissa Price accomplishes several things in the first few pages alone. First, she  introduces readers to a post-apocalyptic world, in which almost everyone aged 20-60 has died from the Spore wars.

How would a world populated by only the very young (Starters) and the very old (Enders), survive? The author paints a dire picture of this kind of society where the word “old” has become relative. Readers are at once sucked into a world where older generations are now able to live past 100, and where they now have the option to recapture their youth—through someone else’s body.

Second, author Lissa Price introduces us to a whole new concept with two words alone: Body Bank.

The premise is both intriguing and chilling, and Prime Destination raises the bar on creepy. This company, led by a nameless and faceless Old Man, has created technology that allows old people to hijack the minds of teenagers. These hapless Starters have no idea where their bodies have been, or how their bodies are used by the Enders who rent them.

Third, Lissa Price creates a compelling main character in Callie whom we absolutely root for. Callie’s answer to the question “why would you rent your body to creepy old people”, is heartbreaking in its simplicity. Her younger brother is ill, and she needs the money to take care of him.

Callie’s parents are dead, and she and her brother live in the dangerous streets of dystopian Beverly Hills. What makes her such a sympathetic and likable character is that she would do anything for her little brother.

Lastly, in the first few pages alone, Lissa Price also gives her readers a taste of what the entire book will be like—action-packed, thrilling and fast-paced.

Callie’s story is not just one of self-sacrifice, but one of self-preservation as well. She must stop her renter, Helena, from using her body to commit a murder.

Another major selling point of STARTERS is its curious love triangle. Callie is essentially torn between two boys, and two worlds. Michael is comforting in his familiarity. He is her childhood friend and one she can count on to take care of her brother in her absence. Blake, is exciting and new. The grandson of a senator, he has everything Callie hopes to find in boyfriend—good looks, good breeding, and good money.

To top off all these incredible story turns, author Lissa Price has managed to create a  twist toward the end of the story that leaves  her readers breathless and wanting more.

It’s a good thing we don’t have too long to wait, as the sequel, ENDERS, will be released sometime this year.

******************************************************************************************************

Tune in on Wednesday, May 23, as Spotlight Week continues with an interview with amazing author Lissa Price.

4,205 total views, no views today

Welcome to another Spotlight Week!

I’m very happy to turn the spotlight on author B.L. Sauder. I met Bonnie at this year’s SCBWI Summer Conference and we became fast friends. I’m excited that today, I get the chance to finally review her book.

***********************************************************************************************************

Mystery surrounds Hong Mei’s life. Her father trained her in the art of Gong fu when she was young in order to prepare her for something big. But before her father has the chance to tell her what her training is for, he is taken away. Her mother avoids questions about her father,  and instead focuses on raising Hong Mei the best way she can. Her mother’s magical healing abilities are a way for them to survive, though they have to move from town to town when people start getting suspicious of them. Just before the Chinese New Year, Hong Mei receives a series of emails from a certain Madam Ching, who professes to have information regarding her missing father. Eager to be reunited with him, Hong Mei responds to the email and finds herself trapped in a web of blackmail and deceit. Hong Mei’s desire to see her father again leads her to follow the villainous Madam Ching’s instructions.

Brothers Ryan and Alex were orphaned years ago when a fire killed their parents. They’ve never solved the mystery behind the sudden fire, but they were fortunate enough to have been adopted by caring relatives. They travel to Hongkong with their aunt and uncle to celebrate the Chinese New Year. While they’re equipped to mingle with their many relatives, and to eat strange Chinese foods, they aren’t prepared for the magical adventure that befalls them when they meet a strange Chinese girl who calls herself Hong Mei.

The three become a reluctant team, and they soon discover the truth. What they thought were just bedtime stories told by their parents suddenly becomes reality. The eve of the Chinese Year of the Golden Dragon is filled with strange and shocking revelations about themselves and their families. The legend of Black Dragon told to them at a young age, and the jade pendants they all wear grow to be more than a symbol of their missing parents—they become the link that connects the three children’s lives. In order to be reunited with their loved ones, they must work together and race against time to fulfill a task that was set for them two thousand years ago.

Fantasy, adventure, myth, and drama all roll into one wonderful read in B.L. Sauder’s  Year of the Golden Dragon.

Sauder’s vivid descriptions of Hong Kong and China certainly made me feel like I was right there with Ryan, Alex and Hong Mei. The author has also done a great job of incorporating a lot of information about Chinese culture throughout the story. Young readers will come away with a new curiosity about the exotic culture, and might even develop an interest in history and myth. I enjoyed how the characters developed and changed throughout their adventures, and I’m sure reluctant readers will appreciate the book’s fast pacing.

The book’s ability to encourage readers of all ages to take an interest in different cultures, along with the lessons it teaches about family and friendship certainly makes Year of the Golden Dragon a worthy read.

**************************************************************************************************************

Tune in next Wednesday for an interview with B.L. Sauder, author of Year of the Golden Dragon

3,131 total views, no views today

Today we begin another Spotlight Week—about a year in the making. I’ll fill you in on the amusing details later, but for now, a short version should suffice.

I first met author Michael Reisman at the West Hollywood Bookfair last year and immediately fell in love—

With his books!

As soon as I read the back covers of both books, I knew I would have another item to my Favorite Book Series List.

In book one, Simon Bloom, The Gravity Keeper , the reader is introduced to eleven-year old Simon Bloom and his quirky friends Owen and Alysha. A strange breeze lures them into the mysterious Dunkerhook Woods, hidden at the very edge of their small town. Something falls out of the sky and lands on Simon’s head—it is a textbook unlike any other. The Teacher’s Edition of Physics gives Simon the ability to manipulate the rules of Physics through the understanding of specific formulas.  Simon has always dreamed of  being able to fly, and so the first law he changes, is the law of Gravity. He also learns how to manipulate friction. His friends also get in on the action. Owen, who has the habit of speaking stupendously-long-sentences-that-they-have-to-be-written-in-dashes, learns to control kinetic energy; while smart, mouthy, and always cool Alysha learns how to control electricity.

But with great powers come great responsibility—and great trouble. Tattoo-covered, megalomaniac Sirabetta discovers Simon has the Book and stops at nothing to relieve him of it. Simon, Owen and Alysha, aided by Ralphagon Wintrofline, Head of the Order of Physics, and Flangelo Squicconi, member of the Order of Biology, go on an action-packed and thrilling adventure that changes their lives and their view of the world forever.

Book two, Simon Bloom: The Octopus Effect, takes place 5 months after Simon, Owen and Alysha have become members of the Physics Guild. Simon has been elected as Co-Keeper of the Teacher’s Edition of Physics and shares its safekeeping with Ralphagon Wintrofline, Head of the Order of Physics. Things are going smoothly for the friends, until the Order of Science decides that there can be only one Keeper of the Book.

And just to further complicate their lives, Sirabetta, now in the body of an irate 13 year old, escapes to the undersea domes that houses the Order of Biology.  Simon and his friends follow her there. They go on another action-packed adventure through a series of mind-bending landscapes, making both new allies and new enemies in their adventures. Through it all, they learn about the laws of biology, gaining new powers and increasing confidence in their abilities to manipulate the laws of Physics.

There are so many aspects of the books to love.

The concept of the mysterious Union, which holds the secrets to manipulating the entire Universe in its many Teacher’s Edition Books is at once fascinating and absorbing.  Various Orders within the Union are responsible for overseeing the workings of Physics, Biology, Chemistry and other sciences in the universe.

Making the humorous tone of the book possible, is an all-seeing, bathrobe-wearing, pizza-eating, English narrator whose only job in life is to report, and comment on the three children’s adventures.  Employed by the mysterious Union, the Narrator isn’t supposed to do anything but observe—but he later on finds himself befriending and perhaps even aiding the kids themselves.

The weird and sometimes confusing  and often tongue-twisting character names (Ralphagon Wintrofline, Mermon Veenie, Flangelo Squicconi) only add to the tone of wit and humor with which the entire book is written.

But humor, wit, and a healthy dose of ironic sarcasm, are not the only things that make this book awesome. The story’s pacing is fast, and  plot itself is inventive and creative, and packed with enough action and adventure to keep video game-addicted boys hooked.

As a fan of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I was happy that Michael Reisman mentioned the books in his acknowledgements and even gave it a cameo appearance in his own books.

While all of these aspects make the books itself a worthy read, what I really love about them is that they introduce scientific concepts to children and make them look cool. Michael Reisman has done parents and teachers a favor by making science fun and intriguing. Anyone who reads the books will instantly find their interest in Physics and Biology peaking.

This is a series I would definitely recommend to both Science Fiction/Fantasy and adventure lovers alike. I am (along with many other fans) crossing my fingers in the hopes that the third book comes out soon.

*********************************************************************************************************

Drop by again on Thursday for an interview with Simon Bloom Author Michael Reisman.

2,108 total views, no views today

Once in awhile, I find the time to do a book spotlight week, where I feature a book review and a matching author interview to go with it.

This week, I’m very happy to announce, is Monster Moon Week!

Why am I happy? Well, one is that I enjoyed reading the book immensely, and two, I had the pleasure of being critique groupmates (Wohoo, Critique Group 4! You gals rock!) with two of the writers of this wonderful series at last year’s SCBWI-LA Writers’ Retreat. (Watch out for the author interview this Thursday, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun!)

So, to kick off Monster Moon Week, here’s a review of the first book in the series.

A summary of the book from the series’ Monster Moon Mysteries Website:

“Monsters on the loose…end of a bloodline…”

It’s almost Halloween, and twelve-year-old AJ Zantony’s world is threatened by an ancient curse that releases wicked pirates who had been trapped for centuries in his Aunt Zsofia’s creepy mansion, Zala Manor.

The pirates–a vampire count, a pegleg skeleton, and a zombie–have three goals: to find a lost treasure, unleash the restless dead from their graves, and to settle a very old score by destroying the Zantony bloodline.

AJ has to stop them before midnight during Aunt Zsofia’s annual Halloween party. Except he has a big problem–monster phobia! He’s scared to death of monsters. But if he doesn’t act fast, the streets of Craggy Cove will be crawling with zombies.

Will AJ overcome his fear and stop the monsters or bail out? Will Craggy Cove become Zombie Central? Who will be alive when midnight tolls?

My Review

The first book that really got me reading was the Nancy Drew Mysteries. You remember those hardcover books with the yellow spines and the ginger-haired sixties girl on the cover?

Yup, those ones. I picked up one book on a whim and was hooked from then on. I would devour the books in a flash and pick up the next one. The librarian was probably amazed to see a third grader visit the library everyday. (It helped that the library was right next to our classroom).

Then I discovered fantasy books. I abandoned Nancy Drew for Harry Potter (sounds like a love triangle!) and completely forgot my love for mysteries and suspense.

Curse of Zala Manor brought back my love for mysterious events, ominous clues, and scary hidden villains.

One of the Amazon reviewers described the book as a cross between the Hardy Boys and Dracula. I beg to disagree. While the book has scary elements, it’s not so frightening as to scare the living daylights out of anyone. Dracula would leave you sleeping with the lights on, or jumping at every sound—It’s the kind of book you read outside on a sunny day, preferably with a group of tough friends around. Curse of Zala Manor is the kind of book you can read with a flashlight under the covers, and a cup of hot cocoa on your bedside table.

If I were to make a comparison, I would say that Curse of Zala Manor is more of a cross between Hardy Boys and Coraline. Adventure, mystery, and fantastical elements are all rolled into one entertaining and exciting read. The book has everything from dead pirates, to ghosts, to vampires and zombies, all set within the backdrop of a shadowy town.

Children love to be scared, and the authors have managed to get into the minds of kids and make their fear of monsters come to life. At the same time, they manage to show kids how to deal with such fears through the actions of their very brave protagonists AJ Zantony, Emily Peralta, and Vlad the talking rat.

A few science facts are also scattered throughout the book. Parents can read Curse of Zala Manor to their restless children who are dying for a good story (and an excuse to cuddle with their folks).

Teachers can most certainly use the book as a great learning tool for teaching history, comprehension and recall. The book can easily grab kids’ attentions—and keep it. The publisher is also working on a manual that will assist teachers in using the book as a teaching device.

The best part about this book? It’s only the first in a series! That means more mystery, mayhem, suspense and action from AJ Zantony and his gang of Zombuddies.

The second book in the series, The Secret of Haunted Bog will be out this year, and thanks to BBH McChiller, I’ve already had the pleasure of reading it. (Go ahead, be jealous J). I’m planning to do a book review on it, of course, but in the meantime, let me just say it’s just as deliciously suspenseful as the first one.

If you want to know more about the books, go to their website www.monstermoonmysteries.com. You can learn more about the planned books in the series, the authors and the characters there.

And–stay tuned for my interview with the literary witches of Craggy Crove (also known as the fabulous BBH McChiller).

4,885 total views, 2 views today

Book Review: Undiscovered Gyrl

**It is 1/11/2011, and I’m writing my 101st post.  Just an interesting factoid, before I proceed to the actual blog post, which is a book review.**

I don’t review a book unless I’ve personally read it. I read all sorts of books, but mostly I read fantasy/sci fi or adventure stories.

So when I was given the chance to review a book that was no way near fantasy or sci fi, I immediately went out and bought a copy. (Okay, so maybe I went online and ordered it from Amazon, but you get the idea).

When I’m given the opportunity to read any book (unless it’s some kind of Math book), especially when it’s fiction—I jump at it. Fiction is fiction and a good story will hold my interest no matter what genre it is.

And that’s exactly what happened when I read Allison Burnett’s “Undiscovered Gyrl”.

But before I get into an actual book review, let me tell you what that story is about first.

Here’s the book trailer for “Undiscovered Gyrl”

And this book summary is from the publisher:

Beautiful, wild, funny, and lost, Katie Kampenfelt is taking a year off before college to find her passion. Ambitious in her own way, Katie intends to do more than just smoke weed with her boyfriend, Rory, and work at the bookstore. She plans to seduce Dan, a thirty-two-year-old film professor.

Katie chronicles her adventures in an anonymous blog, telling strangers her innermost desires, shames, and thrills. But when Dan stops taking her calls, when her alcoholic father suffers a terrible fall, and when she finds herself drawn into a dangerous new relationship, Katie’s fearless narrative begins to crack, and dark pieces of her past emerge.

Sexually frank, often heartbreaking, and bursting with devilish humor, Undiscovered Gyrl is an extraordinarily accomplished novel of identity, voyeurism, and deceit.

The publisher’s blurb doesn’t sum up the entirety of the story.  And though this movie trailer gives us a hint of what the story is about, it still doesn’t quite capture the story’s essence.

In order to understand what  “Undiscovered Gyrl” is about, you have to actually sit down and read it.  But what kind of book reviewer would I be, if I didn’t at least try to give you an inside look at the story?

The book is an easy read. It is in blog format, which means that dates, and even spelling errors made by Katie while she was blogging drunk, are all accounted for.  It sets a more realistic atmosphere for the story, and immediately pulled me into the story. I felt like I was one of Katie’s many blog readers.

What is really amazing is that I felt like I was really reading something an eighteen year-old girl would write.  This is an astonishing feat, considering that the person who wrote this book is a middle-aged man. Allison Burnett has channeled Katie Kampenfelt so accurately – from her language, to her thoughts, actions, words, and  feelings.

Her character voice obliterates any other thought you might have as a reader. You are drawn into her world, into her life instantly. You find yourself loving her, hating her, worrying for her, wishing you could help her. I had to look at the book cover every now and then to remind myself that I was reading a book and not a blog. I would find myself looking for the keyboard so I could send her a message.

The thing is, Katie’s life is a complete wreck. She constantly gets herself into situations I couldn’t even imagine anyone getting themselves into.  Katie would write about her life using the kind of language any teenager would use. Words like LOL, Grrr and Ha! make their way onto the page, but these do not distract you from the images burned into your mind as Katie describes encounters with her alcoholic father, oblivious mother, needy boyfriend, and the older men whom she just can’t seem to stay away from.

Reading “Undiscovered Gyrl” was like watching one of those reality shows. You know, the ones that make you say “This show is ridiculous. These are crazy people! Complete trainwrecks! Why am I sitting here watching their silly little lives unravel? I could be doing so much more with this time.” Yes, those kinds of reality shows. The ones you can’t take your eyes off, the ones that keep you glued to the TV because the characters are so outrageous, you just have to know what kind of trouble they get themselves into next.

That was what I felt while reading “Undiscovered Gyrl”. Only it was way better than that. I was reading a book, after all, and not watching some silly TV show.

Though she has changed all the names in her blog, to avoid the possibility of discovery, you get the sense that she is painfully honest about everything else.  Her raw, uncensored thoughts can unnerve you or even outrage you. But mostly her words make you think, and they make you feel.

Katie’s exploits are a commentary on the times we now live in. She talks about people who exist in real life – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are often mentioned, but mostly she talks about events that happen everyday, to people we may or may not meet.Her shocking experiences may remind me that I am reading fiction, and yet, at the back of my mind, I knew that there was a big possibility that someone out there was living Katie’s life—only she wasn’t blogging about it.

I am almost certain, that some ( if not most) teenage girls would be able to relate to Katie in some way. It is for this reason that I recommend this book to teenagers and parents alike.  Katie’s life is one big, scandalous mess, but it gives us a glimpse into the soul of a young, deeply troubled woman, who is lost, lonely and utterly alone in her struggles to find her place in the scheme of things.

A book always gives me something that no TV show can give me. It allows me a glimpse into the character’s heart and mind. I get to see through the character’s eyes. I get to hear her thoughts, and feel her emotions as her life unfolds before her.

This is the achievement of literature—especially great literature. I get to learn about a life, so completely different from mine.  I get to live that life without consequences. Most of all, I get to understand the person who is living that life.

Why is this important? Because even if the character I’m reading about is fictional,  I know that somewhere, someone real is living the same kind of life.

And if I end up meeting that person one day—a real life Katie- I will somehow know the troubles she has lived through. I will understand her. And with understanding, comes tolerance, perhaps even compassion.  At any rate, I will be one less person in the world who will judge her.

———–

**Stay tuned this week for an interview with the amazing Allison Burnett.

10,479 total views, 3 views today

Book Review: The Wish Stealers

Do you believe in wishes?

Griffin Penshine does. She loves to wish on stars, and pennies, and anything else she can think of. She wishes for a baby sister and for her school to smell like chocolate chip cookies.

Her life changes one day, when an old lady offers her a gift of twelve shiny pennies. Hoping the gift will bring her luck as she starts the school year at a new school, Griffin accepts the gift.

As the day wears on, however, Griffin realizes with horror that each penny represents a stolen wish. She discovers that the old woman was a Wish Stealer. What’s worse, is that by accepting the old woman’s gift, Griffin herself, has turned into a Wish Stealer. Now Griffin’s good wishes will never come true, and  the opposite of her good wishes seem to happen.

To break the Wish Stealer’s curse, Griffin needs to return all twelve stolen wishes. She must return all twelve pennies to the people who wished on them, or the curse affects not only her, but her family as well.

This YA fantasy book, written by the amazing Tracy Trivas, has such an original plot and great, believable characters.  Children can relate to the idea of throwing a penny into a fountain and making a wish.

Readers will find their hearts fluttering as they read about Griffin’s attempts at trying to figure out how she can right wrongs done in the past. She learns a lot about herself in the process. She discovers that the happiness of her family and friends far outweigh her desire for being popular. In the book, Griffin even teams up with her science partner Garret to create a fundraiser for Pennies for the Planet.

The Wish Stealers shows children what is truly essential in life. It teaches children that helping other people achieve their wishes can be its own reward. The book encourages kids to be Wish Granters instead of a Wish Stealers.

The best thing about the book, however, is that after reading the story, children (and other readers) can actually go back to their real lives and make other people’s wishes come true.

The book features a real charity called Pennies for the Planet. This charity is part of the National Audubon Society, and is powered by kids who collect pennies (and any other helpful coins) to save wild lands and the wildlife within in these conservation places.

Hunt for pennies in your dressers, in the folds of your couch, in dirty jeans or even in your smelly socks. Where you find these pennies is not important. What’s important is that you can use these pennies to make a big difference in our world.

You can check out the author’s website or togethergreen.org to learn more about how you can start your own fundraisers to help the planet.

More importantly, pick up a copy of The Wish Stealers and read them with your kids. You’ll not only enjoy the wonderful story, you’ll also teach your kids valuable life lessons, and inspire them to make the world a better place.

———–

Tune in next Thursday for an INTERVIEW with TRACY TRIVAS, author of THE WISH STEALERS.

5,151 total views, 2 views today

I first came across this series when I was looking through reviews for the Big Sur Workshop. Jeff Stone was one of the Workshop’s best success stories and his own journey into authordom was what inspired me to go to the writing workshop. Of course, it also inspired me to check out his books.

The Five Ancestors Series is Jeff Stone’s first foray into the wonderful world of writing for children. One story line runs through all seven books in the series, but each book tells the story from a different main character’s point of view.  Each book is packed with adventures, misadventures, humor, danger, and martial arts.

The series tells the story of five young orphan monks, each a master of a different Kung Fu Style, and each in search of his own history. As each monk learns about his past, he also learns to deal with his present, and plan his future. Jeff Stone is a master of twisting plots, weaving storylines and bringing out the best and worst in each character.

Here’s a summary of each book, taken from the author’s own website:

TIGER

Cangzhen Temple is destroyed.

Its secret scrolls stolen.

Its warrior monks dead.

All except for the five youngest.

Before he dies, the grandmaster of Cangzhen Temple instructs his five youngest pupils–each a master of a different fighting style–to search out the secrets of their pasts. Only then, he tells them, will they be able to avenge their fallen brothers and retrieve the temple’s secret scrolls.

Fleeing the temple, the five young warrior monks go their separate ways. Their task is a difficult one, as each boy is an orphan and knows nothing of his origins. Fu, a master of the tiger arts, doesn’t even know where to start! Wounded and hungry, he stumbles through the forest until he hears a tiger roar in pain. Then instinct takes over…

With a fresh, imaginative concept, newcomer Jeff Stone introduces the first volume of an epic adventure tale told through the voice of a boy learning to temper his own strength.

MONKEY

The temple has been burned.

Grandmaster is dead.

The only five survivors have scattered like the wind.

Alone. For the first time. No brothers, no mentors, no teachers–just eleven-year-old Malao, the “monkey,” all by himself in the woods. Malao loves to make jokes and fool around, but now the only home he has ever known is burning and his four surviving temple brothers have disappeared. Suddenly nothing seems as funny as it used to.

Grandmaster told Malao to discover the secrets of his past, but for a monkey nothing is ever simple. He hasn’t traveled far when he stumbles into a battle between a group of bandits and an army of monkeys. One of the bandits looks strangely familiar, and the monkeys are led by a large, white, one-eyed male, who seems to know Malao.

In this second volume of the Five Ancestors series, Jeff Stone continues the exciting story of five youngsters destined for greatness–if they can only survive!

SNAKE

Shaolin Temple, like Cangzhen, has been destroyed.

Where can a young monk go to seek answers?

Secrets. Seh, a master of snake-style kung fu, knows that knowledge equals power. Close-lipped and ever-watchful, he uses his sharp senses to collect information about his brothers, the temple, and even Grandmaster. But now, with Grandmaster gone and the temple in ruins, everything Seh knows has been turned upside down.

Shedding his monk’s robe like an old skin, Seh meets his father and joins a powerful group of bandits. Together they journey deep into the mountains to the bandit’s secret stronghold. There Seh encounters a mysterious and beautiful woman whose name means “cobra” and learns that keeping secrets can sometimes hurt as much as it can help.

The exciting Five Ancestors series continues with this third volume as five young monks search out the secrets of their past–and their destiny.

CRANE

Drugged.

Wounded.

A price on her head.

And that’s the good news.

Herself. For years, Hok has hidden her true identity from her brothers at Cangzhen. Now, at last, she can be herself. And yet, who is she? Calm and thoughtful, Hok is a crane-style kung fu master carefully attuned to others, but she has never spent much time looking inward. After barely surviving the destruction of two warrior monk strongholds, Hok realizes her old world is gone. She finds her way to the city of Kaifeng and beings a new life.

But her old life intervenes and she must join forces with Fu and Seh to pursue the captured Malao. Their quest takes them to the sinister underground world of fight clubs, where matches are fixed and rules don’t exist. Against incredible odds, the young monks must use their sharp wits to stay together and their formidable kung fu skills to survive.

The fourth book in Jeff Stone’s epic series continues at breakneck speed as four young monks rush headlong into unknown territory and untold danger.

EAGLE

Revenge at last.

Grandmaster is dead!

The bandits displaced!

And the reward is . . .

imprisonment?!?

Beaten and dying in the Emperor’s prison, Ying is amazed to be saved by his younger sister, Hok. While recovering, Ying begins to realize the depth of Tonglong’s deception. Has he been a mere pawn? Ying needs time to figure out a plan to get back into the good graces of the Emperor. When his hideout, the Jinan Fight Club, is destroyed, Ying is once again on the run. He must find allies, and he realizes that those allies may have to be the five young monks he has so strenuously sought to kill. Can you trust your enemy? Can you be on the same side?

In the fifth installment of Jeff Stone’s epic series, old allegiances are questioned and new ones are made. Power and greed, with roots as deep as the military and as high as the palace, threaten to destroy China. The Five Ancestors can prevent it, but only if they work together.

MOUSE

With nowhere to turn,

the survivors of

Cangzhen must rely on

an unexpected ally.

But can a street rat

be trusted?

Kindness. No one has ever shown tiny ShaoShu kindness or trust. Living like his namesake the mouse, he survives using his wits and his ability to hide. Yet he is inexplicably drawn to Hok, the candid Crane girl, and to Ying, the fierce Eagle with the carved face. ShaoShu begs to join them on their travels. But soon he leans that his companions are wanted fugitives.

After ShaoShu sneaks off to gather some information, he hides out on the boat of Tonglong, the enemy. When trapped, the Mouse must pretend to be a harmless stowaway who might be useful to the devious Mantis. But who exactly is using whom? And how will the little Mouse get back to his new friends?

The sixth book in Jeff Stone’s thrilling series races toward the battle that will decide the future of China. And it will become clear that when the stakes are this high, a person’s size doesn’t matter at all!

DRAGON

It is a race to

the Forbidden City.

The winner will rule China.

Long, The young dragon kung fu master, has in a single evening become the Grand Champion of the Shanghai Fight Club and the number one enemy of the state. The Emperor has been kidnapped, and to stay alive must comply with Tonglong’s wishes. And the four other Cangzhen survivors are working with the bandits to cut off Tonglong’s army.

But Ying has disappeared into the mountains. It was his brutal attack on Cangzhen that started this conflict, but he seems to have had a change of heart. Will he assist the Dragon, Tiger, Snake, Crane, and Monkey to set things right, or will he follow the nature of his given name, Saulong–Vengeful Dragon?

Jeff Stone concludes his action-packed series with a rousing tale filled with intrigue and adventure. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, the fate of China depends on seven young heroes.

Here’s a video of Jeff Stone talking about himself and his books:

8,632 total views, 3 views today

Most of the time, I read books for either educational or entertainment purposes. Sometimes, though, I read books so I can fall asleep.

There’s something comforting about falling asleep to words swimming on a page. It’s like letting warm chamomile tea settle in your belly right before snuggling under the blankets on a frosty night.

Last Friday, I had a major stomachache and was having trouble falling asleep. So I got up from bed and went to find a nice book I could fall asleep to. I went into the home office and stood before the bookcase, wondering which book to pick.

I suddenly remembered that I had ordered several books from a discount book club I joined online. I figured I might as well start with those books. I browsed the titles of the five books I’d purchased and selected one.

Partly because of my stomach ache and partly because I really didn’t care what book I should read; I ended up picking the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Big mistake.

Let me tell you something. If you want a book you could fall asleep to, stay clear of any book in the Hunger Games series.

I ended up sleeping at two in the morning because I just couldn’t put the book down. I found myself too immersed in the story and too emotionally invested in the characters that I just had to finish the book.

Hunger Games is a dystopian novel about one capitol, twelve districts and several children who fight to the death for survival in the Hunger Games. Here’s the blurb as written on the book’s jacket:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The blurb doesn’t really cover all that the book is about. There are layers upon layers of meaning and symbolism, which made me think and undercurrents of the characters’ emotions and thoughts, which swept me away. The book was about oppression, hunger, rebellion, and love. This was a book I had to finish despite my strained eyes and boiling stomach.

The second book in the trilogy –Catching Fire—is just as full of danger and suspense as the first one. It continues the story of Katniss and the other characters introduced in book one.

I’d be an emotional wreck if I had to wait one year before I found out what happens in the story. Luckily, I only have to wait two more months for the final book in the trilogy.  Mockingjay will be released on the 24th of August, 2010.

Amazon is currently pre-selling the book for $8.45, which saves you an amazing $9.54! The good thing about buying a pre-sold book is that the book is delivered at your doorstep the day it’s released to the public. I actually should have bought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when they were pre-selling it, instead of lining up at the local bookstore until one in the morning.

I’m definitely setting a side some money to buy the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Reading great books like these only inspire me to do better with my own writing. If only some of Suzanne Collins’ great characterization would rub off on me, I know I’d get my book published. Maybe if I read the books enough times, I can pick up some techniques on how to make my own work just as exciting and suspenseful.

1,281 total views, 1 views today