What is your reading goal this year?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Essenced (The Division Chronicles: Book One)

Essenced (The Division Chronicles: Book One) by Connie L. Smith

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "Years ago, demons were forced out of the earth’s realm by a band of supernatural fighters, banished from the place and its people in the aftermath of a horrific war. It should’ve ended there – would’ve – if not for the final demon’s claw snagging on the open portal. What felt like victory became only a reprieve, the winning warriors understanding that the tear would spread, and the demons eventually would escape exile. It was only a matter of time, and a need for future defense – a question of genetics and essences, magic and power. Now, centuries later, a new army must bind together – one of teenagers with inhuman potentials and abilities… AJ went to bed Sunday night an average teenage girl, clumsy and athletically lacking. So when she wakes up Monday morning with super-strength, she does what any rational person would do: She goes into denial. When a smoking hot guy in a suit shows up, rambling about the end of the war and demons spilling through some kind of rift, she refuses to listen, telling herself he’s insane. Except weird things just won’t quit happening, and the guy keeps popping up in her life, trying to explain the changes suddenly happening within her. Is she crazy, or is this guy… not so crazy after all?"

It took me probably three days of picking this book up, putting it down, picking it up, and putting it down, to finally get passed the first page. I didn't really get it at first. I had to keep rereading. Blah....but I pushed through those first few pages....and as soon as it got to A.J. I couldn't put it down. I couldn't figure that first part out, but once I got to A.J. I read it in a few days. She is such a good character. She's strong, willful, angry, sweet, smart, not-so-smart, whiny, needy, tough, you know, everything a 16 year-old girl is. I loved the part about her smashing her alarm clock! It hooked me for sure. I thought Julius was a fun character as well. Even though I knew what he was there to do, he still kind of creeped me out at first, but then he turned into a pretty good guy. I felt bad for A.J. and the other essenced; it would be extremely difficult to do what they did. I wish she could have given her sister a little more info. (like telling her she had a very important mission to go on), but I guess she couldn't. Once they got to the training center there were a bunch of great characters. I loved Ray-Ray especially. I thought all the different characters were very creative and fun. I liked learning about all the different abilities and magic powers. The first 50% of the book is written about A.J., and then all of a sudden, at about half-way through the book, it splits off into the different viewpoints, and I didn't love that. I thought it made it a little choppy and took away some of the flow. I liked watching the characters grow into their abilities. I liked that they were stronger and better than they thought they were. I think that goes for all of us most of the time; we are stronger and better than we give ourselves credit for. I liked that they had to work hard too. They didn't just wake up with magic powers and become heroes instantly, they had to work really hard for it. I liked that a lot. Most successes and talents don't come that easy, we need to put effort into them in order to achieve them. I also liked that they needed to learn to work together, as a team. There were several grammatical errors in this book, but they weren't bad enough to hinder my reading. It ended abruptly, but that is why I had the second book all lined up and ready to go. 

I'm having a difficult time rating this one. There isn't any language, and no "intimacy." Yes, there is definitely some tension between A.J. and Julius, and maybe an almost-kiss or two, but that's it. There is some minor violence as they prepare for the upcoming war. So, you'd think it would be good for the 5th/6th grade crowd and up, but no, I don't think so. There are a couple of things that I haven't encountered in young adult or middle grade books before, so I'm not quite sure. One of the characters becomes a VERY heavy smoker. He wears 5 nicotine patches on each arm, chews the nicotine gum, and still needs to smoke. I'm sorry if I offend anyone, but that is just disgusting, and I do not think it is appropriate for the middle grade kids for sure. I really don't think it's okay for the YA crowd either. The only thing it has going for it is that he knows it is gross and so does everyone else around him. They don't make it seem like a healthy or good thing to do. He doesn't want to do it, but is compelled by the changes from the magic. The other thing is that these kids are between the ages of 16 and 19. The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21. One of the kids goes out (which is a whole different story that didn't make sense to me at all....how did he get out and why did no one know he was gone??) and steals a lot of beer. Then, the leaders of each group proceed to get completely drunk and wasted. There are pages and pages devoted to what they said when they were drunk, what they sang, how they acted, how much they drank, etc. That is not okay for anyone under 21 for sure. Now, they did get in a lot of trouble and paid for it the next day, with hangovers, angry angels, and extra training sessions. It was also not made out to be a good thing. However, do I want my teenager reading about that? Ummmm.....no. So, what to do, what to do??? I guess I'll put it at 18 and let parents make the choice. I know my sensitivity level to drugs and alcohol may be higher than other people's. It's too bad, because I think my 12 and 10 year-old boys would really like the story. Other than those two things I really enjoyed this book, and have already started the second book. 

Rating: R (No language, no "intimacy," and only minor violence, but one character is a HUGE smoker and a bunch of 16-19 year-olds get very drunk at a late night party.)

Recommendation: 18 and up. This one is going to need to be a parents' decision. Those things may not bother you at all, in which case you'd probably feel comfortable letting a younger teenager read it. 

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Note**As of when I posted this, this book is free on amazon!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Betelgeuse Oracle (Book One)

The Betelgeuse Oracle (The Betelgeuse Chronicles Book #1) by Joseph Macchiusi

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) "Thousands convulse and perish. Electronics die. Aircraft plummet. Food and water are scarce. Trapped in this huge calamity, James Muir suffers bizarre visions. Desperate to reunite with his wife and young daughters, he cannot resist the command of a mysterious Voice berating him in ancient Egyptian. He must embark on a quest for 'the Stone.' Haunted by the erosion of his own sanity, hunted by gunmen, James joins a group of strangers desperate to escape a metropolis transformed into a burning, violent wasteland. But what awaits them beyond the fringes of the city? The Stone has a fanatical will of its own. As strangers become friends and lovers, James realizes that even if the trek doesn't kill him, he may not be strong enough to match the Stone's baffling power."

Wow. What to say, what to say? The character development in this book is fairly good. The characters, although a lot of them are very unlikable, including James, seem realistic and have some depth to them. There are some good descriptions of events that occur and places the characters find themselves in. After that, though, I'm just not a fan of this book. Mr. Macchiusi's writing style is strange and difficult to read and understand, especially because he constantly uses fragmented sentences. It drove me crazy. The grammatical mistakes alone made this book difficult to read and understand. I read the prologue several times trying to understand what in the world was going on. I finally just moved on. And then I found James. And I didn't like him at all. He is a very unlikable character. He has a bad attitude about everything, especially when he is at home with his wife and daughters. Then this event occurs that changes life as we know it, and I got so lost. I kept having to go back and remind myself who the different characters were.  I knew James was being led by some unknown force, but it just didn't come together for me. The ending was confusing and very lackluster. It goes back to the characters in the prologue talking about time travel and eons of time, and I was confused and had no idea what had happened. Also, the profanity in this book is awful. There are so many "f" words that I lost track after just a few pages. And that's not all; almost every other profane word is also used abundantly. There is also "intimacy" and lots of violence. It is a very gory and gruesome book. Lots of people die, and they don't die calmly in their sleep. Yeah, this book is definitely not for me. I do not recommend this book.

Rating: R (Lots of profanity, including dozens of "f" words, violence, gore, death, "intimacy," slavery)

Recommendation: Adult 

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Charlie Sparrow and the Secret of Flight

Charlie Sparrow and the Secret of Flight by David Anderson

(Summary taken from goodreads.com) "Charlie Sparrow has no idea he can fly. It’s no wonder–in Tree City, none of the birds know anything about flying at all. Not Charlie’s parents, not his friends, not the doctors or police. But Charlie is sure there’s a magical secret behind his feathers. He’ll do anything to find out what it is, even break the laws of Tree City. Will he figure out the truth before Doctor Nightingale straps him in the plucking chair and pulls the lever, plucking his beautiful feathers?"

This is a cute, fun, and easy read. The mean doctor is kind of scary, and it's kind of scary when they are going to de-feather Charlie, along with when the police raid the hide-out, but it's not over-the-top and is more just really tense. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the dad being so negative, I guess it's good to see from a parents' perspective that he just wanted his son to be safe. It reminded me of Marlin in "Nemo," when he says, "You think you can do these things, Nemo, but you can't." Both parents had good intentions, but ended up stifling their children. As a mom, it's good to remember those lessons. I loved Charlie's character, and thought it was well done. He's just like any kid: curious, active, and fun-loving.  I loved that he had ideas and thought outside of the "stairs." The image of the birds hopping up stairs was definitely humorous. The best part about this book is the message it sends. Each one of us can fly and achieve our dreams if we work hard and don't let others bring us down. This is a great read-aloud or silent reading book. It would make a good base for a character-development lesson in school. I will for sure be reading this to my kids.

Rating: G (Just a little tense--almost scary--in a few parts, that's all! Clean other than that.)

Recommendation: Second grade and up for a silent read, five or six years-old and up for a read-aloud.

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sticks, Stones, and Dragon Bones

Sticks, Stones, and Dragon Bones by Evelyn Ink

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book.) "Follow the river of blood and you will find a coffin of leaves which will lead you to your sister, for that is who you seek.  You will find her in the clutches of two great forces seeking power. They both prowl behind curtains of violence, but one can deliver only evil and the other, possible freedom. The one you seek is in the jaws of the deliverers, but you must hurry, for like meat thrown to dogs, she will be ripped apart."

Scary, right??? That is the message the main characters received from the Oracle when they were looking for their sister. I didn't know what to expect from this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a clean, interesting, and different middle grade book. I love that it is so creative and different. There are no werewolves or vampires, yet, at least. There are five daughters in the Darlington family, and they are all quite the characters. Paige and Bean are in the middle, and the twins, Hayde and Dorrit are the youngest. That leaves Audra, the oldest. When Paige and Bean find an old chest and an old key, they start a chain of events that leads to their sister, Audra, being kidnapped. Each daughter is very different, and I loved all of them. The twins think they are pirates. I would have a hard time if they were my children, but since they aren't, I thought they were great. Paige and Bean each have their own talents and skills, and they can make as much mischief as the twins. The adventure these girls end up going on to find their sister is one filled with history, crazy stalker creatures, Oracles, close calls, and the help of a very nice couple. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. As you can tell, I really liked the characters and thought they were well developed. I loved the creativity and imagination in this book. There were some interesting twists and turns, and I enjoyed the ride. Some of the stunts the girls pull at the end were a little unbelievable, but it's fiction, right? It was a fun story and I enjoyed it. It ends quite abruptly, so I'm hoping book two is out already! Watch out, there are a lot of grammatical errors. Authors, please hire an editor!!! It makes a huge difference! (I have to rate it 3 instead of 4 stars because of the grammatical mistakes......)

Rating: PG (Some scarier characters, some minor violence, a main character gets kidnapped--no language or intimacy)

Recommendation: 3rd grade and up

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Allegiant (Divergent Series Book #3)

Allegiant (Divergent Series Book #3) by Veronica Roth

(Summary taken from amazon.com)
What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?
The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth's #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

I was so excited to read this book. I LOVED the first two! I was number 60-something at the library and so I finally just borrowed it from a friend because I couldn't wait any longer. And then I started reading. Oh my gosh!!!! I have not been this upset or angry or disappointed by a book three since the third book of the Eragon series. What a waste!!!! Now, if you have read the first two, you will still want to read it, I guess, but don't get your hopes up. It is written very poorly. The first two were all first person Tris, and this book is split between first person Tris and first person Tobias. Weird. But to make it worse, you can't tell the difference in their voices. I had to keep flipping back to the beginning of the chapter to see who was talking. It completely ruined my vision of who Tobias was; because I couldn't tell the difference, he took on Tris' voice, almost, and became quite girly and whiny. Instead of being "the" Dauntless example of tough and fearless, he became soft and scared. It's too bad, because I didn't expect what happened outside the city. It was an angle I had never thought of, and never would have guessed. But it was ruined because of her poor writing. I'm not sure if she was being rushed by the publisher or what, but it was bad. Very bad. The characters also didn't stay true to themselves in this book either. The choice Tobias' mother makes at the end, although I kind of hoped she would choose that way, was completely unbelievable because she had acted completely opposite the whole second book. Tobias' actions with the underground group surprised me, and I didn't think that was true to him. I couldn't believe that after Tris' little group knew the truth that they didn't run back and tell everyone in the city. There wouldn't be any way the compound people could keep me there; I would have run back right away to let my friends and family know the truth. Although the choice Tris made at the end was expected, what happened after that was not. I hated the ending. It doesn't make sense or work with how the first two books are written. I'll leave it at that. Lame, lame, lame. I do not recommend reading this book. After you finish the second one just let your imagination run wild and find your own ending. I promise it will be better than this one!!!

There is language in this book, and although there is never actually an "intimacy" scene, there are a few times that come pretty close. Hands go places and clothes are lacking. They sleep in the same bed a couple of times, leaving you wondering.....There is also quite a bit of violence in this book. Some of it is quite graphic.
I finished this book a long time ago, and just thinking about it again makes me as angry as I was when I finished. Boo. I am very disappointed.

Rating: PG 13 (Language, violence, some very-close-to-intimacy scenes, and the deaths of some well-known characters.)

Recommendation: 13-14 years and up

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Raising A Reader

Yay! I have a new segment that I will be posting on hopefully once a week. It is called "Raising A Reader." I have a lot of people ask me as a teacher, and as a mom with some fabulous readers, how to get kids to enjoy reading. I'm hoping this segment will answer that question and give some good ideas of what you can do to get your kids to enjoy reading. I'm also hoping to give some hints on how to make your kids better readers as well.

Today's tip is the easiest and the most fun! The thing I always told my students' parents was to read to their kids. Reading to your kids every day is the best way to help them enjoy reading. What is better than piling on the couch or the bed and enjoying a great book together? Not only is it good quality time together, it also teaches them to enjoy reading. It can be picture books or chapter books, depending on their age, but either way.......Just Read!!!

If you need some good ideas on books to read to your children, you may check my READ-ALOUD link. There are some fun read-aloud books listed. Happy Reading!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress

The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

(Summary taken from the inside of the book jacket.) "Stella Crater, the judge's wife, is the picture of propriety draped in long pearls and the latest Chanel. Ritzi, a leggy showgirl with Broadway aspirations, thinks moonlighting in the judge's bed is the quickest way off the chorus line. Maria Simon, the dutiful maid, has Judge Crater to thank for her husband's recent promotion to detective for the NYPD. Meanwhile, Judge Crater is equally indebted to Tammany Hall leaders and the city's most notorious gangster, Owney "The Killer" Madden. Then, on a sultry summer night, as rumors circulated about the judge's involvement in wide-scale political corruption, Judge Crater stepped into a cab and disappeared without a trace. Or did he? After thirty-nine years of necessary duplicity, Stella Crater is finally ready to reveal what she knows. Sliding into a corner booth at Club Abbey, the site of many absinthe-soaked affairs and the judge's favorite watering hole back in the day, Stella begins to tell a tale--of greed, lust, and deceit. As the story unfolds, Stella, Ritzi, and Maria slyly break out of their prescribed roles, and it becomes clear that these three women know a lot more than they'd initially let on."

I found it interesting that this fictional story is based on the actual disappearance of the real Judge Crater back in 1930. He was a New York State Supreme Court Justice. Many of the people in this story actually existed, along with some of the situations. Ms. Lawhon simply took those people and situations, and created her version of what happened. I liked the history in this story, and found it interesting how things really haven't changed a whole lot in 80+ years. We still have corruption in government, and we still have women who silently have to put up with their husband's antics. I think Maria was my favorite character. I related to her a little more than I related to Stella or Ritzi. The main women characters were well developed, along with a few of the men characters. Judge Crater and Owney Madden were well done, along with Shorty and Stan. I thought Jude was well developed, and liked his character. I loved Maria and Jude together. I liked their love story, and felt so bad for what they endured. I didn't like the lies that existed in their marriage, though. 

This book was not an easy read for me. There are so many characters, time periods, places, and things going on all at once that I found it choppy and confusing. There were some chapters that had two or three times and places involved in it; sometimes the times would be times would be previous to the current situation, and sometimes they would be later. I relied heavily on the chapter headings, and had to go back a few times to make sure I knew where I was. The more I read the easier it got, but even at the end there were characters I couldn't remember. I wasn't a huge fan of the subject matter in the book either. Scandals, illicit love affairs, murders, abortions, smoking, corruption, and gangsters aren't really my thing. However, if you like the subject matter then you may really enjoy this book. It did have some good tension, mystery, and suspense. There was a lot of language, including at least one "f" word. There was a lot of smoking and drinking. There was quite a bit of "intimacy," and an illicit love affair. There were a few violent murders (gangster-style) and violence against women. One of the women goes to get an abortion. I can see how this was quite the scandal back in 1930....it would be quite the scandal now! And with the 24 hour news cycle, it would probably be even bigger news. It's sad that there have been a few situations similar to this in recent years. 

Rating: R (This book is not appropriate for younger readers) Profanity, nudity, murder, "intimacy," smoking, drinking, abortion, and violence against women. 

Recommendation: Adult

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Also, Ariel Lawhon is one of the main gals at shereads.org.