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Cher-y-lynne {sher-uhl-lin} –noun 1. One who formerly sold and recommended children’s books at a bookstore; a specialist in young adult, middle grade, and picture books. 2. A para-educator at a middle school. 3. A struggling young adult writer. 4. A lover of chocolate and popcorn. Archaic: An Audiology and Speech Language Pathology major at Brigham Young University. Questions? Suggestions? Books you'd like me to review? E-mail me at cherylynne1 (at) gmail (dot) com.
This is a blog for my ranting, raving, and occasionally brilliant opinions. You have been warned. Enter at your own risk.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

Ellis, Ann Dee. Everything is Fine. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009.

“How’s your mother?”
“Really okay?”
That’s when I looked at Norma’s face again and she had a gigantic mole that I hadn’t really had time to look at closely before. There was a hair in it.
“Does she need anything?”
The hair was long. But not that long because I hadn’t noticed it before. And it was blackish brown like Norma’s hair-ball head.
“Can I come and see her?”
No, you cannot see my mom. No, you can’t, you fat fat lady with a red car and no cats.
“I don’t think so,” I said.

Mazzy's fine. Her mother, even though she's been practically catatonic since a family tragedy, is fine. And her father is fine, wherever he might be. Everything is fine. As long as no one outside the family asks too many questions, that is. And as long as Mazzy can figure out a way to bring the light back into her mother's eyes, and bring her father home.

Absolutely outstanding. Every character, even minor characters, were perfectly fleshed out. Everything Mazzy said and did was believeable, and her voice was so incredibly real I could almost imagine her jumping out and talking to me. Even though the story is dark, dealing with death and mental disorders, Mazzy was so bright and quirky that she made it bearable. Which also made the fact that she was able to deal with everything herself believeable.

Also, although it's told from the point of view of a child, there are enough clues that we can see what's really happening. We can see how people are just trying to help her, we can see how she's turning to art to express her emotions. We can see the real story, even with a (somewhat) unreliable narrator. It's a perfect balance.

Even though it's rather short, I don't recommend this for some younger readers. There are a few parts that are a little dark. For anyone else though, a great choice. This would make a wonderful book club book as well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Review: The Only Alien on the Planet by Kristen D. Randle

Randle, Kristen D. The Only Alien on the Planet. Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2009.

"I'd forgotten how pretty he is until I saw your face this morning," Hally was saying as she dug for a book in the bottom of her locker. "I guess I should have warned you, but I really didn't even think of it."

"Is there--" I asked, trying to read her attitude, "--something wrong with him?"
"Some people think he's autistic," she said, pulling the book out and shoving everything else back in. She stood up, trying to balance all the books she had stacked up on her notebook. "Myself, I wouldn't know." She slammed her locker shut. "Mr. Leviaton--I think you've got him--fifth period, World History. Yeah, you do, see? Smitty's kind of a pet of his. He says it's no way autism." She gave the lock an absent spin.
"Smitty Tibbs. Sounds like a name you'd give a puppy or something, doesn't it? Come on." She started off down the hall. "Anyway," she went on, "
something's seriously wrong with him."

Ginny's just beginning to adjust to her new school and her new life when she meets--him. Smitty Tibbs. Or, as he's known to most of the students, Alien. The boy who doesn't speak. Ever. To anyone. And yet it's common knowledge that he's a genius.

Ginny becomes convinced that deep down, Alien can hear and understand everyone, and she's determined to bring him out of his shell. But when she starts to see results, she wonders if she's doing irreparable damage, and whether she should push harder or back off.

I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I thought the characters were fascinating, the romance was pitch perfect, and the dialogue was fun. Beware, this is NOT a paranormal romance. For a minute or two, I thought it might go that direction. It doesn't. And I'm glad. It didn't need anything at all. I thought Ginny's reactions were brilliant. What does a teenager know about abnormal psychology anyway? And the fact that she realizes she could be screwing up someone's life forever made me love and respect her.

The only issue I had with the novel was whether or not this could happen. Now, I'm not a psychology major, but this seems a little unusual. I guess it's hard for me to believe that so much evil could exist in one person (I won't tell you which person, I promise). I wish I had a little more reason to believe that.

But really, this is an outstanding novel. I highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a good contemporary fiction. I think it might even be a boy friendly novel, because so much of it focuses on how boys think, act, and react. It's definitely great for girls, because there is a romance in it. Wonderful "discussion" book for book clubs and things like that. It's just great all around.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater, Maggie. Shiver. New York: Scholastic, 2009.

I was never afraid of him. He was large enough to tear me from my swing, strong enough to knock me down and drag me into the woods. But the ferocity of his body wasn’t in his eyes. I remembered his gaze, every hue of yellow, and I couldn’t be afraid. I knew he wouldn’t hurt me.
I wanted him to know I wouldn’t hurt him.
I waited. And waited.
And he waited, too, though I didn’t know what he was waiting for. It felt like I was the only one reaching out.
But he was always there. Watching me watching him. Never any closer to me, but never any further away either.
And so it was an unbroken pattern for six years: the wolves’ haunting presence in the winter and their even more haunting absence in the summer. I didn’t really think about the timing. I thought they were wolves. Only wolves.

Grace has always been obsessed with the yellow-eyed wolf that rescued her as a child. And when she discovers that the wolf spends his summers in human form, it seems like everything is perfect. Except that Sam's time as a human is getting short, and unless they can find a cure, the two will soon be separated forever.

Phenomenal concept. Werewolves that transform based on temperature rather than the moon (although it is colder at night, so it still fits with our mythology). The writing was good, sort of lyrical, fun to listen to. The characters were smart and enchanting.
If you love to read paranormal romance, this is a great book for you. It's unique and familiar all at the same time, and it's almost impossible not to fall in love with Sam.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: Heist Society by Ally Carter

Carter, Alley. Heist Society. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2010.

Another sip. Another smile. But this time he didn't meet her eyes. "You wanted to see if the rumors were true," he said, and Kat felt her face burn in the cold wind. "So, who told?" her father asked. "Uncle Eddie? Hale?" He shook his head and spoke through gritted teeth. "I'm gonna kill that kid."

"It wasn't his fault."

"Like Barcelona wasn't his fault?"

"Yeah, well..." Kat heard herself repeating Hale's words: "We all agreed that that monkey seemed perfectly well trained at the time."

Kat is trying to get out of the family business. Unfortunately, the memebers of her family aren't jewellers or art collectors or bankers--at least, not exactly. Kat is from a family of thieves. And now someone has accused her father of stealing a valuable painting, which he didn't steal. Unless Kat can figure out who actually stole the painting and get it back, she could lose everyone she cares about.

This was so much fun! Like everything Ally Carter writes, her protagonist is fun, smart and witty. The plot is essentially like Ocean's Eleven with teenagers, except that George Clooney has been replaced with a loveable girl, and Brad Pitt is put to shame with an incredible male lead (Hale, who is even hotter than Brad).

There are also a lot of interesting quirks in the characters. They aren't just cookie cutters. Hale, for instance, is a billionaire, someone who "could buy a Monet and yet couldn't resist stealing a Vermeer." And I'd tell you what is so surprising about Nick, the second love interest, but it'd give something away, and I don't want to ruin the surprise. You'll just have to read it.

Overall, this novel has strong themes of family and trust. But Ms. Carter pulls it off in a way that doesn't come off as preachy or didactic. She doesn't tell you the message she wants to get across, she makes you feel it. And somehow, she makes you laugh about it at the same time.

Tons of fun, and as always, squeaky clean (one of the only ones in all of teen to be so). If you have a teenage girl, she should be reading this book.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. New York: Random, 2009.

Back when I still walked home with Sal, it was easier to pretend that the laughing man didn’t scare me, because Sal was pretending too. He tried not to show it, but he freaked when he saw the laughing man shaking his fist at the sky and kicking his leg out into traffic. I could tell by the way Sal’s face kind of froze. I know all of his expressions.
I used to think of Sal as being a part of me: Sal and Miranda, Miranda and Sal. I knew he wasn’t really, but that’s the way it felt.

When Miranda receives a strange note in her book, she assumes it was a fluke, a weird coincidence that it seems to be talking to her. But when the notes keep coming, she realizes the person knows all about her...and knows her future. So when the note reader asks her to write a letter, telling her story, she finally decides to do it. And the story, she decides, starts on the day that her friendship with Sal ended.

I LOVED THIS BOOK. Amazing. Incredible. Phenomenal. I don't even have enough words to describe how much I loved it. Every single word is exactly where it should be. Everything that I thought was around for symbolism actually has an essential part of the plot. It is totally flawless, tying everything together in a way that I would never have thought possible.

The characters make sense, the plot works out, and she ties in A Wrinkle in Time, which just makes me happy in general. The only problem was that the grammar is sometimes a little weird. Part of it is in second person, part is in present tense, and the rest...I don't even know. I kept getting confused. I think on the second reading, it might work out, but just be prepared to get lost a few times.

And even though the cover art looks totally blah, never fear. There is a science fiction twist in it. You'll love it. I promise.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review: A Dance for Three by Louise Plummer

Plummer, Louise. A Dance for Three. New York: Laurel-Leaf, 2000.

Milo wasn’t the first boy to kiss me but he was the first one to bite me. I said “Ouch,” and he said, “Let me lick it better.” It was when his mouth was on my shoulder and his hands tugged my camisole down that I knew I would go all the way with him. I would lose my virginity with Milo in the back of his Toyota 4Runner parked above the cemetery with the lights of Salt Lake City below. Not that we were looking. I kissed him fiercely. Too fiercely. He said, “Slow down; it’s better slow.”
Did I do it because I loved him or because he was so persuasive? Did I do it because I knew Mama wouldn’t approve? Did I want a baby? Or maybe it was the madness taking hold inside me.

Hannah has just discovered that she is pregnant with Milo’s baby. But it’s okay, because Milo makes everything okay. He always knows what to say, and how to fix the situation. She knows that he’ll marry her and take her away from her mother, who is teetering on the edge of insanity ever since Hannah’s father died. Milo will fix everything.

So intense. The entire first third of the book, you can see exactly where it’s going, but it’s like when you’re driving a car and an accident’s just about to happen…you only have the presence of mind to cringe. Then it still surprises you.

The characters were over-the-top, maybe, but they felt so real. Ms. Plummer KNOWS her characters, she knows exactly what they would do when put in those situations. Brilliant novel. I could hardly put it down, regardless of anything else I had going on that day. I highly recommend it as one of the best novels dealing with teen pregnancy. It's also a wonderful example of a book that incorporates religion without letting it take over the storyline.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.
“That’s true,” he said. “Sticky, if you didn’t use the arrows, how did you get through?”
Sticky shuffled his feet and said, “I just kept trying one door after the other, until finally I found the staircase. It was sheer luck.”
“And you found it more quickly the second time? That’s the really lucky part, I guess.”
“Oh, no, that part was easy,” Sticky said. “I just remembered how I got through the first time: First I took a right, then a left, then straight ahead, then right, then right again, then left, then left again, then right, then straight ahead, and so on, until I came to the staircase. I didn’t have to waste time scratching my head over those panels, or worrying they were going to turn the lights off, or any of that stuff. I just hurried through exactly as I did before.”
“Exactly as you--,” Kate began, then just shook her head. “That’s incredible. “
Reynie laughed. “You did it the hard way, Sticky!”
“What’s the easy way?”
“Follow the wriggly arrows.”
“Oh,” said Sticky thoughtfully. “That would have been useful to know.”

When a special ad appears in the paper looking for gifted children, thousands show up for the test. But only four are chosen. Four orphans, who are all geniuses in their own right. Reynie can solve any puzzle, decipher any clue, and figure out the answer to any dilemma. Kate, with her trusty bucket (literally) of tricks, can get into, out of, or around any obstacle in her path. Sticky has the ability to memorize anything the first time he sees it. And Constance? Well, she can be…stubborn.

These four children create an incredible team. And their first mission is to go undercover at an Institute for gifted children to stop a man who is trying to take over the world by sending messages over TV waves.

Brilliant. Just brilliant. One of my absolute favorite series for kids. There are tons of brain teasers and puzzles through the book, so you get to test yourself along with the characters to see how smart you are. I wasn’t very smart, but you might be! The writing is excellent. And they actually have a good reason for sending kids into danger, which I LOVED. Authors like to feed us crap about how they need kids because they’re “pure” or something like that. No, these kids have to go because the Institute only accepts children. Makes sense.

The characters and bright and fun and oh-so-loveable. The story is fast paced and keeps you interested, even if it is rather long for a young reader. This is the perfect novel for the kids that devour every book you give them in a matter of hours. At 485 pages, it’ll keep them entertained as well as keeping them busy for a few days. Also great for adults who want to read with their kids, because many of the brain teasers are at an adult level. So much fun!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Review: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

I join Marissa in the pizza line. "What's up with Shannon?" she asks.

"I don't know. I guess I forgot to call her for the hundredth time, or something." Then I instantly feel like a traitor. "Nah, we just had a misunderstanding."

Marissa's so easy to talk to, I sometimes wish we had hooked up. But it's not that way with us. We're always going to be just friends. I still remember our first assignment in intro photo: shoot and print a series of black-and-white portraits of another member of class.

As the only ninth-graders, Marissa and I were paired up by default. We took the city bus up the hill to Washington Park, where we shyly pointed cameras at each other. Studying her through the lens, I realized that she had the most heartbroken eyes I'd ever seen. You don't notice them most of the time--she's usually smiling.

Madigan, L.K. Flash Burnout. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.

Blake is trapped in the place no guy wants to be--between a jealous girlfriend and a friend (that's a girl) who needs him. He feels an obligation to his friend Marissa, since he was (sort of) a catalyst to the life crisis she's in, but on the other hand, he's pretty sure he's in love with Shannon.

The writing is incredible. The character is witty and engaging and insightful. I loved it. The decisions he has to make are difficult, almost impossible at times, but his choices are consistent with his character and the overall plot. It's laugh-out-loud funny at times, but I was shocked or nearly moved to tears at others. And even though it's a woman writing it (kudos to L. K., by the way, for pulling a J.K. and hiding the fact that she's a woman so boys will want to read it too) it's very much a male voice, reminiscent of Chris Crutcher style. And the character is just so darn likeable. It's hard to make male protagonists likeable unless you don't let them make any mistakes. Blake makes plenty of mistakes (PLENTY) and yet we're still cheering for him, and we still love him.

But then we come to the end. *sigh* That has to be the most unsatisfying ending I have ever read in all my life. Seriously. Everyone is sad or pissed off or something. And then it's just over. That's it. I started checking around me on the floor, trying to see if some of the pages had fallen out. They hadn't. That's just the way it ends. So plan on taking some time after you read it to write your own ending. I did. And everyone lived happily ever after in mine, because I wanted it that way.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Review: The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Yancey, Rick. The Monstrumologist. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

"Why are you here, boy?" he asked suddenly, giving my shoulder a hard squeeze. "This is no business for children."

"My parents died in a fire, sir," I answered. "The doctor took me in."

"The doctor," Erasmus echoed. "They call him that — but what exactly is he a doctor of?"

The grotesque, I might have answered. The bizarre. The unspeakable. Instead I gave the same answer the doctor had given me when I'd asked him not long after my arrival at the house on Harrington Lane. "Philosophy," I said with little conviction.

When Will Henry takes his father's place as apprentice to Dr. Pellinore Winthrop, he soon realizes the job entails more than just staying up late with the lonely doctor and fetching tools or making meals. It's a job that may require him to risk his own life in order to protect the entire New England coast.

This book will be a huge hit with the teens that enjoy the macabre. Dark, and tons of violence. If you get squeamish at the thought of blood, this is not the book for you. The writing is excellent, as well as the monsters, who go by the name of Anthropophagi. The Anthropophagi are man-eating, headless monstrosities that can crush a human skull between their hands--and often do. Luckily, there's a very good reason for them being where our protagonists just happen to be. Plot and character development are solid. It's definitely a step out of the ordinary teen books we've been seeing lately. Even though there are monsters, we get to hate them the way we were meant to, and there is zero romance.

Some parts do drag, just a little. We're supposed to be reading a diary, but I didn't get that "in the head of the character" feeling that I usually get with diary novels. It was much more narrative than it should have been. Well-written narrative? Absolutely. But not as gripping as it could have been. And yes, it's predictable, but that's because we always know that good triumphs over evil in horror stories (unless you're Stephen King, in which everyone usually ends up miserable in some way or another) and we know that Will has to survive because we saw him as an old man in the beginning of the book. Still, well worth reading if you want to be creeped out.

And feel free to celebrate, horror lovers, because this is the first in a series. Let's hope this is the novel that reawakens a love of horror stories, like the good old days when Stephen King, Lois Duncan and R.L. Stine were at the top of their game.