About Me

My photo
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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey

This quote and review are based on an advanced reading copy and uncorrected proof, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Fantaskey, Beth. Jekel Loves Hyde. New York: Harcourt, 2009.

"Your grandfather suffered from dementia in his final days." Dad overrode me again, actually reaching across the table and clasping my arm. I suppose the gesture was meant to be reassuring, but he held too tightly, and it came off as confining, almost threatening. "Those 'crimes' he confessed to--they never happened. There was no 'evil alter ego.' No late-night forays that ended in violence. No 'blackouts' for God's sake."


Dad squeezed harder, his finger surprisngly powerful, given that the only exercise they ever got was turning the pages of his academic texts. "The Case of Jekyll and Hyde was a novel, Tristen," he said, boring into my eyes. "A work of fiction. A good book, with some admittedly interesting insights into man's dual nature. But a tall tale. And we are, quite obviously, not descended from a fictional character. It's ludicrous!"

I stared at my father's eyes, which were a peculiar metallic gray. Eyes the color of two padlocks and nearly as impentrable. I had inherited my mother's brown eyes. Sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I could almost see her in my refecltion. I loved and despised those moments.

Where was Mom?

A chemistry duo of Jekel and Hyde sounds like a gimmick, a cheap way to win a chemistry scholarship. But with Jill Jekel's mother barely gripping reality and Tristen Hyde's father growing stranger every day, Jill feels she has no choice. She must find out what her father's last project was before he was murdered--and Tristen Hyde is the only one desperate enough to help her.

I have definitely seen Beth Fantaskey's growth since Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. She's using fewer cliches and her characters are more well-rounded. This is a fascinating, original story.

It starts slow, I have to admit. It took me nearly a week to get through the first few chapters. Little Jill Jekel has a way of putting me to sleep. But Tristen...oh Tristen! Now that's an interesting psyche, even if it is rather Edward-esque. And the idea of a monstrous alter-ego as a symbol for emerging sexuality was beautifully done.

Now, was it flawless? No. Like I said, Jill's a bit on the dull side and Tristen is a little too perfect. But Twilight fans will love it. Anyone who's feeling the paranormal romance genre right now will love it. If you're putting together your summer reading list, make sure this one is on it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Random House, 2007.

Still, it's possible that you might be asking, why does he even need a vacation? What does he need distraction from?
Which brings me to my next point.
It's the leftover humans.
The survivors.
They're the ones I can't stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.
Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors-an expert at being left behind.
It's just a small story really, about, among other things:
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery

I saw the book thief three times.

Narrated by Death, The Book Thief takes place in Nazi Germany and follows the story of a German girl who falls in love with literature, at one point even risking her life to save a book from the Nazi book burnings.

Don’t expect a happy ending, but it is a beautifully written novel. The writing is absolutely outstanding, one of the best examples in the entire teen genre. Anyone who says that all YA is fluff is disproven by this novel.

One thing I found interesting was how he gave away the ending. Repeatedly. I knew what was coming, and maybe that's what made it a little easier to accept it when it happened (though trust me, if you're the kind that tears up, you'll be crying.) On the other hand, stupid hopeful reader that I am, I kept hoping that Death was somehow mistaken or just pulling my leg and we'd somehow come to a happy ending anyway.

Yeah, there are no happy endings in WWII stories. At least, no completely happy endings. But this does give you a sense of resolution. You're not left screaming "Whyyyyy?" to a lightning-ridden sky.

Fantastic book club book, fantastic historical fiction, fantastic everything. I do recommend it for the 14+ group, though. It's a little intense for anyone younger.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review: Football Genius by Tim Green

Green, Tim. Football Genius. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Troy knew it was wrong. It was wrong to sneak out of the house after midnight. It was wrong to take something that wasn't yours. And, even though he wasn't that kind of kid, that night, he was doing both.

Troy has the unique ability to predict football plays before they happen, and he knows if he can just get the coach from his favorite team, the Atlanta Falcons, to listen to him, he’ll be able to help them win.

I picked this up, saw that Tim Green was a football player, and thought that surely, it was going to be terrible. Some football player trying to relive his youth or something stupid like that.

I was so wrong. I hate football, but I loved this book. The writing is interesting, the plot draws you in, and there's just enough of everything to keep you reading. It mixes the sports talk (description of plays, etc.) with the real plot enough to make someone like me actually enjoy it. And yet since there is plenty of the sports stuff in there, football fans will love it too.

This is the perfect choice for reluctant readers that love sports. A great choice for Mike Lupica or Matt Christopher fans (and in my opinion, better than either of them.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review: Finding Daddy by Louise Plummer

Plummer, Louise. Finding Daddy. New York: Delacourte Press, 2007.

Sarah’s smile is gone. She reads the caption aloud: “Daddy will never let anyone take his girl away from him.” She winces. “Why would he write that?”
“Well, it fits the picture, don’t you think? I mean, look how I’m struggling against him.” Her serious expression unnerves me a little. “What?” I ask.
“It should say, ‘Daddy will never let his little girl get away from him.’” She leafs back a few pages and then returns to the last one. “This page is different. The caption is so much longer than any of the others, and he’s different.” She sounds as if she’s talking to herself. “His smile—“ She’s reluctant to describe it. “It’s not a smile, really—It’s fake.”
I move in closer for a better look. “That’s because he’s trying to hold down a screaming two-year-old.” What is her problem? “It’s hard to smile when you’ve got a—“
“Look at the little cast on your arm.” She closes the album and forces a smile. “Sure, you’re right,” she says, but she’s not convincing.

Mira has wondered her whole life about her father. All she knows is that her parents decided when she was young that her life would be better without him. But what if it was just her mother's decisions? If that were the case, doesn't her father have a right to know her?

I loved this story. Horrifying. Suspenseful. Disturbing. And psychologically accurate. She captures the emotions and relationships perfectly. And guess what? There is sacrifice at the end. You screw up, you pay for your mistake, and Mira certainly does. However, I do feel like there should have been a little more closure with the romance. Maybe the ambiguity is so that we can imagine our own ending...I’d imagine the happier one.

This will definitely be a big hit with the horror fans. It made me scared to be alone for a few days. A great story.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls #1 Moving Day by Meg Cabot

Cabot, Meg. Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls #1: Moving Day. New York: Scholastic 2008.

Science has a lot of rules (like the one about gravity). So does math (like that five minus three will always be two. That is a rule).
That’s why I like science and math. You know where you stand with them, rulewise.
What I’m not so crazy about is everything else. Because there are no rules for everything else.
There are no rules, for instance, for friendship. I mean besides the about Treat your friends the way you’d want them to treat you, which I’ve already broken about a million times. I like earlier today, when my best friend, Mary Kay Shiner, and I were making the strawberry frosting for her birthday cupcakes...

Allie Finkle likes rules. And since friendship doesn’t have rules, she decides to start writing a collection of rules for being friends. Rule #1: Never stick a spatula down your best friend’s throat.
Then Allie’s parents announce that they’re moving. New school, new friends, new house. Well, actually, it’s a disgusting old house that her parents want to fix up.
Shouldn’t there be a rule against that?

My favorite, Meg Cabot, writing a middle grade series. Instant love. Now, the reading level on the back says that this is on about a fifth grade reading level, but the main character is only in fourth grade. That means it's a great choice for the younger girls that are on a higher reading level.

This novel is fun and funny. Girls will love it. It's perfect for the crowd that loved the Junie B. Jones and Ramona books. Allie is witty and fun to watch. I adore her. Now, she is a little sassy and a little bratty, but not more so than Junie B.

The only real problem I had with the book was one of the rules that kept returning as a running gag:

Always wear a helmet when you’re skateboarding because if a car hits you, your brain will splat open, and kids like me will spend their time waiting for the cars to go by so they can cross the street looking for bits of your brain the ambulance might have left behind in the bushes.

I thought this might be a little graphic for the younger crowd. She jokes about it, and tries to make it funny, but I didn't think it was.

But aside from that, I loved it. I really did. This is one of my top recommends for this age group.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Haines, Lise. Girl in the Arena. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.

--Seven? The guy laughs. –I bet I’ve seen you on VH1, right?
--Not really, I say.
--No, no it’s ESPN. I know who you are. We’re talking real Glads, right? Swords, shields, heads flying, arms lopped off? Not that TV show with a bunch of batons and cargo nets, right?
--Mortal combat, Allison confirms with a polite smile, --though not always to the death.
--That’s what I mean, he says. –Mortal combat.

Lyn is the daughter of seven gladiators and a mother who has made a career out of being a gladiator’s wife. But when Lyn’s latest and favorite stepfather, Tommy, goes into the arena against an up-and-coming gladiator, she fears that this might be his last fight.

Intriguing. At first I thought I would hate the dashes in place of quotation marks, but they grew on me. I liked the main character, she definitely never took the easy way out. Sometimes I wondered why she didn’t, particularly at the end…but I was okay with it. I’m loving these alternate reality books. I don’t think this one is supposed to be set in the future, but in an alternate version of 2009. And the romance came out of nowhere and shocked me—but I liked it. I wish we could have seen more of it.

The biggest problem I had with the novel was the clumsy world building. She would introduce something right before it became important…which means pretty much zero foreshadowing. It makes the big reveals sort of anticlimactic. Also, I wish she would have gone deeper with some of the issues she brought up. She put her character into some tough situations, and I would have loved to see the girl work things out a little more. Maybe she will in the sequel, if there is one.

This is a great novel for those that liked the Hunger Games. It was similar in tone and plot. Not as well written, perhaps (could anything be as good as Hunger Games, though?), but still enjoyable.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

It's Megan Whalan Turner week on Chersti Nieveen's blog!

Turner, Megan Whalen. The Thief. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

“I saw you at your trial,” he said finally.
I didn’t say that I’d noticed him there as well.
“You’re thinner.”
I shrugged.
“Tell me,” said the magus, “have you found yourself reluctant to leave our hospitality? You said at your trial that not even the king’s prison could hold you, and I rather expected you to be gone by now.” He was enjoying himself.
I crossed my legs and settled deeper into the chair. He winced.
I said, “Some things take time.”
“How true,” said the magus. “How much time do you think it’s going to take?”
Another half an hour, I thought, but I didn’t say that either.

Gen was imprisoned after stealing the king’s seal and flaunting it. But now the king needs him. The magus believes he knows the location of an ancient artifact, but only the greatest of thieves could steal it. And Gen, despite his lack of manners and big mouth, is the greatest thief that they have ever seen.

Wow. That was my reaction after closing the book. Just…wow.

Let me tell you something. I usually skim or completely skip over talk of politics and geography in books. In most stories, it’s only important if you’re trying to draw a map. And I generally just don’t care enough.

Big mistake. If I can give you any advice when reading this book, it’s PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY DETAIL. It matters in the end, it really does. When I hit the twist at the end (which Shannon Hale called “the greatest twist in all of young adult literature”) I just about went into shock. Having heard what Shannon Hale said about it before, I knew a twist was coming. I predicted a few. I thought I was seeing all kinds of foreshadowing for a bunch of different endings.


And yet I didn’t feel cheated. The signs were all there. Foreshadowing was solid. It was just all stuff that I didn’t pay attention to, because I didn’t realize what they were leading up to. It’s definitely one of those books that you need to buy, because you have to read it more than once.

In short, if you haven’t read this book yet, you need to. Gen is fun and witty, the kind of person that you just love to cheer for. The plot is made up of mystery, adventure, action, history, and just a touch of fantasy. It’s everything that anyone could want.

And if you’ve already read the whole series, then you’ll be happy to hear that the fourth book, A Conspiracy of Kings, comes out March 23rd. *squeal*

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

"You have to call her by her whole name. Sarah Byrnes. She only answers to Sarah Byrnes."
Laurel stares at me blankly.
"When we were in junior high," I tell her, "Sarah Byrnes got sick of every new Einstein at school thinking he was the only genius in the world to figure out the great pun about her last name and her condition. She hated waiting for them to get it, so she made everyone call her Sarah Byrnes. If you just call her Sarah, she won't answer."
Laurel nods. "I'll tell the others. That's important. Is there anything else?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, I'll leave you tow alone. Just talk with her about things that might jar her."
"Remember Crispy Pork Rinds?" I whisper into her ear when Laurel is out of sight. If anything should get a reaction, that should.

Eric Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes were both outcasts. Eric was fat, and Sarah was covered in horrific scars. Together, they discovered that their combined intelligence and courage could run circles around nearly anyone. His sense of loyalty made Eric is willing to stay fat and unattractive even after joining the swim team so as not to lose Sarah Byrnes. But now Sarah Byrnes is in an institution, and it’s up to Eric to figure out what put her there, or risk losing her forever.

Wonderful. Just fantastic. Chris Crutcher is known for capturing a male YA voice. If you're trying to write a YA novel with a male protagonist, you have to read Crutcher's books. Everything about this novel is great, the symbolism, the characterization, the plot. Everything works. The voice is pitch perfect, witty, and just plain fun to listen to. It's a good balance for the darkness of the plot.

Some may object to some of the topics brought up in this book...it covers everything from abortion to child abuse. It's definitely a book to read before your teen does. It does provide a great opportunity to discuss some of these topics with your child.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Review: Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson

Anderson, M.T. Whales on Stilts. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

“Oh, great, great. Where you planning on going?” asked Larry, opening the fridge, and pulling out a large vat of green brine and lifting it over his head.
“We’re going to go visit Lily’s grandmother in Decentville.”
“You from there?” asked Larry.
“My wife.”
“Oh great, great,” said Larry, dumping the vat of brine over his head so it soaked his grain sack and his suit. He put down the empty metal vat. “Oh, wait a second. Wait a second, Gefelty. Just thought of something. By then, I will have taken over the world, and Decentville, er, you know…” Larry made a noise that sounded like several large futuristic lasers blowing up the Decentville police station and the Bijou Theater and the rest of the town being engulfed in flames and destruction as car alarms went off and deserted burning alleyways.
Lily’s father bit his lip. “Aw, shoot,” he said. “Well, we’ll reschedule.”

When Lily goes with her father for Career Day, she discovers his crazy boss is possibly a whale and planning on taking over the world by bringing whales on land and giving them lasers to destroy entire cities.

Wacky books, sort of a parody of action adventure novels. Adults are utterly clueless, and it’s up to Lily and her two already-famous friends to save the day. These books are tons of fun, backed by solid writing that we expect from an award-winning author like M.T. Anderson. For the kids that love Louis Sachar's humor and Rick Riordan's adventure, these are perfect books.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians. New York: Scholastic, 2008.

My name is not Alfonso, Alan, or Alfred. Nor is it Alejandro, Alton, Aldris, or Alonzo.

My name is Alcatraz. Alcatraz Smedry. Now some of you Free Kingdomers might be impressed by my name. That's wonderful for you, but I grew up in the Hushlands--in the United States itself. I didn't know about Occulators or the like, though I did know about prisons.

And that was why I figured that my parents must have had a twisted sense of humor. Why else would they name thier child after the most infamous prison in U.S. history?

On my thirteenth birthday, I received a second confirmation that my parents were indeed cruel people. That was the day when I unexpectedly received in the mail the only inheritance they left me.

It was a bag of sand.

Alcatraz Smedry is not a nice person. In fact, he's a cruel person, with no particular talents, unless you count his ability to break things. But when a crazy old man claiming to be his long lost grandfather shows up, everything Alcatraz knows about the world changes.

This book is a blast and a half. It is laugh out loud funny the whole way through. It's witty and clever and fun, and I couldn't put it down. And I know it sounds like it's pure silliness, but there are solid sci-fi themes running through it. Sanderson is a brilliant writer, and it shows. Even though he's just having fun, he knows how to build a world and develop a story.

There are a few times when the storyline goes a little over-the-top, where things seem to go a little too far. I mean, really, who would set a fire and then walk into the other room to look at something else? It barely makes sense. But because it fits with the general feel of the novel, we're willing to let it slide.

This novel is absolute perfect for reluctant readers. It's action-packed and funny, which will keep everyone's attention. If you are struggling to get your child to read, get them this book!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Penguin, 2006.

I wasted the last weeks of August watching bad cartoons. I didn’t go to the mall, the lake, or the pool, or answer the phone. I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don’t have anyone to sit with.
I am Outcast.
The kids behind me laugh so loud I know they’re laughing about me. I can’t help myself. I turn around. It’s Rachel, surrounded by a bunch of kids wearing clothes that most definitely did not come from the EastSide Mall. Rachel Bruin, my ex-best friend. She stares at something above my left ear. Words climb up my throat. This was the girl who suffered through Brownies with me, who taught me how to swim, who understood about my parents, who didn’t make fun of my bedroom. If there is anyone in the entire galaxy I am dying to tell what really happened, it’s Rachel. My throat burns.
Her eyes meet mine for a second. “I hate you,” she mouths silently.

Something horrific has happened to Melinda over the summer. So horrific that all of her friends, and tons of people she doesn't know, have turned on her. And she has turned into herself, refusing to speak to nearly everyone.

Incredibly witty, even though it deals with such a dark and depressing subject. This is one of the defining novels in the YA genre. YA voice doesn't get any better than this. It's a character-driven novel, but the suspense is never lacking. I couldn't wait to get to the next page. I loved Melinda as if she were one of my best friends. I never got tired of listening to her. She is a smart, sharp girl going through a terrifying experience. I related to her. I loved her.

I would definitely recommend this to older kids, though (13+), considering the reveal at the end. Also a wonderful choice for book clubs. Will boys read it? Probably not, unfortunately. But girls will eat it up, and I think it's a great novel for helping them to work through their own issues.

And of course, if you're serious about studying YA literature, you have to read it. It's one of the standards.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron. New York: Penguin Group, 2010.

He froze. He couldn't move. her fingers were cool and clean, and she had touched him on his skin, between the torn sleeve and the glove, and she was looking at the tiny tattoo of the crowned bird.

She frowned. "That's not a Civicry mark. It looks like..."

"What?" He was alert at once. "Like what?"

A rumble miles off in the Hall. The chains at his feet slithered. Bending over them the man with the cutters hesitated. "That's odd. This bolt. It's loose..."

The Maestra stared at the bird. "Like the crystal."

A shout, behind them.

"What crystal?" Finn said.

"A strange object. We found it."

"And the bird is the same? You're sure?"

"Yes." Distracted, she turned at looked at the bolt. "You weren't really--"

He had to know about this. He had to keep her alive. He grabbed her and pulled her to the floor. "Get down," he whipsered. And then, angrily, "Don't you understand? It's all a trap."

Finn is a prisoner, believed by most to have been a product of Incarceron itself--though he doesn't believe it for a moment. Even if he can't can't remember his past, he knows he had one before the prison. Claudia is the Warden of Incarceron's daughter, destined to be the next queen of the world Outside, where new technology is forbidden and the populace is kept in specific Eras. All she knows of Incarceron is that it is a centuries-old experiment, a utopia created to keep all the convicts and madmen out of the way.

What a brilliant novel. The writing is exciting, the plot fast paced, and the characters vibrant. If you're feeling the dystopia genre right now, this novel is a must. However, if you're looking for romance, not so much. There's less romance here than there was in Hunger Games. Not that that's a problem, it just seems that many people reading teen right now want romance.

On the other hand, the lack of romance means that this is a great choice for boys. I know it's been hard to find anything for all the kids that loved the Eragon series, and this is it. It's definitely written in the style of high fantasy, but it has all the excitement of teen dystopias.

One thing I particularly loved about it was the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. In Inkheart-style, Fisher has chosen made-up quotes from ancient texts, folk songs, diaries, and letters to start off each chapter. And each one relates to what is happening in the chapter, providing information that is essential for us to know. Also, I loved the cover art. It's just dark and abstract enough to capture the feel of the novel, yet doesn't give anything away. Plus, it's shiny, and I like shiny things...