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Book Review/Tour: The Warden’s Daughter

Book Review/Tour: The Warden’s Daughter

Book Review/Tour: The Warden’s Daughter
The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: January 3rd 2017
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher

Cammie O'Reilly is the warden's daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she's also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad. This girl's nickname is Cannonball.

In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie's best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand.A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the only mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie's coming-of-age. But one in particular will make a staggering sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past.

It’s been a week since I’ve read this book and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think. My general feeling is that it’s a decent book, but not without flaws. The concept of a young girl living in a prison is definitely interesting, but Spinelli doesn’t quite hit the mark. The story is told mainly through Cammie in 1959, but we do start, end, and often flashback to current day Cammie. It makes the book feel more like a reflection back than in the moment story. This plot device is also part of the reason I think adults will find this book more moving than it’s intended audience.

For the record, it is moving? Yes, very much so. Cammie’s mother died when she was just a baby and at 12 years old she is desperate for a mother figure. Any mother figure. In fact, she has decided that the current trustee/inmate in charge of her, Eloda, should fill that role. The want is palpable and over the summer, Cammie does everything she can think of to make Eloda give her attention. It starts simple with morning chats while doing her hair, but it’s obvious that Cammie longs for so much more. However, when she doesn’t get the results she wants, she tries smoking and stealing to incite any reaction from Eloda. When it doesn’t work Cammie find herself spiraling more and more out of control. It isn’t until Eloda tell her to finally go to the corner where her mom died/face her mother’s death that Cammie comes out of her dark abyss.

While this scene hits home, the aftermath of it is really wrapped up a bit too fast for my taste. The next day she goes back to school and we’re quickly thrown into the future, when a 17 year old Cammie finally learns the truth; View Spoiler » First of all, what?! At first, I thought it was very moving but the more I thought it about the more I wondered who would actually do that? Who would choose to stay in jail for 3 extra months for some girl. Not to mention, that all her feelings toward Cammie that summer are revealed via a diary. It felt weak and in the end took away more from the story than it added.

Cammie as a character had her ups and downs. There is no way around it was quite entitled, especially at the prison. She is also a bit spoiled and bratty, but what typical 12 year old (almost 13) isn’t? Some of her behavior/actions are things I see day in and day out in my teen department. And while she had moments that made me sigh, she had great ones as well. I especially liked when she finally put an end to her friend romanticizing a murderer. After the third or so time she begged Cammie to get an autograph, Cammie drags her down to the grocery store and to the victim’s mother.  She tells her to repeat to the mother what she is after. That scene was probably one of my favorites and showed that Cammie was growing up and coming into her own.

However, the biggest flaw in the book for me is the racial elements, especially Boo-Boo. Boo-Boo is a black inmate that is described as obese and jolly. She’s attached to Cammie and demands Boo-Boo time at the end of every visit where she fills Cammie with grand stories that are mainly lies. She never moves out of this stereotypical character, especially considering she commits suicide halfway through the book. A death that is used to send Cammie into a darker place/depression, even though their bond felt superficial at best. In fact, Boo-Boo felt more like a plot device than actual character.

The other character is four year old Andrew, a black boy who demands that Cammie take him on a ride around town on his bike, which she does. For hours. She even eventually befriends his family, after being scolded by Andrew’s mother. Nightly dinners are a regular thing as she grows older.  Reminder, dear reader, it’s 1959 and this would have been a big deal. Even if 12 year old Cammie didn’t realize it, I do think it’s something that adult Cammie should have reflected back on. I agree with someone who said it’s the giant elephant in the room that no one talks about. I can understand not wanting to make a book about race, but it was an important issue at the same time.

In the end, this is a book that stayed with me for days. It’s a fast read and does pack an emotional punch. One that I think adults will feel more than kids. And while it was an enjoyable read, it is far from perfect and really misses the mark on racial elements.

Want to see what others are saying? Jump over to the other blogs part of this tour:

January 3: Seeing Double in Neverland
January 4: Here’s To Happy Endings
January 5: My Brain on Books
January 9:  Bookhounds YA
January 10th: Reviews Coming at YA
January 11th: Project Mayhem
January 12th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
January 13th: Readers in Wonderland
January 16th: The Cover Contessa
January 17th: YA Books Central
January 18th: Reading Nook Reviews
January 19th: Xpresso Reads

 

Book Review/Tour: Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom

Book Review/Tour: Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom

Book Review/Tour: Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom
Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: August 9th 2016
Pages: 240

When the mysterious Dr. Fell moves into the abandoned house that had once been the neighborhood kids' hangout, he immediately builds a playground to win them over. But as the ever-changing play space becomes bigger and more elaborate, the children and their parents fall deeper under the doctor's spell.   Only Jerry, Nancy, and Gail are immune to the lure of his extravagant wonderland. And they alone notice that when the injuries begin to pile up on the jungle gym, somehow Dr. Fell is able to heal each one with miraculous speed. Now the three children must find a way to uncover the doctor's secret power without being captivated by his trickery.

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom is the perfect book to give to kids who are interested in the creepy or just want a good mystery. Instantly, they’ll be trying to figure out what is going on. Howe did a gigantic playground in the shape of a ship appear overnight? Why is almost everyone in the town in love with Dr. Fell? What is up with his weird purple waiting room with all the cat pictures? And most importantly, what really happens when kids go for a doctor visit with Dr. Fell?

Only Jerry, Gail, & Nancy notice something weird is going on since Dr. Fell has moved into town. They seem to be immune to his spell-at least for now. None of them is quite sure why, or even how they’ll be able to take him down, especially since all the adults think he’s the best man ever. Can they really find out what Dr. Fell is up to before he ruins their town?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There really isn’t much I can complain at all. The town is crazy from the beginning.  I mean, who would be sad that their kids could no longer play in a run-down, abandoned place anymore? But I do think that made it easier to believe that the town fell in love over-night. It isn’t until the story goes on that you know that something must be going on.

While I love how the story tied up/how the town was saved, I do wish there had been a bit more of a hint what was going on. There are some clues, but I think most kids will miss them completely. However, I know that tons of people like to be surprised, but I’m one of those who likes to figure it out. There are a couple of things I’m not sure quite work with the explanation, but I don’t think it’ll bother the kids at all. This will definitely be a story that they love and pass on to friends.

We hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to Kid Lit Reviews to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on Word Spelunking.

Book Review: Up From the Sea

Book Review: Up From the Sea

Book Review: Up From the Sea
Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: January 12th 2016
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher

A powerful novel-in-verse about how one teen boy survives the March 2011 tsunami that devastates his coastal Japanese village. On that fateful day, Kai loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about. When he’s offered a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11, Kai realizes he also has a chance to look for his estranged American father. Visiting Ground Zero on its tenth anniversary, Kai learns that the only way to make something good come out of the disaster back home is to return there and help rebuild his town.
Heartrending yet hopeful, Up from the Sea is a story about loss, survival, and starting anew.
Fans of Jame Richards’s Three Rivers Rising and teens who read Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust as middle graders will embrace this moving story. An author’s note includes numerous sources detailing actual events portrayed in the story.
“The fast-paced writing progresses the plot perfectly to fit with the subject…Fans of Ellen Hopkins’s work will enjoy the immediacy of this novel-in-verse.” - School and Library Journal
From the Hardcover edition.

This is one of those novels that instantly transports you. You’re there with Kai as the quake hits and as he runs to get to higher ground to escape the tsunami. As the water keeps rising, you see the waves break apart the bridge he and his classmates had run to. And your heart will break as you realize he has, by some miracle survived, but lost so much as well.

While this books takes place in a coastal city in Japan, I feel like the emotions that Kai go through will resonate with everyone no matter where you live. The basic plot may be about the aftermath of a tsunami, but the heart of the story is truly Kai. It’s about his losses, his gains, growing up, and finding joy among the pain. Yes, he is often selfish and self-absorbed, but, at 17, he really is still a kid/teen. Up until this point, his biggest concerns were about finishing high school or what he fought with his mom about. Now, he has to learn how to get one without almost everyone that he loves. I loved that Lowitz didn’t hold back on the depression/survivor’s guilt as it’s an emotion that so many go through. Part of me does wish there had been just a tad bit more on it, but I understand it wasn’t the main focus as well.

I will admit that I found the dad side plot was a bit distracting. For the most part, it felt unneeded. Yes, it made it so that Kai wasn’t an orphan, but it felt out of place. The only really usefulness was to show that Kai had found where he belonged/didn’t want to leave after all, but there were other ways that could have been done. And maybe this will be the start of a real relationship between he and his father, but the whole thing just felt a tad forced.

The 9/11 connection always felt a bit out of place, but I liked this one more than I didn’t. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy that victims of one disaster helping other survivors heal. It’s one of those feel good, humanity still exists plots that I’m okay with. (This sentiment also applies to the lost soccer ball as well.)

Final Verdict: A powerful verse novel that is great for teens for all ages. It’s gives a look into the aftermath of the 2011 Japan tsunami that may otherwise been unknown.

Book Review: Burning Midnight

Book Review: Burning Midnight

Book Review: Burning Midnight
Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: February 2nd 2016
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher

Sully is a sphere dealer at a flea market. It doesn’t pay much—Alex Holliday’s stores have muscled out most of the independent sellers—but it helps him and his mom make the rent.

No one knows where the brilliant-colored spheres came from. One day they were just there, hidden all over the earth like huge gemstones. Burn a pair and they make you a little better: an inch taller, skilled at math, better-looking. The rarer the sphere, the greater the improvement—and the more expensive the sphere.

When Sully meets Hunter, a girl with a natural talent for finding spheres, the two start searching together. One day they find a Gold—a color no one has ever seen. And when Alex Holliday learns what they have, he will go to any lengths, will use all of his wealth and power, to take it from them.

There’s no question the Gold is priceless, but what does it actually do? None of them is aware of it yet, but the fate of the world rests on this little golden orb. Because all the world fights over the spheres, but no one knows where they come from, what their powers are, or why they’re here.

The start to this one is a bit slow. In fact, it took a good 20-25 pages until I fully understood what spheres were and why they were so important. Admittedly, this was slightly my fault since I didn’t re-read the description to refresh my memory before starting the book, but it also shouldn’t take so long to be introduced to the world. I almost wished that I had a little guide on  spheres, how they worked, and how many there were.

Once I grasped what was happening, I did enjoy the world. I thought it was an interesting concept, especially considering human nature. Who wouldn’t pay a couple hundred here and there for simple things like whiter teeth or ease of sleeping. People pay that now for different medications or gimmicks that aren’t always a sure bet. Of course, the super powerful spheres that increases intelligence or looks are rare and expensive.  Only those with lots of money could afford them. Maybe if you were a lucky hunter, you might who would find a pair to burn, but basically it was the rich get richer situation, which was fully realistic.

I will say the pacing was a bit off for me. There were times where the book moved along at a good speed, but then other times when it dragged. I loved the earlier hunting scenes with Hunter and Sully, but the scenes when they’re searching the water towers felt a bit too slow for me. I understand that McIntosh needed to show that it took a while, but I was quite bored. On the other hand, once they find the Gold, things seems to kick into super high speed. This is also where you have to start suspending belief. Almost nothing that happens after finding the Gold seems truly believable or possible. However, if you allow yourself to just roll with it, it’s a fun adventure.

The only part that I can’t quite get over is the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but it felt extremely too easy. I could buy into what the spheres actually were, but how they solved it all seemed almost like a cop-out. It tied up way too nicely in a bow for my taste. I guess I wanted more than what I got.

I’m a little torn on how I feel about the love aspect. There is a nice build up between Hunter and Sully, but it also have the feel of insta-love. For most of the book, there a pretty big distrust between them, especially when a deal goes awry. However, they do actually spend a lot of time hunting together, so when you figure in that it’s probably been at least a couple of months it does sort of work. I think it was the out-of the blue declarations that didn’t work for me. Most of the book, Hunter keeps Sully at arm’s length and then suddenly she’s proclaiming how he’s the best thing ever in her life. It was a bit cheesy, but I know know of teens who will probably eat it up.

All that being said, this was a fast sci-fi read. I read it in one day, and while flawed, I couldn’t put it down. I would easily give these to my teens who are just starting in sci-fi or who are looking for an adventure book. It’s a bit on the big side for reluctant readers, but one I do think they’d enjoy.  It would also be a good pairing for 5th Wave, although there aren’t nearly as many mind games or heavy strategy in this one.

Final Verdict: A great new YA sci-fi book. While it does have some flaws, it’s a quick read filled with tons of adventure.

Book Review: Traveler

Book Review: Traveler

Book Review: Traveler
Traveler by Arwen Elys Dayton
Series: Seeker #2
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: January 12th 2016
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher

Quin Kincaid is a Seeker. Her legacy is an honor, an ancient role passed down for generations. But what she learned on her Oath night changed her world forever.

Quin pledged her life to deception. Her legacy as a Seeker is not noble but savage. Her father, a killer. Her uncle, a liar. Her mother, a casualty. And the boy she once loved is out for vengeance, with her family in his sights.

Yet Quin is not alone. Shinobu, her oldest companion, might now be the only person she can trust. The only one who wants answers as desperately as she does.

But the deeper they dig into the past, the darker things become. There are long-vanished Seeker families, shadowy alliances, and something else: a sinister plan begun generations ago, with the power to destroy them all.

The past is close. And it will destroy them all.

Often times, middle books in a trilogy (at least I’m assuming it’s a trilogy) can be lukewarm, that bridge between book one and three that gives just enough information to move the story along. Thankfully, that is not the case for Traveler. I love how much  information we get from this story about Catherine (John’s mom) and the whole seeker history.  

The POV is multiple just like the first book; however, we get a couple of additional character perspectives with Catherine and Nott. While six characters seems overwhelming, the majority of the story is really told by Quinn and Catherine. I was a bit sad that Maud didn’t have as much of a presence in this book, especially since she is one of my favorites. I still don’t really connect to John or Shinobu very much, although Quinn is starting to grow on me. I did love John’s growth as well, even though he is not my favorite. Catherine was a great addition and I was glad that we got to see the story unravel through her eyes, especially since so much of what we know is thanks to her and her detective work.

The setting this time around felt a bit more jarring. I’m really not sure why it bothered me this time and not last time. Maybe because last time I had assumed it was a steampunk world, but I’m not longer sure that’s the case. It felt so more modern this time …  and yet not? I don’t know. I eventually just had to throw the whole setting thing out the window before it annoyed me to no end. I’ll go back to my initial recommendation of just rolling with it.  

The thing I liked the least was the romance between Quinn and Shinobu. Thankfully Dayton did not remind us constantly that they were distantly related; in fact, it may only be mentioned once. However, I just didn’t feel their relationship. I know they’ve known each other their entire lives, but it just felt super fast. While Shinobu has been in love with Quinn forever, she was set on John until just a few months ago. I guess, for the most part, I just didn’t feel the chemistry. Now, this could be that Seeker is a bit hazy in some details, but looking at my review of Seeker, I complained about it then as well. I suppose they’re just not the pairing for me. However, I do think it will be a big part of book three, especially considering how this one ended.

Speaking of how it ended, be ready for a cliff-hanger. Yes, most seeker history related things are answered, but my oh my, Dayton knows how to leave you hanging. I’ll be interested to see where book 3 goes, especially considering most things felt wrapped up in Traveler. I am sure there is a lot more to the story though, and I can’t wait to see it unravel.

Final Verdict: Great second book filled with much needed history and unraveled secrets. I’ll happily pick up book 3, especially considering the huge cliff-hanger.

 

Traveler_Social__BlogTour_INST_2PThis review is part of the Traveler Blog Tour. See below for other participants.

January 11 – Seeing Double in Neverland
January 11 – The Cover Contessa
January 12 –  Once Upon A Twilight
January 12 – Two Chicks on Books
January 13 – Take Me Away to a Great Read
January 13 – Lytherus
January 14Supernatural Snark
January 15Bookish Lifestyle
January 15The Eater of Books
January 16Adventures in YA Publishing
January 16Page Turners
January 17Winterhaven Books
January 17Black Dog Speaks
January 18A Dream Within A Dream
January 18Sci Fi Fan Letter
January 19Mundie Moms
January 19The Reading Nook Reviews

 

Book Review: Seeker

Book Review: Seeker

Book Review: Seeker
Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Series: Seeker #1
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2015
Pages: 448
Source: Edelweiss

The night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor. As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world. And she'll be with the boy she loves--who's also her best friend.

But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes. Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought.

And now it's too late to walk away.

This has got to be one of the hardest reviews I’ve written in a long time. I’ve deleted and retyped almost everything I’ve written several times over. But, let me start off by saying I liked this book. I know there’s been a lot of mixed reviews about this book, but I don’t have the same complaints as other reviewers. In fact, I’ll easily pick up the second book when it comes out.

First off, the descriptions only give half the story. While Quin is one of the main characters, there are three others that are followed as well. The chapters rotate between them giving the reader a good view into their world and thoughts.  Quin, and maybe even Maud, are the heart of the book, but the story is really driven by John. He made a promise to his dying mother when he was seven and it literally is the focus of everything he does. He is determined to keep that promise, even if it means hurting those who cares about. The others are mainly dealing with the consequences of his decisions.

I’ll be honest, I had lukewarm feelings about most of the characters. I really liked Maud, but the others I was a bit meh about mainly because of the decisions they made. I love Shinobu, but he totally took a downward spiral once in Hong Kong. I understand it to a point. Drugs would have helped him escape the past. I can only imagine that the things he saw and did were soul crushing. However, he had a great opportunity to restart his life with family. He had the chance to have a much better life where he was truly loved, but he wasn’t willing to let go or forgive himself. Quin suffered the same problem that Shinobu did, although, she did it differently. Neither was willing to face what had happened and wanted to simply run away. While she doesn’t turn to drugs, her decision is just as bad. By the end, I feel like they were both in a better place and I look forward to, hopefully, seeing them grow even more in the next book.

A lot have complained about the setting, which can be a bit jarring. The Scotland estate feels quite medieval, but there is a lot of modern, and even futurist, technology. Honestly, it felt very steampunk to me, which may be why I didn’t give it a second thought. Also, it felt like the manor was of it’s own world. It was very secluded and a place where they followed their own set of rules, which fit in with the ancient protectors vibe perfectly. I would say just to roll with the setting and not try to pin it to a time period as doing so will only make you upset.

Also, if you want a book that has every little thing spelled out for you, this is not the book for you. There is a lot of reading between the lines and putting the pieces together on your own. Dayton does eventually reveal most of it, but you have to figure it out yourself for a while. One particular scene will be flashbacked several times, revealing a little more each time until you fully understand the horror of the situation. Of course, even though some questions are answered, you are still left with many more in their place. There are several things I’m dying to know about, which I hope will be covered in book two.

The only thing that made me eye raise an eyebrow was Shinobu being in love with Quin. They’re supposed to be third cousins, well half-third cousins, and it feels a bit weird. We’re reminded over and over that they’re really distant cousins that hardly share any blood, but it still felt a bit icky. Dayton could have easily had the relationship be the same without making them related. Often times we don’t see what is in front of us, especially if it’s been there all our lives. Of course, Cassandra Clare had 2 books were we thought Clary & jace were brother/sister, so maybe the teens won’t mind it. And maybe Dayton will spin it in future books that they’re not really related after all. That seems unlikely, but I suppose it could be a possibility.

Final Verdict: An intriguing fantasy book that can be confusing at times. However, stick with it and I think you’ll be rewarded in the end.

Book Review: Jasper Jones

Book Review: Jasper Jones

Book Review: Jasper Jones
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: April 2011
Pages: 320
Source: Library

Charlie Bucktin, a bookish thirteen year old, is startled one summer night by an urgent knock on his bedroom window. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in their small mining town, and he has come to ask for Charlie's help. Terribly afraid but desperate to impress, Charlie follows him into the night. Jasper takes him to his secret glade, where Charlie witnesses Jasper's horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion. He locks horns with his tempestuous mother, falls nervously in love, and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

I’m just going to outright say this – THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! No really, this book blew me away. Charlie is a bookworm, a boy who wouldn’t dare defy his parents, until one summer night when Jasper Jones asks for his help. Jasper is the no-good teenager of the town. The one who gets blamed for anything that goes wrong. And the worst thing has happened, a murder has been committed and Jasper knows he’ll be blamed for it. Charlie must decide which is the right thing – to help Jasper out or to go directly to the police.

Beyond the fantastic main plot, is a series of intricate subplots that are inter-weaved throughout the book. Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey is Vietnamese and as the book is set during the Vietnam War, there’s some prejudice that is consistent throughout the book. There is bullying, romance, and all sorts of abuse in this book as well. And let’s not forget the swearing. I have to say my favorite part of dialogue was Charlie and Jeffrey’s ongoing discussion on whether Superman or Batman is the better superhero. Their banter is always hilarious and I found myself laughing until my side hurt many times. This is one of those books that is bound to be taught in an English class someday. It was well done, with a ton of issues involved and a mystery that continues throughout the novel. Definitely a must-read in my opinion.

 

Book Review: Eight Keys

Book Review: Eight Keys

Book Review: Eight Keys
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: August 2011
Pages: 224
Source: Library

Elise and Franklin have always been best friends. Elise has always lived in the big house with her loving Uncle and Aunt, because Elise's parents died when she was too young to remember them.  There's always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor.
When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish.  Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the barn

I originally picked up Eight Keys at ALA Annual because I thought it might be a good contender for my Joliet Reads Committee. (A one-book a month program done through the school. I work with the 6th, 7th, & 8th grade committee.) Of course, time slipped away too fast during those busy summer months and it wasn’t until the finished version hit our new bookshelves that I finally picked a copy up.

While not strong enough to recommend for the committee, I did enjoy the book. Or so I thought. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still like the book overall, but the more I think about Eight Keys the more little things start to bug me such as issues or characters that were thrown in but not dealt with or developed thoroughly. It would have been better for LaFluer to focus on one thing, say the eight keys or the bullying/entering a new school than trying to mash it all together.

Let me back up a little and focus on what I did love and that was the eight door/keys. I’ll admit the messages and items her father left in the rooms brought some tears to my eyes. The sense of family, love, and knowing yourself was written across every room. Since her father died when she was only three we never met him, but it’s easy to see how much he cared for his daughter by what he left as a legacy in those rooms. Books, photos, mementos…small things that told about the lives of her parents, the people around her, and the short time they had together. Honestly, I wish LaFluer had spent the entire books, instead of just half of it, on this. Everyone spoke how her father loved puzzles/riddles, but what he left behind wasn’t much of either. The keys were given up too easy and within a month, maybe two, all the doors had been opened. I think if it had been made into a scavenger hunt with clue leading to the next key the journey could have been dragged out more and perhaps become even more meaningful.

The other thing I did like was how LaFluer managed to capture those insecurities of an eleven year old entering a new school and being bullied. In Elise’s case the bullying starts when she starts school with scabs all down her legs from a fall during a make-believe game. While normally I would say tweens shed off their make-believe games sooner than sixth grade, there is something about being rural areas that allows kids to be kids longer than those in urban areas. I’m not saying that’s the case for all or even most, but I have witnessed a sense of innocence that lasts longer where the outdoors and imagination run free.  Perhaps it is not the norm nowadays, but I still think there are quite a few tweens who manage to hang onto their innocence/make-believe spirit longer then others.

However, the one issue that has been under my skin the most is how the bullying situation was handled. There were no consequences for Amanda. There was one moment of payback that landed Franklin, of all people, in trouble and a moment where Elise finally stands up to her, but that is where it ends. I do understand that most bullies never see consequences, but when Elise tries to bring it up it is merely brushed aside time and time again. The only ones who seem to care are her aunt and uncle, but even they let Elise handle and never get involved. Also, LaFluer on several occasions tries to make the reader feel sorry for Amanda, but never gives us any real meat to it. She hints that something has happened to make Amanda such a bully, but nothing is ever revealed. We’re told she wasn’t always like this, that she can be fun outside of school, and that her brother/his friends are mean to her, but it never goes beyond that. The closest explanation is that she wanted people to believe she was “tough”, but again why? I’m not sure I would have cared normally, but since LaFluer kept hinting that there was more beneath the bully I wanted to see it.

The underdeveloped bully issue goes hand-in-hand with some of the character development as well. For the most part, LaFluer fleshes out her characters enough to make them feel real. I may not know too much about Aunt Bessie, Uncle Hugh, or even Caroline, but there was enough depth to them to make me happy. The same cannot be said about Annie (Aunt Bessie’s sister) and baby Ava. They moved in near the beginning of the book, but mainly appeared randomly throughout the book. Their appearance held little significance beyond making Elise jealous or having a person to ask random questions to. It felt like LaFluer was also trying to use Ava to show how Elise was maturing/becoming more thoughtful, but it fell flat. There were many other ways that the changes in Elise could have been shown beyond adding in fluff characters.

After all is said and done, Eight Keys is still a cute, fast read. The writing is solid and I’ll be looking into LaFluer’s past and future books. While the characters are in middle school, it does read a little young. It would be a great recommendation for those tween girls who aren’t quite ready for YA but are turning their nose at Juv titles. While not a happy-go-lucky story, girls who are transitioning into new schools/lives will relate to Elise and what she is going through. So, while not one of my favorites, it is one I am happy to have in my library and hand off to readers.

Have you read Eight Keys? If so, let me know what you think!

Book Review: Rage: A Love Story

Book Review: Rage: A Love Story

Book Review: Rage: A Love Story
Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: Sept. 2009
Pages: 304

Johanna has been attracted  to Reeve for sometime now. She daydreams about their first touch, their first kiss, and eventually becoming a couple. The only problem? They've never even spoken and it's unlikely that Reeve knows she exists. The next problem? There is only a couple days left until High School graduation. With a lot of determination and a little bit of luck, Johanna manages to push her way into Reeve's life. But she's soon discovering that love is not all paradise; in fact, there's a much darker side filled with trouble and abuse. And the tighter Johanna holds on, the further into darkness she is pulled. In a story of first love, Johanna must decide if holding onto a fantasy is worth losing everything else.

 
This has got to be one of the hardest reviews for me to write. I’ve been looking forward to Rage: A Love Story for months, only to find it didn’t live up to my expectations. I went into it longing for a good lesbian love story, but that was certainly not what I got. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still ADORE Julie Anne Peters. She is a brilliant writer and Rage does not fail in that department. She does a beautiful job at bringing a story to life. The characters were quite realistic and I have no doubt that this situation could/does happen.

Yet, for some reason the plot didn’t sit well with me. There were moments that I cringed and wanted to shake some sense into Johanna, especially when she talked about wearing her bruises as badges of her love. I couldn’t understand how this girl she barely knew meant so much to her. How after only a week or so, she was allowing Reeve to abuse her. Why did she continue to cling to this girl instead of walking away? I can understand how hard it would be if they had been dating months or years, but weeks? The love aspect just seemed to happen much, much too fast for my liking. I do understand that all of Johanna’s fantasies may have given her the illusion of a deeper attachment, but I don’t know.

Now, before I end this review, I have to say that Julie Anne Peters ends the story well. There is a sense of healing that has and will continue to happen on both sides. I was left with the hope that both girls would see happier times ahead. I’m still a little sad that I didn’t get the good, romantic love story I had hoped for, but that’s okay. It will be a hard one to recommend to my teens, though, if only because I don’t know how to sell it. It’s not really one I can add onto a love or LGBT list, however, I can see it being received well by those who thrive on the “issue” novels.

Have you read Rage: A Love Story? If so, let me know what you think!