Book Review: They All Fall Down

Book Review: They All Fall DownThey All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2014
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Pages: 352
Source: Library

Kenzie Sumerall just found out she’s on the the list. The list of the top ten Veinna High Juniors who are “hotties”. Unsure how she made the list at all, let alone be fifth, Kenzie tries to brush away the extra attention brought on by the list. She could care less about all the parties or the power the list brings. All she wants is to continue on as normal and hopefully get into Columbia. However, any hope of that is shattered when the girls from the list starting dying one by one. Fluke accidents that seem just a little too suspicious. Could the theory that the list is cursed be true or something more sinister going on? And more importantly, can Kenzie figure it out before she’s next…

They All Fall Down is a fast paced thriller that will suck you in until the end. Okay, there is some need to suspend believability, but this isn’t the first or last book I’ve had to do that for. There are several twists and turns that leaves you guessing what the truth behind the murders really are. I don’t know that I saw the final twist coming, but I wasn’t surprised by it either. It was obvious that something larger was going on and it was easy to determine where I needed to focus my attention. I liked that there was a bit of obviousness to it, but wasn’t completely predictable at the same time.

Kenzie overall was a likable player. She’s your typical “good girl” who studies hard and will end up in a fantastic school. She’s not a partier and her weekends are either spent studying or with her best friend, Molly. However, her life is not without tragedy. Her brother died in a freak accident only two years ago and something her family is still healing from. We don’t see her parents too much other than to note that they’re on the verge of divorce and dealing with their own problems. A convenient reason for Kenzie not to let them in on all the things happening. I’ve always enjoyed the girl detective roles, which may be why I’m able to overlook some of the flaws and cliches that surround Kenzie as a whole. We won’t even talk about how she falls into insta-love with the bad boy (Levi) and drops her 7 year long crush on Mr. Popular (Josh) with barely a second thought. Honestly, Levi is totally the better choice out of the two, but I’m still not sure that makes him a good choice either. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a series and how the boys progress in the future. (The door is completely wide-open for a sequel, but at this moment I cannot find any details on if that will actually happen.)

All that being said, this book does have issues. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the slut shaming and general problematic treatment of girls since I’ve finished reading it. The whole basic plot is hinged on a “hottie” list. I won’t lie and say that this didn’t make me cringe. Girls have enough problems in life without being ranked on “hotness”. The very premise is sexist in nature, but thankfully Kenzie agreed and says as much. While the real reason the girls are picked (which I won’t mention since it’s a spoiler) is even worse and makes me sigh, it is truly the least problematic thing in the book.

It is the unnecessary slut shaming that is thrown in that makes me really upset. On at least two occasions it is mentioned that one girl only got on the list because she gave blow jobs to lacrosse team. Even after she dies, the boys joke that a thing with her could just mean a hand job in the locker room. Then we get this fabulous line about “slut-liner”, which is what Molly calls inside the eye liner. That line was the nail in the coffin for me. None, and I do mean none, of these lines or mentions are needed in the book. Yes, the girls on the list are the ones being targeted, but there is no reason to make one a “slut”. It added absolutely nothing to the book and, in fact, it the main reason I won’t be book talking this book to my teens in an upcoming event or when I go to schools in May. A fact that saddens me a bit because this would have been a solid contender. And while it may only be four lines, I cannot condone this type of behavior nor risk upsetting parents/teacher and putting my job on the line.

Final Verdict: A fast-paced and fun thriller/mystery, however, the slut shaming made it impossible for me to fully fall in love with it.

Book Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

Book Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European ChickAu Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber
Series: Perry & Gobi #1
Release Date: Oct. 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 192
Source: Library

Perry Stormaire is a normal high school senior– he is busy applying to college and rehearsing with his band –until he agrees to go to the prom with the Lithuanian exchange student who is staying with his family. It turns out that Gobi Zaksauskas is not the mousy teenager that she seems but rather an attractive, confident trained assassin. Instead of going to the prom, Perry finds himself on a wild ride through the streets of New York City as Gobi commandeers the Jaguar his father lent him for the prom in order to take out her targets. Perry learns a lot about himself – and ends up with some amazing material for his college application essays.

Short of it: The cover for this one is a bit deceiving, but hands down it’s a perfect boy book. Full of action, blood, and a lot more I really enjoyed this fast paced book.

Plot: Oh man, talk about going from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds. I have this habit of not knowing what a book is about before going in/guessing the plot from the cover and Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick was not at all what I was expecting. I thought it maybe some chick-lit adventure book, but oh was I ever wrong. Adventure, yes. Chick-lit, oh heck no.

Perry’s prom night will surely be one he’ll never forget. Let’s skip the fact that he didn’t even want to go in the first place, but instead of dancing under twinkling lights he’s becomes an accomplice on a killing spree. Sure, these men may not be “good” guys, but Perry is hardly thrilled to be helping out. Not only does he have to get a handle on the whole murder thing, but he also has to figure out exactly who Gobi is and why she’s on this mission. Gore, action, drugs, under-cover rings…well this book has about everything. The plot truly sucked me in and kept me there until the very end.

The only thing that bothered me a little was the admission scene at the end. I know he was on the waiting list, but by May he should have known if he was in or not. His essay and everything else should have been submitted way before this event ever happened. He should not have been submitting (resubmitting?) anything this late in the game. He should have been choosing classes, dorms, and orientations. I know it may be a small detail, but one I thought was worth mentioning nonetheless.

Character: For the most part, Perry is your typical high school senior. It’s a typical situation of following the path your parents set for you or the path you want. Perry’s father wants him to follow in his footsteps by going to a prestigious school and becoming a lawyer, even though Perry’s true passion is music. Of course, like most kids in his situation, they’ll do anything to make their parents happy even if it makes them miserable. Gobi, is all her insanity, slowly gets Perry to realize this as the night progresses. I applauded Perry as he finally got the nerve to stand up to her father and do what he wanted to for a change. Of course, after the night he had been through, disappointing his father probably seemed like a walk in the park.

Romance: There is quite a bit of tension between Gobi and Perry once she turns from zero to hot, assassin babe. Honestly, I’m not sure why, but this somehow worked for me. Who cares if Gobi is 24 or if she made him an accomplice in murder. Could I see it being anything long term? Oh, heck no. But a fling caused from a shared experience? I would almost bet on it.

Writing: Schreiber creates a fast paced and tightly woven story in under 200 pages. Within the first couple of chapters I was hooked and didn’t want to stop until I was finished. I liked the essay questions that each chapter started with, however, some of them didn’t quite fit and felt a little out of place. Still, it was a nice addition, especially how the book ends. And from what I can tell they were true college essay questions. Overall, I enjoyed Schreiber’s style and look forward to any other YA books he publishes.

Librarian-Mode: This is a great boy book and will work well for anyone who likes action books/films. I’ve been in a film/book match mindset lately (I blame Fab Films!) and the entire time I read this one thought it would be a perfect pairing for Boondock Saints. Book wise, I did agree with the Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist pairing. Yes, the plots are completely different, but I think that fast-paced, New York crazy adventure style gives them a similar feel that fans will enjoy.


Book Review: Deadly Cool

Book Review: Deadly CoolDeadly Cool by Gemma Halliday
Series: Deadly Cool #1
Release Date: October 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 320
Source: Library

Hartley Grace Featherstone is having a very bad day. First she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her with the president of the Herbert Hoover High School Chastity Club. Then he's pegged as the #1 suspect in a murder. And if that weren't enough, now he's depending on Hartley to clear his name. Seriously? Not cool.

But as much as Hartley wouldn't mind seeing him squirm, she knows he's innocent, and she's the only one who can help him. Along with her best friend, Sam, and the school's resident Bad Boy, Chase, Hartley starts investigating on her own. But as the dead bodies begin to pile up, the mystery deepens, the suspects multiply, and Hartley begins to fear that she may be the killer's next victim.

The Short of It: I had a lot of fun with this one. There is nothing groundbreaking about this novel, but it’s highly entertaining and perfect for Veronica Mars fans.

Plot: Deadly Cool is your typical who-dun-it plot-wise. The storyline is rather predictable, but I can’t remember the last time I read or watched a murder mystery where I wasn’t able to pick out the murderer before the reveal. However, the tone of the book is what sets it apart from other mysteries. It’s not dark or scary or even remotely creepy. In fact, it’s got a lot of humor in it. While it is predictable, it still has a few nice twists thrown in, especially towards the end and is overall quite enjoyable.

Characters: Hartley is what sold this book for me. She’s sassy, independent, and not afraid to follow her instincts. Hands down reminds me of Veronica Mars. Granted, she’s not quite kick-butt as VM yet, but I’ll be interested to see if that changes as the series continues. I love that Hartley wasn’t willing to go back to her ex, even when he tried over and over. Yes, she was tempted, but she stuck her ground and refused to “restart” things with him. She makes a lot of blunders along the way, but I see her detective skills only getting better as time goes by.

Romance: Honestly, there isn’t much romance in this one. She breaks up with Josh when he finds out he’s cheating. Yes, she’ll clear his name and still has some feelings for him, but she won’t be going back to him. I know we don’t see much of Josh, but overall he feels like a douche to me, so I’m glad he’s out of the picture.

There is a little tension with bad boy, Chase, but that’s basically where it stays. There is one hilarious scene in his bedroom and a little flirting, but it doesn’t go beyond that for these two. However, I can see that changing in the next book, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Writing: Deadly Cool is full of great lines. I kept reading certain parts aloud to my friends so they could experience the greatness as well. Don’t believe me? Check out the opening lines:

There are three things you never want to find in your boyfriend’s locker: a sweaty jockstrap, a D minus on last week’s history test, and an empty condom wrapper. Lucky me, I’d hit the trifecta.

And it only gets better from there. There were several times I laughed out loud because of something Hartley said or did. Halliday scores a home run with Hartley’s voice and I can’t wait until the next book comes out.

Librarian-Mode: Okay, admittedly I don’t read many mysteries; one of my weak spots in reader’s advisory. But I don’t know that this truly fits in with typical mysteries. I tend to think this one may play well with the Pretty Little Liars fans, though. It’s also a perfect recommendation for those who love Veronica Mars or Castle.

So, now it’s your turn…have you read Deadly Cool? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.

Book Review: Eight Keys

Book Review: Eight KeysEight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Release Date: August 2011
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
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 Spotlight: Skeleton Creek

Book Spotlight: Skeleton CreekSkeleton Creek by Patrick Carman
Release Date: Feb 2009
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Pages: 240
Source: Library

The first book in the breakthrough series from bestselling author Patrick Carman, featuring text and technology in an innovative new way. Strange things are happening in Skeleton Creek . . . and Ryan and Sarah are trying to get to the heart of it. But after an eerie accident leaves Ryan housebound and forbidden to see Sarah, their investigation takes two tracks: Ryan records everything in his journal, while Sarah uses her videocam to search things out. . .and then email the clips for Ryan to see. In a new, groundbreaking format, the story is broken into two parts -- Ryan's text in the book, and Sarah's videos on a special website, with links and passwords given throughout the book.

After 6 days of school visits with 800 teens this was hands down the favorite. As a non-traditional book I don’t think this book gets a lot of push among libraries, which is a shame. Carman has created a fun interactive book that is sure to get even the most reluctant readers excited. Part journal (Ryan) and part videos (Sarah) this book has that spooky element that my kids love.

I did show one of Sarah’s videos (password: theraven, jump about half way through) during the visits, which was truly sold the book. The room erupted in talk once it was finished and they begged me to show it again, especially the boys. It was fun to see the teens get so excited and walk out talking about it as they headed back to classes(even when it was the first book talked about). In fact, they were so excited about this book that both school librarians had to go and buy it afterwards for their library so the teens could check it out next year. (End of the year = school library closed) I’ve even been told that several have already come into the public library asking to check it out.

While Skeleton Creek was the top favorite, there were several other that stood out among the 20 different books I book talked. They were: Divergent, Blood Red Road, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets, Meanwhile, and True Meaning of Smekday. If anyone would like to know more about those books, just leave a comment and I’ll cover them on Thursday!