Wednesday, July 30, 2008


by Sarah Zarr

Sweethearts is the story of Jennifer/Jenna a seventeen year old semi-popular girl who hates her birthday. On her ninth birthday, something happened at her best friend's house, and she has never really been able to move on. Jennifer (aka Fattifer) is a chubby misfit who only has the one friend. The next school year, her friend (Cameron) moves away and is presumed dead, so Jennifer transforms herself into Jenna who doesn't cry at school and has lots of friends. However, her world is thrown for a loop when Cameron shows up at her school on her 17th birthday, and Jenna must figure out who she really is and what happened to her friend so many years ago.

This story rotates between the memory of her ninth birthday and the present. I thought this format worked really well for the story, and I read more and more trying to figure out exactly what happened that fateful day. Jenna is an interesting character, especially her conflict in trying to figure out who she really is. I think everyone experiences this dilemma at some point growing up (though maybe not to the same extent), and the emotions felt real. Her use of food as a crutch also seemed really true to life. I enjoyed watching her try to determine who she was.

I was disappointed that Cameron's character wasn't developed as thoroughly. It kind of felt like we should just know that he was an amazing friend to someone who didn't have any. The examples of him being an amazing friend (the doll house and the ring) were sweet, but they didn't seem to be enough to have caused such a deep connection. I also thought it was interesting that he didn't seem to have many issues for a kid the grew up in such an abusive/transient household.

My biggest complaint about this book is kind of petty, but it really bothered me, and it took away from my reading enjoyment. The story takes place in Salt Lake City and the two main characters (Jenn and Cam) are not members of the LDS church. Several times in the book the author makes sure to mention that they aren't LDS and that's why they are outcasts. Like when Jennifer is explaining why she was picked on in school she says something along the lines of she was chubby, smelled funny, wasn't Mormon, things like that (I returned the book to the library, so I don't have an exact quote). And later, when Jenna is talking about the school she goes too she says something about how all the kids that go there don't quite fit in for various reasons: behavior issues, not being Mormon enough, etc. I just really felt that this was totally unnecessary, especially since there weren't any characters in the story who were LDS. The "bad guy" was Cam's father, who was not a Mormon. Why bring it up at all if there wasn't a purpose?

I should add that the references only happen a handful of times; it is definately not a theme for the story. I suspect that most people won't even pick up on it. I don't really know what else to say about it; for some reason it just really bothered me and took away from my enjoyment of the story because it was totally unnecessary.

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Most Favorite Books

So, I recently figured out that I have only reviewed one of my most favorite books for this site. Mostly that's because I only review books as I read them, and I read all the others listed before starting the blog. But, it does make sense to take the time to review the books at the very most top of my favorite list (I have lots and lots of favorites), so I will try to do that over the next little while.
In the mean time here's the list (in no particular order), including a link to the one that I have reviewed:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
Moo Baa La La La, by Sandra Boynton
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

What are some of your most favorite books? Ones that you can read over and over and love no matter what anyone else says?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Case of the Left Handed Lady

by Nancy Springer

Enola spelled backwards is alone, and that is exactly the situation that Enola finds herself in. She's had no contact from her mother and she is still on the run from her brothers (Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes) in order to not have to go to boarding school and become a "proper" lady. She uses a series of disguises to keep herself busy and allude capture. First there's the nightly visits as a sister of mercy - helping the poor and needy in London; then she's also been hired by Dr. Watson to find none other than herself; next she's also decided to try to find the missing teenage daughter of Sir Eustance Austair; finally, she's still constantly on the look out for any sign of her mother. When she discovers that her brother Sherlock is actually concerned for her welfare, she makes an effort to let him know that she's ok, but still has every desire to stay away. Will she be able to remain free from her brothers and solve her new case?

I read the first Enola Holmes mystery thinking that it was an early reader (maybe a step above Judy Moody, but below Gregor the Overlander), which it definately was not. The writing is superb and quite a bit more advanced than Gregor, though it should still be readable by the older elementary school crowd. However, I didn't particularly enjoy it. Since most people really liked Enola, and I am always up to a good mystery, I decided to give this one a chance. I'm really glad I did!

Enola is an interesting character who seems wise beyond her years. Possibly this is due to her odd upbringing and the fact that she's quite bright, but she really doesn't feel like a 14 year old when I read her. Other than that little aside, she really is interesting. Knowing that her brothers probably think she is dressed up as a boy, she chooses instead to remain "hidden" by dressing as various women and working right out in the open. She cleverly uses clothing required at the time (ie corsets) to her advantage and seems to have a gift in disguises.

I'm not sure how much I liked how Sherlock was portrayed in this book - I love the grouchy old Holmes with all of my heart. But, I do tend to think that even grouchy old men hold a soft spot somewhere, and if his soft spot is for his much younger sister than so be it. He plays such a minor roll that I try not to worry about it.

The mystery itself was pretty good as well. I'm not really sure I understood the significance of the left hand - or at least why Enola jumped on it so quickly when she realized that Miss Austair used her left hand to draw some pictures. However, the mystery felt real, and kept me guessing for a while (I did figure most of it out before Enola), which is the most important aspect for me in a good mystery.

Overally, I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and I think I will re-read the first. Maybe I was just so shocked by how much better the story was developed that I had imagined that I judge the book prematurely.

4 out of 5 stars

Oh, the first one is called: The Case of the Missing Marquess and you do not have to read it first, though it will help explain why Enola is on the run and what happened to her mother.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Someone Named Eva

by Joan M. Wolf

Just a few weeks after Milada's 11th birthday, the Nazi's snatch her family from their home. The women and (young) children are separated from the men and taken to a school where they are held for several days. Because of her Aryan features, at the end of the time in the school Milada and one other girl are taken from their families and put on a bus to Poland, where their Germanization will begin. At Milada's new school, she is treated well: plenty of food, clean clothes, her own bed, etc; but at the same time, she is forced to take on a new name (Eva), learn and speak exclusively German and accept the views of her new teachers. Eventually, Eva is adopted into a German family where she deals with trying to remember the Milada from Czechoslovakia and guilt regarding the fact that she has genuinely come to love her new German family.

I really liked this book. It's a fictionalized account of actual events, and I had a hard time putting it down. It focuses on an aspect of WWII that I knew nothing about, and I just ate it up. I actually spent several hours yesterday looking up more information about Germinazation, Lidice (the town Milada was born in), and various other things I learned about in the book. I love books that spark (or renew) an interest in something to the degree that I actually seek out more information about the subject.

Milada is a likable character and her struggles throughout the book felt real. Especially the the times when she is trying to figure out how she can hate the Nazis and everything about them while loving her new found family, who consisted of Nazis. The conflicts seemed so real, and I spent the whole book longing along with Milada to know what had happened to her family and friends.

Be sure to read the author's note in the back to learn in more detail what happened in the town of Lidice, Czechoslovakia on June 10, 1942 and survivors the author interviewed while writing this book. It's both horrifying and fascinating at the same time.

The entire time I read this book I kept thinking of Number the Stars, by Lois Lowery. I'm not sure why: they are completely different books (other than the whole WWII thing). Possibly because they are written for about the same age group? Or because they focus on a different part of the war than I'm used to reading/hearing about. But, if you haven't read Number the Stars, it's another great WWII book that I highly recommend.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 17, 2008

And the winner is...

Miss Erin!

Thanks everyone who entered, I wish you all could have won!

Erin, if you would please send me an email [krossgen (at) yahoo (dot) com] with the address you'd like me to send the book to, I will get it out to you soon!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fairy Tale Re-tellings

When I was younger (like through high school), I read mysteries. Almost exclusively. I can probably count on my fingers how many books that weren't mysteries that I read for pleasure during that time (it drove my mother crazy). In college, I got on a classics kick, and read through quite a few boring books that I will probably never re-read. When I got married, I started in on fantasy books because that is what my husband likes.

Today (not actually all that much later), I read a variety of those three categories, but I've found a new genre that really appeals to me. One that I don't really have a name for, but can best be explained as fairy tale re-tellings.
*Pictured: East by Edith Pattou; Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine; Beast by Donna Jo Napoli; The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale; and Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Where an author takes an existing fairy tale and modernizes it. Since the re-tellings (at least the ones I've read) are novel-length, they also tend to give a lot more background information explaining why so and so is in this predicament to begin with. I love these stories. I don't necessarily love every one that I've read, but on the whole I love them. There is something about revisiting fairy tales from my youth (and learning about new ones!) that I really enjoy.

In the past week I've read two fairy tale re-tellings:

Princess Ben, by Catherine Murdock

I'm not sure this one actually qualifies as a re-telling because I don't think it uses any one fairy tale as a start off point, but there are lots of elements that remind you of fairy tales (sleeping princess that "can only be awakened by true loves kiss"; evil mother figure, etc).

I really enjoyed this story of Princess Benevolence growing up and becoming the princess she was destined to be. I especially loved her voice. She is quite funny and it's easy to root for her. Her forays into the wizards tower were always fun, and I loved the attitude the wizard's tower always gives her. Ben didn't get to do whatever she wanted; she had to fulfill the desires of the tower first. I did think it got a little annoying that she kept mentioning that she wasn't skinny. I realize it was probably to emphasize that what's inside counts more than what's outside, but I caught it the first half-dozen times. I didn't need to keep reading about it!

4 out of 5 stars

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Stirwaters Mill is cursed. Or maybe not, but the people that own/run the mill sure have a lot of bad luck. Like the fact that no Miller son has survived into adulthood. When Charlotte Miller's father dies, she is left with the responsibility to run the mill. Unfortunately, there is problem after problem and Charlotte nearly looses the mill due to debt. One day, a man identifying himself as Jack Spinner arrives offering to change a roomful of straw into gold. For this favor he only asks for Charlotte's mother's ring, which Charlotte reluctantly gives. Spinner helps out the Miller girls two more times, but payment his last assistance is more than the bargained for. Will Charlotte be able to break the curse in time?

I actually really enjoyed the story. A lot. There is a lot of back story to the Rumpelstiltskin character, which really added to the original story. However, I did not like Charlotte. At first her independence and strength really appealed to me. She even kind of reminded me of me - I stress about money like no one's business. But, as time continued it just got to be too much. How could you marry someone and not trust them with your secret? Maybe it's just me, but I tell my husband everything and I would be devastated if he just up and left one day because he couldn't stand my secret keeping anymore. I understand that she didn't want people to think that she had married him for his money, but it seems like he could have helped her come up with a solution to her many problems. Even if he was just there to support her decisions. It was so frustrating!

Oh, and I really like the cover for this one. There is something very appealing about how simple it is.

3.5 out of 5 stars

If you are interested, the Provo City Library has a book list called Fractured Fairy Tales, that lists all sorts of fairy tale re-tellings. I've only read a few from the list, but most of them sound interesting.

**And don't forget to enter my contest to win a copy of the Water Keep ARC by J. Scott Savage!!**

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Win Water Keep by J Scott Savage!

Now that you've had the chance to read my review of Water Keep, and my interview with it's author, J. Scott Savage, it's time to give you a chance to win a signed copy of the ARC (advanced reader's copy)!

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and think that most of you will too.

Since this is my first contest, I'm going to keep it simple. All you have to do is comment on this post and you will be entered. If you don't have a blog, please be sure to leave me some way to contact you.

The contest will stay open until July 16 at midnight, and I will announce the winner sometime on the morning of Thursday, July 17.

Interview with J. Scott Savage

Below is my interview with J. Scott Savage, who wrote the soon to be published book Water Keep.

Since this is an author interview, I thought it would be a good idea to meet at my favorite book place ever. The Provo City Library. We can't eat in here (it is a library), but being surrounded by all the books and beautiful architecture is worth it. Let's head to the Children's Section where they have some large bean bag pillows and we might be able to get away with chatting.

KT: I know that authors are always asked "how did you get your idea?", and this question is kind of along those same lines so bare with me. Was your original Far World idea simply a small idea that you played with until it became a book sized idea? Or was it more along the lines of JK Rowling who had the entire story (more or less all 7 books) fall right into her head?

J. Scott Savage: I would have to say it was more of the former. It was really more of an idea that I never expected to grow into anything more than that. But once I realized I was going to write it into a book, all kinds of questions arose. That's when it became a full fledged series in my head. I can't give away a lot of the questions, but suffice it to say, I think that what happens in
the series as a whole has never been done before. I'm excited to see how it comes out.

KT: Let's talk a bit more about Far World. As this is the first of five books, when can we expect to see the next book? Doesn't it seem a bit premature asking that since technically the first hasn't even been released? Oh, how difficult it is to be a fan of a series from the beginning :)

JSS: Yeah. Lots easier to discover a series when all the books are out. But on the other hand, if they come out regularly (i.e. once a year) there is such a thrill waiting the last few days until the book is finally on the shelves. Our family read all the HP books together and we would say to each other, "Only six more days." Then we'd get all excited. I can't imagine how cool it would be to have stores doing release parties for my books. I would so totally be out in force for that. It looks like I will come out September of every year.

KT: You're right that the anticipation of waiting for a new book can be really fun (it can also be painful!). It's good to know your new books will be coming out on a regular basis! I really enjoyed the two main characters. Were Kyja and Marcus always destined to be friends?

JSS: This isn't a Luke and Leia kind of thing where they find out they are really bro and sis. But yeah, I think there is a pretty strong bond there. Maybe more than we know.

KT: Are Kyja or Marcus inspired by anyone you know?

JSS: You mean other than my kids, Marcus and Kyja? Ha, ha. That would be weird, huh? No. They are not inspired by any one person per se. But they are definitely parts of people I know. As an author, I think it is a big mistake to pattern a character too closely after one person. It tends to take away some of the creativity.

KT: For a variety of reasons, I read most genres in YA. As a YA author, what do you read?

JSS: I read like sheep graze. A little from column A, a little from column B. Until you've tried everything. But I try not to chew on the covers. That's frowned upon in polite society.

I do tend to read a lot of YA and fantasy, especially now that I'm writing in the genre. But I'll also go on a mystery binge, or suddenly read lots of horror.

KT: Who are some of your current favorite authors?

JSS: I love how Neil Gaiman can turn the whole world topsy turvy. I think that Stephen King is one of the best story tellers of all time and that Peter Straub is a master at the art of writing. Jonathon Stroud is incredible. JK Rowling can get a little longwinded at times, but does anyone create more believable characters. You even care about the minor ones. I recently read "A Painted House" by John Grisham. Not his usual fare, but the scenes he created were incredible in their vividness.

KT: How about when you were a kid?

JSS: How about? Oh you mean the author thing, huh? Again, I read everything I could get my hands on. I don't remember there being as much specifically written for kids back then. I loved "A Wrinkle in Time" and "The Outsiders." I totally ate up Tolkien. I also discovered Stephen R. Donaldson and was amazed by how powerful his worlds were.

KT: Sorry, I'll try to be more clear with my English teacher would probably die if she read that question. How have these authors inspired/affected your writing?

JSS: Only the part where I named my half-giant Hagrid. Just kidding. Yes, I definitely have been influenced by the authors I read. I strongly believe you can not be a good writer without also reading a lot.

KT: Are their any people in your life that influenced your desire to write?

JSS: Tons. I think I had a whole chapter of acknowledgments in Water Keep. I especially thank my High School creative writing teacher for taking a kid who wasn't that into school itself, and instilling a love for writing.

KT: Your acknowledgments section was hilarious. Those corduroy bell bottoms must have been classic. I smile just trying to picture it. Ah. To more serious things. What is your favorite thing about being a writer?

JSS: I love, love, love, telling stories. I always have. If I could be paid to sit around a campfire and tell stories all night I would do it in a heart beat--especially if it came with free S'Mores. So for me, the best thing about writing is telling my stories to a bigger audience. I envision camp
fires all around the world. Weird huh?

KT: A paying full time job with unlimited S'Mores would be awesome. How about least favorite?

JSS: Trying to fit the writing in with the rest of life. I'm really hoping I can make writing a full time gig in the next twelve months or so.

KT: Going full-time would be great. Good luck!

Well, we're starting to get the evil eye from the librarian. Maybe we should try to wrap it up. One last burning question before we finish:

JSS: Ohh, she's just peeved that I popped one of her bean bags. They should make them bigger. Okay, fire away.

KT: Is it soda or pop?

JSS: If I were a true Utah native it would be pop. But as a native Californian it's soda.

KT: Good to know. Thanks so much for the interview! I really enjoyed your book and I enjoy reading your blog. Good luck with the rest of your tour!

JSS: Thank you. Now let's go check out a bunch of books huh?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Water Keep

Far World Book 1

by J. Scott Savage

Marcus and Kyja have been outcasts their entire lives. The left side of Marcus' body was badly injured in some sort of accident long before he can remember, and he never even knew his parents. He's been moved from foster home to foster home, and eventually to different boarding schools. Even with everything going against him, Marcus has a generally positive view of life, and often finds himself dreaming of Far World - a place where he belongs because he created it.

Kyja lives in a world full of magic and where everyone can perform magic. Except her. Even after years of "training" with a great wizard, she can't do even the smallest bit of magic. As a result she is constantly teased, and some mothers even prevent their children from playing with her in case she rubs off on them. Despite all that, Kyja is a sweet girl who is willing do just about anything to help someone in need, including sacrificing herself.

When a series of events catapults these two together, they become quick friends because they complement each other so well. When they find out they need to get the four groups of elementals (water, fire, land and air) to work together - a feat that has never been accomplished - they set out on a journey every thinks is doomed to fail. Chased by various evil villains, and bouncing between Earth and Far World, will Kyja and Marcus be able to make it to the Water Elementals in time? And even if they do make it, will the Elementals even bother to help?

This is the first in a five book series, and it was a pretty good start. For the most part the book is quick paced and enjoyable. I thought both main characters were fairly well developed. - I especially liked Kyja. She easily could have come off as a "goody two-shoes", but she didn't. Her initial jealousy of Marcus really helped prevent it, but in general, her love of people was sweet and felt natural/real.

There is also a good set of supporting characters. The wizard, Master Therapass, was a nice, funny and caring teacher, who left Kyja and Marcus alone enough that they had to find their own strengths. And the Skyte, Riff Raff (whose name I love), was hilarious. The villains, particularly the Bonesplinter, are fascinating. It appears there is a lot more to Bonesplinter than just being the bad guy, and I am excited to learn more about him.

And, don't you just love the cover of this book? It's one of my favorite book covers - possibly ever. There is something about it that makes me want to know who/what these people are. My little brother, who is not a big reader, was really impressed and actually asked about the book based on the cover.

4 out of 5 stars

**And stay tuned. Later this week, I'll have an interview with J. Scott Savage and an opportunity for you to win a copy of the Water Keep ARC! **

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Me, the Missing, and the Dead

by Jenny Valentine

Lucas was only 11 when his dad disappeared; he's 16 now and still trying to figure out what happened. He explains that "'s the not knowing that's hard" (p9). One day, while being too lazy to walk home, Lucas enters a cab office and discovers the urn of one Violet Park that has been there for about 5 years. Lucas feels like Violet is communicating with him, and he decides to rescue Violet from the cab office. After rescuing her, he decides to try and find out more about her and in the process learns a lot about his dad.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. I liked Lucas' voice, and I felt bad listening to his struggles of coming to terms with his father's abandonment. Especially since his mom didn't do much to help him - I couldn't believe how often she would say that marrying her husband and having his children was such a big mistake. In front of her kids! No wonder the kids all had issues.

I also really liked Lucas' grandparents Norman and Pansy and Lucas' dad's old friend Bob who helps Lucas learn some important things about his dad.

At the same time Lucas' character actually bothered me. And, the story itself didn't really sit well with me. There's nothing wrong with it really, it just isn't my kind of story.

I'm going to say:

3 out of 5 stars

mostly because I read it in about one sitting and any book that can keep my interest like that has to be deemed at least "ok."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Looking for Some Recommendations

My little sister moved in with us this month. It's a good thing (I think!). She's 18 and not much of a reader. But, she is in a new place without friends or a job so she needs something to do and is looking for a recommendation.

She really enjoyed the Uglies trilogy (including Extras), so I recommended The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which she read and also really enjoyed. Now she's looking for another book, and I am not quite sure what to recommend. The only other books that she really likes are what my other sister refers to as depressing. For example, she loved The Burn Journals, by Brent Runyon, which is about a boy that attempts suicide by dousing himself in gasoline. She's also read several books about young adults who are addicted to drugs (most of them die); someone who gets raped, contracts HIV, and dies; you probably get the idea. She would tell you that she doesn't like Sci-Fi (though she did like the two mentioned above, so maybe some softer sci-fi would be ok), and she doesn't really like fantasy (including Harry P), mysteries, or adventures stories, and those are primarily what I read.

So, I am turning to the blogging community in hopes of finding some suggestions. Anyone?


June Book List

Young Adult
Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull
The Wizard Heir, by Cinda Williams Chima *
The Battle of the Labyrinth, by Rick Riordan
The Time Thief, by Linda Buckley-Archer
Water Keep, by J. Scott Savage
Evil Genius, by Catherine Jinks
The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E. Pearson *
Day of the Djnn Warriors, by PB Kerr
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminister Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt

Touchstone, by Laurie R. King

* = a favorite

So, the goal this month was to review every book that I read. I almost made it - Water Keep actually has a review written, but I'm going to wait a few days to publish it. That leaves Day of the Djinn Warriors and Lizzie Bright unwritten. I finished both of those within the last two days, and I just couldn't get a review written in time. I actually finished Lizzie Bright at about midnight last night, so maybe it should be on the July list :) I might try to get those written up in the next few days though. We'll see how it goes.