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review: “wish” March 22, 2010

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Wish by Alexandra Bullen.
Point // Hardcover // 336 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Olivia has just lost her best friend in the whole world — her twin sister, Violet. And now her parents have moved the family to San Francisco, and Olivia has no idea how she’s going to cope without her sister. But then Olivia stumbles across a magical dress shop and maker, one that will give her three wishes. And Olivia’s first wish is to bring her sister back to her…

This is a light read, with not a ton of substance to it. The storyline had a lot of potential, but I felt like it fell flat. I wanted to know more about the magic, and about Posey. And while I was interested in what happened to Olivia, it wasn’t my priority. I had trouble connecting to Olivia, and I had a lot of trouble with her accepting her sister being returned to her. If that were me, I’d be very freaked out if my sister’s ghost showed up.

That being said, the novel wasn’t a complete waste. I was very interested in the magic dresses. I really appreciated the feel of the setting and the accurate portrayal of San Francisco. I also really felt like this novel was a blend of realistic fiction and fairy tales sensibilities. It wasn’t a true fairy tale, and there was no classic retelling in this novel — but I did think that the treatment of the fairy tale elements (rules of three, etc.) were well executed.

A quick, light read — not really appropriate for younger teens, but I think the book will have trouble holding the attention of older teens. Will definitely work better with a hand-sell rather than just a cover blurb.

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Alexandra Bullen

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review: “devoured” November 10, 2009

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devoured

Devoured by Amanda Marrone.
Simon Pulse // Paperback // 304 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Megan is haunted by the ghost of her twin sister Remy who died in a car accident when the girls were little. While Megan has grown up, Remy remains a confused girl. Megan takes a job at the Land of Enchantment over the summer, trying to hold onto whatever kind of a normal life she can have. But when things at the Land of Enchantment start to go awry, Megan discovers that she’s not the only one who can see Remy. Add that to the vision of a dead girl that Remy keeps showing Megan and this summer will be anything but normal.

Okay, “Devoured” was a very surprising mix of mystery and supernatural romance. I wasn’t expecting the mystery, and it seriously wound up being my very favorite part of this book.

And let’s get one thing straight — this is not necessarily a straight-forward fairy tale re-telling, it is a fairy tale after the fairy tale. Confused? The book has elements from Snow White, but it’s more about what happens after the traditional story.

I really liked the relationship between Megan and Remy. I felt like it was a twist that I hadn’t seen before and it immediately engaged me in the plotline. Why is Remy showing Megan this? Etc.

And you all know that I’m thrilled whenever a YA author manages to sneak in a little bit of Broadway. Marrone wove the Broadway world into the book through Megan’s best friend Nicki (whom I loved).

Throw in a love triangle between Megan’s boyfriend Ryan and her co-worker Luke and you’ve got yourself a solid sell to teens.

(And the cover is simply gorgeous. I love the richness of all the covers.)

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Amanda Marrone

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review: “crazy beautiful” October 28, 2009

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crazybeautiful

Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted.
Houghton Mifflin // Hardcover // 208 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

After a chemical experiment gone horribly wrong, Lucius was left without his hands. Instead of getting prosthetic hands, he choose hooks…to set himself apart, to show everyone how different he was now. Aurora prepares to start fresh at school this year, after the death of her mother. Both teens struggle to find acceptance and happiness. But what if what they really need is simply each other?

[I’m assuming that everyone knows the ending to “Beauty and the Beast” and won’t be bothered by spoilers, but if you are, turn back now!]

In a modern re-telling of “Beauty and the Beast,” Baratz-Logsted creates both a sympathetic Beast and Beauty. Told in alternating chapters, readers are given a glimpse into both Lucius’s and Aurora’s individual reactions and points-of-view. This decision will only bring teens closer to the characters and their story and utilized as a strong device.

The biggest deviation from the traditional tale is obviously the lack of magic. That is so beyond fine with me. I love magic and fantasy, don’t get me wrong, but setting the story in real life makes it automatically more accessible for today’s teens.

The supporting characters are a nice addition. Our Gaston really annoyed me, but that’s completely in his character. But I really liked seeing the involvement of parents in YA! I know, it’s almost blasphemy to include parents in YA, but they exist.

I did a small problem with the book — that it wrapped up too quickly. I wanted to see more about the fall-out from their decision to be together. It wasn’t enough for me to just end the book on a happily ever after note. I cared about these characters and I wanted more. Someone should tell “Beauty and the Beast: The After Story.” Seriously.

Great solid buy for libraries. Definitely get it in stock before Alex Flinn’s “Beastly” makes it to screen and your teens are clamoring for more re-told fairy tales.

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Lauren Baratz-Logsted

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review: “dreaming anastasia” October 9, 2009

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dreaminganastasia

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble.
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky // Paperback // 320 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Anne’s normal life — filled with college choices, ballet classes, and family issues — is turned upside down when mysterious stranger Ethan walks into her life. Ethan’s world revolves around Anastasia Romanov, the mystery of her disappearance, and Anne. Anne would love to ignore Ethan’s requests and presence…if it weren’t for the detailed dreams that she’s been having. Dreams that she’s pretty sure are all about Anastasia.

I really enjoyed this book. Preble expertly blends several genres — historical fiction, folklore, supernatural, romance — into one book. I think that it was the blend of these genres that really made the book a stand out, for me.

The characters are full and my favorite was Anne’s best friend, Tess. She seriously was the best best friend I’ve seen in a long time in YA lit. (I get so frustrated with best friends that disappear the moment things get weird in supernatural YA books!) Not to mention that I was definitely falling head over heels for Ethan.

But my favorite part of the novel was the Russian fairy tale aspect. I took a life-changing class in college on Russian fairy tales and it has stuck with me better than any other college course. So, I know about Baba Yaga and the rule of three and the most common fairy tale heroine name (Vasilisa in case you’re wondering). I know Russian fairy tales. And this book is a great twist to the traditional Russian fairy tale.

Seeing as the book is set in Chicago, I have no choice but to comment on the sheer joy as seeing my town in a YA book. (I know, I know. A lot of books are set in Chicago. But it is still cool.) My teens will also be thrilled!

Absolutely recommended.

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Joy Preble

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review: “ice” October 6, 2009

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ice

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst.
Margaret K. McElderry // Hardcover // 320 pages.
Reviewed from Hardcover provided by the publisher.

Cassie’s always heard her grandmother tell the story of her mother and the Polar Bear King — how her mother made a deal with him and it backfired, leaving her swept away by the winds. And she’s always believed that it was a fairy tale, meant to warm the nights in Alaska. Until one day, Cassie sees a polar bear magically disappear before her eyes and the veil between her world and the fairy tale world melts away.

I have a confession to make. I actually liked this book more than the “Into the Wild” and “Out of the Wild,” Durst’s first two YA novels. And I didn’t think that I would. I wondered how Durst would be able to create a likable character out of Bear, and that there might be an awkwardness to Cassie and Bear’s relationship.

Cassie’s a smart, likable, capable heroine in the true style of Tamora Pierce’s heroines. (Throw-back to my youth, guys!) I never felt sorry for her because I knew she’d figure it out, that she would be able to change her own circumstances and rise up on top. So, the book didn’t hold as much tension or suspense as I thought it might. That’s okay. I liked being as ease with Cassie leading the way and taking my time with the book.

The re-telling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” is wonderfully re-imagined and seamless. The modernization of the world adds a new dimension to the fairy tale, one that today’s YA readers will easily relate to before falling into the fairy tales aspects.

Fairy tale re-tellings are becoming a popular trend in YA literature, and libraries should definitely add “Ice” to their booklists and shelves.

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Sarah Beth Durst

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review: “ash” September 1, 2009

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(Yay! “Ash” is now available wherever books are sold! Give my library another week to process it.)

ash

Ash by Malinda Lo.
Little, Brown // ARC // 272 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC received at ALA Annual Conference 2009.

A retold and re-imagined Cinderella story. Ash’s mother has past away and her father has remarried, leaving her alone with her step-mother and two step-sisters. During the day, Ash works hard, following the orders of her step-family. At night though, she dreams of fairies and the woods. Slowly, Ash begins to explore the woods around her home, meeting Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, and Sidhean, a mysterious stranger. But secrets from Ash’s past have yet to play out. And there is more to her story than meets the eye…

I read “Ash” in one fell swoop, eagerly turning the pages until I finished the book. The writing of this book was lyrical and the imagery was fantastic. I really got a sense of the location of the book; Ash’s mother’s grave site and the woods are the most memorable places for me.

But what truly shined were the characters and their accessibility. So often in fairy tales I feel like the characters are too perfect, that they don’t make mistakes and that they don’t rescue themselves. What this retelling has done is given us real characters that teens can relate to despite the historical setting. Teens will be able to see themselves in Ash, and to connect with her.

I loved how the elements of the traditional Cinderella story were changed, molded to the story. I didn’t feel like it was forced, it was all very natural and fluid. In particular, I liked the idea of an actual fairy serving as the fairy godmother.

The ending of the story leaves a good chunk to the imagination. There is a part of the story untold. I wasn’t bothered by this, but I know some of my teens will come up to the desk and ask me why that part wasn’t written. I’m betting, though, that the majority of them will just use their imaginations.

A wonderful debut novel — I look forward to whatever follows.

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Malinda Lo

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review: “beastly” June 26, 2009

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beastly

Beastly by Alex Flinn.
Harper Teen // Paperback // 336 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Kyle Kingsbury pissed off the wrong girl. Well, she’s not really a girl — Kendra is a witch. And she’s now turned him into a beast. Kyle only has two years to find the girl who will love him as he is. Without his friends or his family, Kyle begins to lose hope. That is, until he sees a girl in the mirror Kendra gave him. Can she be the girl to set him free?

I thought this book was clever, and a really good read. Of course, I knew the story of “Beauty and the Beast,” but I wasn’t concerned about the ending of the story. This book was all about getting through the journey and to the ending. Which is why I think some of my teens didn’t enjoy it as much as other teen book club books. A lot of my teens read for the story, and they already knew how this one was going to work out thanks to Disney.

I, on the other hand, love re-tellings of fairy tales. I’ve already read Flinn’s follow-up “A Kiss In Time,” and I have to say if you’re going to pick one to read, pick “Beastly.” The narrator, Kyle, got under my skin so quickly that I was ever feeling sorry for him before he had turned into the beast.

A very interesting part of the novel were the chat sequences between Kyle and other fairy tale characters. I loved this aspect and I know other readers were on the fence about it. It was a good hook for today’s text/chat heavy teens and I think it served as a good vehicle to move the story along. I could see Flinn writing the other characters’ stories one day, too.

And finally, no review of “Beastly” can skip mentioning the fact that the movie has just started casting. I had a hard time picturing Vanessa Hudgens as Linda Owens, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the movie will be done right. After all, Flinn has already reviewed the screenplay and given it the thumbs up.

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Alex Flinn

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