Thursday, October 24, 2013

Destiny by Andrea Buginsky

Elena Baxter just turned 16, and boy, was it a sweet one! She found out she's a direct descendant of the Lady of the Lake from the Arthurian legends, which, in her world, are actually true. As her new witch powers begin to unfold, she's granted the opportunity to travel to the magical land of Avalon, located off the northeast coast of England. Elena enrolls in New Avalon, a school for all of the young women who share powers similar to Elena's, and Elena decides to stay upon coming to terms with the fact that in just three years she will be the next Lady of the Lake, the ruler of Avalon.

Andrea Buginsky has crafted the world of Avalon to be every girl's fairy tale dreamland - sprites, unicorns, wonderful people, and other enchanted creatures. With a Hogwarts-esque feel and wonderful imagery, the reader gets a vivid image of Avalon. Elena is surrounded by new friends and her godmother, Isabel, who is the current Lady of the Lake (the Lady gets replaced every 125 years), which gives the book a very homey, warm feel. While the book has a fair amount of external character development, I would have liked to see Buginsky really delve into Elena's emotions, which were sparse besides the few moments when she realizes the consequences of becoming the Lady of the Lake and when she misses her home. Also, there is no overarching antagonistic force in the book. In the first few chapters Elena has difficulty with a few bullies at her school back home in America, but otherwise, that's it. The book comes to a conclusion with no real climax and no villain or villainous force foreseeable in the next installment of the series. Elena has everything set up for her perfectly to become the next Lady of the Lake with little or no difficulties approaching besides a few unnamed resentful girls who feel that Isabel is playing the nepotism game. Otherwise, she's got it all together with the full support of her professors, friends, family, and fellow students. There is nothing and no one to truly oppose her, which leads to a fairly flat ending to the book. Hopefully we'll see a villain emerge in the next book in the New Avalon series!

The book is very clean, no large thematic elements, and has only 2 uses of mildly profane languages. I'd say ages 11 and up could read this book based on its content.

Enjoy, and happy readings!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Majestica; First Glimpse by Rebecca Mize

Lace and Jace fall for each other as Lace is about to fall off a cliff - literally. Their romance avalanches from there, and before long they deem each other soulmates. But a hidden world and an long-harbored desire for vengeance threaten to interfere with these teens' plans for happily ever after. Add in a few judgmental friends, a one-track-mind obsessive guy, and a mixed martial arts (or similar) twist, and you've got your first glimpse at Majestica;First Glimpse.

Mize definitely has potential for a compelling story in the next two installments of the trilogy, with the main conflict ultimately left unresolved and the thought of being apart looming over Jace's and Lace's heads. While the idea of finding one's soulmate is exciting and heartwarming, Lace constantly seemed unable to think about anything besides her boyfriend in an almost Twilight-esque manner (the story is told in first person). The redundancy of Lace's thoughts throughout the book about how much she loved Jace and how much she needed him, etc., took away from the plot of the book. In the words of my mother, "You don't need a boy to define you," but it seemed like Lace did. And when Jace was gone for a good third of the book, Lace was miserable to the point of pathetic - she drew back further from her closest friend (the others had left her), was antisocial and introverted, and she put her life on a full standstill waiting for Jace to return. Life is not meant to be lived that way. I understand she was worried about her boyfriend, but that shouldn't stop her from living, though it seemed to.

Some characters and subplots were also very reminiscent of Twilight (take that as you will - I enjoyed the books, but the movies were definitely lacking); Jace's pack of friends (one of whom is the leader he must obey), friends who ditch Lace or are ditched by Lace when she starts dating Jace, and a few others. This is not to say Mize did a poor job; a wider gap between the two tales would have been appreciated. 

While I very much respect Mize's writings on premarital sex (waiting for the right person, when the time is right, etc.), the teens' actions after 3 attempted sexual assaults - one very nearly not stopped in time - were disheartening and hopefully unrealistic. Instead of alerting the proper authorities or adults, they did nothing and let the boy who tried to rape Lace walk away. Granted, he got a few nice bruises from Jace, but I believe it would have sent out a much stronger message to adolescents that in those types of situations authorities or trusted adults need to be alerted to the issue immediately. Sexual assault is nothing to take lightly, and there are viable options that should be investigated before simply dismissing the ordeal. Lace's emotions played little or no mentioned factor in her decision to keep the situation among her friends and Jace, and the idea of telling her parents or anyone else was not even entertained.

Many props to Rebecca Mize for publishing, and I hope the rest of the Majestica trilogy brings verisimilitude, further character development, and better choices made by the characters. I would like to see Mize address the main conflict again and perhaps allow the reader to better comprehend the world of Majestica, as we never get to see it (or read about it) for ourselves as Lace is unable to travel there. (I won't give away any more of the plot, though!) 

The book contained little or no profanity, while it did had strong thematic elements, including a fairly graphic attempted rape scene (and two other attempted assaults), and some discussion of premarital sex. I'd say the book is suitable for teens 14 and older.

Enjoy, and happy readings!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is the gripping tale of two friends who work for the Allied forces during World War II. The first is Julie (aka Queenie in the first part of the book) and the second is Maddie, a pilot. After a flight gone wrong, Julie and Maddie are separated, and Julie is soon caught by the German Gestapo in the fictional town of Ormaie, France. After being tortured, Julie finally agrees to write down the story of how she came to be arrested and reveal all of the secrets she has been keeping for the Allies. Her story is the first part of the novel. It begins with Maddie and how she first came to be involved with the Allied forces and follows with how they met, their developing frienship, and the fateful night that tore them apart. The second part of the book is titled "Kittyhawk" and follows what happens after Julie concludes her tale. At the great risk of giving far too much away in this fantastic book (including spoiling important plot points), I will conclude my summary there. What I will tell you is this: the books is filled with the plot twists you can only hope for, the courage that you only dream of possessing, and the friendship that is found only in the truest of friends.

While Code Name Verity was enthralling, various parts were confusing, especially with the variety of acronyms and jargon pertaining to the girls' jobs. Some of the plot was also blurry along with a bit of the girls' timelines. However, once you get past that, the book is fantastic. Though I only picked it up from my library on a whim and had a bit of difficulty getting into it, it was well worth it. The writing style is fabulous; Julie's voice is both humorous and eerily spot-on with regards to so many different things from cultural aspects to her fears and then some. And, even if the plot was confusing at times, the sheer writing was enough to make me continue reading.

This book is for ages 15 and up; thematic materials are intense and prominent throughout the book from talk of torture (one or two graphic descriptions, but not until the latter end of the book) to dealing with unwanted advances from men (no sexual abuse is present though), and the book is riddled with curses.

A phenomenal novel that will leave your mind spinning, Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity is a superbly written tale on the will to live, the strength to persevere, and the love between friends that you will never forget.

Happy readings!

The Paper Bag Christmas by Kevin Alan Milne

So ever since I read The Final Note, I've been on a Kevin Alan Milne kick. The Paper Bag Christmas, Milne's first novel, was just as heartrending as The Final Note, if not more so. (Okay, it was definitely more poignantly touching and tear-jerking.) It's Christmastime, and Molar "Mo" Alan and his brother Aaron are recruited by quite a nontraditional Santa to spend time in the children's oncology ward of the local hospital in the weeks leading up to Christmas. They've been promised by Dr. Christopher K. Ringle - the nontraditional Santa whose lap Mo sat on at the mall - to receive "everything they've never wanted" for Christmas this year. Charged with making friends and collecting Christmas lists from the sick children, Mo and Aaron quickly take to their new role. There's only one problem: Mo can't seem to get through to Katrina, a hardened young girl who wears a paper bag on her head because she feels too ugly to show the world her face.

When it's time to start rehearsing for the Christmas pageant, Katrina refuses to even participate. Mo challenges her to a gurney race (really just a dangerous game of chicken), and the lengths he goes through to ensure victory leave Katrina stunned. She reluctantly agrees to be in the pageant, but still won't give Mo the Christmas list Dr. Ringle asked him to collect. Christmas draws nearer, and the night of the pageant is like no other... Mo's first Paper Bag Christmas is one he will never forget, and neither will the reader.

I literally could not put this book down. It's a short, fast-paced read (only took me about an hour and twenty minutes), but the message Milne delivers will last a lifetime. There are few books that touch me so deeply that I actually cry, but The Paper Bag Christmas left me sobbing, even long after I finished reading it! It is one of the most beautiful, most heartfelt, and most touching books I have ever (and probably will ever) read. Strong emotional and thematic elements are the basis of this fantastic novel, and it is not for the faint of heart. While the books was predictable in a very bittersweet way, it was not disappointing in the least. Vivid descriptions, beautiful themes, and an overall sense of love flow through this book. To put it simply, Milne is a literary genius.

I would recommend this book for teens seventeen and older - the overall concept of the book is hard to deal with and just has a general plot that I wouldn't want to burden younger children with. However, Mo was only 9 when he had his first Paper Bag Christmas, but what he dealt with, while life-changing, is not something for younger teens to read about just yet.

To read more about childhood cancer, please visit St. Jude's and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are two state of the art hospitals that make leaps and bounds with children. You can visit their websites at

Happy readings...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Magician's Doll by M.L. Roble

M.L. Roble's debut novel follows the tale of Natalie, a twelve-year-old girl who is just discovering that she is more than what she seems. She quickly comes into supernatural powers of her own while coming to the realization that her world is far more than it seems. From her mother's psychic business to her friend Phillip and his ability to travel through maps and to a very special doll who may be more human than she appears, Natalie is in a for a whirlwind of a ride! The book is reminiscent of a blend of Charlie Bone meets Pinocchio meets Harry Potter's Order of the Phoenix with just a drop of The Inheritance Sage/Eragon.

Natalie, Phillip, and their mothers attend a circus where they meet The Great Beausoleil and his magical doll, Louisa. But each is more than meets the eye, and Natalie's and Phillip's endowments spark and burn with the presence of Beausoleil and Louisa. As Natalie is struggling to come to terms with her gifts, a dark force is struggling to find her and her friends and family. After Beausoleil is captured, Natalie is forced to confront what she has been dreading most: herself and her powers. She is thrown into a realm of power, enchantment, unseen forces, and long kept secrets...even some about her and Phillip's absent fathers. And when Phillips is captured by the dark forces, how much will Natalie risk to try to get him back?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013