Ketchup Clouds

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon 0.5small3.5 out of 5 lemons

This story had a lot of promise. For me, it was a bit disappointing, like expecting exploding, sky-high fireworks and only getting hand-held Sparklers. Still bright, fun, and mild amusement, but not a showstopper with the gawking, clapping, and ohs-and-ahs.

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret that no one else knows, except for Stuart Harris, a death-row criminal in Texas, who has read her post. Zoe confesses her story of romance, betrayal, and murder to the man in America through written letters. Putting her story on paper allows Zoe to acknowledge and accept the haunting choices she has made that have changed everything she knows.

I might have been expecting more, since this book has been nominated and won many literary awards, such as:

  • Edgar Award for Best Young Adult (2014)
  • Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee (2014)
  • Leeds Book Award (2014)
  • Gouden Lijst for vertaald boek (2015)
  • Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (2013)

I listened to the audiobook version of this story, and I was impressed by the voice of Zoe. The voice actress truly captures the personality of the character, tone of the story, and conveys the events with spot-on inflection. I have no reservations in recommending the audiobook, as this book translates well into that format.

As for the story itself, I also expected more from the story, based on the premise that Zoe would be writing to a death-row inmate. I wanted interaction between the two characters. Instead, this story reads like a diary of a young girl who is conflicted with having a relationship with two brothers. I understand she relates to Stuart because of his criminal record, and revealing this to the audience allows readers to reflect on the seriousness of her crimes (until you realize that it’s not as bad as you think).

Aside from that disappointment, I loved the unique characters and most of the dialogue. Max is deeper than you think, Aaron is charming and creative, Zoe is childlike and endearing. I also enjoyed that we see more of Zoe’s family, more than the romance itself. Giving Zoe a struggling, realistic family made this book, and that is where the true conflict for this story lies. Zoe’s parents, the looming idea of divorce, family death, sibling bonds, and parenting are some of the factors that added dimension and appeal to the story. Sometimes being together is hard – life is hard – but somewhere, there is a silver lining to that ketchup cloud.

If you like this book, you may like: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

Other than that, I wanted to quickly plug AudioFile, presenting Sync, a program that gives away two complete audiobook downloads — a current Young Adult title paired thematically with a Classic or Required Summer Reading title — each week to listeners ages 13+ while SYNC is in session each summer.

Check out this site and which audiobooks you can download each week for free: http://www.audiobooksync.com/

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small lemon 0.5small out of 5 lemons

An angel fell in love with a devil.
Tragedy, war, and – O! Godstars – what a match they were.

Note: All books are reviewed in this blog post, so this is NOT spoiler-free.

Book 1: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

One of the reasons I fell in love from the beginning: the writing style. Taylor is beautifully enchanting as she wordsmiths. The author strings along syllables and letters with fervor that capture the power and emotion of a scene.

Sample quote: “Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”

As for the content of the scenes, the plot was slow-moving, predictable at times, but this was highly off-set by the unique type of characters and world-building, as I’ve never read a story about chimera. I slowly warmed to the relationship (not a fan of insta!love), so I’m curious to see how Karou and Akiva’s story turns out. Karou’s character was mysterious and interesting, and her backstory as Madrigal was surprising, captivating in its splendor of unknown worlds and romance, but horrifying in its resolution. A reader truly gets swept into the new fantasy setting and host of characters, like little Ziri and cruel Thiago. It’s because of the shocking ending that I moved onto the next book, and I felt like a lamb to the slaughter…

Book 2: Days of Blood and Starlight

Can we talk about depressing?

The author, Laini Taylor, did everything possible – every evil thing possible – to make Karou suffer in this story. Following the first book in the series (which was a mix of fun, disaster, action, and mystery), this book is a complete downer. Read with a box of tissues and don’t be afraid to stop and scream into a pillow. This was a frustrating and terribly sad read for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved this book! The next installment picks up where the first book left off (that terribly awesome cliffhanger). Your questions are answered. The author slowly brings the readers back into the world of humans, chimera, and angels. The intense battle continues as Karou is supporting the chimera and finding out where she belongs in this war. Akiva exists on the other side of the war and is tormented by the thought of lost love and lingering hope. While I wanted more interaction between the two, I was interested in seeing the kinship between Ziri and Karou unfold. This is one of the highlights, if you’re interested in character development.

Taylor is a brilliant story-teller with her poetic prose, beautiful imagery, and pained plot. I’m very excited to read the next installment, as I yearn for a conclusion that can ease Karou’s torment. At least she is given some hope. I’m holding on.

Sample quote: “Daughter of my heart,’ was the message Brimstone sent just for Karou. She wanted to cry again right here in the court, thinking of it. ‘Twice-daughter, my joy. Your dream is my dream, and your name is true. You are all of our hope.”

Book 3: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Taylor gave me a satisfying and electric conclusion to this amazing trilogy. While I wanted more Karou and Akiva together (as sexual tension was killing me as I read this), the plot came together in a brilliant way. Pieces of the mystery, resolution to character problems, and a beautiful set-up for another series created a satisfying ending for me. And of course, the ending was perfect. After the disasters from book two, I needed my heartache to be soothed and heartbreak to be repaired.

Sample quote: “It was a new idea for him, that happiness wasn’t a mystical place to be reached or won—some bright terrain beyond the boundary of misery, a paradise waiting for them to find it—but something to carry doggedly with you through everything, as humble and ordinary as your gear and supplies. Food, weapons, happiness.” 

While I think the book was brilliant, I did find some of the fantasy confusing. Terminology was thrown at me left-and-right-and-up-and-down – terms that were not evident in the first two books, and it took away from my experience a bit. New characters were added, which I liked, but I found it strange that they just suddenly appeared during the conclusion of the trilogy. Honestly, this book concludes the story of the first two books and sets-up for new adventures – adventures I would like to continue reading.

This story had it all for me – lovely narrative, compelling characters, intense romance and action, thrilling fantasy, touches of comedy, and a satisfying ending.

Recommended for older teens who enjoy fantasy, angels, chimera, dramatic plot, and love enchantment.

Amazing fanart on deviantart.com:

Noggin

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small lemon 0.5out of 5 lemons

Outstanding, witty, and sarcastic story – one to lose your head over!

Summary: Travis Coates should have died. Instead, he signed up for a chance to live again, by removing his head from his body, freezing his consciousness, and transplanting himself (via head) to another. He missed five years of his life, and wakes up as if it was only a quick nap. Things have changed, but he hasn’t. He’ll do what he must to earn back his friends, girlfriend, and previously normal life in his new body.

Travis makes this book! Whaley captures the character’s voice brilliantly, and it was a compelling choice to make Travis the first-person narrator, who can tell his own story. He’s charming, hilarious, and heart-breaking all at the same time, flawed in his decision-making and perfectly adolescent. (Though, let’s hope that not all teenage boys stalk and harass their ex-girlfriends. There is such a thing as limits.) This book is an easy read, due to how relatable this character is. I always wanted to know what happened next, and Travis never failed me.

Okay, he may have disappointed me a bit, but never failed me. Travis is human, he makes mistakes, he experiences denial, and eventually he learns the devastation of having to move on (#sorrynotsorry for the spoiler alert, kinda). He’s powerful and intense. There is a raw energy about this book, and you’d have to be inhuman not to connect. Strong character growth, funny dialogue, and an excellent supporting cast. The only issue I have is the slightly open ending. I wanted a bit more resolution, but it’s fine. I got what I wanted.

Recommended for older teenage boys. Someone once described this book to me as a “dude” book, and that is probably the best way to describe the book overall.

If you liked this book, you might try Fat Boy Vs the Cheerleaders.

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1)

Who ya gonna call?

The Ghostbusters are at it again!
No, really, imagine junior Ghostbusters and you’ve got a good idea of this book.

 Summary: For more than half a century, the world has been plagued by supernatural hauntings. Numerous ghost hunting companies and investigations are established to exterminate these hauntings. Lockwood & Co. is one of them. Young agent Lucy Carlyle joins a small, peculiar agency run by the unusual Anthony Lockwood. After failing one miserable case, the agency seeks redeem itself by spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive. This is the first book in the series.

This was my first Jonathan Stroud novel, and I was highly impressed by the reading. You may be familiar with Stroud’s The Bartimaeus Sequence. Stroud continues to focus on fantasy with his new novel, but in a different way: focusing on the spectres and ghost-hunting. Fans of paranormal investigations will love this intermediate read!

Stroud is brilliant at crafting horrifying and creepy scenes, where the reader is able to imagine the ghosts as if they were in the very room with you. I gasped, I curled in a fetal position, and I read this entire book in less than 24 hours. Immediately, Stroud pulls you in with his story-telling, three-dimensional characters, well-crafted plot, and mystery.

From the beginning, the reader is pulled smack-dab into the action, feeling part of the investigation itself. When the investigation goes sour, the story begins to tell itself from the beginning. The organization of the book is a bit strange. After the action, the reader starts at Lucy’s beginning and how she became involved with Lockwood & Co., which is interesting. The author made a good choice to begin with the igniting incident rather than focus on backstory. It certainly drew me in, so while it was strange, it worked well.

The action doesn’t stop after the first case. The readers follow Lockwood & Co. as they attempt to solve the supernatural mysteries of the hauntings. Things become stranger and stranger, and are certainly not as they should be. Stroud links all the lemonade-308970_640pieces of the puzzle together in one astounding conclusion. This story is a definite read for readers who enjoy a good thrill, chill, and scare!

I honestly have no qualms with the story-telling or content itself, so with that, I award this book a perfect lemonade: 5 out of 5 lemons!

The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1)

Score: lemon_1smalllemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4smallout of 5 lemons

A magical journey if Harry Potter was underground, adopted a sarcastic and pessimistic personality, and decided to fight against his destiny.

Callum Hu20578940nt is determined to fail. Growing up, Call has always been told by his father that magic is corrupt. In order to stay away from magic, he needs to fail The Iron Trial and avoid being admitted to the magical school Magisterium. Call is admitted to the school despite his best efforts to fail. While at Magisterium, Call learns more about himself, his magical abilities, and the secrets his father has been keeping from him.

The formula is there. Young boy with one male and one female companion, check. Mysterious magical school hidden away from the world, check. An evil villain hiding in the shadows, check. Even the plot follows a similar path: young boy who has faced death as an infant is transported to a magical school where he will develop his magical abilities with the assistance of element Masters in order to stop the evil Enemy. Throw in a unique world, sinister atmosphere, and a collaboration between two authors, and you’ve got the Magisterium series (a five book series).

While I see the formula and how much it’s like Harry Potter, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I read this in two sittings. I would have read it in one had I not fallen asleep in the wee hours of the morning. I was completely hooked. It was an enchanting read, and I wanted to know more about the characters and story. The plot twists surprised me, and I loved every minute of this, regardless of it possibly being a rip-off of another successful series.

Dreams

I’m here, I’m here. I disappeared, but only into books, games, and new ideas.

Books
As a reviewer for Nevada Young Reader Award (NYRA), I’m swamped with reading! There are several categories for the nominated titles, and I focus on the intermediate reads. I have about… 12 books to read by the March conference. Let’s see, that’s about 3 books a week to be on track. Yikes! I am hoping to finish all of them, but I won’t be able to supply full reviews on them through this venue. Check for me on goodreads for my updates, if you’re curious!

Games
I’m a nerd in more ways than one!

I’ve finished earning a platinum trophy on Atelier Ayesha for the PS3! If you’re a fan of synthesis, role-playing games (RPGs), fantasy, and a laidback plot, you’ll like! I found the game beautiful, but very slow. It lacked intensity with the storyline, but had a strong focus with character development. The character designs were cute, and I enjoyed watching the characters interact with the main alchemist character named Ayesha. In the story, Ayesha, who runs a humble apothecary, journeys to find her spirited away sister. With the help of a dynamic cast of characters, Ayesha discovers the truth, alchemy, and herself as she unravels natural mysteries around her.

I’ve also finished playing the new Life is Strange (Episode 1: Chrysalis) game on the PS4. The game is developed by Dontnod Entertainment, and published by Square Enix. You follow the character the young teenage photographer Max when she returns to her hometown and observes that so many things have chanced since she has been away for five years. Most of the mystery centers around a missing girl named Rachel and her best friend Chloe. In the beginning of the game, Max is caught in a vision of a swirling tornado near the town’s  lighthouse. She awakens from the vision and finds herself in class wondering what was real or not. After leaving class, Max witnesses the murder of student and discovers she is able to reverse time. Using this power to her advantage, she ultimately makes choices throughout the game that change events, outcomes, and the way the other characters respond. I love being in control of the character, but it can be stressful making these choices that change the game’s outcome. I like the rating at the end of the chapter and seeing how other people responded differently or similarly. Older teenagers and younger adults will love this game. Be aware: profanity, sexual themes, violence, and drugs.

The other game I’m playing and loving (after beating Tales of Graces f) is Tales of Symphonia. I know, I’m like 10 years late. I remember my brothers playing this game and seeing snippets of the game, knowing it was a good game, but never getting around to it. At that time, it was made for the Gamecube, which was my brother’s console. Because they released the first and second game as a set on the PS3, I now have opportunity. I’m only about 20 hours in, but so far, I’m enjoying. The plot isn’t too complicated, the characters on complex, and I love the skits which allow the player to get closer to the characters and discover more about the plot. This is another fantasy game full of depth and excitement!

New Ideas

I have a new project in the works! I’ve always dreamed of becoming a novelist. In fact, when I was 14 years old writing fanfiction, I dreamed of attending a small liberal arts college and majoring in Creative Writing. In high school, I was never able to take the Creative Writing course (it was for seniors, and by the time I became a senior, the class was cancelled and then renewed AFTER I graduated). Now, I have decided to pursue my goal of publishing a book in my lifetime, and I’ve come up with a fantastic idea. I won’t share too much here, but let’s just say – I feel like I’ve struck gold! Wish me luck on my progress.

Smoky Night

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small out of 5 lemons

Smoky Night challenges readers to think about themselves. In the story, a young African American boy, his cat Jasmine, and his mother watch the riots unfolding in the streets of Los Angeles, as the reckless public steal a TV, clothes, and even groceries from Mrs. Kim’s Korean grocery store. The boy and his mother go to sleep in their day clothes, when a fire ignites within their apartment building, and they are forced to flee to a shelter with their neighbors. Two missing cats help to mend the discord in people’s hearts.

“They probably didn’t know each other before,” says the young boy, about the two cats who were reunited after the fire.

Smoky Night is a thought-provoking, serious picture book with themes of racism, violence, tolerance, and acceptance. At first, the two cats do not like each other, but enduring a difficult situation together brings them closer, and gives them the opportunity to understand one another. Likewise, the community follows suit, starting with the boy’s mother and Mrs. Kim by extending and accepting an invitation to learn more about each other. This picture book has a beautiful message amiss the violence. Published in 1994, Smoky Night is a remarkable social commentary about its time.

The powerful illustrations are just as beautiful. The picture book mixes various mediums, such as acrylic paintings, hand-lettered techniques, and relevant, carefully composed real-life backgrounds arranged and photographed by David Diaz. The unique style shows that it is every bit deserving of its Caldecott medal through its use of texture, themes, and provoking story. My only criticism is that a young child (and even adults) may not be able to interpret some content in the photographed backgrounds due to its abstract nature.

Otherwise, I highly recommend this story, particularly for classroom lessons and discussion for children. This offers the chance and challenge for children to engage in their ideas about community, racism, cooperation, and differences. Parents may also want to share this story at home to help children navigate these subjects.