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/

Monster High: Hopes and Screams: An Original Graphic Novel

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small out of 5 lemons

Starting as a paranormal-inspired fashion doll franchise,Monster High has exploded into a collection of goods from toys, animated online shorts, films and television shows, video games, books, and now–an original graphic novel. Fans of the series will enjoy this full-colored spin on the unique monster dolls as they are brought to life via comic in a spooktacular telling. This graphic novel stars several characters from the series, such as Frankie Stein, Clawdeen Wolf, Draculaura, Cleo de Nile, Deuce Gorgon, Lagoona Blue, Abbey Bominable, and Ghoulia.

Full of original, goofy puns, chapters of the graphic novel focus on a specific characters. Within these chapters, the stylish characters navigate through Monster High, proving that even though they are monsters, they can still relate to the average teenager. Cleo has boyfriend troubles, Draculaura tries to manage everything at once, and Abbey tries to reconcile a friendship conflict. They value their friendships, help each other out, and reach for their hopes and screams.

With complete exaggeration to the teenage figure, these dolls convey a scary message. If these monsters are more normal than they appear, are they to resemble the normal teenager with their big hair, eyes, and lips, caked make-up, and unhealthy tiny waist? Is this a standard to look up to? Is this some sort of subliminal message? These character designs can be chalked up as pure fantasy, but they may carry a larger impression on young readers. Don’t blame the artist – the doll was created that way!

I found this read to be enjoyable and recommended for younger readers, from preteens to early young adults. The composition of the full-colored pages is carefully constructed, and I enjoyed the “behind the scenes” pages at the end. Fans of the franchise will like this. However, it lacks any substance, and attempts to be trendy and fashionable than deep. The comic is basic with one-dimensional characters, predictable stories, and unnerving underlying messages. Three of five lemons.

John Coltrane’s Giant Steps (Picture Book)

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small   out 5 lemons

612WNYgUnbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_This picture book may be lost on me.

Chris Raschka‘s lively illustrations bring John Coltrane’s unique jazz style to life using a box, a snowflake, some snowflakes, and a kitten. Each character represents a specific element of music, such as the tempo and melody. These elements animate music as a visual experience for children. As the musical sequence progresses, the characters change color to reflect the movement of music. What’s fun is that the conductor/narrator allows the cast of characters to stumble in the music and then calls for them to stop! The conductor gives each character some mild criticism and compliments, and they restart their energetic performance, ending with brilliance and a series of “bravos”.

I appreciate and enjoy the concept of representing music as a literary experience specifically targeting children. I also appreciate introducing children to famous jazz figures and music terminology. People may experience music in different ways. This captivating storytelling is certainly unique and expressed brightly with vivid alternating colors on the pages. It’s experimental and exciting to the eyes.
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Although, I’m not sure if I “got” it. Maybe those with more experienced musical backgrounds will understand, and perhaps children, but it may require instruction and explanation. This book could be utilized in a unit, as part of a series of activities for children. My copy of the book did not come with a CD to follow along with, but that may have helped understanding the musical sequence in the story. I did, however, listen to John Coltrane’s spirited and complex Giant Steps track on YouTube while reading the story, which allowed me to grasp the tone of the picture book.

Overall, I found the picture book charming with its colorful illustrations, but also confusing. To those who are musically and analytically inclined, they may enjoy this introduction to jazz and music expressed visually. It is clever in concept, but it might be confusing for younger children without any sort of explanation or guidance from more experienced readers. Recommended for primary readers.

Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls #1)

Score: lemon_1 lemon_2 lemon_3 out 5 lemons

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I’m slow to jump on The Wolves of Mercy Falls train, a supernatural young adult series. Although, it seems like the train was overtaken at times by bandits–I mean–ravenous fans and haters of Meyer’s Twilight saga. It has been shaken and rattled, but remains on its unclear course.

Now, I’ve read the first book of the Twilight saga (as that’s all I could manage), and Shiver moderately surpasses that train wreck of a story. Stiefvater’s storytelling is magical, and her characters were passable than the seemingly unattainable, perfect, and tragic vampires. Though, this story is not without its flaws.

Things I liked:

Beautiful, captivating writing: Stiefvater has a gift of blending whimsical imagery, horrifying sequences, and carefully crafted suspense. The tone is romantic, dangerous, and captures the mood of fading summer into the cold of winter. The author approaches the topic of werewolves differently, as the wolves shift form based on the temperature. These shifts vary depending on the wolf. The wolves communicate based on images rather than words. They are able to change humans into wolves with one bite, but they are also likely to kill them in this process.

Things I struggled with:

Characters: Grace is the mysterious heroine of the story. In the beginning of the story, she is very calm and patient with her friends. She obsesses over the wolves who attempted to kill her when she was a young girl, particularly her wolf, the wolf with piercing yellow eyes who saved her from the childhood attack. While she was bitten, she did not transform into a wolf, and this remains a mystery to the characters.

What is strange is how Grace’s character lacks stability. One moment, she is calm, awkward, and introspective. The next moment, when she meets her wolf in human form as Sam, she is flirting and seducing him. I just couldn’t believe it. At this point, while investing time with her wolf, Grace rarely spends time with her friends, who begin to become distant. Grace is consumed with her obsession, as her fantasy of being with her wolf is now a reality. All that stands in the way is Sam’s… condition and the crazy wolf stalker, Shelby.

Grace aside, Sam was the sensitive wolf with his own secrets. Though, his secrets and conflicts are not as interesting. He struggles with his adoptive fatherly figure’s actions, spends his time with Grace, and generally avoids attempting to find a solution to his condition. I much preferred Grace’s friends and Isabelle in the story, as they appeared to have at least a bit more depth.

Things I disliked:

Insta!love: It might as well be. Sure, it was six years between the attack on Grace and meeting Sam, but as soon as they meet (under chaotic circumstances both times), it is love. Stiefvater merely mentions the length of time between without narrating the events that occurred during that time. I flipped a page, and suddenly, six years has passed. The characters meet with no smooth relationship development. We jump right in! Wouldn’t they have something to talk about?

“Hey, remember that one time I tried to kill you with my pack?” No?

Instead, they both readily accept each other and begin kissing and sharing a bed together. Like, what? Please, give me a break.

Lack of direction: I wasn’t quite sure where this story was going. It seemed to drag and didn’t have a clear direction. There is not a solid plot, and the story seems to wander. Things just sort of happen without much cohesion. Stiefvater does a great job at writing the romance and intense suspense in some of the scenes, but in this story, it didn’t seem to come together well.

Overall, I’m giving the first installment 3 out of 5 lemons. It was entertaining and established my curiosity, but it did not meet my expectations. Mediocre.