Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: IF YOU'RE READING THIS, IT'S TOO LATE by Pseudonymous Bosch




















Title: If You're Reading This, It's Too Late
Author: Pseudonymous Bosch
Pub info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2008; 400 pp
Genre / Audience: mystery & magic / ages 9+
Caveats for Younger Readers: none, but the length may seem daunting

Having read Book #1 of the Secrets series, I was happy to reacquaint myself with Cass and Max-Ernest for Book #2. And who can resist the latest character addition, Yo-Yoji?

Goodreads summary:
Beware! Dangerous secrets lie between the pages of this book.

OK, I warned you. But if you think I'll give anything away, or tell you that this is the sequel to my first literary endeavor, The Name of This Book is Secret, you're wrong.

I'm not going to remind you of how we last left our heroes, Cass and Max-Ernest, as they awaited initiation into the mysterious Terces Society, or the ongoing fight against the evil Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais. I certainly won't be telling you about how the kids stumble upon the Museum of Magic, where they finally meet the amazing Pietro!

Oh, blast! I've done it again. Well, at least I didn't tell you about the missing Sound Prism, the nefarious Lord Pharaoh, or the mysterious creature born in a bottle over 500 years ago, the key to the biggest secret of all.

I really can't help myself, now can I? Let's face it---if you're reading this, it's too late.

Status: finished 9/6/14

My impressions:
Take another look at the Goodreads summary. That's the voice of the author. If you don't mind an author being intrusive--sometimes a bit in your face--then you'll be fine. If this kind of thing gets on your nerves, however, it will wear thin throughout this book. As reviewers have noted, there's more than a nod to Lemony Snicket in these pages. (Also: Be advised that the introductory chapter is not indicative of how the writer tells the rest of the story. He really does fade into the background.)

Generally, the Bosch voice intrudes in the form of footnotes, which are easy to ignore. I find these asides funny, but towards the end of the book I was skimming them because I was much more interested in Cass, Max-Ernest, and their new friend, Yo-Yoji. This is a fun, fast-paced mystery with a bit of magic and alchemy thrown in, and a nicely turned dynamic on the three friends and the decidedly preadolescent feelings that crop up between them. This is a tighter, easier to navigate tale than The Name of This Book Is Secret, and you won't be totally lost if you've not read that one, either. This volume stands on its own and just may send you back to see how the story began.

About Pseudonymous:
As you may have guessed, Pseudo (as his friends call him) likes to keep things under wraps. His official bio reads: "Pseudonymous Bosch is the anonymous pseudonymous author of the Secret Series. Not much is known about him other than that he has a passionate love of chocolate and cheese and an equally passionate hatred of mayonnaise. Rumors of Boschian sightings are just as frequent and about as reliable as reports of alien abductions. If you ever meet anyone claiming to be Pseudonymous himself he is almost certainly an impostor. The real Pseudonymous is said currently to be hiding in a cave in a remote jungle (although there are contrary reports that he is somewhere in Greenland)." The best-selling, award-winning Secret Series is complete (a total of five books), and Pseudo's newest series, Bad Magic, debuts tomorrow, September 16!

Online:
Kids and adults who love mysterious websites will get a kick out of Bosch's The Name of This Website Is Secret, which gives you news and fun info on his books and appearances, as well as his very funny Pseudo Blog. I would have been all over this site as a kid. He also maintains a Facebook page and Twitter account, though he claims to be antisocial. A superfun video about the books and two persistent young reporters out to discover Bosch's true identity can be found here.



Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: October 6.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here

And be sure to visit Shannon Messenger's blog to see more fun links to great middle-grade reads and giveaways!

Friday, September 12, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 25

If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch (Little, Brown for Young Readers, 2008) is Book 2 in what you might call the Secret series (or at least, that's what Goodreads calls it). The first book, The Name of This Book Is Secret, was great fun, so I've picked up the sequel. It's sure to be full of mysteries, puzzles, and ominous warnings.
"Like Lemony Snicket with a little Monty Python." --LA Weekly

"Fans of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (HarperCollins) will enjoy this slightly more fleshed-out read." --School Library Journal
Read along, if you've the stomach for it.



That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: HOUSE OF SECRETS by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini




















Title: House of Secrets
Authors: Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini
Pub info: Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2013; 490 pp
Genre / Audience: fantasy adventure / middle grade, ages 10+
Caveats for Younger Readers: there's a fair bit of violence, especially stabbing, and some killing too; also, the plot gets pretty convoluted and may lose a young reader

I was pretty pumped to read a book written by the director of Harry Potter films #1 and #2. Should film directors write books? Well ...

Goodreads summary:
The Walker kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games . . . but everything changed when their father lost his job as a result of an inexplicable transgression. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by Denver Kristoff, a troubled writer with a penchant for the occult.

Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey into a mash-up world born of Kristoff’s dangerous imagination, to retrieve a dark book of untold power, uncover the Walker family’s secret history and save their parents . . . and maybe even the world.
Status: finished 9/2/14

My impressions:
The premise of this book intrigued me, and yes, I was seduced by J.K. Rowling's blurb (“a breakneck, jam-packed roller coaster of an adventure"). I won't say that JKR's assessment is wrong--it definitely is breakneck and jam-packed--but perhaps that's the problem. I wanted to fall in love with this book, and I was pretty happy with it for the first half or so. But then it got a bit crazy--unfocused, overwrought, everything tossed at the reader with almost no room to breathe. Giants, pirates, knights, witches--I felt like this story couldn't find its feet.

That said, a lot of kids will love all the fun and scary stuff that happens. Even though this is a long book, it's fast reading, thanks to the font size, scattered illustrations by Greg Call (which are wonderful), and short chapters. But it seemed to me the authors were trying to throw too much in the kettle, and that left little room to get to know the characters or even provide much justification for all the action. There was no real reason for any of these baddies to show up; they just do. Nothing seems to happen as a consequence of anyone's actions, with the exception of the mysterious book that the kids are repeatedly tempted to open. And the ending came a bit too easily for my taste as well.

One Goodreads reviewer said that the youngest sibling, Eleanor, was not realistically represented, and I agree with that criticism too. But again: Some readers will enjoy this wild ride, and it certainly keeps you interested. I suspect more kids than adults will love this.

About Chris and Ned:
Chris Columbus is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is known for such films as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Home Alone. House of Secrets is his first novel, but he and Ned have already released the second book in the series, called Battle of the Beasts (Balzer+Bray, 2014).

Ned Vizzini was the author of several young adult novels and essays, including It's Kind of a Funny Story (Disney-Hyperion, 2007) and Be More Chill (Disney-Hyperion, 2004). Collaborating with Chris on the second book of the House of Secrets series was his last project before his death in 2013.

Online:
You can watch the book trailer to House of Secrets here, and listen to the authors' perspectives on writing the book. Read the Top Ten Secrets Behind House of Secrets here, and take a sneak peek at the first chapter here.


Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: October 6.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.


To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here

And be sure to visit Shannon Messenger's blog to see more fun links to great middle-grade reads and giveaways!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 24

How could you possibly resist a book written by film director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) and Ned Vizzini? Especially one that J.K. Rowling calls "A breakneck roller coaster of an adventure"? J.K. Rowling, people! That, and the cool cover, are why I picked up House of Secrets (Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2013).
“A swift-paced…clever page-turner for any reader who has wanted to take part in literary adventures … This story is compelling, great fun, and sure to be popular.”  --ALA Booklist

"With a new adventure that seems to arrive with every chapter, the story unfolds quickly, thus keeping kids hooked and wanting to find out what will happen next.” --School Library Journal 
Let's see what the hype is all about, readers!

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Giveaway

You may have noticed that I crammed all my YA reading into the last week or so of the month. Because sometimes, that's how I roll. But I'm super excited about this month's giveaway because each of these three books are marvelous reads, and all have been critically acclaimed and landed on multiple "Best Of" lists. You can't go wrong with any of them--trust me. So take your pick and enter!

ELEANOR & PARK
by Rainbow Rowell
YA contemporary (OK, it's the 1980s) love story
Two misfits find love and loss in the 1980s

OUT OF THE EASY
by Ruta Sepetys
YA historical noir
One girl seeks to escape the sordid but lovable French Quarter

IF YOU FIND ME
by Emily Murdoch
YA contemporary
Fleeing a life of abuse, two sisters make their way in a brave new world















GIVEAWAY RULES:
1. U.S. entrants only, please.
2. Be sure to note the book you want to win AND WHY.
3. Giveaway prizes will be brand-new books delivered to you via Amazon.com. They will be paperback editions unless the book is still available only in hardcover (or choose a Kindle ebook edition of you wish).
4.  This giveaway ends 12:01 AM SEPTEMBER 9.
5. There's a new giveaway every month! CLICK HERE to receive a brief email every time a new giveaway is posted on the blog. 

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: IF YOU FIND ME by Emily Murdoch

Author: Emily Murdoch
Pub info: St. Martin's / Griffin, 2013; 256 pp
Genre / Audience: contemporary / YA
Caveats for Younger Readers: contains sexual abuse & harsh language

This book first grabbed my attention as the debut novel of a fellow Lucky 13 author. Somehow I missed reading it as an ARC, but when I saw it in the bookstore, I snapped it up. Universally well reviewed and shortlisted for all kinds of awards, it intrigued me.

Goodreads summary:
A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen-year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency--until one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes, and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go--a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.
Status: finished 8/27/14

My impressions:
First of all, let me say that I'm not typically drawn to issue books. If the book has a big hook, like "Comatose girl's family fights for the right to keep her alive," I tend to stay away. Why? Because these issues are tough to write about well without getting melodramatic and clicheed. Every once in awhile, an author nails it with unique characters who know how to tell their own story, not just the story grabbed from the latest headlines. R.J. Palacio pulled it off with Wonder. And Emily Murdoch does a fantastic job with If You Find Me. It's all due to Carey's first-person POV. Sure, Carey's a strong, gutsy young woman--she survived in the woods for weeks on end, caring for her sister--but she's also a musician, a lover of poetry, a girl who longs to be loved and still holds people at arm's length. I love the touches that make Carey so believable, the fierceness with which she guards her secrets. This story unfolds with clarity, heart, and marvelous storytelling. Frankly, I picked it up and thought, Do I really want to read this right now? I skimmed a couple of pages and was hooked. It's fantastic!

About Emily:
When she's not reading or writing, you'll find Emily caring for her horses, dogs, and family on a ranch in rural Arizona, where the desert's tranquil beauty and rich wildlife often enter into her poetry and writing. If You Find Me, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2014, is a YALSA BFYA selection of 2014 and earned starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. It was named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice for June 2013 as well as garnering several other honors. Currently Emily is working on a second novel, Forget Me Knots, due out from Indigo in summer 2015.

Online:
You can read Emily's poetry as well as news and events at her website here. She's also on Twitter, here. If You Find Me has a reader's guide with discussion questions that you can access here.

Want to win a free copy of this book? The first Monday of each month features a giveaway of any of the titles I've reviewed the previous month. Pick your fave, enter, and win! Next giveaway: September 1.  SIGN UP HERE TO RECEIVE A BRIEF EMAIL WHENEVER A NEW GIVEAWAY BEGINS.

To follow my progress as I bulldoze my way through a stack of 51 to-be-reads this year, search for the tag 2014 TBR Shelf. Read all the reviews here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

TBR 2014: Book No. 23



First of all, true confessions: If You Find Me (St. Martin's / Griffin, 2013) was written by Emily Murdoch, one of my Lucky 13 pals. But because this is my blog, not Goodreads, I don't have to worry about trashing Emily's ratings if I hate the book. But I don't mind telling you, with all the buzz and glowing reviews this novel has received, I seriously doubt that will be the case. I'm thinking it could turn out to be one of my favorite Lucky novels.
"Carey and Nessa’s story is memorable and deeply moving, and readers will find it very easy to fall in love with these girls.” – Publishers Weekly

“A compelling narrative that is both unflinching about life’s pain and hopeful about its possibilities.” Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
Feeling Lucky? Grab a copy of If You Find Me and read along!

That's right: I've committed to reading all the books on my TBR Shelf this year--and blogging them! Click here to read the reviews I've posted so far.