Adventure

Did Not Finish: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
Image from Houghton Mifflin

Title: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

Author: Joe Schreiber

Genre: Thriller

Format: Hardcover

Back cover:

It’s prom night. Up until now, Perry Stormaire’s only worries were finishing his college applications and getting his band its first big gig in the Big Apple. But when it mother makes him take geeky, quiet Lithuanian exchange student Gobija Zaksauskas to the prom instead, Perry figures the night is going to be a disaster.

He has no idea how right he is.

Gobi has a special mission – five targets by daybreak – and Perry’s roped into it whether he likes it or not. Now they’re off like a prom dress on a reckless, no-brakes blitz through nighttime Manhattan in his father’s red Jag, going eyeball to eyeball with Russian mobsters and teen angst, high-velocity bullets and high school bullies, all things to the  most beautiful girl that ever almost got him killed.

Read to: Page 64 (chapter 12)

Reason for stopping: Poor morals, frustration with all characters

Review:

This is one of those books that I’ve had on my Want to Read list for a long time, and when I saw it at the library I grabbed it without thinking too much about it. I put it on my list purely for concept – nerdy foreign exchange student turns out to be an assassin, boy gets dragged along for the ride. But I probably should have read the reviews before I read it.

Perry wasn’t too bad of a character. He could be a tiny bit irritating at times (especially when whining about wishing he had a girl), but for the most part, I didn’t mind him. Part of the conflict was him getting dragged around by Gobi while his band was supposed to be playing their big gig and he needed to be there on time – and I liked him enough that I hoped he would get there in time to play.

Perry was the best of the lot, though. Gobi went from an awkward, poor-English-speaking foreign exchange student who I didn’t mind to a hot, competent, complete jerk of an assassin. She only needed Perry because she couldn’t drive, and it seems to me that an assassin should know a basic skill like that. Perry’s friends were all irritating high school jerks, and Perry’s dad was so unnecessarily and purposefully cruel to his son that I wanted to reach through the book and punch him in the face.

I hoped at least the plot would be good, since that’s mostly what I picked it up for, anyway. But once the actual assassin part got started, it floated along on high-speed driving and Perry freaking out. Not exactly what I’d hoped. I only read 64 pages because I was bored and too lazy to grab another book – at least until I got so totally frustrated that I decided I’d rather go wash the dishes than continue reading.

A lot of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick’s good reviews on Goodreads were good because “give it to a 13-year-old boy.” This book is carried purely by the guns-a-blazin’, secret-identities, super-secret-assassin stuff that makes the mediocre action movies my 13-year-old brother loves. But I wouldn’t recommend this book to him. Lots of swearing, bloody murders, a fixation on sex…all stuff I wouldn’t want any 13-year-old reading about.

I was really disappointed in this book, because Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick had a great premise. Unfortunately, the execution completely failed.

The Perry & Gobi series:

  1. Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
  2. Perry’s Killer Playlist

Report Card

For more on my grading system, check out this page.

AU REVOIR, CRAZY EUROPEAN CHICK scored a 2.3 (D) and a final verdict of

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Paranormal

Review: True Talents

Cover of "True Talents," featuring six boys of varying heights and hair lengths with their back to the viewer, staring at a bolt of lightning in the distance
Image from David Lubar

Title: True Talents

Series: Hidden Talents #2

Author: David Lubar

Genre: Paranormal, I guess

Warning: This book is a sequel, so this review will probably contain spoilers of Hidden Talents.

Back Cover:

When their secret gets out and the bad guys close in, Trash, Martin, Flinch, and the rest of the gang find themselves in a fight for survival against a brutal enemy. An action-packed adventure where things blow up, people die, and Torchie buys an accordion.

Review:

After enjoying Hidden Talents, I was pretty excited to read True Talents. I remembered liking it even better than the first book.

I loved the characters even more this time around. I don’t remember how long it’s been since Hidden Talents (it was mentioned in the beginning, but I forgot), but the boys seem much older now. Except for Torchie. Torchie never loses his childlike enthusiasm and cluelessness.

The characters’ aging was likely due to a slightly more serious tone to this book (actually being in danger of dying, as opposed to just navigating school). But I don’t think they’re too old for the Hidden Talents readership – more like 8th or 9th grade, as opposed to 6th or 7th.

I wish their powers had factored into the story a bit more – I’m all about the psychic powers. But True Talents did a good job of spotlighting the boys’ non-psychic abilities. I loved the way they worked together as a team.

Looking back on it, I’m not sure how David Lubar pulled off such an action-packed plot without relying on the powers. There kidnappings, evil scientific experiments, faking a death, guns for hire, an accidental bank robbery, and all sorts of dangerous stuff. But somehow, the story focused more on the boys than their powers.

I remembered correctly – I enjoyed True Talents so much more than book one. And I wish so hard there were more books in the series (preferably one from every boy’s perspective). But I guess I’ll have to settle for what there is. I think I’ll donate this book to the library with Hidden Talents, but I definitely recommend both books for junior high boys.

The Hidden Talents series:

  1. Hidden Talents
  2. True Talents

 

 

Fairy Tale

Review: Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen

Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen
Image from Sam McCreedy; used by permission

Title: Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen

Author: J.L. McCreedy

Genre: Fairy Tale

Back Cover:

This is the story of Liberty “Libby” Frye, a young girl from the American South, who finds herself lured to a foreign land where she falls into the clutches of an evil witch with sinister plans. Libby will need to rely upon her wits and courage, as well as the help of some friends, if she hopes to save not only herself, but also those dearest to her.

Review:

I’m pretty sure I had a good reason when I picked this up, but come time to write a review and I can’t remember what made me want to read this.

Libby was okay. I think the main reason I didn’t like her a lot is she was 10. She had a bold, fearless personality that I’m sure I would have loved in a teenager, but I wasn’t so crazy about her as a ten-year-old.

I think the story really should have been about Ginny. She went from shy and timid when Libby met her to brave and courageous at the end of the book. The problem was it almost felt forced, since she didn’t have as much page time as I think she deserved.

The basic idea was a good one (and I’m not going to say too much, since you find out what’s going on along with Libby). But I feel like there really needed to be more. The last quarter Libby starts figuring out what’s going on, and then it’s over. It probably wouldn’t bother an upper-elementary kid, who would just be excited for book 2, but I wanted more detail.

I didn’t love Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen as I thought (or wished) I would. It really had nothing to do with the book – I’m just outgrowing middle grade books. I’m disappointed, because I have loved middle grade since I discovered it. But I think it’s time I left middle grade to its target audience.

I received a free review copy of Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

 

Paranormal

Review: Hidden Talents

Cover of "Hidden Talents," featuring a black boy with various objects floating in the air behind him
Image from David Lubar

Title: Hidden Talents

Series: Hidden Talents #1

Author: David Lubar

Genre: Paranormal

Back Cover:

Every time Martin opens his mouth, he gets in trouble. He’s just been dumped at the last place that will take him; a school filled with freaks, misfits, and psychotic bullies. His roommate starts fires, his new friends are thieves and cheats, and his teachers hate him. Then things start to get really weird.

Review:

This reread is part of my quest to clean out my bookshelves. I got Hidden Talents on a whim from PaperBack Swap, loved it, and immediately got the sequel. Of course, that was four years ago.

The characters weren’t extremely developed. But that wasn’t a problem. I didn’t remember or expect a lot, and there was enough. Stubborn, smart-mouthed Martin and cheery, oblivious Torchie are the main ones, but there’s also a handful of other boys (friends and enemies) and a few teachers. None of them were outstanding, but they weren’t flat either.

I remembered all of the plot, even the details – it’s simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated. But don’t take that to mean uninteresting, because it isn’t. It just doesn’t have a lot of twists.

Most of the story is Martin figuring out the weird things going on with his new friends, then trying to convince his friends he’s right. Even though I knew what happened, I liked following along.

I still liked this book four years later, but not quite as much as I did the first time. I may give it to my 12-year-old brother, because I think he’d enjoy it, but I won’t be keeping it. (I’ll definitely be reading the sequel, True Talents – I recall liking that one even more.)

The Hidden Talents series:

  1. Hidden Talents
  2. True Talents

 

 

Fantasy

Review: The Song of the Quarkbeast

The Song of the Quarkbeast
Image from Jasper Fforde

Title: The Song of the Quarkbeast

Series: The Chronicles of Kazam #2

Author: Jasper Fforde

Genre: Fantasy

Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review might contain spoilers of The Last Dragonslayer.

Back Cover:

Magic has been in a sad state in the Ununited Kingdom for years, but now it’s finally on the rise, and boneheaded King Snodd IV knows it. If he succeeds at his plot, the very future of magic will be at risk! Sensible sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange, acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management and its unpredictable crew of sorcerers, has little chance against the king and his cronies—but there’s no way Kazam will let go of the noble powers of magic without a fight. A suspenseful, satirical story of Quarkbeasts, trolls, and wizidrical crackle!

Review:

I was on the way out of the library when I saw this on the “new arrivals” shelf, and I made three people look by squealing and snatching it. I had so much fun with the screwball The Last Dragonslayer that I was super excited to get this one.

I still loved Jennifer, likely because she’s so much like me. She’s sensible and organized and is a fabulous manager, plus she’s brave and smart. I wouldn’t want to put Jennifer out of a job, but I seriously want to manage Kazam.

All the other characters were fabulous, too. Jennifer’s quirky semi-apprentice, Tiger; the ridiculous King Snodd and his strong-willed wife; and all the amazing and eccentric wizards at Kazam. I wish I had space to say how much I loved them all.

I described the first book as zany – it means “unconventionally amusing,” and I thought that fit perfectly. The Song of the Quarkbeast was zany, too, but it also had more serious elements, too. After all, the future of magic is in the balance. There’s also a hunter who just likes to kill things, a near-death experience, the sad history of a once-great wizard, and even a semi-death.

It was still fun and light-hearted, just not as much as The Last Dragonslayer. And I don’t want to say much more about the plot for fear of spoilers. It’s so much fun to discover for yourself.

The Song of the Quarkbeast absolutely lived up to its predecessor. And I’m sure that seeing the next book in the series, The Eye of Zoltar, will result in a similar squealing-and-grabbing episode.

The Chronicles of Kazam:

  1. The Last Dragonslayer
  2. The Song of the Quarkbeast
  3. The Eye of Zoltar
Science Fiction

Review: George and the Galactic Games

Cover of "George and the Galactic Games," featuring a green cartoon alien in a small spaceship
Image from H.S. Stone

Title: George and the Galactic Games

Author: H.S. Stone

Genre: Science Fiction

Back Cover:

George is the new kid in school. He also recently lost his father to a heart attack. In an effort to cheer him up, George’s mother takes him on a camping trip. That’s when their troubles really begin. Extraterrestrials abduct both mother and son. Now George finds himself an unwilling participant in the Yumal Contests, a galactic game against an alien species. He must overcome his fears and limitations to win because these games are not just a casual sporting event… his life hangs in the balance.

Review:

After reading H.S. Stone’s Beyond New Eden and Keep Your Enemies Close, I’ve been meaning to read the rest of his books. It took me a while to get around to it, but I finally found this one as an ebook for three dollars, and figured it was as good a place to start as any.

George was really enjoyable. I admired his courage and his determination not to let his team down, even though he was sure he wasn’t good at anything. His grief over his father’s death also seemed very real. My only problem with him is the same problem I have with almost every middle grade book with a male main character – as a 17-year-old girl, I didn’t connect with him as well as I wanted to.

I enjoyed the other characters on George’s team, as well. (Except Frank, but I’m not sure anyone liked Frank.) Roger and Susan, the middle aged couple, were fun, but I especially liked Emily, who was George’s age. She was optimistic and encouraging, but she seemed to have a very similar skill set to George, which was a little weird.

I guessed why things weren’t working right long before it was explained – but it wasn’t super obvious. I had to actually think about putting the pieces together, as opposed to just realizing what’s going on. This is a middle grade book, though, and I doubt the book’s intended audience would guess it.

I loved the idea of the Yumal Contest games. At first, it made me think of a less gory, middle grade Hunger Games with aliens, but as I read on, I realized that wasn’t true at all. The concept was a lot like a challenge-based STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) class I’m taking, with a combination of physical and mental challenges for points. But here, there were the teams’ freedom on the line – losers stayed behind as slaves. It was a fascinating idea, and I loved every moment of it.

I really enjoyed George and the Galactic Games. It was fun, and even though it wasn’t as lighthearted as I expected, it wasn’t heavy-handed, either. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Fairy Tale

Review: The Girl and the Seven Thieves

Cover of "The Girl and the Seven Thieves," featuring a drawing of a black-haired girl walking away from an apartment building and holding her arms like she's cold; wind is blowing her dress and it's raining
Image from Goodreads

Title: The Girl and the Seven Thieves

Series: Twice Told Tales

Author: Olivia Snowe

Genre: Fairy Tale

Back Cover:

Once upon a time, Eira had it all: a fancy apartment, a rich father, people to drive her from place to place. And in this retelling of Snow White, Eira also has a stepmother who is wicked as could be. Eira’s stepmother tries to have her killed, but Eira finds seven thieves who are willing to help her …

Review:

I’m a fan of fairy tale retellings (or any kind of retelling, really), so when I discovered a new series of modern updated fairy tales, I jumped at it. There didn’t seem to be any sort of order to the series, so I just picked this one up at random.

What do I say about this book? Overall, it was disappointing.

I loved the idea. Eira has a super-mean stepmother who tries to have the chauffeur kill her, but the nice chauffeur lets her go. She runs into seven thieves who decide to help her – and it turns out her stepmother is really the Witch of Manhattan. Sounds absolutely fantastic.

But the execution left a lot to be desired. I can’t even discuss the characters because they weren’t characters – they were names on a page. It worked for minor characters like the chauffeur, but the thieves really needed something more. Especially the one Eira fell in love with.

The story started off strong, with great pacing and a strong setup. And then once Eira met the thieves, it just rushed through everything else. My thought process went something like, “oh, she’s going to stay with them. Hey, she’s cleaning up like in the original story. They said not to … evil chili! She just met him! Wait, it’s over?” If this had just been doubled in length, given a longer middle, a few subplots, and some more character development (especially for the thieves), I would be singing its praises right now.

The Girl and the Seven Thieves was actually really disappointing because the idea was so great. But it was so, so rushed and so many important things were glossed over. I wanted to love this book, and I’m really disappointed that I couldn’t.

Twice Told Tales series:

  • The Girl and the Seven Thieves
  • Cassie and the Woolf
  • The Sealed-Up House
  • A Home in the Sky
  • Hansen and Gracie
  • Beauty and the Basement
  • The Glass Voice
  • Dandelion and the Witch
Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Review: The Runaway King

The Runaway King book cover
Image from 365 Books in 365 Days

Title: The Runaway King

Series: Ascendance Trilogy #2

Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Genre: Fantasy

WARNING: The Runaway King is second in a series, so this review will probably contain spoilers of the previous book.

Back Cover:

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

Review:

I loved the first book in the Ascendance trilogy, The False Prince, so I was thrilled to get my hands on this book. And it was as fabulous as expected and more.

Jaron was the same old Sage/Jaron – headstrong, reckless, and with an astounding gift for ticking people off. It’s seriously a good thing his closest friends were so loyal, otherwise I’m sure someone would have assassinated him already. Still, even though he didn’t seem to care much for his own safety (not always the greatest trait in a king), he really cared about other people. Which just made him exasperating his advisers super fun.

There’s so many characters I could mention! Mott, who has more patience than Jaron probably deserves; the devoted Tobias; Roden, Jaron’s now-enemy; strong-willed Imogen, Fink the talkative thief, (name) the kind nobleman…none of them major enough to warrant their own paragraph, but none of them minor enough to ignore, either.

The Runaway King started out with a political-unrest-among-regents plot. It would have been boring if anyone but Jaron had been narrating. He gave it a tense, the-idiots-won’t-listen-to-me air that made it awesome – and made me want to turn the page and see if they get their way. Plus, that plot comes back in the end, when Jaron figures out what’s really going on.

I didn’t expect pirates. Or thieves. But both of them ended up being a huge part of the plot. In fact, they mostly were the plot. Once Jaron left the palace, the whole story was thieves and pirates and watching Jaron be Sage again. It was completely unexpected, but absolutely awesome.

The Runaway King isn’t what I’d call a fairy tale. But the writing had an awesome lyrical, almost-but-not-quite old-fashioned style that sometimes gave it a fairy tale vibe and sometimes seemed more medieval. Whatever it was, I loved it.

The number of times I used “awesome” in this review should get my point across. I loved this book. The title (release date?) of book three isn’t released yet, but the sooner I can get my hands on it, the better.

The Ascendance Trilogy:

  1. The False Prince
  2. The Runaway King
  3. The Shadow Throne
Fantasy

Review: The False Prince

The False Prince book cover
Image from Ms. Martin Teaches Media

Title: The False Prince

Series: Ascendance Trilogy #1

Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Genre: Fantasy

Back Cover:

With civil war is brewing in Carthya, a nobleman named Conner devises a plan to unify the kingdom’s divided people. Sage, along with three other orphan boys, is bought to compete for the pivotal role—impersonating the king’s long-lost younger son. Sage knows Conner’s motives are more than questionable, but his life balances on a sword’s point. If he doesn’t beat his rivals and bet chosen to play the prince, he will most certainly be killed.

Review:

I read The False Prince when it first came out. Then I found the second book in the series, The Runaway King, and realized I remembered nothing of book one. So I had to reread it.

Sage was an interesting personality. He was abrasive and had a knack for getting people angry with him. He was also reckless, defiant, manipulative, and extraordinarily smart. But he cared about people, too, which just made him an awesome character.

Tobias and Roden were two of the other orphans, but they weren’t nearly as interesting as Sage. Tobias was the smart one with a mean streak. Roden was quiet, mild, and unassuming. Tobias had more personality than Roden, but next to Sage, they both seemed bland.

Conner’s motives are called into question through the whole book. He’s heartless and willing to do whatever necessary to make his plot succeed, but is it because he doesn’t want Carthya to be destroyed, or because he wants to be the master behind a puppet king? Up until the very end, it could go either way.

The whole story is brilliant. The boys are competing in a life-or-death situation – the winner gets to be the prince, the losers die. Nobody trusts anybody, and Sage doesn’t like following anybody’s orders. Personality clashes between Sage and everybody else, vast amounts of secrets, life-or-death stakes, and political intrigue combine into a brilliantly engrossing story.

There are so many secrets in The False Prince. Conner has secrets – why he’s sure he can get away with this, what his real motives are, and a bunch of little details concerning the royal family. Tobias has secrets that he’s not very good at hiding. Even Sage has secrets, which aren’t revealed until the end (even though I probably should have seen them coming).

My final verdict: I remember why I wanted to read book two so bad. This is one of those books you almost want to forget because it’s so much fun to discover it all over again. I officially can’t wait to read The Runaway King.

The Ascendance Trilogy:

  1. The False Prince
  2. The Runaway King
  3. The Shadow Throne
Fantasy

Review: The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer book cover
Image from Tumblr

Title: The Last Dragonslayer

Series: The Chronicles of Kazam #1

Author: Jasper Fforde

Genre: Fantasy

Back Cover:

In the good old days, magic was indispensable – it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading. Drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are reduced to pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs the Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians, but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. Then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If that’s true, everything will change for Kazam and Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as … Big Magic.

Review:

To be honest, I hadn’t planned on reading this book. I saw it mentioned on the internet somewhere, judged it by its cover (I know, bad me), and thought it looked like an adult fantasy. But then I saw it in the middle grade section of the library and read the back cover. Foundlings, dragons, magical employment agency…I decided to give it a try.

And I’m glad I did.

Jennifer Strange made a great manager for Kazam. Actually, I think she would have made a great manager anywhere. Organized, logical, not overly emotional, mature, and very in-control, I absolutely loved her – probably because she’s a lot like me.

The Last Dragonslayer had an ensemble cast of minor characters.  Various wizards, a king, a duke, a dragonslayer, a nun, a dragonslayer’s apprentice, a moose, another foundling…the list goes on. But most of them were in only a scene or three.

The setting was absolutely amazing. It’s officially called the Kingdom of Hereford, but it’s a bit like medieval times and a bit like modern times but somehow had a distinctly British feel. Details like cars and land development corporations and merchandising rights gave it a familiar vibe, but the prevalence and universal acceptance of magic (with some sciency terms to explain it) also made it utterly, brilliantly foreign.

The plot is full of crazy twists and developments that shouldn’t work, but do. Looking back on it, there are some moments that in any other book would feel fake or contrived, but fit perfectly into the screwball storytelling of The Last Dragonslayer. The story is a perfect blend of smart and silly, realistic and ridiculous, ordinary and oddball.  “Zany” is the perfect adjective for this book – amusingly unconventional, entertainingly strange, and enjoyably unusual.

I didn’t know this when I picked it up, but The Last Dragonslayer is first in a series.  And I plan to read the second book, The Song of the Quarkbeast, as soon as I can get my hands on it.

The Chronicles of Kazam:

  1. The Last Dragonslayer
  2. The Song of the Quarkbeast
  3. The Eye of Zoltar