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

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

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Wishing Will
Contemporary Fantasy

Review: Wishing Will by Daniel Harvell

Wishing Will
Image from Daniel Harvell; used by permission

Title: Wishing Will

Author: Daniel Harvell

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Middle schooler Will Cricket wants a new look, popular friends, cool parents, and enough coordination to dribble a basketball – but he never actually does anything about it. Instead, Will makes wishes. 

When the wishing corporation known as the Sky Castle Network and Enterprises (SCENE) agrees to grant his wish to be someone different, he must work for his reward. Becoming a super-powered wish agent, Will teams up with a shape-changing half-Genie, an agent with delusions of Hollywood stardom, and a stick-in-the-mud wish lawyer. Together, they grant the wishes of Will’s classmates and family, helping the people who pick on Will every day. As if that’s not enough, there’s more in that wish contract than he thought. Will might have to fight not only for his wish, but for the entire world!

I’m always up for a unique-sounding premise, and the idea of a wish-granting company and “wish agents” sounded fun. Plus I’d read the author’s previous novel, The Survivors, and really enjoyed it. So I decided to give Wishing Will a go.

Half the reason I liked Will so much was because I remember being a fat, awkward, and uncool middle schooler. While I was homeschooled and never had to deal with bullies like Will did, I can totally feel for him. (The other half was me having fun watching him use his powers to grant wishes – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m all about the super powers.)

The more secondary characters were delightfully zany (well, most of them). Will’s pink-haired grandmother, a semi-insane former archeologist; Hollywood, a wish agent who happens to be a star (as in the kind you see in the sky); Tang, the half-Genie and Will’s new friend; the prim and proper wish lawyer; his narcoleptic Dreamweaver assistant… They were all such a fun touch of completely outlandish, and yet completely logical.

(Then there were the more normal people, like Will’s mean sister, his workaholic mother, and really-bad-at-being-a-stay-at-home-dad father, who make it very clear why Will would want to be part of a different family.)

The story starts out pretty simple. A fat, bullied kid with a family that’s all sorts of messed up wishes to be somebody else, and a magical wish-granting company agrees to grant it, assuming he helps them grant 7 small wishes. And then it starts sliding down a slippery slope of epic complications.

There’s this huge evil force that’s trying to destroy the world. Oh, and one of Will’s friends might be helping. And his crazy grandma – she’s important for some mysterious reason.  And SCENE is going to need Will for more than the standard 7 wishes. Will definitely should have read his contract before signing.

(I called all the major twists, but then again, this book is written for middle schoolers. I doubt most 12- or 13-year-olds would predict the ending.)

I can’t write this review without saying this: Daniel Harvell can write. While I enjoyed his first book, The Survivors, it usually takes two books to prove to me that someone is a good writer. And Daniel Harvell has proved it. So don’t let his indie author status scare you away – his books are every bit as good as traditionally published ones.

I was completely delighted with Wishing Will. And after that epilogue, I’m thinking there’s a sequel in the works somewhere. At least, I hope there is. I would certainly be interested.

I received a free review copy of Wishing Will from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

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WISHING WILL scored a 4.0 (A)

Paranormal

Review: True Talents by David Lubar

True Talents
Image from Book Verdict

Title: True Talents (Hidden Talents #2)

Author: David Lubar

Genre: Paranormal, I guess

WARNING: This book is a sequel, so this review will probably contain spoilers of the previous book. If you haven’t read Hidden Talents, I recommend not reading this review.

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.

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 definatly recommend both books for junior high boys.

The Hidden Talents series:

  1. Hidden Talents
  2. True Talents

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TRUE TALENTS scored a 3.8 (A)

Fairy Tale

Review: Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen by J.L. McCreedy

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

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.

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.

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For more on my grading system, please see my About page.

LIBERTY FRYE AND THE WITCHES OF HESSEN scored a 3.8 (A)

Paranormal

Review: Hidden Talents by David Lubar

Hidden Talents
Image from egb63’s Weblogs

Title: Hidden Talents (Hidden Talents #1)

Author: David Lubar

Genre: Paranormal

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.

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

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HIDDEN TALENTS scored a 4.0

Fantasy

Review: The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

The Song of the Quarkbeast
Image from Jasper Fforde

Title: The Song of the Quarkbeast (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 first book. If you haven’t read The Last Dragonslayer, I recommend not reading this review.

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!

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

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For more on how my book “report card” system works, please see my About page.

4.0 (A) final grade

Science Fiction

Review: George and the Galactic Games by H.S. Stone

George and the Galactic Games book cover
Image from HS Stone; used by permission

Title: George and the Galactic Games

Author: H.S. Stone

Genre: Science Fiction

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.

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.

Contemporary, Fiction, Middle Grade

Review: Wolf Storm by Dee Garretson

Wolf Storm book cover
Image from Wonderbrary

Title: Wolf Storm

Author: Dee Garretson

Genre: Contemporary

This is Stefan’s big break. He’s on location in the mountains far from home for his first movie role, filming a blockbuster sci-fi adventure. The props, the spaceships, and the trained wolves on set should add up to a dream job, but acting turns out to be much tougher than he ever imagined, and he feels like his inner loser is all that’s showing through. From the way his famously stuck-up co-star, Raine, treats him, he’s pretty sure she thinks so too. And worst of all, no one will believe his claim that there are wild wolves haunting the forest around the set. When a blizzard strikes, isolating the young co-stars and bringing hungry feral wolves into the open, Stefan must take on his biggest role yet—working together with his co-stars to survive. With no second takes, they only have one chance to get it right.

This is one of those I-can’t-check-out-only-one-library-book books where I threw it on my pile for reasons I couldn’t quite remember when I got home. Eventually, since it was a thin book and I thought the movie-filming angle sounded at least interesting, I started reading.

Stefan had never acted in a movie before, but he was determined to give it his best shot. He wasn’t exactly outgoing at the beginning, probably because Raine kept complaining he was terrible, but once filming wasn’t the important thing, his natural leadership skills came though. I enjoyed him all the way through.

Raine was interesting. At first, she was a bratty kid star who believed the world should bend over backwards for her because she was famous. Then things started going very wrong and they got stranded, and there was a drastic change. She was almost like an enthusiastic little kid who didn’t really understand how serious everything was.

Jeremy was the youngest of the bunch, and I liked him as the sweet, happy, enthusiastic little kid. But sometimes when they were stranded, he seemed older than Raine.

The story started off with conflicts between Raine and Stefan as they were filming. And all the little details about filming a sci-fi movie were fascinating. I wanted Stefan to prove himself, and I wanted to know more about movie filming – to the point where I didn’t want them to get stranded, I wanted them to keep filming.

Once it actually happened, though, I enjoyed that, too. Stefan started shining and Raine dropped the bratty attitude, and they all started working together. It was part survival story (with wolves, some tame and some not) and part watching the characters’ relationships change.

I’m still not sure why I picked up Wolf Storm, but I’m glad I did. I enjoyed the story, the characters, and even the setting. (I read it while watching two feet of snow fall outside my bedroom window, which helped.) Can’t say I’d read it again, but I certainly enjoyed it this time around.

Fairy Tale, Fiction, Middle Grade

Review: The Girl and the Seven Thieves by Olivia Snowe

The Girl and the Seven Thieves book cover
Image from Capstone

Title: The Girl and the Seven Thieves (Twice Told Tales)

Author: Olivia Snowe

Genre: Fairy Tale

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…

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 Wolf
  • The Sealed-Up House
  • A Home in the Sky
  • Hansen and Gracie (releases July 1, 2014)
  • Beauty and the Basement (releases July 1, 2014)
Fiction, Middle Grade, Paranormal

Review: Delilah Dusticle’s Transylvanian Adventure by A.J. York

Delilah Dusticle's Translyvanian Adventure
Image from A.J. York; used by permission

Title: Delilah Dusticle’s Transylvanian Adventure (Delilah Dusticle #2)

Author: A.J. York

Genre: Paranormal

WARNING: This is usually the point where I warn you not to keep reading if you haven’t read the first book. But these books are so short, I don’t think I’m going to be spoiling Delilah Dusticle at all. So feel free to read on!

In this illustrated installment, Delilah and the Dustbusters are invited to Transylvania to cater for the Hallow Eve Ball. All is not what it seems and Count Dracula has a very unusual request for Delilah.

After the fun I had with Delilah Dusticle, I was excited when A.J. York offered me the next installment in the series. But I saved it for a bad day, because I knew it would cheer me right up. And it did.

I was sad that Abi didn’t really feature too much in this book, and I still hope she gets a bigger part in book three. But I had so much fun with the new characters! Dev and Billy and Doris, the three unique people who go with Delilah to Transylvania. Count Winifred “Winnie” Dracula, with an affinity for glittery suits and skipping. Baroness “Boring Noreen,” who is so boring she has to pay people to pretend she’s interesting. And chihuahua toads!

Sometimes Delilah Dusticle’s Transylvanian Adventure was almost too off-the-wall insane. But it was so, so fun. From the creepy/awesome castle to Winnie’s zany sense of…well, everything, to kidnappings and spies (yes, there are spies), I got a good laugh and it just generally left me in a good mood. It only took me about half an hour to read, but it is a perfect pick-me-up story.

I know I classified Delilah Dusticle as contemporary, but Delilah Dusticle’s Transylvanian Adventure had a much more paranormal feel. There was lots of mythical magicky stuff, plus we learn a little about how and why Delilah has her dust powers.

This series is quirky and fun, and even when things are going completely wrong has a light-hearted and whimsical feel. I’m definitely interested in Delilah Dusticle and the Cursed Tempest, whenever it comes out – and I hope that A.J. York doesn’t think a trilogy is good enough.

I received a free review copy of Delilah Dusticle’s Transylvanian Adventure from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Delilah Dusticle series:

  1. Delilah Dusticle
  2. Delilah Dusticle’s Transylvanian Adventure
  3. Delilah Dusticle and the Cursed Tempest