Review: Lucky Strikes by Louis Bayard

lucky strikes by louis bayard

With her mama recently dead and her pa sight unseen since birth, fourteen-year-old Amelia is suddenly in charge of her younger brother and sister, and of the family gas station. Harley Blevins, local king and emperor of Standard Oil, is in hot pursuit to clinch his fuel monopoly. To keep him at bay and her family out of foster care, Melia must come up with a father, and fast. And so when a hobo rolls out of a passing truck, Melia grabs opportunity by its beard. Can she hold off the hounds till she comes of age?

Description taken from Goodreads.

Two words that, when put together, are immediate turn-offs for me in any book: rural South.

As soon as I cracked open Lucky Strikes, I wanted to stop reading. The narration style just doesn’t do it for me. I figured I would get into the book and see if I could get past it, but it was an issue for me throughout the entire story.

Sure, it’s sad. It’s sweet. It’s quirky. It’s got a nice cover. Theoretically, it’s got the makings of a mainstream MG novel. But no. I can’t see myself recommending to anyone for two reasons. The first is that it wasn’t for me. I can’t try to sell off books I know that I dislike. And the second is that this doesn’t read like a middle-grade novel.

Lucky Strikes is a perfect representation of books that adults think middle-graders will be drawn to. On top of the setting, Amelia didn’t actually feel like a middle-grader and there was next to nothing going on. And when things were happening, they were weird to the point where I couldn’t take the plot seriously. For this one, I would recommend reading a sample before buying or borrowing. 1 star.


Review: Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way by William M. Akers

mrs. ravenbach's way

Being a new student at the McKegway School for Clever and Gifted Children is crummy enough, but when Toby Wilcox is stuck in the fourth grade homeroom of Mrs. Ravenbach, a vainglorious German tyrant who worships “the order and the discipline,” he faces a much bigger challenge—fight back or be ground to goo in the gears of Teutonic efficiency.

Toby upends Mrs. Ravenbach’s perfectly ordered universe and risks everything to strike a blow for free-thinkers everywhere!

Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is the first book in the series: The Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Don’t go into this expecting a Roald Dahl-like read. If you’re looking for the Trunchbull, go read about the Trunchbull, but don’t try to find it here.

I went into this story wanting another horrible teacher the likes of which I’ve only ever found in Matilda, and it didn’t really work out that way. Akers’ writing lacks the signature wit and humor of Dahl’s books, and there was nothing remotely endearing about the teacher, the students, or the plot.

Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way is told from the perspective of the teacher, which was surprising. When I found this out, I hoped that Akers would try to justify why Ravenbach is the way that she is. What ended up happening was completely different. This book reads like an angry student wanted to get back at a teacher in a way that was embarrassing (for both parties) and wholly juvenile.

There was no one to champion in the book. The students were horrible, and the teacher was equally so. I’m not even quite sure what the author was trying to prove by writing this. I had hoped for more, maybe a little emotion, some kind of lesson even. Something. But all in all, there are a lot of students v.s. teacher books out there, and there’s nothing to be gained from this one.

1 star.

Series: The Amazing Escapades of Toby Wilcox #1

Review: Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

persepolis 2 by marjane satrapi

In Persepolis, heralded by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day,” Marjane Satrapi dazzled us with her heartrending memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Here is the continuation of her fascinating story. In 1984, Marjane flees fundamentalism and the war with Iraq to begin a new life in Vienna. Once there, she faces the trials of adolescence far from her friends and family, and while she soon carves out a place for herself among a group of fellow outsiders, she continues to struggle for a sense of belonging.

Finding that she misses her home more than she can stand, Marjane returns to Iran after graduation. Her difficult homecoming forces her to confront the changes both she and her country have undergone in her absence and her shame at what she perceives as her failure in Austria. Marjane allows her past to weigh heavily on her until she finds some like-minded friends, falls in love, and begins studying art at a university. However, the repression and state-sanctioned chauvinism eventually lead her to question whether she can have a future in Iran.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Not everything important is beautiful.

Sometimes, important things are incredibly boring and buried underneath layers and layers of things that aren’t important.

Persepolis 2 is that “sometimes”. I get what the novel is trying to say, and like its predecessor, Persepolis 2 has some truly great moments that made me want to love the book more than I did. The ending, in particular, was great. However, while I felt that some of this story was brilliantly insightful and a shocking look into a war-torn country, most of it consisted of the aftermath of the war.

In my opinion, Persepolis 2 was much worse than the first book. It had drugs, alcohol, and a myriad of other not-so-great elements as Marjane struggled to find herself. More than that, the negative elements weren’t posed in such a way that made them important, that clearly showed Marjane’s change. Instead, the plot was repetitive and disappointing. Nothing about the storyline was effectively executed.

In general, the novel was all over the place. I had no idea how to make heads or tales of it, and I ended up skimming most of it. I wouldn’t recommend it for middle-schoolers, and I think the first book acting as a stand-alone might just be better. 1 star.

Review: Once Upon a Kiss by Robin Palmer

once upon a kiss by robin palmer

So much has happened since 1986, and Zoe Brenner is about to find out just how much.

From the author of the book that inspired the Disney original movie Geek Charming!

It’s 1986 and sixteen-year-old Zoe Brenner’s world revolves around Depeche Mode, Judd Nelson, exercise-obsessed parents, and her best friend Jonah. Then one day, in a freak Fun-Dip choking accident, Zoe falls unconscious, and awakes in the year 2016. So much has changed, and Zoe needs Jonah to help her make sense of it all. But in this life, Zoe is the most popular girl in school, and she soon realizes this Zoe doesn’t associate with nerds like Jonah. As Zoe juggles new technology, attempts to hide her enthusiasm for poet blouses, and manages to keep her super jock boyfriend at bay, she tries to rekindle her friendship with Jonah and use her popularity for a good cause. Will she ever get back to 1986? And more importantly, does she want to?

Description taken from Goodreads.

Getting a Disney Channel movie does not a good author make. Honestly, this is MG (lower than MG) attempting to be YA. The truth of the matter is that the YA community puts up with contrived, who-actually-talks-like-this characters far less than the MG community does.

C’mon, Geek Charming. If someone spilled recycled fehttuchini alfredo on me, my first reaction would not be to say “you geek.”

If you agree with the above statement, Once Upon a Kiss is probably not for you.

I love time travel from the past to the present. I enjoy seeing how people adapt to all the things that have changed since the past, even in just the last twenty years. It’s fascinating, even if the time travel logic is complete nonsense. Once Upon a Kiss did not work for me like that. Not only was Zoe completely dull and insipid (she kept on thinking she was in the past), but she also managed to wreck the time travel scenes. She adjusted to her world far too quickly, and all of her interactions with anyone or anything made me want to immediately stop reading.

ugh this book gif

I can see people reading this. There are hardcore Disney lovers that really enjoy this kind of storytelling, and all the power to those people, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who enjoys realistic interactions and mature characters. 1 star.

pg count for the paperback: 304

Review: The Boy Who Knew Everything by Victoria Forester

the boy who knew everything by victoria forester

Here is the long-awaited companion to The Girl Who Could Fly.
There is a prophecy.

It speaks of a girl who can fly and a boy who knows everything. The prophecy says that they have the power to bring about great change…

The boy is Conrad Harrington III. The girl is Piper McCloud. They need their talents now, more than ever, if they are to save the world—and themselves.

Description taken from Goodreads.

This book was crushingly disappointing, and not just because my expectations were jacked up by now much I loved the first book in this series, The Girl Who Could Fly. And it also wasn’t because the cover is cliché and horrible compared to the epicness that is the first book (see below).

What was really disappointing about this novel is that it destroyed all the great things about the first book. Like I said in my review about The Girl Who Could Fly, this series was supposed to be a series about kids who had X-Men type powers but were far from as overdone and unrealistic and predictable as those movies have become.

The Boy Who Knew Everything delves into prophecies. And “great change”. And saving the world. And hero complexes. And cheesy reunions.

the girl who could fly

No thank you. I’ve had quite enough of that.

Even the characters were somewhat ruined. Each unique person started to blend together as it eventually became the J and Piper and Conrad Show. I was disappointed by how little character development went on in this novel, and how simple the plot was.

Although I enjoyed knowing what happened to the characters later on and how J played into the story, I wish that the first book had remained a stand-alone. It was perfect by itself, and I’m going to try to pretend that the add-on book(s) didn’t happen. Although I was initially excited to continue with this series, I don’t particularly want to follow it anymore. 1 star.

pg count for the hardback: 416

Review: What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark

what we found in the sofa and how it changed the world and how it saved the world by henry clark review

When River, Freak, and Fiona discover a rare zucchini-colored crayon between the cushions of a mysterious sofa at their bus stop, they quickly find themselves in the middle of an evil plot to conquer the world! The plot’s mastermind, Edward Disin, is responsible for starting the underground coal seam fire that continually burns just beyond the kids’ backyards, a dastardly cover-up for an intergalactic portal that will soon transport an army of invaders to Earth.
Disin’s only weakness is his otherworldly obsession with the zucchini crayon–and he knows the kids have it. But with the help of an eccentric neighbor, an artificial intelligence in the form of a double-six domino, a DNA-analyzing tray, two hot air balloons, and a cat named Mucus, three kids from the middle of nowhere might be able to save the planet.
Henry Clark’s dazzling debut middle grade novel is a thoroughly original, unabashedly wacky, and surprisingly affecting story about the importance of intelligence and curiosity in a complacent world.

Description taken from Goodreads.

There was almost nothing truly endearing about this book. In recent years, it’s been popular to have the wacky children’s and middle grade books, and many are actually good reads, but at the same time, many of them are way too out-there, even for kids. I could hardly stand reading this novel because I couldn’t even take it seriously.

Admittedly, there were some good lines within this book. The humor got better steadily throughout the novel, but the plot and characters continued to lose me. The second that I started to like a certain character, a plot element would come in that was just too ridiculous for words. There was so much potential to the narration and the plot, but this story didn’t work out for me.

If you’re looking for an eccentric read, A Tangle of Knots, The Wig in the Window and The Mysterious Benedict Society are great stories with amazing writing, complex characters and good plot without being too much in the weird department. 1 star.

pg count for the hardback: 368

Review: Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

little women and me by lauren baratz-logsted

Emily March is sick and tired of being a middle sister. So when she gets an assignment to describe one thing she’d change about a classic novel, Little Women is an easy choice. After all, if Emily can’t fix things in her own family, she might as well bring a little justice to the other March sisters. Perhaps she can–spoiler alert!–keep Beth from dying? Or maybe she can prevent the boy next door from winding up with Amy instead of Jo?

But when Emily gets mysteriously transported into the 1860s world of the March sisters, she discovers that righting fictional wrongs won’t be as easy as she thought… especially when she develops a crush on the very boy she planned to save for Jo. After being immersed in a time and place so different from her own, Emily–and not the March sisters–may be the one who undergoes the most surprising change of all.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s winning confection is a journey of self-discovery that will appeal to fans of Little Women as well as anyone who enjoys time travel or a modern twist on an old favorite.

Description taken from Goodreads.

I was excited to read this book because I thought that it would get kids into Louisa May Alcott’s writing and LITTLE WOMEN in particular, but if you’re looking at this book because you loved LITTLE WOMEN, then I would suggest not reading it.

There are many books that do a great job of going from the past to the present, or vice versa, or from a book to real life, and do it in a way that is magical and exciting. LITTLE WOMEN AND ME was not one of those books. The author changed way too much about the book itself, and Emily was just unlikable. I thought that it was great that she was a fan of Louisa May Alcott, but Emily just happens to start forgetting things about the novel when she gets transported to that world.

There was little to no world-building in this novel and the amazing setting of LITTLE WOMEN was very poorly portrayed. Not only the setting but the plot was bland. There was nothing new added to the overall story and Emily didn’t learn anything or come out any changed at the end of the book. I do have to give credit for the great plot twist at the end, but it wasn’t enough to save this story. While this book had great potential, it definitely wasn’t for me. If you’re looking for something similar, I would recommend Paul Acampora’s I KILL THE MOCKINGBIRD. 1 star.

pg count for the hardback: 312

Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

the fangirl's guide to the galaxy

Fanfic, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more—it’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, a fun and feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom. With delightful illustrations and an unabashed love for all the in(ternet)s and outs of geek culture, this book is packed with tips, playthroughs, and cheat codes for everything from starting an online fan community to planning a convention visit to supporting fellow female geeks in the wild.

Description taken from Goodreads.

If you are a true fangirl or a fanboy, you won’t need this book and probably won’t want to read it.

A FANGIRL’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY is mainly for the people who don’t understand fandom culture, because there’s really no plot line or real information in it. If this book had been more in the style of Pip Barlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, maybe I could’ve liked this book a little more, but honestly, it’s not even a story. It’s literally just a guide.

Andddddd I come to the second point of why I couldn’t love this book. I feel like this was written by someone who isn’t really a part of the fandom. This is the “what my friends think I do” box compared to the “what I actually do” box. A FANGIRL’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY makes it seem like in order to be a “true fan”, you need to buy all the figurines and go to conventions and refer to everyone by their proper titles.

I won’t lie, it’s fun to see something even remotely in the direction of a fangirl/fanboy guide. There are some legitimate and funny terms and scenarios in this story. However, I felt like a stranger in some of my own fandoms and for me, this book completely fell flat. If you want to read a clearer, more specific version of this review, then Kat wrote a great one. Would not recommend to anyone, let alone middle schoolers. 1 star.

pg count for the hardback: 208

Review: Crash by Lisa McMann

crash by lisa mcmann

If what you see is what you get, Jules is in serious trouble. The suspenseful first of three books from the New York Timesbestselling author of the Wake trilogy.

Jules lives with her family above their restaurant, which means she smells like pizza most of the time and drives their double-meatball-shaped food truck to school. It’s not a recipe for popularity, but she can handle that.

What she can’t handle is the recurring vision that haunts her. Over and over, Jules sees a careening truck hit a building and explode…and nine body bags in the snow.

The vision is everywhere—on billboards, television screens, windows—and she’s the only one who sees it. And the more she sees it, the more she sees. The vision is giving her clues, and soon Jules knows what she has to do. Because now she can see the face in one of the body bags, and it’s someone she knows. Someone she has been in love with for as long as she can remember.

In this riveting start to a gripping trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Lisa McMann, Jules has to act—and act fast—to keep her vision from becoming reality.

Description taken from Goodreads.

This is not a unique paranormal story that completely blew me away and showed me, once again, that Lisa McMann is legit.

It’s basically ANYONE BUT YOU meets Spongebob Squarepants’s 81st episode, Friend or Foe.

CRASH is very much more magical realism than supernatural or fantasy, and the majority of the magical realism happens in the very 50 pages of the book. Then it all descends into this Romeo and Juliet kind of madness between Sawyer and Jules’ families (i.e. almost exactly the blurb of ANYONE BUT YOU).

If it was a good romance, I don’t think I would mind. Heck, if it was a good contemporary, I wouldn’t have minded as much. But it was exactly none of the above.

Told in Jules’ POV, this book fails to truly display this romance in a likable manner. Jules pines for Sawyer, but Sawyer seems to feel nothing for Jules. It’s an entirely kind of oh I want him but he’s too good for me romance for 98% of the book, and that basically displays the entire storyline. Despite being so short, CRASH drags along and even the scenes that shoudl be intense aren’t.

On to Friend and Foe, the 81st episode of Spongebob (Season 5, Episode 1). I’ve watched every single episode of Spongebob officially aired, and despite being the same length as a regular Spongebob episode, the pace dragged at certain places. It was really interesting to learn about the history behind Mr. Krabs and Plankton, but it also seemed to go around in circles a little bit.

This is exactly what happens in CRASH.

I wouldn’t recommend CRASH. Unfortunately, it didn’t measure to what I wanted at all. Readers would be better off going for McMann’s THE UNWANTEDS series. 1 star.

pg count for the hardback: 223

Series: Visions

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini: A Great Example of Why I Should Stop Ignoring 3.40 Average Ratings

Given the chance, fifteen-year-old Peregrine “Perry” Eckert would dedicate every waking moment to Creatures & Caverns, an epic role-playing game rich with magical creatures, spell casting, and deadly weapons. The world of C&C is where he feels most comfortable in his own skin. But that isn’t happening–not if his parents have anything to do with it. Concerned their son lacks social skills, they ship him off to summer camp to become a man. They want him to be outdoors playing with kids his own age and meeting girls–rather than indoors alone, with only his gaming alter ego for company. Perry knows he’s in for the worst summer of his life.

Everything changes, however, when Perry gets to camp and stumbles into the World of the Other Normals. There he meets Mortin Enaw, one of the creators of C&C, and other mythical creatures from the game, including the alluring Ada Ember, whom Perry finds more beautiful than any human girl he’s ever met. Perry’s new otherworldly friends need his help to save their princess and prevent mass violence. As they embark on their quest, Perry realizes that his nerdy childhood has uniquely prepared him to be a great warrior in this world, and maybe even a hero. But to save the princess, Perry will have to learn how to make real connections in the human world as well.

Let me explain my logic when it comes to Goodreads. 3.5 and below is a bad rating. 3.6 to 3.9 is a pretty good rating. 4.0 to 4.4 is an awesome rating. 4.5 to 5.0? Chances are that the number of ratings collected isn’t all that high. But if it is, I read it. Because it’s got to be at the very least, a decent read. I really need to stop ignoring 3.4 ratings.

The premise of this book was interesting. I thought Perry was actually a pretty cool and funny guy, if a little naive. But see, there came my first nitpick.

I don’t usually have this problem, but every once in a while I read about a really cool character with a unique name. Deuce and Fade from Enclave. Katniss from The Hunger Games. Jaron from The False Prince. You get the gist. Sometimes I realize that that character has grown on me. Sometimes I don’t. Either way, they have become “the” character in my mind. Jaron to me will always be Jaron from THE FALSE PRINCE. Katniss to me will always be Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES. Deuce and Fade to me will always mean ENCLAVE. This time, I didn’t realize it, but Perry from UNDER THE NEVER SKY became “the” Perry.

And when I get stuck with the mentality that one character, one person, is “the” person, it’s hard to erase that way of thinking. So, the entire time, as I was reading THE OTHER NORMALS, I kept thinking about Perry from UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi.

And that was a problem, because I couldn’t see Perry Eckert as a person. A three-dimensional, real-life person instead of a character from a book. Just saying, you should keep that in mind as you as read this review, because it was partly because of Perry (from UTNS) that I couldn’t fully enjoy this book.

It wasn’t just that though. As this book went on, I couldn’t bring myself to like this book. I wanted to, because even though I like MMOs than RPGs, I mean–video games, guys. Video games. After watching and reading Sword Art Online and books like Feed by M.T. Anderson, I’ve developed a sort of love for books about technology and video games.

But even through the complicated world-jumping and video-game feel to this book, I still had a lot of issues with it.

  1. I couldn’t get a sense of who Perry TON was. I mean, beyond my identity crisis due to Perry UTNS. It was more than just a love/hate as well. Through the book, I grew to dislike Perry TON more and more. His reactions, what he did, his friends and enemies, none of it felt real. And, during the whole story, Perry didn’t grow as a character that much at all. I thought this story was going to be about transformation and coming to terms with both his fantasy world and the real one, but that wasn’t really the case.
  2. Comedy. There was just something off about it. Some of the things Perry TON said and thought were funny, but the comedy just wasn’t for me. It’s not that I didn’t get it, it just wasn’t funny to me. Plus, it seemed forced. Part of why I love author humor is the way they do it, so carelessly and beautifully. It’s remarkable, and it takes talent. Rick Riordan can do it. Cassandra Clare, Cinda Williams Chima and many other amazing authors can do it. I didn’t feel it in this story.
  3. Writing: It’s choppy. There’s no real flow to it. I kept trying to find balance and evenness in this book, but it just wasn’t there. I couldn’t see it or feel it. Dialogue was weird and some things were described in a way-too-complicated way.
  4. Gamers. Gamers are not nearly as stereotypical as Ned Vizzini makes them seem, guys. Just letting everyone with not as much of a geeky personality know that.
  5. Oh yeah, and figurines and game guides? Figurines are usually about $10 and game guides about $35. I know because I never wanted the stupid figurines. I wanted to know how to get the next HM so I could get to the next town in Pokemon.
  6. No, Ned Vizzini, we do not want to know nit-picky facts about games.
  7. It wasn’t just any of this either. I mean–Ned Vizzini can make all the different prices he wants, he can make the characters stereotypical and use up page space by filling it with mind-numbing facts, but what really got to me was the whole story seemed off.

This book may appeal to older, mature middle-grade readers, specifically boys, but it just wasn’t for me. If you want something better, you may want to try reading the manga Sword Art Online or Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. You could also try Glitch by Heather Anatasiu or Feed by M.T. Anderson. 1 star.

pg count for the hardback: 387