Contemporary

Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School) by Jen Calonita

21996359Flunked by Jen Calonita is a middle grade book full of creativity and surprises. Anyone who is a fan of fairy tales and wants to see some of the main villains reimagined is in for some fun. The Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, the evil sea witch, and the evil queen are now newly reformed professors at Fairy Tale Reform School (FTRS). Flora, Cinderella’s reformed wicked stepmother founded and now runs FTRS, where the motto and mission is to turn wicked delinquents and former villains into future heroes. They all live in the kingdom of Enchantasia where Cinderella, Snow White, Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Rapunzel reign.

It is here where we meet our main character, 12-year-old Gillian Cobbler, who after three repeated offenses involving petty theft must be taken to FTRS. She is the shoemaker’s oldest daughter, and only steals to help feed her family after the fairy godmother started stealing business from her father. How can she possibly be an upstanding citizen when she feels her only way to get by is by being criminally mischievous?

After meeting Kayla and Jax on her first day at school she discovers that her 3 month stint can’t be so bad when you have friends and are receiving lessons on etiquette, fencing, snake charming, and other various activities. Until she can figure out her next move it seems that she will try to endure her time there. Of course nothing is as trivial as it seems, as something strange is happening at Fairy Tale Reform School and Gillian and her friends are determined to figure it out.

I thought everything about this book was cute including the cover. There were some pleasant surprises and creative retellings throughout the story and it was fun to run into familiar characters and see them put in situations where they had to teach a bunch of middle school delinquents. I think that most middle school children will like this book and it was a joy to read.

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Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

SNEAK PEEK of The Archived by Victoria Schwab

I really enjoyed Victoria Schwab’s The Near Witch last year so I was so excited when I was able to read a sneak peek of The Archived, only the first 100 pages, but oh so good. It makes me want to wear a key around my neck and carry chalk in my pocket.

Details Please (Publisher’s description)
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.
Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

So What?
Like I said before I just read the first couple of chapters and was just barely scratching the surface of the story, but I can tell this will be a book to look out for. I really liked the whole premise about Mackenzie sending back the Histories that escape through the cracks in the Archive. Mackenzie has a start as a Keeper at a relatively young age and on top of that she is dealing with deaths in the family, and the lack of closure there. There is also Roland a really cool librarian who catalogs the dead, and hasn’t aged a day, and the mysterious Wesley with scars of his own. Also there are a whole lot of doors and shadows just waiting to be explored.

As a side note, have any of you seen the Japanese film Be with You, base off Takuji Ichikawa’s novel? When I started reading this that movie came to mind because in the film the mother dies and goes to a planet named Archive. I had always wondered why they named the planet Archive and now after reading this I understand. Two totally different things but I had such a eureka moment. Lol.

I’d like to imagine that Mio from Be With You escaped from the Archives in Victoria Schwab’s world and came back in the rainy season in Takuji Ichikawa novel.

Anyway,I believe that everyone is approved for the Sneak Peek on NetGalley so you guys should go seek it out. Then we can all patiently wait for January 22nd to come. So. Far. Away. 😦

I can’t wait to read the whole story.

Warped by Maurissa Guibord

Details, Please
Having haggled with an older lady at an auction, Tessa now finds herself the proud owner of a couple of boxes of old books and an extra crate that contains a unicorn tapestry. After hanging it in her room she starts having odd dreams and memories of a unicorn hunt from a whole different time period. The Norns, who spin threads of Fate, are especially ticked off having suspected Tessa of stealing seven threads from them. Tessa doesn’t remember this, and what happens when she does pull a thread from the tapestry? Better yet, why is there a sixteenth century nobleman in her room?

So What?
Usually I would stay away from books with time travel and unicorns, but I think this book is creative and likable. It didn’t quite live up to all the hype surrounding it, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I didn’t find it corny at all. The whole unicorn idea was believable, and I mean there are such things as unicorn tapestries anyway.

Also, the time travel was handled in a simplistic way and not at all confusing. Although, there were times where something was mentioned and I thought it would be important and then it wasn’t mentioned again… other than that, it’s a neat read. It’s lite fantasy and reminded me of a Disney Channel movie. So if Disney Channel movies appeal to you and you like the idea of unicorns and dragons, and a girl who lives above a bookstore give it a try on a gray day. Plus it’s a standalone.

Excerpt:

Up close, the tapestry’s deep, jeweled colors made kaleidoscope whorls of crimson and gold and emerald-green, while in the center, the unicorn, woven in milky white, blazed like a pool of moonlight against the dark.

“Gorgeous,” Tessa whispered.

It looked so real. The unicorn, with a long spiraled horn jutting from its tangled mane, was depicted rearing up on its hind legs as its front hooves raked the air. A violent, yet majestic strength was captured in the arched lines of its neck and the muscular shadows of its shoulders.

The unicorn was in a grassy clearing, hemmed in by denser forest. In the background a castle sat atop a distant hill, with turrets outlined against a brilliant blue sky. The scene, Tessa thought, was like something from a fairy tale. But definitely one of the darker ones. And probably not one with a happy ending. For she noticed that a dark cut was stitched on the unicorn’s cheek, and from it flowed two crimson drops of blood. The unicorn’s large golden brown eyes seemed to glitter. Tessa squinted. She felt strange, breathless.

She reached out and brushed her fingers over the tapestry. The threads were warm and soft, almost velvety beneath her touch. Then it happened.

A tingling sensation ran up her arm, quick and warm and so lightning fast Tessa didn’t have time to snatch her hand back. Suddenly everything was gone. The tapestry, the car, even the ground was gone.

It was as if a black fog had swept her up and was carrying her far away. She was drenched in darkness, blinded. But she could hear something. In the black fog, a voice spoke. Words swirled around her.

Through warp and weft, I bind thee. 

Flawless by Lara Chapman

Flawless is a contemporary retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac. Thankfully it doesn’t end as grim.

Details, Please
Sarah Burke senior in high school has learned to deal with her nose, as it’s been the source of all her insecurities and unhappiness. To put it bluntly, it’s just really huge. She thought she was fine with it, until she develops a crush on Rock the new boy from Atlanta. Unfortunately she’s not the only one smitten, Kristen her best friend is as well. Because Kristen isn’t into literature or poetry she enlists Sarah to help woo him on Facebook, but how long can this go on with Sarah’s own feelings getting in the way… not to mention she’s deceiving pretty much everyone, including herself.

So What?
I like this book for its exploration of loyalty, friendship and embracing self. I think in this sort of situation it would be easy to become catty with your friend, but that isn’t the case for Sarah and Kristen. They remain close friends throughout the book. Though Sarah sort of learns a lesson the hard way because of it, and lets opportunities pass her by because of her insecurities.

Towards the end there were some random plot bunnies that were kind of just thrown in there. I still don’t know what the point was. I suppose to change-up the plot a bit. Also I found myself with the second male lead syndrome. He wasn’t even mentioned that often but from what I heard of him I liked him better.

Overall
This came off like a Disney Channel movie. That’s not necessarily bad, I TiVo those things… It’s just the kind of book you give your niece in high school to read. Well it’s meant for that age demographic anyway. It wasn’t perfect, but I think the overall message was important. I rather liked this happier approach to the tale then being overly dramatic and sad. If you know a younger kid with self-image problems then this is one book to recommend.

Original Sin by Beth McMullen

I think the premise of Original Sin is really cool, and somehow the packaging feels like an ABC television show. You know the guy who does the voice-overs for the Castle previews? Well I can totally hear him saying, “Sin.Is.In.”

Details, Please
Suburban housewife Lucy Parks Hamilton has a huge secret. She once was Agent 26, a.k.a Sally Sin for a covert government agency shooting this and hiding that. She was a big deal, and that’s why her former boss Simon wants her to come out of retirement to lure her former nemesis Ian Blackford out of hiding. He isn’t just another good-looking guy with fancy gadgets either. Problem is she retired for a reason…she got married and has a kid. She doesn’t want to fight the world she just wants to keep her son from biting the cat’s tail. But apparently Blackford knows where Lucy is and now fearing for her family she comes out of retirement to catch the guy.



So What?
Flashbacks were my big issue about this book. I get easily confused when there’s an abundance of flashbacks. Seeing flashbacks in a movie can be annoying, but reading flashbacks can be downright irritating. Sometimes I couldn’t tell whether Lucy was talking about the past or present. Also, if the purpose of these flashbacks were to establish how badass she was, we don’t really see it we just hear about it from others so that wasn’t much fun. She was much cooler in the present. I guess the flashbacks were also there to establish the past relationship she had with Blackford so I won’t harp on that too much.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked some things too. I enjoyed the subtle humor throughout. Like where Lucy basically tests the durability of a bed for her son by breaking her enemy on it, or when she sneaks up on her nanny to see if she is prepared for a break in. The relationships in her life are neat, like the tension between her and Ian, and the funny relationship and understanding she has with the baristas at her local coffee shop. I also enjoyed hating her boss Simon Still. Besides Lucy, it seems like the other characters all have some sort of hidden agenda and it’s not easy to decipher who’s good.

Overall
To me the book premise was like Alias meets Mr. & Mrs.Smith, minus her fighting her husband, and not that exciting.Once I got used to the constant flashbacks, I liked the book for what it was. It was a bit hokey, but you’re not supposed to take the book seriously. I think many people can relate to the protectiveness that Lucy feels for her family. Also I like how the ending was a surprise and leaves off for a second book. I would keep reading just so that I could hear about Ian Blackford again. I still think he’s a good guy on the run. 

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

I first heard about Fat Kid Rules the World in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which I love.) His protagonist Junior lists the book as one of his favorites. So when I saw it this weekend I had to buy it. This book didn’t really advocate losing weight, in fact the protagonist gains some more by the end of this book, but it did advocated being worthy of being happy no matter the circumstance and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way. It’s not a preachy book, but it still gets its message across. Sort of like an episode of Oprah. Knowing you are worthy of happiness. . .

I’m a sweating Fat Kid standing just over the yellow line…

Troy Billings is contemplating suicide at the beginning of this novel. At seventeen he is 296 pounds and six-foot-one. He lives his life without any friends and even his younger brother can’t stand him. In fact his brother said he wouldn’t miss him if he died. While he waits for the train to arrive he contemplates whether people would laugh at his death since they laugh at everything he does. He considers the fact that he’d probably mess up his own suicide which morbidly makes him laugh. It’s this laugh that starts a conversation that will change the course of his life. An incredibly skinny homeless guy who is caked with dirt happens to stop his suicide. It turns out this vagrant is Curt MacCrae, a legend at W.T. Watson High School. Everyone respects him despite losing every fight he’s ever been in. He is a genius guitar player and he has just decided that he wants Troy to be his drummer. Yeah, except Troy doesn’t play drums.

Details, Please

This book is raw. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Troy is obese in a way that makes others uncomfortable and Curt lies and steals, not to mention he’s hooked on prescription drugs. These characters are not perfect and both have issues, but despite that I found them likeable. Troy just wants to fit in and Curt just wants a stable home. They can be destructive to themselves, but not to others. Curt ends up teaching Troy lessons like owning up to what he likes, and learning about punk rock. It’s Curt’s confidence in Troy that helps transform him, and Troy’s genuineness that convinces Curt to get help.

You don’t have to be overweight or a guy to get Troy’s voice. Most people battle with self-consciousness and self-worth. Everyone wants to find a niche for themselves. I love that the beginning starts with saving a life and so does the end. This book just has heart. Troy shows growth, and along the way he not only learns to play drums, but converse through them. He’s a fat kid who rules the world.

Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer

I haven’t entered many book challenges as I’m sort of new to all this, but I really wanted to sign up for the Gothic Reading Challenge hosted by Susan B. Evans of Well-Mannered Frivolity. I mean castles, scary branches and girls with hair blowing in their face, what’s not to love? I chose to read Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer. Well, not really I just started reading it and realized it totally fit this challenge.It’s like an episode of The X-Files or the Twilight Zone. Plus I like reading about middle of nowhere Texas towns.

Details, Please

Tansy Piper’s mother is like the female Stephen King, so for inspiration for her books they end up moving a lot. The latest move is from San Francisco to Cedar Canyon Texas where she mopes about hating the small town life. It’s the kind of town where all the teens her age grew up with each other since kindergarten so she feels left out. Fighting loneliness she also struggles with the grief of her grandfather’s dementia. Not to mention her new house is said to be haunted, it even has a turret and everything, but things change for her when she finds a pocket watch, a journal and a small crystal pendant in the cellar. They seem to have a life all their own. Not only that, but when Tansy an aspiring photographer looks through her camera’s viewfinder it’s as if she time travels to past memories of her grandfather and Henry the young man who haunts her house. While in these past memories she inhabits the body of Isabel (hence the title of this book.) It becomes hard for her to differentiate her feelings from Isabel’s. It’s interesting because as she spends more time in the past her present starts to fade literally. Her present becomes grey while the past is vibrant with color. It’s as if Henry is enticing her to stay with him. If she gives in she has a feeling she can never come back.

Gothic Elements

Well at first glance this book just seems like a contemporary tale. It is, but definitely Gothic. It’s not set in a castle, but it’s a once abandoned castle-like house complete with creepy cellar. This whole book is full of mystery and suspense. No one seems to know who the real Henry was and the mystery behind his death. It’s all just a spooky legend that unfortunately unravels for Tansy. He is a ghost but we as the reader never really see him in the present world. In the present he comes as a nightingale. Constantly Tansy feels threatened by Henry. His love is obsessive and tyrannical at times. He makes a lot of demands on Isabel that seems to transcend to her. Tansy experiences a lot of disturbing dreams and things she can’t explain she starts to think she has schizophrenia. The narration is sentimental because it has a lot to do with the memories of her grandfather who she dearly loves. There was a lot of anger, sorrow and terror that is present in Gothic novels. Often times Tansy feels panic that she will not come back to the present world. Our heroine is lonely, and pensive, and she suffers more because she feels afraid to ask for help.

Unique and unusual

I like that since Tansy is a photographer we get a lot of photography lingo and vocabulary. I also love the fact that all the characters seem equally fleshed out. Her closest friend in town Beth, is a thirteen-year-old genius who constantly quotes Shakespeare. Even though the story is about the Tansy-Isabel-Henry dynamic, it still manages to be about everyone else in that small town. Don’t worry Henry isn’t the only one vying for her attention. After all, there has to be someone in the present world fighting for her to stay. This book just had that almost tangible feeling to it. As if you could actually feel the suspense and taste the mystery. A lot had to do with the poems in the journal she found and in a way this book reminded me of Chime by Franny Billingsley. And while I seem to be the only person who actually dislikes that book I feel that Through Her Eyes did the whole poetic-Gothic-suspense-mystery thing much better than Chime. I mean time-travel can be annoying because it has the propensity to get confusing and aggravating, but it wasn’t in this book. The reading flow wasn’t hindered by any of the poems or other worldly experiences. It just flowed and the closure we feel in the end is pretty awesome. Check out some other reviews and then read it, because it’s scary cool.