three stars – thegrammariansreviews.com

Deadly Little Lessons by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Camelia’s junior year of high school is finally over…but her troubles aren’t. After she discovers a painful truth about her family, she escapes to a summer arts program in Rhode Island, determined to put family – and boyfriend – dramas behind her.

At the arts school, she gets caught up in the case of Sasha Beckerman, a local girl who’s gone missing. Even though all signs suggest that the teen ran away, Camelia senses otherwise. Eager to help the girl, she launches her own investigation. While reviewing the details online, she stumbles across a blog by someone named Neal Moche, a fellow psychometric. With Ben away, Camelia feels as if she’s found a kindred spirit in Neal. That sense of connection also makes Camelia realize how much she misses Ben, despite being committed to Adam.

But time is running out for Sasha, and Camelia will have to trust her powers more than ever. Will the lessons she has learned give her the strength to save Sasha before it’s too late?

336 pages | Published: December 18, 2012 | Hyperion Books for Children

MY THOUGHTS:

I never really thought this would happen – giving anything in the Touch series less than four stars.  But, I digress.

If anything, read this for the romance.  It’s worth it, I promise.

Buuuuuuut, if you’re looking for more from Camelia, forget about it. This installment begins with a VERY CRUCIAL plot twist, which immediately takes you to the edge of your seat, but just as quickly pushes you back for the long haul.  Camelia doesn’t step up to the plate enough for me.  Again, I was left wishing for more character growth.  We’re given so many details and bits and pieces, but they don’t add up to anything.  She’s like a blank slate. And with the series being this late in the game, my expectations only become higher. And, needless to say, they weren’t fulfilled.

The mystery aspect is, as usual, enticing and invigorating.  It had me scouring each word for clues.  But, again, it takes center stage, rather than Camelia.  I went in hoping for a little bit more from our usual cast, and was sorely disappointed.  A lot of it is repetition, of Camelia trying to make sense of her powers and feelings.  While I understand that this is still a process for her, as the reader I needed more. Or some sort of change.  A different angle.

Just when the story starts getting good and showing signs of progression, it ends.  It’s as if the only real Camelia moments are saved for the beginning and ending.  For me, this is frustrating.  I needed to see the bigger picture, or the purpose of it all, throughout the story.  When everything hit me at the end, I still had unanswered questions and knew the characters no better than I did from when I started.

If these were meant to be purely stand-alone mystery novels, I’d be better able to forgo the lack of character development and interaction.  But they’re not.  Yes, they deal with stand-alone mysteries, but the overall arching plot revolves around Camelia.  And if she’s a dud, her story becomes a dud.

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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The day that Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school is also the day a series of brutal murders breaks out over the city, killings mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper spree of more than a century ago. Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him—the only one who can see him. And now Rory has become his next target.

384 pages | Published: September 29, 2011 | Penguin Group

MY THOUGHTS:

For a story that revolves around Jack the Ripper, I expected there to be many more Ripper moments.

The first chunk of The Name of the Star consists of serious build-up and character building, specifically that of Rory and her new life at boarding school. It’s a typical fish-out-of-water scenario.  That said, the characters are all memorable and realistic – especially the boys.  For once, it was nice to not have boys banging down any doors, standing outside windows with boomboxes, or going out of their way to get the girl.  Consequently, the romance took a back seat.  And even when it was prevalent, it was spontaneous and … awkward.  Really, all it did was get my hopes up very early on.

I never expected this story to take the turn that it did.  It kept me hooked, but dissolved into a letdown.  I never felt the urgency or terror associated with the Ripper drama. Instead of increasing in action, it dwindles, becoming a long history lesson. Between long monologues and recounts of past events, I fought to finish. The latter half of The Name of the Star feels as if it’s a separate story, woven together out of thin air.  I felt tricked, no longer understanding the story’s progression.  Had there been more answers to Rory’s questions, maybe I’d be satisfied as well. But I’m just left wondering how the story gets from point A to point B.

This is a good one if you enjoy mysteries that pull you in multiple directions.  It’s not entirely unpredictable, but more teasing than anything.  Don’t expect to be scared. It’s rather tame. Ultimately, I’m unsure what The Name of the Star tries to achieve.

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REVIEW! Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Aug
02

9 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: Book reviews, Three Stars

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Teen beauty queens. A “Lost”-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to emall. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.

400 pages | Published: May 24, 2011 | Scholastic, Inc.

MY THOUGHTS:

 Satire meets pageant girls meets tropical island.

Beauty Queens, while hilarious at its beginning, tapers off as the story progresses.  I couldn’t handle the repetitive snark, sass and mocking; it came across very pushy. It’s overall very witty though, and at times the hilarity I’d enjoyed reappeared to keep me satisfied to keep pushing forward. But it ultimately wasn’t enough to leave me feeling like I’d read something great.

While I love the diversity of the characters, I never felt too attached to any. It got to the point that I’d either forgotten one of the contestants were still around, or I’d forgotten their name(s). And the ones I’d started to care for didn’t stay true to their initial personalities. (I’m mainly looking at you, Adina.) And some simply had/found no resolution. (Case and point: Taylor.) It was as if just as Bray got me to become invested in some of their stories, it all fumbled.

The second half of Beauty Queens, to me, pushed its wit to the limit. It wasn’t funny anymore – it was ridiculous. More ridiculous than its first half, I mean. I just wasn’t buying it anymore. I was no longer invested.

Even though this is one clever, funny story, I expected more from it – more sustenance, progression, and resolution. I wanted more of a cohesive story, and because of this, Beauty Queens  felt like it was lacking that magical something.

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The Future of Us by Jay Asher

Josh and Emma are about to discover themselves—fifteen years in the future

It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long—at least, up until last November, when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh’s family gets a free AOL CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook . . . but Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. Josh and Emma are looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.

Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates—it’s all there. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right—and wrong—in the present.

320 pages | Published: November 21, 2011 | Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

DEANNA’S THOUGHTS:

The plot of The Future of Us is initially captivating (especially to me because I generally like futuristic/historical genres), but turns out to be a letdown. I figured there would be a greater focus on the kids’ futures and how Facebook changed social networking and communication so greatly from the 1990s. However, the whole plot revolves around their (Josh’s and Emma’s) individual lives. Nothing really happens to contribute to the premise. Josh and Emma only care about how their love lives turn out and how that affects the other aspects of their lives (occupation, number of children, mood, location, etc.). Emma is almost always complaining and comes across as being very self-centered – she’ll do anything to alter her future in a way that’s better for her, not even considering the harm it does to Josh and everyone she’s met (or will meet). It is because of her negative personality that I couldn’t empathize with her. Josh is the more personable character.

The story itself moves smoothly, its pace steady. And even though you get to see both Emma’s and Josh’s viewpoints, the thoughts aren’t repetitive. When one of them discusses something, the other doesn’t rehash the same events. This keeps the plot moving, rather than straggling.

The Future of Us is a cute and easy read, but more on the lovey-dovey side, rather than the mysterious side, and doesn’t tackle the complications of the future I hoped it would.

 

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*Deanna is a close friend and new co-reviewer at TGR. As a lover of historical, mystery and fantasy reads, she’ll be helping expand TGR’s reading tastes!

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Dante’s Girl by Courtney Cole

I have spent every summer since I was ten years old with my father in London. Every summer, since I was ten years old, has been uneventful and boring.

Until this year.

And this year, after a freak volcanic eruption strands me far from home, I have learned these things:

1. I can make do with one outfit for three days before I buy new clothes.
2. If I hear the phrase, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” even one more time, I might become a homicidal maniac.
3. I am horribly and embarrassingly allergic to jellyfish.
4. I am in love with Dante Giliberti, who just happens to be the beautiful, sophisticated son of the Prime Minister of a Mediterranean paradise.
5. See number four above. Because it brings with it a whole slew of problems and I’ve learned something from every one of them.

Let’s start with the fact that Dante’s world is five light-years away from mine. He goes to black-tie functions and knows the Prime Minister of England on a first name basis. I was born and raised on a farm in Kansas and wear cut-off jeans paired with cowboy boots. See the difference?

But hearts don’t care about differences. Hearts want what they want. And mine just wants to be Dante’s girl.

My heart just might be crazy.

365 pages | Published: June 21, 2012 | Lakehouse Press

MY THOUGHTS:

Dante’s Girl is a surprising read that kept catching me off guard, right from the beginning.

Cole wastes no time in getting you right into the heart of the story. But even though I was lost as to what was happening, immediately both Reece and Dante were personable characters that I wanted to get to know. And, as crazy as it sounds, they “clicked” right from the get-go. Normally the love-at-first-sight notion comes off stale or rigid to me, but it feels right for these two. What spoils their romance, for me, is the unbelievability factors. Reece ends up being taken care of by Dante, his family and his friends. And they’re not in London. And she’s allowed to stay with them. And intern. It’s all a little too convenient, and because of this, certain plot points feel forced and unnatural.

But the descriptions of Dante’s “Mediterranean paradise” of a home are enough to fawn over. Cole paints a very alluring picture of the swank and old world charm of Caberra. (You’ll be wanting to visit a paradise of your own, that’s for sure!) It’s nice to see both sides to the country, to see it from both a visitor’s and indigenous person’s perspectives.

A mixture of puppy love, beautiful scenery, good luck (and a touch of political unrest) make Dante’s Girl a cutesy, breezy read lacking the “glue,” or sustenance to carry out its story.

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