Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC – League of Strays by L B Schulman and Holes by Louis Sachar.

Another two books read bringing my totals to 10 books, 2,821 pages and 14 hours 15 minutes reading time.

League of Strays by L B Schulman. Amulet.
LeagueOfStraysWhen a mysterious note appears in Charlotte’s mailbox inviting her to join the League of Strays, she’s hopeful it will lead to making friends. What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative ringleader named Kade. Kade convinces the group that they need one another both for friendship and to get back at the classmates and teachers who have betrayed them. But Kade has a bigger agenda. In addition to vandalizing their school and causing fights between other students, Kade’s real intention is a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience.

When I first saw the cover of this book I liked it, but as time went on and I thought longer about it I liked it less and less – particularly the rather sinister appearance of the hold the boy has the girl in. This turned out to pretty much mirror my reading experience, I started off thinking the book was okay but the more and more I read the less comfortable I was with what I was reading.

The theme of the plot is revenge, this group of outcasts are all drawn together to exact revenge on the individuals who have wronged them most. Unfortunately this means the group stoop to the level of, and generally even lower than, the bullies who they’re out to get. I’m completely uncomfortable with the suggestion this is an appropriate way to act, and then we come on to the characters.

The five central characters, these outcasts, are all sadly rather stereotyped. I found I couldn’t identify with them, and I certainly couldn’t support their actions. Kade, the ringleader and lead male character is deeply disturbing, even more disturbing is the way the three girls all accept his dangerous behaviour with two of them both developing feelings for him – not the kind of relationship I want to see in any book.

I did read to the end of the book, I needed to see how it ended and whether there was anything to redeem the book. By getting to the end I think I can see what the author was aiming for (and I’ve since read a few blog posts by her that back this up) but for me it just did not work. Not one I’ll be putting on my library shelves.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Bloomsbury.
HolesStanley Yelnat’s family has a history of bad luck, so he isn’t too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys’ juvenile detention centre. At Camp Green Lake the boys must dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the dried up lake bed. The Warden claims the labour is character building, but it is a lie. Stanley must dig up the truth.

Holes is one of those books that has lurked on my “so guilty I haven’t read it” list for far too long so I knew it was going to be one of my choices this weekend. Now I’ve read it, I only wish I’d read it sooner, and then re-read it and re-read it. What a pleasing read it is, looking at the long list of awards it won I can’t say I’m remotely surprised.

The main plot following Stanley and his trials and tribulations at the juvenile work camp combined with the minor historical plot featuring Kissing Kate Barlow work so well together. I was completely gripped and felt completely invested in what was happening.

I loved every minute of this reading experience, I’ll be urging anyone I know who hasn’t read this book to give it a go.

Book Review

Book Review : Poison Most Vial by Benedict Carey.

Book cover for Poison Most Vial by Benedict CareyMurder in the lab! The famous forensic scientist Dr. Ramachandran is stone-cold dead, and Ruby Rose’s father is the prime suspect. It’s one more reason for Ruby to hate the Gardens, the funky urban neighborhood to which she has been transplanted. Wise but shy, artistic but an outsider, Ruby must marshal everything and everyone she can to help solve the mystery and prove her father didn’t poison his boss. Everyone? The list isn’t too long: there’s T. Rex, Ruby’s big, goofy but goodhearted friend; maybe those other two weird kids from class; and that mysterious old lady in the apartment upstairs, who seems to know a lot about chemistry . . . which could come in very handy.

I finished reading this book a few days ago, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it. I definitely enjoyed it, it’s a fun read that whips along nicely, but it’s also a little odd and I didn’t feel properly satisfied by the time I put the book down.

The plot is quite a traditional whodunnit, Ruby is trying to find out who committed the crime her father is currently being accused of – she knows he’s innocent and wants to clear his name. There’s a real emphasis on problem solving and deduction, I think young fans of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy this aspect of it a lot.

Ruby, and her best friend Rex are decent leading characters, their friendship is well created and feels really genuine. They get help from two of their classmates, I liked the range of investigative skills that these teens had – that the hacker was a girl pleased me a lot.

I think my main difficulty with the book was that I wanted a bit more of everything. I wanted to understand the characters more, I wanted to get my head round the slightly odd school that Ruby attends more and I wanted to understand the town that the book’s set in more. I never felt like I’d got a complete grasp of things which left the overall reading experience lacking a little. There’s definitely a lot of promise in the book, I just wish it had lived up to it.

Poison Most Vial is published by Amulet Books in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Horton Halfpott or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset by Tom Angleberger.

There are so many exciting things in this book – a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, love, pickle éclairs – that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear…

It all starts when M’Lady Luggertuck loosens her corset. As a result of “the Loosening,” all the strict rules around Smugwick Manor are abandoned. Shelves go undusted! Cake is eaten! Lunch is lukewarm! Then, when the precious family heirloom, the Luggertuck Lump (quite literally a lump), goes missing, the Luggertucks search for someone to blame. Could the thief really be Horton Halfpott, the good-natured but lowly kitchen boy who can’t tell a lie?

A colourful and hilarious cast comes together in this entertaining mystery, Tom Angleberger’s loopiest novel yet!

I don’t get to read many books aimed at the 8-12 market (I wish we had a cool term for this age band like the Americans who use Middle Grade) but when I do I tend to find myself thinking that I ought to read more. Most of the titles I’ve read are fun and fast-paced, Horton Halfpott is certainly no exception.

The opening pages are devoted to a map of the area around Smugwick Manor and drawings of the cast of characters. Each chapter also starts with a drawing of one or more characters, I found these entertaining and endearing. The book has 48 short chapters, I was glad there were so many as it meant I got to see so many illustrations.

The book is narrated by an unnamed narrator who breaks the fourth wall time and time again, often with a witty aside. This works well for the plot, it keeps it moving and adds humour to an already entertaining story. I can imagine that this book would work very well if it was read aloud, the way it’s written certainly feels like it would lend itself to this.

The plot is a bit like a child friendly version of an Agatha Christie story. Something mysterious happens, a famous detective is brought in to investigate, more mysterious things happen and then the mystery is solved. The addition of a potential love interest for Horton acts as an entertaining subplot, the two are woven together very well.

The cast of characters are brilliant, there are quite a few but I found I could keep track of who was who pretty easily. A lot of them are caricature-like, but this works well within the style of the book – they’re often outlandish without becoming over written or silly. I couldn’t begin to pick a favourite character, there were just too many that I loved.

Horton Halfpott is a thoroughly entertaining read, I enjoyed every minute of it. Throughout the book other stories about M’Lady Luggertuck are referenced, I do hope that Angleberger goes on to write them.

Horton Halfpott is published in hardback by Amulet Books in the UK priced £9.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : “Bliss” by Lauren Myracle.

When Bliss’s hippie parents leave the commune and dump her at the home of her aloof grandmother in a posh Atlanta neighborhood, it’s like being set down on an alien planet. The only guide naive Bliss has to her new environment is what she’s seen on The Andy Griffith Show. But Mayberry is poor preparation for Crestview Academy, an elite school where the tensions of the present and the dark secrets of the past threaten to simmer into violence. Openhearted Bliss desperately wants new friends, making her the perfect prey of a troubled girl whose obsession with a long-ago death puts Bliss, and anyone she’s kind to, in mortal danger.

I found this book a little difficult to get into, but once I had got to grips with it I found it a fairly easy read. Set in the late 1960s the book touches on lots of issues including racism, attitudes towards hippies, and the Vietnam war. All of this is in the backdrop to a story of teenage school girls and occultism. If that sounds like a lot to fit into one book, well it is. The main plotline, with Bliss starting at a posh school for her first experience of formal teaching is really interesting, her experiences of the other pupils’ snobbery and predjudice would have made for an excellent read in itself. The occult storyline that is woven in is interesting but sadly I felt that it ran out of steam in its conclusion. I really liked what the author was trying to do, for me it just fell a little short.

The characters in Bliss were all well created and interesting. I really liked Bliss herself and could have happily read much more about her. I also found the character of Sandy intriguing though thoroughly dislikeable – I’m sure this was the intention.

Between chapters the author uses extracts from an anonymous character’s diary, quotes from the Andy Griffith Show and sections from reports of the Manson family trial. These are all used well and build a great atmosphere.

I definitely enjoyed reading this book but I felt the ending let it down a little. It certainly won’t put me off reading other books by this author.

“Bliss” is published in paperback by Amulet books in the UK priced £5.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : “Troy High” by Shana Norris.

Homer’s classic tale of love and revenge is retold for the teen audience in TROY HIGH. Narrated by Cassie (Cassandra), this story follows the Trojans and Spartans as they declare war on the football field to end their high school rivalry once and for all. After Elena (Helen of Troy) transfers to Troy High and falls madly in love with Cassie’s brother Perry (Paris), her ex Lucas (Meneleas) and his brother Greg Mennon (Agamemnon) want to settle the score.

I must start this review by saying that my knowledge of the classics is poor. I have never studied them, I haven’t read about them (apart from reading the Percy Jackson books) and I haven’t watched films about them. I imagine that I approached this book therefore in a similar way to many of its target audience will.

I got sucked into this book really quickly. It’s a wonderful story of high school loves and rivalries, both on and off the football field. I found that I wanted to shout at various characters, if I hadn’t been reading this book on a train I may well have done so. The characters were well drawn, there were some I fell instantly in love with and others I wanted to shake! I particularly enjoyed the friendship between Cassie and Greg and got hugely frustrated when their attempts to develop their friendship further got thwarted by the fact that they were on opposite sides of the rivalry.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I can’t comment on how closely linked to the Troy myth it is, but I definitely intend to find out. Maybe this will be the catalyst I needed to start catching up on the classics I missed out on.

“Troy High” is published in hardback by Amulet books in the UK priced £3.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : “Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes” by Lisa Greenwald.

A blizzard has hit New York City on Valentine’s Day and friends Olivia, Georgia and Kate and stuck inside their apartment building. They all live on the same floor of the building and have been friends for years. They couldn’t be more different, Kate is obsessed with gossip and boys, Georgia is quiet and reserved and Olivia spends all her time observing everyone else’s lives, particular that of Phillip Becker-Jacobs – her crush for the last two years. When Georgia’s mom teaches them to make the family restaurant’s famous fortune cookies and tells the girls about the sense of community the apartment building used to have the girls decide to try and restore some of that friendly spirit. As they try to make and deliver fortune cookies to every resident they begin to remember why they’re such good friends and begin to learn new things about each other.

I really enjoyed this book. I grew up loving books by authors such as Judy Blume and Paula Danziger and reading this book transported me back to those days. I know that this would have been a book that had me hiding with a torch to finish in one night.

The three main characters are all well crafted in my opinion, they are all flawed as we all were as thirteen year olds and I think most young teenagers reading the book will find that they identify with at least one of the girls. I also felt that their different approaches to boys and crushes to be believable, I could remember girls at school who were just like all three of the characters – from the girls who portrayed a confidant exterior and mixed well with the boys, to the ones who had almost obsessive crushes but wouldn’t do anything about them and the girls who didn’t want to talk about boys or feelings and preferred to keep everything to themselves.

I really enjoyed the fortune cookies plotline and following the girls on their journey through their apartment building meeting all of the residents. So often today we don’t know much if anything about our neighbours and seeing the girls discovering some of the secrets of their community was thoroughly enjoyable.

“Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes” is published in hardback by Amulet books in the UK priced £9.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.