Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Peter and the Starcatchers

By reviewer Greta Marlow
Peter and the Starcatchers (audio book)
Authors: Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson (read by Jim Dale)
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
# Of pages: 7 CDs
Publisher: Brillance Audio
Year of Release: 2004?
Part of a Series? Yes
Rating: 2 (View Scale)
Recommend: No

Description: (from cover) “In an evocative and fast-paced adventure on the high seas and on a faraway island, an orphan boy named Peter and his mysterious new friend, Molly, overcome bands of pirates and thieves in their quest to keep a fantastical secret safe and save the world from evil. Bestselling authors Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have turned back the clock and revealed a wonderful story that precedes J.M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan. Peter and the Starcatchers is brimming with richly developed characters from the scary but somehow familiar Black Stashe and the ferocious Mister Grim to the sweet but sophisticated Molly and the fearless Peter. Riveting adventure takes listeners on a journey from a harsh orphanage in old England to a treacherous sea in a decrepit old tub. Aboard the Never Land is a trunk that holds a magical substance with the power to change the fate of the world—just a sprinkle and wounds heal and just a dusting and people can fly. Towering seas and a violent storm are the backdrop for battles at sea. Bone-crushing waves [strand] our characters on Mollusk Island—where the action really heats up.”

Review: We listened to this book on a long travel day on our family vacation this year, and although I suppose it was better than listening to the same songs on the radio over and over, I can’t say I enjoyed the experience. We listened to it all the way through just to know how the story turned out, though I personally could have quit after about five chapters.

Rating: 2, for violence and overall use of coarse humor

Recommend: No

Positive: Peter and Molly are brave and undertake a seriously dangerous mission to keep the “star stuff” out of the hands of multiple villains. They are loyal to each other and to the other orphans who are Peter’s friends.

Spiritual Elements: The book is built around the premise of “star stuff” that has fallen to earth from space. The “star stuff” has intense magical qualities that make anyone who contacts it have virtually supernatural powers. At one point, the “star stuff” is credited with creating the Greek gods from normal humans, and actually, is said to play a role in any human endeavor in which someone seemed to display incredible power (whether for good or evil) (Genghis Kahn, for example). Molly is part of a group of people (the Starcatchers) who have dedicated their lives to retrieving “star stuff” and returning it to space, while keeping it out of the hands of the “Others” who want to use its power for evil.

Violence: The book has a lot of violence on many levels. There is battle violence, of course, since this is an adventure story, including a scene at the end when Captain Stashe loses his hand that I found to be sort of over the top. But I was bothered by the overall level of violence – the orphanage master is constantly slapping or punching the boys, the boys are given food that is inedible (and described in disgusting—to me—detail), there are frequent mentions of how Black Stashe likes to kill people to relieve stress. It was just much too much for my taste.

I don’t remember specific instances of profanity, but I was turned off by the abusive way some of the characters spoke to each other.

Sexual Content: Of course, Peter develops a crush on Molly, but it’s generally innocent. There are other things, though, that I found objectionable in this category. For example, we are led to believe that Molly’s guardian is dallying with the first mate of the Never Land – Peter observes her in his cabin. There is also an entire chapter that deals with a kiss Peter gets from a mermaid (who, I believe, is nude from the waist up). Finally, and maybe most objectionable to me, is that all the female characters seem to be sexually jealous of each other. Molly doesn’t like the mermaid who kissed Peter, and vice versa. When Tinkerbell is created at the end of the book, she takes an instant dislike to Molly because she can see that Molly and Peter are friends. Come on—give girls some credit! We aren’t ALL in competition for boys!

Other: The captain of the Never Land plays only one role in one chapter – to come out on display as being ridiculously and “comically” drunk. There's also the stereotypical "fat boy" who only cares about food and whines all the time. I was also offended by the “ladies” that Captain Stashe had as his super-fast sails for his ship – after several mentions of them to build up the suspense, they were revealed to be giant black sails that look like a brasseire. (rolling my eyes) I suppose middle-aged women are not the target audience for this book, but I thought there was too much coarse and low-level humor.

Rating: 2, for violence and overall use of coarse humor

Recommendation: No

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World

By Reviewer Dianne
Title: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 312
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: Shortlisted for language and sexual situations (Not recommended.)

Description: (From the book jacket.) The term “cognitive disorder” implies there is something wrong with the way I think or the way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.

Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear – part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo’s differences, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer...to join “the real world”.

There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, and desire. But it’s a picture he finds in a file - a picture of a girl with half a face – that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice and what he can do to fight. Reminiscent of the Curious Incident of the dog in the Night-Time in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.

Recommend? This sounded like something I would enjoy reading. Based on the description on the book jacket and the fact that it received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and Booklist, I was really looking forward to this book. As soon as Marcelo became involved in the “real world” in his father’s law firm, it became evident that the “real world” was an ugly, nasty place. The language was bad enough, but Wendell’s obsession with sex and women was sufficient to make me say “Enough!”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

North of Beautiful

By Reviewer Dianne
Title: North Of Beautiful
Author: Justina Chen Headley
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 373
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 1 View Scale
Recommend? No

Description: "It’s hard not to notice Terra Cooper. She’s tall, blond and has an enviable body. But with one turn of her cheek, all people notice is her unmistakably “flawed” face. Terra secretly plans to leave her small, stifling town in the Northwest and escape to an East Coast college, but gets pushed off-course by her controlling father. When an unexpected collision puts Terra directly in Jacob’s path, the handsome but quirky Goth boy immediately challenges her assumptions about herself and her life, and she is forced in yet another direction. With her carefully laid plans disrupted, will Terra be able to find her true path?" (From the book jacket)

Terra’s lack of confidence is more attributable to her overly controlling, verbally abusive father than to the port wine birthmark that mars her right cheek. He has convinced her that she will always be ugly and is not worth any time or money that has been invested in trying to correct it. Terra is convinced that she is “lucky” to have a boyfriend, even if he has only one thing on his mind. She spends much of her time trying to run interference between her overweight mom and her critical father, and as a result feels imprisoned in a hopeless situation that she has no chance of escaping. When Terra meets a boy who looks beyond her flawed face and appreciates her for her quick wit and abilities, their common interest in art and appreciation of beauty begins to undo some of the damage that a highly dysfunctional family has wrought.

Review: The only reason I finished this book is because it received a “Starred Review” from Booklist, has a number of good reviews on Amazon, and a number of reserves on it at the public library. Although it is a good story, it is fatally flawed in my opinion by the repeated use of the Lord’s name in vain. Add to that frequent cussing and the sexual innuendos...that was enough to make it very distasteful. The really unfortunate part is that all that I found to be objectionable is not really necessary to the storyline. I would have recommended it otherwise.

Rating: 1 for language, sexual situations, and attitudes towards premarital sex

Positive: Terra has a deep love for her mother and older brothers. She is very protective of her mother and tries very hard to soften the belittling comments her father is constantly firing at her mom. As Terra begins to see beauty in everyday objects, her understanding of what is important changes and she becomes more confident of who she is and of her self-worth.

Spiritual Elements: None.

Violence: There is not any physical violence, but the verbal abuse is rampant.

Language: The cussing and profanity was pervasive.

Sexual Content: It is evident from the beginning that Terra is sleeping with her boyfriend. (This is not necessary to the story.) She admits that to her mother later in the book and her mother doesn’t either approve or disapprove of this behavior. There is an incidence of Terra’s boyfriend groping her. (Also not necessary to the story.)

Other: Terra’s mom and a friend have a glass of wine.

Recommendation: I cannot recommend this book for the reasons mentioned above...God reverences his name above all names, and I cringe when I hear or read it used in a profane manner.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Reading: It's Not Too Late

It's not too late to sign up for our Summer Reading Challenge. We as avid readers, parents, and teens want to encourage others to read quality, wholesome books, and therefore, have created this event to challenge you parents to read some great books alongside your pre-teens and teens.

Just choose a book or two. It doesn't have to be an extensive list. And the books don't necessarily have to be labeled teen or young adult books. But, they do have to have teen or young adult characters.

Pick a classic like The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis or a great Christian fiction read like My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay (which I'll review soon)
or the "Hollywood Nobody" Series by Lisa Samson.

Teens, sign up for the challenge and help your mom and dad choose a book for themselves so they can sign up as well.

All you have to do is leave a comment at our original Summer Book Splash post with the books you've chosen if you don't have a blog. You can post about our challenge if you do then sign the Mr. Linky here.

Then, you'll be entered into the book drawings for a chance to win a book like The Book of the King (The Wormling) by Jerry B. Jenkins.

And the most important thing is HAVE FUN! Happy Reading!!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Red Necklace

By Reviewer Dianne
Title: The Red Necklace
Author: Sally Gardner
Primary Audience/age group: 9-12 (according to Amazon)
Genre: Historical fantasy
# Of pages: 384
Publisher: Dial
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3
Recommend? Yes

Description: Fourteen year old Yann Margoza was orphaned as an infant and raised by Têtu, a Gypsy dwarf. Both Yann and Têtu possess supernatural powers which they use in the employ of Topolain, a magician who performs in Paris in 1789 as unrest grows into the dawn of the French Revolution. Topolain is lured into bringing a special performance of his act to the villa of Marquis de Villeduval for the benefit of the evil Count Kalliovski. Topolain is murdered during the presentation and Yann is caught up in a web of intrigue and narrow escapes. He is drawn to Sido, the Marquis’ twelve year old daughter who has been literally banished from the house until now. He feels compelled to rescue her from the burgeoning anger of the people that is directed toward the aristocracy in France and from Count Kalliovski who is determined to exert his power over her.

Review: This is an extremely well written novel that immediately draws you into the action and holds you until the very end. Our hero Yann was likable and believable and Count Kalliovski was as detestable as Yann was likable. The background of the French Revolution gives a feel for the atmosphere of the day. The common people were laboring under heavy taxes and were growing continuously more discontent with being treated as expendable. As they become more and more angry with their situation, mob mentality took over and the people lost all sense of reason. There is plenty here to spark a lively discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed this book...nothing boring here.

Rating: 3 for violence

Positive: Yann is determined to do what he can for the good of his country and for his fellow man, even at personal sacrifice. He demonstrates a fierce loyalty to Têtu and to Sido. Yann displays perseverance as he seeks to improve his lot in life. Sido also demonstrates an almost untenable devotion to her father seeing that it is evident that he does not care about her. Greed and tyranny are key ingredients in the story, but they are always viewed in a negative aspect.

Spiritual Elements: Magic plays an important part in this story as the gypsies possess supernatural powers allowing them to predict the future, read minds, and move objects without touching them. The gypsies’ magic was referred to as sorcery, but there was no sense of their magic being evil.

Violence: The French Revolution was a violent time and blood flowed in the streets of Paris. There are descriptions of the violence that took place, from maiming to murder. Kalliovski’s MO was to place a necklace of garnets strung on a ribbon around the neck of his victims, making it look as if they had had their throats slit. Houses were burned and ransacked.
Language: Considering the intensity of the story, there was very little objectionable language. There word h*** was used a couple of times.

Sexual Content: There was reference to sexual relationships that had taken place and some were implied, but there were no descriptions. The only kiss between Yann and Sido was on the cheek, and that did not take place until they were seventeen and fifteen. There was also reference to rape that had taken place, but it was not referred to as rape.
Other: The drink of the day was ale.

Recommendation: I would recommend The Red Necklace as a riveting story that gives a feel for a time and place other than our own. The integrity of the protagonist and his willingness to persevere in the face of adversity makes him a worthy role model. The level of violence makes it inappropriate for the age range designated by Amazon. The 9-12 age range would more appropriately be grades 9-12.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Antsy Does Time

By Reviewer Dianne
Antsy Does Time
Author: Neal Shusterman
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction
# Of pages: 247
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? Yes. 2 of 2
Rating: 3
Recommend? Yes

Description: (From the book jacket) It was a dumb idea, but one of those dumb ideas that accidentally turns out to be brilliant – which, I’ve come to realize, is much worse than being dumb. My name’s Antsy Bonano – but you probably already know that - and unless you got, like, memory issues, you’ll remember the kid named the Schwa, who I told you about last time. Well, now there’s this other kid, and his story is a whole lot stranger, if such a thing is possible. It all started when Gunnar Ümlaut and I were watching three airborne bozos struggle with a runaway parade balloon. That’s when Gunnar tells me he’s only got six months to live. Maybe it was because he said he was living on borrowed time, or maybe it was just because I wanted to do something meaningful for him, but I gave him a month of my life... ...And that’s when things began to get seriously weird. If you want to know more, like how ice water made me famous, or how I dated a Swedish goddess, you’re going to have to open the book, because I’m not wasting anymore of my breath on a stinkin’ blurb.

Review: This book has adolescent boy stamped all over it. “Antsy” Bonano is rude, crude and irreverent. He is also funny and kind and caring. He loves his family, and even though he spends a fair share of time annoying them, he wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Antsy is a 14 year old boy who definitely has a talent for coming up with one outrageous plan after another. He brings new meaning to the term “time sharing” as he seeks to comfort a friend he thinks is dying. Pretty soon the entire school is trying to get in on the act and things get completely out of hand.
This book was a whole lot of fun to read. Antsy’s quirky personality makes him a very likable character and you can envision all the events that take place...even if they are totally unbelievable. An engrossing read.

Rating: 3 for crudeness and irreverence.

Positive: It is evident from the very first chapter that Antsy is all heart in spite of his sometimes explosive temper. His family and friends are most important to him and he will go out of his way to support them in any way he can. On the surface Antsy seems total goofball, but flashes of insight show that there is more to him than meets the eye. Antsy does a lot of maturing and is well on his way to becoming a caring, responsible adult.

Spiritual Elements: Antsy is from an Italian Catholic family, so the church is frequently mentioned. Antsy does not have a very accurate view of God, heaven or hell, but on one occasion as he is praying for his father who has been hospitalized, he realizes that “prayer isn’t for God....Instead we’re the ones who are changed by it.”

Violence: When Antsy got into a heated argument with Gunnar, Kjersten (Gunnar’s sister) popped him in the eye with her fist to prevent her mother attacking him with a meat tenderizer. (It was for his own protection.)

Language: Crude language of adolescent boys...no profanity.

Sexual Content: Antsy is entranced by Gunnar’s older sister Kjersten and there are a couple of times that they kiss.

Other: Gunnar’s father becomes addicted to gambling after losing his job.

Recommendation: Antsy Does Time will appeal to middle school boys in particular and most middle schoolers in general. Recommend for 12+.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


By Reviewer Dianne
Title: Tennyson
Author: Lesley M. M. Blume
Primary Audience/age group: 9-12
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 225
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Year of Release: 2008
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5 View Scale
Recommend? Yes

Description: Tennyson Fontaine and her eight year old sister Hattie live happily in the back woods of Mississippi, not realizing that they are poor as church mice during the depression in 1932. When their mother disappears one day, their father goes on a mission to find her and bring her back. He sends the girls to Aigredoux, to stay with their eccentric Aunt Henrietta who lives in the ruin of the family mansion on what was once one of the richest plantations in Louisiana. Aunt Henrietta devises an implausible plan using the girls as pawns to rescue their deteriorating mansion and failing fortunes.

Tennyson is haunted by dreams of Aigredoux and is soon drawn into the shadowy history of the plantation. Family secrets are revealed involving intrigue, the treatment of the slaves and the shallowness and greed of her ancestors. This gives Tennyson the basis of a story, and Tennyson concocts a plan using her journalistic talents to try to get her mother to return home.

Review: This was an interesting premise that interweaves refined Southern society with the taint of slavery and the ruined state of many families during the depression. The transition between what was actually happening and what Tennyson was dreaming was awkward and confusing, especially at first. I found some episodes riveting and others rather dry. All in all, it showed a contrast between the ante-bellum Old South aristocratic lifestyle and the down to earth realities of the depression of the 1930’s.

Rating: 5

Positive: Both of the girls loved and adored both their mother and their father, and their happiness did not depend on what they possessed, as long as the family was together. Tennyson was very protective of her younger sister.

Spiritual Elements: The housekeeper, Zulma, referred to Tennyson as “voodoo girl” after Tennyson revealed the information that she had dreamed. There is no mention of the occult as being a part of the dreaming process, but it was a little spooky.

In one instance, the housekeeper told her to say a prayer, and Tennyson replied that she had never said a prayer before. Tennyson really had no idea what to make of God.

Violence: There was an incident when a slave was hit in the face when she protested against her sons being taken away from her.

Southern mansions were ransacked and burned, leaving families turned out and destitute.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Recommendation: I think it will only appeal to a small select group of 9-12 year olds, and possibly to some a bit older as it is more complex than most preteen literature. Although Tennyson is eleven in the story, I had a hard time picturing her as that young. I would recommend this to 13 and up, but do not see this as inappropriate for 9-12 year olds.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TLR's Summer Book Splash

Welcome to TLR's first summer reading challenge. We want to thank Doodle Bug Designs for creating the button above for us. The challenge is open to all our readers: parents, teens, those who just love teen books, bloggers, or non-bloggers. It's simple to participate. Make a list of pre-teen, teen or young adult books you would like to read and share them with us. The challenge starts today, June 22, and will run through September 22, the first day of fall.

And it wouldn't be a challenge without a prize or two at the end. Every one who participates will be entered in a drawing to win a free book. Present and past reviewers may participate in the challenge but will not be entered into the drawing. The drawing will be September 22.

Here's how to participate:

1. Bloggers:
a. Grab the code for the "TLR's Summer Book Splash" button from the code box below and add it to your sidebar and the post where you will leave your list of books-to-be read.

b. Sign the Mr. Linky and add the link from your challenge post so that we can find it.

c. Leave a comment with your email address if it's not listed on your blog.

d. We would love to hear how your summer reading went. If you do a wrap-up post please sign the Mr. Linky again with the link to that post.

2. Non-bloggers: Leave a comment with your list of books-to-be read and be sure to include an email address where we can contact you for the drawing.

3. You must be a US resident to participate in the book drawing.

4. You will get one extra entry into the drawing for signing up for each of the following:

* Subscribe to our Feedblitz newsletter located on our sidebar.

* Become a Fan of Teen Lit Review on our Facebook page by clicking on the link below.

Leave a comment on this post to receive your extra entries.

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