Sunday, August 21, 2011

Arty -- The Red Blazer Girls by Michael D. Beil

It all starts when Sophie screams during class. See, she thought she saw a ghostly face in the window of the church across from their Catholic school, St. Veronica's. Naturally - this wouldn't be a detective story if she didn't - she investigates, along with her two best friends, Margaret and Rebecca.

What they find isn't a ghost, but an old woman named Elizabeth Harrison. And Ms. Harrison needs help. Her late father left a puzzle for his granddaughter - Ms. Harrison's estranged daughter - to solve, but never gave it to Caroline (the daughter) before he died. After so long, Ms. Harrison found the puzzle - and now she wants to recruit Sophie, Margaret, and Rebecca to solve the puzzle.

What are three girls to do except say yes? Especially when - wait for it - treasure comes into the mix.

I've never been a huge fan of mystery - never liked Nancy Drew, believe it or not - but this one sounded good enough to pick up. And it was good. The plot is a bit cliché - I mean, what girl detective(s) hasn't solved the clues to find a treasure? - but the twist to the clues Beil puts on it made it pretty fun.

To wit: they were all 'smart' clues, relating to the arts, religion, sociology, geography, history, and, most of all, mathematics. It was a fun ride, even if I had most of the clues solved before Sophie and Co did. But I enjoy feeling intelligent, so it was a plus rather than a minus.

You'll notice that it's a male writer, writing from the first-person POV of a seventh-grade girl. Usually I have no problem with this - The Sisters Grimm series, for example - but for this book, it seemed a bit... obvious. The girls usually acted like boys more than girls. I can't stand the girly-girls that most of these kinds of books have, but there were a few instances where the 'boyness' really jumped out. Another jarring aspect was the near-constant lack of contractions. Again, not that big of a problem, but they just didn't sound like young teenaged girls.

Character development was a tad lacking. As interesting and individual the back of the book made them sound, I often got Sophie, Margaret, and Rebecca confused. Sophie's hyper, Margaret is Polish, and Rebecca's an artist - I knew that, but I didn't feel it. Surprisingly, the adults had more personality - but when certain plot twists came about, it felt like the author had just decided to change the characters without adding any hints or clues that this change might be possible. The word 'jarring' comes to mind again.

Before you get any silly idea that I didn't like the book, let me say that I loved the mystery part of it. The clues were awesome ('listen very closely to the words of the dumb ox'), and I even learned a few things. It's been a while since I picked up facts in a novel that might actually be useful. I even enjoyed the math (though mostly because, being older than the girls, I knew what they were talking about, therefore enabling me to feel intelligent again). And the treasure at the end - well, I won't spoil anything, but I loved it. The setting - a Catholic church and school in the Upper East Side of New York - was awesome, too.

Summed up, this first Red Blazer Girls book (Amazon now calls it The Ring Of Rocamadour, though my copy just says The Red Blazer Girls) is a promising start to a new detective series. Two more books are already out - The Vanishing Violin and The Mistaken Masterpiece - are already out, and I'm definitely keeping me eye out for them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Persy -- Thirteen Days To Midnight by Patrick Carman

Most of us know Patrick Carman for his Land Of Elyon (fantasy world, talking animals, awesome library) series, or maybe his Atherton trilogy (adventure, awesome illustrations, cool world), but the last thing I expected from him was a young adult novel about superpowers.

Though I don't know if you'd call Thirteen Days To Midnight a superhero novel. No one makes themselves a costume and runs off to fight the forces of evil or anything. But Jacob Fielding definitely has a power, and Ophelia "Oh" James and Milo Coffin think it's a good idea to use it (it's not).

Jacob Fielding was the foster kid of a Catholic priest. That is, until said priest died in a car accident. Seconds before the car crash, he turned to Jacob and said, "You are indestructable." That was when everything started to change.

And everything did change when Jacob finally went back to the (Catholic) school a month after the accident, and met the new girl Oh James. Love at first sight. Sigh.

Through a series of unfortunate events (heh), Oh and Milo (Jacob's best friend), discover that Jacob is now, literally, indestructable, and he has the power to transfer his indestructability to anyone just by saying or thinking, "You are indestructable." Oh comes up with the idea that using this transferable power, they can save people's lives.

But it soon becomes clear that things are getting out of control, and Jacob realizes that he should've done more research before experimenting with his gift. As Oh herself starts to crash, Jacob and Milo are going to have to decide how far they're willing to go to save her and stop what they started.

As regular MLU readers know, Ophelia "Oh" James made number one on my "Most Hated Literary Characters" list a few weeks back *runs off to murder her again*. Er, yeah, I don't like her much. But I kind of understand why she is the way she is, y'know? The book wouldn't quite have worked if she hadn't been so dang...argh. "Irritating" sounds too good for her, but "evil" isn't right either. You'll just have to read it and think of your own adjective.

Despite the presence of Oh, this book is amazing. Patrick Carman's writing is simply phenemonal, and all the dialogue about Hell and faith and how it incorporates into the story is brilliant. For once, the main character is made of awesome (go Jacob!), and his best friend is pretty interesting too (go Milo!). Plus, Harry Houdini. He's been a favorite of mine ever since I did a research paper on him back in sixth grade.

It's kind of hard to write a proper review of Thirteen Days To Midnight without giving away twists in the plot, and those twists are so important to the way the book is laid out. In the beginning, you have absolutely no idea what is going on, and even when you're halfway through the book, you're still finding things out that Jacob (the point of view) has been keeping a secret. And it works! It's not like, "Oh, by the way, such and such told me such and such, so I've got the answer", it's the slow unveiling of Jacob's deep secrets and thoughts. It's amazing.

All that said, I won't be able to read this book again for a very long time, if ever. It was exhausting. Plus it took all my self-control not to hurl the book across the wall because of dang beautiful Ophelia "Oh" James. But she's really the only problem with the book, so I'd definitely recommend it to everyone, though if you scare easily, you might want to stay away. The ending is...intense.

...Really intense.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls -- Sort Of.

Okay, so this post has nothing at all to do with books, book movies, or book news in general. It's self-promoting!

Arty and I both have other blogs (Arty's had one for quite some time, but for some reason has never mentioned it and just started a new one as well), and you should really check them out. One of Arty's is mostly devoted to writing, while the other is random thoughts, so take a look here:

And I've recently started a new blog myself, devoted to helping people just like you procrastinate. I'll be reviewing a computer game every Thursday and posting random tidbits of whatever I find entertaining during the rest of the week, so check it out:

But don't get your panties in a knot ('cause I know you were about to), we'll both still be here to review a book every weekend (or Monday, or know us)! And to prove it, here's a special preview of this weekend's book review by Persy Phone:

"...To summarize, this book is..."

End preview.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Arty -- The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

"Fields of white opium poppies stretch away over the hills, and uniformed workers bend over the rows, harvesting the juice. This is the empire of Matteo Alacran, a feudal drug lord in the country of Opium, which lies between the United States and Aztlan, formerly Mexico. Field work, or any menial tasks, are done by "eejits," humans in whose brains computer chips have been installed to insure docility. Alacran, or El Patron, has lived 140 years with the help of transplants from a series of clones, a common practice among rich men in this world. The intelligence of clones is usually destroyed at birth, but Matt, the latest of Alacran's doubles, has been spared because he belongs to El Patron. He grows up in the family's mansion, alternately caged and despised as an animal and pampered and educated as El Patron's favorite." - from Amazon's Review

Yes, I stole Amazon's review again. It's a hard book to summarize - like Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, it's more of a modern mini-epic than a normal novel, with no one big change and no one big showdown. It just keeps going and going, like the Energizer Bunny.

Okay, that doesn't sound too complimentary, so before you get any wrong ideas, let me make it plain that this was an awesome book to me. I can easily see how some people might not like it - it is not your typical action-filled sci-fi adventure. I told Persy it's more like a character-driven dystopian/sci-fi novel than just a sci-fi. That sounds horrible, too, but Nancy Farmer really makes it work with everything that Matt and his friends and enemies go through.

Do clones have souls? Should they really be treated like people? If you have power, why not use it? If there are people in pain and suffering, why not make them mindless slaves who can't suffer any more? Questions, questions, questions. Usually this turns me off right away, especially if I see it pointed out as a positive in a review. Never to fear, the questions are so integral to the story that you don't even see them as questions. Just necessary problems for Matt to tackle.

Matt. I loved Matt. Flawed - he has to be, as clone of the 'Vampire of Opium' - but idealistic and intelligent, too, he displays a balance of good and bad that finally tips to good like any great hero. I just love him, if I haven't said so already.

The other characters are great too. Celia, Matt's adoptive mother of sorts, who seems sweet and grandmotherly at first, but shows a surprising backbone. Tam Lin, the Scottish bodyguard Matt chooses to watch over him, who has a disturbing past. Even El Patrón isn't a totally bad guy - which somehow makes him even scarier when he is bad. The only characters I didn't like were María and Felicia. María is your typical spunky love interest - pretty, doesn't take no for an answer, stubborn, critical... and she cries all the time. Matt deserved better. And Felicia was just... creepy.

I found a little fault with the ending. Again paralleling The Looking Glass Wars, it felt rushed and a little too easy. Still, Farmer redeems herself in the last few pages, and while marring my memory of the book a bit, it wasn't as bad as many that I've read.

So if you're in the mood for both a bit of sci-fi and a bit of a thought-provocation and a lot of great character building, read The House of the Scorpion.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls -- Hate List

Sometimes, there are characters that you just hate. I'm not talking about the evil villains, or the annoying main character, or the weird girl character that exists for no reason (though a few of those are just terrible). I'm talking about those characters, be they good, bad, male, or female, that you just hate and want to die. Don't tell me you've never come across a few of those.

Now I'm not saying the writer did a bad job of creating these characters. Sometimes, you're supposed to hate them, so the author did a brilliant writing job. Go writer.

Other times, they do it accidentally.

So I've composed a list of twelve of the characters I just cannot stand just for your enlightenment, and the books that contain them. We'll work our way up to the worst of the worst.

#12. Alan Ryves from The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.

You probably know my opinion on this book already, since I did a review ( of it back in May. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book, but most of the hate finally settled on this character. He's the brother of the MC, Nick, and seems the epitome of niceness. Makes you want to punch him. Especially at the end. Ugh.

#11. Sabine Campbell from My Soul To Steal by Rachel Vincent, fourth book in the Soul Screamers series.

This character you're probably supposed to hate, so I don't really blame her. But I still can't stand her. She's the ex-girlfriend of the MC's boyfriend who just pops up out of nowhere and starts being a total *cough*witch*cough*. I do not recommend reading this far into the series unless the fifth one ends up being a total gem and you have to connect the dots.

#10. Nash Hudson from My Soul To Steal by Rachel Vincent, fourth book in the Soul Screamers series.

This is said boyfriend, who starts being a total idiot at the end of the third book, and finally just gets there in the fourth. I seriously want to just punch him in the stomach.

#9. Homburg Molly from Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor.

She has almost no reason to exist, except for being the cause of all the trouble and the link between Hatter Madigan (awesome) and Weaver (not so awesome). Just plain annoying.

#8. St. John Rivers from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I can't stand this guy. He's so...gaaah. *shivers* Creepy? Irksome? Awkward?

#7. Muriel Hardwicke from A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson.

This character is the bad guy of the book, so I actually feel rather good about hating her guts (and I always award Eva Ibbotson points for this character). She's just evil. Check out the full review ( I did way back in January.

#6. Ridley Duchannes from Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

I also don't feel bad about hating this character either, since she's pretty much an evil witch (and I mean that literally). She slinks around with her evil powers and smirks and NO ONE EVER DOES ANYTHING! That's REALLY what I hate, is that nobody ever just caved her face in. You can read the full review of Beautiful Creatures here (

#5. Ever Bloom from Evermore by Alyson Noel.

Oh my stars, this book sucks. Lots of it is because of the MC, Ever. Ugh. That's all there is to say.

#4. Lilith Llewelyn from Rampant by Diana Peterfreund.

Lilith actually isn't in the book much, but she's frickin' annoying even when she's not. She's the evil mother of the MC (though she's not actually evil which is partly why I hate her so much). I did a full review of this book a loong time ago ( if you want to check it out.

#3. Esmerelda from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo.

Airhead. And everyone loves her so much. Sure, maybe she can dance and maybe she's drop dead gorgeous, but there ain't nothin' goin' on behind those purty eyes.

#2. Melissa from Midnighters by Scott Westerfeld.

Now I have to tread carefully here, because I don't entirely remember what this character's name was. I could've sworn she was Tara, but I might've been getting her confused with a different mind-reading character. But I did my best to pinpoint what her name actually is, and I'm pretty sure it's Melissa. And I didn't hate her guts until the second or third book (again, I can't remember), when she just became awful. I stopped reading almost immediately and have never gone back and started again, though I'm considering it. Don't know if I can face her again, though...

#1. Ophelia "Oh" James from Thirteen Days To Midnight by Patrick Carman.

And this is her. The queen of awful chars. The mother of all evil. The one person I might kill without regretting it later. She's one of the three MCs, and the girlfriend of the main MC, Jacob. She's reckless, bossy, sly, and a know-it-all tough girl. At the end, you find that there's a good reason she's that way, but that doesn't make her any less annoying. I hated her from the beginning, and I hated her to the very end.

So there you go, a list of the twelve chars I can. not. stand. Woe to the characters that add on to this list in the future.

What about you? What characters do you want to stab repeatedly with a fork and then throw over the edge of a cliff into shark-infested waters?


Monday, August 1, 2011

Persy -- The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson

Meet Aldwyn, an alley cat with a chipped ear and plenty of street smarts. He gets his food however he can (thievery, usually), and enjoys ever minute of his carefree life. That is, until he stumbles into a trap and finds that the worst bounty hunter of them all is after him. While trying to escape, Aldwyn finds himself in a Familiar shop, where young wizards come to purchase their animal helpers. Mistaken for a telekinetic cat, Aldwyn is taken away to be young Jack's Familiar. He meets two other familiars: Skylar, the intelligent (and a bit bossy) blue jay, and Gilbert, a friendly (but slightly dim) tree frog. He finds that life as a wizard Familiar is much easier than life as an alley cat. There's only the matter of masquerading as a telekinetic cat...

But soon that's the least of Aldwyn's troubles. The Familiars' wizards are captured and it's up to the three animal friends to rescue them! But they only have three days to figure out where their wizards are and how to save them.

I honestly wasn't expecting much from this book, but I was pleasantly surprised out how much fun it was. The writing is decent and the characters are interesting and fun. The story continued to twist and turn (though perhaps not being totally surprising, but it's not like it's an adult thriller or anything) and the trio journeyed all over the land of Vastia, a surprisingly developed world.

Let's put it this way: it's an awful lot like a cross between the Warriors series by Erin Hunter (before it got bad) and Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (the first couple of books when they were young and adorable). So if you enjoyed either of those series, check out this one!

Unfortunately, this book's a little obscure, so it may be hard to find it. Hopefully it'll gain some fame by the time the second book comes out so I'll be able to get my hands on it.

While not a completely original tale of magic and animals (is it even possible to find one of those these days?), The Familiars is certainly a great book and definitely worth the small amount of time it will take you.