Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review for Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

Reading Level: YA (Middle schoolers could easily read it, too.)
Publisher: Disney (Hyperion Books), 2011
Pages: 298
My rating: 2 stars            
Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life: Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners. There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long — and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous, and that is . . . the emerald is cursed. Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all, she has her best friend — the gorgeous Hale — and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses and realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time. Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules. (Amazon Product Description)
My Review:
            After reading Heist Society last year, I was pumped for the sequel, Uncommon Criminals. I loved the fast paced action of the last book, and was hoping Mrs. Carter would bring even more to the table this time around. But sadly, Uncommon Criminals didn’t meet all my (enormously high) expectations.
            Why didn’t I love it, you ask? Well, I’ll first tell you what I DID like. 1) Kat’s stubbornness. She’s ready and willing to face up for her mistakes, and she WON’T, under any circumstances, let her friends get hurt anymore. 2) The way Kat’s team works together. They know what the other is thinking, the plan before it’s secretly hatched. They can read a thousand words in one wink, one hand gesture. They’re one mind. 3) Hale. Need I say more? *swoon* 4) The quick change of plans. You can’t skip one page without missing something. It’s non-stop action and keeps you occupied enough for any good con man to swiftly swipe your wallet. (I just had to throw that in…corny enough for you? J) 5) The squeaky-cleanness of the whole thing.
            Now, the one thing I didn’t love about this book (and the last one) was the more than slightly confusing plot. It was worse in Uncommon Criminals, because there were two gems, and I was constantly getting confused about which was which. I had to stop for a minute when I finished the book and just figure out what had happened. Mrs. Carter didn’t exactly explain what happened in plain words. You had to read between the lines. Maybe it was just little old me, not the brightest bulb in the lot, but I found the plot a little too intricate for my liking. It may not bother you, but I was left thinking, “What???”
Quick Review:
Profanity: None.
Violence: None.
Sexual: None. Hale and Kat “accidentally” kiss once, but nothing is described, it’s not sensual in the least, and Kat almost looks back at it with disgust.
Other notables: Like I said in my review for Heist Society, Kat, her family, and her crew are criminals, more or less. They steal and return lost art and treasure to its rightful owners (like Robin Hood), but stealing is stealing. “You shall not steal.” – Exodus 20:15 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We will never forget

Where was I on 9/11? I was just a wee girl of 6. I remember sleepily padding into my parents’ bedroom in my yellow teddy bear nightgown and finding Mommy staring at the TV with horror written all over her face. I didn’t comprehend why the tall, official looking buildings on the screen were toppling over, fire exploding in big bursts from them. I didn’t understand why Mommy didn’t turn the channel- I usually wasn’t allowed to watch violent shows on TV. I didn’t comprehend that our nation, the United States of America, was under attack. Bad men had threatened our freedom, our safety, and our lives. I didn’t comprehend that ordinary men, just like my Daddy whom I admired so much, had heroically placed their lives as 2nd priority and put mine and the rest of America’s first. They knew they were going to die. Some had had wives at home who they loved with all their hearts. Some had children at home. Young children. Unborn children, whom they would never meet.
I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it perfectly now. There were young children on those hijacked planes. Teens, just like myself. They knew they were going to die. Those terrorists had told them that everything would be fine if they just sat still. But they lied. They had put a timer on those people’s lives and it was slowly ticking down. I can’t imagine what those passengers were thinking or feeling as the buildings quickly approached their plane. I know that some felt terror. Some felt anger. Some probably felt peace, because God was comforting His sons and daughters. I’m not sure how I would have felt. Maybe a bit of terrified at the fact of dying. I would have wished I could have done more with my life, helped more people, experienced more. But I know, because I’m a Christian, that I would have felt an overwhelming peace from God. I would have been joyful that I was minutes away from meeting my Savior.
            In the midst of the tragedy of 9/11 and even today, ten years later, people wonder where God was at that time. People wonder if He had turned a blind eye to America’s suffering. No, He had not. He was present with America during that catastrophe. People wonder why He didn’t stop it from happening. I believe that God allows tragedy to see how we react. To see if we turn to Him or blame Him.  Sometimes God allows tragedy because a nation needs punishment. And sometimes He allows tragedy because we need to grow stronger as a nation. I believe that God allowed 9/11 for a little of each of these reasons.
            Today, as we remember the heartache our nation went through ten years ago, let’s remember one other thing. Those Islamic terrorists were thieves. They attempted to take away our freedom. They killed innocent Americans. But God’s presence in our lives did not die. Nothing will ever separate us from the love of God.

This is one of the steel crosses the firefighters found in a steel "cavern" amid the rubble of the Twin Towers. Four crosses in all were found, each standing tall and strong in the remains of a tragedy.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review for Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2010
Pages: 484 (way too long, if you ask me)
Rating: 1 star
Three angels- Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, the youngest and most human- are sent by Heaven to bring good to a world falling under the influences of darkness. They work hard to conceal their luminous glow, superhuman powers, and, most dangerously of all, their wings, all the while avoiding all human attachments.
            Then Bethany meets Xavier Woods, and neither of them is able to resist the attraction between them. Gabriel and Ivy do everything in their power to intervene, but the bond between Xavier and Bethany seems too strong.
            The angel’s mission is urgent, and dark forces are threatening. Will love ruin Bethany or save her? [Description from inside cover flap]
            I’m going to warn you now: brace yourself for a rough review. I usually don’t have to give bad reviews, mostly because I’m very careful about the material I read. But I found Halo in Borders for $5 and decided to give it a go, even though it’s not the sort of thing I would normally read. An innocent, na├»ve, rather stupid angel comes to earth, falls in love with the hot school captain, then expects to get married and have a handful of little half-mortal children? Um…no. Not the sort of thing I usually read AT ALL. But I wasn’t expecting much out of it in the first place- just hoped it was a light, easy, enjoyable read. Did it meet those hopes? Well, it was light and easy. Enjoyable? Eh. Not so much…
            Truth is, I found Halo just plain pathetic. Some may find Bethany’s dilemma troubling, but I didn’t. She was so selfish. All her troubles rested on her love-dovey feelings for Xavier, when she really should have been concerned about the dark forces in Venus Cove. Heh. Not much of an angel, if she’s so self-centered.
            If Miss Adornetto wanted to write a best-selling novel, she should have made sure she had her facts right about angels. I’m no professional on heavenly beings, but some things about Halo really had me rolling on the floor. First off, angels don’t “fall out of the sky.” Heaven is not located above the clouds. It’s not a geographical place that you can get to by jet. I’m sorry, Miss Adornetto, but by making Bethany and her gang fall out of the clouds, you made Halo a whole lot more pathetic. L (Sad face.) Second, if angels are supposed to watch over humans, then why were Gabriel, Ivy, and Bethany so ignorant about meals, school, and life in general?! They aren’t aliens, for goodness sake! Third, Bethany tells Xavier, and I quote, that “God’s existence is beyond human understanding.” What?! Humans aren’t capable of knowing that God is real?! That’s outrageous! I know that God is real and that He loves me and sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me and forgive me of all unrighteousness. I know God exists. J And you don’t have to be superhuman to know that.
Fourth, I found  the language, sexual content (mostly dialogue), and “demonic” violence (I didn’t read that far, but I skimmed ahead and found it) very unnecessary. I’m not used to reading stuff like that, and it bothered me to the point of making me uncomfortable. That’s why I stopped reading. Not because of the whole pathetic-ness of the book, but because of the immoral content. Please know that I want to read only things that are edifying and will benefit me as a writer (I know that sounds completely old-fashioned, but it’s the truth). I view anything else as a waste of time. And that’s exactly what this book was- a waste of time.
Quick Content Review:
Violence: Mild (Bethany heals, er, more like brings back to life, a girl who was in a car accident. Also, a cafeteria cook gets burned by a fryer; nothing described. Aside from that, I can’t really tell you; I stopped reading. But I know that there is some stuff that Jake does to kids at Bethany’s school. Demonic, evil, disgusting things. I can’t tell you if it’s bad or not, hence the “mild” rating.)
Profanity: Heavy (God’s name in vain at least 10 times, if not more, which is kind of hilarious since this is a book about angels. Also, the h-word at least 4 times, the d-word at least once, maybe more…can’t say)
Sexual: Mild - Heavy (A comment in class about Romeo just wanting to get into Juliet’s pants. Bethany is tentative about sleeping with Xavier; she asks her friends at school for advice. Apparently, they are experts at this sort of thing and tell her “not to do it with someone she loves.” Xavier admits he  and Emily had a physical relationship. Xavier and Bethany talk about sex, but decide to wait because they don’t need it to hold their relationship together. They do, though, lie in bed together naked once. I didn’t get that far, but skimmed ahead and stumbled upon this part.)
Other notable content:
-Bethany and Xavier get their palms read.
-Molly, Bethany’s school friend, has a wild party with underage drinking. Bethany, ever the ignorant one, accidentally gets drunk. There’s also mention of an inappropriate game, the details of which I won’t mention.
-Molly and some of Bethany’s other friends have an unhealthy obsession with fashion, prom, and boys (in other words, themselves!).
-Despite being a heavenly angel, Bethany sure doesn’t mind lying to Gabriel and Ivy about her whereabouts and her relationship with Xavier.

Book review for Elixir by Hilary Duff

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010
Pages: 336
Rating: 4 stars
Clea Raymond, 17, lives a charmed life. She travels the world with her best friend, Rayna, partying in countries near and far. Her mother is kept busy by her work as a United States Senator, but she loves her daughter with all her heart. And Clea has a cute guy trailing her every move–her bodyguard/voice of reason, Ben. Everything would be just perfect, except for the fact that her beloved father, a world-renowned surgeon, has gone missing while on a humanitarian mission in Rio. She can't stop thinking about him and his disappearance, and one night she stumbles onto something that might help her find him. Looking through photos she took on vacation, Clea notices a strange man who lurks in the background of every picture. Then, she starts having dreams about him. She's always a different woman in a different time period with him–and she always dies a brutal death. With the help of Ben, Clea travels to Rio to try and figure out the mystery behind her father's disappearance and the identity of the stranger in her pictures and her dreams. This entertaining book has a good mix of romance and suspense with a little reincarnation thrown in for good measure. Clea is caught up between the love she feels for the mystery man and the feelings she starts to have for Ben. Yet she soon figures out that there's more to this love triangle than she realizes. The fast-paced story will keep readers turning the pages until the very end. [Amazon Product Description]
I had never heard about this book until I read a (positive) review for it. I was more than a little surprised to find that Hilary Duff had written a book.  Yes, I thought that ya know, valley-girl Hilary Duff was like, totally too brainless to even like, ya know, read a book, much less like, write one! But despite that fact, I gave it a shot. Before I go on…you know those select books that completely engulf you in the life and problems of the hero/heroine and you can barely stop reading to eat and use the bathroom? Well, for me, this was kind of one of those books. I say “kind of” because, as always, I have some dissatisfaction to go with my praises.
So, first off, this is my take on the characters. Clea’s talent with photography was the one thing that made her unique. And that was about it. She was a completely normal 17 year old… aside from being reincarnated four times all throughout history. I kept thinking of her as a younger version of Hilary Duff, and maybe that’s how Hilary created her to be. I don’t know. Anyways. Rabbit trail over. When she first introduced Ben, I was thinking, “Ok, so Ben will be Clea’s big, strong, hot bodyguard all throughout the book, and in the end, they’ll get together and live happily ever after.” Was that how it ended? Nope. Not at all. In fact, halfway through the book, I began to think of Ben as a weak, wimpy, jealous little twerp. This leads me to… SAGE! Oh my gosh, Sage was HOT. It was so romantic that Sage was destined to fall in love with Clea each time she was reincarnated. Rayna really cracked me up with her little obsession with “soul mates” and all.
But there were some things that didn’t really make a whole lot of sense. First, they portray Ben as a hunk, and then when the real danger sets in, he’s trembling in the corner. Also, he seemed like a pretty cool, chill guy in the first few chapters, and then he becomes a jerk when Sage comes into the picture. I know that he was in love with Clea and all, but to make him so jealous of Sage that he becomes a numbskull; it really upset me and ruined his character. Next, it baffled me that one moment Clea is certain that Sage is some serial killer and is out to get her, killing her time after time. But then the next moment, she’s deeply and passionately in love with him, having a little love fest in Rayna’s car on the side of the road. Will someone please tell her to make up her mind?!? Also, one other thing that bothered me was the unnecessary language. There wasn’t THAT much, but just enough to irritate me. Lastly, the sexuality between Sage and Clea wasn’t needed. It just complicated things and added immorality to a truly captivating novel.
That aside, I enjoyed Elixir thoroughly and was dying for more the minute I reached the back cover. Going off of the way Hilary ended the book, I’m guessing that she plans on releasing a sequel. I’m counting the days till it comes out and cannot wait to see how all this ends. All in all, Elixir was entertaining, suspenseful, and steamily romantic, with only a few unnecessary tidbits of language and disgraceful behavior. If you are hungry for a good romantic paranormal, I suggest you try Elixir.
Quick Content Review:
Profanity- Mild to Heavy (Several words and God’s name is abused many times)
Violence- Heavy (Clea is murdered several times in her past lives, usually violently. Clea, Sage, and a group of other people are brutally slaughtered while trying to protect the elixir. Much description, so beware, all you who are squeamish! J)
Sexual- A mix between mild and heavy. (Rayna’s hobby is flirting with boys, and while in France, she goes home from a club with a guy she just met. Clea and Sage have sex in the passenger seat of his car and in one of Clea’s past lives, in the bottom of a boat. Nothing is described, but there is heavy kissing.)
Other Negative Content- Underage drinking at a club and wild partying on the streets in Brazil during Carnival.