Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review:
Plan B

By Charnan Simon 

Darby Creek

Series: Surviving Southside

ISBN-10: 0-7613-6163-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-7613-6163-3

Pub Date: 3/01/11

Reading Level: 4
Interest Level: 6-12
Ages: 11-18

When I first started this book, I was a little taken aback by the simplicity of the writing.  So, true to my nature, I did a little research.  And what I found, impressed me.  The Surviving South Side Series is, as quoted from the press release:

"This innovative YA series is a six-book set of urban fiction novels that's written at a 
fourth-grade reading level, specifically designed for reluctant and striving readers, 
including those who read below grade level or are ESL/ELL student."

And once I read that, I knew I had to review this book.  I think this concept is brilliant.  I've always loved reading, been an avid reader.  But, I also know a lot of people who are not.  And what better way to get teens-who might not otherwise-reading?  The topics are fresh and timely.  The stories are complex but the writing is not.  

Description:  Words are not wasted in this novel-and I mean that in a good way.  Very little description is used.  Settings and characters are integrated into the reader's mind via dialogue or short narrative.  And through this, it's easy to stay focused on the story at hand.  There's no interruptions, sweeping the reader into another world.  Overall, description served its purpose well.  Score: (7.5/10)  

Narrative:  Again, because of the nature of this series, the narrative is well paced and simplistic.  The story line is obvious, but it's supposed to be.  There are no secrets or surprises-although there's plenty of emotional tension. The reader knows the main character, Lucy, gets pregnant.  I found I wanted to keep reading because I wanted to know how she would formulate a decision.  There's not a lot of inner dialogue, even though Plan B is written in first person and still I was taken through the process intimately.  If I were to label Plan B, I'd call it a well written character driven novel.  Score: (8/10)

Dialogue:  The majority of the story is told through character exchanges.  Much can be shown through what people are saying and Charnan Simon does it very well.  Sometimes the verbal exchanges are clipped a little short, but I'm guessing that's because of the reading level of the book. Score: (7/10)

Characterization:  Right from word one, I felt like I knew the main character Lucy.  Her quirky, obsessive-compulsions felt natural, never forced.  Her friends had unique names that matched their personalities.  They best part: Charnan Simon shows a lot of diversity in every character while avoiding stereotypes.  I felt like I knew each person intimately.  And when we shared in Luke's turmoil, it felt very real.  Score: (8/10)

Resolution:  The climax of Plan B was smooth and predictable.  But then, it should be, based on the premise of which it was designed.  There was just enough tension to keep it interesting, just enough detail and plenty of fast paced change to keep the story moving.  The emotional power of Lucy's situation was never overshadowed.  The complexity of her decisions were central and though provoking.  And, again, as I LOVE them, this ending was left wide open for the reader to keep thinking about long after the book has been put down.

Plan B by Charnon Simon is a charming, light read.  The topic is heavy, as it should be, but it's presented in a very readable way.  There's no over dramatization, but at the same time (and maybe more importantly) minimization does not occur.  This book is perfect for older tweens and some teens to read. And for the brave educators  and parents, looking for a way to broach an uncomfortable subject, Plan B is a viable tool.  If you're looking for a complex, drawn out novel, you won't find it in Plan B, but that's what makes it so charming, in it's own way. I'd rate this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to mature 12-14 year olds. I'd also give it to some high schoolers who are seeking a realistic, but not complex read. 

Monday, February 21, 2011


Title:Savannah Grey
Publisher:Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint:Carolrhoda Lab
Pub Date:04/01/2011
Category:FICTION - JUVENILE: Action & Adventure (incl. Interactive Adventures): Action & Adventure
Author:       Cliff McNish

Savannah Grey needs to keep moving. She doesn't know why, but she can't let herself get tied down by too many people. It’s almost like she's being chased by something. And now something strange is happening with her neck—with her throat.
Then she meets Reece—a guy who seems to understand her needs. He even knows about her neck. The same thing is happening to him. It's as if their voices are becoming weapons, warming up for some kind of attack.
Nature has been preparing for battle with the universe's ultimate monster for millennia. The time to fight is almost here. The weapon is Savannah Grey.

Before I begin this review, I'd like to make it very clear that, though I have an imagination, it's very difficult to entertain me with action-adventure, paranormal, and horror type writing.  I am a realist.  Maybe it's the nurse in me, but very few fantastical stories can force me to believe in alternate worlds.  So, what drew me to review Savannah Grey?  I haven't a clue.  Maybe it was the simplicity of the title, the beautiful cover or the way the book was described.  In any event, I surprised myself when I asked to review it.  I was not disappointed.

Description:  I am not one who particularly needs a lot of description.  Normally, I'm bored to tears with it.  But Cliff McNish did a great job of weaving description in with the story.  I found the story unraveled well with the continuing descriptions of Savannah's interesting trait.  The more she learned, the more the reader learned.  And that left me curious, wanting to know more.  I appreciated his style of quick tidbits that were thoughtful enough to leave me with a clear picture, but not skipping words, paragraphs, or phrases.  And he made the me-the nonbeliever think this situation could possibly happen to a fifteen year old girl. Score: (8/10) 

Narrative:  I think Cliff McNish's style of narrative is what kept me reading this book.  I loved the technique he used to tell Savannah's story and then concurrently telling The Orcassa's story.  It showed a lot of thought, research and preparation.  Not only was I impressed, but I was very intrigued as well. The change from mostly first person to occasional third person broke up the narrative and added extra tension.  The plot was clear from the start and each event moved the reader forward to the next.  Nothing seemed out of place or sequence. I do have to say I found a lot of the story rather predictable, though I was able to override that due to his beautiful writing style. And considering the genre-that's difficult for me to say.  Score: (8/10) 

Dialogue:  Much of the story unfolded with both outer and inner dialogue of characters.  Neither of which were boring or contrite.  However, when Savannah was figuring things out internally, I think the author could have done a little better here.  Savannah seemed to just understand/know things.  I found this a little distracting in that I had to consider how she figured things out.  Granted, it could have been instinct or the thing in her throat telling her, but that small detail kind of got to me. Though it caused me pause, it wasn't bad enough to make me stop. Overall, the dialogue was well written, interesting and productive.  Score: (8/10)

Characterization:  Savannah Grey is a fifteen year old girl with a big burden to bear: save the world from ancient evil. But it's clear from the start that she is no normal girl.  Her character starts strong and stays that way.  As a matter of fact, all characters are like that.  Instantly, I felt as if I knew everyone involved in the story.  As I said above, I loved the story behind the scenes of the developing Orcassa, the Horror, and the Nyktomorph.  And through his characterization, I learned to understand even the bad guys.  Cliff McNish did a great job with even the smallest of characters.  Score: (8/10)  

Resolution:  The climax of this story came together well.  All the pieces worked together to create a full picture in clever ways.  Although at some points, it did feel rather drawn out.  I didn't get bored, but I did think one or two of the barriers was a little much.  But then again, that could be my difficulty with this genre.  Overall, however, the actual ending thrilled me.  I love wide open endings that leave the reader to come to his/her own conclusions.  I despise being told what to think and feel when I close out a book.  Cliff McNish answered all questions, but left me to decide the rest.  To me, nothing can beat that.  Score: (8/10)

For a beautiful, fantastical read, I'd rate this book 4 stars out of 5.   I recommend you pick up Savannah Grey when it's released in the US, even if you're not a huge fan of paranormal/fantasy and horror.  There's a lot to be said about the power of love and Cliff McNish found a very interesting way to share his thoughts and feelings on it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

No Such Thing As Lucky: Secret #3

This is a picture of me with my husband and kids.  Of all holidays, it was Christmas.  And YES, we dressed in costume for the occasion.  Why?  Long story short: BECAUSE WE CAN!

A series of events since Christmas led me to really ponder the word LUCKY.  I've heard a lot of people say it about themselves and me.  But does LUCK really exist?

I don't believe it does.


Because LUCK is subjective.  Maybe I have more things than some, but most certainly others have more.  That would make me UNLUCKY in comparison.  But maybe I don't want those things.  Or maybe, it's not the things that matter to me.

I see it this way: everything I have, I earned.

I work, play and live hard.

I incite change.

I take chances.

And, therefore, I succeed, at least in my mind.

I guess what people don't realize is that things don't always work out for me.  And that's my fault, probably.  I prefer not to complain or whine about challenges.  Instead, I focus on the positive, keep taking steps forward, and never, ever give up.  And though many things I start end somewhere I never expected, I celebrate success every chance I get.

Failure is does not exist in my world, mostly because I refuse to acknowledge it--much like LUCK.

Therefore, I'm not really LUCKY.  I get what I deserve, both good and bad.  I make mistakes, but I learn from them.

So, please forgive me if I stop you next time you talk about how LUCKY you are.  It's then I shall ask you everything you did to deserve the opportunity.


Saturday, February 5, 2011


JJ Johnson
Peachtree Publishers
Pub Date: 04/01/2011
ISBN: 9781561455782
Genre: Children's, Literature & Fiction, Parenting & Families, Teens & YA

"What happens when a girl, homeschooled by her counterculture mother, decides to spend her senior year in public school? First friendship, first love—and first encounters with the complexities of authority and responsibility."

Description:   JJ Johnson does a great job of using few words to convey a lot of information.  The setting is clear right from the start: a small town in upstate New York. And there's no question about the atmosphere inside the high school the main character, Evie, attends. On the down side, a few things were mildly repetitious taking a little from the story. Score: (6/10)

Narrative:  After the first chapter, which was a little choppy, this turned out to be one of my favorite pieces of this novel.  Evie has a lot of inner dialogue regarding events that have transpired.  In many cases, this can lead to long, drawn out pieces of narrative.  But not in this book! I loved being inside Evie's head as she learned.  Knowing how she was growing from her mistakes and the viewpoints of others was so interesting.

The story itself, about Evie's experiences in public school after years of homeschooling, moved along at a quick pace, never once lending itself to slowing.  The challenges were believablestrategically placed and did not feel contrived.  Sure, maybe a "normal" senior in high school couldn't rattle the whole population to seriously consider democracy in public schools, but Evie is different-hence the title of the book. We--women and girls--need more protagonists like her!  Score (8/10)
Dialogue:  I was fascinated with the verbal exchange in this book.  All conversations led somewhere without boring me.  Facts were revealed.  Action happened.  But most of all, I felt as if I was in the room with the characters while they were speaking.  And you know what?  Many of the confusions that come with conversation were well played out in this novel.  Teens are not dumb, though developmentally they're egocentric.  JJ Johnson did such a great job of showing this, especially through Evie's thoughtful inner dialogue.  Score: (8/10)

Characterization:  Each character had unique traits that overcame stereotypes within Evie's head.  Characters were not predictable and left me guessing.  I loved the way JJ Johnson implied  facts without telling the reader exactly what to think.  To some readers, this ambiguity may be confusing or frustrating, but it's exactly what I want out of a book. 

I particularly liked the leadership role of the principal, Mr. Folger (I wonder if his name paid tribute to coffee?) and the free spirited grounded feeling portrayed by Martha.  Even the teens, Jacinda and Rajas, were unique without being overdone.  Score: (8/10)

Resolution:  The ending of this story was very well executed.  All loose ends were tied up but not forced.  Each piece of the puzzle fell into place, but not too neatly. (Gift wrapped endings make me CRAZY!)  The end satiated me and left me wondering if there was going to be more.  Is there room for a sequel?  Yes.  Am I desperate for one? No.  Of course, being the cynic I am, I'd prefer a little more mess at the end, but that's me.  Overall, though, I liked the ending.  Score: (8/10)

Final Thoughts:  I would recommend this book to readers looking for a strong protagonist and role model in a realistic setting.  The story clearly depicts what can happen when one person challenges the status quo.  And, for me, it leads into the question of sexism.  If Evie had been a boy, would the results have been different?  Hmmm, interesting topic for book club, I think.

Anyway, this book is a quick read with many themes I think teens and many adults can relate to.  I don't feel it's preachy or condescending but has a valid point worth taking in.

For an interesting, realistic read, I'd rate this book an overall score of 3 and 1/2 stars out of 5. Why not 4, even though I liked it?  Mostly because a few insignificant, repeated ideas--namely the ankle injury/pain, and the word lightning used a few too many times.  But generally, it's a good read if you're looking for an interesting YA novel.

When Hobbies Collide

Since my sister taught me to read at the young age of four, I've been a bookworm. I used to read anything at anytime, though lately, I've been a little more discriminate.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm trying to pass along my love I'm raising two children, both of whom were read to while still in utero. To this day, my motto is "Boredom is impossible because you can READ." Though I wouldn't call either child a bookworm (yet) they both have a strong love for the written word.

In an effort to support my love of books, my husband purchased me a Kindle when they first came out. Let's just say, I've already had to replace the battery and have nearly bankrupted us with purchases. (Not REALLY, because I'm a freak for free books, but I DO READ A LOT!)

Unfortunately, most of my reading is way far behind the times, because by the time I hear about a good book, it's been out for a while. A review late in the game would just get lost in the shuffle, so I've never seen the point. Until NOW.

Last week I heard about Here, I can download pre-published galleys of books (for free!) and review them.  I mean, how perfect is this?  I love to read and then discuss books I've read.  In addition, I can learn more and more about the genre I in which I write.  It's a win-win situation when three of my hobbies collide!

If there's a particular book you'd like me to read, contact me.  Or if there's a discussion you'd like to have, comment.  But remember not to attack anyone personally.  To the write of this blog, I've listed my criteria of review.  It may not be all inclusive, but it's the top five things that matter to me.  And like all things in writer's lives, this is a WIP (a work in progress) so bear with me as I learn.

So stay tuned for posts containing reviews of soon to be released books.  I'm really excited and hope to keep the momentum up.  Happy Reading all!