Friday, 16 May 2014

Review: Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

Take a Bow is my third Elizabeth Eulberg novel and it will certainly not be my last. I recommend Elizabeth Eulberg's books to anyone looking for quality teen chick lit or for a sweet summer read. Eulberg is an incredibly talented author whose stories combine social issues, romance, friendships, and drama for a charming, yet addictive story that comes with a satisfying happily ever after. 

Summary: Chasing fame. Chasing love. Chasing a future. Emme has long lived in her best friend Sophie's shadow. She writes songs, and Sophie sings them. It's always been like this, and feels like it always will be. Sophie will stop at nothing to be a star. Even if it means using her best friend and picking up a trophy boyfriend, Carter. Carter is a victim of a particular Hollywood curse: He's a former child star. Now all he wants is a normal life. But being normal is about as hard for him as being famous. Ethan has his own issues — a darkness in his head that he just can't shake. He's managed to sabotage every relationship he's ever been in. Emme's the only girl he's ever really respected . . . but he's not sure what to do about that.

Take a Bow is told from the point of view of four characters who attend a highly competitive arts school. There's plenty of struggling to find one's identity, but there's also a slightly painful, but delicious 'unrequited love' dynamic that's built up throughout the novel. Be warned that this book may disrupt your life. I had a hard time putting it down towards the end as I needed to know if Emme and Ethan would end up together, if Carter will finally be able to do what he wants, and if Sophie will get what she deserves. 

I love that Take a Bow features musically talented characters with realistic musical ambitions. It's not a book about a group of teens who form a doomed rock band. It takes a look at all the hard work required of a student perusing a career in music, at ambition, and at what it takes to make or break your dreams for the future. Moreover, teens can relate to the pressures of being accepted into post-secondary education, and about the fears about the future that accompany the end of one's high school career. 

Take a Bow is a charming, heartfelt, and surprisingly powerful story that could only come from the brilliant writing of Elizabeth Eulberg. Elizabeth Eulberg is my go-to recommendation for YA novels for girls, and one of the top chick lit authors for girls ages 13 & up. 

4 Stars 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Runaway King is the sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince  — and the second book in the wildly popular Ascendance Trilogy. Aimed at readers ages 10-14, I've heard lots of great reviews, including positive feedback from teachers who read The False Prince with their class and due to the insistence of the students, ended up reading the entire trilogy! Kids love it. It's that good! 

Summary: Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumours of a coming war have spread through the castle and Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom? 

I truly believe Nielsen proves her talent as a writer with this book. It topped The False Prince in every way. You can just feel Nielsen's love and belief in the story, and the result is a much more powerful and well-written book.

Jaron's adventures in The Runaway King are action-packed, extremely thrilling, and full of wit, daring, and danger. For most of the novel, readers will remain on their edge of their seats. Good luck to teachers sticking to a strict reading schedule. I had trouble setting this book down. I'd hate to face a classroom full of kids eager for more when Jaron is duelling pirates or rescuing friends from certain doom.

My only criticism is the same as what it was for The False Prince. I struggle a little with the believability of Jaron's resilience and abilities. I do realize that I am an adult reader and this fictional story requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. But sometimes, Jaron's survival, his ability to conquer his enemies, and his ability to escape any means of confinement borders on the ridiculous. Nevertheless, young readers will love the action and suspense. Jaron's character is incredibly stubborn, impulsive, and a little reckless, which makes him interesting and exciting. 

The False Prince is great. The Runaway King is even better! Jennifer A. Nielsen belongs in the hall of fame of "medieval"/fantasy/adventure writers like George RR Martin and Christopher Paolini. The Runaway King will leave you breathless. Thank god I read it after the release of The Shadow Throne. I don't think I could have waited for the follow-up to this amazing middle grade novel!

4 Stars

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Review: Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

As can be easily deduced by the title, Prom & Prejudice is a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Set at an elite private school, Lizzie Bennett is a scholarship student among trust fund kids who immediately see her as an unfit 'connection' to make in their "high society." Will Darcy is exactly as Jane Austen portrays him — exceedingly wealthy, rude, full of pride, and a man with whom we could live happily ever after!

SummaryAfter winter break, the girls at the very prestigious, very wealthy, girls-only Longbourn Academy are suddenly obsessed with the prom, which they share with the nearby, equally elitist, all-boys Pemberly School. Lizzie Bennett, who attends Longbourn on scholarship, isn't exactly interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be—especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London. Lizzie is happy about her friend's burgeoning romance, but less than impressed by Will Darcy, Charles's friend, who's as snobby and pretentious as his friend is nice. He doesn't seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it's because her family doesn't have money. It doesn't help that Charles doesn't seem to be asking Jane to be his prom date, or that Lizzie meets George Wickham, who tells her that Will Darcy sabotaged his scholarship at Pemberly. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk who looks down on the middle class—so imagine Lizzie's surprise when he asks her to the prom! 

Will Lizzie's prejudice and Will's pride keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? From Elizabeth Eulberg comes a very funny, completely stylish prom season delight of Jane Austen proportions.

Much like modern adaptions such as Shakespeare's Twelfth Night into She's the ManProm & Prejudice is the perfect tool not only to get young readers interested in Jane Austen, but it's an excellent way to help readers to understand the plot. With an understanding of the plot, the student can better appreciate the story and not get lost in the words. Eulberg handles Austen's masterpiece beautifully, keeping the story as close to the original as possible, but with a few decisive changes so as to make it her own.

I noticed that a lot of the characters' dialogue sounds like it's reminiscent of the regency era. However, I feel like it kept the story from being cheapened by modern slang or colloquial language. Eulberg preserves much of Austen's language and the original traits of her iconic characters. Even if the names weren't all the same, any reader could pick out who is who.

I enjoyed Prom & Prejudice more than I expected to. I picked it up because I love Elizabeth Eulberg's novels. She's an incredible writer and her books are easy to sink into on my daily commute. It got me in the mood to watch Pride & Prejudice again, so part of my weekend has been devoted to watching the BBC production, featuring a very handsome Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. The lake scene, anyone?

Teachers, if you're looking to give teen girl readers a stepping stone to understanding Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Eulberg's Prom & Prejudice is an excellent way to do just that! It's like Gossip Girl meets Jane Austen him — an odd, but undeniably effective and enjoyable combination!

For ages 13 & up.

3.5 Stars

Friday, 2 May 2014

Review: Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack

Cleopatra in Space is a graphic novel published by Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic) in May 2014. Aimed at readers ages 8-12, Cleopatra in Space is an absolutely fantastic graphic novel. Kids will love Cleo for how cool and relatable she is. Parents and educators can appreciate that this is a well-written and enjoyable graphic novel that kids will love coming back to again and again.

Summary: When fifteen-year-old Cleopatra (yes, THAT Cleopatra) finds a mysterious tablet that zaps her to the far, REALLY far future, she learns of an ancient prophecy that says she is destined to save the galaxy from the tyrannical rule of the evil Xaius Octavian. She enrolls in Yasiro Academy, a high-tech school with classes like algebra, biology, and alien languages (which Cleo could do without), and combat training (which is more Cleo's style). With help from her teacher Khensu, Cleo learns what it takes to be a great leader, while trying to figure out how she's going to get her homework done, make friends, avoid detention, and everything else that comes with being the future queen of the universe!

Parents and educators should be aware that a lot of the humour comes from Cleo's less admirable traits. She's fifteen-years-old; she's certainly not the Queen of Egypt we all know that she grows up to be. Cleo thinks school is boring, she skips classes and generally causes [harmless] trouble. But rebelliousness aside, she's also brave, friendly, confident, smart, and heroic. And while she dislikes school, her opinion changes when she starts taking classes that she really likes and excels at. This is a great lesson in life from Maihack! Math class may be painful, but one day soon, you'll get to take cool electives that will make learning a lot of fun!

Aside from the fact that this is a book starring Cleopatra, what I like best is the story's humour. Cleo is funny, but sometimes the humour is at her expense. I actually laughed aloud at how impressively, weirdly, and hilariously good at combat she is. No violence is shown, but the implication at the ease at which this little girl can take out bad guys is downright hilarious. Cleopatra is a little sassy and she kicks serious ass.

Cleopatra in Space is Egyptian history meets Star Wars. The ridiculousness of having a historical figure starring in a futuristic setting doesn't take away from the quality of the story. You don't even have to know who she is to understand the plot. Mike Maihack is a storytelling genius who has constructed an intelligent and unique action-packed adventure, introducing young readers to an important historical figure.

I recommend Cleopatra in Space to readers who enjoy fantasy/adventure graphic novels without a lot of heavy content.  It's light-hearted, accessible, and fun. This is a fast-paced read with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. I'm eagerly awaiting the future books in this series!

4 Stars

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Review: Grimmtastic Girls #2: Little Red Riding Hood Gets Lost by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

Grimmtastic Girls #2: Little Red Riding Hood Gets Lost is the second book in the Grimmtastic Girls series from Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams. This new middle grade series was published by Scholastic in April 2014.

Summary: Once upon a time, in faraway Grimmlandia... Red Riding Hood is thrilled to try out for the school play. Acting is her dream, and she's great at it — too bad she has stage fright! After a grimmiserable audition, Red decides to focus on helping her friends save Grimm Academy from the E.V.I.L. Society. But when Red gets lost in Neverwood forest and runs into Prince Wolfgang, who might be part of E.V.I.L., she'll need her magical basket and a grimmazingly dramatic performance to figure out what's going on!

Cinderella is the narrator of book one, but it's Red (Little Red Riding Hood) who narrates the sequel. The reader is given enough back story so that anyone can easily step into this series. The plot moves quickly and is full of humour, fairy tale fun, a little mystery, and a lot of relatable social issues that readers can identify with. Red Riding Hood Gets Lost explores mild anxiety, irrational fears about embarrassing yourself or about losing the respect of others, and learning to be yourself.

Along with the social issues and school drama, the book hints at a coming showdown of good vs. evil. While every book appears to be about a different character and a different problem, the series is tied together by the E.V.I.L. society's plan to purge all of Grimmlandia into darkness. Not only will young readers love relating to their favourite fairy tale character, but an epic crossover battle of villains vs. heroes is coming! And after the success of ABC's Once Upon a Time, you know that there's promise in seeing a clash of fairy tale characters.

The books read for the targeted age range of 8-12, though the "cutesy" covers make the books seem like they're aimed at a younger audience. I appreciate the fact that both books in the series feature fairy tale characters of different ethnicities. But more than a series that celebrates diversity, I appreciate the educational value. These books often refer to the original authors of fairy tales and folklore, and there is certainly educational value in comparing and contrasting the many versions of the fairy tales.

The Grimmtastic Girls series is a fantastic addition to home, school, and public libraries. The books are fun, charming, and are sure to be loved by all little girl readers who love princesses, magic, and happily-ever-afters!