Give Me a K-I-L-L

Give Me a KILL

Give Me a K-I-L-L by R.L. Stine (YA Thriller)

This latest addition to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series incorporates the usual mean girls, snotty cheerleaders, school officials with no backbone, and annoying, clueless parents. A highly talented, but troubled, cheerleader from another school moves into town, threatening the makeup of the entrenched cheerleading squad, with murder and mayhem as a result.

Young adult readers, including those reading teen horror, deserve better from R.L. Stine. Besides stunted, uninteresting sentences that seem to assume the reader is incapable of reading anything more complex, the characters in this book are hard to care about, the ending wraps up problems the reader never knew were problems, and there are very basic errors, like saying the aorta in a victim’s neck was eaten away by acid. The aorta is not in the neck.

To make things worse, we have to believe the perp is using acid that’s strong enough to eat through skin, muscle, windpipe, and esophagus to get to the aorta — which, if it were there, would most likely be against the vertebrae — but somehow the acid has no effect on the vulnerable parts of the item it coats. Not to mention that any high-schooler who has taken basic chemistry knows that concentrated sulfuric acid fumes would be a dead (pun intended) giveaway, and the victim would have to be severely distracted (think comatose) not to notice before picking up said item and putting it to her throat.

Other than a scene involving cockroaches, there’s not much here that rates as creepy. There’s nothing deep and psychological and no real build-up to a total freak-out moment. The closest we come is a fairly glossed-over minor scene with the big question: will one cheerleader catch another or let her fall on her head?

I expected a whole lot more from R.L. Stine.

Bella gives Give Me a K-I-L-L two stars (Not enthusiastic, but you may be.). 2-stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Frog Theory

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The Frog Theory by Fiona Mordaunt (General Fiction)

The title of this book refers to the theory that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, but if put into cold water slowly heated to a boil, will stay and be cooked to death. It is a metaphor for the inability to perceive danger and to react appropriately when a situation is getting worse little by little.

In this case, the frog is Clea, a girl from the wealthy side of London, who is being abused by her stepfather. The boy who makes her aware of what’s slowly happening is Kim, who lives in a housing project on the wrong side of town. Kim and his buddy Flow deal drugs, drink beer, and go to parties. We also follow The Principal, a woman who runs a school for problem teenagers. Kim becomes a student at her school, and the four main characters come together.

Eventually we realize that they are all frogs. Kim lives a pointless life and keeps making the same mistakes. Flow’s fiancé, Jackie, cheats on him, coming on to Kim and everybody else, but he defends her in spite of the evidence. The Principal was wronged by her former husband, but rather than telling her children the truth about their father, she told them he died and continuously feels guilty about it.

The book description calls this a laugh-out-loud story, but I found only the occasional snicker, usually provided by Flow. The one and only character whose fate I actually cared about was Clea. I found it hard to root for Kim, and The Principal was annoying. The “miracle” that happens to her felt completely out of context, a true WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT? moment for me. An epilogue does its best to wrap it all up into a neat package and provide a final surprise, but for me it fell flat.

Four-letter words aside, the use of the vernacular was interesting, as was the look at life on a different side of London.

Bella gives The Frog Theory three stars. 3 stars

Potty-mouth Index: HIGH   If you, the reader, are at all offended by use of the “f” word, the “c” word, and a few others of the same persuasion, this book will definitely offend.

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour. For Fiona Mordaunt’s guest post go here.

All Darling Children

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All Darling Children by Katrina Monroe (Fantasy)

If you ever thought the character Peter Pan was more creepy than cute – a weirdo with narcissistic tendencies and a strange sense of fun – and that Wendy was a twit who needed to be more afraid, then this book is for you. I admit, I only know their story through Walt Disney, and maybe the original novel doesn’t paint such a rosy picture, but no matter what, I found All Darling Children to be more realistic and a lot of fun.

Well, maybe not fun. Peter really is a creep, but there’s more to Wendy than we knew. She’s Grandma Wendy in this version, and the heroine is her teen-aged granddaughter, Madge. The two are constantly at odds, with Madge doing her best to run away every chance she gets, and — no surprise — she makes the ultimate getaway with a trip to Never Never Land.

Captain Hook was always my favorite, and he’s there, too, along with Smee, Tiger Lily, and the Lost Boys, of course. Tinkerbell is out of the picture, though. Little Michael is now Great Uncle Michael, and he has multiple problems as a result of his bizarre childhood experience. Madge is a cynic after growing up under Grandma Wendy’s thumb, so her take on the whole thing is the best part. Throw in a surprise ending, and this could actually be called fun, in a weirdo way.

If you like the “other side” of fairy tales — think Wicked — this is for you.

Bella gives All Darling Children four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: MODERATE

Heartborn

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Heartborn by Terry Maggert (Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’d like to start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fantasy world that Terry Maggert creates. The imagination and creativity of authors who write these types of books always fascinates me. He has brought to life a whole society living in the clouds, with Skywatchers, Scholars, Watershapers, Blightwings (my favorite), Flyers, and the Factors of the nasty Crescent Council, as well as Windbeasts, Airdancers, elementals, and, of course, Heartborn — the rarities born with a need to care for others.

The story fluctuates between the angels in House Windhook, a powerful family looking to overthrow the oppressive Crescent Council, and a seventeen-year-old on Earth named Livvy. Livvy is waiting for a heart transplant, but we know early on that she is very important to members of House Windhook. Keiron, the youngest son, has plunged to Earth in an effort to find her and save her, while the entire family prepares to do battle with the Crescent Council and its supporters in order to change the future of their society.

I enjoyed the style of writing. I was in the moment with the characters and felt like I knew them pretty well. Where it fell apart for me was the ending when I just became confused. I had to go back and reread parts to make sure I didn’t miss something, and when I finished I still wasn’t sure where Livvy was – on earth or up in the clouds? Were her parents really her parents after all, or was she adopted like she said? All of the people who seemed to exist in two worlds – were they watching and taking care of her the whole time? Were they really angels? There were too many unanswered questions for me.  I know it’s the first in a series, and that’s not the problem. I’m just not sure what happened in the last chapter or two. I will definitely be interested in reading the next book, but there are some things I felt should have been more clear in the closing to the first.

Bella gives Heartborn four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Between Dreams

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Between Dreams by Cynthia Austin (Paranormal fantasy)

We do not normally publish a review that is less than three stars. Instead, we connect with the author and let him or her know why we cannot give the book a better review. However, this book is getting some high star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, meaning that it appeals to a certain group of readers, if not to us. Because our two stars mean “We are not enthusiastic, but you may be,” we are taking this opportunity to explain our rating and to let readers decide for themselves if they find our concerns relevant to them.

The description was promising: Sidney Sinclair was living the dream of any eighteen year-old girl… A handsome rock star boyfriend, a closet full of designer clothes, a limousine service at her beck and call, and a mansion in the hills of Los Angeles. Even with all that glamour and excitement at her fingertips, she still feels as if she’s been missing something in her life so she decides to leave. While trying her best to put her dysfunctional romantic relationship aside and tend to her beloved Granny, Sidney unexpectedly stumbles upon an intriguing emerald pendant boxed away in her grandmother’s closet. Soon she learns it once belonged to her long-lost mother who committed suicide when she was just a baby. Suddenly feeling emotionally connected to the woman who had birthed her, Sidney begins to wear the necklace. This sends her on a whirlwind journey that alternates between fantasy and reality… Almost immediately, she starts having dreams linked to the mysterious pendant. As danger begins to seep into her life, Sidney refuses to remove the necklace and instead documents each dream to help her further understand them. However, she soon begins to wonder if they are dreams meant to bond her to a mother whom she never knew? Or a subconscious warning that threatens her very life?

Unfortunately, we found the story itself to lack the promised intrigue. Instead, we found ourselves skimming the last half, hoping something would happen. The rock star boyfriend (Ray) is a cliche, and the “beloved Granny” is a device to give Sidney a reason to leave Ray, go home, and find the pendant. Granny is in a coma, and Sidney doesn’t “tend to” her at all; she hires a nurse and goes back to her old grocery clerk job and her friends. Perhaps Granny is being kept alive in the book so she can come out of her coma for a happy ending in a future installment, but so far, she has no presence whatsoever.

Ray floats in and out of Sid’s life, claiming he cares but apparently bedding other women, and she keeps taking him back because he’s her true love, for whatever reason. At the same time, she’s having dreams about a green-eyed man and then meets him at the grocery store and again at a bar, and of course, he’s unbelievably handsome and sexy and she’s torn between him and Ray. Still nothing happens, but we know she’s conflicted. She also rants about religion and the Catholic church, which does nothing to move the story along, and just feels like venting by the author.

What cinches the two-star rating for us are two things: dreams related in detail and an out-of-the-blue cliffhanger ending dropped like a bomb.

Dreams are dreams, not reality; if they are not what’s actually happening to the main characters, they can feel superfluous, even when they’re meant to  portend doom. They’re still only imagination until something actually happens, and too many of them, related in detail, hold back the action and become ho-hum reading at best, boring at worst.

Cliffhanger endings work for a TV series; in fact, they have become obligatory. They should not happen in a novel, however, as an abrupt ending that just comes out of nowhere and stops the action (or lack thereof) cold. Yes, the ending is a jaw-dropper, but that’s not a good thing when it makes you think, “Where did that come from?  Are you serious?”

If we are expected to pick up Book Two in the Pendant series, it’s going to take some build-up to a new crisis in the making, not something that blindsides us. Think of a series like The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight. Each book in the series stands alone, with a story arc that is complete and satisfying and makes you want to stick with the characters because you’ve seen them grow and change, and their welfare has become important to you. You care about them as people, and you want to know what comes next. That’s not happening here. At least not for us.

We give Between Dreams two stars. 2-stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

 

 

 

The Dragon Sphere

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The Dragon Sphere by Abel Gallardo (Young Adult Fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction)

This book, the first in a series called “Nation of Dragons,” introduces Landon Brown, a fifteen-year-old who learns that he is a “dragonoid” or “halfling,” half dragon and half human. He has no idea prior to this; all he knows is that his dad has been absent most of his life. His dad, it turns out, is a highly regarded elder among dragons; his mom is human. Full-blooded dragons can take on human form a few hours per day, while dragonoids are humans who won’t literally transform into dragons but have special powers and need training to learn how to harness them.

At fifteen, Landon goes into training in a summer camp for dragonoids, where he encounters a number of magical things and makes friends with other halflings, including Aurora, whose mother is a dragon elder. They learn about both good and evil dragons and that one of the most feared has been imprisoned in The Dragon Sphere. A group of evil dragons and their followers wish to find and release him in order to regain power over humans, and it becomes the mission of Landon and Aurora, along with their fellow trainee, Shade, to bring back The Dragon Sphere unopened. Unfortunately, many dragonoids before them have taken on the same mission and failed, never to be heard from again. Landon also sees this as an opportunity to finally find his dad and confront him about abandoning Landon and his mom.

This book is categorized as Young Adult Fantasy, designated for readers 12 to 18 in grades 6 through 12. However, it felt more on the younger side, like Middle Grade fiction. The simple, sometimes stilted, sentence structure and limited descriptions and character development left me, as a high school-aged reader, wanting more depth. That said, it has plenty of action, and the story will keep a middle schooler engaged. The author has a vivid imagination and has created an interesting dragon world and fun powers for young dragonoids. There are some messages about believing in one’s self and stick-to-it-tiveness, but the one I expected, about global warming and doing our best to preserve the environment from destruction, wasn’t developed.

Bella gives The Dragon Sphere four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.