The Black Book of Secrets by F.E.Higgins

Title: The Black Book of Secrets
Author: F.E. Higgins
Genre: Fiction
Set in: England
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (October 2, 2007)
Source: Personal Library
Rating: 4/5

My thoughts:
I honestly did not expect much from this book. It was just something I found in a sale at dirt cheap price. But I was pleasantly surprised. The Black Book of Secrets is a very unusual book. Ludlow Fitch, a 16-year-old boy, runs away from his cruel parents and by chance reaches a village called Pagus Parvus in the dead of the night. There he meets a man called Joe Zabbidou who has come out of nowhere to live in the village and has a secret. He is a pawnbroker by day and a trader of secrets by night. Ludlow becomes his assistant.

The bad guy in the village is Jeremiah Ratchet who has half the village under his debt and is a very cruel man. The villagers start to trust Joe and come to trade their secrets with him in the night. Most of them have to do with Jeremiah’s cruelty. Joe is unable to do anything in spite of knowing how cruel Jeremiah is.

I don’t want to reveal much so I wont tell you what happens. But I loved the end as much as I loved the book. I loved reading all the secrets and wondering how everything tied together. The Black Book of Secrets is supposed to be a children’s book but I think it’s very dark to be read by children. It could be more of a YA novel.

The back of the book says the author found Ludlow’s memoirs concealed within the hollow of a wooden leg. She pieced together the memoirs and filled in the gaps with her imagination. I don’t know how true it is but the result is a very entertaining book.

Definitely recommended.

Candor by Pam Bachorz

Title: Candor
Author: Pam Bachorz
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult (dystopian)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: EgmontUSA (September 22, 2009)
Rating: 4 out of 5

My thoughts:

Candor is a dystopian novel that reminded me of The Stepford Wives, but thankfully the author has a unique take on it. Candor is a town in Florida which is supposedly a heaven for parents. It’s a town where children don’t disobey, they don’t drink or smoke or do drugs, they do their homework and they maintain a respectable distance from girls. Only this heaven is creating by messing with the kids brains, by feeding messages to their unsuspecting minds. The founder of Candor thinks everything is going well but there is one person who knows about it and is doing everything to save himself from it. And it’s none other than his son, Oscar.

Oscar protects himself by creating his own messages and feeding them to himself so he does not turn into the Condor robot kids. He also helps rich kids realize they are being manipulated and help them escape for a huge fee. All his plans start falling apart when a rebellious girl Nia comes to town. He is completely smitten by her and her uniqueness and he wants to keep it that way. He does not want Nia to change.

The story was pretty slow up to this point. I was reading and wondering what is about this book that people are raving about so much. I honestly didn’t get it for the longest time. But the last 100 pages more or less made up for it. It was awesome and mind-blowing if only for that part. But it was worth it.

I liked Oscar and loved that he was not perfect. He wasn’t a caricature, he did what he could to stay sane. He also learned to profit from it. For me that was refreshing. Nia was forgettable, I couldn’t really get her appeal but it could be that she was still an original among so many robots. Did I tell you the end was amazing? Pam Bachorz’s second book Drought has just released but it’s not a sequel to Candor. But there has to be a sequel to this and it has to release soon.

Sea by Heidi R. Kling

Title: Sea
Author: Heidi R. Kling
Genre: Young Adult
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (June 10, 2010)
Source: library
Set in: Indonesia
Rating: 3 out of 5

My thoughts:
Sea is about a 15-year-old girl Sienna who lives with her father and grandmother in U.S.A. She lost her mother in a plane crash a few years back. She has serious emotional issues which were the result of her mother’s death. Then she accompanies her father to Indonesia to work with the Tsunami orphans, she is instantly attracted to an Orphan boy Deni who is playing the drums for their welcome ceremony. I found the instant attraction weird. There is nothing that really makes him stand out other than his strong muscles under his tight shirt. I do understand his appeal later on since he seems to be the leader of the other boys and keeps passing deep, dark looks to Sienna. She’s a teenager after all, she’s bound to fall for that.

Anyway, as Sienna gets to know more about the orphan kids and the things they lost, her own sorrow seems very small to her. She works on her father’s team with the kids suffering from Post Traumatic stress disorder. This is the really sad part of the story-reading about children having to watch their entire families swept away. It’s heart breaking.

As a novel, what worked for me in Sea was the setting. I don’t think there are many YA novels that are set internationally. It feels like the author has actually been to Indonesia in the way she describes the landscape, the people and the customs. What didn’t work for me was believing that a boy from a village could speak English so fluently. We have been to Indonesia twice and we’ve had a really tough time communicating with the locals since very few know how to speak English.

If I decide to overlook that I still have a couple of things I didn’t like. Sienna-I didn’t like her and I didn’t understand her. She was stupid and irresponsible and there are only so many things you can excuse for being a teenager. If I was her father I would have grounded her for life. Another thing I didn’t like was the ending. It kind of negated the entire romance between Sienna and Deni for me. I can’t really tell you why without spoiling the end..

But, Sea has its appeal. Even though I didn’t love it, I know there are readers who might love this book.

This book counts for the East and SouthEast Asia Challenge

The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird

Title: The Witching Hour
Author: Elizabeth Laird
Genre: Young Adult (Historical)
Source: Library/ Review copy
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (1 May 2009)
Set in: Scotland
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:

I picked this book because I love reading anything and everything about witches and witch trials. Also it’s set in 17th century Scotland which is just icing on the cake. The Witching Hour is not about witches or witch trials entirely though. It’s about a girl called Maggie who lives on the Isle of Bute with her grandmother who is bitter and angry with life and all that fate has done to her. She can’t help but turn all the hate on the neighbors and the people around her. When one of the new-born dies, his father accuses Maggie’s grandmother of witchcraft and since most of the people don’t have very high opinion of her, she is branded as a witch and burned. Maggie would have been burned too if not for Tam, a family friend.

Maggie manages to run away to her dead father’s brother who lives with his family in Ladymuir. Although he welcomes Maggie in his house and family he has his own problems to deal with. It’s the time when the King wants to replace God in the churches of Scotland and establish himself as the supreme leader. But many people, including her uncle’s family, is opposed to it. They have their secret meetings and sermons. When the King’s men arrest people from the town who have not been co-operating with the King, all hell breaks loose. Maggie has to leave her safe heaven and embark on a journey and put everything she has on risk.

There are a lot of things I loved about this book. First and foremost is the setting. The author Elizabeth Laird describes the time and the place so beautifully that you can’t help feel like you’re actually there experiencing it all with Maggie. I loved the Island of Bute and loved traveling with Maggie across Scotland. It’s as good as it gets where traveling via fiction is considered. I also loved Maggie and how she learned from the mistakes her grandmother made, and how even though she necessarily wasn’t always righteous, she had a good and brave heart.

I learned a lot of things about Scotland that I didn’t know before and although I don’t really understand all the religious details and intricacies, I had a good time getting immersed in the story of Maggie. It’s a Young Adult book but it’s also a book which adults can enjoy thoroughly. The Witching Hour goes way beyond a teenage girl’s story.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the length. There were a few dry spots in it and I guess it would have worked best if the book was cut short by a few pages. But other than that I heartily recommend this book.

Note: The Witching Hour is releasing in the U.S as The Betrayal of Maggie Blair in April 2011.

The Truth of the Matter and The Patron Saint of Butterflies

The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan: This is the third book in the Homelanders series. You can read the second book without reading the first but to read the third, you have to read the second. In the first book (no spoilers), Charlie West does not remember anything about his life. He learns that the police are on his trail to arrest him for murdering his best friend. But the bad guys are after him too and he’s clueless why. In the second book he finds some answers but he doesn’t really remember a lot from his past year. In this book he remembers almost everything and seriously what a bizarre one year it was for him. I mean, the plot is unbelievable. I rolled my eyes almost throughout the book. There is only so much that can happen to an 18-year-old. But Charlie West is an extraordinary human being obviously. This book made me laugh so many times, not because the book was funny but because the plot was so unbelievable. But there is this un-putdownable quality in this book. I just couldn’t stop reading. It’s a good continuation to the series. This book doesn’t end here though. There is a fourth book in this series. And you know what? I want to read that too.  3 out of 5 stars.

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante: A nice book which would have its own post if I had reviewed it on time. But I didn’t and now the details are a bit hazy. It’s a story about two 14-year-old girls Honey and Agnes set in Mount Blessing religious commune. Agnes is devoted to her faith and believes everything that is told to her by her parents and their religious leader. Honey is an orphan who is a little wild at heart and difficult to tie down. As she has no parents to teach  her the ways of their religion all the time, she grows up reluctant to follow it blindly. She wants to move out of the commune and experience normal life. There are also things going on in the commune that she knows are wrong. When Agnes’s grandmother takes the kids and runs away from the commune, Honey and Agnes have to learn to live their life all over again with a completely new set of rules and beliefs. I loved how opposite the two characters are and I liked both the girls. I liked how they both struggled with what was right and wrong and what was taught to them. In spite of a serious subject it’s a pretty light and quick read. I enjoyed reading it and will definitely recommend it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Pupulazzi by Elise Allen

Title: Populazzi
Author: Elise Allen
Source: Review Copy
Genre: Young Adult
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books (August 1, 2011)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:

Normally I wouldn’t have picked this book up because it seems like it’s aimed at teens. I love YA but I usually stay away from books that revolve around school like because I don’t really seem to connect. But Populazzi I picked because it’s written by Elise Allen who is a 2011 Debutante.

Cara is a teenager who is a nobody in school. The fact that she peed in school when she was a kid followed her as she grew up and stopped her from climbing the social ladder. But when she changes school she decides to start with a clean plate. Her best friend Claudia, makes a plan for Cara to climb the ladder and thus become popular in her new school. The plan is to start dating guys starting at the middle level and then gradually climb up and date the most popular guy and hence become the Populazzi.

It’s actually a pretty predictable plot. It started off very interesting and funny. I was engrossed until her first two boyfriends, Archer Jain and Nate. But after that it just seems like a drag. It’s a pretty believable story though. I can totally see teenagers relating to it. In spite of the topic of the book, the author has tried to maintain a sense of right and wrong throughout the book. Cara definitely knows the difference but still goes with the flow.

It is also probably one of the very few books with an Indian American as one of the important characters. So that was kind of refreshing. The writing was free-flowing which helped but I can’t deny that I was a little disappointed in the book.  But I liked the writing so I will definitely pick up her next book if the premise interests me.

I seem to be in the minority as the reviews on Goodreads are very good.

Heart With Joy by Steve Cushman

Title: Heart With Joy
Author: Steve Cushman
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Review Copy
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Canterbury House Publishing (September 1, 2010)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Heart with Joy is about a 17-year-old boy Julian whose mom left him and his father because she said she wanted to help her parents with their motel and complete writing her book. But Julian knows it’s more than that. He plans on going to Florida to his mother for the summer, and possibly to settle there. He is not as close to his father as he was with his mother, so staying with his father is not really appealing to him.

Julian takes up cooking and other household activities after his mother goes away. Slowly, he discovers that he really likes cooking and is possibly even passionate about it. He gets acquainted with his next door neighbor, who is a really old woman, who has a passion for birds.

Heart With Joy is exactly that, finding something that fills your heart with joy instead of going through life just because you have to. It’s a coming of age story, where Julian begins to understand his father, his mother and his own heart. It’s an easy read and its a very simple and quite story. I enjoyed knowing more about birds as a hobby and also loved the glimpse of recipes given in the book.

I had a problem with what a sweet, understanding teenager Julian is. I haven’t met any teenager who is as well adjusted and has his priorities in place and also who has such insight into things. But maybe I’m just being cynical.

It’s a good book though, definitely worth a try if you like YA or like quite stories.

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison

Title: My Fairy fair Godmother
Author: Janette Rallison
Genre: Young Adult (Fantasy)
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (January 6, 2009)
Source: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
This book was on my Wishlist for some time so when I spotted it in the library I grabbed it and the good thing is I wasn’t disappointed. Before I tell you how much fun it was let me tell you a little about the story. 2 sisters-Jane and Savannah. Jane steals Savannah’s boyfriend Hunter. Savannah is heart-broken which is why when a fairy godmother asks her to make 3 wishes, she wishes for a Price and a happily ever after like in fairy tales. But the problem is that her godmother is a teenage fairy, Chrysanthemum Everstar(Chrissy) who is granting her wishes as part of an extra grades project.

As part of Savannah’s first 2 wishes, Chrissy sends her to the middle ages, once as Cinderella and once as Snow White. The third time, even though Savannah tries to get her wish correct, she is again stuck in the middle ages with Tristan who is a guy in her school. They both have to take care of whatever problem they have and come back to the 21st century.

I just loved the concept and the fact that the fairy Godmother was a teenage girl who was always shopping and partying. I loved how Savannah’s ideas about a fairy tale were shattered when she went to the middle ages. In fact, it was so logical that even I had to think over how dreamy these fairy tales really are. I loved all the characters. Savannah was a typical popular teenage girl but I liked how much depth there was to her even when portrayed as a caricature.

I loved the sense of humor and I laughed out loud many times. It’s such a fun book. The end was a little confusing for me but overall I enjoyed My Fair Godmother a lot. Those who love YA or love fun books, I’m sure you would like this one.

Prada And Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

Title: Prada and Prejudice
Author: Mandy Hubbard (Blog)
Source: Library
Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: Razorbill (June 11, 2009)
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Callie is a 17 year old average geek girl who has no friends. She convinces her mom to let her go to a London School trip hoping she could make new friends here. But things don’t change. To get noticed by the popular girls she goes shopping and buys a $400 Prada shoes. But the moment she is out of the Prada door, she slips, falls down and hits her head. When she wakes up it’s 1815 and she is alone in a forest.

She somehow manages to walk herself to something that looks like a castle and decides to ask for help. A girl called Emily, who is almost her age, mistakes Callie for her American friend Rebecca, who was to arrive a month later. Callie wanting someplace to stay and get help lies about being Rebecca. There she meets Alexander, Alex, who is a young and handsome guy about her age. But….he is the Duke of Harksbury. After some time Callie realizes that she really is in 1815. Emily is about to get into an arrange marriage with a guy old enough to be her father and Alex is an arrogant guy who seems more mean and arrogant every day.

Prada and Prejudice was such a fun book. I enjoyed seeing a 21st century girl thrown in 1815, in the world of balls, dances, carriages and corsets. It was fun when Callie showed off her knowledge from the 21st century, things which were not known in the 1815′s.

The Duke of Harksbury, Alex, is another Mr. Darcy. But I love how Mandy Hubbard has taken inspiration from a much-loved novel and come out with an original story. I loved all the characters but I wish I got to know a little more about Alex. Mandy Hubbard could convincingly switch from 21st century to 1815 in a split second without making it awkward or unbelievable. I was not a fan of the ending though. I wish it was different although I fail to come up with other endings on my own without turning it into a series which I’m glad she didn’t.

Read it if you want a fun, fluffy and light read or if you love YA.

Mandy Hubbard has written 2 other books, one of which is releasing in 2011. I am especially excited about Ripple, can’t wait to get my hands on both the books.

Paper Towns by John Green

Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Set in: United States
Source: Personal Shelf
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
I cursed myself for waiting so long to read it and to discover John Green. I can safely say it’s one of the best YA novels I have read. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting this. This book really make me laugh out loud many times, it made me fall in love with the characters.

Quintin (Q), Ben and Radar are friends who are in their final senior year. Q and his friends are not the popular kids , but they do have fun and are almost comfortable in their own skins which makes it a refreshing approach on unpopular kids in YA novels. Q is in love with this firecracker of a girl called Margo. She is everything Q is not. Although they were good friends when they were kids as they lived next to each other, they kind of drifted apart as they grew up. Margo became the popular girl. On the outside she seems perfect, but beneath that perfect exterior is a girl who is very different from what Q knows and loves. When she disappears leaving clues for Q to find her, he starts realizing that there is a lot more to her than what appears on the surface.

Q becomes obsessed with finding Margo and as the book progresses we get to know more about Q’s relationships with his friends and his parents. Paper Towns is the kind of book that makes you want to love the author for creating characters like these. The humor is delicious and as I said before I was laughing throughout. Even my husband was intrigued and asked me to keep my copy for him instead of taking it back home. What is the best part of Paper Towns is that even underneath all this humor is a sensitivity and warmth which very few authors can achieve.

If you haven’t read John Green, do so now. Even if you don’t read YA, you simply cannot go wrong with John Green. Cannot wait to read his other books.

Some Quotes from Paper Towns
“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”

“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.”

“The rules of capitalization are so unfair to words in the middle of a sentence.”

“When you say nasty things about people, you should never say the true ones, because you can’t really fully and honestly take those back, you know? I mean, there are highlights. And there are streaks. And then there are skunk stripes.”