The 31 Days of CeeCee-o-Ween: Midnight Jewel by Richelle Mead

Shiver me timbers! CeeCee just sunk her alligator teeth into this swashbuckling “alternative history” story filled with vigilante pirates, opulent balls, murder and mayhem!

Synapsis: A feisty independent young woman, Mira, must partake in the Glittering Court shenanigans so she can marry into wealth and rescue her brother from a life of indentured servitude. She, along with all the other glittering girls, must be auctioned off to the highest bidders to pay off their contract and ultimately live an unfulfilling, soulless existence in the lap of luxury. But lucky for us, Mira has other plans that involve sneaking off in the middle of the night and gallivanting with the dregs of society!

What worked: The Glittering Court concept is rather disturbing, yet intriguing nonetheless. Imagine living in an oppressed society, where your only chance of survival is to be married off to an aristocratic stranger. With my luck, I’d end up with an old fat man with halitosis.

But I digress…I enjoyed accompanying Mira on her many midnight escapades in the seedy underbelly of Cape Triumph. Through the author’s descriptions of the bustling port city, I felt like I was right there with Mira as she and her gang of spies carried out their covert missions. And, of course, there’s some fun romantic chemistry with her fellow spy, which soon shapes into a love triangle with a rather mischievous pirate. Ahoy matey!

What didn’t work: At the risk of sounding like a big dummy, I honestly don’t understand the reasons behind the spying and subterfuge. Amidst the world-building, the Glittering Court drama and Mira’s tragic backstory, I somehow got lost. Filled to the max with plot threads weaving in and out of Mira’s double life—not to mention her two friends’ unfolding storylines, the book is rather convoluted and disjointed.  I’d go back and read some parts again, but I have 50 million books on my TBR pile, so that’s out of the question!

Overall: This is a fun, action-packed story for fans of steampunk or dystopia. I’m not really into fantasy worlds or action adventure, but I might give this series another shot since I need to know if Adlaide and Tamsin (Mira’s besties) will ever get out of the Glittering Court unscathed!

31 Days of CeeCee-O-Ween: And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich


Synapsis:
Two sisters, Silla and Nori, seek refuge in their creepy aunt’s dilapidated manor deep in the dark, dark woods. What begins as a fun family reunion soon turns into a world of nightmares. Evil lurks within the woods and the encroaching trees seem to have a mind of their own.

What worked: If you’re looking for a creepy, atmospheric book, this is it! We’ve got a cursed English mansion, enchanted woods, spooky dolls and an evil entity hiding within the dark nooks and crannies. Of al the creeptastic elements in this book,  I was most unsettled by the aunt’s rapid decent into madness.  Could you imagine being trapped in a house with a crazy old lady pacing nonstop and speaking gibberish in the upstairs bedroom? Jeepers creepers!

Pretty soon, the line between reality and crazy town gets blurred when Silla starts questioning her own sanity.  Are the trees slowly but surely smothering the house that seems to be sinking into the ground? Is a “Slender Man” lookalike really stalking her and Nori? And what’s with the beautiful boy who seems to randomly appear out of thin air?  Does he really want to nourish them with red apples, or does he have other plans in mind?

Pretty soon, I was starting to feel like I, too, was slipping into a starvation-induced hypoglycemic fog.  My mind was spinning with questions throughout the girls’ dark and twisted journey into the unknown. Summed up in a word, this book is truly unsettling.

What didn’t work: The mute little sister was terribly annoying. Like all creepy little kids in horror movies, she quickly befriends the evil entity that’s vying for her soul. What’s wrong with these kids? Can’t they see that these fiends are pure evil!?! This “I see dead people” horror movie cliché is getting so old. By the mid-point of the book, I was ready for Mister Stickman to whisk her away so Silla could finally be free of the albatross around her neck. Yet, I know the moral of the story is sisterly love, so I guess I’m missing the whole point. What can I say? I’m heartless.

Overall: This is the perfect Halloween read for YA readers who are looking for a good spooky story without the standard monster mash tropes and obligatory love triangles.

 

A-Camping We Must Go! Summer Camp Reading Extravaganza

The summer may be over, but I live in Texas where the sun always shines, shines, shines! Since all of my best childhood memories stem from my many years at sleepaway camp, this will forever be my most favorite season. In honor of the dog days of summer, I bring you some short and bittersweet reviews of summer camp-themed books!

Camp So-and-So by Mary McCoy

Summed up: Magic and mayhem ensues as five cabins of campers fight for their lives in a series of paranormal events. Controlled by nefarious puppetmasters, they must out-smart the evil overlords in order to survive. Very “out of the frying pan into the fire.”

What worked: This book is nothing if not imaginative! It reads like a play, complete with a mysterious all-omniscient narrator, opening scene descriptions and theatrical actors. I’ve never read anything like this, so hats off to the author for pulling off a new and daring concept! Though the book is jam-packed with a multitude of campers, I had no problem keeping the characters straight. Well done, Ms. McCoy!

What didn’t work: I’m not a fan of action-adventure stories, so this isn’t really my genre. I mainly wanted a book that would trigger nostalgic memories of my Camp Marston glory days, but that didn’t happen since this story is a far departure from reality. Not necessarily a bad thing for fantasy readers, but not always my cup of tea.

Overall consensus: At nearly 400 pages, this book was well worth my time. This is the type of story that’s hard to forget and I look forward to seeing more YA titles from this highly talented author!

Perennials by Mandy Berman

Summed up: A melancholy coming-of-age story that follows dull and lifeless characters as they navigate their many emotional hang-ups in and out of summer camp. The series of unfortunate events culminate into a tragic mess involving a periphery character nobody cares about. Essentially, readers get punished for not chunking this heap of nonsense into the DNF pile right from the get-go.

What worked: To be honest, nothing about this book worked for me. Sorry but I can’t find anything generous to say about this dud.

What didn’t work: Oh lordy! Where to begin? To put this in colloquial terms, Perennials  is a hot mess. According to the whimsical synapsis, we’re supposed to be following two girls, Rachel and Fiona, as they navigate life and friendship in summer camp. What I got was a convoluted mess of time-hopping storylines following a plethora of characters—and their dysfunctional family members to boot! I couldn’t’ relate to any of them, nor their melodramatic sob stories. Rachel’s mother was—by far—the most repulsive of them all. I don’t know what she was supposed to add to the story and am still scratching my head over the emotionally-manipulating climax (if you could call it that).

Overall consensus: This book didn’t remotely come close to delivering on its promise to intoxicate readers with “A seductive blast of nostalgia.” If you want a light summer read that will transport you back to the carefree days of summer, please—for the love!—give this book a hard pass. Read Five Summers instead.

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane

Summed up: A grieving teenager, Zander Osborne, learns about life, love and resilience at a summer camp for at-risk youth.

What worked: I really didn’t care for this book, but I’ll try to tease out something worth singing about. Let’s see here…the cover is gorgeous so let’s go with that.

What didn’t work: Maybe I’m being extra harsh because I’ve lived at sleepaway camp four summers in a row and know all about this way of life! The author missed so many opportunities to immerse her readers into an exciting world of spooky campfire stories, dorky skit nights and epic food fights!  I question whether she, or the author noted above, even went to summer camp.

My biggest gripe is that she jumped on the John Green bandwagon and riddled her characters with so many gimmicks to turn them all into special little snowflakes. Zander likes to speak French in her head. The ever-annoying love interest (absurdly named Grover Cleveland)  likes to speak in riddles, spouting out statistics every chance he gets. Zander’s unlikely bestie, Cassie, shows affection by brutally insulting everyone she meets. But yet, Zander is wise beyond her 16 years and chooses to overlook every low blow Cassie throws at her. Come to think of it, their budding friendship was the worst part of this book. Until the very bitter—and I do mean bitter—end of this book, Cassie is an entirely repugnant human being. And Zander was more than happy to be a human doormat.

Overall consensus: I’m so over emotionally-manipulating books with gimmicky characters. Listen up, authors!  Slapping a character with a random OCD behavior does not instantly add depth and complexity. It’s just really annoying and I’m over it.

The Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween! Another Sleepy Hollow Fail

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CeeCee is having a devil of a time with this fun Halloweenie book series! She regrets to inform you that we wasted our time on another craptastic rendition of Washington Irving’s seminal masterpiece, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Seriously, why didn’t we just re-read the original?

18400224Oh man…this book is quite bad. I see there are many glowing reviews by people who got what they needed out of this mess. If you’re in it for the paint-by-the-numbers harlequin romance, than you won’t be disappointed. It’s all about Katrina and Ichabod falling into insta-love and making out in secret hidey holes. The horseman was just a nuisance that got in the way of their forbidden trysts. BORING!

Needless to say, I learned my lesson about these YA Sleepy Hollow books. I need action, adventure, bloody headless bodies! Star-crossed love sagas, not so much.

As for anachronisms–and trust me, there are many–I’m pretty sure the term “time management” was not a thing back in Washington Irving’s day.

Now if you, like me, are a Sleepy Hollow purist, I highly recommend listening to a couple books on tape.

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Rabbit Ears: A Classic Tale
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Read by Glenn Close, a most talented voice artist, this is a terrific little audiobook full of sound effects and spooky atmosphere. A good G-rated version of the tale for the kiddos. I really must get my hands on this hardback because the illustrations are off the charts amazing!

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: A Radio Dramatization

61xtb2gmell-_sl300_There’s a lot of traditional Sleepy Hollow audiobooks out there, but this one is probably the best. It’s got sound effects, voice actors and lots of creeptastic scenes. It’s like watching a movie in your head! I listen to this one every year when I’m out walking dogs around the spooky lake at night!

 

‘The Walls Around Us’ Takes YA Horror to the Next Level

18044277Wowza! This is—hands down—one of the creepiest young adult books I’ve ever read. That says a lot because I’ve been a YA horror aficionado ever since Fear Street broke out back in the 90s. I just gave away my age, didn’t I? Oh to heck with it! I’ll say it loud—I’m a 90s child and I’m proud!

If you’re more of a movie-goer instead of a bookworm, I’ll break it down for you like this: Girl Interrupted meets Black Swan meets The Others. Heck, I’ll even throw in The Blair Witch because of the impending feeling of doom, and the anticipation of a horrifying cataclysmic paranormal showdown.

Told through shifting narratives, weaving from the past to present day, the story begins with Violet, a teenage ballerina on the verge of making it big. She is your quintessential “bunhead,” meaning she eats, sleeps and breaths ballet—and will stop at nothing to reach the top. On stage, she is the picture of perfection. Yet underneath that polished veneer lies an ugly green monster. This girl is BAD news! And as the story goes on, she gets even worse.

The story then shifts to another girl named Amber who is living in a completely different world. Trapped within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, she’s doing some hard time for knocking off her mother’s abusive husband. Shunned by her mother, she has no friends or family—just a bunch of animalistic teenage girls who torment her nonstop. Her only comfort is her book cart, which she dutifully organizes and pushes around the gloomy hallways.

“Our private tastes in books showed a hint of our secret selves.”

One girl is living a lie, concealing the ugliness deep down inside. The Aurora Hills girls, however, are doing quite the opposite. In order to survive, they must tamp down their humanity and only reveal their inner monsters. Either way they’re not who they seem. And let’s just face it. In real life, that could be said for just about anyone.

“I knew that just because people on the outside were free and clean, it didn’t mean they were the good ones.”

Enter Ori. The naturally gifted ballerina who rocks both of these divergent worlds. Unlike any of these girls, she hides nothing. Her inner beauty shines through—on and off stage. Only she wields the key to unlocking the girls’ innermost angels and demons. Trust me, once they begin to unravel, you won’t be able to put this book down!

I’ll stop right there before I give anything away. But I will tell you to dedicate an entire day to reading because this book is addictive! Clear that schedule and sink right into this dark, twisted, tragically beautiful tale of lies, deceit, murder and rage! There’s no doubting that teenage girls are a little frightening with their high drama and raging hormones. Teenage ballerinas, however, are downright terrifying. Throw in some homicidal lunatics and a pack of bunhead mean girls, and you’re in for a wild ride!

Might I add that this would be an excellent pick for book clubbers. I would love to listen to some discussions about the symbolism between Ori and the story of the Firebird (a coveted role she performed in ballet). Also it would be interesting to explore the meaning behind the red cup, and how it rekindled a sense of hope in a place of despair.

“Ori made it wanted. She acted like it was lucky. And forever after, it was.”

I you’ve read this book. Feel free to post a comment and share some theories.

Gymnastics Fans, Eat Your Hearts Out! Caela Carter’s ‘Tumbling’ Wins the Gold

26795703I don’t know about y’all, but for the past few days I’ve been glued to the screen, watching in total awe as Simone Biles and Ally Raisman obliterate their competitors. Never have I seen elite gymnasts compete at this level of pure awesomeness. I love watching them tumble their way across the mat, effortlessly reaching unfathomable heights and landing delicately on their feet, just mere centimeters from the white tape.

When I watch the “Final Five” girls giggling with each other between events, I wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes. Are they hiding any serious game-changing secrets? Are they cheering on their teammates, yet secretly wishing for them to fall? Are they working under the pressure of a Tiger Dad coach? How cool would it be to spend a day in their shoes—or ballerina beam slippers—while competing in the Olympic trials?

Well lucky for me, I got to do just that while reading Tumbling. Told through alternate narratives, the book follows several elite gymnasts during the Olympic Trials. Some are shooting for the gold while others are vying to compete in the NCAA. You’ve got the typical “bunhead” athlete who eats, sleeps and breathes gymnastics. There’s also the comeback kid ready to make one last go at the Olympics. And, of course, there’s the underdog who might just surprise everyone and win it all.

The goal: Total perfection. However, their lives are anything but. The girls are all dealing with some weighty issues, such as anorexia, chronic self-doubt, closeted homosexuality, and overpowering stage-parents. And if that’s not bad enough, a dreamy boy-band heartthrob is throwing them off their game via Twitter. Good thing flirtatious tweetering wasn’t a thing back in the day when I obsessed with the boys of NKOTB!

My euphoric post-gymnastics meet bliss. I could've been a contender!

Here I am in my snazzy varsity jacket, back in my Shannon Miller wannabe days.

But I digress…this book is a lot of fun, especially for Olympic-hopeful wannabes like me who can only fantasize about the world of elite gymnastics. My only gripe is that there’s’ a little too much behind-the-scenes drama and not enough action. I wanted to be right there with them as they twisted and catapulted their tiny bodies on the beam, floor, vault and bars.

Other than that, this is a quality read for gymnastics fans. If you, like me, need something to fill the void now that Simone and Ally tore up the Olympic Games, go ahead and treat yourself to this book. Now I’m moving on to my next rotation: Shawn Johnson’s new title, The Flip Side.

CeeCee and Gizzy’s Dog Days of Summertime Reading

11202127_715143938614409_7969814030943674844_nWe are in the dog days of summer—my favorite time of year! I know that sounds crazy since I must weather the brutal Texas heat, but I say bring it on! I love the long days of sunshine, the big sweaty pitchers of sweet tea, and the sounds of summer bugs. Sometimes I just sprawl out in the grass and gaze up at the trees that are practically shimmying to the constant rhythm of the cicadas’ summer melody. Everything just feels so alive! Maybe it’s all the vitamin D talking, but I truly mean it when I say that summertime in Texas is the best!

To soak it all in and stretch out my lazy Saturdays as much as possible, I lounge on my back porch for hours with a good summertime read.  So far I’ve read a few hits and misses. Here’s a couple from both categories.

Read This!

Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage

11737313Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t you a little long in the tooth for middle grade books? I’ll have you know that the plot and the characters are far more interesting and complex than anything you’d read in a formulaic Heather Graham or Nora Roberts thriller. Sometimes, in a world that seems to have gone crazy, it’s refreshing to read a book told by characters who are in that sweet spot of youth. Too young to be boy crazy, but old enough to think critically and go off on their own adventures. Ah the good old days!

It was fun getting lost in nostalgia and fully immersing myself in the down-home Tupelo Landing setting—complete with farmhouses, tobacco fields and colorful characters. It’s like Stars Hollow meets the Secret Life of Bees. There’s a whodunit murder mystery intertwined with the mystery of Mo’s “upstream mother” and her surrogate father’s mysterious past. You see, she and her new daddy, “The Colonel” were displaced after a torrential hurricane. Back when she was a baby, she floated away from her “upstream mother” and he washed ashore with a spotless mind. Who are they and where did they come from? Guess I’ll have to keep reading the series to find out!

I loved her connection with the Colonel and Miss Lana, who took them both into her loving home. They all worked together at the family diner, an opportune place for Mo and her best friend to interrogate suspects. Who killed the town curmudgeon? Were hidden treasures involved? Leave it to Mo and her BFF to figure it out!

This book really took me back to my carefree summer days when I had absolutely nothing to do but ride my bike and jump on the backyard trampoline. Even though this book is set in present day, I could tell the author made a conscious effort to leave out cell phones and other gadgets that are slowly sucking the souls out of little children—and their parents—on a daily basis. Thank you, Shiela Turnage, for taking me back to a time when kids can just go outside and make their own, non-computerized adventures!

Not That!

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

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I have a hard time believing these 500-plus pages full of petty high school drama were authored by the same woman who wrote Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour. What happened, Morgan Matson? Your teenage characters used to have depth and interests that superseded dreamy boys. I zeroed in on that amazing cover featuring adorable pups and assumed this was going to be about a girl finding her way through this crazy game of life with some help from her newfound dog friends.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a huge animal lover, but I feel like the author really missed an opportunity to use the dog-walking aspect to her full advantage. This could’ve been a beautiful story if the dogs helped Andy overcome her emotional hang-ups. Unfortunately in this story, the dog-walking job was just a means to an end. Andy dealt with her dog clients with the same enthusiasm as a gum-smacking Subway sandwich artist flopping together a cold cut trio.  Needless to say, I didn’t connect with Andy, or any of her friends for that matter.

As for the plot…well there isn’t one. Readers get to follow Andy and her clique of gal pals as they ruminate about their crushes, go to pool parties and hang out in the drama room. Boooorrrring! And what’s with all the girls having boy names? Is this a gimmick to make them more unique? I got tired of trying to figure out who was who, but in the end I guess it didn’t matter. I could skipped multiple chapters and never missed a beat. Come to think of it, I probably should’ve.

Aside from the nonexistent plot, I was amazed by how fast Andy and her absentee father resolved their differences after one major argument. My guess is that the author got tired and bored (totally understandable) and had to wrap up this non-story in a jiffy so she could get started on her next book, which I will not be reading. Ouch! That was cold. Sorry guys, just telling it like it is.