Book Review: The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman

I’ve just finished The Bug Boys and, oh, what a delightful read! This good tale can be found on Book Club Reading List.bug-boys

Synopsis

Alex and Ian are two ordinary middle-schoolers growing up in an ordinary small town in England. One afternoon they ate a lunch that made them feel peculiar. Little did they know, that peanut butter sandwich and apple were saturated in an ancient alien life form that turned their bodies into portals to a distant planet. They first discovered something was amiss when, after being forced to swallow a ladybug by the school bully, Alex grew 4 extra arms, acquired super-strength, and could understand the language of bugs–but only for about 20 minutes. With their newfound superpowers, Alex and Ian felt unstoppable. What better way was there to use their new abilities than to fight crime and become superheroes? After dealing with the local school bully, Alex and Ian find themselves tangled up in a corporate conspiracy far out of their league and soon long for the days before their problems became so complicated.

Strengths

This book is SO funny! I love the storytelling style and the humor that is woven so effortlessly throughout. The author has referenced his love of Terry Pratchett and I can see his influence in book’s sense of humor. I love the lighthearted, fresh twist on a superhero story, and I love that the main characters–Alex and Ian–behave exactly how you would expect pre-teen boys with superpowers to behave. They are absolutely believable and genuine characters that are so easy to love. While The Bug Boys is an entertaining read for anyone, if you have a son who might struggle with finding interesting books to read, you MUST give them this one! They will love it! Maybe I’m biased because I’m a girl (and therefore exposed to a plethora of interesting-to-girls literature), but I don’t think there are enough books geared toward middle school boys. The Bug Boys would be a fantastic addition to any young reader’s bookshelf.

Weaknesses

There were a few chapters where the action slowed down a bit, examining the story from a different point of view. While it was nice to get a different perspective, the change in pace during these chapters was a little slower than I preferred. But these chapters were generally brief before connecting back to Alex and Ian’s adventures.

Conclusion

This is a book you don’t want to miss. It has broad audience appeal, thanks to the easy humor and fun writing style, and will be enjoyed by readers of any age. I would especially recommend to middle school age boys, but again, everyone can enjoy this read. Go get yourself a copy and enjoy your next good tale!

5 stars

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Book Review: Waterwight by Laurel McHargue

waterwightI’ve finished Laurel McHargue’s Waterwight. What a fun read!! I found this gem on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

After a catastrophe only known as “the Event”, Celeste escapes from a home for orphans with little to no memory of what happened to her parents. Determined to learn the truth, Celeste embarks on an adventure to save what’s left of the world from an ever-growing ocean of toxic ooze. Guided by a mountain spirit and befriended by a giant, flying frog, Celeste must learn how to live in this changed world devoid of adults where children have started getting supernatural powers. Hunted by a murderous shape-shifter, will Celeste uncover the mystery behind the ooze before the rest of the world is overcome?

Strengths

I thought this was such a creative take on a post-apocalyptic world. I’m not sure I’ve ever read one where the children were the only survivors. Throw in supernatural powers and you’ve got a really interesting story. I think the characters were well-developed; my favorite is Orville, the French, flying frog. Who knew a frog could be so overwhelmingly charming?? I am dying to know how his story continues in the next book!

The supernatural powers that start manifesting in the children are so cool and varied. Mind reading, flying, invisibility, time-stopping, visions, super-strength…I could go on.

A huge strength to this book is the driving mystery. Where did this ooze come from? What exactly happened during the Event and what caused it? There’s a dreamlike quality throughout that makes the book feel very magical.

Weaknesses

There were times when the traveling of various characters got a bit tedious. Celeste has to fly across the ocean a couple of times and I think those parts could have been sped up or condensed further. But otherwise there weren’t many weaknesses!

Conclusion

This is a definite must read! Especially for the YA or middle school audience. Fun characters with superpowers and fast-moving, interesting plot, this is a book you won’t want to miss!

5 stars

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Laurel loves to hear from her readers! Contact her on Book Club Reading List or on Facebook

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Book Review: Four Ways to Pharaoh Khufu

Four ways to pharaoh KhufuJust finished Four Ways to Pharaoh Khufu! This adventure tale is by Alexander Marmer and can be found on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

Michael has dreamed of visiting the Egyptian pyramids since he was a child. On his first day in the country touring the Great Pyramid, he meets a dying German engineer who claims to have been poisoned. After giving Michael a business card for his daughter and a small notebook, his last words are “find four ways.” Michael begins an adventure beyond his wildest dreams, attempting to recover a stolen ancient stele, decode the dying man’s final words, and find the final resting place of the great Pharaoh Khufu. He is accompanied by the German’s daughter, Anna, and together they try to unravel the mystery surrounding her father’s death.

Strengths

This was a very well-written (and well-edited) book. That’s not to say I didn’t find a few typos, but obvious care went into the writing and research of this book. There is SO much fascinating history about Egypt and the pyramids included in this story! I learned more than I thought I’d ever know about Egypt in a single read.

The story line was exciting and full of action. I liked the main characters, Michael and Anna, and enjoyed going on the adventure with them.

Weaknesses

The main weakness for me–which may not be seen as a weakness by someone else–was simply the length of this book. Clocking in at 363 pages, I feel like the same story could be told at two-thirds the length. There were times when I simply couldn’t keep up with the complicated theories the characters uncovered about the pyramids. You almost need a larger base of knowledge about Egypt before starting the book to fully appreciate everything. The extent of my knowledge about Egypt comes from middle and high school history classes, so I’d say it’s pretty limited. By having such complicated and intricate sub-plots, the audience can become bored or feel alienated for not understanding.

Conclusion

It’s obvious an incredible amount of time and thought went into researching for this book. The characters go on a great adventure, survive car chases and murder attempts, recover an ancient artifact, and discover long-held secrets. I love the journey Michael goes on–he’s definitely my favorite character. My girly side wished there was a little more romance to the story; it’s totally set up for Michael and Anna to fall in love, but nothing really happens except mention that they steal glances at each other. And I wish the story was condensed a bit, more focused. I think this is a book that fans of crime fiction or books like The DaVinci Code would love. If that sounds like you go check this one out!!

4 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Downburst by Katie Robison

downburst-coverI just finished reading Katie Robison’s Downburst. Readers, this was an AWESOME book! I can’t wait to tell you more. I found this read on the Cheap eBooks reading list.

Synopsis

Kit is a girl who has run away from home. She is making a meager living by delivering illicit goods (drugs, fake ids, etc) to their buyers. One day, when the cops discover their location, she goes on the run, spending her first night in an empty train car. The next morning, she witnesses the murder of a girl who looks so similar to Kit she could be her twin. As she runs away, she is kidnapped by a man who mistakes her for the girl who was murdered (named Aura) and is taken to a bizarre week-long summer camp. Since staying at camp seems safer than running from the cops, Kit decides to play along and be Aura. Assuming a new identity turns out to be harder than she thought it would be, especially since her fellow campers seem to have supernatural abilities: they can fly–er, windwalk. Can Kit fit in with her surroundings and survive the week? Or will she be discovered as an impostor and tortured as a spy?

Strengths

Wow, this book was awesome! And I don’t say that very often. This book was described as something that “fans of the Hunger Games will love” and I agree. It is fast-paced with a fascinating undercurrent of supernatural, Native American mythology and a plot that keeps the reader guessing. Each time I had a theory on what was going to happen, further reading repeatedly proved me wrong. There wasn’t a single moment in the book where I was bored, which has not happened to me in a very long time.

Kit is a great character who experiences a lot of personal growth throughout her story. It was fun to witness. There were several other supporting characters that I became attached to and emotionally invested in their well-being. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I very nearly cried couple times and my heart definitely broke once.

Weaknesses

The only weakness is that I didn’t have the sequel in my hands when I finished!! I’ve gotta get on that…

Conclusion

I would probably categorize Downburst as a YA action/fantasy. If you like mythology-inspired books like Percy Jackson, you’ll love Downburst. If you like action-packed survivalist books like Hunger Games, you’ll like Downburst. If you like YA, you’ll like Downburst. Why am I still writing?? Do yourself a favor and go read Downburst!! You’ll love it.

An easy 5 stars

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Book review: Surrender

I’ve had the privilege of reading and reviewing Surrender by Jennifer Burrows. (Check out my author interview for more information about Jennifer and her story.) I found it through Cheap eBooks if you’d like to go get yourself a copy!

Synopsis

Surrender starts with our heroine Katherine Anderson, a renowned food critic from New York, as she discovers her fiance cheating on her in her own bed. Her world turned upside down and her dream wedding cancelled, she decides to go on her honeymoon to Italy for a little private time. While on her way to Florence, Katherine meets a dashingly handsome Italian man with the most gorgeous emerald-green eyes she’s ever seen. They hit it off right away and Katherine is amazed at her luck; how many people meet a sexy and charming Italian in the most romantic country in the world? But as Katherine gets to know Tony better, she realizes things aren’t as perfect as she thought. Tony is a fugitive of an underground olive oil cartel that killed his family and is using Katherine to help him escape Italy. As she gets pulled into Tony’s dangerous affairs, Katherine wonders if she’ll ever make it home alive.

Strengths

There were a lot of great things about this book that kept me reading through the end. The three biggest strengths to Surrender are:

  • Story line
  • Character development
  • Action

Story line

I thought the story line was a lot of fun. I did a study abroad in Italy when I was in college so I especially loved roaming the Tuscan countryside with Katherine and Tony. The imagery took me right back.

“Hills lined with vineyards and small houses made of brick and stucco came into view as the train hummed along the tracks enticing her into a trance.” (pg 8)

For a significant portion of the novel I was skeptical at how solid the story was. I couldn’t figure out why the cartel had targeted Tony’s family and why he was in so much danger. It seemed unrealistic. However, in the last several chapters there is sufficient information that made the conflict convincing.

Character development

Early Katherine is uptight, reserved, a rule-follower, and grieving the loss of the life she had imagined for herself. As the story progresses, she learns to experience the world differently. Instead of reacting to what life throws at her, she decides to act boldly and make her own decisions.

“She was too busy running away from the person she was only to find a person she didn’t know. Did she like this new person? Who was she? The new Katherine was brave; she was a fighter, took life by the horns, and refused to let fear take control. She was Kate. This Kate was going to get home and start a new life.” (pg 284)

Katherine becomes Kate, a woman who knows what she wants and says what she thinks. Later in the story she is captured by the cartel and is beaten and tortured for information. Instead of meekly accepting the situation, she speaks out against her captors with cheeky attitude. This may have resulted in additional physical pain, but her spirit was stronger than ever.

Action

“When the beatings first started, they were tolerable. She’d never been hit by anyone before. Somehow, the physical pain was a relief from the emotional pain she’d felt for the last few weeks; it was somehow cathartic….She was too tired to fight anymore; her strength was gone, and the only glimmer of light she had left was the will to not die like this.” (pg 258)

Holy moly, there was a lot of action in this book! It starts out touristy and a little slow but speeds up fast. Kate and Tony go all over Italy searching for clues, left by Tony’s deceased father, that will give him a new identity and help him to escape the country. They are pursued by the cartel, Kate is kidnapped and tortured, Tony teams up with government agents, who may or may not be trustworthy, all leading up to the final confrontation with the cartel’s boss. You will not be bored reading Surrender!

Weaknesses

This book also had some weaknesses. Mainly being:

  1. Editing and grammar mistakes
  2. Italian inauthenticity

Editing and grammar mistakes

Ok, this is actually a HUGE weakness for me. In my opinion, there is no excuse for mistakes in a published book. Mistakes in early drafts? Fine, we’re all human and typos happen. But that’s why editing is so important. This book definitely needed another round of thorough editing because there was an embarrassing number of mistakes that could have been easily caught by a simple read-through. From my notes, which probably didn’t catch everything, there were at least 20 typos or wrong word-choices, like using “in” instead of “and” or “your” instead of “you’re”. Your vs you’re is a particular pet peeve of mine and it was exceedingly irritating to read typos, especially repeat offenders.

Italian inauthenticity

This probably isn’t a weakness for anyone who doesn’t know Italian or has never been to Italy. There were a few names that were misspelled or simply not Italian for characters who probably should have had Italian names. For example, Katherine and Tony go to a restaurant and their waiter’s name is John Paolo (chapter 6). “John” is not Italian; it is instead spelled “Gian” and is pronounced basically the same. Also, the dish “spaghetti bolgonaise” came up repeatedly. Now, I’m not a foodie, but I do know that there is an Italian dish called spaghetti bolognese. These are details that could easily be learned from a simple internet search. If you are going to write about another culture or country, you gotta do your research.

Conclusion

There is so much to love about Surrender: the charming Italian setting, the dynamic story and action, the sizzling chemistry between Kate and Tony. I had a lot of fun reading this book. The biggest detractor was the blaring grammatical errors. I can forgive one or two typos, but 20+ drove me crazy. For these reasons I give Surrender 3 out of 5 stars. Definitely worth the read–lots of fun and a highly entertaining story. If you’re not annoyed by typos then those contained in Surrender won’t bother you. In any case, go check it out here and enjoy your next good tale!

Surrender by Jennifer Burrows

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