Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review: Magic in Manhattan Series by Sarah Mlynowski

The Magic in Manhattan series by Sarah Mlynowski consists of four books: Bras & Broomsticks, Frogs & French Kisses, Spells & Sleeping Bags, and Parties & Potions. The series follows Rachel Weinstein as she learns about witchcraft and tries to get her perfect boyfriend.

The first two books of the series deal with with Rachel's rather typical high school life, and family life which includes her new witch sister, her witch mother (who has kept this facet of her life hidden from her daughters until this point), her dad (who is divorced from her mom), and her dad's girlfriend and her daughter. In these books, Rachel often comes across as unlikeable, and both her and her sister Miri tend to feel more like stereotypes than like real people to me. The books do not flow very well and the plot elements are overdone.

In the third book, Rachel and Miri go to summer camp, and both of the characters develop a bit. I enjoyed this book a lot more than the first two. This may be due at least partly to the summer camp element. I love summer camp stories.

The fourth book, Parties & Potions is the real winner of the series. Rachel and Miri both emerge as fully developed characters with both positive and negative traits. The books' situations seem realistic (given the obviously non-realistic witch theme), and Rachel faces real dilemmas and arrives as character that we can relate to and like as she explores who she is and the meaning of love. Unfortunately this book is not a stand alone read so you have to slog through the first two and breeze through the third to get to this last one which is a bit deeper and a lot better story.

I would recommend these books to those who like books about teen witches. If you have already read the first two, definitely go on and finish, even if your reaction to those was only so-so. You will be glad that you did.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: Lily Dale Series by Wendi Corsi Staub

I stumbled upon this series of mystery ghost stories set in the village of Lily Dale in Western New York while browsing the young adult section at the library. Having grown up somewhat near Lily Dale which is a real spiritualist community, I was intrigued to see another book series set in that location and checked the first one, Lily Dale: Awakening out.

I really enjoyed the book. There are a lot of novels out there set in the Lily Dale location, and I thought that Awakening had a unique plot and a wonderful mystery component. The story follows Calla, a Florida teen whose mother dies during an accident. Calla's dad, a college professor, is slated to leave for a visiting professorship in California, and Calla goes to stay temporarily with her grandmother (her mother's mother) in Lily Dale. The catch is that Calla does not know her grandmother well, and her mother kept pretty much everything from her childhood a secret from both her daughter and her husband.

There are several subplots as Calla learns about the spiritualist bent of her new town, and deals with both the death of her mother and being the new kid in a very small community. I would recommend this book to kids, teens, and adults who love mysteries without reservation if it wasn't for the fact that I have also read the second book in the series, Lily Dale: Believing.

Awakening ends with a cliffhanger. I started Believing a couple of weeks later. I was disappointed by the way the author kept adding things from the first book in a rather disconnected "by the way" manner. It really messed up the flow of the first few chapters. Then some of the mystery subplots became just too graphic for me. I was not prepared for a realistic horror component. I had a nightmare the day I started Believing.

Of course, the books are mysteries, and my curiosity was aroused, so I will be staying with this series until the end. I can recommend it for those who love mysteries, and don't mind horror or an occasional lack of flow in the name of catching the reader up. I will update more after I have read the other books.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book Review: 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass

After falling in love with Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, I was eager to read some of her other novels. Of course, there are a lot of books that I am eager to read so it has taken me awhile, but I just finished 11 Birthdays.

11 Birthdays has a plot reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Amanda and Leo are born in the same hospital on the same day. Through a series of what seem to be coincidences their parents meet. Then on their first birthday it happens again, and they have a joint party eventually becoming friends. Every year, they celebrate their birthday together.

At their tenth birthday party, Amanda overhears a conversation that destroys their friendship. When their eleventh birthday comes around, the days start repeating, and Amanda needs to figure out the mystery of why so that life can continue as normal again!

Although their are a few twists and turns, for the most part the plot of this book is predictable. It is still a rather interesting plot, and I enjoyed the book a lot, but there was nothing extra to move it up into the exceptional category. This would be a fun book for the intended age range (around 8-13), but I would not recommend it to those who are at a higher reading level or as a read aloud for younger children. There are better things out there.