Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hacking Harvard- Robin Wasserman

Eric Roth, Max Kim, and Isaac Schwarzbaum have been hacking for, more or less, their entire lives. Always fairly little things- taking down teachers, bullies, people who deserve it. The trio fervently insists that their misdeeds are not 'pranks', but it's hard to find another word for the things that Max, Eric, and Schwarz do. Jokes, involving break-ins and a lot of computers. Small things.

Until Max is offered a position at a hacking company that pays in stocks. Until his father threatens to cut him off and leave him penniless if he doesn't follow the path that's been laid out for him since his father's college days. Until Max makes a bet. Until the trio embarks on a mission to take down America's most acclaimed, competitive university.

Eric, Max, and Schwarz are hacking into Harvard. They'll play the system, step by step, until the biggest slacker in their school is holding a thick envelope edged in crimson.

Only, Lex, our narrarator, is kind of in the way.

Hacking Harvard is a very good book.

The writing is exceptional. Lex's voice is a very strong one, even in those scenes in which she seems to be nothing more than an omniscient narrarator. That's actually one of the many interesting facets of this novel- it's told in first person, but Lex is absent for the vast majority of the story. The prose is also very elegantly spun, while still managing to be humorous. The writing definitely made me want to read more- all!- of Robin Wasserman's other books.

The concept was so original, too. It was actually the first thing that sold me on this book, the writing being the second.

And third?

The characters.

As a major and long time nerd-lover, a book about three guys who HACK into an Ivy League school is, no lie, seriously appealing to me.
And the three of them were excellent.

Schwarz, the prodigy who is adorable. Not my crush of the novel by a long-shot (he has a Playboy fixtation but is scared of normal girls), but very lovable. He lets Max and Eric and the girl he's crushing on boss him around to no end, and he's a sixteen-year-old Harvard freshman. He promotes many feelings of 'aww'.

Max, the relatively reckless ringleader (Wow, that alliteration was completely unintentional. That is scary), with the out-there schemes and great sense of humor. He's the least nerdy-acting of them all, which proudly defies the whole smart-asian-guy stereotype. (Eric and Schwarz are Jewish).

Finally, there's Eric. Oh, Eric. Eric, the righteous moral compass who wears tee-shirts to advertise his causes and sticks to the Hacker's Code at all costs. He takes Lex to a planetarium on a non-date. He's wonderful.

Lex is cool, too, at least towards the end of the novel.

The only problem with this novel is a bit of under-developement. In the beginning chapters, Max and Eric are both given colorful family situations, but, save for the looming threat of Max's father's financial cut-off and a few appearences by Eric's younger sister, they fade away completely as the novel progresses. There is also the fascinating Alice Morgenthal, who went insane after receiving rejection letters from every college she applied to and had some sort of thing with Eric. Her story is so poignant and interesting, and yet it's totally neglected. I would have loved to see more of her in the novel.

Regardless, this is an awesome book. The ending, in particular, is satisfying without tying everything up in a big red bow. Depsite Lex's early allusions to several children's stories, it's no fairy tale. (thank the lord).

Also, an awesome fact that was, strangely enough, absent in the 'About the Author'? Robin Wasserman WENT TO HARVARD.

Can we say amazing?
We can indeed.

4.5 stars for Hacking Harvard!


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Alpha Dog by Jennifer Ziegler

Seventeen-year old Katie isn’t used to being in control. She lets everybody boss her around. Her mother drives her crazy with her constant criticism and advice, and her boyfriend of two years just destroyed her whole world by dumping her on her birthday. Yeah, he's just such a nice guy, especially since the reason he dumped her is because he was already cheating on her.

It’s just as well that Katie’s headed to a summer program at the University of Texas in Austin–at least there, she can get over Chuck at her own pace. But Austin holds its own challenges–like Christine, a cooler-than-thou roommate whose rocker boyfriend is permanently camped out on the couch. Along with all his rocker band-mates. They never seem to leave, and they're always eating Katie's food.

Christine drags Katie to the city pound to check out a potential pet, being that she totally loves wiener dogs. It’s Katie, though who ends up falling in love with a pair of brown doggie eyes. Before she can think it through, she’s standing out on the curb with her adorable new dog, Seamus.

There’s only one problem: Seamus is a holy terror. He chews up the apartment, barks maniacally, terrorizes their landlady’s cat, and seems destined to keep Elevator Guy, the cutest guy in their building, far away. Soon enough, Katie is being threatened by her landlady to be evicted, and by her roommate, who hates Seamus after he tears up the apartment.

Finally, Katie takes Seamus in for obedience training, where she’s told, “You have to be the alpha dog.”

The alpha dog. The head of the pack. Katie has never wielded much power before, but she finds that being top dog can be addictive. Soon she’s acting the alpha dog in every phase of her life, standing up to Christine and her boyfriend, taking control of her own life and actually talking to and nothing will ever be the same.

I have to say that I fully appreciate winning this copy from the late Page Flipper's blog because, while not my favorite book ever, it was rather entertaining. The writing was clever and captivating--even when the plot and characters weren't. I haven't read Jennifer Ziegler's other novel, How Not To Be Popular, but the concept seemed much more appealing to me when I first heard about either of these books. The concept behind Alpha Dog is a weak plot with morals. That's it. There's nothing about it that may appeal to any reader when first picked up (unless, of course, you are a huge dog-lover) but once you start reading, the writing makes up for that.

Alpha Dog was one of those stories with characters that you don't particularly like, and a plot that isn't the best, but you can't take your head out of. I don't know what it is with characters named Katie but I just have a problem with them (see my review for Perfect You). This specific Katie had too many problems with self-esteem, let people boss her around too much, and made everything a bigger deal than it was.

I'm kind of getting tired of the typical low self-esteem main character of books. I'd like to see something more original (I, myself, am guilty of this, so I don't mean this to be harsh) because most readers, while they may relate to the main character, won't really like her. I don't mean that I would prefer her to be a perfect snob, but Katie just conforms to whatever someone wants her to. She lets Christine take over the apartment, she lets the guys in the band eat her food and sleep on her couch, and she lets her mother treat her like a five-year-old. Not to mention she lets her boyfriend of two years walk all over her and then gets very, very upset when he breaks up with her after cheating.

That is too much of a self-esteem issue.

And I realize that was the center for the plot. Taking charge. Becoming the alpha dog in her own life, but that's what I think made it so weak. If having those issues makes a character weak, they're going to make a plot weak. It was a good message, and a good life lesson, but I don't think it needed to be the main point of the plot.

There were some good parts to Alpha Dog, though! I feel like I need to point those out so as not to put you too down on this book.

Jennifer Ziegler is a great writer. There had to be something to suck me in, right? Well, that was it. Like I said before, I haven't read How Not To Be Popular, so I have not other judging standpoints, but I was impressed with Alpha Dog. She took the opportunity to be a writer when it arose. She's not the best I've read, but this was her first novel. Not every author starts out as great as they can be. And from what I've read of reviews for HNTBP this is the case with her.

There were many times when I thought she found the perfect line, or the best word to fit into a situation.

And then, there was Matt. Matt was the perfect addition to the novel, as I think he saved it from being lost to my memory forever. He had depth, a past, complexity. He, I think, was the most developed character of the whole story--and the most vulnerable. At times, he appeared to be a Knight in Shining Armor, and others, you didn't know what to make of him. But as he moved in next door to Katie and Christine, Katie kept running into him in the elevator. Hence, Elevator Guy.

Unfortunately, this was his name for over half the book. She didn't even know his actual name was Matt until a little over halfway when Christine through a party. And then he was sort of absent for a while, and came back later--and somehow as a big part of the story? I think Jennifer Ziegler worked too hard to try to squeeze him in the end when it should have been effortless to work him into the whole story. He fits with Katie. They have chemistry. Why wait till the end to show it?

Though it may not seem like it, I did enjoy this book. I think that if you're a dog lover, you should definitely pick it up, and if not, then put it on your list for later. You may find you like it--a lot.

3.5 cups of java for this one.


Friday, July 11, 2008

moving from the sidebar to the center!--Contests Around the Blogosphere!

Our main contest creator is The Story Siren, who at the moment has 3, count 'em, THREE contests going on.

The first is her monthly contest. All you have to do to enter the monthly contests each month is comment on the Author Tales posts every Thursday, simple as that. The second is her COLOSSAL 20,000 hits contest (can you believe it? 20,000 hits!). To see the information for this contest, just go to this post. All you have to do is fill out a survey!

But the third (and the best) is a Mega, ENORMOUS contest to celebrate the new book in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn. There are tons of prizes for this one, so head on over here. There are tons of ways to gain extra entries, so go on and get started!

The Book Muncher is also having an amazing contest to win three books. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, and This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen. One winner will recieve all three of these. To enter, click here.
Do you want to win a copy of The Elite by Jennifer Banash? Well you can either stop by Reviewer X's blog or Harmony Book Reviews, because they're both giving away two copies each! But guess what. Harmony Book Reviews is also giving away two copies of mixed cds of songs that inspired the writing of The Elite. Wanna enter to win at Reviewer X? Then go to this post. To enter at Harmony Book Reviews, go here.

Last but not least is a birthday celebration contest over at And Another Book Read. Tasha is giving away 2, maybe 3 books. Go ahead and enter! It's real easy.

Remember, we're always updating our sidebar with new contests, so check back there frequently. All of these are still there for easy access to links and end dates.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

One Small Step by P.B. Kerr (thanks to Chelsea for the book)

It's 1969, and thirteen-year-old Scott is doing all the things that normal boys do--and also flying airplanes with his Air Force flight-instructor father. When Scott successfully crash-lands a training plane (that he wasn't even supposed to be flying), NASA recruits him for their secret space program. NASA is planning a test flight with chimps before the real lunar landing, but when one chimp must be dismissed, they need a quick substitute--and who better than a boy aviator who can fly a jet at age 13? Just as long as he can keep it a secret from his overprotective mother.

Soon Scott is on his way to the NASA training facility, after having weeks worth of tests to make sure he's healthy enough for it. There he discovers just how clever the chimps are--able to control the flight simulators like regular astronauts. They're more like humans than he'd ever have imagined, so why, then, did one of them go crazy? Is there something about his mission and the way they treat the chimps that NASA isn't telling him? If so, he's going to find out.
Before long, he's up in space with two chimps for company, only communicating with them through sign language. He's going to stay in orbit while the two of them go down in the Lunar Module to land on the moon, and then they'll, hopefully, fly back home. But there's something he's not telling NASA, now.
This book was astoundingly well-written, for being told in a thirteen-year-old's perspective. It was almost unbelievable at some points, but then I began thinking...Maybe this is retrospective and he's writing this at an older age. And then, that's completely believable and incredible.
The whole story was simplisticly written, but that is a good thing, since it was already complicated with technical terms. I guess writing a book about NASA comes with a territory, and those technical terms are needed. I even learned a few things I didn't know.
Okay, so I'm not doing a very good job with describing this book or why I liked it, but I can tell you that I did. There was something about it that amazed me. It took me forever to read, because I was so busy when I was, but it never once became a tedious task. I enjoyed picking up this novel and finding out more about space missions, and following Scott as he makes his way to the moon. It was a good book to read before bed.
And I especially enjoyed the way the chapters were titled. First, it starts of counting down from ten, like counting down till blastoff. After that, it started counting the days that he was in space. But I really loved how it counted down. That was very clever.
The only thing I can pinpoint that I didn't like was how the epilogue was like a giant, red, neat Christmas bow, tying up the package. Everything was so resolved and perfectly polished. The whole epilogue felt like the conclusion to an essay. State the thesis. Recount your points. Have a concluding sentence. I've only ever once before encountered an ending to a book that felt that much like the final paragraph of one of my english class essays. And I sure didn't like it then, and I don't like it now. I mean, I don't want a huge cliffhanger, but sticking me inside a perfectly wrapped package and slapping a bow on it keeps me from feeling like the characters were real. It's like, if that's their end, then they don't have actual lives and therefore never really existed. I'd like to think the characters I'm reading about are real people, even if I know it's not true.So basically, I can sum it all up by giving this book a 4 out of 5 cups of coffe. A really extravagant cup of coffee with tons of hard-to-pronounce ingredients that end up being counterproductive as the coffee turns out to be a little below par. That's the kind I'm talking about.
(sorry about the bad review, I just can't seem to make it good.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Hiatus Tour Contest Winner!

So I know I said I would announce the winner yesterday, but it took longer to tally up the entries than I thought it would. But I finished that up this morning (before the festivities of the fourth begin) and the winner is...


So email us your address Anilee, and we'll try to get your copy of How To Be Bad sent out sometime next week.

If you don't send an email within the next two days, and don't reply to a message we send you (or comment), then we'll pick another winner. But that probably won't happen. Thanks for entering, everybody! We had tons of entries. It was a huge success for our first contest (besides all the glitches, of course).
We'll be having another one soon to win a copy of Farworld: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage. I just hope it runs better than this one =).

Off to read on the dock,

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

and end and a beginning

So, we're wrapping up June a little late, because I hadn't even realized that it was over! It traveled like trouble! (that is something you will understand with the beginning of a new three songs)

So the winner of the "Favorite Algorithm of Worditude Emporium (Bookstore)" poll was Barnes and Noble. There were a few votes scattered here and there, but second place was a tie between Borders (something we don't have around here) and Library. I understand the library. I don't go there often, but usually I don't want to return the books. Unless they're terrible, of course, which they are on occasion. Third place went to Books-A-Million, which is the Emporium I frequent more often than not, because it's closer than my personal favorite which is Barnes and Noble.

So the new poll won't be up for a few more days--until we think of a new one--but the music is going up with this post.

Also, you may have noticed that there are six more reviews today. Those are all the ones we reviewed for the Hiatus Tour (the winner of that announced tomorrow), so if you missed them, scroll on down and read (and comment, too =D, that would be much appreciated).

I'm in the middle of a reading frenzy, so a few reviews should be coming your way soon. Look out! (plus an interview with a favorite author should be here...soon? sometime? in a few weeks? I'm not sure, but it will come!)


How To Be Bad

Mels, Vicks, and Jesse don't really have much in common. Vicks is the rebel with the dyed-black hair, cursing complex, and boyfriend who has just gone off to college and apparently forgotton her (one text. Stay cool). Jesse is an uber-Christian whose mother has just been diagnosed with cancer: breast cancer, after winning a wet tee-shirt contest. Clearly, a punishment from God. Mel is the new rich girl from Canada who nobody really likes. The only things that these girls are sharing? A weekend, a car, a hotel room, Mel's mom's credit card, and the road trip of their lives.

They will visit landmarks (the world's tiniest police station). They will meet a boy (sexy Marco). They will engage in several illegal activities. They'll fight and bond and get attacked by an alligator and learn, each in their own ways, how to be bad. And at the end of it all, they just might be best friends.

This book is a really great read. I was curious about getting my hands on it becasue of the multiple authors: I'm a huge fan of E. Lockhart's, but I had mixed feelings about Sarah Mlynoski's Bras and Broomsticks and I despise chatspeak far too much to have enjoyed Lauren Myracle's TTYL series. The writing here was excellent, though. The voices were distinct, but they blended together nicely. The styles of the three authors meshed very well.

How To Be Bad is very much a character story, and it's an extremely good one. Jesse, Mel, and Vicks were all believable characters with distinct personalities. I loved how none of them were stereotypical, despite any implications given by their immediate labels. Jesse, for instance, is the Christian girl, but she's also the meanest and cattiest of the trio. One of my favorite things about the book was that each of the characters had tons of their own struggles and problems to worry about, but the story continued to center around the girls as a whole, and their journey together.

Also, it was completely hilarious. All three of the authors worked in plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, even within the most tense parts of the story. There was a lot of verbal comedy, but much of the humor was situational as well.

My only complaint about this book? The drawbacks of carrying around a novel entitled How To Be Bad. Why that gets seven questions per day and my "Free Alan Rickman" tee-shirt gets none is beyond me, but it did. Go figure.

Four cups and a half for How to Be Bad!


Masquerade by Melissa De La Cruz

Schuyler Van Alen wants an explanation for the mysterious deaths of young vampires. With her best friend, Oliver, Schuyler travels to Italy in the hope of finding the one man who can help—her grandfather. Meanwhile, back in New York, preparations are feverishly under way for the Four Hundred Ball, an exclusive gala hosted by the city’s wealthy, powerful, and unhuman—a true Blue Blood affair.

But it’s at the after-party, a masquerade ball thrown by the cunning Mimi Force, that the real danger lurks. Hidden behind the masks is a revelation that will forever change the course of a young vampire’s destiny. [description from inside cover]

After taking months to get into the first book in this series, Blue Bloods, I jumped right in to Masquerade. The new plot developments were much more interesting in comparison, and the suspense was built up to extremes. Not only did the characters become more developed and have stronger emotions, but the vampire lore became more developed and had a past. Everything about the Blue Bloods that you couldn’t figure out in the first novel was very well explained in the second.

For example:

Once Schuyler finds her grandfather, he decides she needs to be trained to use her powers—something The Committee is no longer doing with new vampires. In his training, he teaches Schuyler about the four factors of the glom, or mind control. This is just one of the many new introductions to vampire lore in Masquerade.

Despite the lack of many Silver Blood attacks in this novel, it is surprisingly more suspenseful than the first. I was flipping pages fervently as it got later and later into the night—I just couldn’t put it down. The romance between Schuyler and Jack (and Oliver) becomes part of the story, as does the romance between Jack and Mimi, Bliss and a new character, Kingsley, and Charles and Allegra.

If you’ve read the first and are skeptic about the second, I encourage you to go pick it up now. It will not disappoint.

Or even if you haven’t read the series at all, I encourage you to start it—and don’t worry, if you can’t get into Blue Bloods, it ends up turning into a great series.

4 cups of coffee for this one.


Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz

Schuyler Van Alen is an outcast. She dresses funny. She lives in a creepy old house. She's too shy to talk to anyone except for her best friend Oliver. Oliver is: sweet, skinny, brown hair, dorky glasses. A very intelligent nerd type with good taste in music and movies, who is- you guessed it- hopelessly in love with Schuyler. And get this: she has no idea.

On the night that our story begins, Schuyler is on her way to a club with Oliver when she witnesses a should-have-been suicide: a boy throws himself under a cab, but is perfectly fine when he walks away, just minutes later. As he walks away from the cab, Schuyler recognizes this boy, who is no less than Jack Force, the (blond, charming, and athletic, but deep down, really sensitive) most popular boy in school. He proceeds to actually speak to her. Flirt, even! Schuyler is shocked. Reader is not.

At this point, I was a little bit skeptical. I mean, the author's other titles didn't appeal to me at all, so I couldn't really decide whether or not this book would either. So the generic beginning was a bit of a let-down, and made me even more wary than before. But, other than a certain fixation with semi-colons, Melissa de la Cruz's writing was good, so I continued.

Brilliant decision, on my part.

As it turns out, the love triangle between Schuyler, Oliver, and Jack was where the predictability ended, and where the story shifted into one of the most original takes on vampires I've ever read (second only to Scott Westerfeld's Peeps). Manhattan's elite 'Blue Bloods' have been being reborn since they came over on the Mayflower- the same people in the same place, over and over, for two hundred years- and Schulyer is one of them.

Blue Bloods is a fast-paced page turner, full of interesting twists and suspense. My only complaint is that, as I said before, the characters are kind of typical. Schulyer, Jack, Mimi (Jack's twin sister, the blonde, bitchy popular girl) and Oliver, anyway. Great, but not very unique. Maybe all of de la Cruz's creative energy was spent on the fantastic plot, but more interesting characters would have been good.

All in all, Stephenie Meyer keeps her Queen of the Fictional Vampires crown (Scott being the king), but Blue Bloods is great if you want a new take on the bloodsucking creatures, as well as a quick and thrilling read that will keep you guessing until the end (and after!). The sequel, Masquerade, is even better than the first.

Blue Bloods gets three and a half cups of coffee. :)


When It Happens by Susane Colasanti

Sara and Tobey couldn’t be more different as they start their senior year in high school. She is focused on getting into her first-choice college—NYU. She sure has the grades for it, but she’s still stressing out. Tobey, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about college. He just wants to become a famous rock star, win Battle of the Bands, and tour the world with his friends. But this becomes increasingly difficult as he realizes that the other two-thirds of his band are planning on going to college. And where does that leave Tobey?

At the beginning of each year, Sarah and her friends list their goals for the school year. This year, Sarah’s goal is to find true love. And when Dave, a popular guy she’s been crushing on since he moved to their school at the end of last year, asks her out, she’s sure she’s reached her goal. But for some reason, even though she’s going out with Dave, Tobey keeps popping into her head. He’s sweet, has amazing blue eyes, and has great arms from playing guitar and working out.

And it just so happens that one of Tobey’s goals is to make Sara fall in love with him.

This review comes in 5 parts, Part One--Writing Style:

From the start of When It Happens, I loved the writing style of Susane Colasanti. The first chapter was very reminiscent of R. A. Nelson (circa Breathe My Name), in that it was random, relatable, and very much like the inside of a teenager’s mind. She writes like a teenager, using language, actions, and emotions familiar to our every day to tell the story. Tobey, Sara, and all of their friends act like students in high school, like students I’ve met.

Added to that is the fact that Colasanti can write. I mean really write. She can write with so much conviction and emotion that it puts you there in the story, rooting for the relationships, hating the teachers, feeling uncomfortable during awkward moments. This is actually some of the best YA writing I’ve come across in a while, as it doesn’t sound like an adult trying to sound like a teenager. Many can succeed in making the character sound like a teenager, but there’s also that little bit that sounds like an adult pretending to be a teen. Only some, however, can master the art of a full-fledged teenaged narrator (R. A. Nelson, Sarah Dessen, Maureen Johnson, and now Susane Colasanti). Welcome to the ranks of amazing YA authors, Mrs. Colasanti.

Part Two—Character Development:

When It Happens began as if you’d known the characters forever and were just being reintroduced. They didn’t bore you with tedious introductions, but at the same time, you learned the story of every single one of the characters, main and minor. You learned about each girl’s family and history. In just the first chapter you learn so much about Sara’s friends as they tell each other their goals for the year, an annual ritual they do before school starts. Also, the book isn’t just about Sara and Tobey. Their best friends also go through some things. Maggie’s parents separate, and Laila falls for one of Tobey’s friends—no matter how much she denies it, it’s true. All the characters are dynamic and depicted really well.

Part Three—Plot:

The plot of When It Happens is just as believable as the characters. I don’t want to give away anything, but I will tell you this: events like these are sure to happen in real life. Nothing unrealistic or exaggerated happens to these characters. They go through their senior year like any other students, the fall in love like any other teenagers, and they experience some rough times like any other person.

Part Four—Font/Changing POV:

A very unique characteristic of this book is that it was written in both points of view, Sarah’s and Tobey’s. Every other chapter was Sarah, and the rest were Tobey. I, personally, enjoy books that give both sides of the story because then both characters are loud, dynamic, and truthful. You don’t just get an impression of one or the other—you get their whole story.

And the best part about the switching POV? The fonts changed also. This was the coolest idea on behalf of Susane Colasanti or her editors. By making Sarah and Tobey have different fonts, they made it easier to keep up with who was speaking, because once you get into this book, it can be easy to just speed right through and not think about it. The different fonts made it possible to notice. Also, the different fonts added a touch of originality to the story that wasn’t there otherwise.

Part Five—My Opinions:

Personally, I couldn’t get enough of this book. Parts 1-4 can give you the best reasons why—or at least the ones I could pinpoint. Besides those things, there was something else that made me love this book so much, but I can’t figure out exactly what it was. It was just…something. Something incredible. My friends may tell you that I’m obsessed with this book (we actually just had a discussion about this a few nights ago), and maybe I am. I could read this book many times over and never get sick of it. There’s something in the depth of the characters that is alluring, something in the every day plot that is so relatable, and something in the writing that makes it re-readable.

As you can probably tell, this book comes highly recommended from me. 5 caramel macchiato espressos for this spectacular work of fiction.


Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter

After a semester of sneaking out of the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women to see her first boyfriend, Josh, and getting in a massive amount of trouble for it (and for a spy like her, that means a debriefing by the CIA and having Josh’s memory erased), Cammie Morgan is not ready for the new guest at her school. She’s not ready for boys.

No one at the Gallagher Academy , the best spy school in the world, ever suspected that there might be another school out there like theirs…for boys.

As soon as the guests get there, things start to go mysteriously wrong. The school has its first Code Black in years, the boys’ rooms are surprisingly spotless, Mr. Soloman (the Cover Operations teacher) is acting really strange, there’s a mysterious picture in Cammie’s mom’s office, and worst of all, genius Cammie is confused and may be falling for one of the boys.

So why is all this happening? Who are these boys really? And what’s going on behind closed doors at Gallagher?

I have yet to read the first in the Gallagher Girl series, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, but it’s not really necessary—even though it may make Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy a better book.* So I recommend doing the obvious and reading the first one…first. The character development begins slowly but quickly speeds up until you’re introduced to each of the main characters in a small way. There’s, of course, Cammie Morgan (known as Chameleon because of her way of hiding in the shadows, blending in), her mother (also the headmistress of Gallagher), and Cammie’s friends and teachers. The problem is: there are barely any descriptions of them, nothing but names and dialogue. What little description there is creates vapid, unrealistic characters, anyway.

And then the writing itself…uh…? The writing was a self-centered (and spy-centered). Nearly all the words in the entire book (besides dialogue) are Cammie’s thoughts. Personally, I believe that good writing has descriptions about the surroundings and the characters. And it should actually tell you who’s speaking. Sadly, this book had none of the above.

What it did have, was an obtuse amount of parenthesis and inside these parenthesis, there were far too many cheesy afterthoughts to force the reader to remember—as if you’d forgotten—that you were reading a book about spies. For example:

‘She cut me a look that could kill (and will—just as soon as our head scientist, Dr. Fibs, perfects his looks-can-kill technology).’**

Eventually, though, comes a light at the end of the tunnel. Finally we were introduced to Zach, the first character to actually develop into someone with a past, a life—one that didn’t surround everything Cammie did—and strangely enough, he was supposed to be portrayed as the character Cammie knew nothing about.

As the book continues, the writing gets a little better, the plot becomes bearable, and the dialogue more believable.

I give Ally Carter’s Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy just 3 cups of coffee (hazelnut at that, because some people like it, but it’s just not my flavor).


* maybe that’s why the character development wasn’t there for me, so please excuse that if you thought it was good.

** this was one of the worst throughout the book, not only because it was a terrible play on a popular figure of speech, but also because Ally Carter couldn’t be creative enough to come up with a better name than ‘looks-can-kill technology’???

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

So my first author infatuation (other than the amazing JK Rowling*) came about some time last December when Caroline and I started discussing one Sarah Dessen’s books and I said I’d like to read it (more specifically This Lullaby**). Jessica, a friend and fellow book-lover jumped in the conversation and said “Oh! I have that book! You want to borrow it?” And, of course, I said yes. So I borrowed This Lullaby. Then, one random day during winter break, Jess walks into my room carrying about five books, three of which are Sarah Dessen books. She just sets them on my bed and says “Here are some more books.” So there’s where the infatuation began. It flooded into January, ran into February, flew into March, and ended up in April for the release of Sarah Dessen’s newest book Lock and Key. Admittedly, this is June, and I read the book over a month ago, but you should be happy this review came at all.

Ask twenty different people the definition of family, and you’ll get twenty different answers. Ruby’s definition of family is slightly askew, and when she’s assigned a project in a new school where she has to find the meaning of family, she discovers that it’s not just you relatives. It’s not just your siblings and parents.

“Ruby, where is your mother?”

Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow. She knows that her mother has left, and that there’s no guarantee of her coming back. Ever. But she’s still living there on her own, fending for herself.

Until the landlords stop by and find her living in a mess of a house, with dishes piled in the sink, clothes hanging in the kitchen to dry, and drugs left on the living room table.

That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. Going from dirt-poor, delivering lost luggage as a job, and living in a run down house to living in a rich and luxurious neighborhood, going to a new private school, not having to work at all when your brother-in-law gives you hundreds of dollars a week for spending money, and having a huge bedroom to yourself (with its own bathroom) is a major change. Especially for Ruby who has never been able to experience something like this. Even if it is a dream come true.

But after not having contact with her sister for ten years, it’s weird living with her again. And now she has a new neighbor, Nate, who may just have as many problems as Ruby does. But as soon as she learns to help him out, he’s not willing to accept it. Somehow, in this new world so far from the one she knows, Ruby makes new friends and understands the meaning of family.

After finishing this book, I sat down and thought about all the characters. Ruby is strong and defiant. Nate is kind, funny, and complicated. Jamie is hilarious and sweet. Cora is tough and caring. But each of these characters is real. Every single one of them has a past, a present, and a future. They have stories, emotions, and their own thoughts. I’m a character girl, and Sarah Dessen never fails to satisfy in that department.

Ruby’s story is both tough and wonderful. She goes through hardships before coming to live with Cora that many people couldn’t even imagine, and even once she gets there, to that world of luxury, she has difficult obstacles to face. She may just relapse and end up back in her old habit of drinking and drugs, she may just fall for the boy next door, or she may wind up going to college—something she never thought would happen. Her struggle is depicted very well as the story stretches over almost an entire school year.

This is yet another great book of Sarah Dessen’s. Not my favorite, but it comes in a close fourth. I give it 4.5 cups of delicious coffee.


* she may be amazing, but we still want Alan back!
** The best of the eight
*** It’s very weird, but it’s like Sarah Dessen knows me. She put a character in Lock and Key name Heather who is strangely like me. She likes coffee, she’s a good student, and she’s blonde. It’s very odd…hmm…