Mini Reviews 4: Bring on the Minis!

Another set of minis today! I'm becoming really fond of this way of reviewing - it's so much shorter and easier.  Here's hoping I can say it in fewer words!

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman by Ben H. Winters
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: September 2010
Pages: 256
Source: Review copy provided by publisher
For: Review

When Bethesda Fielding decides to do her secret project on the mysterious life of boring music teacher Ms. Finkleman, she little expects to uncover what she does.  A former punk-rocker and famous mystery woman, their unassuming teacher is plunged back into the spotlight.  But the discovery is not exactly as either Bethesda or Ms. Finkleman thought it would be. 

My thoughts: This is a short, sweet, and fairly funny story about the mysterious lives of teachers - what do they do outside of school?  A story that seems to not have much depth, but pulls a few surprises before it ends.  It's something to give your MG kids who like music and wonder what their teachers do in their spare time.

Slayers by C.J. Hill
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: September 2011
Pages: 384
Source: e-book from NetGalley
For: Review
Series: Probably, this is Book 1

When Tori heads to dragon camp, she does not expect to find out that there are real dragons.  A spoiled daughter of a rich senator, she is discovering the adjustment to her fellow slayers, descendents of knights specially trained to kill dragons, are not very welcoming.  She is thrust into a different world and not quite sure she wants to be there.  After all, not only are dragons real, they are vicious and might just be used to take over the world.

My thoughts:  I liked how it was more than just a dragon story.  There were interesting ethical quanderies and developing relationships and realistic interactions between teens.  It was an interesting mix of contemporary and fantasy.  Explanations of the dragon and slayer histories were somewhat vague and a bit unbelievable for me.  Even though it didn't feel like fantasy most of the time, I'm anxious to see where this newly-fantasy author takes this story. 

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: November 2011
Pages: 352
Source: Library
For: The Dystopia 2012 Challenge
Series: Yes, this is Book 1

Juliette hasn't touched anyone in over 200 days.  She's been stuck in a cell, slowly losing her mind, always fearing the power she holds in her hands.  But when the Reestablishment decides it wants to use her as a weapon, Juliette must make a decision - one that will have much more powerful repercussions than she can imagine.

My thoughts: I thought the book had some really interesting and unique aspects to it: a little paranormal, a bit dystopian, mashed together. The main characters were intriguing: Juliette and Warren especially. I was initially (and quite a bit throughout) thrown off by the writing style - the stream-of-consciousness feeling.  The strike-throughs, which bothered some, weren't the most difficult for me to deal with, it was the use of odd metaphors and strange turns of phrase that just struck me as off.  A few times, this took me completely out of the story and I think that's much of what made me not enjoy it.  I was also disappointed in the lack of details on this future world, the Reestablishment, and what was going on.  Still, I became invested in what happened to Juliette and Adam and Warren.  I may still pick up the sequel.  And I have to admit, hearing Tahereh speak at a Dark Days event (recap to come...sometime) I wanted to like it even more.  She was really relatable and funny and genuinely happy to be a YA author.  I'll be interested to read more from her.

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: August 2010
Pages: 304
Source: ARC provided by publisher
For: Review

Balthazar and Hebe Jones have lived in the London Tower for eight years, Balthazar working as a Beafeater.  But when a small zoo is placed in his care, his rarely simple job gets even more complicated.  Soon, he's juggling exotic animals, Tower secrets, and his own grief over the loss of his small son.  Will he pull through this adventure in one piece?

My thoughts: This is a quirky, charming book filled with odd characters doing even odder things.  It is very British, though I'm obviously not a great judge of something's British-ness.  The story itself was rather fun - Balthazar dealing with all of these exotic animals being installed in various locations in the Tower.  I often got distracted because there was a lot of unrelated historical facts and stories that were inserted at random times.  Some of it was interesting, some of it just felt like a distraction from the story.  In fact, it almost felt at times that the author really wanted to write a book about weird historical facts about the Tower, but wanted to disguise it as a novel.  I think what kept me reading was really the strangeness of the characters - and also to find out about Milo.  Definitely not like anything I've read in a long time.  This is an adult book, so it has adult language (one f-word) and other mature content.  

Ripple by Mandy Hubbard
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication date: July 2011
Pages: 260
Source: Library
For: Fun
Series: Probably, this is Book 1

Lexi has cut herself off from friends and everyone she cares about.  She has a terrible secret, a terrible power.  Drawn to the water and to singing a deadly song, she must avoid killing again.  Because last time, she killed her boyfriend.  But when things suddenly change and her life might just return to normal, will she have the strength to make her most difficult choice yet?

My thoughts: I really liked the idea of this book - a siren who inadvertently kills the guy she likes.  It felt unique and different from most of the paranormal romance books out.  And it did have some original things, I think.  I liked how a lot of the book focused on grief and guilt and its effects on her relationships.  But there were a lot of small things about it that bugged me.  One of those things, the way the moon always seemed to be rising at sunset, is just the astronomy-major in me being bugged by something small.  I was also a bit thrown by learning that Steven and Cole were best friends, but Steven was a senior and Cole a sophomore.  Not that it isn't possible, but it was a bit odd to me.  Where were Cole's parents?  And I could kind of see the twist coming a long way off.  Generally, just not the right book for me.  Still, I think it will hold some appeal for fans of paranormal romance.  A note on content: language (one f-word), mature content: one scene in particular, and violence: a few grisly parts.

It seems despite my attempts to say less, I still manage to say a LOT in these "mini" reviews.  Do you like them more or less than my regular (long-winded) reviews?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage
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