This is one of those books that I read, enjoyed, but don't really have anything to say about. It's good, but not amazing, worth reading and enjoyable,...moreThis is one of those books that I read, enjoyed, but don't really have anything to say about. It's good, but not amazing, worth reading and enjoyable, but I don't feel like there is a lot to be said.
Although, I'm sure by the time I get around to writing my review, I'll have come up with something more, because that is what I do... Talk. ;) (less)
This Thing Called the Future by J.L. Powers is the story of Koshi, a young black South African trying to reconcile and combine the two important halves of her self and her world- both the modern and scientific world that brought biology and Christianity into her life, and the old culture of the Zulu people, believing in the spirits of the ancestors, witches and herbal muthi (medicine).
I admit to knowing very little about African culture so I can't say how accurate this book was in its portrayal, but factual or not, the struggles that Koshi faced, trying to reconcile the two halves of her personal belief system as well as the difference of opinion between her 'superstitious' and traditional grandmother and her mother's more modern beliefs in science. It's hard for her to be faced with both these belief systems, especially because everyone expects her to pick one side, and one side only, but Koshi feels strongly about both halves, both sides. She makes an observation, more than once throughout the story that I thought was very insightful. Whether you belief in spirits, a higher power, or nothing at all, I do agree with the observation that no matter how much science we learn, no matter how much we know, there are still things left unexplained.
Perhaps this is because we have simply not discovered what the explanation is yet, or perhaps it is something that we will never know. But there are gaps in our understanding. These gaps are even broader for Koshi because she does see herself as being closer to the spirits and she does believe in them, strongly. But, she also believes in God and Jesus Christ. I was actually really surprised at how much a role God and religion played in the book. There is the side by side comparison of both the scientific medicine vs. the traditional healers, but there is also the comparison of Christianity (Catholic, I believe specifically) and the ancient beliefs in the spirits of the ancestors. It was interesting, seeing these two very different belief systems compared, and although there were very definitely things that I don't agree with, it gave me a lot to think about.
But, with all this being said, I am still not quite sure how I felt about the book in general. It's well written, the pacing is good and the book never felt dull or dragged, but for some reason it's not terribly... compelling for me. I don't know if this is because there is just absolutely nothing in this book that mirrors my own life, so I can't draw any personal connection to it, or if it's just a matter of the writing style not reaching me. It's not a bad book by any means, but neither is it a book that I'm going to find myself recommending wildly. There is a market for this book, and I have a feeling that there will be some people who really just love it. And that makes me happy. But, even though it wasn't a book that I connected to as much as I might have like, it is a book that will stick with me for a while, because it gives you a lot to think about, (culture, racism, habitual poverty, AIDS, dependency, ancient and outdated? traditions, double standards, etc).
If you are at all connected to or interested in South African traditions and culture, this might be a great book to pick up. Although, if you have read it, and you know more about South African history and tradition than I, I'd love to hear about whether or not the author does a good job with her representation!
(Also- The book does talk about AIDS heavily. Koshi attends church one week and remarks that every single person there has someone close to them who has died, or is dying from AIDS. This seriously broke my heart.)(less)
Shut Out by Kody Keplinger is a book the surprised me. It's honesty a book I didn't think I would enjoy. I decided to give it a chance, because I hadn't expected to like The Duff, but was very pleasantly surprised. And, while there were definitely things about this book that bothered me, or didn't sit well with me, for the most part, I did enjoy it.
Keplinger is a strong writer. So far she is 2 for 2- delivering books that I didn't expect much from and surprising me with how well they are written, and how entertaining the story is. Keplinger does a great job writing heroines that many people will find themselves understanding, relating too, and connecting with. Lissa has her doubts, her insecurities and her desires and, for the most part, I liked her a lot.
There are two male leads- Cash and Randy, and both bring something unique to the story. I had some issues with Randy from the beginning, but I didn't like how his character was treated. I never really loved his character, but I felt like there was some unexplained, drastic character switching mid-way through the novel that wasn't really... set up as well as it could have been. Cash, however, is awesome. And you know that things are gonna get interesting between them. Oh, and also- he reads and recommends obscure Greek plays. Win!
As for the story itself, I had a bit of a hard time with how caviler this book was in its treatment of teen sex. I know that teenagers have sex, but this book makes it seem like every single character is having sex and, that the few who don't, are really weird and strange and behind the times smart for waiting until it really is right for them. It also offers some super crappy justification for continuing to have sex. Like one character, who genuinely does not enjoy having sex, but she keeps it up and pretends to like it, because it makes her boyfriend happy. This bothers me. I know that there are going to be teen girls out there, who are sexually active in this way. But I don't think it's positive. If it's something you do not enjoy, then you do not have to keep doing it! Seriously.
More teenage girls NEED to know that. They NEED to know that if they don't want to, or are not ready to have sex, then SO WHAT?! It's OK. It is ok, and they have the RIGHT to control who they allow that level of intimacy with. Considering the topic, I really wish that the book had made more of a statement about this, considering (IMO) a huge reason for this book was to make a point. Lissa's boyfriend pressures her to have sex. You get a sense of it from the very beginning of the book. And while he is ultimately labeled a dickhead and it is mentioned that trying to coerce a girl into having sex to stay in a relationship or to prove she loves you is wrong, it's not given all that much attention, and isn't really addressed. It's more like a passing thought when really, there are so many girls who need to hear that, need to believe and understand that it's not okay for a guy to try and force that.
I'm really torn on this one, because, while I did like it, it's honestly not one that I would really recommend to teenage girls. No matter how well written the book is, it does make light of a subject I think is incredibly important and serious. It's something that is already treated far too lightly by our entire society. And honestly, teenagers don't need another book that says it's about learning to get a handle on your own sexuality and being comfortable with whatever is right for you, but that actually shows a lot of relationships contrary to that and portrays them positively. Talk about mixed signals.
So, I doubt I will be rushing to supply this book to the teen girls in my life, but I do think that there are a lot of people who will love this one without reservations, especially the older crowd. Me personally, I don't like books that trivialize important topics, and I think Shut Out has a tendency to slip into that gray area a few times.
So, if I'm being honest, I liked this book. Quite a lot actually. And a large part of why I liked it so much, is because I didn't expect to like it, so it was definitely a very pleasant surprise. But Keplinger is a talented writer, and I will continue to read more from her. Now I just wish Keplinger would write a book that doesn't go out of its way to tackle the Oooh! Controversy! surrounding sex in YA. If she keeps going with it, sorry... But it's gonna look like agendizing and trying to hard.(less)
Hatter by Daniel Coleman is a companion novel to Jabberwocky. Hatter is set in the same whimsical world as Jabberwocky but it extends that world beyond just the Jabberwock poem to include and create Coleman's version of Wonderland, taken from Lewis Carroll.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with retellings, one that is far too large and would completely take over this post if I tried to discuss it. But, the short version, is that while I absolutely love and adore fairy tale retellings, I completely avoid retellings of books. But the Alice in Wonderland stories kind of fall right in the middle for me. They are a book, but the stories of Wonderland feel very fairy tale-ish, so I'm a bit torn. The main reason I decided to read this book is because of how much I enjoy Jabberwocky.
I'll be honest and admit that I didn't love Hatter the same way I did Jabberwocky, but that doesn't surprise me... I've never actually read anything other than Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and my experiences with Alice are solely based on the Disney version of the story. And we all know their reputation for sticking close to the original... ... ...
Anyway, Hatter is the story of Hatta, who is trying to understand his position in the world. He knows he views the world differently from everyone else and he honestly fears the insanity (or outsanity) that is lurking just within his mind. He views the world in colors, vivid, vibrant colors and his clothing reflects that. It's really interesting reading from his perspective, because the colors are tied to emotions, both his and others, and people give off colors that are reflective of their personalities. It fascinated me, and Hatta was such a quirky and interesting character to follow. The other narrator, Chism, was also interesting to read about, but for different reasons. Chism is colorblind, a soldier and full of rage and bitterness. He's a loner who wants nothing more than to continue as an elite- protecting the order of life (the circle and sword) and doing his duty. But when what he views as his responsibility seriously backfires, he ends up putting himself in a lot of danger, and also being the spark that starts the fire.
I don't know that I can put my finger on it exactly, but no matter how much I enjoyed reading the story, and enjoyed the characters, I felt a small level of disconnect from the story. Hatta was just a little too abstract and hard to follow at times and Chism was just a little too bitter and aloof. I saw where Coleman was going with that, and I understand why it was written that way, but it was just a little... too.
I do also wish that we had gotten to see more of The Queen of Hearts, got to experience more from her and what ultimately made her decide to be that person. We get to see a little bit of how she goes from a 'normal' person and becomes the violent queen, but I would have liked more. But, that's also mostly, because she was one of my favorite parts of the cartoon. (how morbid & violent is that... The young kid loving the crazy face screaming Off with his head! :P)
But overall, I really enjoyed this book. I had hoped to enjoy it, but wasn't sure what to expect given my thoughts on retellings and the fact that I know very little of the real Wonderland. But I'm happy to say that the book more than lived up to my expectations, and I'm even hoping that Coleman plans to write more Wonderland stories, because I will read them all. :) Maybe it will even be the motivation I need to finally read the originals. :)(less)
Signs of Martha by Sarah Raymond is the story of Martha- a young girl who feels like her town is too small for her and her ideals and after getting involved with a 'real' artiste who recently came to her town, her mild discontent starts to morph into genuine feelings of displacement and superiority.
This book has left me feeling rather neutral. There were parts and pieces of the story that I did like, and parts that I did not.
My biggest complaint with the story is probably the writing. There was nothing necessarily wrong with the writing, it just didn't connect with me, didn't hit me the way the books that land on my favorites shelf do. If the writing is really engaging or really gripping, there are a lot of things I will overlook about a book. But with Signs of Martha, I never forgot I was reading, never felt a huge connection to any of the characters and didn't get terribly invested.
Part of this, is because I didn't feel like the town was really characterized the way it needed to be. The way this story is written, the town is a huge part of what makes Martha who she is. She feels like she doesn't belong where she lives (something I can fully relate to), she feels like the town is too small to understand her or really allow her to grow as an artist. But, the pieces of the town that really make Martha feel so stifled are never really given the face time or depth they needed to really form, for the reader to fully understand why Martha might find her town to be painful and limiting. We don't catch glimpses of this until the end, when the signs the back of the book allude to expose them. But at that point, it's too late. I don't care as much about what the signs are saying, exposing, causing, because it hasn't been developed. (and honestly, the 'fallout' after the signs are seen is seriously anti-climactic)
But, while there was some disconnect there for me throughout the story, I did like the book overall. Martha in particular was written well (which is good, since she is the main character...). There is a lot that Martha faces that I can relate to. While I do like the town I live in, it's not the place for me. There are some people who will be happy in their hometowns for the rest of their lives. One of my good friends is one of those people. But I'm not. I get where Martha is coming from when she thinks that she will never reach her full potential staying in that town. I get it. I've been there. I am there. I could be content where I am for the rest of my life, but don't know that I would be truly happy. And that's what Martha is feeling, what she is facing. She has two paths she can take, and both would turn out fine. She might even be happy in each. But there is one path that would always have a niggling amount of discontent, of dissatisfaction at the back of her mind and she knows this.
Martha wants so desperately to find herself through her art, to find acceptance through this new artiste, Velvet, that she is basically willing to sell a piece of herself to get that approval. I'm not talking anything hinky or sexual, but Martha exchanges a part of who she is that makes her honest and good to find her in with this new girl, and she's so desperate for the guidance from Velvet that she slowly loses pieces of herself and doesn't really realize they are gone until she starts to understand what she has done to other people, people that have really never done her wrong.
Martha also learns a lot in this book, a lot about herself, a lot about others and a lot about honesty and integrity. It's definitely worth reading, especially if the premise initially interested you and overall, I'd say that the positive things about the book do outweight the negative. It shows potential and it would be interested to see what Raymond comes out with next because I'd love to see her writing grow.(less)
If I Tell by Janet Gurtler is a Contemporary novel about young Jasmine, a girl who feels stuck in the middle, always in some in-between place where nothing is satisfactorily resolved, there is no happy median and she's confused about what to do and how to feel. She's half black/half white and doesn't know how to reconcile the two halves of herself. She's shy and scared of the people around her (with good reason) so she ignores them but they ignore her too. She doesn't want to be friends with the people in her town, but she's desperately lonely, even though she tries to hide it. But worst and most terrible of all, is seeing her mother's boyfriend passionately kissing her best friend at a party and then having her mother tell her she's pregnant again. What is she to do? Tell her and ruin her happiness? Or keep silent and have it eat at her?
Jasmine is a strongly real character, even if she's not a particularly strong person. Which I liked. I love me some really strong female characters, but lets be honest. How many of the girls you knew in high school were really and truly strong. Jasmine does what she can with what she has and I seriously respected her a lot of the time, but she's very withdrawn and she doesn't have a lot of healthy ways of dealing with things. She tends to internalize her pain and then she dwells on it. While I don't agree with a lot of the decisions she made, and there are very obvious differences in our lives, that's how I dealt with a lot of stuff, especially in high school. I find it easier to pull the pain or sadness in and put up a front than to work through it, deal with it and let people help me. It was a conscious decision for me to start letting things go, to start finding healthier ways to deal with things, so I can certainly sympathize with how Jasmine felt through a lot of the novel. k
I was honestly surprised by just how much I really liked this book. Gurtler's writing is strong and realistic and very, very well done. I figured I would like it, enjoy a nice Contemporary, but I didn't expect to get quite so pulled into Jasmine's world. Knowing how torn up about things she was really got to me. I felt for her. Her mom's boyfriend, Simon, has been an important part of her life. Her own father walked away from her mom when they found out she was pregnant, and wants absolutely nothing to do with her. He has his own family now, and has still never acknowledged her. She has really struggled with this (as is expected) and Simon has helped fill that void for her, talking to her, being there for her and just being a solid rock that she can count on. He fits the role of both father and friend and they are incredibly close. Seeing him kissing her best friend (who is quite a few years older than Jasmine, so at least it's not like, young girl creepy) really tore her up and she can no longer stomach being around him, which makes it all the harder, given their previous closeness.
Everyone, her mother, Simon, her grandmother (who raised her since her mom was too young and... ya... to do it herself) all believe that she's just jealous of the new baby, especially because Simon has made it clear he won't abandon them. She's not. If she had found out about the baby before seeing Simon, she would have been thrilled. But how can she be happy now?! And how can she tell her mom what she saw when she's so miserably pregnant and insecure enough?
And right there is the only part of the book that I didn't really love. Jasmine decides in the beginning of the book that she is going to keep this from her mother, that there is no way she can tell her and ruin this for her. But a 16 year old girl should not have that responsibility, should not have to deal with something like that. And while, I understand the decisions she made throughout the book, while I get where she is coming from, that is also not something I believe you really have the right to keep from someone. For me personally, I would want to know. No matter what the situation, I would want to know. But, on the other hand, it's not really my right to judge what is best for someone else. And so, it bothered me on a personal level, but for the story, I completely understood it.
I can't finish off this review without saying more about the side characters. Although Jasmine doesn't have a lot of friends, she has Lacey, an older girl she works with who has been there for her for a long time (which is why it's again so devastating to see her kissing Simon), she has Ashley, a new friend (not sure how solid/strong they are quite yet) who doesn't demand anything from Jasmine and just wants to be friends and then Jackson, a new boy in town (super good looking) who is also interested in Jasmine and keeps trying to get her to open up to him. (Not to mention the memory of an awesome and loving Grandpa who Jasmine thinks about constantly when she's trying to figure out the right thing to do). I loved Jasmine's support system and I loved watching Jasmine begin to realize more and more that they were her support system, that they were there for her and that they cared about her. Simon and Lacey are also included in this group of friends, as is her mother, who has always been more of a sister/friend than a mom, but Jasmine pulls away from all of them (but especially Simon and Lacey) because she can't deal with the intense betrayal she feels.
This is a strong Contemporary read that has definitely piqued my interest in Ms. Gurtler and has me wanting to find a copy of her debut novel as well as watch for anything coming out in the future. I liked that this book didn't shy away from some of the hard stuff, and that Gurtler was brave enough to take this book in what could possibly be unpopular ways. Not everything is resolved to perfection, but it feels like real life, which is rarely tied neatly with a bow. It's a moving and complex story and one that will leave you with a lot to think about by the time you turn the last page.(less)
So, I'm going to break one of my personal review rules/no-nos/pet peeves here for Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier and I'm going to compare it to another book. (Gasp, I know... Also, insert appropriate apology here). The story itself is pretty unique and charming, but I was reminded from the very beginning of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The stories are not anything alike, but the writing felt very similar to me. It's told in that same third party narrative where the narrator will interject at times with 'clarifications' and comments. And it also had that same impossibility of character (like the baby biting through steel in ASoUE).
And I don't like it.
I did not enjoy the SoUE. I read most of the books and finally gave up because the story just wasn't enough to get me over my dislike of the narration and other... things. But I will say that although the narration was, at times, quite jarring to me, overall, I actually really enjoyed this book.
Once I got past the beginning, where the infant is left to fend for itself by the town elders and survives, I found myself really drawn into the happenings of the story. But it was a struggle and initially, I was really disappointed in the story, because I need my fantasy to be believable and realistic, which means I need to believe in my characters. Once Peter has gotten past his unbelievable childhood, the story really picks up for me. I found that I really liked Peter and I wanted so badly for him to succeed. There was so much at stake for him, and he had so little happiness in his young life that I so wanted things to work well for him.
The story was quite charming, and again, once past the beginning, this unknown/unseen narrator really does keep his comments and opinions to a minimum, allowing me to get farther into the story. I loved watching Peter learn about his surroundings, learn about himself and realize that he can teach and help others. He worries that his past as a thief makes him unworthy and he often sometimes confidence in himself, which is not surprising considering he's spent the last several years being told he's practically worthless. But Peter is strong and he is made of greater things than he knows, and there is much he needs to do in order to complete the quest given him by the mysterious professor.
His traveling companion, Sir Tode was also a rather enjoyable character. The victim of a Hag's curse (one that I think you definitely need to discover on your own) Sir Tode is an unlikely companion, but is really willing to be there for Peter, to be his eyes and his friend.
I'm so glad that I stuck with this book, that I didn't allow myself to get too discouraged when I started the book. It's a beautifully charming story, even with the narration being what it is. Peter is strong and brave, and although not perfect (for reasons I won't specify to avoid spoilers) Peter's struggles with being blind are raw and real. Peter understands that his skills as a thief are only what they are because of his blindness. He can hear and smell better, and his fingers are far more sensitive. He recognizes this. He knows these things. But he still longs for the ability to see. But he also doesn't dwell on it. It's one of those things, it is what it is, and he makes the best of what he has. I love little Peter.
The fantastic eyes were also such an enjoyable part of the story. I wasn't sure going into it, but after reading, I can (fairly confidently) say that this is a stand alone story. I had originally thought that perhaps it would be a trilogy, with one book dedicated, primarily, to one set of eyes, but I am happy to say that this story stands alone. All three eyes are used (and umm, pretty brilliant, if I may say so!) and the story resolves itself completely, in that way of all middle grade (ok, most MG).
I think this is a charming and delightful book, and I think it's one that will be enjoyed by many, many people. If you are a fan of Lemony Snicket's writing style, I think you will just love this one. And if you are not, give it a try anyway. It just might surprise you.
Oh! Also- I loved the small illustrations that started each chapter. They were fabulous additions to the story and they made me all happy inside. :)(less)
Kara, Lost by Susan Niz is the story of 16 year old Kara, who feels that things are so bad at home she is left with no choice but to run away. Leaving in the middle of February, she heads to her sister's house, hoping that her sister, who left home a while ago will give her a place to stay. After Ian, her sister's roommate, refuses to allow Kara to stay more than a night (harboring a runaway is illegal) Kara is fairly bitter and knows, from this one encounter that Ian is just as manipulative and controlling as their father.
Kara starts to realize that perhaps she was a bit impulsive in walking out of her parent's house, and that she is going to be in serious trouble if she can't find a place to stay. She spends one night in a mall, one night in a squat with a strange and creepy guy from McDonalds (who is very possibly high) before going home with one of the counselors from a day clinic that helps troubled teens on their own. It provides means, therapy and a safe place to spend the day, but does not offer anywhere to sleep. Gwen takes Kara home, even though it is very against the rules and because Gwen has sad eyes and seems proud of her boyfriend, Kara just knows that she is still a wounded child on the inside, not quite over her childhood trauma and therefore feels that it is her mission to protect all other kids.
Kara spends the entire book making these strange assumptions, using these grandiose jumps in logic. She just knows that Ian is really her sister's boyfriend, even though they claim to be only roommates and that he is insanely controlling of her sister. But she decides this after having met him once. And I don't blame him for not wanting her to stay. It's illegal for her to stay there. It's not hard for me to believe someone would be uncomfortable with this. She made similar assumptions about Gwen, the therapist, and later on in the novel as well.
This isn't the only flaw I felt the book had. Kara was never a believable character. The book felt as if it were told in a clinical rather than emotional manner, and I'm sorry, but if you want me to be really draw into your book about a 16 year old runaway, I need to care about your main character. I need to believe that running away was the only option she had left. But I never got that. We hear- my mom is distant and my dad is incredibly controlling and they want to force me to take an anti-depressant. We hear a lot of, I know how bad home is, I've heard how awful your home life was, but nothing is ever shown, nothing is ever expounded upon. And this is true of pretty much every character and every interaction. Some characters have a complete and total personality shift, but no one ever bothers to explain how or why it happened and I find myself unable to actually believe it.
To me, the whole story felt as if it were told with a high level of detachment. It felt as if the narrator of the story was disinterested in details and the story, which of course means that I, as a reader am more detached and therefore disinterested in the story. Even the parts of the book that should have had my pulse pounding, my breathing speeding up, my heart racing, even they left me flat and a little bored.
I will say that my favorite scene in the entire book is when Kara is sitting in McDonalds and an undercover cop shows up trying to track down the same kid she is looking for (but, umm... obviously for different reasons). The way that she detaches herself from him is brilliant and seriously made my day.
Kara, Lost isn't really a bad book. The story has potential and maybe if it had been a little tighter, a little smoother, I would have liked it more. As it is, I felt that Kara was childish, selfish, naive, impulsive and none too bright. She also has an incredible level of self-superiority and there were times when it really rubbed me the wrong way. She looked down on certain characters that had given her absolutely no reason to assume superiority. What I think might have been part of the problem is an attempt by the author to foreshadow what was going to be happening later- like Kara knowing Ian is so terrible after one encounter. Then, when Ian does start to display some more controlling tendencies, we are going to just think, Oh! Well, she was right, so I can ignore the leap of logic... It just didn't work for me.
I feel bad that most of what I've had to say is negative, because Kara, Lost really isn't a bad book. But it isn't really one I'd consider good, either. It's just kind of... there. I do know that the author, Susan Niz, went through some of the same things as Kara, having been a teen runaway herself and I feel like there really might be a great story tied up in there. I just don't really feel like this was it. But, feel free to read it for yourself and be the judge. It's possible that someone else out there will simply love it.(less)
Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman makes me feel, like Whoa!
Abby is 14 and about to start high school. Middle school wasn't that great (her and her best friend, Faith were picked on by the super popular crowd) and Abby doesn't really see anything to look forward to. She doesn't really like change, and is incredibly nervous about starting high school. It doesn't help that on the first day of school she realizes that she and Faith, who have been inseparable since 2nd grade only have gym together and her parents seem to think that's a 'positive' change. They want her to meet new people, make new friends but all she wants is to stay friends with Faith and keep everything the same as it's always been. It gets even worse when Faith starts making new friends and the only person Abby seems to meet is a super hot guy who can't even remember her name while he copies her math homework.
Abby doesn't really feel like she has a place. She's under a lot of pressure from her parents to be perfect, get straight As and live up to their expectations. She doesn't feel like they understand her, and she feels like they treat her differently than her younger sister, who she fights with constantly. Her best friend is pulling away from her, putting her time into new attachments and Abby desperately needs to feel loved, appreciated and wanted.
And then she meets Luke in a new cyber hang out geared for teens. Luke is wonderful. He understands Abby, sympathizes with her, tells her that he understands things are hard and he tells her she is beautiful. It's what she needs to hear, so she begins to let Luke consume her life. She spends all her time online or wishing she were online. And then, after a huge fight with her parents, Abby accepts Luke's offer to finally meet in real life. And then she disappears
This book hurts you in every way there is to hurt. Abby is really struggling to find her place right now and she's feeling inadequate in almost every area of her life. This makes her highly vulnerable to an internet predator. My heart hurt for Abby so many times in this story. She's really hurting and doesn't feel like anyone is willing to stop and listen to her, until she meets Luke. She has so much that she keeps locked inside and it's painful to read. And then there are things that will turn your stomach. Reading about this guy preying on such a young girl made me ill. And, it made me desire to do violence. I believe the people who prey upon and abuse children are the lowest of the low. And I cried while reading this book. There is so much pain felt by so many different characters and it just really hit me. I can't even imagine how devastating something like this would be in real life and I just ached.
The only thing I'm not sure I believed about this book was how quickly Luke was able to get Abby to do things horribly outside the levels of what is appropriate. He tells her in their first chat that he is already out of high school, and by the third he asks her bra size and follows that up by telling her he is 27 to her 14. I know that they had already chatted previously, but given how much she apparently knew about internet safety and how smart she was, I don't feel like there was enough build up there at this point for Abby to continue talking once she realized he was twice her age. And then, when he starts getting her to do more and more, (topless picture, webcam etc) I don't feel like there was enough resistance on Abby's part. Some of the things he asked her to do should have been met with at least a token resistance, but other than moving slowly and blushing, Abby never even says no. I think she would have been easily talked in to those situations, but I feel like it should have taken a little... more from Luke first.
Littman does attempt to justify this a little. Abby justifies a lot of her decisions, especially in the beginning, with the knowledge that nothing is going to happen- she's never going to actually meet the guy, so it's not really that bad. Which, as Abby can later attest, is very dangerous thinking.
But even so, I think that this is a very important book for kids to be reading, especially for kids around Abby's age. It is a time of great change and adjustment for teens and most teens feel very vulnerable. Internet predators are talented manipulators who study ways to reel teens in and exploit them. This book is important because so many teens have this idea or attitude of, Well that only happens to other people, that would never happen to me. And it's not true. If you refuse to acknowledge that there might be a risk, you put yourself at greater risk. Teens need to read this book. It's hard and it would definitely be a book that would be good to have a parent read with the teens so that they can talk about what happens in the story and how to protect yourself. It's a powerful book, I tell you what.
There is so much else that I could mention about this book. So many places I could have gone with this review. Because the book is just that good. It is amazing, powerful, intense, heartbreaking and so very important.(less)
Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday follows Hartley, a girl who finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her (with the 'Chastity Queen) and when she goes to his house to confront him about it, she finds the dead body of said chastity queen in his closet. Cue freak out. Then, now ex-boyfriend Josh climbs through her window that night to tell her the police are after him (duh) but that he's innocent (which she already thought, cuz he's a jerk but not the killing type) and to beg her to help him, since she's the only one he can trust (rich, isn't it...) She's pretty angry at him, but agrees to help (gotta love teenage girl logic) and interesting antics ensue.
While I did like this book overall, I had a hard time really believing in Hartley's character. She takes everything that anyone says right at face value. She asks her (now ex) boyfriend if he killed Courtney, he says no- believe. She asks if he sent her a specific text, he says no- believe. She asks their next 'suspect' if he killed her, he says no- believe. I mean, really. Come on. Who is going to just admit that?! No one is just going to admit to the little high school girl that, yes... I killed her, thanks for asking. Whether they ended up being truthful answers or not, it bothered me that she just accepted all their answers as truth.
I had a hard time relating to this book in general. And part of that is because Hartley's character is one I have a hard time relating to. She doesn't really think a lot of things through, and after she finds out her boyfriend has been cheating on her, she's happier being in denial about it. But, I was also really surprised that somehow, the uber self-righteous, pious chastity advocates were considered among the most popular in school. I've never seen that before. Normally, other than their 'groupies', everybody hates those girls... There were also a lot of things during Hartley's 'investigation' that didn't occur to a single character, that I thought would have been one of the first things on my mind. (All the examples of this that I can think of are also spoilers, so I can't specify, but it's there.)
Overall, although I did have some problems with the book itself, it is one that I definitely enjoyed reading. Hartley has that awkward teenage girl thing down pretty solid and there were quite a few scenes where I just had to laugh at her. And I did like her, even if there were times when I didn't quite believe her, or had to roll my eyes at her a bit. It's a fun book, one that I can see a lot of people really loving. I'm kind of middle of the road on it, but I can see where people might really love this one. It has a lot of elements from books that I really loved when I was younger- teenage sleuths, kids figuring out the case where adults have failed, etc- so this is one of those books that might work better for the YA audience it's targeted toward, rather than adults. If this one interests you, go ahead and pick it up, but if the synopsis doesn't instantly grab or interest you, I think it's one I'd probably pass on.(less)
The Kid by Sapphire is a novel I really should have liked. I read and reviewed Push on the blog last year (click to read my review) and while I can't say that I loved the book, I definitely understood the point and was left with an overall feeling of purpose. The Kid, however, did not leave me feeling any of that. I am not going to give this an official review, since I didn't actually finish reading it, but I am going to leave you with my thoughts and explain why this was a book I found myself unable to complete.
Note- this review is going to contain spoilers for the first half of the book. I really struggle with not finishing books. I read quickly so it's usually not a big deal to push through a book I'm not loving. So for me to have really put this one down, I feel like I owe a thorough explanation. You have been warned.
The thing is, I tried. Really I did. I had every intention of finishing the book, even after I realized I wasn't enjoying it. In all honesty, if this hadn't been a review book I probably would have made the DNF decision somewhere between pages 5 and 50. I knew that early that this wasn't going to be a book I'd enjoy. But, because this is a review book and I felt terrible not finishing I ended up making it to page 207 before finally admitting defeat and admitting that I just...wasn't going to be able to do it. I intend to identify the scene that finally pushed me over the edge, but I want to talk a little more about the book before I do that.
One of my main complaints in my review of Push is what I felt to be an extreme level of graphic content. I said, "Although it is important for the direction of the story that we understand Precious has been abused both sexually and emotionally, I did not then, and do not now feel that the level of description was necessary. Some of the specific details the author included seemed in place merely for the shock and horror value." That feeling is amplified in The Kid. Extremely amplified. I honestly feel like Sapphire sat down and asked herself about all the hard, rough, graphic and extreme stuff she could possibly add to a story like this and then added it into the story. -Just add graphic rape, stir in a bit of cussing and VIOLA! Instant edge.
The story is told by Abdul (also called J.J.), Precious's son. And the narrative is incredibly difficult to follow. I don't know if that's because Sapphire is female and unsure how to write an authentic young boy character (something I strongly suspect...) or where it is merely her writing style. But I felt such a strong detachment and disconnect from the story I found myself completely unable to care about the story or Abdul. Even in the very beginning of the story, before we realize that Abdul is going to pass along the abuse he receives while in the system, I didn't care about him. And for serious- Who can't care about a nine year old boy?! Abdul has all these strange and very violent thoughts, where he screams in his mind things like Crazy Ass Roach Bitch and F*cking Bitch and on and on. And I wasn't always sure if he's only thinking these things or when they actually cross over into actual speech or actions. This is especially noticeable in the 13 year old section, but is also present in the beginning, when he's only nine. So, the story starts the day of him mother's funeral and Abdul is sent into the system. A boy in his first foster home rapes and severely beats him, landing him in the hospital for 3 weeks. They then decide to send him to a Catholic orphanage where two of the priests rape him on a regular basis. So, J.J. decides to return the favor and he rapes other boys in the orphanage. After being kicked out of the orphanage, for reasons that are a bit sketchy (unreliable narrator and as mentioned before, very awkward and detached narration) Abdul/J.J. is sent to live with the great-grandmother who should have been taking care of him for the last 4 years. But the priest at the orphanage decided he liked Abdul and wanted to keep him close. (barf)
This is where I finally accepted that this book wasn't for me, that I was going to have to call it quits on the story because I just couldn't stomach it or believe it anymore. I finally gave it up after listening to page after page after page after page of his great-grandmother describing, in graphic detail to a 13 year old boy how she had been raped at the age of ten, gave birth to his grandmother, ran away from home and ended up living and working in a whore house. Graphic detail. To a 13 year old. I was disturbed but still pushing through... And then- In the middle of this disturbing and inappropriate story from great-grandma, Abdul decides he is going to teach her a lesson, he decides he's going to really 'show' her. So he pulls his pants off and proceeds to masturbate to the point of orgasm while g-gma is still talking. He's 13 and he thinks that jacking off in front of his grandma is a good idea... Really? Really?! SERIOUSLY?!
I read a few pages past this but just couldn't do it anymore. I get that he's had a crappy life. Really, I do. I get that his life experiences are so far from mine that I can't possibly understand what he's gone through or what he feels. But I also felt that Sapphire failed her job as a writer, because she didn't write the book in a way that allowed me to understand or sympathize with Abdul. I was never able to understand his thoughts, his motives, anything. And I never cared to either.
Normally, in a book like this, I can find something good to say about the story. And I tried, really I did. I don't mind telling you what I don't like about a book, but I really like having something positive to say about the book as well. But, I have nothing. I was unable to find a single redeeming quality. I can't even say that the author's motives were pure or acceptable, because I can't figure out what they were.
And, I'm worried that given the nature of the book, given the subject matter this tries to tackle that people are going to be hesitant to say anything bad about it. I can see it. And I know that there are some people out there who will genuinely like this book. I get that. I know that not every book is for every reader. But I also believe that this book is going to be getting more praise than it deserves because no one wants to say something bad about a book like this. But you know what, there are great books out there that handle the topic of abuse. Great writers that manage to give credibility to their characters, their situations and their reactions, whether positive or not. In my opinion, Sapphire is not one of them.
Maybe some of you will be interested in this book. Maybe you will be better able to make sense of the jumbled and confused mess that is Abdul's narration. If so, I'd love to hear from you, love to hear what you think. But for the most part, this is not a book I would ever recommend.(less)
Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar is a book you may not be terribly familiar with. So far, only released as an Australian title, it's hard to find a copy in the US. I first heard about the book from Linds at Bibliophile Brouhaha. She talks about this book all the time, both on Twitter and her blog. I'm really passionate about the books that I absolutely love, so I'm a bit of a sucker for people who are intensely passionate about favorite books, and it automatically makes me more excited to read them. So, when Linds asked if I wanted to borrow her copy of this book, I was thrilled.
Carly is suffering. She's dropped out of University to spend her mornings surfing and her evenings working in a kitchen so she can afford to surf. She's shy and skittish and you know something has happened to her that's left her scarred. While surfing, she meets Ryan, a guy a bit older than her with some murky pieces in his past, but somehow, Carly finds herself drawn to him anyway. And as she spends more time with Ryan, more time facing her own demons and more time being herself, she slowly starts to heal, and wow is this powerful.
I am going to admit that there are two things holding me back from being as enamored of this book as Linds and many of the other bloggers I've seen mention it. The first is something that I cannot blame on anything except myself, and that is my expectations. I fully expected to love this book, because Linds and I agree on a lot of other books, and because everyone seems to love it. It's a tough, hard-hitting contemporary, something I'm very drawn to, and all the parts and pieces were there for me to just be blown away by this book (and, umm, the author is Australian. And dude, there must be something in the water over there, because these authors rock!) But, I had heard the book compared to Melina Marchetta* (something that is dangerous, as we see, because it makes my expectations impossible to meet) and while Eagar's writing is very emotional and very powerful, it didn't hit me the same way as Marchetta's writing does, so I was initially disappointed, waiting for the magic of Melina to kick in. When that didn't happen I was disappointed, and it wasn't until I gave myself a mental kick that I started to read it as an Eagar book, not the next Marchetta, which immediately increased my enjoyment of the book. I really want to reread this one, both so that I can revisit the story, but also because I think the book deserves a fair chance from me from the beginning.
The other complaint I had with this story is slightly spoilery. So, I'm warning you right now. Honestly, it's something that I had figured out from the back cover, and then again within the first 50 pages or so. But still, you've been warned. From the way Carly acts, you know she's been sexually assaulted at some point. And, it's scarred her, because that's what something like that does. And it hurts, it really and truly hurts. You can feel Carly's scars and it so broke my heart over and over again. I understand that being able to accept sex as a positive and loving thing is important to the healing process after an attack that like. But in my opinion, it wasn't handled here as well as it could have been. Especially with Ryan (which means I'm skipping the almosts from before). When she's with Ryan, after they start sleeping together, I thought things progressed beautifully. They were a great couple and Ryan was amazing with and for her, and he really helped her heal. But, they slept together on the first date, and this first date came after they'd only talked to each other a few times on the beach. I have a hard time believing that someone who has been through what Carly has would welcome sex on a first date and be healed by it. It just didn't feel right to me. It felt like the insta-love thing that so much of the paranormal fiction is guilty of. I know that some people are going to disagree with me here. I get that. I understand it. But I kinda also don't care. You are coming from it where you are, and I'm coming from it where I am. Everyone has had different experiences that allow them to view the world differently, and this is mine. I don't think you can have meaningful sex when you barely know someone, and I didn't feel like Carly and Ryan were given the chance to know each other before making that choice.
I'm cringing here now, because it feels like that's a whole lot of negativity above. But that's not the case! Not the case at all. Those were the only two things I didn't love about this book, and although it's a long section, that's mostly because I talk to much and sometimes over-explain things. But really, this book is pretty much brilliant. Eagar's characterization is spot on. Carly is suffering, and the suffering from her assault is compounded by this idea that she is now unclean or unworthy. And that is made worse again because she doesn't have a strong or supportive family to turn to, which also breaks my heart. But she finds surrogates in surfing and the friends she makes there. It's not perfect, but she starts to recognize truths about the world and herself, and she slowly starts to heal.
I love that overall, Eagar made Ryan's part in Carly's healing authentic and realistic. He wasn't a cure all, didn't come with a magic wand and he wasn't able to take away all of Carly's pain. Most of that she had to deal with on her own. Ryan is there for her, at all times, and he extends his support to her in anyway she needs, anyway she's willing and really, that right there just made my heart fill for this guy. He's seriously great. It kinda makes me wish for more older guys in YA. :)
So here's the thing. I know that there were those two things I marked as complaints about this book. But I don't think you should let that deter you in any way from finding any possibility of grabbing yourself a copy of this book, or in helping us to give some of these US publishers a little nudge, asking them to bring Ms. Eagar over to the states. Because this is a book worth reading. Go read some of the posts Linds has up on her blog. Her passion and commitment to this book is truly impressive and it's obvious that she loves it and believes in it. And you know what? She's absolutely right. There is so much that this book has to offer. So much that we can learn from these characters that it's a shame more people aren't familiar with it. It's a book I'm going to do my darndest to get the chance to read again, and it's one that I don't think is going to leave me for a long time. It makes you think, makes you wonder, makes your insides bleed, and then, somehow helps you up, washes your face and makes you stronger and better able to face the world.
*Footnote- One of my pet peeves is actually reviews that use other books or authors as comparisons in their review, especially when they end up making that comparison write their review for them. So, my apologies that I'm doing it here, but it's the only way I could accurately describe why I was disappointed in what would otherwise have been phenomenal writing. (less)
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater was a book I was really excited to read. I've heard almost nothing but good things about Maggie's Shiver series, and the early talk I'd heard about this book was also quite positive. And, it was a book about hard-core, killer water horses... Sounds fascinating! But alas. I was seriously disappointed in this book, mostly because I didn't actually feel like anything really happened. I read this book a while ago and here is my initial reaction, as recorded by Goodreads- Meh. That's almost all that I can say about this one. I don't know what it is/was about this book, but I didn't connect with it at all. Stiefvater is a good writer, but there was no emotion, no feeling, no... anything to this story. I own Shiver, and now I'm kinda nervous to read it. If it's anything like this one, I can expect another 400 pages of Sigh... Am I done yet? :( Honestly, I don't know that I need to say anything more about this book. I spent 400 pages of killer water horses eating people thinking- When is the action going to start? When is this book going to get good? When will something make me care?! And honestly, that never happened. Ever. I never cared about the story line, or about the characters. I mean, I can't even remember a single characters name. That never happens to me. I always remember at least one characters name (usually a lot more) but this time, I got nothing. (and honestly, I don't care enough about the book to even take the time to look it up). The main girl character was a bit whiny and clingy and I never really liked her. She was selfish and kind of stupid. I did prefer the main male character's voice, but even then, I just wanted him to get over himself.
As for their relationship, I was left totally lost there as well. I couldn't really see the draw that either of these two held for each other. We never got to see their relationship develop, at least not romantically. I can easily believe that they become mutually respectful friends with each other based on their interactions and the emotions we got to see tied into those, but really, it was strange. Not even insta-love, but more of a- let me trick you into thinking you are getting a developed relationship here when really... I got nothing.
I know I'm giving out a lot of negatives right now, but there really wasn't much that I liked about this book. The only thing this book has going for it is Maggie's writing. While the story bored me and I never believed in the characters, I did appreciate the writing. I don't really know how to explain it, because given all my complaints I shouldn't be thinking the writing is good, but there is something in the way the words flow that really shows a lot of talent from Maggie. So, I'm both hopeful and wary of the Shiver series now. Hopeful, because Maggie's writing really is lovely, but wary because I just did not enjoy this book, at all. I don't want to spend another 400 pages begging the book to just end!
So, while this book definitely wasn't for me, I do know that there are others out there who have really loved it so far and many more who will most likely appreciate this story very much (especially if you really like horses. I feel like this could be a great book for horse lovers) but me, I just couldn't do it. Link me to your reviews if you did love it, or share your thoughts in the comments! I'd really love to hear what you thought!(less)
If any of you have talked to me, chances are really good that I've mentioned how much I love Lisa Schroeder. I read The Day Before first, and was blown away by Lisa's insane talent as a verse novelist. I decided I absolutely needed to read more. So I did.
I had heard people talk about I Heart You, You Haunt Me and I'd seen it around the online bookish world some, but I wasn't really interested in it. (I know, I know! I'm sorry!) I don't really do ghosts/paranormal and the cover made me think it was going to be something light & fluffy and silly. I'm literally cringing as I write this, because there's not much that could be farther from the truth.
This is a story of Ava, a young girl trying to accept her boyfriend's death. Neither of them are quite ready to let go, and so, they don't. Jackson comes back to Ava and lingers.
I loved the way Lisa crafted the ghosts in this story. Jackson is not the typical specter, let me come float about the house and whatevs. It's done so subtly, almost like he's just barely more than a memory come to life. His presence is near Ava when she is alone, and he can occasionally whisper into her mind. But he can't go where there are others and Ava is still alive, which means she can't spend all of her time, locked in her room with the memory of a lost love and the almost touch of his ghost.
I've never had such a short book (just over 200 pages in verse) affect me so hard. Lisa is a genius. She has this intense honesty to her writing that makes it emotional, pure and without agenda. It is truth in writing and she breathes life into these characters she puts on the page in so few words.
I find it hard to classify this book, because even though the story deals with a ghost, which to me automatically shifts the book into the paranormal realm, this is a book that feels wholly contemporary. And knowing me, and how much I love contemporary, that's pretty much the highest compliment I can think to give a book about ghosts.
I do also want to mention the verse style briefly (or as briefly as I ever get...) I love verse novels. I talk about them often, recommend them frequently and seek them out actively. But there is a very delicate balance with verse novels. A verse novel is written in sparse, spare language. Every word is important and because you have so few, every single one needs to matter significantly. When done well, it is some of the absolute most powerful writing I have ever read. But when it's not done well, it can fail... horribly.
So let me tell you this- If you are wary of verse novels, scared to try them because you think you hate poetry or because you've heard from people who didn't like some, or maybe because you didn't like a previous novel, give Lisa a try. She is, hands down, the author I recommend beginning verse novels with. (I have references for this...) The only other verse novelist that I've personally read that I believe has anywhere near such a firm and powerful grasp on verse is Ellen Hopkins and she can be intimidating for a brand new verse reader (and that's a whole different conversation).
So I challenge you to give Lisa Schroeder a try. The Day Before is my favorite of the two of her novels that I have so far read (although I plan to start Chasing Brooklyn tomorrow :) ) but I Heart You, You Haunt Me is also a stunningly brilliant book. Either of these are a phenomenal place to start and I'm willing to bet that they will open your eyes and your mind to a whole new world of books. Let Lisa take you there.(less)
Bitter End by Jennifer Brown is one of those stories that I think needs to be read by teenage girls. If you look up statistics for teen dating violence, your heart just breaks. There are so many sites with statistics gathered from surveys and studies and all of them are tragic. Books like Bitter End are important, because it gives young people a 'safe' place to learn about dating violence. Knowing the warning signs is an incredibly important part of keeping yourself out of a bad situation.
Alex doesn't have the perfect life, but she is, for the most part, happy. Her mother died when she was young, during a seemingly mindless attempt to leave for Colorado. Her father has almost completely shut down and refuses to talk about any of the 'tough' stuff. He mostly leaves Alex and her sisters alone, focusing on his own issues. This is really hard on Alex. She feels the hole her mother left deeply and desperately needs to understand why her mom would walk away, but doesn't have anywhere to turn to for answers. So, she decided a long time ago that she was going to go to Colorado after graduation and her two best friends decided they would go with her. Alex, Beth and Zach have been best friends for years and years. Referred to by parents as the three headed monster, they've been pretty much inseparable for years.
These three just click. They understand each other, love each other and would do anything for each other. They are the very best kind of friends to have. But there's nothing romantic between any of them, and they are at that stage when romantic relationships are wonderful and good and desirable. When Cole transfers to their school and is assigned to Alex for tutoring, it's like fate. He's super good looking, into sports, smart, funny, such a gentleman, but best of all? He's really into Alex. He makes her feel beautiful, loved and amazing and she soon finds herself caught up in the magic that Cole spins for her.
But it doesn't take long for that magical feeling to go a little sour. It's small things at first, things that in moderation might seem cute or romantic, but quickly become creepy and stalkerish. Like sitting at a booth in the cafe where Alex works until her shift ends. When it's only the last 30 or 40 minutes, that's kind of cute. But when he sits there, watching you for your whole entire shift? Not cute. Not cute at all. Cole also really dislikes Zach, and he especially hates it when Alex spends time with him. He's convinced Zach is in love with Alex and that she is going to cheat on him with Zach and he does everything he can to make that relationship uncomfortable, which severely strains her relationship with Beth also, until he finally gets to the point where he has pulled Alex almost completely away from the rock solid support system Zach and Beth have to offer.
There are so many moments to this story where your cringe for Alex. Where you just want to cry out and tell her to get herself out of there. But Brown wrote this story incredibly well. Cole is Mr. Perfect in the beginning of the story. He knows all the right things to say, has all sorts of romantic gestures down pat and he just seems to be amazing. In fact, if I hadn't known going into this book that it was about an abusive relationship, I think I might have been taken in by his charm. But pretty quickly the thinly veiled insults start piling up on top of his jealous and controlling demands and his monopolizing all her time. It becomes clear to us that there is something seriously wrong much sooner than it does to Alex.
Alex does start to realize that things are not as they should be, but by then, she feels like she's gone too far. She has two things against her at this point. One is that she has never thought she would become 'that girl', the one who let her boyfriend beat her, but stayed with him anyway. She didn't want people to know that she had let things get to that point, so she stays, because she's embarrassed to leave. And the other thing? Cole loves her. He is the first person in her memories to tell her that she is loved and she desperately needs to feel that right now. That declaration of love went straight through to Alex and tied her to Cole completely. He loves her, she loves him and the rest can be worked out in time. She makes excuses for him- He just needs to work out his anger. I just need to stop being around Zach, since it makes him angry. His dad beats his mom, so it's all that he knows. Etc and etc.
But, as is always the case with relationships like this, things continue to escalate and they really never get better on their own.
I meant it when I said that this book, and the others on the market like it are so important for everyone to read, but especially young girls. They teach us what the warning signs of an abuser are so that we can protect ourselves before it gets to the point of violence, it lets people in an abusive relationship know that it is not their fault, that nothing they do is going to change their abuser and they need to leave, and that there is always hope, that getting help is not a weakness but a strength, and it also teaches compassion to those who have not been in this situation. It is too easy to look and judge and say, Well why didn't you just leave him?! But unless we try to understand the situation from the inside, we do no help to those struggling to free themselves. It's so easy to say just leave, but the actual leaving is an entirely different matter. And it's hard.
Read this book. Read the other books out there on the same subject. Learn all you can to protect yourself, to protect others, and to learn compassion, love and understanding so that you really can be there if you are needed. Books like this are so important to our teenagers and I'm so glad that there are more of them being written.(less)
Songbird by Angela Fristoe is a book that I am very conflicted about. With a beginning like this book has, it should have been Amazing! So why, now that I'm finished do I feel a little more meh? Let me 'xplain.
Songbird begins when Dani is 6 years old and she watches her alcoholic father shoot her 16 year old brother, Jace, in the park. Jace is her hero, her savior in a violent, abusive home. The first four pages of this book, FOUR PAGES, made me cry. Do you know what it takes to make someone cry within the first four pages?! Amazing skill, that's what.
By page five, I'm completely invested in this story, completely invested in Dani and completely hurting and rooting for her. But then... I sort of detached from the story. By the description of the book, I expected the story to focus on Dani coming to terms with the death of her brother, the imprisonment of her father and a mother turned alcoholic, and all the baggage that accompanies this. I also expected music to play a huge role in Dani's life, considering that the title of the book is Songbird.
But, this is not what I got. Dani spent years bouncing between foster homes before finally setting in with her current 'parents'. Here, in this new home, she finally has a sense of stability, she has a best friend she trusts completely, who she knows will never do anything to hurt her and will always protect her (much like long-dead Jace) and she is finally feeling okay. Dani is still insecure, which is natural. Everyone she's ever truly loved has either been taken from her, or chosen to leave her behind. She's worried that her foster parents won't want a relationship after she turns 18 and she's terrified that if she tells Reece, (the best friend) that she has loved him, been in love with him forever that it will change things and she will lose him as a friend.
With all that emotional pain, all that drama, do you know what the primary focus of the story was? Reece. Yup. Reece. I've made no secret of the fact that books that revolve almost completely around the romance are not really my thing. I don't read many, and when I do, I have to be in a very specific mood. So I was quite disappointed to realize with all that potential, all those possibilities, Fristoe decided to make Dani's biggest problem her friendship and potential relationship with Reece. And, I thought that Dani handled it horribly! Admittedly, Reece could have done much better as well, but I thought Dani was incredibly selfish throughout a vast majority of the novel. You'll know exactly what I mean when you read the book.
Another thing that really bothered me about this book was the addition of the threatening phone calls Dani begins to receive. (Not a real spoiler- it mentions this in the synopsis). The whole thing felt really contrived, really unlikely and simply a plot twist to further the Dani/Reece drama. The moment felt very 'Jump the Shark' (Wikipedia knows!) and I kind of rolled my eyes a bit. Definitely a WTF moment.
I was also disappointed at the lack of music in the story. The title and synopsis make it sound like music plays a huge part in Dani's life. We are told it's important to her, but we are never really shown that. There were a few references to the notebooks Dani carried with her to include her song lyrics in and how important they were to her, as well as 2, maybe 3 instances where we read these lyrics and that's about it. No more mention of music, even though it's supposed to be something that defines her.
However, even with these things that disappointed me, my overall feelings about this book are positive. I genuinely enjoyed reading the book and learning about Dani. Interspersed throughout the story are a series of flashbacks, giving us more insight into Dani's past. We see what happens with her father before his capture by police, how her mother slips farther and farther into her addiction to cope with what life she has left, what happens in the foster home where she met Colin (which would add way to much to a review to get into. ;p) and so much more. We learn so much about Dani and her relationships with others and how they formed through these flashbacks, and other than that amazingly powerful opening chapter, they were the highlight of the book for me.
The times when we were able to learn more about Dani and how she is learning to deal with the terrible hand life has dealt to her were the highlights of the story for me, and the reason why I say that overall, even with several things that I found to be bothersome, this is definitely a book I'm glad I read and it is one that I would recommend to others, although I would want to discuss it with them first.(less)
A Season of Eden by Jennifer Laurens is not my normal read. While contemporary has long been my favorite genre, I don'r really read a lot of romantic fiction. A love story alongside my plot is nice, but I don't generally read books where the main plot revolves around a love story. But, I had really been in the mood for a nice YA Contemporary Romance, and I had won a copy of Laurens Overprotected. I read it, and it was exactly what I had wanted in a book at the time. Absolutely perfect. So, when I was given the opportunity to read Eden, I took it.
Unfortunately, this book didn't live up to what I had hoped it to be. That's not to say it was a bad book, but it just... didn't quite work for me. Eden is an 18 year old, (hot) senior in high school who develops a crush on her young, handsome, 22 year old music teacher, James, and the feelings are mutual. Eden is used to getting whatever and whoever she wants, although she's an awful lot nicer than the 'mean girls' she's stereotyped as. She wants James and so she goes after him. She's a little uncertain, which is definitely a new feeling for her, and she is very aware of the potential consequences of being caught in a compromising situation with a teacher.
For the most part, the growing interest between these two characters really worked for me. Eden quickly becomes infatuated with James, and she wants to know more about it. So, she gets a little teenage creepy and does a little undercover stalking (like following him home from school, so she can figure out where he lives) and tries to make sure he is aware of her. She offers to help out in class, stops by at lunch, etc. James was a bit of a nerd in high school and doesn't have a lot of experience with women. He's fresh out of college, concerned about his job and still lives with his mom. I totally get that being right out of college is hard, that sometimes you don't have anywhere else to go, other than home. But if I were a student, and I found out my teacher still lived with his or her parents?! It would have seriously undermined any respect I had for them, and I can't imagine it being different for very many teenagers.
The biggest problem I had with this novel is that every single relationship seemed to ring flat and false. Eden pretty much completely drops her group of friends, now that she is spending more time with James, (although in her defense here, they were also pretty harsh after she dumped her boyfriend), her relationship with her dad and his much younger wife is incredibly strained and, well... really non-existent, but worst of all, Eden and James are awkward together. I don't mean that cute awkward where you are trying to learn how to move and interact together, I mean that awkward that makes any of those 'swoon' or 'sigh' moments impossible because you can't stop thinking about the fact that no one talks like that, no one reacts like that, eye roll here, did she really just say that?! etc. It's... awkward and if you want me to believe in or care about a relationship, don't make it painfully awkward.
Going hand in hand with the awkward interactions between Eden and James is their big 'confrontation/conflict' toward the end of the story. I don't want to give spoilers away here, but both of the characters crossed some lines. One of the characters (who should have known better) shifted all the blame to the other character, who accepted this as truth and let it really get to them, let it really hurt them. Because, the relationship is now going to disappear because I couldn't manage to (blablabla spoiler). Now, I'm all for making someone apologize when they are in the wrong. But when both people are clearly in the wrong, or worse, when no one is actually in the wrong but through misunderstandings and what have you people get hurt, one party should not be shifting or shoving the guilt and blame onto the other. That is wrong.
I spent a lot of the novel feeling like their relationship is one sided. And they don't seem to really communicate well. Eden is struggling with the fact that she is more sexually experienced than James, and this makes her feel dirty and unworthy. But, instead of telling him this, trying to talk to him about it, she avoids the subject, and redirects the conversation, and answers just enough of James' question that he stops asking, but doesn't actually give him the information he's looking for. And James doesn't really know what to do with or about Eden. It's a little bit sad, actually...
Even though this book wasn't quite what I had hoped for, and there were certain resolutions that felt forced and out of character (specifically what ends up happening between Eden and her dad) I did enjoy the read. I had a long Twitter conversation about this book with someone who absolutely loved it (read her review here) and while I'm not going to replay that conversation for you, we talked about a lot of things that made me see the characters in a slightly different light, which did ultimately leave me with a more positive feeling about the book in general.
I'll be honest here. While I did enjoy this story, it isn't my favorite, and it's not one that I would recommend to people who aren't normally fans of YA Contemporary Romance. If this is a genre you read and enjoy regularly, then this might be a great book for you. But, if it's not, I think starting somewhere else could be a better option. I am glad I read this book. It gave me an opportunity to get to know someone I hadn't really talked to before, to share and discuss different thoughts and attitudes we noticed within the story and to grow and change. The story wasn't perfect. There were things I would have changed if I could. But I'm not the writer here, and I understand (mostly) why Laurens took her characters where she did. Have you read this one? Please, let me know what you think!(less)
I have my Bachelors Degree in Psychology, so anytime I come across a book that deals with Psychological disorders or is billed/marketed as 'psychological' my inner Psych nerd perks up and says 'Want'. So, when I heard about A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie by Matt Blackstone I was excited to read it and see what it had to offer.
A Scary Scene takes on the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) something that has become very, very prevalent in YA lit. (I'm working really hard to hold my tongue here... Come back in September and I'll have more to say on that.) Rene, our main character, is 14 and faces his OCD everyday.
Now, even though my degree is in Psychology, I do not claim to be an expert or capable of diagnosis. Rene has a bunch of different compulsions. He smells his hand when he's nervous, washes them regularly, can't function or move if the numbers of time add up to 13, because it's unlucky and more. And, whenever he gets to feeling really anxious or stressed or intensely emotional, he equates the feeling with 'a scary scene in a scary movie'. The book is about Rene, his struggles with OCD and how he tries to cope.
One thing I really liked about the way Blackstone tackled OCD here is that he doesn't sugar coat it. Far too many YA books out there right now use OCD as a way to add instant depth to an otherwise perfect character. It's a way to give them a disorder but still make them a viable and attractive love interest without actually giving them a completely debilitating illness. But that is an unfair portrayal of OCD. While OCD isn't as serious an illness as something like Paranoid Schizophrenia but it is still a serious problem for those who suffer from it. We joke in our culture that someone who uses a lot of Germ-X or is highly organized is OCD and we laugh about it. But OCD is something that is so much more than that, so much worse and I think a lot of authors do those suffering from OCD a disservice by making it a character trait instead of an illness.
OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder. A Scary Scene is one of the few books I've read that actual handles OCD as such. In other books it's an annoyance or an inconvenience, but in Rene's world it is something that consumes this thoughts, his attention, his focus and it interferes with how he lives his life. It's an illness and I can't tell you how happy I was to come across a book that treated it as such.
Although I thought Blackstone did a fairly good job addressing the more serious side of OCD, I did feel that there was something missing in this book. I wasn't quite sure that I believed in a lot of the characters and their interactions with each other. Rene has never really had a friend, his OCD gets in the way of that, but then Gio moves into his school. And Rene is fascinated by Gio and decides he's going to try and get to know him. Surprisingly, it works. They are somehow able to
Then the story kind of falls apart for me a little bit. I feel like Blackstone wasn't sure that a story about a kid dealing with the harsh realities of OCD wasn't going to have enough conflict, enough drama and so he brought in a whole story line involving his father, and New York City. This is when I kind of stopped believing in the actions of the characters, and when the story started to lose some of it's credibility for me. Perhaps there was more to the story that I missed, but I honestly believe that a story about a kid learning to deal with an anxiety disorder as severe as Rene's doesn't need to borrow trouble.
Overall, this is a book that I believe was worth reading. I'm glad I read it and glad that I was able to find a book that, for the most part, gave a more realistic view of how bad OCD can really be for someone living through it. I'm not sure how realistic I think the book is overall, but I can tell you that someone, especially a young kid suffering through OCD is going to act more like Rene does than some of the glib, 'casually disordered' characters we see in other recent books.(less)
Perfect Chemistry by Simon Elkeles is a little bit heavier than the two previous novels. While it's true that the romance is still a very important part of this story, (still THE most important part of the story) the conflict that the characters face is set on a much grander scale. Brittany is the golden goddess- she comes from money and as far as appearances go, she has the perfect life. She tries very hard to maintain that image, but her home life is far from perfect, and she's starting to crack under the pressure. Alex is involved with a local gang. Inside, he hates the life, but he knows that he has to be involved to offer protection to his family, so on the outside, he appears to everyone to be the tough gang member he needs to be. When pared up as chemistry lab partners, things get... interesting.
I really enjoyed watching Alex and Brittany develop their relationship, and develop as people. Both of these characters could so easily have turned into caricatures. They have all the traits needed to be those empty, stereotypical stock characters. But they aren't. Elkeles somehow manages to take them and mold them into people who have so many dimensions it's a wonder they aren't real. It's not what I was expecting from a book like this, that's for sure! We watch Alex try to come to terms with his gang membership and what it's doing to his life, and watch as the perfect world Brittany has created for herself starts slipping out from under her, we watch as she tries to accept the fact that she doesn't actually have to be perfect, that it's okay to make mistakes. And, we watch as these two very different people come together, fight the odds, and make something important.
The only thing in this book that I wasn't terribly crazy about was the epilogue. It was super cutesy, super fun, and so incredibly cheesy. I don't really feel like it fit with the tone of the book, and I kind of rolled my eyes a bit. But, it's good for some additional happy-feelings, so whatev.
This is a book that really pulls you into the lives of the characters, really makes you interested and hopeful for their future. It is a bit predictable... I called just about all the major drama moments and plot points pretty far in advance, but this type of book doesn't need to really surprise you. We all know where the story ends, it's the getting there that matter. And, even when we know how they get there, it's important that we are along for the ride with them.(less)
This is a book I was a little nervous about reading when I initially picked it up. Having read two Scott books previously, one I really liked (my review of Something, Maybe) and one I really... didn't (so sorry Living Dead Girl) I was unsure where my emotions would fall on this one. Add to that fact that I have absolutely zero respect for cheaters, and I was, understandably, I think, a little nervous.
However, my fears were unfounded and although I wasn't quite as charmed by these characters as I was by those in Something, Maybe I really enjoyed this book. Sarah is a character that doesn't start the book strong. She doesn't have a lot of substance and pretty much all of her thoughts are consumed with Ryan, the boy she has had a crush on since 8th grade. But, Ryan is her best friend, Brianna's boyfriend, which means that he's totally off limits. But, all things are not as they seem. The more we learn about the trio, the more we become aware that there are some major problems with all of the relationships in question.
Sarah has liked Ryan forever. But things are different this year. Over the summer, he went from skinny (and a little geeky) to totally hott. They meet up at a party and are talking and having a great time until Brianna, the beautiful one comes into the room and whisks Ryan away. Suddenly, they are dating and Sarah is left feeling insanely guilty because she can't stop thinking about what it would be like the be the one with Ryan. But with all those looks and tension filled long pauses between the two of them, it looks like that interest is not one-sided.
The characters in this book were very well developed. I'm amazed at the conflicting emotions each character was able to pull from me. Let's start with Brianna. She is a bitch. There is no other word to describe this girl. Seriously. She belittles Sarah constantly, always pointing out that her skin is too shiny, her hair too frizzy, her clothes strange, but always camouflaged as helpful (Here, take my brush and try to comb some of that frizziness out of your hair). She is gorgeous, and she knows it. Sarah has had bad experiences in the past, where boys who have shown interest in her are really just trying to get close to Brianna, and while Brianna does feel really bad every time it happens, she also takes it as her due, and often tells Sarah that she will eventually be able to find some boy who likes her. She's toxic. BUT, I feel bad for her. I pity her immensely. Her parents use her as a weapon against each other, when they think of her at all. Her dad has just about completely written her off, and her mom says all the same horrible things to Brianna that she then passes along onto Sarah. But you can feel her pain and her suffering and you do feel oh so very bad for her.
Sarah is also a more complex character than she first appears. It's pretty obvious that living for so long in Brianna's shadow has been bad for her, but all she can see is her glorious best friend. She ignores a lot of her flaws and makes excuses for her behavior. But even Sarah has her limits. She has a great strength of character that just takes a little while to really show itself. She also has some interests and hobbies that she focuses on, no matter how belittling Brianna is of them, like her shoe art. She buys plain white shoes and decorates them. She is also torn up about the way she feels about Ryan. She doesn't want to hurt Brianna, but she's liked Ryan forever and she just can't help it, especially now that Brianna has been asking her to come hang out with them all the time. Just the three of them.
And Ryan is also great. He has a lot more to him than the typical YA hero and he's just a pretty solid guy. He shares a lot of the same interests as Sarah and he's trying to figure out where he fits best in life. I also liked that he had his two sides- pre-hottie and post-hottie and he didn't let the fact that he had filled out over the summer change who he was as a person. He isn't one of those guys that thinks because he's now attractive, he's entitled to being an a**. And Sarah and Ryan have a history, sort of. They've circled each other for years, friends but not best friends and both not quite sure of where things will go next. And then, enter Brianna.
I thought that this book was just very well written. All the individual elements of the story were handled beautifully and combined in such a way that I just don't know how this story could have happened any different. Watching Sarah learn who she was, and how to be that person independent of Brianna was amazing. I don't think that anyone deserves to be cheated on. Ever. But, the way that Scott handled this one made me hopeful for all the characters involved. I still don't condone cheating and I don't think it's ever your best option, but these characters were just so achingly real and honest, I couldn't help but root for them.(less)
Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott was a complete surprise to me. I don't normally read a lot of romance (in any sub genre... contemporary, paranormal etc.) and my previous experience with an Elizabeth Scott book (Living Dead Girl) left me rather disappointed. But a bunch of my Twitter buddies were talking about Elizabeth Scott week, and I thought it would be fun to participate. So, I grabbed two of her books and on Ginger's (from GReads) recommendation, started with Something, Maybe. I expected to like the book, although I didn't expect much more than a lukewarm enjoyment. But I was wrong! So wrong! I just inhaled this book and when I finished, I went back and reread some of my favorite parts.
Hannah has had a rather unorthodox childhood. Her dad is a much older reality TV star (think Hugh Hefner) and her mom used to be one of his 'special girls' and now makes a living performing live web-cam chats in lingerie. She hates the spotlight and does everything she can to avoid it. She doesn't try to dress up or attract attention and she just wants people to ignore her parents and what they do, even if that means ignoring her too. It's better than the alternative. Things start to change though when her long-time crush, Josh, starts paying attention to her, her dad starts to call and ask to see her again (the ratings on his show must be down again) and Finn, the co-worker who never shuts up starts drawing more of Hannah's attention.
Hannah is such a great character. She's full of life and love and doesn't really know what to do with all the emotion she has stored up inside. It's easier for her to fade into the background because she's afraid of what people will think or say about her parents and she's also a little bit afraid of herself. I loved Hannah's character. She wants so much out of life, but past experiences have taught her to be wary and she's taken that message to heart. She doesn't put herself out there and is suspicious of just about anyone who tries to get too close.
Josh is another interesting character. We see him initially through Hannah's rose-colored glasses, and he seems pretty great, but then, even through the glasses, we start to see some inconsistencies and subtle hints that all is not as perfect as Prince Charming would have us believe. And then there is Finn. Oh Finn. The cover flap makes it pretty obvious (IMO) that Finn is a better match for Hannah than Josh and Oh. My. Goodness. Yes! I loved Finn. Like, a lot. He was just so awesome. He's not perfect but he gets Hannah. He understands a lot more about her than even she realizes and he likes what he sees. He's there for her in subtle ways all the time, just being steady and dependable and a little bit intriguing.
There were never really any moments in this book that I found myself disbelieving the actions of a character. Scott created characters for us, gave them personalities, strengths and weaknesses and then let them play out their story. I was so impressed by the development of the characters and their relationships with each other. As Hannah learns more about herself, she also starts to learn more about others, and she opens herself up for more from them. Watching her grow as a character, watching her allow herself to be a little bolder made my heart happy.
If you aren't sure whether or not to pick up a Scott novel, I suggest you stop waffling and grab a copy of this one. There is definitely going to be more Scott in my future.(less)
Girl v. Boy by Sandy Rideout and Yvonne Collins is the second book I've read by this duo. And, I have officially decided that I love them! This book is exactly what I was looking for! It's an incredibly good time. I laughed so many times reading this book and the whole time, I just had this incredibly happy, feel good vibe going on, and I know that I was grinning like a fool for a long time after reading this one.
Luisa has always blended in to her school. She has two best friends, and that's it. She shares her exact name with 10 other girls in the school, doesn't participate in any extracurriculars, and doesn't attend any school functions. But this year, things will be different. Pleased with her writing abilities, her English teacher asks her if she wouldn't mind being 1/2 of an anonymous writer. The school is participating in a girls vs. boys fundraiser and both the boys and the girls have a secret representative writing about the events in the school paper. Excited to test her writing skills, Luisa accepts, and her life changes in ways she would never have been able to predict.
I loved the characters in this story. Luisa is just hilariously funny and I loved watching her interact with her peers. She has a solid core and a surprisingly strong character for a story like this. I wasn't completely expecting any of the characters in this story to be as fully developed as they were. Each of the characters has their own personal strengths and weaknesses and each of them works to develop those. It is true that a lot of the secondary characters are a little more standard, a little more stereotypical, but I enjoyed the book so incredibly much that I barely noticed.
These two writers are a phenomenal pair. This is exactly the kind of light-hearted, fun read that just makes you feel good about your day, about people, and about being alive. I've already reread my favorite parts several times, and I can see this book, and this author duo becoming a default read when I need a reading pick me up.(less)
Jabberwocky by Daniel Coleman is the story behind the well-beloved poem by Lewis Carrol of the same name. Full of nonsense words, valor and whimsy, the poem Jabberwocky tells of a boy who sets out to fight the might beast and who returns triumphant, bearing the head of the great monster. But the poem doesn't tell us anything about the boy, where he comes from or why he sets out to hunt the Jabberwock and Coleman uses this story here to fill in some of the blanks.
My family has always been involved in theater, and my family reunions often include some form of a talent show, sometimes planned and scripted, other times completely spontaneous. Often in the performances, my dad would go on-stage with my grandpa and together they would perform this poem. My grandpa would stand in front and recite the poem, while my dad stood behind, using his arms, in place of my grandpa's to act out the poem (this included lifting up my grandpa's hair piece when they reached the part of the poem where the boys slays the Jabberwock and removes his head, much to my grandpa's dismay)
So, when I heard about this book, I knew that I wanted to read it. I love that poem, partly because it is brilliant but also because it brings back a lot of wonderful memories of my family. This is a very short book, just over 100 e-pages, and it reads very quickly. However, I don't think it would read as smoothly for someone who is unfamiliar with either nonsense writing or the poem itself.
One of my favorite things about this book is also what I think will be most challenging for most readers. Coleman has taken the words of the poem like 'wabe', 'brillig' and 'mimsy'. None of these words actually means anything, but Coleman took them from the original poem, took the meaning from them that he chose and inserted them into his story and I personally think he did a phenomenal job. Partly because the writing was very smooth, and partly because I'm very familiar with the poem, I found myself without any trouble being able to guess to the meaning of each word as I went through, even if I didn't know exactly what they meant. However, Coleman does include a glossary with the book, so if you think you will have trouble picking up on what the words mean, or you find yourself confused, he does include a way to verify what each word means.
Another thing that I loved about the book was the inclusion of the poem itself. Each section of the book is prefaced by a stanza of the poem, offering some foreshadowing of what is yet to come. I thought it was the perfect way to incorporate the poem into the story without being awkward or forced.
And the story itself was wonderful. Our main character, Tjaden, is the perfect boy to seek the Jabberwock. He is brave, but smart and fiercely determined to prove himself a man. He's a little bit full of himself at times, and he takes life a little too seriously for someone so young but he is also a very likable character, one you would want on your side of life. Honorable and proud, if given the right motivation, he could face the Jabberwock alone.
Honestly, I could not have been happier with how this book turned out. I was almost worried about reading it, because I do have such fond memories of the poem, but I was beyond delighted with how the book turned out. Coleman did a fabulous job combining his own story with the tale from Lewis Carroll and it's one I can see myself reading again.
I will admit that part of why I enjoyed this book so much comes from the memories it brought to surface and the already positive tone I have toward the poem and anything tied to it. I tend to be extremely fond of anything that can bring back positive memories of my grandpa, which means I knew before I started reading that this is a book I would either love or hate.
That being said, however, the happy memories alone were not enough to make me like this book. The story and the writing were able to hold their own and they most certainly did this favored poem a great justice. I'm not always a huge fan of how other people reimagine stories already told but I thought this one was just about as perfect as it gets.
So thank you Daniel Coleman, for writing a story worthy of such a phenomenal poem.(less)
Tuesdays at the Castle reaffirms why I simply love Jessica Day George. Like, seriously folks. This book was just so much the cuteness and I want to hug it. (Don't worry Misty from The Book Rat... I refrained from displays of affection with your book, but only just.)
Castle Glower likes to change. When it gets bored, it adds rooms, removes them, moves things around or just plain messes with your head. It's pretty clear about who it likes and who it doesn't, and the Castle chooses its own King.
Celie is 11 and she loves the Castle. She's decided to do what no one has previously done, and draw an atlas of it. She spends hours and hours exploring, making sure to note any changes, not matter how small and she treats the Castle like a person. Which, ends up being a really awesome benefit when her parents are missing, presumed dead (in an ambush) and nefarious things start happening, led by the people in the Castle. The three royal children at home- Celie, the youngest, Rolf, the 2nd son and heir to the throne (so decrees the Castle) and Lilah, the elder sister- are left to try and protect the Castle, preserve their family and save the kingdom. It's an awful lot to put on the shoulders of children, but they are extraordinary and rise to the challenge.
One of things that I loved about this book was the characters. All of them. They are just so, realistic. Celie is 11, but because of their situation, she has to do a lot of things that are much more grown up. But guess what guys- She still acts like a kid! She is as strong and mature as is possible for her to be, but she still wants to stick her tongue out at the bad guys, stomp her feet and say really witty and cutting stuff like- You are a poopoo face. And she also does stuff like stay up late setting up pranks on the bad folks and then being beyond exhausted and falling asleep pretty much mid-sentence.
Rolf has the most pressure of any of the other characters placed on him. As heir to the throne, when the King goes missing, the running of the country is left to him. But he is only 14, and as you can imagine- the aforementioned nefariots try to use this to their advantage and force him to do their bidding. He's a strong enough person, even at 14, that he recognizes this and does all he can to put a stop to it, but there really is only so much a 14 year old can do against a large group of adults, especially when you aren't completely certain they aren't going to try and kill you. Lilah is also under a lot of pressure, because she feels responsible for the well-being of her siblings, especially young Celie. There is a lot going on and Lilah knows she can't really protect her siblings, but she wants to and she does all she can to help them.
But, perhaps the best and most complex character in all the novel is the Castle itself. (Notice how I keep capitalizing Castle? Ya... That's intentional. I don't want it turn my room into a pigsty or something... :P) The Castle is able to know and to sense things. It knows who will make a great King, who wishes the King, Castle or country ill, and who is an ally. And it makes it obvious. If it likes you, the Castle will give you beautiful and comfortable rooms, but if it doesn't, you are lucky if your bed is big enough to hold your body. You might find it impossible to find your way through corridors, or suddenly in a room without a door. Or, the Castle finds good favor with you, things that you need might suddenly appear, or you find a new corridor that makes it quick and easy to get to the other side of the Castle. I loved watching Celie learn about the Castle and explore. And I loved that when the kids suddenly needed a lot of help, but didn't know who they could turn to, the Castle was there, totally prepared and ready to offer assistance to the children.
The only complaint that I had with this story is that the ending felt super rushed. I'm not horribly disappointed in it, because this seems to be the nature of a lot of MG books (and a lot of YA too) where the story is in the set up and the journey there and once you actually get there, it's just a real quick resolution to finish things off. But honestly, this resolution was so fast as to almost be a- You blink and you've missed it- type thing. In a 232 page book, the resolution to the main problem should take more than 8 pages and a few paragraphs of explanation.
Regardless, this is one of those books that will be read and absolutely loved by kids. What kid doesn't love the idea of being able to completely outsmart all the grown ups?! I know that 10 year old Ashley would have fervently believed in this book. And what better magical element could you possibly wish for than a Castle that is never the same twice, especially when you happen to be the Castle's especial favorite. But the book isn't only for kids, and I have a hard time believing that there will be anyone who isn't just swept away by the delightful cuteness of this book. I mean, seriously.(less)
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is a book I have book looking forward to for months. It's a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. It's one of my very favorites and I don't think it gets enough love among retellings. So when I started seeing this one pop up I started to get a little giddy. (Awesome books do that to you to, be honest here...) I posted a sneak peek on Tuesday and other bloggers have also had excerpts and illustrations going up. (Including Misty at The Book Rat!)
Breadcrumbs is a retelling of The Snow Queen, but there is so much more to it that that. Ursu incorporates snippets, parts and pieces from many different stories and it made the book lover inside me jump up and dance. Our main character, Hazel has a vivid imagination and together with her best friend, Jack, they act out and live out their imaginings frequently. Hazel is told, over and over that she needs to tone down the imagination and return to reality but she is so caught up in magic and wonderings that she can't really be bothered by reality. Anything is possible in your imagination and in stories, the good guys always win, pain is temporary and it doesn't matter that your dad left your family, or his mom can't seem to find her way up and out of her sad.
Jack is who Hazel can always count on and no matter what else is wrong in her life, Hazel has a place to belong with Jack. And things have certainly started to change. Hazel's dad walked away from the family, which means that her mom no longer has the money to send her to the (very unstructured, 'liberal') private school she was attending, and now she must attend public school. It's hard for her because everything is different. What was celebrated before as creativity and a unique way of looking at the world is viewed as disobedience, defiance and distractedness. She also has a hard time making new friends, but she doesn't mind too much, because Jack is there. Yes, Jack's other friends are rude to Hazel and he has to split his time between both of them, but it's what makes life bearable.
Until it all changes. After an accident at recess, Jack no longer has time for Hazel, is rude to her and brushes her off until he disappears altogether. And Hazel sets out to find him.
She walks into the woods where Jack disappeared with the white witch and enters a magical forest where fairy tales are real, where they are happening and where nothing is as it seems. Normal rules do not apply in the forest and Hazel must learn the rules of the wood if she is going to save Jack. She learns a lot about herself on the way and she spends a lot of time worrying about what is going to happen with Jack but she presses on, refuses to give up and with the fierce loyalty and determination that marks her character she pushes through the forest.
The time Hazel spends in the forest is my favorite part of the book. I've been a fan of fairy tales since I was very young and I'm familiar with a lot of the original tales. I read both Grimm's and Anderson's complete fairy tales when I was around 12 and I've revisited the books several times since then. Seeing some of these characters come to life was so exciting to me. And, knowing the stories as I do gave me an advantage. Hazel knows many of the stories too, but it takes her a little longer to really grasp what is happening in her world. She's lonely, scared, tired and afraid and overwhelmed by everything that is happening. But she's strong, she learns and adapts and no matter what happens, she keeps moving, knowing that she must save Jack.
I do wish that we had been given more from the characters. It's my only complaint with the book. We are told many times that Jack is going through a tough time at home because of his mom's depression and we are told that Hazel's life is also rough because of her dad and the changes it's made in other areas of her life, like the new school. And, we see it sometimes, there are moments when it's definitely there, but I didn't feel like it was enough. I was never really sure I believed that these two were hurting as much as I was supposed to, never really sure I believed that what Jack was going through was enough to make him give up everything to the ice. It felt too... disconnected for that. It felt like the characters spent so much time not talking or thinking about the issues that were weighing down on them that they never felt that big. I knew they were that big, knew they were really hurting these two kids, but I never really felt it, not the way I think I was supposed to.
But that one thing aside, this was a completely lovely book. I loved Hazel's character, really felt for her throughout most of the story and really wanted her to do well. Jack was also such a great kid! He does his best to make sure that there is balance in his life between his friends, making time for Hazel and the boys he hung out with before (until the enchantment and all that kicks in) and he struggles to accept, understand and deal with the problems with his mom. He tries so hard and when the Snow Queen offers him a chance to leave it all, offers him an out, you can just feel his relief that he isn't going to have to struggle or suffer anymore. Not feeling anything is better than feeling everything too much.
The forest in this story hold an insane amount of potential. As she is in the woods, Hazel meets a boy a few years older than her named Ben. He helps her and offers her some advice on how to best navigate the woods. And one of the things he tells her is that the woods do funny things to people. Once in the woods, people change and the woods lead them to do things they wouldn't normally do. There is so much potential here, such an unlimited amount of story to be told and I for one am hoping that Ursu returns to these forests in the future. It doesn't have to be Hazel or Jack's story anymore but there is so much story waiting in those woods that I would love to be a part of. And I loved the way Ursu used that subtle magic to show us that there is more to stories than just words on a page. Stories are so much more than that, they go so much deeper. No, you aren't going to walk into a fairy land if you step into the woods near your home, but the truth that stories run far deeper than the page they are written on is a good one to learn.
I also loved the illustrations in the book, but sadly most of them were missing. You just see the big white section telling you the art is yet to come. :( But there are a few images in the ARC and I've also seen several by following the sneak peeks that bloggers are posting. This is definitely a book I intend to buy after it's release, both because I loved the story and really want to have a finished copy to return to, but also so I can stare at all the pretty pictures. :)
This is a beautiful story. Although I do still love them, I often find that I have a harder time getting pulled into the magical feeling in a modern fairy tale. The modern setting makes it much harder for me to pull out that feeling of a fairy tale. But the way that Ursu crafted this story, especially once Hazel gets into the woods (see, those woods again. I'm telling you, I'm hooked!!) brought out the best of both worlds. I enjoyed the modern setting but I was also able to pull out the feeling you have when you read a fairy tale retelling that just gets it. I'm telling you folks, this is a book to read. I think it's one that will appeal to younger kids looking for something a little longer than most MG (the MCs are in 5th grade) but it will also attract YA readers as well as anyone who loves fairy tales. It's one I already can't wait to read again.(less)
The Queen Bee of Bridgeton by Leslie DuBois is the story of 15 year old Sonya who wants nothing more out of life than to be able to dance. She understands that homework is important, but it would always take a back seat to her dancing, if her older sister didn't push her so hard to make something better for herself. She attends the prestigious Bridgeton Academy and for years she been anonymous. But she attracts the attention of Will, one of the most popular and notorious boys on campus and suddenly, everything starts to change. People start noticing her, and not all of the attention she starts getting is good. She somehow attracts the attention of the schools group of 'mean girls' and she's shown a side to people she's never seen before.
Sonya doesn't really understand cruelty. She doesn't understand why people do things deliberately with the intention to hurt or harm. It's not in her nature. So when the mean girls in school start popping up, Sonya doesn't really understand what's going on, or why people could be like this, but she definitely wants to help those who have been harmed by this group of mean girls. But, the mean girls have a system worked out, a system where they rule the school and they really don't like this girl getting in their way.
I really liked Sonya's character. She was just a genuinely nice person who looked for the good in everyone. She is both observant and blind, seeing a lot that most people overlook, but missing out on a lot of details that are right in front of her. She's fairly innocent without being completely naive and I found her to be completely believable. That's about the way I'd expect a 15 year old with a good heart who only cares about dancing to react. But, Sonya was the only character I completely believed in. Most of the other characters in the novel were well written, well rounded and well developed, but they were somehow missing that solid ring of authenticity I got from Sonya.
I liked Will. Mostly. I found the game he played with his jock buddies to be absolutely and completely reprehensible, which gave me a bad taste for this kid from the beginning. I don't know if high school kids really play games where they get points for sexual acts. Some probably do. I don't want to think about it. (Not in a, let me stay naive-stick my head in the sand way, but in a- if I spend to much time thinking about this I might hit something-way). It disgusts me. Completely and totally. So, I knew I'd struggle with Will when the only thing Sonya knows about him is that she thinks he has sad eyes and that every time she sees him, he's leaving some dark and semi-public place with a half naked, very disheveled girl. So, when he approaches her (wait, me?! Are you talking to me?!) she's a little confused, somewhat concerned, and a lot not interested. And I loved that. I loved that Sonya told him no the first time he asked her out, and that Sonya wasn't afraid to be true to herself.
I will admit that while I didn't guess every single plot detail, I did see a lot of the big stuff coming. Which is okay. Every book doesn't have to be a complete and total surprise, but a lot of the stuff I'm assuming was supposed to be shocking, wasn't. Sometimes this bothers me, but it didn't this time. Which is, of course, a very good thing.
I thought that the book was very well written and it had a great pace. The character development was wonderful, both individually and in relationships and interactions and I loved the speed at which DuBois had Will and Sonya's relationship progress. And, while I was initially very put off by Will, he really wanted to do right by Sonya and he tried, hard. You could see that. It was clear that he was unsure of himself for the first time around a girl and I found that very endearing and very believable. When you are completely confident in your ability to make a conquest and have never tried to have a relationship, it's going to be hard and it's going to get awkward sometimes.
I was explaining this book to someone, mentioning what the book was about and things and they mentioned that it sounded like a cross between Mean Girls and Step Up. And, ya... I'd have to agree with them. The school itself isn't an artistic school, and Sonya is the only one who dances or anything in the story but elements from both movies are present in the book, and I can easily see how you would enjoy this book if either (or both) of those movies are ones that you enjoy watching.
The book also offers a sneak peek at the beginning of book two in the series. While I genuinely liked this one and thought it was well written with well developed characters, I don't really feel like it needs to be a series. I felt like the characters stories were finished. Obviously, there is the possibility for more to tell, because people continue to live, but I thought this book was perfectly complete. So, I don't know if I'm going to pick up the sequel(s) to this one yet. I haven't decided. I might be happy to just let these characters rest in my mind, leave them with their (mostly) happy endings.(less)
Cinderella, Ninja Warrior by Maureen McGowan has got to be one of the most unique fairy tale retellings I have ever read. McGowan has taken the traditional Cinderella story and turned it completely on it's head. Gone is the soft and sweet Cinderella, accepting of her fate and willing to follow her step-mother's commands. In her place is a feisty and fierce fighter, just waiting for her chance to break free of the magical shackles her awful step-mother has placed around her.
When no one is around, Cinderella practices trying to harness and control the magic running through her veins- a gift from the mother she's never known, who was a very powerful (good) wizard as well as honing her instincts, reflexes and ninja moves. Being locked in her tiny cellar room anytime she's not being forced to do her step-mother's bidding gives her the privacy she needs to practice unnoticed (although there's not a lot of time, and she always waits until her step-family is either sleeping or gone) and she waits for the day her skills will be enough to free her from her step-mother's black magic bonds.
It was a refreshing change to have a Cinderella character who is not only tired of living under the tyranny of her step-mother, but actively trying to do something about it. Not only that, but she kicks some serious trash. I really liked Cinderella's character. She hasn't let life with her horrid step-family destroy her spirit and she's just biding her time, waiting for her step-mother to make some sort of mistake or slip-up that will allow her to gain her freedom.
Although there is much unique about the story line and the character of Cinderella, what really makes this book different from any other fairy tale I've ever read is the 'Chose Your Own Adventure' element. At three different places in the story, you are given two options, and it is up to you to decide what Cinderella shall chose. This gives you 8 different options for how the story will play out, although there is only one ultimate ending.
I read the book, making one set of choices and then went and read the sections I have skipped the first time to see how the story might have been different. I loved that each section was completely different. The different choices for Cinderella took her on a completely different path. Choice A and Choice B never felt like mirror images or parallels. They were entirely unique which I admit is something I was worried about.
Although there is a lot that I liked about this book, and my overall feelings for it are positive, I'm not entirely sure I loved this one. There were times it felt almost awkward to me, and not in an intentional way. There were times where the book just didn't flow smoothly and although I know it's incredibly important to her and she desperately needs to improve her skills, I got a little tired of listening to her think about becoming a ninja warrior and training to become a better ninja warrior, and honing her ninja warrior skills, then worrying about not being able to fully use her magic without a proper want, (even though everyone knows that it takes far more skill to direct your magic without one, and she's doing very well, considering she's never had formal training) and then it's back to thinking about being a ninja warrior. I never knew how stilted and awkward the phrase ninja warrior could sound before reading this book.
While this isn't a book that I'd consider a favorite, it was a great read. I truly enjoyed Cinderella's adventures and watching her befriend Ty, the royal messenger who comes to deliver the invites to the ball. They meet up fairly often (especially considering Cinderella's previous confinement) and they were such fun to watch get to know each other. And I loved that it wasn't the 'love at first site' that is so rampant in books today.
Really, this is one that you should pick up if you like fairy tales and are looking for something a little different from the norm.
Thought I'd mention that this is going to be part of a series. The stories are meant to be read alone, but all four books in the series have the same 'Chose Your Own Adventure' style and a unique twist on an old tale. The other book currently out is Sleeping Beauty, Vampire Slayer. Has anyone read that one? Let me know what you thought!(less)
Paradise by Jill Alexander is a book I'm really torn on. I've had a hard time deciding how I felt about this book overall because I felt so different when I finished from when I started. I asked on Twitter if my review could just be- "I loved this book. Until the end. When I didn't..."- I know it's not really enough to be a review on it's own, but it actually sums up how I felt about this book quite nicely. So, I'm saying it.
This is a book about so many things- music, passion, first love, parents, family, life, trust, pain, hope, etc. But at it's core, it's the story of a young girl, filled with more than she knows what to do with, trying to figure out who she is, and where she belongs.
I think the strongest part of this book is the characterization. Alexander has created such a strong and unique cast of characters and each character has their own very distinct voice. I was amazed at how much Alexander was able to convey about each character with so little. Cal is the perfect example of this. The only time we hear his thoughts is through the lyrics he writes in his song journal and yet those few lyrics tell us so much about him and how he feels and how he views life. It's amazing. But, all of the characters are full and whole and so well developed. I could go on and on and each has something unique to bring to the story that no one else would be able to offer.
I also loved Paisley's character. She's fierce and strong and a little unsure of herself at times. Gabriela is a completely new experience for Paisley. He comes from Paradise, Texas, so that's what she starts calling him and it seems to fit him really well. He's good looking, confident (or cocky, depending on the day and who you ask) and he's into her. Like, really into her. But Paisley has an interesting mom. One who has drilled and drilled and drilled it into her that she is not to get pregnant and stuck in their small town. So, Paisley has worn an abstinence ring for years and because she is so focused on her music, boys have never really been a priority before, so it isn't a big deal to her. But Paradise makes her starting thinking about things and makes her wonder how she really feels about it.
I loved this part of Paisley's character. I know that teens have sex. Really, I do. I promise. I know that it happens. But I also know that it doesn't happen as often as media makes us think it does. There are teens out there who have never had sex and don't feel ready for it as teenagers, and that's okay! So, Paisley is working out for herself whether or not she is ready to make that choice. And she thinks about it. A lot. Which I thought was incredible. It's a huge choice and it is one that, once made, you cannot take back. I loved the line where Paisley and Paradise are making out and Paradise tries to go farther than she is ready for. She backs away and he tells her that she doesn't have to be afraid to say yes to him. She replies with something along the lines of, I know. I'm not afraid to say yes, but I'm also not afraid to say no. I think more teens need to realize this. Especially if they are feeling under pressure to make a choice they aren't sure they are ready for. Be sure. And if you are not, there is nothing wrong with saying no.
I also thought it was very interesting to watch Paisley's interaction with her mother and the ways that Paisley and Lacey (her older sister) both handled their mother's controlling nature. She's so worried that they are going to end up like her- stuck in a tiny town because they got pregnant in high school (even though she is still married to their dad and he is awesome!) so she takes the extreme on everything. Boys are terrible and forbidden, as is anything she doesn't believe will help them leave the town. So Paisley hides the fact that she's in a band, hides a huge part of her true self from her mother and you definitely feel the strain of that begin to weigh in throughout the book.
It's such a strong book. It's a realistic story full of believable characters, people that I would love to know in real life. This book is an example of Contemporary YA at it's finest and a great example of why I love Contemporary. Why it's always my favorite genre. Or, at least it was... Until that ending...
I don't want to say to much about the ending of this book, because not only has every review I've read for this book talked about the ending, but also because it is something that really should be experienced for yourself and I really don't want to spoil it for anyone. I knew when I started the book that the ending was going to be shocking and huge, but I didn't know anything more than that. To be honest, it gave me serious anxiety when I reached the part of the book where I knew the shocking moment was close. I stalled myself at those last chapters for a long time because I was afraid to see what happened.
And the thing is, I didn't like it. It was shocking, it was a big thing, but I felt like it was there just to be shocking. Not because it really added to the story, not because it was necessarily the best place for the story to go, but because it made for some awesome drama. Maybe that's not really fair of me to say, or to assume. But it's how I felt reading it, and what you take away as the reader is ultimately what the story becomes. To me, the ending is one of the absolute most important parts of a book. An ending can turn a really great book into something terrible (I'm looking at you, Julie of the Wolves) or it can take a book I'm fairly lukewarm about and make it into something really special (mad props to The Bronze Bow). Unfortunately, this book was more of the former. While the ending didn't completely ruin the book for me, it definitely changed (and lowered) my overall feelings for the book.
Even though the ending was a disappointment, this is still a book that I would recommend to people, and I'd actually even recommend it strongly to most people. Alexander is a great writer. She writes strong characters and I'm amazed by how much she's able to convey with this story. I just wish that it had remained that way through to the end. (less)
Ashfall by Mike Mullin is a post-apocalyptic novel that takes us into what it might be like if the Yellowstone Supervolcano were to actually explode.
I like in SE Idaho, which means that Yellowstone National Park is only about an hour and a half drive from my house. I spent many summers playing in the park, and I loved it. Seriously. If you've never been to Yellowstone, put it on your bucket list. Growing up so close to Yellowstone is what interested me in Ashfall in the first place. I knew the book wouldn't be about the park, because if the volcano erupts, I promise- there is going to be no park left. But I vividly remember the first time I went to the park after learning that it was one of the world's largest volcanoes. I was terrified and had these vivid mental images of my dad driving the car up the side of a giant mountain and straight down into the frothing, bubbling magma of the TV volcanoes.
Let me tell you- this book has made me insanely glad that I live where I do. Why? Because if the Yellowstone Volcano does explode? I die. Living so close makes for a great summer vacation but my survival chances are like 1 in 100gazillion million, if every single condition is absolutely 100% perfectly perfect. And even then, it's most likely that I'll live for an hour, getting to watch the massive, roiling cloud of dark death coming for me, and then I die.
Death isn't something I welcome, but I tell you what- after reading about the likely future for survivors?! I'm okay with it. The apocalyptic world that Mullin describes here in this book is freaky. And, not in the way that zombies are scary, because as much as we like to plan for 'when zombies attack' it's never actually going to happen. But this, this could definitely happen. If Yellowstone explodes, it would be absolutely devastating. We are talking thick blankets of ash coating most, if not all of the United States and worldwide weather changes from the ash in the sky. Everyone will suffer. Global chaos man. Ash coating a majority of the midwest or hanging out in the sky, obscuring the sun means that nothing will grow. No growing things means that animals will die. And, since most people don't keep much more food in the house than will last them a week, food will be scarce, people will start to scavenge, and things are gonna get nasty.
I'm glad I'm just going to go out with a bang with the volcano, because the afterlife has got to be better than this. But Mullin's main character, Alex, does an admirable job of surviving on his own. (And, he does make me regret, yet again, that I never learned karate as a kid...) Alex is left alone for a weekend, while his parents and younger sister go to visit his uncle about 2 hours away. And then- disaster. Alex is terrified, but stays for a few days with some neighbors, long enough for the insanely loud and massive rumblings of the volcano to stop. When Alex is no longer comfortable staying where he is, he decides to set out and find his family. Grabbing a pair of skis and some food and supplies, Alex walks out into the ash.
But Alex doesn't really know what he's doing. He doesn't bring enough food or water and he drinks it way too fast, drinking whole bottles at a time with his meals. But, Alex is lucky, and somehow, always manages to find what he needs right before, or right as his situation becomes dire. To be honest, it happened a few too many times to be wholly believable. When the world is in as much turmoil and panic, the likelihood of finding just exactly what you need just exactly when you need it, is slim. Like, finding an abandoned car right when you feel as if you can go no farther, even though you haven't seen any cars all day. There were a few times in the story when I thought, How convenient (mild eye-roll). But, we can't have our main characters dying on us, so I accepted the luck as necessary to the progression of the story, and honestly, the resourcefulness of the characters was a big help.
The only major complaint that I had with this story was the narrative style, but that is something that is more my problem than a problem with the writing. I find that I personally have a hard time feeling the proper urgency of a story when the main character already knows how the tale ends. I don't know what the proper name for this tense it, but it's first person, past tense? or something like that. But there are comments like, if 'I knew then what I know now', or 'I didn't know at the time, but found out later' . I hope that makes sense... For me, the story loses a bit of its urgency when I know the main character already knows how the story will end. It's not a conscious thing initially but it's been there in every story I've read that uses this style of writing. There's nothing wrong with it, I just don't connect to it as well as I do to some other styles.
This is a book about a journey, and it's a hard one. Alex struggles to travel, struggles to find genuinely good places to find food and water or sleep and Mullin doesn't hide from that. In the beginning, after Alex sets out to find his family, he realizes that it took him 6 days of walking on the skis to travel the distance it takes 30 minutes in the car. And Alex learns hard lessons too, many of which make him grateful for what he had and rueful that he ever took it for granted. It's a struggle every day for Alex to survive, and even with the luck thing, I would never want to be in his position. He finds enough to sustain him, but it's not like it's easy, and there is definitely no luxury to be had.
I was also impressed with Mullin's capture of human nature. The reactions of various characters Alex meets along the way are so varied, but so believable. Some are cruel and vicious, looking to scavenge or rob anything they can. Other communities rally together to protect and preserve all they can, realizing their chances of survival are better in a team. Still others seize and take power where they can, abusing those beneath them. And even in the communities where people are working together, you have to barter and trade for items you need and they pull every grain of food from you they possibly can. When faced with death, we will do pretty much everything in our power to ensure we can stave it off as long as possible and I thought Mullin captured that perfectly.
This review is already long enough, so I'll end with that even though I'm sure I could talk for hours about Yellowstone (and the interesting vacation pictures of me in it) and what the effects of this supervolcano erupting. It would be an absolutely devastating event, the likes of which civilization has never seen. You think the natural disasters we've experienced are bad? Just you wait until that gargantuanly massive volcano hanging out underneath Wyoming decides the pressure is too much. The world will be doomed.(less)