When Hailey Harper's family moves cross-country before her sophomore year, Hailey decides she's been given a chance to re-invent herself when it comesWhen Hailey Harper's family moves cross-country before her sophomore year, Hailey decides she's been given a chance to re-invent herself when it comes to her social station within the world of high school. Aided by her older sister's hand-me-down clothes and a journal called How to Be a Hater, Hailey seems ready to take her Southern California high school by storm and find her niche among the popular and famous.
But Hailey finds the popular crowd isn't all she thought it was and after a day or two as part of the in-crowd, she decides she'd rather spend time with people who share her taste in music and other things and instead of being popular. She decides to use her older sister's book of rules and observations to elevate herself and others to a different social strata.
Caprice Crane's Confessions of a Hater chronicles Hailey's rise as well as her feud with the popular crowd she rejected. Written with wry observations about life in high school and a few genuinely heart-felt moments, the novel seems cut from the same cloth as the hit movie Mean Girls.. Hailey's first person narration is witty, sardonic and completely self-aware in an almost Joss-Whedon-like fashion.
Unfortunately, what Whedon makes look easy on the small screen isn't necessarily as easy as you'd think and while this book has its moments, there are other times when it feels a bit too clever for its own good. A lot of this comes into play in an ever escalating series of pranks played out between Hailey's clique and the popular clique. It culminates in a final prank by Hailey that seems a bit over the line as does the reaction by various authority figures within her life. (It almost feels like Hailey gets punished in the short term but rewarded in the long term for her prank).
Another question I have with the book is the target audience. While the ARC I was provided says this novel is one targeted to the young adult audience, it feels like Crane is trying more to appeal to those who are beyond their high school years to look back with a bit of snark and nostalgia. And while there isn't a metaphor quite like the one Whedon used in Buffy, you can't help but feel that Crane is trying to achieve that and coming up just a bit short.
There is some humor here, but I often found it hitting the mark because I'd gone beyond high school and could look back at it now and find the humor in the situation. Whether or not those going through it will enjoy this or not remains to be seen. ...more
With summer winding down, Ashleigh is becoming more and more concerned about her relationship with Kaleb.
Kaleb is getting ready to head off for colleWith summer winding down, Ashleigh is becoming more and more concerned about her relationship with Kaleb.
Kaleb is getting ready to head off for college but instead of wanting to spend more time with her, he's off with his baseball team buddies. At the end-of-summer epic swim party, Ashleigh tells a couple of friends about her frustration and one of them suggests that she give Kaleb something to remember her by -- a racy photo taken on her cell phone.
Ashleigh summons up her courage and instead of just sending Kaleb a topless photo, she shucks her entire bikini, snaps the picture and sends it to him. After seeing it, Kaleb is stunned and promises to keep the picture a secret.
Which is all well and good until Kaled heads off to college and he and Ashley break-up. After a huge fight, the photo in question begins to make the rounds of her classmates, eventually being distributed to the entire school and posted on-line.
While Ashleigh wishes the entire issue would just go away, it becomes less and less likely as the media catches wind of the story. It doesn't help that her father is a leader in the school district who has come under fire and the picture only lends fuel to the fire of those who oppose him.
It's books like this one that make me glad I'm not a teenager today. I'm not sure I'd survive.
Jennifer Brown's Thousand Words plays on the old adage that a picture really is worth a thousand words. It also points out how an impulsive decision can have a significant impact on not only the parties involved but others in the community. Ashleigh's photo leads to charges against her and an arrest. Kaleb's role in distributing the photo also has negative consequences for him -- some even more severe since he sent the picture after his eighteenth birthday.
In all of this, Ashleigh struggles to understand why Kaleb would do this and why one of her friends put her name and phone number onto the photo before sending it onto others. Ashleigh's frustration and struggles with her decision and her desperate attempts to keep it a secret or contained feel utterly authentic and will linger with you long after the book is finished.
Unfortunately, I have to say that this one isn't quite as compelling as Brown's Hate List. Part of it is that the middle third of the novel feels like a lot of treading water as we wait for the other shoe to drop once the incriminating photo goes into distribution. I can see what Brown is trying to do and have us experience the ride along with Ashleigh, but it still made the middle section drag a bit too much.
Thousand Words can be a warning to not only teens but also those authority figures in their lives. Ashleigh learns the hard way that things can and will linger on-line, possibly forever. And it's fascinating to see the unintended consequences of a rash decision by a young adult and just how it can not only impact his or her life, but also the lives of those around them. ...more
After their mother left, twin sisters Cath and Wren lost themselves in the fantasy world of Simon Snow. That included devouring the books and creatingAfter their mother left, twin sisters Cath and Wren lost themselves in the fantasy world of Simon Snow. That included devouring the books and creating their own fan-fic based set within the world of Simon.
Now that two are headed off to the same college and Cath is having a difficult time adjusting to the changes in her life. Wren wants to live with someone else and Cath, who is a bit shy and socially awkward, can't quite work up the gumption to go to the cafeteria to eat her meals. Instead, she's content to sit in her dorm room and continue work on her fan-fic masterpiece.
Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl is an unlikely coming of age story that rings absolutely, authentically true on page after page. Rowell ably handles a potential love triangle for Cath with deft ease and avoids many of the cliches associated with that genre. The story is populated with a variety of authentic, likeable characters for Cath to interact with, including her roommate. Rowell also doesn't infodump Cath and Wren's backstory and their complicated relationship with their mother and father, but instead gives us glimpses into it as strategic points.
What it all adds up to is one of the more delightful, entertaining and moving novels I've read this year. Sure, this novel is probably going to get shelved in the young adult section of your bookstore or library, but I encourage you to not let that keep you from reading it. The story of Cath's struggles is one that can and will appeal to many, regardless of your age.
One of my favorite books I've read this year. ...more
Val knew there was something different about her boyfriend, Nick. The two social outcasts found each other in their high school and soon developed a cVal knew there was something different about her boyfriend, Nick. The two social outcasts found each other in their high school and soon developed a close, romantic relationship. But while Val considered it a way of letting off steam at students and teachers who wronged them, she never knew that Nick has another more sinister purpose for their hate list.
Five months ago, Nick entered their school and opened fire on his classmates and teachers. Killing several and wounding others (including Val), Nick ended his rampage by taking his own life -- and leaving a community and Val hurting and searching for answers.
Now as Val prepares to go back to school, she faces questions, pain and accusations not only for the community but also from her own family. If Val was an outcast before, she is even more so now but with the added quality that people are on pins and needles around her because of the actions of her boyfriend and her assumed role in the shootings.
Jennifer Brown's Hate List brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions in this character-driven examination of one of today's hot-button topics. Val's story is a tragic one and watching her struggle with guilt over what Nick did, all while trying to reconcile it with the love she felt for him is heartbreaking and compelling. And while it might be easy to give Val some easy answers on the printed page, Brown doesn't.
Scenes that showcase Val and Nick before the tragic day, on the tragic day and Val's attempts to move on with her life all sparkle with authenticity. This is one of those books that will linger with you long after that last page is turned. ...more
After a failed attempt to steal a stuffed goat from the vice principal's office ends in the vice principal getting pepper-sprayed and soon-to-be-thirtAfter a failed attempt to steal a stuffed goat from the vice principal's office ends in the vice principal getting pepper-sprayed and soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old Tara suspended for the final two weeks of the year (in an attempt to fit in with other kids her age, Tara refuses to give up her accomplices), Tara is exiled to the small town of Willow Falls to spend her summer. This is instead of going with her parents to Madagascar to study the lemur, something she had been looking forward to doing.
Tara's luck goes from bad worse to when she's robbed of the money her parents gave her for the summer and her mother's prized iPod while on the train to the Willow Falls. Not wanting to admit the failure to her parents or her aunt and uncle, Tara takes matters into her own hands, stealing a rare issue of The Fantastic Four from her uncle's collection and trying to sell it at the local curiosity shop. The mysterious proprietor refuses to buy it because she can't pay what the comic is worth and she's the one who sold to her uncle. Instead, Tara is forced to accept a deal where she collects 13 different items from the people of the town and brings them to the store before her thirteenth birthday. If she does that, all will be forgotten. If not, her uncle will be made aware of her theft.
Until this point, Tara has been the kind of girl who is willing to shrink into the background. Since her only experience of trying to fit in involved the theft of a goat, she's not exactly eager to try fitting in again. But she soon finds a group of friends in Willow Falls who are not only willing to stand by her but also to help her find all thirteen items on the list and even to pull off something a bit more magical for the small town and Tara.
13 Gifts is a fun young adult novel with an intriguing first-person narrator and some interesting twists and turns. I listened to this one as an audio book and it helped the miles go by a bit more happily as I jogged and helped pass the time as I did chores around the house. Wendy Mass throws in some intriguing mysteries to Tara's visit to Willow Falls and pays all of them off by the novel's end.
From my understanding this is the third in a series of novels set in Willow Falls. And while there are callbacks to previous novels, the novel is self-contained enough that you can read it without feeling lost if you missed the first two. I will say that having listened to this one, I'm intrigued enough by the characters and the setting to want to try another in the series. ...more
One of the more intriguing trends in the publishing world is authors from one targeted demographic attempting to crossover and target another demograpOne of the more intriguing trends in the publishing world is authors from one targeted demographic attempting to crossover and target another demographic. For example, J.K. Rowling recently published her first "adult" novel with The Casual Vacancy while Elizabeth George went after a young adult audience with The Edge of Nowhere.
And while I'm not one who judges a book by the section of the bookstore or the library where it's shelved, it's intriguing to see what happens when an author gets out of his or her comfort zone.
You can add to the list of best-selling authors who are looking to expand their audience writer Brandon Sanderson (who given how much output he has and the sheer length of his novels, I am beginning to wonder if he somehow has figured out a way to write a novel using telepathy and while he's asleep). Every publisher is looking for the next big fantasy series along the lines of Harry Potter and given Sanderson's pedigree in the fantasy genre, a young adult series from him seems like a good idea.
Enter The Rithmatist.
All of the strengths of a Sanderson fantasy novel are on display -- a magic system that has clearly defined rules and limitations so it can't be used to write himself out of any situation or peril that comes up as well as having characters have different degrees of ability within the magical system. Like all talents or traits, there are some who have a better grasp of some elements of the system while others have a better grasp of others. In this case, the magical system is one that brings chalk drawing to life and they do battle. There are various ways in which battles can be won and there is a skill and a strategy to it. Sanderson spends a lot of the novel laying out the rules and strategies of his new magical system, but he also allows them to play out on the printed page and for the reader to see the system in action.
Set in an alternate reality where the United States is divided up into various territories, the story follows a young student named Joel who wants nothing more than to study and become a Rithmatist. The son of a chalk maker, Joel is denied entry to the program but that doesn't stop him from sneaking into lectures and learning all he can about the history and strategies of being a Rithmatist. During the summer, Joel becomes the assistant to an ousted professor, who tasks Joel with studying survey records and census data. At first, the reason for this eludes Joel, but over the course of the story things slowly begin to fall into place and we discover why Joel his asked to do this.
And while I liked the novel, I can't say I necessarily enjoyed it as much as I have other works by Sanderson. Reading it, I kept being reminded of the first Harry Potter novel, which had the burden of doing all the heavy lifting of establishing the universe, characters and magical system for future novels to pay off. I think that could be the case here with The Rithmatist and that future installments (and make no mistake, there will be future installments) will benefit from the heavy lifting and world-building done here.
However, that isn't the only weakness to the novel. The other (and the biggest) is Joel himself. Joel's one goal in life is to become a Rithmastist. It's not a bad motivation, but it feels like we're reminded of this every several pages. I kept wanting Joel to be given a more diverse story than his desire to part of the magical community. I also kept waiting for Joel to have something more to offer than just his overwhelming desire to become a Rithmatists or be admitted to the program.
Sanderson offers a few hints that there is more to Joel than meets the eyes and I have a feeling he's setting up things for future installments. I will give Sanderson some credit in that he doesn't just allow Joel to achieve all his desires in the book and everything to work out and be all good and neatly wrapped up by the novel's conclusion. Again, it will be interesting to see how the universe and the characters develop over the next entry in the series. (Though I can only hope that Sanderson will have an end-game in mind for the series and not keep it going and going and going as certain other authors do).
I came away from the novel wanting to like it more than I did. It felt like a lot of set-up for something more and I have faith that Sanderson can put all the pieces together when it comes to the bigger picture. I'm certainly intrigued enough the universe, the system and the characters to want to pick up the next installment and see where things go. I have a feeling this may be a book that grows in my estimation once I see how Sanderson pays off some of the threads he's woven here. ...more
Once upon a time, Evelyn was a "good" girl, but when her family fell apart around her, she began to rebel against her good girl image. This included qOnce upon a time, Evelyn was a "good" girl, but when her family fell apart around her, she began to rebel against her good girl image. This included quitting most of her extra-curricular activities, dressing in a provocative fashion and secretly dating and sleeping with Todd. Her distant parents (she calls him The Stranger because he cheated on her mother and left for a while and her mother has thrown herself into work) are so disconnected that don't realize that Todd is sneaking over most nights for a little extra-curricular activity with Evelyn right under their noses.
The only thing that matters to Evelyn is maintaining her GPA and escaping from Jacksonville to a better life in college.
And then things go from bad to worse when Evelyn discovers she's pregnant and she can't bring herself to tell Todd, much less her parents. Evelyn struggles with the decisions she must now face and worries about losing her one last friend and the implications of her decisions on what she will do about the baby. It doesn't help that Todd abandons her, saying he can't bring shame on his family by telling them about Evelyn or her condition.
Me, Him, Them and It pulls no punches when it comes to Evelyn and her situation. The story is about Evelyn's struggles to find love and acceptance, not only from others but in herself. At one point, Evelyn has to take her mother to the Planned Parenthood office and have her counselor there reveal the big news because she can't tell her mother herself. Evelyn's struggle with what's "right" in the situation based on her personal and family believes is also effectively rendered by author Caela Carter.
The novel is more than just a stern warning about the complications of teenage sex. It also could serve as a warning to those with kids to not get so caught up in your issues that you miss what's going on in the lives of your child. Don't wait for a crisis to come up to try and re-claim a family bond or to be a parent.
In the end, Evelyn finds hope in the form of her favorite aunt and her family, who agree to take her. But interestingly enough, a cross-country change of scenery isn't a magical cure all for everything. As I said before, the book pulls no punches on the implications of Evelyn's pregnancy and its impact on her and her family. ...more
Based on the first chapter, I should have enjoyed Gena Showalter's Alice in Zombieland a lot more than I did.
Alice Bell's father is a bit of the pecuBased on the first chapter, I should have enjoyed Gena Showalter's Alice in Zombieland a lot more than I did.
Alice Bell's father is a bit of the peculiar side. He won't let his family venture out of the house after dark, he won't drive by the cemetery and he's convinced that he can see evil forces that no one else can. For her younger sister's birthday, Alice convinces her father to bend the rules and attend the younger sister's dance recital. Leaving quickly after the recital is over, the family is killed while driving past the cemetery, leaving only Alice alive and forced to face the future without her family and wracked with guilt. Oh and she might just have inherited and unlocked her father's ability to see the evil forces.
Intriguing enough premise, right?
It's just too bad that once you turn the page into chapter two, Alice in Zombieland descends into the depths of a Twilight rip-off, complete with two diametrically opposite male love interests who are competing for Alice's attention. I quickly found myself becoming less and less intrigued by developments in Alice's social and love life and more curious as to when Showalter might bring us back to the promise of that opening chapter.
The answer is, unfortunately, never. Instead what I ended up with was a lot of frustration and the promise that there are more books in the series to come. This is one reader who won't be back....more
On the surface, the premise of David Levithan's One Day sounds like it's borrowed from one of my favorite TV shows, Quantum Leap.
Every morning, A wakOn the surface, the premise of David Levithan's One Day sounds like it's borrowed from one of my favorite TV shows, Quantum Leap.
Every morning, A wakes up inside a different body of someone close to A's age. For A, this is a normal thing that has been happening since he/she was born. While A can access the memories of the boy or girl that A's leapt into that day, it's rare that A will make a significant connection or plan for the future beyond the 24 hour period inhabiting another person's life. That is, until the day, that A leaps into the body of Justin and meets Rhiannon. A falls in love with Rhiannon and becomes obsessed with finding a way to maintain the connection to her and make her aware of his/her existence and fate.
One issue facing A is that while he/she will leap into someone in the same geographic region, it could be someone five minutes or five hours away. Also, A has to consider the impact that contacting and finding Rhiannon each day will have on the life on the person being inhabited for that day.
On the surface, it's an interesting premise and Levithan sells it well for the first third of the book. The loneliness that A feels as he/she leaps about from body to body comes across well on the page.
It's just too bad that the rest of the book doesn't really live up to the potential of the premise -- or Mr. Levithan's own beating the reader with a two by four to make certain moral points. Rhiannon has little issue with A being inside a male body, but when A presents as a female or a less than attractive guy, Rhiannon ends up coming across as shallow for not seeing beyond the physical and in to the true person inside. It's a nice lesson, but while A has had most of his/her life to get used to this dilemma, Rhiannon is still adjusting to the idea and the sheer number of things that this relationship would have to overcome in order to work.
There's also a subplot with one of the bodies that A uses and the inhabitant facing consequences because of it. The returned user believes he has been possessed by the devil and begins trying to tell the story in order to see if others have experienced something similar. Levithan goes extremely heavy-handed with the morality in this one, making the character seem closed-minded and ignorant for not being willing to just go with the flow on the situation. The portrayal of the religious group is none too flattering either and it ends up weakening the novel as a whole.
In the end, it all takes a fascinating premise and lets it down by a desire to pursue a particular political agenda. I can see what Levithan is trying to say here, but in the end it comes across just as closed-minded and judgmental as those he's trying to say are closed-minded and judgmental. ...more