I read the debut of Rachel Hawkins' first series, Hex Hall, way back when it first released and found it to be a fun, light twist on the paranormal ph...moreI read the debut of Rachel Hawkins' first series, Hex Hall, way back when it first released and found it to be a fun, light twist on the paranormal phenomenon that was saturating bookstores. I still have not read the third book in that series because of my inability to keep up with series when so many other books are out there, but I happily began School Spirits, the new spin-off, and found it to be almost as delightful as Hex Hall.
Although I admit my memories of Hex Hall are rather fuzzy, being that I read the book so long ago, I do remember the humorous, even spunky, tone of heroine Sophie Mercer. Izzy, the narrator of School Spirits, is not quite as bubbly as her cousin, but she's fun all the same. Her upbringing as a paranormal cop of sorts makes her both capable of handling the more dangerous aspects of her job with ease, a badass trait if there ever was one, as well as rather practical and level-headed. I greatly appreciated this practicality when she headed out into the "real world" for the first time, since she so easily could have been obnoxiously enthusiastic or unaware of how things at high school go. Instead, she takes in her new surroundings trying to act as normally as possible, which really makes her mishaps funnier. Plus, her ease going in makes her new friendships seem so much more valid, since she doesn't judge her peers quite like everybody else does. Being that these people become so important to the story, this normalcy was greatly appreciated.
I do like Izzy quite a lot, but with other aspects of this book I am a bit more torn. I love that even when Izzy isn't dealing directly with paranormal happenings, there is always a sense of them in the background. Whether it's with her friends, love interest, or the guy trapped in the mirror at her house, there's always a sense of magic and ghosts about, which makes even the high school P.E. scenes fun to read. However, I think this book attempted far too much in such a short amount of time. There's Izzy's new school life, her ghost-hunting friends, and possibly magical love interest to worry about, plus a missing sister, emotionless relationship between Izzy and her mother, the actual ghost hauntings, and a slew of other conflicts. It's far too much for a 300 page book (with no sequel) to cover, so much of it ended up feeling shallow and emotionless. Everything ended up rushed and unresolved, which sucks considering it was such a delight until then.
Too short to handle all it tries to cover, School Spirits is nevertheless a fun read, with a heroine that matches the balance between silly and serious in this book's many conflicts.(less)
I wasn't expecting to enjoy Linked very much. The cover is one of the better ones that feature a girl with long, flowing hair, but it didn't take me v...moreI wasn't expecting to enjoy Linked very much. The cover is one of the better ones that feature a girl with long, flowing hair, but it didn't take me very long to burn out on all these clone/twin/whatever books that popped up out of nowhere. However, my friends asked me to read it and tell them what I thought, and I was pleasantly surprised to find I really enjoyed it for all of its action and space adventures.
Linked suffers a similar fate to most other first novels in a series in that it takes a while to get past the exposition. And even with all the introductory world-building, it took me a while to figure out what exactly the girls were running from. I definitely got a sense of the tension present around the existence of Lin, with all the effort Elissa put into properly keeping her identity secret, but it took most of the book to reveal why exactly such secrecy was necessary. Linked does have the benefit that much of the running the girl do is rather exciting; even without much of a defined purpose, they manage to get into all sorts of trouble on their adventure, which I found fun to read about even without much context. Plus, there's a lot of space/rocket/interplanetary drama, which is by far more enjoyable than any Earth stuff would be.
Another of Linked's setbacks is that, while the main girls are fairly believable, other characters are so flat I could not help but roll my eyes at some of their actions. I rather enjoyed reading about the developing relationship between Elissa and Lin, for even though Elissa is dedicated to keeping the other girl safe, they still face a fair share of problems that make her question what, exactly, their relationship entails. It's some interesting stuff, especially when you factor in Elissa's family's role in drama, since certain family members are more open to Lin's existence than others. However, some of the other leading characters I simply do not care about. Love interest Captain Cadan, for example, is more dull on his own than the relationship between him and Elissa, which is too fast-paced to make much sense anyway. Keeping their relationship platonic would have made things so much better.
The one-dimensional characters and action that seems to be without a greater point make Linked occasionally boring, but the complexity of certain relationships and excitement made it enjoyable for me anyway. I think the sequel has true potential to be even better. (less)
I've been on more of a fantasy kick lately, and Let the Sky Fall's supernatural elements combined with the real world (always my favorite setting) see...moreI've been on more of a fantasy kick lately, and Let the Sky Fall's supernatural elements combined with the real world (always my favorite setting) seemed to be just what I wanted. While I did enjoy the cool premise, I'm not overly keen on the book as a whole.
I have to give major points to Let the Sky Fall for featuring a supernatural element I haven't read about before. The sylphs are interesting not only because they were new to me, but also because there's pretty lengthy discussion of how and why the types of sylphs as so different. All this exposition felt like an unnecessarily large info-dump at times, but for the most part, I really enjoyed reading the backstory on the elementals. I especially liked reading about them in context of Let the Sky Fall's desert setting; it's another thing I don't normally read about, and it reflected so well with the vast amount of space between all of the characters.
However, even with all this wonderful set-up, the execution fell flat for me. Most of the story concerned either the dumping of information or the romantic tension between Vane and Audra. The onslaught of information is necessary to understand what's going on, but obviously more action and less talking would make the story more exciting, which really was necessary considering the threats so often talked about don't appear until the very end. Also, I am forever unimpressed with romantic story lines, and Vane and Audra's relationship is no exception. The dual narration does help develop them as individual characters, and I enjoyed seeing their reactions to one another to establish a stronger relationship between them, but from the very beginning they're romantically interested in one another. Which is fine and dandy, but considering they skirted around the issue the entire time, I grew rather annoyed with them-- I think delaying the romance and focusing on the threats at hand would have made the story more exciting and the characters stronger as separate people.
Let the Sky Fall has an original concept and with all the exposition out of the way, I'm sure the sequels will be exciting, but the emphasis on information and a lackluster romance rather than the villains that are discussed so often made this book a bit of a boring one. (less)
It was the cover Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia that struck me first-- a young adult cover without a picture of someone's...moreIt was the cover Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia that struck me first-- a young adult cover without a picture of someone's face? And one primarily made up of words? That was unique enough to make me pick it from my pile; I didn't even need the summary (that, and the title does a pretty decent job of summing it up already). Luckily, the uniqueness of the cover extends to the book as well.
The premise of Frenchie Garcia does not sound the most original (and it isn't) but there are so many elements that make the book a huge breath of fresh air, namely Frenchie herself. She is out of high school with no plans for college (she didn't get in), doesn't care that her girl best friend gets more guys than she does, gets mad at her best guy friend for ditching her for his girlfriend but not because she's in love with him, and a number of other common protagonist characteristics that are made entirely not annoying because her comfort with herself. She does acknowledge that she likes unconventional things, and that she feels awkward most of the time, but she never really compares herself to other characters. It's such a refreshing thing, since without any comparisons, her friendships and problems seem a bit purer, if that makes any sense; because comparisons aren't an issue, she gets more detailed about why her and her friends are actually having trouble, making their problems (and relationships) seem much more realistic and emotional.
Another thing I like about this book is that Frenchie is sad about Andy's death, but most of her grief is showcased by her actions rather than her words. She could have waxed poetic about how sad she was, and maybe that would have made her grief a bit more palpable, but it was following the last night she saw Andy that made her sadness real. Although it takes a while for the book to describe what happened, when it finally does, it's the adventure Andy wanted. It's heartbreaking to read the events of that night knowing what happens after, especially since the chapters alternate between the past and present. It's a bit confusing and strangely paced that way, but I loved directly seeing the ways that Frenchie was affected, especially when things start getting better.
Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia is not the depressing, stereotypical "grief" book it so easily could have been; instead, it and its normal main character, quirky affinity for cemeteries and Dickinson aside, are a solid, refreshing, realistic tale of growth rather than cliche teenage angst. (less)
Jennifer Brown's debut novel, Hate List , was one of my favorites of 2009 and I've read all of her books since then. None of them have ever matched th...moreJennifer Brown's debut novel, Hate List , was one of my favorites of 2009 and I've read all of her books since then. None of them have ever matched the first since they seem to get more about the issue and less about the characters, and while I like Thousand Words more than some of her other work, it lacked a certain emotional connection that would have made me love it.
I was actually quite pleased to find that Thousand Words is not overly preachy. The premise sounds like a standard after-school special, and because half the book is set during the community service Ashleigh is supposed to learn from, it could have easily been more "sexting is bad here are statistics why!!!" While there were parts that seemed far too exaggerated, the switch between past and present allowed for more of a "fade to black" than a "now here is the terrible story of how I got here" thing-- a much more subtle discussion of the many issues involved in this story.
However, I think the constant switch-up was more detrimental overall because I felt no real connection to the characters in either half. The community service bits were short and never spent enough time making anyone seem less than unnecessarily hostile or stupid. The characters in the sections about the past were similarly flat, and I never managed to figure out why Ashleigh was ever friends with any of them, especially when they never spent any time trying to help her out. I could not even manage to figure out why Ashleigh was so attached to Kaleb, since the novel doesn't spend much time on their relationship before Kaleb heads to college and Ashleigh goes into "crazy jealous" mode. Her irrational behavior made me dislike Ashleigh, if anything, and not even her "redeemed" self in the community service chapters made her any more appealing.
Not the 300 page moral lesson it could have been because of some subtle transitions, but lacking the character development and emotion that could have made it truly enjoyable. (less)
I'm very much into retellings of traditional stories, but I have to say my familiarity with "prequel" tales of sorts isn't as expansive. I'm usually o...moreI'm very much into retellings of traditional stories, but I have to say my familiarity with "prequel" tales of sorts isn't as expansive. I'm usually open to them, though, especially when they involve things I like, as is the case with Nobody's Secret, which imagines a story about teenage Emily Dickinson and the inspiration for her "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" poem. A fun premise, though, in reality, I don't think it's necessarily vital for this to be an Emily Dickinson tale.
It's a short novel, but it still takes a bit of time to get to the murder mystery regarding Mr. Nobody. For once, I actually didn't mind the delay, as it gave time for Mr. Nobody to actually appear before his death. It was nice to get to see him and Emily interact directly, since their encounters were filled with enough fun and flirtation to make me see why Emily would be invested in figuring out why he died. I also appreciate that her interest was based more on friendship than romantic love, since it would have been easy to say that Emily sought answers because she was in love with the man. Plus, the emphasis on friendship kept it a bit more lighthearted, which was nice since death is so prevalent in the story. Combined with the many different people and places Emily encounters on her search, it's actually a rather fun mystery, one that's not too difficult to solve but still interesting because of all the adventure so deeply rooted in history.
One thing that hindered my enjoyment of this book, though, is that I'm not sure how essential the fact that it's Emily Dickinson, not just any Emily, is to the story. The real Emily's hometown and family comes into play, and her poetic side is brought up numerous times, which was a cool, more subtle bonus. However, perhaps it's just because I don't know too much about the real Emily Dickinson's personality beyond the fact that she turned into a hermit eventually, but I don't really see a big connection between this version of Emily and the real one. It could also be my obsession with historical accuracy, but I don't know, Nobody's Secret's Emily seemed like she could have been any Emily. Maybe that's the point, to make her seem like a normal teenager, in which case, that's super cool, but I'm cynical.
Nobody's Secret is a solid story, rich in the history of the setting if not the true history of Emily Dickinson, with a nice balance between adventure and darkness despite the fact that its mystery is not too difficult to solve. (less)
The Whole Stupid Way We Are is one of those books that showed up in my mailbox without me having any prior knowledge of it. The title intrigued me, bu...moreThe Whole Stupid Way We Are is one of those books that showed up in my mailbox without me having any prior knowledge of it. The title intrigued me, but I was put off by the capital letters in the summary on the jacket. Definitely a silly reason, especially because the narrative itself was free of such unnecessary, contrived enthusiasm, and I ended up quite enjoying the story.
The Whole Stupid Way We Are is written from a rather detached, third-person point of view, with a whole lot of dialogue, making me think that if the story was ever adapted into a movie, the most mainstream director it would ever get would be Wes Anderson. This absence of characters' thoughts and rather repetitive way events are described ("Ms. Dugan is the gym teacher and has known Dinah since Dinah was a tiny kid. Ms. Dugan loves her. Ms. Dugan knows what's what. Ms. Dugan can be counted on. Dinah can taste their freedom already.") make it hard to connect with the characters, but the style is one I personally like anyway. It fits the cold setting as well as the growing distance between Dinah and Skint, and I think the prevalence of dialogue shows just how difficult it is for the leading characters to deal with their problems in an open way.
Still, I wished there was a greater sense of emotion in the book, because I think that's what could have made me truly love it. I never quite understood why things were so tense between the friends; there were clear things they differed on, and each person had his or her own set of family and other troubles to deal with, but they never quite added up to make me see why things happened up the way they did. However, I could suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the story. It's not heavy on the action, but there's always something going wrong and turning upside down, so it's a constant amusement and the slightest of heartaches. I'm not a big fan of the occasional perspective change from Dinah to Skint, since I think the latter's sections could have been expanded and made their friendship have even more depth. Ultimately, his sections were important and I love the way they ended up, but a few more of them would have been a treat.
The Whole Stupid Way We Are is a bittersweet story of a complex friendship, so enjoyable that I did not mind its emotional detachment and subsequent underdeveloped portions and characters.(less)