I wasn't going to read this, because I found this book's predecessor to be pretty underwhelming. However, I felt like putting off reading something el...moreI wasn't going to read this, because I found this book's predecessor to be pretty underwhelming. However, I felt like putting off reading something else, and this was convenient. It took me a few hours over the course of two days, and I would say it was actually enjoyable reading. This book, like the last one, could have used a little more development, but I wouldn't say it was so underdeveloped as to be deficient. James, who was a worthless set piece in Lament, had an actual personality in this story. He went through believable changes and I think teens could probably relate to him.
James and his friend Dee have enrolled in a boarding school for music students. He spends the beginning of the book pining for his woeful best friend, who is extremely depressed following her separation from her supernatural boyfriend from the first book. Due to this, she's pretty self-involved and vacant and generally uninterested in anyone else's feelings but her own. This isn't meant to sound unsympathetic. Stiefvater actually does a pretty good job of portraying the symptoms of a suicidal person, even if the symptom of the character's depression is a little questionable. Readers of Lament will find it hard to believe why Dee was in love with her boyfriend to begin with, let alone why she might endlessly pine for him.
While James struggles to get over Dee, he is visited by a literally soul-sucking fairy, who wants him to agree to give his life to her in exchange for the means to create brilliant music. James is wise to her plan though and refuses. However, what neither James or the fairy Nuala planned on was falling for the other. I found their relationship fairly believable. Unlike Dee's foray into instant, headlong love, James and Nuala grow to like each other over time and see the value in one another through their experiences together. What a novel idea for a YA book.
Nuala was my favorite. She was sassy and angry and sad but not a whiner. I can see shades of James and Nuala in later works by Stiefvater. It's almost as if she tries out personalities and then hones them in future stories, because her characters seem to have similar arcs: issues with purpose and self-worth, suicidal thoughts, confusion about their relationships to people they think they know. I've read there's a third book coming out in this series. I'm not sure what else is left to say, and I have to say I'm skeptical. This was a good book, but it wasn't amazing.(less)
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Here's a really great book about the difficulty of just trying to be a teenager when the adult w...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Here's a really great book about the difficulty of just trying to be a teenager when the adult world gets in your way. An '80s riff on star-crossed love, this book adeptly showcases the self-doubt, emotion and drama associated with growing up. Eleanor and Park tell the story of their ill-fated relationship in alternating sections. While they sometimes bleed together, their narrative voices never feel inauthentic.
Despite the fact that the title of this book bears two names, I would say this is more Eleanor's story than Park's. Eleanor has more hangups; a bigger chip on her shoulder and a lot more baggage at home that inevitably drives a wedge between herself and Park. Both characters inhabited the domain of the outcast teenager effectively and admirably. I could easily identify with the stuff they went through at school without feeling like their personalities were merely caricatures from the Breakfast Club.
At times the story was a bit gushy for my taste, and there was an undercurrent of TV-show plotting involved throughout. However, the humor cut through these things at just the right times. Eleanor and Park, despite their problems, were pretty funny. What was far from funny was Eleanor's stepdad Richie, who was a real threat to Eleanor for the entire length of this book. The insidious way the depth of that threat is revealed was really brilliant on the part of the author in spite of some of the other minor flaws this book had.
While I think teenagers would thoroughly enjoy this story, the nature of the world the author created seems designed to resonate with adults. This isn't a flaw, and I would liken this book to Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca in that regard: a story that seems to appeal to adults and teens alike, due to the element of nostalgia involved that only adults who grew up during that time could identify with. The fact that Park is a college rock fan before that music was really considered cool or widespread seems to reflect an insider status that has only now been granted to those people who at the time wallowed in social obscurity. Anyway, these are merely reflections on my part regarding aspects of the story I did enjoy; they're just something to think about.
This was good, resonant writing, and the book ends with an eye toward a more positive future, which is really all one could ask for when looking for realistic fiction.(less)
I should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a go...moreI should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a good, quick read. I pretty much read it in half a day due to the myriad paragraph breaks that occurred about every other sentence, thus rendering a 300-page book to about the length of a 150-page book. I've heard a lot about this story over the last few years, and finally decided to give it a shot during a week off.
Alex and Brittany attend a school divided by class and secondarily by race. The poor kids get into trouble, sneer due to the bitterness about their lots in life and act tough to survive the very real threats they face outside of school. Meanwhile, the rich kids study hard to get into college, act entitled and sheltered and ride around in the new cars their parents buy them to get them out of their way.
Alex and Brittany exemplify the above polarities but yearn to break free of them. Alex has a loving family that unfortunately still failed to keep him out of a gang. Brittany cares for her sister, a sufferer of cerebral palsy, but her parents can't deal with it and pressure Brittany to make up for what they perceive as their other daughter's failings. This story is a pretty transparent take-off of West Side Story. However, it doesn't fall flat in spite of its predictable arc. Partnered against their will in a chemistry class, they of course learn they're not so different after all and come to understand each other.
I know very little about gang life, but I felt the author portrayed this aspect of society in a realistic manner. No one was completely unsympathetic or for that matter romanticized. Brittany's family on the other hand was a little too brittle for my taste, only to be conveniently rescued at the last minute from total condemnation as terrible parents.
For the most part though I thought Alex and Brittany were fairly well done as characters. Alex in particular came off as an authentic voice. Brittany occasionally wandered into poor little rich girl territory, but never became hard to take. I like both of these characters. The author definitely allowed the dangers of gang life to hit home several times, though there never seemed to be enough of a downside on Brittany's part to taking up with Alex. Being shunned at school and getting grounded didn't seem to equate to the risk of bringing a white girl to a wedding populated by gang members.
I found this story particularly interesting as someone who went to a socially divided high school. As far as I know, nobody was in a gang, but there were clear class and racial divisions. This is a good book for kids who might be able to relate in some capacity to this kind of high school. I was a little glib above about this being a brain freeze book; it's definitely got more to give than that, but it's nothing to scratch your head over either. Nobody's going to come away from this story upset or frustrated, and that's fine. It's good for what it is.(less)
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What a fun little book about growing up, told in an intelligent and subtly humorous style. This...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
What a fun little book about growing up, told in an intelligent and subtly humorous style. This book marked my first experience with Australian YA author Jaclyn Moriarty, and I'll be seeking out the rest of her work soon. A Corner of White perfectly reflected the gulf between the lives we want and the lives we have, in a highly original manner.
Madeleine lives with her mother in Cambridge, England, the World. She previously led a privileged life of travel, parties and adventure with her father and mother, until the day she ran away and her mother decided to follow. Meanwhile, Elliot lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello with his mother. This parallel universe, reached only through a tiny crack in the World, is similar in virtually every way to our known world. Except that colors are sentient beings that can attack and kill people or cause intense levels of emotion, depending on the shade of the color. Elliot and Madeleine have both been without their father for many months and are both coping with the loss in similar ways - determined denial that takes shapes in the form of recklessness with Elliot and a propensity to imagine the past with Madeleine.
The writing is funny, whimsical and pleasant. It's breezy and invites comparisons to E. Lockhart and Monty Python. It's hard to see where this story is going for much of the novel, as far as the plot is concerned. It's easy, however, to see where the story is headed regarding the problems these teens face. Elliot and Madeleine must come to grips with the pitfalls of relationships in many forms. They learn important lessons, and the author manages to keep the story free of an after-school-special tone.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, this is the first book in a trilogy. It's a promising first start, and I'm intrigued to see where the adventures of Madeleine and Elliot lead them. But, one gets tired of the waiting game all the same.(less)
Oh my god. Boring. Over the top. A waste of time. In your face, look at me humor. Like a TV show. Utterly predictable. I tagged this as humor, but tha...moreOh my god. Boring. Over the top. A waste of time. In your face, look at me humor. Like a TV show. Utterly predictable. I tagged this as humor, but that's only because it's supposed to be funny. I'm not saying I didn't chuckle once in a while, but I can't deal with the kind of humor that begs you to start guffawing at every turn. Sad, whiner, slacker kid gets fatal disease and goes on a massive hallucinatory head trip adventure that amounted to very little in my opinion. Guessed what was really going on from the start, which to me ruined the point of reading. Where's the anticipation if you already know what's going to happen? Also, I get it - life is what you make it, life is worth living minute by minute, etc. Yawn.
P.S. I'm pretty sure I've seen this movie before... Just sayin'...(less)
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Here's another good one in the Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan. This riff on the got...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Here's another good one in the Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan. This riff on the gothic novel mixes familiar hallmarks from the genre with lots of clever humor that makes for a quick and entertaining read. Untold is a little darker than the first installment in this series about the intrepid teenage investigative report Kami Glass and her reluctant sidekick friends. But, it's still enjoyable and possesses uncommon depth for a story that I would primarily consider a "fun" read rather than a serious award contender.
While this series falls just shy of serious literary excellence, that doesn't mean it should be skipped. Kami and the other unsuspecting mortals living in the sleepy English town of Sorry-In-The-Vale are quickly coming to grips with the fact that their quiet country village is a stronghold for a lot of evil sorcerers bent on subjugating all the mere mortals in the neighborhood. Kami meanwhile is clever, tenacious and ready to take on the requisite villain Rob Lynburn, who readers learned from the first book is pretty much full-on evil and bent on killing anyone who stands in his way, even his own family.
However, much of the action in this book, in the traditional sense, doesn't occur until about the last 50 pages of this book. There was a lot of unresolved teen angst left over from Unspoken that needed to be dealt with, and the author does a nice job of examining the complicated relationship between Kami and the novel's Byronic hero Jared; the rest of the cast also has a lot of baggage to resolve, as well, that readers will not find to be extraneous. In that regard, I would say this is a relationship novel, with most of the focus on how Jared and Kami are dealing with the changing nature of their connection, which touches on some interesting aspects of existential dread of the Other without getting too heady.
I like where this story is going, though readers who want lots of spell flinging and battle scenes will be disappointed. I must admit the fact that the villain remains off stage for much of the story was a little odd. Still, he's fairly one-dimensional, and the threat of his presence rather than the reality is perhaps a better way to build anticipation. As far as how Brennan deals with Kami and Jared, she sets the stage for a valuable discussion on what healthy relationships are all about, though she doesn't fully flesh that out in this book. I feel while she's opened an intriguing door, I'm concerned she doesn't know how to close it. That remains to be seen in the final volume, due out next year. A great Halloween read!(less)
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This was an affecting story about the real-life Kindertransports that evacuated Jewish children...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was an affecting story about the real-life Kindertransports that evacuated Jewish children to England from Germany during the Holocaust. Franziska Mangold and her family are practicing Christians but according to the Nazis her Jewish ancestry is enough for her family to be considered Jewish now.
After Franziska's father is imprisoned, her mother makes the difficult decision to send her to England as part of a refugee program that pairs German Jewish children with English Jewish families. Not particularly close to her mother prior to her evacuation, it is in England that Franziska finally experiences the comfort of having a mother and brother. Despite an initially rocky start, Franziska learns about Jewish culture, what it means to be a family and more.
This story had a strange cadence to the narrative, which was never easy to adjust to right up to the end. The tone was simultaneously distant and yet immediate. The same goes for the descriptions and interactions of the characters. At times I felt like I had a clear picture in mind of who these people were, but in others it seemed vague. The tone was definitely appropriate for the subject though, and while the story was sad at times, it wasn't horribly hard to take.
While not inappropriate for upper elementary, it's perhaps too mature and dense for that age group to grasp. This book is better suited to middle-graders, who can more readily understand the horror of the Holocaust. Younger students may not be able to take or understand the rupture Franziska's German family experiences because of the war. Still, a unique topic among the stories of the Holocaust and worth looking at in this interesting book.(less)
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True to its word, the latest installment in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater is about dreams...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
True to its word, the latest installment in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater is about dreams and the things we take from them. However, not all dreams come with sleep, and in this story dreams are more often akin to nightmares. The Dream Thieves is a surreal and complex book about the nature of secrets, desire, fear, obsession, self-loathing, love and malice. It is also a story rife with anxiety. I dreaded reading this book. My discomfort however did not stem from the presence of a supernatural threat, or a fear that a character might meet an untimely end. My sense of dread in The Dream Thieves, appropriately, grew out of the author's examination of the characters' troubled and troubling psyches.
Adam, who is perhaps the most troubled member of the cast, succinctly reveals the nature of this story early on when asking himself what he wants: "To feel awake when my eyes are open." This line conveys the struggle all the characters face throughout — the disconnect between what they want and what's actually before them.
The Dream Thieves continues the characters' quest to find the ancient Welsh king Glendower, who is possibly lying buried in a rural town in Virginia. Picking up from the ominous conclusion of The Raven Boys, this book brings a different focus to the search. There is less to do with the search itself and more to do with the searchers. The quest for Glendower took a bit of a back seat to the psychological plundering everyone did in this book, and I have to say that turned out for the best. Maggie Stiefvater is a descriptive writer able to create a sense of atmosphere so palpable at times one feels transported to the scenes she draws. Even at her most middling, Stiefvater knows how to set the mood. She also knows teens. The struggles the kids in this story face make real-world sense despite their supernatural trappings, and the characters' voices are authentic.
This is a sophisticated series that still manages to remain suited for the intended audience. Some of the author's narrative choices however may frustrate readers who want immediate answers to the many mysteries in these books. Additionally, character revelations are often brought to light through the observations of others, thus preventing readers from fully examining character motivations. This is a fairly complex technique that at first would seem shoddy. It's not; Stiefvater by doing this is fully getting at the nature of perception and relationships. The Dream Thieves is about the most unknown corners of existence — our own minds. Therefore, there will be gaps in the narrative at times. I will admit that more needs to be said about certain occurrences, but with two more books to go in this series, I'm expecting more development later. At its heart, I consider the Raven Cycle to be more of a mystery than anything else. There are quite a few twists and turns throughout, and The Dream Thieves in particular possesses a conclusion that delightedly leaves the reader on tenter hooks.(less)
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I had low expectations for this book when I picked it up, and For Darkness Shows the Stars did n...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
I had low expectations for this book when I picked it up, and For Darkness Shows the Stars did not disappoint them. Yes, you read that right. This book wasn't terrible, but it was unnecessary, filled with holes and riddled with loose ends that were never effectively tied up. Reading this story was a bit like eating cotton candy - it went down easily but was as substantive as air. Based on the Jane Austen classic Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars unsuccessfully tried to merge that story about regret and class strife with a dystopia. I shouldn't have picked up this book. After Divergent by Veronica Roth I told myself I wouldn't be reading any more dystopias until I was convinced something worthwhile from that genre had come my way. But, I love Jane Austen. Her work is timeless and brilliant. The fact that this story was based on one of her lesser known (and more serious) works, piqued my interest even though I didn't see any reason to reboot the story as a dystopia.
Before I go on, let's recap a little. Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a waning aristocratic family who was persuaded not to marry a rising naval office because he lacked money and position. A number of years later, when Anne is 27 and now regrets this decision, the naval officer Frederick Wentworth has returned with money and position. Austen tell this story with keen observation and her usual sense of irony. There is little to melodrama, and what melodrama is utilized in her stories is often used for ironic purposes.
For Darkness Shows the Stars rehashes much of the main plot points of Persuasion to pointless effective. You get the same story you got in Persuasion, but with more YA melodrama and angst. Kai and Elliot stand in for Wentworth and Anne, and while compelling enough, I didn't see any reason to retell Austen's story, which was more complex, more believable and less overwrought. By age 14 they have determined they are irrevocably in love, and when they meet again a scant four years later at age 18, they are so filled with pain, resentment and regret that you would think they were in their 30s.
The dystopia in this story is the worst part of this book. Diana Peterfreund envisions a world in which some members of the population were "reduced" due to a genetic experiment gone wrong. After too much modulation, people basically broke and became disabled in some way, though it's not clear to what extent. Those who opposed the modification, the Luddites, have taken on the responsibility of caring for these reduced people. This care has manifested itself as the Luddites treating the Reduced as serfs. In this world, the Luddites have outlawed all technology, and I mean all. No computers, no phones, no cars, nothing. And, religion is used to justify the oppression of the Reduced. Before I go on, can I just take a moment to ask why so many dystopias are devoid of basic human technology? To what end is this justified? Ok, back to the matter at hand. Luddite Elliot became friends with some of the Post-Reductionists - people born from the Reduced who managed to recover their faculties and thrived. Elliot and post-Reductionist Kai act out the basic elements of Persuasion, and the author then proceeds to waste pages touching on but not really developing this future world. I had a lot of questions, namely about the technology, how this Reduction thing all went down and how some people outgrew it but not others. Additionally, I kept picturing this universe, set in the future, as if it were in Austen's time. I wasn't sure how to proceed with the setting at all.
As far as Elliot and Kai, they acted way too mature for their ages. Certainly Elliot took on a lot of responsibility managing her family's foundering estate after her mother died, but I seriously kept thinking she was like 30 years old. While some characters had quite a few shades of grey, others were so typically evil or saintly it was tiring after a while to deal with them.
All of this aside, though, I did get through this book easily and quickly. I like Persuasion, and putting it in this form didn't kill the story for me. Peterfreund's writing was serviceable despite the holes. I guess it's just that in this case there was no reason to retread Persuasion's story. It was fine the way it was. And, while this story was probably aimed at upper-level high school girls, it felt more like it belonged in a 7th-grade library. I guess that's fine. 7th-graders will probably like this book, but I'd tell high schoolers just to skip this book and read Persuasion.(less)
This is a quick read for a quiet weekend. I started this book on a Friday, and even after working all day Saturday I still managed to finis...more*3.5 stars*
This is a quick read for a quiet weekend. I started this book on a Friday, and even after working all day Saturday I still managed to finish it on a non-compelling Sunday. I wanted to say this was a "good" read, but that would imply some sense of happiness could be gleaned from this story. I came across a review of this book that stated reading it was like watching a pendulum swing, and that's a very accurate description. Probably an even more apt simile would be to say the narrative is constructed like an elastic band that is repeatedly pulled tight and then released. At multiple points in the Solitude of Prime Numbers Paolo Giordano brings the narrative to such a tense position that you can't help but think things HAVE TO change for these characters. But in the blink of an eye, the author sends the story right back to where it started, with everyone dazed, unhappy, angry, afraid and arrested by the world around them.
Alice and Mattia are both extremely damaged people, become so due to trauma experienced during childhood. They see something in each other that reflects their own loneliness back to them, but as hard as they try to go beyond arms length in their relationship, they are unable to do so. This phenomenon is explained in the principle of prime numbers - divisible only by one and themselves. Alice and Mattia make attempts throughout their lives to move beyond their inertia but in the end are consumed by the desire to remain as they are. They're sadder for it but also relieved and finally at peace to know that this is the course their lives will take. In one sense you wonder if there is a tiny bit of hope left at the end, but I'm not sure I can see that in between the lines.
The prose is done in a style that tells rather than shows, which left the characters somewhat impenetrable. Such a device is often self-conscious and ultimately conceited even though I've seen it in other stories that largely pulled it off (including this one). There were some really profound moments in the writing, and the pendulum described above created a lot of dramatic tension. But, at times things became artificially dramatic for no apparent reason other than to further the atmosphere of isolation.
This book reminded me a bit of Splendor in the Grass, except with math and set in Italy . If you've seen that movie this will all become clear to you, though that movie probably ended with a little more hope in mind for the characters. A conflicting book. (less)
This book was like wading through a river of shit. It's a great concept - basically nice high school kid with emotional issues tries to make his way t...moreThis book was like wading through a river of shit. It's a great concept - basically nice high school kid with emotional issues tries to make his way through therapy with a bunch of other similar kids a Toledo, Ohio suburb in the 70s. But.... epic fail. This story was basically the Catcher in the Rye in Ohio in the 70s. Except in this one Holden Caulfield has friends whose existence you don't somewhat doubt. I wanted to like this book. I loved Catcher in the Rye, which I guess is why I don't see the need for this story. It was at least twice as long, basically a rehash of many of the plot lines in that book and not nearly as tight. Too much summarizing about the past in the beginning for a book that takes place in real time over about a week. There were also too many friends to keep track of, and that always gets to me. If you can't fully flesh out every person, then just cut back on the number of people. I had trouble connecting with many of them because they felt too cursory. I kept confusing everyone, because they seemed to bleed together.
Karl Shoemaker is a nice kid with a lot of problems, and it makes him easy to connect with. It's just that every time I tried to give this story a chance, I kept thinking, didn't Holden Caulfield say that or do that? It's not like Karl is a carbon copy of Salinger's erstwhile, mixed-up brat with a good heart on the inside. Karl is nicer and probably more well-adjusted. I also think this story dealt with the violation of childhood innocence in a more realistic way. I just didn't see the need for this book. I must confess that I started skimming pretty hardcore after 100 or so pages because I couldn't take it anymore. With that in mind, I didn't feel like I missed anything because of it. Right there. Editing is important.(less)
I skimmed this over one evening after work so I could read the third one sooner than later. I read a short summary of this book online but didn't want...moreI skimmed this over one evening after work so I could read the third one sooner than later. I read a short summary of this book online but didn't want to outright skip the book because I thought I would miss large details. I didn't see the need for many of the obstacles presented in this book. Why bother? This book was more plot-driven and made as little sense in the end as Beautiful Creatures. However, I'm curious about the ending. Despite all of its problems, I'm interested to see how all of these plot threads are resolved. As for the whole "we can never be together" thing, a member of book discussion I run at my library made a cogent point about this series when we discussed it recently - either shit or get off the pot. That's hilarious and very apt. And the thing is... you never just leave it with the characters stuck on the pot in these kinds of books. Teens don't like it and neither do adults for that matter. So... in all of the strange nonsensical twists and turns in this series that I've seen so far, I guess I'm waiting to see how the authors get these characters to shit.... sorry for the imagery, but let's be real here.(less)
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I vacillated between giving this book two and three stars. I enjoyed it over all, but I felt lik...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
I vacillated between giving this book two and three stars. I enjoyed it over all, but I felt like it could have been better even for what it is. It was a slightly sappier, less spontaneous, even more movie-plotted version of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Though there was less swearing, fewer screwball scenarios and far fewer sexual references or situations. This is probably a good book for like 7th or 8th grade and up. It's possible the author was going for an older audience, but the content doesn't require that. This is a light take on the convergence of time and situation and how kids deal with the crap their parents put them through.
Things all work out in the end, and everyone learns how to be a better person. I would have liked more interaction between Hadley and Oliver. Even though they spent all that time on a plane to London, you don't get as much dialogue between them as you would expect. Their meeting is very movie-like in that they meet in an airport after Hadley misses her initial flight to London to attend her father's wedding. Not only that (of course), these two crazy kids just happen to be seated in the same row on the plane Hadley does catch. They stay up all night talking (but not about very much) and kiss at the airport upon landing. However, they lose track of each other in customs. Will they see each other again? I'll give you one guess. Three chances will insult your intelligence.
There's a lot of nice background about the dynamic in Hadley's family following her parents' divorce. That was cool, and it was dealt with realistically in the beginning, but I just kind of went ehhhh at the resolution. The wrap-up was too neat and reminded me too much of about 20 movies about divorce I've seen before. Oliver's story also could have had more meat too, as his situation seemed complex. Oh well. I first came across this book several months ago, but didn't pick it up because I thought the premise was too easy. I finally grabbed it this summer because I needed a change after a particularly hard read. It served its purpose, but I'd just read Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. It's a little gritty, but I'm sure you can handle it. (less)
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If you're gonna go for something, you might as well pull out all of the stops, and this book cer...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
If you're gonna go for something, you might as well pull out all of the stops, and this book certainly accomplishes that. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl wrote a Southern Gothic paranormal romance, and all that comes to mind in the genre is present here: prejudice, voodoo, swamps, grave robbing, the Civil War, Civil War ghosts, a family curse and a town that's not what it seems. This is the book you go to when you want everything that goes with Southern Gothic, and that's not really a bad thing. Beautiful Creatures is highly readable, and the pacing is great. Ethan Wate is part of one in a long list of old families in Gatlin County, South Carolina. Everyone knows everyone, and this town is kind of like the southern version of wherever the Gilmore Girls took place in New England. Ethan has been part of the in-crowd his whole life, but secretly resents how stupid, narrow-minded and shallow the whole town is. He can't wait to get out, especially since his mother died and his father holed up in his study, only emerging to shower and eat.
The story begins on the first day of Ethan's sophomore year. He's preparing for another year of sitting with the same friends at lunch, playing on the basketball team for lack of a better option and generally daydreaming until the day of graduation. But a new girl has arrived in town, and word is she lives in the "haunted" house at the edge of town with her uncle whom no one has ever seen. She even shows up to school driving a hearse. Though extremely beautiful, everyone agrees she's bizarre and lives in the wrong house with the wrong person. But Ethan has been dreaming about the same girl every night for weeks. He can't remember what she looks like, but she's always falling, and when he tries to grab her hand, she always falls away anyway. Of course Lena is this girl. He just knows it, and he thinks she knows it too. He's captivated by her. In a sea of sameness, she's completely different.
Lena is of obviously more than she seems, and tells Ethan to stay away from her; he's going to get hurt, he doesn't realize what's at stake. However, they can't stay away from each other and strange things start happening the more they're together. And storms seem to follow Lena wherever she goes, the wind blowing around her hair when there was no wind at all moments ago.
This book includes a varied and strange cast of characters that all fit into various molds indicative of this genre. There's the mysterious and creepy uncle, an eccentric housekeeper who practices tarot card reading, mean high school girls and the bewildered jocks who follow them, broken men and seemingly normal people who are hiding something in the strangest places.
This story feels familiar in a lot of ways, probably because it borrows from so many genre tropes. The writing also falls into that same tone that's present in most Southern gothic stories. I'm not a fan of True Blood, but I've seen enough of it to know Beautiful Creatures is the same thing but with teens. It's good for what it is. I did like it, but it's the kind of book that's highly enjoyable without being original.
As far as something that was unusual, this book was narrated by Ethan. Paranormal romances are usually populated by entropic but superficial girls who bask in being noticed by the unusual guy (i.e. Twilight). Ethan's kind of a naval gazer and spends a lot of time wondering when something real will happen to him and when he'll find a girl who embodies that ineffable something that equates to realness. The jock hiding depth has been done before, but it's not inauthentic. And Lena is your typical teen girl - everything is unfair and nothing is bound to go right. People don't like her because she's different and she just wants a normal life. I like Ethan and Lena, despite their flaws. This ended pretty predictably in many ways, but I'm intrigued enough to look a the sequel.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It's more of a 3.5 star read that I really enjoyed at som...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It's more of a 3.5 star read that I really enjoyed at some parts, others I had some issues with. This blog post about Daughter of Smoke and Bone really illustrates my feelings about it: (view here) and that's why I'm left with giving this book less than four stars.
This book is so not the kind of book I like to read, which I admit is partly why I have some problems with it. I can't help but think that the themes the author explored in this story would have had more resonance if she didn't enfold the narrative is this epic war between angels and devils, alternate worlds and main characters that are basically creatures. I also think at certain parts that had the writing not been so good that I would have laughed at how a scene was depicted relative to the world the author created. I mean, we have half-human, half-animals all over the place, people having serious, life-altering conversations while in mid-air... It's just all so..... dorky.
Here's a rundown of what this is all about... Karou is a 17-year-old art student living in Prague. She has a mysterious existence, which routinely alienates her friends. However, she can't really enlighten them about herself because Karou doesn't actually know the truth of her background. She was raised by demons in a store that sells wishes in exchange for teeth, and she often serves as the errand girl who travels the world to pick them up for one of her caretakers. Karou's questions about how and why she came to be in this situation are never answered by her caretakers, and because she is caught between two worlds she never fully feels apart of either and is often lonely. This is Karou's life until one day while on an errand she runs into an angel named Akiva who tries to kill her because of her association with demons - the angels' enemies.
The descriptions of scenes and the pacing were spot-on in this book until about the last third, when the author just slams things to a halt with a massive information dump. That's a description I borrowed from the blog post above, because it's just too accurate. The back story really helps flesh out the mystery of who Karou is, but the forward momentum of the action just stalls and never really recovers. Once you return to the main action, there's almost nothing left to grab hold of before you reach the end.
This story expresses very real feelings of isolation at some points and then is overwritten in others. Karou is a great character, who rises above the fantasy elements of this story as a real teen with real problems and a real voice. She's vain, petty, lonely, defiant, snotty, sad, emotional... in essence a teen. But then occasionally the author gets kind of dramatic and you have to skim over those passages to remember that there are moments of real authenticity here. Akiva is a bit of a YA type - miserable, self-loathing, desperate. He's not a bad character - just not as well-drawn as Karou. Their story feels more born of authorial machination than real interpersonal growth. And yet, I'm not going to lie, you do get caught up in it because of the writing.
This book, though it contains great moments of action, is mostly setup (and a good one at that). I'm curious how things will go for Karou in the second installment. This story was basically a mystery adorned with fantasy elements. The next book in the series seems to be headed more toward basic fantasy quest. Not sure. I would be interested to see a book with a larger perspective from Akiva, to determine whether he's more than a YA personality type. I'm eager to see what happens despite the potential pitfalls this book could encounter because of the great moments that were present throughout a lot of this book. (less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
My initial reaction to seeing the illustrations in this book is that they have no impact on your...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
My initial reaction to seeing the illustrations in this book is that they have no impact on your enjoyment or understanding. Correction: One or two particular things are not spelled in the narrative. They are only fully revealed through the illustrations. While unremarkable, they do create a pleasant, stylized framework. They're just unremarkable. Don't let this tepid beginning fool you - I really enjoyed this book. It was really engaging. The narrator Min Green has a realistic, though not-typically encountered, teen voice. Her language is stilted, run-on and occasionally over the top in a hipster sort of way. She sends a box of junk (fittingly the remnants of her relationship with Ed Slaterton) back to him one day, along with a letter detailing why they broke up. This letter forms the crux of the story.
There's been some debate on the Web about how authentic Min's voice is, and while she's unusual, she's certainly not inauthentic. I've known quite a few Min Greens in my days as a teen. Min even reminds me a bit of myself back then... Min and her hipster/outsider friends thought they were better than you then and certainly didn't engage in frivolous activities like high school sports. And yeah those kids are kind of annoying because they make it so obvious that high school doesn't matter. Min's eccentric, exuberant, pleased with herself and narcissistic. Her primary obsession is classic film, and she rattles off references to fictional titles with wild abandon. Min's a little too clever for her own good at times, and her letter is written with a view toward the fact that she will have an audience.
While Ed turns out to be an asshole, he's not totally unlikeable. He talks and acts the way teen boys do, which means he's sometimes insulting, thoughtless, inarticulate, horny, funny and sweet enough of the time to make you get over his bullshit. I think Ed loved Min. He just fucked it up, and the author outlines it in the confusing, screwball voice of Min.
This book is a bit of a cross between the Noah Baumbach film Kicking and Screaming and the little-remembered but really smart Whit Stillman movie Metropolitan. Why We Broke Up has the pissy angst of the first and the snappy dialogue of the second.
Min and Ed had a strange relationship. It's easy to see why they don't work out given how ill-matched they are, but it seems their attraction to each other was primarily rooted in their mutual willingness to take the other's personality in stride. Their bewilderment in each other appears to be the thing drawing them together. Though the author maintains, without harping on it, that much of their relationship is also about physical attraction. It's not stated as something related to how Min and Ed look necessarily. It has more to do with reveling in wanting and being wanted. That's very teen in its shallowness and yet also its profundity.
As far as characters go, I found Ed and Min equally interesting. They weren't merely types even though they both at times would have preferred it if they were, just to make things easier. Their relationship changed them both, though maybe not as much as Min would have liked given how they wind up. I think it's great that she saved all kinds of crap from their relationship, put it in a box and then dumped it on his doorstep. That's so over the top and yet so typical. This is a good book for the overly analytical, too-smart and too-cool teen who has just come out of a relationship that kind of screwed them up from being so unlike their usual fare. It was great to witness Min selling out a little bit to be with Ed - going to his basketball games, ditching her friends and even blowing off his social faux pas because she loved him. Those moments feel surreal when you're on the inside of them, because you know damn well you shouldn't be letting them happen. Much like the rest of life's occurrences, they just do anyway.(less)
What a piece of shit. Sounds harsh, huh? Well, it is a piece of shit. The writing was amateurish and a continuous exercise in demonstrating how to fai...moreWhat a piece of shit. Sounds harsh, huh? Well, it is a piece of shit. The writing was amateurish and a continuous exercise in demonstrating how to fail a creative writing class. The illustrations were garish, and the stupid little comics Evan and Lucy drew were creepy and pointless. This book also felt vaguely misogynistic. Poor Lucy... you're just sick of everything and one day you do something harmless like cut your hair and suddenly you've betrayed the universe. Evan is a whiny little troll, and this book is a one-way ticket to loser-ville. End.(less)
Read this in one shot after work. No pressure or even an especially gripping desire to turn the pages. It was just a solid, easy read. It got a little...moreRead this in one shot after work. No pressure or even an especially gripping desire to turn the pages. It was just a solid, easy read. It got a little heavy at parts, but it never stumbled into outright melodrama (always a fear). The guy was a little hard to take at times. I guess it's hard for me to accept that someone would pine that hard for their high school girlfriend, but I appreciated his willingness to finally move on even if he didn't get her back in the end. Adam was a good guy and a likable character.
Lots of other reviewers have compared this to The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta (the all-time best YA writer out there!), and I do see similarities in characterization and plotline, though her writing, characters and storyline were above this book (Tom Mackee is the best YA boy character you'll meet). A good teen angst type book without getting nauseating. I didn't bother to read the first one in this series - didn't see any need to, and honestly, I'm not that interested in the inner monologue of someone in a coma. I didn't need to know that story - I wanted to know this one. Mia is very believable as the numb, but also angry and guilt-ridden, sole survivor of a car wreck that killed her whole family.
This wraps up pretty neatly, though in a more believable and adult set of circumstances. This book wasn't mindblowing, but a really good teen read that I would recommend to somebody really craving authentic realism in YA.(less)
Anya is a 16-year-old girl who was born in Russia but raised in America. She lives there with her mother and little brother and goes to a private scho...moreAnya is a 16-year-old girl who was born in Russia but raised in America. She lives there with her mother and little brother and goes to a private school. Anya is a bit of a misfit who likes to cut class and smoke in the bathroom and generally feel alienated from the more compartmentalized identities at her school. She also tries hard not to show the fact that she's more or less a Russian immigrant.
One day while cutting school, Anya falls down a well and meets the ghost of a girl who fell in there herself and died 90 years ago while fleeing someone who was trying to kill her. This ghost takes up with Anya (who is rescued from the well that day) and at first helps her with her social hiccups and school work.
However, this ghost starts to become a bit of a freaky, codependent nuisance who seems to want to live vicariously through Anya and never let her alone. There's kind of a single white female thing happening here. Fun and creepy illustrations done in shades of gray that lend well to the title and concept. A quick read that will appeal to the bored, disaffected and pissed off teenager!(less)
Most of my 2011 YA year has been filled with derivative plot lines, cliches and flat characters with inauthentic voices or flat characters you can't u...moreMost of my 2011 YA year has been filled with derivative plot lines, cliches and flat characters with inauthentic voices or flat characters you can't ultimately respect. I found this on the ALA Teens Top 10 List for 2011 and at first was skeptical about picking it up. I have a love-hate relationship with YA due to a prevalence of much of the above. In any case, I'm about 2/3 of the way through it and so far I have yet to encounter plot holes, "it's been done before" story lines and worst of all, terrible characterization.
At 16, Sinda learns she is not the princess and heir to the throne of the major kingdom in this book. She was merely a stand-in for the real princess, who was prophesied to die before she turned 15. Her "family" turns her out one afternoon without ceremony to start her life over as a stranger to herself and the outside world. This girl begins her story as shy and unsure of herself, though she soon comes to realize she is much more than what she once believed. This is achieved through sheer necessity to thrive under her new and strange circumstances. Narrative was concise and everything wrapped up.
Sinda was a believable character with realistic shortcomings germane to teen girls. She also overcame them in a manner that made sense. While she had a corresponding hero to support her, she did not draw her sense of purpose or identity from him. What enlightenment Sinda found, she found on her own. (less)
This book should have been a total snooze. The primary focus is on bridge (yeah, the game for 90-year-olds), and there are actually a lot of sections...moreThis book should have been a total snooze. The primary focus is on bridge (yeah, the game for 90-year-olds), and there are actually a lot of sections that expound upon the rules of bridge and that use bridge matches as major climactic plot points. But all of those things work so well within the context of the story that it they were necessary. Alton is 17 and has recently been dumped by his girlfriend for his best friend. He has a boring summer ahead of him and gets roped into driving his blind uncle to bridge matches so he can turn cards for him. What seems like the beginning of plot hell for this book is actually when it gets going. Alton learns a lot about perception, the human character and spirit and solves mysteries about a lot of people, including himself.
I knew this book would be great because I LOVE Louis Sachar. The Wayside School stories are like existential children's literature that are seemingly nonsensical on the surface but serve such a great purpose.(less)
Another good one by this author. This is a sequel of sorts to Saving Francesca, but with Tom Mackee as the main character (though he shares the novel...moreAnother good one by this author. This is a sequel of sorts to Saving Francesca, but with Tom Mackee as the main character (though he shares the novel with his Aunt Georgie). In Saving Francesca, it was intimated that Tom had some troubles, but nothing that seemed to get him especially down. In this book, Tom is two years out from losing an uncle to a terrorist attack in London and his family has completely broken down in the wake of it. Tom gets lost in drugs, etc. and ignores all of his old friends. Georgie meanwhile is pregnant at 42 from a guy she broke up with seven years ago for cheating on her. After hitting rock bottom one night, Tom winds up living with Georgie and they both try to rebuild their lives from this point.
This book could have been marketed as an adult novel due to its mature themes and the fact that none of the main characters are teens. What I love about Marchetta is how authentically she writes about teens and clearly adults as well after reading this story. I especially love how she can portray a scene cluttered with emotional strife that soon after evolves into people coming out on the other side in a very anti-climactic way (i.e. awkwardly getting ice cream with your whole extended family after having a blowout with your kind-of boyfriend in the kitchen). There are a lot of Australian references in this book, but it doesn't diminish your enjoyment. I ignored much of it and I didn't feel like I lost anything for it.
This book was very high on my list of quality books this author has written. I think I summarized my reaction to Jellicoe Road for a class as feeling gutted. This book doesn't do that, but it's a different kind of story (more mature, more encompassing in that it involves more than one main character - really, Tom's whole family is a character). What I really appreciated was the way serious moments or revelations were expressed or shared quietly in this book, sometimes in silence (see a particular phone conversation in this book as an example).
You don't need to have read Saving Francesca to understand this book at all, but it was interesting to see how the characters changed from one book to the other. Tom is much more than just a joker now, and secondary, almost flat, characters from Saving Francesca became much more vivid in The Piper's Son. Tara Finke really changed for me, as not just an outspoken girl, but actually someone very vulnerable and unsure of herself. Siobhan Sullivan, who was kind of just a jaded girl who slept around, exhibited a lot of strength in absentia (because she never physically appears in the book). By the same turn, Francesca blended more into the wall in this book. Will probably reread this book as I have reread most of Marchetta's stuff!
Definitely lacking the atmosphere that made Shiver so good. In that book, the setting effectively illustrated a sense of claustrophobia and a chill th...moreDefinitely lacking the atmosphere that made Shiver so good. In that book, the setting effectively illustrated a sense of claustrophobia and a chill that comes from continually narrowing possibilities. Sam and Grace are reduced to petulant whiners in this sequel (though the author seems to have done this with some intent in mind as you get to the end). What makes this book interesting is the addition of narratives from harsh, but realistic, supporting characters Isabel and Cole. Too much of a hanging ending. Honestly, were it not for the supporting people, I might not be tempted to look for the conclusion. Truthfully, Shiver didn't need a sequel. (less)
This was a good book - solid. Nice setting, especially, which made you really get the feeling for how threatening cold can be. Good characters, teen a...moreThis was a good book - solid. Nice setting, especially, which made you really get the feeling for how threatening cold can be. Good characters, teen angst. Hope the next one is just as good.(less)
I had to read this book for a YA graduate class. I chose it from the Printz award list not knowing what it was about exactly. It was available at my l...moreI had to read this book for a YA graduate class. I chose it from the Printz award list not knowing what it was about exactly. It was available at my library and that was good enough at the moment. I read the jacket and though the book could have gone in a lot of directions: mystery, romance, teenage boarding school adventures... I started it and was immediately confused by the dual plots of what happened 20 years ago between five teenagers and the present story about main character Taylor Markham. But, the narrative and characterization drew me in despite the confusion and I kept reading, figuring everything would sort itself out in the end. Sticking with it paid off and after finishing the story up a few days ago I still feel the effects of this great story. Taylor is an authentic voice and her friends are perfect complements to this girl who is trying her best to sort through the aftermath of being abandoned by her drug-addicted mother when she was 11. Far too coincidentally, Taylor is picked up on the side of Jellicoe Road (where her mother left her) by a woman named Hannah. Hannah shows up and quietly becomes her caretaker. In the present, Taylor is now 17 and still trying to figure out why her mother left, why Hannah has recently disappeared, why she has no memory of her father and who these five teenagers are from the past that Hannah has been writing a story about.
These developments actually are almost more of a side plot to territory war Taylor's school is having with local teens and visiting military school cadets. The war seems serious and intense without being overdone. Taylor is a paradox in a number of ways, constantly on guard and suspicious of the motives of others, independent and like a rock in many cases. But on the other hand she is desperate for connection and often loses control of herself easily. You can't help being riveted by where everything will go and how it will all end up. I can't say enough about this book and yet it's hard to really talk about it. The book is wonderful, leaves you feeling gutted.(less)