Quite possibly the most well-crafted novel I have ever read. When I read this back in 11th grade, I was taken aback by the artistry and the complexity...more Quite possibly the most well-crafted novel I have ever read. When I read this back in 11th grade, I was taken aback by the artistry and the complexity and the symbolism that all appear wrapped together in this novel. Though I have never worked up to reading it again, it remains in my mind as one of the most influential pieces of literature I have ever read (or likely ever will).(less)
In Vampire Academy, we meet Rose and Lissa, currently on the run after leaving St. Vladimir’s Academy two years ago. Rose is...moreDecent start to the series
In Vampire Academy, we meet Rose and Lissa, currently on the run after leaving St. Vladimir’s Academy two years ago. Rose is Lissa’s best friend and protector. As a dhampir (half-human, half-vampire), Rose is trained to protect Moroi (mortal vampires), including Lissa, from the immortal and cruel Strigoi vampires. After being caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir’s against their will, Rose and Lissa return to school and find themselves dealing with nasty gossip, Rose’s growing attraction to her older mentor, and anonymous and frightening threats against Lissa.
In the oversaturated world of vampire romance, Vampire Academy holds its own by having an assured, kick-butt type of heroine and a story grounded in folklore. The background in real Balkan folklore lends strength to the story, and Mead does an excellent job of providing a well-explained mythology behind each type of vampire and half-vampire and their roles. Pacing is also strong, as things start where the action begins, and the book is written in an easily readable style. Refreshingly, the story focuses on the strong relationship between Rose and Lissa, two female friends who are not competing with one another. There’s also a nice feminist touch in that female dhampirs are depicted as being as physically capable as their male counterparts.
Though a fun and action-filled read, there were also some problems. Rose’s character, while the most developed, often came off as caustic through her overly sarcastic and sexual demeanor. As the narrator, she was frustrating to listen to sometimes. Other characters, including Lissa, were not well-developed; I felt like I only really knew anything about two characters, Rose and Christian. Dimitri, for example, was flat as a love interest, other than being told that he was hot and skilled at combat. He had some moments of development but not enough to make him a good leading man. Too much of the plot depended on a thread about girls getting back at each other through rumors; while that’s something that happens every day, it made all of the characters involved (including our protagonists) seem shallow and immature. The expository parts of the book were important to the mythology but came across as clunky, and the conclusion wrapped things up too easily with lots of telling instead of showing. Finally, typos and formatting problems drew me out of the story.
Overall, Vampire Academy was a decent start to the series and interesting enough for me to want to read more. In future books, I hope Mead focuses more on developing the characters and the relationships between them (especially the romance between Rose and Dimitri) and that she shows more instead of telling.(less)
Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize begins as Quincie Morris, placed into her uncle's care after her pa...moreCould have been tantalizing but wasn't, 1.5 stars
Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize begins as Quincie Morris, placed into her uncle's care after her parents' death, is helping prepare the family's restaurant for its grand re-opening. Quincie helps runs the restaurant, which is undergoing a renovation to become Sanguini's, a vampire-themed dining experience. When the head chef is murdered, Quincie must decide whether to trust her best friend and crush, Kieran, a half-werewolf hybrid, to not be the culprit. Soon, new chef Henry Johnson sweeps in, complete with quirky comments, red contact lenses, and a wish to make the place as vampirific as possible. Henry also takes a decided interest in Quincie. As things get weirder and weirder, Quincie must decide whom to trust: the now-suspect Kieren or her uncle and the intriguing new chef?
Very rarely have I seen such widely-ranging reviews as I did for TANTALIZE, so I decided to pick up the book and decide for myself. Unfortunately, I fell among those who did not enjoy this book. Smith's writing was stilted and jumpy, and there were little to no transitions between scenes. In the first two-thirds of the book, the plot and setting were somewhat interesting, but the big plot twist that occurred in the final third was very abrupt and unpleasant. The incomplete character development didn't make me care for any of the characters, and the villain was obvious from his first introduction. Overt attempts at sensuality throughout felt forced. Finally, the climax and ending felt very rushed, and the villain and love interest both acted in unbelievable ways.
Underneath these problems, I could see glimmers of what could have been a great story. The restaurant setting, complete with described menus, décor, and subculture, provided a unique backdrop and way to tell the story. Smith's use of inserted want ads and menu displays in the book, along with the segmentation of the book into meal courses, was very clever. In the beginning of the story, Quincie and Kieren are likeable characters and their lifetime history as friends felt endearing and real. The modern-day setting of Austin and a world where vampires and weres exist as known human subspecies could have also provided for an interesting mythology.
Even with this potential, the book was simply an unsatisfying read with too quick a resolution and characters that become unlikeable and difficult to understand. In future books, I hope that Smith uses the creativity and cleverness she obviously has and puts it into a more consistent and enjoyable storyline. (less)
Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the...more Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the U.S. civil rights movement. Well-written, moving non-fiction that could be great as a text to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird or similar for classroom use.
ETA: I've since found some claims re: a few factual inaccuracies in the book, but if true, they are still minor enough to not take away from text too much.(less)
In Simone Elkeles' LEAVING PARADISE, a circle of friends and their families have been ripped apart by a devastating car...moreMoving and realistic YA romance
In Simone Elkeles' LEAVING PARADISE, a circle of friends and their families have been ripped apart by a devastating car accident. After a year in juvenile detention, Caleb is able to return home to the lives that his actions altered forever. His victim, Maggie, is slowly recovering from her injuries and thinking of ways to get out of town as quickly as possible. Chance encounters force Caleb and Maggie to confront their memories of the night of the accident, what really happened, and how each of them has changed since then. In doing so, Maggie and Caleb must learn to navigate their complicated relationship, especially after discovering that no one understands what they're experiencing better than each other.
LEAVING PARADISE aptly depicts the gritty and painful aftermath that can happen when one person hurts another, even if unintentionally. Told in alternating first-person point of view, Elkeles' style allows the reader to know both Maggie and Caleb intimately and the grief and struggles that each experiences. Caleb was an immensely likeable character and voice, despite his perceived past flaws, and the portrayal of Maggie's grief, frustration, and anger felt real. The interactions between Caleb and Maggie were touching and raw, and the romantic scenes were well-done and aching, without being too sexual. Secondary characters like Mrs. Reynolds and Kendra added to the complexity of the story. Compared to Elkeles' other books, this story arc felt less contrived and the characters less self-absorbed. The author also finishes with a conclusion that makes sense for the characters, as opposed to creating an ending that would simply please readers.
Despite the emotional impact of the novel, pacing was slow in the first half, and the story arc was very predictable regarding Caleb and Maggie's relationship. At times, the writing felt forced. Caleb's character, while likeable, seemed too articulate and well-adjusted given what he'd endured. The romantic connection was also realized without apparent reason on Caleb's behalf, and Maggie let down her emotional defenses much more quickly than one would expect. Though the ending felt right, unresolved issues remain regarding betrayals, truths, and the unexpected change of heart and resolution of one character.
Taken overall, LEAVING PARADISE was the most aching and realistic book by Elkeles I have read. If I had reviewed the book objectively on writing quality and pacing, I would have given it three stars. However, the book's emotional depth and my reaction to it easily bumped it to four stars. Though it could be a standalone, I'm looking forward to the upcoming sequel, RETURN TO PARADISE, to see where Caleb and Maggie's lives lead next. (less)
In Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, the follow-up to Holly Black's Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, the reader is taken to a...moreNot so valiant of an effort
In Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, the follow-up to Holly Black's Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, the reader is taken to a different realm of Faerie, deep in the boroughs of New York City. After high school student Val catches her mother in an act of betrayal, she runs away and starts living with a rough group of kids in the subway. Drug use and addiction, violence, and ties to Faerie appear, including a plot to frame someone for murder. Through this, Val copes with her changed life, her growing addiction, and the dangerous situations that surround her.
Compared to Tithe, the writing in Valiant was stronger (but not strong), with fewer abrupt jumps between scenes. Things also seemed to make more sense. There's more character development, but not a lot. I was left feeling ambivalent towards her characters again. While valiant on a few occasions, Val isn't that remarkable as a character. It also becomes apparent that Black doesn't have a knack for developing romantic or sexual chemistry. In both Tithe and Valiant, the romance starts with a scary male character who acts horribly toward the female lead, and, in the next scene, she's falling for him. It's very odd and unsatisfying.
The faeries in the novel are used more as a device to talk about teen runaways, homelessness, and addiction than as a fantastical element, which was disappointing. The profanity is also turned up a notch, with frequent uses of the f-bomb and similar. However, that's not as disconcerting as the animal cruelty, drug abuse, sexual coercion, and violence described. However, Black admittedly does do a good job of removing any romance from the idea of running away and using drugs.
I finished reading this book a few days ago, and I can't even remember much about it. That's how much it didn't stick with me. If you're looking for a faery series with better writing, better plot, and more character development and romance, I would recommend Maggie Stiefvater's Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie or even Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series. (less)
What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the...more What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s. The author's use of Petrarchan sonnets in the round (a corona) was outstanding, and the artwork complemented it perfectly.(less)
Though this book does provide an accessible medium for students to learn about the many injustices of this case, I wasn't impressed with the writing,...moreThough this book does provide an accessible medium for students to learn about the many injustices of this case, I wasn't impressed with the writing, the flow of the story as it was laid out, or the so-called "primary source" value of the text. Probably good for lower-level readers who need an easier text but who can handle the mature content.(less)