I read the first book in this series about 7 years ago, then came back and read the remaining 3 in one month. (Something I hardly *ever* do with serieI read the first book in this series about 7 years ago, then came back and read the remaining 3 in one month. (Something I hardly *ever* do with series, but I figured these were short and light and I might as well just burn through them).
This was my least favorite entry out of all of them, and that may be primarily because so much time passed between the first one and this one that I sort of had to start over. But I found the limitations of the IM format annoying me a little bit in this one -- there were times when I didn't really "trust" what one of the characters was saying, and I wanted to find a way to see if that was how she REALLY felt -- but there was no opportunity for that, no forum in which I could "trust" a character to be 100 percent honest (i.e., a journal, her own thoughts), so one has to just accept the limitations of this particular format, I guess.
I also thought the storyline with Angela's move was kind of disappointing. (view spoiler)[ I mean, in a novel where the whole story unfolds via IM, why is it so necessary that they all be physically together? In some ways, I think having one of them be far apart actually enhances the story because the girls have to convey more via IM, so the reader gets more information that way, too. And I thought the subplot with her "running away" and then going to live with her aunt was sort of unrealistic -- most parents would probably punish, not reward, her for that behavior. It seems like the move was a subplot Lauren Myracle wanted to run with, then she bailed on it. (hide spoiler)]
And I felt a little bit like she didn't differentiate the three girls enough in this installment -- like, they had clearly different personalities, but no clear IM'ing "quirks" like misspelled words, or one who always used proper capitalization, etc. They pretty much all wrote in the same text speech (using substitutes like u, ur, etc.), whereas in real communications it seems like there's a lot of variance as far as how much "proper" grammar people use while IM'ing. Zoe in particular seems like she would have not used as much "text speak," but whatevs. It was still a light, breezy read with likable and believable teenage characters. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This book felt like the whole thing was lead-up ... I was 3/4 of the way through the book and still had the sense that I was "waiting" for the story tThis book felt like the whole thing was lead-up ... I was 3/4 of the way through the book and still had the sense that I was "waiting" for the story to begin. Sarah's total isolation was disconcerting, and not really in a good way -- I kept hoping for her to come across ONE person who wasn't going to abandon her, betray her, or treat her like crap. I was waiting for a change of heart, for her to see that someone was not what they seemed, etc., but people pretty much were what they appeared to be at first glance, with the possible exception of Alan. In some ways, this felt more like a dark and dreamlike foray into Alice in Wonderland territory than a riff off Beauty & the Beast.
The terms of the spell in this book feel a little bit convoluted, and I wasn't surprised when I read in the author's note that she had written it in "a mad dash." It reads like a cleaned up NaNoWriMo novel, although I wasn't able to verify that. There is some really gorgeous writing near the end that almost bumped this up to a four-star book, but it ended up being too little too late for me. ...more
I feel as if this book's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.
I love that this book presents teens with the early life of Malcolm X, a timeI feel as if this book's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.
I love that this book presents teens with the early life of Malcolm X, a time he spent much the same as other Black youth of his generation, becoming a fixture of the jazz and blues music culture of both Boston and Harlem in the 1940s, smoking weed, and engaging in small-scale illegal activities from running gambling rings to selling drugs and performing other petty crimes. Although he tries not to let it affect him in his life of "ease," Malcolm cannot fully escape the racial reality of the day, and he confronts it in several harrowing sequences, such as the teacher who tells him a career as a lawyer is not a reasonable aspiration for a Black kid, and the thugs who attack when they see him taking his white girlfriend for a walk.
I think the strength of this book is in how ordinary it makes Malcolm X out to be, showing disenfranchised teens that humble beginnings can still lead to a life powerfully and impactfully lived. At the same time, I often felt frustrated by Malcolm's lack of motivation in his teen years, and in the increasingly poor choices he makes. Also, I found myself really wanting to know more about his life after he got out of prison, the life of the "public Malcolm X" that I still don't know nearly enough about (this is my own fault, not the book's). See what I mean about the book's strengths also being its weaknesses?
Still, the potential "weakness" is mitigated by the extensive historical notes at the end, which answered all the questions I would have gone to Google with were the note not present. Malcolm's fictional "voice" is smooth and conversational, occasionally betraying the fact that he is lying to himself about the impact of certain experiences. The writer very much captured the sense of a disillusioned Black youth who has not yet realized the greater potential within him. Also, the audio version is very good, and really makes the written voice come alive.
The book piqued my interest in learning more about Malcolm X, which I think is perhaps the highest compliment any piece of historical fiction can be paid. ...more
Throughout this whole book, I wavered between giving it 3 and 4 stars.
It ultimately missed the four-star mark because I thought the romance was kin3.5
Throughout this whole book, I wavered between giving it 3 and 4 stars.
It ultimately missed the four-star mark because I thought the romance was kind of gross and creepy, and it felt somewhat extraneous and obligatory in a book that draws its strength from its examination of friendship.
It's also a pity that the romance knocked this book down a notch, because it really had a lot going for it. The characterization of Cody and her (late) best friend Meg was well done, and even secondary characters received a little bit of depth -- the parents more so than Meg's room-mates, who seem to be in the same mood every time Cody encounters them. And although there are hints at a deeper side of Ben, Meg's sometime ex-boyfriend, we really only skim the surface of that depth here.
With all that said, this book absolutely held my attention until the end. Although it felt like it veered into "problem novel/cautionary tale" territory at times, I found the exploration of the "pro-suicide" community to be both harrowing and fascinating. I was especially drawn to the "mystery" aspect of it as Cody tried to put together the pieces in terms of why her best friend took her own life, something that she never saw coming and felt totally blind-sided by. I wish that a little more time and attention would have been given to the resolution of the "mystery" subplot. And I thought the side trip about Cody's father unnecessarily bogged the "road trip" portion of the story down. I also felt like Forman skirted the issue of why Cody did not go through with her plan to go to college with Meg for too long -- she never came out and said definitively what the deal was until the end of the book, which sets it up like it's going to be this big reveal when it's really not.
But the guilt, anger, and confusion Cody feels in the wake of Meg's suicide permeates the entire novel and continues to haunt me weeks after I finished the book. It's an appropriately sensitive portrayal of a tenuous friendship, grief, and mental illness -- all marred by a somewhat squicky romance. ...more
Was I being ridiculously generous when I awarded this book almost 5 stars, something I hardly ever do?
Several weeks after the fact, I wonder if the4.5
Was I being ridiculously generous when I awarded this book almost 5 stars, something I hardly ever do?
Several weeks after the fact, I wonder if the answer is yes. Somehow, I think five years from now this book will not be one that comes to mind quickly as a favorite. Even so, I found myself riveted by this story, and finished most of it in one day (granted, I was working in the kitchen and listened to it straight through). Still, I think the experience of consuming it all at once gave it greater emotional weight than it would have had stretched over many listening sessions. But the fact that I listened straight through and did not want to "put the book down" even once is telling.
Although it involves a ghost story, the book is not scary so much as that it carries a persistent scrim of creepiness, especially relating to the mass suicide that occurred at a juvenile prison. The book's characters were fleshed out well, and I appreciated the examination of a little-noticed sector of our society in the setting of the juvenile prison center. I also liked how Amber's narration, while detailing what life was like on the "inside," still managed to veil right up until the end whether she -- and many of her cellmates -- actually committed the crime for which she was accused. Perhaps most impressive was Suma's rendering of the imprisoned youth as individuals with their own personalities, dreams, and complicated reasons for ending up in "the big house."
These chapters alternate with those told from Violet's point of view. Violet is a dancer who, we find out early on, set up her best friend to take the fall for her for a heinous crime and thereafter reaped the benefits of her friend's absence -- most notably her unlikely acceleration to the front of her dance class, a position that has her on-track to attend Julliard after her graduation.
Although at first Violet seems nothing more than a self-centered, entitled "villain," one of the strengths of this novel is the way Suma continues to unravel her story, making her more and more sympathetic. She strikes that oh-so-delicate balance of making the reader want to see Violet get her comeuppance even while she tugs on our heartstrings more and more.
The pacing between the two narrative point of views never felt disjointed or strained, and it is that rare book that manages to make both storylines and narrative voices equally compelling. If you're looking for a slightly creepy book that is also a deep exploration of flawed and imperfect characters, this book fits the bill. ...more
This is a beautiful, haunting tribute to Matthew Shepherd told in a bevy of imagined voices, some of which are spun off quotes from people connected tThis is a beautiful, haunting tribute to Matthew Shepherd told in a bevy of imagined voices, some of which are spun off quotes from people connected to the murder in some way, from the murderers to the investigating officers to the person who found Matthew's body. While it's tempting to find voices of inanimate objects such as the fence post to be funny, what these objects have to say, the way they have witnessed what no human being did, is no laughing matter. These are some of the most powerful poems in the collection, although the poems from the imagined perspectives of the perpetrators were most chilling, and the poems from marginally connected people -- the police officers, classmates, etc. -- most thought-provoking.
The author Leslea Newman was actually personally connected to the events as well -- she was scheduled to speak at a Pride event the weekend after Matthew Shepherd was discovered. It was scheduled prior to the hate crime, and of course the whole tone had changed by the time the event arrived. I appreciated hearing Newman's personal perspective, as well as the work that came out of an event many of us will never be able to forget. ...more
As this book began, I thought I would adore it. I really liked the tone, which was whimsical while still paying proper deference to the many fairy3.5
As this book began, I thought I would adore it. I really liked the tone, which was whimsical while still paying proper deference to the many fairy tale tropes woven throughout the story. This is definitely the most mashed-up fairy tale mash-up I've ever read, and while I thought that would make it delightful, it's actually what contributed to my losing some patience with it by the time I hit the halfway point. There are many fairy tale references, but as a fan of more traditional retellings, I felt a little frustrated when the threads were never fully followed through, and by the end it started to feel like a jumbled dream rather than a cohesive story -- something along the lines of Alice in Wonderland, except more like Alice in FairyTale Land. The frequent head-hopping also did not help matters at all. Because of all this, there were plot threads from the main storyline that I totally lost in the shuffle, especially those relating to Sunday's "lost/dead" brother Jack and Rumbold's years of "madness."
Still, when this book was good, it was REALLY good, totally sweeping me away into a land that was, well, enchanted. So despite some of my frustrations, I still hope to read the others in the series -- maybe I can even dare to hope for a more tightly reined-in focus! ...more
I got this book through AudiobookSync a summer or two ago, and I didn't really know what it was about other than that it was another dystopia in a gluI got this book through AudiobookSync a summer or two ago, and I didn't really know what it was about other than that it was another dystopia in a glutted market. I did not know it was a time travel dystopia, and at first that made me nervous. Although I like time travel stories, sometimes the paradoxes just hurt my brain too much, as does the science of it. I also don't like time travel stories where we have to watch the same thing happen again and again.
This book is not one of those time travel stories. The mechanics of time travel are only given passing mention, and although paradoxes exist, they are not the kind that make your head hurt.
Mostly, this is a book about the relationship between three teenagers -- James, the eventually inventor of time travel, his best friend Marina who is in love with him, and his pal Finn. Finn and Marina keep time traveling again and again trying to stop James' invention of time travel, until they come to the conclusion that the only way to stop him his to go back in time and kill him. This is not easy for them to do -- although Marina despises James in the present, she loved him in the past -- and it is the past one she is tasked with killing, the one who has not yet done anything wrong.
Because the book focuses on the unfolding of the human drama, it's easy to follow even for those who aren't time travel nerds. In some places the human drama seemed to be a bit of overkill -- there were moments when it felt drawn-out, and the failed attempts to assassinate James began to get a little old. Although I found all three main characters to be fairly well-developed and likable, they also felt a little YA love triangle generic: the funny one who uses humor to hide his emotional struggles (making him secretly sensitive), the boy genius who has a darker side, and the girl caught between them who feels overlooked/unloved by her parents and self-conscious about whether she is popular or pretty enough.
The one thing that is a little hard to follow in this book is whether "past Marina" or "present Marina" is narrating. I think this would be less of an issue if I hadn't been listening to it on audiobook -- all it took was a couple of seconds for me to daydream, and I may have missed a transition. Usually context allowed me to orient myself pretty well, though. I also felt like the exact unfolding of how the world got so screwed up from James' trips back in time could have been more deeply explored, although I liked the inherent commentary on The Patriot Act and the over-surveillance of the American people.
I think this book would make a good movie, and I liked the way it ended. The ending even made sense to me, paradoxes and all. All in all, an enjoyable read that I probably wouldn't have experienced without AudiobookSync. Thanks, Sync!...more
This is one of those books that is going to be hard for me to review.
First off, I know it's an important book. Contrary to a review I read on the booThis is one of those books that is going to be hard for me to review.
First off, I know it's an important book. Contrary to a review I read on the book, it is NOT rare for YA literature to tackle mental illness, but I've never seen it addressed in quite this way. Challenger Deep consists of two parallel story lines, one that takes place in the "real world" and one that takes place on a pirate ship. It is not difficult to see how these stories intersect as you read on. Still, it takes a little while to get grounded in the story. The pirate storyline is not historically or culturally accurate, and at the beginning it seems free-floating enough that it's hard to find an anchor (no pun intended) to hold on to. This made me prefer the "real-world" storyline in the first half of the book, although as the book went on the pirate storyline began to make more sense and proved very intriguing.
This book really gave me a "feel" for what it might be like to experience schizophrenia, especially in the dream-like sequences on the pirate ship and in the descriptions of Caden's increasingly unusual drawings. Is this an "accurate" depiction of what life is like for a schizophrenic teen? I have no way of answering that and hope that people with direct experience or mental health expertise will weigh in.
This book was scary in that there was no clear "reason" for Caden's schizophrenia. Of course, we know it is a mental illness that does not need a "reason" other than the brain chemistry one was born with. But I wondered whether anyone else in Caden's family tree had ever struggled with mental illness. His parents are supportive and fleshed out fairly well, but neither of them seems able to provide any insight into what is happening to their son, and they both seem pretty mentally healthy.
Although this still feels like a "problem novel," Caden IS more than his mental illness. He has interests, is concerned about his sister, develops a crush, and speaks his mind. The presence of an adult mentor who is managing his own schizophrenia was also a nice touch, giving the reader an idea of what a history might look like for Caden.
I wavered between giving this book three and four stars. This is my first Shusterman book, and there is no doubt that he is a gifted writer. The teen voice and the dialog ring true. I didn't find the end to be completely satisfying and thought the revelation of who "The Captain" really was was a bit of a letdown, although I can also see the symbolic role he may have played in Caden's life. Also, I already mentioned the slow beginning. But the middle is strong -- ultimately too strong to relegate this book to 3-star territory. ...more
This was my first Terry Pratchett book, and I'm aware that it's not indicative of his typical work. Still, I got to sample the humorous writing styleThis was my first Terry Pratchett book, and I'm aware that it's not indicative of his typical work. Still, I got to sample the humorous writing style and wordplay that he is known for so well, and I look forward to reading that "voice" put to use on fantasy soon.
I intentionally read this book while Oliver Twist was still fresh in my mind so I could catch the similarities and diversions. Which would be 1 (Dodger's name) and too numerous to count. My biggest disappointment in this book is that it's not a "retelling" of Oliver Twist from Dodger's perspective, and this doesn't even seem to be the same Dodger. It seems a little unfair to co-opt a famous character from literature, place him in Dickensian London (and actually interacting with Charles Dickens), and then not give even a passing nod to the source material. One might imagine that Charles Dickens based "his" Dodger on his encounters with "this" Dodger, but the connection was still far more tenuous than I would have liked.
So, with that rant out of the way, to judge the book on its merits:
The thing is, if this book were not a retelling (which it wasn't), I wouldn't have been particularly interested in it. I'm not all that into Dickensian London and I'm pretty choosy about historical fiction in general. So while not being the sort of book I usually read, it was entertaining enough. It lost my interest in a few places but was simple enough to follow that I didn't lose much for it, and it was delightful and funny in places -- not so much intrinsically, but because of the way Pratchett told it. This book seems to be most popular among those who know a lot about Victorian England -- I didn't realize that so many of the characters who had cameos were real people, and I probably would have enjoyed it more with a better grounding. The only two I recognized were Charles Dickens and Sweeney Todd, who was handled especially well.
So, probably not the best Pratchett to start with, but at least it didn't scare me away. ...more
I read That Summer many, many years ago, was disappointed in Sarah Dessen's writing overall, and never bothered to return to her -- until mandated byI read That Summer many, many years ago, was disappointed in Sarah Dessen's writing overall, and never bothered to return to her -- until mandated by my book club.
I was hoping that in the 11 or so years since I'd last read her she'd become a better writer. And while I think this was probably better than "That Summer," I won't be returning to Dessen on my own any time soon.
There were so many characters, so much going on, and so many pages in this novel (luckily, there was fairly large font so it read quickly). I just kept wondering if we really needed so much crammed in. She had three sisters, two dads, a mom, a stepmom, a best girlfriend, a best guy friend, a half-brother, a long-time boyfriend, a new love interest, and random small-town acquaintances and big city visitors, some of which were more important than others. All of these trying to clamor for some "page time" and demanding their own story arcs, so that the whole thing came across feeling over ambitious and under developed.
Although the book sells itself as a "love triangle" story -- a break up with a long-time boyfriend, a summer fling with an out-of-towner -- the love triangle is not especially compelling. The new boyfriend is too annoying to sweep a reader off her feet, and the old boyfriend gets to little attention. Still, I rooted for the old boyfriend. Don't worry, I won't give away how it ends!
The family relationships are more compelling, particularly the relationship between Emaline and her half brother Benji. And the relationship that seems to define and change Emaline most seems to be the one with her estranged father.
Fans of Sarah Dessen tend to pick her up because she writes fun, "light" reads. While that's mostly true, I think her books rub me the wrong way because they always seem to be trying to be something more. Mostly light, with a dash of pretentious. I'll pass. ...more
I have now put off writing this review for a full month.
There was really a lot to like about this book. I think the most moving and intriguing aspectI have now put off writing this review for a full month.
There was really a lot to like about this book. I think the most moving and intriguing aspect of the story was protagonist Matt's habit of attending other people's funerals after his own mother died, because seeking out the person who was hurting "most" helped him to feel less alone. The sense of grief and loss he felt in the wake of his mother's passing is pervasive throughout the entire story, even after it takes a turn toward a romance. However, I had trouble really "feeling" his girlfriend, Lovey's, grief. She had also recently lost her grandmother, who was also her guardian, and was basically left "alone" in the world. And while both the protagonist and I could appreciate her upbeat, positive attitude, it felt a little disingenuous at times -- I had trouble really feeling that she had suffered the same sort of loss as Matt.
The homeless shelter thing might have pushed Lovey too near Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, but you can't fault the message.
The writing comes across as a little simplistic at times, which may have been in keeping with Matt's casual, conversational "voice," or which could have been meant to appeal to reluctant readers. The dialog in this book is absolutely stellar, especially between Matt and his best friend, Chris. The funeral home details were interesting too, as was Matt's relationship with the funeral director -- although his advice vacillated between seeming wise and seeming cliche. Still, I was glad Matt had someone who was willing to look out for him.
This was my first MPH book, and it was sort of a strange experience.
I think I would have devoured it had I read it when I was in the target age group.This was my first MPH book, and it was sort of a strange experience.
I think I would have devoured it had I read it when I was in the target age group. As an adult, I found the fast-pace to be a little exhausting, because I kept wanting MORE. The society depicted here, in which memory is of the utmost importance, is really fascinating, and I would have liked for the book to delve more deeply into it. A few moments felt really unbelievable to me, such as (view spoiler)[Kira's best friend hiding in her suitcase and sneaking into Crythe. (hide spoiler)] But I can totally see kids eating that up. I also felt the villain was too one-dimensional, and the long string of "lucky breaks" strained believability a bit.
Still, this story raises some interesting questions and ideas about the significance of our memories, as well as the idea of the assimilation of a minority culture into the mainstream. And the hypothetical technology that drives the plot is cool, too. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It's been so many years since I've read anything by Donna Jo Napoli -- I think more than a decade -- so I was pleased to find that she still "held up"It's been so many years since I've read anything by Donna Jo Napoli -- I think more than a decade -- so I was pleased to find that she still "held up" after all this time, especially since I stopped reading her because I seem to have OD'd and found her books not "doing it" for me the same way they used to.
It's clear from Napoli's retellings that she has the utmost respect for her source material, and I admire that. She doesn't try too hard to find a "gimmick" or "twist" to make her retellings sensational; instead, she simply sinks deeply and richly into the source material, particularly the psychology of the characters and the seemingly bizarre choices they make.
This is the first time I've read a Cinderella retelling that harkens back to some of the earliest, Chinese source materials, and I really liked the change of setting. The story is still there -- the stepmother, a half sister, an orphaned and disadvantaged daughter -- but there's a subtly different light cast upon it. At first glance this book seems to be less dark than some of Napoli's other work, but the scenes with the raccoon kittens and the ultimate fate of Xing Xing's fish prove that Napoli still does not shy away from the more disturbing aspects of fairy tales.
Napoli's characters are not two-dimensional -- Xing Xing's sister, who suffers the pain of bound feet, is a sympathetic character that Xing Xing genuinely pities and cares for. The stepmother, while dismissive and sometimes cruel to Xing Xing, is also made more believable for the pressure she feels to marry off her daughter so that the family can survive in a culture where three women alone are worth very little. Her cruelty is interspersed with moments of kindness, so that one does not feel the sort of simmering hatred of her that the stepmother usually inspires. It would have been soul-crushing to live under her roof, just the same.
There is a lot of buildup, so that the ending (the "ball," the search for the owner of the shoe, etc.) seems rushed. I never really "bought" the character of the prince, nor did I feel totally confident Xing Xing was heading off to a happily ever after. But since the romance aspect is probably the least alluring to me in the Cinderella story, it didn't bother me too much to have it downplayed here.
I had heard so many good things about this book that, even though it didn't particularly interest me, I think I went into it with expectations that weI had heard so many good things about this book that, even though it didn't particularly interest me, I think I went into it with expectations that were a little too high.
It's an incredibly well written book, with believable, vivid characters that each have their own distinct "voices." The portrayal of fifth grade, that strange time between being a child and being a teen, and all the confusion and posturing that goes with it, was spot-on. I found the kids to be totally believable in both their best and their worst moments. I found the adults to be less so -- they seemed to be painted almost universally as wonderful, nurturing, understanding, patient, wise, etc. While this is a nice change from the absent or incompetent adults we often see in books for this age group, it reeked a little too much of wishful thinking. Except for a bit of tension in the beginning, we never see August's parents bicker or become weary or resentful of the many challenges his health conditions present them with. Which is great, I'm glad he had such a great family when he had so many physical issues to work through, but since having a child with special needs is a major source of stress on families and marriages, the smooth sailing of his home life just didn't feel totally believable to me. I also found myself preoccupied with what August's father did for a living -- his mother seems to have given up her career to be her children's primary caretaker, but his medical needs must have been expensive, and the family doesn't seem to ever be under any financial strain, and I wanted to know how they managed to pull all that off. A kid would never worry about it -- but we DID get to learn the careers of one of the less wealthy kids, so I wondered why we didn't get to know how the wealthier parents were making the big bucks.
Because of August's family's seemingly comfortable financial status, this read like a book of "privilege" even though it most definitely is not. No amount of money could make August privileged when he has to live with the fear, disgust, and scorn of uncaring or misguided kids and adults. What is probably most important about this book is that it represents in literature something that has never been presented before, and as such it tells a very important story that was a long-time coming. But because August was "lucky" enough to have a family with no seeming limit on their financial resources, I found myself wanting to see how a child with his issues would have fared in a more typical middle-class or poorer family.
Probably the final aspect that kept this book from getting four stars despite its great writing and characterization was the ending chapter, which just felt totally unsatisfying to me, and more like the way a movie should end than a book. I could almost hear the music swelling in the background. That might have given the emotional resonance necessary to wrap it up in another format, but in the medium of the book, it just didn't cut it for me. ...more
I had to adjust my expectations a bit, as I thought this book took place in a more "typical" medieval-like fantasy setting. So it's more "urban fantasI had to adjust my expectations a bit, as I thought this book took place in a more "typical" medieval-like fantasy setting. So it's more "urban fantasy" than straight-up fantasy (despite the unicorns and the medeival sword on the cover), which is not my favorite fantasy genre -- but this book held my attention well in spite of that.
First of all, I should probably just say that the unique conceit of "killer unicorns," that the transformation of unicorns from something sweet and fragile and magical to the creatures of nightmare is unique enough that it alone probably warrants four stars. Luckily, Peterfreund does not squander the potential of this idea, and has applied ample research and world-building to her alternative view of unicorns. I liked the idea of different species of unicorns that were based on different descriptions of legend, especially the nearly invisible Kirin and the mighty Karkadann.
With that said, I wanted this book to be just a tad bit scarier. Maybe I would have gotten my wish if I had read it late at night rather than early in the morning as is my habit. I would like to see it made in to a movie, as I think then it would be just the right amount of scary for me (I am generally a wuss when it comes to horror, but I like supernatural horror.)
The love story developed a little too quickly for me, based on just a handful of "dates" and interactions, but at least it didn't feel gratuitous, as Astrid's virginity is central to her ability to continue accessing her "unicorn hunter" prowess. And at least I didn't have to endure another YA love triangle!! (Probably saved for the sequel ...) Sometimes the story moved along a bit slower than I would have liked, while at other times the plot felt a little jumbled. Still, my interest really picked up about 3/4 in and was sustained until the end. Although it is a fairly "easy" read, Peterfreund is a competent enough writer that the writing is not distracting, allowing the story to take center stage. And even in the slower bits, there were enough "unicorn sightings" and revelations about them to keep me moving forward. It kind of felt like the story ended just as it was getting started, but luckily it didn't end on a total cliffhanger, which I think is totally cheating. This means I look forward to reading the sequel, rather than being resentful because I feel as if I've been "tricked" into it. ...more
This book has a strange, dreamlike quality that is entirely intentional. After their mother dies, a brother and sister live alone in the wilderness wiThis book has a strange, dreamlike quality that is entirely intentional. After their mother dies, a brother and sister live alone in the wilderness with a strange cat-like creature that spouts out spiritual advice as a reality-obliterating fog encroaches upon them. This is part dystopia, part-post-apocalyptic, part parallel world, part zombie/ghost story, part religious meditation -- and with all these disparate parts, perhaps it's not surprising that the book does none of them particularly well.
I think the biggest disappointment about this book, for me, was that for a book about a mother's corpse that is reanimated after her children stash it under the table (the ground is too frozen for them to bury her), the creep factor is just not what it should be. As soon as her reason for returning becomes known, it almost disappears entirely -- although there is some gore and creepy descriptions afterward that would probably keep the story consistently scary in a visual medium.
The plot felt a little spotty to me, and although the book was well written, the attempt at an uneducated, pioneer-like dialect was sometimes grating. I also wasn't really sure that it made sense for the people in this world to talk that way, but I suppose you could make up an explanation for it if you thought hard enough. The ending was a bit of a let-down, which more-or-less means it kept the same tone as the rest of the book. It's the sort of book where the ending could have made or broke it, but this ending is just sort of ... there.
Although far better than a lot of books I've given only 3 stars, it's nothing too special in an already crowded genre. ...more
A librarian friend hypothesized that, since this book is so much shorter than The 5th Wave, maybe this was one of those stThis is actually a 3.5 book.
A librarian friend hypothesized that, since this book is so much shorter than The 5th Wave, maybe this was one of those stories that only became a trilogy due to pressure from the publisher. And it certainly does feel like this is simply a "stretching out" of the previous story for at least the first half of the book, during which we get lots of character drama and internal dialog but very little in the way of plot development. Frankly, it feels like it is floundering about, trying first one perspective, then another, as it attempts to figure out what's going to happen next.
The second half of the book picks up and seems to have more direction, and the ending is intriguing enough to nudge what was a solidly three-star book up nearer to four. An unexpected development answers a lot of niggling questions and uncovers a new direction for the series, which I guess means I'll have to read the next one. Damn these cliffhanger endings!...more
So, I always thought this was a novel about Mowgli and his adventures in the jungle. So I was cruising along enjoying Mowgli's adventures in the junglSo, I always thought this was a novel about Mowgli and his adventures in the jungle. So I was cruising along enjoying Mowgli's adventures in the jungle, when suddenly, I came across a seal. Huh? What? How did we get to the Arctic? What does this have to do with Mowgli?
Turns out, it had nothing to do with Mowgli.
Because I guess The Jungle Book is a collection of short stories, the first several of which are about Mowgli and thus, feel, like a novel.
I really liked the Mowgli stories -- they were well-written and the characters were vivid, and there was a lot less "filler" than I come to expect/dread when reading classics. Everything moved along at a very nice pace. But honestly, once the Mowgli stories stopped, I stopped paying attention. So, the book gets 3 stars for the Mowgli stories, and probably 2 for everything else. I'm sure the writing was still good, since Rudyard Kipling probably did not lose his talent when he lost my interest, but they were just boring to me. I almost considered just quitting -- I was only reading this book as background for Disney's movie, anyway, so I'd fulfilled my obligation. But, my "finishing" ways got the best of me as usual.
I'm annoyed that the rest of the Mowgli stories are in "The Jungle Book 2," which means I'll probably have to slog through more short stories I'm not interested in to see what happens to him.
And, btw, absolutely DO NOT listen to the audio version of this book I'm reviewing here. Usually I do not comment on audiobook-specific aspects of my "reads," but this one sounds like it's ready by one of those "text-to-speech" robots. Read it with your own eyes (makes it easier to skip the stories that bore you), or find a different narrator. Or skip it altogether -- it is only 3 stars, after all. ...more
Rounded up to 4 for this one mainly by virtue of the author being Neil Gaiman, which isn't really fair.
This was another book that I kind of3.5 stars
Rounded up to 4 for this one mainly by virtue of the author being Neil Gaiman, which isn't really fair.
This was another book that I kind of expected to like more than I actually did. It felt more like a collection of short stories then a novel -- and when I went to my book club group to discuss it, I discovered that Gaiman was in fact aiming for something of a "hybrid" between a collection of short stories and a novel. Unfortunately, it fell a little short on both counts. Although each of the anecdotes were well written and entertaining in their own right, when strung together they didn't feel cohesive enough to be satisfying as a novel. And yet they couldn't stand alone as short stories very well, either -- sort of the "worst of both worlds," unfortunately. I also didn't like how often the story drifted from Bod's point of view, into the perspective of the adult villain, bit characters, etc. One of my pet peeves in middle grade books is when they leave the child protagonist's PoV.
But obviously if I gave it almost four stars there were things I liked about it beyond the fact that it was written by Neil Gaiman. The setting, of course, has a lot going for it -- I could really picture the graveyard where Bod grew up, as well as the many characters that inhabited it. The story idea itself is unique and Gaiman executes it well. The story has a nice balance of frights, humor, and warmth. And the ending is satisfying in a totally heartbreaking way.
I look forward to the movie adaptation as I think it's a story well suited to film, and I hope to read the graphic novel interpretations as well. There's a lot worth "seeing" in this story. Also, I appreciate it a little more learning that it's a bit of a nod to The Jungle Book, which I coincidentally also happen to be reading right now. How's that for spooky?...more
Is this book little more than Disney's attempt to cash in on both the current dystopia trend and the nostalgia teens and adults feel for the movies ofIs this book little more than Disney's attempt to cash in on both the current dystopia trend and the nostalgia teens and adults feel for the movies of their childhood?
But did I totally eat it up?
Yes, I did.
As an "Aladdin" enthusiast who has not received new "canon" "material" for about 20 years, this book was a welcome rainfall in a dry and deserted area of my psyche. Because the story does not diverge from the movie version until Aladdin tries to escape the Cave of Wonders, the first 1/3 of the book runs parallel to the movie. However, in many ways this was my favorite part of the whole book. Although the events that occur are the same, Braswell explores them with a greater depth than allowed by the more "child-friendly" movie and ensuing sequels/TV series. This includes how very unromantic it is to be poor in Agrabah, how Aladdin developed his personal ethics when it comes to crime and how his path has diverged from friends who hold lower moral standards. Perhaps most importantly, it was not afraid to shed light on the resentment Agrabah's impoverished held against the royal family, particularly the Sultan who is considered ineffectual at best and totally out of touch with his kingdom as he loses himself playing with his "toys."
Once Jafar comes to power, the story takes a decidedly dark turn, and there were moments when I wondered whether it went a little too far. Although it may not be any more depressing than the average YA dystopia, something about horrible things happening to favorite characters from childhood makes it more disturbing than if we were meeting these characters for the first time in this installment. A lot of reviewers were put off by the dark path the story took, which is reflected in many negative reviews of the ARC on Goodreads.
I think how you respond to this rendition of Aladdin's story will depend a lot on what appealed to you about the original. If you were mostly drawn in by the "fun" aspects of Aladdin -- the humor, the sidekicks, the snazzy magic, the Genie's effluence -- then this book will be a disappointment, as it manages to recreate very little of that tone. If, like me, you were more intrigued by the character arcs of the "human" characters, particularly Aladdin and Jasmine, you are more likely to "enjoy" seeing this as a deep character study of how our protagonists' paths may have evolved differently under less family-friendly circumstances.
I spent four years of my life writing Aladdin fan-fiction that mostly ignored the "lighter" aspects of the Aladdin universe (it was not unusual for my stories to relegate the sidekicks and magical characters to a passing mention), and I could not help but think that this was exactly the sort of thing I was trying to do with my fan-fic -- not create a "darker" version of Aladdin, but to examine my favorite animated characters as real, complicated human beings. Despite the "tone" of this story being drastically different from the tone of the movie -- so much so that it may be hard to connect it to its original source material -- I was able to "hear" most of the dialogue spoken with the voices of the various actors who portrayed them (which voice repertoire was built up over hundreds of hours watching Disney's various Aladdin offerings), so I do feel that the author stayed true to the characters despite the very different world they inhabited. One test I kept using to gauge my reaction to the story was how I would have felt about it if it were played out as a series of episodes on the Aladdin TV series -- and I felt pretty sure I would have watched the heck out of it. (I had them all recorded on VHS, so I did watch my favorite episodes again and again.) Since I was 14 by the time the TV series aired, I was ready to explore a darker side of Aladdin, and I'm gratified that Disney-Hyperion finally gave me the chance to do so 20 years later.
I am aware that I'm giving this book a slightly inflated rating -- the writing is not great, at a notch or two above well-written fan-fic. The middle starts to feel a little muddled, and I think the story relied too much on newly introduced characters rather than those from canon -- it seems the author was working off the movie only as her source material, because there were ample opportunities to tie in characters from the TV series rather than making up a whole host of new ones. I do think we should have seen more of the Genie, and at times the dark tone felt at odds with the remaining presence of mostly "light" characters like Abu and Rajah. Objectively speaking, this is probably a 3-star book, but I bumped it up because I am intrigued by the premise of this book series and want to see it succeed so I can read the other entries. ...more
I wanted to read this book for a long time -- so long that, after I started it and a friend told me it wasn't worth my time, I insisted that I soldierI wanted to read this book for a long time -- so long that, after I started it and a friend told me it wasn't worth my time, I insisted that I soldier on, anyway. I don't regret finishing it, but it wasn't necessarily worth the wait.
What sticks with me the most is the book's vivid portrayal of Tiger Lily -- I can still call to mind her combination of awkwardness and fierceness; she was flawed and she felt real to me. I also appreciate the author's decision to make Tiger Lily a member of an imaginary tribe, to further distance her from all the racism and complication of the portrayal of Native Americans in the source material and the adaptations that follow. Finally, her story seems so ripe for exploration -- there is a hint that she and Peter have some sort of history in the original story, and I'm glad someone finally picked it up and explored it.
I didn't mind the ways this story deviated from the original -- that is the prerogative of any author writing a retelling. It brought both familiarity and newness to the story of Peter Pan, and it struck a fairly good balance between the two, although I thought it took way too long to get moving; you have to read about 1/3 of the book before Peter shows up, and you only glimpse Wendy in the final chapters.
Ah, the final chapters, where the book goes a bit off the rails and the character of Tiger Lily, so carefully developed up to this point, is allowed to unravel without much thought at all, so much so that it almost ruined the book. This book is unsuccessful in a lot of other ways, too, not the least of which is the writing story. It feels rushed and clunky with an occasional gem of description or insight that is a bit disorienting against the general sloppiness. The choice to tell the story from Tinkerbelle's perspective felt like a cheap trick, too. The author seemed to treat her character as an afterthought, and the "fairy society" she sometimes referenced did not feel believable or real to me at all. Once in a while she would have to intrude with some reminder that she was a fairy, since her ability to "mind read" to a certain extent just made her feel like an omniscient narrator. And if that's what it's going to feel like, why not just have an omniscient narrator?
Unfortunately, this is one of those books that coasts forward more on potential than substance. ...more
I resisted this book for a LONG TIME. I resisted buying it for my library, thinking "modern teens" wouldn't be interested in a romance that takes placI resisted this book for a LONG TIME. I resisted buying it for my library, thinking "modern teens" wouldn't be interested in a romance that takes place around 80s music (I was wrong -- don't worry, I got the book on the shelves!). But even as the hype continued to build and the accolades piled up, I resisted reading it. I probably would have resisted forever, too, except that it came up as a book club read. Well, okay, I'm nothing if not dutiful, so I finally read it.
All that resistance followed me right into my reading (listening) experience, and it took me about half the book to warm up to it. I was annoyed by Eleanor's reticence in the face of Park's total acceptance of her, even though I thought it was believable considering what her character had been through. That is, I think that is exactly how a girl with Eleanor's experiences would have handled a burgeoning romance that felt too good to be true, but it was still somewhat excruciating as a listener. It also took me a while to accept that Park would remain interested despite Eleanor's prickliness, but that's probably just because I never knew anyone as good as Park in high school!
Still, both Eleanor and Park felt like real high schoolers to me, and their families felt like real families. I wrote in my review of Fangirl that when Rainbow Rowell gets something right, she gets it SO RIGHT, and in this case, she's nailed the struggles and setbacks of living in a low-income, volatile family, particularly the interactions with her siblings with their varying degrees of neediness and desperation.
And although this book is a romance and some parts of it are almost unbearably sweet and tender, it also captures those awkward moments that seem to go nowhere -- the span of empty minutes when there is nothing to say, the letdown after you cross another threshold and find yourself unsure of exactly what to do there. Still, I felt fairly certain this was going to end up being a three-star book for me, that I would somehow manage to bypass all the "hype."
But somehow -- and I'm not sure the exact moment when it began to happen -- I realized that Rainbow Rowell was holding my heart in her hands. I suddenly cared SO MUCH about what happened to these two, silently begging her "not to mess this up." I knew it was the kind of book that, if it broke my heart, would break it badly enough to make me hate the book for making me care so much. Luckily, the ending struck just the right balance between bitter and sweet, between realistic and hopeful, with a touch of the kind of ambiguity I like best. It left me crying in my kitchen and somewhat angry that it could make me feel so much despite all my resistance, but deep down, isn't that exactly the experience we hope for when we open a book?...more
This was so beautifully written, and I love the idea of doing a memoir in verse. It seemed the perfect format to tell this story, to assemble hundredsThis was so beautifully written, and I love the idea of doing a memoir in verse. It seemed the perfect format to tell this story, to assemble hundreds of snapshots that make up a life.
Of all the poems, I liked those about Jaqueline's upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness, the ones about her siblings, and the ones about her discovery of her identity as a writer the most. The ones about her baby brother broke my heart (and I really wanted to know who the baby's father was, but that probably wasn't of concern to Jacqueline as a child and so it is never addressed.) The photos at the end of Jacqueline's family are a nice touch, too.
This book really made me want to write a collection of poems about my own life, and I think it could be used well in writing classes. The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that it didn't leave me feeling totally blown away, but I could see why it has received so much praise and acclaim, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it take home the Newbury this year. ...more
For a book about a girl who is kidnapped and forced into pornography, this book just wasn't as SCARY as I expected it to be.
Perhaps this is because DrFor a book about a girl who is kidnapped and forced into pornography, this book just wasn't as SCARY as I expected it to be.
Perhaps this is because Draper treats the details of exactly what happens during Diamond's confinement so sensitively, which I can understand in a YA book, but it also deflated the tension a bit. Diamond is drugged before the abuse starts so you never really get to see her realization that she's made a mistake; you never get to see the man's transformation from charming to abusive. The story also cuts away to her classmates in a dance class often, following their own lives in the week that follows her disappearance. They have their own problems to deal with, and they don't seem quite as jarred by her disappearance as one would expect -- especially her best friend, who spends most of those days supporting another mutual friend who is having trouble with her boyfriend.
There are a lot of issues crammed into this book -- abduction, rape, dating violence, incarcerated parents, etc. The dance motif is well done, although sometimes the dance teacher comes across as a little too wise and benevolent. What I found most interesting about the book was its examination about how sexual violence exists on a continuum -- within the course of the story we see boys/men who are respectful of women and refuse to participate in their objectification in any way, right down to deleting racy photos sent to their cell phones. Then we see an abusive boyfriend who (view spoiler)[sends provocative photos of his girlfriend to his whole contacts list to shame her (hide spoiler)], which is essentially an stepping stone toward the furthest end of the spectrum in the pedophile/pornographer who has kidnapped and abused Diamond.
With something like this, which would totally rip a girl's world apart, I really wanted to see more of the aftermath and recovery. Getting out physically is not the same as getting over it, and while the book acknowledges this, I felt that too much of the story was left untold by closing the curtain without letting the reader in on that journey.
Still, this is an important topic, certainly a worthwhile cautionary tale, and also important for anyone to remember -- many of the girls/women you see in pornography did not arrive there by any sort of "choice" we would recognize. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Finally, I have read this book that is essentially part of the modern fairy tale canon!
Just because of circumstance, I had read less well-known LevineFinally, I have read this book that is essentially part of the modern fairy tale canon!
Just because of circumstance, I had read less well-known Levine books before this one: The Fairy's Return and Other Princess Tales, and Fairest. While her retelling style is consistent across all, which take place in the same world, after reading Ella Enchanted I could see why this one in particular stands out. At first I thought the style was a little too cutesy for my taste, but I liked the exploration of all the conundrums one could find herself in with a curse of obedience such as Ella had. This is also an especially compelling explanation for how Cinderella of the traditional tale could have become a slave in her own home -- I remember the first thing I started questioning about the story of Cinderella was why she didn't just say NO to her stepfamily's demands. (As I got older, I had a better understanding of the psychology of abuse and this question became less puzzling to me -- still it's one that bears exploring in any retelling of Cinderella.)
Levine's worldbuilding, while somewhat superficial, still brings a new perspective to the genre, particularly her characterization of giants as kind and gregarious -- I loved the description of the giant wedding ceremony! It was also refreshing to have a royal family that was kind and down-to-earth (it gave me the feeling that Frell is something of a small, backwater kingdom, but I could be wrong). The stepmother gets very little play in this version, but both the stepsisters were well characterized, the younger one in such a way that I actually found her quite sympathetic.
And the love story -- what can I say? I am 33 and married and consider myself more pragmatic than romantic, but the earnestness of this love story really captured my heart in a way that was totally unexpected, and I felt as excited by it as I would have had I read this book at 13. The ending sequence with the ball and the slipper hunt and such felt a little rushed, and I wanted a little more from the actual breaking of the curse. But overall, it was easy to see why this book has become beloved by so many. ...more
I gave this book five stars even though it was not a perfect book. It strained credibility and I never quite decided how I felt about the moral messagI gave this book five stars even though it was not a perfect book. It strained credibility and I never quite decided how I felt about the moral message. Still, I found myself more absorbed in it than perhaps anything else I read in 2014; I discovered why A.S. King is such a big deal, and I wanted to go out and read everything she's ever written.
Glory O'Brien's voice is what carried this book for me. I related to her feeling as an outsider, as an observer. Her voice didn't feel forced or like it was trying too hard to sound like a "real teenager." She is flawed -- despite her snarky thoughts about her best friend, she is unable to be honest with her, or to stop hanging out even though she keeps telling herself she will. She is also haunted by her mother's suicide when she was four years old, and her struggle to understand this permeates the book.
Then there is the magical realism, the visions that Glory begins seeing of a future in which women's rights are essentially eradicated with laws like the "Families First Act," which forbids women to work outside the home, and the "Fathers Count Act," which keeps single mothers from receiving government benefits like welfare and food stamps. Although the spectre of such a future did not ring true to me, it still worked as a cautionary tale. While it doesn't seem a future that is likely to happen, it still presents a paradigm against which we can measure our own progress, or lack thereof.
But what compelled me most about the story was everything that happened outside of the visions -- Glory's struggle to understand her mother's life and her father's past, her ambivalence toward her best friend, her determination about what belongs to her and what she needs to let go. And most of all, I loved that this book was unabashedly feminist -- that Glory thought about things like what the real message behind beauty products were, and that she recognized the unhealthy sexual standards set up by a culture permeated by pornography. I wanted to personally thank A.S. King for creating Glory O'Brien to look head-on at the things most young adult novels pretend don't even exist -- it not directly being part of the consumerist system -- because it's just too pervasive.
But it wasn't too much for A.S. King, which is why I must read more of her in 2015. ...more