On one hand, this book was highly compelling, and I read it in 40 minutes.
On the other hand, I have a lot of questions, and I do think that they're quOn one hand, this book was highly compelling, and I read it in 40 minutes.
On the other hand, I have a lot of questions, and I do think that they're questions that could have been answered in the book but weren't. I'm not really sure why not, when those answers would have only highlighted the characters' complexities a little better and made the story more powerful.
I need to think about this one. More to come in my review in early January....more
Tell Me More: Whirlwind romances, summer flings, desYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Whirlwind romances, summer flings, desperate Romeo/Juliet situations--they're the stuff of teenage dreams and wishes. I'd be lying if I said I never wanted any of those things, and most people can attest to the same. There's something about being a teenager that makes one feel as though anything is possible and everything is open to you. Interestingly enough, the tag line for this novel is in that same optimistic vein: "Love can conquer any distance...right?" But While He Was Away suffers from much more than just distance between the two characters, and doesn't manage to raise itself from those depths in time for the ending.
I've spoken to former soldiers and learned about the military experience from ex-Navy SEALS and their families. I've read excellent Harlequins with military characters. So to a point, I can certainly agree that Karen Schreck's narrative rings true regarding the difficulties of living an army/navy life. I just could not get past the sheer immaturity of the characters. Penna is particularly grating--she is barely developed enough to be more than just David's girlfriend, and yet the story relies on her narration. Because she is so underdeveloped, there is very little to like about her (try as one might) and worse for the story, there is very little to care about. Penna's experiences as an Army Girlfriend (emphasis mine) had the potential to be compelling and powerful, and it was disappointing to see them reduced to scenes that had little to no emotional power.
The pacing of the story is extremely off-putting, which isn't helped by weak prose. Schreck goes from discussing one issue to another in a single paragraph, leaving the structure of the story without anything to hold on to. Other novels are able to transcend this problem with attention-grabbing characters and a strong overarching plot. Given that While He Was Away is such a closed, intimate story, Schreck's approach does not work for its benefit.
Beyond these problems with the story, I would have still recommended it to beginning YA readers, but there was one scene that bothered me enough to change my initial rating from a 2 to 1 star. Penna and David go on a website where they can "shoot" an Iraqi artist with paintballs. The simulation bothers Penna enough to have her hesitating, but David encourages her.
“Holy crap,” David said. He laughed nervously. He said it was my turn. “Come on,” David said. “Just think about 9/11. Shoot him.” The artist was bent over, collecting the messy shreds of newspaper when I took my shot. I aimed off to the side, but even when the paintball just burst bloodily against the floor, I practically hyperventilated. “I don’t like this,” I said. David stuttered around for a little bit—9/11 this, 9/11 that. Finally he said he didn’t really like this either. Not really. The guy reminded him too much of Ravi. David rolled his eyes then. “Total stereotyping, right? Seen one, you seen ’em all. God. I sound like my worst enemy.” We left that site then and went somewhere else where we shot droids, not humans."
I understand that this may have been Schreck illustrating the stereotype, but the scene still made me angry enough to stop reading the book for a few days. My best friend is Muslim, and I dislike anything that insinuates, in any way, that people from any race are interchangeable, that they are all to blame for one evil act. I cannot stomach that ignorance, and it makes me angry that Schreck thought this would be the best way to illustrate her point.
The Final Say: While He Was Away is not a novel that offers anything new to the discussion of military life, both off and on the war front.
Release Date: March 1, 2012 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 367 FYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: March 1, 2012 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 367 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: In writing a story set outside reality (paranormal/dystopian/fantasy/etc.), the writer runs the risk of never giving enough information to justify that story. Reading is considered a form of escape--we pick up books to experience different worlds, but if the author isn't careful, the illusion is easily shattered and they are left with dissatisfied readers. Embrace is a clear example of that pitfall.
Within the YA sphere, there are an awful lot of books that exist because the main character is special. Sometimes the MC is thrust into focus because he/she is the only one who can defeat the bad guy (Harry Potter, anyone?), sometimes it's because he/she is the long-lost descendant of another special person. Sometimes it's just because, as it is in Embrace. Violet's mother died when she was born, so she is automatically part-angel. I find this problematic because it seems careless and unfair to people like Violet. Funnily enough, the reluctance to accept her "destiny" that she displays throughout much of the novel is one of the few traits that remain constant about her. As a reader, I need more than the special powers tag to care about a character or want to see that character succeed. I need characters that are more than the sum of their parts: seventeen-year-old, motherless, super pretty, well-off (or at least middle class), part angel. Violet is average, and I don't see any latent potential to be anything more.
The structure of the story itself is as average as Violet. Each chapter, instead of moving along at the quick pace I'm used to from paranormal stories, drags and extends each scene until I felt like I was just watching a really long movie. And it's a shame, because Embrace had the capability to be a commentary on free will and the human privilege vs. right to choose a certain kind of existence. The mythology behind the angels is introduced fairly early on--though it was delivered in a very cliche manner--and I wanted more of that backstory. Instead, Shirvington chooses to introduce another hot boy and have him and Lincoln represent the choice that Violet needs to make.
It's that kind of lazy conceptualization that I find most disappointing in YA. Teenagers are not shallow, and when stories like this are put out there for them to consume, it only adds to the cycle that the general public laments on a daily basis. When a story about the power of choice and knowledge dissolves into nothing more than a love triangle, it is massively disappointing. This is not to say that a well-written love triangle has no place in YA. But if the situations were reversed, if Violet was a boy, torn between two girls, would it be as appealing? Would readers still want more romance or would they be more interested in the themes of the story? What if Lincoln and Violet had become best friends, partners and comrades in the fight against fallen angels? And my biggest question: why does a romantic relationship have to exist in order to make the plot move along?
Embrace is not an awful book. But it is a symptom of the general consensus that many readers are making about their own society and relationships. Love is grand, love is great, and yes, it even makes the world go round. But love in itself can be wrong and it can be damaging. A story about the dangers of wanting too much and not loving yourself enough to know your limits should know better than to perpetuate an illusion.
The Final Say: Readers looking for predictable, casual YA paranormal fare will find much to enjoy in Embrace, but otherwise? Skip it....more
Release Date: October 1, 2011 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 25You can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: October 1, 2011 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 256 Format: Paperback Source: ARC from Raincoast Books
Jasmine Evans knows one thing for sure... people make mistakes. After all, she is one. Jaz is the result of a onenight stand between a black football player and a blonde princess. Having a young mother who didn't raise her, a father who wants nothing to do with her and living in a small-minded town where she's never fit in hasn't been easy. But she's been surviving. Until she sees her mom's new boyfriend making out with her own best friend. When do you forgive people for being human or give up on them forever?
Discovery: I'd been eyeing this book for a few days when the lovely Raincoast Books publicist sent it to me for review. I don't tend to come across books with non-white characters (and that's an issue that would take another long blog post to address), so I made a point to set aside time for this one.
+ Character development. Jasmine is a prickly character, and so are many of her family members and friends. No one in this book is a straightforward "goodie" or "baddie," though Jasmine discovers that in the course of the story. A writing professor once told me that a good story is one in which change occurs naturally, because the characters learn to integrate it into their lives. Jasmine doesn't have an easy time of it, but she tries, and that's what drives the story forward. She is a curious and brave girl, who can't seem to see her own self-worth, which I will admit made the story a little difficult to read. However, I did see her potential and I'm glad that I stuck around to see her grow into a more mature young woman.
+ Themes. I address this issue a bit reluctantly, because I don't want to get into the whole mess surrounding racial discrimination and prejudice. That's something I'm not comfortable discussing on the internet, because words on a screen can't project actual expressions or tone. It's too easy to fall into awkward situations or involuntary rudeness.
That said, I will tell you--in the interest of full disclosure--that I have experienced racism. I am very familiar with the walls that Jasmine builds around herself and the fears that she pretends she doesn't have. There were times when reading this book became really uncomfortable, not because of the characters, but the emotions that their experiences dredged up in me. Not every reader is going to be as affected as I was, but Jasmine's story will ring true for anyone who's "different" and is treated that way.
I also loved how Gurtler wrote about loyalty and its importance in Jasmine's life. She places stock in kindness and compassion, though like any other human being, Jasmine doesn't always make the right decisions. Above all else, this book is about a girl who is trying, step by step, to figure out who she is regardless of colour, family and friends.
Recommendations: Readers of any age will appreciate Jasmine's signature voice and clear-eyed view of the world around her.
Release Date: December 1, 2011 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 2You can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: December 1, 2011 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 281 Format: Paperback Source: Finished copy received from publisher
Tell Me More: For about five or six weeks, I debated whether to even pick this book up. While there isn't a lot of contemporary YA that I won't read, the premise just didn't strike me as anything impressive or unique. (The tagline made me choke on air.) Then the reviews started pouring in. Friends whose tastes in books are similar to mine were practically pushing Catching Jordan into my hands and insisting I would love it. What can I say? I'm a graceful loser, and it's all because of Miranda Kenneally's prose.
Jordan's story is rather predictable, and I winced several times because of her obvious attempts at being one of the boys. After the first few chapters, however, I stopped reading for the story. Kenneally's real talent lies in her dialogue and description. I found myself laughing so hard I collapsed onto my pillows at some of the one-liners she gives her characters. Where John Green throws witty, intellectual banter, Kenneally is a master at gritty locker-room teasing. There is an honesty about her characters that makes you hope for them, even if you can guess where everything's headed.
Part of that hope lies in the romance. While I didn't swoon, I did giggle at the comedy of errors in which Jordan finds herself. I was impressed with the way Kenneally handled the theme of trust and what it means for boys and girls alike. She lets her characters ask questions of each other and of themselves that I think many YA writers shy away from. She gives them space to breathe, to make mistakes and find the courage to admit to those flaws and weaknesses. Again, there aren't many surprises in this book, but I don't think readers will mind that. If anything, I think this new take on a romantic comedy will leave them seeing familiar love stories in a new light.
The Final Say: For a truly enjoyable and smart romance, Catching Jordan should be your first pick....more
Release Date: May 1, 2012 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 384 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from author/publisher
Tell Me More: Over the last six months, mermaid novels have multiplied, quickly being touted as the new "angels" of YA. After all, the ocean is the last great frontier, and no one knows exactly what is to be found in its deepest corners. Zoraida Cordova's debut novel The ViciousDeep is a crackingly honest story about a boy who discovers just how many secrets can lie under the waves.
There is no one like Tristan Hart. At once irreverent and introverted, passionate and shy, he is just one of the story's many enigmas. His narration is well-paced, his voice unmistakable and vibrant. Zoraida's characterization sold me on this boy who is, quite literally, in the middle of two worlds and made me worry and cheer for him. I am hesitant to label him as a "jock," even though he heads the swim team, because he doesn't seem like he cares enough about it. But neither could he be termed an "outcast"--his moments of arrogance will have you rolling your eyes more than once. The complex nature of his character kept me interested even in chapters where I could pick out the next few plot twists.
Speaking of plot, the initial exposition was a bit tedious and unevenly paced. You aren't given enough time to let Tristan's world sink in before some major changes start to happen, and if you're a fast reader like me, it's double whiplash. Once the plot hits its stride, however, it steadily builds to the climax with lots of great scenes between Tristan and his family and friends. I appreciated how Zoraida took the time to give each of her characters both shining and rusty moments--it helps to solidify their voice in my mind, especially Layla. She took shape almost immediately in my head and I loved that she was confident and comfortable speaking her mind. She could have easily been overshadowed by Tristan, but I got the sense that they are each other's halves in a way. There's something each of them need to be a whole person and they haven't quite realized what it is yet.
Lastly, the mythology that Zoraida creates in The Vicious Deep is remarkable, because it is at once familiar and novel enough to turn heads. I loved the structure and clarity of hierarchy that is displayed. When a story's background is thought out well, it becomes invisible to the reader. It wasn't easy picking out things that could have been improved, backstory-wise, and that's something to be lauded.
The Final Say: The Vicious Deep will draw readers into a realm of skin-prickling mystery and brilliant characterization--I dare anyone not to find something to like in this thrilling new YA series....more