This was pretty fun, and definitely refreshing in terms of the type of paranormal YA novels we usually see. I especially liked the girl positive/girlThis was pretty fun, and definitely refreshing in terms of the type of paranormal YA novels we usually see. I especially liked the girl positive/girl power undertones and that the made character isn't a one and only savior of the world type character, despite her hidden talents. The dynamic with the love interest, Tucker, is pretty fun too, despite that the will they, won't they dragged on far too long. This is pretty much all plot, there's not a lot of character growth and development, but the plot does move at a quick clip, so that didn't bother me like it usually would. There's an incredibly irksome info dump about the mythology behind the story courtesy of Loki near the end, unfortunately. Gah! That drives me nuts. I also didn't really need the extra conflict near the end of the novel between Ellie and Tucker--there was plenty of drama and action to keep the story moving.
Honestly, though, this was a fun, quick read and I'd recommend it to someone looking for a lighter paranormal story.
NTS: Saw the author at a panel at Powells and it sounded intriguing....more
Read for my book club. The writing is nice and I appreciate Cam's snarky, bitter voice. However, there was something a bit... contrived... about thisRead for my book club. The writing is nice and I appreciate Cam's snarky, bitter voice. However, there was something a bit... contrived... about this story for me. Maybe it was just a smidgen too gimmicky or had just too much story hooks, but I kept feeling like I could see each moment when the story was just a bit too clever (and now that i know it's an Alloy book, that sort of makes sense). I also think the third person was a strange choice for this story, since the only perspective is Cam's and we don't get a lot of depth from the other characters, but that's a personal taste thing. With that said, it's still a well-done book, so... for me, this was just okay, but I bet a lot of other people will feel/have felt differently....more
I am desperately seeking a kick-ass survival book. If I hear that a book involves lifeboats and/or being marooned on a island, I am all over it.
As a result, I had high hopes for S.A. Bodeen’s young adult survival novel, The Raft.
Unfortunately, like the other survival story I read this year, The Lifeboat, The Raft didn’t live up to my (very high) expectations. With that said, I think there’s an audience that will enjoy this lost-at-sea, Hatchet-style novel.
Robie is a 15-year old with an unusual life. Her parents are researchers and she lives on Midway Island. She frequently hops a ride on the cargo plane between Midway and Honolulu, where her aunt lives and has a measure of independence that’s unusual for someone so young. It’s on one of these trips to visit her aunt that she leaves suddenly, following a frightening encounter with a stranger on the street. Because the phone lines are down and her aunt is out of town, no one knows that Robie’s headed back to Midway.
On the flight back, the plane experiences engine trouble and crashes into the sea. The co-pilot she’s never met before, Max, tosses her a life vest and deploys the plane’s lifeboat. Suddenly she and Max are alone in in the boat, adrift at sea. They have no water. They have no food (except a single bag of Skittles). There are sharks. It’s cold, it’s miserable and their only hope is that someone finds the raft—and soon.
Alone with the stinging of my scalp. Alone with the pain in my chest. Alone with the rain on my face. Alone with my freezing wet clothes, clammy dead weight against my skin. My breathing slowed. Alone with the truth…
The Raft focuses squarely on Robie’s struggle to survive at sea. She copes with sharks (a lot of sharks), mind-numbing twist and the pains of hunger.
This half of the story moves very quickly, but it never feels all that scary. It’s an interesting thing when the plot moves quickly, but it’s not engaging. I broke my Kindle while I was reading this book and even though I’d nearly finished, it took me weeks to remember that I needed to return to it. The quick pacing without tension just didn’t work for me.
I wanted Robie to be terrified, or proactive, or completely morose. Instead, it felt like she was going through the paces of survival because she knew that she was in a YA novel. I knew that she was scared of the sharks, because I’m told that Robie’s scared of the sharks, not because I could ever feel her terror.
I did, however, appreciate the many little touches that shined a light on the environmental issues faced by the world’s oceans.
“Ouch!” I’d stepped on something sharp and I looked down. An albatross chick, only a skeleton, still half feathered with silvery black down, most of the body eaten by crabs. I grabbed a stick and probed inside the ribs, what used to be the gullet, poking at a pile of red plastic. Caps from plastic bottles, fake plastic cherries, even a red toy soldier missing one arm. I shook my head. One of that season’s chicks whose parents had inadvertently killed it. When adult albatross fished on the surface of the ocean, they mainly feasted on squid eggs. But, with all the garbage in the ocean, this chick’s parents must have honed in on the color red, and ended up filling their chick’s belly with plastic. So it starved to death even though it thought its belly was full. It had been full, just full of the wrong stuff.
It makes sense that Robie is aware of these issues because of her parents’ work and living on Midway. For a younger audience, this exposition—which is well-integrated into the context of the story—could be very enlightening and moving. I’ve heard that parent-child book clubs are a thing these days, and because of this (and several of the decisions Robie has to make), The Raft would make an excellent book for discussion in a group like that.
I had other two big issues with The Raft.
The first was that animal death is used quite a bit to create tension and emotion, and I am just so weary of that plot device. It’s not graphic or anything (otherwise, I would have stopped reading), but this is one of my hot button issues, so it’s got to be done very, very well for me not to be bothered. Obviously, in a survival book, there’s a high likelihood of animals dying. But, it was crafted in a way that it was used to illustrate Robie’s emotions (these moments are one of the few times she really seems to experience authentic emotion).
The second is that I wished that the psychological implications of what happened would have been explored more. This is a short book, I know, but I felt like that wasn’t addressed as much as I would have liked (the book focuses very much on the physical survival aspect). The Raft had the misfortune of landing in my reading sequence shortly after Miracle, which is an equally short book that explores the aftermath of a plane crash. The subtle peeling away of the damage resulting from being a sole survivor was so well done in Elizabeth Scott’s book that even though The Raft dealt with immediate, physical survival, I wanted more in terms of the emotional side of the story.
There’s a pretty big twist about two-thirds in, which I suspected, but it made a lot of sense for the story. I think younger readers (I’m thinking middle school age), however, will find the twist fairly shocked and thrilling. But as someone who’s read a number of this type of book, I called it early on.
And that’s a bit of the lingering frustration I had with The Raft. While it’s marketed as a teen title, it felt a bit young, more like something for the 11-13 year old crowd. The messages are pretty clear and somewhat heavy-handed and there’s not the nuance that I’m used to reading in many YA novels. However, if it were marketed to the younger crowd, I would feel very differently about The Raft. I know it’s pretty typical for tweens to “read up,” so perhaps that was the intent with this story?
Interestingly, while I love survival stories, I generally find fictional ones to be lacking the tension and compelling human drama found in excellent non-fiction accounts such as Into Thin Air. I always find myself feeling like the stakes aren’t high enough, that everything falls into place too conveniently, when the very nature of survival is inconvenient. Furthermore, in great non-fiction accounts the survival stories and human stories are interwoven—in novels they often fall too strongly in one direction or the other. Perhaps I simply need to abandon my search for an excellent fictional version when there are so many outstanding real accounts that far exceed that which an author can imagine.
FNL Character Rating: Early Julie Taylor
Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley....more
3.5 stars (4.5 for presentation & innovation, 3 for the story)
Chopsticks is best described as a graphic novel... sort of... about forbidden teenag3.5 stars (4.5 for presentation & innovation, 3 for the story)
Chopsticks is best described as a graphic novel... sort of... about forbidden teenage love and mental illness.
But that's not a particularly descriptive description.
Part scrapbook, part narrative, Chopsticks in an innovative approach to storytelling. This contemporary YA tells the story of Glory and Frank, next door neighbors that fall in love and are rapidly split apart by both distance and Glory's father. Glory is a piano prodigy slowly descending into a dark world, where she's only able to play Chopsticks on the piano and obsesses over Frank's drawings. Frank is a gifted artist who's failing out of his prestigious prep school. Chopsticks takes the reader through the couple's tale in photo, snippets of IMs, YouTube video links, drawings and mementos from their relationship.
Beyond the IMs and occasional scraps of paper with notes and lists, there are no words in Chopsticks.
If you've read Jay-Z's book, Decoded, (which I highly recommend--get the print edition, if you're usually a digital reader, it's so worth it), you'll recognize designer Rodrigo Corral's design work. Like in Decoded it's visually rich and extremely nuanced. I'm a design nut, teach at an art college and studied art history quite a bit in college, so this type of work is extremely compelling for me.
The design is stunning, and as a result, I found myself absolutely engrossed in the Glory and Frank's story.
With that said, there's nothing particularly standout-ish about the story contained within each visually-stunning page. It's essentially boy meets girl, parent separates boy and girl and Very Bad Things happen during that separation. Ultimately, I didn't care about what happened to Glory and Frank--I cared how it looked. I loved the book, not the story.
Nevertheless, I'm certain teens--the intended audience--will gobble up this star-crossed lovers story, and likely embrace the edgy nature of the storytelling. I know I would have at that age.
The strength in Chopsticks lies with the presentation, and that's what I took away from the reading experience.
Chopsticks is also available as an iPhone/iPad/iPod app, and I'm dying to check it out--in that form, "reading" it would be quite different. Not better or worse, just different. I found myself lingering over the pages, examining all the fine details of the images, and I loved that. In digital form that exploration would be different. The videos are playable in the app, the photos are zoomable and the drawings are animated. I imagine the novel would feel less like a book and more like, well, an experience.
If you're a Tumblr addict like me, the novel's Tumblr is also worth a follow, as it augments the book as well as teases if you're yet to experience Chopsticks.
Verdict: Recommended for readers; Highly Recommended for design nuts & folks interested in alternative story-telling.
I really loved this... totally fresh and unique in terms of presentation. The book package itself is incredible, the story is good, not great. I'll write a more thorough review soon after I chew on this one for a bit. Definitely recommended....more
Meh. Reads like a fanfic mashup of every popular trope and theme in YA. Also, this is one of those YA books that likely would've been far better as anMeh. Reads like a fanfic mashup of every popular trope and theme in YA. Also, this is one of those YA books that likely would've been far better as an adult novel. Not recommended, though I didn't have the issues that some folks did. The writing is fine, and the narrator actually has a fun voice (sarcastic and good humored), so some may enjoy it. ...more
"May God forgive me for this and all these things I’ve done."
Looking at the books I've read the last year, dystopians have been the biggest bombs. Since everyone jumped on the futuristic, world-gone-to-pot bandwagon, there's just not a lot of fresh, creative takes in the overly-saturated dystopian sub-genre.
As a result, when I bought Gabrielle Zevin's All These Things I've Done when it was a Kindle Daily Deal, my expectations were incredibly low, but I figured at a buck or two, it was a low-risk proposition.
I was surprised that All These Things I've Done--despite wildly disparate reviews from readers whose opinions I trust--was a fresh and compelling entry amidst a slew of uninspiring dystopian trilogies. It's the 2083 and Anya Balanchine, daughter of a notorious--and murdered--crime boss, spends her days trying to hold her fractured family together in a future New York City where commodities including chocolate, caffeine, paper and cotton are illegal or hard-to-obtain. At 16 Anya's tasked with caring for her ailing grandmother (who's her legal guardian) and her siblings, including her older brother who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of her family's involvement in organized crime.
"I wasn’t an expert on the chocolate ban as it had happened before I was born, but there were definite similarities. Daddy had always told me that there was nothing inherently evil about chocolate, that it had gotten caught up in a larger whirlwind involving food, drugs, health, and money. Our country had only chosen chocolate because the people in power needed to pick something, and chocolate was what they could live without. Daddy once said, 'Every generation spins the wheel, Anya, and where it lands defines ‘the good.’ Funny thing is, they never know that they’re spinning it, and it hits something different every time.'"
She works hard to keep herself out of trouble so she can legally care for her younger sister once her grandmother passes away from an extended illness. She's prickly and unbending, which means she has very specific expectations of herself, her role in her family and how others must behave. She's judgmental and not necessarily "relatable," though she has wit and humor that made me root for her.
"The theme of the dance was “Great Romances,” or some such nonsense. There were projections of supposedly great couples from the past on the walls of the gym. Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Hermione and Ron, Bonnie and Clyde, etc. I don’t think most of them met a particularly good end, but I suspect this was an irony that entirely bypassed the event’s organizers."
That changes her ex-boyfriend is poisoned by illegal chocolate she gave him. She's quickly suspected of the crime and her carefully-managed life begins to unfurl.
"Triage was something I understood very well. It was the organizing principle of my entire life."
Anya finds herself dragged into the underworld controlled by her extended family--this is, naturally, complicated further when she begins a flirtation and then relationship with the new Assistant District Attorney's son, Win (Goodwin). While All These Things I've Done could have strayed into "yet another dystopian romance" territory at (looking at you Delirium/Matched/Etc), Zevin manages to create an unusual and gripping story in which the romance actually makes sense within the context of the world and the characters' story arc.
The other thing that struck me about the romance between Anya and Win is that its progression is slow and thoughtful. Again, this is where All These Things I've Done diverges from so many YA dystopian novels. We actually get to see their relationship progress from attraction to something bigger. And, Win is respectful of Anya and what she's comfortable with in their relationship. She's Catholic and her beliefs collide with what she wants out of her new boyfriend--it's interesting and different.
“It’s not you I’m worried about, Win! It’s me!” It was embarrassing to talk about how much I feared losing control of myself when I was around him. I felt feral, savage, violent even, unlike myself. It disturbed me and shamed me. I hadn’t been to confession in months.
“I’m not a virgin, Annie. Do you think that means I’m going to Hell?” he asked.
I know some readers will be bothered by the numerous religious references in All These Things I've Done, but it's important in terms of Anya's character development and understanding the world her character lives in and how those beliefs are challenged by Win, the first person who really makes her examine her beliefs and possibly adjust her rigid expectations of herself and others.
All These Things I've Done is told in an unusual, reflective, past-tense memoir style that I think will be hit or miss for readers.
I really liked it. It creates a feeling that the narrator always knows a bit more than the reader, and she plays with the reader a bit.
"(NB: This is foreshadowing, dear readers—more and deeper humiliations to come … )"
On the other hand, it made me more conscious that I was reading a book, which meant I was never really absorbed in the novel until the fast-paced concluding chapters. (All These Things I've Done has an outstanding conclusion.) But like so much with this novel, the well-executed different feel to the writing compensated for this distraction.
All These Things I've Done is a dystopian that's not going to work for everyone, but if you've had burnout from this sort of novel, it's worth a try. It's fresh and different and sometimes that's more than enough to make for a worthwhile read. The last few chapters were so engaging that I cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel, Because It Is My Blood.
FNL Character Rating: Tyra (Potential)
Initial Reaction: The first 75% was probably a 3 star book but I loved the last quarter. The main character is pretty prickly so I can see how this would be hit or miss for folks. I'll definitely read the next book soon. The premise is pretty unusual and I really appreciated that the rest of the world is actually, you know, present in this novel, since that's a rarity in YA dystopians....more