What I liked: Well, my 8th grade girls really love this series. They read all of the books in this series compulsively; some girls even read them more than once. They get as excited about this series as I get about The Hunger Games, Num8ers, and Chaos Walking. My students' love of this series is really enough for me to like it, even if it is based on that alone. The storyline is interesting enough, and I eventually came to actually like Rose as a character.
What I didn't like: I really wish I liked this one more than I do. It is just really difficult to care about Rose and Lissa, neither of whom I find very likeable. Rose reminds me so much of Angelina Jolie (from the photo on the cover to the kick-ass tough bitch characters Jolie likes to play in movies). The problem is, I can't stand Angelina Jolie or her movies. Even though whiny Lissa is supposed to be so sweet and caring and selfless, I found her to be mean-spirited at times. Further, the slow plot put me to sleep more than once; it took me about a week to finish this 336-page book.
Front Cover: Angelina Jolie look-alike. Bad decision.
Content: Language: moderate-high; a few F's and S's, among others. Sexuality: moderate-high; nothing actually happens, but sex is discussed many times. Intense kissing and sensual vampire bites. Lots of mention of "blood whores." Violence: Moderate; Animal cruelty; some fighting; self-mutilation Drugs/Alcohol: Moderate; teens drink beer or talk about getting drunk; vampire saliva is a form of drug for humans/dhampirs
Overall Rating: Highly Recommended for high schools simply because students really love it. Same for middle schools, despite mature content. Librarians, teachers, parents are always advised to read and make their own decisions. While other librarians will likely disagree, it stays on my shelves because my girls just love it.
What I liked: I cannot say how much I loved the previous book, Num8ers. I remember staying up until 3:30am to finish it, and I still could not sleep after I finished because I kept thinking and thinking about it. I still get my misty-eyes-excitement look when I think about that last shocking paragraph. Num8ers was simply an amazing book.
The Cha0s is also a good book, but I am not as excited about it as I am about its predecessor. I still finished relatively quickly--in 3 days, which is pretty good for me during the school year. In both books, Ward paints characters that are realistically flawed. Characters smell bad, shave their hair off, get badly burned, chain smoke, swear (a lot), are abuse victims, skip school, struggle with reading...So many YA fiction authors write heroes and heroines who are beautiful and smart and have hot bods; it's refreshing to read about teens who could be sitting right next to you in class, survivors who are more street-smart than beautiful. Getting to know them, readers discover their inner strength and love them despite their many flaws.
Books set in the future are always a hit with me and, perhaps as a result of that, with my students. Ward excels at creating a near-future world where citizens easily become enemies of the state. It is easy to see how out-of-control governments that steal personal liberties could easily lead to the problems that plague London in The Cha0s.
What I didn't like: The Cha0s just does not reach the greatness of Num8ers. It's a great story though, and I can't wait to read the next book.
What I liked: More, please!!! The Stand, The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking, and now Ashes. I do love me some apocalyptic fiction, and I read Ashes compulsively. I read it at the breakfast table, in the closet waiting out a tornado warning, in the bathroom, in the car, at the eye doctor, at the gym. I even skipped the American Idol Finale to finish it. When I wasn't reading it, I was talking it up to others or thinking about it. Quite simply, literary euphoria.
While there are relatively few characters for much of the book, the main three (Alex, Tom, and Ellie) are complex, courageous, and believably flawed. Alex's sardonic references to her brain tumor show that while she accepts that the tumor will eventually kill her, she won't be going down without a fight. She's a survivor who can navigate the wilderness and isn't at all squeamish around guns and knives. While at first Tom seems a bit too good to be true, he's clearly battling his own demons and, like Alex, does not back down from doing what's necessary to survive. Little Ellie is understandably bitter and has been through more than any eight-year old girl should; readers will easily forgive her bad attitude once they learn more about her struggles. She's only eight, after all.
Bick sets up a love triangle that I can't wait to see develop in second book. While both romances are a bit predictable, the leading men are likeable enough that many readers will root for them both. Bick left herself lots of room to expand both male characters in later books; there is more to them than meets the eye.
What I didn't like: The events of the last 50 pages happen so quickly that they are confusing. I closed the book and thought, "What just happened there?" Like Alex, I have lots of unanswered questions, which leaves me anticipating the sequel even more.
Language: mild-medium; language is sprinkled throughout, but it is not at all gratuitous
Sexuality: mild-medium; some kissing, talk of young women being necessary to continue species; a couple of references to menstruation
Violence: extremely high; very graphic descriptions of "The Changed" eating various human body parts; several murders; lots of gore and blood. Not for weak stomachs.
Drugs/Alcohol: nothing more than aspirin, ibuprofen for pain; medical drugs in surgery and cancer treatments
Status in my library: Oh, the conflict! I would love to get this one and can think of several students who would definitely love it. The gore is my main concern, and I rarely reject a book for the library based solely on violence. I do get tons of requests for "the scariest book in the library" or "a book with murders," and Ashes would fit both. Requests for "zombie books" can be difficult to fill, and this would satisfy that niche as well. As gory as it is, I do believe there is a middle school audience for Ashes. As a former middle schooler myself, I know I would have loved it. (less)
Overall Rating: While this book wasn't really for me, I wholeheartedly recommend this one for middle school boys who like lots of action, war scenes, learning about Viking culture.
What I liked: I can remember studying the Vikings for the first time in fourth grade. We had a young student teacher who knew much about Viking culture and passed that along to the 32 eager young minds in Ms. Schiffanelli's class. Viking culture is just plain interesting, and Roberts has no doubt done his homework. He seamlessly intertwines Norse mythology, poetry, war, and daily Viking life with Viking and world history. Roberts' enthusiasm for Viking culture shows in his descriptions of their clothing, homes, families, and customs. While certainly violent, the brutality of the story's events believably reflect Viking culture and challenge the stereotypical brutal, barbaric pirates that pervade many of today's Viking stories.
What I didn't like: This is very much a story intended for male readers. Where are the female characters? The only women in the story are Halfdan's mother, stepmother, half-sister, and a few slaves and wives. While women at the time may have been seen less than heard, I found myself longing for a young female counterpart to Halfdan. War, sparring, feasting, multiple rapes, and bloody animal sacrifices are exciting, but I personally missed the female perspective. The lives of Viking women must be at least as interesting as the warrior side; perhaps Roberts explores this in the sequel.
Sexuality: multiple rapes, but none are described. The reader knows they happen, but they take place off-screen.
Violence: High--animal sacrifice, blood, gore, murder, kidnapping and rape
Drugs/Alcohol: the Vikings drink "mead" and Halfdan is hungover the next day
Status in my library: We do not have it, but I plan to purchase it. There is definitely a market for middle school boys. (less)
GIVE IT TO: anyone who loves an intricately-told story
WHAT I LIKED: I LOVED, LOVED this book! This is DeStefano's debut novel, and I look so forward to the next one. From the first few pages, I was sucked into the story immediately and stayed riveted right up to the very last page. The characters are unique and drawn so well, readers will feel like they know them. Even Rhine's forced husband and captor Linden is likeable; I felt almost as sorry for him as I did for his three wives.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I loved the entire book. This book rocks!
LANGUAGE: mild; a light sprinkling of damns and GDs
SEXUALITY: medium; forced marriage with intercourse; a pregnant 13-year old "wife"; discussion of prostitution as a way of life for many girls
VIOLENCE: mild; mainly just some talk of body dissection in the basement (implied and never specifically described)
DRUGS/ ALCOHOL:teen "wives" drink wine at parties
FRONT COVER: GORGEOUS! The beautiful girl in a beautiful dress on the cover will make Wither an easy-sell in any library.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, but I mainly talk it up with 8th grade girls (due to mature content)
READALIKES:Matched; The Hunger Games; The Maze Runner; Delirium; any number of recently-published YA dystopias
Overall: 4/5--Really good but slow in parts
Creativity: 5/5; while I have read many YA dystopias, this one's uniqueness stands on its own
Characters: 3/5; loved some characters, annoyed by others
Engrossing: 3/5; parts are engrossing, parts are slow
Appeal to teens: 4/5; many will love it; dystopian fiction is hot right now
Appropriate length to tell the story: 3/5; a little too long and slow. I can see some of my students abandoning it before they give it a chance.
Sexuality: medium; two incidents of sexual humiliation (a boy feels a girl's breasts through her shirt; a girl's towel is taken when she has just showered); some intense kissing and talk of sex
Violence: high; multiple murders and attempted murders; a suicide; teens handle guns and knives multiple times; multiple death-defying experiences; lots of blood, injuries, death
Drugs/Alcohol: medium; teens are considered adults at 16 and get drunk in two scenes
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On order. Divergent is on the 2012-2013 Lone Star Reading List, so it will be getting lots of requests soon. I will also recommend it to certain students (those who loved The Maze Runner, The Knife of Never-Letting Go, and Delirium).
WARNING: The reviews on this site are intended for librarians who need thorough book reviews in order to make informed purchasing decisions. As such, anything below this warning may contain mild spoilers. I try not to give away too much, but I do review the entire book.
WHAT I LIKED: Let me just put this out there for those who didn't already know: Dystopia has been my FAVORITE genre since I first read Orwell's 1984 in college. Since the publication of The Hunger Games, the dystopia genre has exploded in YA literature, blessedly draining some of the life from the vampire/paranormal craze. That said, it's really no surprise to me that, despite its flaws, I really enjoyed Divergent. I love the unique premise of choosing factions, how the factions represent different virtues and blame war for a lack of those virtues. The factions are well-defined, and it is easy to see how they both help to solve the problem of war and create new problems at the same time.
I really liked the character Four. He is a perfect exercise in contradictions; the tough-but-sensitive, fearless-but-afraid, thinking-but-impulsive, hot-then-cold boy that makes teen girls swoon. He is a good match for Tris and helps remind readers that Tris is, in fact, a girl.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I have seen some very high praise for Divergent, but to me, the plot is sluggish at times. Once I was "into" the story, I read the entire thing straight through, but in the first 200 pages, I could honestly have taken or left it. While I can see many of my middle schoolers enjoying Divergent, I can see many more abandoning it before the story really has a chance.
While I appreciate and understand Tris's toughness, I got irritated with Tris from time to time. She is so tough that she seems too boyish. She is flat-chested and skinny, further enhancing a boyish image of Tris. For some reason, it bothers me that Tris is so masculine, especially when a large part of the storyline is her romance with Four. She is a hothead who seems to always be angry or upset about something; the only way she deals with angry feelings is to get revenge or punch someone's lights out. That is understandable considering the faction she chooses, but for me, it was a bit of overkill. She just seems so pissed all the time.
The final reveal of the "mastermind" behind the whole plan/climax of the story also seems a bit "Scooby-Doo" to me. Characters discover the extent of the evil plan because the criminal responsible for it goes into a lengthy confessional for no apparent reason.
Despite its flaws, Divergent is a promising debut from author Veronica Roth; while the story is not perfect, I look forward to reading the next series installment: Insurgent, due in May 2012.(less)
Overall Rating: Neutral opinion; there are some high school girls (and probably even some guys) who would like this book. With lots of Central Florida geographic references, I can see it being especially popular in Florida high schools.
What I liked: The title rocks! It's why I picked up this book in the first place. The characters are likeable and real, to the point that Margarita reminds me of my long-lost high school friend Jessica. Margarita's confidence and positive self-image is truly refreshing. She loves herself and is honest about her weight and her brash personality. She is not perfect and does not always do the right thing, but she grows throughout the story and learns from her mistakes. She is fun and real, and many teens will relate to her. Margarita's gay best friend Lucas complements her character beautifully, and readers will like him easily. He is a little guardian angel on Margarita's shoulder, keeping her grounded and challenging her to think. He loves her and does everything he can to help ensure she lives life to the fullest. Who wouldn't want a friend like that?
I like the realistic portrayal of the gay community, which is not something included in many books for teens. Medina includes details of a drag show and the emotional side of homosexual relationships. When Margarita and Lucas get lost in the Florida boondocks, they half-joke about how homosexuals are not accepted outside the cities and could be victims of homophobic violence. Fat Hoochie Prom Queen gives teens, many of whom have never been exposed to it, a better view of the gay community, which may increase tolerance and understanding.
What I didn't like: Margarita drinks (a lot!) and does drugs and generally does not take care of herself at all. She eats really fatty foods and does not care a lick about her health. The story drags in parts; it took me several days to finish this relatively short book. I would like to have seen the romance between Margarita and Redneck Randy better developed.
Sexuality: medium; lots of talk of gay sex and being sexy, but nothing happens beyond an off-screen kiss.
Drugs/Alcohol: very high; characters party and drink excessively (to the point of passing out) and smoke marijuana
MOVIE COMPARISONS:Miss Congeniality meets Lord of the Flies
SPOILER WARNING: The reviews on this my site are intended for librarians who need thorough book reviews in order to make informed purchasing decisions. As such, anything below this warning may contain mild spoilers. I try not to give away too much, but I do review the entire book.
WHAT I LIKED: Funny stuff! I love satire, and the absurdity of the girls' situation made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. While the storyline is far-fetched, Bray's commentary on commercialism and our media-saturated society is spot-on. The "commercial breaks" and product placement footnotes throughout the story will make readers feel like they are watching TV, adding to the air of commercialism throughout the book. The final chapter's catwalk scene is easy to picture as the end of a made-for-TV movie, scrolling a summary of each girl's future as she struts her stuff amid adoring fans and flashing cameras. Being a closet fan of "Toddlers in Tiaras," I liked that I knew some of the pageant terminology (flipper, sparkle hips, princess hair, spirit fingers).
I love the "Fun Facts" profiles of each of the survivors. "Fun Facts" profiles are paperwork each pageant contestant had to fill out about herself when she entered the pageant. Some of the "facts" contain footnotes about how "The Corporation" asked the girls to change their responses to make the contestants appear more wholesome or to make The Corporation look better. Love it!
Characters, particularly the female survivors, are endearing and believable. The girls initially appear to be stereotypically shallow, spoiled beauty queens, but they become more and more believable as the story unfolds. The girls themselves are truly the only realistic part of the story; their apparently pampered lives are anything but easy. Each girl battles her own demons, has her own secrets. I love their individual journeys to self-discovery and how they learn to cooperate to ensure their survival. It's refreshing that, even though they argue at times, the girls work together and become friends rather than dividing into little mean girl cliques.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I was going along just fine for about the first half of the book, chuckling at Bray's wit and marveling at how she could have come up with such a crazy/clever story. Enter the "sexy pirates."
Don't get me wrong. I LOVE romance in YA books, to the point that when it is not included, I often don't get as excited about the book. But for this book, I got irritated with the introduction of romances. UGH. I can only assume that Bray included them to show how easily these tough girls could be swayed by the charms of bare-chested young men. I just felt like the entire story went downhill fast once the pirate ship enters the scene. All of a sudden, the girls have access to modern technology, alcohol, food, real beds, and sex. For me, that drained all the adventure out of the story. It's like they've already been rescued, yet the story still coughs out 150 more pages of ill-conceived one-night stands, absurd arms deals, and a Scooby-Doo-esque "bad guy confession."
While clever, unique, and initially interesting, Beauty Queens is also overlong and just exhausting. I stopped caring about halfway though and seriously considered "abandoning ship" long before I finished.
Language: mild; some cursing lightly sprinkled throughout
Sexuality: high; sexual intercourse (described, videotaped), condom application and use; homosexuality (females); transgender/cross-dressing characters
Violence: mild-moderate; a few murders via spears and other homemade weapons
Drugs/Alcohol: moderate; the girls drink rum and some get drunk; girls eat some berries that have drug-like effects
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We do not have it. It is definitely high school. (less)
What I liked: Great suspense! I truly had no idea where this story was going; my theories kept changing! Kendall is a likeable character, and the outcome of the Kendall-Nico-Jacian love triangle, unpredictable. Readers will sympathize with Kendall's conflicting emotions and strong sense of guilt, especially after Nico disappears.
While the short "We" viewpoints are confusing much of the way through the book, they contribute to the drama and suspense of the story. Many readers will want to go back at the end to reread those sections once they understand the significance of certain phrases. The story's plot unravels slowly, and readers will savor the plot tension. Very cool.
Readers who like A.J. Whitten's The Well will love Cryer's Cross. This short book has a creepy trailer and front cover; even my 3-year old nephew recognized it as a "monster book." McMann has truly given my teen and preteen horror fans good reason to shudder.
What I didn't like: As with The Well, the reason the two students disappeared is intriguing, but it is also a little far-fetched. I also had some questions about why no one else had gone missing in the years immediately prior to the first student's disappearance. Most readers, however, won't mind suspending reality for the sake of plot and drama. This book was just good creepy fun.
Language: medium; some sprinkled language including a few F-bombs Sexuality: mild; some kissing Violence: mild; the explanation of the disappearances is violent and terrible Drugs/Alcohol: none
Status in my library: We don't have it yet, but I added it to my next order. It know it will be popular, so I ordered two copies. (less)
Overall Rating: Neutral opinion. It is certainly a unique Cinderella story, and I have seen several 5-star reviews.
Give it to: Middle school girls who like fairy tale adventures with a side of chaste romance
What I liked: The story is unique. Cinder and Ella splits the character of Cinderella into two different girls, the only two normal sisters in an incredibly dysfunctional family. The sweet romance between Ella and Tanner kept me turning pages when Tanner is forced to retrieve Ella for the prince. I love how Prince Monticello is anything but Charming, another very cool twist on the Cinderella story.
I love Ella's character. The first to see her family for what it is, Ella is smart, courageous, and easy to like. Her sisters are mean to her and her mother completely forgets about her, and Ella sees that reality. Although, she hates her situation, Ella does not try to explain it away or excuse it; she accepts it for what it is and understands that only she can change her own future. At the same time, she still loves her mother and sisters, as evidenced in several tender moments with them throughout the book. She wants them to be safe and happy, but she understands that she cannot force them to change their behavior.
The story is short and simply told, which will appeal to reluctant middle grade readers. The virtual absence of mature content will enable me to recommend Cinder and Ella to even the most immature middle school reader.
What I didn't like: So many unanswered questions! Cinder and Ella has so much more potential, and I feel a bit let down that characters and their personal histories are not better explored. As a former middle school English teacher, one of the first rules of writing is "Show, don't tell." Prince Monticello is evil; Lemon tells readers that several times. But WHY is he so evil? How did he get that way? What is he after? Is he evil simply for the sake of evil? Where did Prince Monticello's relationships with his own parents go wrong? How did the trees come to have a symbiotic relationship with humans? How do people find their own trees (or do they already know where they are)? Do they seek out their trees to make sure they are well-cared for? Are the trees necessarily nearby, or can a person's tree be very far away? Were the brambles strangling Ella's tree magically-induced? Why are they so difficult to cut away? Why do they keep growing back almost right away? Why is Ella's tree at the castle, anyway? What does the prince want with Ella? Why does he fake a romance with Cinder? Why, why, why?
Aside from Ella, the characters tend to be one-dimensional, defined solely by their personal "characteristic." Cinder is the virtuous and hardworking sister. Katrina is the vain one. Beatrice is the bratty baby of the family. The mother is inexplicably uninvolved. Tanner is the chivalrous-but-clumsy knight. Prince Monticello is evil incarnate for no apparent reason. Granted, traditional fairy tales often feature one-dimensional characters; however, traditional fairy tales are not 200-page novels.
The dialogue is stiff and confusing at times. Characters speak to each other calmly, without passion, slang, dialect, or contractions. In the galley copy, some paragraphs include dialogue from more than one speaker, making it sometimes difficult to ascertain who said what. I had to reread several paragraphs because speakers were unclear. A few paragraphs included quoted statements from two different speakers, side by side, without the benefit of non-dialogue. Consider these two statements, made by two different characters, appearing side by side in the same paragraph: "You have not changed, Ella." "Nor have you." (190).
The Prince's fate and willing exit from the castle is way too-easily resolved. The king gives an order, and the Prince obeys. He does not try to fight, come back, trick anyone, or talk his way out of it. He leaves, and that's it.
Cinder comes to Ella's wedding. Why doesn't the rest of her family go? Beatrice didn't even know Ella got married until Ella tells her, so clearly Beatrice at least was not invited.
What happened to Cassandra? I loved that horse, and she just disappears. No comment made about her once they decide to get Ella a new horse. I would have loved if the story ended with Cassandra running in a field and, like Cinder and Ella, happy to be free from the bonds of servitude.
Some small tweaks in writing style will give Cinder and Ella, which has so much more potential, the edge it needs. Since I read a NetGalley copy (months before publication), I am hopeful that Lemon and her editors invest the time to beef up the details to add some color and fragrance and, well, character to the overly-simple plot.
Sexuality: mild--chaste kissing, a drunk man makes mildly sexual jokes/roundabout threats
Violence: mild--two stabbings, one of which does not even draw blood; a swordfight
Drugs/Alcohol: one minor adult character likes to get drunk
Status in my library: It's not out yet, so we do not have it. I do not plan to order it since there are so many better fairy tale retellings available.
Readalikes: Anything by Shannon Hale or Gail Carson Levine. Also the Once Upon a Time series is perfect for middle school fans of fairy tale spin-offs. (less)
WHAT I LIKED: Ooohhh, so much fun! Zombies Don't Cry is definitely one of the more unique books I've read recently; come to think of it, I don't think I've ever read a zombie romantic comedy. As I read, I kept thinking of the 80s comedy Beetlejuice, and I cracked up at the Beetlejuice reference in the last chapter. Like any good campy B-movie, ZDC shows a healthy respect for zombie lore without taking itself too seriously. Darkly funny and action-packed, Zombies kept me turning pages and laughing out loud.
I LOVE the "You Might Be A Zombie" quiz website Maddy finds when she is trying to figure out what has happened to her after the lightning strike (like any American teenager with a serious problem, Maddy Googles to find the answer--love it!). The questions and Maddy's sardonic commentary kept me laughing out loud. Even better, the URL for the site is author Rusty Fischer's website. Awesome.
Maddy's character is easy to like. She is smart, bookish, sarcastic, and adjusts well to her new zombie status. I like that she is neither popular nor unpopular, but she is frequently overlooked because of her outgoing best friend Hazel. While not as developed as Maddy's character, Dane and Chloe are likeable as Maddy's new zombie friends and mentors. Antagonists Bones and Dahlia are evil incarnate, and their characters have little depth outside their desire to humiliate and kill everyone. I kept picturing Natasha from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show as Dahlia. Stamp's character is not at all fleshed-out (pun intended); he remains a big cute (dumb?) jock throughout the entire story.
The novel's timing kept me intrigued. At the very beginning, the reader knows Maddy is a zombie and that she is digging up someone she loves, whom she has bitten to create a new zombie. The reader does not know the identity of the mystery corpse-boyfriend-new zombie or how he got there. The story then backtracks two weeks, when Maddy is still an average high school girl. Some of the mystery of the story is who that boy is, how he died and became reanimated, and what will happen next.
Love the uncertainty of the very last scene! Sets up a great sequel, and I always dig a good love triangle!
With the right director, this darkly funny novel would make a fun Halloween movie for teens
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Most of my "didn't likes" occur at the end.
I never liked selfish, self-centered Hazel, but her revelation to Maddie at the end is especially tragic. If what she tells Maddy in the girls' restroom is true, Maddy's whole social life was a lie. I'd like to know if she has always felt that way, or is her attitude at the end is just an effect of her own outcome?
The final fight scenes go on a little long; during what should have been an exciting climax, I found myself skimming.
One minor detail that got my attention: In the Prologue, the boy in the casket is wearing a blue tux. He is even confused about why he is wearing a blue tux. Why do his parents, who obviously adore him, bury him in a blue tux? Why are there so many blue tuxes when clearly no one wants one? Dane wears a blue tux to the dance because there are no more black tuxes left at the store. It's really so minor, but it bothers me.
Language: mild; a few S's
Sexuality: mild; some chaste kissing
Violence: high; lots of blood and gore, murders, brain-eating--it is not meant to be horrific though, and I doubt it will keep anyone up at night.
Drugs/Alcohol: mild; references to one party where teens probably drink
STATUS IN MY MS LIBRARY (GRADES 6-8): Author Rusty Fischer sent me a newly published copy of ZDC to review, and it is now going in my library. I have no doubt it will be popular, and I already know one 7th grade boy in particular I will recommend it to. We do get some requests for zombie books, and this one fits the bill easily. Great for middle or high school zombie fans. (less)
SUMMARY: In post-apocalyptic Iowa following a super-caldera volcanic eruption at Yellowstone, teens Alex and Darla attempt to survive long enough to find Alex's family.
WHAT I LIKED:
Love the characters! For most of the story, Ashfall has only two major characters, and Mullin takes his time developing both as likeable and believably-flawed. I love how Alex is genuinely noble but never seems to realize it. Even though Alex admits to fighting too much with his mother, he misses her and his family dearly. The trek is treacherous and will take forever, but it never occurs to Alex to stop looking for his family, even while facing insurmountable odds. He badly wants to help people along the way, and he takes it hard when his attempts are unsuccessful. He cares so much for Darla that when he says he'd die for her, you can believe it.
Darla, whom Alex meets along the way, is strong and smart, despite her admitted struggles in school. I love seeing a female character who is a genius with machines! Like Alex, Darla isn't perfect--she curses too much, can be rude, and is quite stubborn at times--but that just makes her more real. Darla and Alex make a great team; I doubt they could have lasted very long without each other. While not always easy, their relationship is convincing and sweet.
Love the suspense! I kept asking myself, "How on earth are they going to get out of this?" The suspense kept me turning pages into the wee hours. Some parts are so heart-wrenching, I gasped out loud and put my hand over my mouth. When I wasn't reading, I was thinking about the book, working over in my mind if so-and-so were conceivable, how they would ever get out of this, and what could possibly happen next.
I loved reading the Author's Note at the end, where Mullin describes his research into historic volcanic eruptions and how Yellowstone is, in fact, a colossal volcano that has erupted three times before, the last being 640,000 years ago (457). Like Pfeffer's The Dead and the Gone, Ashfall depicts an event so believably catastrophic, it makes me want to stock up on my bottled water and canned goods. And skis.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
There really isn't much I disliked about this book; I truly devoured it from start to finish. If I had to say one thing I'd change, it would be in the lack of physical description of Darla and Alex. While Mullin developed Alex and Darla's characters very well, I don't even know what color hair or eyes either has, whether they are tall or short, chunky or skinny, what their facial features are like.
Language: mild--a few GDs
Sexuality: medium--a rape (not explicitly described); some appreciation of female body parts; mild description of male body parts; kissing; some talk of prostitution (which never occurs in the context of the story); very off-the-page intercourse
Violence: high--several bloody murders; cannibalism (one lady tells a particularly disturbing story of cannibalism); lots and lots of death
SEQUEL: Ashen Winter, scheduled for 2012
READALIKES: The Dead and the Gone series (Pfeffer); Ashes (Bick)
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY (GRADES 6-8): Ashfall is a must for high school libraries. We don't have it (not out yet), but I plan to purchase it for my high school collection. Middle school librarians should read it first to make an informed decision. I personally think many middle school readers will be fine with it, but some are not ready for the violence, rape scene, and cannibalism. This is why I plan to shelve Ashfall in my high school section.
OVERALL RATING: Neutral opinion; not really my thing
WHAT I LIKED: First of all, I have to say that Neal Shusterman is already a YA legend. The author of over 30 YA books, Shusterman's novels never cease to be edgy, unique, and crazy-creative. He has written so many different books of vastly different genres and storylines that I can't imagine how there is room in one brain for all that.
Okay, so yeah, I'm a fan. When I sat down to read Bruiser, I had high expectations right from the start. I love when different characters tell the story from their own perspectives, and four different characters narrate Bruiser at various points in the story. Each character has his/her own voice, and Shusterman does this so well that I can tell who is speaking without the person's name at the beginning of each section. I especially love Brewster's voice, which is appropriately poetic.
I love how Bruiser, Tennyson, and Bronte's chapter titles are SAT-ish vocabulary words. Seventy-five cent words, as my former English teacher used to call them. Humorously off-setting this are 8-year old Cody's more simple chapters, all of which are titled "Stuff." Awesome.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I think I fell victim to my own high expectations on this one. I know several people who have praised Bruiser big-time. Goodreads ratings are well into the 4s, which means lots of people love this book. I just wasn't feeling this one. Realistic fiction is not my favorite genre to begin with, but Bruiser could also be classified as paranormal (which I love). The story is a little quiet at times; lots of thinking and reflecting going on in the story. While I love Cody's voice and character, Tennyson's self-centered-ness and Bronte's whiny, Little Miss Perfect-ness really got under my skin at times.
Too much thinking and talking; too little action. At only 300+ pages, it was too long and slow for me.
Language: none Sexuality: some chaste kissing Violence: medium; physical abuse of a child (described) Drugs/Alcohol: adult characters drink, one drinks excessively
READALIKES: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halprin (Berk); Gifted (Evangelista); Playing with Fire (Prue)
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, and it is on the 2011-2012 Lone Star list. Books on this list are extremely popular due to a program we run in our district, and Bruiser has already been a popular choice. Fans of Unwind (and we have tons of them) are especially eager to read Bruiser. (less)
WHAT I LIKED: As a daughter of the 80's, I grew up obsessed with the movie Splash, which tells the story of a beautiful mermaid in love with a human bachelor in New York. So, Forgive My Fins already had the mermaid-Splash-thing going for it before I even started reading.
I stayed up until 4am last night reading Forgive My Fins, reading almost all of it in one sitting. I started reading around 10pm, fully intending to read for 30 minutes or so before I went to bed. I had to get up at 5am after all. Yeah, I ended up skipping the summer staff development class I was supposed to attend today because of this book. It was that good.
The story is very easy to get into, and the major characters easy to like. I found myself really rooting for Quince and Lily, right from the very beginning. I love the cursing--it's all fish terms like "frogging" instead of "frigging" (or worse) and "carp" instead of "crap." Very creative. While some fishy dialogue seemed a little cheesy initially, it was endearing and sweet and cute and I liked it anyway.
I'm glad that Lily admits that living on land makes her more irritable. Without that explanation, I would have thought she was too hot-headed. She is always so angry with Quince, and it is so obvious from the very beginning that he's only pestering her because he likes her. Knowing irritability is a side-effect of land-living really keeps Lily's character sympathetic.
Without giving too much away, I felt so emotionally connected to the characters that a particular part at the end left me completely heartbroken when it happened. It was a hand-over-my-mouth moment. So sad.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The only thing I didn't love was the Epilogue. It kind of comes out of nowhere and seems only tangentially related to the book. Oh, well; it sets up the sequel, I guess. And I have no doubt I'll be reading the sequel.
Also, my advice is to NOT start this book if you don't have time to finish it in one sitting. I do not recommend missing staff development (or work or school) so you can stay up to finish it.
Language: very mild (it's all fishy-cursing); one GD Sexuality: mild; some kissing Violence: none Drugs/Alcohol: very mild; Lily takes an aspirin for a headache
SEQUEL: Fins Are Forever
READALIKES: Aquamarine (Hoffman); Hannah (Lasky); The Deep (Dunmore); Ingo (Dunmore)
STATUS IN MY MS LIBRARY (GRADES 6-8): We have six copies; it's popular and is on the current year's Lone Star Plus list. Now that I have read it and loved it, I probably won't have to worry about shelving it much because it will be on constant hold. (less)
SUMMARY: Alex Van Helsing is not your typical 14-year old boy; as the great-great-great grandson of Abraham Van Helsing, who killed Dracula centuries ago, Alex is destined to follow the family legacy as a vampire hunter. When a powerful vampire kidnaps two of his friends, Alex must venture into Scholomance, a hidden vampire school, to get them back.
WHAT I LIKED: What is it about Lord Bryon? Vampire Rising is the second book I've read IN A ROW that features Lord Byron (yes THAT Lord Byron) as an immortal vampire interacting with modern-day teenagers. What are the odds? (The other book was Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins.)
What The DaVinci Code does for The Last Supper, Vampire Rising does for Frankenstein and Dracula. While studying Frankenstein in college, I heard the story of the night that Mary Shelley and her friends (including Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron) sat around one night making up ghost stories. Henderson uses this introduction to Frankenstein as a basis for the story of how Dracula slayer Abraham Van Helsing's great-great-great grandson continues the vampire-hunting legacy. I kept wondering where the lines of history and fantasy meet--what is true and what is fabricated? Really, such a cool concept.
With all his contact-lens trouble, bully woes, and unintended troubles in school, Alex Van Helsing is a character that many young readers will relate to. Uninformed about his family's vampire-hunting legacy, Alex must figure out this vampire stuff right along with the reader. Bullies Merrill & Merrill get progressively worse, and young readers who are encountering the same problem will identify with Alex's attempts to avoid them. And can I just say, thank you, thank you, thank you to Jason Henderson for making a literature teacher a motorcycle-riding, kick-ass vampire slayer. You have just upped the cool factor of book nerds everywhere.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Action-packed with plenty of fighting scenes, Vampire Rising will appeal to boys easily, but I think girls will be a little harder to sell. It's refreshing to read about bloodthirsty, non-sparkly vampires, but many of my girls still want steamy vampire romances. Also, what Vampire Rising has in its action scenes, it lacks in character development. Readers know virtually nothing about Sangster, Sid, Paul, and Minho. The sequel Voice of the Undead was just released this week, so maybe these characters will gain some personality in the next book.
Violence: medium; lots of vampire fighting scenes; vampires drinking blood
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, and since it is on the Texas Lone Star list for 2011-2012, it will be popular in the library this school year. (less)
WHAT I LIKED: As a rule, I do not read other reviews of a book until I write and publish my own review. Other reviews could taint my opinion or make me think someone else's opinion is my own. That said, I am sure other reviewers have criticized Hex Hall for being too-similar to Harry Potter, and I can kind of see that argument. You have a boarding school for witches, in a remote location, a protagonist unfamiliar with her own family history, mysterious attacks on students, faculty members who pooh-pooh student warnings of evil penetrating the school walls, ghosts interacting with students, a teacher who "has it in" for the protagonist, etc. All are very similar to Harry Potter.
Despite the similarities, I am going to disagree with reviewers who say Hex Hall is too much like HP. I LOVED this story am really excited to recommend it to my middle school Harry Potter fans (particularly girls). Hex has a healthy dose of romance and a certain creep-factor that I did not expect. With or without the cliff-hanger ending, I can't wait to read Demonglass.
Love the character development; no character is all good or all bad. Sophie is self-deprecating, unpopular, gets bullied, makes poor decisions, and is at times, vengeful and mean. Despite all that, readers will admire her spunk, loyalty, intelligence, and realism. Antagonist Elodie is likewise neither all-good or all-bad. As beautiful and powerful as she is, she also makes poor decisions and can be quite mean. Yet at the same time, she clearly cares about Archer and her friends and has a major moment of redemption toward the end. Other supporting characters (would-be boyfriend Archer, vampire roommate Jenna, toadies Anna and Chaston, and the ghost in the green dress) are variably kind, funny, vengeful, and self-serving.
Never predictable, Hex kept me turning the pages, made me laugh, and gave me shivers. I look forward to reading Demonglass very, very soon (we have it my library, yeah!!!).
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The only thing I can really criticize is the similarities to Harry Potter, but who cares? I loved it anyway.
One question--who is the girl in green on the front cover? Is it Alice (green dress on cover not as described in book) or is it Sophie at the dance (her peacock blue dress is described as much more elaborate). The facial features of the girl in the water looks like the girl in the school uniform, but they don't look exactly alike. Like they could be twins or sisters, but not the same girl. Hmmm..
Language: mild; some language sprinkled throughout
Sexuality: medium; one intense kissing scene
Violence: mild-medium; a creepy ghost, two near-murders of students (drained of blood), some talk of violent witch deaths in past
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, and it's about to become very popular. I am adding it to our schools LS+ list for 2011-2012. (less)
WHAT I LIKED: I just adore this series, especially since I can easily recommend it to my middle school girls. Finally, a (well-written) paranormal romance I don't have to worry about having in my MS library! Between the Hex Hall series and Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series, I know I'll be hooking some girls on reading this year.
Sophie's sardonic comments are laugh-out-loud funny, and the love triangle being set up among Archer, Cal, and Sophie definitely kept me turning pages. I love how Sophie establishes a relationship with her long-lost father in this one, and the new mysteries involving her mother are certainly intriguing.
I was glad to see Archer Cross return as a romantic lead, but I am not 100% certain I like him as much as I like Cal. His history and dual-loyalties are interesting, but Cal just seems to have more depth. I tend to root for the underdog, and in this case, that's Cal.
A heart-pounding, cliffhanger ending sets up the third book in the series, Spellbound, set for a March 2012 release date. I truly have no clue where Spellbound will take readers; there are so many different twists and unknowns and possible outcomes that I am anxious to read it!
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The story itself is fun and engrossing, so I am hard-pressed to find something I don't like. This is the best I can do--As with Hex Hall, the cover art is odd. Sophie never wears a white dress in the story, yet the cover features her in a formal white dress. I know that cover artists often do not read the book and that authors often do not have any say in their own cover art. Still, you'd think someone at Hyperion would have caught that.
READALIKES:Paranormalcy and Supernaturally (Kiersten White)
Sexuality: mild; some kissing
Violence: medium; some demon-raising and murder
Drugs/Alcohol: two teen demons drink concoctions to numb their minds
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, and it will no doubt be popular this year because I added it to our school's Lone Star Plus list. Just ordered three more copies for the library, bringing our total to four.
OVERALL RATING: Wavered on rating--I'd say it's a 3.5 stars
WHAT I LIKED: Eventually, The Way We Fall is a page-turner. By the middle of the book, I enjoyed telling my husband about the storyline and thought about it when I was not reading. The concept of a virus that wipes out almost everyone is frighteningly believable and could certainly happen any place, any time. I really did want to find out if they found a cure, and who manages to survive the deadly virus.
I love the growth of Kaelyn's character. For about the first half of the book, Kaelyn is annoyingly whiny, self-absorbed, and scared of other people and what they think of her. She automatically thinks people don't like her, just because they don't talk to her at school. She is so obsessed with Leo that the entire story is told in lengthy, detailed letters to Leo that she knows she will never mail. The Kaelyn in the first half of the book never goes out on a limb or takes a chance. By the end of the book, Kaelyn has been through so much on the island that she is actually somewhat likeable. I like how slowly her growth occurs because it is realistic--people don't change overnight, and it takes a catastrophic situation to make Kaelyn grow up and become a better person.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Whew, a slow start. I had to force myself to read for about the first 100 pages, partly because I had no clue what had happened with Kaelyn's fight with Leo or who had moved where or when or why. The book definitely picks up, but Kaelyn's pining over her lost best friend Leo (and trying to piece together what had happened to separate the two) really gets old.
For me, the journal/letter format of The Way We Fall is its biggest downfall. I think if the book were just partly Kaelyn writing in her own journal or if it were told from alternating character perspectives, The Way We Fall would have been much stronger. I kept thinking that Leo would come back somehow and become a major character, but Leo remains insignificant to the reader, an unnecessary character who never really appears in the action. Further, the journal format is by definition a retelling of the action, which removes some of the tension and suspense from the story. The reader knows Kaelyn stays safe in the dangerous situations she encounters because she at least lives long enough to tell us about it afterwards. It also seems unrealistic that anyone would quote that much dialogue, that precisely, in a journal.
UPDATE: According to author, Megan Crewe, there will be two sequels to The Way We Fall, and Leo will play a bigger role in the sequels. That is so great to hear, and I look forward to reading the next installments!
Language: moderate; language especially increases in latter half of the book
Sexuality: mild; some kissing
Violence: mild-moderate; some medical gore, two murders
READALIKES: The Dead and the Gone (Pfeffer)
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: The Way We Fall does not come out for a few more months, but I do plan to purchase it for the library. My students love post-apocalyptic stories, and I think there is definitely an audience for this one at my school.(less)
WHAT I LIKED: When I start reading a book, I try very, very hard to keep my opinion uninfluenced by other reviews. Very positive reviews from others will lead me to high expectations, and I won't end up liking a book the way I might have otherwise. When I added Drought to my Goodreads list, I did notice the very low rating it has gotten from other readers. That's not a good sign, but I continued reading anyway. I am SO GLAD I did.
Drought pulled me in from the very first few pages. The concept is unique, and I read compulsively, finishing it at 4:00 this morning. It's unpredictable and I had absolutely no idea where Bachorz was going with it. Engrossed until the very end, I just HAD to know what was going to happen.
Characters are interesting and never cookie-cutter. I felt very sad when one of them dies tragically (I LIKED that character), and I kept hoping that maybe he wasn't really dead. Protagonist Ruby is a strong, but imperfect, young lady who gives freely to those who are sick, injured, or starving. Somehow, she never comes off as better than anyone else or saintly, and she is just as rebellious as any modern teenager. Her romance with Ford is realistic; it's not just this whirlwind romance where she just gets swept off her feet. Ruby and Ford know they can never be. They argue about their many differences and sometimes do the wrong thing.
I'm sure some readers will criticize the ending, but I found it sadly fitting. The Constituents have lived a certain way for so long, it's no wonder they fall right back into their routine once all the chaos dies down. What are they supposed to do, skip off into the city?
GREAT trailers! I love the dual perspectives; my students will love that.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I found myself really getting worked up about the Constituents and their passivity. FIGHT BACK,PEOPLE! Could fighting back really be as terrible as getting beaten every day for 200 years?
I was so sad when a certain character died. I liked him and thought hoped Ruby would end up with him instead. He is interesting and would have adapted well to the modern world. Sigh.
Language: very mild
Sexuality: mild-moderate; several kissing scenes, one intense
Violence: moderate; people are beaten with chains and starved; one character dies accidentally, another is murdered
Drugs/Alcohol: mild; one scene where Overseers presumably drink beer
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We received it fairly recently; it will be popular considering the number of students who love Candor. The trailers will be a hit with my kids, and I will also recommend Drought to students.
WHAT I LIKED: Tight corsets, bustling petticoats, grimy gaslights, extravagant balls, and pouty debutantes: the faux-prudish Victorian era is perfect for Haunting Violet. Harvey creates idyllic setting where old ladies gossip about the latest scandal, social class dictates everything, and nearly everyone has something to hide. Haunting Violet would not have worked nearly as well in a modern setting.
I love the character development! Violet is smart, stubborn, sarcastic, courageous, clumsy, and loyal, and Colin and Elizabeth are believable counterparts to Violet. Violet's mother, while horrible and self-serving, is still a somewhat sympathetic character; for sixteen years, she has never abandoned Violet or given her over to an orphanage. Considering she was a young single mother with terribly limited options, it's hard to completely hate her.
The mystery of who killed Rowena reminds me a bit of that game Clue. With many suspects and many possible motives (and all of them at the same party), Violet suspects lots of different people at different times. While the true killer was not really a surprise to me, I was enthralled with the mystery of it.
Aside from the mystery of Rowena's death, Haunting Violet's multi-layered plot includes romance (!), friendship, scowling old ladies, Violet's mother's scandalous history, lots of sneaking around, and of course, the Victorian backdrop. Just awesome.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Really, I liked the entire book. A page-turner all the way through, I can easily recommend Haunting Violet to anyone who loves a good ghost story along the lines of The Sixth Sense.
Language: mild; I don't remember any language at all.
Sexuality: mild-moderate; a few passionate kisses, some flirting, Violet's mother had her out of wedlock
Violence: moderate; the whole story centers on a young girl's murder; some ghostly possessions
Drugs/Alcohol: mild; characters take laudanum (opium) both willingly and unwillingly
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We do not have it yet, but I just added it to my next order. My MS students will love this one.
WHAT I LIKED: I would say 3.5 stars for this one. I just love Rusty Fischer's conversational, campy writing style. I've read two of Fischer's books (the other was Zombies Don't Cry), and both are laugh-out-loud funny. Who wouldn't love zombies in blue tuxes?
The ending rounds out nicely, and all loose ends tie up neatly. Fans of B-movie monster flicks will find a kindred spirit in Rusty Fischer and will no doubt love Ushers, Inc.
As with ZDC, I am going to applaud (male author) Rusty Fischer's uncanny knack for writing so brilliantly in a teen girl's voice. Fischer captures sixteen year-old Abby's voice believably enough for me to question the reality of Fischer's author profile. I'm beginning to wonder if Rusty Fischer isn't an alias for some emo-goth high school girl from Nowhere, USA. You can't fool me, Rusty Fischer!
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: While it certainly kept me laughing, I was not as engaged in Ushers, Inc. as I was when I read Zombies Don't Cry. I don't know if Ushers, Inc. was too similar to ZDC, or if I just had higher expectations because I loved ZDC so much. Ushers was good, and zombie readers will definitely want to read it; I just wasn't as dazzled with this one.
FRONT COVER: Meh. I don't think the front cover does much to entice readers. Is that Shia LaBeouf?
Language: mild; a few sprinkled throughout
Sexuality: mild; some chaste zombie-vampire kissing
Violence: medium; it's a zombie/vampire/werewolf book, so of course there will be death and gore. Fischer manages to pull off the gore tastefully (so to speak) and with plenty of B-movie humor.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't have it, but I will get it if/when it comes out in print. Right now, it looks like it is only available in e-book format, which my MS library does not yet support.
WHAT I LIKED: Engrossing and short. I read If I Stay in one sitting. It is easy to get involved in Mia's life, and her struggle between life and death is understandable. My library girls love this book, and I have heard and read lots of positive reviews of the sequel, Where She Went.
If I were still teaching English, If I Stay would make a great book for class or reading group discussions. The ultimate question of whether Mia should stay or go is universal, the answer complex and varied from person to person. With some talk of angels and church, religion is a small component of the story, but Forman's eloquent prose focuses mainly on Mia's life and her decision to fight or let go. The characters' religious faith ranges from Jewish to Christian to Atheism, and religious references remain generic. I like this because readers of different faiths (or no faith) will be able to appreciate Mia's dilemma without getting caught up in the question of what does or does not happen if she chooses death.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: First of all, let me say that I know that my thoughts here here will be controversial, and I get that. However, I owe it to my readers and myself to review books as honestly as I can, so here goes...
As a middle school librarian, I read language and sexual content with a critical eye. There are plenty of times that I recommend books to my students, even though there is a lot of mature content. I have lots of books on my middle school library shelves that I'm certain would raise plenty of eyebrows. But a good story is a good story, and sometimes that good story needs to include mature content. I myself read lots of mature content in middle school and handled it just fine, and so can most of my middle schoolers. If adults don't make a huge deal out of mature content, then neither will the kids.
That said, I also sometimes question the inclusion of mature content. Language and sexuality definitely have their places in YA books, but I do not like to see either thrown in randomly, with no apparent purpose. It reminds me of sex and language included in a PG-13 movie simply to obtain an R rating. From a librarian's perspective, it limits the book's audience because I am less likely to recommend a book with a high level of mature content to a sixth grader than I am to an eighth grader.
My point in all this is, while the one make-out scene in the book goes with the story and helps develop two major characters, I believe much of the mature language in If I Stay is unnecessary, almost as though it is tossed in there to make it YA instead of MG. There is not a ton of mature language, but what is in there seems to come out of nowhere. I wish I could recommend If I Stay to my sixth graders in general; I know it would be a popular choice. I have lots of sixth grade girls asking me for books about teens facing serious issues, and if the language were a little milder or occurred less often, I could easily book talk <i>If I Stay</i> with sixth grade classes. Will I recommend it to lots of students? Absolutely; I really enjoyed the book. Can add it to my Lone Star Plus reading list? I wish.
Language: Medium-high; see my thoughts above in "What I Didn't Like"
Sexuality: Medium; one make-out scene early in the story
Violence: Mild; medical blood and gore (from accident itself and surgeries)
Drugs/Alcohol: Mild; some teen and adult drinking; Mia's father smokes a pipe
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, and it is somewhat popular.
REVIEW: As a huge reader of YA fantasy and sci-fi, I tend to struggle with very serious realistic fiction. It's not t...moreMore reviews at Mrs. ReaderPants.
REVIEW: As a huge reader of YA fantasy and sci-fi, I tend to struggle with very serious realistic fiction. It's not that I don't like it; I do occasionally read and enjoy realistic fiction. It's the really heavy, emotional/angsty realistic fiction that I struggle with. I just have to be in the mood for it, I guess.
I read If I Stay a couple of years ago because so many reviewers raved about it. And though I enjoyed it for the most part, it really wasn't something I personally would rave about. Though the writing is beautiful, it's just so darn sad. So I knew what I was getting into when I read Where She Went for much the same reason--that I kept hearing about how it's "even better than the first one" and that it focuses more on the relationship between Adam and Mia. Always a sucker for a good romance, I decided to give it a try.
And, yes, I did enjoy this book. I read most of it in one sitting--always a good sign. I really liked Adam and believed in his downward spiral since Mia inexplicably left him. I rooted for Adam and Mia to be together, even though I felt that Mia came off as cold and unfeeling. The writing is fantastic, though I did find myself skimming over some of the "memories" parts. But did I love this book? Meh. I think I might have loved it more if I actually liked Mia.
So what's my beef with the lovely Mia? (view spoiler)[What she did to Adam three years ago was heartless and cruel. She just left him? This wonderful guy who stood by her through everything and loved her and only wanted her to be happy? She just LEFT this sweet, hottie rock star who she loved without so much as a goodbye. I get that she was grieving and that her head was messed up at the time, but the reason she did it--once it is finally revealed--was so stupid. I didn't get that at all.
So then, after three years, she finally gets the chance to make things right again. But does she take that chance? Well, eventually, yes. But before she does that, before she starts to stitch up the gaping hole she put into this poor guy's heart, she decides to parade him all over New York City in the middle of the night, saying nothing as their time together dwindles. I'm sorry, but she owes him more than that. (hide spoiler)]
Still, I did like the book, especially the way it ended. I can see why scores of readers rave about it, especially those who love realistic fiction.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you loved If I Stay, you won't want to miss Where She Went. It's great, emotionally-charged writing that will keep readers glued to the pages.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it though now that I have read it, I will be careful who I recommend it to. See my content notes below.
Overall: 4/5--realistic fiction readers will especially love it
Creativity: 4/5--the 3-years later spin is interesting; liked the way the memories were intertwined with the present
Characters: 4/5--loved Adam!
Engrossing: 5/5--read most of it in one sitting
Writing: 4/5--toward the end, I skimmed a couple of the memories scenes
Appeal to teens: 5/5--no doubt teens will love this book
Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5--never felt overlong; I read it in about a day
Language: medium--includes fu**, sh**--not graphic or gratuitous, goes with that character
Sexuality: medium--Adam lives with a girlfriend; a few mentions of casual sex and rock band groupies; kissing; off-page intercourse (nothing described); homosexual minor character
Drugs/Alcohol: medium; characters smoke/crave cigarettes; one character pops pills for anxiety
SUMMARY: High school student Hannah Baker commits suicide, then sends a set of thirteen tapes to the thirteen people sh...moreOVERALL RATING: Neutral opinion
SUMMARY: High school student Hannah Baker commits suicide, then sends a set of thirteen tapes to the thirteen people she feels are responsible for her death.
WHAT I LIKED: This is one of the more difficult reviews I have written. On one hand, I think Thirteen Reasons Why is an incredibly important read for both teens and adults. Hannah's suicide is the result of her own actions, but every person on her tapes contributed in some way. Some of the actions, such as a girl using Hannah for a ride to a party or a boy kissing her and spreading rumors that it went further, are kind of typical of high-school students. I am in no way excusing these behaviors; I'm just saying that those things happen to thousands of high school students (who don't kill themselves over it) every single day. Reading this book, however, may give readers enough pause to think about the little actions they take and how those actions may play into a larger picture. Asher writes in the end notes about a teen who told him this book makes her want to be a better person, and I would definitely agree with her assessment. Only the most callous person would be able to read Thirteen Reasons Why and not reflect on some way they could better relate to others.
I also think the book makes teens contemplating suicide consider the fallout of their own actions. Hannah acknowledges that she did not reach out for help until it was too late for her. Hannah does not recognize her descent into depression the same way the reader does. Listening to the tapes, Clay recognizes it as well. Maybe Thirteen Reasons Why will cause a lonely, depressed teen somewhere to see him or herself in Hannah's character. Maybe that teen will seek help because of this book.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: My name is Hannah Baker. I killed myself. It's your fault.
I had a very difficult time reading this book. There were times I wanted to put it down and start something (Elkeles's Chain Reaction came out this week and has been sitting on my nightstand, taunting me, for days). I knew if I did not finish Thirteen Reasons Why now, I would never pick it up again. Unlike many of my students, I do not think it is a page-turner. I found it difficult to care about Hannah, who unfairly blames her suicide mostly on people who are young and stupid. Who isn't stupid as a teenager? Everyone makes mistakes, especially kids.
Hannah's victim-mentality and self-obsession drove me crazy. To go as far as to send a tape blaming your death on someone simply because he stood you up for a date or spread some rumors about you or made a list about how you have a nice body is pretty self-obsessed. Yes, being stood up hurts. Yes, rumors in high school can be vicious. Yes, it puts a chink in your ability to trust others. But to blame your death--by your own hand--on that person is just horrible to me. None of Hannah's thirteen has any chance to redeem themselves, to tell their side of the story. And now not only do they have to live with their own guilt, they have to live with the others on the tapes knowing their role as well. That just seems so wrong to me, especially since Hannah is the most guilty one of all. She is the one who didn't seek help, who didn't open up to the people who tried to reach her, who dropped only vague hints about her plans, who swallowed a bunch of pills so she would never wake up. But it is everyone else's fault, and they have to live with that for the rest of their lives.
And where are Hannah's parents? Don't they deserve a tape of their own? Aren't they the ones who ignored her and were too busy to see her pain? It seems that if anyone loves Hannah, they would. She barely ever mentions them except to say that they are too busy. She blames a girl (one who barely knew Hannah) for using her for a ride to a party, but her parents get off with barely a mention? So unfair.
Besides Hannah's playing the victim, a couple of other minor details bothered me. What is the purpose of the map? I find it odd that 1) Hannah includes it, and 2) Clay follows it all over the city as he listens to the tapes. The map doesn't seem necessary since the town does not seem all that large, and all of the places mentioned are places the characters are familiar with.
I was also annoyed with the dual-narrative. When Clay's thoughts or actions interrupt Hannah's story, it takes some of the momentum out of what happened to Hannah. I don't really need a sentence to interrupt Hannah's story just to tell me that the man wiped off the counter or that Clay took a drink of his milkshake and enjoyed it.
Overall, I am not a fan of Thirteen Reasons Why. I think it is over-hyped and melodramatic. To me, there is only one reason that matters: Hannah never really reaches out to anyone or accepts the people who try to reach out to her. Hannah did it, and no one knew enough to stop her.
Language: mild; I don't really remember anything worse than a**
Sexuality: medium-high; a rape and a rape?, both near the end
Violence: medium; suicide is a central theme, as is rape and a fatal car accident
Drugs/Alcohol: medium-high; high school students drink and smoke at parties
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have two copies; it's very popular. My students keep telling me I HAVE to read it. Well, now I have.
WHAT I LIKED: I always love a good post-apocalyptic survival story, and it was interesting to read about how quickly things could break down in the event of a White House coup. Esther is tough, smart, and driven to survive. She is very serious much of the time and doesn't waste time with a bunch of shenanigans or worry about what everyone else is doing. While she probably would not be much fun to hang around with, I have to respect her focus.
When Esther finally meets Matthew, I was reminded of Hemingway's classic A Farewell to Arms, the story of two people who fall in love in a hospital amidst WWI, when the world is falling apart around them. The romance part of the story, albeit short, is sweet and timeless.
Payne sets up an interesting conflict for the sequel, and despite my lukewarm reception for this book, a sequel may be better. I probably won't read it, but I've seen lots of positive reviews for Far From the War. Considering the unresolved ending, a sequel is certainly appropriate.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I think what bothers me most about this book is that it was pitched to me as a "dystopian romance," which happens to be my favorite genre and was the reason I chose to review Far From the War in the first place. It is really neither. A dystopia features a repressed, tightly controlled society that tries to pass itself off as utopian, or a perfect way to live. Far From the War is a war-torn society where out of control violence terrorizes individuals. Further, a dystopia typically features a much more complex form of government, with lots of freedom-curbing laws and a type of passive coercion over the people. The citizens may not agree with it, but they go about their daily lives as best they can because they feel powerless to fight. Far From the War is really more a speculative look at a modern-day civil war in the United States than a true dystopia.
The romance part is really inaccurate as well. Yes, there is romance, but it is only a couple of chapters that apper very late in the story. While the romance was sweet, I never felt much chemistry between Esther and Matthew. Matthew's appearance is so brief, readers hardly even get the chance to know Matthew. I guess I was just expecting something else and was simply disappointed.
The story took forever to get going. The war doesn't actually start until about 100 pages in. The politics of being a White House page just isn't interesting enough to keep me turning the pages. It was a struggle to finish the book, despite the huge increase in action and brutal conflict toward the end.
Language: mild; I really can't remember any language
Sexuality: mild; some kissing
Violence: extremely high; two rape scenes and allusions to other rapes, several bloody murders, detailed descriptions of what it's like to be in an air raid, detailed description of frostbite
Drugs/Alcohol: medium; underage drinking is still illegal, but the society at war does not care about the drinking age
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't have it. The large amount of politics and violence make it too high for a middle school library (less)
WHAT I LIKED: First of all, let me just say that I honestly do not feel these Tiger books get the attention they deserve. These books are absolutely INCREDIBLE, yet I know of no one outside the Goodreads and book blogging communities who has read them. They are getting huge review ratings everywhere I've looked, but no one I know personally is talking about them. Not one of my librarian friends or coworkers has read them, despite my talking them up like mad. How can this possibly be? I just don't get how this series is not everywhere by now. Do we always have to wait for a movie before we see decent press for such an amazing book series? If you still haven't read this series, what on earth are you waiting for?
Once again, Colleen Houck held me entranced. Just when I was perfectly content with Ren and could not imagine liking any other love-interest for Kelsey, I got to know Kishan. Now I don't know which one to root for or where Houck will take the story next. I love the Indian mythology and magical lands and strange creatures Kelsey and Kishan encounter. The characters are endearing and readers will care what happens to them. As with Tiger's Curse, the ending of Tiger's Quest is a heart-wrenching cliffhanger. I don't know how I will wait until NOVEMBER for the release of Tiger's Voyage. WOW.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: As with Tiger's Curse, my only complaint is the overlong set-up for the quest; the adventure took way too long to begin. Ren does not get kidnapped until about 150 pages in, and the storyline of Ren, Kelsey, and her three hapless suitors really gets old quickly. It's so obvious Kelsey is going to end up with Ren instead of Jason or Li--how could she not? None of the three suitors can hold a candle to Ren or Kelsey's love for him. And once Kelsey makes her choice, the lovey-dovey stuff goes on and on and on. I am a huge fan of romance, but the endless smooching and hand-holding and hair-stroking was too much even for me. By the time Ren was taken, I was just really ready for the quest to begin.
Once the quest finally begins, the story moves much more quickly. While this quest is not as heart-pounding as the one in Tiger's Curse, I really enjoyed getting to know Kishan better and have absolutely no clue who Kelsey will end up with. I am anticipating Tiger's Voyage with the same gusto I had for the later Harry Potter books, Breaking Dawn, and Mockingjay. If there are midnight-release parties for Tiger's Voyage, I'll likely be there.
Sexuality: mild; some kissing and mild innuendo
Violence: mild; fantasy violence such as being attacked by giant iron birds; off-page torture (not described)
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't have Tiger's Quest just yet, but it's on its way! I have over 20 holds for our only copy of Tiger's Curse, and we have 5 more copies of that one coming also. If I had a hundred copies of these books, I'm convinced they would all be checked out. I temporarily stopped booktalking Tiger's Curse until our additional copies arrive.
WHAT I LIKED: The entangling plotlines of past and future kept me guessing. Sixteen years before, Narian was the only infant out of 49 kidnapped babies who was allowed to live, and I (and the characters) constantly wondered why. London's mysterious past is also interesting, especially the fact that his imprisonment also happened to be sixteen years before. And, by chance, the war between the two kingdoms ended abruptly sixteen years ago as well. Coincidence? Hmmm...
As far as characters go, the males held my attention far better than the females. I loved Narian's resourcefulness and ability to sneak around. London is loyal, a deep thinker who sacrifices for those he loves and never comprises his integrity. I laughed at Tadark and even felt a little sorry for him (though he does kind of ask to be ridiculed). Even Steldor's haughtiness is somehow endearing; while he is power-hungry, Steldor is smart and brave and seems like he might be kind of fun when he wants to be. He doesn't seem evil to me, just young and stuck-up. As a reader, I actually felt a better connection with Steldor than I did with Narian.
Will I read the sequel, Allegiance? Probably. The end of Legacy has a very interesting and unexpected little twist, leaving tons of unanswered questions. Kluver was only fifteen when she wrote Legacy, and it is certainly possible that her writing style has matured much since then. Since Harlequin Teen picked up the publication, maybe Allegiance will also come with a really good editing team.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: S.L.O.W. While I love the plotlines in Legacy, the book took me forever to finish. I wanted to know what would happen, but I kept falling asleep or putting it down in favor of other books. At almost 500 pages, Legacy could have been so much shorter. I kept feeling that Kluver was really going somewhere with the story, but it never quite seemed to reach the destination. Kluver includes lots of descriptions of clothing and foods and cascading hair, all at the expense of good pacing.
Why is it that so many female authors can create fascinating male characters, but the female characters are infuriatingly annoying? Protagonist Alera just has no personality whatsoever. She's afraid to break the rules, only doing so when a man urges her to do it. She submits to pampering constantly, and, at 17, acts far younger than her age. Really, she can't ride a horse, even when it is only walking? And does she have to ALWAYS tell the truth to her father? He seems distracted enough to believe just about anything.
Also, why is it necessary for Alera and her sister Miranna to have one or even two bodyguards at their sides at all times? Do they routinely receive death threats? Do intruders regularly try to kidnap them? They have no power and are the daughters of an apparently benevolent king. So why the hyper-protection? And why does Alera have no urge to shake off her bodyguards from time to time? She does not like being followed constantly, but she does very little about it.
A passive weakling, Alera just drove me nuts.
I would have preferred a rebellious, sardonic Alera. Someone who can conceivably be trained to kick butt and be somewhat worthy of warrior Narian's affections. A life with Narian would be anything but pampered, and I don't see Narian allowing himself to be trapped into the life of a king. Maybe Alera will toughen-up over the course of the series. Despite all my ranting, I am willing to invest the time to find out.
Sexuality: mild; some kissing and mild references to wedding night intercourse
Violence: mild; swordfighting with injuries
Drugs/Alcohol: medium; teens and adults drink alcohol (mainly wine) at parties
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't have it, but I am going to order it. I pride myself on giving my students my most honest opinion; they know it and take my word for it when I say a book is awesome. While I can't honestly recommend Legacy myself, I do have a couple of girls who I think would enjoy it. If they do, I'll ask them to write up their own reviews in our library catalog to counterbalance my lukewarm opinion.(less)