One of the biggest reasons for me wanting to read 3:59 was because it took place in a location very familiar to me. Like many...more Actual rating: 1.5 stars
One of the biggest reasons for me wanting to read 3:59 was because it took place in a location very familiar to me. Like many other readers, when I hear about a book that's set in my state or near my hometown, I feel this incessant need to read it by any means necessary. Unfortunately, 3:59 proved to be one big fat disappointment.
The book follows science wiz Josie Bryne who starts having dreams at 3:59 of a girl who looks just like her. As her own life begins to fall apart around her (she finds her boyfriend and best friend sleeping together, her parents divorce and she loses her job), she desperately wants the life she catches glimpses of when she sleeps. The girl Jo seems to have everything Josie wants: A perfect boyfriend, happily married parents and a perfect life. But when she finally gets the opportunity to cross over to Jo's world, she learns things are far from perfect.
This sounded like such an interesting concept with it being pitched as Parent Trap meets Event Horizon. I don't even know what Event Horizon is (Okay, so Kat says it's a really scary horror movie. 3:59 is neither of those things.), but Parent Trap (the one with Lindsay Lohan before her life took a decided turn for the worse) is one of my all-time favorite movies. Throw in some sci-fi alternate universe action and I'm totally there. Sadly, 3:59 bares no resemblance to Parent Trap at all and I really need for Harper to stop this whole "Awesome movie/book/concept" meets "Even more Awesome movie/book/concept" thing that they do. Frankly, they are usually so far off and misleading. It's like they're overcompensating for their novels. And let me tell you, there was some serious overcompensating going on for 3:59.
The Writing Style: So I took 3:59 with me one afternoon while I journeyed on the metro to my favorite children's book store. I read exactly 5 pages and had a sinking suspicion that this book was not going to be my thang. The writing style immediately had a very choppy weird feeling that never felt natural or smooth even as the novel progressed. There were inner monologues from the narrator found in between each section of dialogue, making the exchange seem very long. Someone would say something to Josie and then there'd be a paragraph monologue about what she was thinking or a bit of info-dumping. I couldn't help but to wonder what Josie would be doing in these time spans instead of answering the character's question. Was she staring at them while her brain worked to keep up with her mouth? Perhaps.
Flat Characters: I don't think there is a single character in this book that I liked or saw growth from. Everyone remained exactly the same from beginning to end. The narrator tells us that Josie had changed, that she was smarter and stronger, but I never got a sense of any of that. Each character had one trait that they encompassed and that's basically what they were for the entire novel.
The Plot: 3:59 relies heavily on science to explain why things are the way they are. It's supposed to be clearly logical. Josie and her friend, Penelope, are supposed to appear smart. And I do appreciate McNeil having intelligent female protagonists solving the mystery. My problem was that since the science behind the book was so very complex, I had an extremely hard time seeing a high school student (or several of them!) knowing that much at such a young age. Is everyone a physics prodigy and able to keep up with all those formulas? Josie just happens to know more physics than her teachers?
But, okay. Maybe I could get behind this idea if all the science jargon didn't create so many opportunities to info dump. Let's be honest, hardly any readers will know what Josie knows. So whenever Josie and Penelope went off of their science talk, there was conveniently another character in the room asking for the For Dummies version. Look, I am not the kind of reader who is easily impressed with an author's ability to recite Big Science Words. So I need to be able to see some type of explanation, and I never really got that. Instead, I got more questions: Where did the mirror in Jo's room come from despite Josie never having one in her room until she moved it there? Why did Josie only start having the dreams recently even though the connection to both worlds had been open for 6 months?
Then we move on to the actual logical fails 3:59 was filled with. There's this part in the book where Josie and Nick go on a tour of Fort Meade (a highly guarded military facility that houses different government divisions like NSA) where they are given a tour by one of the Directors. Somehow, Josie convinces the Director (because he's attracted to her) to give them a tour of a floor they have no business being on. Somehow, conveniently the halls are deserted. That is so inaccurate, I can't even. Then she conveniently leaves her purse on that floor in the bathroom only to later bat her eyelashes at the Director for his access card so she can retrieve it alone. I understand that this is fiction, but Josie was given way too many free passes in this novel. I don't care if she batted her eyelashes so hard that her eyes got stuck in a permanent twitch, there is no way someone is handing over their security badge at the Fort. And there is no way she would make it back up to that same off-limits floor with no one stopping her. You can't just walk around the Fort unescorted. It doesn't happen for security reasons. Where was the research done here?
But I get it. Sometimes you just have to go with it when it comes to some books (hard as that is for me most times). This book was supposed to be built around scientific logic, so I expected basic common sense rules to be applied in other aspects as well. Clearly, I was asking too much because later in the book, Josie just thinks to ask her father (in the alternate universe) to steal a government laser from Fort Meade. The exchange went ridiculously something like this:
"Hey, daddy? Can you steal that government laser for the highly guarded military facility? I need it. I love you so much! xoxoxo!"
"Anything for you, princess! Shall I pick you up some Burger King on the way out the Fort?"
Are you kidding? For Josie to be so smart, I am actually surprised she thought this was legit a possibility even after her real mother specifically told her to trust no one.
Then, right after a character is brutally eaten to death by the nox (creatures that haunt the alternate universe and eat people) right in front of Josie and Nick, these fools start making out right there. Things get hot and heavy, Josie has a moment when she realizes she's in love and she reaches up and grabs the dude's severed ankle.
"OMG, I freakin' love this guy I'm making out with!"
"This is so hot."
"Oh, shit. Is that a foot? Gah! How did this body get here?!"
"Oh, right. He just died."
Gag me, please.
It was there 3:59 and I had a strange turn of events. The book went from giving me a lot of these moments:
To where I could barely suppress a laugh:
Honestly, though, I was still being entertained... just not in the way the author probably intended it.
Insta-Love: So as if this couldn't get any worse, this happens:
She'd never felt this way with her ex-boyfriend. This was something different. Something deeper. Even though they had only known each other a few days, Nick knew her better than anyone else, and loved her even more because of it. - Quoted from 3:59 ARC, page 348.
Sure, sure. She's in love with this guy even though they've had maybe a handful of conversations (all of them related to the plot and had nothing to do with actually finding out things about each other), one of which was sparked by him pointing a gun at her. Boyfriend of the year!
I never once felt the connection between the two. They were these character stuck in this situation and randomly, romance was thrown in because, hey, every YA book has to have its romance. (Obviously, that was sarcasm.) But in the end, the romance didn't add anything extra to the reading experience and felt contrived and forced.
Predictability: However, I might have even forgiven all of that if only the entire mystery hadn't been so predictable. I know 3:59 is being pitched as a sci-fi thriller, but I never once felt the urgency because things were so painfully obvious. I knew who the bad guy was, what happened to her parents, who was attacking the humans, etc. Josie is depicted as a really smart protagonist, but again, spouting off science words is not enough if the reader is two steps ahead of your detective. The really sad part is that the mystery wasn't bad at all, but really lacked better foreshadowing and a much tighter plot. If I've already figured out the mystery by 50%, there's really no reason for me to stick around.
Not only was the plot predictable, but the character actions. And this is where I feel good old fashion character growth would have helped. Josie, as trusting and sweet as she was depicted, was, frankly, TSTL. I don't think this was intentional, but when you keep telling the reader how smart your character is, but they continually do really dumb things, it rarely works for me.
To Conclude: In the end, 3:59 didn't live up to my expectations. Had the plot and mystery been tighter, the characters better developed and the romance cleaned up, I would have probably really loved this one. Would I recommend this? My first reaction is, "Eh, no." But I do think if the above doesn't bother you much in novels, you may enjoy this one. I would, instead, strongly recommend checking out a sample to see if the writing style works for you and then abandoning all sense of logic at page one.
1 star because it's not the worst book I've read
.5 star for somehow keeping me entertained despite my frustrations
Actual rating: 4.5 stars, but what the hell? I'm rounding this baby up.
This is the first novel that I've read from this author and I have to say that...moreActual rating: 4.5 stars, but what the hell? I'm rounding this baby up.
This is the first novel that I've read from this author and I have to say that I am very impressed. I don't usually seek out crime, mystery or thriller/suspense novels, but I'm really glad I had an opportunity to read this one. There aren't many books where I can say I have almost nothing to complain about. And even though I've finished the book weeks ago, I still have nothing but high praises for it. Simply put, How to Lead a Life of Crime had fantastic writing, realistic characters and old fashion, damn good plotting.
When I first read the blurb for this book, I'll admit to having pretty low expectations. I thought it would take on more of a humor angle, though I'm not exactly sure why I initially thought it would. The blurb took on a lot of serious topics that I thought, "Surely, this must be from a comic standpoint?" And I'd be wrong. But what I didn't expect was for Miller to take on a few major social issues and make them relevant to the teenage audience. And guys, she did this so well! First off, the main character is a guy and get this. HE SOUNDS LIKE A GUY. Not once did I feel like he was hiding ovaries from me. This made me rejoice because his authenticity, flaws, struggles, passions all felt so much more realistic to me. Flick is a character with very real problems. He's a homeless pickpocketer who was raised by an abusive, rich father. On the outside, it looked as though he had everything, but his entire life fell apart when both his mother and brother died. Flick blames his father and swears to one day make him pay. What happens afterwards is a plot so tightly woven, it made my head spin.
But back to the social issues: The backdrop of the story is about Mandel Academy. To average, everyday folk, the school is praised as one of the best schools a youngster can attend. All graduates attend the best colleges and get the highest paying jobs. It's a highly coveted school and secures futures for kids that may have otherwise not been allotted such a luxury. Or so that's the image painted. What Mandel Academy really hides is its shady ways of criminal activity. The school essentially molds these kids into a bunch of crazies that can be controlled and set into positions of power all over the world. The scary thing is... I could totally see this as a realistic possibility. Miller carefully planted the perfect "what if..." seed by way of her excellent world building. It's easy to expect a certain level of world building for fantasy novels, but it's equally important for contemporary since it's set in a setting that is relevant to you. I really think it was done perfectly here.
I mean, think about it. Politicians regularly are considered to be bought out by corporations or seemingly operating with someone else's interests in mind. Would it be so much of a stretch to think there could be a bigger organization at work here to keep the little people down? Influencing who gets voted into office? Approving and denying certain products and services? Am I starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist? Wait. Don't answer that last one. The point is: It was all believable. Maybe not as I'm trying to explain it, but as I read further and further, I started to think, "Wow. This could totally happen."
What I also loved were the side characters and how big of a role they played in the entirety of the novel. Miller had a running theme of "No one is worthless" and that certainly applied to how she herself chose to use all her characters. Like Flick, I had written off Joi as just the girl he left behind. I knew from the blurb she would make a reappearance. But I did not expect her to make a come back and kick so much ass in the process. The girl was viciously badass. I thought I loved Flick and how well he had the Academy figured out, but then Joi came along and stole the spotlight. It really gave Flick some well-needed vulnerability because for a while he started to feel as unstoppable as June and Day from Legend. (In fact, I'd highly recommend How to Lead a Life of Crime to Marie Lu fans.)
And then there is the villain. Like, whoa. I can't really go into so much detail because of spoilers, but it was very three-dimensional. Even in the end, the villain always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone. I can't say I didn't see it coming because it's slowly revealed to the reader as the novel goes on, but you never realize the extent of the crazy until the final chapters. Flick faces so many "demons" in this book that there were times I was unsure if he could do it. I was genuinely worried for his life and felt so invested that he'd be okay. Dare I say I was on the edge of my seat? The anticipation was built just right thanks to the perfect pacing and action packed quality.
If there is one and only complaint I have, it's that whenever the f-bomb is dropped it's cut out of the book and instead appears like "f---". I don't know if that is just the ARC I was reading or if the finished copy was the same way, but it did bother me a bit. But that is a relatively small negative in comparison to everything else this book does right.
The writing was excellent, the dialogue was smart and witty, the plot was air tight and the characters carefully planned. It's the novels that you aren't expecting that completely surprise you. How to Lead a Life of Crime is one of them. If it's not on your to-read list now, it should be.
Side note: Weirdly enough, the finished copy was compromised. Though it is unknown, someone altered passages and added typos. It's alluded that the book has enemies, which adds another level of creepiness given the book's premise. You can find out more about that here.
*Unsolicited ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review.
I think I can count on exactly one hand, minus one or two fingers, how many Middle Grade novels I actually enjoy. Now I have o...moreActual rating: 4.5 stars
I think I can count on exactly one hand, minus one or two fingers, how many Middle Grade novels I actually enjoy. Now I have one more to add to that number. I admit to being very skeptical of MG for myself because they just don't usually work for me. I can appreciate them from a literary standpoint and may even recommend a few titles to younger readers, but do they entertain this picky reader? Nu-uh. But I decided to give it a chance because I liked the premise. Guys, I am shocked because I really loved this book! There is only one other MG novel that had me this excited and that was A Monster Calls for obvious reasons. (I mean, c'mon. That books just freakin' rips your heart out.) But The Bully Book was hilarious and utterly charming.
The reason why I think I connected so well with this book is because it covers a topic that everyone must have dealt with at some point in their lives as kids. Once upon a time I was bullied in school by a group of girls. I remember thinking it was some type of conspiracy since I had barely said three words to them. I was a pretty laid back kid and didn't enjoy conflict. Whatever the reason, I guess I was easy pickings for them. And no matter how many times I tried to defend myself and appeal to my teachers, I was the one always in trouble. It was then that I realized one very important fact of life: kids are evil. But then I grew up to be a beautiful runway model, rolling in the green stuff and they did not. Well, not really, but it sounded awesome at age 10.
In a place where hormones are at first bloom, where no one wants to be left out and everyone wants to be accepted, it's not hard to see the potential for problems. That's where we find the main character Eric. He essentially discovers that he has been labeled "The Grunt" of his grade and proceeds to become the victim of bullying even by a boy who was once considered his best friend. But what I loved about Eric, besides his witty comments, was his determination to not sit back and accept this role his peers decided for him.
The Bully Book chronicles Eric's quest to discovery with both journal entires from himself and pages of the actual Bully Book. I really enjoyed this stylistic choice because it added a nice layer of mystery and suspense. Eric is racing to find the original creator of this book that was systematically created to ruin one kid's entire school life. It was so compelling, I found myself caught up in the allure of discovering the author as well.
By the end, though the book is short, I realized just how many issues it tackled: Mob mentality, peer pressure, emotional distress of a child that is bullied, the conflicted feelings of bystanders unsure of how to help and, ultimately, the ramifications of the damage it does to a person's self-confidence well past when the bullying ends. These are huge issues and I feel the author did such a great job of presenting them in not only a thought-provoking manner, but in such a way that didn't bore me to tears.
I was *this close* to not reading it, but I've learned something from this experience. Your next favorite read can surprise you and come in the most unlikely of packages. This is a great read for kids that seamlessly entertains and enlightens. One that I'll be gifting to a certain special kid.
Unsolicited ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review. Thanks, HarperCollins!