Perhaps it was the immediate mental face palm that went with learning the protagonist was named Violet Ambrose (Violet Ambrose? really?!), or maybe it...morePerhaps it was the immediate mental face palm that went with learning the protagonist was named Violet Ambrose (Violet Ambrose? really?!), or maybe it was the extreme implausability of much of the teen crime solving, but I finished The Body Finder feeling a little ho hum. It seems that, with this particular young adult genre, suspension of disbelief has to be applied more liberally to what would otherwise be regular contemporary settings; unless very well written, teens solving crimes just involves a certain amount of implausibility in the plot. And, though The Body Finder was at times sweet, interesting, and funny, it never really crossed over to "very well written" for me.
In all fairness, many of the crime solving aspects of the story that I found most implausible could potentially be explained away by the supernatural aspect to the story. If you are willing to accept -- in an otherwise contemporary setting -- that a young girl can sense dead bodies, it is just a small step forward to believe that a beloved uncle, who is also a cop, would choose to believe (and by extension cover up for) his niece. What could not be as easily dismissed are how many elements of the mystery weren't really part of the mystery at all, but rather answers dropped on the reader at the end. (view spoiler)[ How are you supposed to know that there are two killers when there is absolutely no foreshadowing indicating the possibility? It almost felt like a last-minute plot add on to extend the drama. And how are you supposed to have suspected anyone when neither suspect is ever actually revealed?! We are simply told this is how the story is resolved, never shown. I don't even think we ever learn the names of the killers. (hide spoiler)]
I find it really interesting that much of what I started out loving about The Body Finder turned into the most disappointing elements of the book. Violet's parents (well, actually, her whole family) start out so unconditionally supportive and present in her life. Whatever may or may not happen outside of her family sphere, they all always believe her and work to make sure that she is protected at all costs. Which is why it is so odd that, when necessary to move the plot along, her parents just sort of check out. They become incredibly neglectful, almost ignoring her and what she is choosing to do.
I was also really disappointed to never delve deeper into the identity of the killer. When he first describes his "game" (p22), I was thrilled at the way it was written. It was disturbing, it was awful, it was chilling and creepy, but it was really well done. I would imagine it would be hard for any female (teen or adult) to read that passage without recognizing times, places and situations where we mark ourselves as easy victims; and it could maybe even help some teens to make some safer decisions in the future. However, the glimpses from the killers perspective never evolve beyond that moment. His perspective almost becomes a sock puppet.
Finally, one of the best written parts of the entire story was the subplot between Jay and Violet. I love that she falls for her best friend and becomes all awkward -- it is usually the other way around. I love Jay's sweetness, protectiveness, confidence, and humor. (view spoiler)[ And I absolutely adored how they eventually got together. (hide spoiler)] However, I hated that she was such a strong, independent character until she entered into a relationship. She becomes that girl -- you know, the sort who suffers from "devastating loneliness" after a few hours without a text (p 205), and can't seem to make any decisions on her own anymore. (view spoiler)[ I also don't like that Jay ends up having to save her all the time, rather than her being resourceful enough to save herself. (hide spoiler)]
The Body Finder also occasionally had a homophobic comment here and there that was offensive enough to jar me out of the story. So, all in all The Body Finder had some problems that kept it from being an awesome read, but I still found it interesting enough to at least try the next book. (Though I also think that Derting wraps this installment up well enough that The Body Finder could work as a satisfying stand alone.)
First, impressions about translation then on to the review: I think I can easily say that I disliked the translation of Saphirblau much more than Rubi...moreFirst, impressions about translation then on to the review: I think I can easily say that I disliked the translation of Saphirblau much more than Rubinrot. Again, Gwen just reads younger than she really is, and this time it affected my enjoyment of the book much more than with Rubinrot. It seemed to diminish some of Gwen's character growth. Gwen also comes off as a much more angsty character in English than she did in German. And, again, can we just enjoy that German cover?
However, one thing both translations have in common is that Sapphire Blue reads more like slump chapters that follow Ruby Red than an independent book. It jumps right in where Ruby Red left off with little to no background information and ends just as abruptly. Even in a trilogy I like a little bit of a reminder at the beginning of each book about where we have been, and some sort of resolution at the end -- even if it is temporary or only for part of the plot.
I also found the main characters are disappointingly less realistic and well rounded in Sapphire Blue than in Ruby Red. Gideon is just a mess -- fluctuating between kind friend and jerk at the drop of a hat; Charlotte -- who was annoying but redeemable in Ruby Red -- becomes insufferable; and Gwen is so wrapped up in Gideon's personality swings that she misses a lot of really important things going on all around her. Lesley and the other members of the supporting cast (oh, how I love you Xemerius -- and I would buy you a dog!) save this installment of the trilogy. Their humorous antics carry the book between the action.
All this aside, a lot more happens in this installment than what one assumes at first glance. There are tons of little hints and bits of information that will be important for Emerald Green; the foreshadowing just got a little lost in the angst. Sapphire Blue was also still a fast and frothy read -- fun despite the flaws -- and I'm excited to get my hands on Emerald Green next fall.
It really surprised me how underwhelmed I was by 13 Little Blue Envelopes. I really enjoyed T...moreFinished for the 48 Hour Book Challenge...review to come.
It really surprised me how underwhelmed I was by 13 Little Blue Envelopes. I really enjoyed The Name of the Star, and there have been many days where Maureen Johnson's tweets were the funniest thing I read all day. I think I would have even given it a 2 of 5 rating if some measure of loyalty to an author I adore hadn't compelled me to add that third star. Now, after stewing on it for almost a month (whew! so sorry for that long absence!), I think it actually deserves all three stars, though I still think there are some major flaws here.
Ginny has got to be one of the dullest main characters I have ever read. She reminds me of the globe trotting girl in Death Cab for Cutie's I Will Possess Your Heart video -- she's going to all these amazing places and seeing all these amazing things and all I can think is "please let me get away from this wet towel so I can see these amazing things!" I understand that grief affects us all differently, but it seems that blindly following her aunt's letters while refusing to really engage in anything isn't remaining true to anything -- herself or her aunt's intentions. Her "romance" (if it can be called that) with Keith didn't even really require her engagement -- it was as contrived and convenient as it was lackluster and boring. Keith was lackluster and boring. As someone who has traveled Europe a few times and as a parent, I also find the premise that Ginny's parents -- who clearly didn't approve of her Aunt Peg's choices -- would suddenly send their teenage daughter off with virtually nothing but a pack of letters from her aunt to be completely impossible.
I also find it interesting that spectre of Aunt Peg ends up being the most interesting part of the entire book. When I first finished 13 Little Blue Envelopes, I felt that Aunt Peg was an odd variation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She existed solely to come into both Ginny and Richard's lives and shake them up; make them see the world differently. However, after further reflection I think that, though she may have been a MPDG for Ginny, there seemed to have been more awareness and development in the relationship between Richard and Peg -- hence the third star.
13 Little Blue Envelopes was a light and quick read. Johnson's writing style covered a multitude of character and plot flaws, making the book continue to be a a fairly enjoyable -- if completely improbable and forgettable -- read. I don't think I would recommend 13 Little Blue Envelopes to young readers; however, it has done nothing to prevent me from continuing to wholeheartedly recommend Maureen Johnson.
One of my favorite uncles growing up was my Uncle Joe. He was big, larger than life even. He could sing like Hank Williams. He was a gifted...moreRating: 3.5
One of my favorite uncles growing up was my Uncle Joe. He was big, larger than life even. He could sing like Hank Williams. He was a gifted storyteller who usually focused more on the quality of the story than the truth. He had that quintessential southern accent -- smooth and warm, it would roll through you like good whiskey. He could make a mean boiling pot -- with Uncle Joe, food went beyond nourishment and became an event. He was an amazing and skilled hunter and fisherman. And (as odd as it may sound coming from this nearly life-long vegetarian) it was partly his love of nature and animals that helped inspire my own. He was a drifter by nature, unlike Nolay (see! I didn't forget the book!), because his roots were not a place but people. Like a boomerang he always circled back to us. Of all the stopping places he found, the one that lasted the longest in my memory was Alabama. He fell equally in love with the swamp and the Gulf; and, for a man who seldom did such things, he could wax poetically about both. Uncle Joe was also a lot like Nolay in that he always seemed to have something to prove -- to himself and everyone else. He was fiercely protective of us, his family, both as people and ideas. Somehow, after he died, we became a little less a unit and more a collection of people. He had a temper, and he didn't always make the best choices. But, like Bones, I didn't see that when I was a child. All I saw was this amazingly smart man who could do anything except wrong.
These similarities, of course, made my immersion into Precious Bones both quick and thorough. But, despite my personal parallels that made this book particularly compelling, I think many readers will find it equally compelling without them. Ashley-Hollinger writes with such evocative, eloquent beauty that it just sucks you in and won't let go. The mystery is fabulous, but the biggest reveals aren't necessarily related to the mystery. Precious Bones is also a luscious coming of age story, a story about seeing people as they really are and still accepting them.
Oddly enough, my biggest complaints about Precious Bones are also some of the things I loved most. I love that Ashley-Hollinger includes regional dialect. I also love the sweeping descriptions of her surroundings. There is such a sense of place in Precious Bones. However, upon closer examination, her descriptions don't make sense in the context of Bone's first person narration. Bones has neither the education and experience for the similes and metaphors used, nor the vocabulary to have described many things as she did. As an adult I found the descriptions poignant and apt, but many would have flown right over my son's head without further clarification and definition. Also, despite the fact that I agree with all of Ashley-Hollinger's "messages" within the book, they were not exactly subtle. I would hate for that to be what turned kids away from an otherwise beautiful and interesting book.
I think the best way to sum up Shirley Marr's Preloved is to say, whatever you are expecting? It isn't that. Not exactly, anyway. I read tons of revie...moreI think the best way to sum up Shirley Marr's Preloved is to say, whatever you are expecting? It isn't that. Not exactly, anyway. I read tons of reviews that try to explain. Marr says it herself when she describes it as "more a bad romance, less of a love story. And it's more abnormal than paranormal," but still, I went in thinking I knew what it would be. I was wrong, and I was blown away. I tore open my manila mailer, seated myself on the couch, and started reading. I sort of grunted incoherently at my husband as he thrust a glass of tea and a sandwich in my hand somewhere around dinner time, only to finally surface hours later to a quietly sleeping house.
I went in expecting a book that would extol the awesomeness of the 80s -- The Cure, Labyrinth, Princess Bride, Rainbows on everything. And they were all there; but so was the Challenger, Chernobyl and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I expected a little gratuitous nostalgia or the 80s used as an "exotic" backdrop (Hah! Now I know why my mom would get twitchy when we talked about how long ago the 60s were!) Marr was able to display the 80s in all their fab-glam glory while still showing that everyday people were living out their lives -- just as they are today.
I went in expecting a love story. And, boy does it deliver! Only, it's not of the teen romance variety (yep, there's a bit of bad romance there). Instead, it is about familial love. Amy and her mother have hands down one of the best mother/daughter relationships I have ever read. Marr helps you feel everything between them: the push and pull, the frustration, the suffocating clingyness, and the all-encompassing, ever-abiding love.
It was interesting as an American to explore the evolution of slang and trends not only between the 1980s and now, but also America and Australia. I think most Americans would, unlike Amy, still recognize and use the word "spaz" (my little brother calls me this on a regular basis), but I had no clue what was going on with this Mr. Matey thing until I YouTubed it. (We had Mr. Bubble; just as creepy but at least no talking of taking off clothes!) I also completely love the way Marr incorporated Chinese culture. I was fascinated by all the different superstitions, traditions and rituals. It made my day when I found out that ALL of them are true, told straight to Marr from her mother.
I also think it is incredible that in amongst all the 80s camp and ghostly shenanigans, Marr was able to write a wonderfully compelling and relatable story about a young girl coming of age and coming to terms with who those around her really are, and what they mean to her. It will be worth the extra work to get my own copy.