Suppose Season One of Veronica Mars and Rian Johnson’s 2005 neo-noir film ‘Brick’ met in dark alley for a secret liaison, and the result was...more2.5 stars
Suppose Season One of Veronica Mars and Rian Johnson’s 2005 neo-noir film ‘Brick’ met in dark alley for a secret liaison, and the result was a book. If you are anything like me, you’d assume that book would be awesome, right? It would be darkly toned, with hardboiled, gutsy characters and razor-sharp dialogue wrapped around a tight, switch-backing plot. You wouldn’t be able to put it down and the grit would be practically leaching off the pages onto your fingers.
Despite the clear potential, I’m not sure that All Unquiet Things is that particular lovechild book.
Given the synopsis of Anna Jarzab’s debut novel, I think it’s fair to say that some readers would see similarities in terms of genre and themes between this book and the abovementioned television series and film. From Jarzab’s website:
All Unquiet Things centers around the murder of teen heiress Carly Ribelli, who was found shot to death a mile from her house in a wealthy Northern California suburb. Carly’s uncle, a dissolute alcoholic, was convicted of the crime, but a year later his daughter still doesn’t believe her father is guilty. Determined to prove his innocence, Audrey Ribelli contacts Carly’s ex-boyfriend, Neily Monroe, the boy who found Carly’s body. She is convinced that he knows more than he thinks about the events that led up to Carly’s death. Despite Neily’s initial reluctance, he and Audrey begin their investigation at the posh private school they attend, identifying prime suspects from among their spoiled classmates and digging up secrets about Carly’s past to get to the truth behind her murder.
To her credit, Jarzab has crafted a reasonably tight murder mystery and the care she has taken with her plotting, clues and red herrings shows. It’s a structurally sound novel, so to speak, in that it works as a mystery and the details have been carefully thought out. Information is revealed and withheld with precision in order to keep the story taut and well paced.
However, what All Unquiet Things packed in premise and potential, I feel it lacked somewhat in execution.
The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Audrey and Neily, and while this works for the purpose of the plot, I didn’t find their respective voices to be particularly distinct. For a large amount of the book, I felt that the two characters blurred into one as they were quite similar in tone, despite the fact that much was made of their difference in lifestyle and background.
It’s possible that it was due to this lack of a distinctive quality to the narration that also I found the main characters difficult to emotionally engage with. In fact, this story as a whole failed to resonate with me because I just didn’t connect with the characters or their lives. I kept reading the book out of interest as to how Jarzab would eventually show her hand and reveal the murderer, how she’d pull off the denouement, rather than out of any real investment in Audrey, Neily or even Carly. While I don’t require that I like characters, I’ll admit that my enjoyment of a book hinges largely on how compelling I find them.
I would say the attention to minutiae and plotting in the book, while absolutely necessary, also lends the story a slightly.. methodical feel. Rather than darkly atmospheric and gritty, making the most the “noir” aspects of the genre, the prose seemed slightly clinical. Which makes for crisp reading, but not so much for vivid setting and ambiance, which I something I feel that this story could have really played up a lot more than it actually did.
Anna Jarzab’s ‘All Unquiet Things’ was well-written, considered and carefully conceived. I will definitely read her further work, as I believe Jarzab will go from strength to strength from her solid debut.
However, given the (mostly) unrealised potential for awesome (view spoiler)[a fairly unscientific measure, I’ll admit (hide spoiler)] and the lack of investment I felt in the characters themselves, this wasn’t off the charts for me in terms of reading enjoyment.
Edit: I really like this cover. Creep-tastic. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
At first glance, Wanderlove appears to be a light piece of escapist travel fiction, treading the well-worn paths of comedic culture shock, adventure a...moreAt first glance, Wanderlove appears to be a light piece of escapist travel fiction, treading the well-worn paths of comedic culture shock, adventure and self-discovery common to backpacker lit.
Upon reading, however, it’s evident that Wanderlove is much more than this. It is a resonant and affecting story about healing and uncertainty - about looking backward in order to move forward. It’s about self-worth not being contingent upon the opinions and judgments of others, but rather upon ourselves, and having the courage to embrace the strengths and flaws that make us who we are.
Wanderlove follows the physical and emotional journey of 18 year old Bria Sandoval: from California, doubt, and a damaged relationship with her art, to Central America, self-insight and strength.
It begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Are you a Global Vagabond?, and a disenchanting touchdown complete with middle-aged, Dean Koontz-novel toting, suitcase-wheeling tourists. Hardly the idyllic escape promised in the travel brochure photos. Enter charismatic/enigmatic backpackers Starling and Rowan, the doctrine of wanderlove, and Bria’s travels take a turn from tour bus to chicken bus, from check-box itinerary to spontaneity and chance.
It may be worth mentioning that my enjoyment of Wanderlove was very much tied up in the extent to which I personally related to the story, and to Bria as a character. (After all, I do hail from a country where travel in general, and backpacking specifically, is seen as somewhat of a rite of passage.) Besides simply flavouring my reading experience with a hint of nostalgia though, I felt connected with the story. I was invested in Bria emotionally. I wanted to see her grow and develop, how Hubbard would unwind the tangles of Bria’s complex relationships with her art, her family and friends, even herself.
There is an effortless, smooth quality to Hubbard’s writing, in both the authenticity of Bria’s voice and the beautifully captured descriptions of her travel experiences. The prose is clear and succinct, not overly embellished. Quotes, journal entries and flashbacks are used sparingly here, and don’t weigh down or distract from the narrative. Hubbard’s own travel experiences and writing come to the fore, and her passion for the subject is evident.
While the story is compulsively readable, this is largely a character driven novel. Plot and exotic locations aside, I felt that Hubbard’s strength really lay in her ability to create realistic characters, and to gradually reveal their depth and motivations. What may appear to have begun as backpacker caricatures become multi-dimensional characters with agency. There’s even a little sly subversion of the backpacker-chic stereotype, as Bria’s travels progress and her perspective begins to shift.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the artwork (drawn by the author) that appears throughout Wanderlove. There is a whimsical, hopeful quality to the drawings, and they play well into the book, particularly into Bria’s internal journey and backstory. (I read this as an e-galley, so I’m particularly interested to see the actual hardcopy ‘in the wild’, as I’m sure my kindle screen did not do full justice to the art.)
In addition to Bria’s arc and her relationships with the characters, Wanderlove also lightly touches on the different reasons people travel, and the impacts upon the local population and infrastructure. It’s not a subject deeply delved into, but some interesting insights are offered – particularly in the case of Rowan’s opinions and his personal set of beliefs.
Wanderlove offers more than a simple travel romance, or a series of vivid holiday snapshots. Rather, it examines what it is to recover, to reclaim, and ultimately, to look forward.
A review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley (less)
I wondered what it would be like to see the dark blue sky above us not as heavy drapes of cloth, the top of a circus tent, but as an infinite expanse. As everybody else saw it.
In Going Too Far, Jennifer Echols has crafted a compelling story about the connection between two characters who are, in some ways, the very antithesis of each other.
Meg won’t be tied down, literally. Resistant to plans, authority, confined spaces – she combats restrictions and small-town claustrophobia with plans to go away to college and avoidance of emotional entanglements.
John After lives within his carefully constructed defences, refusing to be left exposed and vulnerable. A law-enforcer, a rule-abider, Officer After is guarded and cautious. He is the practiced restraint to Meg’s reckless abandon.
Going Too Far is an incredibly engaging read. The chemistry between Meg and John is intense and volatile, the story becoming increasingly charged with each page. The interactions between the characters spark with the friction of conflict and attraction. Add to this the enforced distance of the situation that throws them together, and the plot is heavy with anticipation.
Sexual tension aside, it is also an honestly expressed portrayal of what it is to let go, to trust, to be hurt and to hurt someone else. In this respect, Echols has created realistic characters, with flaws and strengths, each contending with their own internal issues. Importantly, whether their actions are sympathetic or not, they act like teenagers: perhaps not always defensible, but mostly understandable.
This was my first Echols novel, and I was impressed with the fluid writing and her deft hand with dialogue, particularly with Meg’s snarky, self-deprecating humour. (view spoiler)[What’s unimpressive about this book is the distinctly horrid cover. Please don’t let that fool you about what’s inside. (hide spoiler)] While a major selling point is clearly the romance aspect, there was also greater substance here than I was expecting, in the exploration of Meg and John as nuanced individuals.
Going Too Far ended up being not quite what I had expected, in a good way.
Somewhat surprising, definitely engaging, and highly enjoyed. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Conceptually, I liked this book. The subject matter is topical, and I feel that the arguments presented are valid and worth discussion. The issues Kac...moreConceptually, I liked this book. The subject matter is topical, and I feel that the arguments presented are valid and worth discussion. The issues Kacvinsky conflates to build her future world will resonate with anyone who has even half a finger on the current technological pulse, or an interest in social anthropology in general.
In execution, however, this novel left me with fairly lukewarm feelings.
Fast forward to 2060, when escalating violence and rapid advancements in technology have caused the lives of US citizens to invert. Education and social interaction take place largely online. Private transport is uncommon. Writing longhand and paper books are practically obsolete (*gasp!*) And almost everybody is “plugged in”, armed to the teeth with phones, “flipscreens”, even “MindReaders”. There’s no longer just “an app for that”, there’s a device that will do it for you.
We meet Maddie, daughter of the founder of Digital School, suffering the consequences of a past rebellion and living her life mostly within the confines of her home. Enter Justin, a mysterious online study group contact, who extends the unusual invitation to meet in person, and offers Maddie a glimpse of another kind of life.
This is not a subtle book. You do not have to read between the lines, because the lines essentially leap off the page and hit you in the face. Whether through the internal musings of Maddie herself, or via Justin’s eloquent speeches – he occasionally sounds more like a travelling sage than a (view spoiler)[20 (hide spoiler)] year old guy – the evils of technology gone too far are expounded loud and clear. I’d go so far as to say there isn’t really subtext here. Just text. To wit: as life becomes increasingly tied to technology and thus devoid of physical and emotional connection, it tears away at the foundation of what it is be human, and the intrinsic value of relationships.
I don’t disagree with many of the sentiments that the characters / the story express. And Kacvinsky’s writing is clear with some nice, expressive turns and genuinely profound lines. Maddie is not an entirely unsympathetic protagonist and it’s pleasing to see that she takes some of her choices into her own hands. So perhaps I should simply chalk this one up to not being to my particular taste.
While my interest was piqued by the beginning, I felt that the mid section of the narrative was somewhat flaccid. It paints an accurate picture of the boredom of Maddie’s restricted, virtual life – but my attention waned considerably. The pacing increases throughout the latter chapters, but I felt here that the story relied heavily on the reader’s investment in the Maddie/Justin will they/won’t they relationship to pull them through the plot, as opposed to Maddie’s actual predicament. I’ll admit that for me, the chemistry between the characters fell flat. There are "swoony" moments between them – but the constant expository, didactic dialogue was a little frustrating.
In terms of the climax, it was well-paced, but relied heavily on convenient twists and pulled together rather too neatly for me to completely buy into. And while the ending leaves threads loose to be picked up in the sequel, I can’t help but feel that maybe it would be a stronger book if it stood alone. The hopeful, yet slightly melancholic note of the final pages might have reinforced the impact of the story, lingered more, had I not know that they would be picked back up and extended later. I may be alone in this opinion – I’m sure that there are plenty of readers who are eager to get reacquainted with these characters and follow their story.
Awaken is well-written (view spoiler)[ although what was up the sea-going car? I had to re-read that section because I thought I might have imagined it. I’m afraid that part just felt silly and unnecessary to me (hide spoiler)] and poses some interesting, albeit very blunt, questions. I can see that the speculative nature of the story and the character’s relationships will be appealing to some – however the style in which the themes were delivered made this not really my kind of book. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Unfortunately for me, The Line was a definite case of a premise I loved, and execution that I did not.
Despite it’s recent glutting with offerings (so...moreUnfortunately for me, The Line was a definite case of a premise I loved, and execution that I did not.
Despite it’s recent glutting with offerings (some better than others), dystopia is still a genre I love. Because amid the lacklustre, the poorly conceived, and frankly absurd, every now and then I find a YA dystopian novel that completely blows me away.
This book was not one of them.
The Line takes some familiar aspects: a divided and reconstructed former US, war, heavy restrictions on citizens, and adds a sinister slant in the form of the invisible barrier that separates the Unified States from Away. Away is rumoured to be populated by the bizarre and superhuman victims of weapons used during the conflict. The Line ostensibly keeps these unacknowledged beings out, while locking citizens in.
The story revolves largely around three female characters, each of a different generation, who live on The Property that backs onto the Line. Vivian and her daughter Rachel have sought the relative safety of isolation after the death of Vivian’s husband, while their employer Mrs Moore harbours secrets of her own.
It was a concept that piqued my interested (*cough* along with the gorgeous cover), yet my initial enthusiasm waned fairly quickly. As with most readers, I have certain preferences when it comes to writing style. That’s not to say that I’m not open to new things, but I know generally what works for me. This didn’t. The writing is clinical and somewhat formal, keeping the reader distant. As a result, I simply could not engage with the characters at all. At the end of the novel, I still feel like I have no real idea who they are, what they’re like as people. Hall frequently tells us what emotions they are experiencing, but at no point did I actually feel this for myself. There was something rather methodical and detached about the manner of storytelling in this case.
Also, to put it bluntly, not a lot actually happens in this book.(view spoiler)[In a nutshell: A girl crosses a forbidden line. Literally. (hide spoiler)] This makes me think that the perhaps the purpose here was to build an incredible amount of tension and suspense through a deceptively slow-paced plot and a richly realised atmosphere of menace, keeping readers on their mental toes and unsure of what to expect. That’s all well and good, but there is a fine line between achieving this and.. not. To be completely honest, I spent a large portion of this book feeling vaguely bored and wishing something more would happen.
Despite this, and without spoiling the ending, there is some hope that things may get more interesting in the sequel. I’m keen to see some of the elements that initially drew me to this book be further developed, and I hope this is the case in Away.
Finally, my favourite thing about The Line? “Sheep-cats.” Is that not the coolest thing you’ve heard all day?
I’m not really sure what to say about this book. On one hand, I did actually enjoy this a fraction more than The Line. On the other, it was a...more2.5 stars
I’m not really sure what to say about this book. On one hand, I did actually enjoy this a fraction more than The Line. On the other, it was a case of “more of the same” in terms of the writing, pacing and overall issues I had with the first book.
Away picks up the story shortly after the conclusion of the The Line. Rachel has Crossed and is living with the Others in their camp. Vivian and Mrs Moore are back on the Property, unsure whether they have been betrayed. Rachel finds out that her father is alive and is being held captive by another group of Others.
But honestly, I just found both of these books far too thin and flat to really hold my interest. The prose is impersonal and distancing, told in third person and leaping from viewpoint to viewpoint of the various characters. Again, we are told what each of these characters are feeling, but it doesn’t translate into engaging storytelling. The characters purportedly feel pain, loss, love, hope – yet it all felt blandly monotone to me.
For such a captivating premise, I also wish the world had been better fleshed out. The scant detail provided about the way of life of the Others raises more questions and than are answered. The ending itself was outright abrupt and rang strangely hollow, which is an odd sensation after the investment of reading the two books in their entirety. I’m unsure whether there is going to be a third book in the series, but the ending of Away doesn’t really provide closure, nor does it linger all that much.
But onto what you really want to know. What about the sheep-cats?
They do, in fact, exist on the other side of the Line. But I was expecting something like, maybe, this:
The “sheep-cats” of rumour turn out to be Woollies, which are described as something like a woolly lynx.
That said, Nipper was my favourite character of the book. He definitely exhibited the most personality, in my opinion.
For all the promise of the synopsis, I ultimately felt somewhat underwhelmed by both The Line and Away. However, as a lower YA dystopia, they are adequately thought-provoking and offer a slightly different take a sobering situation. (less)
I’d venture to say that the version of Cinderella most people of my generation (or thereabouts) were introduced to was Disney’s blonde, blue-...more 3.5 stars
I’d venture to say that the version of Cinderella most people of my generation (or thereabouts) were introduced to was Disney’s blonde, blue-dress-wearing wearing, rags-to-riches interpretation. I know that for most of my childhood I associated the name with animated mice, glass slippers and that ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo’ song. (view spoiler)[Is it stuck in your head now? You’re welcome. (hide spoiler)]
But Cinderella’s roots lie centuries deeper, and forklore the world over is rich with variants on the story. Most carry the common thread of “unjust oppression / triumphant reward”, and the central elements and tropes have soaked down through the years, permeating today’s popular culture. The very name ‘Cinderella’ has become somewhat synonymous with the persecuted heroine archetype, an icon of changed fortune.
The themes and messaging around this classic take on Cinderella are understandably not all that resonant with part of its modern audience. They’re less willing to see a young woman’s happiness so rigidly defined, and determined by the fortuitous existence of a fairy godmother and the flick of a magic wand. There is a clamour these days for characters (particularly female) with more agency, more control over their future. And possibly less dancing rodents.
Cinder is a timely and welcome re-boot of the fairytale, with Meyer changing up the rather archaic elements for a futuristic setting and a much less passive approach to the central character. In this incarnation, Cinder is a cyborg, living in New Beijing and working as a mechanic. Under the legal guardianship of a cold and disdainful “stepmother”, Cinder is relegated to second-class status, good enough to bear of brunt of earning the family’s living, but unworthy of recognition as a true member of the family. In addition, Cinder faces prejudice due to the fact that she is a cyborg from her family, her community, even herself.
The character of Cinder was quite possibly my favourite element of Marissa Meyer’s book. She’s an intelligent, resourceful and sharply funny young woman, who carries a wrench and isn’t afraid to use it. Her vulnerabilities are counterbalanced with her strength, just as she’s a blend of human and machine. And while a measure of chance and coincidence play into the events that unfold in Cinder’s life, she also makes choices, takes action. It’s this self-determination against the odds, (more so than her mechanical parts), that define Cinder as a modern Cinderella.
I should also mention here Kai and Iko, whom I also liked immensely. Iko because she was adorable and cheeky, Kai because he was a refreshing take on the traditional “Prince”. It would have been incredibly easy for this character to be a cardboard cutout filling a cliché role, but Meyer crafts a genuinely likeable and interesting character who has great on-page presence (view spoiler)[and chemistry with Cinder. Round of applause here for this book taking the road of YA tropes less travelled, and building a budding relationship I was genuinely cheering for and invested in. (hide spoiler)]
Equally, I enjoyed the world that Cinder inhabited, and the cultural elements melded together to form the Eastern Commonwealth. There are some scenes in Cinder that are quite visual, and I loved the ideas Meyer put forward to describe her New Beijing. That said, I definitely feel that there was untapped potential here. Meyer scratches the surface of an intriguing concept, gives us glimpses of fascinating world, but I wanted more. More pictured, more explained, more utilised. Particularly in terms of the multi-cultural dynamic of the Eastern Commonwealth, which I can’t help but wish had been delved into more deeply.
Alongside the futuristic makeover of the setting and characters, Cinder stays quite close to the original fairytale in terms of the plot. Meyer does twist a few points, and gives the story some shades of grey rather than formulaic black and white, but there aren’t really any major surprises. To this end the foreshadowing throughout Cinder is not always particularly subtle. I’m unsure whether the last big revelation of the book was intended to be a surprise, or whether Meyer wanted us to have guessed it in advance, but I can’t say I batted an eyelid at its exposure.
Despite this, I still found Cinder inventive and engaging, and there is a lot of fun to be had within it’s covers. I enjoyed Meyer’s vision of the future and her re-imagined take on a classic tale, and I think the ground has been solidly laid for a strong, interesting follow up.
An advance review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Edit: So, I was bored a while ago and recorded an audio version of this review (with Special Guest Appearance by the birds on my balcony). (view spoi...moreEdit: So, I was bored a while ago and recorded an audio version of this review (with Special Guest Appearance by the birds on my balcony). (view spoiler)[I haven't read aloud all that much, so apologies for how odd I sound. I kept running out of breath. (hide spoiler)].
At the risk of sounding flip about it, I have to commence this review by saying that I felt Lia Habel’s zombie/horror/post-apocalyptic/steampunk/neo-Victorian novel was rather in need of a corset.
To be fair, what appears to be a slightly scattergun approach to genre actually works. Habel melds the elements of her story together convincingly, with noticeable attention to detail and a thought out process to her world-building. However, as much credit as I must give the careful crafting of a complicated premise, the book felt somewhat bloated and loose, particularly around the midsection (no pun intended). (view spoiler)[Okay, pun a little intended. (hide spoiler)]
There is a vast amount of information in form of backstory and world history, the set up of character conflicts, and explanation of the zombie-creating disease, that, while necessary, can get rather tedious. Combined with the multiple (five!) points of view through which the story is told, there is an undeniable sprawl to the book, which occasionally threatens to get out of hand. I’ll be honest and say that at times, I had to fight the urge to start skimming, and the plot didn’t consistently hold my attention. I can see why the additional viewpoints were included, but the successful rendering of all the voices was far from equal.
The elaborate world of Dearly Departed is quite admirably drawn and it seems evident from the writing that Habel has a genuine passion for her subject matter and genre. This is not merely a case of dressing up a paranormal romance in a crinoline, shoving in a few references to cogs and automatons and calling it steampunk. Habel has also taken care to portray the finer points of Victoriana, twisting the etiquette and dialogue to suit her futuristic, hybrid world.
Whether you can buy this particular concept – that the future world has chosen to revert back to a “golden age” of refined manners and strict social codes including the restriction of female freedoms – is quite a gamble on Habel’s behalf. However, I do think that pending suspension of belief, the resultant world is interesting and rather entertaining.
While I enjoyed the majority of the characters, particularly Bram and his comrades at Z Base, be aware that this story largely romaticises zombies (though not to the point of sparkles, thankfully). While the lurching, falling-apart, rotting, brain-consuming variety are certainly a presence – there are also a less offensive type who have retained the majority of their humanity and personalities. Obviously, this is an effort to make the human-zombie love plotline palatable, but zombie purists may have a hard time accepting this version of… zombification, finding it raises more questions than answers (though these may be addressed in future books).
This was not an earth-shaking book for me, and I had a few irritations with the way the story was told, including the sheer breadth of viewpoints, which slowed the pacing. (It kind of lurched and shambled around at time, much like the Grays..) There is a lot going on: political intrigue, double-crossing, inventive zombie-slaying, burgeoning love, social commentary, uppity mean girls, tofu-eating, and plentiful gadgetry to be explained.. But at the end of the day, I found the characters and their story mostly engaging and entertaining.
In an increasingly popular and crowded genre, Dearly Departed rises boldly to the challenge of presenting something a little different, and most importantly (for me), fun. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I gave up on trying to untangle my emotional reaction from my critical thoughts, all hopelessly snarled together with lingering question marks, and just lay staring into the dark. The story refused to seep quietly into my consciousness, to be filed away neatly into a mental catalogue: good writing, interesting characters, believable dialogue etc, etc.
Instead, it kept twisting around in my mind, scenes replaying and looping. Possible interpretations were bound up messily in my own personal experiences and beliefs. Vera, Charlie, Ken, Jenny – they were characters, but I realised that over the course of the book they had become real to me. And their stories wouldn’t let me sleep.
How much of who we are is unconsciously pre-determined? I don’t mean this in a “destiny” or “fate” sense. Rather, how much of us is shaped by genetics, deeply hardwired into our blood and bones and minds? How much by the environment we live in everyday, the people who surround us? And how much by our beliefs – the things we hold to be so fundamentally true about ourselves that they become in effect self-fulfilling prophecies? Do we write our own futures by making the choice to accept certain assumptions or opinions of others, without questioning whether in fact they are true?
I couldn’t stop wondering about Vera and Charlie’s friendship – and why it played out the way it did. As the story unfolds through a series of viewpoints, flashbacks, flowcharts and interludes from a talking pagoda, there is a growing sense of inevitability. Each part of the story, each event, each nail Charlie’s coffin, to be blunt, almost seems to be set in inexorable motion by the events immediately preceding, by the choices the characters make. And yet how much of this might have been different – if someone spoke up, if someone changed their mind, if someone decided not to believe the thing they’d been told all their lives? Would Vera and Charlie’s lives and relationship have taken a different path? Or was this outcome always bound to happen, by virtue of persistent human nature?
At the end, I was overwhelmed with sadness for all of them. And yet I still felt a sincere appreciation for this story, a love for it because it was so honest and real. Because few books manage to convey how very possible it is to love someone and hate them all at the same time, for the people closest to us to inflict the worst kind of pain.
Prose-wise, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is effortless to read. Thematically, it’s not. The voices, particularly Vera’s, are exceptionally genuine and I found myself connecting to her much more than I expected I would. While she is a mostly undemonstrative character, choosing to lay low and will attention away from her, the raw pain and conflict is palpable in her words. The sadness bleeds through, leaching from a well of betrayal, abandonment, misunderstanding and hurt.
”And so, for all six years she’s been gone, I have $337 to show for having a mother. Dad says that thirty-seven bucks is good interest. He doesn’t see the irony in that.”
Needless to say, I really loved the writing in this book – it was poignant without pretention, emotive without being heavy.
“Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed. Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.”
For a story that tackles death, abuse and alcoholism amongst other things, for the most part King takes a remarkably even-handed approach that feels open and not gratuitous. (There are some other messages (view spoiler)[around pet ownership (hide spoiler)] in the novel where I felt perhaps King may have been speaking more to her personal opinion – and they came across rather more awkwardly.) I’m loathe to apply the term gritty here, because to be honest I think what King is showing us is simply reality (in terms of the issues it addresses, not the anthropomorphic landmarks, stripper dream sequences and pickles), and the reality is that life isn’t polished and smooth. That tragedy happens all the time. Often, right next door.
From reading other reviews of Please Ignore Vera Dietz I had foreknowledge of some of the more unusual aspects of the story (narrators who shouldn’t physically be able to speak etc) so I didn’t find these elements distracting. If anything, I think I had mentally prepared myself for much more “quirk”, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I felt myself connecting to the story. I even came to view the speeches from the pagoda as something of a comforting, solid presence in the story amid the increasingly unsettled events and emotions surrounding it.
Where I found Please Ignore Vera Dietz wanting was in its resolution. I was happy with where the story left most of the characters, but I felt it was a little unrealistic in its timing – what had been a festering wound seemed to heal a little too quickly to be totally believable. I definitely think that the characters would have reached this point eventually – but not with the apparent ease and swiftness with which the book seems to present the situation.
Finally, I have to agree with one of my readalong partners-in-crime and say that there is a quite the aura of a cult classic around this book. The execution is slightly unusual, but the story strikes at the heart of intensely relatable and moving subject matter. This may sound contradictory, but this book broke my heart and I loved it.
Thanks to my lovely readalong ladies, Shirley Marr, Lisa O and Maja! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Once my flatmate and I camped out in our lounge room and watched all three seasons of Veronica Mars back to back. We may or may not have also been eat...moreOnce my flatmate and I camped out in our lounge room and watched all three seasons of Veronica Mars back to back. We may or may not have also been eating Milo straight from a jumbo size tin with spoons and a bottle of milk, but that is beside the point people, beside the point!
What the actual point is, is that Slide has a similar addictive, easy-to-consume quality. As Veronica Mars, I mean, not Milo. (Although, one could argue it’s two sides of the same coin).
I can’t help but think that the VM comparisons are going to inevitably crop up. As I clicked through the pages on my kindle I couldn’t help picturing the protagonist as a pink-haired Kristen Bell. There are some similar elements: the mystery, the former cheerleader turned social pariah, the absent (dead, in this case) Mother. Yet it would be unfair to hold Slide up against VM for review purposes, given their differences.
For one thing, Slide lacks VM’s noir edge, instead giving the plot a paranormal twist in the form of Vee’s sliding gift/curse ability. Apparently narcoleptic, Vee has the ability to “slide” into the viewpoint of another person when she touches something they have left an emotional charge on, an ability that causes her to slide into the perspective of a killer.
To borrow a phrase from my friend Nomes, this is what I would call a “popcorn” book, in that it’s entertaining and a fun way to pass a few hours, by no means a bad thing. I had my doubts through the first few chapters, but then found that I had read the entire book with only a few pauses. The pacing is quite brisk, and the whodunit plot sustains its momentum. Although some elements of mystery are easy to spot, even predictable, and the red herrings are not all that subtle, there are still a couple of twists that I hadn’t anticipated.
Some events did seem a little too convenient, and I couldn’t think too long and hard about the way Vee’s ability worked or I started to pick at with numerous questions, but in all I think the way Hathaway handled the story was quite clever.
As plot driven novel, and one that showcases high school clichés (view spoiler)[I really have no point of reference here on the US high school experience except for late 90s/early 2000s teen movies (hide spoiler)], I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually came to like several of the characters. In particular, the interactions and relationship between Vee and her sister Mattie were quite moving, and nicely written.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading Slide. Although a genre I don’t delve into very often, I liked the fact that the “paranormal” elements didn’t take over the story and were counterbalanced with Vee’s depiction as an otherwise fairly realistic teen. If you’re into this sort of thing, and are looking for a light, fun read, this might just be it.
I’ll sum this up by paraphrasing Travis, from Clueless: Two thumbs up. Fine holiday fun.
An advance review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
”Why do you always miss everything, I thought. Why can’t you ever be happy in the moment, instead of looking backward or forward?”
On the face of it, this seemed like a “Rey Book”, because I like to think that twenty-something-angst is my unofficial area of expertise. I thought that I would my spend my time reading The Fallback Plan nodding along in enthusiastic agreement, flagging passages and essentially revelling in the sheer relevance to my life.
But just shy of the halfway point, I found myself growing weary of Esther and her weltschmerz. It struck me that I’m not all that interested in reading about someone’s existential crisis just for the sake of it. Whereas I could bang on about my own for hours (no one would listen of course, and for good reason) I simply didn’t care about Esther’s. I wanted a more compelling reason to be a participant in her pity-party, as harsh as that sounds. And rather than relating to her malaise, more often than not during the first half of the novel, the self-indulgence of Esther’s actions and musings just grated on me. Not be all Judgy McJudgePants, because I think I understand the whole ‘making poor choices element’ of being a young adult, but I found myself less and less able to sympathise with her, and her apparently wilful blindness to the obvious.
Somewhere after this point, however, my feelings began to change. As Esther becomes more entangled with the Brown family, and her relationships with each member become more complex, it becomes a more compelling story. It’s heavily introspective, and Esther’s development throughout the book is subtle, but Stein’s writing is sharply observant and pitch-perfect. While at times I found Esther’s constant stream of neurosis bordering on tedious, it’s also often hilarious and undeniably well-written.
”I saw I was deceiving myself. I was the one who wanted to regress to some Eden, a second childhood using May as my ticket. I wanted to travel back in time [...] and relive the precious ordinariness of all those days I never knew I would miss.”
”You’d think once I was old enough to realize how much damage I’d likely done to his self-esteem when I was eight years old by laughing at him with other girls, I’d apologize, but instead I just friended him on Facebook.”
The book really does articulate the particular brand of apathy that accompanies the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the realisation that life is not always what it was cracked up to be. Additionally it captures the painful deconstruction of relationships in the wake of grief, and the fact that nobody is really who they appear to be on the surface.
I’m loathe to use the word “quirky”, but as a character driven story, the voice is exceptionally off-beat while remaining realistic. However, I think I expected to have a more profound reaction to reading this book. I enjoyed it and found that a lot of the latter content resonated with me, but ultimately it lacked the personal “a-ha moment” I was anticipating. (less)
Would someone please hand me the Brain Bleach? I need to scrub my mind...
Seriously though, this tiny story packs one disturbingly insightful punch. Do...moreWould someone please hand me the Brain Bleach? I need to scrub my mind...
Seriously though, this tiny story packs one disturbingly insightful punch. Don't let the fluffiness of the "little girls and their ponies" premise fool you. This is razor sharp commentary that is stomach turning in its relevance.
I think I like Elizabeth’s Scott writing more with each of her books. When I started out, I felt like I was missing something. I enjoyed the first boo...more I think I like Elizabeth’s Scott writing more with each of her books. When I started out, I felt like I was missing something. I enjoyed the first book I read (Love You, Hate You, Miss You), but I didn’t quite understand the reverence with which Scott’s name was met in parts of my circle of reader-friends.
Since then I’ve read most of her books, recently finishing Miracle, and I need to say: I get it now.
I’ve previously commented on the brevity of Scott’s novels and the sparseness of her writing, but I’m going to reiterate my appreciation of it now. Perhaps because I read Miracle on the heels of another contemporary YA that dealt with complex issues, the sharpness seemed even more apparent when compared with the latter’s florid, dramatic prose. Tellingly, Miracle was the novel I felt more skilfully handled its subject matter, and the novel that I ultimately found the most moving. Scott’s ability to exercise to restraint in her writing seems to have the effect of distilling her stories into the most potent, concentrated form. In 224 pages, she packs a powerful punch to the emotions.
In my opinion Scott has always written authentic teenage voices, and in Miracle she retains this accessible tone even in light of her main character’s extraordinary circumstances. Megan is the eponymous “miracle”, the sole survivor of a plane crash who walks away from the wreckage with only superficial physical injuries. It’s a premise with the odds stacked against it, requiring considerable reader buy-in, yet this doesn’t result in alienating readers from Megan. Rather, Scott anchors Megan’s story in familiar things – family, friends, school, community – creating a relatable frame of reference through which to explore Megan’s PTSD.
While Megan emerges from the tragedy physically unscathed, the mental and emotional trauma she sustains and the repercussions thereof are the focus of the novel. Scott’s treatment of the subject of PTSD is unflinchingly frank, and you can read more about why that is here. Scott lays bare the realities of Megan’s situation, handling with particular honesty the way it impacts the people around her, and the confusion, frustration and isolation it results in. Of note here is the choice Scott has made in the way Megan’s PTSD manifests – in withdrawal and detachment – meaning that Megan’s actions are not always necessarily sympathetic. Throughout the novel, Scott doesn’t shield the reader from Megan’s difficult thought patterns, her anger or disconnection. And I applaud Scott’s decision, for challenging ideas about PTSD and for the integrity of her portrayal. I think this goes a long way to promoting understanding of an anxiety disorder that does not necessarily present in a uniform manner. Sufferers of PTSD may have vastly different experiences, and Scott draws attention to this fact through Megan’s story.
Miracle has a cast of strong, well developed secondary characters that add dimension to the plot, and to Megan herself. By contrasting diverse characters with a “small-town mentality” (whether that’s perception or reality), Scott prompts discussion around judgement and acceptance. This is most notable in Margaret and Joe, and how their experiences with prejudice, marginalisation and grief assist Megan in confronting her own issues, and reconnecting with her world.
(On a related note, can I just state for the record that I think Scott is a master of chemistry? She can get me genuinely invested in character relationships without a single stomach pterodactyl in sight.)
Given the topic, Miracle is not exactly a book with universal appeal, although I’d argue that there are nuances to the story that would have widespread resonance. However, for anyone interested in a powerful and honest depiction of PTSD and the problematic nature of labelling (both negatively and positively), I would recommend this compelling, candid novel.
* * * * *
This book punched me right in the FEELS. Review to come..(less)
When I was a teenager I uncovered a photo album in my grandparent’s house, tucked into the back of a cabinet, du...moreBurn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . .
When I was a teenager I uncovered a photo album in my grandparent’s house, tucked into the back of a cabinet, dusty and long neglected under stacks of hoarded papers. The album was full of pictures taken in Japan, where my grandfather had been stationed after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII. It was like looking at stills from a black and white horror film – destruction on a scale I had never seen before, fragments of the devastation captured on paper and stuck into a book. Prior to this, I had known nothing of this part of his life. It was verboten within the family. And turning those yellow pages, I think I began to understand in a very small way part of why he wanted to silence and forget this time of suffering - both for those who were lost and those who survived. But I doubt he ever will, or even can.
I mention this because of a statement Julianna Baggott makes in the acknowledgements of Pure around her research, which took in accounts of the atomic bombings and their effects. It’s a sentiment with which I think her character Bradwell would concur: there are horrors we cannot afford to forget.
While much of Pure reads like it was spilled from the darkest corners of subconsciousness into a grotesque and unsettling nightmare world, elements of this story are firmly anchored in our own reality, the shadowed parts of our history. Beneath the richly realised post-apocalyptic setting, this is a thematically resonant, futuristic story that echoes our not too distant past.
“Dome fiction” is not certainly not a new concept and Pure does not attempt to revolutionise the premise of a select few living in cloistered privilege while the outside world ekes out a life exposed to the (usually hellish) elements. What Puredoes do is construct a uniquely disturbing and sinister world, almost dream-like in its surreal elements, maintaining a sense of unease as the reader plunges deeper into the story.
There is an atmosphere to this book unlike any I’ve read before: the familiar and the frightening are crushed together into a bizarre symbiosis. The people of this world are similarly affected: horrifically burned, scarred and fused with objects both animate and inanimate, some forced together with other people into irreversible codependence, some enmeshed with animals beyond identification. After the cataclysmic Detonations, the world is startlingly foreign, yet also vaguely recognizable in places. The pervasive, unsettling tone that results is one of Pure’s strongest points, in my opinion.
The plot of Pure revolves around two of the central characters, Pressia – a “wretch” with a doll’s head for a hand, and Patridge – a “Pure” from an influential dome family, coming into contact with each other and the repercussions for their vastly different lives. Raised on opposite sides of the dome, their understanding of their own worlds are challenged, and neither will remain unchanged.
Pure is (another) multiple viewpoint book, the perspective shuffling through four different third-person vantage points. Honestly, I do not love multiple viewpoint books. I generally find the shifts cumbersome, not always adding much in the way of tone or texture to the story. However, I make an exception here, because while I still was not completely taken with the number of viewpoint characters, I didn’t find it detracted from the story being told. I felt invested in all of the characters, so I didn’t mind when a different person took up the narrative.
What makes a “tough” heroine has been discussed at length elsewhere, but as I read Pure I was struck by how Pressia’s strength was developed and expressed. While not physically imposing, athletically gifted, or particularly bold, Pressia’s tenacity in the face of fear and personal doubts were rather moving. My investment in Pressia grew steadily as I read, and I found myself afraid for her, proud of her, even tearing up for her.
While it developed more slowly, I found myself similarly attached to Bradwell. Initially, he was a character I found remote, even slightly repellent. By the end, I felt oddly concerned and fiercely protective over this blunt young man and what he represented.
I feel that Pure’s largest weakness lay in the occasional over-neatness of the plot. There are a few too many instances of characters who happen to be in just the right place, who conveniently show up in the nick of time, who land in exactly the right spot, who know exactly what to do and where to go. Some segments of the story dovetail a little too neatly to be entirely believable, and the difficulties one would reasonably expect to arise are occasionally glossed over to progress the story.
In a similar vein, there are a couple of scenes that read awkwardly to me, given the physical condition of the characters. It was distracting at times when the actions they were described taking seemed at odds with what they appeared to be capable off. (view spoiler)[I spent what is probably a disproportionate amount of time trying to work out the logistics of Bradwell and the birds in his back, for example, and fearing that the poor birds were getting squashed. (hide spoiler)]
Some readers may also have issues with the lack of detailing around the dome itself – how it functions and came into existence. I can’t say that this was a problem for me as I read, but I can understand that some may desire more solid grounding of the world, where I was satisfied with the resultant atmosphere.
Pure is an unusual book – at times the characters keep themselves distant from the reader, at times they are touchingly real. The events are by turns disturbing, bizarre and sad. The concepts are complex and twisted. It won’t be to everyone taste.
However, it’s these elements that I loved about this story. Highly evocative and beautifully strange, there is an underlying note of relevance that I was drawn to, a depth to the fractured world Baggott has created that I found intriguing. There are parallels to be found in Pure that speak of past tragedies and frighteningly credible future possibilities - things that we can't afford to forget.
It’s a troubling, curious and ambitious book – and I was entirely transported.
A review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
One of the things I love most about books and reading is the fact that they’re so subjective. Each person brings to their reading experience something...moreOne of the things I love most about books and reading is the fact that they’re so subjective. Each person brings to their reading experience something personal and unique, and leaves with a slightly different interpretation. Add to this individual tastes and preferences, and the field of opinion gets fascinatingly broad. For every person who loves fantasy, there is someone who prefers contemporary. For every person who thinks the love interest is mysterious and enticing, there’s someone who thinks s/he’s a swaggering arse-hat.
And for those of my friends who adored Double Clutch (and whose opinions I respect and value), there’s me.
I have mixed feelings about this story and overall, while I thought it was fun and rather cute in parts, I didn’t love it.
But credit where credit is due: this is a solid contemporary, upper YA romance that will probably appeal to fans of Jennifer Echols’ work. Double Clutch incorporates a new slant on the general high school scenario, and Brenna is a girl with clear interests and goals. There is a compelling dynamic between the three central characters and the tension between them is well-crafted, the triangulated attraction maintaining enough strength to carry the plot. The love interests are both flawed (view spoiler)[ which includes some truly jerk-ish behaviour on both their behalves, to be honest (hide spoiler)] and interesting in their own ways, which keeps the realm of possibility wide open and both options viable, rather than the lop-sided and clearly biased triangles to be found in some YA novels.
The story could have been finessed with some tighter editing, particularly of the descriptive and expositive passages, which at times get repetitive and tedious. There are portions that go a little too far into the minutiae of Brenna’s clothes, surroundings and actions, filling us in on each moment of her day when it’s not necessary and slowing the pacing down to a crawl. (This is also the first time I’ve seen the adjective “awesomely” used in print. Or e-ink. Whatever.)
Conversely, Reinhardt writes great dialogue – the voices of her teen characters feel authentic and lend a sense of normality to a situation which feels, honestly, more wish-fulfilment than strictly realistic. (Unless I am just the odd one out here, and everyone else found themselves at the centre of a steamy attraction-fest at 15?) But if the intention is to create an, er, gripping scenario balanced on a knife edge of secrets, past conflict and undeniable chemistry, then I think the goal is achieved and then some. It will be interesting to see whether this strong tension can be sustained over the course of two additional books without labouring the triangle into torturously back-and-forth territory.
Yet, there is something about this story that I balked at. For a book that I believe is intended to be sex-positive and up-front about physical intimacy, I found that message was muddied by some conflicting and unflattering portrayals of other characters. I really don’t want to start on a particular scene where a group of girls are described as practically “clawing and hissing” in their jealous rage and generally depicted as one-note, scantily-clad, “back-stabbing hooker want-to-be’s” because I could talk for hours about how much this bothers me. Particularly as it seems to serve to highlight the division between Brenna as “good” and these girls from Jake’s past as “bad”. While Brianna is accepting of Jake’s past sexual experiences (view spoiler)[ and their “love” conquers any reservations she has about his widely known history, (hide spoiler)] I feel like that is damaged by the (conscious or unconscious) demonising of the girls who took part. It (possibly unintentionally) reinforced an archaic and stereotypical double standard, and undoes much of the book’s otherwise positive and open attitude.
Interestingly I found the story between Jake and Saxon more intriguing than their respective interactions with Brenna, and I hope that the sequel delves further into their relationship, rather than just spinning out the romantic angst.
I’m willing to chalk this one up to just being “not for me”. A few of my friends have enjoyed this, and I’d recommend it to those looking for an entertaining YA romance with good chemistry between the characters. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Start with your randomly selected future date at room temperature. Add an ambiguous Plague (capitalised is b...moreInstant Dystopia: Now With 50% Less Logic!
Start with your randomly selected future date at room temperature. Add an ambiguous Plague (capitalised is best). Stir briefly to create a drastic population reduction, thereby ensuring wombs are a hot commodity in your new society. Heavily indoctrinate your characters to keep them in line and create exploitative scenarios, especially for teenagers. Insert an Improbable and Unexplained System of Government.
Got Plausibility Problems? Just add Romance! (Instant or QuickLuv is recommended). Sprinkle with Yearning Gazes, Electrifying Touches and Heaving Breaths to taste. Season liberally with Tension, or better yet, add Love Triangle and bring to the boil.
Huzzah! You have an Instant Dystopia! Plate up with a pretty cover (Shiny Locks and Flowing Dress optional). Serve while this trend is still hot! ~
Oh, Eve. Where do I start?
Despite a promising, albeit somewhat unoriginal, premise – it all went horribly wrong for me when Eve climbed aboard the Trope Train and didn’t know when to get off. Rushing straight past the stops of “frighteningly plausible” and “sound world building”, Eve charges down the well-travelled tracks of tru luv, flimsy backstory and convenient yet improbable scenarios. Throw in a thoroughly unsympathetic heroine and a head-desk inducing cliffhanger, and the resultant wreck claimed a few rating stars as casualties, along with my interest in reading the sequel.
One of the major issues I had with this book (I’ll get to the biggest in a minute) was the version of a “dystopian” world Carey presents. The scaffolding holding this world up was simply too rickety to stand up under questioning. We’re presented with an unexplained plague that has almost depleted the population, and a rigid system of schools and labour camps funnelling the remaining youth into sinister service to the “King of the New America”. Which for girls means, you guessed it, forced breeding. (Is it just me, or is this “girl’s value is in their baby producing ability” topic coming up a lot lately?)
Very little is provided in the way of explanation to flesh out this bleak vision of the future. I was distracted by this thinness of the world building throughout, struggling to visualise and accept the set up at face value. (And an immature inclination to chortle at the mention of the “King”.)
But the crux of my disengagement from Eve was Eve herself. I cannot recall a recent YA heroine that I have more vehemently disliked than this girl, who spends the entire book lurching from selfish decision to selfish decision. This in itself was perplexing to me. Although she was raised in a cloistered school with no contact with the outside world, and is actively educated in the “evils” of men and love, Eve purportedly has close friends of several years, and ample opportunity build meaningful relationships with her peers.
Despite this, Eve seems to have little compulsion to act in a compassionate or thoughtful manner, instead being so absorbed in herself that she causes harm to those around her. Further, Eve’s drastic flip-flop from fear of being raped to being basically affronted that she was not her rescuer’s “type”, was infuriating, not to mention ridiculous.
Granted, Eve has no understanding of how to survive in the wild, due to the closeted world she has been raised in. However, Eve’s continued abandonment, ignorance and outright endangerment of those around her boggled my mind. She leaves a trail of destruction in her wake as she stumbles through this story, and I simply couldn’t find it in myself to sympathise with her. On the contrary, I was frustrated, annoyed and entirely uninterested in her pity-parties. By the time she actually took pause to reflect on exactly what kind of havoc she had wreaked, I was so disconnected from her as a character that it was a struggle to muster any interest in her self-analysis.
Conversely, Eve’s former schoolmate and fellow escapee, Arden, was a girl I warmed to. Although initially cast as the suspicious outsider/mean girl, she was straight-talking, tough and intelligent, and frequently had scenes that made me want slap her a high-five.
The romance aspect of this story fell equally flat for me. Commencing when Caleb rescues Eve from an imminent bear attack, the two inevitably exchange meaningful gazes and heart-pounding touches. While I didn’t dislike Caleb as a character, and the life he and the other orphaned boys lived was somewhat intriguing, there was too much here that felt contrived and implausible. Not the least of this was the ease with which Eve assimilates into their world. Years of propaganda, fear and manipulation by her Teachers are swept away in mere days. Half-wild boys comport themselves, for the most part, like mild mannered school boys. And naturally, Eve falls in “love” with her dreadlocked, “ball song” singing saviour.
I can’t even write about Leif here, and the situation that unfolds during the raid, because I’m afraid I’ll punch my computer.
Below is a visual representation of my like or dislike of the main characters, relative to some of the major events. (Within a spoiler due to the naming of plot points):
On the positive side, Carey’s writing is fluid and holds attention, and she changes up the scenery and events regularly enough to keep the story well paced. It’s a fairly swift read, with a plot that keeps turning consistently.
Yet, just when I was beginning to soften, beginning to feel some interest in what would become of the characters and feel an investment in their goal: the ending. Although it is rather in keeping with the way Eve has behaved throughout the entire preceding story, it still seemed illogical and out of place to me. Frankly, it felt like the entire slog through Eve’s story was met with a slap in the face, and a cheap ploy to generate investment in the sequel.
However, I’m sincere when I say that I hope the continuation of this trilogy gets stronger. I certainly hope more of the world is explained and detailed. I hope some of the minor characters play a larger role, as there is real potential for their stories to be interesting.
That said, the bear is still my favourite character. High five, Bear!
Maybe it’s the onset of summer, or maybe it’s just my perpetually itchy feet, but I find myself drawn to road trip books recently. Having jus...more2.5 stars
Maybe it’s the onset of summer, or maybe it’s just my perpetually itchy feet, but I find myself drawn to road trip books recently. Having just finished and enjoyed Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, I went looking for another road-romance read and came up with Two Way Street. However, while there’s certainly a road in it, I’m not sure I’d classify this as a roadtrip book. I’d probably classify it under “Books That Really Irritated Me And Yet I Couldn’t Put Down.” Hmm. It seems I don’t have a shelf for that. Perhaps I should make one.
The “forced into a confined space with another person” device has been used to various, though similar, effects in both fiction and film: a truth-serum/confessional scenario, a set up for, er, “resolving” some unresolved sexual tension, or just giving a faltering relationship a final shove in one direction or the other.
In this case, recently broken up Courtney and Jordan are obliged to spend three days in each other’s company travelling to college, through complicated circumstances which are gradually revealed. Though we meet Courtney masking her raw hurt with snarky bravado, and Jordan being insensitive and apparently deliberately provoking, you just know all is not as it initially seems. Compelled into close proximity, the truth is going to come out, one way or another.
I’ll start with the good.
The structure of Two Way Street was really effective and well orchestrated. Barnholdt uses dual narratives, the story passing between Courtney and Jordan’s viewpoints. In addition, they recount not only the events of the trip as it happens, but also flashbacks of their relationship as it commences, then ultimately breaks up. In a sense, the story is moving both horizontally (between the narrators) and vertically (up and down along the timeline of their relationship) which pulls the story together into a tight weave of their perceptions and the underlying truth. I’ve probably made that sound a lot more complicated than it actually is – what I mean to say is that this is case where dual perspectives work really well, especially in terms of characterisation.
Jordan, who initially comes across as a posturing player with a distinctly cavalier attitude towards his hook-ups and a distasteful habit of playing girls off one another in order to score, is eventually revealed to be a fairly decent guy who genuinely cares about his girlfriend. Courtney, riding high on her righteous anger at allegedly being dumped for a nameless MySpace girl (view spoiler)[MySpace, haha! (hide spoiler)], eventually comes to understand that she needs to address her true feelings instead of ignoring them.
Additionally, I think that Two Way Street does tension well. The style in which the story is told means that the full picture of Courtney and Jordan’s relationship becomes steadily clearer, and as more information is revealed, the pressure between them mounts. It’s a fast moving story, helped along by Barnholdt’s measured hand with disclosing and withholding aspects of the full story.
And the bad?
Two Way Street just kept serving up a stream of stereotypes and high school clichés that I found hard to stomach. I’m not saying I don’t believe that there really are people who speak and treat each other like this. It was a while ago, but I was at high school once, so yeah, I get it. But sometimes it feels like lazy characterisation, and I’m left questioning whether it’s really necessary to keep perpetuating things like the token “slutty cheerleader” trope.
I liked Barnholdt’s writing and the style in which the story pulled together from different angles. I’ll definitely read more of her work, because while I didn’t particularly enjoy these characters, I did enjoy the way the author crafted their conflict. Similarly, though the drama seemed a little too over the top every now and then, there were some moments that felt genuinely (and familiarly) teenager-ish and were well articulated.
Not totally won over by this one, but I’m optimistic that I’ll find another Barnholdt book I’ll connect to better. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
First, a caveat: I did not enjoy this book. The following is my honest opinion, however I mean no disrespect to those of my friends who liked it.
Just...moreFirst, a caveat: I did not enjoy this book. The following is my honest opinion, however I mean no disrespect to those of my friends who liked it.
Just to be clear, I approached Obsidian optimistically, looking for something fun and entertaining to read. Because hot alien spells fun, am I right? Particularly on the heels of a couple of quite emotionally taxing books.
Well, apparently I should have checked myself before I wrecked myself, and paid heed to those little warning bells in the synopsis: “Arrogant.” “Stab-worthy.” Attaching these descriptors to the love interest should have tipped me off that at least part of this story really wasn’t going to gel with me.
Overall though, I am more disappointed than anything, because I feel that there was a lot going for this premise. It makes me sad to see such potential and a fun idea be eclipsed by a banal romance that draws so heavily on YA paranormal tropes and clichés.
There was promise in Katy. Despite her familiar casting as the new girl in town who has no idea that she’s pretty – Katy has personality, interests, a good relationship with her mother and is generally down to earth. She wasn’t a vapid, self-insert type of character, which was a positive sign. Sure, the “bookish” type heroine feels a little tired these days, but Katy seemed like a strong enough character to carry this story.
Enter the hot alien mysterious boy next door.
From this point on, while there were flashes of the book I thought this would be, it started to take a disappointingly familiar path. I felt my enjoyment steadily decline, to the point where I was frankly just angry and frustrated.
Having the protagonist state upfront that the love interest is a “douche” does not give said love interest carte blanche to go around committing Random Acts of Assholery in the name of Broody Hotness. The fact that the protagonist acknowledges the bad behaviour does not suddenly make it acceptable. Beating readers to the punch of calling out the love interest as a jerk does not award him a “Be A Jerk For Free” card.
Honestly, it makes me just plain cranky even after Katy recognises that Daemon is a douche, we are supposed to simply swallow this and understand her poor choices because he’s so allegedly “intriguing” and has a smokin’ bod. Demeaning, obnoxious behaviour is still demeaning and obnoxious any way you slice it. No matter how rock hard his abs, how finely chiselled his jaw, how piercing his eyes, I don’t find it hot. Acknowledgment and justification are not the same thing.
In short, and to channel Cher Horowitz of Clueless: “So okay, I don't want to be a traitor to my generation and all but I don't get YA love interests today. I mean, come on, they just turn up to the door shirtless and throw around some insults and make suggestive comments - ew - and then ignore you completely and like, we're expected to swoon? I don't think so.”
Unfortunately, I suspect that there is an Edward Cullen style “I’m horrible to you because I secretly love you and I can’t admit it” dynamic at play here. I can’t help but speculate that beneath Daemon’s outward displays of arrogance and kick-to-the-crotch-worthy insults, Armentrout is going to slowly reveal a tender heart that beats with genuine love for Katy.
While there are some scenes that are quite funny and/or tense, and the make-out moments are well-written, I have to say that I feel the whole thing is let down by a rather formulaic plot. A few sharply rendered, interesting characters are counter balanced with some that feel like caricatures. The pacing, particularly of the climax, is gripping and fast – yet the events themselves feel all too familiar.
Given the fact that a book I wanted to find entertaining yet left me feeling wound up and annoyed, I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t for me.
So if anyone can rec me a good alien book, please do. I’m all ears (less)
But underneath Matt felt a hollowness. He understood he was only a photograph of a human, and that meat he wasn’t really important. Photographs could lie forgotten in drawers for years. They could be thrown away.
You know that moment just before you’ve entirely woken up, when you’re dreaming, but you’re conscious that you’re dreaming, so you’re hovering somewhere between sleep and wakefulness? (view spoiler)[Or is that just me? (hide spoiler)] That’s the closest I can get to describing the experience of reading The House of the Scorpion. The world of this book blends the familiar with the strange, the safe with the sinister, in a singularly unsettling and powerful way.
It took me some time to reach that conclusion. Throughout large parts of this book, I felt almost disconnected - held at arm’s length by the characters and struggling against the slow pace of the plot. As a reader who generally prefers emotionally immersive books, I found myself at something of a loss as to define how I felt about this one. I still do, to an extent.
What was clear, after I finished The House of the Scorpion, was that it was lingering with me. I was still thinking about the characters and the things that had happened to them, but most of all, the extremely disquieting questions this story poses.
At the risk of sounding like I just want to get out of writing a synopsis, (view spoiler)[which is also true, (hide spoiler)] in my opinion the less known about this story before approaching it the better. Farmer chooses to tell her story in a particular manner, peeling back layer upon layer to reveal the frightening realities of what initially appears to be a quite familiar world.
This novel takes on complex subjects. Presents difficult scenarios. Gives you a false sense of security then pulls the floor out from under you. Asks you to question the characters, the world, even yourself. Relentlessly demands that you don’t just read this book, but that you be consumed by it’s central paradox.
Matteo is El Patron. But are there infinite possible versions of the exact same person? How much of who we are is written into out genetic code and how much is shaped by external things? How does choice factor into the way we develop, and what if those choices are never presented? (view spoiler)[Am I thinking about this too much? (hide spoiler)]
The House of the Scorpion does require you to just roll with it, for want of a better expression, with respect to some elements of the story. But for me, it was this shifting from the firmly realistic to the speculative that gave this book the slightly surreal atmosphere that I came to enjoy.
I do think that given the nature of some of the events (and I apologise for being deliberately vague her - actually for the whole vagueness of this review in general), I should have felt closer, more emotionally involved in the story. While I did become entirely engaged in the plot, I can’t say that this was due to a particular sense of connection with the characters. I wanted to feel more invested in them, yet I just… wasn’t.
That said, I can’t deny that this is a powerful book. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve read before, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. But it’s a thought provoking, quietly intense story that well-deserves it’s recognition. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
She flips through the photos, her face impassive. “Too bad about the flash burnout on this one.”
I look over at the shot she’s indicating. “The what?”
“The flash burnout. You got too close to the subject. So the flash overexposed her. Well, me, I mean.”
Books like this remind me of why I love contemporary young adult fiction.
Flash Burnout is by no means a perfect book. Its frank approach to love, lust, death and drug abuse may not hold universal appeal with readers. But where these themes often get over written, overblown, over dramatized, Flash Burnout handles them with finesse. The story that emerges from the finely balanced humour and sadness is a pitch-perfect, poignant snapshot of teen life, and the reality of growing up.
Flash Burnout only appeared on my book radar when I heard through the blogosphere about the death of L K Madigan. The tributes to her writing, her life, her very person piqued my interest, but it wasn’t until this year that I actually got around to procuring Flash Burnout. And now I wonder what I was waiting for.
There is a lot of talk/writing around the internets about “voice”, but if I wanted to show someone exactly what I think well done voice is, rather than try to tell them, I’d push a copy of this book into their hands. Because Madigan nails it. Throughout this entire story, Blake’s character spills off the pages. Through the serious, the funny, the macabre – it’s still Blake telling the story, Blake’s personality colouring the scenes, Blake’s fifteen-year-old-guy-lens filtering the world. And I loved this so hard. I laughed with him and at him, I cheered for him, I got mad at him, and my heart ached for him. Essentially, I believed just about every word of this book. It rang with authenticity, and had the heart that’s sometimes lacking from first person narration.
This has also got to be one my favourite portrayals of family in a YA novel. Rather than being mere phantom presences, or convenient foils for adolescent hijinks, the Hewson parents have a real role in this story as strongly realized, important characters in their own right. From the awkward safe sex talk, to the brotherly ribbing, to their unconditional love and support, Blake’s family bring another dimension to this story, a vital layer to the characterisation of Blake.
Then there’s Shannon and Marissa: the girlfriend who loves Blake, and the friend who needs him. It would have been easy for these two relationships to fall into cliché territory, or for one of them to be conveniently villainised, creating an easy way out of a tricky scenario. But instead, both girls are refreshingly interesting, flawed and sympathetic characters.
While I anticipated where the plot was headed relatively quickly, I can’t say that this detracted from my reading experience. In fact, perhaps the opposite is true. Understanding what was likely to happen, where Madigan was going to push her characters, probably made it all the more intense.
Flash Burnout doesn’t flinch from heading into murky territory when it comes to choices and actions. But I feel it’s well handled here. There’s a certain gravity to the writing, without coming across as heavy-handed or preachy. Neither does the story try to justify or shelter the characters from their decisions. Madigan simply lays it out in all of its raw, painful complexity. Most importantly though, I felt invested in these characters. I liked them. And I think it's this ability to create engaging characters that elicit a real response from the reader, that make this such a compelling story.
I also appreciate the fact that there’s no big bow tying off the ending. It would have felt like a cop out, a betrayal of the honesty with which Madigan had chosen to tell the story. As Blake’s Mum would say “actions have consequences,” and the reality of navigating adolescence is not always a John Hughes film. (view spoiler)[I’m still reeling from the disappointment of that realisation :) (hide spoiler)]
This turned out to be a bit more of a gush than I set out to write. That tends to happen when I read a book that both surprises me and exceeds my expectations, and Flash Burnout did just that. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)