Let me get this out of the way: Divorce sucks. It's sucks, and it's crap, and I hate it. Believe what you want, but anything that normalizes divorce really grinds my gears. This is a book that portrays love as something that comes and goes, like a that really cute dress that was great for you in high school but really doesn't work any more now that you're a college graduate, rather than something that takes work. I knew I was going to get a lot of that crap going into the book, and even though I knew it, reading about how a grown man can ditch his family over "love at first sight" with some leggy British chick still made me furious. (Do you think it was "love at first sight" with his FIRST wife, too? Hmmmmm?)
Okay, that's the end of my rant. I promise, that's the last of it. Maybe it wasn't my place as a reviewer, but I'm new to this gig, and I felt that if I said nothing that I was being dishonest somehow. But the rant is out of the way, and you can do with it what you wish. Now for the rest of my review.
The story itself was surprisingly charming in its own simplistic way. Hadley is seventeen and late for her father's wedding. She missed her flight by four whole minutes, so now she's stuck by herself in an airport and might not make it to London in time. Not that she cares. She didn't want to go to her father's wedding anyways, and her dress is probably a wrinkled mess. In the midst of Hadley's impressive internal snit comes Oliver, a charming British boy who steps in to help her with her luggage. They hit it off... and keep hitting it off, all the way across the Atlantic.
Smith starts each chapter with the time (EST and Greenwich Mean) to chart how long Hadley and Oliver have known each other and how much time they have left. A cute idea, but I can't say I ever really paid attention to the headers. I was more interested in how she utilized time within the chapters themselves. Smith chose to make the narrative present tense, a choice that works very well when the work is rife with immediacy and action (see: Hunger Games). However, unless the plane is crashing or there's a terrorist on board, a flight over the Atlantic doesn't exactly brim with immediacy and action. Only during carefully interspersed flashbacks to Hadley's interactions with her parents does the tense change from present to past. Of course, this is precisely when I felt the most comfortable with the story.
Through the flashbacks, we learn how Hadley learned of her parents' separation, divorce, and respective new relationships. It's a rough road. Not in a HBO kind of way with screaming and shattered plates (Hadley's parents are remarkably civil), but just in the common, realistic, emotionally draining path that most kids slog through when their worlds fall apart.
Love, marriage, and all that stuff is what drives the novel. Hadley tries to figure out what happened to her parents even as she tries to reconcile their two new relationships (Dad with fiancee Charlotte, and Mom with her dentist) and her own interest in Oliver. Oliver is working out some questions of his own, but I can't really get into that without spoilers. (Basically, at the end, he gets to play Author's Advocate, which is a little like being Devil's Advocate except it's way preachier.)
The book isn't terribly surprising in any way. The "evil" stepmother-to-be is, of course, a delightful human being. Father is dreadfully awkward and sad, but hey, he was just following his heart! Cute British boy is cute and British and gets to be the author's sensible mouthpiece through most of the book. There's even a slightly wacky, proto-cool bridesmaid that plays the "My dad did the same thing when I was your age" bit and an overly possessive ex-girlfriend. If that was all, I would say skip the book. It's just another fluff piece, save your money and your time.
Except Hadley felt real. She felt like a living, breathing person, and she managed to radiate with pain in scenes without devolving into a hideous, emo stereotype. She's a real girl dealing with an incredibly real situation. Her family split in two. Her dad left her mom for another woman and it totally sucks because he's turned her world upside-down and she can't figure out what went wrong. My parents have never put me through anything like Hadley's situation, but I have a very close friend who went through the nearly exact same situation, and reading this story was like listening to her story all over again. To be honest, I straight up cried in a few places.
Like it or not, divorce is a very real, very prevalent feature in many teens' lives. While I don't agree with Smith's "divorce is for the best" spin, I do think this book is good for those struggling with a divorce in the family, struggling with forgiveness, struggling with how to move on. So, for me, this book earns my respect.
Points Added For: Airport Nazi ladies (they exist!), throat-clenching emotion, resilient mothers, cute British boys, bookish fathers, adorable cover.
Oh, this book. Talk about a land mine. Whisked from an airport in London to the empty and deserted Australian Outback, Gemma is completely without resources. She's too far from the nearest town to summon help, too deep in the Outback to hope for accidental discovery, and too closely watched to hope to deceive Ty successfully. I say successfully, because she does try a few times, but it always ends in either disaster or them staring soulfully into each other's eyes. Oh, didn't you know?
I spoil nothing when I say that it's fairly obvious that Gemma will grow to "love" Ty by the end. Love, heavy case of Stockholm Syndrome, whatever. I mean, he has "blue, blue eyes." In the sometimes cliched world of YA phrases, that's a dead giveaway right there. And did I mention Gemma is a very-underage sixteen while Ty is closer to thirty? Ew.
Also, the entire book is written as a letter to Ty himself. It's all "you did this" and "you did that." The choice sort of makes sense by the end, but it's still strange to read. Boring to read at times, as well.
Some reviewers accuse the author of indulging in purple prose (that's stuff that's overly flowery and poetic), and I agree. I like pretty writing as much as the next person, but at times it really dragged down the story. The Australian Outback is aliiiiive and magical, yeah yeah yeah. Cue "The Circle of Life", do a little dance, and get on with it already. However, that isn't to say that all of the flowery descriptions were unnecessary. Even as Gemma struggles to understand Ty, she grows to love Australia and the wild beauty of the desert. The setting becomes a character in its own right at times, so some appreciation is warranted.
As for the characters, there's nothing much to say. Their motivations, at least, make a sort of superficial sense. I think some of Ty's motivations are pretty stretched, but I let such concerns slid if the story amuses me enough. Gemma is feisty, and I do love feisty. I cheered every time she put up a struggle in any form. I was never sold on Ty's supposed irresistibility, though. Instead of imagining some tanned god, I just kept picturing Vincent Grey, the freaked-out man-child from The Sixth Sense.
I think what saved the book for me was the ending. Gemma has some pretty big decisions to make, decisions that must be settled in a way that seems organic and logical given her various shifts in understanding regarding Ty but that also wouldn't have advocates up in arms. I don't think this book in any way is a stellar talking point for "stranger danger" (the circumstances leading up to the kidnapping are fairly unique and, dare I say, preposterous). However, from Helen of Troy to Taken, fictionalized kidnappings have always fascinated the general public, and interest has increased in modern times due to the high-publicity cases of Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart. I believe that many teens, having grown up inundated with such fears and pressures, will find this book interesting despite its flaws.
Points Added For: Feisty heroine, a plot involving kidnapping, pretty scenery, a logical conclusion.
Points Subtracted For: Less-than-stellar delivery of an interesting premise, icky "romance," "blue, blue eyes," purple prose, a way-too-heavy extended metaphor involving a camel.
Good For Fans Of: Future fans of Room by Emma Donoghue (WAY better, IMO), Twilight by Stephanie Meyer or other sketchy romances, anyone fascinated by news cases involving kidnappings.
Notes for Parents: Heavy language (way too many f-bombs for my taste, plus other profanities), really stupid romance (she's sixteen! he's in his late twenties!), underage drinking, nonsexual disrobing....more
I first picked up ITYILY because of Dot Hutchinson. She reviewed the entire series on her blog, and I figured, "Hey, if she likes it, I guess it can'tI first picked up ITYILY because of Dot Hutchinson. She reviewed the entire series on her blog, and I figured, "Hey, if she likes it, I guess it can't be that bad." My little sister also loves the series, but that doesn't hold much weight with me. She's fifteen and our tastes in books are polar opposites (excluding very important exceptions such as Hunger Games and The Thief). My sister's obsession with Cammie Morgan came in handy, however, because it meant I could appease my curiosity without spending a dime.
Cammie is a spy-in-training at a super-secret spy school, Gallagher Academy for Girls. It's like every other super-exclusive boarding school, except for the secret passageways, the sign outside the dining hall that sets the language spoken for the day (anything from American English to Mandarin Chinese or Farsi), the electrified sword that routinely sets inquisitive seventh-graders on fire, and the fact that every student is a certified genius.
At a school like that, surprises are sort of expected, except Cammie usually knows at least some of the secrets ahead of time. After all, her mom's the headmistress. Only her mom didn't bother to mention the new Covert Ops professor, Joe Solomon, or the fact that he obviously has some sort of history with Cammie's mom, or the fact that he's smokin' hot.
A hot single male in a building full of teenage girls can cause a lot of buzz, even if that buzz travels around in seventeen different languages. The only thing that could make a bigger buzz is Macey McHenry, the spoiled daughter of Senator McHenry and the newest girl in school. To Cammie's chagrin, her mom decides to stick Macey in with Cammie and her roommates, brainiac (even by Gallagher standards) Liz and in-your-face Brit Bex.
Suffice to say Cammie has enough on her plate when Solomon sends her, Liz, and Bex out on a "mission" for class. As bona fide chameleon or "pavement artist," Covert Ops should be right up Cammie's alley. She can follow anyone anywhere without being noticed.
Except she is noticed. By a boy. A normal, non-spy boy named Josh who thinks she's just another normal, non-spy girl.
Quicker than a roundhouse kick to the face, Cammie finds herself in a real-life mission. Her objective: to decode said boy's "Boy Language" messages (both verbal and non-verbal), exercise her chameleon skills to take on the befuddling role of "normal girl," and, above all, not get caught by her mom.
What a fun book. I mean, really, it's very fun. This isn't a terribly deep book, nor terribly twisty, despite being about spies. There are some surprises, but nothing that will make you drop your jaw and go "Holy cow!" It has the light, fluffy taste of cotton candy with the munchability factor of popcorn. Despite telling myself that it was "just okay," I found myself eager to return to see what would happen next.
The front of my sister's book proudly proclaims that the ITYILY has been optioned by Disney (which means someday it may be coming to a screen near you), which makes sense to me. It totally felt like a Disney movie, in the best possible way. The professors are crazy in a non-threatening way (I heart you, Mr. Moskowitz), and the girls are charmingly boisterous in a way only fifteen-year-olds could pull off. I laughed out loud when Cammie started freaking out that Macey could decipher the mysterious language known as Boy, because it was all so over-the-top yet incredibly like how I remembered my awkward younger years. Boys are weird, y'all.
Sure, there are a couple minor things that bugged me. The book is supposedly Cammie's official report to her mother but included far more extraneous personal detail that a spy would ever put in a report... or a teenager would tell her mom. Seemed to me like there was a better way for the author to frame the narrative. Some of Cammie's more outrageous claims (mom allegedly killed a man with only a People magazine) grew a bit old. Also, there were some moments where I had to suspend disbelief (just wait 'til you get to the scene with the ropes and Josh's roof and...), but I maintain that these moments are what would make the book a great Disney movie.
All in all, a surprising yet pleasant experience. I've already torn my way through the second book and am eagerly awaiting the next two (see, I have this little thing called work that disallows me from reading 24/7).
Points Added For: Non-dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship, homeschoolers (even if it's just a cover), a female rival who isn't a total you-know, giddy teen girls who balance the line between amusing and twee, an unexpected resolution.
Points Subtracted For: A girl named Dee-Dee who dots her i's with hearts, full sentences in German and French that are never translated, Roseville's unsatisfyingly explained hatred for Gallagher Academy.
Another fun Gallagher romp. If you haven't read my review for book #1 (I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You), I suggest taking a peeAnother fun Gallagher romp. If you haven't read my review for book #1 (I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You), I suggest taking a peek because much of my praise and criticism holds true.
Much of the new adventure harkens back to events in the first book. The story opens with Cammie and her mother visiting a secret CIA bunker (via a dressing room in the mall) to take a polygraph test to be sure she didn't permanently compromise Gallagher Academy's cover. I have issues with the CIA using polygraph machines, as they're notoriously unreliable, but that's an argument for another time. The test was only a semi-big deal. The REALLY big deal was the fact that Cammie's mother missed the test to attend to... "things."
Big things. Worrisome things that leave Headmistress Morgan visibly troubled. Only Cammie doesn't know what they are. As far as she and her roommates (Liz, Bex, and Macey) can tell, it has something to do with the East Wing, which has been mysteriously locked down. And possibly something to do with the secretive conversations Cammie's mother has been having with Mr. Solomon and the other teachers. And most definitely something to do with a word Cammie overhears - Blackthorne. Or possibly Black Thorn. They're not sure.
The book is filled with adventure and tense moments. Not tense in the apocalyptic, terrorists-are-attacking sense usually attached to spies (except when a Code Black is issued at Gallagher and CAMMIE is blamed!). No, the most tension comes from the girl stuff, such as the return of Josh, the arrival of a new boy who manages to convince Josh that he and Cammie are dating, and the fact that the new boy can beat Cammie at her own game. Whew, tension.
Unlike the first book, I found more conspicuous plot holes in CMHAHTS (please don't make me type out that entire title) and was dissatisfied and somewhat confused by the explanation given at the end for all the spy-business troubles. But, as always, the characters were enjoyable and genuine, and some showed significant growth from the previous book. In the end, I think, I'll live with myself much easier if I simply swallow the bobbles with the gems, because I really, really want to read that third book....more
I've known about Monstrous Beauty for some time now. Back when I was just starting to look into industry blogs, I came across a site where the blogger was talking about a mermaid book. I don't remember what blog it was now; I think it may have been Ms. Fama's agent's. Maybe. Either way, I remember the blogger talking about this fantastic-sounding mermaid book that had originally been called Syrenka and was now being changed to Monstrous Beauty.
And then I went on with my life, because the book wasn't out yet, and I was a reader who read things that were out, not a blogger who had to keep up, so what did I care?
Then, once I had a blog and started keeping up with things, that mermaid book kept popping up. People were talking about it. And then I won it! Woohoo!
You'd think with all that forewarning that I would have some idea what I was getting into.
Not even close.
I expected a mermaid tale with some edge. I knew some modern-day stuff would be involved, but I thought the book would be heavy on mermaid and follow some of the same tropes of a mermaid and a human girl teaming up somehow. The curse brings the edge, but whatever.
This book is DARK. Like, Holy-cow-Fama-is-one-twisted-sister dark. Don't expect any singing crabs here. There's murder and betrayal and curses and just out-and-out messed-upness. (Don't judge me on my new words.)
The narrative bounces back and forth between Syrenka's time in the 1800s and Hester's time in the present day, and Ms. Fama handles both with equal skill. Syrenka and Hester are connected, so their narratives weave in and out, tightening as the book progresses.
In the earlier narrative, we follow Syrenka, a mermaid looking for love. She finds in it Ezra Doyle, a young naturalist. Unfortunately, she can't be part of his world (take a moment to sing, if you wish), because she's immortal and soulless. To gain a soul, she has to give birth to a human baby and... well, let's just say that everything, including souls and mortality, come with a price. There's a reason sirens/mermaids aren't spoken of very highly in ancient fables.
Syrenka obtains her legs and life with Ezra (not a spoiler; it's right there in the synopsis), but she sets off a chain of events that unfold through the rest of the story. Seriously bad things happen. These bad things keep unfolding and spreading all the way into the twenty-first century where they collide full force into Hester.
Ah, strange, foul-mouthed little Hester. She's spent her entire life throwing up walls. Even her best friend Peter is only allowed so close. Because if you get close to someone, you might fall in love. And if you fall in love, you'll get married and have kids. And in Hester's family, if you have a kid, you die. (Yes, I think in ungrammatical staccato sentences. Deal with it.)
And that's not even half of it. I can't talk about some of the creepiest/most intense parts of the book, because I would be veering sharply into spoiler territory. I don't even watch scary movies, so I don't have a way to subtly prepare you for what you're about to get yourself into. It's like The Sixth Sense mixed with the trailers for those different exorcism movie trailers mixed with those old-timey straight-up Gothic romance novels.
Oddly, I didn't feel much of anything for many of the main characters. They were set pieces for me, moving the plot forward. The only exception is Ezra, who was so very real and so very wonderful. Even more oddly, I didn't mind. I felt sorry for the proper characters (Peter, Linnie, McKee, and especially Ezra), but I was focused completely on the mystery and the craft.
And oh man, what a mystery and what craft! Thanks to dropped hints, I could usually figure out bits before they happened, but Ms. Fama keeps this beautiful pace, dolling out inklings with all the languid certainty of a priest passing Communion wafers. My stomach was in knots, because I knew what was going to happen and I dreaded it all... and yet, at the same time, I wasn't sure that I knew and things might turn out worse than even I could imagine.
I could talk about the writing forever. It's languid in some places, bitingly vicious in others, and beautiful in every single sentence. It's one of those books that I've talked about before, the kind that feels more literary than typical YA books. It's like... like Lady Audley's Secret, but without all the hoke.
As far as ratings go, I'd put Monstrous Beauty alongside Before I Fall. I won't keep it. It has too much language, too much sex, too much what I dub ickiness for me to keep my copy. However, the exquisite plotting and writing earn this book my highest marks.
Points Subtracted For: Absurdedly superstitious and backwards churchgoers/pastors (really, hasn't this malignant stereotype died out yet?), an unnecessary creeper, profanities that got pretty old after a while, an ending that left me going "Now HOW is she going to explain that to her parents?"
Good For Fans Of: Creepy gothic novels, deadly merpeople, gorgeously languid writing.
Notes For Parents: Heavy language, sex, rape, ghosts, murder, talks of exorcisms, nudity.
Disclaimer: I won an ARC copy from Fierce Reads on Facebook....more
On February 12, Cupid Day, Sam has a great day. She gets the last parking spot at school, gets roses from different admirers (including her boyfriend, the very popular Rob), flirts with her handsome math teacher, and gets sloppy drunk at an amazing party. And on the way home, she dies. The car she and her friends are in swerves to avoid hitting something in the road and goes careening into the woods. There's pain and lights... and then nothing.
She wakes up the next morning in her bed, terrified but relieved. It was only a dream. But it's still Cupid Day. Her friends are still teasing her about her plans to have sex with Rob, she gets the same roses from the same people, but other things are changed. Little things. It's the same day, and it's all happening again.
Let's be clear here. This is not Groundhog Day. There are hilarious moments, but this isn't a book about wish fulfillment (though Sam does try that route on one of her seven days) or even just being a better person.
Sam is a Mean Girl, capital M capital G. She is, as she is told many times in the book, a female canine (obviously, I'm paraphrasing), and she's proud of it. Her three best friends, Lindsay, Elody, and Ally, are just as bad. In many cases, they can be worse, but it's okay. They're Seniors. They're cool. They're not losers like Anna Cartullo, the slut cheating with another girl's boyfriend, or clueless freshies, or psychos like Juliet, the girl forever known as Mello Yello after she wet her sleeping bag in elementary school.
I can be such a lazy reader sometimes. This kind of character I want to be ripped down and pointed to as a Bad Example. I don't want to be in their heads, and I don't want to hear them rationalize their own behavior. But that's what Sam does, because we're in her thoughts. She doesn't see what she's doing to others as bad, so why should we?
Lauren Oliver is a master of letting us figure out things for ourselves. We aren't beaten over the head with the severity of Sam's choices. There is no scolding. We aren't being hit on the hand with a ruler and being told, "Bad bad bad! Don't do this!" And it works. Obviously, as an adult, I'm horrified by the behaviors I see Sam and her troupe celebrating. But would a teenager be? Maybe. If anything, the rubbernecking factor might keep them reading.
Oliver also chronicles the inner workings of the teen social scene fairly realistically (I'll get to the "fairly" later). To me, the voices felt pretty spot on, from Sam & Co.'s Valley Girl talk, to Rob's sleazy boy mutters, to Sam's little sister's lisping giggles. The social hierarchies, the obsession with being popular, the perks of being popular (only popular people know about the parties, the ways to get around the teachers, the secret hideaways), even the different cliques present. And yes, Oliver mentions those cliques in a pretty non-standard way. There's not a cheerleader in sight.
The progression of the story was remarkably realistic as well. After the very first car crash, we as readers acknowledge the likelihood of Sam's death. Pain and a bright light? Yep, death or coma for sure. But not Sam. To her, it's a dream. It's gotta be a dream. And if it isn't, well, maybe a really light coma, because OMG, wouldn't that be so, like dramatic? She's a teenager. In her mind, she's invincible. Death is what happens to old people or ugly people or at least not HER. Even when she does start to think that maybe... maybe... well, even then, that can't be all.
Despite myself, I found myself rooting for her. This mean, callous, unthinking little jerk got under my skin, and do you know why? Because Oliver doesn't leave her as a jerk. She doesn't leave anyone as a total jerk, but she doesn't leave anyone pristinely perfect either. Through the book, different characters are lifted up for inspection. The saints are smudged and made more human, while the jerks, freaks, and villains are deepened and explored. There aren't blatant sob stories. This isn't a PBS special. But characters that I despised I ended up sympathizing with and understanding a little better.
Don't get me wrong, there were still things that made me scowl. I didn't like the language, the sexual content, the drinking, and the drugs, but I understood why they were a part of Sam's world. What I really didn't like was the unstated assumption that these things are all normal, an assumption that was never contradicted. Illegal, harmful things like underage drinking, drinking and driving, and doing pot is not okay, and they're not things that were ever part of my life or my friends lives (and I'm not that old, people, I swear I'm not). And maybe I'm the only freaky little misfit in the entire world who had (has!) a great, open relationship with her family members, because the book sure frames it like I am.
But I liked the book despite it all, because Before I Fall made me think. How have my words, my actions, affected the people around me? If I could see those consequences, would I want to change them? If I had to die in some way other than peaceful old age, how would I want to go? If I could plan my last day on Earth, how would I spend it? Man, those last two tore me up. There are two little sisters in the story who suffer similar losses in different days, little girls who reminded me of my own baby sister, down to their sweet smiles and infectious spirits.
Before I Fall made me ugly-cry. I can't promise a perfect, Disney ending, because it doesn't happen. I'm even too cynical to fully accept that things magically change after the last page. But some things do change. Some things do get better, both in specific people and in general circumstances. There's hope, because as Sam says, hope is what keeps us alive, and it's never too late.
Points Added For: Intricate, interweaving threads; innocent little sisters; parents that eventually DO make an appearance; a twist that made me gasp; not tying everything up; not making the supposed villains unsympathetic witches; not fixing every little thing; making me cry.
Points Subtracted For: Normalizing excessively deviant and dysfunctional social patterns; waaaay too many broken families; making me cry.
Good For Fans Of:Delirium by same author, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, If I Stay by Gayle Forman (all Amazon's idea, because my contemporary fiction knowledge is still pretty weak).
Notes For Parents: Excessively severe language, underage drinking, illegal drug use, cigarette use, theft, numerous squeamish sexual situations....more
So maybe it wasn't the best idea to plow through the climax of this book at midnight. I strongly recommend not doing that... unless, you know, heart palpitations are your thing.
I've written about this book in my Wishlist Wednesday meme and even joined Gretchen McNeil's Army of Ten. You can read all my reasons for being excited about this book in those posts. To sum up: Agatha Christie = awesome. Her book And Then There Were None = Head Honcho of Awesomeness. Therefore, a YA thriller loosely based off aforementioned Head Honcho book is going to be AMAAAAAZING!
At least, that was my theory. But as I promised in my Army of Ten post, I will review Ms. McNeil's work as objectively as possible, so here it goes.
The book opens with Minnie and Meg traveling to the island. They've lied to their parents and ditched all supervision to attend a weekend house party hosted by the coolest girl in school. Because that always turns out well.
At the party are eight other teens. They vary in degrees of squickiness from the super-scuzzball Nathan and the control freak Vivian to Minnie's ex Gunner (Mr. "Gun Show" himself) and Meg's secret crush T.J. I'm not going to spend a lot of time of the characters, because they were a secondary consideration for me. Since we know they're going to be killed off one by one, I didn't bother to make much of a connection. Also, most of the teens are purposely easy to dislike (or suspiciously angelic), so I spent the first few chapters going "Wait, who was Lori? And is Kumiko a girl or boy?" Not to worry, though; the characters' individual impressions grow stronger the longer they live.
Though the teens arrive expecting a weekend of drinking and debauchery, their plans are about to go seriously awry. While in search of a good movie, they come across a DVD and pop it in. The video plays, eerie music tinkling in the background. Red slashes count from one to ten, and then the words VENGEANCE IS MINE scrawls across the screen.
I gotta admit, Ms. McNeil did a great job at layering on the spooky atmosphere from the beginning. Even before the teens start to get an inkling that something's wrong, we the readers start getting bad vibes. Meg doubts the wisdom of lying to her parents and going to a secluded island, the ferrymen warn her to be careful, and even though there's another house party going on at the same island, the house the teens are at is separated from the rest of the island by a rickety wooden bridge.
Then things do go wrong. The bad things start almost innocuously, a careless accident, it seems. I loved it. I can't say what "it" was, due to spoilers, but I loved the nod to the first death in And Then There Were None.
Really, spoiler-wise, I can't say too much at all. I will say that the first and second deaths didn't bother me too much. But the third on out? Again, reading at night probably isn't the best idea. Make no mistake, this isn't a happily-ever-after, everyone-gets-out-alive sort of book. People die. Teens die, and they die badly.
After the second death, the situation devolves rapidly. Red paint slashes mysteriously appear in the hallway, tallying the deaths as they happen, leaving no doubt that the dead teens were purposely picked off. Inevitably, the suspicion and finger-pointing escalates. Who is targeting the teens? Is it one of their own, or someone else hiding in the house?
There are several plot holes that made me worry my bottom lip just a bit, but I was willing to gloss over them. If you can't ignore gaps for the sake of the entertainment, then it's probably best to skip the book. Luckily, I don't have that problem. (Yes, I'm a bit smug about my handy mental blinders.)
The hook for Ten is the same hook from And Then There Were None, and it's a good one. What would you do if you found yourself trapped in a house with a ruthless murderer? And what if that murderer was someone you knew?
There's nowhere to run. If you hide, he (or she) will find you. The only way to survive is to hope that you're just that much stronger, that much smarter than the person hunting you... and that you'll be able to react quickly enough in that brief moment when the murderer is revealed.
I can't tell you whether Meg was strong enough or smart enough or quick enough. I can tell you that though I guessed the murderer (I credit multiple rereads of ATTWN), I found the big reveal to be utterly exhilarating. When you reach the climax and honestly can't way whether the heroine will come out alive, you know you're reading a great thriller. Judging by how white my knuckles were by the end, Ten was a pretty great thriller.
Points Added For: Some awesome ATTWN homages, a fantastic climax, what we learn about the other house, making my toes curl.
Points Subtracted For: Having a few plot holes, not really having a character I could connect with fully.
Good For Fans Of:And Then There Were None, teen slashers, a murderer with a score to settle.
Notes For Parents: Clearly, there's carnage. There's also language, sexual innuendo, bullying, drinking, and mention of other illicit activities....more
Do not read this book at night. I'm not kidding. Do not read this book at night, do not read this book when you are alone, do not read this book in a place that makes noises on its own. Do. Not. Do. It. Should you decide to ignore my advice, I am not responsible for the state of paranoia and general full-body heebie-jeebies that will follow.
I'm generally a pretty unflappable person when it comes to being scared by books, but this book had me on edge all day. In DAYLIGHT. It was like every psychotic episode of Criminal Minds and CSI rolled into one. I don't want to even think about how Lyga conducted his research, because he came across as pretty stinkin' on-point to me.
I love reading about serial killers. I love reading about murder and crime. I don't know why. I love crime shows and books on cadavers and those collections of "The World's Most Notorious Serial Killers" and stuff like that. When I read the synopsis for I Hunt Killers, I knew I had to read it. Not only would it have plenty of serial killer goodness, it was YA, it was a mystery, and it would delve into the more psychological aspect of crime.
Oh boy, did it ever. Jazz, understandably, is one seriously messed-up kid. His dad was a massively prolific serial killer, racking up victims into the triple digits. For thirteen years, Jazz not only lived with the fact that his father killed people (in gruesome, horrific ways) for fun, but he helped. Not with the actual killing - at least, not that he can remember - but with the cleanup, the disposal. And his dad told him stories of the stuff he had missed.
See, Dear Old Dad planned on Jazz taking up the family business and being the ultimate serial killer in a way that even he couldn't. Dear Old Dad ended up being caught when Jazz was thirteen, but Jazz still struggles with the guilt and the sneaking suspicion that he might be a lot like his dad after all. He's a charmer, almost sociopathically so. He lies, he steals, he cheats. He hears his dad's voice in his head, urging him on. He sees people and instead of seeing a waitress or a drama coach, he sees someone who would be so very easy to kill.
It's very unnerving, both for Jasper and for the reader (me!). The book is fraught with tension thanks to the grisly murders, because you know that in a few pages or a few chapters, a new dead body will turn up and it'll probably be someone you know. Time is running out. The killer must be caught. But there's also the tension of being inside Jasper's head, his uncomfortable, alien, sociopathic head. Because there's always that suspicion. He's so unreliable that he doesn't even trust himself - not with Sheriff G. Williams, not with his friend Howie, not even with his girlfriend Connie. He's afraid that at any moment he might snap, kill them all. Hunt them down like prey. And if he's so unreliable, how can we trust him to tell us everything? What if HE is the killer?
I tell you, this book was a test of my cardiovascular system.
Lyga nails it. He nails it all. Jasper and his struggles (with the murders, with himself, with Connie, with his crazy gramma) are all completely believable - somehow sympathetic and completely creepy at the same time. Dear Old Dad is bone-chillingly smooth. He captivates the entire book, holding it under his sway though he only appears in flashback for most of the book. He reminded me of Leck from Bitterblue, but lacking even that infinitesimal shred of humanity that Leck possessed (and that's saying something).
The supporting characters are just as interesting. Connie is sharp and stubborn, just what Jazz needs. She isn't afraid of him, though she very well should be. His best friend Howie is the same way. He's a riot, completely irrelevant and an absolute clown, though every now and then his antics grated on me a bit. G. Williams, the sheriff who arrested Jazz's father and the head of the current investigation, is neither the hick nor the roadblock you might consider him to be in the beginning. I liked him a lot.
I can't say enough about this book. I don't recommend it to everyone. Hello - SERIAL KILLERS. It's graphic and violent. Definitely way on the mature end of the YA scale. I wouldn't let my little sister read it, that's for sure. But it is very well-written and deserves every bit of praise it receives. It's the very first book I've ever read that I enjoyed thoroughly and still prayed fervently that there wouldn't be a sequel, because I wasn't sure I could stand any more.
Points Added For: Incredible believability and realism, sheer brilliance, scaring the pants off me, bi-racial relationships (they make me happy).
Points Subtracted For: I wish there'd been less language and less sex. In context, the language completely made sense, and serial killers often add a psychosexual component to their kills, so I can't really fault the book for the amount present, but I can stomach violence much better than the other stuff. Also, now I'm jumpy.
Good for Fans Of:Silence of the Lambs, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, psychological thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock movies, serial killers,
Notes For Parents: Again, serial killers. Duh. Graphic violence, murder, torture. Mentions of sexual assault. Language. Also, this book is about a teenage boy, so he and his friend do have discussions about girls and sex (for the record, though, Jazz is a virgin)....more
Dull, flat, and boring, Girl, Stolen fails in suspense. While promising in premise, the book should have been titled, "The Visually Impaired Are PeoplDull, flat, and boring, Girl, Stolen fails in suspense. While promising in premise, the book should have been titled, "The Visually Impaired Are People, Too: A PSA." I'm sure that somewhere out there in the big old world, someone likes this book. Probably a great many someones. But I am not one of them....more
Those were my thoughts going into this book. I mean, everybody and his second cousin is talking about this book. It's one of those Big Deal books. Oh, and I follow the author on Twitter, and she's super-sweet, and her hair is so pretty it's distracting. Clearly, this book is going to be amazing, right?!
I'm sorry to say that amazing author does not always equal amazing book. Origin was by no means horrible (look at all the people that LOVE this book), but it just wasn't my cup of tea.
First of all, I must say that I love the name Pia. Pia! It's such a happy name, and also brings to mind the character on The Donut Man. The name Pia is also said to mean several different things in the story, which is always nice. I love a name with a good backstory. Pia herself wasn't my favorite person. I didn't dislike her, but I also didn't feel much of anything for her. I don't know why.
She's an odd little thing, this Pia-girl. She's been sheltered from the world by her "Uncles" and "Aunts" (the scientists) and spoonfed scientific knowledge. She's incredibly bright but very trusting. After all, who doesn't want to believe the very people who created you? Surely, they must be good! Her naivety is understandable, except... She's been raised from birth to have a scientist's calculating mind. She's perfect in looks, in body, and in intelligence. One would think she would have a crackerjack mind for ferreting out the truth.
I know being raised in her glass box shaped Pia's assumptions and that one of those assumptions is that Uncle Paolo and the rest are right and looking out for her own good, but I found her hesitancy to question those assumed truths so very frustrating! Scientists are supposed to question EVERYTHING! And yet it seems to take forever for Pia to make any progress.
Opposite of Pia is Eio, the sweet, blue-eyed village boy. While she is the one who thinks and reasons, he is the one who feeeeeeels and does. Sure, he's an outsider like her, thanks to his mixed parentage, but he's also the fiery-tempered, tree-hugging native who wants her to paint with all the colors of the wind. Okay, maybe not the last part, but this whole pairing feels so familiar. At least we can give Ms. Khoury props for making the female the rational, scientific one. Well, if a girl can be labelled rational after falling into mega-insta-love with a boy after three freaking days.
I'm sure there's more, but as I try to write this review a few weeks after reading Origin, I'm shocked at how quickly the story has faded from my mind. Despite the interesting premise, the story felt rather rote. Rote and very YA lite, actually. For instance, there's a big to-do about Pia learning the catalyst for the elysia potion. It's supposed to be just too awful for her to handle. The problem is I read books like I Hunt Killers, so after all that build-up, the reveal just fell flat. Rationally, I knew that the revealed details were awful. The delivery just lacked punch.
However, I will say that the Wickham tests really shone for me. I understood how they fit in, I understood how Pia was supposed to see them, and I saw how we were supposed to see them, and it all happened! Yay! Oh, and the details of everyone's final Wickham tests? Not bad at all. I thoroughly despised "Uncle" Paolo by the end. (Also, there's this really cool scene with an anaconda that I highly recommend you read.)
So... yeah. Nice premise, predictable story, annoying characters. Meh. Thankfully, you're free to make up your own mind, and you very well may disagree with me. That's okay! I just won't be picking up this book any time soon.
Points Added For: A heart-pounding anaconda scene, Uncle Paolo's Wickham test, an interesting premise.
Points Subtracted For: One-dimensional supporting characters, insta-love, the whole native-and-the-white-person setup, no big shockers (I anticipated pretty much everything).
Good For Fans Of:Avatar, insta-love, stories set in the jungle.
Notes For Parents: Violence, language (not bad in the beginning, heavier in the end), kissing, philosophical questions regarding morality, murder....more
Note: I would actually give this book a 3.70, but GR only allows whole numbers.
I apologize for any lapses in coherency during this review. I finished Splintered less than twenty-four hours prior to reviewing, and I don't think I have ever before loved a book that has confused me so much.
Rather than waste time trying to recap the synopsis (which you all are perfectly capable of reading for yourselves), I'm going to dive straight in in an attempt to sort my own feelings. I'm leery of Alice retellings/follow-ups, so I went in with guarded expectations. The story opens with Alyssa pinning dead spiders to a small sheet of plaster. She's an artist, and she uses her art to shut up the whispering bugs. I was hooked. Over the next several pages, we learn of Alyssa's family curse, which dooms the females of the family to insanity. By eight pages in, I was thoroughly enraptured.
Usually, when I love a book, I have a whole list of things I loved and a few minor considerations that bothered me. However, Splintered, much like its protagonist, displayed a dual nature. For everything I loved, there was always an element that made me pause. Here are some examples.
I liked Alyssa. I found her spunky and exciting. Any girl who can turn dead bugs into art is a friend of mine. She's a dutiful daughter, and I thought both her loving relationship with her father and her affectionately strained interactions with her mother were refreshing. She's headstrong, opinionated, and rocks the angsty Avril-Lavigne-in-the-Wonderland-video look better than most heroines I've read.
However, despite Alyssa's flashes of independence (usually all at the wrong moments), she allows the boys in the novel too much leeway to manipulate her. Oh, she tries, or at least she makes noise like she's trying. She yells at them, pushes them, tells them to bug off, but often comes across as more flash than substance. Also, she spends a good deal of time talking about how she won't steal another girl's boyfriend (admirable), but these talks often come before and after making out with said boy.
Ah, Jeb, Alyssa's best-friend-turned-secret-crush-turned-knight-in-shining-armor. He's a keeper, that Jeb. Handsome, ambitious, kind, smart, and courageous, he's also capable of making every emo-girl's heart go pitter-patter with his swishy black hair, tortured past, gothic fairy art, and pierced lip. Outwardly, not really my type, but I'm a sucker for a guy who knows how to be a good friend and a good crush. I also like that while he does choose to date the cliched Witchy Arch-Nemesis of Alyssa, he has reasons for his choices, and he's much more committed to staying faithful than Alyssa.
Unfortunately, for all his faithfulness, Jeb had one glaring flaw. What I think was supposed to be his protectiveness instead came across as possessiveness. If he violently forced the other boy in the equation to stop touching Alyssa one more time, I was going to hurl the book. Or Jeb. Into a wall. Whether Alyssa wants to have physical contact with the other boy is her choice, not Jeb's, hidden jealousy or no. Speaking of the other boy...
Actually a shapeshifting netherling, Morpheus was by far the most interesting character of the trio. Unlike Edward Cullen, who falls into the trap of actually being a creepy old man in a teen's body, Morpheus physically, emotionally, and mentally becomes the age of whichever form he chooses to inhabit, thereby making his attraction to Alyssa far more palatable. Like Jeb, he also falls in line with emo ideals by adorning himself with inked eyes, blue hair, tight pants, and a jaunty fedora. Not that I mind. While Jeb is safety and security, Morpheus is adventure and risk. He appeals to Alyssa's "darker side" and is her less-than-trustworthy guide throughout her quest.
He's also a manipulator, a liar, and startlingly unconcerned with boundary issues. As far as characters go, I'm always more interested in the "bad boy" with good qualities to be burnished than the supposed "good boy" with elements that need to be squashed. However, past his introduction, Morpheus is such an unreliable and shifting character that I soon lost him beneath his different facades. I understand wrapping a character in mystery, I understand keeping his motivations hidden, but when I have nothing but scraps to hold onto, I as a reader soon become disenchanted. Not completely, of course, because he's Morpheus and awesome, but disenchanted enough.
The other characters
Again, we have a mixture of hit and miss. For the most part, Ms. Howard reimagines the denizens of Wonderland brilliantly, twisting the already twisted characters into such frightening characters that I vacillated between awe and horror. The flowers, for instance, were perhaps some of my favorite nightmares. Ravenous, mobile, and humanoid, I would love it if their kind appeared in other worlds and other books, as their time in Splintered was right for the story yet still too short for me. The octobenus, or Walrus as he's known in the original story, was perhaps the scariest of them all, perhaps competing only with Sisters One and Two. I'll let you discover their details for yourself, but wow, what scary freaks of nature.
About so many other characters, however, I have very little to say. Their motivations shifted as frequently as Morpheus's, making it difficult for me to connect with any of them. All of the royals, despite their varying importances, were as flimsy as their card soldiers, and dear Cheshire Cat, though talked about a lot, barely made an appearance at all.
Adventurous, imaginative, and exciting, the story kept me flipping pages long after I should have gone to bed. Splintered takes many of the familiar scenes from Alice and flips them on their head and turns them inside out in a way that would have made the March Hare (not his real name, according to this story) jealous. While most everything is familiar, Ms. Howard is breathtakingly creative in her reimaginings. I never thought that the White Rabbit could be so horrific or Mr. Caterpillar (as Morpheus) so devious.
The story kept me turning the pages, but I admit that most of the time I had little idea what was going on. The denser the twists and turns became, the more I felt like I was trapped in an Underlandian maze. I think there might have been plot holes - several of them, in fact - but I can't be sure. After a certain point, it was all madness and hijinks. It may be that everything made sense (or at least as much sense as things can in Wonderland), but it'll take a few more rereads on my part to be sure.
Sparks of brilliance here with the writing. Ms. Howard uses beautiful imagery and turns of phrase that kept me smiling. The entire book had a very cinematic quality to it that I enjoyed. I very rarely think in terms of film options and actors and such when reading a book, but Splintered would make a GREAT movie. Movie execs, get on it.
Where Ms. Howard stumbles, though, is Alyssa's voice. There were moments or even large swathes where Alyssa felt less than organic. I don't like people who complain and then don't give specific instances, but that's what I must be. I just know that I felt like the voice itself could use more polishing. Additionally, all of the ellipses needed to go. Now.
I know this all sounds dire. Most people, myself included, enjoy a balance more heavily weighted toward the pros than the cons. But don't you see? I loved this book. I loved it. I rushed through my day to get to the parts when I could get back to Alyssa's story. I stayed up far too late and then spent the night trying to get the characters out of my head so I could get some blasted sleep. That's despite all the cons, all the things that annoyed me. Just think about what that says about this book. And just think of the most fascinating fact of all: this is A.G. Howard's debut. I can't wait to see where she goes from here.
Points Added For: Morpheus being sexy and fly, those creepy flower people, Jeb (in his good moments), the crazy twists and liberties taken with the original tale.
Points Subtracted For: I'm not going through this again. Read the dang post.
Good For Fans Of:Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, crazy retellings, love triangles.
Notes For Parents: I don't remember any language (Alyssa says "son of a bug" a lot), but there is a fair amount of makeout sessions. Also, people die and commit adultery.
Note: If decimals were allowed, this book would be rated 3.75 stars. It is a good book, but I'm allowing space for improvement.
FINALLY! I don't know if you guys remember, but I highlighted The Archived in a Wishlist Wednesday post waaaaay back in July of 2012. I was so excited that I went out and bought an Archived bookbag with swag. Since then, I have been waiting not-so-patiently to get my hands on a copy.
And while I wouldn't call The Archived the "best book evar!!!" or any such thing, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Though the story is narrated in the third person, interspersed are segments where MacKenzie talks to her Da (grandfather) and her dead brother Ben, recalling memories and important lessons. That's how we meet Da in the beginning, as Mackenzie talks to him and describes his "accent full of smoke."
That line I just quoted was the exact moment that I knew I was hooked. When I read about Da having an "accent full of smoke," I immediately thought of Louisiana. I don't know why. I don't know if it was because the first sentence on the page mentioned the South or what, but I just knew Da had a Louisiana accent, only to have it confirmed not a sentence later. When an author is capable of planting such vivid sensory information into my head on the first page, I know the rest of the book will be an awesome ride.
Mac's musings to Da and Ben were some of my favorite parts of the book. Through them we learn some choice tidbits about the Archive (the library where the dead are kept) and the Narrows (the creepy maze separating our world from the Archive) as well as watch Mac develop as a Keeper-in-training. We also are allowed our closest glimpse as Mac's inner workings. Da and Ben were the two people in the world that Mac was closest to. Da, as a fellow Keeper, was the only one who knew about the Archive, and Ben was her innocent, rambunctious little brother.
When Da dies from an unspecified illness and Ben is hit by a car, Mac is left virtually alone. Her father becomes a pale ghost of himself and her mother hides behind a too-bright smile and an almost manic compulsion to hop from one project to the next. Mrs. Bishop's latest project moves the family an hour away to the spooky Coronado, a hotel-turned-apartment complex where Mrs. Bishop hopes to open a coffee shop. There Mac meets a fellow Keeper, strikes a deal with an impossible History, and stumbles upon a mystery that threatens to erase the Archive itself.
I have never before in my life read a book that made me love a world so much and yet simultaneously tell me so little about that same world. According to Mac's Da, the world is divided into three parts. The natural world that everyone knows about is the Outer. Hidden away is the Archive, a vast, limitless library where the dead are kept. When a person dies, their likeness is put in a drawer in the Archive. This likeness is used as a vessel, within which are placed all of that person's memories - everything they have ever seen, done, and experienced in their life, from birth to death. In between the Outer and the Archive are the Narrows, a labyrinth system used to corral the Histories who wake themselves from their death-sleep.
Despite being spooky, dangerous, and totally off-limits, I would love to visit the Narrows and the Archive. I'm one of those naughty readers who rarely pays attention to descriptions of physical places, but Ms. Schwab must have worked her subliminal magic on me again, because I felt like I was there. I could see the registration desk at the Archive, feel the cramped quarters of the Narrows. Heck, I could even tell you what the echoes of my footsteps would sound like among the stacks! The Coronado, Mac's home in the Outer, was also impressively dilapidated and therefore awesome.
I devoured every detail we were given about the Archive and the system set up by those who work for it (Keepers, Crew, and Librarians). However, part of my hunger comes from the starvation diet we're put on. Mac is told very little, only enough to do her job, and we by extension are left in the dark. Part of the lack of information is a necessary plot device to keep Mac guessing and searching on her own, but I wish we had been given a little more substance. Still, I think my overwhelming love for Mac's world is a testament to Ms. Schwab's talent as a writer.
The plot itself is also a suspenseful delight. Rather than have one big task to tackle, Mac is simultaneously battling multiple catastrophes. From the overarching chaos that arrives when the Archive starts to crash to the smaller, more personal tragedies that unfold as Mac tries to deal with the death of her brother, the battering never stops. Literally. The injuries that girl sustains are impressive.
Oddly, I connected less to the characters than I thought I would. MacKenzie was a great protagonist - stubborn, standoffish, and caring - but she lost major points in my book by withholding key information from characters who could have helped her. It's harder to connect with a character when you're constantly yelling, "You stupid girl! Just SAY something!" Wesley and Roland (referred to in my head as Guyliner and Chucks) were also fun, though, once again, I wish I could have connected with them more. Despite his unusual appearance, Wesley didn't have the flair I had expected from him, and his entire family was oddly absent. At one point, the boy disappears for days and no mention is made of worried authority figures. (I will say, though, that I fully expect to love both characters more upon multiple rereadings.)
I'm purposely bringing up all these flaws for two reasons. 1) You need to know. 2) I'm hoping that the issues I mention will be ironed out in the sequel. I got a very Beka Cooperish vibe from the end of The Archived, and my wish is to see Mac progress from Keeper to Crew as Beka progressed from Pup to Dog. If Ms. Schwab can make the sequel progress in the same manner, I expect the rest of the series to be...
Points Added For: The world-building. Oh my gosh, the world-building. The entire construct of the Archive and the Narrows and the list, the use of keys, the atmosphere of the Coronado, Mac's ability to "read" things, her standoffishness, the heartbreaking portrayal of the Bishop family's grieving process, etc.
Points Subtracted For: Mac being such a stubborn idiot for not telling anyone everything she saw, Wesley's missing background.
Good For Fans Of: Spooky old houses, dead people terrorizing the living, kick-butt protagonists, Doctor Who.
My very first mermaid book, you guys! I know, I don't know how I went without one for so long either. They're everywhere!
Only we're not allowed to call them mermaids. They're Syrena, according to the book. Oh, who am I kidding? They're flipping mermaids/mermen. They've got tails. They (or at least one branch of them) can talk to fish!
Still, I understand the emphasis on the name, because Banks works hard to give her Syrena distinction from the typical tales. There's no Ariel here. Instead, there are dueling factions ("of Poseidon" Syrena vs. "of Triton" Syrena), underwater museums, ruins, betrayal, and even a real-life Atlantis (or what's left of it). I loved the thought Ms. Banks put into their history.
Unfortunately, I had a hard time loving much else.
SO many people love this book. I've read review after review just gushing with praise, and I wanted so badly to love the story as much as other readers have. I just couldn't, and my failure made me cranky for the rest of the day.
Of Poseidon started out fairly promisingly. We drop into the story as Emma smacks into a smokin hot boy in Florida. She wasn't watching where she was going and WHAM! Naturally, she's embarrassed, and the teasing by her best friend Chloe doesn't help matters. The boy in question is Galen, the Syrena royal mentioned in the book's synopsis, and HE gets some ribbing as well from his sister Rayna.
Emma gets in some inner zingers at her own expense before traipsing down to the water with Chloe, and then we're allowed into Galen's head to hear his side of the encounter. The whole book is dual-perspective, actually, and Banks does a great job of making sure we get a partial rehash of the big moments from each side without feeling like we're hearing the entire story twice.
I won't ruin what happened at the beach, but if you're like me, you can piece together what happens from the summary. Anyways, it was a crazy scene, very tense, and I was so excited, because if the beginning is this great, the rest of the book has to be AWESOME, right?
Meh. Not so much.
I can explain why this book didn't work for me in one sentence. I repeat, why it didn't work FOR ME. This is not an indictment. This is not an insult. In fact, what I'm about to say probably explains a great deal of the book's popularity because it uses some of the great hooks that reel a reader in (and that pun was completely unintentional).
This book is Twilight with mermaids.
I know, I know! But I couldn't escape the comparison, I just couldn't.
Let's look at the facts before us, shall we?
We have one shockingly pale girl who is unaccountably clumsy (like, run-into-a-door-and-knock-herself-out clumsy). I kept thinking some sort of Syrena-based explanation would be given, but none was forthcoming. She lives with one parent and doesn't get along with said authority figure. She doesn't have close friends. She's moody, wishy-washy, and really, really clumsy. I had to mention that one twice because we hear about it ALL THE TIME in the book. She attempts to fend off insta-love with the boy on the beach, but everyone knows it's a lost cause, because they both feel "that special spark."
Galen, on the other hand, is a tall, brooding hero. He's aloof, a bit arrogant, yet also cloyingly sweet. I think his actions are supposed to come across as protective and swoontastic, but I found him controlling and claustrophobic. He suffers from a heavy-duty case of insta-love with the aforementioned heroine and becomes blindingly enraged when any male shows interest in her.
Galen has a sister - Rayna - who, on the one hand, seems sweet and genuinely mourns when any living thing is killed. Except for, you know, when she's being a spiteful, needle-tongued witch.
Syrena can sense one another across great distances. They also live incredibly long, and their skin is so tough that they can break hurricane-proof glass and dive into sub-zero water without feeling cold. I half-expected them to start climbing trees or playing extremely loud baseball next.
And don't even get me started on the story itself. It was such a great premise. Emma learns she can talk to fish and therefore must be at least part Syrena - more specifically, a Syrena from the branch of Poseidon. Her branch of the family is at war with Galen's branch, and the only way to mend it is for a Syrena with the Gift (talking to fishies) to marry the king of the Triton side, Galen's brother.
Great, right? You've got some nice politics in there plus a seemingly insurmountable barrier between Emma and Galen. She can't fall for him if she has to marry his brother. So bring on the strife! Bring on the in-fighting! We've got some great consequences to juggle.
Again, not so much. The story was all about Emma learning to use her gifts. I like that the book didn't skip over the shock of learning that she might be a member of a mythical species, but the entire book? When Emma wasn't balking orders and trying to dive on her own, we were subjected to all this will-they-won't-they junk, not only from Emma and Galen but also from Rayna and her mate Toraf.
Control issues, manipulation, immaturity, communication snafus, pride, arrogance, out and out rudeness, it was all there. So dysfunctional, the lot of them. And that was the whole book. All that high-stakes political stuff? Sure, there was a bit of undersea Syrena stuff, but it all felt like an afterthought. I missed being able to ride the crest of the story arc.
WHERE WAS MY ARC?! While we're at it, where were my twists? Because sure, there were twists, but I guessed them from chapters away, and it was incredibly frustrating to have to wait for the characters to catch up. There wasn't even a bad guy!
The problem about the internet is you guys can't see how genuinely upset I am about all this. I wanted to like this book! In fact, I feel incredibly cheated by my own tastes, because so many others DID like this book, and I feel like I'm missing out.
Sigh. So yeah, that's my take. But a lot of people say that a bad review often makes them want to read the book more so that they can make up their own mind, so I hope that's the case with you all. A crazy amount of people loved this book, and I'll be tickled pink if every last one of you reads the book and decides that I don't know a cotton-pickin' thing.
Points Added For: The Titanic - the historical event, not the movie. The Syrenas having Mediterranean coloring and not the cliched purple/green/blue/pink hair.
Points Subtracted For: So I don't get any crankier, I'll say no comment. I said enough in the review.
Good For Fans Of: The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, Firelight by Sophie Jordan, insta-love, mermaids.
Notes For Parents: Language, makeout scenes, manipulative authority figures, drinking (if I remember correctly)....more
Just a warning upfront: I'm about to eviscerate this book. That supposed "rule" that some people quote to make bloggers play nice? Not going for that here. If I think a book sucked, I'll say so.
Guys, this book sucked.
Really, I'm angry at myself for being drawn in. I don't have a great track record with either Egmont or Talia Vance, but I couldn't help myself. I mean, look at the title. SPIES and an obvious reference to Pride and Prejudice. How could I resist? Also, the book is blurbed by Veronica Rossi, whom I adore. (Not that I saw the blurb until just now, but somehow it makes the betrayal seem more painful.)
And really, the book started out decently. As I explained to someone on Twitter, I was two pages in and hadn't tossed the book aside yet, so life's good. The heroine, Berry, is spying on a cheating boyfriend with her best friend Mary Chris. Though not a spy (strike #1), Berry does help her father with his private detective business, which means she spends most of her free time photographing cheating spouses. Yay extracurricular activities?
While trying out Mary Chris's eavesdropping gadget, Berry overhears two hot guys discuss her and Mary, with the hottest describing Berry as "not amazing." Our Darcy-type for the book is a rich, way-too-handsome lad named Tanner. Despite putting down our Elizabethean heroine, he's clearly smitten, nearly as smitten as his (supposed) stepbrother Ryan (Bingley) is with Mary Chris (Jane). So the characterization is a bit thin. I'm fine with that.
At least, I was fine with it until Berry opened her mouth and refused to close it again. Seriously. Berry is way more Darcy than our Darcy-type Tanner ever is, though saying so is an insult to the true Darcy. At least the true Darcy is only accidentally rude, while Elizabeth Bennet is often unthinkingly sharp. Berry is neither, instead choosing to be unrelentingly caustic. I found her first one-liner mildly amusing but quickly soured on her entire character. If I were Tanner and I was faced with Berry's toxic and unwarranted attitude, I'd gladly ditch her for someone with a shred of human decency. Maybe some people will find her funny or plucky, but I wanted to snarl when I compared her to the true Elizabeth Bennet.
And therein lays (lies?) one of the biggest and most avoidable problems of this novel. There was zero reason - ZERO REASON - to tie this book to Pride and Prejudice. Yes, the four teens follow the Darcy-Elizabeth-Jane-Bingley archetypes, but so do a dozen other books out there. It's a set archetype that has permeated literature. By explicitly tying the book to P&P, I'm going to judge each character FAR more harshly than if they had simply been presented as the two-dimensional gasbags that they are. Also, I can then use the formula to predict how everything will turn out, including whether to trust the third guy who wanders into Berry's life. (Clearly a Wickham type, so duh, no.)
This whole book is a mess. It's sort of about Berry's quest to find out whether her mother committed suicide or was murdered, but then there's this thing thrown in with a hallucinogenic soda and corporate espionage and teenage contract security, because that's SO realistic. As if that weren't enough I'm forced to endure a bevy of other irritating details. For instance, Ms. Vance decides to name her heroines Strawberry Fields and Mary Chris Moss. Haha, not. She also throws in a Caroline-type wicked cheerleader who shows up for all of a page and then disappears, never to be used again. (At least her little clique is amusingly named.) Throw in a Charlotte-type flamboyantly gay best friend (in theater, sings soprano, is way too into moisturizer, and is the perfect little shopping buddy) and I'm so done.
Oh, and of course Tanner's reason for being so socially awkward and jerky is because he's homeschooled. Because we ALL know that homeschoolers have zero social skills. (In case you can't sense the heavy sarcasm, let me just state that I was homeschooled up through high school graduation.) And it's totally his fault that he and Berry don't get along, except when it's Berry's fault because she's "damaged." The obstacles used to keep them apart were so obviously fabricated that I wanted to gag.
I powered through just so I could finish and move on, but I was so over this book. I still can't tell you the various characters' motivations. The plot holes were so painstakingly obvious that Matthew McFayden and I could waltz right through them. At least dancing with McFayden would have made the time I spent reading worthwhile.
Because look at dat widdle face
I like to think that there's an audience out there for every book. I'm sure someone somewhere will adore this book and carry it around everywhere with them. Maybe even one of you. But not me. Never EVER me.
Points Added For: Mary Chris. Despite her stupid name, she's at least not an idiot. Also, the name of the clique The Dead Presidents. (But not the clique itself. They were pointless.)
Points Subtracted For: Everything else
Good For Fans Of: Caustic and unbearably rude heroines, overbearing and claustrophobic relationships
Notes For Parents: One instance of language, adultery, homosexuality
Note: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.
I don't know whether you all remember, but a few weeks ago ago, I went on vacation. It was a lovely vacation brimming over with books. Seriously, look at my post from before I left (it's on my blog). I brought a LOT of books. I had no idea how many I was going to get to read or what order I would read them in, but I DID know that I wanted to read Heist Society first, and I'm so very glad I did.
Heist Society is the ideal summer read. It's light-hearted and fun with just enough banter and action to keep the reader entertained. Oh, and the boys are super-cute.
Anyone who's read the Gallagher Girls series will immediately feel comfortable in Heist Society. Technically, HS was written before GG, but as I read GG first, I draw my parallels backwards.
Both series follow a smart girl (Kat in HS, Cammie in GG) who was raised in the family business (thievery or spying). Each girl has a parent who has died mysteriously, and is close in a non-dysfunctional way to the living parent. That's such a relief, by the way, to read about non-dysfunctional families. Some of us do have them, you know! In HS, the living parent (Kat's dad) plays a vital role when he's accused of stealing an evil man's paintings and Kat has to go steal them back.
Both girls have a semi-nemesis in the form of a girl who is kind of scandalous in her attire and very much a guy-magnet. In HS, Kat's nemesis happens to be her cousin, the long-legged Gabrielle. I say semi-nemesis, because Gabby isn't trying to kill her cousin or anything like that. They just don't particularly get along, especially when Gabby is flirting with Kat's best friend, Hale.
Oh yeah, that thing where I mentioned the boys are super-cute? SUUUUUUPER-CUTE. As in GG, Heist Society has a bit of a love triangle situation going on. See, Hale is clearly smitten for Kat. Kat is attracted to Hale but isn't so forward about it. But then Kat meets a pickpocket named Nick who is also clearly smitten with her. I mean, she's a talented thief from a legendary family. What's not to like?
The rest of Kat's crew are all charming in their own rights. There's the Bagshaw brothers, two rollicking Scottish boys who remind me of Merry and Pippin, and Simon, the tech nerd. They're all typical boys - a bit rowdy, a bit awkward, and a bit obsessed with girls. The last part gets a little awkward, since they notice Kat and Gabby (especially Gabby) as girls... even though they're all related, albeit distantly.
I think, in the end, Heist Society beats out GG for me. While the supporting characters in GG are stronger (Liz and Bex are such fun), Kat steals the show. While the heroine in GG sometimes comes across as a girl who happens to be a spy-in-training, Kat is a freaking awesome thief (NOT in training) who just happens to be a girl.
I plan to go out and buy this book immediately (it's on sale at my store), because it was such fun. Nothing in the plot is terribly deep or twisty, but that's okay. It was FUN, and sometimes fun is enough. Especially when that fun involves W.W. Hale.
[Update: I ended up buying THREE copies of this book - one for me, one for my sister, and one as a gift. I also read the second Heist book, and it was just as awesome.]
Points Added For: Hale, being fun, thievery, a creepy bad guy.
Points Subtracted For: Some glossed-over issues (still not completely sure I understand why Kat's dad stuck around).
Good For Fans Of:The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter (my review of the first book is on my page), Stephanie Perkins' quirky books.
Notes For Parents: Boys talk about boobs (nothing graphic, just that girls have them), thievery (theft is wrong, but this IS a book about thieves)....more
Ally Carter is awesome. Her series follow a fantastic pattern by starting out light and fun before progressively growing darker and more intense. I love it, because I grow more concerned with each book, so the series never loses its shine. Perfect Scoundrels stays true to form as the most intense Heist book to date. The stakes are higher than ever in every possible way. The typical don’t-get-caught suspense abounds but is compounded by the thorny dilemma of treating Hale as a mark. Throughout the book, Kat questions if what she is doing is right. What if she loses Hale forever? What if she hurts him irrevocably? Ms. Carter also adds a level of physical danger that is both new and welcome. I’ve never truly feared for Kat’s life before, so the tingles of fear up and down my arms were a welcome addition.
Ally Carter is and always will be my go-to for fun, adventure, and awesome hijinks. I’m so glad she kept the ball rolling for Kat and the gang in Perfect Scoundrels, and I look forward to their next adventure....more
I must tell you the truth. Please withhold any shocked gasps, looks of amazement, or head-shakes of disdain. Though I am a self-titled YA blogger, I tend to shy away from contemporary books and therefore... have never read a Sarah Dessen book.
I know, I know. I knew I had to remedy the situation this summer, so I turned to Twitter for advice. Ms. Chandra from Indigo Teen Blog and Ms. Melanie Fishbane who knows practically everything suggested Along for the Ride. Yay them!
Along for the Ride was about how I expected it to be, for the most part. There's a troubled boy and a troubled girl. They meet, they rub each other the wrong way just a little but not too much, they become friends, romance ensues, and they start to heal each other's hurts. There'll be some misunderstanding, everything seems jeopardized, then awwwww, happy ending.
Typical romance plot. Given the light and airy cover, I would've been disappointed by anything else.
For the most part, I liked Auden. I related to her. Though not to the same degree, I am also sometimes baffled by "girl things" - vapid chattering about boys, details regarding makeup, hair, nail polish, or clothes, and certain social conventions regarding other people.
So when she stands in a doorway and stares at three girls boogying their way around an empty store to Elvis' rockabilly music and retreats rather than join in, I totally get it. Being completely overwhelmed by an office drowned in glaring pink and orange? I totally get that, too.
What I don't get was Auden's decision to take a tumble in the dunes with some random boy her first night in town, considering she'd never even KISSED a boy before (to my knowledge). (Oh, and you promised me no sex, Chandra and Melanie!) I think the point was to make her acceptance into the kids' social circle harder, but couldn't Dessen have accomplished that with Auden's standoffishness alone? I didn't get it at all.
Another thing I liked combined with something I didn't get was the girls Auden eventually befriends. They're a delightful trio, Maggie especially. Girly and silly, yet sharp and funny, they're just the kind of girls that anyone could be friends with. They're the ones who started the nine o'clock dance-off in the store, and they're the ones who help Auden learn the rules of society.
They're also the ones who like to smoke, drink, sleep around, and club-hop, never mind that they're underage. Geez. Would it kill the contemporary genre to give me ONE book where being completely stupid and illegal isn't advocated? I don't expect all books to be devoid of these elements, because kids really do go out and do these things. It's realistic, I get it. But what isn't realistic is making it seem like EVERYONE does these things, except for maybe the poor, repressed, geeky kids who don't know any better.
Sorry. Sore spot. Moving on.
The main troublemakers in the book were Auden's family. Her dad is a self-centered idiot, too wrapped up in his work-in-progress to see that he's making the same mistakes with his second wife that he did with his first. Seriously, I would've snapped and killed the man myself. Auden's mom is a hard-nosed intellectual who demands autocratic perfection from her daughter. Pink and all things girly are to be despised because they're weak. She's supposed to be pretty in the book, but I kept hearing and see Leonard's mom from The Big Bang Theory, because they sounded so much alike. Auden's brother is a drifting loser who flits from one European country to the next and calls home only to ask for more money... until he ends up dating a girl exactly like his mother.
Because that totally seems like a good idea.
Here, Auden frustrated me the most. I know dysfunction is really hard to see from within the dysfunctional unit, but it took her foreeeeeever to see that they were all seriously screwed up. I wanted to smack her every time she sided with her father over her stepmother, every time she failed to consider even common courtesy. (Stepmom is so tired that she's bawling? Offer to take the baby for a second, you numbskull.)
One thing I did like was that Dessen didn't make Auden skew full-on girly to counteract her mother's staunch I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR creed. As some of the girls, especially Maggie and Heidi, proved, you can love pink and kiss boys and dance to music and still be razor-sharp intellectually.
I'm focusing on Auden here, because - while cute and sweet - Eli didn't do much for me. He seemed a little stock to me. Again, perfectly nice, but he didn't seem unique, swoon-worthy.
I also liked the ending. Some of the conclusions I didn't quite believe (lookin' at you, Hollis and girlfriend), but it was still sweet and satisfying. I love forehead kisses.
It may seem like I'm being awfully dour on this book, but that's only because of my tastes and expectations. I'm a fantasy/adventure/dystopian kind of girl. I like meat and detailed, exciting characters, not rom-com cliches. (Never really could get into rom-coms - drove my roommate crazy when I picked apart her movies.) I have also inferred that Sarah Dessen writes "Like, the best romantic contemporaries EVER! OMG!!" For me, Along For The Ride wasn't the best.
But it was good. It was light. It was fluffy. It deserves to stay on the summer reading list, and I may, in time, pick up another Dessen. I consider this experiment a cautious success.
Points Added For: Maggie (because she's awesome), literary names (maybe not Thisbe, but I think Auden is pretty), a sweet ending.
Points Subtracted For: A frustrating lack of communication, major dysfunction, unnecessary teen idiocy, the cover (when does Auden EVER wear any pink other than that one jacket?!).
Good For Fans Of: Other Dessen books, Deb Caletti books, Jennifer Echols books, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, My Life Next Door by Hunter Fitzpatrick.
Notes For Parents: Underage drinking and club-hopping, sex (nothing shown, just mentioned afterward), language, tense family moments....more
Oh my gosh, what a fun book! I almost didn't pick up The Ghost and the Goth, because I really don't do ghost books. I'm so glad I did, though. It looked so light and fluffy, and it kind of is, but that's okay. I had a list of expectations ready as I settled down with this book, and Ms. Kade delivered.
For instance, I expected Ms. Kade to use the new stereotypes. Or maybe I should call them the new character molds? I'm not sure. See, back in the day, cheerleaders were always perfect girls from perfect homes and had absolutely zero reason to be rude little witches other than the fact that they were spoiled. Goths were goths. They were freaky, and that was that. Nowadays, everyone has some tragic backstory, a psychological/developmental reason for being the way they are. That's the new mold, and Ms. Kade follows the new mold.
And that was okay with me. Like I said, I knew this book would be light and fluffy. Still, Alona's problems at home added a bit of heft to her personality, and I liked it. I also liked the fact that Goth boy Will isn't really Goth. (As he points out, he often wears a navy blue t-shirt, not a black one. And being able to see ghosts is a great reason to act a bit weird.)
I also expected some great dynamics between Alona and Will. Boy, does Ms. Kade deliver on this one! Alona has honed herself to be able to cut someone down with just a word or a look, so she has some moments of positively wicked snark that had me smirking. Will, on the other hand, is just as snarky, but he's also a kind-hearted boy with a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders. Also, despite the fact that they're on completely different ends of the popularity spectrum, Will's had a crush on Alona since the sixth grade, which makes their arrangement... interesting.
A developing romance? I expected that. I mean, just look at the cover. They've got the whole romantic tension thing going on from the get-go, which is alright, because Will is oddly cute. There's definitely no insta-love here. There's no love at all. Just catty attraction that was so fun to read.
But I didn't expect the big reveal. From the beginning, Will thinks he knows who the ghost trying to kill him is and why it's out to get him. I'm not saying he's right and I'm not saying he's wrong. I just didn't expect the twist at the end that made me go "Ohhhhhhhh." It wasn't quite as straightforward as I thought it would be, and I liked that.
I also didn't expect the logic behind the ghost method. I never got how ghosts are supposed to be ethereal enough to pass through walls but corporeal enough to, you know, throw things and scribble ominous messages. Totally illogical. But Ms. Kade laid out a pretty solid explanation for why certain things happen certain ways, which is pretty neat. I allow certain leaps of faith in my books (it's fictional, after all), but I expect everything to be logical and orderly. Cause and effect must still preside over events.
Okay, pause. You see that nice little list above? That's me trying to be a responsible, even-keeled reviewer. But the reader in me just wants to sit in a corner and giggle before chucking the book at your heads while chanting, "Read the fun, fluffy book! Read the fun, fluffy book!"
I would LOVE to see this book turned into a movie. Will's principal is a great enough jerk to be a fantastic secondary villain, Will's friend Joonie is just the kind of quirk that make a TV movie a success, the various ghosts that bug the snot out of Alona are a riot, and Will and Alona just have this great chemistry that begs to be translated onto the screen.
So what are you waiting for? Read the fun, fluffy book!
Points Added For: Will and his hotness, Alona and her snark, being logical, being fun and fluffy, Will's mom.
Points Subtracted For: All the language (the story would've been fine without it).
Good For Fans Of: Snark ghosts, fluffy books, romantic tension.
Notes For Parents: Moderate-to-heavy language, ghosts, an Ouija board, drinking, Alona's attitude regarding body types, Will's attitude regarding legs (he likes them a lot), homosexuality, homophobia....more
I've been picking a lot of pokeable books lately. By pokeable, I mean the type of book that bears further examination once the reading is over. Either I like it but don't know why, like it but am stopped from full-blown love by certain elements, dislike it yet and am stopped from full-blown hate by good elements, or am just plain confused. I poke the book like a cat might a bug, hoping that it will reveal its true nature in turn.
Also Known As was pokeable.
Here's what you need to know about Maggie Silver.
1. Maggie is her real first name (well, it's her chosen nickname for her real name, Margaret), but Silver is not her real last name.
2. Her parents are international spies working for the Collective, a do-gooder spy agency run by a mysterious benefactor intent on righting the world's wrongs. For instance, the story opens after Maggie's family busts a human trafficking ring in Iceland.
3. Maggie is also a spy, sort of. She's never had a real mission all to herself, but she helps her parents as a super-talented safecracker.
4. Maggie is sixteen, but thanks to her parents' work has never been to school (she was homeschooled) or had a best friend or a boyfriend.
5. Maggie knows that part of being a spy is being, as her parents and her Uncle Angelo put it, "beiger than beige." Quiet, bland, and forgettable.
6. In this story, Maggie gets her first real mission (stop a mogul from running a story naming spy names, including those of Maggie and her parents), her first best friend (a high-flying socialite named Roux), and her first boyfriend (Jesse Oliver, who just so happens to be the son of the aforementioned mogul).
Those are facts. Another fact would be that I thoroughly enjoyed being inside Maggie's head.
Ostensibly, the book is about Maggie's mission to save herself, her parents, and the Collective from Armand Oliver's article about the spies among us. To accomplish this mission, her parents move to NYC (Soho, to be precise) so that Maggie can worm her way into the social circle of one Jesse Oliver, Armand Oliver's son. For the first time, Maggie must attend a private school and learn to make friends, while simultaneously using those friends to achieve her goal.
Of course, that's not really what the book is about. If you're looking for an action-packed thrill ride, this is not the book for you. If you're looking for some mind-blowing twist, you won't find it here. You also won't find much time spent in school or with any other teens besides Jesse and Roux.
I admit, I found these shortcomings to be a little annoying. Maggie spent weeks in school, but we aren't allowed much access to her assimilation other than her whining on the first day. I was also hoping for a story that was a little more... spy-centered.
Despite her unique talents, Maggie isn't much of a spy at all. Rather than be "beige," she is incredibly flamboyant in her actions and conversations, as well as her choice of companions. Roux is anything but beige. Maggie also has startlingly loose lips when it comes to her secret identity. And oh my gosh, don't even get me started on the lapses in believability that I had to put up with.
Yet Maggie is the reason I bother to poke. Robin Benway nails the teenage voice. Though initially annoying, Maggie's voice is lively, humorous, dramatic, and altogether authentic. She is the quintessential teenage girl. She's cocky and confused, emotional and far too dramatic, desperate for a friend but loathe to admit it, and she loves her parents even if they do butt heads sometimes. I cackled more than a few times at Maggie's antics, especially one scene where she regales her Uncle Angelo with her troubles.
"I'm so sorry!" I said, tears coming all over again. "I didn't mean to, it just happened! I think I like him, but I'm lying to him and to Roux, too. And now I've been lying to you and my parents! I'm a lying liar who lies!"
That's gold right there.
"I love him, even if we've only known
each other for the lifespan of a mayfly!"
Maggie is fantastic in all her interactions. She plays well off her mark, Jesse, even if their rapidly forming feelings made me sigh heavily. Really, Maggie, I know the world is new and wonderful, but hold off telling a boy you love him, lest you risk becoming the Ariel of spies. Roux is a whole 'nother bag of fabulousness. She's the typical neglected rich kid, fiery and outrageous while hiding a soft underbelly. She and Maggie quickly become zany best friends and kept me laughing the entire story.
What I'm trying to say is that this book definitely has its flaws. In my opinion, Robin Benway is no Ally Carter, at least as it pertains to missions and the like. However, I appreciated - nay, adored - Maggie's vivacious teen spirit and am even holding out hope for a companion novel down the road. So adjust your expectations accordingly and enjoy a really fun book.
Points Added For: Maggie and her unique voice, Roux, the book's humor.
Points Subtracted For: Not making me gasp, making me roll my eyes in places, changing the cover from the one I used to some boring green thing.
Good For Fans Of: Ally Carter's Heist Society and Gallagher Girls series, other Robin Benway books, hilarious hijinks.
Notes For Parents: Some language, mentions of past hookups (nothing graphic), making out, underage drinking, homosexuality (mentioned only).
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher for review via NetGalley....more