A disjointed plot and distasteful hero. I'm sad because I've enjoyed James' books/several tropes included in this story before but this just did not wA disjointed plot and distasteful hero. I'm sad because I've enjoyed James' books/several tropes included in this story before but this just did not work for me....more
Tell Me More: Bullying is just one of the things I hYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Bullying is just one of the things I have had to live with in the last 24 years. Without going into too much detail: yes, I was bullied--physically, verbally and emotionally--for much of my childhood. They were classmates, kids my family saw in church every week with their own families. They were smart. They were charismatic. They knew, just as Scott Marlin knew, how to pretend their actions were nothing more than accidents or mistakes. And I knew, just as Jesse Larsen knew, what everything really meant.
Reading this book was one of the hardest things I ever asked myself to do. I knew what was coming, and what Henry would have to face, and if the mental torment was horrifying for him, it was doubly horrifying for me. Susin Nielsen did a brave thing going into the mind of a thirteen-year-old who is confused and hurt and terrified. It could not have been easy--I know this from experience. And even while I was on the fence about the journal form of the novel, I found that I trusted Nielsen to be true to Henry's voice.
I have a little brother. Like Henry, he had no idea what I went through every day. We attended the same school, but while he spent many a happy recess with his friends in 1st grade, I did my best to avoid everyone for fear of what they might pick on next. Henry is what I imagine my little brother might have been during those years. And that knowledge made my heart hurt for both Henry and Jesse.
I didn't like Henry sometimes, or the way he thought about some of the people in his life, but that is to be expected. He is a teenager, barely on the cusp of adolescence, and he is still trying to figure things out. The fact that his brother committed such a terrible act is a burden he will carry his whole life, so I could forgive him for his quick judgments. He grows out of them through life experience. I especially liked that Nielsen didn't rely on the supporting characters to pull Henry out of his grief and anger. They were all fleshed out and real and served a purpose in the story, and I myself was surprised by the layers they hid.
Reading this book won't stop bullying. But if I had had this book when I was a kid, maybe I wouldn't have held onto the pain as long as I did. Make no mistake--The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is a story about ugliness and cruelty and desperation. But it is also a story about picking up each jagged, bruised piece of yourself and letting the people who love you help you glue them back together again. It is a story of acceptance and pain and moving past truly horrifying experiences.
The Final Say: It goes without saying that every single child should read a book like The Reluctant Journal at least once in their lifetimes. But parents and teachers should too, because even if the thought of bullying is completely out of your experience, I can guarantee you that there is at least one child who could use your help and guidance.
Tell Me More: One of my favourite book-related memories is being handed a copy of the fYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Tell Me More: One of my favourite book-related memories is being handed a copy of the first Animorphs novel, The Invasion, and getting lost in my first taste of science fiction. Granted, I'm on the fence about the existence of aliens, but the reading experience that Animorphs gave me influenced my imagination in ways I am still discovering today. When I heard that Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant were writing another novel, and that it would be science fiction as well, I jumped at the chance to read their new offering. My excitement was justified: Eve & Adam is not only smart and compelling, but one of the most enjoyable books I've read all year.
Despite my own approach to it, I must warn you: this is not a book you should read with expectations. It's a strange story, with layers that seem transparent at first, but have secret compartments and trapdoors to catch the unwary reader. It is a story that makes it easy for readers to assume things about the characters and their actions, before surprising and shocking them. The pacing that Grant and Applegate employ will feel familiar to Animorphs readers, especially during action scenes. Both authors have a gift for making the reader feel as though they are watching a film, with seemingly small details coming out of nowhere to be the key to several puzzles.
And what puzzles there are--Eve & Adam moves briskly for a science fiction story, and yet it manages to take on complicated issues such as genetic modification and the limits of scientists (or lack of) without talking down to the reader or preaching. I especially appreciated the grittiness of the setting making it clear that this is the kind of world we could be living in now. The decisions that Eve, Solo and Aislin face in this story are ones that our generation might be facing in a few years, and it certainly makes one take a step back and consider the possibilities. I'm very eagerly looking forward to the second novel!
The Final Say: Mix The Adoration of Jenna Fox with some turbulent emotion and reckless decisions and you've got Eve & Adam. The breakneck pace and highly intriguing plot will satisfy readers of all ages, and certainly start up some interesting discussions on what it means to be a "perfect" person.
Greg is taken aback by news of an old acquaintance's illness in this kooky novel from Jesse AndrewsPosted on Seashell Reviews at Mermaid Vision Books!
Greg is taken aback by news of an old acquaintance's illness in this kooky novel from Jesse Andrews, and readers might be similarly surprised by Andrews' writing style and humour. Crude retorts may fly fast and furious between Greg and Earl, but there is a fierce heart to this story that won't be ignored. This is a book for readers who aren't up for the intensity and (dare I say it?) hipster quality of The Fault in Our Stars. (Disclaimer: I LOVED that book.)...more
Tell Me More: A is someone for whom distance is key--life itself depends on remaining an observer, never getting too close and staying under the radarTell Me More: A is someone for whom distance is key--life itself depends on remaining an observer, never getting too close and staying under the radar. But while the concept behind A's life might be fascinating, I never once felt emotionally compelled by it or invested in the story. In some ways, the distance necessary to understand the changes A experiences also made it difficult for me to love the story. In fact, it was precisely this distance that gave me reasons to dislike it.
Objectively speaking, Every Day is a well-written novel. The writing is as impeccable as I've come to expect from David Levithan, and the themes he choose to highlight are thought-provoking as always. His use of language was particularly intense in a chapter where A wakes up as a drug addict. It was stark and raw, bleedingly so, and it reflects the experience of losing oneself as eloquently as anyone could probably put it.
Where the story failed to hook me was the romance between A & Rhiannon, which was really the only thing that ever motivated A during the entire novel. I felt like I was being told that A loved her more than I could actually feel it. Rhiannon's ordinariness may have drawn A to her, but it didn't draw me in. And as the book went on, I grew more and more uncomfortable with how A pursued her, recklessly endangering every host he entered after Justin (Rhiannon's boyfriend). I could probably understand A finding an opportunity to talk to her if the host that day attended the same school, or if A saw her on the street, but driving hours away to a party? Lying unnecessarily and messing with the lives of the people A enters? Certainly, A did not mean any harm. But that line comes very close to what most stalkers say, and I was disturbed by how it felt like I should be cheering A on.
If what Levithan meant to do was illustrate the tangled threads of obsession and infatuation and how they can chip away at a person's soul, then he succeeded. But as much as I can appreciate the technical beauty of the prose, A is not a protagonist that I felt comfortable getting to know, and the story left me feeling as though I'd been taken for a ride and left out in the desert to fend for myself, without any sort of real closure.
The Final Say:Every Day is a novel that will make you reconsider the people you pass every day on the street, the friends you know and the relationships you have in a new light, though it doesn't quite manage to say anything concrete about those new perspectives other than that you should have them.
Tell Me More: When you've got a brother who is all aYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: When you've got a brother who is all about video games, a certain reluctance for stories about gamers is normal. Nevertheless, when I first heard about Insignia last year on the author's blog, I filed it away under "interesting concepts" and thought I'd just borrow it from the library. Eight months later, I'm glad I took a chance on this book because it shifted every idea I had about virtual reality science fiction on its head, and it was an intense, amazing ride to boot.
Make no mistake--S.J. Kincaid plays no games with her readers in this high-stakes story of a boy who finds himself struggling for an identity amidst people who want to force identities onto him. The tone of the first chapter is simultaneously witty and rebellious, with Tom using overlooked skills to get one up on arrogant VR players. Kincaid writes Tom as older than his fourteen years, so it is jarring to remember that he still stays with his father and that he is still under the mercy of the authorities. It's a frustrating life that he leads, so no reader could possibly blame him for wanting out. What the Pentagonal Spire offers is security, stability, and a chance at being somebody. Who could turn that down after a life of running away all the time?
In this light, I found it extremely interesting that Kincaid chose to make Tom a fourteen-year-old. He's on the younger end of the YA spectrum, and his mind and attitudes are still malleable. That itself is the main reason why the government chooses to hire teenagers for their programs, but there is also a darker side to it. Where is the fine line between employment and utilization? In other words, can we remain human when the entire point of our lives is to serve? Kincaid takes the idea of dehumanization--something that still happens to this day--and dresses it in the robes of virtual reality and celebrity, in games and patriotism. Does that really make a difference? Tom's position and subsequent promotions in the Spire depend on his turning a blind eye to the fact that to a large extent, every teenager is a tool, a weapon. They don't create the programs that they use, even though they are taught programming in case they need to escape from it. A chilling scene in the programming class drives this point home--should someone insert malware into the much-touted neural processor, you would be even more helpless than a regular human. And Tom, as a young teenager, is positioned to receive years of training under this neural processor, to depend on it and make it a part of himself. That unpredictability kept me tied to the story and I genuinely could not stop reading this book.
There were several moments in this novel that reminded me of Veronica Roth's Divergent. I'm not a huge fan of that series--the first book was okay, Insurgent was a more compelling read--and I have to say that when it comes to action and conspiracy theories, Insignia is a better book, hands-down. I felt like Tom's actions were more in keeping with his character than Tris's were, and the world around Tom was much more carefully laid out and detailed than the Chicago we see in Divergent. Admittedly, I'm a reader that goes for those tiny details, so my preference for this book won't come as a surprise. We know so much about Tom's futuristic world after only 50 pages, and Kincaid writes his story in such a way that you constantly thirst for more of everything.
Ultimately, that is what makes Insignia such a satisfying read: readers can draw very real connections to its universe, and see how history might just play out to be exactly like it. Even better, Tom is not a push-over, and he is determined to make sure that he knows as much as he can before making any risky decisions. That kind of self-preservation instinct is important, and it stops Insignia from becoming just another flash-in-the-pan thriller. As you make your way further into the story, it becomes clearer that Tom is a strong character, one that won't find himself at the mercy of factors he can't control. Granted, that strength also leads him into some unsavoury situations, but he's a smart kid. He knows there's much more to life than what he can see at any given moment.
The Final Say: S.J. Kincaid's unique vision of a world tied to the brilliant minds of teenagers in Insignia will keep readers enthralled with electric prose and heart-stopping twists.
Tell Me More: Stories of the fae are often tied to IYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Stories of the fae are often tied to Irish and Scottish roots, and take place in the city or rural areas. Not so with Sarah Zettel'sDust Girl, where the Dust Bowl dictates what it wants to do with the people that live in its sphere. Helpless as Callie is against the dust storms, it was satisfying to find that nothing could smother her spirit and her story.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Dust Girl when I began reading it. The premise felt shaky and vague, and to my knowledge, there has never been a story like this before. To top it all off, Callie wasn't the usual Caucasian protagonist of a fae story. Just enough focus was placed on her skin colour and heritage to allow readers to know her, but her race never became a stereotype. Zettel pinpoints the parts of Callie that need to be shown to readers, and lets them discover the rest on their own. That faith pays off, because Callie is such an interesting, layered character by herself. Zettel surrounds here with other fascinating creatures and people, and the dynamics are not only beautiful, but also fun to see.
Dust Girl is a book that lends itself to storytelling. Adding the unique cadence of 1930s America only serves to improve the flow of the story--the dialogue feels natural enough to read lines aloud, and the action is snappy and electric. I personally would love to hear the audiobook for this novel, because it's just that compelling. It's easy to feel the suspense Zettel writes into every event, and the development of the plot is organic, drawing from little clues spread throughout the book. The creative touches Zettel inserts into her fae mythology are refreshing enough to make me want to reread the book again and again, in addition to looking up the inspiration for her creatures. Then again, they're also terrifying enough to have me backing away very very slowly--a hallmark of a truly excellent and imaginative writer.
The Final Say: Sarah Zettel delivers an arresting story in Dust Girl, with characters that stay in one's mind long after the pages have been turned.
Tell Me More: Whirlwind romances, summer flings, desYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Whirlwind romances, summer flings, desperate Romeo/Juliet situations--they're the stuff of teenage dreams and wishes. I'd be lying if I said I never wanted any of those things, and most people can attest to the same. There's something about being a teenager that makes one feel as though anything is possible and everything is open to you. Interestingly enough, the tag line for this novel is in that same optimistic vein: "Love can conquer any distance...right?" But While He Was Away suffers from much more than just distance between the two characters, and doesn't manage to raise itself from those depths in time for the ending.
I've spoken to former soldiers and learned about the military experience from ex-Navy SEALS and their families. I've read excellent Harlequins with military characters. So to a point, I can certainly agree that Karen Schreck's narrative rings true regarding the difficulties of living an army/navy life. I just could not get past the sheer immaturity of the characters. Penna is particularly grating--she is barely developed enough to be more than just David's girlfriend, and yet the story relies on her narration. Because she is so underdeveloped, there is very little to like about her (try as one might) and worse for the story, there is very little to care about. Penna's experiences as an Army Girlfriend (emphasis mine) had the potential to be compelling and powerful, and it was disappointing to see them reduced to scenes that had little to no emotional power.
The pacing of the story is extremely off-putting, which isn't helped by weak prose. Schreck goes from discussing one issue to another in a single paragraph, leaving the structure of the story without anything to hold on to. Other novels are able to transcend this problem with attention-grabbing characters and a strong overarching plot. Given that While He Was Away is such a closed, intimate story, Schreck's approach does not work for its benefit.
Beyond these problems with the story, I would have still recommended it to beginning YA readers, but there was one scene that bothered me enough to change my initial rating from a 2 to 1 star. Penna and David go on a website where they can "shoot" an Iraqi artist with paintballs. The simulation bothers Penna enough to have her hesitating, but David encourages her.
“Holy crap,” David said. He laughed nervously. He said it was my turn. “Come on,” David said. “Just think about 9/11. Shoot him.” The artist was bent over, collecting the messy shreds of newspaper when I took my shot. I aimed off to the side, but even when the paintball just burst bloodily against the floor, I practically hyperventilated. “I don’t like this,” I said. David stuttered around for a little bit—9/11 this, 9/11 that. Finally he said he didn’t really like this either. Not really. The guy reminded him too much of Ravi. David rolled his eyes then. “Total stereotyping, right? Seen one, you seen ’em all. God. I sound like my worst enemy.” We left that site then and went somewhere else where we shot droids, not humans."
I understand that this may have been Schreck illustrating the stereotype, but the scene still made me angry enough to stop reading the book for a few days. My best friend is Muslim, and I dislike anything that insinuates, in any way, that people from any race are interchangeable, that they are all to blame for one evil act. I cannot stomach that ignorance, and it makes me angry that Schreck thought this would be the best way to illustrate her point.
The Final Say: While He Was Away is not a novel that offers anything new to the discussion of military life, both off and on the war front.
Release Date: May 29, 2012 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 2You can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: May 29, 2012 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 266 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: It is wonderfully refreshing to find authors who are willing to bring obscure moments in history to life, and none more so than Philippa Gregory. The critical acclaim and widespread popularity she has achieved are hallmarks of her hard work, and it was that reputation that gave rise to my expectation of a solid and strong story from her first venture into YA. I began Changeling not having read any of her previous books, which may have been for the best, as I wasn't fully satisfied with the world Gregory created.
Changeling is told through the dual perspectives of Luca, a member of a secretive religious order, and Isolde, a young heiress who is forced to become a nun. Their respective challenges were well thought out, but while Luca was charismatic enough for me to ignore some holes in his characterization, Isolde was dull and shallow for much of the novel. Often, I could predict what she was going to say before I looked any further into her conversations, and that can quickly grow tiresome. I wanted to like her and root for her, but there just wasn't any opportunity for me to really connect with her. Her reticence was also off-putting--it was difficult to ascertain whether she truly wanted to fight for her happiness or simply settle for whatever her brother and father wanted for her. She wasn't given the agency to own her decisions, even the ones that would put her under someone else's control, and so I grew to see her as a leaf on the rapids, being jostled along and not knowing where it was she really wanted to go.
The story itself feels disjointed, as though two or three different fabrics were sewn together with one colour thread. The concept behind Changeling is extremely interesting, almost like a pre-Renaissance Unsolved Mysteries, but it never quite grows into its own potential. The first half of the novel is devoted to a violent mystery at Isolde's own abbey, and the conclusion will certainly raise some eyebrows, considering the time period. I enjoyed watching Luca uncover the truth, but I do wish that Isolde had had more of a hand in the solution to her abbey's problems. Understandable as it is that Luca and other men would find it wiser to place the abbey under the control of a monastery, it did not help the argument that Isolde is different from other girls her age, wiser and more adventurous.
Ultimately, that is where this novel falls short--the contradictions between historically accurate attitudes and the actions shown in the book created a gap too wide for Gregory to satisfactorily bridge. I've been told that she has an excellent grasp of historical detail, which can be seen in her other novels, but I was never given enough information to truly immerse myself in this particular time period. We are told that Luca is different, that there is something worth observing in him, but he consistently displays the same attitude as his peers. I can't be sure if the expectations I built up for Gregory's work in my head were responsible for my dissatisfaction with Changeling, but I am certain that based on the synopsis alone, I was asked to believe in more than what the story could give me.
The Final Say: Unsure as I am about the overall coherence and completeness of this novel, I would still recommend Changeling to readers who are starting out in historical fiction. Gregory's writing will ease them into olden times with care, and give socio-cultural issues to dissect as well....more