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Sunday, August 28, 2011

You Killed Wesley Payne

by Sean Beaudoin

This book has been available at Barns & Noble for a while now. It's also been a very long while since I read this book, but I'm a veteran procrastinator so I hope I'm forgiven. Anyway, this book is set in a world much like our own (but not quite) in a small-town high school. Dalton Rev, a teenage private investigator looking to earn some quick cash, came here to investigate the mysterious murder of Wesley Payne. This book ended up being one of my favorite books of the year. It is truly worthy of the YA category; it was sprinkled with humor and pop-culture phrases only widely known in the teenage realm. As it turns out, the entire school in the setting is seperated into distinct cliques and their followers, some being the 'Foxxes', 'Lee Harvies', and 'Populahs'. The superintendent is bribed frequently for late slips, and in the hallways, it's practically a jungle; bring your wits with you. The element of cliques and the casual, urban, teenage world of the school and writing style made it a memorable read and in a few ways close to my real teenage life. Some books I read are like they are written by my principal: adult-like, brimming with obvious metaphors and similes, and sometimes boring. This books was like it was written by a friend: they have a similar life to me, and uses these similar elements in their writing. It's quite chummy. Simply put, adults seem to have a hard time pinning down the exact elements that can relate to a teenager and make teen-oriented writing especially enjoyable. Well, Mr. Beaudoin, you did it pretty well. Being a damn good writer, of course, was nice too. This book was like a good batch of french fries: full of flavor, not over or under salted, pleasingly crispy edges, filling, and with a dollop of good ketchup to balance the flavor; a tasty high-calorie snack food. I give this a 4 out of 5.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Steel by Carrie Vaughn

Jill fences, and the book begins with her at a fencing tournament. She is competing against another girl for third place, but she loses and gets fourth instead. I can see being a little disappointed at that, especially because Jill only lost by less than a split second, but still, fourth place in a national fencing tournament, not bad, right? Well, apparently, it's not good enough for Jill, who spends the next several weeks (weeks plural) moping. If she were just a little disappointed, it would be fine, but no. Jill's parents take her to the Bahamas for a vacation and all she can do is stay in a hammock and think about how she just wasn't good enough. Ok, maybe it's just me, but I think fourth place in a national tournament is pretty good.
Once Jill gets past moping, which does not actually take up a lot of pages, it just bugged me a lot, the story got a bit more interesting. While on a walk along the beach, she finds the tip of a sword. Later, while on a tour, she falls off the boat and spends a couple minutes drowning. When she finds the surface again, her tour boat is nowhere in sight. Instead, she gets picked up by a bunch of pirates. The captain, Marjory Cooper, recognizes the blade tip, but won't give its significance, so the book has a bit of "mystery" in it (mystery as long as you ignore the fact that you can see what's coming next).
The end, which I suppose had to happen, also bugged me a little. How is a high school fencer (who couldn't even get third place) supposed to beat the evil pirate who has been fighting to live for a lifetime? I suppose that's kind of the point, that she got confident, and she improved, but it's still a little unrealistic. It was also a bit difficult to tell how much time had passed, so maybe she had been learning to fight for a really long time and I just don't know it.
This book is a 2.8. The characters were one dimensional, and it didn't engage me very much. I was really looking forward to this book. I did, however, enjoy the chapter titles. They were all fencing terms and it was cool as well as appropriate. I also enjoyed the overall concept. And Jill was épée, which is definitely the best fencing weapon. It's like a cheap sandwich that looks really good and has stuff you like in it. You get it, and you really want it, then you eat it, and it just doesn't taste very good.

The Magician's Guild by Trudi Canavan

Sonea had been living in the city, but she, her aunt, and her uncle were kicked out during the Purge. The Purge was developed by the previous king in order to rid the city of beggars and thieves. Every year, magicians went through and made sure everyone got out. As a result, those living in the slums hate the magicians. When Sonea arrives in the slums where she used to live, she met her old gang, and goes with them to throw rocks at the magicians. This is purely a statement on the part of the "dwells," those dwelling in the slums, because the magicians have a magic shield so the rocks can't get near them. Sonea's stone, however, flies through the shield and knocks out one of the magicians (because if nothing happened, where would the story be?). This is how Sonea discovers that she has the gift of the hated magicians. Knowing that magician's are not allowed outside of the magician's guild, she flees for her life.

Sonea spends the next couple hundred pages running from the magicians by moving to various hiding spots, eventually getting help from the Thieves, and trying to use her magic, which usually ends up with something in flames.

The book also gives the point of view of Rothen and Dannyl, two magicians. Rothen was the only one who saw Sonea, so he is at the head of the search. Dannyl is his friend. They gave some insight to the magician's side of things, and made it so the magicians were not evil. Rather, they needed to get Sonea before she destroyed the entire city with her uncontrolled magic. As a reader knowing that Sonea had to be caught or die, I spent all of Part One waiting for her to be caught, which took away all the intended suspense, and the whole thing got a little repetitive.

Rothen takes Sonea in when she finally gets caught and tries to gain her trust and train her so she doesn't explode everything, and the book goes on in a more interesting way. There's also a little kind of side plot with Sonea's friend Cery.

The story gets a 3.3. It stretches out at some parts, but some parts are amusing. It was predictable, and I really didn't like Sonea, but I liked the Thieves and Rothen and Dannyl. It was like vanilla cake with a picture on it because you can see the whole picture, and it's not chocolate, but still enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

In my usual overestimation of how many books I will need to read while on vacation, I've ended up with two bags full of books. Needless to say, they didn't all come with me, but one of the books that did was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It was only a two week checkout and so will tragically be returned overdue as I hadn't finished it yet, but I am so happy to be paying that $.40.
The book is narrated by Jacob, a 16 year old boy who lives an average, boring life in Florida. As a child, his grandfather told him stories of monsters and peculiar children (one who can fly, another that's invisible, etc.) that he has since deemed false. Grandpa is getting old at the start of the book, and beginning to slip mentally, so when he calls Jacob in a panic, saying "They're coming for me," Jacob understandably thinks his Grandpa has gone off the deep end. Grandpa dies under somewhat odd circumstances, though, and only Jacob is around to hear his last words. As the story continues, Jacob learns that his Grandpa's stories had a lot more to them than he originally believed.
Throughout the book are black and white photographs that tie in with the story line. They were a unique addition to the book, but would be fascinating on their own. The writing was very good, quite descriptive, and the characters were nice too, although many of them were more secondary and didn't develop much. Jacob developed more, as did Emma (another central character). The fantasy aspect of the book was excellent and unique--no vampires, witches/wizards, or werewolves!!! Instead, there are loops and hollowgasts and wights. The ending left more to come, and the author is already planning a sequel. Unfortunately, the book was just published in June so I have a long time to wait. Waaaaah. Anyway, 4 1/2 stars for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
Ransom Riggs' website:

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