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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Premeditated

I'm going to start with the blurb from the back cover of this book, because it does a remarkable job of introducing the story in very few words:

A week ago, Dinah’s cousin Claire cut her wrists.

Five days ago, Dinah found Claire’s diary and discovered why.

Three days ago, Dinah stopped crying and came up with a plan.

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator’s camouflage.

Today, she’ll find the boy who broke Claire.

By tomorrow, he’ll wish he were dead.


Claire and Dinah are cousins who are incredibly close, close enough that when Claire ends up in a coma in the hospital from a failed suicide attempt, Dinah knows where to look to find Claire's diary (or the computerized version of one, anyway). Dinah figures out what drove Claire to the point of suicide--a boy from the private school that Claire was supposed to attend that fall. Dinah enrolls at the school herself, determined to get back at this person who hurt her sweet cousin. She plots to ruin his life, with the help of her two best friends from the public school she used to attend. There are some complicated family dynamics involving money that come into play, and the whole revenge plot doesn't take place in one day, but essentially what is written on the back of the book holds true. Of course, the boy who supposedly hurt Claire doesn't seem as bad as Dinah thought he'd be and there are side characters that come into play...you'll have to read the book to see if Claire wakes up and if Dinah is able to exact her revenge.

I'm going to issue a general spoiler alert here before I go into the strengths and weaknesses of Premeditated. I have to give away some parts of the story in order to discuss it, so if you want to read the book and don't want it spoiled, stop reading now!
Okay, first the positives. The writing in general was solid. I really liked Dinah as a character--she was tough, but had her weak moments, too. She wasn't perfect, she was real. McQuein also did a fabulous job of capturing who Claire was and the relationship between Claire and Dinah without them ever having a present-day conversation (old texts and diary entries are used to give Claire a voice). She additionally was able to weave a net of relationships between the characters that were consistent with their actions throughout the story--you could look back once you knew more and say, Oh, now I understand that earlier scene.
Unfortunately, Dinah could be a bit dense. I decided fairly early on that Brooks probably wasn't the one who had hurt Claire, or at least that events probably did not take place exactly as Dinah thought they did. Then, I figured out the real culprit before Dinah finally got a clue. Her fixation on Brooks as the villain could be a bit frustrating at times, particularly as Dex started to show his true, abusive nature. Additionally, the fact that she set about completely destroying Brooks's life without having any concrete proof (besides Claire's diary entries) that he hurt Claire was a bit unrealistic. A very convenient part of this destruction was that Dinah had a genius friend, Brucey, who was a computer hacker able to carry out plots that would be unrealistic for most people. Finally, while I liked the ending, it seemed a tad unrealistic that Brooks would just forgive Dinah for manipulating his life and be willing to start over again, even if his dad (who had a lot of money and influence) was able to make the damage Dinah did go away. I would have expected a little more lingering anger from him.
Overall, I would give Premeditated 3 out of 5 stars. It was good, but not spectacular. Kind of like chocolate chip cookies from the supermarket. They're tasty, but not groundbreakingly delicious.
Here's the author's blog: http://josinlmcquein.blogspot.com/
And the page for the book at Random House: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/221369/premeditated-by-josin-l-mcquein#aboutthebook

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Extra

By: Kathryn Lasky

While reading this historical fiction book I thought it was completely fabricated.  The book was about a girl, Lilo, who is taken to a concentration camp with her parents.  Her dad is sent away and Lilo and her mom, Bluma, are picked by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite filmmaker, to be in a movie.  Lilo, Bluma, a boy named Django, and everyone else picked go to the set where they are going to film the movie.  From then on, mostly bad things happen.  The reason I didn't realize this book was based on fact was because of the lack of emotion.  I didn't feel connected to Lilo at all even though the book was based on someone who actually was picked to be in Leni's film.  It was as if Lasky was talking to me, recounting her day, and no matter what she said I just sort of said "oh, that's nice" because I wasn't really paying attention.  The problem was that what she was saying wasn't nice.  I should have been more invested in Lilo and what happened to her, but I wasn't.  One problems was that the book was very scattered.  There never seemed to be a point.  When she was making the film she was just trying to stay alive.  She was obviously falling in love with Django but wasn't saying anything about it.  She didn't like Leni, but there was nothing she could do about it.  She was worried for her mom but not that worried.  There was never an end in sight because Lilo didn't really think about the future.  She never had any insight into what would happen next.  The book is clearly split into two sections.  The second one has almost nothing to do with the first section.  The second section came out of the blue and I can't figure out the need for it.  By the end of the book basically everything Lilo worked towards failed.  If she prevented something once, it just happened later, except once it happened she wasn't upset about it because she had given up.  The whole book just felt like a series of rather random and unfortunate events.  The only thing that had the inkling of feeling was Lilo's relationship with Django.  The reason this was better than her relationship with anyone else was because it never stated the fact that she fell in love with him, well that is, it didn't state it until late in the book. For once, I, as the reader, had to actually draw a conclusion for myself.

This book was like a bitter apple.  Overall, just not that good.  It has that fresh bite that sticks with you even after you've finished it.  The apple was bitter, sour, and hard.  There wasn't any juice.  Being a fan of historical fiction, this book was a big let down.  I would give this book a 1.5.

Monday, November 11, 2013

To Be Perfectly Honest


By: Sonya Sones

After the first 100 pages I was super excited to continue with this book.  It was amazing how well the narrator, Colette, would tell a story and then tell you at which point she started lying.  Starting from where she started lying she would continue to tell you her story until she once again told you at which point she was lying.  She continued on like this for the first 100 pages.  These 100 pages were great.  Colette and I could have been talking to me.  This is a novel in verse but was more like a conversation for the first 100 pages.  The next 350 pages or so were not as good.  Colette falls in love with Connor...la la la... things go wrong, what a SURPRISE!!!! How else would the book progress? Basically nothing happened in this book. Colette was in love with Connor and stuff happened between them.  Just like in any other romance.  There is an extremely predictable twist, so maybe just a bend.  The only good thing in this book was Colette's little brother, Will.  Will has a lisp.  My favorite quote of his is "Being a great actor / ith of paramount importanthe when you're / pulling off a thcam of thith magnitude."  He is always saying things that brighten the mood of the book.  Colette, on the other hand, is quite the downer.  A quote to describe her would be "I throw myself / onto my bed / and cry-- / I cry until my eyes are swollen shut."  Interesting right? By this point in the book I really didn't care that she was crying.  I also didn't think this book was that well written.  The only time I thought the format (novel in verse) was used well was "I owe that kid / a truckload / of gummy worms!"  I thought that this captured the way she lied.  She would be saying something but then sort of twist it to mean something else

I would give this book a 2.  One and a half for Will and a half for the predictable yet solid ending.  I would say this book was like a stale cupcake.  Old, overused, and not very good.  But, to be perfectly honest, you can't go completely wrong with sugar, right?

The Clockwork Scarab

By: Coleen Gleason

Two girls are dead and one has gone missing in 1889 London.  The only clues are an Egyptian Scarabs that were found at both the murder scenes. Well, not exactly murder, both deaths were made out to look like suicides.  Mina Holmes, as in Sherlock Holmes's niece, and Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram Stoker (author of Dracula), are called to a secret meeting at the British Museum by Irene Adler.  Stoker and Holmes are called to investigate these series of murders by the Princess of Wales.  Along the way Holmes makes friends with Dylan Eckhert.  Dylan was at the museum looking at the statue of Sekhmet,  and Egyptian  Goddess, when he touched a scarab on the statue.  Next thing he knew, he woke up in 1889 London.  His problems come from the fact that he's from 2016 London.  Miss Holmes also has a rivalry with Lieutenant Grayling, of Scotland Yard.  Miss Stoker runs into a mysterious pick-pocket, Pix (meaning Pixie), a couple times too many to  be a coincidence.

This book had a rather interesting plot but the characters were almost unbearable.  Miss Adler was aptly named after Alfred Adler, a psychologist who studied how an inferiority complex affected development, because both Miss Stoker and Miss Holmes have the most obvious inferiority complexes.  Them having an inferiority complex wasn't exactly the problem.  The problem was that neither of them got over it and they were both competing incessantly.  I doubt there was an entire page from Miss Holme's point of view that didn't say something about her superior powers of deduction.  By the end I was sick of it.  In fact, by the end of the first chapter I was was sick of it and I was pretty sure I would like Miss Stoker better than Miss  Holmes.  Miss Homes's inability to accept the fact that she had to have a partner just got tiresome by the end.  By the end Miss Homes says something about how Miss Stoker had become Evaline, no longer just an acquaintance.  While I was glad that this was true, it would have been better if it hadn't been stated.

Miss Holmes wasn't the only one with problems.  Miss Stoker has a fear of blood, which was one of the reasons for her inferiority complex.  She is supposed to be a vampire hunter but freezes at the sight of blood.  This was established in one of the earlier chapters but continued to be reinforced throughout the entire book.  In one of the final scenes, surprise surprise, Miss Stoker froze at the sight of blood.  At the beginning, I saw this as a way to develop Miss Stoker's character.  By the end I just saw it as an annoying handicap.  At the beginning I expected Miss Stoker to learn to overcome it somehow.  It could have been used as a way of connecting Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker or just a personal victory for Miss Stoker.  Because nothing was done about this problem I don't see how it was used.  Maybe this problem will be resolved in the next book.

Another frustrating problem with the book was how they played out gender roles.  The book did and exceptional job painting how gender roles were at this time period.  My problem was how focused Miss Stoker and Miss Holmes were on them.  I understand that they were trying to prove the stereotypes wrong, but, at some point, I felt like their focused should have shifted a little more towards actually solving the mystery since that was what was actually needed solving.  Despite this, I did enjoy how Miss Stoker and Pix played out.  It was extraordinarily predictable, but still funny.

Although I found many of the characters quite annoying I thoroughly enjoyed Dylan Echert's character.  Although, my fear is that I enjoyed his character because you don't find out that much about his character.  He was one of the only ones that didn't really show that he pitied himself.  Naturally, he wanted to get back to his own time, yet he still tried to help Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker.  He seemed to be the only one to grow in this book.  He started out wallowing in the basement where he transported back in time and in the end he turned out to be quite clever.  I also enjoyed his iPhone.  His everyday, our 21st century, problems were interesting given that in the book electricity is illegal.  Another good thing about Dylan was how excited he got.  He was one of the few, if not the only, character who showed emotion. He gets especially excited when he finds out who Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker are.  Like anyone would today, he recognized their names.

I also enjoyed Pix's and Lieutenant Grayling's characters.  They were a little more complex than either Miss Stoker or Miss Holmes.  The book needed to get to know Pix, Grayling, and Dylan better because they were the only characters with any depth.

I would give this book a 3 because it had an interesting plot and a couple interesting characters.  There wasn't that much to this book but it was still very interesting.  This book was like chocolate covered cranberries.  They're pretty good and the cranberries have a good flavor, but the chocolate is cheap and rather than melting in your mouth it crumbles in your mouth.  Even though they're not great you decide to keep eating them.  The more you eat the better they taste.  You can't wait for the next cranberry -- despite the book's downfalls, I'm looking forward to the next one.


Friday, October 25, 2013

YA Covers - The Good, the Bad, the Ugly


Here at YA Galley we have very strong opinions about book covers. They matter. A lot. A good cover beckons the reader, and is also an indication of how much value the publisher places on the novel. We are more likely to pick up an book that has a  great cover with engaging art and high quality printing.
We spent our meeting this week looking at recent galley covers and discussing what we liked, and what we didn't like. 




Good
Covers on the right were simple, had good color schemes, a focus on one object, weren't too overwhelming, had contrasting colors, no faces, depth, and a smooth font.  

Bad
Covers on the left had people posing, which included girls in long flowing dresses, couples kissing, and half-faces, had garish colors, cheesy bling, and bad illustration.  


We really liked some of the books on the left, but the covers were definitely a detraction. Some of the books with great covers were actually not that wonderful, but the covers were so much more appealing that we were more likely to give them a try. Publishers, how about student review groups for cover art?


Friday, August 30, 2013

Conjured

by Sarah Beth Durst

Eve is a girl placed in a special witness protection program that concentrates on people like her who can do magic.  They protect her and other strong magic-weilders from a mysterious serial killer who has been targeting people like them.  However, Eve cannot use her magic without blacking out and having visions of the Magician and the Storyteller, and she has no memory of her life before the witness protection, except for a few flashes here and there.  Often, when she blacks out, she'll lose days, weeks, or even months of her memories.  All she knows is that she is very important to the people trying to catch the serial killer, and they need her to remember her past.
The plot developed slowly, but not in a bad way.  It took a while to figure out what was going on, but figuring it out was interesting.  The memory loss was done pretty well, and the characters were consistent and distinct.  Three of the characters - Aiden, Topher, and Victoria - struck me as superfluous.  Their main purpose was to push Eve on to discover things, but she could very well have discovered them on her own.  There's also some slight backstory, but it is barely explored, and it is not important enough to merit being mentioned.  If the book had more scope, which I would have liked, then the backstories could have been very interesting and I would have liked these characters a lot more.
The end was extremely rushed.  It happened suddenly, and everything was handed to Eve.  She spent the whole book trying to figure out what was going on, and in the end, it was simply explained to her.  The end scenes were short and happened one after another.  Expanding the end would have made the book more enjoyable and it would have made it possible to expand the scope and include the other characters a little more.  The pacing for most of the book was a slow build-up, and for the end to happen at the rate it did was disappointing.
This book is a 3.  Decent writing, decent plot, decent characters.  It is bread; it is not great, but not bad. It isn't the fresh-out-of-the-oven, homemade, soft-in-the-middle bread - which I think it could have been if it had been written differently - but it is also not the limp, tasteless bread that is better off left uneaten.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mortal Fire

by Elizabeth Knox

Canny is 16 years old and lives in a world "very like our own" in 1959.  She is a mathematical genius, remembers pretty much everything, and has the unique ability to see "Extra," which she later discovers is part of an intricate magic system that only some can use,
mainly the Zarenes.  The Zarenes are a family that live in Zarene Valley, and Canny stumbles upon them while traveling with her older brother, Sholto, and his girlfriend, Susan, on a research project of the 1929 coal mine explosion that happened near the valley.  The only Zarenes that live in the valley are between five and thirteen, plus Iris, Cyrus, Lealand, and Ghislain.  Canny spends a lot of time wandering around, lying to her brother, and discovering the secrets of the valley and her past.  After quite a lot of this, the end happens.  And it's not because she figures anything out.  It just happens.  Canny comes up with various ways to do what she wants, most of which involve telling her brother somewhat unnecessary lies.  A little deception might be necessary, but the amount of lies she tells is far outweighs this necessity.  Despite being presented as someone who acts and thinks based purely on logic, Canny constantly reacts illogically.  Her interactions with Cyrus made little sense, and I gave up trying to follow her thought processes halfway through the book.  Furthermore, the conversations in the book do not feel like real conversations.  They are exchanges of words between the characters so that they can have interactions. While reading this book, I felt like I did when I read Shakespeare for the very first time.  As you read, you get the general gist of what's going on, usually, but you miss a lot of the individual actions and happenings that make the story feel real.  The author often implied action rather than described them.  Sholto and Susan felt like shells of characters rather than characters with depth.  They acted as Canny or the plot required, and I got little sense of personality from them because it changed so much.  The book also mentioned that Canny and Susan dislike each other, but it was almost impossible to tell this from their actions.  It says they complain about each other a lot, but it only ever tells you that they complain, and it does not show them complaining about each other.
What made the entire book even more disappointing was that it could have been beautiful.  There were some nice parts that could have been wonderful if the book had been written better, but lack of emotional consistency ruined them.  The end would have been so much more poignant if it had been set up.
Overall, the book is a 2.  It is your least favorite flavor of meringue.  The magic and histories were interesting, but the book was a chore to read.  After biting into a meringue, it dissolves away in your mouth.  After reading passages of the book, you have to let them dissolve within your head and just keep on reading.  It is not an action-packed book, it is a wandering book.  There is lots of air and less substance than I would like.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Flame in the Mist

by Kit Grindstaff
This book was published in April 2013

        I was looking for some magic and fantasy so I picked up The Flame in the Mist. The cover was well done and it seemed to reek of magic. So far so good. I launched into Jemma's world where she and her family live in a castle and rule over the land. They love to eat rotten food and spoiled milk, and every week make an offering to Mordrake and Mordrana, their family ancestors. Using magic they summon up evil things like bats, spiders, and monsters. However Jemma hates the weekly ceremonies and falters at doing anything evil. Obviously, she is different.

        I read one fourth of the book before I skipped to the last page, read the last paragraph, and declared the book finished.

        The plot moves a bit too quickly and awkwardly, using sleeping, escaping, and sneaking around heavily and repetitively in the plot. Too repetitively. In the first 24 hours of the book Jemma sleeps four times, sneaks around more than that, and attempts escape three times. This is essentially the first 100 pages of the book with 450 more pages to go. You might see now why I didn't finish it. Stephanie agrees with me although she was able to finish it.

       However, I think that this book has a place where it can find success. Middle schoolers and below will probably be more forgiving of the errors I find glaring and sympathize better with Jemma, who is 13. They won't find it immature and more they will be more likely to glaze over the oddly repetitive, shallow bits.

       Since I didn't enjoy this book I rate it a 2. I think a younger audience would give it a 3 or slightly higher. If this book were a food, it would be candy dots. Were they actually that good when I was young? I don't think so, but I also didn't care. Older teens and adults know to spend money on something else.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Beautiful Decay

by: Sylvia Lewis

This book has a pretty good start.  Ellie is a girl that seems to make everyone she touches sick.  She has no friends and she's fine with that.  Then a new kid, Nate, comes.  They becomes friends, as you might have guessed.  Then Nate tells Ellie that there are more people like her and that she actually works with life.  He works with death which is why he knows about this.  Everything is going well until things happen with Nate's family -- his father worked in a secret organization of these special people.  Then the end comes and is rather silly.  The book was doing pretty will with the viviomancer-necromancer thing but then this secret organization ends up being pretty stupid.

This book is a 2.5 .  It had a good potential but the characters and plot weren't complex enough.  It was too simple.  It was sort of like a souffle that is growing and growing but then because the baker forgot to add something it simply collapses back in on itself.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Golden Day

By: Ursula Dubosarsky

I have to start by saying that this cover is beautiful.  The golden, orange, and brown tones of the cover melt together and form a watercolor that fits the book perfectly.  While the cover is a rather simple scene -- a path leading to two people off in the distance, the overall picture is beautiful.  The way the leaves border the top make it seem as if we are peering into one single moment shared by the two people off in the distance.  This is exactly what the book is like.  It is a short book with about 150 pages.  It is a glimpse into the life of eleven school girls in Australia during the Vietnam War.  The writing style matches the beauty of the cover.  Ursula Dubosarsky writes from the eyes of the school girls, Cubby in particular.  Cubby seems to be a little scared and confused.  Although it never states her confusion or her fear clearly the writing brought it out so that I felt it rather than saw it in Cubby.  The book starts with a teacher, Miss Renshaw, saying that they are going to a nearby garden to think about death because of a man that was hanged.  In the garden they meet up with someone the often see there, Morgan.  Although, on this particular day, they go further than the garden.  They go to a cave near the beach.  A lot of the girls are scared when they go in the cave and after a few minutes they run out.  They leave Miss Renshaw and Morgan in the cave.  After some time they return to the school without Miss Renshaw.  For most of the book after this the school children have to decide whether or not to tell people where they went because Miss Renshaw had told them to never tell anyone about Morgan.  The entire book takes place in just over a week until the last few pages which is at the end of the girls education.  Four of the original eleven finish their last exam but are still confused about what happened to Miss Renshaw.  One thought of Cubby's shows what the book is about and how it is written.

"That afternoon, they felt no astonishment at any of it.  Perhaps a butterfly, too, is unimpressed by its transformation from those wormlike beginnings.  Why shouldn't it crawl out from the darkness, spread its tiny wings, and fly off into the windy mystery of the trees? The grub lies quietly in its soft cocoon, silent, thinking.  It knows everything."

I would give this book a 3.  It is a beautifully written and interesting because of the writing.  Although I did find it interesting, I had no problem putting it down and walking away.  It held my attention but did not grab at it.  I think that not grabbing at my attention worked well with the writing style and was neither a good thing nor a bad thing.  It was good but not amazing.  It was like a bite of an apple.  The apple is juicy and full of flavor which tastes really sweet.  Once the bite is over there is no pull to take another but that is only because the first was sastisfying.  Like the cover the bite was a simple glimpse of a larger whole.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Where the Stars Still Shine

by Trish Doller. Available September 2013

       I picked up this book feeling wary, because I previously read Room by Emma Donoghue. I found Room to be a masterful, realistic, and respectful way of portraying a kidnapping from the victim's perspective. After reading that book, I didn't know if Where the Stars Still Shine would rise to the challenge and give a unique look at a kidnapping case or if it would disappoint me. More on this later.
       When Callie was just in kindergarten, she was kidnapped by her loving yet domineering and slightly off-kilter mother. She's now 17, reunited with the father who she barely remembers, and must transition to her new family and life. She learns independence, new responsibilities, learns to make decisions for herself, and faces the issues from her past. She especially learns what a respectful, loving relationship is all about... By getting hooked up with a boyfriend and having lots and lots of sex.

       That's right, this galley focused a lot more on romance than psychological trauma from kidnapping. I'd have to say that I'm disappointed overall. I was ready to read a book about a slow transformation into modern life, but really I read about a girl who gets nervous around her mom and gets hot and steamy with a hot greek guy rumored to be a bad boy. (I guess I should have picked up on that foot-flipping-I'm-kissing-someone-right-now-action on the front cover).
       Much of the story is about meandering dates. It's not wrong to have a couple chic-lit books out there with the focus on kissing and sex (oh, lots and lots of sex), but I think here the romance overrides the kidnapping part of the story. To prove my point, Callie didn't have any issues transitioning into the life of a regular teenager. The story glazes over how she studies for her GED and didn't even tell me if she passes. She recognizes an astounding amount of pop culture from movies to music, and she has no problems making friends (or boyfriends for that matter), getting a job, or meeting family. Generally, all the fitting in she has to do (which isn't much) is solved pretty quickly.

       To be honest, I am totally sick of any romance whatsoever. Unless it's great and necessary, I don't want to read it. Scoring a boyfriend or girlfriend by the end of a novel doesn't always enrich it. It's now, in my eyes, a cliche.
       If you like chic lit, romance, or summer escapades, you'll like this book. For you people, this book is a solid 3. However, my patience for romance had been reduced. It was merely okay; closer to a 2. It was like eating a store-made cake. Is the frosting made with real buttercream frosting, or is it the stuff from a can? It turned out to canned, but at least the cake wasn't stale.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Black Helicopters

By Blythe Woolston

Black Helicopters is narrated by a girl named Valkyrie.  Her father raised her and her brother, Bo, away from civilization, and they fear other people.  They believe that everyone is out to get them, and, during the "present" chapters of the books - intermingled with flashbacks - Valkyrie goes out with a bomb strapped to her chest to blow something up.  That's pretty much the whole story.
This book was one of the most unfulfilling stories I have ever read.  At the end, I knew about as much as I did at the beginning; there was no discovery.  Valkyrie was barely a character.  I could not relate to her in any way.  Her motivations were completely lost on me.  I never really understood what she was trying to do, and even after I finished the book, I still couldn't figure out where it had been trying to go.  Valkyrie was ageless in that anywhere-between-eight-and-eighteen way; it states that she's fifteen, but her character is so malleable and mushy that if it hadn't been explicitly stated, I would never have known.  She was altogether a not very believable character.  The black helicopters are an almost forced element of the book at times, and I found it to be an inappropriate title.  The title should have hinted at some sort of theme in the book instead of simply pointing to one of the plot elements.  I could have used the hint.
I give this book a 1.  It is gruel.  Tasteless, not particularly filling, and eaten only when there is nothing else to eat.  If you think this book sounds interesting, read the back cover.  That's a better story than what's between the covers, and you get the same amount out of it as you would if you read the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tragedy Paper

by Elizabeth LaBan

tp      This was hands-down one of the most exciting Galleys I've read this year, and it wasn't even my genre! All of my bookmates in the club agreed with me, and I think together we can say that this book will be big. Enormous. Massive. This is the next thing. Every once in a while a book comes along that makes me supremely grateful I joined YA Galley two years ago, and this is one of them.
      The most delicious elements of this book are the quirky and contorted nature of the plot, which is mirrored in the beautiful writing. LaBan's writing has all the obsessively polished charm a debut novel tends to present, but she makes it seem effortless and graceful. Often a debut novel is defensive right off the press, going all out in order to get noticed, but The Tragedy Paper needed none of this posturing. It's fresh, appealing, achingly relatable, and subtly perfect. LaBan creates characters with problems and strengths at once; every character has a history, a psyche, desires, and dreams. While her plot has the potential to be oh-so-clichéd, she pulls it off with refreshing aplomb and the end result is like nothing I've seen before. The private school, the wealthy students, the perfect girl, and the self-conscious albino... her ability to make this combination original portends great skill and I cannot wait to read her works in the future. Running through the whole story is a chilling frisson of imminent tragedy. Best of all, this book runs on a literary device, one I haven't ever seen successfully used before. If nothing else, read this book to expand your literary horizons. And the cover's beautiful too...
     I would give this book a solid 5. It isn't the most amazing book I've ever read, but that in no way means it doesn't merit the highest praise; I have, after all, read some stunning novels. This book is right up there. It's a fresh, beautiful, crisp citrus granita served with sprigs of mint and the subtlest whispers of the hibernal Alps, a glorious and fragile respite from the pounding dullness of the summer heat.

SYLO

By: D.J. MacHale

When I was reading SYLO I decided it would make a terrific movie.  It is action packed, captivating, and well paced -- for the most part.  The beginning was well written and introduced an island off the coast of Maine, Pemberwick Island.  The town is very close and everyone knows just about everyone else.  Autumn is coming on but the warmth of winter is still holding on.  One evening during an intense football game the team's best player, Marty Wiggins, drops dead.  Tucker, a bench player on the football team, witnessed the whole thing and even heard Marty's last words.  To clear his mind he went on a midnight bike ride with his best friend Quinn.  On this bike ride a mysterious shadow flying over the water makes an elongated sound before exploding knocking both Tucker and Quinn off their bikes as well as someone else off their bike.  The only other witness was someone sitting in a pickup truck that disappeared before the police arrived.  The next day Tucker runs into someone he doesn't know, Mr. Feit, who offers him a mysterious red sea salt.  Tucker eats a tiny bit of it and becomes impossibly fast and strong until it wears off.  Once the island gets over Marty's death and how bad Tucker is at replacing his position on the football team life goes back to normal.  Until the lobster pot festival.  Near the end of the boat race one of the competitors runs off course, crashes, and is found dead, but not from the crash.  At this point a branch of the US army, SYLO, invades Pemberwick.  The person in charge of SYLO, Captain Granger, is steely and ruthless.  He tells them that they are barricading the island because there is a virus that they don't want to spread from the mainland.  Tucker and Quinn don't quite believe this but nothing is confirmed until Tucker and Tori, another girl from the island, see something that puts Tucker, Quinn, and Tori in danger for knowing too much.

Overall the book was very exciting but had a couple of flaws.  At the beginning of the book Tucker notices how his parents react oddly to the news of the invasion and seem to know something more.  Even though Tucker notices it he willingly decides not to care.  This bothered me for a long time because odd things were happening on the Island and Tucker didn't care that his parents might know something more.  But, this was mostly taken care of when Quinn yells at Tucker for not asking more questions.  Another problem was what happened to Quinn, it's too fishy.  The next problem was Olivia.  Olivia is a girl visiting the island and gets stuck on the Island without her family when SYLO invades.  On the day of the lobster pot festival Tucker over hears Olivia yelling into her cell phone saying she had already been on the island for too long and it wasn't what she agreed to.  Olivia comes up with a lame excuse and Tucker believes her.  This happened right before SYLO invaded and Tucker  does not even take notice.  From that point on I was always suspicious of Olivia.  She didn't do anything else odd until she seemed a little too handy with gun shot wounds and nothing more is discovered about Olivia.  This leads us to the last problem: the ending.  Just about nothing is wrapped up.  It ends with the worst words in the world "TO BE CONTINUED..." I was not happy.  The characters finished the first step of their journey but don't find any of the answers they were looking for.  Obviously there is going to be a second book but there needed to be a little but more of a conclusion.  Also, hopefully this will be fixed before it gets published, but, there were some very obvious typos.  A couple of times it would have two possessive adjectives in a row -- it would say things like Mr. Feits his.  And then another typo was the name of a sort of important place.  It started out as WCSH but on the next page it became WCHS.

This book was between a 3.5 and 4.5.  It's not really a 4 though.  Some of the book was very good but some of it seemed a little off.  As a whole it is probably around a 4 but some parts were clearly better than other parts.  The book was like a bag of chocolates.  Its a bag of chocolates, rather than a box, because you can't really tell how many  chocolates you have.  The chocolates are very good but then randomly they are filled with something you don't like.  A lot of the chocolates have original flavors that you've never tasted before but are very good.  Then when you think you should be a third of the way through someone grabs the bag from you and says you can have it back in a year.  That person is not very nice.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reader's Pet Peeves

Teens can be picky readers. We're no longer the passive middle schoolers who accept bad grammar and repetitiveness. When we don't like something, never doubt that we can make a big deal out of it. We've had many a conversation about the little things that can drive us up the wall, so it is only natural that we would have a group meeting solely dedicated to complaining about things we don't like. These literary offenses range from tiny niggling annoyances to poor writing to the point of illegibility. The most common problem is reading about the same things over and over again; reading the same vampire love triangle romances and the same apocalypse dystopia. But no matter the problem, if they are avoided it would probably lead teens (us particularly) to enjoy more books.

It's not just the writing that will banish a book to the dusty rejection shelf. Everyone does this even if there's a proverb against it: we judge books by their cover. It can make the difference between hordes of people grabbing up a book and nobody grabbing it. A bad cover is not only uninteresting; it can repel readers like we avoid a filthy bathroom stall. Publishers usually have complete control over what the cover looks like, but sometimes they really need to get some outside opinions.

Take for example these next two photos of books. On the top are galleys that we agreed have interesting (if not superb) covers. On the bottom are galleys with covers that are clearly sub-par.




On the top we see clean text design along with stylish graphic design, appealing art, and appropriate colors. There are people in almost all of them, but they are all interesting due their posed actions or appearances. The boy on the cover of Wringer has a bloody tissue stuffed in his nose, a gash on his eyebrow, and his clothes are rumpled. This cover tells the story that he was beaten up, enticing us to find out more. Golden has the least interesting cover subject with simply an attractive girl. She doesn't tell anything about the story. However, a beautiful graphic was superimposed which heals all wounds.

When a cover is bad it's pretty obvious. We voted unanimously on nearly every bad cover. On the bottom there's an effort for original text design, but on Over You, The Tribe, and The Neptune Project the font is cheesy or cartoony. It just looks bad. Similarly, the art and graphic designs on these galleys are unoriginal, cartoony, or simply bad. The cover of The Neptune Project looks interesting at first glance, but on closer inspection the graphic design looks fake and cheap. I was interested in The Tribe when I read the back, but the front tells me that it's for middle school. The cover of Promise Me Something on the lower right has nothing going for it. Too often publishers think that picture of an attractive person with some scenery is all they need for a cover. It tells us nothing about the book, it's not interesting, and we're all secretly assuming that it's chic lit (which is, if you noticed, on that list of things we don't want to read).

By themselves bad covers don't seem harmful, but they wither in comparison to good ones. To drive this matter home, here is a great comparison of similar covers. One is a terrible cover while the other is excellent.
Both have a large white background, large title text, bold colors (particularly magenta), seem to be about a girl, and have sparse subject matter to look at.
We all hated the crayon-like font which subtracts from the cover of Over You. The only other thing to look at there is the fashionable girl who is nothing more than, well, a fashionable girl. Their strategy to make the title the same color as her hair didn't do much.
The cover of Spoiled is very similar, but the makeup arranged into the text is tasteful, artistic, interesting, and unique. It is basically everything the cover of Over You failed at.

Publishers, here's a T-chart to help you put more great covers out there and what to avoid.



Friday, May 24, 2013

Quintana of Charyn

By: Melina Marchetta

I feel like I've been giving a lot of really really good reviews.  After this book there won't be so many from me because every other book pales in comparison to Quintana of Charyn.  It was simply the most beautiful book I have ever read.  It follows Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles in the Lumatere Chronicles.  It was beautifully written and clearly portrayed how painful both hate and love can be as well as how strong forgiveness can be.  It was perfectly paced and extremely thought provoking.  This book intricately ties together all the characters from the first two books.

Basically, you should read this book.  Finnikin of the Rock is the first in the Lumatere Chronicles and is followed by Froi of the Exiles.  Neither of these books are as good as Quintana of Charyn but they are still good.  Froi of the Exiles left off at a cliff hanger which is where Quintana of Charyn picks up.  I was looking forward to this book for a long time and it was better than anything I could've imagined.  If I say anything plot based about this book it ruins Froi of the Exiles so I'm not going to.  Quintana of Charyn is a true 5.  It had absolutely no flaws.  Lumatere, Charyn, and all the characters are beautiful and everyone should experience them.  Quintana of Charyn has many beautiful quotes because of the eloquence Melina Marchetta writes with.  To close up I will leave some quotes to sample the actual beauty of the words Melina Marchetta wrote.

"'You said to me once that you weren't what I dreamed of.  You were right.  You surpass everything I dreamed of.  Even the rot in you that's caused you to do shameful things.  Some men let the rot and guilt fester into something ugly beyond words.  Few men can turn it into worth and substance.  If you're gods' blessed for no other reason, it's for that."

"There it was.  Suddenly the strangeness of Quintana of Charyn's face made sense.  Because it was a face meant for laughing, but it had never been given a chance.  It robbed Phaedra of her breath."

"Take care of the little king...tell him he was made from love and hope....This is your bond to him, Dorcas.  If you're good for nothing else, follow a bond that makes him a good king."

Finally one of my three favorite quotes (I can't find one of them and the other one gives away the ending)

"'Do I have to be here to belong to you?' Froi asked.  'Can't I belong to you wherever I am?'"

There are more quotes here http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/15064476-quintana-of-charyn-lumatere-chronicles-3 but I picked out the best ones and some of these give away the ending.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

Rapture Practice opens with a note from the author, Aaron Hartzler:

"Something you should know up front about my family:
We believe that Jesus is coming back."

This initial detail introduces us to Aaron's family, a family that believes in the rapture, the idea that Jesus is going to come back down to earth and bring good people up to heaven. Aaron has been a part of his family's religious lifestyle for his entire life. He performs in plays of Bible stories with his family. They don't go to movies, don't have a TV, don't listen to many kinds of music. They are focused on living properly so that when Jesus comes back, they will get to go to heaven.

At first glance, Rapture Practice probably seems like one of those sensational stories that we see nowadays, books about someone's abusive childhood or crazy cult. What's so refreshing about this book is that it isn't sensational. The entirety of the book can be summed up in one conversation that Aaron has with his friend Bradley:

"But what happens when the truth inside me feels different from what my parents say is the truth?" I wonder aloud. I don't expect Bradley to have an answer to this question, but he does.

"I think that's called growing up," he says.

This is, at its core, what Rapture Practice is about: growing up. It is the coming-of-age story about a character who goes through the "journey of change and self-discovery" that we have all discussed in English class. And I loved it for that. I love how Aaron describes this universal experience through the lens of his own unique situation, all the while making it clear that his parents do love him and want what's best for him. We can't hate them, even if we don't necessarily agree with what they believe.

I just have a few relatively minor complaints about the book. First off, I felt like it was missing an epilogue. The conclusion of the regular part of the book was perfect, bringing the story full circle to return to the idea of rapture. However, Aaron leaves the reader wondering where he is at now--after all, he's not a teenager anymore. He begins to question his sexuality during his story and I would have liked to know how that played out with his parents. Secondly, the writing wasn't always stellar. It was perfectly functional, but a bit awkward at times, and the simplistic voice used for 4-year-old Aaron doesn't evolve too much as Aaron gets older.
Overall, I'd give Rapture Practice a 3.9. I would read it again, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good coming-of-age story. I'm not really sure about a food, but perhaps I'll think of one later.

Here's Aaron Hartzler's website: http://www.aaronhartzler.com/

Friday, April 19, 2013

Second Impact

This galley, set to be released in August 2013, is by brother and sister David and Perri Klass.

        I was told that two other people (who happen to be athletes) wanted to take out this book before I nabbed it. We were all drawn to it for the same reason: concussions. I myself had a concussion that lasted for months a couple years ago, so this book immediately interested me.
The title is coined after Second Impact Syndrome (SIS) which is where the brain swells after receiving a second trauma when it is still recovering from a previous trauma. It can quickly lead to death, especially without emergency treatment. A frustrating part is that the only emphasis on SIS concerning the plot in the book is literally at the fifteenth-to-last-page. I counted. You have to read 264 pages before you breach the issue as proposed by the title. Grrr.
        This book is told through the perspective of two bloggers, Jerry (high school football megastar) and Carla (a high school  journalist). Together, they alternatively relate key events revolving around Jerry's high school football experience in a typical town in New Jersey. While Carla does have her little side-story about an ACL tear a year back, she doesn't seem contribute anything else to the book except providing convenient ways to add more information about sports injuries. She's not much of a do-er in the book. Essentially, she is the cheerleader. Jerry is the real point of this story. He's the do-er. Carla is the try-er, who tired to do something and ultimately was completely shut down. I don't want to spoil it, so I won't say much. Carla had great points and was a protagonist of the story with a motive and I was disappointed that her cause lead to nowhere and was punished while Jerry, the football star, ultimately had no real issues and was successful overall.
        In the book, the whole universe is centered around Jerry and football. The imaginary town it's set in, Kendall, is of those places that are crazily obsessed with male-dominated high school sports. I didn't like that. One, because I don't like football all that much or the kinds of people associated with it, and two, because in my life such all-encompassing obsession is beyond unrealistic. It boggled my mind, really. Concord is like other small New England towns; you go to the game if you're the parent, sibling, personal friend of a football player, or if you're playing in the band. In this book if you could breathe, walk, and talk you went to every game to scream yourself hoarse. If you couldn't go, you watched it on TV.
        Jelle suggested that this book is geared towards a more football-focused demographic and I was just the wrong person to pick up this book. I agree, I  can imagine that some places among the states can take their football teams very seriously (but I think it's a flaw that not everyone can relate to or at least come to understand a situation in a book; limited audience normally doesn't come to great success). Later, I happened to notice through some research that the Klasses used to live in New Jersey. Coincidence? Maybe. I don't think so. My hunch was confirmed when I found that their hometown of Leonia shares the same team name as the protagonists in the book: the Tigers. It looks like the Klasses were sentimental to their hometown, like many authors are. I decided to find out if there was really something strange going on in New Jersey. As it turns out, it looks pretty normal from my standpoint.
        In a video clip of the Tigers of Leonia football game for the semifinal state championship in 2012, there was a smattering of 50 people in the visitor's stands. This does not correlate at all with the 5,000+ fans that show up for every game in the book. I don't know what setting the Klasses were trying to base the book on, but it's based on nowhere around here. I will continue to think the setting presented in the book is absolutely bonkers until I stand corrected.

That was a pretty long-winded nit picking of just a few problems in the book. I don't want to drag on for too long, so here are my main points about this book in a shorter form.

CONS
The book was written like a web blog; each new post carries on the story, but I saw quite a few problems:
1- Carla and Jerry are too public for it, with awkwardly personal details. You just wouldn't go that far.
2- Their avatars are pictures of models, like you'd see in chic lit. I did not appreciate this. This is not bad chic lit (or at least it shouldn't be). I recognize that cover art and other things like it are not controllable by the authors, but it is certainly controllable by the readers. I am a reader, and I did not like those pictures. Publishers and agents, you better change that (pictures of scenery, abstract shapes, logos, or no avatars at all is acceptable).
3- They are amazingly precise in their blog posts for events that they are recounting from memory.
4- I think writing this book in the typical omnipresent or point-of-view format would have been better than the web blog format. Then we can see personal feelings as they are thinking about what is happening, have a better connection with the characters, and the issue of high detail would have been fixed.
5- There were some 'posted comments' at the end of some of the 'blog posts' to keep the book inside the blog format idea. They were HORRENDOUSLY cheesy. UGH. Just sooooo fake. And whenever a comment was 'deleted' by a moderator, that was even worse.

More issues! Yay!
-Huge problem! A lot of the information is worthless. When I got bored, I skipped paragraphs at a time without losing the plot. I just skipped forwards until it looked like it reached the real point.
-Football has more sexism issues than I can shake a stick at and every person in Kendall revolves around it. I protest!
-I really, REALLY dislike what happened to Carla. Her rights were suppressed and nothing was done about it. If I wrote this book, the ACLU would have gotten involved faster than you can read 'freedom of speech.'
-Jerry basically recounted the same story every time he went to play a football game. It became predictable.
-Like I said before, SIS is only addressed at the end.
-Contrary to what a character mentions as fact in this book, people may not know if they blacked out from a head injury. I was knocked unconscious and I didn't realize it until months later. However, I mean no disrespect to Dr. Perri Klass if she found a legitimate source for that information.
-I felt that the message that athletes should not ever play, ever, with a concussion was played down. It's super important that they should sit out. If they don't, their lives are on the line. I was expecting a message like "Don't play sports with a concussion, end of story." Instead the moral seems to be "We shouldn't tell those kids not to play with a concussion because then we won't win the championship... But they can sit out of the game if their friends think they should."
-I have the feeling that while Jerry and Carla are individuals, they aren't very filled out. They seem shallow. Jerry is Jerry and will always act like "Jerry".

To summarize all of those cons: while head injuries are the prime focus of this book, I think the narration was awkwardly split between two viewpoints that were often cheesy, forgettable, inappropriately written for public web space and with an unsatisfactory conclusion.

PROS
-It does provide some good info on concussions and severe head injuries.
-It does consider what an athlete might think or feel when they have concussions or injuries in different situations along with the pressure to keep playing, and (only at the end) stresses the importance of your health over play (though rather short and not as stressed as I would like it to be).

That's not a lot of good stuff to balance out the bad. Thus, my rating is justified: 2 out of 5 stars. If this was a food, it would be cafeteria shepard's pie. I like shepard's pie, so I'd buy it. I'd taste the canned peas, observe questionable quality ground beef flavored only with heat from the not-fresh black pepper, and the dry mashed potatoes. And I would realize that it wasn't that good and I should have spent my three dollars on a salad or soup.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Testing

by Joelle Charbonneau

      I picked this book up with very high hopes. Most of my Galley amigos agreed that this was a textbook "Jelle" book, so to speak. The cover was intriguing, but not stunning--I even had an ARC with a different cover than the one to the left, a nicer, more edgy black design with a shiny silver incal. The cover fits the book neatly, actually. It's edgy at first, screaming to be picked up, and depressingly shallow, run-of-the-mill mundane after three minutes of scrutiny.
      My reading notes are full of comments like "stilted dialogue" and "plastic and one-dimensional". I guess I can start with the writing, which was banal and ill-fitting. Charbonneau has a very lucid style of writing; she's very good with broad strokes and blanket words that outline her world. But there it stops: at the outline. No room, for example, in the book is described in more detail than:
     1) The rough size of the room, given in such deliciously descriptive words as "large", "small", and "very large".
     2) If you're lucky, the room will have a colour. If you're very lucky, it will be something other than white. Take, for example, this charming little exchange:      "I know this room.
White walls.
White floors.
Black desks."
    3) The rooms are utterly one-dimensional. They sever the main character from her larger surroundings so that Charbonneau can get away with describing even less, but beyond colour and shape they might as well not exist. Part of this is the starkness Charbonneau has infused her world with and part of this is the starkness that is the result of Charbonneau's meager and flat writing style.
    The author uses an incredible host of words that might have meaning if they were used more skillfully, such as "unruly", "chastising", and "abandoned". These are weak words, words that need to be babysat carefully, fed with meaning and context until they are strong enough to stand for themselves. Instead Charbonneau flings them apathetically into her work, forgoing the beauty of writing for clichéd buzzwords like "handsome" and "tan". Words that seem solid on the surface can collapse utterly when a reader digs back, asking himself what even the main character looks like. There's the obligatory mirror scene on page one, but no reader is able to glean more from that than that she has light brown hair and is wearing a red dress, which leaves the reader with the knowledge that she has light brown hair, unless she would wear the dress for a second day, at which point the reader would know for another day that she has light brown hair and is wearing a red dress, but after the third day her wearing that same dress just tells the reader that she is rather a slob. Which characteristic, incidentally, would stand in my memory as the only characteristic Charbonneau had gifted her with. But she is forced to change into a jumpsuit a page or three later. As that red dress crumples on the ground, so does the reader's hope of learning more about her.
      Now, that's enough about the writing. It's perfunctory and curt, with nary a compound sentence in sight beyond at most twice a chapter.
     What bothers me most about The Testing is that Charbonneau makes the reader invest energy  into its reading. I resent that I am forced to provide my own descriptions and imagination for her; I do half the work in order to make the book the bare minimum of tolerable. I have to put my imagination in high gear to glean anything from her scraps of description, to recreate Charbonneau's world in my mind so I can live in it. Whereas Hogwarts and Veronica Roth's Chicago took root in my mind and are still clenched fast, Charbonneau's Chicago faded out bare minutes after I had dragged it in. Any time I put a lot of myself into a book means that there is too little of the original book in the first place.
    What I do like about the book is the bare bones of its plot and the characters' names. They have beautiful, eerily post-apocalyptic names like Hamin, Zandri, and Malachi. The main character is introduced as Malencia Vale, and her obligatory love interest is Tomas Endress. Hard to dislike the only part of the novel that transports me to Charbonneau's imagined dystopian future.
    The plot starts out promising. Malencia's world, previously ours, has fallen prey to terrorists, international warfare on a scale we can never imagine, and disease. Then, as a desperate and desolate peace seemed within reach, the earth itself struck back. Pushed to the edge and beyond by the ferocity of the Seven Stages War, as Charbonneau dryly styles it, entire continents tear and pull themselves to ruin. The soil dies and life, no longer sustainable, recedes to a bare dozen Colonies that make up the remnants of the world's civilization. They are led by the great and powerful from Tosu City, a glittering metropolis perched over the bones of old Chicago. University-educated scientists are dispersed artificially through the Colonies, leading the struggle for survival with genetic engineering as they slowly take back the lifeless earth. All this would be slightly more plausible if it were at all apparent that Charbonneau knew what genetic engineering is or is not capable of, because she clearly hasn't the foggiest, but the idea is cool. Malencia's brother pops out a potato that beats out her father's previous edition potato. Isn't bioengineering great? Well, it is, but nothing in this book approaches realistic bioengineering. Keep those taters coming.
    Anyway, the problem is that there is only one University (I don't know why. There is no plausible answer for this. At no point in the book is this addressed: if the world just had two more universities, it would have absolutely no problems and the book would have no plot. But that's the plot's problem, not logic's.) that can only take about twenty students. Now, if our modern world can support 151 million students (a fast-growing number), I don't know how an enormous university in the heart of the remaining rich and civilized world can only enroll 20 students. Of course, the point that Charbonneau keeps shoving at the reader is that the government wants strong, independent, ruthless leaders, but the world would be 110,000% better off if it enrolled a lot more of the intelligent students and just trained some as scientists and doctors without the leadership part, which none of the graduates in the book deign to show anyway. One, Malencia's father, is literally just a scientist. (A "bioengineer".)
    Summarizing this book is boring me to tears already. Imagining reading it.
    So because the book is about Malencia, she gets selected to go through the Testing, which will determine if she can go to the University, which is a huge honor. Of course she is selected; she's the main character of a dystopian lit book.
     Then comes the testing, after they zoom across a flat landscape for a day or so. Flat in writing and in topography, in case you were wondering. She gets to the capital, Tosu City, and pretty much immediately starts the Testing. I'll leave most of it out so I won't spoil anything, but mostly because I'm lazy and/or this is painful.
    The first part of the test involves written tests, four hours, twice a day, for a few days. How does Charbonneau make this exciting? She doesn't. Literally they just take their tests for houuuurs a day and the book kind of plugs along. There's a really shameless exposition bit on the history portion of the test (soooo sneaky, Charbonneau...) where the author basically lays out the entire history of the civilization in three easy questions and Malencia's answers. But other than that, this section of the book is literally breakfast, test, lunch, test, uneasy sleep with nightmares for no reason (the dreams are SO cliched...) and then the next day the same thing. Some people disappear. Cute.
    The next stage of the testing is manual puzzles and such stuff, which was maybe a tiny bit interesting but not very. Oh, except that her friends casually keel over and die and she's like "Oh. Bummer. The government's reeeeeeallly evil." and then she continues blithely on.
    The third portion is a disgustingly intricate little brain-twister of a Test which involves a lot of convoluted logic, red herrings, horrible writing to make it all more confusing, and an eventual really flat resolution. More friends kick the bucket, but how, no one knows, because Charbonneau got lost in her own intricacy. Which explains why she doesn't mess with it for the rest of the book at all ever.
     The fourth portion of the book is LITERALLY the Hunger Games. Oh, except spread over 700 miles. Yes, this is a large distance. But other than that, LITERALLY the Hunger Games.
    And then the book ends with some cute little plot twist that leaves the reader in suspense for all of two minutes and a page flip. I'm so done discussing it.
    I'd give this book a 1.5. Interesting names and a premise Veronica Roth might be able to salvage, but Charbonneau is not Veronica Roth yet. As for a food, this is the hard plastic ice cube tray. Clean, functional, but also shallow and NOT A FOOD.

Notes from Ghost Town

By Kate Ellison

I really don't like romances.  I never have.  I also don't like mysteries.  I especially don't like murder mysteries.  This is exactly what Notes from Ghost Town is.  It is a romantic murder mystery.  A girl, Liv (Olivia),  falls in love with Stern, her best friend.  Stern kisses her, says its a mistake, and leaves.  Liv goes colorblind and then goes back to art school.  She decides she is going to call Stern in two weeks.  But, he is dead in one week and her schizophrenic mom is in jail for it.  Her mom is planning on pleading insanity.  That is how that book starts.  Then it goes into her teenage life.  The normal 'no one understands' and 'I pity myself' goes on for a while.  Until finally, something happens.  There is about one week left before Liv's mom's final sentencing when Stern comes to Liv as a Ghost and says her mom is innocent.  That's when it picks up.  The story goes on from there and Liv works to solve Stern's murder.  Once she started actually doing things in relation to Stern's murder it ended up quite good.

I found that this book was actually really good.  I was impressed, because I don't generally like mysteries or romances.  I went into the book hating it and came out pleased.  Although one regret was that the murderer was predictable.  Even though Liv did a lot of stupid stuff in the book she didn't miss a lot.  The murderer wasn't staring her in the face even though it was predictable from outside the book.  The cover was also horrible.  I found the cover to be revolting.  I hoped that I would understand why there was a dead girl on the cover when I finished reading it but I still don't know why.  I have said quite a lot of bad stuff about this book even though I think it is quite good.  The best part of the book was the plot.  The time restraint made it better because you knew that it wouldn't go on forever and it put pressure on Liv.  I also thought it was well paced.  I also enjoyed her color blindness.  I think this added to her despair in a more real way than the pain that she tries to describe.  I'm not sure was food this is but what I would do if you want a food is to think of a food you hate.  Absolutely hate.  Then once you start eating it the texture is awful and you don't think you can take another bite when surprisingly it starts to taste good.  It gets an interesting flavor until finally you start liking it.  Another unfortunate problem with the book was the ending.  It ended too fast.  The whole book was drawn out at a good pace and then BAM, it was over.  I would give this book a 3.5.  It was surprisingly good but did have shortcomings.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fearless

By Cornelia Funke

Jacob Reckless has less than a year to live.  He already wasted some of it looking for magical objects that were supposed to get rid of his curse but none of them worked.  Throughout the story Jacob forgets a letter of the dark fairy's name in a violent attack from the moth sitting on top of his heart.  6.  With each bite, part of his heart is hurt.  He hasn't told his brother, Will, or his best friend, Fox.  He realizes that there is only one object that might be able to cure him of his curse -- the Witch-Slayer's Crossbow.  If shot at a leader it would not only kill the leader but the leader's entire army.  The crossbow's reputation makes many people scared of it -- people are less willing to help Jacob because they think he will sell it which could kill thousands.  But legend says that if shot with love through the heart then the person shot will be healed.  When he goes to Guismond's, the witch-slayer's, tomb he finds out that in order to get the crossbow he has to first find his heart, his head, and his hand.  But Nerron, a Goyl treasure hunter, also wants to find the bow. As Jacob hunts for these three items his life ticks away.  5.  With very little time left, Fox is captured by a blue beard, a man who captures girls and kills them by drinking their fear.  Jacob has to sacrifice some of his little time left to save her and then return to his quest.  As he continues on the moth's bites get closer together and worse.  After this detour he may not get the crossbow in time, if at all.

Fearless was very fast paced and exciting.  It was an amazing sequel to Reckless.  4.  It matched Reckless in every aspect even exceeding it in the introduction (which was actually good this time).  The characters were realistic and entertaining.  Jacob's personality (very proud, doesn't like to admit weakness) adds more to the book.  Narration from Nerron also adds to the story because Jacob's flaws are highlighted by Nerron's dislike of him.  On top of this, sympathy is created for Nerron which creates an even more complex plot.  3.  The mirror world the book takes place in is interesting.  Its twist and turns allow the plot to become more extreme and exciting.  With such limited time and constant reminders that Jacob's time is running out the tension quickly and intensely.  2.  This book was like a rich chocolate cake.  Tons of rich details were packed into one book.  Even though you can't stop eating your piece you are devastated once its gone.  1.  This book was a 4.8 because the main characters, plot, setting, antagonists, and writing style all helped create an enticing book.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Girl Who Was Supposed To Die

Here's another book by April Henry. You can see my brief review on her other book Girl, Stolen here.

I can't mention the character's name and the plot changes direction every chapter, so I can't say much without giving away at least half the book. Maybe I can describe the first four pages: She (the main character) wakes up, dazed and confused. A disembodied voice above says "Take her out back and finish her off." That's where this story starts. She wakes up with no idea what's happening to her or how she got there. She has amnesia, and someone is trying to kill her. Dun, dun, duuuuuunnnnnnn.

If I were to describe this book as a whole, I would call it an action movie. Unfortunately, this is a problem. The book is interesting, but the whole thing isn't... realistic. In all seriousness, if this book were an action movie it would be pretty good if not run-of-the-mill. We'd see martial-arts style fighting, secret agents, guns, a corporation looking for power, an explosion or two, convenient happenstances, and even cheap romance. A character with a mysterious past and unknown skills and people trying snub her out? It all fits on the silver screen. So does her family and all other characters she interacts with, with one or two exceptions; they're wax dolls in the book. You don't really see them and their actions are just a bit too cookie-cutter. I wish I could write a better review about this book, but this is the hard truth of it. I even feel sorry for writing this. I don't want to make it sound bad because it isn't a bad book; I could feel the same emotion and tension as the main character as she learned more about herself and her situation. There's still writing to be commended here. Hmm, I guess I'm saying that it should be edited a bit.

I'll have to give this book three stars. Many people will probably enjoy it without second thought, but in my eyes is has potential to be better.
If this book were a food, it would be spaghetti and orange juice. They're both good separately, but together they're not at their best.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Reckless

By Cornelia Funke

Prince Charming never made it to Sleeping Beauty.  Her skeleton is still lying in her bed.  A strand of Rapunzel's hair is a rope that is any length the holder wants.  The tailor is a monster that kills humans and then makes his clothes out of their skin.  Things on the other side of the mirror are darker than they seem.  But Jacob Reckless doesn't worry about these most of the time -- occasionally they do become problematic.  Jacob doesn't consider his dad as being his father because he hasn't seen him in years.  Jacob escapes the normal world to the world on the other side of the mirror with increasing frequency until one time his brother, Will, follows him.  By the time Will followed him, Jacob was a well known treasure hunter which has made him many friends and enemies.  Just one moment of carelessness and Will's life may never be the same.  The Dark Fairy curses many people who oppose the Goyl.  The curse turns these humans into Goyl; their skin, heart, and memory into stone.  Will is slowly turning into stone.  Jacob, who has spent his life hiding from fear, finds himself facing the scariest thing he can imagine.   Jacob, his shapeshifting friend named Fox, and Will's girlfriend, Clara, are willing to do anything to save Will.  But, Kami'en, the Goyl King, wants Will as a Goyl because his skin isn't becoming Onyx or Jasper, it's becoming Jade.

Jacob was hard to get used because he didn't seem to feel anything but anger and self doubt for a while.  Once he started showing more emotion the book picked up and improved a lot.  The plot was very compelling and the characters were very interesting.  The twisted fairy tale's helping make the mirror world more interesting and dark.  This book was like a sour lemon tart that I thought was going to be my grandmother's recipe.  It was hard to take at the beginning and I didn't really want to finish.  It wasn't what I liked and didn't intend on liking but I decided to take a second bite and once I got into the book it was much much better. This book is a 3.7 because it was hard to get used to but ended up being captivating.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Solstice

by P. J. Hoover

Piper lives in a world of extreme heat.  It's a cool day if the temperature dips below 100˚, and it often goes over the danger level of 122˚.  Piper's mom is overprotective to the extreme, and she has one friend, Chloe.  She claims to love her mother, but I found this a little hard to believe because she always complains about her.  Then come two new boys, Shayne and Reese, and both of them are extremely good-looking, and both of them have an interest in Piper.
Then Piper's mom suddenly leaves because her father is nearby, and he is not allowed anywhere near her.  Within the first few chapters, Piper hardly does anything that her mom would like.  She breaks about every rule she can.  She gets a tattoo.  She goes on a date.  But really, she wouldn't do anything to hurt her mom because she cares about her.
On one of her excursions, Chloe is killed (except not really).  Shayne, who is nearby, tries to comfort her, and he does so by bringing her down to where he lives - the Underworld.  Shayne is really Hades, the ancient Greek god.  In this aspect, Piper is also a bit patchy.  She recognizes Charon because she has studied Greek mythology in school.  However, she does not know that there is an assembly of gods, and she does not know about Cerberus.  Her knowledge, like her character, is inconsistent.
Ares also shows up, and he has some powers that I have never heard of him having before.  There were other strange myths in the story, but I am not a mythology expert, so I have no idea how true they are, and the author is allowed some creative liberty, which she uses.  Past the first hundred or so pages, the story gets better.  The beginning was terrible because too many things just happened conveniently, and it made the book look like a bad romance.  The events were generally explained, though I didn't like some of the things, and I still don't know how everyone managed to find Piper at once.
The book is a 2.5.  I enjoy these types of books, but it has been done much better.  Rick Riordan, for instance, manages to incorporate more of the well-known myths, and it was amusing, whereas this book took a while to get going, and even then it was a bit wobbly.  Once you figure out what's going on, you end up way ahead of Piper, and a lot of the book is her catching up to you.  Also, I could not get my head around Hades being a hot teenager.  The image just did not work for me.  This book is chicken noodle soup, except the chicken isn't the best in the world.  You eat it, and every once in a while, you reach a chunk of chicken or carrot and wish it tasted a little better.  The soup is familiar, and you know what to expect.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Corner of White

By Jaclyn Moriarty

This book was one of the best books I have ever read.  The characters in A Corner of White are realistic and unique.  The writing is beautiful, funny, sad, and just overall unique and whimsical.  A Corner of White is a perfectly made raspberry cheesecake.  It is full delicious rich flavor that never gets old.  The cheesecake has a distinctive flavor that makes the it taste even better because it is good and different from everything else you've had recently.  A Corner of White was like a breath of fresh air that has a trace of flowers, bright orange leaves falling, and grass.  My summary won't do this book justice because the book is clearly a five.  One reason I loved this book so much was the use of color in the book.  In Cello there are monsters that are called purple, yellow, gray, and red as well as other colors.  Madeleine dresses in red, green, and blue.  Madeleine and Elliot talk about complimentary colors, primary colors, color waves, ultraviolet, infrared, and rainbows. (On top of the amazing contents of the book the cover is immaculate as well)

Elliot and Madeleine start out focused on one color but by talking to the other they learn to truly see the entire rainbow.  A Corner of White is beautifully written story about a girl in the world and a boy in the Kingdom of Cello.  Madeleine, of Cambridge, England, ran away with her mom from her dad.  By running away from her Dad she left behind the material comforts that her rich dad provided as well as her friends.  Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, Cello, and everybody knows him.  Elliot goes on frequent journeys to the Magical North looking for his father who he believes to have been abducted by a monster, called a purple.  Madeleine is homeschooled with two friends, Jack and Belle.  Madeleine discovers a note in a parking meter that is asking for help.  She writes a letter back that Elliot finds.  Throughout the book Elliot and Madeleine write letters to each other even though Madeleine doesn't believe that Elliot is a real person.  She believes that someone is writing the letters and putting them in the parking meter.  Although, Elliot has to be careful writing letters to Madeleine because communicating to people in the world is punishable by death.  Petra, Elliot's mom, rented out Elliot's dad's old store out to a nice family, the Twicklehams.  Naturally, Elliot resents them.  As Madeleine has troubles with her life in Cambridge she also struggles with knowing what she left behind.  Elliot starts to discover that his dad may not have been abducted by a purple but actually ran off with another woman, who is also missing (a lot of the book is actually this part but you'll have to read it to actually learn about it. A lot happens with Madeleine and Elliot in their worlds).  Through their letters Madeleine and Elliot learn about themselves as well as the other.  The book comes to a conclusion with a gripping twist for both Elliot and Madeleine. 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds

by Cat Winters

It's 1918, and death is everywhere.  Mary Shelley Black's best friend, Stephen, has gone off to fight in the war, and the Spanish influenza is rampant.  When her father is accused of being a traitor and is imprisoned, Mary is sent to live with her aunt, Eva.  Her aunt lives near Stephen's house, and Stephen's brother, Julius, takes spirit photographs, in which the spirits of the dead appear.  During a visit, Eva and Julius convince Mary to sit for a picture, and when she receives the photograph, the ghost of Stephen stands behind her.  Not long after that, Stephen's insane ghost starts to haunt her, and Mary is thrown into a tangled mystery as she attempts to determine exactly how Stephen died.
Supplemented with photographs, this book is brutally haunting.  Because school was closed, Mary is stuck with nothing to do but contemplate the horrors around her, which are emphasized by the gauze masks that everyone wears.  There was nothing that really bothered me until the end, although there were a few too many onions for my taste.  It ends with a hopeful tone, and everything is tied up except for one thing.  It just got dropped out halfway through the book.
I don't know much about this time period, so I can't comment on accuracy.
This book is a 3.7.  The writing was good, but not spectacular.  I have read books that pull me in and convince me the world is ending, which this book did not.  The cover is excellent; it is exactly what this book is like.  It was like tea without sugar.  Bitter and a bit difficult to drink.  This is not a sweet, easy-to-read book, but there is a comfort in having a good book to read.

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