29 April 2015

Endangered

Author: Lamar Giles
Rating : 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

In the catty halls of a high school run by typical jocks and cheerleaders, Lauren tries to be the Hall Ghost.  But under the protection of dark during the night, the "Panda" of her school no longer tries to hide from the classmates that taunt and tease her.  Instead, she stalks them... with her camera.  And the incriminating evidence she finds?  It gets posted annon onto her reveal all blog.  She seeks justice on the bullies by being a bully herself... only she does it behind the safety of the veil of the internet.  Well, that certainly makes her seem like she's doing the right thing, even if she's just picking on the people that "deserve" it.  I think Nina sums up Lauren almost perfectly when Lauren corners her at some point and straight up asks Nina.
Lauren's night life gets more complicated when she finds out that while she's stalking her classmates to get money shots for her website, someone is taking pictures of her.  And thus, we enter into an artsy fartsy game of cat and mouse, abet one that becomes much more dangerous.  A story that starts out as just another teen angst drama becomes a story with much higher stakes with a mystery at the core of the plot.  The further you dive into the story, the less and less realistic I feel it becomes.  And this is probably wandering off on a complete tangent, but what is up with these teenage girls calling their fathers "Daddy"?  It's little details like that in YA novels that drive me crazy.
Overall, the plot is a little too far-fetched for me to count it as realistic.  It feels more like a drama soaked one hour episode of a crime drama show, and less like a case you would actually hear on the news.  But the mystery was interesting enough to hold my attention, and I've certainly wasted more time on worse novels this year alone.

25 April 2015

Forged


Author: Erin Bowman
Series: Taken #3
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

While there is enough action and suspense to hold my interest, this installment in the Taken series still suffers from the same underlying issues as its predecessors.  Bowman isn't the most believable as a teenage boy, and the characters are still too bland to garner much investment into their trials and tribulations.  Even Gray admits that he can't understand why he acts the way he does, why he's so focused on his hormones at times when he should be a mess or at least be focused on the bigger picture.  The situation with Blaine is a perfect example of this, and it was part of the novel that I just couldn't get past.  Perhaps if I were more invested with Gray, I might be able to overlook it, but Bowman never really gets that key character development done to make him likable enough to overlook such a large character flaw.

As for the plot, it's done well enough that it's still an enjoyable story if you can get past the abundance of teen angst, sappy romance, and the ever popular will-they-won't they question for Gray and Bree.  One or two of the revelations at the ending seemed far too coincidental and out of left field, and did little to add to the plot except for a cheap shock factor.  A few others, however, were unexpected and thoroughly shocking and thus satisfying.

In the end, you can't expect to take anything away from this series.  It's shallow, light, and have far too heavy of a teen romance angle considering the mortal peril that abounds that these kids should be focused on instead.  But it's a decent summer read, and it's definitely a strange and unique world that Bowman creates.

22 April 2015

Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

As someone who had a major obsession with Harry Potter (because, let's face it, Simon Snow is definitely a fictitious parallel to the Boy Who Lived) until the HBP came out, I thought I would enjoy Fangirl.  Especially since I dabbled in fanfiction myself back in high school and early college before life got in the way.  But I could not get into this book at all (to be fair, I didn't actually read it.  I listened to the audiobook for almost a month).

The main character, Cath, is so annoying that sometimes while sitting at a red light on my way home from work, I wanted to reach through the CD player and punch her.  She doesn't like writing fiction, only fanfiction.  It's a fundamental premise of this novel that carries through for almost an entire year, or at least through two semesters of Cath's freshman year.  AND YET, she signs up for a junior level fiction writing class?  If you only like playing with other people's worlds and characters, why would you sign up for a higher level fiction writing class in the first place? And then she puts off and puts off and puts off writing a 10,000 short story for two semesters, even though it leaves her with a huge gaping incomplete in her degree audit.  But does she care?  It hardly seems so.

And it isn't just Cath.  It feels like every single character in this novel is so one dimensional.  Cath, the bookworm uber fan goody too-shoes.  Wren, the opposite identical twin that takes the freshman experience to the extreme.  Levi, the "bad boy" that has a soft spot for our main character (what kind of guy wants to spend all night listening to fanfiction for a book series he's never even read?).  Even Nick and the two roommates show no character development or dynamics in the story.

As for the plot, I've never heard of Simon Snow, so spending a third of the novel listening to fanfiction and excerpts from make believe novels was just a waste of time.  It felt like padding for Rowell to flush out a subpar plot to get to a decent word count to get published.  Very few parts of the Simon Snow portions seemed to relate in any way to Cath and what she was going through in her life.

Perhaps I just do not take well to audiobooks as a medium for novels, but Fangirl was definitely not for me.  I could have spent that whole month listening to the new Calvin Harris or Red albums.

20 April 2015

Red Queen

Author: Victoria Aveyard
Series: Red Queen #1
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

 Mare Barrow is used to the way the world works.  The Silvers run the kingdom, and the Reds do their bidding, do their manual labor, fight their wars.  But when Mare's best friend ends up conscripted to the military, she's willing to do whatever she can to save his life, especially since she knows she's only a few months behind.

But there is a lot more to Mare than meets the eye, and she finds herself in a world of lies and techerary and deceit, which leads to a very suspenseful read.  Red Queen is full of plot twists and surprises, as well as a strong female lead character and writing that pulls the plot along.  And, believe it or not, Red Queen involves a love triangle I can actually enjoy: one between a girl fighting not only for herself but for her people, and the two brothers on opposite ends of the spectrum, neither of which she can be certain about.  It certainly leads to a fascinating read.

I have some clues as to where Aveyard will take the series next, but there are a million different avenues she could explore.  And the plot, while nothing completely original, was surprising enough that I have no idea what will happen next.  But I can't wait to find out.  While Red Queen doesn't set the bar for YA high fantasy, it's definitely a great addition to the genre, one that I absorbed as quickly as possible, setting the board for a sequel I will eagerly await.

19 April 2015

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things

Author: Ann Aguirre
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I loved Aguirre's zombie series, so even though I'm not the biggest fan of romance novels, even in the YA genre, I thought I would give this one a try since I like Aguirre's writing style and plots.  But though I enjoyed the Enclave series, I couldn't get into this novel.

And it wasn't just the fact that it is a comtemporary romance novel.  Our narrator, Sage, just feels so fake.  After the trouble she got into as a kid, she over compensates now as a teenager to try to make up for the fact.  And while the idea is nice, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  For example, she likes to leave inspirational sticky notes on people's lockers when they are having a bad day.  But then when someone gives her a rough time, it's all about Shadow Sage and she wants nothing more than to set him on fire.  What the what?

And if Sage's characterization isn't enough, there's her relationship with Shane, who is an equally troubled teen trying to leave his murky past behind him.  Sage falls for Shame, the new kid in school, as soon as she sets eyes on him.  And though he just wants to keep his head down and stay out of trouble to keep from drawing attention to himself, he is quickly smitten with her as well.  And then there's their relationship itself.  It feels so forced on Aguirre's behalf, and I really don't see any real chemistry between the characters, except for what Sage tells me.

After her 100 mile bike ride in a day, I just really couldn't get into this novel anymore.  And I'm all for standing up for what you believe in, but she's already admitted she is perfectly fine with public transportation.  So why wouldn't she have just taken a bus instead of riding all day?

This novel is definitely not one of Aguirre's better works.  Hopefully she'll go back to zombie writing.

17 April 2015

Toxic Heart

Author: Theo Lawrence
Series: Mystic City #2
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

There isn't much more to say about Toxic Heart than what I said for Mystic City.  If it weren't for the cringe worthy thoughts/narrative from Aria and the completely ridiculous dialogue at times between characters, this story could have had some potential.  I also do not see why YA authors feel the constant need to have love triangles in their stories.  I sort of understood the love triangle in Mystic City, but now that Thomas is no longer a factor, Lawrence decides to throw yet another young man into the mix for Aria.  And I just cannot help but think: really?  Are teenage girls so desperate for love that they fall for every single young man that they meet?  Lawrence would have me thinking so.

Toxic Heart, simply put, is just more of Mystic City, with a tad better plot but another healthy dose of teen romance angst as well.  If you thoroughly enjoyed Mystic City, then Toxic Heart is for you.  If you were on the fence, don't bother.

16 April 2015

Raging Star

Author: Moira Young
Series: Dust Lands #2
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I can't remember the last time I was so disappointed with how a series turned out.  Sure, I've read a lot of series that have definitely went downhill (Divergent, The Chemical Garden, Delirium, etc. etc. etc.).  But those series weren't that great to begin with, so it wasn't as disappointing.  But Dust Lands?  My goodness, Moira, you should have just made it a stand alone novel now that I've finished the trilogy.

I loved Blood Red Road.  It was unique in almost all ways: characters, plot, prose style.  But the charm wore off in the second installment, and by the third installment, the plot could no longer carry the series.  We have love triangle after love triangle after love triangle for Saba it seems, and it gets old.  It really does.  The characters becomes less and less likable (yes, even Saba, Jack, and Lugh... perhaps even especially so).  And Young just can't seem to pull together a decent running plot for this series for the dystopian portion of the novel.  We spend the whole series trying to save what's left of the planet from the oppression of the few strong but evil, but Saba seems more interested in pondering about her stupid heart stone and DeMalo than anything else.  The resolution to the dystopian is tossed together in the last handful of pages of the novel, almost as an afterthought.  And the ending of the story for Saba?  Highly disappointing.

I liked Saba in the beginning of the series because she was fierce, strong, independent, and loyal to her brother.  And while I enjoy the dynamic portion of her character that allows her to open herself up to her younger sister, I don't like any of the other changes in her character growth.  It becomes apparent that Saba was only strong because she had never really interacted with others before, being isolated with only her family and a handful of others she rarely saw.  Once she joins the rest of the world, her thoughts turn to obsess on the men in her life now, and guilt and doubt plague her at every step.

I wish I'd only read the first novel.  This series definitely left me deeply disappointed.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Author: Leslye Walton
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

I am new to the whole magic realism genre, apart from a book or two of required reading in high school that I was thus immediately determined to hate since I was forced to read it.  But damn, this book is good.

The writing is eloquent and downright beautiful.  The story, which spans four generations, is heart breaking while also reaffirming that fate can be reversed and changed for the better.  At the same time, it seems to tell us that all happiness comes at a cost, and that we can only truly understand love and happiness once we know what it feels like to suffer.

There are so many things I could say in praise of this novel, but I feel I've analyzed it enough in my book club this month.  So I will leave you simply with this: read it.  You won't be disappointed.  It's definitely one of the best and most unique novels I'm likely to read this year.

14 April 2015

Snow Like Ashes

Author: Sara Raasch
Series: Snow Like Ashes #1
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Ah, finally.  A new YA high fantasy series worth reading that doesn't focus entirely on romance.  Meira is an orphan, one of only a handful of surviving Winterians (yes, I know it's a ridiculous name, but you just have to go with it in this series since four of the eight kingdoms are - you guessed it - named after seasons) that escaped enslavement.    She lives as a refugee on the outskirts of the Spring kingdom, the culprits who ravaged their kingdom and destroyed their people.  And she, along with her remaining survivors, are struggling to do everything in their power to piece together the missing Winterian conduit to bring magic back to the rightful heir of Winter, her friend and love interest Mather.  Once the conduit is restored in full, Mather will have his magic abilities restored, in hopes that they will be able to restore their kingdom to its former glory and rescue what's left of their people from oppression.

Meira only remembers Winter from the stories the others tell.  She's been a refugee for all but a few months of her life, and she's never felt that she's fit in.  While this story is about the old ball group's adventure, it's really about Meira's journey as well as she tries to find her purpose and where she fits in.  Sir, the leader of the group, wants to keep her safe and on the sidelines of the rebellion, but Meira wants nothing more than to prove herself to Sir that she is just as valuable to the cause as all the others.

This story is jam packed with action, and has enough twists and surprises to hold your attention to the end.  Though some of the expeditions seem a little like they fell into Meira's lap with good fortune, I really only saw this at the beginning with the first piece of the conduit.  And while it's didn't completely blow me away, it's definitely a stellar debut novel for Raasch.  I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment in what sounds like (can you guess?) a trilogy.

12 April 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Simon Spier has a secret, and when a failed attempt to log out of a personal email account on a public computer finds that secret in jeopardy, Simon succumbs to blackmail in order to keep the truth hidden.  Simon's secret?  He has a pen pal, one that he happens to be quite enamored with.  And his pen pal?  Another student at their school, who is also keeping his identity a secret.

Simon vs. the blah blah blah can be witty and charming at times, a bit cliche at others, and sickeningly sweet as well.  Though it has its flaws (like the fact that Simon only seems to be able to define himself by his sexuality at times), it is a charming coming of age novel to be sure.  It is exactly what you would think for a coming out novel of a young teenage boy, and yet it packs enough charm and surprises to keep you interested.  There is a twist towards the end, as Simon comes to realize who his pen pal is exactly, and its a twist for the narrator and the readers alike.

And the end?  So cute and adorable is almost made me want to gag.  While romance novels aren't really my thing, there is enough character and uniqueness to this novel to hold my interest, though I doubt I'd ever read it again.

07 April 2015

Liars, Inc.

Author: Paula Stokes
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Oh, Max.  I bet you had no idea what you were getting yourself into when you decided to start Liars, Inc. with Preston and Parvati.  You just wanted to make a little extra dough so you could buy a nice present for your girlfriend to keep her interested.  You never thought you'd be framed for the disappearance of one of your best friends, did you?

Liars, Inc. definitely has a lot of twists and turns.  And it does keep you guessing, that's for sure.  But for a realistic crime/mystery novel, it's a little too outlandish for my tastes.  As the plot unravels, and the extent of Preston's disappearance becomes more and more involved and less and less believable.  And then the reasons behind the disappearance, and the motives of the actual culprit, were almost laughable.  The ending left me feeling highly unsatisfied, because I got rather invested towards the beginning, and the ending was hardly believable at all.  I like a solid, realistic story, and the elements that come together in Liars, Inc. simply don't provide that.

I'm sure others might enjoy it more.  While the characters can be rather narrow, there is a little bit of character growth throughout the novel.  And though Stokes might be a little bit out of her element writing as a teenage boy, the prose is written well enough to keep the reader interested.  At the end of the day, however, the resolution to the plot/mystery just wasn't my cup of tea.

04 April 2015

The Far Dawn

Author: Kevin Emerson
Series: The Atlanteans #3
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

I am so happy to be done with this series.  I really didn't even want to read this novel after the first two, but I do like finishing out series and not leaving them half read.  So I put myself through a little bit of self inflicted torture to get it done.

I won't write a lot for this one, since I skim read it at most.  If you liked the first two, then you will probably like this one as well.  If you didn't like the first two, then don't bother with this one.  It is not a series I will ever read again, for sure, and I'll doubtfully ever pick up another novel by Emerson either.  The writing is weak, cliche, and feels a bit at times like a middle school child wrote the plot and the dialogue.  And once again, it seems like Emerson didn't really know what the heck he wanted to do with this series.  The plot goes off in a completely new tangent at least three times, and the end is so far from where we started in the beginning of the series that I honestly just stopped paying attention.

But hey, I finished it.  Cross it off my list.

02 April 2015

Rebel Heart

Author: Moira Young
Series: Dust Lands #2
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I want to like this book more.  I really, really do.  Blood Red Road is in my top five novels read this year, easily.  And I had such high hopes for this novel.  But I finish now, and I'm disappointed.  I'll admit it.  I want to know what the heck happened to Saba.  She was so strong, so fiercely independent in the first novel.  And now?  All she can think about is Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack.

If that had been it, I probably would have been able to stomach it.  But then we have to thrown in love triangles as well.  That just took the cake for me.  From the prose style, I can tell I'm still reading the same series, but it sure doesn't feel like it.  While I still wanted to get through the novel, this installment certainly isn't a page turner like its predecessor.  In fact, it feels like very little happened in this novel.  And what little does happen makes me angry, because it seems so avoidable, as some of the characters even point out during the story.  The characters' selfishness causes needless issues that never need to rise, but do.

I don't suddenly hate this series now.  Not by far.  I just feel like Young took a step back, and fell into the classic sophomore slump.  With where the first novel left off, there was some potential, though it would have been hard pressed to be as action packed as the first novel.  But this novel feels mostly like characters just walking around all over the country for the most part, falling in and out of love.  And considering the situation with the Tonton and the state of civilization, I thought there was a lot more possibility.  But I'll hold out hope for the series until I finish the last novel.  Hopefully it will not disappoint as well.