29 July 2015

Pretending to be Erica

Author: Michelle Painchaud
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

First off, I have to comment on the marketing strategy for this novel.  We Were Liars meets Heist Society?  I wish publishing companies would STOP DOING THAT.  Either you hated one or the other novel and thus automatically by association have no interest in this one, or it puts the put on an unreachable pedestal.  Myself, I love the Heist Society.  It is one of my guilty pleasure reads, and I could see how Pretending to be Erica could have a similar feel.  So of course I started this novel with an over-inflated expectation, and - as expected - Painchaud fails to deliver in this respect.

If you are going to write a young adult novel about a teenage girl raised as a con artist, you need to do one of two things: either make it a light hearted story that doesn't take itself seriously (a la Heist Society) or you really need to sell it (a la Pretending to be Erica).  And while the plot is well done and the story does carry the potential, Painchaud fails to sell it through Erica by means of Violet.  The only card Painchaud seems to have in her literary deck is to have Violet constantly remind us that she is, indeed, a con artist.  Over and over again, you see this internal struggle of Violet versus Erica.  In a way, at times it feels more like I'm reading a novel about a schizophrenic teenager than about a young girl trying to pull off the biggest heist that Las Vegas has seen.  It gets to the point where it is not only tiring, but annoying at times, making me want to skim read.

Overall, however, I like the plot.  The writing could have been better and the plot could have been developed better (this book clocks in at only 254 pages), but it is definitely an interesting read if you can get past Violet's annoying traits as a narrator.  As you may have guessed by now, I'm a sucker for the teenage con artist stories, and I think the ending is true to the Violet/Erica duality that develops during the story.  Still, this story falls short of greatness and won't make its way into my private library.  There is nothing too memorable about the characters, and apart from Violet they are all rather one dimensional.  Fortunately, it doesn't really deter much from the plot though it doesn't do much to help develop it either.

26 July 2015

Until the Beginning

Author: Amy Plum
Series: After the End #2
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Okay... I've got a raven.  And-oh, right, I almost forgot-I'm magic.  Not that I know what I can do with that besides figure out how a certain girl is feeling...

My feelings on After the End were mixed, so I wasn't sure about Until the Beginning.  I requested from the library anyway, and after it sat on my bookshelf for about three months, I'm finally making myself read it since it's due back by the end of the week.

Unfortunately, the uniqueness of the genre for After the End has pretty much worn off by now.  Instead, we find Miles sucked into the same paranormal magical life Juneau has lived her entire life with her tribe, and I have to admit, it is not my favorite plot in the world.

For one, half of the chapters are written from Miles's point of view.  And Miles's inner dialogue can be rather ridiculous, like the quote above, which pretty much sums up this novel for me.  For another, the main characters are kind of supporting characters in the plot that Plum is trying to sell.  Yes, there is that thing about Juneau that makes her special for the thing that makes them basically immortal, and thus she is being sought after by the mean, older men wanting to bankroll off the formula.  But really, this story ought to be more about them, and the members of her tribe that sold them out to the evil corporate schemers, and less about Juneau and Miles, who really want to just fall off the map and live happily ever after together as their immortal selves.

The series does not have a realistic plot I can really invest into, especially when human immortality coming into the picture (because, you know, science shows that blood cells and tissue and whatnot are going to keep dying as your body gets used, and there is a limit to the number of times these things can replicate).  There also isn't much action/adventure to carry the story either, except a little at the end.  Mostly, Until the Beginning consists of just Juneau lugging a dead Miles around the country, wondering if he's ever going to wake up again or not.  Just not my cup of tea, as it seems too heavily focused on the romance in this story without much to keep me invested.

23 July 2015

Silver in the Blood

Author: Jessica Day George
Series: Silver in the Blood #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict:  Bury

My introduction to  George's writing came with Tuesday's in the Castle, which is a MG leveled fantasy novel that was original, quirky, and charming.  So when I saw that she had a new YA novel coming out for a new series, I had to snag it.

Unfortunately, it seems like I prefer George's MG styled literature to her YA.  I think part of the issue I have is that Jessica Day George takes this plot perfect for the YA genre, but dumbs it down unintentionally to a MG level.  The characters feel juvenile for their age, and I don't ever feel like either of the main characters is truly developed as a character worth investing empathy towards.  Indeed, none of the characters are.

That's not to say that there's anything wrong with George's writing in this novel, but only to suggest there is nothing great about it either.  I think casual readers just look for an interesting, rather unique tale with enjoy this story.  More avid readers, however, will realize the overall lack of quality in the characters and the story for this genre.  And while it is definitely a different twist on paranormal YA fiction, it wasn't a storyline that grabbed me and sucked me in either.  In fact, I found the first half more intriguing than the second.  The trailing half of the novel gets bogged down in a lot of the characters, and the premise behind the Claw, the Wing, and the Claw, while original, it far from the best paranormal YA I've read.  This novel gets some props for the setting, as I love historical fiction.  I just don't feel like George takes advantage of the setting or the time period either.  It's set in the same era as Dracula in Romania, which sounds like it would be fascinating.  But the plot is too bogged down in family secrets and budding relationship drama for Dacia and Lou to really take advantage of the world George selected for the story.

21 July 2015

Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher for an honest review.

I have to admit, I was a little bit skeptical about this novel when I found out they had an ARC of it on NetGalley.  After all, about 95% of the novel I've been able to find/receive from NetGalley have been huge disappoints and I'd all but given up on using the site.  But Everything, Everything turned that around for me.

Everything, Everything is not your typical contemporary coming of age young adult novel.  Sure, Madeline is a lot like other teenagers.  She likes to IM and surf the internet.  She digs architecture.  She has a Gilmore Girls type relationship with her mother that is a little further from the norm, but it's believable considering what they've been through.  And when the hot, rebel seeming stranger moves in across the street, Madeline is definitely feeling the romantic butterflies.

There is one thing, however, about Madeline that makes her a little unusual and makes Everything, Everything an unique tale (and it isn't the fact that she's home-schooled).  It's her incurable disease that leaves her allergic to the world.  Though Everything, Everything is another sappy YA romantic tale, it's told with quirk and charm (there are even pictures!) which give Madeline an interesting voice and make the romance tolerable.  The fact that Olly's life isn't perfect either and that his character isn't one dimensional either helps too.  The love at first sight also allows interesting developments between Madeline, her mother, and Carla.

The ending was a little disappointing, I will admit.  I even had a suspicion that it was going to play out something along these lines, but I never could have guessed the extent of it or the full unraveling of the plot.  Other than the slightly disappointing ending, this novel is a gem.  The style adds humor to a sad, dark topic that is our main character's life.  And sure, it is a little sugar sweet romantic/teen angsty, but it at least stems from a deeper, meaningful subject, so it's a lot easier to stomach than most of the YA romance out there.

19 July 2015

The Last Pilot

Author: Benjamin Johncock
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Where are all the quotation marks in this novel???  It feels likes a punctuation thief slid in though the sliding glass door in the middle of the night, black ski mask and all, and robbed all the dialogue in this novel of its quotation marks while the editor slept.  I don't know if this is a new fad that's developing or what, but it did not work well for this novel.  For one, it made it impossible to speed read, and a few sections of this novel I could have definitely speed read through.  To try to make it less difficult to tell who the heck is talking or if anyone is talking at all, Johncock decides to use the word "said" is annoying abundance.  Throughout the novel, I am constantly reading “Jim said” or “Grace said” or “John said”.  You know, if you used quotation marks, you wouldn't need the incessant use of this verb.  At least throw some synanoms in every once in a while man to change it up.

But I digress.

I went into this novel thinking it was going to be a balls to the walls tale about a test pilot who also has to deal with issues at home.  I thought it was going to be a tale about test pilots and astronauts at the birth of the space race, and a story about how astronauts are humans too, with families and problems of their own.  As a lover of space exploration, this type of plot immediately draws my attention.  At even the mention of the first astronauts, I was searching my country's library catalog and requesting a copy.  I probably should of read a little more into the synopsis.

Instead of an action packed adventure with a side of family drama, the flying and the space race are more of a backdrop to the story of Jim, Grace, and Duck.  And yes, it is a heartwarming and also sad story, but it isn't strong enough to carry this story in the end.  The characters are interesting enough (except Grace who is basically there as a wife/mother figure and for absolutely nothing else), but this book reads more like a boring biography than anything else.  Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations for this story, but I am definitely walking away disappointed.

16 July 2015

Uprooted

Author: Naomi Novik
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Everything about this story is wonderful.  The cover?  Yes please?  The story?  Yes ma'am.  The characters?  We could be friends.  The folklore?  Reminds me of my childhood tales, with a Brothers Grimm type twist.  The magic?  Oh, fun!

It is always a girl with the most something that is selected by the Dragon to go live in the tower.  Though the girls all swear he never touches them when they return years later, it still changes their lives forever.  Still, Agnieszka is not worried, because her best friend is the obvious choice for the Dragon.  Though it saddens her deeply, it lets her life her life up until the ceremonial choosing about as normal as can be.  Until the Dragon comes, and he selects Agnieszka instead, to the shock of everyone in the village.

Enter confusion, a coming of age story, magic, and the wicked woods.  It's a magnificent tale full of suspense and intrigue, and even a bit gruesomeness for good measure as well.  Perhaps the only thing I did not like in this novel is the way that her relationship with the Dragon develops throughout the story.  Not to say that I disapprove of how it ends up, I just thought that parts of their interactions were highly rushed and sudden, seemingly out of character almost, at times.

The story itself is still wonderful, and the writing does not leave much to be desired.  The novel feels perhaps a little long winded towards the end, and I found myself speed reading in certain scenes towards the end, but I wouldn't say it takes away from the story.  It's a story that feels true to folklore roots, and is certainly unique to anything I've read recently.

15 July 2015

The Longest Ride

Author: Nicolas Sparks
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury (Borrow if you are big into romance)

I have to confess right off the bat that I'm not the biggest Nicolas Sparks fan.  Sure, I own a few of the movies adapted from his novels (A Walk to Remember, The Notebook), and I've read a few other of his novels (I actually own The Last Song).  But he has never captured my heart the way he has millions of others, and I think his writing subpar compared to my favorites in the adult fiction genre.  To be fair, it takes a lot to get me invested into a romance novel, and this book just doesn't make the cut.

The Longest Ride is typical of what you are likely to get from a Sparks novel.  The characters are hard to relate to, due to the crazy circumstances of their lives or, as is the case with Sophia, too busy worried about falling in love to ever develop any characteristics of her own.  I saw this in the movie as well, which I saw first and actually liked compared to the last few Sparks movies which have been terrible (The Lucky One, The Best of Me).  I at least liked the movie enough to give the book a go.  I thought the book might be able to flush out the story and characters, helping capitalize where the movie fell short.  Unfortunately, it turns out I prefer the movie adaptation to the novel.  In the movie, you only have two hours to condense the plot, so you can give the writers a little more leeway with some of the plot and character gaps.  But after almost 400 pages of the novel, I thought Sophia should have at least been a little it developed as a character.  By the end of the story, she's basically still this liberal arts major who is a first generation American who likes art.  And that's about it.

Also, perhaps I am a feminist, but I kind of hate the ending.  Sure, it is a love story, centered on the romance, and thus readers want a happily ever after ending to make it feel like their time invested in the story is worth it.   (And I hope this isn't giving too much away, spoiler wise) Sophia doesn't fight for her dreams at all, and instead throws it all basically to the wind on a relationship that is less than a year old with someone she really doesn't share much in common with.  As someone who struggled with a similar situation with regards to my career versus my personal life, it made me feel like Sophia is a quitter, ready to walk away from what she claims is her dream career, just to follow her heart.  That's not a happy ending to me, that's depressing.

10 July 2015

The Memory Key

Author: Liana Liu
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

This novel was such a disappointment after the other two I finished this week.  For one, the other two has such independent, striking female main characters.  Dare I say, heroines even.  Lora Mint does not even come close to that.  Lora has a crush on her best friend's older brother, who is a few years older than her and thus did not think it the best to strike up a relationship with her right before he went off after high school.  She also meets Raul and instantly strikes a chord with him.  So pretty much right off the bat, we're given a love triangle to deal with.  And when the best friend's older brother comes back in the picture, it turns out he might have another object of his affection, turning it into a love rectangle.  It's just too much man, too much.

The remainder of my review for this novel can be summarized by my thoughts about the passage selected on the back of the cover en lieu of a summary.  Here we have a book about this mega company that has a monopoly on the market of memory chip implants, developed to counteract this disease that is basically Alzheimer's.  And our main character is starting to think that not all was up to board with the death of her mother, who happened to work for this very same company.  And yet, the passage they select to promote the novel?  It's flashbacks from her memory chip, about how she realizes with sudden clarity that she hates her best friend.

Wait, what?  Why?  Why why why why why?!?!?!

This story shows a lot of beginning promise for a fun, sci-fi/future tech YA thriller.  Unfortunately, that plot is almost completely overshadowed by the interpersonal relationships between the characters.  I speak mainly about the little love triangle/square that plays out between  and the relationship between Loda and Wendy and all the drama involved there.  I also think the big twist/revelation at the end is a little too tried and true and it leaves me rather unsatisfied with this story, even though I do think the very end is rather eloquently written.

08 July 2015

All the Rage

Author: Courtney Summers
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Finally!  A contemporary young adult novel that isn't romance driven.  A contemporary young adult novel that isn't full of obnoxious girls and pretentious boys and horny little teenagers just falling over one another trying to fall in love.  If anything, All the Rage is the complete opposite, and I love it for it.

I have to admit, I didn't really read that much into this novel before I requested it from the library because, honestly, a lot of time that just takes the wind out of the sails for a story for me.  I like to go in blind, and let the story tell itself instead of trying to live up to the synopsis.  And considering the synopsis given for this novel, I'm glad that's exactly what I did, because it's basically a massive spoiler alert in and of itself.

Romy is not your average YA female narrator.  She isn't going to spend the entire novel telling you about how this guy looks, or how she heard from her friend that so-and-so were going to break up.  Romy is going to tell you about how rough her life has been since she had one-two-five too many shots at a party, made a mistake, and now is the black sleep in town that everyone claims cried wolf.  And while she tries her damnedest to not let that one moment define her life, it's kind of hard not too, especially when everyone turns around and calls you a liar after the fact.  Not only has it ostracized her from her peers, making school a living hell, but it's caused a disconnect with her mother and any potential further relationship she would ever want to try.

All the Rage is not a tale about revenge, or really even seeking justice for when the world got you down.  It's the story of one girl, strong enough to stick by her story even when no one will believe her.  It's the story of one girl who struggles everyday with the aftermath of that one moment, that one mistake.  It's the story of one girl who tries to find herself again when everything she's ever known about herself is stolen and stripped away, and all the good is gone.  And you know what?  It's a pretty darn good story.  But don't let me tell you.  Let Romy.

07 July 2015

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Author: Stephanie Oakes
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

I'm going to get my complaining out of the way to start so that I can rave about this novel after.  So, to start us off: what in the world is up with this cover.  To me, it makes no sense.  When we first meet Minnow, we quickly come to realize that instead of hands, her arms end in stubs, which makes it difficult for the police to handcuff her after she wails on this guy.  And secondly, the book?  For the vast majority of the novel, Minnow is illiterate, which was one of the rules of their "religion".  Only the Prophet is allowed to read, because he is the only one who needs to write down what God tells him.  And, okay, I realize the cover may be symbolic, but it does did not sit well with me.  I felt like the artist who did the cover art did not even crack this book open.

But, whatever.  I am over it, because The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly?  Wow.  Just wow.  There's nothing exceptional about the prose, and even the plot isn't mind blowing.  It's the subtle way that Oakes combines all these elements.  For one, the novel is largely nonlinear, as we spend the whole novel trying to figure out who is behind the murder of the Prophet and who set their little community on fire.  That alone is enough to interest me in a novel, as I love nonlinear mysteries.  But then we have Minnow herself, and all the other characters in this novel as well.  Again, none of them are slap you in the face fantastic.  This novel feels too realistic for that.  These characters are flawed, and real.  They each have their own personal demons they are running from, or at least are proud about.

And then the underlying topic of the story, Minnow's backstory, with the cult of the Kevin.  I have not, of course, ever joined a cult, but this novel reads like what I would expect if I ever encountered one.  It even hits on issues I see with religion as a whole, whether widely accepted or not.

I don't think there's really an appropriate way to review this book and explain why it struck such a chord with me.  I can only suggest that you pick it up for yourself and give it a try.  It will make you queasy at points, it will make you sad.  It will even make you question the narrator as well.  But it is a remarkable book for being somewhat unremarkable, if that makes any sense.  It is definitely one of my favorite books I've read this year.

02 July 2015

Emmy & Oliver

Author: Robin Benway
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

If I were into romantic stories, I think this one would have taken the cake for me.  As it is, I still enjoyed it even if it did get a little too will they/won't they towards the middle.

Emmy and Ollie have been friends practically since they were born.  They were babies in the hospital together, and they grew up living next door to one another with their bedroom windows facing.  They were destined to be best friends forever, and perhaps even more.  But at the age of seven, right after Ollie has circled on a piece of paper that perhaps he likes Emmy as more than just a friend, Ollie disappears.  Kidnapped by his father after his parents decide to divorce, Ollie is ripped from Emmy's life.  And though Emmy always hopes for Ollie to one day return, she isn't ready when he actually does, ten years later.

Though I have not had quite such a traumatic personal experience, I've had a milder version that's similar.  My best friend growing up with a member of the opposite sex and born three days after me.  We didn't live next door to each other, or even in the same neighborhood, but we went to day care together.  And though we never confessed on a note passed in class that we liked each other as maybe more than friends, I did have a little crush on him.  My Ollie wasn't kidnapped by his father, but he was rezoned and sent to a different school around the age of seven.  And I was just about seventeen again by the time I saw him (since this was back before the days of cell phones and texting and social media) and our social circles crossed again.

My experience was different than how things ended up for Emmy and Ollie, but I remember how different we both were by the time we started seeing each other again more than once every year or two.  We weren't seven year old kids anymore, and we'd both grown into our personalities, which had evolved and grown up over time.  That's one of the fundamental issues in this book of Emmy and Ollie's reconnection.  Not only does Ollie have to try to reconnect with his old life and deal with the lies he'd been living for the past ten years, he also has to adjust to the fact that everyone seems to exact him to be the same exact seven year old kid he was when he went missing.  And of course, ten years later, he isn't anymore.  It's a powerful thought, and I think Benway handles it well.

Sure, there are a few parts of this novel that felt a little unrealistic and some dialogue/instances that felt a little pushed/staged, but all and all I think it is fair to say that Benway charmed my pants off with this story, especially the first half.  And while I think she lost a little bit of the charm and wit and poetic style in the second half, she still puts together a well written novel in its entirety.  I've never heard of Benway before, but for certain I will be checking out more of her stories.