Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: Dead of Winter by Kresley Cole

I've discovered a lot of new YA authors in the last couple years. Since I've pretty much failed at recording my readerly thoughts in this blog lately, I sadly can't remember who half of those authors are now. (I'm not sure if that says more about the quality of their work or the quality of my rapidly aging brain. It's a toss up.) BUT...I can tell you with unfaltering confidence that my favorite discovery in recent times is Kresley Cole's new YA series, The Arcana Chronicles.

The first book in the series, Poison Princess, completely blew me away. The hauntingly vivid and all-consuming world building; the complex, fully formed, compelling characters (not to mention the palpable chemistry between them!); and the fast-paced, unpredictable, mind-blowingly creative plot knocked this one out of the park for me. I am wracking my brain trying to think of another YA author who succeeds so fully in all three of these areas: world building, character development, and plot. I dunno, J.K. Rowling, maybe?

Anyway. Then the second book in the series, Endless Knight, came out, and it was friggin great as well, and I was like holy cow Kresley Cole HOW DO YOU DO IT, and then I had to wait like 11 months or some ungodly amount of time for Dead of Winter to finally publish, and that was total agony, and then finally it came out and I downloaded it on my Kindle at like 12:01 am the day of publication, and....

SON-OF-A-B. It's not good. It's just a filler book. It's okay, I still love this series, but this book was basically a total flop for me. First of all, nothing much happens in the book. Ok, like one or two things happen, but not enough to warrant an entire effing book. Second of all, the main character, Evie, who I generally really like because she's badass and pretty and independent, is reduced to a boy crazy shell of her former glory. She basically spends the entire book moaning about how she's not sure if she should choose Death or Jack. I used to be pretty invested in that question, but to my horror I now find that I no longer care.

Another thing I used to love about this series is the steamy chemistry Cole builds between Evie and both Death and Jack. I have truly never felt so conflicted about a love triangle! But in this book, the chemistry dies. It's not enough to hear Evie drooling about how sexy Jack is, or how she just feels this CONNECTION to Death. The reader needs to FEEL it, and in this third installment, I have to confess that I no longer feel it. There's just too much telling, not enough showing!

To me, this book just felt half assed and rushed--like it wasn't meant to be a full book at all, but the publisher was like CRAP SALES ARE DOWN GET THAT KRESLEY WOMAN TO WRITE SOMETHING TOUT DE SUITE. And she complied, even slapping on the obligatory heinous cliffhanger at the end (which was so predictable it hurt).

Le sigh. I still love the series and will definitely read the fourth book whenever it comes out, but I do feel a bit like my Arcana Chronicles balloon has been deflated.

2.5 stars :-(

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Gone by Michael Grant

This is one of the most imaginative dystopian-type books I've come across in a long time! In a small town called Perdido Beach, whose only real claim to fame is the nuclear power plant it is home to, everyone is going about their day when suddenly all the adults vanish. At first, you wonder if they were raptured or something. But then things start to get a bit strange--some of the kids develop powers, dangerous rivalries emerge, and there is a hint of some Darker Power at force here.

It reminded me a bit of Alexandra Bracken's Darkest Minds books, except without the oppressive grownups.

Grant was constantly surprising me with the creative twists he threw into the book. From talking coyotes to flying snakes, to the whacked out powers the kids developed--I never knew what to expect and was constantly delighted with some fresh horror.

That being said, I feel like I should have enjoyed reading this book more than I did. Not that I didn't enjoy it at all--I did--but it just wasn't the kind of all consuming page turner that it seems like it should have been. I kept reading a few pages at night before bed and then falling asleep. That shouldn't happen with this type of book--normally with a fast paced dystopian, I can't put it down til I reach the end.

I think the problem here is in the character development. None of these characters really felt very fully formed. They each have approximately one key trait: Sam is a leader; Astrid is a genius; Drake is an evil sadist; Little Pete is autistic; Quinn is insecure; Alberto is an entrepreneur, etc. etc. etc. The interpersonal drama just felt kind of forced and half baked. And for me, it doesn't matter how creative a world is or how tense the plot--if I can't really relate to the characters, I'm never going to be fully sucked in.

Still gotta give this points for creativity - it's really not like any other book I've come across lately. 3.5 stars.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I'm sorry to rain on the Rainbow Rowell parade, but this book really just did not do it for me. I liked Eleanor and Park decently well (though I wasn't foaming at the mouth with delight the way a lot of people seemed to be), and there were things I liked about Fangirl (as someone who used to write lengthy Harry Potter fanfiction, I loved the premise of this!), but ultimately I just could not get past some of the problems with this book.

First and foremost, I found the Simon and Baz story excruciatingly dull and honestly kind of a bizarre choice on the author's part. It's obvious that Simon and Baz are basically Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy stand-ins. I used to spend way too much time on, and have certainly read my fair share of Harry/Draco "slasher" stories. It seems really obvious to me that the Rainbow Rowell WANTED this to be about a Harry Potter fanfic, but her legal team said no. So rather than thinking up something original, she came up with Simon and Baz, wizards living in a witchcraft and wizardry school, who hate each other, and are fighting an evil dark lord. SOUND FAMILIAR????

So that was really odd and made me feel a bit uncomfortable. It kind of felt like Rowell was borrowing from JK Rowling in a strange and not fully authentic way--like I would have honestly felt better about it if the story was just blatantly about Harry Potter rather than about ANOTHER blockbuster book about teenage wizards that totally isn't Harry Potter at all!!!!! Even weirder was the fact that Harry Potter (the REAL Harry Potter) is actually referenced in the book, so it's not like Rowell is even trying to create some alternate universe where HP never happened and Simon Snow is all there is. So, so weird... did not work for me.

I found the endless Simon & Baz excerpts really boring. It reached a point where I skipped them entirely. I got the point that the Simon & Baz stuff was kind of a metaphor for whatever Cath was going through at a given time in the story, that she WAS using her own life to inspire her writing, just like her teacher asked her to do, etc. I got that. But I still found it really boring and clunky. I just didn't care about Simon & Baz at all. If this had been an actual Harry Potter fanfic it would have been SO MUCH BETTER. 

Other than that, the romance between Cath and Levi was kind of underwhelming. I got tired of hearing about how wonderful Levi's smile was and how flat his face was and blah blah...I don't know, I just didnt' really feel it. He never really emerged as a real person to me. Honestly I was most intrigued by Cath's sister Wren, and by her friend Reagan. Those characters I would have loved to hear more about. 

2.5 stars

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 authors new to me I read in 2013

  1. Kresley Cole, Poison Princess and Endless Knight
  2. Rachel Hartman, Seraphina
  3. Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity
  4. R. J. Palacio, Wonder
  5. Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds
  6. David Levithan, Every Day
  7. Max Barry, Lexicon
  8. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Hmmmmmmm that's just eight...but I really failed at reading YA through most of the year until September-now. Hopefully a more productive year of reading for 2014!

Monday, December 16, 2013

NaNoWriMo: I won! ("won")...but what now?

Hellooo! Just thought I would leave a quick post about NaNoWriMo since it was such an all-consuming part of my life in November. I can't believe it, but I actually made it to 50,000 words! Well, 50,257, to be precise---had to stay true to the tradition I have upheld my entire life of doing the absolute bare minimum to succeed. Woooot.

Anyway, wow, what a month. I admit it was definitely a relief when November ended. I've had aspirations of writing a novel for as long as I can remember, and I've gotten up to 20k or 30k words before but have never finished a book. Not because of anything other than lack of motivation/laziness. So, I really took the NaNo challenge seriously, which meant I was constantly stressed out any time I was doing anything other than writing during my spare time. A few times during the month, I would get on a roll for a few hours and just feel this incredible euphoria, like holy crap I am doing this, I am actually writing a novel, and maybe it's not even all that bad???? But honestly...the majority of the time I was an anxious, self-doubting wreck. I literally had to force myself to sit down on the weekends and do this thing...the moments when it was easy and fun were few and far between. And I shudder to even think what I wrote...

Yep, haven't even opened the document since Thanksgiving. Which is probably really bad, because even though I made it to 50k, I didn't actually finish the "novel" yet. Probably still have another 15k words to go. But I just needed a break to get away from it all. Work also got really intense, and blah blah blah. My plan is to wrap her up over xmas break, then take another break from it, and then start revisions in February or something. Or maybe when I open it up again I'll be so horrified at the verbal diarrhea splattered all over the pages that I'll just hit DELETE and be done with it. Which would be terrible, but at the end of the day I would have still succeeded in writing 50k words in a month, so that's cool. I don't know. NO. I won't do that!! Ahh, here the anxiety is again. Alassss.

Anyway that was/is my NaNoWriMo experience, in a nutshell!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday: Book-selling time!

Hello loverzz!! I love this week's FFF. The instructions:

Go to your biggest bookcases. Go to the second shelf from the top and pick out the sixth book from the left. Hardsell that book to us -- even if you haven't read it or if you hated it. 

My book turned out to be the bold, the shocking, the heart-wrenching, the life-altering classic of classics: CYRANO DE BERGERAC by Edmond Rostrand!!

Cyrano de Bergerac is a French play written in the late 19th century. It is based on the real life figure of Cyrano de Bergerac, a brilliant poet, formidable soldier, and hopeless romantic who is madly in love with his distant cousin, the beautiful Roxanne, but suffers from debilitating insecurity on account of his enormous nose. This was assigned reading for me in the 9th grade and I actually did love it. The movie Roxanne with Steve Martin, which is based on the play, is fabulous and hilarious as well--though also gutting. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! There are a lot of themes that come up in YA novels in good ol' Cyrano actually, which could be why it's often assigned reading for high schoolers. Self doubt, romance, quirky humor, etc. Cyrano is one of the most endearing characters of all time and you are doing YOURSELF a disservice if you haven't read this play yet. IT'S A CLASSIC!

Thanks to Parajunkee & Alison Can Read for hosting Feature & Follow Friday :-)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

First, a call out to my mom, who told me I needed to read this book. "It has five stars on Amazon and 2000+ reviews!" she told me. I've never heard of a book having 5 stars on Amazon...the most I've ever seen is 4.5. I don't normally read middle grade fiction, but the 5-stars intrigued me, so I made an exception. And I'm glad I did!

August Pullman is 10 years old and severely, profoundly deformed in the face. Otherwise he's perfectly normal...he can do everything normal kids can do (skateboard, hike, play video games, etc.) and he's got above average intelligence. Told primarily through August's POV, with a few chapters in the POV of his close friends or family members, the book recounts August's experience in the fifth grade, which is the first year he goes to real school (he was home schooled previously). Not a whole lot actually happens in the book; it's more about the minor, day-to-day slings and arrows we all experience and how the various characters cope with them and gradually grow as people. Kind of like Anne of Green Gables!

I thought the author nailed the setting of a fifth grade classroom. In August's school, fifth grade is the first year of middle school. When I was growing up, fifth grade was still considered elementary school, but it was definitely a transitional year when kids suddenly started "going out" with each other, popularity became a Thing, and everything just became super awkward and hard. Suddenly it mattered what clothes you wore, who your friends were, what stuff you were into, etc., in a way that it never had before. Honestly, it was friggin horrible, and there was no turning back after that year.

Fifth grade was an especially terrible year for me, and I didn't even have half the problems August has! I think 10-11 year olds might be some of the cruelest people on earth. They kind of embody the worst qualities of both children and adults: like adults, they have the intelligence to know if something is "cool" or not, to really know how to say the most cutting thing possible to hurt a person; yet, like children, they lack the maturity to filter themselves. Bad, bad combination, especially if you're the ugliest person on the planet, as August seems to be. A natural target.

Anyways, at times when I was reading this, especially the chapters told through August's POV, I would forget he was deformed. He deals with things like growing apart from his childhood best friend, over-hearing the person he thought was his new friend talking smack about him to a more popular kid in the effort to appear cool, etc. These are things every kid has to deal with, and I kind of think that was the point of the book and what made it all so relatable. To the outside world, August is perceived as a freak, as different. But in his own head, he's just a normal kid.

I liked that all the characters were presented in shades of gray (with the exception of Julian, the bully, and Mr. Tushman, the Dumbledore-like, benevolent principal), as opposed to being solely good or bad. Even August behaves like a petulant little brat sometimes, and I think it's important to see him that way...if he'd been presented as 100% angelic the book would have been insufferable. Would have read like an Aesop's fable or something.

I am giving this 4.5 stars. Why not 5? I don't know...I really liked it, loved it even, and felt uplifted the whole time I was reading it, but I don't know. When I think of a similarly moving/heart wrenching book, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors comes to mind, and I just felt like that book was on a slightly higher level somehow. I can't quite pin it down. But there was a certain preachiness to this one, especially towards the end when Tushman gave his lengthy speech about kindness, that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Still, it was excellent, and I highly recommend it!