Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fallen (#1 Fallen), by Lauren Kate

Well, I must admit that this book started off a little rocky for me.  If it hadn't been for so many of my friends giving it good ratings I might not have soldiered on.  Just when I was about to give up, around page 100, I read a  review that indicated that I wasn't the only one who was rather confused as to what on earth was going on.  The reviewer warned that the book was a slow starter and that the first 1/3 was pretty confusing, but after that the book got really good.  So I stuck with it, and I'm so glad I did.

Kate's baffling beginnings all began to make sense as I got further into the book.  She began to reveal the complex and intricate back story that was so very necessary to the plot.  In fact, it was quite brilliant how she revealed secrets piecemeal to Luce, the main character.  The reader was only given a few little snippets that Luce wasn't aware of herself.  Most of the details we had to wait for and figure them out as the story progressed.  I thought it was a wonderful way of putting the reader into the shoes of the character so you feel like you're actually experiencing it all with her for the first time as well.

I also enjoyed Kate's writing.  She told the story with just the right combination of dialogue and narration so I never felt bored with it.  This is something that I don't see enough of in young adult writing. It seems there is a definite trend towards over explaining things that really gets on my nerves.  It's ok to paint me a picture of the room, or what a person looks like, but I don't want you to do it for every location and every person.  I realize that the "gossip girl" trend is something that many young adult readers do appreciate; I'm just not one of them.  Too many details or name-drops about a particular dress or designer just irritates me and, in my opinion, takes away from the story.  I am here because I'm in love with the characters, because I want to see them overcome whatever awful obstacle they are forced to deal with, not because I want to know who designed their shoes they are wearing!  It's just not my thing.

All that being said I really enjoyed Fallen, and I can't wait to get my hands on Torment, the next book in the series.  I loved how Kate totally left me hanging after the last chapter and then gave me something else to worry about in the epilogue.  It's fantastic when you literally cannot wait to read the next book in a series, and Kate pulled that off flawlessly.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Grave Peril (#3 The Dresden Files), by Jim Butcher

Ah, Harry Dresden, what's not to love about him?  He's charming, witty, and constantly in over his head.  He reminds me so much of the main character of Weeds, the TV show.  Like Nancy Botwin, he always manages to wriggle his way out of situations that should have left him dead and instead left him only permanently scarred.  He has more bravado than good sense, but somehow, just like Nancy, it works for him.  

Grave Peril continued the saga of Harry's life.  Once again you'll find Harry doing what's right regardless of the consequences and you'll wonder just how he'll manage to escape death this time around.  Each time I think that he's not going to be able to do it this time, I remember that there are about a dozen more books after this one, so I breathe a sigh of relief and hunker down to figure out just how he does it this time.  

The characters are funny; the writing is great, if you haven't tried one of these books yet, you should give it a whirl.  It's a great rainy day read, especially with Halloween coming up just around the corner.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Matched (#1 Matched), Ally Condie

I have to say that I loved this book!  Matched had some semi-familiar themes, but I thought that Condie delivered them flawlessly.  To me it had the same sort of essence as the Giver did, but for an older audience. I've read several negative reviews about Matched, comparing it to other dystopian romances and saying how boring and uninspired it was.  I have to disagree.  Sure if you read a lot of dystopian romances you are going to see some recurrent themes, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading.  

I thought that Condie was a great writer--her timing was spot-on and her writing style was fluid.  It was definitely a page turner, including love, tension, and just the right amount of fear to keep you interested.  It was also a coming of age tale, as the heroine Cassia, begins to grow and mature as a young woman and begins to realize that the perfect society she was born into may not be as perfect as she'd always thought.  I also loved how she showed the different aspects of the governments control  in such detail.  I found that aspect of the book fascinating.

To the naysayers, I may have to assume that dystopian romances just aren't their thing.  But as for myself, I enjoy dystopian writing immensely, and despite reading many other dystopian novels I still greatly enjoyed this one.  I am still waiting for the next book to be available at the library, but I'm anxiously looking forward to finding out what happens next.  

The Next Best Thing,by Jennifer Weiner

I hate to say it, but as far as Jennifer Weiner’s books are concerned, The Next Best Thing was a colossal disappointment.  I fell in love with Weiner’s wit and refreshingly honest sense of humor.  She was brash and ballsy, and she called it like she saw it.  Her characters were charming, devilish, and likeable.  I anxiously anticipated the release of The Next Best Thing, and I had my name on the request list at the library before the book was even available.  When I finally got my copy I went ahead and started reading it, even though it meant I’d have to return some other books that I hadn’t gotten around to reading because the due date was fast approaching. 

Maybe my standards have been set to high, but this book just felt all wrong.  It seemed rushed, thrown together, and not at all like what I’d come to expect from Weiner.  Sure there were some good scenes but there were some other kind of raunchy (and in my opinion unnecessary) scenes as well.  I’m no prude, but the sex we did see in the book seemed either dirty or smutty or just plain weird. 

Usually I fall in love with Weiner’s heroines, but this time I found myself liking other supporting characters like Grandma and Big Dave better than I liked Ruthie.  And while I didn’t find the jumping back and forth in time to be hugely difficult to follow, as some other reviewers have pointed out, I found that I liked the back more than the forth.  I couldn’t seem to help but wish that the entire book would have been about Ruthie’s childhood instead of her adult life because it was more interesting and compelling. 

There were a few moments of greatness where I sensed that the Weiner I know and love was still present, but overall the book was a flop.  In hindsight I found that she had dealt with some personal letdowns within the realm of Hollywood that may have helped to taint this latest project.  I hope that if The Next Best Thing was her way of purging her own painful Hollywood experience that she has managed to expel it completely, so she can come back in her next book, stronger than ever.

I’m not ready to write Weiner off yet, no one is perfect, and I can’t expect anyone, even famous authors, to always bat 100.  I’m still going to read her next book and give her another shot at wowing me like she did in all of her previous novels then we’ll just pretend this book never happened.  J

Keeping the Moon, by Sara Dessen

Keeping the Moon was an impulse grab that I actually did quite enjoy.  I hadn’t read anything else of Dessen’s, but I had heard of her.  A few of her other books were on my “to read” list, but none of them were available that day at the library, so I grabbed Keeping the Moon instead. 

In Keeping the Moon, Dessen tells the story of Colie, a teenage misfit who is sent to live with her bizarre aunt while her mother is busy touring Europe to promote her fitness program.  Although Colie’s always thought her aunt was a little strange, over the summer they spend together she finally begins to understand where her aunt is coming from.  Along the way she begins to understand herself a little better as well, and even her own mother.  Her summer is filled with days of working in the local bar and grill where she gets a summer job.  Her nights spent with her wacky aunt and friends she makes in the small town. 

This is a classic coming of age story with twists and turns that keep it interesting.  It may not have been the best book I read this year, but I appreciated Dessen’s writing style, and the story kept me entertained.  Dessen reminded me just what it felt like to be a confused teenager who always seemed just a little confused, a little out of place, and always just a few steps behind everyone else.  This was a quick read, so it’d be great for a day at the beach or even a rainy day indoors.  And like I always say, “I love a book that can make me laugh and cry.” 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bullyville, by Francine Prose

This book was ok, not great.  In its defense I had no idea what I was picking up when I saw it.  The bold title BULLYVILLE stood out on the cover and I grabbed it impulsively and threw it in the stack of the books I’d check out of the library that day.  This happens to me on occasion, although I have nearly 700 books on my ‘to read’ list already; I’m still prone to impulse grabs.  I’m rarely disappointed by these last minute additional selections.  In fact, I’ve discovered some of my favorite authors that way, like Cecilia Ahern and Jennifer Weiner.  If I hadn’t stumbled upon their books accidentally I’d never have found them.  Unfortunately, my instincts were off on this one.  I had just read an amazing book about bullying called Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers and so the idea of a book about bullying was appealing.  Perhaps I should have known that it would be hard to live up to the predecessor. 

Bullyville is actually about a kid whose family survives the tragedy of 9/11, but not in fully in tact.  He ends up at a private school well-known for its bully problem.  The story revolves around his issues at school and home and has a rather boring ending.  That being said, I wouldn’t fault Prose’s writing style for any of Bullyville’s faults.  It was more a lack of creativity than poor sentence structure.  The plotline had such potential that it was sad to see it fall so far short of great. In the end I wouldn’t really recommend this book.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great.  

Fear (#5 Gone), by Michael Grant

As PLAGUE drew to an end with Little Pete vanishing, Astrid taking off, the semi-truce between Sam’s Lake commune and Caine’s town dictatorship, and Drake/Brittney still on the loose there is plenty of stuff going on in FEAR.  Grant continues to provide us with more of the non-stop action that we’ve seen pretty much since the FAYZ’s inception, but Grant does still manage to deliver some surprise twists that shocked me. 

I have to say that Grant has done a superb job of making sure to give me just enough hints to keep me from getting angry and giving up, while being just vague enough that I’m never sure if I’ve guessed right.  But I suppose with only one more book to go, Grant is going to dangle a few bones to make sure that we tune back in when LIGHT releases in 2013.  By far, the most thrilling part of FEAR is that Grant is finally answering the questions that have been plaguing my mind since GONE.  He’s beginning to fill in the holes of what we know, with actual facts, rather than just innuendo and suspicion. 

FEAR has been my favorite book in this series.  Finally finding out how the FAYZ began and why, what the gaiaphage is, and just what these kids are capable of has been amazing.  I am on pins and needles waiting for LIGHT to release; I may have to read something else of Grant’s in order to keep me from going crazy waiting.

Plague (#4 Gone), by Michael Grant

After the massive fallout at the end of LIES where Astrid demotes herself back to civilian by resigning her seat on the council, I wasn’t sure what to expect from PLAGUE, other than the obvious.  After Caine had successfully removed himself from Perdido Beach and set himself up on the island where electricity still exists and food is plenty I wondered if his conflict with Sam would be forgotten for the time being.  I wondered if the new characters would change any of the dynamics of Perdido Beach.  I still wasn’t prepared for what actually happened in PLAGUE. 

Grant never ceases to amaze me with his unpredictable storylines.  As the plague spreads through the town, all civility seems to break down, and an unfortunate series of events will bring some really unforeseen changes to Perdido Beach.  The lines between black and white grow even blurrier as more and more kids fall victim to the plague.  By the end of this chapter in the FAYZ there will be irrevocable changes and shifts in power that I couldn’t have begun to guess before reading it.

Garden of Angels, by Lurlene McDaniel

I have this deep (and I’ll admit…morbid) fascination for stories with tragic characters or plots, and I’m not entirely sure why.  I never really had to deal with friends dying for any reason during my childhood, so it wasn’t personal experience that intrigued me.  Nevertheless, when my fourth grade teacher read us one of McDaniel’s books, I was hooked.  There was something deeply captivating for me in the lives of these kids who weren’t sure they would live to see another birthday.  This idea of never knowing what tomorrow may bring both terrified and enthralled me.  The idea that kids could die struck some cord within me that I’d never really examined before.    

For the most part McDaniel’s writing style hasn’t changed in all these years that I’ve been reading her books, but I have to admit that there was something different about Garden of Angels.  While all of McDaniel’s books are heartrending and deeply emotional, Garden of Angels took it a step further.  Not only was it based in the past, rather than the usual more modern settings, but this was the first book by McDaniel that felt personal.  I noticed right from the beginning that this one was going to be different, but it wasn’t until the end of the book, in the author’s note to the reader, that I understood why it seemed so much more private than any of her previous books had been.  That being said, it touched me more deeply than her other books have as well.  

A Life of Joy (#4 Kauffman Amish Bakery), by Amy Clipston

Finally we get back to Jessica and Lindsey, the two teens who were transported directly from the English world into the old world Amish community when their parents were killed in the first book of this series.  I’ve really admired Clipston’s unique storylines throughout this series, but I have to admit I’ve really been wondering when we’d find out more about Lindsey and Jessica.  Aside from a few cameo appearances in the last two books, the storylines have really focused on other members of the Kauffman family. But ever since Rebecca agreed to allow Jessica to live with some English friends of her parents and Lindsey decided to stay in the Amish community, I’ve wondered if Clipston would revisit these two. 

A Life of Joy has rewarded my patience!  This book revisits Lindsey as she is nearing adulthood.  Lindsey begins feeling pressure from both sides as her older sister pushes one agenda, and her Amish friends and family push another.  When an unexpected accident occurs she feels even more strain.  She feels compelled to make a decision to either be baptized into the Amish community or to rejoin the English world that she left behind so long ago.  In this coming of age story, Lindsey learns how let go of the expectations of those around her and finally begins to realize just who she is and what path is right for her.  I am holding out hope that the next book in this installment may tell Jessica’s story, now that she’s a young woman with important decisions of her own to make.

Lies (Gone #3), by Michael Grant

Things are definitely starting to get a bit sketchy in the FAYZ as Grant’s third book in the GONE series kicks off.  The first two books focused primarily on the initial days that followed the apocalyptic event that separated all the kids of the small town of Perdido Beach from the rest of civilization.  GONE was all about who should be in charge, and how to organize the masses into some form of civilization.  HUNGER on the other hand focused less on who was in charge and more on making sure that everyone who was left survived as food and other necessities became increasingly scarce. 

In both of these books, the twin brothers Sam and Caine, spent a lot of time fighting in the typical good vs. evil scenarios so popular in these types of books.  In fact the GONE novels remind me a lot of the superhero comic books with the evil villain always trying to gain power over the poor masses while a superman like character swoops in to save the day.  The only real difference in this series is that in the end of both the first two books Sam and Caine were forced to work together in order to ensure their own survival as well as the survival of the town.

At the end of Hunger, it’s revealed that Little Pete may have been responsible for the FAYZ in some form or fashion and not only that, but he also may be more powerful than anyone else around (including Caine and Sam). 

Beginning with the secrets and lies surrounding Little Pete, and continuing as all of the players in the game begin to form alliances LIES is also the first of the series, in my opinion, that really breaks down that typical black and white mentality and starts to paint every character and situation in shades of grey.  The natural leaders and those who have been put in charge officially must attempt to decide just how much honesty is healthy in the FAYZ.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy #1)

I had this one for awhile before I picked it up.  It’s another one of those stories that I thought might not be too great since it was my impression that it was telling another fairy tale that has been retold so many times, in so many ways.  I also had been reading Game of Thrones and I was afraid it would be too similar to it and bore me.  I had heard reviews that it was great from some family members and friends, but nothing too specific.  Well, I couldn’t have agreed more after reading it that it was great.  I so wish that the rest of the series was available, it’s going to be a long wait for this one to come out in 2013 (I’m beginning to think this is the story of my life, LOL).

I picked this up thinking it would be a new twist on the classic Prince and the Pauper story which I know and love.  Well I do now know that I love The False Prince, but it really didn’t turn out to be the story I thought it would be going in.  Instead there are more twists and turns in this short page turner than I could have imagined.  Many times I thought I may have it all figured out just to read another page and feel completely uncertain again.  Nielson is great at intrigue; if she ever quits her job as a writer she may be able to get one as an international spy.  Her story was simply told, but the plot and the characters were anything but one dimensional. 

I also appreciated the way that she left some things hanging out there in the balance, things that could go either way in the next book, while making sure that you still had that feeling of a “happy ending”.  So many writers seem almost afraid to give you a “happy ending” because you might not come back for the next book. Nielson, on the other hand, lets her writing speak for itself by being unafraid of giving the reader the “happy ending” they deserve. 

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1), by George R. Martin

I will admit that I had mixed feelings about reading this one to begin with, but at the encouragement of several other book lovers like me who had read it, I decided to give it a whirl.  I wasn’t unsure about reading it because of the genre, or any negative reviews I’d heard, I was simply unsure if the book would - A) live up to the high expectations I had after watching the first season of this show, and/or B) would be diverse enough from the show to hold me captivated for 694 pages.  In previous other instances where I watched the film or television show prior to reading the book I’d always felt bogged down by the book and slightly bored even if subsequent books in the series were amazing.  It’s not that the book was going to be poorly written (for if so why would anyone have even considered turning it into a movie/show), but now exciting can it get if you already know most of the major conflicts as well as their resolution.

I wasn’t entirely wrong in my assumptions, but I’m still glad I read the book.  It took me a bit longer to read it than normal and I did take a few breaks from it to read other books that were less predictable during that time.  The reason that I’m glad I did go ahead and read it was that there were enough plot points that the televised version skimmed over or omitted altogether that had I just started with the second book in the series I would have been likely to have had some moments of definite confusion. 

So my advice is this, if you haven’t yet seen the show, read the first book in the series first.  Once you’ve read the first book, watch the entire first season.  If you’ve already watched the first season but loved it enough to not want to have to wait to find out what happens next, you’re going to want to read the book.  And lastly if you really can’t handle reading the first book after having seen the show, just skip it and hope that Martin recaps enough of the changes to keep you from becoming too lost in the books that follow.  I’m sure it won’t be too bad.

All that being said, lets get down to brass tacks.  Martin is a stupendous writer.  He uses that style where you jump from one character to another each chapter which keeps it interesting.  He tends to make you wait just long enough for new information on any particular character to keep you in suspense for much of the book, or at least I would have been had I not already known what was going to happen next to all of the characters.  Nevertheless, Martin manages to write a 700 page book that can actually keep you interested and keep you reading to the end, leaving you with just enough questions left unanswered that you are anxious to get your hands on the next book.  And lucky for you, the entire series has been written already, so you shouldn’t have too hard a time getting hold of the next book.  I’m looking forward to reading the next one myself.

Miss Peregine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Well, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children left something to be desired, I’m afraid to say.  From the outside, it seemed like the perfect little horror story to curl up with on the cold and rainy day that I chose to read it.  The macabre pictures were thoroughly old and creepy; a few actually made me even feel a bit squeamish.  It started out interesting enough, and continued on, if not quite as horrific as the illustrations would have suggested to this unsuspecting reader.  I could deal with that. 

What I didn’t appreciate at all was the way it ended.  Things were going along quite reasonably until I neared maybe the last 50-75 pages.  It was around that marker that I realized there was no way this story was going to have a cohesive ending with so few pages left.  I just couldn’t imagine it all being tied up neatly within such a short period of time. And I wasn’t wrong.

Now, I understand the theory of leaving the reader hanging a bit at the end.  It is usually a rather effective way to get them to go out and buy the next book when it is published.  It’s a strategy that can be frustrating for a really enthusiastic reader like me who falls in love with my favorite characters and can hardly stand the suspense of waiting months or even years to find out what has become of them.  But I get it.  I don’t blame the writer.  Not everyone is as loyal as I am to a good series.  Not everyone would tune in for the next installment if the current book ended neatly and left them with no questions or concerns about the future of the characters they’d been reading about.

What I don’t appreciate is when an ending feels forced—when the writing, that had so far been pretty great, suddenly seems to become stilted and boring.  I do not appreciate it when the ending doesn’t seem to match the rest of the story, and when the final choice the main character makes goes against everything you thought you’d learned about them in the first two thirds of the story.  It makes me sit back and wonder what on earth happened.  Why did this character suddenly start behaving in such an uncharacteristic fashion?  Furthermore, it leaves me wondering if I’m even going to like the next book and whether or not I even want to know what happens next, because the character has changed so abruptly that I don’t recognize them anymore and I’m not entirely sure if I like this new character much.

So that is why I’m just not entirely sure that I should recommend this book to you.  If you don’t mind a book that starts of great but has a crappy ending, then go for it.  I’m not sure I’ll read the next one myself.  When I initially finished the first book I figured I would read the next one just to be sure the previous ending was a fluke, but after further thinking I am just not sure that I want to possibly subject myself to being so disappointed again, if it turns out that Riggs just writes horrible endings.  I want to believe that this was just a horrible decision on the part of the editor who thought that series and trilogies are just more popular nowadays and so they convinced Riggs to divide one book into multiple books, but I’m not sure that I believe it the more I think on it.  I guess only time will tell if my irritation will be overcome by my curiosity.

The Selection (Book One of Selection), by Kiera Cass

I greatly enjoyed The Selection and I am slightly heartbroken that I’ll have to wait until sometime in 2013 to read the sequel The Elite!  This was just a fantastic dystopian romance.  Now I had my qualms when I read the description of this book.  I wondered if it would be the same old common girl turns princess story that has been done time and time again.  But while The Selection lacked a unique storyline, Cass certainly managed to make up for it’s humble plot by executing it flawlessly. 

Cass’s characters were so perfect.  Some of them were a bit cliché, but not in a bad way at all.  These more familiar roles were always necessary to the plot, and I never got the sense that any of them were thrown in for any reason other than that.  Cass had a lot of characters, but with each of them being so well constructed, no one was hard to remember.  Every character from the panic stricken ladies maid to the overbearing social climbing mother played a part in making this Cinderella tale come to life.  Without any of them, it might not have come out the same. 

It’s not every day that you find a writer capable of the magic that Cass has shown in this novel.  If her other novels fail to impress I’ll be astounded.  My only real fear is that she’ll sell so many copies of this novel that she’ll retire young and we won’t get to see anymore of her mastery.  

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor, by Lucy Christopher

Christopher makes Stolen feel like a memoir rather than a fictional novel because Gemma tells the story of her kidnapping through a letter written to Ty, her captor. I loved that Christopher managed to make me feel like I was inside Gemma’s mind, as she chronicled her experience from the very beginning, sometimes day by day, sometimes moment by moment.  Her unique point of view allowed me to better understand just what a kidnap victim could experience. 

Throughout her letter to Ty, Gemma is brutally honest.  She reveals that there were confusing and complicated layers of emotion going on at different points in her story.  Because I've never been kidnapped, I cannot truly know if Gemma's experience is as authentic as it seemed to be, but regardless of it’s authenticity, I was very impressed with Christopher and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.