Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

Grade: A+

Synopsis:

When Eddie Reeve's father commits suicide, her life is consumed by the nagging question of why? Why when he was a legendary photographer and a brilliant teacher? Why when he seemed to find inspiration in everything he say? And, most important, why when he had a daughter who loved him more than anything else in the world? When she meets Culler Evans, a former student of her father's and a photographer himself, an instant and dangerous attraction begins. Culler seems to know more about her father than she does and could possibly hold the key to the mystery surrounding his death. But Eddie's vulnerability has weakened her, and Culler Evans is getting too close. Her need for the truth keeps her hanging on...but are some questions better left unanswered?

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 7/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 61/70

Obtained: Gift from a friend. :)

Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: Yeah.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: Teenage drinking, drunkenness, and drug use.
Sexual Content: No scenes, but references and some discussion.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Suicide is a major theme.

Review:

Like Courtney Summers' Some Girls Are, this novel is powerful. Though less intense than Some Girls Are, Fall for Anything is still very moving, eye-opening, and captivating. Summers has a definite gift for evoking empathy from the reader, for getting inside the head of the grief-stricken and those who face a life of terrible burdens alone. Her writing is beautiful, real, and though there are a ton of books that touch on similar subjects--suicide, new and old romances, grief-- Summers does it with a fresh twist, a new, startling insight into this girl's mind.

This book does not exist to give the reader what they want. It is not sympathetic to the reader's desires, but instead tells only what needs to be told, however unpleasant or shocking that might be. The ending especially may be quite unsatisfying to certain readers, but I found it refreshingly realistic.

Fall for Anything is a book that will astonish, surprise, and move. It stands out among its fellows as a very worthy read.

PS - Plus ten points for the beautiful cover!

LINKS:

Some Girls Are review
Courtney Summers

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Grade: A+

Synopsis:

Louisa Cosgrove is Louisa Cosgrove--not Lucy Childs. Or, is she?

A horse-drawn carriage takes her to the wrong place: Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the insane.

This must be a great misunderstanding. They strip her naked, of everything--undo her whalebone corset hook by hook. They take her identity. But she is still seventeen--still Louisa Cosgrove--isn't she?
To untangle the mysterious, wretched present, she remembers the past.

I wished I were a boy.


Locked away in the dingy bowels of the hall, she feels a fire burn inside her. She remembers her cousin. She remembers Papa.

I want to be a doctor.

She is determined to escape--and only love will set her free.

Rating:

Character Development: 8/10
Originality: 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 10/10!
Voice: 7/10
Plot: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 61/70

Obtained: Bought second-hand.

Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: Some, perhaps, but it's Victorian-style, so...
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: References to opium and alcoholism.
Sexual Content: Limited to one scene.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Gross abuse of patients, insanity, tales of rape, familial abuse and neglect.

Review:

Though it started off kind of slow, this book became a fascinating and wild ride through the Victorian era in the eyes of a high-society rebel. I doubted how much I would like Louisa at the start of the book, as her voice seemed at first to be kind of whiny and childish, but by the end I adored her spunk and determination. There is a big twist in her character that I felt was better executed here than most books, and I was slightly surprised to find that I loved the book all the more for it!

The one thing I wished was more developed in this book was the confusion of the heroine's identity. I wished she struggled with it more, perhaps questioned her sanity more, instead of struggling so completely against what they tell her. While yes, it is a testament to her character, I felt this would have added another layer of intrigue to this already intrigue-ridden book.

Still, the setting was fascinating, her choices as a character very well-made, and the plot exciting and infuriating. It's easy to believe that this has happened, perhaps hundreds of times, to unfortunate women in the Victorian era. And then the ending--so satisfying, so perfect. Just the right mix of reaching a resolution and compromise. Definitely a surprising, beautiful read. I recommend it. 

LINKS:


Jane Eagland

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

Grade: C


Synopsis:

Ellie Taylor loves nothing better than a good argument. After all, she's been arguing with her Zeydah (grandfather in Yiddish) since she could talk. So when she gets accepted to the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp, she's sure that if she wins the final tournament, it'll be her ticket to a scholarship to the best speech school in the country. Unfortunately, the competition at CSSPA is hot--literally. His name is Devon and whether Ellie likes it or not, being near him makes her sizzle. Luckily she's headstrong and confident enough to take on the challenge--until she begins to suspect that the private scholarship's benefactor has negative feelings toward Jews. Will hiding her true identity and heritage be worth a shot at her dreams?

Ratings:

Character Development: 6/10
Originality: 8/10
Overall Enjoyment: 5/10
Ending: 6/10
Voice: 6/10
Plot: 4/10
Setting: 6/10
Total Score: 41/70

Obtained: Free ARC provided by publisher.

Age Appropriate? PG

Cursing: Limited.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: None really.
Sexual Content: None.
Disturbing Images/Violence: None.

Review:

I am unimpressed by this book. I mean, sure, identity and religious conflict, especially among young adults, is a topic generally unexplored by YA authors. But still. Once you get past the main conflict (I'm Jewish pretending to be Christian in love with this hot jerk who totally likes me!) it's pretty predictable. The stakes aren't very high, the characters are annoying, and the message is clear from basically the first page. Heck, even the synopsis makes it clear--be true to yourself and all that jazz.

Honestly, the story is kind of boring. Every conflict that arises is resolved with little to no build up. Important scenes are skipped over, while unimportant anecdotes are dragged out. The main character is annoying and self-centered, and the whole speech-debate-oratory element just added unnecessary cheese and fluff. Sometimes the speeches they gave were okay, but most of the time it seemed like they were either unbearably cheesy or you were just supposed to assume they were awesome because the author didn't want to actually write them.

Overall, an unremarkable book. Maybe better for a younger audience (middle school age, perhaps) or students that particularly struggle with religion and identity. But really, then it might just make you mad because of all the obviously stupid decisions Ellie makes. Even the romance made me kind of queasy, because Devon is just the perfect mix of "perfect" and total waste of time, yet Ellie falls so perfectly and completely in love with him and it's just ick!

I guess it's kind of a cute, original story, but OyMG just did not sit well with me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Grade: High A

Synopsis:

In Deuce's world, an enclave deep underground, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed "brat" has trained to join one of three groups--Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember.

As a Huntress, her purpose is clear--to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading the ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She's worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing's going to stop her, not even a brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce's troubles are just beginning.

Fade doesn't like following orders. Deuce has never known a boy like him before, someone as likely to touch her gently as use his knives with feral grace.

As Deuce's perception shifts, so does the balance in the battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat due to their sheer numbers, now show signs of cunning and even strategy...but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. No matter how hard she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carried her far from the only world she's ever known.

Ratings:

Character Development: 8/10
Originality: 8/10
Overall Enjoyment: 7/10
Ending: 6/10
Voice: 3/10
Plot: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 51/70

Obtained: Free finished copy provided by publisher (Feiwell and Friends)

Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: None?
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: None.
Sexual Content: Blatant references to rape and forced breeding.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Murder, rape, graphic violence, lots of gore and blood, apocalypse, child abuse, child neglect, starvation, poverty, etc...

Review:

A fascinating novel for sure, though I would recommend it more to fans of Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth than The Hunger Games as the cover claims. But hey, if you love post-apocalyptic novels of any sort, give it a try. I very much enjoyed Enclave and came to love the characters, even if Deuce could be a bit dense. She was tough, though, and it paid off.

The plot drives this novel for sure. Full of intense, unpredictable twists, it's quite an exciting read. My only complaint is that the narration, the voice, lacks something. Maybe the stakes weren't high enough, or Deuce just never had enough personality. But whatever it is, the voice is often dull and two-dimensional, and because of this any change of events can take the reader by surprise and one can end up quite befuddled. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly it is that is so off-kilter about the writing, but especially at the beginning, it was a slight turn-off. It improves as the story progresses, however, and the book was certainly worth the read!

It has all the elements of a good story--the array of characters, the badass heroine, the dangerous landscape, the unpredictable future, and that little touch of romance that I hope will blossom into something I want to read about--and I hope the second installment picks up with the momentum the story ended with. Honestly, the end was a bit abrupt for me, but the knowledge that a sequel is in the making is reassuring, though the story does not necessarily need it to be fairly satisfying.

LINKS:


Ann Aguirre


NOTE: Outland, sequel to Enclave in the Razorland Series, projected to be released in Fall 2012.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Flawless by Lara Chapman

Grade: B-


Synopsis:

Sarah Burke is just about perfect. She's got killer blue eyes, gorgeous blond hair, and impeccable grades. There's just one tiny--alright, enormous--flaw. Her nose. But even comparisons to a beak don't bother her much. Sarah's got the best best friend and big goals for print journalism fame.

But on the first day of senior year, Rock Conway walks into her journalism class and, well, rocks her world. Problem is, her best friend Kristen falls for him too. And when Rock and Kristen stand together it's like Barbie and Ken come to life. So when Kristen begs Sarah to help her nab Rock, Sarah does the only thing a best friend can do. She agrees. For someone so smart, what was she thinking?

Ratings:

Character Development: 6/10
Originality: 8/10
Ending: 8/10
Voice: 7/10
Plot: 6/10
Setting: 4/10
Total Score: 39/70

Obtained: Free ARC provided by publisher.

Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: Maybe a little.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: References to and scenes of teen drinking.
Sexual Content: Vague references only.
Disturbing Images/Violence: None.

Review:

Though charming, there was something a bit off about this book. I appreciated the very well reinforced message about beauty and self-image, and I probably even like the main character. Or would, if I understood anything about her. I feel like her character is developed solely through her relationship with other characters. For instance, I know a lot about her relationship with her mother, with her best friend, and with Rock (the boy), but when I think about it, I can't come up with an image of her, an understanding of her character, a feeling that I know her. Maybe I'm just being picky, but it's kind of unsettling, not being able to form any sort of opinion about the narrator and hero I spent 240 pages listening to.

Flawless is a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac. I love the tale and have never encountered another retelling, so I was excited to see how this was done. It was done well, I guess. But I felt that instead of strengthening or expanding on the story, the Cyrano connection just made it predictable. Despite being based on one of the most famous love stories of all time and being a high-school book, Flawless was incredibly un-dramatic. I mean, stuff happens--important stuff, plot-altering stuff, serious stuff--but it's either dealt with in twenty pages or just accepted (however grudgingly) by the narrator and the story moves on. This continues until the resolution, which is equally anticlimactic, when all the problems just kind of...end.

What irked me by far the most, though, was the weird lack of description. Sure, there was the frequent "She was beautiful, with her long blond hair and blue eyes" or "his muscles stretched taut under his shirt", but honestly, there were no distinguishing features between any of the girls or any of the guys of this story. Also, it was set in "Houston". I am well acquainted with Houston, and half the time the setting I was imagining could have easily been in Oregon or North Carolina or basically anywhere but Houston. Despite references to Houston locations, there was no mention of the terrible humidity or the density of the city or the sounds of traffic. It could have been suburbia, which, if you know Houston, is a ridiculous statement.

However, in spite of my criticisms, the book was fairly enjoyable and satisfying. Though two-dimensional, it did have a good message I thought was conveyed pretty well. Give it a try if it sounds good, but don't expect a life-altering piece of work.

LINKS:


Lara Chapman