Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: ‘Starcrossed’ by Josephine Angelini

“Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it's getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she's haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they're destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

“As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.”

Starcrossed brings together two of my greatest loves, young adult fiction and Greek mythology.  The world that Angelini creates is unique and fascinating.  I love the idea of demigods in modern times.  Having the characters in positions where they have to break from their fated courses provides incredible drama and intrigue.  And there is plenty of action to keep the plot moving.

The characters are also wonderful!  Helen is beautiful, but incredibly awkward, which makes her endearing.  Oh, and then there is Lucas.  *swoon*  He is completely hot!  But it isn’t just his looks—let’s face it, every male lead in YA novels is the most gorgeous boy ever—Lucas is strong and smart and thoughtful.  The sexual tension between him and Helen practically ignites the pages.  Even when Helen wanted to kill him and later when they found out they couldn’t be together, you just know there has to be a way to make it happen. 

The supporting characters are great too.  Helen’s best friend, Claire, is feisty and smart.  Lucas’s family sort of reminded me of the Cullen’s from Twilight in that there were a bunch of teenagers (three boys and two girls) living together.  But I think there is enough personality in Ariadne, Jason, Hector and Cassandra to differentiate them from the Cullen comparisons. 

I adored this book and can't wait for the next in the series, Dreamless, to release in May 2012.

Overall, I give Starcrossed

Plot – 5 bookmarks
Character Development – 5 bookmarks
Love Story – 5 bookmarks
World Building – 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I picture while reading) – Dakota Johnson (Helen), Beau Mirchoff (Lucas), Lucas Till (Jason), Elizabeth Olson (Ariadne), Alexander Ludwig (Hector), Jodelle Ferland (Cassandra) 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: 'Thirteen Reasons Why' by Jay Asher

"Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker--his classmate and crush--who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list."

It hard to really know all of the reasons why a person commits suicide. It typically isn't just one thing that can be easily summed up, but layers of experiences, insults and mistakes that make life unbearable. Hannah attempts to explain her reasons for taking her own life through a series of recordings, which are then to be passed to each of the thirteen people who played a part in her decision. Clay is confused by the tapes, because he can't imagine what he might have done to Hannah to make her want to kill herself. He even thinks about not listening to them several times. I can understand that, but I think curiosity would make them hard to resist. What I don't understand is why each person continued passing the tapes on. The threat about a second set out there didn't seem to be enough motivation to continue, especially for those in the beginning who's slights against Hannah weren't that big of a deal.

I liked Clay. I thought he was a good guy. I wanted to know more about him. Hannah, on the other hand, came across as whiny and overly dramatic. Oooh...some boy claimed to have felt you up in a park and now your reputation is ruined forever. Blah, blah, blah. What teenage girl hasn't had lies spread about her for one reason or another? Oh, no! She was placed on a list as "The Best Ass in Freshman Class." (I might have been secretly proud to hold that title as a teenager.) So, I found the first few reasons for her suicide ridiculous, and the last couple to be extremely implausible, almost like the author was trying too hard. That being said, suicide isn't a rational choice. In Hannah's mind, these thirteen reasons took on a life of their own, distorting her reality. Maybe we aren't meant to understand Hannah.

One of the criticisms of this book is that the constant switching between Clay and Hannah's voices was distracting and made it hard to read for some. I actually listened to this on the audio version, so the voice changes actually added to the story rather than detracted from it. My suggestion would be to read the free sample chapter on Amazon. If the voice changes bother you, consider the audio book .
Overall, I give Thirteen Reasons Why...

Plot - 4 bookmarks
Character development - 4 bookmarks
Moral lesson - 5 bookmarks (Suicide is never an answer. I think this comes across in the book.)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Sarah Hyland (Hannah), Aaron Johnson (Clay), Liam Hemsworth (Bryce), Miley Cyrus (Jessica)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: ‘The Hate List’ by Jennifer Brown

“Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

“Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.
(Amazon product description)

Bullying is getting a lot of press lately, but it has been going on since the time of Cain and Able.  There is a universal quality to this book which I think most people can relate too.  (I admit, I had a hate list of my own in junior high.)  One of the great successes of this book is the way Jennifer Brown handled this emotional and sensitive material.  She doesn’t pretend to understand what was going on in Nick’s head when he decided to shoot up the school.  Instead, she gives us brief glimpses of some of the harassment Nick and Valerie were subjected to by other students.  She could have easily beat this point, but rather than focusing on the causes of the tragedy, she explores the effects of it. 

Valerie as a character is realistic and heartbreaking.  She had nothing to do with the shooting, but the shadow of guilt surrounds her.  Even her friends and family have turned their back on her.  The only person who seems to view Valerie as an innocent victim in all of this is her former enemy, Jessica, whom she saved from being shot by putting herself in the line of fire.  One of the hardest parts for me was reading about how her own father treated her.  I wanted to reach through the page and choke him.  But this book isn’t just a feel-sorry-for-Valerie story,  Val made mistakes too, which she freely admits.  All of the signs of Nick’s plan were there, and she didn’t see them. 

I especially liked how Brown handled Valerie’s conflicted feelings for Nick.  The Nick that she knew and loved was a smart, funny guy who treated her like a queen.  The Nick who shot up the Commons at school was a complete stranger to her.  Valerie struggles with the grief of losing her first love when the rest of the world thinks he was nothing but a monster. 

Overall, I give The Hate List

Plot – 4 ½ bookmarks
Character Development – 5 bookmarks
Moral Lessons – 4 ½ bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Ashley Rickards (Valerie), Jake T. Austin (Nick), Bridgit Mendler (Jessica)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: 'Imaginary Girls' by Nova Ren Suma

"Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

"But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood."

(Amazon product description)

I wanted to love this book, but just ended up sort of liking it. The writing was beautiful and appropriately eerie. Suma definately has writing talent. My biggest problem were the characters. Chloe's obsession with her sister Ruby is beyond annoying. Pages and pages throughout the novel are devoted to her hero-like worship, which makes no sense because Ruby is extremely unlikeable. She is manipulative, cold-hreated, careless and a complete user. Sometimes Chloe is able to see this, but then she keeps right on following Ruby like a puppy. Makes you want to reach through the pages and smack her.

The plot started out interesting, promising a great mystery and hidden secrets, but the ending never really lived up to it's potential. Many questions were left unanswered. How does Ruby control the people of the town? How can she send out wishes on balloons and get people to answer them? Does she truly love her sister, or does she just want her as a minion? None of this ever really resolved. In the end, Chloe continued on with her crazy devotion to her sister.

The author also began to build up this possible love story between Chloe and Owen, who seemed to be the only person not under Ruby's thrall. Unfortunately, Owen turned out to be just another loser and the that sub-plot fell flat.

Overall, I give Imaginary Girls...

Plot - 2 bookmarks
Character Development - 2 1/2 bookmarks (started out good, but fell flat)

Paranormal Elements - 3 1/2 bookmarks

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Kristen Stewart (Ruby), a younger Kristen Stewart (Chloe), Garrett Hedlund (Pete), Alex Pettyfer (Owen), Imogen Poots (London), Chris Hemsworth (Jonah)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: 'Anna and the French Kiss' by Stephanie Perkins

"Anna is not happy about spending senior year at a Paris boarding school, away from her Atlanta home, best friend Bridgette, and crush Toph. Adapting isn’t easy, but she soon finds friends and starts enjoying French life, especially its many cinemas; she is an aspiring film critic. Complications arise, though, when she develops feelings for cute—and taken—classmate Etienne, even though she remains interested in Toph. Her return home for the holidays brings both surprises, betrayals, unexpected support, and a new perspective on what matters in life—and love. Featuring vivid descriptions of Parisian culture and places, and a cast of diverse, multifaceted characters, including adults, this lively title incorporates plenty of issues that will resonate with teens, from mean girls to the quest for confidence and the complexities of relationships in all their forms. Despite its length and predictable crossed-signal plot twists, Perkins’ debut, narrated in Anna’s likable, introspective voice, is an absorbing and enjoyable read that highlights how home can refer to someone, not just somewhere."  (Shelle Rosenfeld, Booklist)

A good book is one that makes you fall in love right alongside the characters. If this is true, then Anna and the French Kiss is a masterpiece! Seriously, my heart fluttered and I was giddy for days after reading this book. In my opinion, this makes it the perfect summer read!

I could assume by the title that Anna was going to end up with Etienne in the end, but the story turned out not to feel predictable at all. I think much of this was due to the interesting characters. Anna was funny and smart. She had to deal with a lot of disappointments throughout the story, but managed to do so without coming across as whiney or brooding. She had plenty of interests outside of school and her crush. Etienne was deeply flawed and made mistakes, but he also could be sweet and considerate...not to mention sexy as hell! The supporting cast of characters also felt real and not stereotypical. 
The relationship between Anna and Etienne felt natural and yet was fraught with sexual tension. Several times they seemed like they were on the cusp of falling in love, only to have it disintegrate at the last minute. Rather than this being annoying, it was written in such a way as to suck the reader in further. The weekend of Thanksgiving and the communications over Christmas break had me on the edge of my seat! Brilliant love story!
The setting also plays a strong role in the story. Paris, the City of Lights, is commonly referred to as the most romantic city in the world. But Anna at first sees it as this strange foreign place where she doesn't speak the language, doesn't have any friends and is scared to venture outside of her boarding school's gates. I think anyone who has ever traveled to a foreign country can identify with these feelings. It takes courage to even sit down in a restaurant and order. We see Paris through Anna's American eyes and it makes me feel like I was experiencing it there right along with her. I have not personally been to Paris, but I feel like I know it much better now that I have been there with Anna. 
Overall, I give Anna and the French Kiss...
Plot - 5 bookmarks
Character Development - 5 bookmarks
Love Story - A million bookmarks! (It's my system, I can break the rules if I want!)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Emma Stone (Anna), Charlie McDonell (Etienne – If you do not know who he is, check him out on YouTube), Demi Lavato (Bridget), Skye McCole Bartusiak (Meredith), Alex Pettifer (Toph)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: ‘The Plot Against America’ by Phillip Roth

In The Plot Against America, author Philip Roth explores the “what if” possibility of what would have happened if Nazi sympathizer, Charles Lindbergh, would have won the 1940 Presidential election over Franklin Roosevelt. Not only would the US not have joined World War II on the side of the Britain, France and Russia, but white supremacist ideas would have gained a measure of legitimacy. Told from the point of view of his fictional eight-year-old self, Roth explores the effects of Washington politics and anti-Semitism on a middle class Jewish family living in Newark. 
Writing an alternative history of the World War II time period is a really cool idea. Roth does a great job of incorporating facts into his fiction, so that as unbelievable as the plot is, it seems almost possible. Frightening, really. My problem with the book is that the pacing was incredibly slow, drawing out every detail and thought of this little boy’s life until the readers feels like they’ve been beat with a stick. Then, the cool plot-twist ending was written so poorly, the impact was completely underwhelming. After the twist, Roth tacked on several more chapters of nothing before cutting the end off abruptly. Basically, Roth had a great idea, but completely over-wrote and lost control of it. This might be a case where a movie version would be better than the book.
Overall, I give The Plot Against America
Plot – 2 bookmarks (could have been higher if pacing was faster and the twist was handled better)
Character development – 4 bookmarks
Moral lessons – 3 ½ bookmarks (makes you think)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Mason Cook (Phillip), Jesse Eisenburg (Cousin Alvin), Jennifer Grey (Phillip's aunt), Adrien Brody (Phillip's dad), Leonardo DiCaprio (President Lindenbergh)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: 'Clockwork Angel' by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1)

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

“Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

“Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.
(Amazon product description)

As a fan of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, I was excited to finally check out the first book in her Infernal Devices series.  It takes place in the same world, but a century or so earlier.  There are some lovely appearances by some familiar characters, as well as background information on things like where the Clave’s cool technical gadgets originated. 

The characters echo those in the Mortal Instruments, but that echo is faint enough that they feel original and fresh.  Tessa is no Cleary.  Will is no Jace.  Jem is no Simon.  Yet, they play similar roles.  For people who become forlorn at the thought of having to wait months for the next Mortal Instruments book to come out, the Infernal Devices can help keep you entertained. 

That’s not to say that this book cannot stand on its own.  I asked a friend of mine for her impressions since she read Clockwork Angel, but has not read the Mortal Instruments.  She loved this book and did not feel confused by the world at all.  I think many readers who are drawn to this book based on the steampunk elements, will cross over to read the other series as well.  Brilliant move on the Clare’s part. 

Speaking of steampunk…I worried that this book would feel too different from the Mortal Instruments world that I’m used to.  Clare could have easily taken it too far.  But I have to say, I was impressed by how well she incorporated the clockwork technology into the world of the London Institute.  Many of the modern day devices like demon Sensors and such were created in the basement laboratory over a century earlier.  It tied the technology of both time periods together in a way that flowed.

All in all, I loved this book and can’t wait for Clockwork Prince to release in December!

Overall, I give Clockwork Angel…

Plot – 4 ½ bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks
Love Story – 4 bookmarks (for now, but I see the potential for this to get really steamy!)
Steampunk Elements – 5 bookmarks
World Building – 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Kay Panabaker (Tessa), Connor Paolo (Will), Oliver from Season Nine Project Runway (Jem)