Posts Tagged ‘book review’

I was on a book buying binge to heal some sadness this past week when I randomly stumbled upon Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau. I was a huge fan of The Testing trilogy, so it was a no brainer to bring this one home with me as well. And true to my love of Charbonneau’s writing, I devouring Time Bomb in less than four hours, pretty much straight through.

Time Bomb is very well paced. I was never bored; clearly, since I blew right through it. We follow a handful of characters–Diana, Z, Rashid, Cas, Tad, and Frankie. All of them have secrets, different reasons why they are at school that day, but they need to work together to escape school after bombs explode. Six characters is a lot, but the balance was on point. We never spent too long with any one person, but it wasn’t too short either.

I heavily appreciated the character building, particularly with Rashid. It was nice to see a strong, positive Muslim character with their feelings honestly portrayed on the page. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to have people look at you and assume you’re a terrorist just because of how you look and what you believe, but Charbonneau makes a strong and effective effort to bring the reader a little understanding. I also liked Frankie in that his ending was not a perfect bow. It’s not easy being LGBTQ, but Frankie and Tad’s undefined relationship touches briefly on these difficulties. I would have loved more there, but that’s hard with six people to follow.

Cas fell a little flat for me; I wanted to know more about how she got to the point she did–bullying seemed to just be thrown in as an afterthought, an “oopsie gotta have a reason why Cas is the way she is!” We didn’t really get a lot of the background with Cas the way we did with some of the other characters.

Here’s what I DIDN’T like. Time Bomb is good. Very well written. But it’s nothing new. And I predicted the bomber in the first twenty pages, and was absolutely correct about my entire theory. Charbonneau tried to plant red herrings; she gave everyone a backpack with suspicious unnamed items inside. But it wasn’t enough. The bomber was so darn obvious right from the beginning, though my knowledge didn’t deter me from my overall enjoyment of the plot. I’m curious if people not as well read in YA had this same issue? Hit me up!

Overall, this is a 3.5 for me. It’s a good, fast read and a strong thriller. It’s just like a lot of others of its type for me. Had I read it five years ago, I am sure I’d rate it higher. Pick it up if you need a good fast read, but don’t expect something you haven’t read before.

Advertisements

What can I say about The 11th Hour by Kristine Scarrow, other than “okay then?” Reading this book was a process for me that I can break up into four distinct emotional phases:

1) I don’t like getting dumped into the middle of the story so I lack investment in these characters.

2) Okay, I’m beginning to feel this.

3) Yes! Yes, I’m rooting for these characters!

4) What the actual heck did I just read….*texts roommate to complain*

First the good!

Once we got past the awkwardness of being dumped right into the action (I need details to learn why Annika would want to run away with such a jerk boyfriend, Dylan!!!), I actually fell in love with Annika. She’s so sweetly naive, a fairly typical seeming teenager that doesn’t realize how good her family is until she leaves them behind to run away (and get married? Start a family? Become hermits?) with Dylan. Dylan, the total abusive jerk boyfriend. Dylan, who made Annika give up everything in her life that took time away from him. Dylan who is that boy you just want to hate. Funny thing is, Scarrow crafted Dylan in such a way that I wanted to love him too. I didn’t; I hated him; but I definitely felt sorry for him. The chronology of the narrative, minus its clunky beginning, works in the way that it goes back and forth to help us understand how Annika came to love Dylan and why she would run away with him. These characters are beautifully crafted and beautifully put together within the confines of the story.

Now the “hmmmm.”

I personally don’t care for the whole “mental illness makes people do crazy things” trope. Scarrow handles this pretty well, though there are some moments where the writing comes close to crossing that fine line. Not every mentally ill person is violent, and not every violent person is mentally ill. As writers we must be careful to not lean heavily on this. Scarrow mostly tackles this well, minus the ending segment.

Which brings me to the bad.

That ending though. Don’t read this if you want something that wraps up in a bow like a fairytale!! The ending was much too abrupt for my taste, and while Scarrow was clearly going for a realistic portrayal of dating violence, it took a character I loved to a weird place (spoiler free, of course!) and then dumped me as the reader by the side of the road. I didn’t have time to process the shortness of the surprise.

So all in all, The 11th Hour is a decent read for high school aged readers. Good plot, carefully crafted violence in that it isn’t graphic for teens, and characters that are well portrayed. The chronology of the narrative is hard in the beginning, but gets better once it’s rolling. The book is a 3 out of 5 star read for me, though it would perhaps be higher if I was younger. It’ll be good to teach young teens what red flags to watch for in a relationship, because Scarrow displays every single one of them in the work. But if you’re a parent giving this to your child, be prepared to discuss the ending.

**Thanks to Dundurn and Netgalley for providing me a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I had high hopes for Chelsea Sedoti’s As You Wish. The plot concept struck me as refreshing: In the town of Madison, everyone gets one wish when they turn 18 years old; that wish can be for anything they’d like–with some restrictions, of course. The most notable restriction is that they can’t make a wish that will lead others to discover wishing. Kids are so excited for their wishes. Except Eldon. Eldon can’t decide what he wants to do. Should he wish for himself, or should he wish to help his family? Or should he be only the second person in the history of Madison to not wish at all??

Spoiler free, as always, read on safely!

My biggest problem with this book is that I absolutely hate Eldon. I read a few other reviewers, and that seems to be the most common complaint. Sedoti’s writing is excellent. I heartily appreciate her style of world building and the way that she spreads the details out through historical journal notations of previous wishes. The background is natural and never seems forced. I like the side characters. Norie is my favorite; Merrill is also a hit. But when they’re up against Eldon, it falls apart for me.

See, Eldon is a jerk. Not just a little jerk. He’s a huge jerk. He takes his frustration out physically on the people who wrong him. He’s selfish and doesn’t think of others. He clearly thinks the entire world is about him. Now, that’s fine for a protagonist normally when you see an element of growth to follow. But Eldon doesn’t grow. What small growth does appear at the end of the book is too little too late. It isn’t a developed enough change to make it worth the end result.

Eldon is a character who muks up everyone else writing wise. Merrill is a strong tongued fun loving guy, but his character continuously caves to Eldon in a way that doesn’t agree with how he’s written in the beginning of the book. And Norie seems to lose a lot of her religious gumption whenever she’s with Eldon.

I guess what I’m saying here is that Sedoti’s writing is good. Her world building is A plus. But it all lost the pay off for me when I didn’t get to see Eldon grow. I wish there had been a more extended time spent at the end of the book showing us the results of everything, giving us a reward for suffering Eldon for so many pages. Alas, it’s not there, and I am sadder for it. I am, however, interested in what Sedoti comes up with next.

2.5 out of five for me.


Corrie Wang’s novel, The Takedown, takes our current technological society and multiplies it by 1000. Take what you know about the Facebook currently works–if you post a photo, it scans the faces in that photo and suggests that you tag the person it thinks it sees in that picture based on some facial recognition algorithm that I can’t begin to claim to understand. In The Takedown’s equivalent, Connect Book, this idea goes to a new level via something called Woofer. Woofer scans the photos and videos EVERYONE posts and tags EVERYONE in them, and it’s completely legal due to the user agreement everyone signs when they create their account. Taking a selfie at the mall on the escalator? Woofer is tagging everyone on that escalator with you. Making a video of the latest and greatest subway musician? Well Woofer is tagging every person crowded on that train platform. Sounds fun, in theory, and protagonist Kyla Chang agrees. At least until a video surfaces of a teacher and a girl in a classroom having sex–and when that girl turns to the camera, it’s Kyla.

Only it isn’t. 

Someone has taken Kyla’s face and put it on someone else’s body in a perfect edit, and Kyla’s entire life explodes. Her school tries to suspend her; the organizations she belongs to disconnect from her, and no college will accept her. The video attaches to absolutely every aspect of her life, and Kyla has to figure out where the video has come from so that she can take it down before her life, and the lives of everyone attached to her, completely explodes.

I love this book for a lot of reasons. First off, Kyla. I want to hate her, but I also want to love. She’s that super popular girl in high school that all of us non-popular people want to despise. She’s written in a very two layered way–that girl we wanna hate is right there, but there’s also the girl below that that is every one of us. Kyla is just as insecure about her place in society as anyone else, just in a different way and for different reasons. It’s harder to be at the top than it looks, and Wang writes from this perspective masterfully. Audra, one of Kyla’s best friends, was, by comparison, underwritten. From a feminist perspective, she could have been played up much more. While the focus of the book is clearly Kyla, an opportunity comes with Audra (staying spoiler free!) that could be played up and written more. As women, what does in mean to be in control of our bodies? What does in mean to ask others to respect them? How does the gaze of others change us? There are a lot of questions here that, while responded to by Wang’s text, don’t go as in depth as they had the potential to.

The Takedown also makes some strides in terms of diversity. I love how broad it is in terms of race, but I more love how that’s absolutely not the focus. It’s more just how it is. Wang doesn’t make a point of saying “this person is white, this person is African American, this person is Asian.” They just are. 

The society in The Takedown is fantastic just because of how clearly it aligns with the path of our current lives. In a few years, this could be where we are. Many people still think that it doesn’t matter what you do online, that no one sees it. That’s just not true–people do see. And in the future, everyone will see, much like Kyla’s situation. This book is going to be great for teens in that, though it’s not tech currently available to us, it still promotes a message that will make people think. Think about what you say, what you do, what you post. You never know who’s watching. All in all, if you are a teen who uses the internet (every teen ever) or if you have a teen who uses the internet, pick this up. This isn’t us today, but it could be us tomorrow. 

5 stars.

I hereby declare that May was “get back into reading” month. (Just wait until you see June though!) Better late than never, here’s the short list of my fun May literature shenanigans. I feel like Goodreads is letting me down here, because I know I read more. Or, rather, I failed to keep proper track:

  1. What Light, by Jay Asher
  2. Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins
  3. The Girl in Between, by Sarah Carroll
  4. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
  5. Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck
  6. The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne

These are the lost list of reviews I will never catch up on, unfortunately, but that’s not the fault of the books! What Light was excellent, my second Asher read after, of course, Thirteen Reasons Why. I’m not huge on romance as you know, but it wasn’t terrible in this novel–plus, it revolved around Christmas trees! What’s not to love? Hawkins Into the Water was a good followup for her to the successful Girl on a Train (which I read in March). Shifting POV doesn’t normally work for me, but Hawkins handles it really well. With so many characters to go between, she had a lot to juggle, but she did it well. As an added bonus, the characters all show development over the course of the story. Win! The Girl in Between was a gift from Penguin’s First to Read Program. I liked it, at first. And then when I got to the end, I kicked myself and had rage for not seeing the way the entire puzzle had been laid out for me the ENTIRE time. I was so into the protagonist that I completely missed blantantly obvious clues–someone paying better attention to this YA read than I was may find the end to be trivial and annoying. Bennett’s The Mothers was an easy highlight of the year thus far. It is beautifully written and completely engrossing. Do not read it in public, because you WILL have feelings. Here and Gone, another First to Read book, was very nearly a DNF for me. The concept itself sounded interesting, until I downloaded it and began reading. I found the mother to be annoying and the situation to be unbelievable. Others may disagree, as always, but that’s my two cents. Aaaaaand my last First to Read book, The Marsh King’s Daughter, was much anticipated and RIGHT up my alley. I was quite excited to get it, especially after multiple problems with First to Read’s download process. The Marsh King’s Daughter is an incredibly well thought out and well written thriller that will easily win the day over the summer. I love the way time shifts back and forth between Helena’s past and present! Everything was very smooth and well handled. A great read!

That’s all for May! I promise to be better as I enter this new phase of life as a book blogger over a CNF blogger–you will see my June wrap up in the beginning of June, along with a few extra reviews in between. Genuine Fraud, anyone? Anyone??

detached

I’ll note that Detached, by Christina Kilbourne, got some pretty nice reviews on Goodreads. However, I’m going to take the rare position of disagreeing with the majority. This book should have been in my wheelhouse. I wanted to like it. The plot fit my interests in terms of what I normally like to read—Anna seems like a perfect teenager on the outside, but on the inside she is a complete mess of depression and has NO idea how to tell anyone. She’s smart; she’s talented. But the suicidal thoughts that keep coming back have turned her into a walking black hole, and she becomes certain that the only way out is to do something about it. As a added “bonus,” we get to see how Anna’s depression and suicidal tendencies hurt those around her by reading some chapters from their points of view. Sounds interesting, yes?

Here’s the problem. I did not like the people around Anna. I didn’t like the way their POVs interrupted hers. I didn’t like the way their POVs jolted the chronology of the narrative. I especially didn’t like how Anna was able to attempt suicide FOUR times and absolutely NO ONE realized that this was a serious issue. While I understand that people who really want to kill themselves are not going to broadcast it to the world, the fact that Anna attempted four times and NO ONE tried to help her really bothers me.

Anna as a character is pretty great. Her sadness is so overwhelming that it invades her every thought, and that’s something Kilbourne handles really well. Had the entire book been from her POV, I would have been much more sold. However, as it stands, it comes across as too many different pieces of suicide, a large issue with many intricate pieces, crammed into too small of a book. 3 stars.

**Detached, by Christina Kilbourne, was given to me as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Detached was published by Dundurn Press on August 13th, 2016.

cresswell.jpg

The Cresswells are a strict religious family living in a house governed by firm guidelines from the clothes they wear to what they read to the way that they’re punished. Father runs the show, pushing Castley, Hannan, Casper, Mortimer, Del, and Baby J to follow the scary universe that he himself created. In the beginning, the children follow along, accepting what is told to them and even agreeing to marry their siblings when they become adults. But the older Castley gets, the more she sees of the world, the more she begins to question her way of life.

This type of book is my favorite to read after my own religious background. I wouldn’t say that the topic is for everyone, but it is definitely fast paced and easy to get through. I read it in one day, getting on and off the subway. I enjoy real world suspense books without the fantasy, and I love anything that draws attention to the ways in which religion can be dangerous when left unchecked. 

Castley is great as a sympathetic protagonist. The way that she wavers back and worth between wanting to follow Father and wanting to explore her doubts is very strong—a cult follower is not going to simply jump out of the cult the instant someone snaps their fingers. The follower will need time to think, to disassemble the beliefs that have been engrained inside of them. Castley is a perfect portrait of that description. It was nice to see her evolution as she slowly grew out from under Father’s beliefs. It was also interesting to “watch” as she tried to balance being a regular teenager with being under Father’s wing, and the ways in which this forced her to fly on her own.

My only real problem with this is that I don’t really understand the motives behind Father’s creation of their religion. Why did he really choose to segregate them? Did he suffer a traumatic act in his childhood that made him shun the secular world? Or was he just completely insane? The book that the children read scripture from seemed largely created by Father with some aspects of the real Bible thrown in. I wanted to know more background, but the book didn’t give it to me. The ending (spoiler free) left me unsatisfied. The characters of the children were solid, but the religion itself was not carefully built.

All in all, this gets a 3.5 from me. The prose was great and I mostly enjoyed the characters, but I was left with a lot of questions with no answers. This could have easily been a much longer book.

**I received The Cresswell Plot, by Eliza Wass, as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Cresswell Plot is expected for publication June 7th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion.