Posts Tagged ‘book review’


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.

truth

The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston is one of those books that exceeded my expectations. At face value, it looks like a pretty cut and dry young adult mystery. We have Chris, the protagonist, who wakes up tied to a chair in a room he doesn’t ever remember being in before, and we have Derek–the older brother of the boy Chris shot and killed. Derek is seeking to prove that his little brother didn’t deserve to die. Sounds pretty formulaic, right? It’s not.

Johnston sets apart his brand of mystery with staggeringly powerful themes, most notably those of what it means to be a family and what the truth really is and how far it can bend. I found Chris’s devotion to his family to be sweet and believable. I was incredibly invested in Chris, and I kept flipping through pages wondering if he would be okay. The continual question on my mind while reading? IS HE GOING TO LOSE A FINGER?!? (You’ll have to read it to find out!) The interactions between Chris and Derek kept the plot moving forward despite the back and forth nature between the past and present day. I never felt lost in the story, which was a definite added bonus!

The ending felt a little rushed for me; I definitely saw it coming before I hit the halfway point. However, I believe that a younger audience would be surprised by the twist–and the writing in this book is most definitely geared towards a younger crowd. I’d put this book in middle grade over young adult. If you are looking for strong adult prose, this is not the book for you. However, it’s definitely worth a read and will speak well to its given audience. 4 stars.

**I received The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston as an ARC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. The Truth is expected for publication on February 2nd, 2016, by Sourcebooks Fire.

storm

I was quite excited to receive The Storm by Virginia Bergin as a DRC. I read its predecessor, H2O, the week that it was released last year, and I quite enjoyed it. This book picks up about three months or so after H20, finding Ruby alone in her house with the deadly rain still falling. As the story progresses, Ruby finds out a both devastating and amazing secret—the key to saving the world. Trouble is, she has to keep her mouth shut.

My beef right out of the gate with this book (not to say that I didn’t like it, because I did) is that is has been over a year since I read H2O, and I didn’t completely remember where it left off. There was absolutely no recap; the story simply took off at a several months later point in the timeline. I’m not calling for a chapters upon chapters recap here, simply a page or two to fall back on. But I digress. I really did like The Storm, though not as much as I enjoyed H2O.

Ruby is as strong a narrator in The Storm as its predecessor, albeit a touch more on the whiny side. I enjoyed getting to spend a substantially larger amount of time inside of her head. Ruby seems to be much more self aware as well. I’ve noticed many reviewers saying that they liked Ruby more in The Storm than in H2O, but I disagree. She seemed a lot more comfortable with the goings on within her world, and a lot more able to handle herself, even though she was definitely a lot crazier than in the previous book. Ruby’s humor is another part of her that is spot on; I enjoyed reading all her “swears” and her nods to things she had read.

The plot of this was a lot more predictable than H2O. It was largely focused on running to and from different places and people, with near continual travel. Point A to Point B to Point A to Point C to Point A….we spent a LOT of time going back to Point A (the army base). Thus this has a bit of a repetitive ring to it. There is not as much unique conflict in this book as there was in the first, and what we do get to see seems quite rushed.

All in all, if you like deep point of view dystopian fantasy worlds, then this is probably a great book for you. But, in my opinion, this is a duology that may have been better off as one longer book.

3 stars, largely for the strength of Ruby’s character. Ruby made it worth the read for me.

I received The Storm, by Virginia Bergin, as a DRC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. The Storm was publish October 1st, 2015, by Sourcebooks Fire.

santa

So. Santa; by Nicola Mar. What can I say about this book?

For starters, the semicolon in the title is totally intentional; it’s a nod to Project Semicolon, which is a nonprofit organization that seeks to give hope and love to people who struggle with depression, self-injury, and suicide. Read more about them here: http://www.projectsemicolon.org

I guess that paragraph pretty much sums up what this book is about.

June survives a horrible attack at the hands of her classmates, and then becomes the victim of severe bullying. Her classmates needle her to the point of her considering suicide. June completely loses faith in the human spirit, which is when Santa appears—her guardian angel of sorts. Santa brings June a message of hope, but is June willing to listen?

I liked this book so much that I read it in less than a day while riding back and forth on NYC transit for work. I’m not sure why it hasn’t gotten more notice. It’s wonderfully written and arguably one of the most powerful messages I’ve seen delivered in a YA book to date. June and her story are incredibly relatable. I love the deep point of view moments, which make up a large portion of the book, and how much they allow us to really feel June’s emotions and pain. I love the backstory behind June’s family (though, as you’ll read later, I don’t care for the end). I love June, plain and simple, and because I loved her, I rooted for her. She is a fantastically created character. I also really enjoyed Alice, who I also found to be quite realistic. She continually tried to support June, and eventually became frustrated like any teen would and began to drift away slightly. The characters were all very well done.

The story in this is also well crafted. The message is so powerful, that the victims of bullying do nothing to deserve it, that this could be given to every teen as a required read. It made me cry many times in the first two thirds, it was that well done.

But. BUT.

Here’s my beef with this book. My only beef, but it’s a huge one, and the reason for the lower rating on what easily could have been a five star. The last third of this book turns into a literal cheese fest. A big, fat, festival of cheese. I’m staying spoiler free as always, but the end in particular was like the cushy part in the middle of the cheese ball. Things wrapped up much too quickly, much too perfectly, and much too … I’ll say it again … cheesily. For a book that was so true to the detrimental effects of bullying, this last third was just really, really hard to swallow. Everything else was so realistic, and then … BAM. I get that the book is faith-based, and I’m cool with that. But even still, life does not work up perfectly this way, with every single detail perfectly stitched up like a scripted television show. People do not just get OVER trauma. Eventually, yes. Immediately? No. This really took away from the rest of the book for me, and had I not been so invested due to the WONDERFUL first two thirds of the book, it’s entirely possible I would have put it down.

I admire Mar’s effort with this one, but it starts out strongly and fizzles out with a layer of cheese that even this former Wisconsinite can’t appreciate. 3 stars.

**I received Santa; by Nicola Mar as a DRC from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. Santa; was published September 15th, 2015, by FoxDay.