Posts Tagged ‘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.

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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.

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.

kalahari

I read Jessica Khoury’s Kalahari pretty much in one sitting. It is fast paced and continuously moving, with twists and turns that will draw in the reader and keep them there until they finish the book. Kalahari tells the story of Sarah, a teenage girl who grew up with her scientists parents at research camps across Africa. After the death of Sarah’s mother, their current research project is struggling. Sarah’s father arranges to have a group of American (and one Canadian) teens travel to visit the camp, see how they live, and experience the Kalahari. In exchange, the camp will receive funding to continue their research. However, when Sarah’s father disappears after investigating a group of poachers, it is up to Sarah to both find him and take care of the teenagers left behind at their camp.

The research that went into this novel is far above average. It is obvious that Khoury put a great deal of effort into building the environment of the Kalahari properly, and that pays off by making this a very realistic read. The plot moves very quickly, making the book hard to put down even though there are parts that are mildly frustrating. The level of detail describing the desert and the animals within it really makes the environment come to life.

I love the character of Sarah. I found her grit and determination to be on par or above many other YA heroines of late. It is always nice to read a strong female protagonist. The voicing of the six different teenagers was very on point, separating the group into distinctive characters that I really wanted to root for. We have the “outcast” kid, the weird kid, the poor kid, the smart kid, and the rich kids. All of them have enough layers that they really work as characters, helping to advance the plot and pull in the reader. In short, the characters, as in all of Khoury’s work, were so well constructed that they made me care about them and sit and read until I knew how things would end.

However, the romance in this didn’t work for me. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t include specifics. But I found Sarah’s romance with Sam to be incredibly contrived and hard to swallow. I wanted to root for the pairing, but it just came across as too formulaic for my taste. Boy reads about girl. Boy travels all the way across the world to meet girl. Boy automatically likes her as much as he liked book. And they all live happily ever after, the end. So many YA books focus on the love aspect in order to advance the plot, which it seems like Khoury did here. However, she didn’t need to. The character of Sarah was strong enough to tell the story without being in what reads as a forced relationship. Sarah could have moved through the adventure and solved her problems without the romantic relationship as a catalyst. Her love for her family and the strength of her character would have been enough.

All in all, this book was a 3 for me. While the story was interesting, the characters were excellent, and the environment was fantastic, the Sarah/Sam pairing just didn’t work for me and really detracted from the story.

**I received Kalahari, by Jessica Khoury, as an ARC from firsttoread.com. I was not paid to write this review. Kalahari is expected for publication on February 24th, 2015, by Razorbill.

dove arising

Dove Arising, by Karen Bao, is a typical dystopian novel that tells the story of Phaet Theta and her struggle to save her family. The setting is an elaborate location on the Moon; six separate bases exist to house the Lunar people and protect them from what they refer to as “earth-dwellers.” Phaet goes from working in a greenhouse to training for the Militia—the Lunar equivalent of an army—in order to save her siblings from being sent to Shelter after their mother is arrested.

The world building in this novel is terrific. We got to know a lot about the land on the moon, and Phaet’s base in particular. I enjoyed learning about the Militia system and the way the different levels operate. Bao created very different sects within society, from the people in Shelter (the base’s poorest living quarters) to those at the highest ranks of Militia. People on the base have to pay for everything, from rent to food to sheer stuff, but the level of control that their government has in their everyday living makes it difficult for most people to survive beyond a minimal stage of living. Bao made it easy to hate the government she created, easily displaying strong themes of race, gender, and social inequality parallel to that of real life—but with just enough differences to make them intriguing. This is a huge part of what makes a great dystopian.

My problem with this novel was that I struggled with the characters. I really wanted to like Phaet, because she comes across as a unique dystopian protagonist at the outset of the novel. But she was hard to grow attached to. For a large portion of the story, she doesn’t talk to anybody or respond when they talk to her. I found this aspect of her personality difficult to swallow. I understand the message of “the government is always listening,” but there are other ways to communicate and respond to others, such as the language Phaet created with her best friend, Umbriel. There are even gestures—hand waves, head bobs. Phaet’s reasons for a lack of response are never totally sold to us. So then, when she suddenly is responding and talking, it’s difficult to buy because we don’t understand completely why she wasn’t in the first place. Thanks to Bao’s skill at deep point of view, we are so inside of Phaet’s head that it seems this understanding should come easily. I also really struggled with Phaet’s time in the Militia. She began doing as little as she had to to get by, but then suddenly she was skyrocketing to the top. It seemed like a convenience to advance the plot rather than a merit that the character actually earned. These things combined to make connecting to Phaet difficult.

The timeline in Dove Arising is interesting. Phaet jumps from situation to situation with little time in between, making the read anything but smooth. The movements between scenes are, at times, quite abrupt. Several scenes, without giving spoilers, seem inserted to simply get to the next scene—particularly in the final half of the book.

However, I have to say that I love that, once again, a YA author has been brave enough to let a love triangle sit in the background over taking center stage. That subtle tension may have been my favorite part of this book.

While the ending of this story definitely paves the way for a sequel, it felt incredibly rushed. Bao took her time with the rest of the story, and the pace of the ending didn’t seem to fit.

All in all, this one is 2.5 for me. I almost DNF-ed it around the halfway point. The ideas are there, and they’re good. But the book was slow and hard for me to get into. I’m not sure I would go for the sequel.

**I received Dove Arising, by Karen Bao, as an ARC from Penguins First to Read program. I was not paid to write this review. Dove Arising is expected for publication on February 24th, 2015, by Viking Juvenile.

zodiac

Rhoma Grace is a sixteen year old with a gift; as the protagonist of Romina Russell’s Zodiac, Rhoma can make predictions from the stars without the traditional use of helping instruments. Her natural skill warns her that a danger is approaching, a threat to the entire zodiac. But no one believes her because their instruments do not see the threat. It is up to Rhoma, or “Rho,” to unite and protect the entire zodiac.

I wasn’t sure, upon reading the blurb, that I would like this book. As it turns out, I did. I found myself incredibly interested in the world that Russell had constructed. Her use of the different houses of the zodiac built on everyday knowledge of said houses and used it to create an intricately woven world. The large amount of detail put into the different worlds kept me interesting right up until the conclusion of the book. I’ve read a great deal of YA dystopian/fantasy, and I feel like Russell’s work really pulls ahead in many ways. I found the plot to be original, with many surprises throughout. I found myself caring about the characters; their construction was solid—particularly the characters of Rho and Mathias. There was a love triangle in this, but it didn’t seemed forced. The two men in question did not take Rho away from her main goal of uniting the zodiac. Plus, with several unique plot devices that I won’t get into lest I drift to the realm of spoilers, the love triangle has the capability to become incredibly interesting and unique. The dialogue in the this came off as incredibly natural, something that I’ve always been big on.

Things I didn’t love. I wanted more. This book reads like a 400 plus page novel crammed into 300 pages. There were so many details that were skipped over or told to us rather than shown to us. I also didn’t care for the villain. It seemed like he had so many opportunities to take Rho down, but his reasons for not doing so were not firmly supported. There was a lot of chase, and a lot of missed opportunity on the part of said villain. And while this allowed a welcome opportunity to get to know the other characters, more back story to the villain would have been great.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this. I look forward to the next installment. 3.5 stars.

**I received an ARC copy of Zodiac through firsttoread.com. I was not paid to write this review. Zodiac was published December 9th, 2014 by Razorbill.