Sunday, October 30, 2011

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

ISBN: 978-0-3857-3693-0

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Source: Library

Summary: Amy Goodnight's family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the familly business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face.

All I want to do right now is go to Texas.
There was a time in my life during which I barely recognized Texas as a state. During my high school years I was a self-declared Northeastern elitist snob. I couldn't see why anyone would want to live in a place other than the Northeast (perhaps the attitude had something to do with it...?) Thankfully by mid-college, I dropped that attitude. After graduation I went on a cross-country road trip in which I spent two or three days (they started to blend together) in Texas. Now I want to go back. This is partially due to my obsessive Friday Night Lights watching. The other source is definitely Rosemary Clement-Moore's Texas Gothic.
I read Clement-Moore's The Splendor Falls a little over a year ago and it stuck with me for some reason. When I came across the title of her next book, I was immediately intrigued. I think it's the word "gothic." But seriously, I just love the title. The cover definitely didn't hurt matters. I ordered it from the library, it ended up residing on my dresser, and it took me about two months to finally read it. This is due to my problem with going to both of my jobs and constantly bringing home new books for the to-read pile(s). I have a problem, I've accepted it, and I'm trying to work on it (sort of).
I wasn't disappointed. Texas Gothic tells the story of Amaryllis "Amy" Goodnight, a girl whose self-imposed job is to keep her family's supernatural talents and activities under the radar. Amy doesn't want to do magic, she just wants to be normal. This proves to be an impossibility when a ghost begins to haunt her with creepy warnings and people in the town turn to her for a solution. With her quirky sister Phin, the formerly cranky but dreamy cowboy Ben McCulloch, and a university anthropological team, Amy is able to solve the mystery of the ghost at her aunt's ranch.
I loved the setting in this book. Sometimes the tendency to go a little stir-crazy in suburbia causes the need to lose myself in a city or country setting. A ranch in the heart of Texas definitely did the job for this one. I loved the characters just as much. Amy and Phin Goodnight were brilliant siblings. Their separate magical gifts were just as distinct as their personalities, Amy's personal skills and common sense balancing out Phin's strictly scientific reasoning. Ben McCulloch was the perfect grouchy cowboy with a touch of Southern gentleman mixed in. I didn't know how much I wanted to read about a grumpy cowboy until I was introduced to Ben in this book. His and Amy's chemistry was undeniable from their first encounter. They were a well-executed example of hatred breeds passion. From meeting Amy in her underwear to rescuing her from a giant hole full of bat guano, Ben McCulloch proved to be a formidable male lead opposite Amy.
My only complaint about this story was the pacing. I felt like there was a whole lot of build-up that rushed the conflict at the end of the story. Sometimes some of the build-up also became a little repetitive. Overall, Texas Gothic a great ghost story starring a perfectly relatable witch, an adorably grouchy cowboy, and some ghosts, of course.

Rating: 4 - this book was good

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2087-0

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers

Source: Borrowed

Summary: Luis Fuentes has always been sheltered from the gang violence that nearly destroyed his brothers’ lives. But that didn’t stop him from taking risks — whether he’s scaling a mountain in the Rockies or dreaming of a future as an astronaut, Luis can’t stop looking for the next thrill. Nikki Cruz lives her life by three rules — boys lie to get their way, don’t trust a boy who says “I love you,” and never date a boy from the south side of Fairfield. Her parents may be from Mexico, but as a doctor’s daughter, she has more in common with her north-side neighbors than the Latino Blood at her school. Then she meets Luis at Alex’s wedding, and suddenly, she’s tempted to break all her rules. Getting Nikki to take a chance on a south sider is Luis’s biggest challenge, until he finds himself targeted by Chuy Soto, the new head of the Latino Blood. When Chuy reveals a disturbing secret about Luis’s family, the youngest Fuentes finds himself questioning everything he’s ever believed to be true. Will his feelings for Nikki be enough to stop Luis from entering a dark and violent world and permanently living on the edge? 

Why I read this book: see my discussion on my determination to finish a series until the end.
Chain Reaction tells the story of the youngest Fuentes brother, Luis. Luis is the smartest of the Fuentes brothers and aspires to be an astronaut. The female lead in this novel is Nikki Cruz, a Mexican-American girl that identifies more with the middle-class white collar America than her Mexican heritage, which is basically unknown to her. She was emotionally damaged by her last relationship (with Luis's old best friend Marco) and claims to have no desire to become involved with a "player" like Luis Fuentes. Of course, that changes because Luis is hot, they have chemistry, blah blah blah, and they end up married just like the previous two Fuentes couples. I suppose I should have said spoiler alert, but seriously, you all knew where this book was going.
The book opens two years before the couples' story took place. The source of Nikki's emotional dysfunction is revealed: she found out she was pregnant, her boyfriend dumped her to be in the Latino Blood, and she lost the baby in a bad miscarriage. Around this time she met Luis at his brother's wedding and immediately decided she didn't like him. I liked that this book introduced another time period (the epilogues don't count to me) into the story. It was a good wawy to show the reasoning behind Nikki's characterization rather than just have her narrate it. Unfortunately, Nikki's characterization does not hold up throughout the course of the novel.
Two years later, Luis moves back to Fairfield and ends up in Mrs. Peterson's chemistry class with Nikki. They build sexual tension, hook up, and end up in a lasting committed relationship. The book follows a similar relationship formula to the last two books, in which hatred breeds a high school relationship that leads to marriage and children.
Elkeles once again created a quick, entertaining teen romance, but I wasn't thrilled with the characterization of both Nikki and Luis. Nikki was supposed to be the cold hard bitch whose past pain was at the source of her protective bitterness. She didn't really hold up to this though; it seemed like she said it a lot and then changed almost as soon as Luis was in the picture. The change in her personality and relationships just didn't seem justified. For someone who spoke of herself as being so guarded, I didn't feel like she would just trust Luis on a whim.
Luis was the smartest (and probably most sheltered) Fuentes. When faced with a family secret that causes him an identity crisis, Luis turns to the Latino Blood. I thought there should have been more emotional turmoil as a result of this secret. The story shows a hint of the kind of upset the secret should cause, but doesn't seem to follow through.
A decent conclusion to a decent series. Elkeles adeptly created a distinct story and personality for the youngest Fuentes that fit in well with the related books. Her inclusion of the other two couples was a welcome addition to the story. The relationships between the members of the Fuentes family is definitely the strongest part of this series.

Rating: 3 - fair. kept me reading quickly.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

ISBN: 978-0-3075-9279-8

Publisher: Knopf

Source: Library

Summary: From the widely praised author of The Yokota Officers Club and The Flamenco Academy, a novel as hilarious as it is heartbreaking about a single mom and her seventeen-year-old daughter learning how to let go in that precarious moment before college empties the nest. 

In The Gap Year, told with perfect pitch from both points of view, we meet Cam Lightsey, lactation consultant extraordinaire, a divorcĂ©e still secretly carrying a torch for the ex who dumped her, a suburban misfit who’s given up her rebel dreams so her only child can get a good education.

We also learn the secrets of Aubrey Lightsey, tired of being the dutiful, grade-grubbing band geek, ready to explode from wanting her “real” life to begin, trying to figure out love with boys weaned on Internet porn.

When Aubrey meets Tyler Moldenhauer, football idol–sex god with a dangerous past, the fuse is lit. Late-bloomer Aubrey metastasizes into Cam’s worst silent, sullen teen nightmare, a girl with zero interest in college. Worse, on the sly Aubrey’s in touch with her father, who left when she was two to join a celebrity-ridden nutball cult.

As the novel unfolds—with humor, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and penetrating insights about love in the twenty-first century—the dreams of daughter, mother, and father chart an inevitable, but perhaps not fatal, collision . . .

The Gap Year was another find on the new young adult shelf in my local library. I think I read the description and became intrigued, though when I started reading the book I couldn't remember for the life of me what it was supposed to be about. Upon re-reading the description, I didn't recall anything except that there was a mother and daughter involved. The points of view are split between this mother and her daughter. Being as one of the most common threads in young adult literature is the lack of parental guidance and influence, I was surprised and intrigued by a book where the mother plays such a prominent narrative role.
The Gap Year alternates between Cam Lightsey in the present year (2010, in this case) and  her daughter Aubrey, who explains the the events in 2009 that led up to Cam's present. Cam is trying her best to see her daughter's future through to the first day of college, where everything will snap into place and Aubrey will get away from the influence of football player Tyler. Cam spends part of her narration blaming herself for Aubrey's current state of distance, mostly due to events like making fun of a marching band hat. Back in the 2009 chapters, Aubrey explains how she began talking to her estranged cult membership toting father and became involved with Tyler in the first place.
The story was very well written, Bird pulling off the distinctive voices of mother and daughter with great success. Cam is a mother who is clearly very invested in her daughter's life and distraught that she is no longer privy to watching Aubrey become her own person. Her narration demonstrated how lost she was without her daughter, especially since as a single mother she put Aubrey before herself for so long. Aubrey's voice was that of a teenager very jaded with her current situation, ready to begin her own life rather than live the one that everyone thinks she wants.
While this story had its moments of humor, on the whole I actually found it a little depressing. There was a bit too much real life for me; I generally prefer my depressing books to come in the form of paranormal or issue-based fiction. The loneliness of Cam's character was very well-written and subtle, but just too real-life depressing for me (this whole dislike of real life depression thing is also the reason I wasn't a fan of Blue Valentine).
Despite the rather depressing nature of the earlier parts of the book, I found the end to be very positive, with the everyone's roles in everyone else's life shifting according to the changes in Aubrey's future.
All and all, I thought this would actually work better as an adult book than a young adult book. It just didn't have the same vibe young adult books have. However, it was very well-written and had vibrant, memorable characters.

Rating: 3 - fair. (didn't really keep me reading quickly)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

ISBN: 978-0-8027-2085-6

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers

Source: Library

Summary: Carlos Fuentes idolized his older brother, Alex, when he was a member of the Latino Blood. So when Alex chose to get jumped out of the gang for a chance at a future with his gringa girlfriend, Brittany, Carlos felt shocked and betrayed. Even worse, Alex forced Carlos to come back from Mexico to join him on the straight and narrow path. Trouble is, Carlos just wants to keep living on the edge. And ties to his Mexican gang aren't easy to break, even hundreds of miles away in Colorado.
In Boulder, Carlos has to live with one of Alex's college professors--and he feels completely out of place. He's even more thrown by his strong feelings for the professor's daughter, Kiara, who is nothing like the girls he's usually drawn to. But Carlos and Kiara soon discover that in matters of the heart, the rules of attraction overpower the social differences that conspire to keep them apart.

Sometimes I have this problem where I have to finish a series once I start reading (see: the fact that at the moment I am rereading books one through twelve in the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket in order to read number thirteen, which is the only one I haven't read even though it came out roughly five years ago). I read Perfect Chemistry and decided that Rules of Attraction would be next.
One aspect I enjoy about these books is that they are loosely connected, meaning that you don't have to remember any details about the first one in order to read the second. Not that I put any length of time in between. I just like the concept I think.
Elkeles's second book in the Perfect Chemistry series turns to Alex's brother, Carlos. He was bounced from Fairfield to Mexico and then up to Colorado. Unlike his older brother Alex, Carlos aspired to be in a gang. He meets Kiara (his polar opposite, as per the Perfect Chemistry formula) through his new school. Kiara is annoyed by his attitude, Carlost is annoyed by how neurotic and non-girly she is, and the two begin pulling pranks on one another. Carlos ends up living at her house, providing them the opportunity to let their respective guards down and fall in love with one another.
Rules of Attraction was definitely different than Perfect Chemistry. I think it took me slightly longer to read (though the difference is probably due more to the fact that I was watching Doctor Who while I was reading). Once again, the two main characters alternated chapters using their own unique voices. I give Elkeles credit for the fact that each of her characters sound legitimately different. I thought that I was going to have a problem with Carlos's cockiness, but instead I was slightly turned off by the fact that he hated Alex not being in a gang. I found that he sounded very young to me, even though Alex had been the same age in the previous book. Kiara's character was fine--I thought she was going to be very beige, but she was pretty interesting (minus the hiking thing, but that's probably due to my lack of interest in moving around amongst nature). Kiara's father and brother were both great characters who brought out the better sides of Carlos. I actually found the changes inspired by Kiara's father and younger brother to make more of an impression on me than the changes inspired by Kiara.
One character I didn't find very endearing was the character of Tuck, Kiara's best friend. I felt that the slight racism inherent in Tuck's remarks towards Carlos to be kind of annoying.
The reappearance of Brittany and Alex was cool. They were legitimate characters with separate problems, only this time they were secondary instead of primary. I thought that they were going to make mere cameo appearances in which they explained that their lives were fantastic, blah blah blah. Their continuing problems made their relationship seem more legitimate. Brittany shifted into the older sister that was never wanted for Carlos, creating more feelings of hostility in him. He already believed that Brittany took the badassery out of his older brother and didn't think she needed to become involved in his life. The sibling relationships between the characters are what made this one interesting for me.
Once again, the epilogue that demonstrates that history repeats itself pretty much to a T seemed quite unnecessary. Nevertheless, Rules of Attraction was a quick, light teen romance that lived up to the potential promised by the first book in the series.

Rating: 3 - fair.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

ISBN: 978-0-8027-9822-0

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers

Source: my sister's collection of books

Summary: At Fairfield High School, on the outskirts of Chicago, everyone knows that south siders and north siders aren't  exactly compatible elements. So when head cheerleader Brittany Ellis and gang member Alex Fuentes are forced to be lab partners in chemistry class, the results are bound to be explosive. But neither teen is prepared for the most surprising chemical reaction of all--love. Can they break through the stereotypes and misconceptions that threaten to keep them apart?

Simone Elkeles is a celebrated writer amongst a lot of teenage girls, so I decided to give Perfect Chemistry a go. I needed something on the lighter side to read (and regardless of the gang activity in this book, it's essentially a light West Side Story flavored love story filled with teen angst and a sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases) and I chose this one due to the fact that it was readily accessible.
Told from the alternating points of view of  main characters Brittany Ellis and Alex Fuentes, Perfect Chemistry is the story of how two people who are complete opposites on the outside find that they have "perfect chemistry" on the inside. Hahaha. I'm sorry, I'm done vomiting on myself now for that horrific title pun, we can move on to the review now. Brittany is known for being blonde and perfect to the outside world, but deals with a lot of family problems, namely her need to be perfect in order to ease the tensions between her anxiety-ridden mother and sister with special needs. She is assigned to be the chemistry partner of Alejandro "Alex" Fuentes, the "gangbanger" (why always the term "gangbanger"? Why not "gang member"?) who is an old softie--he's all intimidating on the outside, but has a huge soft spot for his family members and later Brittany. It is revealed that he is only in a gang to protect his family, not through his own choosing.
I support the strong-hatred-inspires-true-attraction storyline. Perfect Chemistry did a pretty good job with this storyline; it kept me reading quickly. The supporting characters were great additions to the story, not merely plot devices to push the story along. Isa and Paco were great friends to both Alex and Brittany. I enjoyed reading about Alex's family life and the way that the Fuentes family cared for one another. Brittany's family issues between her mother and her handicapped sister seemed very believable, giving credit to Brittany's desire to appear perfect in every way. I liked that Alex recognized the importance of Brittany's relationship with her sister and made himself a part of her sister's life through checkers games.
Every once and awhile, the story became a little too mushy for my tastes (i.e., if Alex compared Brittany to a glowing sunflower one more time, I don't know if I could have kept reading. I'm kidding, mostly.) Also, the epilogue seemed entirely unnecessary. I would have been just fine leaving the story at the place where Alex and Brittany reunited rather than getting a sneak peek into the future of their child, where history is evidently going to repeat itself. Other than that, Perfect Chemistry was a decent teen romance and a definite quick read.

Rating: 3 - fair.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven Wedel

ISBN: 978-1-59990-681-2

Publisher: Bloomsbury Kids

Source: ARC from a friend

Summary: Aimee has good grades, great friends, and a hot boyfriend. But she also has secrets. Like the violent dreams that are almost prophetic. Or the real reason behind her Mom's death.
Alan is new in town. Rugged, sexy, with a hint of Southern charm, he and Aimee connect immediately. Bye-bye boyfriend. But Alan has his own secrets. His Native American heritage givers him mystical, unlikely abilities. Not the kind of thing you show off in the cafeteria.
But it's not Aimee or Alan who is in trouble. It's Courtney--Alan's cousin, and Aimee's best friend. She's consumed by a strange demon. Alan says there are four stages: Invitation. Then Infestation. Obsession, and finally, Possession. Aimee and Alan must figure out what to do, and quickly. Because once the demon takes full possession, there's no saving Courtney--or anyone else...

Demon possession! That's what has been missing from the whole paranormal romance shebang. At least,  in my experience. There could be a wealth of young adult demon possession books and I just don't know about them. But seriously, if I see one more book about cuddly vampires or werewolves with caring hearts, I may vomit. When I heard that a paranormal book penned by two authors was about demon possession, I decided to check it out.
The characters in After Obsession were pretty awesome. Alan, the part Navajo outsider, was a great character. He listened to metal, played football, and had a great interest in Native American spirituality and tradition. His character seemed new and interesting to me, despite comparisons I've seen made between him and Jacob Black from the Twilight series. Aimee was a strong redhead with a passion for her family, both her living relatives and her dead mother. I enjoyed each of their voices and personalities.  Their voices narrating Jones's and Wedel's classic take on demon possession was great. It was a supernatural element that I don't believe I've ever read about in a book. I was very interested to see where the story would go.
Unfortunately, the story did not go as far as I would have hoped. I found that the romance part of this paranormal romance was lackluster. The relationship between Aimee and Alan seemed forced to me, what with the "I Love You" exchange after about a thousand forehead kisses (seriously, I felt like they happened every two or so pages, it was getting a little ridiculous for my taste) and one real kiss. I think I might have enjoyed the story more if Aimee and Alan had just been friends that were teaming up to destroy the River Man rather than a couple. The romance seemed like a stretch.
I would have also liked to see more about the paranormal aspects of the book. I feel like Aimee's healing power had no explanation. It just was, without a question as to where it came from. People (i.e., Courtney and Alan) just accepted it without freaking out or any disbelief. I would have liked an explanation for the supernatural occurrences in the town. The River Man, the source of all the evil in the town was based there just to be based there. He needed a backstory. Why was he there? What did he want from the town? From Courtney? How could Aimee and Alan be sure that he was gone? These are the questions.

Rating: 2 - the book didn't thrill me

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

ISBN: 978-0061-7012-45

Publisher: HarperTeen

Source: Library

Summary: 2 girls + 3 guys +1 house - parents = 10 things April and her friends did that they (definitely, maybe, probably) shouldn't have done.
IIf given the opportunity, what sixteen-year-old wouldn't jump at the chance to move in with a friend and live parent-free? Although maybe "opportunity" isn't the right word, since April had to tell her dad a tiny little untruth to make it happen (see #1: "Lied to Our Parents"). But she and her housemate Vi are totally responsible and able to take care of themselves. How they ended up "Skipping School" (#3), "Throwing a Crazy Party" (#8), "Buying a Hot Tub" (#4), and, um, "Harboring a Fugitive" (#7) at all is kind of a mystery to them.
In this hilarious and bittersweet tale, Sarah Mlynowski mines the heart and mind of a girl on her own for the first time. To get through the year, April will have to juggle a love triangle, learn to do her own laundry, and accept that her carefully constructed world just might be falling apart . . . one thing-she-shouldn't-have-done at a time.

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) was one of those books I found while perusing the New in Young Adult bookshelf at the library. I hadn't read a contemporary non-issue-based young adult book in awhile. This one had a good concept, so I decided to give it a go.
In this book, Mlynowski tells the story of April, a girl that ends up living with her friend Vi while trying to deal with the emotional damage from her parents' divorce, a slightly tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend Noah, and the addition of new friends in her life. April was a likable protagonist--I find that in some contemporary YA books the characters can be too focused on their relationship problems. April gave equal weight to all of her issues--including her feelings of abandonment, the idea of losing her virginity, and attempting to save her cat--all while keeping up a good sense of humor and reality.
I found her issues with her boyfriend Noah to be incredibly real, for lack of a better term. He wasn't the devil incarnate, he was just a scared teenage boy. Most of the characters surrounding April were well thought out and necessary to the story, rather than being afterthought additions.
Marissa was the only character that I felt lacked depth. She was supposed to be April's best friend, but I felt that I could have seen more of their friendship. I felt like I was being told about their friendship rather than shown evidence, whereas all of the other relationships spoke for themselves.
I also found that the "ten things" aspect fell by the wayside just a little bit. I barely noticed the "things" being the labels on each chapter, which probably says more about me than the book. However, I wish I had noticed them more.
Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) is a great contemporary YA read. Mlynowski created an awesome story about a girl just trying to find her independence amongst her friends while living away from her family.

Rating: 4 - the book was good.