Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Summary: Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.
But Lucky has a secret--one that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos--the prison his grandfather couldn't escape--where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?
Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King's smart, funny and boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you and taking a stand against it.
I read Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King simply because I liked her first novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs. I wasn't 100% thrilled with that novel, but overall I came down on the side of liking it (mostly). The cover got me immediately--the color scheme sticks to the simple, striking combination of black, white, and red. So really, it may have been the fact that I liked the cover that really pushed me to read this one. Originally, I wasn't so sure that I was going to be into this book. For some reason I have a mental block on all things Vietnam War-related (exempting Across the Universe, because that movie features Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, and the music of the Beatles), so I was slightly hesitant when I saw that part of the book would be taking place during a dream version of the War. Plus, magical realism isn't always my thing. I've read two other magical realism works, neither of which was a young adult book. Still, I was curious about how a young adult author would handle magical realism.
Lucky Linderman, the protagonist of the novel, is under the impression that he has a crap life. I wouldn't really want to be in his shoes, considering his family problems, his lack of self-confidence, and the attentions of a sociopathic bully named Nader. Usually Lucky deals with this by escaping in his dreams, in which he is attempting to rescue his grandfather who went MIA during the Vietnam War. But are they really dreams? Lucky always wakes up holding an item from the dream. However, that's not the most important thing. In his dreams, Lucky is able to feel confident in his abilities and his manhood. When Nader does some visible damage, shoving Lucky on the ground for helping out Charlotte Dent and earning Lucky one busted face, Lucky's mother finally takes some action and removes Lucky from the situation for a little while. She takes him to visit her brother, Dave, and his slightly crazy wife. While the trip at first seems like a terrible idea, Lucky quickly connects with his uncle through weight lifting and even meets an older girl to whom he feels a connection. The trip rebuilds him in a way, until he finally lets go of attempting to rescue his grandfather in his dream world.
The voice A.S. King gave Lucky Linderman was brilliant. He was so easy to read, and I immediately wanted things to get better for him. This wasn't your run-of-the-mill story about bullying. Lucky was fairly detached from the times he was bullied, especially one particularly nasty incident. The way he goes about explaining the pain he is going through is far more removed than would be expected. He simply explains what happens and claims that he isn't suicidal over and over. He doesn't often linger on his feelings, instead choosing to move on to a variety of topics.
A.S. King did a good job of demonstrating how important a good familial foundation is for a child that is being bullied. What was almost more damaging than Nader's horrific actions was the inaction of Lucky's parents. His father, never able to get over the fact that his father went missing in action before he could meet him, constantly chose his job and a cooking obsession over interacting with his family. His mother wasn't too much better, burying herself in swimming endless laps to cope with her failing family. His mother does ultimately see that everything is certainly not okay and removes Lucky from the situation. King doesn't make these parents another enemy, just people that made mistakes. It seems that each of the Lindermans is lost in the life they were given.
The thing that I liked most about this book (aside from Lucky's voice, which probably goes on the list of top young adult narrators for me) was the fact that Lucky didn't meet his uncle Dave and Ginny the pretty redhead and automatically become okay with his life. Dave actually becomes an even bigger disappointment than his dad ever was. Rather than have the new people become crutches for Lucky, King has the people in the story help Lucky understand that the world isn't black and white. This understanding, along with the weightlifting and talking to Ginny, gives Lucky enough confidence to stand on once he returns back to his life.
The magical realism aspects did not bother me at all. While I'm not saying I totally understand the whole thing with the ants, Lucky's quest to rescue his grandfather was a good demonstration of Lucky's frustration with his unsatisfactory family and school life. The ants were just amusing some of the time, other times they just seemed like very extreme versions of Lucky's thoughts.
A. S. King's Everybody Sees the Ants is magical realism done right. Lucky Linderman is a thoroughly engaging protagonist that easily brings readers through the real and the magically real. Highly recommended.
Rating: 4.5 - really good.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Summary: The only thing Jean Honeychurch hates more than her boring name (not Jean Marie, or Jeanette, just . . . Jean) is her all-too-appropriate nickname, Jinx. Misfortune seems to follow her everywhere she goes—which is why she's thrilled to be moving in with her aunt and uncle in New York City. Maybe when she's halfway across the country, Jinx can finally outrun her bad luck. Or at least escape the havoc she's caused back in her small hometown.
But trouble has definitely followed Jinx to New York. And it's causing big problems for her cousin Tory, who is not happy to have the family black sheep around. Beautiful, glamorous Tory is hiding a dangerous secret—one that she's sure Jinx is going to reveal.
Jinx is beginning to realize it isn't just bad luck she's been running from. It's something far more sinister . . . and the curse Jinx has lived under since the day she was born might just be the only thing that can save her life.
Monday, November 28, 2011
I loved the connection Vaught forged between music and Del's problems When Del was fourteen (pre-sexual predator status) he hated music and claimed it interrupted his thinking. During his stint in juvie and the following years, music became a safe haven, something in which to hide from the rest of the world. With such a crappy situation, who could blame Del for hiding? Once he realized he wanted to become an active participant in his life again, he halts listening to music. He chooses to no longer hide behind playlists and deal with people head on. (Side note: I also love that Vaught used song titles in chapter titles up until this point). Del's connection and reliance on music made him all the more relatable.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Series or Stand Alone: Book 1 in the Shades of London series
Summary: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888.
Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police now believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.
Maureen Johnson is quite the skilled writer. With both Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star, I wasn't sure how I felt about the books at the time I was reading them. However, once I hit the end of each novel, I realized I had been sucked into the story without realizing it. I wanted to read the next one in each series right away. Unfortunately for me, the second Shades of London book doesn't come out for quite some time. Probably like a year. As goes my entire reading life.
The Name of the Star was another missed galley for me at Book Expo. I’ve only recently started reading Maureen Johnson’s books (this past summer I read Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope) and I liked what I saw, so I decided that I wanted to read all of the books she has written (you know that problem I have with wanting to finish all the books in a series? Sometimes I have a similar problem in wanting to read an author's entire bibliography). I was especially intrigued by the newest addition to Johnson’s works, considering it involves London, a bit of history, some ghosts, and a mysterious mass murderer.
Stop right there: I know, I know. Series. They're grating on everyone's nerves. Luckily, Johnson wrote something akin to an Agatha Christie mystery with a bit more of a pull to read the next one. The main conflict in this book is actually wrapped up within the first book (WOAH) but she pulls something at the end that made me immediately want to read the next one that of course, is not out yet. However, it's nice that I won't have to remember every detail about the first Rory Deveaux conflict when it eventually does come out. Nice one, MJ.
Rory is also adequately freaked out by both her ability and its explanation. She doesn’t cry and run away pathetically, but she also doesn’t calmly accept it. She is understandably uncomfortable with this new development in her life and shows it. I dislike when protagonists are like, “Oh, gotcha. That’s why that’s happening? Oh obviously, let me just go hone this power and be on my way.” Rory’s reaction was realistic in someone facing what she previously did not consider to be a possibility, and I commend Johnson’s ability in providing an adequate response and explanation for paranormal activity.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Summary: Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.
When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.
I picked up Lola and the Boy Next Door because of just how good Stephanie Perkins's debut novel, Anna and the French Kiss, was. Not to mention that I found it on the library's new bookshelves and found it entirely unfortunate that it was checked in despite being brand new for only a week. It was that I'm-grateful-that-it's-here-but-what-kind-of-town-do-I-live-in-where-this-is-actually-in thing that Lorelai from Gilmore Girls describes in regards to the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I started Lola as soon as I was finished reading Anna, though I hesitated a bit. My first thought was that after Lola, there wasn't going to be another Stephanie Perkins novel for me to read until Isla and the Happily Ever After comes out next December. My second thought was what if Lola isn't as good as Anna? I didn't want to wreck my brand new love for Stephanie Perkins with a lackluster second novel. I somehow managed to shove this disgusting display of overthinking aside and just read the damn thing.
GOOD NEWS: Lola and the Boy Next Door is just as good as Anna and the French Kiss. All of the overthinking was for nothing. Lola and the Boy Next Door tells the tale of Lola Nolan and Cricket Bell, the boy next door that she grew up with. They courted one another a few years prior, but through a misunderstanding caused by his sister, Calliope, and the Bell family’s tendency to move, they were never able to explore a real relationship. Lola, who considered her life pre-Bell family return to be perfect, with her angry rock star boyfriend and plans to create an outlandish Marie Antoinette-inspired gown for the prom, resents this rocking of the proverbial boat. Cricket is no longer the quiet, always-adjustable brother in his sister’s shadow; instead he is attending college a year early and knows what he wants: Lola. He is never pushy about this, just painstakingly honest about his feelings. His feelings cause Lola to question everything and make some much needed changes in her life—changes to her relationship with her boyfriend, changes to her relationship with Cricket, even changes to her relationships with her two fathers and her birth mother.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Summary: It’s winter break in Ascension, Maine. The snow is falling and everything looks pristine and peaceful. But all is not as it seems...
Em is thrilled that the guy she’s been into for months is finally noticing her. But if she starts things with him, there’s no turning back. Because his girlfriend is Em’s best friend. And on the other side of town, Chase’s social life is unraveling and the stress of his home life is starting to take its toll. But that’s nothing compared to what’s really haunting him. Chase has done something cruel....And it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed.
In Ascension, mistakes can be deadly. There are three girls—three beautiful, mysterious girls—to choose who will pay. Em and Chase have been chosen.
Since the recent boom in young adult paranormal literature started, I've been waiting for a young adult author to tackle the concept of Furies. Mythological beings devoted to delivering brutal justice to wrongdoers? That concept is always going to be relevant, due to the fact that wrongdoers are always going to be around. I was happy to see the cover of this book for the sheer fact that it was something different on the paranormal side of things. You won't find lovesick vampires, werewolves, or fairies in Miles's book. You also won't be finding any everlasting love for these furies (thankfully, that would have been a true bastardization of the myth). Instead, all you'll find is cold, hard vengeance.
Fury follows two main characters: Emily (known often as "Em") and Chase. These two run in the same social circle, but have little to do with one another at the beginning of the story. Em's dirty little secret is that she's in love with her best friend's boyfriend--and doesn't seem to be overly concerned about how it will affect this best friend. In fact, she seems to think that she and this boyfriend are truly in love, making it okay enough to sneak around behind Gabby's back. Chase's primary secret is his obsession with keeping up appearances. Living in a trailer doesn't fit into his perfect popular world, so he does everything he can in order to keep up a good front. Worse than that, he takes out his past humiliation on a former friend, pushing her over the edge and gaining the attentions of the Furies. When these Furies strike, they are not merciful in the slightest. These Furies believe apologetically in the concept, "An eye for an eye."
The number one thing that stuck with me about this book was the fact that Miles didn't pull back or sugar coat the situations at all. Furies are known for being merciless and harsh, and that's exactly what they were. There was no sappy love story in which a Fury tamed her vindictive sadism in order to be in some desperate relationship with a mortal (I'll repeat my "thankfully" again). So many paranormal books rely on making a supernatural being fall in love with another supernatural being or a human. It gets really repetitive. This one stood on its own, using supernatural beings to affect a sleepy Maine town's inhabitants without making one of the Furies a slave to passion. Their behavior results in horrific consequences, especially in Chase's experience. Not only was Miles able to stand out from the usual paranormal books with a new concept to re-imagine, but she was as ruthless as the Furies to her characters. There wasn't a perfectly wrapped-up ending to see in this one. This is going to be a trilogy, so I suppose I'll have to wait to see what the true ending is, but for now the reader is left with a feeling of unease for the characters in the story--at least the ones that are left.
Originally my issue with this book was the main characters. I did not find either of them particularly likable at all. Characterization is incredibly important to me, so due to my lack of care for both Em and Chase, I had a bit of a problem getting involved in this story at first. Em especially did not endear herself to me at all, as she was so willing to betray her best friend in favor of some guy that clearly was not actually in love with her. She seemed sort of desperate and annoying. Her behavior towards JD was almost as bad. She took advantage of his feelings for her all the time, but was too self-focused to realize what she was doing was wrong. Chase was not much better. His obsession with being popular and the elusive just came off as pathetic to me. I had trouble sympathizing with either of them, making it difficult for me to be interested in their fates. The other mortal characters are not much better. Gabby comes off as naive and superficial, whereas her boyfriend is an entitled jerk who is far too used to getting what he wants. I only liked one character (this being Drea) and she was a secondary character that only had one or two actual scenes in the scope of the novel in order to explain the idea of Furies to Em. This completely annoyed me at first. I thought I was just going to toss this one aside and not think about it until the next book in the series came out (because of course, this is a trilogy, one that JUST STARTED, which also did not endear me to the book).
I was wrong. I continued to think about it, far more than I ever thought I would. It takes a good writer to keep me involved in the story even when I dislike the characters. Elizabeth Miles pulled this off. This is what I realized: the thing about these characters? They're incredibly real. Teenagers (and everyone else, but since we're specifically speaking about young adult fiction, teenagers it is) tend to screw up a lot. They're not always likable. They're selfish and can be cruel to others, only able to see things from their point of view. Chase and Em are the embodiment of the negative characteristics of teenagers, which would probably explain why I had such difficulty sympathizing with them. However, after their behavior earns them the attentions of the Furies, they become more deserving of a bit of sympathy. They go through serious pressure, humiliation, and pain as a result of the Furies.
If you're looking for a young adult Greek myth re-imagining that can hold its own against the usual tide paranormal romance books, look for Elizabeth Miles's Fury. I'll definitely be reading numbers two and three in the trilogy, whenever they make themselves known.
Rating: 4 - good.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I suppose there are a few reasons I read this book. I used to be a fan of Kieran Scott's books written under the pen name Kate Brian (Private series, Privilege series), at least until she decided to throw one of the characters on an abandoned island and then introduce magic a few books later (I stand by it, you can't just introduce magic in a series TWELVE BOOKS IN). Regardless, I'm still of the impression that Scott/Brian can pen a good story. I'm still reading the Private books, despite my issues with them, am I not? (also see: my issues with not completing series)
Another reason I ended up reading this one is that it is the start of a trilogy. I know. That actually sounds like a reason to NOT read it at this point. My best friend and I went on a rant the other day about how it drives us crazy that you can no longer tell what's going to be a trilogy or not. The books aren't marked and sound like stand alone titles. Plus, I inevitably pick up the first one as soon as it comes out or even before it hits stores (see: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, my experience reading Catching Fire), meaning I have to wait years between the first and third books if the author works at a reasonable pace. By the time I read the second, I have no idea what happened in the first. And you can forget about the third. I already have plans to reread the entire Mortal Instruments series before the sixth one comes out in the distant future. I'm going to cut off this rant here. Anyway, I picked up He's So Not Worth It from the new shelf at the library. When my sister saw the book loot that threatens to take over my room each month, she was like, "Uh, I think that's part of a series. Also, I'm pretty sure it's the second one." At this point, I still just assumed there were two of them. I got She's So Dead to Us from the library. After I started it the other night, I did a little interwebs searching and found that it was in fact a trilogy--one that wouldn't be complete until May of 2012. Ack. At that point, I was already committed to reading this book. I decided just to deal. I'm better at picking up the past storylines in realistic fiction anyway.
Congratulations if you read that chunk of nonsense and actually stuck around for the review, I commend your efforts. She's So Dead to Us tells the story of Ally Ryan and Jake Graydon, two people from opposite sides of town brought together by a house--Ally's old one and Jake's current. Ally's attempting to reintegrate herself into the life she left behind eighteen months ago due to the unfortunate financial handlings of her now missing father, with little success to show for it. Jake is firmly involved with Ally's old friends, the ones who are keeping the pitchforks sharp and torches lit against Ally. At first too cowardly to stand up for her, Jake hangs back and lets his best friends screw with her life. However, Ally doesn't just hang back. One of the things I liked best about this story was Ally's character. She was, at a basic level, dealing with the same situation Marissa Cooper did in the way beginning of The O.C., except she actually dealt with it instead of drowning her sorrow in tears and alcohol. She was a strong girl who wasn't afraid to face her former friends head on, both for herself and her mother's sake. She also isn't afraid to admit that she does miss the friends who are tormenting her, which I thought made her very believable. Eventually, inspired by Ally's fierceness and recognition that his friends are being world-class jerks, Jake mans up and begins to date Ally publicly (spoiler alert. whatever, it's going to be obvious. in a good way.)
I also liked Jake's character, though I wish he had more separate characterization. I felt as if the only reason we knew things about him was because we saw him through Ally's eyes or he talked about her. I did enjoy that he wasn't perfect or incredibly mysterious. Listen, don't get me wrong, mysterious brooding bad boys are all good for certain stories, but reading about them all the time can get boring. Jake was a straight up high school guy. Not a saint. Not a demon. He made mistakes and let his best friend Shannen intimidate him sometimes. He eventually broke the rules, becoming a "Crestie" (rich person) that was dating a "Norm" (lowly heathens, AKA those without endless means). Every once in awhile there is nothing better than reading about a character that you could easily know in real life.
The commentary on high school hierarchy and cliques was incredibly well perceived in Scott's work. So often people act the way they do in high school in order to meet the expectations of their friends in possession of slightly stronger personalities. Only about two of Ally's former friends had an agenda against her, the rest were simply going with the flow in order to not get in their way (this was true in both Chloe and Hammond's cases, also in Jake's). Scott showed that sometimes friendships are only as strong as the people in them are. Unfortunately for Ally, many of the people she was friends with didn't have the strength to go against Shannen and Faith.
The only drawback I can think of to this book was pacing. I thought that it took a little while for the story to move along. After Ally and Jake met, i felt there were like 50-75 pages that didn't really push the plot. This includes Ally's time spent dating David, who she ends up hurting with her feelings for Jake. This relationship didn't really do much to push the plot along, nor did David's hurt feelings seem to have a deep, lasting effect on Ally's friendships. Maybe I'm just jumping to conclusions here, being as there are two more books' worth of story to go.
Told in the alternating voices of Ally and Jake, She's So Dead to Us explores what happens when what's left of a family chooses to return to an unwelcoming crowd and break the rules of the social strata surrounding them. Scott introduced strong, relatable characters that kept me interested enough in a normal high school story to want to complete the series, even if I can't fully finish the series until May. Sigh.
Rating: 4 - good.