March-May Reads

25 05 2015

Books I read from March to May 2015:

Graphic novels2015-03-05 16.53.46

March Book Two ( by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell): more behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis. A must read for everyone. Huge hit with my students too. (****)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): the kid and I read a couple of pages of this every night. We love Strong Strong and One J We are currently on the last Zita book… (****)

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: beautiful artwork, very evocative. The whole work oozes nostalgia. I loved this one, but I think it might be more of a critics’ favorite than a kids’ favorite. (****)

Non-fiction

IMG_20150509_153050[1]Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required: The not so secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews are the memoirs of two transgender teens who were also in a relationship for a while. It reads pretty much like a teen would write it, which definitely adds to the authenticity. But obviously these two memoirs are pivotal in understanding what transgender teens go through. Both books were featured in my Awareness Week display at school and checked out in no time. (both ***)

No choirboy: murder, violence, and teenagers on death row by Susan Kuklin. This book is raw and sad. How could it not? No sensationalizing, just harsh truth. (****)

Books in a series

Half Bad by Sally Green: first in a series of books about ‘witches’… not at all like Harry Potter, though. It has been a while since I have liked a “fantasy” thing, but it is basically adventure with witches but done well. A bit of a slump about 2/3 in, but still very worthwhile. Definitely a series to continue. (*** ½ )

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: 3rd in the Shades of London series. This one is better that The Madness Underneath, but still not as good as the stellar first book The Name of the Star. I do hope there will be a rocking conclusion of this series in book 4, though. (*** ½ )

Isla and the Happily Ever After: I have a soft spot for Stephanie Perkins since I saw her at Politics and Prose in Washington. Bonus is that she does contemporary romance really really well. Give me a Perkins and a Dessen and I’m a happy camper J. Isla and the Happily Ever After has the added bonus of giving us more glimpses of the characters of the other books. (***)

Standalones

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos: there are not enough music-related YA books. So if you pick this one up, make sure to pick up Yvonne Prinz’s The Vinyl Princess! These books make a great pairing. (***)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin: Besides the fact that I could not stand the character (or the way she was being presented by all of the players in the story ) of Addison Stone – at all – this book is really well done: a faux-memoir, complete with photos and artwork and disclaimers etc. I really did look up if there was an ‘Addison Stone’ after a chapter or so 😉 (*** ½ )IMG_20150525_110557[1]

When I was the greatest and The boy in the black suit, both by Jason Reynolds. I am not a fan of the writing. In When I was the greatest, the narration was a bit too one-dimensional for my liking. And The Boy in the Black Suit just confirmed that Reynolds’ style isn’t my style. Both books were well-liked by kids in my class, though. (both **)

And we stay by Jenny Hubbard: A character’s poetry just always distracts me in a book (that’s a me-thing), even if there’s an Emily Dickinson theme throughout the story. The story of grief, recovery and friendship is great though. Hubbard’s style is very recognizable. I always like it when I can pick out a writer’s words from just a few lines. (*** ½ )

Invincible by Amy Reed. Amy Reed’s books are a hit with my teen girls. Beautiful and Crazy have a very high circulation and I am sure that it’ll be the same for Invincible. As for me, certain things are ‘believable’ – like how quickly Evie gets addicted and the behavior she displayed after the “miraculous” recovery – but other things were just too rushed. I don’t really think the Marcus character was necessary either. I would have liked to have seen more of the parents, sister and Kasey tIMG_20150525_110925[1]oo. This reads like a train, though, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that this is not a standalone… (**)

Press Play by Eric Devine: this made me think of Joshua Cohen’s Leverage a lot. They’re both set a sports context, there are some brutal things going on ‘behind the scenes’ (here’s it’s the hazing and lacrosse, in Cohen’s books is bullying – and much worse – and football) and there really are no compromises in this book. It’s extremely honest and raw, and there’s a good voice, but the book is too long for me. (***)

How it went down by Kekla Magoon: This is such a pertinent story at this moment in time. Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. No one seems to know exactly what was going on and everything has the need to share what they thing went down (there are more than 15 different ‘voices’ in the book). As I said, this book is every so important right now, but as a book, I felt it could have been ‘tighter’: some voices are indistinguishable, which (again) drags out the story a little bit. (***)

Top picks

The next two – although also standalones – deserve their own category:2015-04-01 16.00.31

We all looked up by Tommy Wallach: It’s not often I read a blurb and then read the book and I feel the blurb is *exactly* what the book is like, but in this case it is: “This Generation’s The Stand… at once troubling, uplifting, scary and heart-wrenching.”
Also, The Stand was one of my favorite books when I was the age of the characters in this book and often when a books is likened to The Stand, it ends up being a disappointment afterwards, or worse the book is dragged out over 2 or 3 or more books. But We All Looked Up definitely wasn’t a disappointment: a good story, great characters, drive, action, feelings, totally unpretentious writing… a “real book”, you know… Loved it! (*****)

I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson made me miss my metro stop. That’s always a good thing… The writing is gorgeous, there was a great interplay between the words and the artwork (I read the UK edition). This definitely deserved all the accolades it got. It also got a (quick) translation to Dutch, but it doesn’t have any artwork, which is a pity. (*****)

On the surface We all looked up and I’ll give you the sun have nothing whatsoever in common, but they both made me fall in love with reading all over again. Both of these books have the capacity of making you forget about time and the world around you. The reading pleasure was high for me in these two books. And isn’t that why we read: to feel?

 

 

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Exam reads: one pass, one fail.

22 06 2014

My life next door (by Huntley Fitzpatrick)

Despite the butt-ugly cover (yes I am a sucker for good covers and this one is just too cheesy!), I liked this book quite a bit. It’s what one would call “a beach read” but in the best Sarah Dessen sense of the word: well-plotted, good characterization (protagonist Sam as well as the love interest Jase and his entire family), a summer romance, an all around satisfying contemporary read by an author who takes her time to tell a story. I like that. If this is what my summer will be like, reading-wise, I am a happy camper!

4 stars

 

the adoration of jenna foxThe Adoration of Jenna Fox (by Mary E. Pearson)

Very disappointing read…reads like it was ‘so 5 years ago’… by which I mean it’s a book that followed a certain trend (e.g. Matched, Beta, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer…) and the trend wasn’t a great one to start out with. It did start off intriguingly enough with a girl who woke up from a coma with no memories and who tries to put the pieces together again, but it soon goes down the hill of predictability. Those pieces of the puzzle, well, it’s not very hard to figure out for the reader what went on with Jenna as Pearson takes us along on a tour of medical science and bio-ethics. All very “issue-y” and all none too subtle. Nah, just a blah book, I guess.

2 stars

 





Allegiant (by Veronica Roth)

4 12 2013

allegiantHow hard it is for *all* the books in a series to kick ass (and I’m not even talking about middle-book syndrome) is proven once again with Veronica Roth’s Allegiance. Divergent did kick some monumental butt, if you’re into no-thinking-too-hard-fun-entertainment-dystopian-adventure: it had a fierce protagonist in Tris, a fairly exciting love interest with Four/Tobias, it had action and adventure galore and the drive of the characters themselves was easily matched by the excellent pacing of the book. Divergent: SOOOO much fun! Insurgent, on the other hand, already totally disappointed in the pacing department: lots of running around, doing something, running around again, doing something again, all with very little focus. Result? A boring follow-up.

Allegiant, however, is even worse. Not only is the pacing in this book completely off – why have a 529-page book I wonder, when so little really matters or advances the plot significantly? – but what made the characters so kick ass to begin with, is completely undone by 2 things:

First, the weird choice to have a dual narrative all of a sudden: Tris and Tobias. Dual narratives are tricky, especially in the hands of an inexperienced (or not so gifted?) writer. The trick is to make sure that the voice of the narrators differs considerably enough so as to persuade the reader that, yes, this is another character seeing and experiencing things. That is not the case here. There is virtually nothing that distinguishes the voices of Tris and Tobias. I had to check repeatedly…who am I reading here? Never a good sign…  Also, the dual narrative thing? Totally spoils your Big Ending, duh!

Second, undercutting the elements that made your main characters so kick ass in the first place. Seriously, Tobias? Wuss much? WTF is going on here?  Does he even know what he wants? And Tris? OK, I get the stubborn bit of her character, ‘cause that’s what she does, but here we get petty jealousy behavior, and when she’s called on it (by Tobias), she basically shuts him out “you’re wrong, I’m right, accept it”. Then 2 minutes later, it’s kiss and make up time? Uhm.. yeah, way to go. Also, seriously, Tris: Little Miss Perfect much?  Talk about one-dimensionality!

Also, this is supposed to be the conclusion to a series, right? So why on earth would you want to drag things out and introduce completely new elements (the whole genetics things, which is a) too ridiculously explained to make it believable, b) too much of a bother to explain here anyway), new characters who contribute NOTHING to the overall scheme of things (kill’em off? Oh, you did? See me care…) I mean, even the whole ‘Allegiant’-thing is not even what this book was about?  Really? Why would this then be the title of your book? Seriously, why not just focus on… oh, I don’t know: the conflict between the factions and the factionless? I get it…it totally makes more sense to introduce a new conflict between Genetically Pure and Genetically Damaged…. :::sigh:::…

And the plotholes, OMFG, they are the size of Chris Carter’s ego! But more than just having plotholes, in hindsight, the plot and the worldbuilding was always so convoluted that it’s no surprise Roth got trapped in it herself. Does any of what happened in this book even make sense? I mean, look at it objectively. Do the math…or the science, whatever…

So no, it’s not the ending that makes this a weak book (I didn’t even care at that point, no emotions at all with regards to The Big Surprise). It’s all of the above: perspective, pacing, character err… assassination, plotholes. Maybe with Allegiant, the whole “dystopian hype” has finally died too… One can always wonder. Oh, that’s right, Hollywood first needs to milk the cashcow for another movie or 3… who knows, maybe they’ll also split this book in two like they’re doing with Mockingjay… :::insert massive eyeroll here:::.





Three books that didn’t work for the cat (October 2013)

28 10 2013

The Infinite Moment of Us (by Lauren Myracle)

imou… and I don’t see how this book could work for anyone out there, really!

Where is the gorgeous scorching prose we got in Shine? Where is the nuanced characterization of Shine? Where’s the plot for that matter? Seriously, as brilliant as I thought Shine was, as cringe-worthily bad I thought this was. This book disappointed me on so many levels: point of view (dual 3rd person narration), pacing (time-lapses), the one-dimensional insta-love romance between the annoyingly selfish Wren and the too-good-to-be-true yet immensely troubled kid with a past Charlie, the language (which borders on fanfiction level!)…

The Infinite Moment of Us tells the supposedly epic love story of Wren and Charlie, alternating their points of view in each chapter. Their relationship – which just happens to be, by the way, one of the most excruciating examples of insta-love ever – develops over the course of the summer of their high school graduation. Wren is the good girl, the one who’s been pleasing her parents like for forever and who is destined for the great future her parents have mapped out for her. Except, now she decides she wants to do it her own way and has enrolled in a program that will take her to Guatemala for a year. Charlie is the (obviously gorgeous) misfit foster kid with the troubled past who’s got a pretty good life now, except for the crazy ex “on again, off again”-girlfriend, Starla.

I guess this book is set up as a Forever for today’s teens, including the different sexual mores. Yes, Charlie and Wren have a sexual relationship, and obviously, these kids being 18 and all, that’s only natural. So, no, the cat didn’t mind that.  What I did mind was the language use of the writer here, which was way below par and bordered on fan fiction. I totally hated the whole ‘baby’ here and ‘baby’ there thing that Charlie dished out, which just sounded so incredibly fake and put me off the entire romance thing: ugh!  And seriously, the character clichés…. pfffff…  just no!

The focus, for that matter, in the 2nd half of the book, was way too much on the sexual relationship between Wren and Charlie and not enough on Wren becoming her own person (or Charlie being his own person). It just seemed that Wren exchanged one controlling relationship (her parents’ control over her) for another, rather than doing what she said she wanted: to break free and discover herself!  It didn’t really do the book much good that there were these time lapses, either. Like one moment they have sex for the first time and then we just jump to “weeks later” where they’ve been at it like bunnies, but we haven’t really been partial to anything else that went on in their lives?? Pacing? What of it?

I dunno, maybe Shine really was a fluke. I haven’t even discussed the way certain plot aspects just don’t make any sense and aren’t developed really… And maybe I just don’t get this New Adult thing (I mean, seriously, is that what this is supposed to be?). No, sometimes it’s easy: there are good books and there are bad books, regardless of genre or target audience. This book right here: one of the worst I’ve read all year.

1.5 star

Ghostopolis (by Doug TenNapel)

ghostopolisDoug TenNapel’s graphic novel Ghostopolis may look alright at first (the graphics are fairly good), but it’s totally lacking in plot and character development and the dialogue is just a wee bit too simple for my taste.  Garth is dying of a mysterious fatal disease, but when ghostwrangler Frank botches up his job, Garth is accidentally zapped into the afterlife. When he’s there, he manages to ‘tame’ a skeleton horse he calls Skinny, and tries to find a way out, accompanied by his dead grandfather, Cecil – who he happens to meet there. At the same time, Frank goes after him, joined by his former fiancée Claire Voyant. There are lots of unexplained events happening in this graphic novel (why does someone like Grant have so much power in the afterlife? What happened between Frank and Claire?), lots of loose threads (What ever happened to Joe?) and even some Christian references, which all in all makes of Ghostopolis a confusing and hard to pin down graphic novel. Ultimately, it just didn’t work for me: not funny enough, not different enough,  not developed enough… Too messy, too random and just too superficial.

2 stars

 

After the Snow (by S.D. Crockett)

afterthesnowI read that this book is likened to Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go… but the only thing that the two vaguely have in common is the ‘different’ vernacular of their main character and narrator. Unlike in the Chaos Walking trilogy, the plot in After the Snow is not going ANYWHERE!  After the Snow is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, set sometime in the future, ‘after the snow’.  When Willo returns home from hunting one day he finds out that his family is gone and the cabin where they live up in the mountains is empty.  Intent on finding his family he sets out to talk to talk to Geraint, his (14-year-old) sister’s husband, who will know where they are. But on his way, he finds Mary, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. Willo knows that he should leave her alone and just take care of himself, but he doesn’t.

Seriously, after Willo ends up in the city (and Mary isn’t with him anymore for some reason), I have no clue what’s going on anymore and I don’t really get what Willo’s aims are at that point. If you can tell me, please, by all means, drop me a note…  So many things that are introduced in the beginning of the novel (like Willo and talking with the dog skull) are just dropped after a while, and then the main character ends up having completely different priorities. Weird much?

This book has such an interesting premise and there’s so much potential (it could be The Road meeting Chaos Walking!), but instead it is just a royal mess and feels like the author just skipped a couple of important steps to get to an almost predictably obvious conclusion.

2 stars

 





After (by Amy Efaw)

9 10 2013

afterAmy Efaw’s After doesn’t know what it wants to be: psychological character study or courtroom drama. As it turns out, it is neither!

Devon is 15, good student, great soccer player, but one night she gives birth to a baby, which she dumps in the garbage. Now she has to deal with what she did.

However, for a reader to adequately get what is going on in the mind of the main character, you need to get the right perspective. And it’s exactly the point of view that Efaw uses in this novel that is completely wrong. Instead of using the 3rd person POV, to be truly invested in the main character Devon and her state of mind, we should have gotten a 1st person point of view. The sense of immediacy and urgency would have been greatly enhanced. Efaw would have been able to focus more on the mother-daughter relationship and explore that in a much more subtle way; or even show us Devon’s withdrawal from everyone in her life during her pregnancy; or she could have really gotten into the interaction between the girls at the detention center (how cardboard was this done??) . But now, I could care less about Devon… and I didn’t ‘see’ the denial,  which is oh so important to the whole “case”.

This brings us to the other part of the plot of this book: the courtroom stuff. A judge has to decide whether Devon will be tried as an adult (because of the severity of the crimes committed), or whether she will remain in the juvenile justice system. At that point, the book sort of turns into a middle-of-the-road lawyer book with very little ‘Devon’. It’s about Dom (the lawyer) to make Devon’s case and it all just gets repetitive and obvious, and like you are watching a really bad episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

After should have been all about Devon, and it could have been a great character-driven book. But now, it really isn’t: wrong POV, wrong focus, boring court case stuff and poor writing (get over the soccer/court comparisons already).  This one’s a miss!





Also read in September 2013

2 10 2013

Disappointing reads, continuing the bad summer streak:

Guitar Girl (by Sarra Manning):

guitargirlThis is Sarra Manning’s debut, and although entertaining enough and some of the sparks of later work is present, this is overall a disappointing read. It felt too unrealistic and too stereotypical to be taken as a serious effort. For instance: if music is your world, and if your band is supposed to be the next big thing, then you know that Roskilde is not in Belgium, but in Denmark… or at least the writer should know! I also loathed the many grammar and spelling mistakes in the edition I read (I mean, seriously, it’s not an ARC or a first edition, by now those mistakes should have been weeded out).

2.5 stars

24 girls in 7 days (by Alex Bradley):

24girlsIf you talk about predictability in beach reads, then this book aces it. This book, by the way, is now published in a ‘beachproof’ edition, whatever that may be. However, I couldn’t get over the fact that this book felt like such an insult to serious teen romance novels, that it’s hard to recommend this book about a nerdy senior – Jack Grammar (haha) – who is set up by his 2 best friends to find the perfect prom date. Also, why would you write your “teen only” books under the name Alex Bradley when your actual name is Jeremy Jackson and you’ve written other novels under your real name? Anyway, this really doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of 24 Girls in 7 Days, of course. Or does it?

2 stars





The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (by Jacqueline Kelly)

26 08 2013

evctBaffled. That’s what I am. I don’t understand how The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate could have been a Newbery Honor book…? I thought it was flat, uninspired, boring even. The one character I wanted to know more about (the grandfather) wasn’t developed at all, and Calpurnia or Callie and her so-called evolution? A token character who has a flat storyline that’s really going nowhere. Not a real person at all, but a way to prove a point: “See, adults, this is what kids should read.” I’m not wild about this one at all. If you want Newbery Honor material with a historical slant with real characters: get Gary D. Schmidt’s stuff and he’ll even throw in some humor!








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