Read in January and February 2015

22 02 2015

It’s an absolute disgrace, but I haven’t read much this year so far. Here’s a brief overview:

The crossover by Kwame Alexander, which won the 2015 Newbery Medal and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin, in which 6 transgender teens tell their stories. I didn’t read much Middle Grade last year so I can’t say whether The crossover was “the best” MG of 2015. It was certainly different (told mostly in verse) and a punch in the gut. I liked this better than He Said, She Said, but I wasn’t wild about it either. It was good,… but not *wow* good for me. *** 1/2

Beyond Magenta, on the other hand: an eye-opener. Definitely worth that Stonewall Honor Award. ****

2015-02-10 10.40.46

The Alex Crow by the inimitable Andrew Smith. Yet again we get so many stories in one and yet again, Andrew Smith managed to pull everything together at the end.Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write a real review of this one. Maybe when it comes out (I read the ARC), I’ll re-read and write that review then. ****

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin, a story of disaster, mutiny and the fight for civil rights in the Second World War. This was really well-told non-fiction. I can’t wait to read Bomb, now! ****

2015-02-22 19.19.22

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi, the love story of 2 teenagers in modern-day Afghanistan. It pains me to say this because I really “like” the story and the topic of this book, and I thought the way Atia Abawi told her story of living in Afghanistan for 5 years was really fascinating…but the writing style of this book feels a bit amateur. It’s very ‘in your face’, almost portraying black-and-white figures, rather than the ‘complexity’ of the people that Atia Abawi refers to in the acknowledgments and the way she talked about it at NCTE. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.40Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. BIG disappointment. It has all the signs of a writer of “adult” fiction trying to write YA and thinking they need to ‘dumb it down’ somehow. Blèh… hate it when that happens. * 1/2

BTW, I didn’t know that Meg Wolitzer actually wrote “adult literary fiction” before I finished this book. So yeah, this one is a fail for me.

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Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: a very typical Telgemeier book. Sweetly drawn and with a recognizable story, albeit somewhat ‘short’. ***

2015-02-10 10.42.07

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, and with drawings of his son Brendan. A story of mental illness. A very harsh and confrontational read, but excellent to get an insight into the mind of so many people (teenagers especially) who suffer from mental illness. This book by Shusterman impressed me more than his Unwind series. ****

2015-02-10 09.28.05

Also read in January:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – which I actually liked a lot more than Anna and the French Kiss. It’s a sweet romance but really well done. *** 1/2

Reading now:

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos and with the kid, I am reading the Zita the Spacegirl series. Really great!

2015-02-11 09.27.29

 

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Disappointing January Reads

14 01 2014

Zombie Blondes (by Brian James)

Well this was a bunch of no-sense-making nonsense. Zombie Blondes wants to be a successful marriage between the zombie & the high school YA novel, but it is done so amateurishly that after about 75 pages I went straight into speed-read mode. Hannah moves around a lot, because of her dad’s past. This means she’s *always* the new kid in town, and this time she arrives in “a very special town”, Maplecrest, with “very special” cheerleaders…There’s very little that worked for the cat in this book. Really bland characters, un(der)developed plot, shoddy ending which is not ominous *at all*, but a total cop out. It all amounted to a big fact blah! And seriously: Zombie Cheerleaders… don’t tell me you couldn’t have done anything more interesting with that??? I really do not want to waste any more time than I already have on this one.

zombieblondes

1.5 stars

Eve & Adam (by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate)

Now I love me some Michael Grant. I devoured the Gone series for its sheer fun and fantastically over the top plotlines and the slew of interesting and sometimes slightly psychotic character. Eve & Adam, however, doesn’t have any of that. Instead, it’s a total waste of talent. Just like with Zombie Blondes, I got a plot that just DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Perfect creatures (cloning and whatnot), instaloves, instahealing, UberBitch moms, BlandyMcBland protagonists. There’s absolutely nothing ‘refreshing’ or ‘groundbreaking’ about the plot at all, it’s all so superficial and everything in this book has been done millions of times and over and over again. Why bother doing it again? And worse at that? Eve & Adam is a book that shows what happens when two writers aren’t even trying… Seriously, is this just me? Ugh.

eveadam

1.5 stars

Next up: something else: Scowler (by Daniel Kraus)





The Hit (by Melvin Burgess)

22 12 2013

thehitWay back in the day, Melvin Burgess’s Junk was a British teen generation’s Go Ask Alice. This was the age of Trainspotting and when Britain regained some of its cool again for people like the cat. In a way and in hindsight, Junk was an easy hit, symptomatic of the age in which it was conceived and published, despite and probably because of its obvious ‘controversial’ topic: the heroin addiction of 2 teens. After Junk, Burgess has published a slew of other novels some of which also deal with so-called controversial topics (like Doing It), but which are really fairly lame in the grand scheme of things, but none of his other novels have garnered the attention or the reputation of Junk.

With The Hit, it seems Burgess wants to have a do-over of Junk. Drugs? Check! Two teens somewhat on the run? Check! Anarchism & nitty gritty societal problems? Check! The Hit deals with a new drug, called Death, which allows users to have one week of absolute awesome. This week will then ultimately and irrevocably lead to death, though, so you better make the best of your week, sleep with prostitutes, get girls pregnant, rob banks, party hard and harder…, this is what you do. An interesting premise (I guess?), but good literature it ain’t…

All I can say is that I really don’t have the patience nor the stamina for this type of book anymore. I’m not talking about its ‘dark’ topic and I’m not talking about its premise. What I am talking about is its weak execution: cardboard characters that have no personality whatsoever so who fucking cares if any of them dies anyway; a muddy plot that gets needlessly confounded by bits and pieces about everything (from pedophilia to anarchism); and most disturbingly: boring writing – which beckons a re-read of Junk, for sure, because seriously…?

Anyway, definitely the let-down of the year. Where’s 2014?





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

 





Hidden (by Miriam Halahmy)

6 08 2013

Things I hate in books:

  • Sloppy editing:

h2And this is on the back cover!

h3

h4

  • When the writer of the book so obviously wants to Teach An Important Lesson About Society and treats the reader as A Stupid Person who so obviously Needs To Be Taught The Right Ways. There’s no reason to be so preachy when you talk about immigration as is the case in this book. If you respect your reader, you know your reader can come to his/her own conclusion without you, the writer, being all over it. Don’t belittle your audience! I really thought this sort of YA was over and done with.

Not just for those 2 reasons – although the latter is a real biggie and really a total book dealbreaker – Miriam Halahmy’s Hidden gets this year’s lowest cat score!





Saving lives, tweeting and pushing limits

3 12 2012
tweet heartTweet Heart (by Elizabeth Rudnick)

Elizabeth Rudnick’s debut Tweet Heart is original in nothing except its ‘format’. Following four friends, Claire, Lottie, Will, and Bennett through their respective Tweets on Twitter, their blog posts and some emails, what we get is a fairly standard teenage romance novel. Much like Lauren Myracle’s TTYL-series the novelty is the set-up, rather than the plot.  There’s only so much you can do with this particular format, of course, and Rudnick explores that to the limits. Characterization is definitely there, but with a maximum of 140 characters per tweet, you can’t really expect the plot to get all Gravity’s Rainbow on you. So instead, we get girl crushes on hot boy. Best male friend crushes on girl, pretends to be said hot boy on Twitter, girl finds out, yadda yadda yadda. I mean, this is not the stuff of grand literary awards. But although this type of book probably doesn’t really have a lot of staying power (such is the nature of The Tweet, I guess), it does have instant appeal at the moment. The first day the cat put it in the library it was checked out. Also, considering it’s just one of those books that reluctant readers might pick up, it gets an additional bonus star.

3 stars

Pushing the Limits (by Katie McGarry)pushing the limits

There are only so many original plotlines. There’s  ‘good girl meets bad boy’; there’s ‘boy with the troubled past’; there’s ‘girl with the troubled past’. Katie McGarry’s debut novel Pushing the Limits combines all of these plotlines promising above all… a love story. Now, telling an unoriginal story is OK. Even Shakespeare wasn’t one to tell original stories, you know? The cat even digs teenage romance* as long as there’s something to convince you that what you are reading is something special, that somehow *this* is the book you’ve been waiting to read forever. Lots of books have come close, but none have ever really gotten *there*. Could be characterization. Could be the style. Could be the format. Pushing the Limits has none of these outstanding features.

But leaving aside that the plot is completely unoriginal and that the characters are flat and uninspired , what actually did make this novel stand out was the horrendous writing. McGarry ticked me off after a couple of pages when there’s this one line that just should have made me stop reading it. I knew this book would become a train wreck but when Noah started calling Echo ‘baby’ or ‘siren’ every five seconds, I knew we’d crossed over to fan fiction land and even trains get out of head-on collisions better than this book. Ugh, double ugh!

1.5 stars

* Anything by Sarah Dessen!

How to Save a Life (by Sara Zarr)howtosavealife

At least bad and melodramatic writing is not something you can accuse Sara Zarr of in How to Save a Life. Quite the opposite, because even though the topics at hand – the loss of a father and teen pregnancy – have melodrama plastered all over themselves, there’s nothing of the sort here. Instead, the writing is much like its main characters realistic, raw even.

The story is told in alternating voices.  First, the voice of Jill, who lost her father a while ago and has to come to terms with his death and the fact that her mother decided to adopt a baby, her own way to cope with losing her husband and a sure way to give the love she still feels for him… That baby will be provided by Mandy, the other voice of the story. Mandy’s is a completely different voice than Jill’s. While Jill comes off as haughty and bitchy – even though she’s more angry and sad than an actual outright bitch! – Mandy’s voice is so heartbreakingly honest, naïve even.. Mandy never knew her father and had an abusive stepfather, who was only the last one in a lost string of boyfriends her mother had. Both girls just don’t understand each other’s way of life and reasoning, but they both provide the necessary insight in each other for both the reader and themselves.

How to Save a Life is nothing sort of a touching and tender story that, yes, ends in the sweetest of ways. For some this ending may ultimately prove to be a bit too sugary, but all in all this is what you hope would happen for these characters.

4 stars





Double Post: American Football!

22 11 2012

Catching Jordan (by Miranda Keneally)

Jordan Woods has always been one of the boys. When she’s a senior, she’s made it to the star/captain quarterback of her high school football team. Her teammates respect her and she’s a natural born leader. Her dad is a professional football player, her brother plays football in College and her own dream has always been to play football in college too. In fact she has her heart set on one college in particular, that of Alabama. For that to happen, she can’t afford losing her focus, though, as she wants to get in on an all-ride scholarship. Enter the new – hot – QB, Ty Green, who make her knees go all wobbly etc. etc. Anyway, there’s a romance triangle going on with her best of best friends Sam Henry – who she considers as her brother. Except he’s not, of course, and she’s the only one who hasn’t noticed he’s been in love with her since forever. Ooooooh… didn’t see that one coming, right?

Anyway, wow. Not as in “wow, what a great book this was”, but “wow, this actually got published?” Let’s see… shallow characters? Check! Under-developed plot? Check! Double standards? Check! But what takes the icing on the cake though, was the amateur writing! Seriously, the dialogues in this book: cringe-worthy bad.  A story doesn’t even have to be the most original, but if the writing is as bad as is here, you’ve completely lost the cat! And what’s with all the tears and the crying??

So, never mind that the plot is a dime a doze (I mean, why even mention that Ty’s family got into a car crash, when you’re no actually going to develop that whole plot thread?), and that you see things coming from a football field away, the absolutely worst part of this book are the double standards.  In a book that so overtly wants to overturn (gender) stereotypes, it does nothing but reinforce them. First, Jordan doesn’t see why people see the girl first and the football player second. But at the same time she’s the first to say that cheerleaders are all dumb bimbos. Also, they’re considered sluts when they sleep around, but when her buddies on the team do the same thing, they get off with a mere eye-roll? Insert eye-roll here…

Anyway, there are so many different things that are just so wrong with this book. Ty. Ugh, so he’s the hot new QB, falls for Jordan, she does the same instantly (just because of his great pecs, no doubt). He gets all control-freak on her (You have to pick up your phone! I have to know where you are!) and she doesn’t even call him on it? Jordan and Ty get at it faster than you can say bingo despite the fact she’s stayed a virgin for so long, but the first hot bod to come in and she throws herself at him? Decides she does actually “love” her best friend Henry, yet keeps on sleeping with Ty? And it’s the cheerleaders who are the sluts? Then she goes on about the whole “there should be more than sex”? Hypocrite much?

1.5 stars

Leverage (by Joshua C. Cohen)

Then Joshua C. Cohen’s version of the American football world is a much better alternative, even though , there too, there are things that don’t exactly work in the book. Not, however, because the writing was atrocious or the main characters lacked substance.

Leverage is the story of 2 boys, Danny and Kurt who will form an unlikely alliance against a common threat or ‘enemy’: the steroid-infused jocks on the football team. Danny is a small kid, but a great gymnast, while Kurt literally looms over everyone, has a stutter and is a promising football player with an awful past. At their high school the football players are everyone’s heroes and obviously their team gets all the funds. When the gymnast coach challenges the football players into a contest deciding who can use the weight training room and it turns out in favor of the gymnasts, things soon spiral out of control. The football team is out for revenge… big time. Things escalate so much that the scrawniest kid on the gymnast team, Ronnie Gunderson, gets brutally attacked. Danny, who witnessed the whole scene play out, and Kurt who walked in on the attack, don’t really know how to respond to it all. Danny, for fear of being next. Kurt, because of a myriad of reasons: being the new kid on the team, he still has to prove who he’s loyal to, plus he has his whole troubled past which may come back to haunt him.

Leverage is a book about Mean Boys, which is totally refreshing considering YA usually feature Mean Girls as the main bullies.  Cohen convincingly shows what bullying can lead to, and the consequences really are devastating. Cohen definitely goes for the gut here.

But, the main problem Cohen has in Leverage, is the debut syndrome: trying to put it all in. There’s bullying, there’s pressure, there’s steroid abuse, there’s suicide, there’s sexual abuse…  And while the topics in Leverage are in and of itself totally gut-wrenching, the book as a whole could have been even more powerful if Cohen had focused more on the development of mostly ‘the bad guys’ and written some well-rounded antagonists…  because seriously, the football players are nothing more than cardboard stereotypes. All of this made a lot of what you read in Leverage predictable, and yes also quite implausible at times (e.g. the ending is totally contrived!).

All in all, Leverage is a brutal book, extremely brutal… and maybe Cohen was going a bit too easy for the emotional response, but at least you’ll get some hard-hitting truths out of it, which is more than you can say about Catching Jordan!

3 stars








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