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


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 Reece Malcolm List (by Amy Spalding)

10 09 2013

reecemalcolmI don’t want to disparage this book or Amy Spalding or anything, but … I had kind of hoped that with the new school year, the mediocrity-streak I had been on would pass, but it hasn’t really and The Reece Malcolm List is just one more example of what a weak(ish) reading year 2013 has been for the cat so far. There’s nothing really wrong with this book, it’s engaging enough (while it lasts), and up to a point I could get into Devan’s ‘search’ for her mother, but…meh… it’s not all that.

The Reece Malcolm List is about Devan Mitchell, who has just lost her father. She’s never been too close with her father, and definitely not close to her stepmom, but obviously she never wanted her dad to just die and her stepmom to ship her off from St. Louis to Los Angeles to go and live with a mother she has never known: the famous writer, Reece Malcolm.

Because of this weird back story, it’s sort of odd the way things just go so smoothly for Devan when she gets to L.A. (school and friends-wise, I mean) and it’s definitely weird the way she didn’t have ‘the chat’ with Reece earlier on in the book (wouldn’t that be the first thing you do?).

Anyway a book that doesn’t read all that unpleasantly (despite its obvious shortcomings as a debut — pacing and fleshing out of characters needs some work here), but which isn’t very memorable in the end… Oh and did I mention there’s Glee-like fun and drama and musical-stuff? Yeah, that too…

Oh, and never has a cover been that close of an impression as to what a book will deliver. You be the judge of what that means!

Keeping the Moon (by Sarah Dessen)

7 05 2013


In light of the upcoming publication of Sarah Dessen’s new novel, The Moon and More, in June of this year, the cat wanted to get another Sarah Dessen fix real quick! There’s nothing better to pick you up after a slew of average books than a Sarah Dessen book! Even when she’s not at the top of her game, her books are always entertaining, immensely readable and like chocolate for my inner girl!

In Keeping the Moon – a Dessen oldie, her 3rd novel and originally published in 1999 – 15-year-old Colie Sparks is our protagonist. She used to be fat, but once her mom found comfort in exercising and found out that not only was she really good at it, but she also loved it with an unabashed enthusiasm that made her into one of the nation’s most famous fitness gurus, Colie lost 45 pounds. What she didn’t lose, though, was her insecurity. When her mom is off to Europe to tour with her fitness program, Colie is sent to her unconventional aunt Mira in Colby. In Colby she starts working at the Last Chance* diner, where she also meets Morgan and Isabel, who are potentially the first friends she ever has in her life.

Like in many of her other books, Dessen is very good at pointing out similarities and differences in people’s relationships and the reasons why people behave the way they behave. Dessen is a character-writer. She seems to love all of her (female) protagonists a lot (despite and because of their flaws!), which is very infectious! It’s hard not to feel with Colie and her insecurities. Dessen usually takes a lot of time to have her main characters build relationships with the people around her (including the love interests! No insta-loves here!), who all have their own past to deal with,… nothing is ever rushed in a Dessen novel. In Keeping the Moon, she hasn’t yet fully acquired that skill yet (it’s a slender novel, compared to some of her more recent work), but it’s great to see some really believably female friendships so early on in her writing career, and to see her be such a champion of self-esteem! I’m greatly looking forward to The Moon and More (which is apparently also set in Colby!).

* This book can also be found under another title: Last Chance. The 2012 Speak Reissue I read (cf. cover photo), has the original title, though.

Virtuosity (by Jessica Martinez)

8 01 2013

virtuosityCarmen is 17 and one of the best violinists in the world. She’s already landed a Grammy and has a scholarship to Juilliard. She also has the privilege to play on a 1-million-dollar violin (!) – courtesy of her uppity grandparents – and now she’s ready to get into and win the prestigious Guarneri violin competition. Raised by a former opera singer, Carmen was destined to become a great musician. From a young age, her mom sheltered her, homeschooled her, overprotected her and basically molded her into this picture perfect violinist, the star she herself couldn’t be any more after a throat surgery ruined her voice. Now, with the Guarneri competition, Carmen’s talent gets matched by that of British prodigy Jeremy King. It doesn’t take much for Carmen to feel threatened by Jeremy. And yes, the two kids also feel an attraction…

Unfortunately, Virtuosity, though definitely not the worst book the cat’s read, is just so… bland, to be considered a thrilling read and anything more than ‘a filler read’. The romance between the two is sweet-ish , in that instant attraction sort of way (from feeling threatened and severe distrust to butterflies and kisses all in the span of an evening!). The ending felt very deus ex machina, like Martinez didn’t want either of her protagonists to lose out. There were also plenty of elements in the book that just didn’t work to be believable (the pills, what mom did to the competition).

Virtuosity is the book version of an X-Files MOTW-episode… Obviously there are no real monsters here, but it’s a bit of a filler in between really great books. For a book that’s supposedly all about the way something (in this case, music) makes you feel things (both Carmen and Jeremy liken their playing music to flying), the cat felt very little of that. Too plain, too obvious, too … mèh…

Something Like Normal (by Trish Doller)

4 01 2013

sthlikenormalTrish Doller’s 2012 debut Something Like Normal deals with a pretty sensitive issue: a young Marine (19 years old) who’s just got back from his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. Travis may have left Afghanistan physically in one piece, he’s definitely suffering mentally – from PTSD – after he witnessed his best friend getting killed. Coming back home, though, has never felt so alien to Travis: his ex-girlfriend has hooked up with his brother Ryan who’s pretty much also confiscated his car; his father still thinks he’s worthless and it seems that his parents’ marriage is going the way of the dinosaur too. Mixed in with dealing with the effects that Charlie’s death has on him – Travis sees Charlie all through the book – and his changing family dynamics, is a romance, that of Travis and Harper, the girl he pretty much humiliated when they were both 14.

Something Like Normal is well written, and Doller definitely has the voice of Travis down. It sounds honest, a little raw, but always realistic. So no qualms about Doller’s ability to write a decent character. There’s nothing really wrong with Something Like Normal. The only pity is that it’s not really a book that sticks… The romance is not exactly a necessary aspect of the novel, to be honest. It’s also the weakest element of this book, with Harper being a fairly unbelievable love interest (what girl would hook up with a guy who pretty much ruined her reputation, resulting in her being called a slut by everyone in town since she was 14?). In fact it sort of distracts of the real highlight of this book : the way a young soldier like Travis deals with PTSD, the guilt and the grief he feels.

The fact that lots of elements are sort of touched upon but not really explored to the full is due to the brevity of this novel. Although Something like Normal is a decent enough debut, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that with a bit more attention and fleshing out, it could have been so much more.

Let’s Get Lost (by Sarra Manning)

26 12 2012

letsgetlostFor some reason, Sarra Manning has been flying under the cat’s radar for years… Her2004sophomore book Diary of a Crush 1: French Kiss has been in our library for a while now, it gets checked out regularly, but for superficial reasons, the cat never felt like reading it (1. Title of the book is off-putting, and 2. The cover doesn’t promise a whole lot of good…).  Then suddenly not one, but 2 Sarra Manning books kept on being recommended, and the cat is starting to get the feeling she’s made a mistake the size of the whole Sarah Dessen debacle

Let’s Get Lost was published after the Diary of a Crush trilogy. In it we follow 16-year-old Isabel Clark who’s feared at her school for being your typical Mean Girl. She doesn’t have friends either, but she’s got a gang of (not so faithful) minions, who she has to keep in check. It’s a girl eat girl world at high school, and after being bullied when she was younger, Isabel is not going to let herself be the victim again, especially not now that her mother has died. One evening at a party she meets 20-year-old college student Smith – like her also named after a character in a book and attending the Uni where Isabel’s father teaches – and hooks up with him. She convinces him she’s older, a lie which is (of course) going to catch up with her later on.

Even if the story of Let’s Get Lost isn’t the most original of stories and even though the protagonists are very reminiscent of other protagonists in books of this genre (contemporary YA romance), Sarra Manning’s take on it sounds fresher than e.g. in a book like Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF.  There’s a case to be made for the fact that Isabel is also just escaping the reality of her world (not coping with her mother’s death, dysfunctional relationship with her father) and using Smith in the way that Bianca was using Wesley. But the interactions between Isabel and Smith on the one hand, and Isabel and e.g. Smith’s friends on the other hand, read more like the interactions between Sarah Dessen characters than anything the cat has read in a while. And even though Sarra Manning’s protagonists are sexually a lot bolder than Dessen’s for sure (but clearly not as bold as Keplinger’s!), the similarities lie in the situation the protagonists finds herself in: she’s caught up in a web of her own lies, and has to find a way out of it in order to work through her problems.  And that is something she clearly needs to do before she can move on with her life.

Another reason for the freshness is the very distinct British setting. Sarra Manning is British, and the school setting, the going out scene, etc. all of that is clearly British and this is including the sexual boldness, the drinking and the smoking, which is always just a tad more matter-of-fact than many American contemporary YA romance novels. Teen angst is clearly something universal, but there are obvious (geographical, in this case) variations, and Sarra Manning is a good case in point for readers who like their Sarah Dessen and Caroline Mackler but want to try something more errr… edgy? Also, Sarra Manning’s language feels authentic, unforced (and non-amateurish) and all of this makes for a very enjoyable reading experience.

Once again, here’s a book that’s proof that you should never judge an author by a single book cover. Let’s Get Lost is a fresh take on an almost beaten down YA genre. I know that Sarra Manning has a ton of other books, and who knows, the cat may even give Diary of a Crush 1: French Kiss a try…

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