Archive | reviews RSS feed for this section

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

15 Apr

testingTitle: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: dystopia/post-apocalyptic
Page Count: 325

Graduation Day. I can hardly stand still as my mother straightens my celebratory red tunic and tucks a strand of light brown hair behind my ear.

The setting is kind of sort of Chicago (as per usual) and it’s the future and everything is terrible. Sound familiar? Anyways, in this particular vision of the immediate future after an apocalypse, only a select, chosen few get to go to University once they have graduated from…regular school. The chosen few go to the big city, take some tests, and then are sent to work rehabilitating the planet for the Commonwealth. This is all Cia has ever wanted to do, so when she is chosen for the testing, she’s thrilled. Until her father tells her about some night terrors that have been plaguing him since his own testing, only he can’t remember exactly what happened because of some pesky erased memories. His main advice is to trust no one, which is pretty good advice becuase Cia’s fellow testing candidates are the worst kind of academic brats, and the tests themselves are designed to kill you if you fail, so basically they are like the SAT but SO MUCH WORSE. Naturally, Cia starts to question everything she ever believed while making out with the dimpled dreamboat from home. It’s shocking, I know.

So, why the hell did I read this book? Well, I run a book club for my seventh and eighth graders. It’s an open book club so any old Tom, Dick, or Harry can join, but I usually get the same tween girls. I’m not complaining – they are LOVELY – but I immediately regretted my decision to hand over the book choosing power to them when they chose this as our next book to read together. And yes, it was horribly derivative – kind of like The Hunger Games, only…academic? Until the field test, and then it’s totally Hunger Games. I could spend a lot of time listing all the different minute details that the two share, but I won’t, because that’s boring. Just suffice to say there are a lot.

HOWEVER. All that aside, I actually kind of enjoyed this book. I mean, I loved The Hunger Games, and this was really, really similar and wasn’t terribly written so sure, I ripped through it. Did I ever actually truly care about any of the characters? Not particularly. They had about as much dimension and flavor as a piece of cardboard, so even though I was interested in the events that were unfolding, I was never actually concerned about anyone’s well-being. The writing was, likewise, pretty bland. However, the story is fun, and that was enough for me to actually finish the book.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

12 Mar

SorrowsKnotCoverTitle: Sorrow’s Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 368

The girl who remade the world was born in winter.

Otter is one of the Shadowed People. The free women of the forest live without men, for men are powerless against the ever restless dead. Every bit of shadow could conceal one of the three kinds of dead: slip, ghasts, and White Hands. Slip and ghasts are the little dead – unidentifiable spirits of some living form or another, they cannot kill you on their own, just give you a permanent chill, or unmake the flesh that they touch. White Hands, however, were human once, and to be touched by a White Hand means that over the course of nine days the afflicted will gradually go mad, until another Hand eats its way out, leaving the human body nothing but an empty husk. Otter’s mother is a binder, one of the powerful women whose job it is to contain the dead, and it has always been assumed that she would follow in her mother’s footprints to become a binder herself. However, when the death of the eldest binder in the Pinch unleashes a horrific chain of events, Otter’s entire world is turned upside down and everything she thought she knew about the world begins to unravel.

So, first thing first: this book is FREAKING AMAZING. As in, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s dark and lyrical and heavy and just so good I can’t stop thinking about it. Erin Bow is nothing short of intimidating – her writing is so achingly beautiful and fresh that there were times when I actually got goosebumps. Just for flavor, here is the first passage in which we meet one of the little dead:

Something was resting in the nest of shadows under a cornstalk, something stirring as Cricket’s hand came near. Something gawk-stretched and ugly as a new-hatched bird with no feathers and skin over its eyes. Something that moved subtly, like the earth moving above something buried. Something struggling and starving.

Gawk-stretched. GAWK-STRETCHED. That pairing of words is so perfect it makes my heart clench a little, and this entire book is full of the same evocative, lyrical language. Erin Bow is the kind of brilliant wordsmith that makes me feel like I should just give up, because I will never, ever be this good. There is a rhythm to her writing that is reminiscent of telling a story around a fire that keeps the shadows back; the repetition of certain phrases (Ware the dead!) and specific stories adds to the feeling that you aren’t reading a book, but sitting at Bow’s feet and being told a story that’s been handed down time untold.

Continue reading

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

9 Mar

navigatingearlyTitle: Navigating Early
Author: Clare Vanderpool
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historic fiction
Page count: 320

If I’d known what there was to know about Early Auden, the strangest of boys, I might have been scared off, or at least kept my distance like all the others.

World War II has just ended and Jack has just moved to Maine from Kansas following the death of his mother. At his boarding school he meets Early Auden, a very strange boy who never actually goes to class, lives in the janitor’s closet, sorts jelly beans when he’s stressed, and has created an elaborate fairy tale to coincide with all the numbers of pi. When both are left alone in the school during a break, Early convinces Jack to go on a quest with him into the forest of Maine to help find Pi, whom he insists is lost. Or maybe a bear, or some other suck wacky shit.

I would like to start by saying barf. I know that middle grade books are often characterized by their heartwarming…ness….and that’s one reason why I don’t read them very often, and also perhaps why so many people loved this book whereas it mostly made me dry heave. Maybe my heart is too black to appreciate this book, but the more Vanderpool tried to warm it the more I wanted to set the god damn book on fire. How in the flying fuck did this get a Printz honor? Nevermind the fact that THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK; the Printz (honor), which, to quote my friend who knows what he’s talking about, is often polarizing in its weirdness, should not be awarded to something so safe and mediocre.

Continue reading

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

8 Feb

10836471Title: Midwinterblood
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: fantastic
Page Count: 272

The sun does not go down.

This mind trip of a Printz medalist starts with a journalist traveling to a remote island to dig up the truth behind a peculiar but persistent rumor: the inhabitants have started to live forever. Once there he keeps catching himself in a repeating pattern of intense deja vu that starts with love at first sight and ends with ritual murder. Thus begins the first of seven narratives traveling backwards through time, all linked by repeating motifs and interlinked souls that return to the living world play out their stories, again and again and again.

First sentence is pretty good, in that it is indicative of the stark creepiness that pervades the entire book.

I will admit that as I was reading this book I was unconvinced of its Printz worthiness. It’s not terribly accessible, the seven linked narratives inhibit personal investment in the characters and their stories, it feels distant and cold. But then I finished it, and the very end of the very last chapter tied all the weirdness together, and I straight up could not stop thinking about it. I finished it days ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Do I think this book deserves the Printz? Yes. Would I recommend it to the majority of my teen readers? Hell to the no. Here’s why, on both counts.

Continue reading

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

23 Nov

The-Coldest-Girl-in-ColdtownTitle: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Horror
Page count: 432

Tana woke lying in a bathtub.

Tana is a human girl living in a world just like our own, except for the fact that it is infested with vampires forced to live in ghettos called Coldtowns. One morning she wakes up disoriented in a bathtub, and when she emerges from her hangover coccoon she finds that everyone else in the party has had their throats ripped out and blood drained by vampires. Everyone, that is, except for her ex-boyfriend (Aidan), tied to a bed and infected (bitten but not drained), and a half-crazed vampire (Gavriel) chained on the floor next to him. In a moment of impetuous decisiveness (a character trait that continues throughout the book), Tana decides to rescue both before the culprits of the killing spree, nesting in the basement til nightfall, wake up and finish the job. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is the story of Tana, Aidan, and Gavriel’s adrenaline-charged flight to the dangerous safe haven of the nearest Coldtown, a race against the clock as Aidan descends into vampirism and Tana waits to see if she, also, has been infected. And what a ride it is.

Continue reading

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

22 Sep

Dream-Thieves-CoverTitle: The Dream Thieves
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 438

A secret is a strange thing.

After waking the ley line (or corpse road, or fairy road), nothing is the same for Blue and her Raven Boys. Ronan, a boy broken and made savage from trauma, loses himself to the seduction of being the Greywaren: a being who can pull objects from the dream world into reality. Adam’s promise to be the eyes and ears of Cabeswater is consuming him as it attempts to work its will through him. Blue still can’t make out with anyone but poor dead Noah without risking killing whichever poor boy she decides to smooch. And to make things more complicated, a hitman has been sent to retrieve the Greywaren from Henrietta and decides to make out with Blue’s mom in the meantime. Life is rough.

I will start by saying that I liked the first book in this trilogy, The Raven Boys, a lot. But you know what? I freaking LOVED The Dream Thieves. Here is why.

Continue reading

In Darkness by Nick Lake

9 Apr

11451112I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.

Nick Lake‘s In Darkness is the 2013 Printz Award winning story of a nameless teen trapped in the rubble underneath a collapsed hospital after the Haiti earthquake. His only companion in the darkness is a decomposing hand, his own memories, and a psychic connection to Touissant l’Ouverture, a Haitian revolutionary who lived 200 years earlier.

So, this book is…wait for it…dark. And when I say it’s dark, I mean dark in every sense of the word. Half of the narrative’s setting is defined by absolute darkness. The sense of claustrophobia as we experience the narrator’s blindness, his thirst that drives him to drink whatever blood has collected on the floor, to reach out and touch a disembodied hand just to see if his only companion in his coffin is alive, is overwhelmingly visceral.

The subject matter is dark. It is a story of horrible lives, of murder and murderers, of watching your father get hacked apart by machete toting gangsters, of fighting for your country’s freedom only to die in a dungeon on the other side of the world. This is the kind of story that, for the bulk of its telling, makes you want to kill yourself from the overwhelming sense that there is nothing good in the world, at all.

The writing is staggering in its bleak beauty. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“I tried to call out, but bullets are faster than words, and I was just standing there in the middle of all that metal death” (263).

“We have a mouth – we can feel it in our face, an opening into us that can let the spirit out – but when we use it, when we speak, there is no one to listen. The voices that come to us, drifting through the darkness beyond our prison, they might as well be the voices of the dead. (…) We are a slave to this space, to the inevitable decay of trapped things. We can feed ourselves, but there is no food; we can work with our hands and with our minds, but there is nothing on which to work; we have eyes, but there is nothing to see. There is no future and no past. We are in the darkness. We are one” (326-7).

One of my favorite things about this book was the spirit of Om that came through more and more strongly as the narrative progressed; the sense of emptiness and unity, while horribly depressing in context, was also one of the only reoccurring moments in which I, as a reader, felt liberated from the oppressing sense of insurmountable awfulness.

At times I struggled to get through Touissant’s half of the narrative; it just didn’t have the pop that our nameless narrator’s story had. However, I appreciated the parallels of experience that spanned the hundreds of years between their physical lives, and so I was able to deal.

All in all, this is a pretty amazing book that still continues to haunt me even though I finished it about two weeks ago. However, there are parts that can be difficult to get through without wanting to say “fuck this world, I want to die,” so just be forewarned if you do decide to pick it up.

And, just because Biggie Smalls is mentioned every other page, it’s only fitting that he gets the spotlight for this edition’s music match.

Prodigy by Marie Lu

11 Mar

13414446Title: Prodigy
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Sci-fi light
Page Count: 371

Day jolts awake beside me.

Within minutes of their arrival in Las Vegas in search of the Patriots, fugitives June and Day learn that the Elector has died and been replaced by his son, Anden. When the Patriots agree to take June and Day in on the condition that they assist in the assassination of the new Elector, the two young lovers must go their separate ways to play their parts in the plot; June, to Denver to manipulate Anden into falling into the Patriots’ plot, and Day, with the Patriots to stir up “the people” before he personally shoots the Elector. The roles they each play in the assassination plot causes them to question the nature of the Republic, the Patriots, and their relationship with each other.

First sentence: weak sauce.

Woof. This is the first book in a long time that I nearly gave up on after reading 200 pages. It was that bad. The best thing about the first book in this sequence, Legend, was its plot. It was fast, it was tense, it was an enjoyable popcorn read. This clunker of a sequel gets totally bogged down by plodding and incongruous character development and ANGST. So. Much. ANGST. I know this book is about teenagers. I get it. But do they have to be so fucking unbearable? Every time it switched to Day’s point of view I wanted to throw the book across the room. For being such a spontaneously charismatic orator in front of thousands of people, he sure does put his foot in it literally every other time he speaks.

Continue reading

Set in Stone by Linda Newbery

28 Feb

535646Title: Set in Stone
Author: Linda Newbery
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Genre: Historic Fiction/Gothic
Page Count: 368

The poster is almost obscured by the press of people in the gallery.

The year is 1898, and Samuel Godwin is a naive young artist who has been plucked out of a London art academy by the wealthy Mr. Farrow to tutor his daughters in art. From the moment he first sees Fourwinds, the Farrows’ sprawling country home, he is captivated by it, and by the three young women who live there: Marianne, young and kind of bonkers but totally bangin; Juliana, passive, reserved, and a bit on the melancholy side; and Charlotte, the governess, who basically tells nobody anything about herself, ever. As time unfolds, Samuel (of course) begins to realize that things are not as they seem, and at the heart of Fourwinds lies a web of scandal and lies more ghastly than he could imagine.

First sentence rating: weak sauce.

OK, so I’ll start by saying that I only read this book because I came across it as I was weeding my teen fiction collection at work. It hadn’t gone out very much so was destined for the chopping block, but when I looked at the blurb and read reviews I thought, by golly, I want to read it! One reviewer even said it was for fans of Brontës. And I mean, I am a fan of Emily AND Charlotte Brontë! Sign me up!

Continue reading

Legend by Marie Lu

23 Feb

9275658Title: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Sci-fi light
Page Count: 320

My mother thinks I’m dead.

Day is a fifteen-year-old futuristic Robin Hood of sorts, only he’s also a physical super freak. He steals from the rich, screws with his totalitarian government, flits through the beswamped LA like a shadow, and scales buildings in five seconds or some crap. You know, the usual. June is a fifteen-year-old prodigy whose Holmesian eye for detail and Catwoman like physical prowess has her finishing her collegiate studies and ready to serve her Republic several years early. When June’s brother, a decorated Republic officer, is murdered she is enlisted to hunt down her brother’s killer: the prodigiously elusive Day.

I know that, in a previous post, I stated that I wouldn’t read Legend because the audiobook was so horrible I had to abandon it. The first thirty or so page were pretty painful because I kept hearing June’s narrator in my head, with all the obnoxious, self-satisfied smugness she injected into June’s narrative. However, once I got past those first thirty pages my own version of June was able to pop into my head and I was a lot happier. June is still kind of obnoxious, but this book is pretty enjoyable.

Continue reading