Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review: "Take Me On" by Katie McGarry

Haley Williams was a champion kick boxer, but something happened six months ago that made her give up fighting.  She just can't do it.  One night she is attacked and West Young, never one to back away from a fight, steps up to defend her - not realizing that she is more than capable of taking care of herself.  But it doesn't just end there - in order to settle things once and for all - there is going to be a fight, and West has agreed to fight for Haley.  Despite wanting to stay away from fights forever, Haley must train West as best she can so they both have a chance to walk away.  Especially since it seems like they are falling for each other - hard.

Almost this entire story takes place between the story and the epilogue of Crash Into Me, as West is Rachel's older brother.  West is still reeling from Rachel's accident, and his relationship with his father is at an all-time low.  So from that story, we get updates on Rachel and barely see Isaiah, but Abby figures in to West's new reality.

I love that Haley's a fighter.  She's physically strong and knows exactly what she's doing...  but she over thinks and she's afraid because of things that have happened in her life.  She's broken but not destroyed.... not yet.  It was a little difficult to buy into her family drama though...  I get how it was set up and all, but it just seemed like too much.

I definitely liked this book - I mean, I read the majority of it in one day.  But I think I would have enjoyed it more had I taken more of a break between this and reading her previous books.  There were some twists regarding West and his mom that I didn't expect and I liked how they ultimately played out.  This hardcover edition came with the novella Crossing The Line in the back, but I'm not going to read it now.  I think that needs to wait a bit.

*****
Take Me On
by Katie McGarry
Harlequin Teen, 2014
455 pages
Series:  Pushing the Limits #4
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: "The Raft" by S.A. Bodeen

Something came up, and Robie needs to get herself back home to the Midway Atoll as quickly as she can, so she gets herself on the next cargo plane out of Hawaii.  But a terrible storm and a mistake by the new co-pilot means that the plane has crash landed in the middle of the Pacific and no one knows she was on the plane.  No one knows to come find her.  Robie needs to do whatever she can to survive until she can be rescued - like finding water to drink and avoid becoming a shark's next meal.  Can she do it?

This was a very fast read as I was completely hooked into the survivalist aspect of it.  Robie goes through a lot - a lot that she can't even process right now or else she will seriously lose her mind.  It is pretty suspenseful to see her step up to each new challenge her predicament presents her....  But the overall, the intensity is pretty surface level.  There is a twist in a story regarding the co-pilot that didn't pan out really well; in fact I didn't really see that it was a twist until after the "reveal" that was obviously intended to be more emotional than it really was.  Also, the whole inclusion of the co-pilot's back story and how it was included seemed a little strange and maybe a bit forced to me.  But as a general survival story for younger teens, this will work well - especially as it doesn't have the gore or violence of some other titles out there for this age group.

*****
The Raft
by S.A. Bodeen
Square Fish, 2012
231 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: "Paper Towns" by John Green

There is just about one month left until graduation when Margo Roth Spiegelman shows up at Quentin's window in the middle of the night.  Sure they were best friends when they were younger - I mean, they live next door to each other - but they haven't been that close in a long time.  Q just kept on admiring her from afar as she became one of the beautiful popular people, and he was just your run of the mill guy at school.  So why is she at his window?  Margo needs his help in what turns into an all-night adventure fueled by revenge.  It is the longest - and best - night of Quentin's life...  up until Margo disappears the next morning.

This is my third book by Green and I could tell I was holding myself back a little, not wanting to be torn apart by some crazy emotional scene that would completely gut me.  It starts out crazy fun with Margo and Q doing all of these -things- all over town which I thought was fantastic.  But then Margo is gone.  Just gone.  And because she's eighteen, no one is really looking for her except Q.  He has convinced himself that she has left clues for him to find her...  But did she really?  Can he find her?  This part had me feeling more like I was being strung along... though I already admit I was holding myself back.  It still read pretty quickly, because I still wanted to know what happened and everything, but I wasn't blown away by this book at all.  Of the three that I've read The Fault in our Stars is still tops, Looking for Alaska would come in second, and then this one.  But it was necessary for me to read this before any movie talk gets more serious, so I'm glad I did (just not going to go crazy recommending this to others).

Side note:  I absolutely loved the idea of "paper towns" though - both as Margo first defines it for Q, and then again as defined by map makers - very interesting bit of trivia there.

*****
Paper Towns
by John Green
Speak, 2009
305 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: "The Death of Bees" by Lisa O'Donnell

Marnie and her little sister bury their parents in their garden on Christmas Eve.  They plan on going on as usual, telling people that they had gone away to Turkey and weren't sure when they'd be back.  They really don't want Social Services to get involved because then they'd certainly be separated and Marnie only has a year to go until she's legally able to care for them both.  But the neighbor, Lennie, notices that the parents haven't been around.  He starts to take care of them...  but Lennie's dog just won't quit digging around the garden.  Then there are all the people who are suddenly interested in the Gene and Izzy's whereabouts - it seems Gene had a great deal of money that he was supposed to give a drug dealer and he's come to collect.  Then there is a man from Izzy's past that wants to take control of the situation, even if he doesn't understand the truth of it all - and that makes the girls very uneasy.

I found this book on the list of Alex Award winners for this year, and the premise sounded intriguing.  If you haven't heard of the Alex Awards, they are given out every year by YALSA at the ALA midwinter conference, and highlights books written for an adult audience that also has"special appeal for young adults".

This story is told in alternating point of views:  Marnie's, Nelly's (Marnie's sister) and Lennie's.  Marnie is an angry 15 year old, used to taking care of her sister and no stranger to swearing, sex or drugs.  I often felt like her personality was more for show though, like it was a tough girl act that she hopes the reader will believe.  I like unreliable narrators, so this viewpoint appealed to me.  Nelly is completely different - she's a precocious 11 or 12 year old who enjoys old movies, playing her violin, and speaking like the Queen of England.  There are hints that something hasn't really been diagnosed for her (autism perhaps) and that she's prone to "fits".  Lennie is an older gay gentleman who made one mistake after his partner passes away that lands him on the list of Sexual Predators.  Most of his perspective is told as if he is speaking or writing to his dead partner.  But he has other secrets that he's been hiding....

As intrigued as I was by this story, it took me far longer to read than I expected it to.  I just couldn't stay focused on it at all.  I know that some people have loved this, and I like that it is a different kind of story in that its told from an unusual place and that it is full of irony, but I felt like I had to work at it to finish it.  And the ending itself wasn't quite what I expected.  It had a bit more excitement than the rest of the book, but was really tied up too nicely for such ugly circumstances.  I will be discussing this with my teen book group this fall and I'm really curious to see what they think about it.

*****
The Death of Bees
by Lisa O'Donnell
HarperCollins, 2013
309 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: "Dear Luke, We Need To Talk. Darth" by John Moe

There is a bit of a trend of compiling and publishing blog posts into a book.  Sometimes it works pretty well, sometimes.... not so much.  I'm not sure if that is what is going on here, but the author does write a column called "Pop Song Correspondences" on McSweenys.net... so I'm thinking this is pretty likely.

ANYWAY, what is going on here is a collection of "correspondences" between pop culture characters or between a character and someone else, or character's diary or something like that.  For example, there is a chat forum for Walkers from The Walking Dead, a letter to Billy Joel from the bar owner in the song "Piano Man", and oral history of the ghosts in Pac-Man, and an all-points bulletin for Bon Jovi as he is "Wanted, Dead or Alive".

The thing is, that if these were something I read one at a time, maybe a week or two apart - I would probably find them pretty funny.  But in a collection like this....  not really.  The Bon Jovi thing was pretty funny, I'll give you that.  But all together it is just too much, and I didn't laugh nearly as much as I had hoped with a title like that.  It was just too much, trying too hard or just plain strange.  I forced myself to read the first 70 pages, and then started skipping around and still not finding much to get excited about.  I really thought this was going to be better than it was, but instead chalk this up as a DNF (Did Not Finish).

*****
Dear Luke, We Need to Talk. Darth and other Pop Culture Correspondences
by John Moe
Three Rivers Press, 2014
290 pages
Source:   Finished Copy provided by Blogging For Books in exchange for honest review
*****

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Audio Book Review: "Panic" by Lauren Oliver

Carp, New York is an economically depressed town in the middle of nowhere.  There is very little to actually do there.  So a few years ago, Panic was started.  Panic is a game that the graduating seniors can choose to play - it is incredibly dangerous with potentially deadly challenges all summer long, but winning Panic means you win a huge jackpot.  No one knows who the two judges are and no one knows what the challenges will be.  Heather Nills never expected to enter the game - she only planned on cheering for her best friend Natalie - but she finds herself jumping off the cliff to start the game.  Dodge Mason absolutely planned on playing Panic - though he'd not interested in the money.  He is motivated by revenge.

I just love Lauren Oliver's writing.  The woman has a way with metaphors and adjectives and it is awesome.  I listened to this audio while taking a solo road trip one Saturday, and while I got a little confused in the beginning (like what does this scene have to do with anything?  Did she say Nat or Matt?) it really didn't take very long for me to become incredibly engrossed in this story.  It is thrilling and suspenseful with a side of mystery.  I found myself holding my breath in parts where it just wasn't clear what was going to happen during the challenges....  especially the final challenge because that was seriously an intense twist!

I also liked that this was told in alternating viewpoints - Heather & Dodge's.  I'm so used to reading books with alternate POV's being the two characters involved in some sort of love relationship that this was a nice change of pace.  Even when you start to wonder, hmm...  maybe?  Heather has so much going on in her life outside of Panic and Dodge is so dark but still likeable that they contrast each other well and their POVs bring so much to the story.  There are love interests for these characters, and while that factors into the overall story, it isn't the focus which I also liked.  There was just enough that worked for me.  Sarah Drew did an excellent job narrating too - she handled the male and female voices really well.   I had a feeling I would like this book, but I didn't realize by how much!  So good!

*****
Panic
by Lauren Oliver
narrated by Sarah Drew
8 hours 16 minutes; 408 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: "Love Letters to the Dead" by Ava Dellaira

It starts as an assignment for English class - write a letter to a dead person, and Laurel decides to write to Kurt Cobain.  She finds that she likes it, writing letters to someone who couldn't possibly write back, and she writes more...  some to Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Judy Garland, and others - even the guy who was the voice for Mr. Ed the Talking Horse on the old TV show.  Through her letters, we see Laurel - grieving for her sister who recently passed away, grieving for her mother who ran away to California.  She's also grieving for herself and the secrets she keeps.  But she's also making friends at the new school, and develops a crush on the mysterious boy...   but she can't talk about what happened the night her sister died.  She can barely even write about it...  but one night things spiral way out of control and she can't hide anymore.

I really wasn't sure what to expect here - I had no idea of the underlying issues that were beneath the surface, and I'm kind of glad for that.  But this is an interesting way to get to know a character - through the letters she writes to other people.  Her voice and tone changes significantly as you move through the story and I liked seeing her evolve in that way.  I mean, she is pretty unbalanced through much of the book (and with good reason...  though holy hysterical dramatics Batman) but this is a story of her trying to figure herself out.  I was worried about some teen readers not really knowing some of the intended recipients of these letters.... and lets face it, they are some pretty unusual choices of dead people.  She did try to make the connection within the letter to her own story so that it would make sense, but it was kind of a sidestep from the story and it made it a little awkward.  It took me at least the first 50 or 75 pages or so to really feel the character and, quite frankly, get over the boy's name because I hated it so much.  Such a superficial thing, but it really distracted me.  All said, this really wasn't all that I'd hoped it would be - especially since it was so nicely blurbed on the covers by Steven Chbosky and other authors I like.

*****
Love Letters to the Dead
by Ava Dellaira
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2014
323 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: "Little Fish" by Ramsey Beyer

This graphic novel is a chronicle of sorts, detailing the author's first year at college.  Ramsey grew up in a super tiny town in Michigan, but went all the way to Baltimore, Maryland to attend art school. So much changed for her in a short period of time; the title references her feeling like a "little fish" in the big city.  Overall, she could have really brought out the uniqueness of her story - I mean, going to art school in itself is pretty specialized - she instead kept her story pretty balanced so that it is accessible to pretty much anyone going away to school for the first time.

Ramsey has stylized herself as being a good girl from a good family who meets some very different but very good people at school.  She gets homesick, works hard on assignments and at her on-campus job, and tries to find ways to get more involved in other activities that she enjoys.   Eventually, Ramsey finds herself possibly attracted to one of her new friends.  Ramsey starts to question her faith in relationships, her fear of giving in to her emotions...  all those things one questions when debating turning a friendship into something more.  This is something everyone can relate to.  But to be truthful, the whole story - while interesting - is a little boring.  And I hate saying that, because this is someone's life - and I am sure they didn't think it was boring!  On the other hand, boring can be good....  it is normal after all.  And I still finished the book wondering about her and her friends in the book - where they are now, if they are still friends and all that.

I saved the best for last.  I really liked the format in which this story is told.  While some of it is drawn illustrations - the bulk of the text is in list form!  Ramsey has apparently always enjoyed making lists of different things, and at one time (maybe still?) published a zine of her lists.  She has reproduced lists that she actually wrote during this time of her life and used them to tell the story (with the illustrations to help move the time line along).  I thought that was a really cool way to tell a story!

*****
Little Fish
by Ramsey Beyer
Zest Books, 2013
272 pages
Source:  Library
*****

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Review: "The Spectacular Now" by Tim Tharp

Sutter Keely is that guy you know in high school - a little high on himself, parties all the time, never takes anything seriously.....  Here he is, nearing the end of his senior year and yet another girlfriend has dumped him.  Instead of examining himself and thinking on the issues he has in his past, he finds a girl that he thinks he can help come out of her shell, if you will.  Aimee is a quiet girl with a not-great home life, not much of a back bone but huge dreams.  And Sutter does help her to some extent...  but what about him?  Will he ever grow up?

I am so mixed up about this book.  Some (ok, maybe it was only one) teen(s) in my library told me that it was fantastic - the movie too.  I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie... so here we are.  While I did laugh a bit, I mean Sutter does have quite the personality and is pretty funny - I still really don't like him at all.  As much as he is all about "embracing the weird" and being in the now - he is so fully cocooned in these self-made walls of excuses that he isn't really in the now at all.  I did, however, really like the relationship he had with the ex-girlfriend post-break up.  That seemed real.  I think the feelings he has for Aimee are real too, or could be, if he is really being honest with himself.

Which brings me to the ending.  I don't want to give it away - but there really isn't an ending.  I mean the pages end...   but I felt like we were just getting started in Part 2 of the Sutterman Story.  Its not like it was a cliffhanger or that I feel like a sequel is justified here; its just that I felt like Sutter had a quasi-breakthrough, maybe, but I still don't trust him to be honest with himself about it for it to be of any good.  I'm mostly annoyed at this whole thing, and now I'm not even sure I want to see the movie.

*****
The Spectacular Now
by Tim Tharp
Ember, 2013.  First published 2008.
294 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****


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