Booknotized

A place to think, reflect, and talk (mostly to myself) about books I love…and a few that I don't.

Book Review: Rotters by Daniel Kraus February 9, 2012

Publisher: Delacorte
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Series: stand-alone
Age Group: Solidly YA (warning: violence, gore, language, sexual content)
Pages: 464
Source: purchase
Genre: (macabre) Realistic Fiction (some say “horror” but there’s no real fear angle, so I don’t think that truly fits)
Rating Breakdown: Idea 4★; Execution 3.5★

 

★★★★

Joey lives a sheltered life. His mother fulfills all of his needs, and it seems Chicago fulfills all of hers—they never, ever leave the city. But when a tragic accident sends Joey to a remote town to live with his father, he finds he has a lot to learn about life…and death.

Before he knows it, he’s been drawn into a macabre underworld that thrives on decay: a secret society of graverobbers. And, as much as his own accumulating stench and his father’s mysterious reputation as a “garbage man” isolate him from the insular, closed-minded society of Bloughton High, they might eventually be the very things that draw him back in.

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The pros…
 
This book starts with much promise. I didn’t realize just how long it had been since I had sunk my mental teeth into truly high-quality writing, until I finished the first few pages of this book. I was immediately hooked.
 
The style is what I can only describe as “piecemeal” in a most clever way—each sentence requiring more than your average bit of thought to process. Sometimes information precedes itself—if you know what I mean—and then unravels in the following sentences. For instance, my favorite passage in the book is the description of a girl—only, you’re halfway down the page before you fully understand what or whom it’s talking about. When it finally clicks, however, it’s a truly satisfying sensation.
 
Elements like that, combined with some truly unusual and refreshingly insightful details really put you behind the narrator’s eyes—you’re right there with him and it’s visceral. When it comes to the gory bits—and OH are there some gruesome passages!—it can be shocking, as well it should be. I won’t lie: I found myself on the subway closing my eyes and massaging my temples, or just gaping in horror at the page (and being gaped at in return by my fellow passengers) after happening unawares upon particular moments. And they are well placed for just such effect. Because not all of the related scenes contain descriptions of what Joey sees in the coffins, you never know when one will jump up and gum you to death. And, don’t be surprised if they stick to you for a while, either. (I confess, I eyed my roasted sweet potatoes warily last night when one of the mushier pieces smeared across the pan: unwillingly found myself thinking about how it had once been “alive”…)
 
If you’re like me, it will also be those lingering images that prompt a reconsideration of life, death, and mortality, and not Joey’s haphazard and drawn-out goose chase of the subject. As with the sweet potatoes, I can’t help but be constantly reminded of how dualistic life is. No matter how much we remove it from our everyday sight, package it in cellophane, and smother it with sweet-smelling euphemisms, death and decay are inextricably intertwined with life. They are two inseparable sides of one coin. And, the unabashed promotion of this realization is the true strength of this story.
 
The cons…
 
However, the book’s faults are intertwined with its assets, to some degree. Joey’s character, though the stream of his thoughts are belabored, didn’t ever solidify for me. Dimension was given to the smallest details outside of him, but the inside remained opaque. And similarly throughout the book, the evocative style, while excellent when it had something to focus on, wasn’t pared down enough when it didn’t. When combined with a multitude of meandering (sometimes superfluous) twists of plot, it resulted in a really drawn-out story. I put the book down more than once wondering if it would ever end. Without a doubt, the manuscript could have used a good strong structural edit to scrub some of the excessive prose and unnecessary scenes. (For example, I think more than one run-in with “Baby” wasn’t really necessary. They could have been combined and made more effective. Or, a more willing and resolved embrace of the book’s Jeckyll and Hyde undertones would have made the plot as clever as its metaphors.) Alas, this wasn’t done, and without the masterfully gruesome detail, many of the story’s finer points would have been lost in the overabundance. (I know: pot calling kettle!)
 
Finally—and herein lies my biggest criticism—while this book doesn’t try (or succeed if it did) to be anything other than macabre realistic fiction (despite the fact that the world of the “Diggers” is other, it’s not paranormal), the ultimate villain is absurdly unrealistic. Everything else in the book I could buy, and to strong effect; but that guy’s purported feats—especially his nothing-short-of-miraculous reappearance at the end—were not only surprising and disappointing, but truly irritating.
 
The final word…
 
Overall, however, Rotters is an utterly different, refreshingly nuanced, and excitingly complex read. Though I found the final third of the book lost its way, and am not sure that I gained much from the last 150 pages that I hadn’t gotten from the 300 preceding it, the provocative look at mortality that was offered up so starkly and unapologetically until that point made it worthwhile to finish. Until Hyde took over, I couldn’t help thinking of it as the (less svelt) YA version of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God.
 
But, if the mark of good literature is that it changes you somehow, alters your perspective in some way, then I’d give this one a solid vote. Whatever my gripes about the wandering plot, I will never look at rotters (the living or the dead…or the vegetable), in quite the same way again.

 

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer January 9, 2012

 
Publisher: Macmillan
Series: Lunar Chronicles (Book 1)
Age Group: YA (totally clean)
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Pages: 400
Source: NetGalley and Giveaway from Amanda at Diary of a Book Addict
Genre: Scifi + Post-Apocalyptic
Rating Breakdown: Idea 5+★; Execution 3+★
 

★★★★

Cinder is a cyborg—which in her society means barely human. Somewhere in a past she can’t remember, there was an accident that left her parentless and a surgery that gave her a foot and a hand she doesn’t want, but can’t live without. Her one glimmer of hope came in the form of a scientist from the Eastern commonwealth—a conglomerate of countries united by the emperor sometime after the devastating WW4—but was dashed before she even know about him, when he died of the Letumosis epidemic.
 
Now, stuck with a stepmother who hates her, working as a mechanic to pay bills that aren’t her own, in a country swept by plague and threatened by war from the psychotic Lunar queen, Cinder only dreams of escape.
 
And, then the Prince walks in.
 
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
 
First off, you must read this book. It’s great. You’ll enjoy it, I guarantee. It’s overall tightly written, fast paced, and unique. I was drawn to the cover at first sight and couldn’t put it down!
 
But, as a connoisseur (hah!) I am truly on the fence about it. As a reviewer, I feel compelled to tell the whole truth and nothing but. So, while on the one hand it was a thrilling read, it has its flaws.
 
I love the concept—very original. Instead of a technologically backwards future of the sort we’re used to seeing in today’s post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels, this one is very techno-savvy. Reminded me of Westerfeld’s The Uglies in its tenor. Hover cars are all the rage, and human beings survive historically fatal or utterly disfiguring injuries because of extreme advances in surgical prosthetics.
 
Fairly logically-advanced versions of the internet, computers, and televisions are the main form of communication and entertainment, which helps tie nicely into the present-day world.
 
The commonwealth, and its emperor are situated in Asia, in a city called New Beijing, making this the second book to allude to fears of China’s rise to world power. However, unlike some, this book doesn’t see that as a bad thing. The Emperor and his family are just, fair rulers, and peacefully cohabitate with other ruling bodies—except those on the moon (yup!).
 
Instead of climate change, and/or oil shortage being the cause of the apocalypse (both of which have been almost overdone these days…), it’s international conflict that spawned both destruction and peace between Earthen countries. Unchecked greed and power hunger is the reason for the latest threat from the mutated inhabitants of the moon—and their mind-controlling queen.
 
Up until that point, everything was great. But, the mind control was where the book started to get under my skin. I found it to be too convenient, cheesy, inconsistently implemented, and ineffective.
 
Similarly, though I appreciated the attempt to align this with the original Cinderella story, a few of the plot elements at the end were too forced. This is a problem I have with a lot of fairytale re-imaginings: they don’t seem to realize you can pick and choose which elements to include—and even then, you can bend them a little to fit your setting. This book tried too hard to get them all in…and didn’t bend or wield them skillfully enough to fit. For one, the “carriage” (an old rusted out automobile) was a potentially really intriguing twist that just didn’t deliver and faded out as abruptly as it appeared. More importantly, however, the ball was just totally out of place, in my mind. Not only was it a virtual impossibility (all the citizens of one major city invited at once?), but then, why such an outdated ritual in full 17th century style was the one tradition that held over from the old to such a futuristic world wasn’t explained. It wasn’t the right scene for the confrontation, and as a result, the final scenes were just not cathartic enough.
 
As for characters, the evil queen wasn’t very believable—her dialogue made me chuckle at some points. And, last but not least, Cinder just wasn’t a decisive or confident enough character for my taste. Why she waited so long to work on the Prince’s robot—meanwhile the dropped hints and reminders of its import were abundant—I just couldn’t figure out. And her two obsessions—her own imperfection and escape—were overdone to the point of threatening the story not only plot-wise, but overall by making her slightly annoying.
 
That said, however, I really enjoyed the concept and the world, and will definitely be looking out for book 2—which I hope will benefit from its freedom from the original story and license to do fantastic things with a fantastic concept.

 

Official #HungerGames Movie Trailer…WOW! November 14, 2011

I. have. chills.

 

Books, Authors, and Crazy, Crazy Fans October 31, 2011

 

The last month has been a whirlwind of book-related activity. High time I sat down to post about it!

First things first…

 
In reality, it all started back in February or March, when my good friend Shanella said, “Hey, you want to go to Hogwarts?” And I said, “Are you KIDDING? Of COURSE I do.”
 

There was only one small problem: we hadn’t received our invitation letters…yet.

We made our reservations and patiently waited. And waited. And waited.

 

With only 3 days to go, I realized we were going to have to take matters into our own hands. So, I found Dumbledore’s email address and sure enough, he said there had been an owl strike – something to do with Weasley’s Wildfire Whiz-bangs – and he had them faxed over straight away.

 

Since toting a faxed invitation around with us would have been totally lame, we had them put on t-shirts instead.

 

 

We were the coolest kids in school.

(No, seriously, 18 – or was it 16? – different people stopped us in the middle of the park to ask where we’d gotten them.
Others simply took pictures without our permission. It felt good to be popular.)

 

Hogwarts itself, however, was WAY cooler.
(If you don’t see the slide show below, you can click to go to my Hogwarts photo album instead.)

 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 


 

 

Just before we left for Hogwarts, we went to see Maureen Johnson at Books of Wonder, which was downright awesome. It was the release of her new book The Name of the Star, a Jack the Ripper ghost story set in modern England. There were even 2 Jacks present. Spooky!

 

Maureen’s very fun in person…which one would probably gather from her not-in-person outlets, such as her Twitter @maureenjohnson. Check her out. You’ll see what I mean. If you’re familiar with the #yasaves hashtag, then you already know who I’m talking about. *wink*

 

 

(Sorry the pic is so grainy. I left my camera at home that day…and well, let’s just say my iPhone is a “circa babyboomers” gen.)

 

 

Finally, just last week there was the amazing Fantastic Fiction event at the self-same Books of Wonder  (best bookstore in the city!), starring authors Scott Westerfeld, Maryrose Wood, Jeff Hirsch, Sarah Beth Durst, Jon Skovron, Gabrielle Zevin, and Alison Goodman.

 

I snagged copies of Westerfeld’s and Hirsch’s books, and then some photo ops with the gents while they were signing.

 

 

 

 

Lost in conversation with Scott (sorry, may I call you Scott?), I failed to noticed that Shanella was trying to get my attention and take a picture.
 
Thankfully, she was persistent.
 

 

Only bad thing about going to these AWESOME author events?
TBR list now has 3 new additions . . .

 

Up next: Halloween, YA Lit style. (Hint: think ultramarine)

 

Guest Review: No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve October 20, 2011

I always love getting recommendations for good books, especially when they are as ebullient as this one.

Shortly after finishing this title (part of my growing Philip Reeve collection – he’s pretty awesome, btw), that I had not even cracked yet, my husband Sorin, all but bubbling over with excitement, began to regale me with tempting snippets of the story line. As he recounted and gesticulated, I began to suspect that he was doing so as much to relive the story himself as to talk me into reading it. Since that’s exactly the art of book reviewing (at least for me!), I invited him to contribute a post of his own here on Booknotized.

A native of Romania, Sorin came to the US (where he met me) via Montreal, Quebec. Currently a computer science masters candidate, he recently completed his first novel, I, Pirate, which was a young adult division quarterfinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards competition. Reading and writing are his passions, though I know I fit somewhere in there as well. I hope you enjoy this, his first (but hopefully not last!) review.

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 1, 2010
Age Group: 9–12+ (some mature intimations; graphic violence)
Pages: 186

★★★★★

Before Johannes Von Brock arrived at the inn and asked for a child to follow him as squire, Ansel wasn’t worth much. So little, in fact, that his father didn’t even consider him a candidate. But the man liked the fact that the boy couldn’t speak, for he had secrets that he’d like kept that way…

For starters, “there are no such things as dragons.” Just spend a couple of days on the mountain, come back, tell the people you killed it, get paid, and go on to the next place. In a time where superstitions rule the mind of man, where mythical creatures roam the earth, in a time when legends are born, people need their savior. They expect it. And our brave knight is there for them.

But as they arrive in a tiny mountain village, plagued by a man-eating, sheep-stealing “worm,” neither master nor squire can imagine the turn that their lives are about to take.

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I must confess, when I started reading this book, I had fairly low expectations. Jaded by same-subject movies, disappointed by the books, I anticipated a story where either dragons are more implied than actual (as the title suggests), or if present, then display human-like traits (sentience, emotion, etc). But, boy was I in for a surprise! A couple of pages in and I found myself caught in the beautiful, poetic, yet straightforward, language. I couldn’t care less for dragons. Or the action. Just give me more of those beautiful descriptions. It made me realize that it had been a long time since I read a well-crafted book. So long, in fact, that I’d gotten used to the mediocre ones.

And when the real action started, I couldn’t put it down. But I had to. It was 3 AM. I dreamt of dragons and brave little boys. No, not in that way, you perv. Because, you see, you think you know who the dragon fighter is, but… That’s all I’ll say.

The characters are wonderfully forged. Even the dragon. (Whoops!) The boy, Ansel, is one of few heroes in the plethora of modern young adult books who doesn’t have any superpowers. Wait, you say, he doesn’t have any superpowers? Not even a magical pinky, or a fairy godmotherslashuncleslashmaybedog? He doesn’t drink blood? Or perhaps a bit of power-enhancing, magic-awakening juice?

No, no magic. He’s mute, and that’s all, which certainly doesn’t help when being chased by a crazy-eyed dragon. Or when you’re hungry. But, in my opinion, he has more going for him than 275 of the other heroes put together. To make the right decision, when facing a killer beast is hard even for a man, but for a malnourished child? A hero is not made or born. One becomes. Will Ansel become a hero? I won’t tell you. Just read the book!

Truly, Philip Reeve accomplishes in 186 pgs what many others haven’t in a full series of 400 pgs each: to write an inspiring yet entertaining book, one that reaches deep inside and tries to change you.

I think No Such Thing as Dragons will make an exhilarating experience for any book-loving, adventure-craving kid. I know it did for me.

 

Book Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White October 18, 2011

Publisher: Harper Teen
Release date: August 31, 2010
335 pages
Age Group:
solid YA +
(some slightly sexual innuendo, references to language, though not actual)

★★★★

The Center is being attacked, and paranormals everywhere are dying inexplicably. She’s supposed to be protecting them, but Evie can only think of one thing to do: run.

Ever since she was a child, and the IPCA (International Paranormal Containment Agency) discovered that she could see through (thus identify) paranormals’ glamours, Evie has been living at the medicinally white-walled Center, working the whenever-they-need-her shift, capturing and tagging vampires, werewolves, hags, and more with ankle bracelets that prevent their wreaking any more havoc. It’s not much of a home, but it’s better than bouncing through foster care like the abandoned child she was. Besides, life is fairly normal…she finds out all she needs to know about “real” teenhood from her favorite high school TV drama, Easton Heights. And she shops. Oh, and that weapon she uses to subdue the paranorms? It’s called Tasey. And it’s pink, like her stiletto boots.

So, it’s no biggie that she is intrigued by the (seemingly) teenage guy—whose face is like water, and whose eyes are utterly unforgettable—that they’ve captured downstairs.

So what if she’s not supposed to see him? So what if he’s classified? So what if he’s the only person she’s able to save when everyone else is in danger? So what if her life is suddenly and completely turned upside down?

So what…now?

__________________________________________________________________________

Evie’s story is a captivating one, not necessarily because it’s terribly unique content-wise (young person with strong personality and an inexplicable power vs. paranormal creatures gone awry), but because of the endearing, fun, and spunky style in which it’s told. Evie is a unique personality, and her story glows with her spirit and humor. The action is consistant throughout the book, and the love interest, truly interesting. There’s no triangle (TG!), and the world—as limited as it is by Evie’s infrequent exoduses from the Center—is well-represented.

I really enjoyed the book, particularly its uniquely positive overtone. When I first heard “pink heels” and “perky,” I moaned internally, but take my word for it: it’s expertly infused with cheek and irony in a way that makes it fun instead of groanilicious. (My totally manly husband is actually the one who recommended it to me.) I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel Supernaturally (which came out this July) and, based on this, all things Kiersten White.

 

Book Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre August 19, 2011

Release Date: April 12, 2010
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
272 pgs

★★★1/2

It’s dark, but you can just see the outline of the tunnel walls ahead, curving on in their endless arc. It’s all you have ever known, the Enclave of youths you were born into, the only human contact you have ever had…until now.

Something shuffles to your left—it’s rotting stench is overwhelming. But survival of the fittest doesn’t leave much room for the squeamish. Besides, you are a Huntress. This is your purpose. So, you end him in a warm spurt of blood. His companions will finish him off. They’re hungry. They aren’t squeamish either.

There are stories of others like you up there, but you would never venture topside. Enclave elders say it’s all scorched and toxic. And, despite what your new hunting partner thinks—or the warm shivers his nearness gives you—you believe what they say. Well, most of it anyway. Their laws are harsh, but they keep you fed and safe…

Except. Maybe…no. You shouldn’t even consider it. The Freaks aren’t a threat. They’re just crazed animals in human form…rotting bodies with razor sharp teeth. They don’t think. And they certainly don’t organize. They don’t. Really. They just don’t.

If they did, we wouldn’t survive.

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I knew this story was going to be quite unique from page one—which prompted my attempt at an unusual summary above. (Pardons if it’s ghastly!)

The narrator lets on that her world is not the same as the reader’s. There’s been a second holocaust, she says, one that razed human civilization…leaving behind a few ragtag groups to fend for themselves using what vestiges of human culture can be salvaged…underground.

The book really does an excellent job of keeping the reader, too, in the dark—both literally and figuratively. The more you read of the tight, gloomy post-apocalyptic underworld, the less it seems you can remember the feel of the sun on your face. The instinct for survival is visceral, as is the sinking realization that this could be our world, if the right thing goes wrong.

Similarly, until the last 10 pages, it’s never revealed exactly where in relationship to the present day world you have been —or why it’s the way it is—which I appreciated immensely. (I really thought it quite a shame on those bloggers who let the cat out of the bag in the first few lines of their review!) Even the fact that the question goes unspoken (because, absolutely true to her circumstances, the heroine doesn’t even know it can be asked) really adds to the close, musty murkiness of it all: it’s as if the world as we know it has truly ceased to exist. Serious props to the author—it was mightily well pulled off.

I do have to confess that I wasn’t quite as pleased with the 2nd half of the book (into which there was a significant shift) for three reasons. First, I had a lot of questions unanswered about the people/places/things in the 1st half that I thought were rather abruptly (& ergo cheaply) dismissed. However, I have hope they will be revisited/answered in the sequel, so I won’t belabor that just yet. And, relatedly, there was a certain thinness to the latter half: too much happens in too few pages. You don’t really have time to get attached to anyone or anything—despite the passage of book-months. In the rapid-fire beginning, this thinness serves to underscore the transience of life as it has become, but in the end results in a kind of “weak tea” effect. Finally, a half-hearted attempt at a love triangle left a fairly sour taste in my mouth. (They always do…)

However, I won’t reveal any more detail than that—though I’m longing to (maybe a hidden post?)—because this is one book where I strongly feel that the experience of reading blind is a huge draw—and one of the book’s greatest achievements. The concept, the setting, the world, they’re all fresh, as far as books go. We’ve seen the same thing in films before, but reading it is really a different and intriguing experience. I also love that it’s inspired and/or influenced by George MacDonald’s “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” story…but I’ll write more on that later…

Let me know if you agree.

P.S. DON’T watch the book trailer. DO NOT. I’m warning you. It really doesn’t do the book ½ ounce of justice…

 

 
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