Booknotized

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

Book Review: Bumped by Megan McCafferty February 13, 2012

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Series: Duo (Thumped out April 24, 2012)
Age Group: Solid YA (strong, though not graphic, sexual content)
Genre: Post-apocalyptic
Pages: 336
Source: personal purchase – $.99 January Epic Reads, Kindle Edition
Rating Breakdown: Idea 3.5★; Execution 3★

★★★

Melody has her life all planned out—or, well, technically her parents do, but she’s ok with that. Really, who wouldn’t give their left ovary for a chance at a 6-figure signing bonus, college tuition, and a few moments with one of the most “fertilicious” sperm donors around? All she has to do is cook up a kid for the wealthy, childless Jaydens who’ve hired out her womb. Being a professional surrogate isn’t just the right thing to do, you know, for humanity and all—since the HPSV (human progressive sterility virus) started sterilizing everyone over 18. Without teen surrogates, humanity would go extinct in a matter of years. No, it’s also very hip—at least so say Melody’s parents, all the ads, and the people at Babies R U, who sell prosthetic “FunBumps” to get flat bellies in the mood. And, so says Melody, who was the first to turn pro at her school and make it OK for everyone else to capitalize on their most valuable assets…before they go bad, that is. Even though she has yet to get bumped (the Jayden’s have taken way too long selecting a boy toy), she’s still as excited as she was when this all began—isnt’ she?
 
Not if her twin sister, Harmony—who arrives from her sect’s compound in Goodside unannounced and unwanted—can help it. Harmony’s sole mission in life is to spread the Truth (or so she says), and that includes bringing Melody back from the brink of sinful disaster. Harmony certainly doesn’t intend to bump with anyone. No, sir. Why would anyone want to do a thing like that??
________________________________________________________________________________________
 
[So, be forewarned: this book is all about sexuality, as you may well have guessed. Though there aren’t any overly graphic scenes, sex is nonetheless very present throughout. Teenage pregnancy is a topic of ambiguous debate, and neither protection nor abstinence is considered seriously, nor is any perspective really committed to at the end. Perhaps some of those topics will be fleshed out (no pun intended..,) in Book 2, but were not in Book 1.]
 
For the first few chapters, I found this book rather annoying. A combination of heavy, heavy use of unexplained, world-specific slang from Melody, a wad of over-the-top fundamentalism from Harmony, and slow progress resulting from the alternating perspectives caused me to put it down several times. However, about halfway through, I began to get used to the slang. Harmony either softened up or I accepted her as a complex character (and not just an allegorical subject molded specifically to be mocked). The plot finally picked up, and I was surprised to find myself enjoying the last 150-or-so pages.
 
As for the world, it’s rather thin and flat. Fleshed out predominantly through the slang, it doesn’t ever really differentiate itself from “today.” High schools are high schools; hospitals are hospitals. The only discernable nuances are the virus and an internalized blink-driven fusion of the Internet/Facebook called the “MiNet” (clever phonetics for “ME” net?) that we’ve seen 1000 times already (The Uglies…). However, the virus and its repercussions are intriguing enough to consider (for a more structured exploration of the same, see P. D. James’ novel and the movie loosely based on it, Children on Men). The idea of gametes and uterus being commodities, and young girls being pressured to have not only sex, but babies, by peers and parents is an interesting and complex conflict. With the number of women experiencing fertility problems today and signs of a sperm count decrease being linked to water-borne hormones from oral contraceptives, it’s not even that far-fetched an apocalypse.
 
However, I felt the book’s handling of the topic was a bit too ambiguous. The focus was put more on the freedom to keep one’s own child, with adoption treated as somewhat undesirable. (I understood that it was forced adoption that was being looked down upon, but awkward, superficial handling of the subject didn’t really leave room for other considerations.) Because of the social situation, romance isn’t a driving force of the novel, which was quite refreshing. But, again, like the idea of teen pregnancy, the concept of sex outside of affection wasn’t well handled—though you do get a basic hint that the narrator feels one should be a prerequisite for the other. In the end, the story becomes more of an answer to the question, What would happen if extremist views that sex should only be procreative took over? than an exploration of the potential fallout from a debilitating virus or a even a promotion of sex’s other uses.
 
In addition, the reasons why in vitro fertilization isn’t more widely used is not satisfactorily explained at all. This was one of my biggest gripes. As an obvious alternative that’s medically available today, not to give any real reason it isn’t being used in such a future as this is just sloppy world-building. Additionally, though young people are having rampant sex (orgies included) STDs are never even mentioned. A cure has been found for AIDS, the reader is informed at one point, but no other mention of the hazards of unprotected sex are discussed, which I found rather irresponsible, given the age of the characters and the book’s target audience.
 
Finally, the ending was soooo incredibly forced. It was an unexpected cliff-hanger that was obviously manufactured to extend the brand. I usually hate those types of endings. I didn’t so much this time, but that may be due to the fact that I was reading an e-book, and thus unable to get outraged that the remaining pages were far less than needed to wrap up the plot (until it was already upon me!). Or, it simply might have been because I was so ambivalent about the characters and their story in general.
 
That said, I can’t deny that I did enjoy it, though I can’t really pinpoint why. While I am not sure I can say exactly what was good about it (nor sure it’s worth spending the time to craft such thoughts…), I can say what wasn’t bad: It wasn’t full of awkward phrases or overly simplified lines—that is, it wasn’t badly written on a line-by-line basis. The characters weren’t utterly odious, annoying, or flat. The plot didn’t completely stagnate. The idea wasn’t totally cliché. It wasn’t a cotton-candy read since, thankfully, it did have some thought-provoking substance. Oh, and it wasn’t romance-driven. (Perhaps its best quality.)
 
I will surprise myself by giving it a thumbs up on the jargon, which so turned me off at the beginning. Though hard to get used to, it was quite clever. If as much time had been spent developing the themes and plot as was spent on the slang, it would have been much better book.
 
All in all, I would be flat out wrong if I said it didn’t have something. I’ve spent a lot of time lately contemplating the idea that we are often judging books by too-narrow standards. Where literary criticism doesn’t always turn up any merit (case and point: Harry Potter!), popular opinion belies qualities that the ivory tower is overlooking. It reminds me of the idea of differentiated learning styles—you know, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Whatever the literary equivalents of those are, this book has some of them. More on that topic to come.

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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.

___________________________________________________________________
 
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.

 

Series Review: Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger, Forever) by Maggie Steifvater November 10, 2011

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: August 1, 2009; July 13, 2010; July 12, 2011
Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls
Age Group: solid YA (implied/described sexual content; graphic violence)
Pages: 400; 368; 400
Rating: Idea 4★; Execution 4★; Style 4.5★
Genre: romantic fantasy

★★★★

Shiver / Linger

Grace is relatively happy living in her rural home with parents who are rarely ever there…it’s lonely, but she creates her own structure: good grades, no late nights…

Only when she begins to feel drawn away from the warmth and light into the quick chill of the Boundary Wood that fringes her house—toward the pack of wolves that roams there—does she realize that something is missing, and perhaps always has been.

Then the boy appears—and he is one of them, she is sure. His yellow eyes belong to the wolf, the stormy gray wolf who saved her all those years ago.

And then, he is Sam. And she cannot imagine life without him. So she doesn’t…

…but the cold, and his earthy, shaggy, winter body remembers. It will claim him.

It might be calling her, too.
 
Forever

Sam is stable…as much as he can be without Grace.
Where she is…what she is, he can’t be sure. He only knows he needs to find her, fast.
Now that a second death has been blamed on his pack, they only have so much time before the hunters begin closing in. It may already be too late.
 
____________________________________________________________
 
This series is sort of in a class by itself. It is a dark, brooding romantic fantasy of a similar brand as that of Twilight, but the style (and LACK of love triangle) is superior enough to make that comparison invalid. And, I think the quality of the writing has only improved with age. Out now, the third book has all of the same qualities as Shiver and Linger, only more crystallized and focused.
 
For one, the world is built with integrity. Fitting to the plot, it is tight and limited, but the text makes it visceral. Metaphor is a key descriptive player and it is used in fresh and surprising ways. Sam’s favorite poet Maria Rainer Rilke is quoted often, and I daresay the text benefits immensely from that—in style as much as in content.
 
The characters are multi-dimensional, but focused and consistent. They grown and learn—about themselves and others—over the course of the trilogy. (You would think that would be a given, but I’ve learned the hard way that this is an unusual characteristic in YA lit these days! So, when I see it, I like to point it out.) The side characters are intriguing (bad-boy Cole is there for those of us who like a scruffy egomaniac) and take on a life of their own as they become more central to the storyline in Forever. This is in part due to the multiple-point-of-view format of the book, which I found refreshing (each chapter is written in a different character’s voice). Overall, they (Sam, Grace, Cole, Isabel, etc) aren’t extremely deep, and sometimes their realizations are slightly obvious, but it’s not to the point of annoying. The crux of the book really is the plight of the werewolf, and, of course, the two soul mates caught in the crossfire between an errant biology and an ignorant humanity.
 
Yes, it’s a tender, emo love story. However, even though soft, skinny, sensitive Sam is not really my type, he is such a well-drawn character, you can’t help but like him. The poetry—Rilke’s, not necessarily Sam’s—often would step in to redeem him for me, giving him a deeper facet than most other series’ boy toys have. He so clearly needs Grace that you can’t help but root for them. Grace herself is all but perfect, but not in an unlikable way. She’s beautiful, but strong (kind of like Bella Swan should have been).
 
Really, for all of the wolf in them, they are both very human.
 
The plot is fairly strong: catching and medium-paced. I got slightly impatient at times, so it wouldn’t have worked for me to read all 3 books in a row. I read them as they came out, and I was actually happy with that. The world is compelling enough to make revisiting a pleasure. Some reviewers did not like the ending of the trilogy, but I did. True, it’s ambivalent, but not in a cheap, incongruent, copout, “no questions answered” way like the Incarceron series. There’s the hint of what could happen, but not the confirmation. Frankly, it totally fits with the style, and I was ok with that.
 
In fact, the most striking characteristic of the books for me lies in the style—in the “feeling” the writing gives: of cold.
 
True, the story is purposefully set on the borders of a wilderness in Mercy Falls, Minnesota, where winters are long and harsh: cold is what makes a werewolf shift into a wolf. But it’s one thing to simply state that fact—another to weave it into the fabric of the text. I don’t quite know how to explain what I mean, but for all the warmth of Sam and Grace’s relationship, I always came away from the text with a chill. It was as if there was somehow something delicate lying between me and them, a subtle frosty whisper that fills and parts the air.
 
That, I found totally masterful.

 

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: Restoring Harmony, by Joëlle Anthony September 26, 2011

Publisher: Putnam
Release Date: May 13, 2010
Pages: 320

★★1/2

It’s the year 2141, but Molly’s world looks anything but futuristic: living on a farm; raising crops, livestock, and siblings; and playing her fiddle “Jewels,” keep her too occupied to really notice that the civilized world is – well – not so civilized anymore. Since 2031, when the unchecked shortages of oil caused world economies and governments to irrevocably collapse, her family has lived in relative comfort. They were lucky enough to be insulated from the worst of the crisis by the water that surrounds their small Canadian island.

But, all of that changes when they receive a frightening letter from Molly’s grandparents in Oregon, and no one but Molly can be spared to go and find out if they are still alive. Armed with nothing but her fiddle, she sets out on a journey that will change her forever.

________________________________________________________________________

I enjoyed this book on one level: it provided a dystopian perspective that I really haven’t seen before. For once, the protagonist’s family lives comfortably apart from the disaster because of their foresight, planning, and agricultural skill. In a way, the book contains both a warning about what might come to pass in our world if we continue to consume resources at the current rate, and a practical solution to the problem for those concerned enough to listen. I found this intriguing.

However, the narrative itself was otherwise unremarkable. The attempt was made to recreate mid-depression America – where liquor is scarce, the farmers are better off than the doctors, and organized crime has replaced a debilitated and absentee government – but those elements were regrettably “told” and not at all “shown.” Too much time was spent with the minutia of Molly’s days inside her grandparents home (of which I never could get a very clear picture) and not enough on the rest of the world, including the love interest. Complications, perils, and various other twists and surprises jumped out at every corner, but were not very believable. I became quickly jaded to them, and was never able to fully emotionally invest.

The heroine was fairly spunky and likable, but completely flat. Her fiddle, which could have been an interesting prop, got rather annoying by mid-book – mostly because it was named. Hearing “Jewels” over and over again, juxtaposed to rather old-fashioned song titles like “Turkey in the Straw,” just didn’t appeal to me. There’s so much modern folk music being created (I know, I’m a fan and go to festivals and other such geeky stuff), and I wish the titles had given the impression of more sophisticated music. As it was, I felt like I was back in kindergarten, listening to a “Wee Sing” album.

Still, it could have been worse. I appreciate the attempt to harken back to a simpler time and place (as well as the LACK of love triangle), and I did like the closed, feel-good ending to what I hope was a stand-alone title.

 

Coming Soon: Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs July 25, 2011

Hardback

After being in half-frozen, medieval pseudo-Britain for the last month (courtesy of my obsession with A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings), I’m thinking it might be kinda fun to take a trip south to the magical, Mediterranean climate of ancient Greece. A couple of the reviews hint that it’s a “fluff” read, but I’m not entirely against those. I am curious to see if the writing style is any more sophisticated than that in Percy Jackson’s neo-mythology—and in what ways a female character contrasts to our beloved water boy. Stay tuned for the verdict.

_____________________________________

Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: May 1, 2008
Series: Oh. My. Gods.

Paperback

“Phoebe Castro is a distance runner who plans on winning a full-ride cross-country scholarship to USC with her two best friends. Then her mother returns from a family reunion abroad with a Greek fiancé who runs a private school and announces that she and Phoebe will be moving to an island in the Aegean. The news gets worse as the teen arrives to find out that there is no scheduled ferry service from the island. To top off everything, she learns that every other student is descended from one or more Greek gods. Her new stepfather tells her that she cannot share this fact with anyone, for the safety of everyone on Serfopoula. Things seem to be looking up when she meets an absolutely gorgeous guy while running on the beach and, despite her lack of divine ancestry, she is granted a provisional place on the cross-country team. The IMs fly back and forth between Greece and southern California, magical hijinks abound, and classes and practice keep the protagonist busy. The story is part “Harry Potter,” part Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief(Hyperion/Miramax, 2005), and part shojo, and it will keep teens, particularly girls, reading to find out if Phoebe will finally fit in, get her crush, and make the team.” (via Amazon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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