Goodreads: So Yesterday
Official Summary: Ever wonder who was the first kid to keep a wallet on a big chunky chain, or wear way-too-big pants on purpose? What about the mythical first guy who wore his baseball cap backwards? These are the Innovators, the people on the very cusp of cool. Seventeen-year-old Hunter Braque’s job is finding them for the retail market.
But when a big-money client disappears, Hunter must use all his cool-hunting talents to find her. Along the way he’s drawn into a web of brand-name intrigue-a missing cargo of the coolest shoes he’s ever seen, ads for products that don’t exist, and a shadowy group dedicated to the downfall of consumerism as we know it.
Review: Hunter will draw in readers from the opening pages with his quirky narration and down-to-earth personality. He may be a “cool hunter,” absurdly talented at finding awesome fashion details that will be the country’s next biggest trend, but he is also a teenage boy who finds it awkward relating to his parents or interacting with girls. He is cool, but he is also approachable, and he will charm readers.
The setting of the book is equally alluring, and appropriately New York City. Hunter helpfully describes each neighborhood of the city he enters, painting a vibrant picture for readers who might never have visited. The descriptions are clever and apt enough, however, that even New York residents will not find them boring.
Hunter, and his new friend Jen, lead readers on a wild chase throughout the various districts of New York, introducing them to cramped apartments and luxurious celebrity parties in turn. The pace is fast, as Hunter and Jen have a limited time to test their amateur detective skills and discover who kidnapped Hunter’s boss and why. Readers will keep turning pages.
The book’s only potential flaw? Its premise. So Yesterday is about what makes something cool. The book’s heroes are seeking a way to make coolness more organic, something that arises naturally when people see things they like, instead of something so heavily defined by companies and advertisements.
This is interesting food for thought, and readers will have a lot to consider. Why do they think things are cool? Because they like it or because they see it everywhere? Do they fall for ads and fads? Who does get to decide what’s cool? Ultimately, however, the book’s cause falls a little flat. Changing the definition of cool is unlikely to be a priority for many readers when there are arguably more important problems in the world. So Yesterday is fleetingly captivating, but its message is not urgent.
So Yesterday is both entertaining and very real. The protagonists are charmingly unique, intelligent, and flawed. Their struggles will help readers think about how they define who they are, as they follow Hunter’s and Jen’s journey through the exciting world of fashion.
Published: 2004 (Razorbill)
Goodreads: OCD, the Dude, and Me
Official Summary: With frizzy orange hair, a plus-sized body, sarcastic demeanor, and “unique learning profile,” Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in even at her alternative high school. While navigating her doomed social life, she writes scathing, self-aware, and sometimes downright raunchy essays for English class. As a result of her unfiltered writing style, she is forced to see the school psychologist and enroll in a “social skills” class. But when she meets Daniel, another social misfit who is obsessed with the cult classic film The Big Lebowski, Danielle’s resolve to keep everyone at arm’s length starts to crumble.
Review: OCD, the Dude, and Me has a fantastically fresh and unique voice. The novel is a compilation of Danielle’s writing—school essays (in a conversational style that drives her English teacher insane), emails, personal reflections, post cards, and more—and the look inside her mind is staggering. Danielle is vulnerable, quirky, and real. She relates what makes her uncomfortable, and the lengths she must go to refind her peace (hiding quietly under a pile of messy clothes!) as readily as she relates what makes her strong. If you were captivated by the distinctive voice of Graceling, you will find a comparable, contemporary voice in in OCD, the Dude, and Me.
Danielle faces a plethora of problems in her senior year of high school, including social awkwardness and boy troubles. Her issues do not read like “book issues,” however, but like ones that readers might actually have. Her dilemma is not that she must choose between two amazing guys fighting valiantly for her attention, but that the guy she likes has a girlfriend and seems unaware that she exists—except when he’s making fun of her. Love hurts at Danielle’s high school. But her correspondence with aunt helps her, and readers, learn how to deal with that.
The moments of raw reality in the book are nicely offset by crazier, beautiful ones. Danielle, for instance, is obsessed both with Romantic literature (I can like her just for that!) and the movie The Big Lebowski. She goes to great lengths to have fun her way, dressing up with her aunt and mother to have a nineteenth century tea date in the garden and commissioning costumes to celebrate Lebowski Fest. She meets a variety of characters as unique as she is, ranging from the other members of her social support group, to a tour guide she meets on a class trip to England. Danielle’s life is invariably interesting.
OCD, the Dude, and Me is an exceptional book, a great choice for those who appreciate fresh voices, authentic takes on the high school experience, or quirky characters. Highly recommended.
Published: March 31, 2013 (Dial—Penguin)
Goodreads: Dangerous Boy
Official Summary: A modern-day retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a chilling twist.
Harper has never been worried about falling in love, something she is skeptical even exists. But everything changes when Logan moves to town, and to Harper’s shock, the two tumble into an intense romance. It’s everything she never thought she wanted.
Then she meets Logan’s twin brother, Caleb, who was expelled from his last school. True, he’s a bad boy, but Harper can’t shake the feeling that there’s something deeply sinister about him–something dangerous. When Logan starts pulling away, Harper is convinced that Caleb’s shadowy past is the wedge being driven between them. But by the time she uncovers the truth, it may be too late.
Review: Dangerous Boy presents itself as a dark, suspenseful read that will send chills down readers’ spines. However, the closest it gets to its goal is giving the distinct impression that the author is striving to create a scary atmosphere. Spooky locations and creepy pranks pop up one after another, but in the end they feel contrived. I, a person scared by everything, was not particularly moved.
The novel overall felt like something the author had crafted. It opens with a somewhat standard cliffhanger prologue, then backpedals to the main story. Characters are introduced, necessary background information thrown in, and words used “creatively” (i.e. in contexts that almost make sense, but actually do not). Hubbard clearly has experience writing, notably Prada & Prejudice, but Dangerous Boy reads as if she has a concrete idea of how a book is supposed to work and then forces it to do so; neither the writing nor the story seem effortless and natural.
The plot, instead of transitioning smoothly, jumps around from location to location. Occasionally there is the impression the author means to achieve some type of dramatic effect by revealing some new information and then cutting to another scene, but the reading experience mostly feels stilted instead of exciting. The overarching plot does not compensate for these flaws. From the beginning a reader will see there are two possible outcomes to the book: the one the book heavily foreshadows, or a plot “twist” that is easy to guess.
The characters of Dangerous Boy are not particularly interesting. Harper is an “almost genius” with a high IQ who cannot think of a smart solution to a problem to save her life. Literally. Her attempts to figure out the mystery are absurd; she does not try the obvious and most effective courses of action. (This is also a book where the entire plot would have been avoided if anyone had done the smart thing and called the police—but of course that never happens in books.) Her boyfriend will not be overly attractive to readers, especially since there is no build-up to their romance and their relationship appears to be founded primarily on PDA. My ARC jacket suggests Logan is a bad boy, not just his twin brother, but the official summary seems to have correctly deleted that assertion; I was not impressed with any badass attitude from him.
Dangerous Boy simply is not the book for me. The writing style seems off, the plot is predictable, and the characters are difficult to connect with. Even though Harper does find herself in terribly dangerous situations, I was not very scared. The best takeaway from the book is the hidden sound relationship advice: “Guys screw up. A lot. You just have to figure out whether their heart is in the right place.” Apply this to girls, too, and a lot of relationship problems will be solved.
Published: September 4, 2012
Goodreads: Tiger’s Curse
Series: The Tiger Saga #1
Summary: After a two-week stint as a circus employee, eighteen-year-old Kelsey is whisked off to India by a mysterious older gentleman to help break the 300-year-old curse on Ren, a Indian prince turned tiger.
Review: Tiger’s Curse sets itself up with an interesting premise and setting, but the book fails to live up to its promise. From the start, the writing is noticeably bad. The dialogue sounds fake and any sort of “showing” is completely lacking; readers must rely solely on Kelsey’s statements about whether things are frightening, intriguing, attractive, etc. because the descriptions and pacing that would bring those senses to readers do not exist.
Because of the poor writing, and also poor characterization, it is clear early on that if the novel is to succeed, it must do so on the merits of its plot alone. Unfortunately, it does not. Kelsey and Ren go on some standard quests that they complete too easily and which are not particularly fascinating. I skimmed what were probably intended to be some of the most intense scenes of the book because there is no real urgency and the obstacles the two face are not particularly unique or well-described.
Kelsey, however, is the novel’s greatest problem. Although she is eighteen and preparing to enter her first year of college, she sounds absurdly unintelligent and immature. Furthermore, she is incredibly passive, and often sits around tanning or drinking lemonade while other people do the real work—making camp, solving the mysterious prophecy, etc. Basically, her presence is necessary for the tiger’s curse to be defeated, but she is otherwise of no real value. Frustratingly, the other characters, even those who are not the love interests, tend to praise Kelsey for her most annoying actions. She’ll make a particularly obvious observation, and someone will beamingly praise her for her unparalleled intelligence. The novel puts a lot of effort telling readers how clever and brave and heroic Kelsey is, but she always exhibits the exact opposite qualities.
The one place Tiger’s Curse shines is the romance—but only on Ren’s end. He is fairly swoon-worthy, a handsome cursed prince always interested in Kelsey’s comfort and safety. I could imagine some readers finding him “over-protective,” but I never did, perhaps because Kelsey’s foolishness merits people needing to constantly watch over her. He also has some beautifully romantic lines and scenes.
Kelsey, however, is another matter, as she immaturely decides Ren cannot possibly love plain little her and decides to push him away. Instead of perhaps discussing it with him or believing he has the intelligence necessary to make up his own mind about such things. Such forced “drama” is always annoying in books, as it is an obvious ploy to build false suspense by dragging the romance out over a series. This time, however, it really backfires because Ren’s romantic gestures are the only things I like, and apparently they will be missing from the second book. I won’t be reading it.
There are a lot of good ratings for this book, and it certainly has its share of fans. If you are looking for a bit of romance, you will find it here, and it’s pretty good. If you want anything else from the book, you’ll have a bit of trouble.
Published: January 2011
Official Summary: On Wilde Island, there is no peace between dragons, fairies, and humans.
Wilde Island is in an uproar over the recent death of its king. As the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans begins to fray, the royal witch hunter with a hidden agenda begins a vengeful quest to burn girls suspected of witchcraft before a new king is crowned.
Strong-willed Tess, a blacksmith’s daughter from a tiny hamlet, wants more for herself than a husband and a house to keep. But in times like these wanting more can be dangerous. Accused of witchery, Tess and her two friends are forced to flee the violent witch hunter. As their pursuer draws ever closer they find shelter with a huntsman in the outskirts of the forbidden Dragonswood sanctuary. But staying with the mysterious huntsman poses risks of its own: Tess does not know how to handle the attraction she feels for him—or resist the elusive call that draws her deeper onto the heart of Dragonswood.
Review: Dragonswood is a strongly crafted novel that will appeal to fantasy fans who love a good classic quest and imaginative worlds populated with magical species. Carey deftly creates three distinct races in Dragonswood—humans, fairies, and dragons—giving each a rich history and defining characteristics. Then, just as quickly, she demonstrates all are ultimately people with similar hearts, if different perspectives.
Carey’s world is in fact a mix of the real and the fantastic. It is set on an island close to England, where the descendants of King Arthur reign and have built one of the world’s final refuges for the disappearing dragon and fairy races. This setting is unclear at first, making the frequent references to the Christian God and saints bewildering when mixed so casually with talk of magic, but eventually enough clues are dropped that the reader can settle comfortably into this uniquely imagined world.
Tess is an intriguing protagonist, a mix of strength and vulnerability. She has a brave and loyal heart, yet has suffered years of abuse from her father. She distrusts men. Sometimes she stands tall, and sometimes she flees. Her reactions, however, are altogether human and a lot of readers will be able to relate. She teaches her audience what it means to be brave in the face of fear.
The dialogue is a bit awkward, the standard attempt at “fantasy” speech where people refuse to use contractions and often employ the present tense. At times, the dialogue contributes to demonstrating Tess’s fear, as she sounds inordinately subservient. This is somewhat logical, due to the characterization mentioned above, but there are places where it truly seems unintentional—the dialogue makes her sound more awkward in a given situation than the author might want her to.
The pace is generally pleasant. Carey weaves action, description, romance, and exploration beautifully together to craft a tale that truly has it all. The climactic scene would have benefited from being a little longer, as some characters really should have been more hesitant to believe the incredible and not simply accepted everything that was told to them. Nothing more was out of place, however.
Overall, a fantastic read I recommend to fans of the genre.
Published: January 5, 2012
Goodreads: The Grimm Chronicles, Vol. 2
Series: The Grimm Chronicles, Vol. 2
Source: ARC received from the authors in exchange for an honest review
Summary: Alice Goodenough is a hero, selected to wield a magic pen and hunt down the Corrupted characters from the Brothers’ Grimm fairytales. She is also, however, a high school student and must also navigate the trials of senior year, including maintaining her grades, facing a bully, dealing with crushes, and competing in the upcoming fencing tournament.
Volume 2 includes Books 4, 5, and 6 of The Grimm Chronicles, as well as “The Lost Journal of Eugene Washington,” and the original Grimm fairytales that inspired the stories.
Review: Since readers can buy each book of The Grimm Chronicles separately for their e-readers, I reviewed Book 4: “The Orphanage of Doom” alone last week, to get the experience. It was exciting, but it’s great that readers get all three books in this one volume, or that it’s so easy to purchase the next in the series online because I wanted to read more, and a few of the books end on cliffhangers!
I really enjoyed Volume 1 of The Grimm Chronicles, and Volume 2 lived up to my expectations. Alice is still a spunky heroine who can exhibit her courage, her intelligence, and her limitations as a teenager and human in turn. Briar also continues to be fantastic—cute, funny, and heroic, as well. I am already adopting his habit of referring to a certain search engine as “The Google” in his honor because it’s hilarious. Now I just need to convince more of my friends to read these books so they’re in on the joke and stop staring at me oddly.
Romance fans will find Volume 2 “better” than the first. The authors introduce Chase, a spirited and athletic boy Alice is definitely interested in, even if she can’t see it herself at first. Their feelings grow naturally, adding to the action of the book but not stealing from the spotlight—the Corrupted, who are back creepier and more powerful than ever. Alice has her work cut out for her, but her hero skills are increasing with her challenges, and she is ready for action. Even more beautifully, she finds a way to apply her heroics to a real-world situation at her school, and it is arguably the most moving scene yet.
I have only one complaint: the history lessons are a little heavy-handed. Readers unfamiliar with some aspects of the Underground Railroad, the American Civil War, and the following period of segregation will undoubtedly find the characters’ explanations useful and, of course, fascinating. I think, however, Fontaine’s and Brosky’s audience are probably an intelligent bunch, and these stories will be a bit obvious and repetitive to many. Finding a good balance in explaining historical aspects without turning a novel into a textbook is always a difficult task, however, and of course there will also be some history buff reader who thinks any explanation is too much, so this is not at all a major flaw.
The Grimm Chronicles, Volume 2 is an exciting and fast-paced story that proposes knowledge can lead to adventures and solutions to problems. I can’t think of any reader who would argue with that.
Published: February 13, 2012
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Today marks the release of Nameless, the first of the Tales of Madness and Beauty series, by Lili St. Crow. I posted an ARC review way back in October as part of the Fairy Tale Read-A-Thon at Debz Bookshelf. I realized, however, this is slightly unfair to the author, since the book was not available for purchase at the time, and I promised to do a reminder post in April. In brief, I loved and highly recommend this book. My full review, however, is re-posted below.
Review: Nameless is the most gripping and original take on “Snow White” that I have read. The Disney version, with its silly dwarves and cute woodland critters, makes it tempting to approach the tale with something whimsical and light-hearted in mind, even in spite of the more gruesome aspects of the plot. Or, unless you are Tolkien, the presence of dwarves alone can become problematic. Serious, solemn dwarves have not been done better, though other authors such as C. S. Lewis have of course written them well.
Lili St. Crow laughs in the face of any complications. First, she takes the story of “Snow White” and chooses to be inspired by it, rather than simply modernizing it or fleshing it out. Thus, the family that takes Cami in is not a group of dwarves, silly or serious, or even a fraternity or whatever crazy sort of half-knit group one might suspect to see in a retelling. Rather, Cami is adopted by the Family—a literal family of beings that are part mafia, part vampiric, and part truly decent people. Things get serious, and creative, fast in Nameless.
As one might expect from all the hints about Family, there is some great original world-building happening in Nameless. In the beginning things are a bit hazy, with a plethora of unexplained references to jacks, minotaurs, Family, the Twist, mere-humans, et cetera. Eventually something of a solid picture begins to form. And eventually one realizes Nameless is set in an alternative future of our world, which came from an alternative past. It sounds as if things were the same until sometime around the Industrial Revolution, when something happened that leaked a bit of magic into the world. Then things went crazy. It is all laid out for readers interested in connecting our history with the history of the characters.
The one aspect that might be characterized as a weakness is Cami herself. She is on the whole a fantastic character, well-written and quite admirable in many respects. She gets into trouble she could easily have avoided, but unlike a number of YA protagonists, this is not simply because she is foolish or thinks she knows better than all her friends and ignores her advice. Cami chooses with open eyes to walk into danger because she truly thinks it will help. That conclusion may have come from some poor reasoning, but it still sets Cami apart as a strong young woman.
Before this climactic scene, however, Cami likes to dwell in self-doubt. She is not reallyFamily. She does not really belong. No one really loves her. I grant this thought-process could have been much worse; there is certainly a line of “annoying self-hating character who blindly believes everyone hates her in spite of constant indisputable evidence” that St. Crow does not cross—but only barely. Cami also comes across as a little too dependent and even young at times, but, again, St. Crow stopped just short of making this a truly annoying issue. On the whole, Cami is awesome.
As is the book. The world has magic, but this is not high fantasy. Perhaps in some ways it is like magical realism. Magic is permeating our world, but it is slightly subtle and somewhat normal. People are magic, but the plot is not. There is certainly no cheesy enchanted food here; things are much more real. The effect is a slightly creepy, deliciously mystery atmosphere that fits St. Crow’s story perfectly. And I want more!
(Interestingly, Cami’s best friends have elements of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood about them that are fun to catch. Will the next books be about them?)
CONTENT NOTE: There is cursing, but not more than one might hear in an average public high school hallway. Cami also whips off her shirt at one point, but in context the scene is actually less scandalous than it sounds here.
Goodreads: “The Orphanage of Doom”
Series: The Grimm Chronicles, Book 4
Source: The authors provided be with an ARC of The Grimm Chronicles, Vol. 2 for review. Volume 2 contains Books 4-6 and the “Lost Journal of Eugene Washington.”
[Spoilers for Books 1-3, or Volume 1]
Summary: Alice Goodenough is still having dreams about the Corrupted she needs to kill, except now summer has ended and she needs to balance her role as hero with her schoolwork. Worse, she’s having two prophetic dreams simultaneously—one about a creepy orphanage with children screaming in the basement and another about a band who can make their audience dance against their will.
Review: “The Orphanage of Doom” is a story just as captivating as the first three books in the Grimm Chronicles series. Alice is back with her snarky yet intelligent voice, walking a fantastic line between sounding like a credible heroine and a realistic teen. In this installment, school has started once again for Alice, and she must balance the demands of her homework, her social life, and her duty as the world’s hero.
Fontaine and Brosky never let their stories feel episodic, and they add a twist in “The Orphanage of Doom” by introducing the creepiest plot and atmosphere of the series yet. Previously Alice was dealing with adults. Here, there are children’s happiness and lives at stake, and the reader cannot help feeling as badly for them as Alice, as she spends night after night dreaming about their sufferings in preparation to take down the Corrupted who has trapped them. The imagery of her dreams, and then the reality, is brilliantly chilling.
The authors also dig a little deeper by introducing Corrupted who have larger plots than before. Alice’s previous enemies were dangerous, but tended to take down one victim at a time. In Book 4, things get worse, as the Corrupted victimize larger groups of people and even intentionally plot to ruin the world. Higher stakes keep the series exciting and also encourage Alice to continue growing as a heroine. She is capable but not allowed to become overly confident or cocky.
A great addition to the series that hints Alice’s story will continue to become bigger and more exciting with each book.