Friday, August 27, 2010

Scarlett Fever (Scarlett #2) by Maureen Johnson

I feel hungover from Mockingjay. For, like, the past 3 days and counting. I finished Scarlett Fever right before jumping into Mockingjay, and now I wish I'd waited to read it after. Heaven knows I need a literary percocet.

Oh well. Onward.

So. Scarlett is concluding her Summer of Hamlet & Heartbreak and is now the personal assistant of the great 'n crazy Mrs. Amberson. This is, of course, a recipe for many a disaster. Here is an itemized list of the wonderful things you can expect to find in this delightful second book of a planned trilogy:

1) More Spencecapades. Spencer witty comments, Spencer stunt falling/tripping/crashing/death, Spencer accidentally becoming New York's Most Hated Citizen. The usual.

2) Flying doughnuts.

3) Marlene being even FREAKIER because, for completely unknown but surely devious reasons, she is being NICE.

4) Personal assault in Biology perpetrated by Scarlett herself.

5) Murray the Surly Doorman and Murray the Tinkling Rat-dog, both of which are pretty intolerable.

6) A burgeoning love triangle that TOTALLY blindsided me. Which was refreshing because usually an approaching Love Triangle is about as subtle as a naked priest doing cartwheels during service.

For me, Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever easily sweep the oh-so-prestigious Summer Must Reads Award. It's neither very heavy nor too fluffy. Superb writing, great story flow, fun characters -- the works. I do, however, have two small problems with this latest installment.

First, Chelsea. The Up And Coming Star, who, I think, was supposed to be really obnoxious -- and maybe mean?-- because Scarlett intensely dislikes her. But I just felt bad for the girl. I mean, she hadn't had a milkshake in like TEN YEARS and her mom is straight-up psychotic.

Second, THE ENDING THAT LEFT ME PLEADING FOR MORE. Just like your common (or rather my common) neighborhood drug addict, I NEED MORE NOW. Did you hear me Maureen Johnson?! N-O-W. This whole Max thing -- what?! And also, YES.

Get to it, Johnson.

Nutshell: Just as fantastic as the first. 4 out 5 flying jelly-filled doughnuts.

Book source: Local library.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins

Okay if you live in a cave and haven't heard of The Hunger Games and especially if you haven't read Catching Fire than don't bother reading this. Go read those instead.


You guys. It's been almost a year since Catching Fire came out and I, like a million other salivating Americans, have been on the verge of anxiety over the conclusion of this story. Seriously - like, I thought about it all the time. I made up all these different scenarios of what could happen, and what SHOULD happen, and I kind of feel like a Twilight Fan Girl in that regard. I became emotionally attached okay? Don't judge me.

Obviously after so many months longing for some kind of conclusion to this the Worst Cliffhanger Ever That Haunts My Dreams, my expectations might have been just kind of high. Really, haven't I learned my lesson about that by now?

So after having JUST finished it, here is what I think:
I think I want to grab my mom's new carving knives and STAB THIS BOOK REPEATEDLY. And then maybe stab myself repeatedly. Because I just realized how much of a sucker I am for a happy ending a la City of Glass where the characters are beat-up and bloodied and traumatized but they heal emotionally and physically and gain back their hope and the world is bright once more.

Not to say that Mockingjay has a sad ending, because it's not, it's just a SAD BOOK. Seriously -- start to finish it is one big ball of bleakness and despair and misery, blended with some backstabbing and power vacuums and gore of the Grand Theft Auto variety. And considering the storyline of the previous two that is saying something.

Mockingjay opens about a month after Catching Fire ended. Some beloved characters are dead. And everyone else is so messed up by this point that you almost WANT them to die, just so that their misery ends. Talk about Baggage. Baggage, of course, is totally understandable and realistc. Look, it's not like I was expecting rainbows and unicorns and Magical Therapists. But honestly? This was too much for me, all of the sadness. I grew to love these characters, and the ones that survived were such train wrecks that I felt like I didn't even know them anymore. And honestly, it hurt me.

Okay I can't help it, I need to rant for a sec - so SPOLIERS AHEAD YA'LL! Just close your eyes and scroll to the bottom or something if you don't want any Big Secrets revealed.


So, at the end of the last one I cried. Because Peeta was my favorite, and Katniss was so powerless. I figured that Collins probably wouldn't kill off Peeta, but more than likely he'd be tortured and probably brainwashed and maybe Katniss would have to go through another Games to get him back or something. Then, with any luck, she would finally (in a fit of rage) yell at him that she does in fact love him and that he needs to snap out of whatever funk he's in, and he would because he loves her so, and then they would merrily snag the President and toss him off a cliff and make it back home by dinner.

If only.

I guess I was kind of right about the brainwashing. Except it was Ten. Times. Worse. and we don't really see again the Peeta we knew and loved. Katniss is either insane with despair or completely void of emotion. A couple of her breakdowns were actually freaky, and a few others made me weep because really - how much can a 17 year old girl take?

I've always rooted for her and Peeta. He brings such a great balance to her, which I guess she comes to recognize, so yes I was glad she ends up with Peeta, despite his occasionally losing his mind and trying to kill her. Which put a major damper on their relationship, because what happens when the Steady character becomes unsteady? I feel like I can't forgive Collins for damaging him so badly.

So the love triangle fizzled, though my heart hurts a little for Gale. I'm just glad Collins didn't kill either of them off in an attempt to solve the Love Triangle Crisis -- such a cop out. BUT. Katniss never becomes good at showing Peeta how much she cares about him. We only know because of the way she seems to die inside when she thinks he's dead/being tortured/damaged beyond repair. Somehow I needed more from her on that. More communication. As a sign of maturing and learning Love Life Lessons.

And killing Prim? REALLY? That seemed cheap and low. Did Katniss really need MORE reasons for joining ranks of the Living Dead? Since she was already so destroyed at that point it seemed unnecessary to the story. I guess Collins wanted her to be just as crazytown as Peeta. And did anyone feel good about that ending? A few quick paragraphs dedicated to their Scarred Ever After? FOR REAL?! After all we've been through with them! I guess it's happy that they love each other, but it certainly doesn't feel that way. I want to feel that connection again, like the couple of heated moments they had in #2. I don't feel real closure with them. I'm not convinced that she or Peeta ever found peace. Maybe they aren't supposed to. But I don't like leaving the heroine, the fighter and survivor, broken.

Also. I have questions. Oh so many questions . . . What happened on the Peeta Rescue Mission? Did his brain hijack just wear off over time or did Beetee find some kind of cure? What was Gale's family doing the whole time and why were they never mentioned other than that they were alive? Why did Finnick's life flash before Katniss' eyes when he was killed? Why did Katniss agree with Hunger Games v2.0? How was that strategic? Why don't I write these things down as I read them so that I don't forget them when I review the book? I swear.

You can come back now.

So. About a third of the way through I was like, Why does this all seem so weird? And then I realized it's because it feels TOTALLY different than the first two books. There are a variety of "important" secondary characters who come into the picture for like a second so we never get to know them. The pace seems slow and maddening because there seems to be no real objective. The settings are hastily described, as though Collins is rushing through the story so fast that she doesn't have time to describe situations that don't make much sense. Unless they're hospital scenes, because about half of the book takes place in a sterilized room. The characters, probably because they're all emotionally and mentally shredded, often act in ways that don't align with what they would normally do or say. Half the time Katniss is so out of it that I had no idea how much time was actually passing. The plot seemed directionless. The Big Showdown I was expecting was a more of a Major Letdown, which turned into a lot of the What Just Happened moments.

Ugh this is making me exhausted all over again. All day I've been emotionally drained from this roller coaster. I probably should have let more time lapse before writing this. Obviously I'm still wounded. And confused. Now that I think about it, there were a truckload of What Just Happened moments where I had to re-read but still didn't get it. Although it might have something to do with me being in such a rush to see What Happens that I kind of gloss over some details. Hm. Obviously I need to do another read of it. That usually helps. Or maybe Collins can take more time doing revisions.

You probably think I hated it after all that. Actually I did like it (unless I was hating it), but I was so sure that I would LOVE it. I was so sure I would close the book thinking, I can't start a new book because I want the taste of this one to stay a while longer. Instead I was like, Where's the Prozac when you need it? But I guess it did what it was set out to do - finish a war. And wars have steep costs which, in real life, aren't ever healed. I just usually expect more hopefulness in my YA lit, but there I go with my expectations again.

My recommendation is to read it (sans expectations of it being the same calibar as the first two), but find a way to stimulate some endorphins before, during and after. Trust me, if you love these characters like I do, you'll need all the Happy you can get.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eyes Like Stars (Theatre Illuminata #1) by Lisa Mantchev

Beatrice Shakespeare Smith lives in a theater. An enchanted theater no less. But she is about to be forcibly removed from her magical home full of Fictional Characters Come To Life because, despite being the beloved orphan of the Theatre Illuminata, she is a total prankster and the Stage Manager just can not handle it anymore.

So she makes a deal with the Theater Manager- she can stay so long as she contributes something important to the theater. She's no actress, so she takes up directing (to the dismay of all characters whom insist they need no directorial support seeing as they are the character that was written). Then somehow, I can't remember at the moment as it's a Friday afternoon, but this Really Important Book is compromised and the characters can leave the theater - which I guess I forgot to mention has been impossible to do at this point. And pretty much everything turns to Chaos!, and she sort of forms this plan at the end for how to solve it but then it just ENDS.

Was that kind of spoilery to mention that? I mean, this is labeled as Theatre Illuminata #1 so I assumed deductive logic would rule out the notion of a resolved ending.

Anyway. I'll start off by stating that I liked this book, not luurve it like I always want to, but I think I might be biased for two reasons.

1. I am no theater connoisseur. I like seeing a jolly stage production every now and again, but that is about the extent of it. Maybe I would've appreciated parts of this more if I were more of the thespian sort. Or not. Who knows.

2. The cover art is just so pretty. And I have a weakness for anything shiny, sparkly or lovely to behold. I know it has nothing to do with the content which is why you shouldn't make judgments based on the cover yada yada yada. Still makes me happy to hold a pretty book though.

Okay so, substance. It lacked some of that. The idea of the theater: creative. The characters: fun. All of it mixed together: sloppy. The plot reminded me of a badly edited low-budget film. It just didn't flow very well. I found myself re-reading scenes just to get an idea of what was happening, and that detracts from that Getting Lost In The Story feeling. It was choppy at parts and felt underdeveloped. Like maybe Matchev didn't have lots of details about the history, the environment, or the mysterious binding magic in her head.

The characters should've been developed more. As it was, I liked them all enough to be interested in them even though I never felt a real connection to them. Bertie (ugh - that was one of my hang ups. Bertie? Really? Can Beatrice not be shortened into something that doesn't sound like the village cross-eyed boy whom everyone tries to be nice to even though he is really obnoxious and slightly creepy? Come on.) - anyway, Bertie is a fun heroine. She dyes her hair whacked-out colors. She sets off minor explosions. She has Turkish baths on the stage when it suits her fancy. Plus, she's witty. And she's got these little fairies that hang about her all the time who are quite humorous as well.

"You didn't just write the play, Bertie," Peaseblossom said suddenly. "You ordered the Players about, shouted, and threw an artistic hissy fit. Do you know what that makes you?"
"A temperamental fusspot?" Mustardseed guessed.
"Crazier than a bag full of crazy?" Moth said.
"Close," Peaseblossom said. "It makes her a Director."

There's a Not Quite But Aiming To Be Love Triangle, which is hard for me to buy into because it's just so obvious whom she'll pick, but whatever. I still loved it. Partially because Nate is a Swashbuckler with a Scottish accent and a penchant for teasing.
"One o' these days, lass, I'm goin' t' still that mouth o' yers."
Um, yes please.

As I said earlier, the Non-End resolves just about nothing. I feel like my arm is being twisted to go read the next one. Which is pretty unnecessary because if the story and characters were that great than duh I would go read the next one. And I will read the next one, Perchance to Dream, with some theatrical gusto because that is what it seems to call for. Or maybe it's because the cover is even prettier.

On the whole it's a fun read but not necessarily the best read in terms of writing. It just needed MORE. I wouldn't have minded another 50 to 100 pages if we got more detail and better story flow.

3 large and brightly decorated cakes, because I laughed.
"She's under duress," Peaseblossom said.
"I don't care if she's under duress, over it, or alongside it," Moth said. "Nothing in this world supersedes cake."

Book source: Local library.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Manifesto on Reads

I was having a chit chat about blogs and such with Cousin A over the weekend, and she commented (read: lamented, but it a really nice way) on the amount of teen lit I've been reading as of late.

She's not wrong, obviously. The word cloud makes that pretty recognizable.

But it wasn't always this way. In fact it's something of a recent thing; one year ago I kicked off The Summer Of YA Lit. Which oh-so-quickly turned to fall, though I told some friends that YES I could indeed still call it Summer Of YA Lit in October because it's Indian Summer right now don't you know. But then the holidays rolled around. "I'll just keep with it one more season," says I. Right. Just like when "I'll only have one more piece of pie" or "I'll only leave Target with what I came here to get."

I like me some variety, and all the genre hopping of yore was a result of getting bored with certain subjects. I mean, really - can you blame me? HELLO History major. I couldn't even touch any kind of historical account for like a year and a half after graduating for fear it would set off some kind of post-traumatic stress from my last semester of reading (or, you know, skimming) 2 or 3 books a week. So I tasted some biographies, some science, some contemporary adult lit (blech) -- you know, just doin' what I do. Then last year I stumbled upon Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.

And that was it. The moment I became a Teen Reader For Life.

Since my tete-a-tete on Sunday I've been ruminating on my new relationship with teen lit, so here, Cousin A, are two reasons why I've taken a proverbial dip into the pond of Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction with reckless abandon and with zero intentions of leaving the pleasant waters:

1. My reading motivations have changed. Remember the days when I used to be rather snobbish about books? Probably not, as it's not something that usually pops up in daily conversation (or The Blog), but I was a bit elitist about what I read. Shocking, I know.

Ya, well, those days are over. My high horse gave me saddle sore and a bad case of faux intellectualism, which just isn't my color. Instead of reading solely to gain some more smarts to cram into me little brain, I began reading just for sheer enjoyment of it.

That is not to say that teen lit is just a load of mindless drivel created only to entertain the young, the base and the dim-witted amongst us. No indeed! I find it, more often than not, to be just the opposite. Which brings me to the next point:

2. YA/MG lit SPANKS adult lit. Now I hate to generalize, but -- well, actually I don't because I generalize all the time even though I know I oughtn't -- but adult lit by in large? BLAH. And please don't leave some comment about how wrong I am because of the merits of such-and-such book because I KNOW. I've read lots of good fiction in my day, okay? I still think most of it's crap though.

Ooh this makes me want to play Word Association Time! Okay just real quick. Here we go -- When I think Contemporary Adult Fiction, I think: drug addiction. any kind of addiction. self-medication. crappy relationships. never learning how to not have crappy relationships. the whole world sucks. lots of bad words. lots of graphic jenk. poorly developed characters. characters I can't relate to. which is probably a good thing. mediocre storytelling. not much complexity. and certainly no subtlety. sloppy writing. way more repetition than this world needs. we all need years of therapy.

Alright sooo - more than one word. Whatever. It's my game and I play it how I want.

In ya fiction, however, you will find Danger! Major Decisions! Adventure! Inner Turmoil! Communication Issues! Witty Banter! Life Lessons! Some Really Heavy, Dark And Crappy Life Lessons Learned The Hard Way! Minimal Emotional Baggage! Previously Unknown Specialness! Sexual Tension! Abounding Love Triangles! Hope For Mankind! The Innocence Of Youth! The Lack Of Innocence Of Youth! Teens Who Converse Like They Are 26! A Plentitude of Irrational Behavior!

With all that and so much more, why NOT read it? And if your answer is something like, Because Sparkly Vampires don't really kookoo my coco puffs, then hear ye this:

There is more to teen lit than urban fantasy paranormal romance love polygons!

Though bookshelves might suggest otherwise, being flooded with cover art of fangs and claws and wings and creepy smoke and illuminated stones and whathaveyou. And there are a number of quality entertainment reads of the above stated kind, but if it's not your thing then cool. There's plenty of other subject material in YA/MG to choose from.

Okay, so now you (all 3 of you) know way more than you wanted to about the history and probable forthcomings of my reading choices.

So -- do you wish I would dabble more in other genres and have recommendations? Would you like some recommendations for A Foray Into YA Lit that you're thinking about making? (I know you are!) Do you have some recommendations of things I should put on my ever growing TBR list? If so then by all means tell me. Feedback is appreciated, though I do love to feel like I am contributing to a cosmic void. Come one come all!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2) by Patrick Ness

If you haven't read The Knife of Never Letting Go and you intend to, you may as well skip this one. It'll be fairly boring anyway, seeing as that I really liked it.

Ask picks up about where Knife left off. Mayor Prentiss has beaten Todd & Viola to Haven, Viola was shot and Todd promised to do whatever the Mayor Satan wants if he'll only help Viola. So a deal is struck.

And you know what they say about deals with the devil . . .

Like many a human, I am often disenchanted with Book Two of trilogies. They usually suffer from a drawn-out story stuffed with fillers and maddening subplots and the like. The Ask wasn't that different, other than it was still well written. The beginning and middle seemed slow, largely because Todd and Viola are separated. There were things going on, but it wasn't the constant On The Run pace that made Knife so gripping. Pretty much the first 3/4 of it had me seething at Todd and Viola's separation. Half the time they aren't sure if the other is alive, and then the few times that they are able to have clandestine meetings they still aren't sure if the other hasn't been brainwashed into joining the other side.

This had two major effects on me.
1) I was going out of my mind with frustration and rage at all the people keeping them apart through lies and manipulation, and
2) I ended up rooting for Todd & Viola harder than ever.

I've always loved Todd. But in Ask I LOVE Todd. I think I had some real anxiety about him and the things he goes through, so it kept the pages turning quickly. He grows up in this one, and not just because he technically "becomes a man" when his long-awaited birthday rolls around. He sacrifices, he suffers more loss, he fights to remain good while forced to participate in evil. And he does it all for Viola.

Viola, in her own right, is a strong, smart and admirable heroine. She drove me crazy at times, partially because I felt she was smart enough to see through some of the lies, so I was glad to see her make some hard choices to get back to Todd. Really, I just love them. In Knife they seemed like kids on the run, but in Ask they have a solid bond built on trust and sacrifice and deep caring for the other. I really like where they, as a team, are headed in the end of Ask, so I can't wait for Monsters of Men to be released.

Oh, and I remembered that Viola's POV is brought into the mix. With a pretty little font all her own. I felt that it was a good call on Ness' part since it's an effective way to get to know more about Viola. The downside is that it slowed down the pace, because HELLO she is working in a hospital for a big chunk of it. Not exactly a hotspot of excitement.

You know what else I really liked about this one? The complexity of the evil characters, namely Mayor Prentiss and Davy Prentiss. You're never quite sure of the motivations of the Mayor, and even though you can bet that every word out of his mouth is a lie, he is a master manipulator. By the end Davy is convincingly shown as an abused, brainwashed loser who might not be as sick and worthless as he originally appeared. That, I think, makes for good storytelling. Complex "bad" guys. Straight-up evil is rather boring.

In short, while it wasn't quite as good as Knife, I still loved it. 4 out 5 word-globs of Noise.

Book source: Local library.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

White Cat by Holly Black

Cassel comes from a messed-up family of curse workers. Think X-Men but with powers of manipulating emotion, thoughts, memories and dreams by touch. He's an outsider though because he lacks any curse-working abilities. Thankfully, what he lacks in seemingly faulty genes is made up for by his talents in lying, thievery and conning.

Oh - and Cassel has some baggage from when he murdered his best friend Lila three years earlier. But things really start to go downhill when he begins sleepwalking, again. And his dreams continue to star a white cat who is trying to tell him something. His already shady brothers are acting even more dodgy than usual, and the events surrounding Lila's (accidental?) murder aren't adding up.

So begins Cassel's freaky descent into the dark and gritty world of the curse workers, where things are never quite as they seem.

I for one am not a huge fan of the cover art here. 1) It's weird, and 2) I never trust books where the name of the author is twice as big as the title. Also, I can't ever remember the title because both the words Black and White are on it - which I guess is a personal problem.

Anyway. Moving on. So this has been my foray into the writings of Holly Black and I KNOW she's written all sorts of (insert adjective here) urban fantasy but obviously I'm a little late to all parties. Which probably has something to do with uninterest in her other stuff. Whatever.

This, though, I liked. I liked that the POV was from Cassel. I found him to be an interestingly flawed hero, what with A Shady Past and playing bookie at some snobbish private school and his Lonerness but confidence in his Skills In The Art Of Deception. He is a sympathetic and well-formed character. His brothers were also fascinating, but in more of a Super Creepy And You're Definitely Hiding Something way throughout, and a MAY YOU ROT IN HELL kind of way in the end.

And quite honestly, I enjoyed the concept of the curse workers. It's very Godfather but instead of tommy guns and piano wire people are knocked off by superpowers. Though they lack the classiness of the Corleone family. Which is appropriate I guess, since this takes place in New Jersey.

It took me a while to understand the gist of cursing, since Black never comes outright to explain it, which is all well and good, but I still don't understand some aspects of it. Either I was slightly incoherent from lack of sleep, or Black needed better completion on her world building. The Big Mysteries weren't all that mysterious, but there were some parts that kind of threw me. And, as always, I am annoyed by the non-ending. I mean, isn't it possible to do a sequel without finishing book one by some cheap I SHALL LEAVE YOU BEGGING TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT last few paragraphs?! Alright alright I confess there are some fantastic books that do this, like The Hunger Games and The Knife of Never Letting Go. I'm not sure why it bugs me so much in some books but not in others. Maybe it's because some sequels I wouldn't be that interested in if it weren't for those !@#$%^& cliffhangers that pull me back in for round two (or three, or four . . . UGH I'm so disgusted with authors and publishers right now!!)!


I'll give kudos to Black for creativity of storyline, interesting characters, and some funny bits. So 3.5 stars it is then.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (Audiobook) by David Lubar

This is one of those high school Coming Of Age stories involving a Nerd With Lots of Potential, the Hulk With A Criminal Record Who Becomes An Unlikely Friend, the Ungettable Girl who is always in some sweet relationship drama with the Football Playing Jerk, a host of Friends From Elementary School Who Go Their Separate Ways, and lots of other angsty things like school plays and student council and quirky parents and such.

I like these stories. Maybe they recreate high school in a way I never experienced it. Who knows. The point is, the story follows Scott (afore mentioned Nerd) as he attempts to weave his way through freshmen year without any major damage. Which, of course, fails. The situations he finds himself in - the school newspaper, stage crew, class president - are all in an attempt to impress The Girl. Along the way his mom gets pregnant, his brother is constantly moving in and out of the house, his BFFs begin to drift away from his inner circle, and new friends are made on the way.

Which is all what I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting was that the audiobook had A FULL CAST. As in, not just the one narrator is speaking for all. Each character has a different person reading their part. Honestly, it's weird. Had I not gotten so used to how audiobooks usually are, I think I would be more non-shocked by it. As it was there just seemed to be too much going on. Like listening to a movie being played but not being able to watch it. Oh ya - there were sound effects and lots of cheesy jazz played by a sax too. I just . . . it was . . . I don't even know.

Also, I didn't like the romance angle. I liked all of his relationships, particularly that with his brother, but I really didn't buy The Girlfriend bit. Wrong. It was all wrong.

Nutshell: It was a fun, quick listen. I enjoyed Scott and his Lessons Learned.

3/5 stars.

Book source: Local library.