Wednesday, May 15, 2013
At first, the plan works great. Rafe goes out for sports and becomes "one of the guys" hanging with a group of jocks whom Rafe can't imagine being so close with back home. But things get complicated as Rafe tries to get Claire Olivia and his parents to understand why he's back in the closet. And as Rafe's attempts to evade the question of his sexual orientation at his new school become white lies and the white lies become outright deception, Rafe discovers that he's in a trap (of his own making).
Surprisingly interesting and effective. Decent gay literature is hard to come by and a book that goes far beyond the whole coming-out scenario to explore what being "gay" really means when you are a teen are rarer. Konigsberg writes well with a good ear for boys. The characters are strong and interesting. And while placing the story at an all-boys boarding school won't win any prizes for originality, the story itself is fresh.
[Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, but no other compensation. I am donating my copy to the Middleton Public Library after I finish with it]
Friday, May 10, 2013
Tom Kelly invites Becky to New York with an even more extraordinary invitation: an offer to transform her into the Most Beautiful Woman in the World with an mysterious dose of magic. Famous stars and glitzy life awaits Becky as her supernatural looks give her access to a world she could never have imagined. From co-staring in a blockbuster action pic with heartthrob Jate Mallow to meeting Crown Prince Gregory of England, nothing is beyond her reach. But she knows that all this fame is based upon her external appearance (and an appearance which itself is achieved through deception). What everyone would think if they knew the true Becky Randle?
The story is not all that special -- a sweet story about finding your inner beauty wrapped in a coating of magic and a huge dollop of outrageous romantic fantasy. The charm of the book is really in the writing. Rudnick is a would-be Faulkner, easily spinning out sentences that fill half a page, but which sound much more like the verbal diarrhea of a ninth-grader than a southern literary giant. A cornucopia of cultural references and social satire are buried in these long-winded sentences and they deserve at least re-read or two. Still, it can all get a bit too precious and even clever writing can't save a story that is more wishful and silly than meaningful.
[Disclosure: I received a free advance copy of the book to review, but will be donating it to the Public Library. I received no other compensation for this review.]
Saturday, May 04, 2013
Natalie is a strong-minded young woman, with good grades and the esteem of principal and her teachers. She even wins the position of class president -- one of only nine girls to do so at her school. Two things threaten her position: the antics of a girl in the freshman class who challenges Natalie's notions of propriety and a whirlwind romance with a guy on the football team which Natalie must keep secret from the school at all costs to prevent the exact type of scandal from which she wants to protects other girls.
It's a strikingly insightful book about agency and self-identity. On a broad stage, Vivian brings in the major debate between feminists who argue that women need to seize control of their sexuality and others who argue that women cannot "play the game with the boys" in a world that is so stacked towards patriarchy. She then pitches the conflict in terms that young readers will understand -- the struggle between desire and reputation, and the anger and frustration that that struggle creates in the minds of young women. Whether it's young Spencer's attempts to control the boys with her sexuality or Natalie's grasping for a safe space to experience sexual pleasure, it's powerful stuff and should give most readers food for thought. Obviously girls will relate more readily to the material, but boys could stand reading it as well.
Natalie is a great character -- she's strong-minded, independent, and well-spoken. Her positions make sense and are laudable -- it is easy to identify with her and even admire her. So, watching her struggle and make mistakes is hard for the reader, even as it feels authentic and plausible. There is that strong sense (maybe even a degree of horror at the realization) that we would do the same things in her position. The ending (and ultimate resolution of Natalie's issues) comes on a bit too quickly and easily, but the point has been well-made by then: when in the business of telling yourself "who you are" and "who you are not," you need to consider what you are trying to achieve. Does labeling yourself and others bring you comfort or simply stress you out? Siobhan Vivian's novel begs the reader to figure it out for themselves.
Friday, May 03, 2013
As they are heading to the Prom, Gobi promises Peter that, before the night is over, he'll understand her a lot better than he does now. Peter doesn't know how to take that statement or what it means. But when Gobi pulls out a gun and leads Peter on a nerve-wracking marathon across New York City knocking off bad guys, Peter realizes that his initial perceptions of her have all missed their mark!
Fast and fun, there's nothing like a genre-defying book! If we're going to search for a mash-up, this is probably Risky Business's Joel meets La Femme Nikita (although I like the review that called it "Nick and Norah's Infinite Hit List"). Despite the over-the-top action, there's a surprising amount of depth to Peter and Gobi and a nice chemistry between them (although Gobi is primarily relegated to Schwarzenegger-ish monotone). And, like a good action movie, there's humor to drive the story along. I enjoyed the combination of a coming-of-age story with serious gun play and fast car chases.
And then there's the central conceit of the story: the way that each chapter is introduced with a real-life college application essay question, which is then answered in the chapter itself. This works surprisingly well (and also reminded me a bit of Risky Business).
It's a readable, but unremarkable story -- basically, a series of familiar tropes ranging from family (mother-daughter conflict, obnoxious younger sister, and clueless father) to peers (disappointing crushes, unexpected knights in shining armor, etc.). This is not necessarily bad, but it makes the book painfully predictable. I understand the appeal, but did we really need yet another example of the genre?
The central character, Sloane, is initially the most unstable. She's angry at her sister for running away from their abusive father six months before. Left on her own to face a hellish homelife, Sloane grew suicidal (even before people around her started getting killed). It is ironic then that, as the hopelessness of the situation grows, it is Sloane who develops survival instincts.
It's a decent book that suffers from trying to do too much. As a coming-of-age story about domestic abuse, sibling separation, and even interpersonal relations in the hallways of Cortege High, the novel works. Even as a zombie adventure story, it works pretty well (plenty of adventure and dramatic events). But combined together, the pace fluctuates too much. The dialogue seems whiny and drags on too long. The zombie action feels like a story from an entirely separate book. It is jarring mash-up.
Friday, April 19, 2013
It's a boy book and a dog book, which means that there are at least two reasons why I normally wouldn't touch it. But it came as an unsolicited ARC and I was short on reading material, so I decided to expand my repertoire and give it a try. The story isn't big on character development and the boys are generally pretty limited (and dumb), but the story grows on you and you do end up caring for the dog.
Friday, April 12, 2013
In addition to Adrienne, there's rich and popular CeeCee who won't crack a book, Jill is unsociable and distrusts CeeCee, and then there's weird and mysterious Wallace (who none of them can figure out). They don't like their situation, but the girls are basically stuck with each other. So, together, they try to make sense of a series of classic books, and figure each other along the way.
The story has potential and the blurb on the book jacket is a big draw, but ultimately this story falls flat (or, maybe better said, never comes together in the first place). Schumacher has high ambitions, peppering the story with analogies to the classic books the girls are reading. But what should have been the greatest strength of the book -- the mismatching personalities of the girls themselves -- never quite develops. Instead, we get a confusing series of vignettes and subplots that fail to gel. The characters are smart and intelligent (both child and adult), but ultimately not interesting to drive a story that ought to be about the girls themselves.
Friday, April 05, 2013
The literal storyline of this book is of a young woman, who has been shaped by her father through constant emotional (and physical) abuse to be the perfect woman -- a dream he developed years before she was born, in a field of sunflowers near Santiago Spain. Now living in an oasis somewhere in the United Arab Emirates, an adolescent Frenenqer is trying to form a sense of self-identity.
One day, she happens upon a dying cat in a souk and rescues it (against the demands of her father). The cat turns out to be a shape-shifter and a "free" person, becoming a beautiful boy that Frenenqer names "Sangris." Sangris fulfills a long-held fantasy of Frenenqer's by growing wings and secretly spiriting her away to faraway destinations (both terrestrial and otherworldly).
A romance develops, but in a totally unexpected and surprisingly organic fashion. This is fitting as Frenenqer is no friend of romance ("He. Does there have to be a he? It seems weak and unoriginal doesn't it, for stories told by girls to always have a he?") Frenenqer loves the freedom that Sangris brings her, but recognizes that using Sangris's wings to escape her father's tyranny is hardly liberating. Rather, it is trading one form of subjugation for another.
Desperate to find love and agency on her own terms, she struggles to navigate between the worlds of her father and of Sangris to find a path that works for her. It is not an easy path, but the end result is surprisingly authentic. The book's conclusion definitely raised the temperature of the room a few degrees!
The story operates on so many levels. As a paranormal romance, it works fine, although a reader might wonder at the harshness of the characters, at the sheer cruelty of the father. The characters are clear and understandable, their inner conflicts instantly recognizable as the universal struggles of self-understanding and the search for social acceptance. Frenenqer's conflicts between being a good daughter and being a self-confident young woman are authentic and familiar. The narrative is beautiful, with numerous quotable passages.
But the novel has so much more going on. It is the type of story that begs a generation of literature majors to write dull and boring theses about it that quote obscure French literary critics. It is the book that high school English teachers who abandoned graduate school ABD years ago assign to their honors students in hopes that the kids will get it. And it's the novel that publicists hope they can figure out a way to explain and sell well enough so that at least a sufficient number of public librarians will purchase it to turn a profit. Rossetti may never write another book like this (it has too much of her heart displayed in it), but it ought to be sufficient on its own. Truly, a classic to be!
The edginess of the opening is quite a draw and I had high hopes for something unusual to come from this novel. Unfortunately, after the excellent set-up, Price opts for a more traditional rehabilitation story in the end. There's some mystery in the details, but in the end, there really is something wrong with Zoe (she just needs to figure it out)! And the author takes so long to deliver the answers that most readers will have figured the whole thing out long before Zoe does. That slow pace, combined with the loss of that initial creepiness, were the key disappointments.
On the positive side, I liked the author's idea of inserting recipes into the story -- a nice device in a novel about eating! And some of the recipes sounded pretty good!
After the dramatically-predictable rough start, she gradually finds her place amidst the company, makes new friends, and rebuilds her life. And through flashbacks, we gradually come to understand how she ended up here. A series of convenient plot twists at the end send the story in wild directions, but Lexi at least grows a bit from her experience before it wraps up.
It all starts off well, but with poor plotting, this is hard to get through. The flashbacks are at least part of the problem. For the device to be effective, they have to correspond in some way to the present. But here they are used primarily to delay the development of the story (what horrible thing did Lexi do? why won't her friends talk to her?). And then there's that crazy ending. It comes largely from nowhere (and relies on information that wasn't even hinted at before -- lack of foreshadowing is always a winner with me!). Mostly, it just seemed like a desperate attempt to close the story. Happy endings are fine, but when even the character comments about what a crazy string of good luck she's had, you know something's fishy!
[Disclosure: I received an advance reader's copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.]