Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Faceless, by Alyssa Sheinmel
Maisie has suffered severe burns on her face -- damage which is so extensive that it has destroyed parts of her. The only solutions are skin grafts or another more exotic solution: a face transplant. This procedure will replace parts of her face with the parts of a cadaver. With misgivings, Maisie opts for the procedure, knowing it will be ghoulish to be "wearing" someone else's face for the rest of her life. The novel itself traces the recovery process and the difficulties of adjusting to life as her family and friends each have to come to grips with the change.
While the novel follows pretty familiar recovery territory (with plenty of grieving, anger, and acceptance to come down the pike), I liked it. Maisie can be awfully stuck on herself and convinced she knows what everyone else is thinking, but she reasons things out and her insights are fascinating to read about. Her friends and family are similarly multifacted and I enjoyed the growth in her relationship with her boyfriend Chirag and her best friend Serena, as well as her ongoing struggles with her mother. Sheinmel takes her time and devotes a lot of energy into these relationships, allowing us a number of different perspectives and, in the end, a fuller understanding of the ethical, moral, and emotional dilemmas of face transplants.
[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. When I finish with it, I will donate the book to my local public library. The book was released on September 29th.]
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Sunday, September 27, 2015
Hidden, by Donna Jo Napoli
Napoli always does great historical research to get her subjects right. But what makes her stories work best is when she is able to weave a compelling story to place into all that researched setting. One could fault her for some wishful modern sensibilities about the role of women, but nothing which clashes with or detracts from the story. The result is a beautifully-written tale about a strong and resourceful heroine with an ability to see far forward and change the lives of others.
Posted by Paul at 4:14 PM No comments:
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Tell Me, by Joan Bauer
And if you're confused by all this, you aren't alone! Joan Bauer, who excels at creating driven single-minded characters with quirky tastes, has created one of her most unfocused books. There are any number of plotlines here and most of them unravel before the book is done (most notably, the potential mean girl and nefarious entrepreneur subplots which fizzle away, but even the human trafficking story never really crystallizes). The end result is a story which never materializes, in striking contrast to Bauer's other novels.
Posted by Paul at 8:48 PM No comments:
Monday, September 21, 2015
Gone Too Far, by Natalie D. Richards
Borrowing a page quite liberally from Heathers, but without the black comedy, we have a classic story of revenge blown out of control. Piper is a believable young woman whose passion for justice slips into vengeance, without regard for the consequences. The fact that her adolescent mind then grossly overestimates her own importance is plausible and tragic. Thankfully, the adults provide a similarly plausible reality check. These are not terribly nice people, but they know their faults and the story has a very satisfying conclusion with a good last minute punch to the gut.
Posted by Paul at 8:28 PM No comments:
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Frosted Kisses, by Heather Hepler
What it isn't, however, is organized into any sort of theme. There's plenty of activity and stuff to read about here, but nothing which gives this novel a purpose. And no matter how likable Penny is or readable the writing, that gaping hole is a big deal. Simply tying some of the various ideas together (for example, the importance of family or loyalty to friends) would have done a lot to improve the book. But aside from the fact that parents (and fathers in particular) come across as pretty horrible in this story, there isn't much here.
[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. After finishing with it, I will be donating the book to my local public library. The book is scheduled for release on October 27th.]
Posted by Paul at 12:09 PM No comments:
Monday, September 14, 2015
Upside-Down Magic, by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
The first of a series that merges a Harry Potter magic school theme with that very American sensibility for celebrating diversity, and aims it at a younger audience. It's probably a winning formula and the trio of heavy hitters behind it is impressive. Much more impressive for me was that for a team-written book it was surprisingly difficult to identify each writer's contribution. Jenkins in particular has a very notable dry humor which permeates the story, yet Mlynowski and Myracle are formidable presence as well. I'm not a fan of middle grade series books, but I imagine this will be around for a while!
[Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. Once I finish with it, I'll be donating it to my local public library. The book is scheduled for release on September 29th.]
Posted by Paul at 7:46 PM No comments:
Saturday, September 12, 2015
The Sound of Letting Go, by Stasia Ward Kehoe
I get the conflicted state of Daisy's mind over whether she wants Steven there or gone, but there really is no attempt to come to peace with the decision. Instead, she waffles back and forth and mopes. Nor does she ever really confront the other issues in her life (her relationship with boyfriend Dave, her applications to music schools, etc.). That lack of closure left me feeling like the story just sort of stopped and never properly finished, and while I got a clear sense of how difficult it is to have an autistic member in the family, I got no sense of growth or revelation.
Posted by Paul at 1:12 PM No comments:
Thursday, September 10, 2015
All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven
A rambling and somewhat disjointed look at teen mental illness. It starts off as a quirky romance that is filled with marvelous facts about the State of Indiana -- the kind of cute novel where oddball kids make appealing partners. But somewhere towards the end, Niven decides to take the story into darker territory and have Finch completely unravel. She claims in the Afterword that that was her intent from the beginning, but the story could have gone in many directions and it felt like a detour to me. And because of that shift, I felt like we lost a lot of Violet's story. I get that Finch's illness makes for a more dramatic ending, but it is the less interesting story in the end.
Posted by Paul at 8:40 PM No comments:
Monday, September 07, 2015
Monkey Wars, by Richard Kurti
This nuanced allegory about the rise of totalitarianism set amid the feral primates of Kolkata is one of the more imaginative books of the year. Superficially, it will call to mind the Planet of the Apes, but Kurti's writing is more informed by history. He makes numerous sharp observations about the psychology of terror and propaganda, and the way that totalitarianism both rises and falls. It's an extremely gory novel, but one with extraordinarily important observations to make about human behavior.
This is a "boy" book, in the sense that it focuses on action, at the expense of depicting most emotional growth (with the important exception of Mico's emergence as a liberal thinker). Most of the characters die by the end, so it's best to not get invested (Kurti cruelly spends significant time developing characters who are doomed to be brutally murdered within a chapter or two). And the story is stubbornly androcentric. Females play bit (although sometimes crucial) parts in the story which is overwhelmingly about males posturing and jostling for authority and power. One could blame that on the species depicted, but it is a shame in a story which otherwise uses the primate cover as a thin veil for the human souls expressed.
Posted by Paul at 5:01 PM No comments:
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
The Lightning Queen, by Laura Resau
Resau has a bit of niche writing rich stories about the indigenous people of Mexico that combine a Hispanic magical realism tradition with a modern kid-friendly sensibility. The results are wonderful novels where the story itself is less important than the characters. And thus a story synopsis cannot do justice to the immersive fun of the book which sends us to another world full of colorful characters and meaningful human relationships. This book does it all one better, bringing two very unique cultures together: the Mexteco people (of whom Resau has written before) and the less-known world of the Mexican Romani. Truth be told, I hadn't even realized that the Romani had reached the Americas and loved the idea of bringing them to light. While I might well have enjoyed even more about the gypsy caravan and its people, what is present is fascinating and interesting.
[Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. After finishing with the book, I will be donating it to my local public library. The book is scheduled for release on October 27th.]
Posted by Paul at 8:47 PM No comments:
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