Saturday, October 31, 2015
Roman looks like a popular guy and seems to have lots of people who like him. But since the day that his younger sister died while he was babysitting her, he hasn't been able to forgive himself. When the two of them meet, ostensibly to plan their mutual suicide pact, they find that they have a lot in common. And Aysel, who has never imagined that someone could ever like her, begins to doubt that she wants to go through with killing herself with him.
An interesting take on the subject of teen suicide and depression, but the story is terribly predictable. While we are supposed to see these two as clinically depressed, the presentation of their condition makes them seem terribly self-absorbed, which makes them hard to sympathize with. They are richly drawn, but come off as mopey and stuck on themselves.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Oliver has a good collection of best sellers under her belt now and that tends to encourage experimentation. This novel is full of the stuff. In addition to a complex narrative that switches back and forth between the girls' voices, the timeline also shifts between past and future, leaving the reader just slightly off-balance. She's interspersed online news stories (complete with readers comments) and some random photographs. The former works pretty well and speeds up some of the more tedious details in the plot, but the photographs really didn't work for me. They are marginal to the story and mostly distract the reader. Overall, I get why Oliver would be itchy to experiment with her storytelling, but the resulting novel becomes hard to read. The plot twist at the end takes a while to digest and seems a bit of a stretch.
Friday, October 23, 2015
But as Meira's mission to recover a piece of the locket goes horribly wrong and the resistance fighters flee overland to the Kingdom of Cordell, the game grows more complex. Ambitions and plots are unveiled, and Meira finds herself betrothed against her will (a situation she only frees herself from to fall into an even more precarious position). And so on it goes.
It's a complicated story in a complex setting with a romantic triangle, lots of blood and mayhem, and some good old destiny fulfillment. The action keeps moving but doesn't really amount to much in the end. The romances lack warmth (aside from a short hot kissing scene oddly juxtaposed in the midst of a battle), some subplots about gaining respect get sidetracked, and the final climactic showdown is a fizzle out in the end. And, throughout, a rather monotonous repetition of decapitations, endless blow by blow battle scenes, and exaggerated barriers (what's the point in telling us that doing something is impossible and then having the characters do it?). If you like detailed descriptions of every sword swing, you'll enjoy this, but the story seems to always take second place to the combat.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Gut wrenching and touching, this is a great novel in search of an audience. Who is the target audience for this book? The age of the protagonist would normally slot this book for middle schoolers, but the subject matter is far more mature for that. Outside of those of us who are "not acting our age," I fear there isn't much of a readership for this moving story of a brave young girl. More problematic is Ari, herself. She has a voice that is wise and mature far beyond her years. And so it is often quite jarring when she grows foolish and forgetful in a way that is entirely appropriate for a fifth grader but so out of character for her wise narration.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
A wildly convulsive story that combines material from the first two books, while introducing new and interesting characters to the adventure. We move through life in the swamp to dealing with exploitative adults to invasion and war -- the pace is unrelenting! It also felt very rushed at the end and failed to gel as we are pushed into a series of crazy coincidences and convenient resolutions.
This last book in the series is notably more political than its predecessor (which is saying something!). The Disneyfication of the covers of the books in the series (now featuring wide-eyed princesses) seems symptomatic of a storyline which has become far too self-conscious in its message-making. If this is truly the last book in the series, then I will be happy that it wrapped before becoming too precious in its social commentary.
But let me wrap on a positive note. From the beginning, I've enjoyed the strength of the female characters. Even in the face of men with weapons and greater physical strength, the girls always manage to come up with plausible counter-strategies that rely on intelligence, cunning, and bravery (although admittedly more violence in this book than the predecessors). And even in a story that accepts that girls are subjected to training in poise and demeanor that boys are spared, Hale finds empowerment instead of shame in such feminine curricula. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it daintily too!
Saturday, October 17, 2015
A number of other readers seem to focus in on Juliet's decision (twice) to cheat on her boyfriend, but that particular bad choice worked for me from a dramatic standpoint. What I found harder to stomach was Juliet's privileged and coddled existence, and the lack of consequences for any of her decisions. Yes, I was a bit relieved (plot spoiler!) that we are saved from the predictable boyfriend-finding-out scene, but the fact that she can blow off her school and her scholarship and basically accepts no responsibility for flipping off all of these fantastic opportunities she gets handed was what bothered me. And I never could quite figure out what was so wonderful about her perfect boyfriend.
All that said, the plot is the classic learning-to-understand-yourself trope that fulfills all of the basic dramatic requirements of a YA novel. You start with the clueless slave to parental and peer expectations, you throw your little sheep for a loop with a few traumas, mix stuff up for a hundred+ pages, and end up with a cathartic Moment of Truth where the young person throws away their perfect life and decides to become a llama herder in Peru. It's beautiful and touching, and utterly unrealistic.
But hey, it's well written and a good read! Kantor does human interaction beautifully, capturing the imperfections of child and adult fairly and evenly. This makes Juliet's scenes with her parents particularly memorable and authentic. And they work so well, because these characters are anything but perfect, which is probably what makes them better....
Monday, October 12, 2015
Based on a popular self-published series of crime stories, this novel suffers from much of the hubris (and dearth of editorial intervention) that I tend to associate with the self-published. The author is a former police officer and he shows great comfort with writing about the profession, but his characters are stuff and lack much depth. The cops and the killer are stereotypes, and Charley herself lacks much of interest as a YA character. So, instead, the novel relies on its plot, which moves briskly (if somewhat improbably) towards a conclusion that some may find unsatisfactory but which is probably the best possible solution for its set-up.
[Disclosure: I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. The book is scheduled for release on October 27th.]
Saturday, October 10, 2015
With a plot not-so-full of surprises, the quality of this novel turns upon Holmes's strong writing and strong characters. In the beginning, I found Hallie's whining pretty annoying (and I could easily see why she didn't have any friends anymore!) but that made her blossoming into a strong-willed protagonist that much more compelling. The romance with Jonah never quite reaches its full potential, but you've got a lot of action to plot out here and some things had to give. I also wanted a more cathartic ending, but Holmes got everyone to where they needed to be (physically and emotionally) by the end, so the story did its job. I found it bracing, but realistic and thoughtful. A great combination of emotional growth drama and survival story.
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
An interesting riff on both the themes of suicide and of finding the strength to live your life. Cody has a lot of strikes against her ranging from rural poverty to a broken family. And she makes a fair share of poor choices along the way. But she's got strength and perseverance and that makes her interesting. Less so the supporting cast and the love interest (I could have given all of them a pass!). But the story hits the good points and moves along at a crisp pace. Nothing spectacular, but a decent read.
Saturday, October 03, 2015
This novel is a rough story -- entertaining, but ultimately flawed. It works best as an apocalyptic thriller and less well as a polemical diatribe against religion and consumer culture. Unfortunately, it's the latter that really interests Coyle. We've seen paper tiger depictions of the evils of Evangelical Christianity before, and her particular take would be offensive if it were not so ludicrous. Even if you aren't distracted by her silly religion-bashing, the plot has an annoying habit of relying on belated reveals of plot points essential to the story (when the story makes less sense in the re-reading, you know you're having trouble!).
But hey, there's a sequel, so people found it entertaining enough to buy it!