An editor and avid reader gives her frank thoughts about everything she reads. More reviews and book blather on fefferbooks.com!
Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.
A Death-Struck Year is Makiia Lucier's debut novel and I hate to say it, but it shows. I didn't dislike this book--far from it. I thought the plot was interesting, the characters were mostly well-done, and the setting was great. I just wanted a little...more.
Firstly: the characters. Cleo, the heroine, is lovely. She's brave, thoughtful, and compassionate, and stronger than she's aware. Hannah and Kate are particular high points, and I also enjoyed Jack and Lucy. Edmund, the romantic lead, had some nice moments, but this is one place where I felt like there was something lacking--I wanted more opportunity to get to know Edmund. I felt like our chance to get to know him was rushed, and I never really knew that much about him.
Which brings me to my second point: there's some insta-love happening here. Cleo and Edmund seem to fall for each other really quickly, without really any explanation why, and having only bumped into one another about twice. Once the relationship starts, it does have some nice developing scenes, but then it kind of gets abandoned when Lucier decides to finish the book. The whole romantic subplot just needed a little more fleshing out.
The ending of the book, on the whole, was really kind of abrupt. Lucier spends a great deal of time on atmosphere; the book takes place in Portland, Oregon in 1918, and there's a war on, in addition to the Spanish flu epidemic. The story centers around Cleo's decision to volunteer with the Red Cross, helping people who fall ill in a city that's caught off-guard by sweeping illness. Lucier paints an elaborate, colorful picture of the city in that time, and the people who fill it, and it's the book's strength. It's hard not to be swept up, a bit, in the story, despite the niggling plot holes and distractions. When things suddenly, anticlimactically wrap up, then, it's all sort of odd and empty-feeling, and certainly devoid of all the depth and color Lucier spent so much time on in the previous 250 pages. It's kind of a let down.
Finally, and this is extremely nit-picky, but: I've gotten to be accepting of the choppy, incomplete-sentence writing style so many writers tend to use nowadays as long as the story's being told from first person point-of-view, and it's a contemporary novel. It's conversational, so I get it. In fact, I get it so well, that it's started creeping into my own blog writing here and there. However, when the book is written from the point-of-view of an educated older teen in the very early 20th century, it just doesn't work. For as well-researched as everything else in this novel was, Cleo's incomplete speech patterns were completely anachronistic. That said, these instances were only occasional.
Overall, I did enjoy the story, here. A Death-Struck Year was an entertaining read, despite my gripes, and I think Makiia Lucier is a writer with promise. Historical fiction can be difficult to write, particularly for the YA market, and I think she captured the voice nicely. I'll be interested to see what Lucier comes up with next.
Completely clean in every way. Interesting historical premise. 3 stars.
A Death-Struck Year was released Tuesday and is on shelves now. Thanks to HMH Books and Edelweiss for the advanced review copy.
It's entertaining enough. I the character development suffers a good deal because of the narrative style. I came away feeling I really didn't know much about Amy of them, except maybe Olivia. It was kind of a fun concept, but I wanted more from it.
Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com
Hey, you know what you’ve never seen from Shannon Hale before? Sci-fi.
I have to fess up: this is the first Hale I’ve ever read. She’s been recommended to me by no fewer than four different friends whose reading taste I trust, and I still hadn’t gotten around to picking up one of her books. Don’t ask me why; Hale is well-known for her Princess Academy and Books of Bayern (The Goose Girl) series. Oh, and then there’s Austenland, a movie version of which was just released on DVD/streaming and I totally have on my queue. She’s clearly an author who knows her audience and how to write.
It was Dangerous that piqued my interest, though. The synopsis reads:
Maisie Danger Brown just wanted to get away from home for a bit, see something new. She never intended to fall in love. And she never imagined stumbling into a frightening plot that kills her friends and just might kill her, too. A plot that is already changing life on Earth as we know it. There’s no going back. She is the only thing standing between danger and annihilation.
From NY Times bestselling author Shannon Hale comes a novel that asks, How far would you go to save the ones you love? And how far would you go to save everyone else?
What’s not to like? There’s so much awesome missing from this little blurb, though: a heroine who’s “nerdy,” into science, half-latina, and missing half of her right arm, for starters. A trip to science camp, and some pretty mind-blowing stuff that happens when that trip goes sideways. Oh, and the alien superpowers. (Really! Just trust me.)
Hale’s writing style is entirely enveloping. I was entirely charmed by Dangerous after just a few pages–Hale’s voice is so fresh and bright that it’s impossible not to be drawn in to Maisie’s world. The way Hale writes teenagers and their relationships with friends and family feels so much more authentic to my own experience than a lot of the angst-ridden stuff I sometimes read (I liked my parents, most of the time. Is that so weird?), and I particularly loved the scenes between Maisie and Luther.
The characters, themselves, are all fascinatingly different–there are a few of them I would really have liked to get to know better. I felt like Luther and Maisie’s mom both were fabulous, and I didn’t get quite enough time, there and Dragon fits in that category, too, for different reasons. Wilder was a complicated, emotional high point. Maisie’s dad is just plain lovable. Maisie herself is an optimistic, but no-nonsense kind of girl, and she tells us (cheerily) right up front who she is and what she’s all about. She’s clearly comfortable with who she is, though, and is able to laugh at herself. She’s a fantastic role model.
As for the plot, it’s crazy. C-R-A-Z-Y. There were a couple of times when I had to read in another room so no one would interrupt me. My heart was pounding and I could pretty much feel my eyes bugging out several times–particularly near the end of the book. There is one climactic scene that draws out the dramatic tension for so long and in a way that is so realistic to the situation that there is no way not to just freak the heck out with Maisie. It’s insane, and it’s awesome!
I really don’t know how else to describe the book without giving too much away, and Hale put too much thought and effort into unrolling the story in just the right way for me to ruin it for you. Let me just say that there were a couple of places in the book when I felt like things had shifted, and I wasn’t really sure what was going on. Roll with it. It’ll allll come together in the end, I promise!
4.5 stars. Completely clean, and crazy fun.
Dangerous releases today! Go pick up your copy. Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for the opportunity to read the galley.
Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com
I figured it out: I'm pretty sure I dated Jonah Prentiss.
Finishing Bright Before Sunrise was a slightly uncomfortable experience for me, and I couldn't quite figure out why. I blew through the book in just a little over 24 hours, and I liked the story quite a lot. I was completely swept up in Tiffany Schmidt's ability to write real characters--they're flawed, vulnerable, with authentic teenage problems and concerns. I know these kids. I've been to their parties and met their friends, and had those same arguments and awkward moments. I've had those late-night talks when it seems you really know each other, and anything is possible. This is fabulous realistic fiction.
The genius, though, of realistic fiction--any good writing, really--is that it forces us to relate, somehow. If we identify with the characters, the situations, the emotions, we might just find ourselves dredging up some very real memories, and that can trigger unresolved issues.
I found myself entirely charmed by Brighton. Her desire to please and make everyone happy, despite and the stresses it placed on her made her such a lost and fragile character. I felt a same kind of maternal compassion for Jonah, in the beginning: his parents alternatively ignore and emotionally abuse him. He's lonely, angry, defensive. He's a different kind of lost soul, and he needs tender care. Watching his world and Brighton's collide is spectacular--and it is excellently written. I was pleased with the ending, and there were all kinds of lovely moments. I walked away from it, though, feeling shell-shocked, and I couldn't figure out why.
I've spent the last week agonizing over how to rate this book and how to start writing this review, and as I sat down to finally write today, it FINALLY hit me between the eyes: Jonah is ______--that guy I dated one summer. He is SO Jonah! It didn't end well, and there really wasn't any closure, and that's why I've been feeling so unsettled, ever since I hit a certain point in the book. This, I've concluded, is a testament to Schmidt's ability to write so fabulously. Those scenes are REAL. Those characters? REAL. They're so real that they're dredging up little moments that are 15 years in my past! And really, they were lovely moments. It just took me a while to figure out why a novel as lovely and fun as this one was making me feel so weird and unsettled. Now that I've figured it out, I'm much happier. :)
Verdict? As long as you don't have a weird, unresolved issue in your past that directly parallels this book, that you just can't identify (chances of that? Slim!), I think you will adore Bright Before Sunrise. It's a charming, authentic, emotional love story, written from two distinct perspectives, both of whom are sympathetic and kind of fantastic. I think this one will stick with me for a long time.
4 stars. Some sexuality (Jonah is very much an older teenage boy). TV-safe language.
Bright Before Sunrise hits shelves today! Thanks to Walker Childrens/Bloomsbury and Netgalley for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for review.
Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.
I’m struggling to find the words to begin this post. I’m not quite sure how to talk about Me Since You without giving away too much, and yet, it’s such a powerful book, it deserves quite a lot of discussion. Maybe I’ll start with the publisher’s synopsis:
Before and After. That’s how Rowan Areno sees her life now. Before: she was a normal sixteen-year-old—a little too sheltered by her police officer father and her mother. After: everything she once believed has been destroyed in the wake of a shattering tragedy, and every day is there to be survived.
If she had known, on that Friday in March when she cut school, that a random stranger’s shocking crime would have traumatic consequences, she never would have left campus. If the crime video never went viral, maybe she could have saved her mother, grandmother—and herself—from the endless replay of heartache and grief.
Finding a soul mate in Eli, a witness to the crime who is haunted by losses of his own, Rowan begins to see there is no simple, straightforward path to healing wounded hearts. Can she learn to trust, hope, and believe in happiness again?
If it sounds kind of heavy, that’s because it is. But there’s also something vulnerable about Me Since You, something delicate and contemplative. The entire book is full of cavernous (and sometimes devastating) emotions. There are extreme outbursts. There is extraordinary trauma. The beauty of it, perhaps, is the way in which Rowan and Eli manage to soldier through it all, and even find moments of normalcy and joy.
Weiss’ writing is, obviously, deeply emotive. She has a gift for realism, both in dialogue and in her ability to express thoughts and feelings. Weiss’ characters are flayed wide open for her readers, and we are the better for it. I came away from this novel feeling like I had a far greater understanding of depression, and the extreme helplessness it oppresses upon its sufferers. It’s something I honestly had little patience for before. In that, I related completely to Rowan when she says,
“And there it is, that flash of impatience mixed with helplessness creating the dilemma that twists me up inside: Stay or go? If I stay I embarrass him, will be late for work, feel like I’m coddling and encouraging him, but if I go I’m disregarding his pain, ignoring it, saying, Look, I know you’re sad but life goes on, and it makes me feel cold and uncaring and guilty.”
That little paragraph hit me right between the eyes. Rowan stays a moment, in case you’re wondering, and I realized I’m far too dismissive. Weiss is teaching something important in this novel, if only to me.
There are a couple of times where are some tiny little skips in psychological development–I wasn’t sure why someone felt or acted the way they did, suddenly. Also, the second chapter (only) changes point of view and is narrated in third person omniscient perspective. I can assume why it was done, but it’s a jarring shift. The relationships between Rowan and Eli and …well, frankly, everyone with each other, are wonderfully written, and made it worth reading, for me.
There is a fair amount of swearing in this book. The bulk of it–the worst–falls during scenes of extreme emotional crisis, so I was far more willing to overlook it than the usual gratuitous stuff. But if it were a movie, it’d be rated R, so be warned.
3.5 stars, leaning heavily toward 4.
Many thanks to MTV Books/Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for review. Me Since You hits shelves February 18th. You can pre-order it now!
Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.
One of the things I love the very most about being a book blogger is how much it stretches me. Before I started blogging, I was pretty predictable in my reading choices–(classics, historical fiction). Now, I try a lot harder to be aware of what’s out there and to maintain greater variety in what I read, so I can share it all with you! There are just so many books out there in the world, and so many of them open up whole new genres and ideas and writing styles, and some of the authors out there are wonderfully subtle about sneaky about it.
Example: I never ever used to like fantasy novels. You know those moms who know how to make brownies with applesauce and make them actually taste awesome? Every time I end up liking a fantasy novel, I feel a little like that’s what just happened. If I’d read a synopsis that gave a rundown of, say, the fantastical and mythological creatures that’d be appearing in said novel, I’d give a cynical quirk of my eyebrow and put the thing down. TRUST ME and do not do that with Incarnate. Jodi Meadows is making good brownies right here.
Incarnate, at its heart, is a story about Ana, a teenaged girl trying to figure out how she fits into the world. She hasn’t had much help, up to this point. She’s distrustful, defensive, and determined. She’s downright likeable. Ana’s vulnerable, at heart, and when she meets Sam, all bets are off. (And just trust me when I say: BEST kissing scene ever. Ahem.)
Meadows is a downright fun writer. Her plot is just plain imaginative, her setting fantastical, but her characters are real, which is what makes the novel so enjoyable, in my view. Their emotions are raw and authentic. I also absolutely revel in her precise word choices, but I’m an English geek like that.
Verdict? Incarnate is a fun, clean, romantic adventure. I was hooked from about page three, and I’m onto the second book in the series, Asunder, right away. 4 stars.
Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.
Some of you might have seen my Instagram about this book, in which I admitted to refreshing the Kindle Store about seventyzillion times after midnight, until I could download Into the Still Blue.
True story. I have enjoyed this series so much, and I could not wait to get my hot little hands on the final book. I was a little nervous, though: would it live up to all the hype I’d built up in my head?
Oh, man. Guys, there were goosebumps. There were moments when people had to wait a minute to talk to me, because they weren’t allowed to interrupt the crazy scene happening in the book. Friends, there might even (definitely. were.) have been tears! But only the good kind, I promise.
Still Blue is explosive, emotionally. If Under the Never Sky was action-packed, and Through the Ever Night was a little slower and more psychologically well-developed, Still Blue pulls a classic Joey Tribbiani and puts those hands together. The result is, in short, spectactular. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but let’s just say Rossi is fantastic at leaving us hanging just…long…enough. Omgosh.
Rossi’s writing is full of lush descriptions and fantastic new settings, and I so enjoyed the character development that was happening amidst all the action. I particularly warmed to Loran. His character was (no spoilers) exactly as it should be, despite his questionable motives, and he seemed just right, to me, even before we knew what he would become. The scene when he lets Aria kick him in the face is particularly heartwarming. That sounds nuts until you read it. :) Rossi’s ability to create complex characters whom we love, often because of their weaknesses and not just in spite of them, is just some of what makes her a great writer. These books have hit #6 on the NY Times Bestselling Series List–no surprise to anyone who’s read them. They’re just that engaging.
4.5 stars, only because I was a little confused about the big scene with Cinder; I felt like I was left hanging a bit. But I pretty much loved every minute of this one. Super clean.