Review: Now and Forever

nowandforevercover

Title: Now and Forever

Author: Susane  Colasanti

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Publication Date: May 20, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

This was the first book I’ve read by Colasanti, and from what I’d heard of her work, I was very excited to try it out. Unfortunately, it came up rather short.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

What if your boyfriend was the world’s biggest rock star?

Sterling is crazy in love with Ethan. Not only is he the sweetest boy she’s ever met, but he’s an incredibly talented guitarist, singer, and songwriter. And since forever, he’s believed he has what it takes to be a star.

When Ethan becomes an overnight sensation, he’s thrown head-first into the glam world of celebrity—and so is Sterling. Before she knows it, she’s attending red-carpet premieres, getting free designer clothes, and flying around the country to attend Ethan’s monumental sold-out concerts.

It’s a dream come true…but whose dream is Sterling living? And what do you do when forever comes to an end?

I don’t actually have much to say about this book, and that’s because it didn’t really leave a lasting impression.

The characters were complex, for the most part, especially Sterling. I managed to find plenty of ways to connect with and empathize with her plight. I also did enjoy how the book started off before Ethan became famous, so I got to see the entirety of Sterling and Ethan’s relationship both when they were a normal couple and also after they were catapulted into the spotlight.

But.

The novel, in general, was both forgettable and predictable. I guessed how the book would end almost before I even started. Okay, slight exaggeration. I could still see the ending from miles away. And because I knew what was going to happen, it became more of a waiting game for me to see when it would.

So Now and Forever didn’t leave a lasting impression. Still, at least it didn’t leave a lasting negative impression. It was pleasant enough to read, and for that reason I’m giving it:

3 stars out of 5.

Tara

Review: Second Star

secondstarcover

Title: Second Star

Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication Date: May 13, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

If you know me at all, you know that I am a sucker for alternate universe fairytales, retold fairytales, contemporary fairytales… you name it. I picked up Second Star desperately hoping it would be related somehow to Peter Pan, and I have never been so happy to be right. This is a great retelling of the beloved children’s classic, and though I had a few issues with it, it was an enjoyable read overall.

A brief summary from the author’s website:

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing brothers.  Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers.  Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete’s nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas.  Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she’s falling hard for Pete.  A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up – and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

I loved how Sheinmel manipulated the fairy tale’s characters and made them fit this entirely new setting. Wendy is now a young girl on a quest to find her missing surfer brothers, which takes her to Kensington, a surfers’ hideaway led by Pete (Peter Pan) and his posse of surfers (essentially the lost boys, plus the ever-jealous Belle – two guesses as to who she’s supposed to be). Fairy dust is transformed into the street name for a drug, which is dealt by Jas – who I presume is meant to represent Captain Hook, as he’s nowhere else to be found in the novel, though I wish the name had made that a little clearer.

There’s just the right amount of magic and mystery surrounding these characters and their existence in Kensington, and the effects that the drugs have on the surfer population, and the effects that Pete and his gang have on Wendy. I wasn’t entirely sure throughout the book if there was any magic actually involved, which made me love the book more. And the ending of the book left me with more questions than answers – which, surprisingly, I enjoyed.

What I disliked the most about Second Star, however, was the unnecessary love triangle. I don’t think it added anything extra to the plot except for a multitude of sighs from me. Plus, I hate to admit it, but compared to Wendy and Jas, she had absolutely no chemistry with Pete. It was a complete non-competition, it seemed. I understand the need to throw in romance in order to make it more appealing to young adult audiences, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like it fit. It was awkward, and I could have done without it entirely.

But for the reasons I stated previously, I loved the book overall. I’d definitely recommend it as a beach read, a poolside read, and an anywhere-you-need-a-fairytale-fix read.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Cover Trends

ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogging meme that was created by The Broke and the Bookish. I’ve noticed that a number of people I follow participate in TTT every week, and I wanted to join in on the fun. This week’s topic: top ten book cover trends I like or dislike!

I’ve linked each cover to the book’s Goodreads page, should any of them be eye-catching. And the books on the “dislike” numbers – I didn’t necessarily dislike the book! Or I won’t dislike it on principle! I just don’t like the cover.

1. Like: Unclear faces. So many covers feature characters with faces that aren’t detailed or distinguishable – which allows me to imagine the characters however I want to, mostly. I think this is a great advantage to these covers.

wewereliarscover  loveletterscover  howtomeetboyscover

2. Like: Backs of heads. Similar to unclear faces, though this is when a character is seen on the cover, but faces the opposite direction from the reader. I just think it’s funny that you can look at a bookshelf and see cover after cover of an indistinguishable backwards-facing person.

everythingleadscover  strangesweetsongcover  tlfcover

3. Like: Feet. (I’m sensing a trend here within these trends). When feet – or legs – play a vital part of the cover image. I like this trend simply because it’s not faces. Also, because the feet/footware usually (though not always) play an important role in the story somehow.

cindercover  lbccover  dkcover

4. Like: One-word titles. Short. Enticing. To the point.

salvagecover  pointecover  teasecover

5. Like: Item-based covers. Similar to my point about the feet – it’s fun to see what the cover-designer deemed most important as an item. These items usually play an important role in the story or have some sort of symbolism behind them.

exilecover  rbcover  artofsecretscover

6. Like: Script-based fonts. I’ve got no real reason for this except they’re SO PRETTY.

thcover  bfcover  sfscover

7. Like: Cartoons. They bring a touch of character, and they make books stand out on a shelf against a hundred books with actual humans on the covers.

thisonesummercover  loveforeigncover  guycover

8. Dislike: Shadowy couples. PLEASE. NO. STOP.

nowandforevercover  jodcover  witwtcover

9. Dislike: Girls in ball gowns. Like, ooooh, another girl in a ball gown. What does this tell me about the book? Absolutely nothing.

windupcover  onecover  threatscover

10. Dislike: Ugly fonts. This one’s not really a current trend – it’s an always trend. I just get really annoyed by poor font choice. And yes, I know “ugly” is severely objective.

sekretcover  deepbluecover  tiscover

What do you think? What are you favorite book cover trends? Which ones make you cringe?

Tara

 

Review: The Art of Secrets

artofsecretscover

Title: The Art of Secrets

Author: James Klise

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Publication Date: April 22, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I found The Art of Secrets at my local library branch, my interest having been piqued by the simple cover and the description of the book on the inside flap. So many YA books nowadays have people (usually only parts of people) or couples (usually without visible faces) that when I find one without humans on the cover, I’m extra interested.

First, a brief summary from the author’s website, which is similar to the inside cover blurb which made me pick it up:

A fire destroys…

          A community unites…

                     A treasure appears…

                               A crime unfolds…

When Saba Khan’s family home burns in a mysterious fire (possibly a hate crime), her Chicago high school rallies around her. But then a piece of quirky art donated to a school fund-raising effort for the Khans is revealed to be worth a fortune, and Saba’s life turns upside down again.

Greed, jealousy, and suspicion create an increasingly tangled web as adults and teens alike debate who should get the money, question one another’s motives, and make startling accusations.

This was definitely an intriguing enough plot, but I felt like the book lacked in execution.

What I liked most was that Kline didn’t shy away from exploring the darker sides of the human race. Were certain characters helping raise money for the Khans because they wanted to help the family? Or because they wanted to boost their own resumes? Were the Khans at fault for the fire? Or was someone unfairly targeting them because of their ethnicity? Why would people believe the first option over the second, given the evidence at hand? Motivation, discrimination, deceit – all of these are fully explored in the novel.

However, the book’s format is where it seemed to fall apart. The story is told through interviews, radio segments, journal entries, newspaper articles, etc. It’s a mish-mash of facts and narratives from characters throughout the community. The format was certainly unique, and compelling to read, but because of the variety of the narratives, the book became too focused on exposition. It was all about what was happening rather than character development. I also couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters because there were so many of them and because they each got so little focus.

The Art of Secrets was on Booklist’s “Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth 2014” list, which is definitely well deserved. It’s a fabulous crime novel and mystery – just don’t go into it expecting great characters or character development, because you won’t find any. That being said, overall, I enjoyed reading it, and the ending definitely made my time worthwhile.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Salvage

salvagecover

Title: Salvage

Author: Alexandra Duncan

Publisher: Greenwillow

Publication Date: April 1, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I’ve been craving some good science fiction so I picked up Salvage, hoping it would do the trick. I think it did.

A quick summary from Goodreads:

Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean.

This is a sweeping and harrowing novel about a girl who can’t read or write or even withstand the forces of gravity. What choices will she make? How will she build a future on an earth ravaged by climate change?

At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked this book. Duncan threw me right in the middle of things and relied on me as the reader to figure out how things work in her world. I immediately had to make sense of the dialogue, the customs, the slang, etc. I ended up appreciating that the author had faith in an intelligent readership, and I managed to settle into the world after a while.

The heart of this story, to me, seemed to be about a girl making her own way in the world. On the ship, the only home she’d ever known, women had a certain place, certain rules to follow, and very few and specific things that were expected of them. When she breaks away from that – not by choice – she has to find out how to adjust to a whole world of new and terrifying possibilities. Ava’s growth and exploration is gratifying to read about, and I was definitely digging the feminist themes in the book. The slogan on Alexandra Duncan’s website is “Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism,” which I could definitely tell from reading Salvage and which also makes me want to give her a high five.

This was a fabulous sci-fi adventure. There were multiple sides to every character, the book was suspenseful in all the right places, and Duncan really did immerse me in her world, like I mentioned before. I would recommend this book to readers who like kick-ass female protagonists (which should be everyone, really), and also especially to fans of the Lunar Chronicles – I think this diverse, deep, multi-faceted sci-fi has a lot in common with Marissa Meyer‘s works.

Salvage isn’t the best science fiction book I’ve ever read – the overall writing style left some things to be desired – but it was a great science fiction book, which definitely counts for something.

4 stars out of 5.

Tara

Review: The Waiting Room

waitingroomcover

Title: The Waiting Room

Author: Alysha Kaye

Publisher: Self-published

Publication date: July 1, 2014

Author’s twitter / Author’s blog / Author’s website

Alysha Kaye is an author and English teacher from Texas who provided me with a copy of her upcoming book in exchange for an honest review. As an English teacher myself, I felt an obligation to support her in her novelistic endeavor – plus, her book sounded amazing. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Waiting Room, which turned out to be an absolute delight to read.

First, a brief summary from the author’s website:

Jude and Nina are the epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing that most people are jealous of. That is, until Jude dies and wakes up in The Waiting Room, surrounded by other souls who are all waiting to pass over into their next life. But unlike those souls, Jude’s name is never called by the mysterious “receptionist”. He waits, watching Nina out of giant windows. He’s waiting for her. What is this place? How long will he wait? And what will happen when and if Nina does join him? The Waiting Room is a story of not just love, but of faith, predestination, and philosophy, friendship and self-actualization, of waiting.

My first reaction was that this book reminded me a lot of one of my other favorite books about a non-traditional yet mythical afterlife, Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere. While The Waiting Room isn’t a young adult novel, it still has the same whimsicality and airiness of Elsewhere. The tone is comedic and entertaining, although the novel has some serious issues at its heart. Throughout the book, Jude and Nina struggle with how to maintain their relationship and have faith that they’ll always be able to find each other again, even though they have no idea what makes them so special that they are allowed to wait for each other in the Waiting Room before every round of reincarnation. It should be a heart-wrenching story by all accounts, and at times it is, but the lightness of the tone and the comedic interludes help create a fine balance.

I liked how, when they were reincarnated, they could end up not only wherever but whenever. I liked how not everyone went through that particular waiting room – it would make sense, in a world where every deceased individual passes through the waiting area, that they wouldn’t all fit in one. I liked how suddenly characters I grow to love were ripped from the story – which really nailed the point that life is short and time is precious. I liked how the tone, throughout, was casual – like the characters narrating were sitting next to me and telling me their story.

One thing I found awkward was the change in perspectives. At first, the book is only told from Jude’s perspective, but after a while, it switches to third person briefly. Later, it shifts to be mostly from Nina’s perspective, though occasionally it jumps back to Jude’s. I can understand why certain characters needed to be the primary perspective for certain parts of the book, but it was slightly off-putting until I got used to it. I think the other thing that could have been improved upon was that I wanted more showing and less telling. Some parts of the novel were very dialogue-heavy or very exposition-heavy. Kaye’s story is deftly woven and her imagery is vivid and imaginative, and I wanted more of that.

I think my final comment is that The Waiting Room built characters that I cared about. I cared about not only Jude and Nina but supporting characters as well. I even cared about the Waiting Room itself and was glad to see how it changed and grew throughout the book. Fantasy lovers, romance lovers, lovers of a thoughtful story – all of these readers will enjoy The Waiting Room. I wish the book success and I hope to read more by Alysha Kaye in the future.

The Waiting Room will be available on Amazon on July 1. Be sure to visit Kaye’s website to learn more.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

What I’m Up To: June 2014.

So I thought it would be a good idea to do periodical updates about what’s going on in my Real Life. Fortunately/unfortunately (I can’t decide which), I am heading at full speed towards adulthood. Very exciting things have happened in the past month, so here’s the news:

  • I am EMPLOYED. I was offered a teaching position at my old high school after an interview with the principal and most of the English department, and I accepted right away. I’ll be teaching 10th grade English and Honors English starting in August, which is less than two months from now! I can’t believe this is actually happening, and I am equal parts excited and terrified.
  • I will be playing a role in Shakespeare From the Heart‘s summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the end of July! I’ll give more information about show dates and times closer to the date, but the show is free and all donations will go to our summer charity. I’ll be playing the First Fairy, Titania’s second-in-command. I have a monologue, a scene with Puck, and even a song or two. I can’t wait for real rehearsals to start – we had our first read-through last week, and I know the show is going to be amazing.
  • I will also be volunteering at the Karpeles Manuscript Library in Fort Wayne, starting shortly. They have traveling exhibits that show manuscripts, first editions, and maps to the public for free. I’ll be giving tours and sharing information, for the most part. I also might be pulling weeds out front. We’ll see how that goes.

Other than that, I’ve just been reading, relaxing, and marathoning “Orphan Black” and “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix. It’s been a pretty great summer so far.

I’ll update again in July when I’ll know more about my new teaching job and when I can share more information about our play!

Tara

Review: Everything Leads to You

everythingleadscover

Title: Everything Leads to You

Author: Nina LaCour

Publisher: Dutton Books (an imprint of Penguin Group)

Publication Date: May 15, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

After reading Nina LaCour’s The Disenchantments, and after being incredibly attracted to the cover of Everything Leads to You (because really, whoever designed the font should win an award), I couldn’t wait to start reading this. My expectations, I am pleased to say, were met ten times over.

This is the summary from the book jacket:

“I want you to do something with the place. Something epic.”

After being entrusted with her brother’s Los Angeles apartment for the summer as a graduation gift, Emi Price isn’t sure how to fulfill his one condition: that something great take place there while he’s gone. Emi may be a talented young production designer, already beginning to thrive in the competitive film industry, but she still feels like an average teen, floundering when it comes to romance.

But when she and her best friend, Charlotte, discover a mysterious letter at the estate sale of a Hollywood film legend, Emi must move beyond the walls of her carefully crafted world to chase down the loose ends of a movie icon’s hidden life, leading her to uncover a decades’ old secret and the potential for something truly epic: love.

First of all, Emi being a production designer completely took me by storm. I’ve never read a book where a character had that particular career, and it was cool getting an inside look into who designs sets and why that is important to them. In all actuality, I’d never even thought about how someone has to design the set. I guess I always figured they just picked a house and filmed there. So in that respect, the book made me think about film in a new way, and it gave an intriguing dynamic to the protagonist that I haven’t seen before.

Another aspect of the book that I adored was the inclusion of girl/girl relationships. Emi’s sexuality is never made a big deal of. It’s just there. She talks about how she likes kissing girls, and her romantic entanglements throughout the book seem normalized, which is just what some young adult readers might need in their lives – to be able to read about couples who have normal, couple-y problems and who also happen to be girls. This is how queer lit should be done, really.

I also loved the character who, arguably, becomes the protagonist of the book halfway through. I can’t say anything about her because that would spoil too many plot points, but just know that you’ll fall in love with her. I certainly did.

Throughout the novel, everything seemed to fall into place. The plot happened naturally, and so did each character’s growth and development. Events flowed together well and finally came to a conclusion that felt right. But in the end, it was not only the fantastic plot and the characters that won me over but also the fact that this novel was beautifully written. LaCour’s lyrical prose style is something I greatly admire, and her words really brought this story to life and to light. Help me, I’m swooning.

I highly recommend this book to people who want to read about a mystery, a romance, and adventure, or anywhere in between.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: The Here and Now

hereandnowcover

Title: The Here and Now

Author: Ann Brashares

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Publication Date: April 8, 2014.

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I had high hopes for this particular science fiction YA book. I’d seen it at the bookstore, at the library, and in the hands of some of the students at the school where I student taught, and I was looking forward to reading it. I still did enjoy it, just not nearly as much as I wanted to.

A brief summary from the author’s website (the same author who wrote the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, funnily enough):

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

As the summary implies, the basic premise of the book is that Prenna is a visitor from the future who came with a mass of other people from the late 2090s in order to escape a plague that had taken over the planet, along with a shortage of food, global warming, and a variety of other catastrophes. They – the time travelers – had a certain set of rules to live by, ones which seemed dystopian-esque and Big Brother-like in nature. Prenna, and a non-time traveling boy named Ethan, get involved with a plot to change the future, which inevitably leads to issues with Prenna’s government-ish group of people.

The thing I liked most about this book was that certain scenes were really very touching. One between Prenna and her father, which I won’t say much about because I don’t want to spoil it, was especially moving. There’s another scene near the beginning of the book where Prenna is playing cards with Ethan, but card games are one thing that she never learned properly, coming from the future – so he teaches her, without anyone stating that she needed to learn. I have a weird fondness for that scene, because I think it really brought both of the characters’ vulnerabilities to light.

What I didn’t like about this book was that, for one, it was all too easy. Prenna and Ethan never really had much trouble with their mission. I won’t get into details, but it seemed like, for a potentially world-saving endeavor, they should have had a bit more difficulty. Plus, all of the time travel made no sense. If they changed the future, wouldn’t Prenna never have come back to the past in the first place? Time stream maneuvering in literature is always murky, but this book left definite plot holes open in terms of logistics. Other elements of the novel were unnecessarily confusing as well. For example, Ethan calls Prenna her name, but also nicknames like “Penny” and “Henny,” the latter of which I didn’t understand at all. A repeated typo, maybe? The origin of this nickname was never explained.

The last thing that bothered me about the book was that this was billed as a romance, but it wasn’t romantic in the least. One of the rules of the time travelers is that they aren’t allowed intimate relationships with people other than fellow time travelers. Prenna, of course, gets involved with Ethan. But the strange rule is about physical intimacy, so the main conflict of the novel seemed to become whether or not Prenna should sleep with Ethan, at the risk of his life (because he might become infected with a futuristic plague). It was bizarre and way too much time and energy was spent on that issue compared to the major world-saving plot line. Plus, this led to Prenna and Ethan’s relationship being completely based on sexual tension rather than actual romantic involvement.

Some elements of this book are brilliant, like the methods used to monitor the time travelers by the “counselors,” and the plot twists revealed throughout about what, exactly, they were meant to be changing in the future. But overall, I think this idea was one that had potential but was poorly executed.

Wavering between a 2 or a 3 out of 5 stars, but I’ll give it a 2.

Tara

Review: Grasshopper Jungle

grasshoppercover

Title: Grasshopper Jungle

Author: Andrew Smith

Publication: Dutton Juvenile, an imprint of Penguin Group

Publication Date: February 11, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I found this book on a Kirkus list and thought it sounded intriguing – I was right, but not exactly in the way that I expected. More on that in just a second.

But first, a brief summary from the author’s website:

In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend Robby have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.

This is the truth. This is history.
It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it.

You know what I mean.

Funny, intense, complex, and brave, Grasshopper Jungle brilliantly weaves together everything from testicle-dissolving genetically modified corn to the struggles of recession-era, small-town America in this groundbreaking coming-of-age stunner.

The Kirkus list I found this book on stated that it was science fiction for ages 14 and up. For me personally, reading this book at 22, I couldn’t imagine actual high schoolers reading it and being comfortable. There is a lot – and I mean a lot – of age-inappropriate language and activity in this book. “Shit” and “horny” and “sperm” are probably the top three most commonly used words in the story. It was incredibly off-putting. So as a future educator, this is definitely not a book I’d want to have in my classroom or keep in my library.

That being said, it was a fairly entertaining story. Set in a small town in Iowa, Austin, along with his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann, are witnesses to the accidental end of the world, in the form of Unstoppable Soldiers – giant, un-killable bugs that begin hatching from citizens in town, before eating everything and everyone. Austin is in love with Shann and Robby equally, which only heightens his sense of personal confusion and stress while trying to deal with the world being overrun by mutants.

The characters are fabulously well-rounded and complex. However, there are way too many of them. The premise of the book is that it’s a history of the town, and the apocalypse, written by Austin after the fact. Because of this format, he spends a copious amount of time explaining what each and every person in town was doing at exact moments during the ending of the world. He also jumps back in time and talks about what his ancestors were doing, and the creators of the Unstoppable Soldiers, and a multitude of other people that I really didn’t care about. It makes the story hard to follow because there’s so many people to keep track of.

This book took me ages to read because I could only handle it in small segments. Once I got into it, it wasn’t so bad, but I was struggling at first. I can appreciate the craft – it’s certainly well-written and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. But at the same time, it was just not for me.

2 out of 5 stars.

Tara