Review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters

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Title: The Boy Who Drew Monsters

Author: Keith Donohue

Publisher: Picador

Publication Date: October 7, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

So I actually read this book ages ago and just got too busy to write a review. But I genuinely loved it and wanted to give it a nice shout out, so here we are! Especially because this is one of the few “adult” books I’ve read recently.

A brief run-down from the author’s website:

Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy’s only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.

It’s rare that there’s a book that genuinely terrifies me. But the images that Donohue paints – the monsters in the dark, and in the light as well – left me tempted to sleep with the light on, just for a rough approximation at comfort. Donohue’s writing style is descriptive and ocean-like – something about it made me feel like I was floating along the waves, watching the story play out on the shore. Yet there are these juxtaposed moments of intense action, violence, passion, etc., that kick-started my adrenaline and kept me from falling into too much of a pattern.

It’s also rare for me to find a book where the “plot twist” is actually any kind of twist at all. Usually, it’s more like a half-hearted flip-flop. That being said, I couldn’t believe the ending of this book. The last chapter completely threw me for a loop, and everything fell into place, and I hated myself for not seeing it coming – but you know what? I never would have seen it coming, even had I known that, oh yeah, there’s going to be a major surprise here. So applause to Keith Donohue for that.

The only negatives I have to say are that there’s one plot line that doesn’t interest me in the slightest, and also, one of the main characters, Jack’s mother, is so unlikable that I wanted to repeatedly punch her in the face. And I don’t know that her unlike-ability was wholly intentional.

But overall, I immensely enjoyed this read. The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a story that is frightening not because it could happen to you – but because it might already be happening; not because it leaves questions unanswered – but because there are no answers to be had. Psychologically, this was one of the most compelling books I’ve read in years. This book will unsettle you, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably love it.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

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Review: Alex As Well

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Title: Alex As Well

Author: Alyssa Brugman

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Publication date: January 20, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

These Australian authors are just killing it lately! The cover of Alex As Well caught my eye, so I read it in one sitting at the bookstore and then proceeded to buy it and bring it home so I can read it again later. It’s a book that deals with a subject I’ve never seen in YA fiction, so I was super happy to get my hands on it.

Before my review, a quick summary from the author’s website:

What do you do when everybody says you’re someone you’re not?

Alex wants change. Massive change. More radical than you could imagine.

Her mother is not happy, in fact she’s imploding. Her dad walked out.

Alex has turned vegetarian, ditched one school, enrolled in another, thrown out her clothes. And created a new identity. An identity that changes her world.

And Alex—the other Alex—has a lot to say about it.

Alex As Well is a confronting and heartfelt story of adolescent experience—of questioning identity, discovering sexuality, navigating friendships and finding a place to belong. Alex is a strong, vulnerable, confident, shy and determined character, one you will never forget.

Essentially, the heart of the story is that Alex, an Australian teenager, was born intersex and designated male by her parents. However, she’s realized that she’s really a girl, and her parents have trouble coming to terms with that. The story is told from Alex’s point of view, with interludes consisting of her mother’s posts on some kind of parenting forum.

Alex is just a girl. She tries to make new friends, has crushes on her classmates, wants to experiment with her style. But she also has to deal with the fact that there are people, namely her parents and her old classmates, who won’t let her be herself. Some characters I couldn’t help but detest – like her mother, for example, who is completely horrendous but unfortunately not outside the realm of realism. Others, like her new friends, are shown as characters who may not understand Alex at first but who grow to challenge their own prejudices in the end.

Of course, there were still a few elements of the novel I wasn’t wholly in love with. Alex mentally quotes popular song lyrics occasionally, which is really going to date the book in a few years. The way that she’s portrayed as having a male alter-ego, the other Alex, was also confusing at times, and I think could have been handled in a better way.

But overall, the book seems to deal with gender identity in a mature and complex way. The story was engaging and definitely did not take the turn of events that I expected in the end. I hope to look up more of Brugman’s work in the future, and I hope this book does well in the US!

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Top Ten Tuesday: 2014 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn’t Get To

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Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (a book blogging meme created by The Broke and the Bookish) is centered around books from 2014 that didn’t quite make the cut before January came back around. There are so many fabulous books that were released last year, and although I haven’t gotten to them yet, they’re all on my to-read list for this year.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Shakespeare AND the apocalypse! I started reading this one, and I meant to finish but just ran out of time. Hopefully I can circle back around to it in a bit.

2. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Pretty cover, pretty summary, heard good things about it = the triumviate of recommendations, basically.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir. A student recommended this to me, and I bought it two months ago, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

4. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan. Picture me with grabby hands. That’s me right now about this book.

5. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Cool nonfiction! About history! And humanity’s possible extinction! Count me in.

6. The Paying Guests by Sarah Walters. Recc’d to me by a fellow teacher who usually has good taste. Also has a nice cover, so I want to give it a shot.

7. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. After reading the first Miss Peregrine’s, I couldn’t wait to read this one – but unfortunately, it got buried underneath the rest of the books in my to-read pile.

8. Panic by Lauren Oliver. I’ve heard mixed things, but I still wanted to check this one out.

9. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. I’ve only flipped through this one so far, but it looks like a stunning graphic novel with everything I adore.

10. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. Oh, Haruki Murakami, my love. I can’t wait to get around to this one – as soon as I’m finally finished with 1Q84.

What books didn’t quite make your cut last year, even just because of time constraints? Let me know! And link me to your own TTT!

Tara

Review: My True Love Gave To Me

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Title: My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Editor: Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date: October 14, 2014

Goodreads

I was so excited to see this at my school’s library when I got back after winter break! It’s never too late in the season to get into a good holiday novel, especially one with short stories from so many of my favorite YA authors.

A brief summary from Amazon:

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers (Holly Black, Ally Carter, Matt de La Peña, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Tayler and Kiersten White), edited by the international bestselling Stephanie Perkins.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa, there’s something here for everyone.  So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy.  You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love.

I’m going to briefly review each of the twelve stories individually, since it’s hard to comment on the book as a whole when none of the stories are related. My favorites are in bold!

1. “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell: Cutesy, romantic, everything you’d expect from Rainbow Rowell. Set at New Year’s across the years, following one pair of friends’ journey from friendship to couple-dom.

2. “The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link: This one took me a few pages to get into, but once I realized it was a fantasy short story, I really enjoyed it, though it was hard to get attached to the characters in such a short amount of time.

3. “Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Peña: In this one, the protagonist, Shy, is stuck dog-watching during a blizzard in an apartment with no food, and miracles do happen when a girl from a higher apartment floor has a plumbing issue and comes seeking help. I almost cried while reading this one, not gonna lie. I loved it.

4. “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” by Jenny Han: Meh. This one is about a human girl adopted by Santa Claus who’s in love with an elf from the North Pole (the girl’s in love, not Santa). Wasn’t the best in the collection, but it was cute.

5. “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins: Really sweet romantic story, with just the right number of pop-culture references and a couple that I rooted for throughout. 

6. “Your Temporary Santa” by David Levithan: RIP MY HEART OUT, WHY DON’T YOU.

7. “Krampuslauf” by Holly Black: Creepy and dark and everything you’d want from a Holly Black holiday story. 

8. “What The Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” by Gayle Forman: Sophie is a Jewish girl stuck at her university over the holidays, until she bonds with a fellow student over the ridiculousness of non-ironic Christmas sweaters at a caroling concert. ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. Adorable and sad and hilarious all at once.

9. “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire: Just as funny as you’d imagine from the title. I won’t say more than that.

10. “Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White: Set in a cheesy Christmas-themed California diner, with just the right balance of magic and realism to offset the strongly emotional conflicts the characters come across. 

11. “Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter: A girl looking to escape trades plane tickets with a foreign exchange student from Norway, and ends up spending Christmas in the middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma. Very Parent-Trap, where the look-a-likes switch places. This one was a little predictable, and not as funny or heart-wrenching as most of the others in this collection, but still sweet.

12. “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor: I skimmed this one because I just couldn’t get into the fantasy-ish, otherwordly setting.

Overall, I really enjoyed most of the stories, and it was definitely a fun book to read while I was snowed in on a snow day yesterday. If you like any of these YA authors, or if some of these tidbits above spark your interest, definitely give this book a shot around the holiday season next year (or this year, if you’re like me and you’re down for Christmas all year long).

4 out of 5 stars for the collection.

Tara

Review: The Murder Complex

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Title: The Murder Complex

Author: Lindsay Cummings

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Publication date: June 10, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s twitter / Author’s website

After an extended hiatus due to my new job and NaNoWriMo, I’m back with book reviews! This is a review of a book that was published a while ago, but it was new to me, and I loved it so much that I couldn’t let it go without reviewing it.

A brief summary from the author’s website: 

The Murder Complex is an action-packed, blood-soaked, futuristic debut thriller set in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birthrate.

Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision. The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or is it part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?

Okay, so despite the proliferation of dystopian YA fiction this year, this one is actually worth your time. The intensity behind this plot practically leaps off the page. The perspective switches between Meadow and Zephyr, both of whom are sympathetic protagonists and who act as foils for each other quite nicely.

Government conspiracy, secrets, romance – this book has it all. The world that Cummings puts forth is terrifying and acts as a stark reminder of the capabilities of human cruelty, especially in the face of blurred moral lines. I was particularly compelled by both main characters’ struggles between their individual needs and desires and their strong loyalty to their families and friends.

Yes, there are some parts that are cliche, and there are a few plot holes. But I was enthralled by these characters and their plight, and I think that’s what matters the most. If you want a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat – and will keep you up at night the week after you finish it – give this one a try. I’m really looking forward to the sequel.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara