Saturday, February 15, 2014

Review: Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

Title: Secret Society Girl
Author: Diana Peterfreund

Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Publishing Information: 293 pages; July 18, 2006 by Dell
Secret Society Girl #1

Where I got it: E-book from the library

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Eli University junior Amy Haskel never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or . . . well, male. So when Amy is one of the first female students to receive the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she’s blown away. Could they really mean her?

Whisked off into an elaborate initiation rite, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of “friends”—from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that’s when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fueling a feud and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that’s before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life.

Main characters: 3.5/5

It wasn't hard to like Amy, partially because she was so similar to me. An English major currently in college with ties to a form of "secret societies" myself, I could relate to Amy right off the bat. I've heard some knocks on Amy because of her reactions to things, like choosing to drink to solve issues, but I'm sorry to say that I know a lot of college students who drink like this when they're upset, and so to me, it seemed completely realistic. One of my biggest pet peeves about Amy was her relationship with Brandon. The girl who refuses to have a relationship with the nice guy just gets me every time, especially with Amy since she has such a big tiff about people using each other later.

Secondary characters: 2/5

Malcolm was cute and sweet and I had big hopes of him and Amy ending up together until the big twist. I liked hearing everyone's reasons for deciding to join the society; how some people ended up joining for selfish reasons, others because other people pressured them into it, and some because they wanted to change things. I wish that there had been a little more depth on some characters like Odile, Demetria and Jennifer, but I found myself liking some of the other secondary characters. Lydia's character was surprisingly shallow and I would have liked to hear more about her experience.

Writing style: 4/5

Amy's voice was funny and witty, but I also loved Peterfreund's own writing style. The details were interesting rather than a chore to get through and the pace moved at a good clip. I loved the references to English major readings and qualities, like when Amy bullshits her way through her initial interview. I also enjoyed how Peterfreund broke up the writing with lists, conversations, etc. Peterfreund accurately describes how organizations can really be so much more than their ritual or their membership, but it's a part of being something bigger, and I liked how that aspect really shone through.

Plot: 3.5/5
I loved hearing about the culture of the university and the secret societies, so similar to some aspects of my life and yet so different. Maybe the plot wasn't unique, but I've never read a book like this about secret societies. I loved the misunderstanding at the beginning where Amy believes she's interviewing for a different society. I did look up the inspiration for the Rose and Grave society, Yale's Skull and Bones society, and I noticed that a lot of things were taken directly from that society, such as the trust association, the founding information, etc.

Ending: 4/5

Very satisfying ending. I loved the relationships that were building and changing, although there was definitely still loose ends for the next book to tie up. I also was thrilled that it didn't end with "true love"; instead Amy finds her own self-confidence and learns to stand up for herself with the help of the Diggers.

Best scene: Where Amy tells off the Patriarchs

Positives: Realistic and fascinating look into college secret societies, well-developed characters, entertaining writing style & humor, 

Negatives: The fact that the society was a thinly-veiled version of Yale's Skull and Bones, some of the minor characters were one-dimensional, Amy's relationship with Brandon

Cover: I didn't like the preppy look of the cover; it narrowed the focus too much to a "Gossip Girl" type story when I think the novel was a lot deeper

Verdict: Ultimately, the secret society aspect ended up taking a backseat to some more universal themes of friendship, coming of age in college and realizing your own self-worth. 

Rating: 6.8/10 (4 stars)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review: Transcendence by C.J. Omololu

Title: Transcendence
Author: C.J. Omololu
Genre: YA Paranormal Fiction
Publishing Information: 336 pages; June 5, 2012 by Walker Childrens
Series: Transcendence #1

Where I got it: E-book from the library

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?

Main characters: 3.5/5

Cole first seemed very type-A and kind of had a stick up her butt, but I liked the way that she interacted with Griffon and that she was so passionate about playing the cello (which, side note, I've always wanted to play). Cole's reactions to her visions seemed really realistic without being overdramatic. She also had some unique reactions which made me curious about her; for example when she comments that she wishes Griffon wasn't so perfect. I was a little concerned that Cole was going to turn into a clingy girl who freaks out when Griffon doesn't call for a few days, but that was quickly over. Cole's reaction after the plot twist was a little disappointing; I get her freaking out but I was not on the same train-of-thought in terms of who to trust and why or why not. Add to that the fact that she was completely oblivious and I was beginning to get frustrated with Cole toward the end.

Secondary characters: 3.5/5

Cole's sister Kat is sassy and witty; I really liked her presence in the novel. Her and Owen together were also a blast. Griffon was sweet and polite, which helped him right off the bat, but also mysterious. I loved how he and his mom interacted together, especially the fact that though they were both Akhet, Griffon has been one for longer. I was frustrated with Griffon's response to Cole when they stood by the Golden Gate bridge; it reminded me of an Edward Cullen reaction. Ew. Another problem with Griffon was that he actually did seem too perfect, and since Cole even acknowledges this, it seems like Omololu would have given him a few faults.  Rayne was a great secondary character and best friend because her witty humor broke through some of Cole's self-pitying moments and made them tolerable.

Writing style: 4/5

The dialogue was easy-to-read and realistic. The writing itself was interesting and flowed well. There were a couple good cliffhangers on chapter breaks, which always keeps me latched in to the story. The pacing moved perfectly: I was hooked on the story but the timing was impeccable so that I totally believed Cole's development through believing she was Akhet. Also, props to Omololu for making the Berkeley area come alive. I could really feel the vibe of the city coming alive through her writing. As I've stated before, I think you can tell good writing by the extent to which you buy into their world, and I was truly sucked into the world of the Akhet.

Plot: 4/5
I loved some of the historical facts and that the novel was set in London at the beginning. I wasn't expecting such a quick change back to San Fransisco, but Cole's constant visions kept me entertained. Although the concept wasn't anything distinctly original, the unique twists and world-building created a world that was intriguing and riveting. I love the idea that people can feel mentally older because they have so many memories, but still be physically young in this life. It created some cool situations which really made me think and allowed for some "woah" moments.  Some of the "responsibility" and "destiny" stuff going on was a little too over-the-top almost "Spiderman"-y for me. Ahh, but the plot twist! There was just enough subtlety to make it a surprise, but there were definitely hints there. And it was so good! Then there was a second plot twist; just as interesting but with less clues along the way. Wow, Omololu killed it with the plot twists- absolutely fantastic! The third one is possibly the best because I had an inkling but didn't think Omololu would have the guts to do it.

Ending: 3/5

The climax of the story was action-packed and tense. The plot twists leading up to it were fantastic, as mentioned earlier, and kept me on the edge of my seat so I didn't know what to expect. The comedown from it was what I expected except a few points: I felt like Omololu was trying too hard to tie everything together. Some things are okay being a little broken if they started out that way. Trying to make everything perfect isn't the way to end a novel. On the plus side, it had a cute ending with just enough mystery to leave the series open for the next installment. 

Best scene: The roof scene!

Positives: Strong worldbuilding, those plots twists!, realistic characters, engaging writing style & pacing

Negatives: Too tidy of an ending, some parts were slightly overdramatic and stereotypical, some characters were a little too perfect

Cover:Yuck, I'm not a fan of this cover. I peeked at the cover for the second book and it's much more my style.

Verdict: An engaging and page-turning paranormal romance with a unique world and plot twists

Rating: 7.2/10 (4 stars)