Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: Die for Me by Amy Plum

Title: Die for Me
Author: Amy Plum
Genre: YA Paranormal
Publisher: HarperTeen
Length: 341 pages
Original Publishing Date: May 5th, 2011
Series: Revenants #1
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
In the City of Lights, two star-crossed lovers battle a fate that is destined to tear them apart again and again for eternity.

When Kate Mercier's parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life--and memories--behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.

Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate's guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he's a revenant--an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again.

Main characters: 1/5

Kate, I was disappointed in. Who is she again? Yes, an updated version of Bella Swan. Does she have a personality? Does she have interests? Is she anything except thrilled when the mysterious Vincent takes interest in her? Basically, I just wanted a lot more from Kate and I wasn't thrilled with how Plum portrayed her.
Here's Vincent in my head:
Yes, it's Vince from Entourage. Yes, most of it is because they share names. But he's cute, right? So yay, Vincent's sexy and sweet and perfect. But a personality? That he lacks. And Kate and Vincent's relationship? Basically nonexistent.

Secondary characters: 2/5

Party girl sister Georgia provides a steady foil to Kate and at least she shows some fire and flare. She also seems like she has a lot more backbone than Kate does.

As per any YA Romance novel, the parents were deceased and the grandparents are nonexistent. These girls are basically running around Paris with absolutely no supervision.

The variety of friends and other Revenants were mediocre. Some were entertaining (Jules) however not well developed.

Writing style: 1.5/5

Nothing special. A lot of telling, rather than showing. On top of this, there was a distinct lack of action for most of the novel, and there were huge chunks where absolutely nothing happened except a lot of backstory.

Plot: 2.5/5 
Plum's research on the revenant is actually really interesting. She chooses an unknown mythology and expands it to become its own. PS- did you know that there's actually a movie called The Revenant coming out in 2015? It stars Leo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy (yummy).

But back on subject. An interesting mythology, but not a unique plot sequence. It reeks of Twilight with a new twist. Plum had a cool idea on her hands, but unfortunately it didn't turn out the same.

The one cool thing that Plum brought to the novel was her integration of French culture and sights. I really felt like I was in Paris with Kate.

Ending: 2/5

Action, yes. The way that it happened? Meh. I've heard some reviewers say that even when Kate was involved with the action, she wasn't really. That interpretation is pretty spot on. It was pretty much what I'd expect, given the rest of the novel.

Best scene: Kate's close call in the cafe

Reminded Me Of: Twilight meets The Eternal Ones

Positives: Inclusion of French life and culture, Revenant mythology

Negatives: All similarities to Twilight, dull writing, little action, paper thin characters

Cover:  Yeah, okay, it's pretty

Verdict:  Unfortunately, just another knockoff of Twilight for me

Rating:  3.6 / 10 (2 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Title: A Tale for the Time Being
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Viking Adult
Length: 422 pages
Original Publishing Date: March 12th, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Ruth Ozeki's third novel, shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013.
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

Main characters: 4.5/5

What was really interesting to me at the start of the novel was Ozeki's inclusion of herself as a character into this novel. The novel becomes a really personal thing, and I love the fact that knowing that Ruth is herself makes the novel a different level of realistic. It's not just what any person might do in a certain situation, it's Ozeki imagining herself doing these things, inserting herself into situations. Really interesting and cool.

Nao's voice was so clear, unique and vibrant. It was hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. She had such a funny way of looking at things: part of which was a cultural difference and part of which was just an inherent uniqueness in her as a person. I loved listening to her letters and I became really emotionally attached to her as the novel went on.

Secondary characters: 4.5/5

Again, I loved how Ozeki included her husband and her townspeople in the narrative. It lent them an extra dimension of realness and made me feel like I understood Ozeki more. I don't know if I have ever read so personal a novel. Ozeki is deeply ingrained in each word she writes.

Nao's father was a really fascinating character. There were times that I was disgusted with him, and times that I pitied him. But I saw him through Nao's eyes, and thus watched as she began to understand his past and why he was the way he was in new ways.

Finally, Old Jiko was a riot. At first, I was unsure if I was going to like her character. The old grandmother who serves as a "spirit guide" almost? But Old Jiko was fiery and mysterious at the same time, and I loved her interactions with Nao.

Writing style: 4/5

The alternating points of view could be slightly jarring at times, but Ozeki is adept at combining the two and carrying themes through both. The one story shed light on the other, and vice versa. It was a long novel, but it actually passed very quickly. On the downside, the story did drag a bit in the middle. It was around the time of Ruth's dream-like sequence, which corresponds with Nao's dream-like sequence. I understand why those sequences are important, but it was hard to pay attention and I found myself drifting.

Plot: 4.5/5 
I was a lot more invested in Nao's story than I was in Ruth's. Because Ruth's portion was set in the real world and was so firmly attached to reality, it starkly contrasted with Nao's tale and oftentimes seemed more tedious and slow-moving.

My favorite plot of Ozeki's plot construction is simply the way that she combines so many different interesting things and themes. She brings in Japanese culture, nuns and meditation, physics, mythology, and more. The way that she combined all of this was truly magnificent.

Ending: 3.5/5

As any well-woven tale, this one ends with some ambiguity. But, after the roller-coaster ride of this novel, to be any other way would be blasphemy. The magic realism aspect really picks up at the end, so be warned of that if that stuff bothers you.

Best scene: Literally all of it

Reminded Me Of: Cloud Atlas

Positives: Nao's voice, interesting choice of Ozeki inserting herself as a character, perfect integration of multiple themes and overarching messages, beautiful writing

Negatives: The writing dragged some in the middle, some of the magical realism comes off contrived and serves as a plot device.

Cover: At first I really disliked this cover, but it grew on me as I read the novel

Verdict:  Pretty close to perfect

Rating:  8.4 / 10 (5 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Title: Ashes, Ashes
Author: Jo Treggiari
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic 
Length: 344 pages
Original Publishing Date: June 1st, 2011
Series: Ashes, Ashes #1
Where I got it: Audiobook from the library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
A thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares.Epidemics, floods, droughts--for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.

Main characters: 1.5/5

Lucy is a stubborn young teen who has embarked on her own, trying to make a life in the post-apocalyptic world. Here's the good news about Lucy: she has a backbone and she's stubborn to bits. The bad news? She's boring as all get out.

Part one of I Hate Lucy was the fact that she was so stubborn that she purposefully avoided groups of people in order to strike out on her own. Sorry, I don't care how much you want to be independent or whatever, if it's the end of the world you sure as heck better suck it up and gang up with some others in order to survive. 

Further, Lucy continued to deteriorate after she joined the group. She became part of a squabbling mess of teenage drama and continued to annoy me afterward.

Secondary characters: 1/5

A montage of half-hearted and half-developed characters make up our secondary cast. Poor Aiden, the love interest, is hopelessly heroic and yet dull. Del is that stereotypical beautiful mean girl, and I am so done with those. Henry had the potential to be the cute flirty yet funny friend, but his characterization was not strong enough to be worth anything more than a chuckle. Ultimately, I just didn't find any value in the secondary characters and I didn't feel that they had any sort of meaningful development.

Writing style: 1.5/5

Treggiari's writing style was unwieldy and a bit juvenile. We start out the story with a mind-numbingly slow description of Lucy's attempt to eat a turtle, but then alternate between molasses-slow pacing and jarringly quick and confusing passages. The description was over-the-top and extensive. Treggiari randomly inserts past history and information dumps, which makes for an awkward read.

I'm not trying to say that there is no merit to Treggiari's writing. I could see promise and I think that a lot of the problems that I had here were with the editing. This novel just needed a red marker and some encouragement for Ms. Treggiari to amp up the excitement and the pacing. With some cleaning up, Treggiari's action sequences had the potential to be exciting.

Plot: 2/5 
I'll admit that I am a little burned out on Dystopian- but they still have the power to enchant me, even after all this time. Unfortunately, Ashes, Ashes did not have that power. All the bones were there: the combination of natural disasters and the plague, the survival aspects, the dark dystopian powers that thrived in its wake. I think the problem was that, paired with all of my others complaints, the plot simply wasn't substantial enough.

Sure, there were some minor believability issues, and some things that should have been fact-checked or reconsidered, but my main problem is that the plot seems to fluctuate with where its going, and when it finally decides, I don't like its route. I felt that the villain and the plot could have been stronger. While I like the ethical dilemma it presents and the questions it raises about evil versus greater good, I felt confused about the motivation and I wanted more depth and grittiness to the plotline and the villains.

Ending: 1/5

Pretty much what you'd expect after the rest of this review. No surprises, no plot twists. Treggiari's writing sped up, but it was in a way that made me really confused! I didn't really know what was going on a lot of the time. And I'm definitely not a fan of cliffhangers, but this didn't give me any motivation to return. A cliffie would have been better here.

Best scene: The flood?

Reminded Me Of: A poor man's Viral Nation

Positives: Lucy's stubborn streak, the potential for better writing in the future from Treggiari

Negatives: Boring and undeveloped characters, teenage drama, writing style & pacing, unsubstantial plot and lack of grittiness, ending

Cover: Yuck, I'm not a fan. The font is awful and the graphics seem cheap

Verdict:  Skip it

Rating:  2.8 / 10 (2 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

Title: Roomies
Author: Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 279 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 1st, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

Main characters: 2.5/5

EB and Lauren are two girls from opposite sides of the country. They each have their own life going on in their summer before college. I can understand this. It's such a weird waiting period between high school and college. You know everything is going to change, but you still have these few months where it hasn't quite yet.

Both girls go through realistic and meaningful changes in this summer. Key word: realistic. There were times that I wanted to shake both girls and ask them what they were thinking. But ultimately, we all have those moments and it just made it sweeter when they finally understood what they were doing wrong or finally had those epiphany moments.

I can't explain what more I wanted from Lauren and EB, but ultimately I just found them a little bland. They didn't stick in my mind and didn't make a big impression

Secondary characters: 3.5/5

The romantic interests for both Lauren and EB were not overwhelming to the story, but contributed just the right amount. That being said, there wasn't anything about either relationship that really wow-ed me.

Lauren's parents were fun and quirky and I liked how down-to-earth and realistic they were. EB's mom was something a little different, but I also appreciated how her and EB's relationship changed throughout the book. Props for making some really well-developed parents, which is sometimes a rarity in YA.

Writing style: 1.5/5

So, here's my big problem with the writing style in Roomies: I couldn't tell Lauren and EB's voices apart. I'm not sure if the audiobook accentuated this problem, because the girls voices sounded really similar and there weren't any visual breaks for me to separate their POVs, but I found that I would get confused and stuck in one girls narrative for a while before I could finally break and shift back. The voices weren't different and unique enough.

Further, sometimes the pacing moved really slowly. The dialogue and writing was realistic and easy to read, but I wanted it to pick up the pace in some places.

Plot: 3/5 
I loved the concept of Roomies and the interesting in-between period before college. I love how it focuses on the two girls going through the process together, but also brings in hints of romance and of family drama. As I mentioned before, the writing could move rather slowly, but I don't necessarily think that it was the plot's fault. There was enough going on in the plot-line to move the story forward. Rather, it seemed to come from the writing itself.

Ending: 3.5/5

I really enjoyed the way that the novel ended. It definitely had that winding down feeling, which made sure that it wasn't abrupt. Okay, well the very last bit was abrupt. But I liked it. I think that after all those emails and phone calls and never meeting in person, it was a very fitting ending. I didn't necessarily like the way that the romances turned out. It didn't seem very realistic to me.

Best scene: Probably anything with Lauren & Keyon. How adorable are they?

Positives: Realistic characters, interesting and relateable concept, rather fitting ending

Negatives: Slow pacing, difficult to tell main characters apart, nothing exciting or interesting

Cover: Super cute. I love the colors and the hand-drawn look to it

Verdict:  A fun and light read about the summer before college, but nothing deep or exciting.

Rating:  5.6 / 10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Title: Twisted
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Length: 250 pages
Original Publishing Date: March 20th, 2007
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world.

In Twisted, the acclaimed Laurie Halse Anderson tackles a very controversial subject: what it means to be a man today. Fans and new readers alike will be captured by Tyler’s pitch perfect, funny voice, the surprising narrative arc, and the thoughtful moral dilemmas that are at the heart of all of the author’s award-winning, widely read work.

Main characters: 5/5

Tyler steals the show in Twisted. He is an incredibly realistic male main character, one that I related to and connected with, despite the fact that I have no experience being a nerdy-turned-hot boy. Anderson catches Tyler in the midst of his transformation: nerd into troublemaker, geeky into hot. And yet, Tyler breaks through all of these stereotypes, because we can see who he really is and that contradicts all of the labels and the gossip that seeks to define him.

Anderson particularly succeeds in her description of Tyler's descent and the way that he struggles day to day with decisions, stress and emotions. His gradual breakdown is so well-done because the reader follows Tyler's train of thought, and suddenly we are with him in that darkness.

Secondary characters: 2.5/5

Bethany could have been a lot flatter a character than she was. That's not necessarily a compliment. She wasn't complex. Maybe it's because we see her through Tyler's point of view and don't get her own opinions and thoughts. Still, I was looking for more from her, because Bethany is such a crucial character in creating conflict in this story.

Tyler's parents, on the other hand, were intriguing. I hated them both at different times, but I also felt for them a lot. You could see the roads that were taken to get them to their paths, even though you didn't know their entire backstory. 

Writing style: 4/5

Anderson's writing is smooth. That's how I would describe it. Smooth, and with a strong lead voice. By smooth, I mean that there is little jarring or jolting. I was thoroughly entrenched in the story, and it moved along at a pretty good clip. And Tyler's voice was terrific. He was darkly funny and entertaining, but also realistically sweet and sensitive at times. My only negative is that the pacing and story starts to slide in the middle, but picks up steam toward the end. There wasn't a lot more to ask for from Anderson's writing style.

Plot: 3.5/5 
The thing about Anderson's novels is that they're entirely simple (at least, the ones I have read). There is one conflict and there is the after-effect of it. So really, the plot is rather thin. Instead, the plot is more character driven. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it really works in the case of Twisted. Because that one conflict leads to another conflict which leads to another conflict and suddenly we're so deep in this mess alongside Tyler. I think it is this lack of substantial "plot" however, which lends to a dragging middle section. I'm not expecting action packed thriller, but I think some added happenings would have helped out that middle.

Ending: 4/5

The ending has a lot of conflict packed into a punch. Tyler goes through a lot of emotional things in a few short hours, and it's really hard-hitting. His confrontations with his parents, and himself, are intense and moving.

Best scene: Tyler's confrontation with his dad

Reminded Me Of: Speak (obviously) meets The Beginning of Everything (the narrative voice, at least)

Positives: Tyler, realism, the intensity of the conflict and ending

Negatives: Bethany (I wanted more complexity), a dragging middle, maybe too easy an ending for the hardships that happened

Cover: Meh. Doesn't do it for me.

A fabulous male narrative voice makes Twisted intense and heartbreaking 

Rating:  7.6 / 10 (4 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!