Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Title: Paper Valentine
Author: Brenna Yovanoff
Genre: YA Paranormal Mystery
Publisher: Razorbill
Length: 304 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 8th, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Paper Valentine is a hauntingly poetic tale of love and death by the New York Times bestselling author of The Replacement and The Space Between.

Main characters: 5/5

Hannah is an intriguing main character. She has a strong will, and we see that grow through the story. But we also see very human weaknesses, things that she is ashamed of and things that aren't so pretty.  Hannah is quiet, almost introverted sometimes, preferring to analyze everything internally rather than speak her mind. While she could tend to wallow in her depression sometimes, who could really blame her? It made her realistic and I loved peeling back all of her layers.

Secondary characters: 4/5

Lillian. Wow, she is fascinating. I love how creepy she is, showing up out of no where in odd places or popping out from behind furniture. And yet she is funny and still retains a personality. She seems to inhabit this odd space between who she was and who she is now as a ghost. How does Yovanoff portray that so beautifully? We also see that line in Lillian between hard and strong, and soft and weak. So perfect.

Finny is yes. First of all, what a weird name. But I love it on him. Second, the sweet bad boy thing is perfect. I love the way his and Hannah's relationship grows as well. My complaint with Finny is that he begins to border on that stereotype, you know the one: the bad boy with the sweet heart. He starts to turn into a trope, rather than his own person.

I also felt that the villain was lacking. I didn't understand, and there wasn't any depth or complexity.

Writing style: 5/5

God, Yovanoff has beautiful writing. The thing that surprised and delighted me the most was the combination of this gorgeous prose with a pacing that moves pretty quickly. Her writing has a lot of weight too. She knows how to bring the intensity, and how to make things both creepy and beautiful, sometimes at the same time.

Plot: 4/5 
Okay, I love the premise. I love the genre crossing of this novel. It's a romance, but it's a serial killer mystery, but it also has a supernatural aspect to it. The romance was sweet and hit the right note, the mystery kept you guessing, and the supernatural aspect gave intensity to the mystery as well as added depth to the characters. I don't know if I've ever been able to say that before, that a paranormal apect added depth? It's always the opposite. Anyway, there was always something to keep me entertained. I was a little disappointed by the outcome of the serial killer & the deaths, but I'll get into that more below. Another problem? The mysterious birds subplot that is never solved.

Ending: 2/5

Probably the weakest aspect of the novel. I liked the set-up, but I just ended up feeling disappointed with the reveal, and like I didn't really understand the rationale. Unfortunately, to add more problems to an already problematic ending, I totally knew who the murderer was going to be too. Luckily, the other subplots were wrapped up a lot better than the mystery one.

Best scene: Lillian & the Ouija board

Reminded Me Of: Wintergirls meets The Body Finder

Positives: The complexity and depth of the characters, the multiple plotlines, the pacing, the gorgeous writing, Lillian

Negatives: The identity of the serial killer, the reveal, a mysterious unsolved subplot (plothole)

Cover: Doesn't really portray what the book is all about, in mood or substance, but it's cute?

Verdict:  This book kind of came out of left-field for me, but it was surprisingly beautiful and cool. I'll be checking out more of Yovanoff's novels.

Rating:  8.0 / 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!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: Survivor by Chuck Palahiuk

Title: Survivor
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Genre: Literary Fiction/Satire
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Length: 289 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 1st, 1999
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Tender Branson—last surviving member of the Creedish Death Cult—is dictating his life story into Flight 2039’s recorder. He is all alone in the airplane, which will crash shortly into the vast Australian outback. But before it does, he will unfold the tale of his journey from an obedient Creedish child to an ultra-buffed, steroid- and collagen-packed media messiah. Unpredictable and unforgettable, Survivor is Chuck Palahniuk at his deadpan peak: a mesmerizing, unnerving, and hilarious satire on the wages of fame and the bedrock lunacy of the modern world.

It's really freaking hard to review satire

That's what I learned while trying to review this novel. I'll fully admit that it's in part because I'm not adept at catching and making meaning of what the author is intending to satirize

In terms of entertainment, Palahniuk does his job well. I was torn between intrigued and shocked at what his mind came up with, and that made for a quick and fascinating read. Mostly, I want to know where he got the idea for this novel. I mean, the way that Tender's story morphs into something ridiculous is masterful, yet it seems to flow so smoothly together that you don't seem to notice when something is about to swerve wildly out of control.

The characterization of Tender is ridiculous. His mind is so different than the way I would ever think, but Palahniuk truly gets inside his brain and the way he puts Tender's thoughts to paper sucks me in so that despite the fact that I absolutely HATE this main character, I still somehow care what happens to him. Gotta say, the audiobook narrator was on the mark as well. 

As I reminded you at the beginning, I'm not very good at targeting that satire. I know that Palahniuk is commenting on the materialism, the celebrity cults, and the emptiness of life, as well as a myriad of other topics. What I'm not sure is whether Palahniuk is criticizing or elevating the nihilistic outlook that Tender holds. 

Yes, I'm a huge fan of the ambiguous ending. No, I didn't catch a lot of the "secrets" at the end of this one. I had to go hunting online. But I liked it. I liked what I found when I read Pahalniuk's statement about what he intended to portray. Would I have gotten it without looking up that statement? Probably not, but the ambiguity was perfect either way. 

So, I'm not sure how to rate this one, but I've randomly decided on 4 stars just because (some kind of Book Analyst I am here, huh?). I don't know why I didn't give it 5 stars, but it definitely stuck with me because of the smooth plot and writing, the pacing, the twisted nature of Tender's mind, and that crazy ending. 

Rating:  7.0 / 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!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Burn by Julianna Baggott

Title: Burn
Author: Julianna Baggott
Genre: Dystopian
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Length: 413 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 1st, 2014
Series: Pure #3
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library

Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Inside the Dome, Patridge has taken his father's place as leader of the Pures. His struggle has led him here, intent upon bringing down the Dome from the inside, with the help of a secret resistance force. But things are not as simple from his new position of power and he finds himself tempted by his father's words: perhaps if the world is to survive it needs the Dome - and Partridge - to rule it...

As Partridge's resolve weakens, Pressia and Bradwell continue piecing together the clues left to them from the time before the Detonations. It is their hope that they will be able to heal the Wretches, and free them from their monstrous fusings and the Dome's oppression once and for all. But everything depends, too, on Partridge. Separated by distance and history, can they still trust their friend and ally? Or is the world doomed to an eternity of war and hardship?

Blogger's Note: 

I want to make it very clear that:
a) This review will have SPOILERS
b) I LOVE Julianna Baggott and her writing, but
c) I hated the way that this book ended. Just everything about it. Everything. 

Really, the only way that I can write this review is as a rant. 

Here's the thing: I love the Pure series. I raved about it to family and friends. My previous reviews were 5 stars and they praised EVERYTHING about this series. I loved the characters, I loved Baggott's writing and the dark and sinister world she created, I love the plot and how it developed. 

And it's not like Burn threw away all of that. I still loved the characters (mostly), I still loved the plot.

Pressia developed well in this final installment. I liked that she still struggled with what she did to Bradwell and that their relationship continued to grow and become more complicated. 

El Capital finally reveals his name, and he also has to own up to the atrocities he committed. He comes to term with his unrequited crush on Pressia and truly learns to love his brother. 

The novel started a bit slow, but the enthralling writing and perfect pacing made their appearance again in the conclusion. 

Here's what I didn't like: just about everything else

Lyda, for instance, loses her backbone and becomes the awful girl that I hated in the first book. She lays down and gives up. Bradwell is, as usual, a pain. He can't forgive Pressia and he becomes less and less important, and interesting. Partridge just makes me want to rip my hair out. Obviously his position is realistic but once he has the knowledge to change things, he just... doesn't. 

Okay, and seriously? That ending? (SPOILERS). Where do I even begin?

Well, here we go: the Bradwell and Hastings confrontation was pointless. I really didn't even understand what everyone was upset and fighting about at that point. Partridge dug in his heels and tried to use force instead of listening, which wasn't how I pictured his character at all. Bradwell was typical and sacrificed himself for nothing. Except, did he? There was that whole weird thing with him telling El Capitan to check his heart. That situation goes kaboom. And then Partridge and Iralene get married, even though Lyda is pregnant with his child? And no, Partridge, you can't blame it on the idea that Lyda told you to, because that is just NOT the whole story. Instead of running with Lyda, Iralene cashes in her favor and rather than tell her to go screw herself, Partridge just decides that he'll sacrifice himself and hide inside Iralene's crazed virtual perfect world, waiting for the Wretches to descend on the dome and kill them. And all through this, I'm wondering: what happens to Pressia? And Helmud and Cap? Does Bradwell actually die? Do all the Pures die from disease? Does Arvin make the cure? What happened to Hastings?

I feel like I'm being pretty honest here when I say that normally I don't need every question answered in my endings. I don't need to be fed everything line by line and not everything needs to be happy. But this was unacceptable. I didn't even feel like the ways things ended made sense. Logically, the events didn't fit with the characters and the situations, and left me confused as to their causes. Why did Partridge choose to abandon Lyda and sit in the room with Iralene to die? Why why why?

So, yes. I still love the series, I still love Baggott. But... what in the heck was up with that ending?

Rating:  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!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Title: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Author: Maria Semple
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 330 pages
Original Publishing Date: January 1st, 2012
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Audiobook from the e-library
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world

Main characters: 4.5/5

At first I thought that I really didn't like Bernadette. She is over-the-top, wacky and sometimes just plain off her rocker. But, I'll give Semple props, she pulled through. Bernadette is touchingly fragile while at the same time stubbornly independent. She is one of those characters who you love to hate, and I know a lot of people out there truly did hate her. For me, it's all back to that realistic-likeable scale (okay, well, Bernadette may not exactly be realistic either but...). I can't stand a character who the author is so concerned about making likeable that it entirely ruins them. Bernadette is not likeable. She makes mistakes, she doesn't even try to fix them, and she is rude to people (see: her rant on people in Seattle. I'm from the Pacific NW, but even I could laugh at some of the truths behind her angry speech). But Bernadette's downfalls are realistic (although the situations that she puts herself in are not).

Secondary characters: 3.5/5

Bee is delightful. She falls into this odd in-between where half the time it seems like she's 10 and the other half like she's 40. Luckily, this is exactly how I pictured her in my mind: a partial girl-genius, who is still remarkably insecure and immature.

Bernadette's husband, Eligie, is not immediately as unlikeable as Bernadette, however he gets there over the course of the novel. Of all the characters, I was most disgusted with him. Unfortunately, we don't get as good a look into his mind, so it's hard to realize his motivations.

Audrey (who shares my name) is unfortunately the antagonist. What's up with that? Anyway, she fits the hovering parent stereotype wonderfully and adds some great conflict and dimension to the story. Plus, she's hilarious.

Writing style: 4.5/5

Semple has a unique writing style. There is no way that you can mistake it for someone else. And I like that. The novel definitely has a slapstick comedy sort of humor, but if you think you can appreciate that, this one's for you. Don't mistake this for a clever sort of funny. The epistolary format (a collection of notes, emails, memos, etc.) works well here, especially when you get to the end and hear the motivation behind it.

The pacing was a little slow at first, and I honestly almost thought I was going to have to put it down.  However, it sped up into a frenzy and I became involved in Bernadette's life. Semple developed the mystery perfectly, involving me more and more in their lives. I just wish that there had been those intriguing moments a little earlier in the novel.

Plot: 3/5 
I was a little put-off when I first began reading Where'd You Go, Bernadette?. The subject matter and plot is a little ridiculous and a little silly, and the novel starts off slow and with not much action. The plot and mystery picks up in the second half and really captures you. The satire aspect wasn't necessarily the funniest part to me, but I just loved the interactions of the characters and their outlandish ideas.

Ending: 4/5

Although the novel went in a different direction than I first thought, I really liked the depth behind Bee's emotions and the familial interactions taking place. Add in some of that characteristic ridiculousness, and it was a pretty satisfying ending.

Best scene: The mudslide

Reminded Me Of: Nothing I've ever read before

Positives: Unique and humorous writing style, entertaining plotline, interesting and fully fleshed out characters

Negatives: Slow pacing to start, Elgie was a bit of a weak character

Cover: So pretty! I love this cover. It's unique and the shapes of the cover are really intriguing.

Verdict:  I think unique is the best way to describe this novel. Calling it a breath of fresh air is cliche but it really was.77

Rating:  7.8 / 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!