Wednesday, September 2, 2015

August Check-In

 It's time again to see how I've fared this month!

 Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 7

Teen: 12

Adult: 4

Picture books: 0

Library books: 15

Books owned: 8

Well, my numbers would seem pretty impressive, but I mostly read graphic novels. The wedding is now just over a month away, so my free time for reading is very much limited these days. I'm still trying to squeeze in as much as I can, but it's actually a little bit stressful. I'm still expecting myself to read as much as when I don't have a million other things going on, even though I shouldn't expect that. For some reason, I can't help it - reading is my hobby and I want to devote time to it just like any other hobby. I guess I just don't deal well with too many things eating up my time. Anyway, I'm expecting this next month to go pretty poorly, as well, though I do have several graphic novels lined up again. We'll see!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Everything Everything

Everything Everything
By Nicola Yoon
Expected publication September 1, 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Madeline has lived her entire life in her house. She is allergic to everything, so leaving her house is potentially fatal. Really, though, she doesn't mind too much - until Olly moves in next door. And even though she knows better, Madeline starts talking to him. If you've ever been a teenager, you know this probably isn't going to end well.

So, this book has been getting tons of buzz and I was very pleased to see an e-galley available for download. I snatched it up. On a slow night at work, I started reading it and was immediately sucked in. I couldn't put it down.

Here's the thing: this book was an extremely engaging and quick read. The chapters were short and Madeline's voice was realistic and fascinating to read. Though the story with Olly was pretty predictable, it was hard not to fall in love along with them. I appreciated the diversity and I was really intrigued by Madeline's disease. I enjoyed reading about the everyday details of her life and I found it refreshing that Madeline has such a strong sense of self.

BUT. There is a big twist in this book and it kind of undermined the whole story for me. I don't want to give it away, but I'm not sure I can fully explain my disappointment without spoiling it. What I'll say is this: I would have enjoyed the story much more without the twist. I wanted to see how the story of Madeline and her disease would play out and if a happy ending would be possible for a character like her. The twist made it impossible to follow the story as it began.

While the twist didn't completely ruin the book for me, it did lessen my enjoyment. That being said, though, I think this book will definitely be a hit with teens. I just wish the story had ended where it began.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Violent Ends

Violent Ends
Edited by Shaun David Hutchinson
Expected publication September 1, 2015 by Simon Pulse

It's possible that Kirby Matheson's name is unfamiliar, but everyone will know it soon enough. This is the story of Kirby told by people who knew him and people who didn't. It's the story of Kirby before and it's the story of Kirby after - after he brings a gun to school and kills six people.

I'd heard a lot of buzz about this book for some time. It's a series of interconnected stories, written by a variety of authors, telling the story of a school shooting. I was intrigued by the concept and I think it's an important topic to examine, so I was pleased to see the e-galley available.

I expected to like this a lot more than I did and I actually find myself at a bit of a loss regarding what to say about it. Generally, I love books of interconnected stories - I think it's a fascinating narrative approach. I really liked its use here - getting the stories surrounding the school shooting through a variety of voices. And I really appreciated the wide variety of voices used in this collection - there is even a story from the point of view of the gun (maybe my favorite, certainly the most memorable of the collection). I liked discovering the degrees of connectedness to the central incident through each story - some of them surprised me quite a bit (I'm thinking of one in particular with a startling reveal at the very end that left me with significantly more questions than answers). But, as with all collections of stories, some are better than others. I appreciated the complex dimensions this book reaches - violent crime is a problem in our society, one that we often blithely choose to ignore in favor of personal freedoms, but it's a problem that needs to be discussed. I appreciated that this collection addressed the mixed emotions felt by all involved in a tragedy such as this - relief, guilt, confusion, anger, sadness, and many more. There are no easy answers here and I'm glad the book took that approach.

My main complaint about this is strictly due to my reading it in digital ARC form - the author names were not listed at the start of each story, so I couldn't tell who wrote what. Ultimately, it doesn't matter since the author wouldn't affect my feelings about the story, but I was far too lazy upon reaching the end to thumb back and figure out who wrote what. Obviously, this won't be a problem in the print version (I find it easier to flip back and forth in print than electronically), so this is really a non-issue for readers.

Overall, I thought this book was well-done but I'm not sure all of it was memorable enough to stick in my mind.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: The Wolf Wilder

The Wolf Wilder
By Katherine Rundell
Expected publication August 25, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Feo and her mother live a solitary existence - well, if you don't count the wolves. Once upon a time, wealthy Russians would keep wolves as pets until their natural instincts took over. These wolves - halfway between domestic and wild - would have to be trained again to live in the wild. Feo and her mother are wolf wilders. Feo loves her life with the wolves. That's why she'll stop at nothing to get it back when the Tsar arrests her mother and threatens to kill her wolves.

I've read Rundell's previous books and enjoyed them well enough - her first more than her most recent. In fact, I was well ready to write off Rundell altogether after her last title. But then, fortuitously, I spotted this e-galley available and downloaded it. I'm glad I had a change of mind.

Much to my surprise, I absolutely loved this book. To be clear, I can see it likely has some faults, but I fell completely for this story. What is most interesting to me is that many of the things I faulted her previous title for - a headstrong, brash main character and a repetitive series of adventures - were the things I loved most about this title. Feo reminded me of Wilhemina (the protagonist of Rundell's previous novel) - she's grown up mostly removed from society, surrounded largely by animals rather than people. As such, her social skills often leave something to be desired. For some reason, though, in Feo's case, it comes off less harshly and selfish than it did in Will's. It seemed more obvious to me that Will's intentions were always in the right spot, even if her actions weren't the proper ones. Feo always seemed more flexible and willing to learn from others as the story progressed and circumstances took her far beyond her comfort zone. These were qualities that I felt Will lacked. Feo and her interactions with others made me laugh rather than cringe, so clearly I was inclined to like this one more than her previous.

I quite enjoyed the other characters as well. Every time a new one was introduced, I was eager to hear their story and I don't think I was disappointed by any of them. Rundell does an excellent job here of infusing even relatively minor characters with some small hint of a life beyond her pages and I loved discovering these. Some of it is not so subtle (from the moment he appears, it's obvious Ilya will play a significant role), but it never bothered me.

As I said previously, the adventures do get a bit repetitive - Rakov is villainy, Feo escapes, Rakov catches up, etc. However, it never grates because the stakes feel devastatingly real. This book is not afraid to be a bit dark. So, although Rakov is a tiny bit of a villain caricature, the book never feels cartoonish. Spoilers maybe, but people and animals get hurt in this book and it feels heartbreakingly real. I'm not ashamed to admit I cried during this one - that's how engrossed I was with this story.

For the faults I can obviously acknowledge: Rundell takes extreme liberties with her wolves here. Personally, I didn't consider this a fault because I wasn't reading this as a piece of straight historical fiction (and I'm not sure it ever purports to be that). But, I can certainly see some readers balking at Rundell's depiction of wolf behaviors and attitudes. Additionally, later in the book, it touches upon some Russian politics which I can imagine might get boring for the reader but felt like a natural part of the story to me.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this and am very glad I didn't overlook it because of my past ambivalence with the author.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Lair of Dreams

Lair of Dreams (Diviners, book two)
By Libba Bray
Expected publication August 25, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

WARNING: There may be spoilers for book one ahead. Read my review of that title here.

After a showdown with a real-life creepy-crawly, Evie's secret talent is not so secret anymore. Now, she's the "Sweetheart Seer," making a living off of her supernatural gift. But is all of America ready for the Diviners to reveal themselves? At the same time, a mysterious sleeping sickness has hit the city, claiming more and more victims every day. Are the Diviners ready for another showdown?

I don't think I can explain to you how excited I was when I was approved for the e-galley of this. It took all my willpower not to drop everything and start reading it immediately. I've been looking forward to this book for more than two years, after all!

So, perhaps it comes as no surprise that this book failed to live up to my expectations. After completely loving book number one and then waiting (rather impatiently) as the publication date for this was pushed back and pushed back, I was ready to be blown away by book two. And I wasn't. It makes me sad to say it but, for me, this didn't live up to the promise of the first.

While I still love the cast of characters, Evie lost a bit of her charm for me with this one. I think it was all the dithering about Jericho and the flutters she begins to feel for Sam - does there have to be a love triangle? Particularly with a character I view as no-nonsense. It just irked me. Additionally, the stories with each of the characters felt a bit more disjointed in this one - I had a hard time trying to see how they were all going to tie together. I assume that Bray still has some master endgame in which the Diviners must all unite to battle the biggest supernatural baddie of all and save life as we know it, but it was difficult at times to keep that notion in mind while reading this book.

And, speaking of supernatural baddies, after the amazingly creepy Naughty John and the story of the end of the world cult, the villain in this entry fell extremely short. I was not at all creeped out while reading this one and that was a great disappointment to me. I mean, I guess they can't all be mind-numbingly terrifying, but I expected much more horror than I got. Perhaps because of my lack of interest in the villain, this book also seemed to move much more slowly than the first book and I really felt the 600 pages I read to finish it. Bits of this actually felt like filler, which just boggles my mind, but I suppose if I believe in the endgame bit, it'll probably all turn out to be relevant in the end. Despite my disappointment in this entry, I adored book one so much that I will definitely be back for the next installment (which I imagine will take another two years to arrive).

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: The Creeping

The Creeping
By Alexandra Sirowy
Expected publication August 18, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

When Stella was a young girl, she disappeared with her best friend. She came back. Her best friend never did. But Stella has tried to move on with her life. Then, a body is discovered - the body of a little red-headed girl, a body that reminds Stella all too much of her disappeared best friend. When Stella learns that other red-headed girls have vanished over the years, she knows she must solve the mystery.

The promise of a creepy mystery drew me into downloading this e-galley when I discovered it. I love reading horror novels but I haven't had a ton of luck with YA horror. Nevertheless, I'm determined to keep trying them.

Here is my main problem with this book: any creepiness that may be generated by the possibly-uncovering-a-spooky-monster-in-the-woods-that-eats-little-red-headed-girls-and-anyone-who-comes-close-to-discovering-it is completely nullified every single gosh darn time Stella worries that her image might be tarnished by trying to solve the mystery with her former best friend and current high school loser, Sam. And, lo, my friends, those times are many. I literally could not believe how much of her headspace and time Stella devotes to worrying about being seen with Sam or concerned that her terribly abusive new best friend, Zoey, will be pissed when she finds out that Stella has been seeing Sam behind her back. I mean, there may be a scary monster that eats people out there and you may be next on its list (or maybe it's a creepy multi-generational cult), but let's go ahead and worry more about drama surrounding the boy you like. Just, excuse me while I try to stop my eyerolling.

That being said, I thought the book did a decent job of walking the line between a supernatural monster and a human one, keeping readers guessing until the very end which kind it will turn out to be. Personally, I worried that the monster was going to be the one I didn't want (no, I will not tell you which of those options I mean), but I was happy when the ending resolved things in a way that felt believable to me. So, though I struggled with the atmosphere of the book and the characters, the mystery itself was well done and I'd be interested in reading what Sirowy does next.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Capsule Reviews: YA Edition

A Million Suns (Across the Universe, book two)
By Beth Revis

Published 2012 by Razorbill
Review of book one
Three months have passed since the events of the first book. Amy still struggles to find a place for herself aboard the ship. Elder struggles to become the leader he knows he must be. It isn't long before another crisis arises, catapulting both Amy and Elder into a frantic hunt for the truth among all the lies that make up Godspeed.

After listening to the first on audio, I picked up the print version of book two for both my fiance and I to read. I was interested to see what direction the series would go in, as book one didn't set up an explicit course. This continues in the time-honored tradition of "main character discovers ancestors have kept very important secrets" and I found it mostly enjoyable. I find the exploration of sexuality and sexual assault interesting and, at the same time, a bit misplaced in this series. I think it was used as a plot device here, which I didn't terribly enjoy. The plot moves quickly again, and I continue to enjoy the dual narration. I still favor Elder's character, though he got a bit whiny in this entry. The setup for book three is much more explicit here and I currently have it checked out. I hope to read it soon.

A Corner of White (The Colors of Madeleine, book one)
By Jaclyn Moriarty, read by Fiona Hardingham, Andrew Eiden, Kate Reinders, and Peter McGowan
Published 2013 by Scholastic Audio
Madeleine lives in Cambridge with her mom, adjusting to a quieter life than she's used to. Elliot lives in Bonfire, in the Kingdom of Cello, determined to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Inexplicably, their lives will cross, changing them both forever.

This was one of Audiofile's SYNC titles this summer. I remember discussion around this book when it was released and I thought it sounded interesting, so I took the opportunity to squeeze it into my schedule as a listen. I actually think this book signified the beginning of my reading slump. This was a long listen and I struggled with it. It takes a long time for this book to make sense. It's not until maybe 3/4 of the way through that you fully understand why you're reading both Madeleine and Elliot's stories - they don't really have a strong connection for the majority of the book. In addition, I had problems with both readers (as a side note, I don't know why there are 4 readers listed in everything I found - I only noticed two). The reader of Madeleine's story adopted an extremely strange accent for her voice - which, to be fair, is exactly what the text says. But to actually hear it spoken - I didn't enjoy it. The reader for Elliot's story was terrible at inflection - everything was read in a monotone and it was very distracting. So, as I said, I struggled with this. It picked up at the end a bit, enough that I'd like to see where the story goes next but it's fair to assume I won't be checking out the audio version.

The Living (The Living, book one)
By Matt de la Pena, read by Henry Leyva
Published 2013 by Brilliance Audio
Shy needs money, so he takes a summer job working on a cruise ship. It can't be all bad, right? But then, the biggest earthquake recorded hits and suddenly Shy finds himself in a massive fight for survival.

Another of the SYNC titles this summer, I happily downloaded it when it was available. I'd heard lots of great things about this book, so I was really looking forward to squeezing it into my reading schedule. That being said, I was pretty disappointed in this one. First, it's a trivial thing, really, but I couldn't get past the main character being called Shy. I sometimes have a hard time with names that just don't sound right to me and this was one of those times. It didn't really seem to suit the character or the story, but your mileage may vary. Second, this book was just not what I expected. I expected zombies - I don't know why really. Maybe the cover gave me that impression. But I expected zombies and was extremely disappointed. Third, it's billed as a survival story but it never really felt that way to me. Perhaps the audio just didn't convey the direness of the situation well, but I never truly felt like Shy was in significant danger. I really didn't enjoy the conspiracy part of the plot at all. I also don't love that this is the first book in a series - where is the series going to go from here? I don't know and I'm only mildly curious to find out.