Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Sin-Eater's Confession (review) + Giveaway

4.5/5 stars

The Sin-Eater's Confession (Goodreads | Amazon) is a very dark and disturbing book.  Not because of ghosts or horror, but because the realism and prejudice represented.  The book is mostly internal dialogue, following the story of Ben who witnessed his friend Jimmy's murder.  Nobody knows he was a witness and he can't bring himself to tell anyone. So he struggles with what he saw alone.

According to everybody in town Jimmy was murdered because he was gay.  Not that anyone really knew, but everyone suspected.  There were also rumors about Ben and Jimmy, those were untrue, but they made Ben question himself and what he remembered about their friendship. This book isn't just about discrimination and homosexuality, but has an excellent commentary about the nature of how we "know" things and gossip.

You know how they say no two people read the same book?  For me this book is personal.  In 2006 my 15-year-old cousin committed suicide. He way gay. (He was also bipolar which people like to de-emphasize).  Losing someone to suicide is one of the worst things I've ever experienced.  But the local media (who don't normally cover suicides but because they'd done an article about Josh earlier in the year covered his) made my cousin into the poster child for gay-suicide, boiling down a very complicated person with complicated problems to only his sexuality.

What made this harder was that Josh told me he was gay when he was nine. Except he didn't say, "I'm gay." He said he thought he'd been born wrong; that he should've been a girl. I was 14 (I think, maybe 13, maybe 15) at the time. I didn't understand. I just thought it was something strange Josh was saying (for the record this was not denial but extreme naiveté on my part).  But it stuck in the back of my mind. When Josh died I was away at college and didn't really know what was happening in his life but that scene kept replaying in my head over and over again. I can still see it. We were sitting on top of a jungle gym at a campground. He was crying and then told me (Yes I still replay that moment).

This book is not about suicide. Jimmy is murdered.  But there are a lot of parallels between my experience with Josh's death and Ben's experience with Jimmy's.  Everything from Jimmy trying to confess a secret (he seemed to be telling Ben he was gay but that's just speculation as the book points out) and Ben not understanding, to the media trying to make Jimmy into a poster child for discrimination, to all the self-doubt and questions in the aftermath, all the moments you replay over and over again.

The voice in this book is very compelling.  I instantly connected and related to the main character. I felt what he felt, probably partially because of my experience but also because the feelings expressed in the book are correct and authentic.  Ben struggles with Jimmy's death, his friendship with Jimmy and what that means about him, the rumors and guilt over not saving Jimmy.

The Sin-Eater's Confession does not hold back. It's terrible, descriptive and I had to set the book down on many occasions.  But it's a book that shouldn't hold back. It's Ben's coping mechanism, his confession of everything he saw and the details he remembers. He's trying to understand what happened, trying to sort it out. Anything else would feel less truthful. Despite the gruesome events that are very very vividly described I couldn't stop reading. Near the end the book slowed, losing some of it's momentum, but overall it was a very satisfying read and meaningful novel.

Because I like this book so much I'm going to give away a copy! This is my first giveaway so be patience with me.  Here are some rules.
  • Open to U.S. Residents only. Sorry world I'm starting small.
  • Contest runs two weeks (meaning it ends March 13)
  • Cheaters will be disqualified. (Just ask my young cousin who tried to cheat in a cornhole match. I'm staunch on rules).
  • The winner will have 48 hrs to respond or I'll select a new winner.
  • Please follow the rafflecopter instructions. I don't want to go on a scavenger hunt for your email address. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dead and Buried (review)

2/5 stars

Needless to say The Dead and Buried (Goodreads | Amazon) did not work for me.  I love a good crime-solving teen as much (if not more) than the next person but this book drove me crazy.  There is nothing good to distinguish this from the other crime solving stories.  Nothing about the ghost story is new or special.  This book just lacks....lacks.

When Jade moves to a big new house in a big new town she's excited to start over.  This is what she's always wanted, even if senior year is a little late to make that change.  But she's excited anyways until she finds her great new house used to belong to the most popular girl in school until she was murdered.  The ghost of Kayla, your typical bitchy mean-girl, threatens to possess Jade's little brother unless Jade can find out what the police never did--who killed her.

This book loses itself in it's teenageness. Yes it's a YA, but there's a difference between being authentically teenage and trying to be teenage.  Now that Jade's at a new school she's suddenly getting male attention despite never having a boyfriend before (why does that sound familiar?). Yes there's a love triangle, one that falls flat at every attempt to drum up the drama.

Overall a lot of things just felt unnatural and forced, from the cliche use of a mirror to describe the main character, to the over-description of a love interests eyes, to Jade wanting to "fix" a badboy, even the word usage felt unnatural.

For me the only part of this book that worked were Kayla's diary entries.  They added the only real drama to the book.  I like that the diary used numbers to describe people rather than names so the reader had to put the pieces together.

This book just threw together too many of the YA cliches without adding anything special (and collecting gemstones is not special enough). The Dead and Buried couldn't make me care about the characters or the story.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Follow Friday - Books I gifted

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
We always talk about the books that WE want. Let's turn it on its head. What books have you given other people lately?
The last books I remember buying are Christmas presents.

For my father: What It Is like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes because I got him Matterhorn at a library sale and he really enjoyed it. 

For my mother: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (because of a review by Catie from Readventurer) and another book I cannot remember. 

Most people I know in real life don't read YA or they don't read fantasy so it's hard to gift books (I still do it but it takes quite a bit of work).  I also bought "loaning copies of" The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta that never returned to me.  I loaned them to some teenage Girl Scouts I worked with because they had good taste in books and those are excellent books. I thought I hada  50/50 chance of getting them back and if not I was releasing quality novels into the wild. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Also Known As (review)

3.5/5 stars

Also known As (Goodreads | Amazon) is fun, cute and light.  It has its flaws,the biggest being that you really have to suspend your disbelief.  But if you can the book is enjoyable.  It's the story about a girl who is a spy first, and a teenage second thrown into high school for the first time.  She doesn't know how to be a teenager, so she has to use her spy skills to survive.  Both Maggie and the book are cheestastic and I love that.  I'm a sucker for self-aware cheesy jokes.
"That's the second rule of being a spy: Be beige. Be beiger than beige. Be as average as possible. Be like the cashiers in your grocery store. Could you describe them? Chance are, no. Did you see them? Of course."
The book is filled with Maggie's spy advice (it goes against every spy movie you've ever seen).  Maggie is on her first solo-mission to get to close to the son of a prominent journalist and stop the printing of an article that will unveil the secret spy organization her family works for.

Family is very important theme in this book, but therein lies the biggest flaw. As a read you're supposed to accept that Maggie's family works for this super secret spy organization called The Collective, which is okay. But you're also supposed to accept that they've been letting Maggie go on missions, she's a child prodigy where locks are concerned, since she was a little girl.  Even after a kidnapping attempt they've continued letting her work as a spy.

They fret, freak-out and love her, but in some ways they're completely selfish   Maggie isn't allowed to have real friends because they're spies first, people second. I cannot imagine any good, caring, loving parent putting their kid in a situation like that. Not only is Maggie in constant danger, she's being socially crippled based on the decisions of her parents. She never really had a choice in the matter.

The romance left a little to be desired, but it was cute and funny even if the "L" word slipped out way too soon for my preference.  Maggie is a teenage girl who's lived a life of isolation and teenagers always think they're in love when they aren't. That's part of the teenage experience.

The flaws are hard to ignore, but overall this book is fun.  It's a lighthearted superspy story.  Maggie is a smart main character that cares about her family and her friends.  I think those looking for something mostly mindless, or younger YA readers will enjoy this.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spectacular Now (review)

4/5 stars
The Spectacular Now (Goodreads | Amazon) is a strange sort of book. I want to lecture it, to give it my own personal big-sister talking to.  In some ways I wanted to hate it because the way it almost glorified teenage drinking and partying.

But I can't.  Because even if I don't agree with Sutter's methods, he feels like a real believable teenager.  Sometimes it's brave for a book to portray drinking (I would call Sutter a teenage alcoholic but I don't think he would) without ever getting preachy or putting on the parent hat. It's disarming, but sometimes it's good for a book to rile us up and challenge what we think is right.

Sutter is one of those kids, the party boy with a heart of gold.  To some people this might seem unrealistic, but it's not. I never knew a guy quite like Sutter, but I had a friend who was in and out of trouble in high school.  For a goody-two-shoes like me, knowing him was a bit of a revelation. Yes he had problems, illegal ones, but he was a really good friend to me.  Sometime's it's easy to label someone as a "bad guy" but it's much more realistic and complicated to acknowledge that sometimes there are good people with good hearts who still do bad things.

Sutter is like that.  Yes he's probably an alcoholic, but he's trying to be a good friend and he really does genuinely cares about people.  He just doesn't believe he can be anything more than the party guy.  Beneath the fun party-loving facade, Sutter's real problem is that he doesn't think he's worthy of being loved.  He always thinks everyone is going to leave him.  So rather than tackle that head on, he drinks and keeps people at arm's length.

This story is not a lifetime-original movie, where a teenage alcoholic finds redemption. It's a story where Sutter accidentally learns to love and learns to be loved.  This book is full of imperfect people who are just trying to figure out how to live life, have fun and be happy without bulldozing over everybody around them.

This book is a rarity.  It made me angry, made me think and made me cry. In some ways it feels like a very dangerous books, that a teenager could walk away with entirely the wrong message, but I don't think every YA book needs to preach a sermon. The Spectacular Now tells a good story with believable imperfect characters.  People are complicated and messy -- good, bad, stupid, careless, all of the above.  But that doesn't mean they aren't valuable and don't contribute something to the world. That's the heart of this book.

Note:I listened to the audiobook and the narration is superb.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Follow Friday - Letter to my favorite character

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Activity: Write a letter to your favorite character. Rant, rave or gush...just pretend like they are real and you want to let them know a "few things."

Dear Luna Lovegood,

You are a wonderful girl, always true to yourself and our friends. I think it's great that you wouldn't change for anyone, despite teasing and torture, and kept a positive attitude. More people need to be like you.  You're a great role model. Never change.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dancing in the Dark (review)

2.5/5 stars

Dancing in the Dark wasn't terrible.  But considering it has two of my favorite things, dancing stories and religious doubt, and I still couldn't like it, that's not a good sign for the book.

The biggest problem with this book is that it feels to juvenile.  Yes I understand Ditty lives with an overprotective orthodox Jewish family so she's expected to be naive.  But naiveté alone does not make a story juvenile.  This story has the great opportunity to show those who are kept away from the world are not somehow less.  It should have great conversations about faith, doubt and family.

Instead it's tedious, having a few really good moments (the beginning I liked) then dragging again.  The pacing is just terrible.  There was a point when the story briefly got exciting and I thought "okay let's turn this thing around," then Ditty slept for 2 straight weeks.  Stories need to move and this one just didn't.

Sometimes the book did not use appropriate language, for example when 17-year-old Ditty says, "The butterflies in my tummy are still beating their wings..." I cringed because that's just terrible writing and even worse editing.  I don't care how protected Ditty is, using the word tummy over stomach in any context just doesn't work.

There is nothing horribly offensive or terrible about this book, nor is there anything to highly recommend it.  It has it's moments.  I enjoy seeing into a different faith than my own, but Ditty is never developed enough to carry the conversations that this book needs to be great.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Follow Friday - If books were beads

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.

Question: Happy Mardi Gras! If they were throwing the HOTTEST books off a Mardi Gras float -- what would you want to have them throw to you?

Depends what do you mean by hottest? Do you mean books that make me swoon/want to kissy-face with all the characters? Or do you mean books that I want to collect tons of and show off proudly (like you do the necklaces?)

Luckily I have an answer for both.
1. The October Daye books by Seanan McGuire - These are excellent Urban Fantasy books.  They have romance, but Toby is usually too busy solving crimes and saving lives to actually sit down and think about her feelings.  She's pretty badass that way.  However there is a character in these books that makes me swoon.  I just read the 6th in this series (these books actually get better with each addition) and that character played a very important role.
2. As far as books I want to collective in abundance, everything by Melina Marchetta. Yes I talk about my great love of her A LOT. But that's because she is my favorite author and does not have a weak novel.  Just think of all the people I could introduce to Melina Marchetta books if I had an abundance laying around to share?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Fire Horse Girl (review)

4/5 stars
The Fire Horse Girl (Amazon | Goodreads) is just my type of book.  It's a story about a girl who doesn't fit in the box where society puts her, she's too loud, too vocal and just too much to be a typical Chinese housewife.  Born in the year of the Fire Horse, the worst possible year for a girl to be born, Jade Moon has all the vices - the temper, the stubbornness, the selfishness and  the strength.

Because of her unfortunate birth, she's left with little hope in China except being married off against her will to whoever is stupid enough to live with a Fire Horse girl.   So when a stranger shows up at her family farm with a money-making scheme that will take him, her father and Jade Moon to America she refuses to be left behind.

The way Jade Moon describes America, what America was to early immigrants, enchanted me.  America was more than just a country with lots of fertile land.  To Jade Moon and many others America was hope itself.
"Why couldn't I tell them how hard it was to live in China, how people broke off pieces of you to make you fit? Why didn't they want to know what it was like being a Fire Horse, full of strength and power that only destroyed everything I touched?"
Things are not as easy as Jade Moon had hoped.  But thankfully she's a Fire Horse, strong and stubborn, and she's willing to fight for every inch of independence she can find.  That's how Jade Moon ends up masquerading as a boy and accidentally joining the Chinatown mob.

Jade Moon carries this book.  She's smart, feisty and always true to herself.  She's willing to take risks to get what she wants and to help her friends.  She's imperfect (no perfect person ends up joining the chinese mob).  She's a very human mix of selfish and selfless, just a girl trying to find her way and carve out a place of her own in the world.

At first the book seemed to move slowly.  I wasn't clear on where the story or plot was going.  But once everything started happening, I was in love. This book has so much going for it, from a strong believable main character, to diversity (I know people look for that) and a unique slice of history.

At times the writing was quite poetic, yet still simple to read. Some passages were thoughtful and beautiful but rather than bogging down the story, they add layers and depth to Jade Moon's character. Sometimes books make immigration or history feel foreign, but The Fire Horse Girl found the parts of Jade Moon that were universal and created a really accessible story.

  I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ballad of Jessie Pearl (review)

3/5 stars

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl feels very young.  I definetly wouldn't classify this as a YA, probably more  middle-grade but it even feels young for that.  It reminds me of older books, set in an Appalachian past with a main character forced to grow up before her time (and she doesn't have a mother. Maybe this reminds me of a Disney movie).

14-year-old Jessie Pearl has big plans for her life.  She wants to follow in her late mother's footsteps, finishing 8th grade before heading off to teacher's college.  Unlike her sisters, she doesn't want to marry and have children young. She wants a future of her own.  But when tuberculosis strikes her family Jessie is forced to put her dreams on hold.  This is a story of a girl forced to grow-up before she should have to, to make the tough choices between helping her family and helping herself.

Overall I liked this book.  It felt like it could've easily been a book from my childhood.  Being Appalachian, I've always read a lot of stories set in the region.  This feels less like a current book and more like an older book.  In some ways it's overly simplistic and aside from Jessie the characters aren't very well developed   However it's a sweet book about a girl who wants to do what's right for her family, her sweetheart and herself, even though it's impossible.

For younger audience, especially those who like simple sweet books set in the past, I would recommend this book.  Sometime's it's nice when a book reads like a throwback to a simpler age and simpler time.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Follow Friday - Me in my fave book

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What is the first thing you would do if you woke up to find yourself in your favorite book?
Well really it depends on which favorite book you're talking about...
Jellicoe Road: I'd probably be torn between trying to fling myself at Jonah Grggs and trying to follow around all the main characters (like a creeper) without disrupting the story.
Harry Potter: I'd probably hide. Lots of potential death. Maybe try to talk Oliver Wood into going into hiding with me if at all possible.
Ruby Oliver: Ask them where to find Apricot flavored fruit roll-ups. I'm a connaisure of fruit roll-ups and have never seen these. Somehow Ruby and Noel have an abundance of them though.
The Assassin's Curse: Attempt to kiss Naji.