Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mortal Danger (review)

2/5 stars

Part of me feels guilty for how much I disliked Mortal Danger (Goodreads | Amazon).  It tried to do some good things, to acknowledge problems with society that we often see with other books and to upend some common cliches that I hate.  All of that is good and well if the book had been readable.

The story follows Edie, an overweight unpopular girl who's on the brink of suicide.  As she contemplates ending her life, an unnaturally attractive boy named Kian shows up and offers her a deal that she can't refuse.  Suddenly Edie's whole life changes, including her physique, and she's hell-bent on taking revenge against her high school foes.

The problem is: I kind of hate Edie. There's nothing really to her, aside from her hatred and unpopularity.  She doesn't feel like a real character but she's suddenly a super-special person to the people Kian works for without ever showing any spark of being an interesting character. The first 60% of this book is nearly unreadable.  Edie's the kind of self-oriented person that spends too much time whining and focused on herself.  I'm all for flawed heroines but damn I didn't want to spend anymore time in this girls head.

It didn't help that the book tended to fall into cheesy over-descriptions and eye-rolling metaphors.
"The two of us were like magnets with the same charge. No matter how much I wanted to be close to him, circumstances kept shoving us apart." 
Gag. I can't cope with that sentence or the whole love-story-from-nowhere that's behind it.  Did I mention there was an unbelievable romance in the novel? Do I even have to anymore?

Now, onto things this book did right.  After you get through the unbearable beginning, this book fleshes the high school popular characters.  That's not something you typically see, normally they're just cliches bullying the protagonist but the novel acknowledges that they have their own problems and motivations.  It also tackled some of the gender dynamics of boys pitting girls against each other and society pretending girls have no depth.  However, while it's nice to see those elements it doesn't rescue the story.

I have a lot of trouble imagining non-reviews will make it through this story.  However past the 60% mark the story drastically improves and suddenly it's readable. Just good luck making it through the beginning.

I received an advanced reading e-book in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

More Than This (review)

4.5/5 stars

More Than This (Goodreads | Amazon) is a complicated book to review.  It's the type of book that you just need to jump into without any real expectations and perceptions.  Too much information might impact your reading experience, or worse, quasi-spoil this book for you.  However, this is a book review blog so I guess I have to tell you something.

Patrick Ness is a brilliant young adult writer.  He has few rivals, especially considering the originality of his works.  Ness gave us the brilliant dystopian Chaos Walking Trilogy, then the heart-wrenching novel about cancer and grief, A Monster Calls.  He writes characters that are complicated and diverse, no cookie-cutter suburbanites here.  His books have a tendency to punch you in the gut/rip out your heart, because he doesn't hold back for the reader's sake.

I'm going to assume it's safe to give you the basic synopsis (summarized from Goodreads).  This book begins with Seth drowning, crushed beneath the waves at the bottom of the ocean.  But for this story, that's only the beginning because the next thing you know Seth wakes up and he's somewhere else, somewhere vaguely familiar.  He doesn't know where he is, if it's hell, purgatory or a dream.  

That's all you're getting from me.  Just read the damn book already. Trust me on that. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UnWholly (review)

4/5 stars

UnWholly (Goodreads | Amazon) may be better that the original Unwind.  For me, I found some logic problems with Unwind (see review here) but overall enjoyed the book anyways.  The sequel, however, I could just sit down and enjoy - maybe because I'd already accepted those flaws.  The book, more than the last, did delve into some more of the politics surrounding the Heartland Wars, which helps slightly fill the logic-hole.

But I'm not wanting to complain about this book because by and far I enjoyed it.  Plus I can't tell you too much about the politics due to spoilers.  Like Unwind before it, this book follows the stories of AWOL Unwinds running from the juvie cops.  We get to revisit familiar characters from the last novel, Connor, Risa and Levi, to see how they're doing and growing up but we also get to meet a new group of characters, including Starkey - a problematic storked unwind - and self-righteous tithe Miracolina.  The most interesting and through provoking character was Cam, a mish-mash Frankenstein created from parts of unwound teenagers.

As with the previous book, UnWholly likes to ask the big questions - what it means to be alive, if people have a soul, etc etc.  That's what I like most about these novels, they're unafraid to tackle taboo and controversial topics.

Something that I really liked in UnWholly was the inserted real news-articles.  Those gave it a dimension of realism, breadcrumbs from the real world showing the path to the fictional realm Shusterman has created.  While the whole idea of unwinding seems so far-fetched, when you real the political background in light of the real world articles you begin to realize that maybe it's not as absurd as you originally thought.

Overall this is a worthy sequel, a thought-provoking book that you'll be thinking about after you put it down.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Silver Linings Playbook (review)

4/5 stars

Silver Linings Playbook (Goodread | Amazon) is the third Matthew Quick book I've read.  All 3 have been excellent, I love his simple, no-nonsense but clever writing style. Personally, I think he's reached my instant-read list. Silver Lining Playbook follows post-mental breakdown Pat as he tries to put his life back together after being released from a mental health facility. As a character, he comes across younger than his age but in this novel it works because he's struggling with mental illness and refusing to deal with reality.  His only goal is win back his ex-wife Nikki, by any means possible (losing weight, reading the books she's read, improving himself).
"I am practicing being kind rather than right, so Nikki will be able to love me again when apart time is over."
This book has an interesting and believable cast of characters, from his sports-loving therapist, to a mother who just wants to fix her son and most-importantly the second main character, Tiffany who is also struggling with mental illness. All of the characters have their flaws, each broken in their own way but most are trying to help and support each other.

Because I am a huge sports fan, I loved the way sports were handled in this novel.  The camaraderie surrounding the Philadelphia Eagle's team, the way the family's mood was impacted it and the support Pat had from practical-strangers because they shared this love was something that was delightfully realistic and hit close to home for me.
"I think all it takes for different people to get along is a common rooting interest and a few beers."
We've reached the point where reviewing this book seems like a moot point.  Everyone (but maybe me) has watched the movie or at least knows the basic plotline.  The book is superb, a surprisingly near-perfect debut novel (and as a reader of many debut novels, they're rarely this flawless).  Quick writes accessible, clever books that are simultaneously easy to read and make you think.  As far as I'm concerned, everyone should check out his books.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

One Past Midnight (review)

2.5/5 stars

When looking at my friends ratings on Goodreads, I feel like the outlier on One Past Midnight (Goodreads | Amazon). Part of me wonders what I missed.  I can't say the book is terrible or hard to read, but there are some very integral parts that I just don't believe and a relationship that's blatantly insta-love.

One Past Midnight is the story of Sabine, a girl who lives two lives.  At midnight every night she transitions from one world into another.  Where she lives, who she hangs out, who her parents are, is entirely different in each world.  In one world, she's the rich girl who has the perfect life.  In the second world she's a poor girl who's parents work too hard.  Because of the secret she's forced to keep, she struggles to build deep relationships or feel like she's truly living. For her whole life, there have been certain rules between the two worlds.  But suddenly, things start to change and Sabine realizes that maybe the rules no longer apply.

First I'll say the good about this book.  It's unafraid to ask big questions about what it means to be alive. Sabine's struggles to figure out who she is in light of her two lives is the strong point of this book.

However, for me, what doesn't work outweighs the good.  First, there's when Sabine tells her poor-life parents, a father who admittedly is distracted and not invested in his family life, and expects them to believe her. The whole scenario doesn't seem realistic, not like something a teenager would do it.  It's an important plot point in the book and I just can't quite believe it.

Another problem was the instalove.  I could see how some could argue that it didn't happen instantly.  But really it does.  Yes the first meeting between the two is the typical argumentative flirting you see in these type of stories, but Sabine pretty immediately starts day-dreaming and having feelings for a guy she barely knows.  From there, like it always does, the relationship escalates quickly. The love story is too central to the plot to ignore or forgive.  It's not some side-plot to a greater story, but a key element of Sabine's story.

This is a book that I'm sure will work for some people.  But for me, believability in characters and relationship trumps whatever good it might have going on.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Midnight Thief (review)

4/5 stars

Midnight Thief (Goodreads | Amazon) is the type of book I have a soft spot for.  Following a young but gifted thief growing up in the slums surrounding a palace, it is part adventure novel, part fantasy with a dash of castle politics.  It's written in the vein of Tamora Pierce (may she live long and write all the books), which is something I always need more.  Give me young spunky girls fighting oppression and trying to survive in a world that's not built for them any day. Give me them every day! For these books I am your ideal reader.

I'm not saying this book is as good as Tamora Pierce, I'm mainly saying it's a Tamora Pierce-ian genre book (Can I make up genres like that?).  There were a few flaws, at times the story dragged a little and some of the romance (not all of it) didn't make much sense, but those are the type of things I'm willing to forgive for a story like this. Overall it was a well-built story within a believable and interesting world.

One thing I liked a lot about this book was that many of the characters were never clearly defined as the good guys or the bad guys.  Like most people, they often fell in the middle and characters who were part of problematic systems/organizations could also be good people. That's nuanced and much prefer to the cackling evil bad guy who just likes being evil.

Overall this book was a lot of fun and I found myself cheering for Kyra, despite her many mistakes and imperfections.  If you're looking for a quality book in the adventure-fantasy genre, this is a solidly good choice with a lot of potential for further storytelling within the world.

I received an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.