Wednesday, May 28, 2014
* major spoilers *
Miles Halter is bored. His whole existence has been unremarkable up to this point and he craves something significant: the "Great Perhaps." Culver Boarding School provides his change of scenery and throws his whole world upside down. His roommate Chip AKA The Colonel dubs him Pudge and draws him into his world of smoking, drinking, and pranks. Chip also brought Alaska into his life, a gorgeous, intelligent, and self destructive girl. Pudge falls head over heels in love with mesmerizing Alaska and learns so much about literature, life, and friendship. Then tragedy strikes. Pudge and his friends struggle to find meaning in the wake of the event and find a way to move forward.
I recently read The Fault in Our Stars and sobbed buckets over it, so I had to see what his earlier books were like. I've heard good things from a wide variety of people about Looking for Alaska, but I felt it didn't quite live up to the hype. I did enjoy it and it was successful in many ways. The characters are vibrant and memorable. Even the most minor characters made an impression. My favorite is the Colonel with his larger than life personality, small stature, and rough demeanor. Underneath, he is fiercely loyal and kind of a sweetheart. I liked the inclusion of taboo teen subjects like drinking, smoking, and sex. Censoring these things from teen books doesn't change that teens experience them and I found it to be much more real. It's kind of like watching The Goonies compared to current children's films that are so much more sanitized. The greatest strength of the book is how grieving and trying to find meaning in tragedy are portrayed. Everyone grieves differently and processes in their own time. Nothing is completely explained about Alaska's death. There's no convenient revelation that ties everything up because that's just not how life really is. Things are messy and we don't always know why things happen the way they do. We just have to come to terms with it in our own way and move on.
I was slightly underwhelmed because it didn't quite live up to the hype. It's another book about annoying pretentious teenagers which are very similar to the characters in The Fault in Our Stars. I didn't really like Alaska and felt she could be pretty inconsiderate and hurtful, so her death didn't affect as much as I think it was supposed to. The pros seriously outweigh the cons and I did enjoy the novel.
Looking for Alaska is a fast read and deals with death and its effect on people in a real way. I will definitely be reading the rest of John Green's books because they are addicting and I find hours of my time just gone because I got sucked into his books.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
* spoilers *
Kate Winters's life isn't like other teenagers'. Her mother has terminal cancer and she has spent years taking care of her mother through chemo treatments, sickness, and health. Now, the fight is over and her mother's dying wish is to move back to her childhood town. Kate wants to finish high school, but wants to be there for her mom as much as she can. At school, she's the center of attention as a novelty, but no one except odd yet friendly James befriends her. Ava is jealous and tries to play a mean trick on her, but ends up dying instead. Henry, a dark and mysterious stranger, offers to save her in exchange for her fulfilling the role or Persephone to his Hades, who he claims to be. Kate has to decide if he's jut some crazy person or if she should take his offer seriously.
The Goddess Test is honestly kind of a mess. It's very Twilight like with Henry being the dark broody dark creature who just wants to be love with plain Jane Bella/Kate. I actually enjoy Twilight as a guilty pleasure, so I didn't have too big of a problem with that part. Their romance, while based on essentially nothing, was sweet. Kate's all over the place. I like her background taking care of her mother and having to grow up very fast. However, she makes some the dumbest decisions ever. All the other girls to take this test were killed by an unknown person and she thinks it's a great idea to open a random present. Girl, really? I was willing to let a lot of things slide to get my romantic guilty pleasure, but the last quarter of the book just pushed me other the edge.
At the end of the novel, the 7 tests administered to Kate are revealed to be on the 7 deadly sins, which is a Christian concept. These gods predate Christianity by thousands of years and reveled in the 7 deadly sins. They slept with each other, killed people, raped people, went to war, fought over lovers, and a whole slew of other petty, unpious things. As gods, they are above human morality. Suddenly, they hold Christian morals and it becomes earth shattering if Kate wants to eat food or sleep with her soon to be husband, which she was manipulated into doing because good girls don't have sex. Seriously, stop with the slut shaming, which is particularly heavy handed here with Kate's situation and with Ava (Aphrodite), who slept with 2 men who ended up trying to kill each other. It was ruled to be Ava's fault and she was condemned to be ostracized. It's especially important for teenage girls to know that their sexuality isn't something to be ashamed of. Female sexuality is viewed in the most bizarre way in our society where women who have sex are slutty and dirty, but if they don't they're prudes or frigid. Narratives like this simply reinforce this ridiculous double standard.
The Goddess Test ended up being a ridiculous novel that tells women that their worth is whether or not they have sex. I was on board for a guilty pleasure romance book, but this filled me with rage at its obviously Christian, puritanical message.
My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins
Saturday, May 17, 2014
In 1960's Russia, Yulia Chernina is struggling to support her family. Her parents used to be prestigious scientists, but now struggle to make ends meet as outcasts. Yulia does what she can and haggles on the black market for much needed supplies, using her uncanny instincts to read people to her benefit. While out in the market one day, her family is captured by the KGB and she is coerced into working for them or they will harm her family. So Yulia is forced into a dilapidated warehouse with psychics around her age to discover how to harness and use her powers to benefit Russia. Along with them is an adult psychic who can manipulate memories and control thoughts. Yulia bides her time and works to hone her skills and help them until she can escape.
Sekret is the first novel I've ever read about this time period in Russia. Lindsay Smith captures the era and setting beautifully with descriptions of the vast difference between the rich and poor, vivid descriptions of a conflicted state (recovering from Stalin's terror, frustration at Khrushchev's passive rule, and the youthful craving for Western culture), a few Russian words, and consistent Russian cultural references throughout the text. It was also fascinating to see that part of history through different eyes. Their view of of Jackie O and President Kennedy as well their reaction to the President's assassination is vastly different than that of Americans. I particularly enjoyed the musical aspects of the novel. To block out other psychics, each person would have a song or piece running through their head to use as a shield. It gave each character an added layer because musical choice says a lot about a person. The various psychics and their powers are varied and included some I hadn't seen before. They could also work together to amplify their powers in ways they couldn't alone.
It took me a while to really get into Sekret. Even though it's from Yulia's perspective, I didn't get a good sense of who she was until around the middle of the novel. The romance was sweet, but nothing special. The only real positive was that it didn't distract much from the main plot. I also think I'm kind of burnt out on unnecessary teen romances stuck in a novel that doesn't really need one. I don't really know why romance HAS to be in every YA novel, but it's kind of annoying. Except for the change in setting and time, it read very much like every other dystopian YA novel. I wish it were a little more interesting with so much real history to draw from.
Sekret has some wonderful elements, but reads as too typical in an oversaturated genre. The ending is left open for a sequel and I'm frankly not sure if I want to read it.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins
Thursday, May 15, 2014
In 2113, England is an independent republic ruled by ACID, a brutal and corrupt police force with unlimited power. Everyone treads lightly because even the slightest infraction can land you in jail. Jenna Strong knows she deserves to be in jail. She accidentally killed her parents in a fit of ill-thought-out teenage rebellion and feels crushing guilt. She readily accepts that the rest of her life will b spent behind bars, but the other male inmates make their interest in her apparent. The prison doctor befriends her and trains her in martial arts and self defense. A rebel group breaks her out of jail unexpectedly. Now, she has to figure out how to evade ACID while figuring out what is true and what are implanted lies manufactured by ACID.
ACID has a super cheesy, super action movie cover and I wasn't really expecting much from it. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was set in futuristic England and it was reflected in the descriptions and the language used by the characters. The world is interesting. People are arranged marriages called LifePartners and given jobs by the government. The most bizarre things are grounds of incarceration like spending time with someone of the opposite gender not your LifePartner, not watching the very biased and mostly false news, unauthorized relationships, smoking, drinking alcohol, and a huge list of other things, Jenna is an interesting protagonist. She doesn't have any super special powers or supernatural aid. Through grueling work, she made herself strong and skilled in fighting. Her emotional state is remarkable because she acknowledges the suckitude of her existence but doesn't sit around moping and crying all the time. She does what she has to: defending herself in jail, pretending to be someone else a bunch of times, and unwillingly working with a terrorist organization until she could escape.
Despite all these things I enjoyed, ACID suffers from some problems. The plot is a little too complicated and gets very muddy. Jenna has at least 3 different aliases that she goes by and changes her face at least 3 times. Speaking of which, the technology isn't well thought out. Complete facial surgery has her waking up pain free with no scars while a small operation to remove an implant injures her for days and leaves a scar. Coincidences are used to hold the plot together rather and it all seems way to convenient. The romance as lackluster and typical for YA books. Nothing special and not really needed in the novel.
ACID is a fun adventure of a book, but don't expect anything revolutionary. It's very typical for YA dystopia and follows the conventions of the genre rather well.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Sara Wharton is a bully. She and her friends are at the top social tier of the school with football players and they tormented Emma Putnam every single day. They called her names, set up fake social media accounts, and stalked her, among other numerous things. The abuse escalated until Emma committed suicide. Now Sara and four of her classmates are being charged criminally for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's death. The public has already judged them and treat them similar to how they treated Emma. They are ostracized, called names, and seen as the lowest of the low. Sara maintains that she has done nothing wrong because she didn't commit murder and remains unconvinced that Emma didn't deserve to be treated that way. Sara has plenty of time to reflect on the time between meeting with her lawyers, her therapist, and going to summer school. Not only does she have to come to terms with her actions, but she also has to figure out how to move forward with her life.
Cases like Emma's are unfortunately not uncommon. I can remember numerous cases where young people were tormented by bullies and decided to take their lives. It's easy to empathize and sympathize with the victims of these bullies, but it's hard for me to feel anything but anger and disgust for unrepentant bullies. A recent case comes to mind where two girls aged 12 and 14 stalked and bullied a girl who then committed suicide. Their response was IDGAF (I don't give a fuck). I had no idea how someone could be so callous and cruel or what kind of thought process goes into that. Now I have some idea. Sara is not an easy narrator to relate to or even like. Much of her narrative made me enraged because of how clueless she was to what her actions caused. She maintains that she did nothing wrong and justifies her incredibly hurtful actions by saying everyone else does it and Emma deserved it. Throughout most of the book, she shows no remorse and only laments how her life is ruined. However, no bully is completely evil and they don't deserve to in turn be bullied. We should be trying to work to educate people so things like this don't happen instead of justifying and perpetuating bullying behavior. In an article about the girls I mentioned earlier, the comments section is full of people calling them names and saying they deserve to die or be incarcerated for life. How is this any different than what those girls did?
The themes in the novel are relevant to teens today. Peer pressure is a major reason why so many people bullied Emma and the situation got so out of hand. Teens want to appear cool and do what they popular kids are doing. Sara had a toxic relationship with her best friend Brielle queen bee of the school, who put down everyone including her friends. She manipulated those around her and masterminded a lot of the abuse. Sara went along with it for a while and then went to extremes with it because of Brielle's support. Their relationship skewed what is right and wrong because they acted like an echo chamber where dissent is grounds for social suicide. Another strong theme is sexuality and how its perceived by others. If girls are sexual in any way, including simply initiating conversations with boys, they are labeled sluts. If they withhold sex, they are labeled prudes and teases. Boys are rarely looked down upon for their sexuality, even if they cheat on their girlfriends or have multiple partners. The girl they cheated with (in this case Emma) bears all the consequences of an action that takes two people. Society's skewed view of female sexuality hurts these girls: Emma is a slut for "sleeping around" (which may not even be true) and this label is the main reason why she is so tormented by her classmates; Sara has sex with her boyfriend not because she wants to, but because it's what's expected of her or her boyfriend will go elsewhere if she doesn't; and Brielle blames herself for being raped and dismisses her own negative feelings about it. These issues still affect women in adulthood and it's a major societal problem that needs to be addressed.
Tease is an important novel because it touches on a lot of issues teens have to face and makes us see another side of bullying. No one in the story is perfect. Even Emma makes mistakes and says hurtful things, but she doesn't deserve to be stalked and humiliated at every turn. Neither does Sara, even though much of what she did was horrible. This is the best book I've seen about bullying. I only have one complaint. I would like to have seen Emma's perspective. I don't think Sara ever really understood her or thought to see the situation from her perspective.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Kyra Agnew is on top of the world. Her future is bright. She has a wonderful boyfriend, a loyal best friend, and a loving family. She excels at softball and will surely get a sports scholarship to college. On the way home from a game, she argues with her father and gets out of the car to walk home in a huff. The last thing she remembers is a flash of light before waking up laying in the parking lot of a gas station. Five years have passed and Kyra has no memory of where she was. Her whole life has changed. Her parents split up. Her mother remarried and had a child. Her father is a drunken mess obsessed with alien abductions. Her boyfriend moved on to be with her best friend. Alone and adrift in a world she no longer recognizes, Kyra's only comfort is Tyler, her ex-boyfriend's little brother, who supports her every step of the way. Together, they try to figure out what really happened to her.
The Taking has a concept that is quite popular this year. I haven't seen any of these shows, so the concept is fresh and interesting to me. I felt a lot of sympathy of Kyra because her world was turned upside down. Sure, her initial appearance where she acted kind of bratty and annoying wasn't a great impression, but that's how teenagers act. They're impulsive and don't look at the long term. When she returns, she copes with the situation as best as she can. The relationship with Tyler started really fast and was really based on nothing. It's another case of instalove, but it was at least sweet. Tyler is a little too perfect though. Characters have to have some flaws and he's like a teenage girl's ultimate fantasy. The romance also took precedence over the more important issue of where she was for five whole years. It takes a while for anything real to happen because of the focus on romance.
The concept that Kyra hadn't aged in 5 years was intriguing. Her new abilities were interesting, but it seemed very Mary Sue-ish that she had the most special powers of all the returned. I wish more information could have been found out about the process and the aliens, who weren't in the story at all. Why would aliens want to do this to us? What's the purpose of the experimentation? The ending was too convenient and really took me out of the story. I'm not interested in continuing the series.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Amy Gumm is just another girl from Kansas. She lives in a trailer and her mom is either out partying with her loser friends or too deep in a depression to move. A tornado drops her trailer right into Oz, but it's not like the movies or the books. She expected vibrant colors, magic, and happiness. What's left is sorrow, enslaved munchkins, and a beaten down Oz. Dorothy returned to Oz, made herself queen, and is siphoning its magic for herself until there's none left. Dorothy's friends are also unrecognizable. The Scarecrow kills beings for their brain power and makes grotesque experiments out of the people of Oz. The Tin Woodman kills without a thought despite his heart and the Lion is a savage, monstrous beast. Amy joins forces with those previously considered evil to overthrow Dorothy's reign of terror.
I am a die hard Oz fan. I read all of the books as a kid; I was obsessed with the movie; and I read and watch every retelling and permutation out there. Most of them are bad and create mediocre stories out of nothing (looking at you Oz the Great and Powerful) rather than drawing on the very rich world of Oz that L. Frank Baum created over the course of fourteen books. Danielle Paige chose the latter route and wrote a unique story with many characters no one hears about and looking at Oz as it was in the books while expanding upon it. Some of these characters include Mombi, the Good Witch of the North (who didn't previously have a name), Jellia Jamb, and Ozma. I am so excited to see Ozma that I don't know what to do with myself. She's the ruler of Oz after the Wizard and the Scarecrow and she is never in any reimagining at all despite being a major character. I hope she has a major role in the next book. Anyway, I appreciate that Danielle Paige knows the world and doesn't just make up random stuff that wouldn't make sense.
I greatly enjoyed her twisted version of Oz with a healthy dose of horror. It was darker than I was expecting from a YA book, but for me, that's a plus. Dorothy is power hungry and cruel with a veneer of sickening sweetness and beauty. The Scarecrow readily sacrifices Ozites to keep his brain power up and to do sick and torturous experiments on. The Tin Woodman has made himself into a weapon and commands an army of cyborg weapon soldiers created by the Scarecrow. He's also hopelessly in love with Dorothy and will do absolutely everything and anything she asks. The Lion is a grotesquely huge beast who feeds on people's fear and attacks often for no reason. All of them serve Dorothy and work towards the destruction of Oz. What I would like to know is how it got this way. They all started out as wholesome, good creatures. I understand Dorothy is an addict who needs more and more magic to feel beautiful, special, and powerful, but why would the others, who have lived in Oz all their lives, condone and help her destroy their land?
The execution of the novel had a few problems. The pacing is really off in places. Parts that didn't need so much time went on for pages and pages while pivotal scenes were rushed through. The romance distracted from the story without really adding anything except for fitting into the typical YA book model. The description on the back cover doesn't even get addressed until the very end of the book and isn't yet completed. The book ends literally in the middle of a scene, which I hate. I understand leaving plot lines open for the next book, but abruptly cutting a book short is just annoying.
Dorothy Must Die makes my inner Oz fanatic very happy in that she addresses and acknowledges little known characters and the existence of the world as it was created by the original author. It's not a perfect novel, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Danielle Paige's writing really sucked me in and made me overlook some of the problems. I will definitely be reading the next book because I need to know what happens.
My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins
Friday, May 9, 2014
Panic is a legendary game played only by high school seniors during the summer in Carp, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. The game consists of a series of dares that become more and more dangerous as it goes on. Only one winner goes home with thousands of dollars, but many go home with injuries and people have died before. Heather was never really interested in Panic, but participated on a whim after her boyfriend broke up with her. She's terrified every step of the way, but wants to see it to the end. Dodge, on the other hand, has been planning to participate in Panic for a year because of a deep dark secret. He doesn't fear the game at all and is fueled by his secret to do anything to win. Panic will bring both of them new friends, new enemies, shocking revelations, and turn their lives upside down.
I read Nerve by Jeanne Ryan a few weeks ago and it's a book that really wanted to be Panic. Panic goes to the extremes that I expected and (way) beyond. Each of the challenges pushes further and further and touches on real fear. However, I felt about half of them were unrealistic in how life threatening they were. $10,000 is not worth anyone's life. It should have been a lot more to make it plausible, but teens have to be able to put together this money, so more money still wouldn't be plausible. Anyway, there are some problems with the concept in general.
The characters and writing are what make the book successful. I related to or empathized with each character and their situation. Heather's mother was an abusive drug addict, so Heather took her sister and lived out of their car. Despite her fear, she was a lot stronger than she thought and used her Panic outlook in her real life. Dodge was kind of weird because of his painfully obvious "secret" and his blind need for vengeance. Other than that, he's a decent person who cares for his family. The only character I had no connection with was Nat. She used people, lied, manipulated, and was generally mean to people. There seems to be no reason for people to be her friend or like her in any way. Lauren Oliver's writing never fails to suck me into her stories. I didn't even notice some of the flaws of the book until the very end because of her prose.
Panic is a thrilling read, but the logistical problems and one major unlikeable character distracted from the story. It's a decent stand alone book and I would definitely read other books by Lauren Oliver.
My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins
Thursday, May 8, 2014
Kaylie Russel and her brother Tim had a traumatic childhood. It was pretty normal up until they moved to a new house and their father bought an antique mirror with an ornate frame. Over time, their father was driven crazy by the mirror, murdered their mother, and tried to murder his children. Tim killed his father in self defense, but was convicted of murder and grew up in a mental institution. The day he left the institution, Kaylie puts into motion her plan to destroy the mirror and prove that supernatural forces manipulated her father. Unfortunately Tim has just completed his therapy and come to terms with the fantasy he and his sister created to cope with their father's insanity and attempt to murder them. Is the mirror really haunted or is it just a coping mechanism?
I wasn't expecting a lot from Oculus going into see it. The marketing was underwhelming and kind of cheesy, so I was braced for bad or at best, a cheesy yet fun film. Oculus is the most original horror film I've seen since You're Next. I loved every minute of it and it was a breath of fresh air compared to all the sequels, remakes, and rip-offs that clutter the genre. Oculus has 2 story lines: one in eleven years in the past where Kaylie and Tim witness their father going crazy and one in the present where Kaylie has planned to destroy the mirror with her brother as they promised when they were children. This film is kind of like a prequel with a sequel inside it. The stories are told in alternating segments that increase in intensity and horror as the film goes on until the two story lines actually intersect at the end of the film. It's very unexpected and well done thanks to the main antagonist, the mirror.
The mirror is a wonderfully creepy yet innocuous looking villain. By itself, it's not really anything. It feeds on people, plants, and animals and manipulates those near it. It also plays with people's perceptions and skews their reality. People throughout its considerable history have died of dehydration in a full bathtub, bit a live power line, broke their own bones with a hammer, and otherwise killed themselves in bizarre ways. I personally like that we have no idea where the mirror came from and it essentially has no origin story at this point. I also like that Kaylie is not an idiot and puts together elaborate precautions that force the mirror into keeping her and her brother alive in self preservation as well as keep her from forgetting to eat or drink. Beating this mirror is not as easy as smashing it to pieces because of its power to bend reality. The second half of the film has the audience constantly questioning what is real and what isn't right up until the very end.
Oculus is a suspenseful film with an original concept and good execution. Some moments are wonderfully cringe worthy and make the audience truly squirm in their seats. I especially liked that the doubt about whether the mirror is actually haunted or not is real. A lot of other films pay this doubt lip service, but don't actually entertain the possibility that it might all be psychological or a rationalization. I highly recommend Oculus to horror fans tired of sequels, remakes, and rip-offs and ready for something original.
My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Amanda Feral, shallow zombie socialite, is back with her entourage of snarky undead friends. They embark on a road trip. Amanda needs to get her tell all book on the supernatural underbelly of Seattle, Happy Hour of the Undead, off the ground with a book tour. Wendy is a budding dealer of Cloud, basically zombie breath in a cream that is an aphrodisiac to vampires. Her supply is stolen, so she goes along to get it back and make the thief pay. Gil is just along for the ride. They stop in a sleepy seaside town for Amanda's book tour and are immediately caught up in a murder mystery surrounding a beauty pageant. The ensuing adventure is hilarious with amorous weresharks, a vicious gang of gay male strippers, and our lovable gang of undead.
Amanda Feral is back! This is only the first in a series of three novellas, so it's like three small nibbles of Amanda instead of giant zombie bites. The story is self contained, so knowledge of the previous three full length books isn't necessary, but why wouldn't you read them? This novella is the perfect balance of supernatural horror and humor. Amanda's narrative reads true as an inner monologue complete with overshares and judgy thoughts that she would never say out loud. I like that Henry uses Amanda to show the realities of being a published author and throws some shade at the industry at the same time.The addition of the Golden Boys, a dangerous gang of gay male strippers, and the wereshark are inspired and fit well into this wacky world. I hope we see the wereshark in the other novellas as well. Amanda tackles the murder mystery with her usual flair and it ends with hilarious, yet disgusting results.
Although I greatly enjoyed the novella, I miss the footnotes that were a staple in the previous books. The asides are still there, but not as obvious anymore. They gave Amanda a deranged and irreverant Jane Austen vibe. I also wish the other novellas were out already because I want to know what happens! Definitely recommend for Amanda fans and newbies to the series.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins