Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Claire Cain moves to small town Peculiar, Missouri after surviving a brutal attack in her home town, Chicago. She had exposed a drug ring at her high school to clear her best friend's name after drugs are planted in her locker. Starting over in a small town should be easy, but too many things remind her of Chicago. The day she arrived in Peculiar, a girl named Serena Sims goes missing in a storm just like the one that Claire was attacked in. A few days later, Claire is the one to find her body, crushed by a tree branch and partially devoured by the many feral cats that populate the town. She needs to find out what happened to Serena and her journey for the truth leads to the abandoned basement of her school and the secrets that lay within.

Despite the writing being pretty decent, I just didn't like Feral. It seems to want to be a horror novel, but never quite gets that terrifying. The creepiest parts are when the young girls are attacked. The cats in the town are described being malicious and evil, but this annoyed me more than anything else. Feral cats may be a nuisance, but they aren't evil. I'm also kind of a crazy cat lady, so this part made me roll my eyes like crazy. Also, since the cats are really just for atmosphere, I'm not sure why it merited naming the book after them.

Although Claire has my sympathy for being attacked, I simply didn't like her. She is super smug, entitled, and just not likable. I couldn't relate to her at all. She does pretty offensive things like blaming her best friend for the attack she experienced and not even sending a one sentence text to the same friend who contacted her over and over to see if she's ok. I understand being frustrated that their relationship changed after the attack. It's hard to adjust after something like that and I'm sure it came from a caring place, but that in no way justifies Claire's later actions. The other characters kind of blurred together and lacked dimensions

The book veers into supernatural territory quickly, but in weird and heavy handed ways. For some reason Serena could still feel pain after death and then she possessed a cat and turned evil. There was no real logic to it and no real reason for a murder victim to suddenly turn murderous herself. A fog literally started talking to Claire, which just made me think she was mentally ill rather than experiencing supernatural phenomena. And you can't be suffocated in a car with the heater blowing. That's just ridiculous when air is being blown into the car at warm temperature and I'm supposed to believe the people inside are suffocating. Too much ridiculousness for one book. I was extremely disappointed and likely will not read another book by the same author.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Say What You Will

Amy has been going to school with the same people since she started, but very few people really know her. She has a severe case of cerebral palsy, meaning she can't walk without a walker, speak without a computer, or control her gestures or facial expressions. Adult aides have also helped her in her classes. To make more friends, she decided to employ people her own age in order to prepare for college and become more socialized. Enter Matthew, a sweet boy with obsessive compulsive disorder. He can't go a few hours without counting or tapping things, washing his hands over and over, fear of dirt or germs, and the irrational fear that something he does or doesn't do will inadvertently hurt someone. They become good friends when he works as her aide because he treats her like a real person and doesn't sugarcoat things. Their relationship eventually blossoms into something wholly unexpected.

Right off the bat, Say What You Will was a surprise because Amy's cerebral palsy, a central part of the novel, is omitted from the back cover. I'm not sure why this choice was made because I would definitely been more excited to read it had they included this aspect in the description. Her disability is severe and described accurately without glossing over things. There is no way for her to communicate without outward help: she can't speak or control her gestures or facial expressions. Despite her appearance and her nonverbal state, Amy is very intelligent and excels in school. She has never had any friends her own age, so she's very naive and doesn't know how to deal with people well. Her relationship with Matthew has a lot of extreme highs and lows due to miscommunication and the fact that neither of them has had a very close friend. He's the first person who isn't afraid to tell her the truth and refuses to treat her differently. I loved Amy for her honesty. She told things like they were and held realistic views. The lows she experienced were devastating because it's her first time experiencing rejection or being used or anything involving friends or boyfriends. Her depression and loneliness were written incredibly well and

Matthew was also a compelling and fully realized character. While he looks like a normal kid, he has debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder that isolates him and takes up much of his time. He's in denial about how severe it is despite the fact that it's very noticeable to everyone around him. Because of it, he avoids people, consumed with the irrational fears and compulsions in his mind. Although his issues are less obvious than Amy's, the effect is the same. They help each other out in a lot of ways and the relationship changes both of them dramatically. Most notably, Amy gives Matthew assignments to confront his OCD and he eventually gets professional help as a result. He is fragile in his own way and like Amy, the bad parts of the relationship are felt more keenly. Although their relationship never quite progresses to a full blown romance, their interactions are very sweet and I felt for them.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the story, some parts of it were bothersome. Amy and Matthew would go months without speaking after a fight at least 3 times during the novel. The same situation repeated and the characters learned nothing from it apparently when they regretted it each time. Amy was very analytical in her approach to things, sometimes too much so. She makes the most insensitive decisions sometimes and it's frustrating. The whole third act of the book is very unexpected and I understand why it's there, but I didn't like it. I felt it was sort of preachy and the narrative didn't go into the issues I felt were necessary involving the subject when teens are the target audience.

Say What You Will is a thought provoking novel that deals with disabilities, both those that are easily recognized and those that aren't. It shows that these people are just like any person and they don't deserve to be treated like their fragile or incompetent. I particularly enjoyed the different modes of communication shown: e-mails, instant messages, unsent e-mails, etc. I will definitely keep an eye out for other books by Cammie McGovern.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead

It's Laurel's first year in high school and the first school year without her sister, May, or her mother, who moved to California after May's death. She transferred to a different school so that she wouldn't be pitied and known as the girl whose sister died. Her English teacher assigns a project to write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because he is May's favorite singer and also because she relates to his emotional lyrics.This first letter leads her to write to other dead celebrities, such as Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Judy Garland, and John Keats. Laurel relates her lonely existence, her first friends at her new school, their antics, and her first boyfriend. Unfortunately, her refusal to talk about her issues and her penchant for doing dangerous things drives the people she loves away. Can she work through her issues before she permanently loses her friends or causes sever injury to herself?

Love Letters to the Dead is a very emotional book. Laurel goes through a lot in a very short amount of time and uses her letters to a variety of famous dead people to cope with it. She relates to their lives, their feelings, and their tragedies. I'm surprised that she researched more than what is common knowledge about their lives so that I learned something about them as well. Her letters also describe her new life and how she tries to transform herself. High school has much different expectations than middle school and she wears her sister's cool clothes and changes her habits to fit in. I generally liked Laurel and I felt for her. She's trying to work through her grief and the deep pain she feels while making mistakes along the way. Ava Dellaira employs beautiful, poetic prose that made me relate to Laurel and also made the book easy and enjoyable to read.

Unfortunately, I had quite a few issues with the book. Dellaira's lyrical prose isn't consistent. At times, Laurel writes in short and very simple declarative sentences that are a stark contrast to the lyrical prose that ventures into deep territory. It felt a bit disjointed and weird to me. She befriends Hannah and Natalie who basically peer pressure her into drinking, ditching classes, going to college parties, etc. She doesn't seem to want to actually do these things, but only wants to appear cool to her friends. This is never seen as negative, is never really addressed, and left a bad taste in my mouth. These are also very similar to May's destructive behaviors, but they magically didn't negatively effect Laurel's grades or behavior during school or at home even though she was getting drunk a lot, partying late, etc. I also didn't like her relationship with Sky. The chemistry was forced and the double standards were glaring. Sky expected Laurel to tell him everything while he kept up this mysterious guy facade and kept things from her late into their relationship. It was a bit awkward and the double standard bothered me. I was also shocked that her mother just decided to move out of state and leave her grieving family very soon after such a traumatic event. I felt it was incredibly selfish and pretty much unforgivable, especially when she calls weekly and expects Laurel to be ok with it.

Love Letters to the Dead is a mostly beautifully written novel. I enjoyed Laurel, her journey, and how she related to these dead people. Her story pulled at my heartstrings and took me on an emotional rollercoaster. The book addresses these mostly tragic figures lives well and informs the reader about their lives and their feelings. I did have some significant issues with parts of the story, but I overall enjoyed it.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins