Tag Archives: Secrets

‘Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You’ – Or Is It?

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowy

mePlot: 8/20                                       

The story centers on Darren and his life; his parents’ divorce, his distanced relationship with his best friend and his brother moving away to Ann Arbor to study. My issue with this kind of story is that there aren’t enough plot points and obstacles to keep the reader reading. For such a long story, there isn’t anything compelling the reader to continue on past the first 100 pages. It becomes a battle to finish it rather than a pleasure. The story is an average, basic one.

Narration: 12/20

The narrative framework is something else though – a novel told in lists. The concept drew me in and once you get about ten or so pages into the story, you can lose yourself for a hundred pages or so. Many of the lists are tangential and while this gives the story an interesting quality, it also detracts from plot and character. It reads as more of an attempt to play with literary devices than an opportunity to tell a story. This kind of tangential referencing is fantastic for building character in certain instances but overall, it weakens the story. Realistically, it adds an additional and unnecessary 200 pages to a very long-winded novel.

Character: 7/20

Darren’s character comes through loud and clear and I actually kind of like him up until his Dad comes out and he completely loses it. I get it; he’s upset and confused and constantly questioning his parents and their marriage but at the same time, it’s over-exaggerated and I couldn’t invest any more of my time in him past this point. And it just got worse as the novel went on. Nate was interesting in the beginning but his character wavers so much that he reads like a different character in each scene. The parents are OK for the roles that they’re playing; except maybe the father who’s a bit like a Parenting-101 counselor. I like Zoey but again, there’s isn’t much different about her that I haven’t seen before.

Quality of Writing: 13/20

The writing is great because it’s episodic and Hasak-Lowy manages to infuse character into his lists which I give him credit for. If he had trimmed it back a bit, it would have worked a lot better. Sometimes, the lists run on too long and become chapters, making it difficult to remember what the respective list is about.

Setting: 7/10

The fact that Hasak-Lowy can anchor us in Ann Arbor and Chicago, while writing a novel in lists, is pretty incredible, and much to his merit. It would have worked a lot better if he cut back on some of the lists and let character, setting and the story flow rather than washing us in a muddled tidal wave of all three where we find it difficult to clearly identify where we are, who the key players are and what’s going on. I Google-mapped Ann Arbor and looked at how long the journey is from Chicago. It’s about five hours or thereabouts but what I find interesting, is how badly conveyed and unclear this is in the story.

Comparative Literature: 4/10

The most interesting aspect of the novel is the lists but this is much to the detriment of story and character. It doesn’t offer anything new, apart from what appears to be a gimmick. John Green’s Paper Towns gives us Margo Roth Spiegelman, a mysterious yet humorous character and while the story has its faults, Q’s reaction to her disappearance is appropriate. Darren’s reaction to his Dad coming out is INSANE. I actually cannot imagine anyone acting like that, regardless of the circumstances. It’s supposed to be a coming-of-age novel but when you compare it to its contemporaries, it doesn’t stack up. I’m the first to criticize John Green’s work but he gets you invested and interested in his characters. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has some character issues but overall, it’s a superior caliber of story.

Overall Score: 51/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Slate it: It’s too long-winded and tangential to really invest your time and develop an emphatic to Darren. The unique selling point of this novel is also the final nail in its metaphorical coffin.

Books You May Also Like:

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan – a humorous, coming-of-age story that explores romance, sexuality and friendship

Paper Towns by John Green – a story of love, lies and mysteries

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – a profound story exploring sexuality, drugs, alcohol and depression

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‘Captive’ Captivates The Reader

Captive by A.J. Grainger

9781471122927

Plot: 20/20

Captive tells the story of sixteen-year-old, Robyn Elizabeth Knollys-Green, the Prime Minister’s daughter. Kidnapped and held hostage by a mysterious yet seemingly gentle boy, she discovers some dark truths that threaten to change everything she’s ever known. Grainger knows how to ratchet up the tension. We get just enough insight into Robyn’s family and life to before she’s kidnapped quite early on in the story; a great contrast in establishing what and who she has lost. The tension accumulates gradually like a rising wave, demanding the reader’s attention. It’s a breath of fresh air in a market that has become dominated in recent years with vampires, dystopia and fantasy.

Narration: 20/20

Robyn, as the first person-narrator, is in direct harmony with the story. Her thoughts, her feelings, her perceptions; they all need to be felt first-hand versus the loss of  the closeness to Robyn and her emotions that would be lost in third-person. Her narration sets her tone and her age. We experience her resentment of her father’s position and the discord within her family as if we were there. When she’s being held captive, we see a development in her character, the desire to survive; that one element that keeps her fighting. We get, in ways a more resilient Robyn, but also a more vulnerable narrator.

Character: 17/20

While I like the narrative technique, I did feel like we were getting 80% of Robyn. I thought Grainger could have cranked the dial up to 100% and pushed it further.

“If looking like a boiled sweet were in this season, Michael would be right on trend.”

We get some great sharp descriptions that illuminate Robyn’s character though I wanted more. I wanted there to be no doubt in my mind who Robyn is before she’s kidnapped. What Grainger does sensationally though, is to capture the intricate little details -the traumas, the heightened awareness to pain and sensation, to her senses, her perception of her kidnappers and her environments – beautifully. She crafts Feather, Scar and Talon through their gestures and tones of voice.

Quality of Writing: 18/20

The writing veers dangerously into that area of excessive detail. Sometimes, it just needs to be snipped a bit to get to the point. Aside, from that, the story is told in poetic detail. I love tht Grainger changes it up and the first page of the story is perfect:

“Paris. The coldest winter in thirty years. The shivering limbs of trees pierce the deadened sky in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Ice clings to the abdomen of the Eiffel Tower. My father’s blood is a vivid stain on the white-laced pavement outside the hotel. In the distance, the sirens scream, but they are too far away.”

I love how Grainger personifies the trees and the Eiffel Tower and then, in direct contrast, distorts them with the striking image of Robyn’s father bleeding in the snow.

One of my favourite lines:

“‘Words are a powerful weapon. A single word can change a destiny. You wouldn’t waste a bullet – or a nuclear warhead. Don’t waste a word.'”

Setting: 10/10

After the incident in Paris, we are placed at Number 10 Downing Street, an iconic address that most, if not all, will be familiar with. Grainger’s descriptions are so vivid that one might think she lived there at a point in time. The accuracy of the real-life Downing Street furnishings is irrelevant if she can make the reader believe it.  When they go to visit their grandparents, the journey they take anchors us in Central London, giving non-Londers all that they need to set up the scene and picture the River Thames, Westminster Abbey and Parliament.

Comparative Literature: 10/10

I haven’t read anything quite like this. I’ve read stories where characters are kidnapped or taken hostage but never a story where we get to witness a character’s physical, mental and psychological trauma. It’s fresh and new; a story that deserves to be told.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • A fast-paced, rollercoaster ride of deception, survival and love
  • Poetic detail that will anchor you in the moment
  • A protagonist that the reader will empathize with

Overall Score: 95/100

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January 8, 2015 · 8:59 am

‘The Giver’ Could Have Given More

The Giver by Lois Lowry

 the-giver

Plot: 11/20

Set in a futuristic Utopia, Jonas is selected as the new Receiver of Memory but when the memories show cracks in his perfect society, he starts to discover dark secrets that lie beneath the surface. I enjoyed the story. It could have been choppier in places and especially in the beginning but overall it’s a good read. What irks me though, is the ending. It feels like the story ends in the wrong place, just short of the conclusion. It’s a bit like ending The Hunger Games before Katniss has even entered the arena.

Narration: 15/20

The narration is third-person though focuses solely on Jonas and what he sees and thinks. While I enjoy the narration, I feel as though it hinders the development of Jonas’ character. It enhances the story-telling but ultimately, it makes Jonas read as a dull, hollow fragment.

Character:11/20

While the characterization isn’t anything to shout about, I can understand the rationale behind this. It’s a story set in a futuristic, perfect world where there is no hunger and pain. The people are all essentially clones. When you take away their freedom of choice, you wipe their personalities. The exceptions being Jonas and the Giver. Having said this, a good story hinges on plot and character. I needed one rebellious character to invest in. I think that was meant to be Asher but I think he’s just an OK character. There’s nothing definitive about him; nothing that grasps and demands my attention. I also would have liked to have seen more evolution in Jonas’ character as the secrets started to surface.

Quality of Writing: 10/20

The writing style is simple which would suit the story if it weren’t for the excessive detail. When Jonas is washing one of the Old, he goes into microscopic detail and in moments like these, it’s easy to zone out and forget about the story. There are moments when we’re told what’s happening when the gestures would suffice. At the Assignments ceremony, we’re told that the crowd is “ill at ease”. It’s not necessary. It fills pages but it detracts from getting to know the world, the characters and progressing with the story. It grates on me that everything has to be explained the minute it’s introduced and that it’s the ordinary, everyday objects like doors that get such elaborate descriptions rather than the rituals and happenings with which we are unfamiliar.

Setting: 10/10

Jonas’ world is explained, not only through place, but through his interactions with other characters and his observations. When he speaks with Lily, we learn that there are significant symbols for each age. Fours, Fives and Sixes have jackets that fasten at the back but on their seventh birthday, they receive a jacket that fastens at the front to teach them independence. We learn about Assignments and the system for acquiring children, for the ritual of death with the Old and it is all of these that reinforce the descriptive detail and anchor us in Jonas’ world.

Comparative Literature: 7/10

The book is twenty-years-old so I can’t exactly compare it to dystopian stories from the last five years. The concepts are strong and the world is fully-realised. The characters are somewhat flat. The plot cuts off at the end rather abruptly when it feels like it’s just about to reach a peak, which is disappointing.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Solid world-building technique
  • Somewhat flat characters
  • A ending that leaves the reader feeling cheated

Overall Score: 64/100

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December 28, 2014 · 3:26 pm

The Year of the Rat Will Make you Laugh, Cry and Everything Between

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

The Year of the Rat

Plot: 16/20

The plot is linear. It follows Pearl, chronicling her mother’s death as a result of her sister’s birth, whom she nicknames “The Rat”. It’s a story of loss and acceptance; how Pearl processes what’s happened and gets past it. Furniss really gets inside Pearl’s head and delivers a poignant, tragic journey with humor sparingly-sprinkled throughout. The cathartic lead-up to the conclusion is somewhat clichéd though for the most part, it’s a worthwhile read.

Narration: 16/20

I like Pearl as a character but at times, her narrative voice drilled holes into my head. I wanted to shake her. I recognize that she’s in pain but her hatred towards her sister, which is then turned onto her stepfather and his mother, dissolves into a drawn-out, me-against-the-world narrative. It pulled me out of the emotive world, that bubble of pain and grief, more so than the story world. I understand that Pearl is grieving but there’s only so much I can take before it’s pushed too far. Pearl’s switch between the before and after adds another layer to the story and shows a side to the characters that we might not have otherwise seen.

Character: 14/20

Some notes on character:

  • When Pearl’s Mom looks at their soon-to-be house, she imagines polished floorboards, oriental rugs and their cat, Soot, perched by the fire, dreaming of mice. To which her husband retorts: “‘Dreaming of them? I bet the whole bloody space is invested with them.’” (31) It helps in developing not only character, but adds a touch of humor and dramatizes the setting in speech, allowing us to picture the state of the house;
  • When Pearl clears a square in the condensation of the bus window with her fingers, it reminds me of when I did that as a child and teenager. It’s a universal action that makes Pearl feel more real and less fictional;
  • Pearl asks her mother, when she discovers she’s pregnant, if she can have her leather jacket, remarking that she’ll be “too fat for it soon” (51);
  • “Granny’s going on and on, telling me how concerned they are about me, and how Dad’s got enough to be worried about without me, and how they want to help, but they can’t if I won’t help myself, all interspersed with the whole ‘Here comes the little aeroplane’ bit with The Rat.” These moments, and there are many of them, are golden;
  • She dubs her father’s wife the “Fish-Finger Burner”.

Pearl’s drinking experience, her running away from home, her behaviour at school and her treatment of her family are all natural, given her grief and with her mother still in her life, she finds it hard to process and accept her death. Her stepfather’s reaction is captured brilliantly and while you understand where Pearl is coming from, you can’t help but feel sorry for, and side with, him. The only downside with character is Finn. He feels a bit clichéd compared to the other characters and I’m unsure how necessary he is to the story. He’s a distraction in the story of grief that does not require a love interest and he kind of disappears towards the end.

Quality of Writing: 15/20

“The world may tip at any moment.” I love this line.

Furniss can, no doubt, write and write beautiful words that stick with you, long after you finish the story and sentences that will make you laugh but there are a couple of issues that take away from this.Pearl describes her neighbour as “the old dear next door” (34). This obscures the narrative voice as it sounds like something Pearl’s mother might say. Some of the word choices are a bit odd for a teenager, especially given the kind of teenager Pearl is being painted as, like “laden” (34).

Setting: 10/10

Furniss dramatizes detail and blends it together with character, demonstrating the writing ability of a well-seasoned writer. The scene-setting is at its peak at Ravi’s house. Describing its contents, Pearl adds that it has a “Hello! magazine” (175) effect. It’s sharp and as well as establishing setting, it tells us more about Pearl’s character.

Comparative Literature: 6/10

Death seems to be an increasingly-popular topic in YA lit. Whether it’s suicide, as in Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why and Gayle Forman’s I Was Here or the death of another as in John Green’s Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, death is universal and the way in which these authors deal with death makes it accessible and appealing to readers.

Furniss has a strong plot, with none of the plot holes that TFIOS shares (seriously, what airline, or doctor, for that matter, authorize Hazel to fly when she’s TERMINAL?!) but at the same time, it doesn’t offer us anything terribly new. The mother as a lingering presence/spirit/ghost is a nice touch though not extraordinarily original. I do admire her portrayal though. It’s evident that she was flawed, and as a ghost, still is, though her love for her husband and daughters is clear. Jess Rothenberg’s The Catastrophic History of You and Me takes a unique perspective in telling the story, from the perspective of the girl who has died. Admittedly, the broken heart aspect is questionable but the premise is intriguing. Jay Asher offers a haunting story of a teenager’s suicide, told through a series of tapes. Furniss’ characters are fully-realized people though; people that resemble some that I know in my own life. Though my mother hasn’t died, I can relate to aspects of the story and empathize and engage with the characters. Where the love interest feels like a necessary element in Rothenberg’s narrative, it feels more like an appendix in The Year of the Rat.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • A strong and humorous narrator
  • A gripping story of death, acceptance and family
  • Beautifully-written with funny laugh-out-loud observations and quip
  • Characters that you can identify and engage with

Overall Score: 77/100

Books You May Also Like:

I Was Here by Gayle Forman – for a beautifully-written tale of friendship, secrets and loss. It chronicles Cody’s journey in discovering what drove her best friend, Meg, to commit suicide. Publishes January 2015

Looking for Alaska by John Green – Green’s debut offers a wildcard, chaotic character, Alaska and a story about love and guilt

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg if you want a twist on the death/dying theme and a love story, infused with humor and heartbreak

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Klepto Ghosts Are In And Shorts and Sandals Are Out

Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

Plot: 11/20

Jeff moves to a new private high school where he meets Kimberlee Schaffer; resident ghost. Kimberlee is stuck and needs Jeff’s help to return everything she’s stolen if she’s to move on. Jeff, after disbelief and despite his reluctance, agrees. There are a number of plot holes. Would the American authorities be that lenient? I mean, I’m Irish and maybe they’d be like that in Dublin but I’ve never seen cops like these and I’ve been to the States six times. Secondly, the wrestling team don’t for a second question why they’re returning all of this stolen stuff. It strikes me as a bit weird. And lastly, Pike explains why Kimberlee was so horrible to Sera but I don’t buy it. How can you be so vicious for no real, solid reason? Fair enough if Sera beat her up but she never did anything to her. Interesting premise but poor execution.

Narration: 6/20

The narrative is blurred. Sometimes, you feel like the story is being told by Jeff and other times, most of the time actually, it comes across as a teenage girl. The language is melodramatic and he makes gestures and speaks in a way that emulates the female characters in the story.

Character: 7/20

Besides his melodramatic language and his hyper self-consciousness, there are other instances that make Jeff read as a girl:

  • Why of course, I love basketball. Go team!” (58)
  • He talks about the colour of Sera’s eyelashes under her mascara. At his age, I hadn’t a clue what mascara was. I can’t imagine many guys do, especially ones that don’t have sisters or close girlfriends.
  • He talks about things being “chic” repeatedly.
  • He kisses Sera and notes the vanilla taste of her lip gloss. Who – boy or girl – does this?

Jeff doesn’t read how he should but what about the other characters? Kimberlee is interesting at times but it comes across that she’s a vapid, calculating blonde and that’s about it. There’s no depth, no real emotion. I don’t buy her as a character though she is a breath of fresh air compared to the other characters and she brings a much needed sense of humor. Khail is a caricature jock. Officer Herrera is unlike any cop I’ve ever met. Sera is a funny one too. There’s something about her I just don’t trust. It feels like her character doesn’t come full circle by the end of the story. And don’t get me started on the housekeeper, Tina. When has an actual person ever sounded like this?

Quality of Writing: 8/20

Sometimes, I lost myself in the story and then I’d come to twenty or so pages that would pull me out of the world. It took me almost two weeks to read it. I was reading other books alongside it to try and maintain my interest. Poor word choices don’t help. On one occasion. Jeff slurs his words when he’s eating with Sera. Is he drunk? Because I associate someone slurring with drunkenness or someone having a stroke. Is Jeff having a stroke? Sadly, no. There’s another 200+ pages to work through.

Setting: 5/10

I believe the high school setting I’m in but I feel that the unintentional boy-girl narrative viewpoint takes away from it. I also would have liked Pike to have dramatized more of the detail and added something to make it more special and memorable and set it apart from the thousands of other novels that are set in high schools.

Comparative Literature: 4/10

It lacks the excitement of a paranormal story and as a high school tale of drama, secrets and crushes, it’s about as exciting and enticing as having to take out the garbage on a Monday morning when you’ve overslept and you’re running out the door to catch the bus for work. If you’re going to go down the route of paranormal twists, you need to commit and make the supernatural element read strong. Pike focuses too much on the ordinary and not enough on the extraordinary. Jeff focuses more on Sera then the resident ghost in his bedroom.

Alyxandra Harvey’s Haunting Violet takes a similar angle but Violet reacts appropriately to the ghosts she sees and it’s undoubtedly the focal point of the story. Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed focuses on Helen and Lucas, their love and their hatred for each other. It’s set in a typical high school, a school that’s not unlike hundreds, if not thousands of others, around the States. What makes the story different is the mystery and passion between the two main characters. Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You takes a simple high school location but hers is a school for spies. The setting sticks in your mind as strongly as the sense of character and the plot. Life After Theft achieves nothing short of failure or, at the very least, sub-standard results in most categories. Luckily, I got the book for free. I don’t think this book is worth the paper it’s printed on.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Weak characters that come off as flat caricatures
  • A setting that’s like every other high school in every other American YA story
  • A strong premise but weak delivery
  • A male narrator that reads as a teenage girl

Overall Score: 41/100

Books You May Also Like:

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini – if you’re looking for a paranormal element with a pacy narrative and a strong romantic element

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey – if you want to see how ghosts in YA should be done with a personable narrator and interesting, 3-Dimensional characters (I can’t recommend this book enough!!)

I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter – if you want a high school experience with a twist (and a bit of character!)

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Don’t Even Think About It

Think

Title: Don’t Even Think About It

Author: Sarah Mlynowski

Publisher: Orchard Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 299

Plot:

The plot is pretty straightforward. The 10b Homeroom class  acquire telepathy through botched flu shots. I was never on the edge of my seat reading this. It took me almost a week to read because I kept putting it down and picking it up. I don’t buy the “scientific” explanation for the telepathy. It strikes me as more of a cop-out than an explanation. There’s no real sense of plot either. Just an event and the after-effects more than a story. The characters all have their own personal dramas but none of it feels real or relatable. And it’s predictable to the point where it starts to feel like one, big cliché. Also, Brinn tells everyone to skip donuts, at one point, in case they’ve been spiked with the antidote but if that’s the case and it can be ingested, then why are they getting injections?

6/20

Narration:

The narration confused me at first. I like the idea that everyone is telling the narrative. I like those moments, in particular, where we’re reminded of it:

  • “We think her best jeans were actually the ones with the frayed bottoms.” (75)
  • “He tried to avoid us when he could. He couldn’t stand our sympathy.” (197)
  • “We all thought it at the same time – Renée.” (183)

But overall, it kinda annoys me and it feels far to clinical. I don’t feel like the narrative style was altogether thought through. I didn’t buy the characters’ telepathic thoughts either. Would teenagers actually think so mechanically? I’m only 23 but I still should be able to relate to the teenagers on some level or at least coming away thinking, “yep, sounds like sixteen-year-old me” or “yep, sounds like something my sister might think”.

8/20

Character:

The characters are about as flat as the tyres on my bike –  there’s no air in them. They all feel kind of one-dimensional and by the end, I wasn’t sure who was who (and not because I can’t keep track – I’ve read The Bone Season for crying out loud!) and the girls all felt the same. There were no distinguishing characteristics. I had high hopes for Pi since she was so different but by the end of the book, I didn’t even buy her evolution. The only character I sort of believed was Cooper’s sister – Ashley. Here’s an image that sums up the characters in this book:

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3/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing made me feel like I was being spoon-fed. I wondered if I needed to know every little detail; if it was all relevant. I would have preferred to have had the information sliced in instead of being overloaded with scene-setting and backstory that takes me out of the scene, like when we hear all about Pi’s choices to try and achieve a higher IQ. I mean, why do I need to know ALL of that and even if it is important, could it not be condensed? If it’s supposed to support her character, I should be able to tell what sort of person she is by her actions and reactions. Not to pages upon pages telling me about the things she does to boost her IQ.

5/20

Setting:

The story is set in and around Tribeca and centred mostly at BHS (Bloomberg High School) but it feels like it could be anywhere. There’s no anchoring details, nothing to support this or give it an air of authenticity unlike the works of other YA authors such as Tanya Byrne or Cat Clarke. It could be set in any part of the States and I wouldn’t know the difference.

2/10

Comparative Literature:

The concluding explanation feels disingenuous and doesn’t feel credible. When you look at Michael Grant’s FAYZ series, you get a sense of character, place, narrative, world and an explanation that matches up to how grand the events are in each book of the six-part series. I get none of that from Mlynowski’s novel. I give her a four for trying to do something a bit different and trying to bring something extraordinary to the ordinary but I won’t give any more based on the fact that the book is a bit of a snooze and offers practically nothing new to the genre. Props for experimenting with narrative though it wasn’t properly thought through and it wasn’t pushed as far it could have been.

4/10

Overall Score:

28/100

Summary:

It’s a Just-Ham kinda book. It’s got nothing on a BLT.

Books You May Also Like:

Think

Title: Don’t Even Think About It

Author: Sarah Mlynowski

Publisher: Orchard Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 299

Plot:

The plot is pretty straightforward. The 10b Homeroom class  acquire telepathy through botched flu shots. I was never on the edge of my seat reading this. It took me almost a week to read because I kept putting it down and picking it up. I don’t buy the “scientific” explanation for the telepathy. It strikes me as more of a cop-out than an explanation. There’s no real sense of plot either. Just an event and the after-effects more than a story. The characters all have their own personal dramas but none of it feels real or relatable. And it’s predictable to the point where it starts to feel like one, big cliché. Also, Brinn tells everyone to skip donuts, at one point, in case they’ve been spiked with the antidote but if that’s the case and it can be ingested, then why are they getting injections?

6/20

Narration:

The narration confused me at first. I like the idea that everyone is telling the narrative. I like those moments, in particular, where we’re reminded of it:

  • “We think her best jeans were actually the ones with the frayed bottoms.” (75)
  • “He tried to avoid us when he could. He couldn’t stand our sympathy.” (197)
  • “We all thought it at the same time – Renée.” (183)

But overall, it kinda annoys me and it feels far to clinical. I don’t feel like the narrative style was altogether thought through. I didn’t buy the characters’ telepathic thoughts either. Would teenagers actually think so mechanically? I’m only 23 but I still should be able to relate to the teenagers on some level or at least coming away thinking, “yep, sounds like sixteen-year-old me” or “yep, sounds like something my sister might think”.

8/20

Character:

The characters are about as flat as the tyres on my bike –  there’s no air in them. They all feel kind of one-dimensional and by the end, I wasn’t sure who was who (and not because I can’t keep track – I’ve read The Bone Season for crying out loud!) and the girls all felt the same. There were no distinguishing characteristics. I had high hopes for Pi since she was so different but by the end of the book, I didn’t even buy her evolution. The only character I sort of believed was Cooper’s sister – Ashley. Here’s an image that sums up the characters in this book:

tt

3/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing made me feel like I was being spoon-fed. I wondered if I needed to know every little detail; if it was all relevant. I would have preferred to have had the information sliced in instead of being overloaded with scene-setting and backstory that takes me out of the scene, like when we hear all about Pi’s choices to try and achieve a higher IQ. I mean, why do I need to know ALL of that and even if it is important, could it not be condensed? If it’s supposed to support her character, I should be able to tell what sort of person she is by her actions and reactions. Not to pages upon pages telling me about the things she does to boost her IQ.

5/20

Setting:

The story is set in and around Tribeca and centred mostly at BHS (Bloomberg High School) but it feels like it could be anywhere. There’s no anchoring details, nothing to support this or give it an air of authenticity unlike the works of other YA authors such as Tanya Byrne or Cat Clarke. It could be set in any part of the States and I wouldn’t know the difference.

2/10

Comparative Literature:

The concluding explanation feels disingenuous and doesn’t feel credible. When you look at Michael Grant’s FAYZ series, you get a sense of character, place, narrative, world and an explanation that matches up to how grand the events are in each book of the six-part series. I get none of that from Mlynowski’s novel. I give her a four for trying to do something a bit different and trying to bring something extraordinary to the ordinary but I won’t give any more based on the fact that the book is a bit of a snooze and offers practically nothing new to the genre. Props for experimenting with narrative though it wasn’t properly thought through and it wasn’t pushed as far it could have been.

4/10

Overall Score:

28/100

Summary:

It’s a Just-Ham kinda book. It’s got nothing on a BLT.

Books You May Also Like:

Eve and Adam by Michael Grant – for better world-building, a story about the limits of science and humorous and varied narrative perspectives

FAYZ series by Michael Grant – for better world-building and a similar journey of teenagers getting paranormal abilities (from ordinary to extraordinary)

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July 17, 2014 · 9:01 am

Skullduggery Pleasant: Armageddon Outta Here

 skullduggery

Title: Skullduggery Pleasant: Armageddon Outta Here

Author: Derek Landy

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 500

Plot:

Since it’s a short-story collection (with two novellas), there’s no plot per se. Each story reveals a little bit more about Landy’s world and in some cases, shines a light on some of the questions raised in the novels (like how Valkyrie met Caelan), further enriching the series.

20/20

Narration:

Same Landy-ian style of narration. It works so well in his books and it works particularly well for the short stories since he can focus on one character in each story.

20/20

Character:

It goes without saying that Landy’s imagination is wicked but I like how he ran character competitions for his fans so they could participate and feel apart of the world.

20/20

Quality of Writing:

Do I really need to inflate Landy’s ego by saying how well-written this is? No? Didn’t think so.

20/20

Setting:

Great world-building and scenes and locations are described through dramatisations and witty remarks, avoiding lengthy chunks of scene-setting – a trap which many authors tend to fall into.

10/10

Comparative Literature:

Landy creates a world that rival the dystopian worlds of The Hunger Games and Divergent and characters as memorable as those from iconic texts ranging from Harry Potter to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

10/10

Overall Score:

100/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • Great characterisation
  • New and interesting characters
  • High quality writing that makes you feel as though you could be watching a movie
  • Short story form is easy to read and adds layers to the series

Books You May Also Like:

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – for another story with a witty, anti-hero about magic and the good and bad within all of us

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White – for more great world-building and a story packed full of humour and action

Skullduggery Pleasant novels – for more humour, action and insight into the Skullduggery world

The Maleficent Sevenfor humour, action and a fresh story around one of Landy’s most loved characters 

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Allegiant

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Title: Allegiant

Author: Veronica Roth

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series

Pages: 526

Plot:

The plot leaves us where the second book ended. The faction system has been abolished and Tris and her friends are awaiting trial. Although the faction system is gone, the lack of freedom remains. Evelyn tells everyone that they have choices as long as they don’t stay loyal to the factions – which is brutally enforced – and it isn’t long before Tris and Tobias realise this. I have a couple of issues with the plot. Firstly, Edith Prior has her memory wiped and it’s suggested that this is because she must have seen something terrible but it’s never actually specified and though we could deduce that it’s associated with the fringe, it would have more impact if we knew exactly what she saw or endured. Secondly, we know that David loved Tris’ mother. That’s not a spoiler. You can see that clearly very early on it’s hinted that the code to the Weapons lab could be her mother’s name. Maybe I’m reading to much into this (?) but if this is the case, it creates a flaw in Tris’ character in that she’s not all that smart and a flaw in the plot. I also don’t feel that the world is fully realised; that the superiors of the Bureau would just accept the conclusion to the events. Worse than this, Jeanine’s connection is never fully explained and it just confuses things. The Bureau send in Tris’ mother to save the Divergents but give Jeanine the attack simulation to weed out and exterminate the Divergents? This makes zero sense. The whole outside the fence explanation is weak as well. Experiments to promote good genes and rid the world of bad genes. Overly ambitious, wholly unnecessary and 100% ludicrous. Genetics is a branch of science but you can’t eradicate bad genes, especially not in the crazy experiments the Bureau carries out. The ending feels like a bit of a let-down, given the build-up of tension across three novels.

5/20

Narration:

The narration doesn’t work for me as well as it did in the previous instalments. Tobias’ episodic glimpses at the end convey more of his character than I get throughout the novel. There’s no real distinction between Tris and Tobias. For the most part, they’re together and Tobias doesn’t offer us much more insight to their world. If you covered the name, you still wouldn’t really have any clue who’s speaking because both voices are pretty much the same. And worse, the narrative styles become so similar that you have to constantly remind yourself who’s speaking.

14/20

Character:

I love the characters in Roth’s world. I love Tris as the self-sacrificing hero – the one who runs into battles to protect the ones she loves – even though she probably irritates most people. She’s not dissimilar to Katniss in The Hunger Games. I like Tobias and the relationship he has with his mother and his parents in themselves are interesting characters and their conflict adds a spark to the story – a sense of conflict and much-needed tension. Cara really grew on me. As always, I love Christina and how much she’s grown since the first book. And though this might sound unusual, I have soft spot for Johanna Reyes. The most important thing for me is that Roth’s characters are consistent and they evolve and change with each book. I didn’t buy David as an antagonist. He wasn’t as formidable as either Evelyn or Jeanine even though he has more power than both. I question the concluding moments of Tobias’ and Evelyn’s relationship. I’m not going to spoil anything but yeah, seems like a quick way to tie up loose ends.

14/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing quality is superb, There are some beautiful phrases and analogies:

  • “But now I know I am like the blade and he is like the whetstone- I am too strong to break so easily, and I become better, sharper, every time I touch him.” (416)
  • “I look at her, and I can see the way time has worn her like an old piece of cloth, the fibers exposed and fraying.” (463)

Just a couple of example but Roth avoids clichés and writes in a way that connects back to her characters and the world she has created.

20/20

Setting:

Similar to Lu’s world in the Legend trilogy, Roth focuses on a small aspect of her world – the Dauntless compound – in Divergent, zooms out on the faction system, exploring Amity and Erudite among other areas and zooms out further again in the final book demonstrating just how small their world is and showing us that the people in the experiment never had any power to begin with.

10/10

Comparative Literature:

The style is similar to Lu in that we see more and more of the world with each book though, unlike the Legend trilogy, Tris’ and Tobias’ voices aren’t distinguishable like June’s and Day’s. It’s a faster-paced novel than the Ally Condie’s Matched series thought the parameters aren’t always as clear. Like The Hunger Games, the conclusion of the trilogy falls short of the first and second books though The Hunger Games offers continued action and brutal force from a cruel, calculating leader in President Snow unlike David who doesn’t seem that altogether for the most part.

4/10

Overall Score:

67/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • An interesting world divided into factions
  • A daring hero that must fight to survive
  • Great fight scenes
  • An explanation that might leave you baffled
  • Plot holes that compound your confusion

Books You May Also Like:

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – if you loved the dual points of view and the cruelty in this dystopian world

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – if you loved the savagery and brutality of Roth’s world

Legend by Marie Lu – for a corrupt, dystopian world, lots of action and strong male and female protagonists

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The Maleficent Seven

The Maleficent Seven

Title: The Maleficent Seven

Author: Derek Landy

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Series – Novella (offshoot) from the Skullduggery Pleasant series

Pages: 288 

Plot:

The plot centres around Tanith Low, who assembles a group of criminals, and Dexter Vex, who assembles a team of good guys, who race to find the four God-Killer weapons. Tanith wants to destroy them so that Darquesse, when she emerges, won’t be harmed and Dexter wants to stash the weapons away so they have a way of defeating her. You know from the start what you’re going to get in a Landy novel: explosive action, incomparable wit and OMG moments throughout. The story delivers on every level and even in a short novella, Landy manages to provide twists and turns and weave lies and secrets into the plot. A beginning that will pique your interest, a middle that will keep you reading and an action-packed ending.

20/20

Narration:

The third-person, omniscient style of narration is consistent with the series. As is usual in Landy’s novels, we get to observe different characters and Landy keeps us in the dark, moving to a different character and leaving us with a burning desire to find out what happens next. The voice is funny, creates dramatic suspense and ratchets the tension.

20/20

Character:

Some of the characters we’ve met in the other Skullduggery novels but some are new like Sabine and Black Annis and fit perfectly into Landy’s world. Tanith is the breakout star for me but there’s so many great characters within the novella, each with the certified, Landy stamp of approval.

20/20

Quality of Writing:

The writing is a joy to read. The words all but flow off the page and paint the picture. I especially love how Landy demonstrates and differentiates between the old Tanith and The Remnant Tanith. He’s able to show just how cruel and brutal she’s willing to be to get what she wants.

20/20

Setting:

Again, Landy doesn’t fail when it comes to his settings. From the English Sanctuary to Jackie Earl’s compound in Chicago, we get the full experience.

10/10

Comparative Literature:

Landy creates a world in the Skullduggery Pleasant series and is able to build upon and reinforce it in this novella. He does this with an incomparable wit and an imagination to rival top children’s authors. Landy creates worlds that rival the dystopian worlds of The Hunger Games and Divergent and characters as memorable as those from iconic texts ranging from Harry Potter to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

10/10

Overall Score:

100/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • Great characterization
  • New and interesting characters
  • High quality writing that makes you feel as though you could be watching a movie
  • Incomparable wit and explosive action throughout

Books You May Also Like:

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – for another story about magic and the good and bad within all of us

 

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White – for more great world-building and a story packed full of humour and action

 

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins – for another story of magic, betrayal and secrets

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May 30, 2014 · 8:52 pm

Out Of The Easy

Out of the Easy

Title: Out Of The Easy

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Penguin Books

Format: Paperback

Standalone/Series: Standalone

Pages: 352

Plot:

The plot isn’t overly complex. Josie is the seventeen-year-old daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans. She wants to escape but becomes entangled in a murder investigation. The plot is linear with lots of twists and turns that will keep you reading to the last page.

20/20

Narration:

Josie tells the story in intimate, touching detail. Her struggle and her survivalist nature come through loud and clear, and her narrative voice is so strong that we feel what Josie feels. She’s a sharp character that will make you laugh but also have your heart hammering in your chest in those in-the-action moments.

20/20

Character:

You know you’ve read a fantastic book when you struggle to pick a favourite character. I think I’d have to choose Willie (with Josie’s mother as a close second. But I love Josie too… It’s a three-way tie!) Anyway, Sepetys crafts a great spectrum of layered characters, each changed by the time the story concludes.

20/20

Quality of Writing:

What can I say? The writing is sharper than a shard of glass. I can’t add more than that. Perfection.

Some of my personal favourites:

  • “‘Well, I got school. I read. I cook, I clean, and I make martinis for Mother.'” (5) (Josie at seven-years-old)
  • “‘Honestly, Louise, a seven-year-old bartender?'” (7)
  • “She always said she could make tea in a tornado.” (210)
  • “I looked at Willie, dressed in all black, with chianti lips and eyes that would send a snake slithering back into its hole.”

20/20

Setting:

I’ve never been to New Orleans and that doesn’t matter. I get a vivid image of the French Quarter with description sliced into scenes rather than overwhelming the reader with pages of description. The brothel, the book shop, John Lockwell’s office – they all feel like real places and we really envision the picture that Sepetys is trying to paint.

10/10

Comparative Literature:

I’ve not sure what more I can add. Flawless writing, a street-savvy, funny narrator and a story that you’ll find hard to forget.

10/10

Overall Score:

100/100

NOW SKIP TO THE GOOD BIT…

  • Likeable narrator
  • Love-them and hate-them characters
  • Vivid setting

Books You May Also Like:

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys – for more of the same sharp writing style

The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene – for another survival story that will stay with you long after you read it

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May 7, 2014 · 7:47 am