Friday, September 28, 2012

October Mourning by Lesléa Newman

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman

Release Date: September 25th 2012
Pages: 128
Format: E-book/Hardcover
Source: Netgalley/Publisher
Publisher: Candlewick
Buy It: Book Depository
On the night of October 6, 1998, twenty-one-year-old college student Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Leslea Newman. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered and remained haunted by Matthew's murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her response to the events of that tragic day.
There are some events that are so important to remember because of their complete horror, and the reminder that they serve not to let such things happen again. I think Matthew Shepard's brutal beating and murder, simply for being gay, is one of those events. In October Mourning, Newman reimagines what those final moments were like for Shepard, written from a variety of perspectives including inanimate objects like the fence he was tied to. It's both a collection of poetry and a novel-in-verse, as Newman says the book is meant to be read in order, and together it tells a definite story.

In some ways, Newman's style of telling the story reminded me of Ellen Hopkins, for her ways of playing with formatting, occasional rhyme, and even scattering words across a page when the poem called for it, like in "Stars". Despite its serious nature, October Mourning is a collection with a sense of humour, telling the events from the perspective of the road, the truck, or even the clotheslines (a poem which begins "They strung me along / I got tangled up").

The problem for me, was that the collection often seemed too concerned with being clever, like in "Once Upon a Time", where Newman begins "Once I hung out in bars / Now I hang out behind bars". Occasionally, it feels like she scarifies the raw emotion that is where October Mourning is most powerful, and swaps it out for a snappy ending like in "Raising Awareness", where she writes "It was gay awareness week / He was caught unaware".

Overall, October Mourning was great to see for a YA audience, but I did find some of the poems were a little too clever for their own good. While Shepard's murder is a horrific event that will always be engrained in my memory, I'm not sure I can say the same for Newman's book. The more emotional pieces in October Mourning, like "How to Have the Worst Day of Your Life", were good, but while the subject matter of the book was heart-breaking and important, from the perspective of a reader, I wanted more from the collection as a whole.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver

Honestly, I can't imagine a book with Lauren Oliver's name on the cover that I wouldn't pick up. She's just that amazing. So of course I had to read her latest novel, the middle grade fantasy tale, The Spindlers. Even though it's not a genre I read a lot of, I adored Oliver's first middle grade title, Liesl & Po and in fact even refer to it as one of my favourite books (because it is). In fact, I was so excited to read The Spindlers that I forced myself to hold onto it for about a month before I did– just because when I finished reading it I would be out of Oliver books to read until 2013. All that to say, I had high expectations.

And did The Spindlers meet my expectations?

Unfortunately, no.

That's not to say this story, about a young girl, Liza, who goes on an underground quest to find her brother's soul, which was stolen by the spindlers, wasn't a cute and fun read. But it wasn't blow-me-away-amazing either. It was okay. And with Oliver, I just expect more than that.

What The Spindlers is, is a great book for the intended audience, but it doesn't have the universal transcendence that Liesl & Po did. Some of my problems with the book included how slow the storytelling was, I put it down quite a few times during its 250 pages and I wasn't excited to go back. I wasn't riveted and pulled in a million directions and put back together. If anything, I was a bit confused. On her journey, Liza is accompanied by a rat of the same size she is. I was never sure if Liza shrunk when she went under her house, or if the rat grew. The setting itself wasn't that vivid, there was just a lot of mentions of dirt. Even the characters, which Oliver is usually so amazingly skilled at, just felt okay. I wasn't especially rooting for Liza, because I didn't feel like I really knew her.

The whole time I was reading The Spindlers, I couldn't help being reminded of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, which is a book I absolutely adore. But unlike Gaiman, Oliver's world isn't the creepy, her characters– even the bad ones– don't feel that scary. And even the plot doesn't feel original. There's a series of obstacles in the way of Liza finding her brother, but I never found myself breathless with anticipation on if she was going to succeed. I honestly didn't care that much, because everything was predictable and even the "big" twist didn't surprise me.

It's really hard to focus on the positive of The Spindlers because I was so incredibly disappointed by it. I love-love-love Lauren Oliver's writing, but this is a book that is cute. It's a book that's fun and charming, there's a talking rat I loved and some adults that don't understand their children. There are some unique and interesting creatures. Overall, The Spindlers is an okay middle-grade novel, and while I certainly haven't given up on Oliver, when it comes to her storytelling– okay is just so much less than what I expect.

Release Date: October 2nd 2012   Pages: 256  Format: ARC  Source: Publisher  
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada  Buy It: Book Depository | Amazon Canada Also By This Author: MG– Liesl & Po; YA– Before I Fall; Delirium (Delirium #1); Pandemonium (Delirium #2)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Scorch by Gina Damico

Note: This review contains no spoilers of Scorch, but may contain spoilers of the first book in the series, Croak, a review of which can be found here.
Gina Damico's debut novel, Croak, about the teenage grim reaper Lex, absolutely blew me away with its intensity and hilarity, and so I was incredibly excited to pick up the sequel Scorch. It did not disappoint!

In Scorch, Lex is left behind to pick up the pieces after Zara– off on a murderous rampage– takes her twin sister's life, and her own ability to damn. Combined with Zara's thirst for vengeance, things aren't looking good. But Lex has her own craving, and no matter what it costs, she's going to make Zara pay for killing her sister.

Like the best sequels, Scorch builds on the foundation Damico laid in Croak but ups the stakes, the action, everything. The result is incredibly exciting, but also clever, well-written, and heart-wrenching. It's the kind of mix that Damico manages to balance so well. In less skilled hands, Scorch would have been a confusing mess. There are a lot of elements at play, and a lot of twists and turns along the way. But what Damico has written is a complicated and thrilling story that will keep the reader turning the page, and will definitely offer up some surprises in the well-structured plot.

There's a lot more history and background in Scorch, and the reader also gets a chance to visit another Grim city, which I loved– although it was around then that I found the story slowed down and became temporarily about Lex getting dressed up and not about catching a serial killer. Luckily, the pace picks right back up, and ends with a huge punch in the gut that has left me gasping for the final book in this trilogy. There is an element of the story, that whole punching in the gut part, that I'm not totally in love with yet and so I'm excited to see where Damico takes it and if she wins me over like I expect she will. After having been thrilled by the awesome wit and exciting story that Scorch provided, I will absolutely be picking up the final book in 2013. So far, this is a great series from a talented new author. Damico has definitely earned her place on my 'must read' list.

Release Date: September 25th 2012  Pages: 352  Format: ARC
: Thomas Allen & Son Ltd  Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Also By This Author
: Croak (Croak #1)  Buy It: Book Depository

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Promised by Caragh M. O'Brien

Note: This review contains no spoilers of Promised, but does contain spoilers of the first book in the series, Birthmarked, a review of which can be found here, and the second book Prized, a review of which can be found here
Promised (Birthmarked #3) by Caragh M. O'Brien

Release Date
: October 2nd 2012
Pages: 304
Format: E-galley
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Also by this Author: Birthmarked (Birthmarked #1); Tortured (Birthmarked #1.5); Prized (Birthmarked #2)
Buy It: Book Depository
After defying the ruthless Enclave, surviving the wasteland, and upending the rigid matriarchy of Sylum, Gaia Stone now faces her biggest challenge ever. She must lead the people of Sylum back to the Enclave and persuade the Protectorat to grant them refuge from the wasteland. In Gaia's absence, the Enclave has grown more cruel, more desperate to experiment on mothers from outside the wall, and now the stakes of cooperating or rebelling have never been higher.
What a satisfying ending to an incredible trilogy! Probably the strangest thing about the first two books in the Birthmarked Trilogy, Birthmarked and Prized, is how different they are. They pretty much tell two entirely disconnected stories so that even though I enjoyed both of them immensely, I sorta wondered what they were doing together. Promised answers that question, and brings the whole series together in a way that makes sense. It's also an action-packed and emotional journey, but completely worthwhile.

One of my complaints about Prized was that I felt Gaia, who had been such an incredibly strong main character in the first book, just didn't have the same power behind her. Even though there were reasons for that, I missed the Gaia from Birthmarked and I'm happy to report that she's back in full force in Promised. However, there were a few times when Gaia had me scratching my head, especially when it came to the romance, including her relationship with Leon.

Because the two worlds, Sylum and the Enclave, meet up, there are a lot of characters in the novel, some of whom I probably would have remember better and cared more about if I hadn't been picking up the novels nearly a year apart. Still, I definitely liked knowing how everyone ended up and what I'd missed while Gaia was busy elsewhere in Prized.

Promised has drama and emotion, plus lots of character development. Still, even though it was a technically perfect book three, there was something about it that just didn't have quite the spark of Birthmarked which is definitely my favourite book of the trilogy, or even Prized. I wonder if part of it is that with the romance settled, the major source of tension for Gaia is far more external, which means there's a bit more distance between the reader and her struggle. It is only near the end of the novel that this struggle becomes incredibly personal to Gaia, and that was the part of the book that had the most impact on me. There definitely some moments with Gaia that left me near tears.

As always, O'Brien has written a really unique story with plenty of twists and Promised provides a great end to an action-packed and emotional trilogy. Definitely one of my favourite dystopian series!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Intentions by Deborah Heiligman

Intentions by Deborah Heiligman

Release Date
: August 14th 2012
Pages: 272
Format: E-galley
Source: NetGalley/Publisher
Publisher: Random House
Buy It: Book Depository
Rachel thought she was grown up enough to accept that no one is perfect. Her parents argue, her grandmother has been acting strangely, and her best friend doesn't want to talk to her. But none of that could have prepared her for what she overheard in her synagogue's sanctuary. Now Rachel's trust in the people she loves is shattered, and her newfound cynicism leads to reckless rebellion. Her friends and family hardly recognize her, and worse, she can hardly recognize herself.
For a book I was so incredibly excited to read, I had a few issues with Intentions which combined to result in a novel that I enjoyed, but wasn't the earth-shattering amazing that I was hoping for.

One of the ten commandments is not to God's name in vain, so it was off-putting to me that Rachel, as a supposedly religious girl, is constantly doing so. Even within the first few pages– which take place in a synagogue!– she says "Oh God. I need to stop thinking. I need just to BE.", "God it was an awful day", "For God's sake", and later, "oh my God," and "God, I'm such an idiot". In fact, the overuse of the term became grating, as well as annoying because it didn't fit with the character's beliefs. 

I was also confused as to why all the "Jewish" words, like bima and mikvah and kavanah, were in italics. It's not as if there's a glossary at the end of the novel, and Heiligman does a good job of explaining what they mean in context, for readers who might not know. So the italics were jarring and bothersome for me as a reader.

Finally, Rachel seems to fall asleep A LOT. Like on couches, in cars, naps, on the cot at school, in the middle of the floor– she even falls asleep standing at a locker! There's another, really dramatic scene, and in the middle of it she puts her head down on a counter is thinking of falling asleep again until she gets interrupted. I get that sleep can be a way not to deal with things, but honestly, it seemed like every time the author wanted to mark the passing of time, or didn't know how to transition to the next scene, she had Rachel fall asleep. It came across more like a health issue, I kept waiting to learn Rachel was low in iron or suffered from narcolepsy.

Those complaints aside, there was a lot I enjoyed about Intentions. It was refreshing to read a novel about a Jewish teen, as there doesn't seem to be a lot of Jewish YA out there. Rachel also had a sense of humour that I enjoyed. When describing a boy she finds attractive, she says, "he's tall, blond, Nordic-looking. Definitely not Jewish. His ancestors probably murdered my ancestors." There's also an incredibly realistic scene where Rachel is stoned, but doesn't want to admit it, that had me chuckling.

There is a lot of drama and tragedy in Intentions, but mixed in are some touching moments, especially between Rachel and her boyfriend Jake. There is also a lot of reckless, which could also be described as stupidity, moments where I wanted to shake Rachel in the book and tell her not to be so dumb; but I guess that is part of being a teenager.

There are two small portions of the book, one at the very beginning, and one at the very end, which take place ten years later. I didn't think they were necessary, and in fact I didn't like them. As a reader, I don't always need to know everything, and it was weird to go from old, mature Rachel to Rachel as a teen, but without any of the reflection mature Rachel might have had– because this is YA after all, so I don't know what the point was.

Finally, the entire concern of God and Rachel's belief or disbelief, seemed like a throwaway. For such an important issue, if it's going to be addressed, I definitely wanted more out of it than a couple paragraphs of pondering, and then later, a complete reversal of feelings without any explanation whatsoever. 

Overall, Intentions is far from perfect, and I was likely harder on it because I wanted so much out of it, but it had a charming sense of humour as well as some touching scenes that made for an enjoyable book.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

So L.A. by Bridget Hoida

Bridget Hoida's debut novel, So L.A. is a vibrant and original portrayal of the title city and what lies beneath its fake tan and rhinestone exterior. 

As a teenager, Francesca Lia Block was one of my very favourite authors, and that included her Weetzie Bat series. Honestly, So L.A. reminds me of a grown up version of Weetzie Bat. Not because of the characters specifically but because of the overall atmosphere of the story.

I'm not sure if this is the fault of a smaller scale publishing house, or just usual human error, but there were some glaring typos in So L.A., such as 'corner' instead of 'coroner' and 'he' instead of 'she' and maybe even more that I might have missed because I didn't know the word in the first place, like "Negro Modelo" which when I googled seemed to indicate pretty clearly that the alcoholic beverage is actually called "Negra Modelo". So that was definitely annoying. And yes, unfortunately I have to point these things out because they took me out of the smoggy and gritty world Hoida created and disrupted my reading experience.

But typos asides, So L.A. is a gorgeous book. The narrator, Magdalena, is fascinating. On the surface she's the perfect LA woman, but beneath it she's got a lot of issues that the reader gets to explore. I found her back story incredibly interesting when it came to her brother, and less so with some of the other aspects like her husband and the Jennifers (I won't explain that further so as not to spoil anything). 

The best thing about So L.A. is the writing. The book is divided up into tiny sections, some are only a page long, like scenes from a movie. If it were a film, it would be a film noir, dark and sharp in its details. Magdalena isn't the kind of girl you can relate to, and I didn't emotionally connect to her at all, but I still found her fascinating to read about. In So L.A. Hoida provides a glimpse into another world, one that I wouldn't want to live in but that I was happy to visit through her vivid and beautiful words.

Release Date: June 20th 2012  Pages: 384  Format: Paperback 
Source: TLC Book Tours  Publisher: Lettered Press  Buy It: Book Depository 

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Y by Marjorie Celona

Y is a heartbreaking and beautifully written debut from Canadian author Marjorie Celona, and it captivated me from the first word till the very end.

It's the story of a newborn baby, abandoned at a YMCA on Vancouver island. Her name is Shannon, and her story alternates with that of her mother, a young and desperate woman named Yula, describing the events that lead up to her abandoning Shannon.

Although Shannon's life begins in a harsh and shocking way, after several years in fostercare she finally ends up in a home with Miranda and her daughter, Lydia-Rose, who is the same age as Shannon. But even as she has her first twisted taste of what a real family feels like, there is a hole in Shannon. There is always, the question– why?

Shannon wants to know the truth about her mother, and so does the reader. But Celona reveals it in a slow and tantalizing way, sharing the details so that by the time Y is finished you've learned more about the characters than you ever realized you were. More about life.

Y is a delicate and vivid story, the words flow easily and the characters are complicated and human. Often, when a story is divided into two time periods there will be some abruptness to the transition between chapters, but not with Celona's writing. There's also usually a preferred storyline– and if I had to choose, it would probably be Yula's, but I was nearly as eager to read about Shannon's self-discovery. I suppose the attraction of Yula's storyline was how instantly shocking it was, it is so hard to imagine a situation where a mother would abandon their baby like she does, and yet Celona tells that story in a genuine and touching way.

This is a novel that asks a lot of questions. Questions about what makes a person who they are, and what a home is. It does so in an unconventional way, that reminded me a little of another book I loved, Wrecker by Summer Wood. Y also offers its own unique and intriguing setting, and it was interesting to see how the island environment offered a hint of claustrophobia to Shannon's life.

Ultimately, Y is a dark and realistic novel, a compelling story from a talented and eloquent author that left me excited to see what Marjorie Celona will write next.

Release Date: August 28th 2012  Pages: 288  Format: ARC 
Source: Publisher Publisher: Penguin Canada  Buy It: Book Depository

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Release Date
: September 18th 2012
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Buy It: Book Depository
Lillia has never had any problems dealing with boys who like her. Not until this summer, when one went too far. No way will she let the same thing happen to her little sister. Kat is tired of the rumours, the insults, the cruel jokes. It all goes back to one person– her ex-best friend– and she's ready to make her pay. Four years ago, May left Jar Island because of a boy. But she's not the same girl anymore. And she's ready to prove it to him. Three very different girls who want the same thing: sweet, sweet revenge. And they won't stop until they each had a taste.
Han and Vivian are two popular contemporary YA authors I've been meaning to read for ages... so when an unexpected copy of the first book in their co-written trilogy showed up in my mailbox, it was two birds with one stone.

I was really impressed by the writing in Burn for Burn, it flows smoothly and I never would have guessed there were two authors behind it instead of one. Each of main three girls is unique and interesting, and I never had to worry about getting them confused despite the multiple POVs– which is usually not my favourite. The book starts off a bit slowly, probably because it is first in a trilogy, but there was plenty of character development and back story that made it engaging to read.

At its core, even according to its title, Burn for Burn is about revenge but when it came to that aspect of the story it felt a little rushed or weak. Even though the authors told me why the girls had reason to be upset and want revenge, their emotions and the events in question were so complicated it was hard for me to really believe they wanted such hard, terrible things. Then, when it came to the execution of the revenge, it felt rushed, or not as bad as I would have expected.

That said, Burn for Burn is a rich, multi-layered story full of realistic characters whose motivations aren't always what they seem. There's a very, very slight paranormal twist to it, that honestly felt unnecessary but will probably get developed further in the next two books. Even though there are some very light romance subplots, this is definitely a story about friendship, and I felt like it captured the complexities of it really well.

The setting of Burn for Burn is also really great; everyone lives on this tiny island that's a mix of the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, and everyone knows everyone else, which leads to some interesting conflicts. I also found the high school hierarchy authentic to read about, and it reminded me a little of Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers for that reason (especially in combination with the revenge component). 

Overall, I really enjoyed Burn for Burn and though I'm unsure if the paranormal aspect was really necessary, the writing and characters have given me plenty of motivation for picking up book 2; as well as solo novels by Han and Vivian.