Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rules of Attracton by Simone Elkeles

No spoilers.

Rules of Attraction
Author: Simne Elkeles
Year of Publication: 2010
Genre: YA
Pages: 324
First Line: "I want to live life on my own terms."
Summary: Carlos Fuentes idolized his older brother, Alex, when he was a member of the Latino Blood. So when Alex chose to get jumped out of the gang for a chance at a future with his gringa girlfriend, Brittany. Carlos felt shocked and betrayed. Even worse, Alex forced Carlos to come back from Mexico to join him on the straight and narrow path. Trouble is, Carlos just wants to keep living on the edge. And ties to his Mexican gang aren't easy to break, even hundreds of miles away in Colorado.

In Boulder, Carlos has to live with one of Alex's college professors and he feels completely out of place. He's even more thrown by his strong feelings for the professor's daughter, Kiara, who is nothing like the girls he's usually drawn to. But Carlos and Kiara soon discover that in matters of the heart, the rules of attraction overpower the social differences that conspire to keep them apart.

Source: Back of book

Review: I love this series. I understand a third one is going to be coming out and I absolutely plan on reading it. Elkeles is really good at getting into the heads of her characters and does a great job giving each of them personality. This may not be the Great American Novel, but it is really entertaining and generally wonderful to read.

Worst part: The whole Michael thing was kind of odd. It could have been dealt with differently, I think.

Best part: Elkeles is great at creating chemistry between her characters.

Grade: A

Other Books by This Author: Perfect Chemistry, Leaving Paradise, Return to Paradise, How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, How to Ruin My Teenage Life, and How to Ruin Your Boyfriend's Reputation.

75 / 50 books. 150% done!

Spells by Aprilynne Pike

No spoilers.

Title: Spells
Author: Aprylynne Pike
Year of Publication: 2010
Genre: YA, fantasy
Pages: 359
First Line: "Laurel stood in front of the cabin,scanning the treeline, her throat constricting in a rush of nerves."
Summary: Although Laurel has come to accept her true identity as a faerie, she refuses to turn her back on her human life -- and especially her boyfriend, David -- to return to the faerie world.

But when she is summoned to Avalon, Laurel's feelings for the charismatic faerie sentry Tamani are undeniable. She is forced to make a choice -- a choice that could break her heart.

Source: Back of book

Review: I don't think Spells was any better or worse than Wings. It was just a (below-) mediocre book. Pike has a lot of opportunities to really improve this series, but she makes other decisions. I'm not a fan of the whole trolls thing, but they're obviously a big part of the story. The characters in the novel could also be more interesting. Most of them come across as very generic and without personality. In many ways, this series is like Twilight, where the book is certainly not any great literary achievement, but it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish -- it is entertainment for young teenage girls and nothing more. I'm not sure this book moved along the central plot all that much as far as the series as a whole goes, but parts of it were still fun and if you plan on reading the entire series, you should read this as well.

Worst part: I'm not a fan of David. I dislike most of the characters, but something about David really bothers me.

Best part: Anything that took place in Avalon was cool, except for the whole tree thing.

Grade: C

Other Books by This Author: Wings and Illusions

74 / 50 books. 148% done!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap

No spoilers.

Title: Anastasia's Secret
Author: Susanne Dunlap
Year of Publication: 2010
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Pages: 330
First Line: "We are surrounded by guards."
Summary: For Anastasia Romanova, life as the privileged daughter of Russia's last tsar is about to be torn apart by the bloodshed of revolution. Ousted from the imperial palace when the Bolsheviks seize control of the government, Anastasia and her family are exiled to Siberia. Yet even while the rebels debate the family's future with agonizing slowness, and while the threat to their lives grows more menacing, romance quietly blooms between Anastasia and Sasha, a sympathetic young guard she has known since childhood. But will the strength of a love that exists in secret be enough to save Anastasia from a tragic fate?

Source: Back of book

Review: So the Romanovs totally interest me. But it seems all the fiction books I read about them are unimpressive and, in some ways, annoying. This book moved particularly slowly and I considered giving up several times. I found Anastasia to be a somewhat generic (maybe stronger than the average character, but...) character which was irritating. I did like the details which Dunlap included which she claimed, in the author's note, were as exact as she could manage. She also provided a link to a site which is supposed to have a lot of information on the Romanovs. I have yet to check it out. The book definitely could have been better. Very little happened throughout. When things were happening, I felt it was very understated and made it feel like nothing was happening at all. Not sure I would recommend this one.

Worst part: The pace almost killed me.

Best part: The historical and character details included in the book were interesting and well-placed without seeming forced.

Grade: C

Other Books by This Author: The Musician's Daughter.

73 / 50 books. 146% done!

The Devouring by Simon Holt

Minor spoilers.

The Devouring
Author: Simon Holt
Year of Publication: 2008
Genre: YA
Pages: 231
First Line: "On Sorry Night, just a few days before Christmas, you have to snuff the lamps, douse the flames in the fireplace, and spend the night in the cold and dark."
Summary: The Vours: Evil, demonic beings that inhabit human bodies on Sorry Night, the darkest hours of the winter solstice.

When dark creeps in and eats the light,
Bury your fears on Sorry Night.
For in the winter's blackest hours
Comes the feasting of the Vours.
No one can see it, the life they stole,
Your body's here but not your soul...

Source: Back of book

Review: The first-half of this book was better than the second-half. I found it interesting that other characters seemed to perceive a relationship between Regina and Aaron, but I did not see it that way at all. I was much more interested in the fantasy side of the book, as opposed to the horror side. I once tried reading The Demonata Lord Loss by Darren Shan and was almost immediately turned off by the gore. This one was similar towards the end, but because of the more fantastical element, I was able to read through the end (and might read the rest of the series, if only for Aaron, who reminds me of myself in several ways). I wasn't really able to relate to Regina's character very well, but I think a lot of her personality is a result of the situation with her mother. There were parts of the story which were not tied up or explained to begin with very well, but I expect they will be in the sequels. Nothing spectacular, but good enough to finish.

Worst part: I was disappointed the only part of the book The Devouring in the book we got to see was in the beginning. I would have liked more "entries" throughout the book.

Best part: The characterization of the Vour in Henry was very well done.

Grade: C+

Other Books by This Author: Soulstice and Fearscape.

72 / 50 books. 144% done!

Monday, December 6, 2010

But Is It Garbage? by Stephen L. Hamelman

Spoilers. . .but it's nonfiction.

But Is It Garbage?
Author: Stephen L. Hamelman
Year of Publication: 2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 272
First Line: "American culture is trash culture."
Summary: Hamelman says that "analysis of rock as trash is needed because it reveals a fundamental yet complex interrelationship between trash, both literal and figurative . . and rock music and culture." Given that premise, one might expect lively discussions of Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, and George Clinton, whose lyrics revel in life's trashy aspects. One would be disappointed, however. Hamelman instead lavishes attention on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, and their hoary chroniclers, the likes of Dave Marsh and Greil Marcus. Hamelman apparently suffers from the view that most of the most important rock was produced by bands popular in the late 1960s, and he oddly avoids black rock other than Hendrix's. If you can forgive that attitude, that sin of omission, and Hamelman's overwhelming fascination with Lou Reed's Berlin (thank Jah it's not Metal Machine Music), Hamelman's framework for discussing rock's cultural appeal makes for a fairly worthwhile book.


Review: Written by professor of English at Coastal Carolina University and drummer Steven L. Hamelman, But Is It Garbage?: On Rock and Trash explores the connection between rock ‘n’ roll music, lyrics, and lifestyle, and literal, tangible trash. The piece comes in three parts: Trashed, Wasted, and Saved. Each of these sections explains how lyrics, musical style, musician’s attitudes and lifestyles, and the disposability of the media on which the music is released reflect trash culture, particularly of the United States.

Much of “Trashed,” the largest and opening section in the book, discusses the literally disposable and wasteful natures of the media on which rock ‘n’ roll is and has been recorded. Hamelman cites records (and their tendency to warp, thus becoming useless), cassette tapes (and how often the tape is “eaten” by a player), and CDs (which, while fairly durable compared to the former media listed, are wasteful in packaging). The author includes statistics which illustrate how wasteful the packaging of CDs is, as well as pointing out how the consumerism of America results in rock ‘n’ roll being produced at uneconomical rates and quantities, thus creating even more waste.

In “Trashed,” Hamelman profiles songs as well as artists, as he creates a list of “Top Trash Forty,” listed in chronological order. Some of these songs include Sewer Trout’s “Garbage,” Korn’s “Trash,” and Marilyn Manson’s “Disposable Teens.” Helman admits this list does not include every trash-related song, but offers forty songs with a brief illustration of each song and their context. When speaking of specific artists, much of the author’s focus is on Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground. Hamelman also concentrates largely on the Beatles, spending a length of the text on the members’ opinion on their music – often, unsurprisingly, believing it is “trash.” John Lennon specifically is said to have trashed not only his own work, but also that of Paul McCartney, even in McCartney’s solo work. The quality of the music as well as its tendency to not last in the case of any rock ‘n’ roll artist is, according to Hamelman, essential to the trash culture which surrounds the genre and its many subgenres.

In the second section titled “Wasted,” Hamelman explores the “wasted” lives of rock ‘n’ roll, including Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. He explains how their talent was wasted as both, among others, died at young ages before, he argues in Hendrix’s case, the peak of success and talent had been reached. Both artists, as well as others who ended similarly, would have gone on to create even more artistically significant works, had they not died so young, thus their talent was wasted. Throughout this section, Hamelman also points out to readers that death is a common theme in the lyrics of rock ‘n’ roll. The theme of death is also related to trash culture as death and decay are often considered to be the same thing and anything that is decaying must be waste, according to mainstream culture.

Finally, in “Saved,” Hamelman discusses the artistic merit of many of the rock ‘n’ roll performers he spoke of in previous sections. One instance he mentions is how one teacher “incorporated” Rage Against the Machine into lessons on The Grapes of Wrath. He compares some rock ‘n’ roll artists to well-known and respected composers and novelists. Much of this section also discusses the similarities of “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament,” a short story by Willa Cather, and the characteristics of rock ‘n’ roll, thus drawing the conclusion that rock ‘n’ roll is more or less designed for adolescents, as Paul, who exhibits many of the same characteristics, is an adolescent. Hamelman also points out how just as Paul was saved by art – the story was written before the time of rock ‘n’ roll – so were many of the rock ‘n’ roll artists including Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Patti Smith, and Keith Richards.

Hamelman’s study of rock ‘n’ roll and its relation to garbage is a thorough, academic piece. Hamelman avoids using “et cetera,” making his lists as complete as possible and explains the rock ‘n’ roll and garbage conceit as fully as possible. His argument is clear as is his process. Readers will find themselves thinking about the work’s implications and what Hamelman’s arguments mean for the future of rock ‘n’ roll. Readers familiar with today’s music and technology should question what iTunes and similar non-physical music media means for the trash culture, or what covering – and therefore recycling – songs fits into Hamelman’s thesis, in order to make the piece all the more thought-provoking.

Worst part: I felt the argument was a little far-fetched.

Best part: Despite that it was far-fetched, the idea was really original.

Grade: C

Other Books by This Author: None.

71 / 50 books. 142% done!

My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr

No spoilers.

My Heartbeat
Author: Garret Freymann-Weyr
Year of Publication: 2002
Genre: YA
Pages: 154
First Line: "It's after midnight when I hear James leave."
Summary: Ellen loves Link and James. Her older brother and his best friend are the only company she ever wants. She knows they fight, but she makes it a policy never to take sides. She loves her brother,the math genius and track star. She is totally madly in love with James, his long eyelashes and hidden smiles. "When you grow out of it," James teases her, "you will break my heart."

Then someone at school asks if Link and James might be in love with each other. A simple question. But the answer is far from simple, and its repercussions affect their entire lives.

Source: Back of book

Review: While this book got off to a somewhat slow start, I really loved all of the characters and the plot. Everything was very realistic and I enjoyed the relationships between the characters. Freymann-Weyr's simplistic writing style reflects her characters' age, but she still manages to make profound observances that make readers of all ages think. This book will not bother those squeamish with gay topics -- it is addressed in a way that is not graphic or anything else (at least in terms of same-sex relationships). A simple concept that makes for an interesting and heartfelt story.

Worst part: I felt Link was slightly underdeveloped.

Best part: I loved James. His character was by far the most interesting.

Grade: B+

Other Books by This Author: When I Was Older, The Kings Are Already Here, Stay With Me, After The Moment, Pretty Girls and French Ducks in Venice.

70 / 50 books. 140% done!