Monday, June 25, 2012

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Year of Publication: 1925
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 182

First Line: "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice I've been turning over in my mind ever since."

Summary: The Great Gatsby captures the romance and glitter of the Jazz Age in its portrayal of a young man and his tragic search for love and success. It is a rare combination: a literary masterpiece - and one of the most popular novels of our time.

Source: Back of book.

Review:  I read The Great Gatsby in high school and did not quite understand it as well as I wanted to, so this summer, I decided to pick it up again.  Being more able to grasp characters and keep them straight, I was better able to follow the plot-line and thus the subtleties of each character.  Fitzgerald has great command of the English language, allowing the prose to be beautiful and detailed.  If you haven't already read The Great Gatsby you should. You're missing out.

Disliked: Some characters are clearly only there for exposition purposes.

Liked:  Gatsby himself is so wonderfully crafted and Nick Carraway is such a great observer. I love the point of view this story is told in.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Author's Website: None

Teen Book Review: Evernight

Evernight by Claudia Gray
Reviewed by Kinsey Manchester
4/5 stars
Bianca Olivier is a typical shy teenage girl. Her parents have moved her from the small town she has lived in her whole life to a new school, Evernight Academy. Bianca’s parents have decided to teach at Evernight and so now Bianca must live and learn at this new eerie boarding school. She feels like an outsider in this group of kids, and the fact that she is painfully shy doesn’t help her make many friends. All the students at Evernight are rich, perfect, and snobby, except for Bianca and a few others. When Bianca meets and gets to know Lucas, another outsider, they instantly bond. She finally feels like a part of something when she is with Lucas and she begins to actually enjoy the school. Then, something alarming and unexpected happens. Dark pasts and secrets can now mean losing each other. Bianca questions everything she’s ever taught as her relationship begins to crumble.  When the situation becomes dangerous, Bianca’s parents find out, and action is taken. However, Bianca will fight anything to be with the one person who she connects with.

Evernight is a dark and addictive novel. It moves along pretty fast, which as a reader, I always enjoy. The book was wonderful and I found myself staying up way too late to finish chapters. The relationship between Bianca and Lucas was well-written and I thoroughly enjoyed the way they met. Bianca herself was a likable character, that is, her shyness and normality in a school of snobs was refreshing. I loved Bianca’s parents and thought that they were good additions to the book. They were always looking out for Bianca and proud of her in her best moments. Bianca’s roommate, Patrice, was fairly nice to her, which I was glad for. The whole book was realistic, even when the question of vampires and vampire hunters arose. The only thing that I really wasn’t fond of was the big secret that Bianca knew that wasn’t revealed in the first third of the book. Once something happens and the secret can’t be denied, Bianca says that she knew about it all along. She played along with the people questioning the school’s structure when the whole time she actually knew why it was so creepy. It totally bugged me that for a while. She acted like she didn’t know anything. The ending, though, was a perfect set-up for a second book,  and I can’t wait to read it! I recommend this book to anyone who likes romance or the supernatural stories. 4 out of 5 stars!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Crash into Me by Albert Borris

Title: Crash into Me
Author: Albert Borris
Year of Publication: 2009
Genre: YA
Pages: 257

First Line: "The third time I tried to kill myself I used a rope."

Summary: Owen, Frank, Audrey, and Jin-Ae have one thing in common: They all want to die. When they meet online after each attempts suicide and fails, they make a deadly pact: They will escape together on a summer road trip to visit the sites of celebrity suicides...and at their final destination, they will do themselves in.  As they drive cross-country, bonding over their dark impulses, sharing their deepest secrets and desires, living it up, hooking up, and becoming true friends, each must decide whether life is worth living -- or if there's no turning back.

Source: Back of book.

Review:  Borris does a great job capturing the mindset of suicidal teens.  His plot is so-so and his characters, though varied, are a little flat, but the point of the novel is clear, even if he does try a little too hard sometimes.  Throughout the novel, I felt as if it was missing something and I decided, ultimately, the book needed another main character.  Like my previous read, this novel is told in a format that is somewhat atypical -- Owen, the main character, keeps an electronic journal during their road trip with insertions of previous online conversations with his suicidal friends, Jin-Ae, Audrey, and Frank.  Some of the "twists" in the novel (specifically regarding Owen's father and brother) made it feel like Borris was really trying too hard and stretching it, but I enjoyed going on a trip with the characters and visiting places in the country I probably otherwise won't get to or have already and seeing it from another's point of view.  Probably worth a read for teens who have ever experienced suicidal thoughts or depression, but maybe not so much for others.

Disliked: That missing piece in the novel.

Liked:  Audrey was a pretty cool character, though I was confused about her motives.

Rating:  2 out of 5 stars

Author's Website: None

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

Title: The Way We Fall
Author: Megan Crewe
Year of Publication: 2012
Genre: Science Fiction, YA
Pages: 309

First Line: "Leo, it's about six hours since you've left the island."

Summary: It starts with an itch you just can't shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you'll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they're old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in. And then you're dead.  When sixteen-year-old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying good-bye, she never dreams that she might not see him again.  But then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one cam come back.  Those still healthy must fight for the island's dwindling supplies, or lose all chance of survival. As everything familiar comes crashing down, Kaelyn joins forces with a former rival and discovers a new love in the midst of heartbreak. When the virus starts to rob her of the people she holds dearest, she clings to the belief that there must be a way to save those she loves. Because how will she go on if there isn't?

Source: Back of book.

Review:  This novel reminded me a lot of Michael Grant's Plague (third in the Gone series), except adults were present in this story.  I did not particularly like or dislike this book yet still found it difficult to put down and read it quickly, despite the fluctuating pace.  Some characters were definitely more rounded than others, which was irritating but understandable given the rest of the content which necessitated truly secondary and tertiary characters.  I feel Crewe left a lot of the philosophy which she could have included out.  This allows the reader to do more of the thinking on their own, but it also makes the reader do a lot of the work as far as which direction to go in, as there are so many.  After reading the novel, I felt somewhat unsatisfied regarding many plot points and wondered if there might be a sequel, but have decided (without any research, mind) that there probably will not (or at least should not) be a sequel.  Crewe's main character, Kaelyn, was believable and likable.  Though I didn't love the method of telling the story (through an as-far-as-we-know unsent letter/series of letters to her best friend), I did think it was something a little different and appreciated the effort in the idea.  Overall worth the time for a nice summer read that was not entirely brain candy.

Disliked: Too many questions were left unanswered by the end.

Liked:  The romance in the novel was not over the top or the main focus of the story which was a nice change.  I expect this had something to do with the fact that the letters were supposed to be for Kaelyn's best friend, but it might have just been the author's decision regardless of context.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Other Books by This Author: Give Up the Ghost

Author's Website: Megan Crewe

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Scribbling Women by Marthe Jocelyn

Title: Scribbling Women
Author: Marthe Jocelyn
Year of Publication: 2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 173

First Line: "I like to write outside, at a table on my front porch, or even in the hammock."

Summary: Whatever else you may discover within these pages, you will not meet up with a single "shrinking violet" among the eleven featured women.  Long dead or still living, each one defied something that would have held others back: societal convention, adversity, ignorance, oppression, poverty, the law, the elements, the odds.  All of them disregarded the expectations of the day and led exceptional, if not long and happy lives.  Perhaps more remarkable than their experiences is the fact that -- whether adrift on Arctic ice, in the company of cannibals, behind prison bars, stolen from home, or caught in deadly crossfire -- they recorded what they did, how they felt, and who they were.  In doing so, they left vivid snapshots of themselves and their times.

Source: Back of book.

Review:  When I began reading this book, I was surprised at the style.  It was similar to my own and, while it is a simpler style, it fit the audience the author was trying to reach (young adult).  The array of "women scribblers" is impressive and I was also taken by the fact that I had not heard of one of them.  Some of the stories, of course, interested me more than others.  I was particularly interested in the story of journalist Nellie Bly.  The book was a relatively quick read and you're likely to find at least one writer within with whom you connect.  Worth the time it took to read, though you may find yourself skimming the entries you're less interested in.

Worst part: I think the in-text citations could have been done better.  It wasn't always clear when the information was from something the woman had written and when it was from another source.

Best part:  I really enjoyed reading about Nellie Bly and about Isabella Beeton.

Grade: B

Other Books by This Author: Same Same, Time Is When, Eats, How It Happened in Peach Hill, Over Under, Mable Riley and many more.

Author's Website: Marthe Jocelyn

Karla and Kinsey Book Review Part II

 Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
Reviewed by Kinsey Manchester
3.5/5 Stars
Hudson Avery is a seventeen year old junior in high school. Hudson bakes cupcakes for her mom’s struggling diner and is dubbed the “Cupcake Queen”. Her entire existence is based on her amazing cupcake making skills and she is bound to work at her mother’s diner for the rest of her life. Hudson used to have a bright future until her dad cheated on her mom and they got divorced. When her dad left, Hudson quit her promising ice skating career. Now, with Hudson’s life shattered, she spends her time hiding behind the counter and the cupcakes, afraid to do what she loves again. She gets a letter about a competition and cannot help the excitement she gets when she thinks about competing again, so she sneaks away to ice skate. Hudson is scared to tell her mom that she wants to keep skating, worried of the unhappy memories that ice skating (and the ex-husband who went with it) will bring to her single, stressed mom. One day on the ice, Hudson meets a boy, and this boy changes her entire life. Josh Blackthorn is a co-captain of the high school hockey team and he says that he would like some skating pointers. When Hudson says she’s interested, the other team co-captain, dreamy Will Harper, signs her up to become the new skating assistant. Hudson has to balance working at the diner, coaching the hockey boys, watching her younger brother, staying on top of schoolwork, hanging with her best friend Dani, and preparing for the skating competition. Can she handle the heat?

Bittersweet is an enjoyable read. With cupcake recipes at the beginning of each chapter, this book is perfect for a rainy day. The descriptions in the book were amazing. Sarah Ockler does a fantastic job making it seem like you are in the story with the characters. When Hudson was working in the diner, I could practically smell the diner smell that she was describing. When she was skating, I could feel the cold with her. I also really loved Josh and the friendship/relationship that Hudson and Josh share. I thought that part of the book, the relationship between Josh and Hudson, was very realistic because they both had feelings for each other but were too shy to express them. Oftentimes in books the relationships seem too rushed and fake. Usually they move way too fast but I liked how the author made the relationship between Josh and Hudson. I also enjoyed Bug, who is Hudson’s little brother. He was a cute, dorky boy and I liked how Hudson cared for him so much. Bug was just adorable and I was glad that Hudson had the patience to care for him. One of the things that I didn’t like was the responsibilities that Hudson’s mom put on her. I thought this was unfair of her to do. It made sense why she had Hudson do a lot of things, and I could reason with it (as Hudson did), but I didn’t like it and I thought the Mom character should have been a little nicer. I liked Dani’s sassiness and I appreciated her character, but I think she could have been developed more. I wanted to hear more about Dani because she was really funny. The ending was cliché, as most books of this type are, but still pleasing. I recommend it to anyone who likes romance or is looking for a fun read.

Kinsey’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rx by Tracy Lynn

Title: Rx
Author: Tracy Lynn
Year of Publication: 2006
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 262

First Line: "CHEESE!" A strobe of red followed by a flash of bright white, hopefully bouncing off my teeth and sparkling in my eyes.

Summary: Thyme Gilcrest is an honors student.  Thyme Gilcrest is popular.  Thyme Gilcrest is on student council.  Thyme Gilcrest is a drug dealer.  Like piecing together a logic puzzle, Thyme has organized a complex trading system that enables her to obtain the meds her friends need.  They all come to her to diagnose their problems and provide the "cure" -- be it Prozac, Ritalin, Vicodin...  She's therapist, doctor, and pharmacist all in one. She helpes the people.  And that makes her feel a little more in control -- a little more capable of dealing with her own frantic high school life.  Because Thyme Gilcrest is nothing if not good at dealing.

Source: Back of book.

Review:  I wasn't overly impressed by the writing in this novel.  Lynn writes as if she does not trust her readers to understand what she is saying, which suggests she either thinks very little of her readers or herself.  She repeated herself in different ways throughout and used modifiers that were unnecessary.  For example, when she mentioned a girl spiking some eggnog, she said something like, "the girl added some Captain (Morgan)" in the context of spiking the drink.  The added parentheses here felt annoying -- I felt if she was going to name the drink, she should name it whole, and not the way she did.  This is the kind of writing used throughout the novel which I found to be distracting and to take away from the book.  Some parts were difficult to follow, particularly near the end, and there was a sense of incompleteness by the time I finished.  Lynn's "thesis" that everyone is on something without needing to be felt unrealistic and I couldn't get behind the setting because of that.  It was interesting to see places I knew mentioned throughout the novel as it takes place in Connecticut, but I was not able to immerse myself in the setting because of other details.  Probably not worth a read, but if you're really looking for something, it might be all right.

Worst part: How unrealistic the setting felt

Best part:  Will was interesting. I would have liked more of his character. I also liked Dave.

Grade: C

Other Books by This Author: Snow, the Fallen, the Stolen, the Chosen, Paradise City, No Exit, the Bride, Jack Sparrow, Geektastic

Author's Website: Tracy Lynn

Monday, June 11, 2012

Karla and Kinsey Book Review: Part I

by Sarah Ockler 
Reviewed by Karla Accorto
4.5/5 stars

This month, Kinsey and I selected Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler. It follows the life of the “Cupcake Queen of Watonka," Hudson Avery, as she struggles to keep her family together, works way too many shifts at the family diner, tries to bring her figure skating career back from the dead, and falls in love for the first time--with a boy who isn’t her boyfriend. Hudson juggles all of this at times successfully and other times at the cost of a friendship or relationship. In the end, she must decide what she really wants for her future and learn how to speak her mind.

I really enjoyed Bittersweet, as I have enjoyed most of the books Kinsey and I have reviewed. The plot was interesting and engaging. In fact, I think I finished this book at about one in the morning—way past my bedtime. The hockey boys, the main male characters in the book for the most part, seemed quite adorable and had interesting and surprisingly complex personalities. Josh, the boy sending some serious mixed signals to Hudson, was my favorite from the beginning, because of the shroud of mystery around him. He is constantly getting calls from a girl, one that Hudson automatically assumes is his girlfriend. The reader doesn’t actually find out if she is right until near the end. Hudson was also pretty likeable as well. Some of her actions annoyed me because she appeared to make the same mistakes over and over again. However, we’re all human, right? Her little brother, affectionately nicknamed, Bug, was a nice, light-hearted addition to the story as well. I especially liked the anger and guilt Hudson spent the entire book working through. It was directed toward her father and the affair she discovered three years ago that tore her family apart for good. It added a bit of realism to the story, which I liked. Because, although I do adore clichés, parts of the story could use the extra bit of realism. The ending was cute and adorable, the perfect happy ending you would expect this book to have.

All and all, this was a very well-crafted story. It was believable and it made me sigh and wish I lived in a world like this one. This was not the only book I’ve read by this author that I liked, so I highly recommend checking out her other books. I would recommend this book for freshman and up because of a few mature references. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Taken by Storm by Angela Morrison

Title: Taken by Storm
Author: Angela Morrison
Year of Publication: 2009
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 291

First Line: "The dive starts perfect."

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Leesie Hunt has rules: No making out.  No sex.  And definitely no falling for a non-Mormon.  She pours all her passion into poetry, thoughts of escaping her tiny town and getting into her dream school, BYU.  Then Michael Walden arrives in Tekoa and everything changes.  He is a free diver, which means he can hold his breath for minutes at a time.  This is how he survived the storm that took his parents' lives, and the world as he knew it.  Leesie and Michael couldn't be more different: his dreams are tied to the depths of the ocean and hers to salvation above.  Yet they are drawn to each other, even when jealousy, unbearable rules, and haunting memories threaten to tear them apart.  Every time Michael goes diving, Leesie is afraid he'll never come back up.  He is drowning in tragedy and she knows it's up to her to save him.  Somehow.

Source: Back of book.

Review:  Morrison tells this story through switching points of view.  Though books written in this style are often not very good, I enjoyed Taken by Storm.  The characters were, perhaps, a but more mature than is realistic, but they were easy to relate to and otherwise well-written.  Morrison has an ability to make for a realistic setting and story despite the relatively extreme circumstances in which the plot takes place.  Maybe a bit self-indulgent, Morrison included several poems by Leesie which were well-written, but likely beyond the ability of a seventeen-year-old.  The book included a few more ups-and-downs than I prefer in a novel, but I was somewhat surprised by the ending especially compared to most YA literature I am exposed to.  Morrison is a little preachy but don't let that deter you from reading the book -- reading the novel will not convert you and I wouldn't categorize this as religious fiction.  Worth a read.

Worst part: I don't know that I love the format.

Best part:  Leesie as a character

Grade: B+

Other Books by This Author: Sing Me to Sleep and apparently some sequel/companion novels to Taken by Storm -- her website is not very clear.

Author's Website: Angela Morrison

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Year of Publication: 2008
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Pages: 265

First Line: "I used to be someone."

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name.  She has just awoken from a year-long coma, and she's still recovering from the terrible accident that caused it.  Her parents show her home movies of her life, her memories, but she has no recollection.  Is she really the same girl she sees on screen?  Little by little, Jenna begins to remember.  Along with the memories come questions -- questions no one wants to answer for her.  What really happened after the accident?

Source: Back of book.

Review:  In contrast to Scribbler of Dreams, The Adoration of Jenna Fox features a relatively simplistic style and vocabulary.  I found this style to suit the author much better, though it still felt indulgent in places, especially with the inserted poetry, which is also in her other novel.  Overall I enjoyed The Adoration of Jenna Fox even though it was very predictable.  Like SoD, though, the book included characters and events that, in the end, felt entirely irrelevant to the novel as a whole, which was frustrating and left me feeling like some things had not been tied up neatly.  Also frustrating is the lack of knowledge regarding Jenna's personality pre-accident.  There is some indication as to what she was like before, but we know about as much as Jenna knows, which I felt was not the right way to go about this particular scenario.  Pearson left a lot of possibilities unturned, such as the church and its role in the novel, but she does bring up some interesting ideas and points through her story.

Worst part: Feeling of incompleteness

Best part:  Jenna's dad

Grade: C+

Other Books by This Author: The Second Life of Locke Jenkins, The Fox Inheritance, Scribbler of Dreams, The Miles Between, A Room on Lorelei Street, David v. God

Author's Website: Mary E. Pearson