Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: Slammed

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A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from my friend Andrea that said, "You need to read Slammed by Colleen Hoover.  NEED."  Two days after that, I found myself shelving that same book on the "new books" shelf at my library.  I took it as a sign that it was Meant To Be and snagged that copy for myself.

Once I started reading, I simply could not put it down.  I LOVED this book.

As it begins, 18-year-old Layken, her 9-year-old brother, and her mother are moving from Texas to Michigan.  Her father has recently died in a car accident and her mother has told Layken and her brother that need to make the move for financial reasons.  Lake is starting her senior year of high school and feels like her world has been turned upside down.

But as they pull into the driveway of their rental house, she meets Will, her handsome 21-year-old across-the-street neighbor.  Her younger brother quickly becomes best friends with his younger brother, and she just as quickly forms a deep attraction and bond with him.  They share an amazing first date to a poetry slam, where Lake gets a look at who Will is at his core.

But following that first date, everything is turned upside down.  Serious impediments to their relationship spring up.... not silly things like teenage drama, but big, painful stuff, like Will's career, the care of Will's brother, and the health of Layken's mother.  The characters in this book (Will, Layken, and her best friend Eddie) tackle some tough issues, and while none of them are painted as perfect people, I was definitely rooting for all of them.

Will teaches the other characters to love slam poetry, and accordingly, there are slam poems scattered throughout the book.  For me, these poems are really what set this book apart from anything else I had ever read.  They captured the characters emotions so beautifully and allowed them to speak so eloquently.  From contemplations for first love to death to anger to what it means to be a foster child to so much more--these poems are definitely not to be missed!

I simply cannot say enough good things about this book.  It's shelved in the Young Adult section at my library because the protagonist is a senior in high school, but I think it could easily be enjoyed by an older audience as well.  Any lover of poetry needs to check it out.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: Cinder


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In keeping with the summer reading theme of "Spark A Reaction," I decided that the theme for my second teen book club this summer would be science fiction.  I let my teens choose between three titles: The Maze Runner by James Dashner, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, and Legend by Marie Lu. Cinder won and I started reading!

Cinder is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles.  Or at least, it's currently the first book.  The prequel, Fairest, is scheduled to be released in a few months and I am soooooo excited..... which is probably a good indicator of how much I LOVED this book!

Cinder is a futuristic retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale.  Right off the bat, it's awesome because Cinder is an cyborg.  She was born as a human (or so she thinks....), but she was in a horrific accident (which she can't remember....) and the doctors saved her life by replacing the damaged parts with machinery.  She was then adopted by the Lihn family.... except that her benefactor, Garan, promptly died of letumosis, a terrible plague for which there is no cure.  11-year-old Cinder was then left alone with her cruel stepmother, Adri; older stepsister, Pearl; and younger stepsister (and only human friend), Peony.

The story begins with Cinder is 16.  She has become the most skilled mechanic in New Beijing.  Her entire paycheck goes to support Adri and her two daughters, of course.  Her sidekick is Iko, an android with glitch that causes her to have an actual personality.  On the day that the story begins, Prince Kai himself comes to her booth in the market (incognito, of course) with a droid to be repaired.  He tells her that it's a matter of national security that the information on the droid be recovered....

But mere hours later, tragedy strikes.  Peony is struck by the plague.  Adri blames Cinder and "volunteers" her for plague research.  It seems that this will lead Cinder to certain death herself.... but instead it introduces her to Dr. Erland, the head researcher, who makes a series of important discoveries about Cinder's mysterious past.

And while the beginning of the book was REALLY GOOD, this is when it starts to get AMAZING.

This was one of those books that, the minute that I was finished reading it, I hopped onto Goodreads to find out how many other books are in the series and how soon I can read them.  I was thrilled to find out that Scarlet and Cress have already been published, that Fairest and Winter are coming within the next year, and that several short stories have been published online.  I am a happy lady.  Modern fairy tales RULE, and Marissa Meyer's adaption is one of the most creative and best-done that I have read.  Do yourself a favor and read it!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: Rot & Ruin


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I would never have picked up Jonathan Maberry's Rot & Ruin on my own.  Even though I've heard a lot of hype about it, zombie books are just not my thing.  In fact, zombies in general are Not My Thing.  Much to my husband's disappointment, I have not joined him in watching a single episode of "The Walking Dead."

However, the teen summer reading theme this year is "Spark A Reaction," and I decided to go with a couple of zombie-themed weeks to play off the idea of "Spark of Life."  We played Humans vs. Zombies on the library lawn, had a teen movie night featuring Warm Bodies, and put together a pretty cool display of zombie-themed books and movies.  So naturally, it made sense for my teen book club to read a zombie book during this time frame.  I narrowed the choices to Rot & Ruin, Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  They voted for Rot & Ruin, so I got reading.

The post-apocalyptic story centers around Benny Imura, a teenager who needs to find a job in order to keep his rations, and his older brother Tom, a renowned zombie hunter.  Benny utterly hates Tom because he thinks he is a coward.  This dates back to his very earliest memory, from when he was less than 2 years old and Tom rescued him from their parents, who had turned into zombies (as had the majority of the rest of the world, apparently).  So in spite of owing his life (and his entire existence since then) to Tom, Benny is convinced that Tom is a coward and completely hates him..... I was never clear on exactly how he could justify feeling this way, since it made basically no sense, except in a pissed-off teenage boy "I hate the world" kind of way.  But just roll with it.

Benny also basically hero-worshiped two other zombie hunters, Charlie and the Hammer, who have both gotten rich by killing more "zoms" than anybody can count and spend days regaling the townspeople the stories of their violent conquests.  It is quite clear to any impartial observer that these guys are No Good, but it seems that Benny has to figure that out for himself.... which he does about halfway through the book, when Charlie starts murdering everyone near and dear to him, all because Benny wouldn't hand over a zombie card (think baseball card, but with pictures of zombie hunters) with a picture of the Lost Girl on it.

The Lost Girl is an an enigma who lives out somewhere in the Rot and Ruin (all of the "uncivilized," zombie-filled area outside the town), a kind of wild thing who has been known to take down dozens of zombies and human men alike.  It seems that the source of much of her angst (as if being surrounded by zombies isn't enough?) is that Charlie and the Hammer abducted her at a young age and forced her to fight for her life at Gameland, where really sick and twisted humans can bet money on the outcome of child vs. zombie fights.  She managed to escape, but her little sister wasn't so lucky.... So now she lives in the wild, seeking revenge.  And yet somehow merely seeing her picture on a zombie card incites Charlie to such rage that he goes on a killing spree with the Imura family as his targets.  Again, not quite following the logic, but rolling with it.

Into this mess, throw Nix Riley, a teenage girl that Benny is JUST FRIENDS with.  We know that they are JUST FRIENDS because in spite of her declaring her undying love for him, he is Not Interested.  And yet he spends a great deal of timing noticing how well her t-shirt fits her.  Ahem.  But then Charlie abducts her, so Tom and Benny ride off into the Rot and Ruin to rescue Nix.  And surprise! It seems that Benny had more-than-platonic feelings for her after all.

"But what about the zombies?" you say.  "Isn't this a zombie book?"  Oh yes.  The zoms surround everything and everyone is deeply afraid of them.  Yet they are completely mindless and, it seems, easy eluded.  At least by Tom, who is a Zombie Ninja Master.  Tom also spends a great portion of the novel explaining to Benny how he (and everyone else) has been wrong about the zoms for all their lives--they're not scary, they're not really dangerous, they are really just sad, depressing remnants of what were once human beings and deserve to be treated with respect.  Okay, I'll buy that.  Sort of. 

So even though this was a zombie book, the zoms were far more pathetic than scary.  It was the humans that were the Real Monsters.  And this, children, is the Moral of the Story.  Which was repeated several times, in case we missed it the first time around.

The zombies are flat, one-dimensional characters incapable for growth.... and so is pretty much everyone else in this story.  Everyone in this book seemed like a caricature of an actual character.  Tom is The Good Zombie Hunter, who is noble and true to his purpose even though no one understands him.  Charlie and the Hammer are The Bad Guys, motivated by greed and their own evil.  The Lost Girl is the Tragic Heroine.  Nix is The Friend-Turned-Love-Interest.  Ugh.

In short, I would not have read this book if it hadn't been for my teen book club.  And in end, guess what..... none of them read it either!  At most, they only made it halfway through.  So this one does NOT make my recommendation list.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Book Review: Fourth Comings



In Fourth Comings, Jessica Darling (via Megan McCafferty) managed to overcome to dislike that I acquired for her during her college years (Charmed Thirds).  I no longer viewed her as just a Girl Who Makes Bad Decisions.  I can't say that I was 100% on board with every choice she made in this book, but I can definitely say that she has returned to the "think everything through from every angle" character that I came to know and love in Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings.

In Fourth Comings, Jess is a recent college graduate.  She is living in New York City, subletting an apartment.  On the upside, she's sharing a room with her best friend Hope.  I loved actually getting to know Hope in this book, as she has been mostly present only through her letters in the previous three books.  And after three books of having Hope presented as the ideal best friend, practically perfect in every way, it was quite interesting to find out that she's, well.... not.  (Though she's still pretty great.)

On the downside of the living arrangement, Jessica and Hope are also sharing the apartment with Manda and her girlfriend--who acts like an immature teenage boy.  Manda was more of what we have come to expect from previous books, just "matured" (?) to a 20-something in the big city.

Bridget, Sara, Scotty, Dexy, Jessica's parents, and Miss Hyacinth Anastasia Wallace all make appearances as well.  Bethany and Marin appear frequently and give Jessica a good deal to think about.

And, of course, there's Marcus.  As the story begins, he's experiencing his first day as a 23-year-old Princeton freshman.  Jessica is just not sure that she can handle 4 more years of living apart from him.  She's also not sure that she can handle dating a college freshman while she pursues a career (if only she could find  real job....).  And most of all, she's not sure she can handle being in a relationship with someone that can't seem to produce a sentence of more than 3 words (much less an entire conversation) after his self-imposed silence at Gakkai College and then his stint in Death Valley.  Ohhh, Jess, I hear ya.  We all had some deep love for Marcus back during Sloppy Firsts, when you were having those epic late-night phone conversations.  But now he just seems so distant....

So she decides to break up with him.  Not because she doesn't love him (she totally loves him!), but because she can't see their relationship going anywhere.  But with his "predictable unpredictability," Marcus ups the ante, refuses to accept her breakup, and proposes marriage instead.  He gives her a week to think it over--a week during which he is conveniently away at some kind of Outdoor Orientation Experience and therefore cannot communicate with her.  Exit Marcus from the story, except in Jessica's memory and imagination.

The rest of the story consists of Jess's experiences of the next week and her contemplations as she tries to decide if love is, indeed, "all you need."

Without giving anything away, I'll just say that I agree with the decision she reached in the end.

* * * * *

As an interesting (to me) side note, this book stumps librarians everywhere.  The first two books of this series can be filed squarely in YA, since the narrator and all the main characters are high school students.  The third book is a bit trickier, since it includes more mature themes and the characters have all progressed to college.... but at a stretch, it could possibly still be cataloged as YA, since it's the continuation of a series.  But now in this one, they're all definitely adults.  And the themes (marriage, job searches, financial independence, even the guardianship of Marin) are all adult.  So this one is definitely to be filed in the adult collection (as is the one that comes after it, Perfect Fifths).  So do we split the series and file it in two different places?  (In which case, where does Charmed Thirds go?  I'd vote with the adult.)  Or do we just file the whole series under adult?  These are the things I contemplate on a daily basis.  :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: Never, EVER Shout in a Zoo



My kids recently picked out this adorable book at our local library.  The title page of Never, EVER Shout in a Zoo by Karma Wilson shows a little girl licking a chocolate ice cream cone.  The page with the copyright information shows her tripping.  The page with the dedication shows her crying as her ice cream cone lies on the ground.  And as the story begins, she gears up for a good solid wail as the opening text reads, "Never, EVER shout in a zoo. . . because if you do. . . anything might happen.  And don't say I didn't warn you."

In the following pages, the little girl learns to deal with the consequences of her actions as numerous animals, frightened by her wails, escape from their cages and rampage through the zoo.  Starting with a bear, followed by a moose.... and then things REALLY go crazy when the apes get loose!  Using alliteration and repetition, Wilson delights readers with the animals' antics.

When the little girl finds herself in quite the predicament at the end of the story, what do you think she'll do?