Random Review: Every Day

I am surprised I did not like this book more.

Every Day by David Levithan3207401

A is a person without a body, awaking each day as someone new and supplanting that individual’s consciousness. It has been that way as long as A can remember, and A expects it to continue that way forever. A just tries to make as little impact as possible, until the day the mistreated girlfriend of the body A’s inhabiting piques interest. Suddenly A is desperate to hold on, after a lifetime of letting go.

On the surface, this seemed like a book I would love. I’ve really enjoyed the other Levithan projects I’ve read (Every You, Every Me and will grayson, will grayson.) I am the type of person who watched every episode of Quantum Leap, binge-watched Sense8 (twice), and tries to imagine the lives of other people driving down the highway with me. Where they are going, what they worry about, who they love and who loves them.

Every Day is well-written. It is an interesting story that has emotional resonance and high stakes, and yet it was just a three-star read for me. I am not sure why. Maybe because the idea that everyone has problems and worries and great loves is not an earth-shaker for me. Maybe because A falls in love with a thin, blue-eyed, blonde doormat and that is just painfully typical.

I think that’s it. The whole story centers around the growing connection between A and Rhiannon, and the impossibility of making it work, and I just didn’t like Rhiannon much. It was clear why she appealed to A: they are both intuitive, compassionate dreamers yearning for deep connection. The narrative explored just about every type of relationship and attraction through A’s body-hopping, which was a lot more gripping than the relationship on which A focused. I just felt like rolling my eyes at the desperation to get back to this blah girl who lets her boyfriend treat her like crap because he’s cute and has a sob story.

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, but I think a teenager who hasn’t read or seen much along these lines might be blown away by it. I suppose I will pass it on to my students and find out!

Chair Rating:

Looked more special than it felt.

Looked more special than it felt.

Random Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

That’s right friends and readers, I’ve got my teaching credential on lock which means I’M BACK. Reading books for fun and reviewing them for your pleasure.

One of the sweetest, most naturally developing love stories I have seen in YA Fiction.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han51GdayQh-uL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Lara Jean Song is the dreamy, sartorially adventurous middle sister in a tight-knit trio. The Song girls lost their mother unexpectedly years before, and have worked together to make life easier on their dad ever since. When uber-organized older sister Margot sets off for college in Scotland, it’s Lara Jean’s turn to take the lead running the household. At the same time, five of Lara Jean’s love letters are accidentally mailed to each of the five boys she once loved…including the popular boyfriend of an ex-friend and her older sister’s long-term love.

This is a book I normally would have avoided, the jacket is all mauve and it seemed terribly predictable. I bought it because I picked up a copy of Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds and Amazon told me the same readers enjoyed both. That definitely piqued my curiosity.

There are a lot of YA Romance standards in this book: the boy-next-door, the popular guy, the mean girl, a bargain to save face and incite jealousy; but none of the plot points are handled in a campy or obvious way. The story unfolds very naturally from the inciting event, and the heroine takes just as many steps back as she does steps forward (like we all do when we are learning and growing). It is a very realistic love story. One of its strongest points is the relationship between the three Song sisters and their father, and those relationships are given just as much screen-time as the romantic stuff. Each of the girls has a strong, distinct personality and an investment in their family as a unit.

This book really handles all of its characters fairly, the “mean girl” can be pretty darn mean, but she does have her reasons. Lara Jean is not by any means flawless or a Mary Sue, nor did she become catnip to boys overnight. Every part of this story, every lesson learned, feels real and earned. There are romantic gestures, but they are on a scale that feels possible with high school boys and organic to the characters as written.

If you enjoy novels with a strong family dynamic, sweet romance, characters coming of age, and a steady dose of humor…this one could be for you.

Chair Rating:

Sweet, upbeat, a family affair.

Sweet, upbeat, a family affair.

Random Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Things are getting out of hand.
bluelily

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

When we last saw our intrepid heroes the ley line was stronger than ever thanks to Adam’s efforts, Gansey and Blue had acknowledged both their mutual interest and the impossibility of acting on it, Ronan had begun to accept his power and nature, and Noah was still dead. Maura went missing, the Gray Man sacked up, and Persephone was helping Adam manage communications with Cabeswater. If the first novel in The Raven Cycle revved the engine and The Dream Thieves hit the gas, Blue Lily, Lily Blue drifts into some mud and gets its wheels spinning. The quintet at the center of The Raven Cycle is closing in on Glendower, but every step forward comes with another warning of grave danger. These warnings come from Persephone and Calla, Cabeswater, a giant hillbilly, a frequent employer of hit-men. The danger is real, and near, and as reality warps ever further the Raven Boys and Blue are stretched to their limits.

The focus shifts from Ronan back to Blue in this novel, though it checks in with everyone, and suffers for it a bit. Blue is just not terribly interesting as a character. Of all the characters in The Raven Cycle I find myself least interested in what happens to her and Colin Greenmantle. Both somehow remain more ideas of people than actual characters. During Blue’s angstier moments I found myself counting adverbs rather than experiencing the story. She had a few intriguing scenes, but none of them seemed to amount to anything. No payoff, yet.

In general, Blue Lily, Lily Blue has some really strong scenes. Spooky, eerie scenes. Scenes with intense sexual tension. Scenes of wonderment and terror. The novel is at its best when the quest for Glendower is moving forward. In these moments it is at its scariest and most profound.  Pretty much everything that takes place in a cave or involves Persephone is good reading.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is not the strongest entry in The Raven Cycle thus far, but it has a strong finish and I’ll be back for what is sure to be a thrilling conclusion.

**Because I am the luckiest duck, I received an ARC of Blue Lily, Lily Blue directly from Maggie Stiefvater a full month before it came out. This in no way affected my review, other than allowing me to post it before the novel’s official release. I will be re-reading the copy I pre-ordered from Fountain Bookstore when it arrives for comparison. 

Chair Rating: 

I am sure it's here for a reason, but not totally I want to sit in it.

I am sure it’s here for a reason, but not at all sure I want to sit in it.

Random Review: The Dream Thieves

Maggie Stiefvater, an author you can trust.8472014340_f18884df4d_o

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The second book in The Raven Cycle finds us back in Henrietta, Virginia with three Aglionby boys and one contrary girl. One of the boys has begun to flicker in and out of existence, another is sharing his existence with a supernatural forest. One of the boys is spending a lot of time pretending he doesn’t want the girl, while she pretends the same thing right back. The last boy sees all of this and then some. This motley crew continues the search for a dead Welsh king with the assistance of three psychics, a lot of money, brainpower, fast cars, charisma, the ability to manifest dreams, and the hindrance of a professional hitman on their tail.

This is Ronan’s story, and all the better for it. He is a fascinating character who seems to be composed of contradictions. He is religious and profane, violent and tender-hearted, distant but passionate. The Dream Thieves is the rare book that lives up to breathless blurbs touting a story that is “action-packed!” and “thrilling!” It really is those things. When I reviewed the first book in this quartet, I noted that it showed a lot of potential. The Raven Boys revved the engine of an exhilerating epic, roaring the promise of excitement and danger, and The Dream Thieves hit the gas. This book is explosive, emotionally complex, tactile, and sensitive. It is Maggie Stiefvater doing what she does best, unlike anyone else, on par with The Scorpio Races. All of the characters remain in play, weaving through each others’ stories as the plot winds tighter and tighter in anticipation of an explosive conclusion.

Just read it, you won’t be sorry.

Chair Rating: 

Strap in for the ride of your life.

Strap in for the ride of your life.

Random Review: The Museum of Intangible Things

I could not have guessed how much I would enjoy this book:

The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy WunderMuseum of Intangible Things

Hannah and Zoe are lifelong best friends struggling to find a way out of their rural New Jersey town, part of that invisible population of poor white kids. There will be no affirmative action or diversity scholarships, so Zoe works on her fashion designs as she keeps Hannah company eavesdropping on private-school classes and shilling hot dogs for tuition. Crashing a rich-kid party starts a chain of events that leads to Zoe and Hannah leaving town on a spontaneous road trip, Thelma and Louise-style. The two make their way across the country committing crimes and practicing intangible qualities, running from their parents and the law as they barrel toward an explosive finale that promises to give them everything they need or destroy them altogether.

Wow. What a book. A few months ago I “tested a test” for prospective teachers, and was rewarded with $150 in vouchers for books from Penguin. This was the last book I bought, an impulse purchase for fun that was almost deleted from my cart at the last moment. Fate must have been whispering in my ear, because this was a book for me. Two smart, complicated heroines with very real problems and different personalities who still see the value in each other.  What drew me in initially were the fantastic title and the premise of a road trip. I love road trips in life and fiction, and the one in the novel does not disappoint. We experience the novel from Hannah’s point of view, and what at first appears to be a wild, unexpected journey is eventually revealed to be planned to the point of inevitable.

Each chapter, rather than being numbered, is headed with an intangible quality like loyalty, insouciance, or audacity. These both reference the titular museum, created by Zoe for her autistic younger brother to help him learn to relate to others emotionally, and the theme of events in that chapter. In the first couple of chapters I thought I had a grip on the kind of character Zoe was, and that idea was blown to bits by novel’s end. The whole narrative arc is a good metaphor for adolescence itself: many older teens feel they have a grip on the world, maybe even know “everything,” but once they actually leave the nest they realize nothing is what they thought it was and they have more power over their lives than they ever imagined.

The Museum of Intangible Things explores a lot of heavy topics, and it offers one of the most interesting perspectives on mental illness I’ve ever read. Maybe the most interesting. It is through the loving lens of Hannah that the reader is gradually exposed to Zoe’s full truth, and Hannah’s internal struggle mirrored my own as I tangled with what is real in such a situation.

Whether the ending of this book is tragic, satisfying, realistic, or a bit of magical realism is entirely dependent on who you are as a reader. My only complaint is that there is an epilogue à la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, wrapping things up that would have been better left open to speculation. It stole some of the novel’s impact, and seemed more like the author’s bid to make a few final thesis statements on life than something that served the story. That said, I cannot wait to get my hands on Wunder’s other book, The Probability of Miracles. 

Chair Rating:  

A spectacular, unstoppable force. I couldn't sleep until I had finished reading it.

A spectacular, unstoppable force. I couldn’t sleep until I had finished.

 

In case I didn’t get my point across: READ THIS BOOK! If you’ve already read it, tell me what you thought in the comments. 

Random Review: The Tin Princess

Exactly what I wanted to read.

tinprincess

A rather sad cover illustration, but this is the copy I picked up and I prefer this version to the ones that re-imagined the titular character as a blonde with straight hair or worse, left her off in favor of a man.

The Tin Princess by Philip Pullman

Becky Winter is a capable polyglot with a romantic streak, who finds herself swept up in political intrigue after witnessing an explosion. Suddenly the sixteen-year-old Winter is tutor and interpreter to a secret cockney princess, headed from London to a tiny nation sandwiched between Austria and Germany accompanied by a dreamy prince, gruff ambassador and his icy wife, and a dashing detective. The novel’s plot twists and turns through Razkavia’s 19th-century-Bavarian-influenced countryside. Danger, secret identities, and nefarious schemes fill its pages right up to a genuinely thrilling conclusion.

Philip Pullman can always be relied upon to deliver richly detailed, wryly funny, smart historical fiction. I picked this up at the library because I was dying to read something I’d like, and feeling slightly melancholy that The Subtle Knife will never be a movie. I didn’t realize it was a continuation of a previous series, and I got good and thoroughly spoiled on the events of that series while devouring The Tin Princess. It’s a great book: several strong female characters with distinct personalities, men worth crushing on, a richly imagined fictional country, political strategy, and plenty of derring-do. What more could a reader ask for? There are even a couple of nice, not too-soppy romances (one sweet, the other rather steamy.) The only drawbacks were that Razkavia made me miss Germany terribly, and the blurb described Adelaide as “heartbreakingly beautiful” while the book described her as “not altogether pretty.” Really, publishing industry? Men can love women who aren’t supermodels. Promise.

Chair Rating:

A tremendous adventure.

A tremendous adventure.

Random Review: Legend

A copy of a copy of a copy, now with more gimmicks.

Legend by Marie Ludownload

June Iparis wants to find the Republic’s most-wanted criminal Day, even though no one knows what he looks like, and avenge her brother’s death. Day wants to remain a vigilante while keeping his family fed and plague-free.  Both youngsters are beautiful and exceptionally smart and athletic, so naturally they will develop The Hots to complicate their situation.

Reading this book was like hopping into a fully-loaded Lamborghini and being unable to get it started, listening to the engine whine as it tried to turn over instead of flipping into a full-throated roar,  until it begins to disintegrate around you. First I lost a mirror, then the muffler hit the pavement, then all four wheels went at once.

The beginning of the book was exciting and set up a morally complex, high-stakes plot with a lot of potential. June was an interesting character, Day was an interesting character. I believed in the exceptional nature of both, as a result of both genetics and hard work. They lived in a dystopia with a lot of dirt for digging into. They had many fully-formed relationships and attachments beyond the one that eventually formed between them. So why then, halfway through the book, did I find myself wondering why I didn’t like it more? Why did I spend the next quarter mentally picking it apart instead of enjoying the story, before losing interest entirely and skimming the last quarter?

I’m going to go with a list:

  • Gimmicks. This book is loaded with visual gimmicks that became distraction while reading. Gold, sans-serif, space-age-inspired font for Day’s sections. A more traditional font for June. Gigantic 24-point headers screaming JUNE or DAY to indicate shifts in point-of-view. The well-designed Republic emblem on the cover felt like it was mocking me for thinking the Republic in the book would be as thoroughly considered as its logo. The brushed-steel texture of the cover and chrome-finish gold of the flaps on the jacket. I understand why each of these aesthetic choices was made, however at some point someone should have realized it was too much and dialed it back. The overwrought design of the book as object wound up highlighting the under cooked story.
  • June and Day sounded like the same person. They thought the same, fought the same, and mostly talked the same with only superficial deviations. Perhaps this explains the headers and font disparity, but that is something that needed to be fixed at a writing level. Not a visual one.
  • Eureka moments. Several complex plot threads were unraveled by a character glancing at something and suddenly understanding everything behind it. Enormous logical leaps were taken, but the reader was not along for the ride. Saying “oh they just knew because they were super smart” is lazy writing. It’s a cheat. There are many possible explanations and these developments were not well-supported.
  • The lady doth protest too much: I liked June as a character at first. She was tough, ambitious, focused, smart, and rebellious in an oddly patriotic way. There was a lot of potential there. As the book wore on she kept having to go to these formal events, and described her dresses in lavish technical detail even as she complained of being forced into them. That doesn’t wash. It irked me that as an acknowledged military prodigy she would not wear her uniform to state occasions as all the men and higher-ranking women did. She started the novel with a rebellious, “I know best” spark that quickly fizzled.
  • The Republic is a military state, but they let a fifteen-year-old girl stroll about as she pleases sending guards away and meeting with prisoners alone.
  • The scenes on the street were strongest, but they were weakened by the lack of detail in the Republic. A civil war was hinted at and other factions mentioned, but never explained. The dirtiness of the streets was not contrasted with cleanliness or opulence in June’s world at military school. The ball was dropped. I can only assume that Lu expected to have a trilogy to flesh things out.

Chair Rating: 

Looks cool, but doesn't perform its function well.

Looks cool, but doesn’t perform its function well.

Readers, if you’ve read any good dystopian fiction lately won’t you give me a recommendation in the comments? I’m dying for it.