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.

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Random Review: Jellicoe Road

It is astonishing how much tragedy the author was able to lay on this reader without losing me entirely.

Jellicoe Road by Melina MarchettaJellicoe

Taylor Markham’s past is a mystery she has yet to solve. She was abandoned by her mother at age eleven on Jellicoe Road, and she’s spent every moment since holding the world at arm’s length. On the verge of adulthood, in the summer before her last year at the Jellicoe School, leadership is thrust upon her by the departing upperclassmen. Taylor will have to find a way to lead her school in defending their territories from the rival factions of Townies and Cadets with little support from her peers and the only familial figure she’s ever known suddenly vanished. As she unravels the story of her own origin, Taylor discovers the root of the Jellicoe rivalry and a lifeline to her future.

This is one of those books that I had picked up many times and put down without reading just as many. The red-orange poppy against the verdant background on the cover is eye-catching, and I had heard good things about it, but the blurb always left me cold. Now I understand why. This book is so unlike any I’ve ever read, with many plots running parallel to one another like meandering creeks and bubbling streams that all eventually feed into one crashing river. It defies blurbing. Taylor Markham is a living, breathing character who jumps off the page and smashes around being hard to love precisely because she needs it so desperately.  What’s more remarkable, the book is filled with a dozen or more characters just as vivid. Her struggle to lead and uncover her past is interspersed with the story of a group of five kids bound by tragedy who once lived at the Jellicoe School. The novel leaps more and more frequently between these three threads until they all come together into one painfully beautiful whole.

I honestly don’t think I could do it justice no matter how long I explain it, so I will try to sum up the feeling it gave me. The movie Stand By Me, based on the Stephen King novella The Body, is a story about youth and friendship and love and family and pain and grief and summertime. Jellicoe Road is a lot like that.

Chair Rating

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Random Review: The Raven Boys

A mix of A Separate Peace and The Goonies, with a few ancient supernatural forces thrown in for good measure.

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterThe Raven Boys

Blue Sargent is a signal booster for the supernatural, which makes her a blessing to both her professionally clairvoyant family and a few boys at the local boarding school who’ve been chasing a legend. Blue can’t see the spirits herself, though she accompanies her mother annually to a graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve, where those destined to die in the coming year pass through. When Blue sees her first spirit, one of those Aglionby boys, she knows one of two things: he is either her true love, or she will be the one to kill him. Though she knows nothing good can come from running with the privileged Raven Boys of Aglionby Academy, she can’t help but be caught up in the search for an ancient Welsh king, led by the boy who will break her heart.

Obviously this book came out awhile ago and, as I had pre-ordered it, I read it pretty much the instant it was released. As a big fan of both The Goonies and A Separate Peace, the story was right up my alley, though I felt as a novel it didn’t always work. Now that we are on the eve of The Dream Thieves release, I thought it was about time I posted a review. Let me just state out front that I will be reading the sequel.

There are a lot of elements at play in the story of Blue and The Raven Boys’ search for Glendower, and some work better than others. Blue’s family is easily the strongest aspect: a houseful of spiritually attuned women who use their gifts for second sight to make a living, the dynamic between the different seers makes for great reading. One of the most chilling scenes in the novel takes place at Blue’s house, and it gave me the genuine, all-out willies. One of the weaker elements is the depiction of the boys themselves. The narrative rests heavily on their relationship, and their interactions don’t always ring true. Each of them is an interesting, fleshed-out character, but when they speak to each other it sounds like a girl imagining a conversation between boys rather than one boys would actually have. There is a villain of sorts, but his story is joined to the main narrative so awkwardly that I keep forgetting he exists.

This is a story with massive potential, and while The Raven Boys didn’t always hit the right notes for me, I will absolutely be back to find out what happens in The Dream Thieves. The novel has adventure, realistic romance, spooky supernatural moments, and healthy doses of mystery and humor. It probably suffered slightly in my view because it followed the near-perfect The Scorpio Races, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed The Goonies, A Separate Peace, or even Indiana Jones.

Chair Rating:

Potentially magnificent, comfortable enough to sink into, a bit threadbare in places.

Potentially magnificent, comfortable enough to sink into, a bit threadbare in places.

Random Review: Sweetly

This will probably be a short review, because my feelings for this novel are solidly middle-of-the-road.

Sweetly by Jackson PearceSweetly Cover

After the disappearance of their younger sister, losing both parents, and being thrown out by their stepmother; Ansel and his sister Gretchen are looking for a fresh start in a place far from the demons of their past. Their search takes them from the Pacific Northwest to the tiny South Carolina town of Live Oak. With nothing but a busted Jeep to their name the pair find themselves working for and living with local candymaker Sophia at her isolated cottage/chocolatier. Their hostess’ charms are many, but so are the unpleasant rumors about her in town.

I love the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, and I was very excited to read this book’s updated take. It had been on my TBR list for ages, and maybe my expectations/hopes were too high, but the greatest praise I seem able to muster about the novel is that it was fine. There were some cool ideas here in the ways Pearce updated details from the original story, and in the ways she made the events fit with the universe she created with Sisters Red. I am still interested in reading the final novel of the set, Fathomless.

It might sound odd, but the story felt a little empty to me. The plot was good, potentially very exciting, but I think it could have been handled better (and it is killing me to write that because I think Jackson Pearce is a delightful human being). The characters were half-developed, just shy of whole individuals in every case except perhaps Sophia’s. The narrator was a shell, and perhaps that was the author’s intention as Gretchen had been suffering terrible grief for so long…but it just didn’t work for me. When she fell for another character it seemed rote rather than organic (e.g. characters in YA Fantasy always fall in love with someone so she will too). The brilliant moments were too far apart, but they were there. Gretchen’s response to a lot of the events and hint-dropping in the book made me think she was a bit of an idiot, or had perhaps suffered some brain damage at some undisclosed point.

I think it may all have been just a little too far from Pearce’s own experience for her to write in a rich and convincing way. Several times a scene ended or an issue/event was dropped before it had been developed to my satisfaction. The brother/sister relationship felt totally one dimensional to me, a woman with two brothers with whom I am close. Ansel was a cardboard cutout and his voice was a bit feminine. Urgh.

All the candy in the book was chocolate. Sad for me, as I am a huge candy fan but not remotely a chocolate-lover.

I don’t feel like I am explaining this well, so I will leave it at this: Sweetly was not as good as I had hoped it would be. It was not bad.

Chair Review:

Promising moments, but lacking something essential.

Promising moments, but lacking something essential.

 

Mix-Tape Mondays: Very Violent Horses Edition

cassette-tape-convert

This week I wanted to do a more contemporary novel, and one I had reviewed on the site (no matter how useless my review was). I went with my favorite novel of 2011, a Printz nominee that was signed and doodled in by the author herself at the only book-signing I have ever attended in my life: Continue reading