Posts tagged ‘book review’

March 9, 2012

Review: Uglies and Extras

by renata

I read and loved Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy well before I started this blog, so I haven’t reviewed it here. And anyway, you’ve probably already read it. Briefly: compelling, great world building, insightful cultural commentary, A+. But I only recently read Extras, the fourth book of the former-trilogy. I was a little nervous about it–I felt like Specials had pretty well wrapped up the trilogy, and I wasn’t sure what new ground Extras would cover.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Unfortunately, I don’t think Westerfeld was sure either. The book takes place a few years after Specials and reveals how one city has rebuilt itself after the “mindrain” that cured everyone from their “bubbleheaded” Pretty days. In this city, which seems to be somewhere in present-day Japan, everything is ruled by a Twitter/Klout-esque Reputation Economy, where the more famous you are, the more resources you get. It’s never clearly explained how this works, and I just didn’t find it to be as believable of a premise as I did the original Uglies world.

Anyway, in this book, we follow 15-year-old Asa Fuse, who is attempting to build up her “face rank” through citizen journalism. She stumbles into a clique called the Sly Girls and they end up discovering… something. Is it a weapon?

I won’t give away the ending, but I found it to be a bit hard to swallow. Perhaps if Westerfeld had dedicated an entire trilogy to this concept it would have been more believable, but as is, it feels like what it is–a tacked on fourth book because everyone loved the trilogy so much and wanted a fourth book. Sometimes, guys, you’re better off sticking with fanfiction.

Sharon Needles
I rate the original Uglies trilogy five plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

Extras is two plastic surgeons out of a possible five.

February 15, 2012

Review: Leviathan

by renata

I know Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is pretty popular, and I’d heard a lot of good things about it. But I simply didn’t think I was interested in it–a steampunk alt-history of WWI? Ugh, but I don’t really like steampunk or war stories. But I kept hearing such good things about it, and I remembered my initial resistance to the Uglies trilogy, and how much I ended up liking Uglies. And then I found out that the audiobooks are read by Alan Cumming, who I adore, and that sealed the deal. I’d have to check out this whole Leviathan thing.

Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, read by Alan Cumming

Okay, you guys, I totally loved it. Scott Westerfeld is just great. Even if his books have summaries that sound completely unappealing to me, he can just pull them off like nobody’s business. Although, I have to be honest, I still don’t really care about ~steampunk~. And that’s okay–in this alternate WWI, the Axis powers are the “Clankers” and use steampunk kinds of walkers and weapons and whatnot. I’m far more interested in the “Darwinist” Allied powers, who have been busily genetically engineering giant flying whales and talking message lizards. It’s a seriously detailed universe, and I’m captivated by it. I think that’s one of Westerfeld’s trademarks–it’s why I thought Uglies was so much more compelling than Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. They both had the same sort of plot, but Westerfeld had the scientific research and details to make it all seem plausible.

Also, a reason why I tend not to like war stories is because they are always oh-so-masculine. Westerfeld’s got that covered too, with Ms. Deryn Sharp, one of my favorite YA characters of recent memory. Deryn’s father was an airman who died in a hot air balloon accident. But before he died, he taught Deryn an awful lot about flying. So Deryn changes her name to Dylan and enlists as a young midshipman in the British Air Services, where she ends up serving on the huge airship Leviathan.

Deryn Sharp

Deryn Sharp

Of course she’s terrified that someone will discover her secret, but she’s mostly too busy being super competent and savvy. Cheers for Deryn Sharp!

Then there’s our young Clanker protagonist, Alek. He’s the (fictional) son of the (real) assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and he and some of his household staff are on the run. They run right into… the Leviathan. I have to admit, I was initially frustrated with Alek and anxiously waited for the book to get back to Deryn’s chapters. He did grow on me, though I still prefer Deryn.

Alan Cumming, with his plethora of available accents, was a great choice for these audiobooks. You can hear a sample at Scott Westerfeld’s website. However, I couldn’t get the audiobook for Behemoth, the next book in the trilogy. And I discovered that the books are illustrated! (You can see one of the illustrations above.) So far Behemoth is great and I love the illustrations. And I’m still hearing the characters’ voices as Alan Cumming, so it’s a win-win situation.

fail whale
I rate Leviathan four flying whales out of a possible five.

February 7, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

by renata

Okay. There’s probably no point in me reviewing The Fault in Our Stars by John Green since by now it’s been a NYT bestseller for a couple weeks in a row (not to mention that it was also a bestseller in pre-sales) and you’ve probably already read it. But nevertheless, I read it and I have thoughts about it.

The Fault in our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I have heard the complaint leveled that John Green is overrated. And, to some extent, I think I agree. Or at least–I think that his Twitter and his YouTube videos make me feel more fondness toward him as an author than his books alone merit. Is that the same thing as being overrated? Or is he just good at social media? Is that the whole point? (Maureen Johnson also triggers this confusion in me.) I think that John Green is excellent at social media but I think he is also excellent at writing books, and I will happily consume both.

Still, I was nervous about The Fault in Our Stars (or TFIOS, as the internet calls it). I mean, it’s about cancer kids. And Jodi Picoult wrote the cover blurb. Let’s be real: it could have been cringe-worthy. But instead, I really thought that it transcended cliche and delivered wonderful characters and, you know, deep truths about mortality or whatever.

TFIOS was so engaging that it cured my jet lag. The first day I got back from my European travels, I went to bed at 8pm and woke up at 4am. It was less than ideal. The second day, I picked up all my held mail, including my pre-ordered copy of TFIOS. I decided to read a few chapters of it before going to bed at 8:30pm, a totally reasonable bedtime for a jetlagged grownup. But I got so sucked into it that I read it straight through until midnight. Then I wiped my tearstained eyes and went to sleep. Ahh.

kleenex

Just got something in my eye

So. TFIOS is the story of Hazel, a teenage cancer patient. Hazel loves the (fictional) book An Imperial Affliction, which is about a teenage cancer patient. She dislikes most of the kids at the teenage cancer support group her parents make her attend, except for Isaac, a sarcastic eye cancer patient. And Isaac’s friend, Augustus. Before long, Hazel more than likes Augustus. She loves him, and vice versa. But Hazel knows her days are numbered, even if she doesn’t know the exact number, and she’s afraid to let Augustus get too close to her.

I don’t want to give too much away, but, you know, it’s a book about cancer kids. It’s funny and heartbreaking. Don’t put on mascara before you read it, that’s all I’m saying. These characters have a unique perspective on life and mortality, and Green–who worked as a chaplain in a children’s hospital–brought them to life unforgettably. As is true in many of my favorite YA novels, the teens talk perhaps a bit more intelligently and profoundly than normal teens. Like, whatever, at least they’re not vampires, am I right?

“I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
— Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars

Swoon!

five stars

Anyway, I give TFIOS five faulty stars out of a possible five. (The title, BTW, is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Classy!)

November 16, 2011

Review: The Future of Us

by renata

All right! It’s been a minute since I actually reviewed a book around here! The reason why is: I BEEN BUSY.

But whatever! This book has been sitting on my shelf since I got an ARC in July and I finally read it!

The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

The Future of Us takes place in 1996. Emma Nelson has just gotten her very first computer, and she installs AOL on it. But somehow, her computer connects her… to the future. AOL sends her to some weird website called Facebook. She doesn’t really get why this Emma Nelson Jones person, who kind of looks like her, but older, is sharing such inane details about her life on the internet. Eventually she becomes convinced that she’s looking at her own future, and it looks like her marriage is not a happy one. Her next door neighbor and erstwhile best friend, Josh, comes over to check out the new computer. They find him on Facebook, too, and discover that in the future, Josh is married to Sydney Mills, pretty much the hottest girl in school. She’s never spoken two words to Josh, but Josh is perfectly happy with the idea of someday marrying her.

Every day, Emma and Josh come home to check out their Facebook futures, which change slightly based on their actions in the present. Emma is desperately trying to find a way to fix her future, while Josh is just trying to figure out what he can do to start dating Sydney.

Can you guess what happens in the end? Did you guess that Emma and Josh start dating? You are correct, but it’s still a cute ending. Also, future Emma deletes her Facebook profile, so they can’t spy on their future anymore.

Overall, this was a really fun book to read! I suspect that adults in their 20s and 30s might enjoy this more than actual young adults. I had a lot of fun nostalgia reading about Emma deliberating over which Windows 95 screensaver to pick, or Emma’s mom kicking her off the internet so she could make a phone call. Kids these days probably won’t relate to the trials of growing up in the 90s, although they’ll probably get a kick out of Josh and Emma’s bewilderment over Facebook. Emma and Josh’s confused, flirty relationship felt real to me, as did their other high school drama.

I give The Future of Us four likes out of a possible five.

October 14, 2011

Rock Me, Bartimaeus (and other thoughts on fantasy)

by renata

This week was FANTASY WEEK in my children’s literature class! We read: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt*, and Sector 7 by David Wiesner.

But I just want to talk about The Ring of Solomon. Jonathan Stroud was not at all on my radar until I saw him at the ALA conference this summer. (He was on a panel with David Levithan, which is why I went to that panel.) He was completely funny and charming and I made a note to myself that I should really pick up some of his books sometime. But there are just so many other books out there, and I never got around to it until it turned up on my booklist for class.

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud

The Ring of Solomon is technically a prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy, but we were assured that it stands on its own. And it does–I had no trouble understanding the character or the plot. He’s a bitter, immortal djinni. Got it. Others in class who had read the whole trilogy thought that Ring of Solomon was weaker than the other three, but I will have to take their word for it.

I enjoyed Ring of Solomon well enough. Bartimaeus, a world-weary, clever, sarcastic djinni, is a hilarious narrator, and his wry footnotes brought to mind a magical David Foster Wallace. The book itself, I feel, could have benefited from a better editor. It was maybe 100 pages too long. The first two thirds of the book dragged on, mired in description and long asides. The payoff was probably worth it–it had a very elaborate and satisfying ending.

Genie

You ain't never had a friend like Bartimaeus

I understand that there are some fantasy readers who love long descriptions of made-up worlds. I am not one of them. I don’t want to have to keep checking the magical glossary to see what kind of magic is happening. I do not want my books to come with maps of fictional lands. (Technically The Ring of Solomon has a map of the Middle East, which is probably a real place., although I’ve never been there.) But I know that not everyone shares these opinions. If you love magical glossaries and sassy genies, you will probably love the Bartimaeus books. For me, I give The Ring of Solomon three Robin Williamses out of a possible five.

For class, we also have to pick one classic children’ book we never got around to reading before. I’m reading Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for this assignment. I’m only 2/3 through it so I won’t give it a full review, but so far, reading it has made me realize what I value in fantasy books: a sense of humor. Jonathan Stroud has one. J.K. Rowling has one. C.S. Lewis has one. Patricia Wrede has one. Terry Pratchett has at least two. If Ursula LeGuin has a sense of humor, she has that thing locked up in a dungeon somewhere and allowed it nowhere near A Wizard of Earthsea. Yikes.

* There was some debate about whether or not Tuck Everlasting is actually fantasy, and although it does not have unicorns or dragons, it does have a fountain of immortality, so.

October 7, 2011

Review: Modelland

by renata

You guys. You GUYS. Modelland is 563 pages long. And I read them all. (Or skimmed some of them. Maybe. A little.) As we all expected, it is awful. It’s more… creatively awful than I might have expected.

Modelland

Modelland by Tyra Banks

Modelland takes place in some kind of bizarre fashion-themed dystopia. Girls growing up in this world can basically either aspire to be models or sweatshop employees. (Tyra’s description of factory life feels almost–but not quite–like social commentary. I suppose Tyra doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds her too hard.) Our protagonist is a girl named Tookie De La Creme. Tookie not only has an unfortunate name, but she has a horrible homelife. Her mother is emotionally abusive and clearly favors Tookie’s beautiful (but dumb) younger sister, Myrracle. Her father was once a famous acrobat, but he was injured during a performance (caused by Tookie’s mother vainly checking her reflection in a mirror and inadvertently blinding him) and is now an angry alcoholic. Tookie herself has extremely low self-esteem and refers to herself as a “Forgetta-Girl.” When she writes her name, she dots the “i” with “FG.” We see this often, since Tookie writes a lot of letters to her T-Mail Jail. Which is what she calls her diary, because it is her Tookie Mail Jail where she puts letters so they can’t get out anywhere else.

Anyway, every year, there is an event called The Day of Discovery (T-DOD), where all the young girls participate in a catwalk fashion show. The best girls are taken away by scouts to attend Modelland, the academy for models. The best students at Modelland become Intoxibellas, aka Dystopia’s Next Top Models.

In a weird way, Tyra Banks as an author appears to owe a lot to Roald Dahl. Both have a fondness for extreme, over-the-top scenarios and weird wordplay. The difference, of course, is that Dahl is good at it. The difference is that Dahl writes characters you care about, despite their whimsical surroundings. Dahl transcends absurdity. Banks gets tangled up in it. When you read about Charlie Bucket’s homelife–his father screws on toothpaste caps for a living, all four of his grandparents share the same bed, all they ever eat is cabbage soup–the details are laughable, a caricature of poverty. But still, we care about Charlie Bucket, and anyone who says otherwise is heartless and awful. Get off my blog if you don’t care about the Bucket family!

Anyway, Tyra Banks does not pull this off, and Tookie de la Creme is instead hilariously forlorn. At school she just lies down in the hallway every day in the hopes that someone will pay attention to her. But no one does, because she is a Forgetta-Girl.

But then, on T-DOD–a scout chooses Tookie for Modelland, and not her beautiful younger sister, Myrracle! (Myrracle, by the way, suffers from Kevin Jonas syndrome–Banks clearly wanted to make her comically stupid, but instead she comes off as having some kind of surreal mental handicap. Like, she says “making in” instead of “making out.” That makes no sense. That is not how a stupid person talks.) Tookie and her new misfit friends (one is plus-size! one is short! one has albinism! They’ll never be models, never!)

Modelland itself is kind of like America’s Next Top Model on steroids. There are all kinds of absurd challenges and classes. Everything there has a weird semi-word play name. The spa is called OoAa. Male models are called Bestosteros. Runways are called Run-a-Ways. The nurses’ office is called Fashion Emergency Department Store (FEDS). Nurses are called purses. (I am serious.) I think that Modelland was co-written by Tom Haverford.

The actual plot of the novel, beyond Tookie learning that she is beautiful on the inside and the outside, is insanely complicated and makes little sense but it involves Tookie’s mother, a disgraced top Intoxibella, Belladonna (the head of Modelland), and Persimmon (a Mannecant… aka servant of Modelland). There are a lot of weird flashbacks and it’s all very strange and forced.

The whole thing is forced. The characters, the wordplay, the world itself–none of it feels even remotely plausible, nor is it entertaining enough to allow me to overlook how awful it is.

ANTM

I rate Modelland two smizes out of a possible five. If you are tempted to read this book, I would instead recommend that you read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and then watch an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Oxygen.

September 16, 2011

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

by renata

I’m in my library school’s YA book club, where a bunch of overwhelmingly female library students (and a few actual librarians) get together and overanalyze YA books. YA book club is where I go to realize that all of my opinions about Katniss Everdeen are minority opinions.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Anyway, this month we read Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I was tentatively interested in this–I had loved Oliver’s first book, Before I Fall, which is a really well done Mean Girls/Groundhog Day kind of thing. It’s good. If you like realistic contemporary fiction, go read Before I Fall. Read it quick, before technology changes and makes it outdated. Go!

But Delirium, a dystopia where love is classified as an illness and “cured” with mandatory brain surgery, is not like Before I Fall, which is okay–authors shouldn’t write the same kind of books over and over. But part of why I liked Before I Fall is because the high school felt very real to me. I had no trouble buying into the world, even with its Groundhog Day scenario. Unfortunately, Delirium‘s world is not quite so well defined.

I kept comparing it unfavorably to Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy–unfairly, too, since I’ve read all three Uglies (but not the fourth one, Extras, I’ll get around to it, okay?) and Delirium is book one of an eventual trilogy. She has two more books to flesh out this dystopia. But on book one alone, I just didn’t buy it. Scott Westerfeld did a masterful job of researching and creating the Uglies world, even if its concept (a world where ugliness is cured by mandatory plastic surgery) is basically as weird as a world where love is cured by brain surgery. There are too many inconsistencies in Oliver’s world and I never fully bought into it.

My favorite Delirium

My favorite Delirium

Also, when I see a book called Delirium, I really want it to be about Neil Gaiman’s Delirium.

But nevermind that. Delirium isn’t all bad. The protagonist, Lena, felt very real and likeable. Her reactions to the world felt real, even if the world itself did not.

I should also report that just about everyone else at YA book club liked this book more than I did–though when I went through and pointed out all the ways in which the dystopia makes no sense, pretty much everyone agreed. (For example: their symptoms of love-as-illness all pretty clearly describe romantic love. So why does their cure also destroy parental love? Why would you do that? Or if there is some kind of purpose, why then wouldn’t the children be raised collectively in a commune or something, so fewer adults would have to interact with these children they don’t care about? And also, Oliver, your two-sentence dismissal of the gays really doesn’t work for me. And also… well, never mind.) Everyone else just cared less about the inconsistencies. Sorry guys! I like my dystopias like I like my coffee: coherent. But still, when the second book comes out, I’ll probably read it, if only to see if Oliver explains more about how this world actually works.

Also to see what happens with Lena and her ~*true love*~ Alex. (Because, sorry, I forgot to say that she fell in love with a boy mere weeks before she was scheduled to be cured! But also I kind of thought it went without saying that of course she did.) The book ends on a very dramatic note for the two of them, and I’m sure the next book will pick up on that.

Delirium + fish balloon = love

Overall, I rate Delirium three fish balloons out of a possible five.