Tag Archives: young adult

The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly

Review (Amazon):

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother. He is angry and alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in his imagination, he finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a land that is a strange reflection of his own world, populated by heroes and monsters, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book… The Book of Lost Things.

An imaginative tale about navigating the journey into adulthood, while doing your best to hang on to your childhood.

My Review (Spoilers):

Executive Summary: Mediocre

I really wanted to like this book, but I just could not get into it. It felt overdone and slow, and I really started to dislike how all the good people were men and all the evil people were women, which is really odd for a boy who is missing his mother.

We are introduced in the most cliche “Once upon a time” way to the main character, David, who had lost his mother. She had been slowly dying for a while, and David thought that his OCD activities could keep her alive. When she died, he took it as a personal failure, and in his bad dreams, the Crooked Man started appearing to him in his dreams.

Five months, three weeks and four days after his mother died, a new woman named Rose started joining David and his dad for things. Once David put 2 and 2 together, he started having panic attacks and was sent to a psychiatrist. Things get even worse when he finds out that Rose is pregnant. She has the baby, a boy, and the combined family moves out to the country (it’s WW2 time in England). The house is a family home of Rose’s and while he hates the whole situation, he loves the old fairy tale books in his room.

He eventually finds out that they were the books of Jonathan Tulvey, who was Rose’s uncle. He disappeared at age 14 with another little girl Anna, who Rose’s grandparents had taken in when her parents had died in an unfortunate fire. They were never found.

The tension between David and Rose continues to grow, and there’s a big fight at dinner which David takes that it’s his fault. He storms off, and walks out of his house. When he looks back at the house from the edge of the yard, he sees a figure in his room–the Crooked Man. He races back inside, gets his father, and they investigate–to find a magpie in there instead. That night, he dreams of his mother’s voice calling him from the sunken garden in the back of the yard.

The next day, David and Rose have a huge fight which causes David’s father to be very upset with David too. Because of this, he goes back to the sunken garden and enters a different world. When he gets inside, he encounters the Woodsman. The Woodsman helps David tie a string to the tree which he came in from so he can find it again. The Woodsman tells David that the king has a book of lost things so they must find the king so that he can help David return home. But to do so, they must escape the wolves and the Loups (wolves who have evolved into more human-like form) who are very hungry. They make it to the Woodsman’s house where David wonders why his mother is luring him here with the voices that he’s hearing in his dreams, and what the role of the Crooked Man (who the Woodsman tells him is a very bad man who steals children) is.

The Woodsman tries to help David with his OCD. He explains that he has rules too. Every day he cleans his ax. He checks the house is secure, etc. etc. David begins to think this over as the Woodsman tells him that they must go back and try to get the hole in the tree to reappear because he fears he can’t keep David safe. When they return, every tree has a string on it. So the Woodsman decides to continue the original thought of taking David to the king. When they get to the bridge, with the wolves and Loups hot on their trail, there are trolls guarding the bridges. One of the bridges is fake, but they have to determine which by solving the riddle. He solves it correctly, but the wolves are right there. They chase after David, some falling on the fake bridge, but the Woodsman stays to fight them off so that David can get away.

Next David meets the dwarves who then introduce him to Snow White, who they tried to poison with an apple because she’s so unbearable. She’s morbidly obese and bosses the dwarves around making them cook and clean for her. They lead him on his way.

As he’s walking, he sees an unusual sight–a centaur of sorts. Half human girl, and half deer. She’s panicking and he realizes why. She’s being hunted, and is killed in front of him. The hunter threatens him and then hog ties him and takes him back with her. She’s a maniac who uses a special magic salve to reattach and reanimate animals together, including human children. Then she releases them and hunts them for sport. Obviously she’s saving David for an experiment, but he manages to outsmart her by convincing her to become a centaur and then killing her and then managing to get out of there.

Next he meets the soldier Roland, who is nice to him like the Woodsman. Roland keeps him company and helps him get along more quickly on horseback. They come upon a terrible scene where many have died. David meets the Crooked Man there who shows him an image of his dad, Rose, and Georgie happy and not missing him one bit. David is furious and Roland calms him, teaching him strength and how to defend himself. Roland is on a mission to find out what happened to his “friend” (it’s the 40s) Raphael. In the process, he saves a village from a Beast, but then the Crooked Man catches up to David. He shows David the snout of the wolf that had been sent to track him. He tells David more in detail what he is doing. He will make David a deal that his father will love him alone. David suspects there is more to the story. The Crooked Man wants to know what David’s brother’s name is, but David won’t tell him. The Crooked Man is furious and David goes back to Roland and they continue their quest.

Roland and David eventually find the Enchantress who has lured so many men, including Raphael, to their deaths. Roland goes in ahead, and he, like the others does not make it out alive. The Crooked Man tries to keep David from going in after him using his mom’s voice, but David persists. He doesn’t get lured by the temptations, and when he sees Roland impaled, he becomes enraged and lures out the Enchantress and impales her.

David continues alone to find the King, and when he gets there, he finds the King is expecting him. He has a luxurious room, and eats well and goes to sleep. He awakes suddenly for no reason, and finds that the guards have left his room. He sneaks out and overhears the Crooked Man speaking to the King. The King is dying. The Crooked Man says that the book of lost things has no value, but the King says that it has value to him. David opens it and realizes that it’s all from “his” world and is a book of mementos and diary entries. The king as a younger boy had a young girl arrive in his life, and he was enraged. David can relate to the story, and then at the end realizes that the King is Jonathan Tulvey.

David finds a secret passageway to where the Crooked Man goes, and finds all sorts of horrors. In one of the last rooms, he finds a large hourglass nearing its end as well as a little girl in a jar. Her name is Anna. David realizes that Jonathan brought Anna there as part of the bargain. In return, Jonathan became king and the old Queen was allowed to die. Anna was killed and the Crooked Man ate her heart. She’s been trapped in the jar since. The Crooked Man grows weaker by the day, and David realizes that the hourglass is the Crooked Man’s life. He’s waiting for David to make the deal with him for Georgie so that he can continue to live.

This is where the book should have ended. It doesn’t. It goes on for another quarter to a third of the book with a wolf/Loup attack on the castle. The main Loup kills the King. The Crooked Man dies as he runs out of time, and the King’s death causes the disappearance of the Loups as they were created by the King’s nightmares. And then, just for good measure, the Woodsman, who wasn’t dead, reappears to take David home. -_-

David returns home. It turns out he’s in the Wizard of Oz and this whole thing was a dream while he was in a coma after being hit with some debris from the downed German bomber which crashed near him just as he entered the woods. When he awakes, he goes on to be a model citizen, but nothing ever fully goes right for him. His eventual wife and son die, so he becomes a writer. He writes beloved children stories until he’s old and gray, and eventually he goes back to where he first entered the forest and the Woodsman is waiting for him.

Verdict: 3 stars

Too cliché for my tastes. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a young adult book, but it felt like one for very young adults if anything. As someone who solidly counts as an adult these days (sigh), I found it too overdone, too dramatic (I have a new brother, woe is me), and just not fun or enchanting in any way.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 3 stars, Book Review

The Girl with All the Gifts – M.R. Carey

Review (Amazon): 

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: slow to get going but worth it in the end

We get introduced to ten-year-old Melanie on page 1. She is in a classroom, different than we are used to, but we only slowly get introduced to what exactly is different. Her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau, although they do have other teachers from time to time. They live in a compound to keep away from the hungries (aka zombies). The children live in cells and get wheeled into the classroom Hannibal Lector style each day, all strapped in and ready to learn. Occasionally the students leave by the hand of Doctor Caldwell and never come back, and they haven’t gotten any new students in a while.

One day the Sergeant comes in and has an issue with Miss Justineau getting “too attached” to the children, and he suggests that they aren’t even children. To demonstrate, he spits on his arm and holds it near one of the children who starts chomping and biting at him (still restrained) and so do the children near him. Melanie is very confused about what is happening.

We cut to Dr. Caldwell for a bit to determine that the children are not actually children (after she has dissected her latest two). They have a fungal parasite of some sort that Dr. Caldwell is crudely investigating. After the Breakdown, most high tech equipment is incredibly difficult to come by.

Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell are have very different ideas on how to interact with the children. Miss Justineau treats the children like normal children (at least as much as she can) whereas Dr. Caldwell and the Sergeant treat them worse than animals. But they all ended up in the compound under the same circumstances. They are trying to determine why some of the children that they have been finding are not mindless zombies like the other hungries, but instead can learn and reason and generally go beyond the mindless behaviors of the others. Miss Justineau and the other teachers are there to teach and observe. Dr. Caldwell is there to help create scientific revelations about the parasite to hopefully protect the other humans, and the Sergeant is there to protect all the humans in the compound both from the children, but also from the packs of hungries as well as the Junkers (bands of humans who sort of “Mad Max” about in the outside) who could attack at any time.

Dr. Caldwell requests that Miss Justineau provide a list of 1/2 the class to be dissected, and Miss Justineau is understandably having a hard time with it. Not just because she has become close to the students but she also understands how losing half the class will affect the dynamics. So she holds off on providing the list. In response, Dr. Caldwell decides to start with Melanie. Sergeant Parks gets her, and takes her in to Dr. Selkirk and Dr. Caldwell.

When Melanie doesn’t come to class, Miss Justineau realizes that something is up. She confronts Sergeant Parks who tells her where Melanie has been taken. Luckily Miss Justineau arrives just in time. She confronts Dr. Caldwell and the two break into an argument followed by a physical fight. In the midst of it, the evacuation siren goes off, and hungries break into the window. Dr. Caldwell and Miss Justineau make it out, but Dr. Selkirk does not. No one knows in the chaos what happened to Melanie so Miss Justineau goes out to find her. Instead she runs into a pack of Junkers. Luckily Melanie reappears and attacks them with full force.

Melanie, Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell find Sergeant Parks and one of his soldiers, Kieran Gallagher. They get into a Hummer and leave Beacon. Melanie is faced with existential challenges after killing the Junker. Justineau and Caldwell are at complete odds except that they both want Melanie to live (for different reasons) so they are able to keep Parks from killing her. Off they go to an unknown location. They stave off a few groups of hungries, and then they eventually find the Rosalind Franklin. It’s a huge armored mobile laboratory that Dr Caldwell is very familiar with. As we learn, she was fully trained on the unit, but didn’t end up making the final cut for the mission (and she’s been holding a grudge for the last twenty years). There are no humans or food inside, but all the scientific equipment is intact.

Melanie asks to speak to Parks alone, and when they reconvene after assessing what Rosalind Franklin does and doesn’t have, Melanie is gone. The generator needs to be fixed, so Parks starts on that while Justineau and Gallagher look for food. Before they leave, Justineau asks Parks where Melanie went. She was going crazy inside in close quarters with all the humans. All their e-blocker had worn off, so Parks let her go outside. He figures she can take care of herself. Justineau and Gallagher take off. They only see a few hungries. Most of them have died and have sprouted seeds for the fungus. Eventually they find a storage unit beside a convenience store that hasn’t been looted, and they take all they can back to the RF.

While everyone else is out, we learn that Dr. Caldwell has blood poisoning from the injuries she sustained during the original hungry attack. She’s trying to do what she can in terms of research before she dies. She tells Parks that it doesn’t really matter anyway. When the fungus took over the planet, it was in a juvenile form. Now it’s sprouting into an adult form and pollinating. And when it does, she doesn’t think there will be anything left.

When Justineau and Gallagher return, it’s late but Melanie hasn’t returned. So despite Parks’ arguments, Justineau decides to set off a flare. Melanie knows where the RF is; she just hasn’t wanted to return. She has spent the day looping around bigger and bigger circles until she finds something interesting–some others like her. When she returns to RF, she tells the adults that there are others out there–junkers, she says. Parks doesn’t believe her story. He believes she saw something which scared her, but it wasn’t Junkers. Justineau talks to Melanie who finally gives up the true story. She didn’t want to tell everyone because she was worried that Caldwell and Parks would round all the children up and dissect them. When everyone reconvenes, they realize that Gallagher is missing.

Unfortunately by the time Melanie, Justineau and Parks find Gallagher, the hungry children have already gotten to him, and tricked him to his death. Melanie insists that he should be honored, and as they are lighting his funeral pyre, they hear the engines of RF in the distance. Caldwell has left without them. She doesn’t get far before the hungry children encircle her. She’s trying to figure out how to capture one to dissect it before she dies. She opens the door locks and manages to close the door quickly enough to squash one. She doesn’t hurt his head though, but she needs to get the airlock fully shut because she is being shot at through the gap by the other children. She manages to get as far away as she can until she is stopped by a 40 ft high tower of the fungus for as long as she can see. She decides to dissect the head, and when Parks, Justineau, and Melanie finally find her, she won’t let them in. She’s too close to a breakthrough.

Parks sends Melanie on an exhibition to determine whether there’s a way around the fungus. There’s not. The 2 humans find a place to stay for the night. Dr. Caldwell is able to dissect the brain in peace and finds the answer she’s looking for. Once she’s done, she sees someone outside–a search party, she thinks. She goes out of RF and when she returns, Melanie is inside and wants to know the truth. The original hungries are because the fungus completely took over the bodies and then utilized them to hatch seed pods. Melanie and others like her are second generation hungries where the fungus doesn’t attack and feed on the brains.

Parks and Justineau are attacked where they are sleeping. Melanie hears shots fired on the walkie talkies and arrives to help as much as she can. Unfortunately Parks is bitten by the hungries, but she and Miss Justineau make it out unscathed. The 3 return to RF where Melanie decides to blast the fungus wall with the flame throwers. She’s outside with Parks as little bits of ash begin floating to the ground. Parks asks Melanie to shoot him before he becomes a hungry, and she agrees. But first she explains to him that it’s not ash, it’s fungus seeds. The flame thrower has opened all of the seed pods. She now knows that the original people will become hungries, but the second generation will be like her. They can end the war between the humans, the hungries, and the junkers, and create a new species. When Melanie returns to Miss Justineau, she explains again what has happened, and the book ends with Melanie introducing the hungry kids to their new teacher!

Verdict: 4 Stars

I thought the book was really creative. I am not typically super interested in zombie stories, and I’ve found that a lot of the post-apocalyptic ones are a bit overplayed at this point. So this was a breath of fresh air for me. It’s a bit slow at points, but it pays off in the end.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Books

Legend – Marie Lu

Review (Amazon): What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: exciting

One of my friends recommended this book to me and it was available for instant download from the library, so I picked it up while on vacation and just blew through it. It’s YA so it moves at a fast pace. It’s also different enough to be fresh and engaging.

The story focuses on two 15 year olds from opposite ends of life–June Iparis is the prodigy of The Republic (post-apocalyptic USA) who grew up in a rich family and scored a perfect 1500 on the test to determine people’s futures. She’s the only one who ever scored a perfect and is a hotshot in the army, moving up quickly especially with her older brother Metias’s help. Her parents died and her brother looked after her like a parent. Metias’s best friend Thomas is also a sort of brother to June, but he wants to ensure she is abiding all the rules like he does.

On the other hand, we have Day. He grew up in the projects with his mother and two brothers. His mother believes that he is dead, however his older brother knows that he is alive, and Day spends his day being a sort of Robin Hood to get food and other supplies to his brother to take care of their family. He is wanted by The Republic for a number of crimes but he has never been caught. Day has a partner named Tess.

Day and Tess watch the soldiers investigate every home on Day’s mother’s street to check for the plague. When the soldiers finally leave his mother’s house, they mark an X on the front door. But unlike the other X’s left by previous plagues, this one has a third line going through it. Something is different this time.

Day breaks into the hospital to try to get a cure for the plague. He manages to get some medicine but he barely squeaks out alive. In the process, he has to shoot Metias in the shoulder. He doesn’t like to hurt people, let alone kill them so he is always careful to minimize damages. Also in the process, he manages to lose the pendant which his father gave him.

When June finds out about the break-in, the story has changed a bit from where it was left off. Her brother is dead. He was stabbed in the heart by Day during the attack. She is assigned to find Day, and she figures out a plan. She decides to pose as a blackmarket plague medicine dealer. She spreads the rumors to the right sources, but when she goes to meet him, Day sees her and knows by the knot of her cloak that she is military so he scrams. June creates a new plan–to go undercover.

In the meantime, Day discovers a pipe leading up to the pier where he and Tess sometimes sit with a red painted number on it.

June wanders around the slums for a few days with no real leads, but then she stumbles into a Skiz fight (a street fight). A bartender who Day knows is the reigning champ, and decides that she will pick a random victim from the audience, and she selects Tess. For some reason, June volunteers to go in her place. Bets are taken, mostly against June, but of course she ends up winning although she gets stabbed by a knife in the meantime. Day and Tess help her since she helped save Tess, despite them losing a lot of money by betting against her.

June stays with them a few days while she recovers, and June and Day start falling for each other, even sharing a drunken kiss. She even turns off her ear bud where Thomas (who is also falling for her) keeps bothering her. Eventually though she sees Day touch a non-existant pendant on his neck and she realizes that he is who killed her brother. She follows him to find out where his family lives (where he sees another pipe with another red number), and then she calls it in. The following day, the army officers show up at Day’s family’s house luring him in. His family goes outside, and June steps out to let him know that she is who turned him in. She wants him to turn himself in, but the captain tries a different tactic. She orders Thomas to put a gun to Day’s mother’s head and shoot her. Day is furious and takes down some of the officers who are there but is eventually shot in the leg and taken into custody along with his two brothers.

Due to the situation with Day’s mother, June begins to grow skeptical of both Thomas and the Republic’s mission. But still, she is convinced that Day killed Metias. She interviews him when he wakes up, and he admits to many acts of wrongdoing but he insists that he did not kill Metias. June asks him about his past, how “Daniel Altan Wing” died in the labor camps. Day laughs because he knows the labor camps are not real. They are only something that the rich think happens. In reality, the poor and the ones who score too poorly on their tests get taken for experimental testing. It’s what happened to Day, and they thought he was dead. So when he woke up, he decided to continue to be dead. When June is done interviewing him, she orders him to be moved to another cell and along the way, he sees a red 0 painted. It’s the same as the other red numbers.

June continues her skepticism and starts investigating Day. She looks up his test score which is listed as 674, the lowest score she’s seen ever. She knows he is smarter than that so she keeps digging. She opens up the restricted file of his test and it’s identical to hers–he got a perfect score too.

Day is sentenced to death by firing squad in 4 days’ time. June is in charge of watching over him until then. He tells June that the Labor Camps aren’t real and about the experiments they did on him. He asks about the plague which never goes away and comes back in different forms every year, but only to the poor because the rich get vaccinated. How do the rich get the exact vaccination every year? June begins to think of her father who had worked on the plague vaccinations. June leaves amidst confusion but sends Day to the hospital to get his leg looked at.

June continues her investigations which become even more pointed once the Republic opens fire on a bunch of unarmed protesters. She revisits Metias’s death and realizes that she was set up to not fully investigate what happened to him. None of the crime scene photos are of the arm which Day said he injured. But looking closer at the knife imbedded in her brother’s chest, she sees rifle grease on the hilt and knows that it was Thomas who killed him. She looks at her brother’s journal and realizes that he has left her a secret message in it. She decodes it to lead her to a website which explains that her parents were also killed by the Republic.

June realizes that saving Day may be the only way to fix things. She reaches out to Kaede (the girl from the Skiz fight) and finds Day’ friend Tess has joined up with her and the Patriots (rebels of the Republic). They create a plan to get Day (and his two brothers) out before the execution. Unfortunately for them and their plan, the Commander moved up the execution date. The electro-bomb goes off as planned which restricts use of any guns, and the Patriots are there. June leads Day and his older brother John out, but they are running out of time, so John, who looks identical to Day, sacrifices himself to be executed in Day’s place. June and Day escape and begin to try to formulate a plan to find Day’s other brother Eden.

Verdict: 4 stars

This was one of the best YA books I’ve read in a while. It’s certainly better than Divergent or the Mortal Instruments series. While I did give it 4 stars, that is in relation to other books in its genre. While the plot was a little predictable to me as an adult, I thought that it was well written and well thought out. I liked that the numbers were deliberately put into the story and then it turned out that they pipes were how the Republic was infecting specific people. I also enjoyed the dichotomy of two really strong characters but on opposing sides (and with opposing genders). I didn’t feel like June was weak or overly swoony even though she did grow and develop through the novel. I really appreciated that.

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Book Review

The House of the Scorpion – Nancy Farmer

Review (Amazon): Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested.
His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium–a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster–except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: OK

One of the categories which wasn’t chosen in book club this year was surprisingly the young adult category. So when we had a mix-up in months, we decided to add a young adult book to our year, and this book was chosen. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it did not live up to expectations.

On the plus side, it was a light read, and it had a different setting and plot (although similar) than a lot of the YA I’ve recently read. On the negative though, I didn’t feel like any of the characters were well-developed and I felt like the plot was full of holes.

Matteo Alacrán is a clone of El Patrón, the dictator of Opium, named aptly as it’s used to grow poppies and thereby Opium. It’s a country which developed because El Patrón, a drug dealer, advised both the USA and Mexico to set up a country where any illegal would be turned into a Farmer and there was an agreement to not sell the opium in either country. Because that seems reasonable that the USA and Mexico would be like “yeah OK this drug dealer seems to have a good idea”.

Matt grew up hidden by El Patrón’s cook until he got out one day to play with some children he saw outside. When he was caught, he was treated worse than an animal (since he was a clone), stuck in a room with sawdust like a chicken coop and abandoned. Eventually his nurse and his only friend (Maria), rescue him. El Patrón is furious that someone would treat Matt this way, and the nurse who was in charge of him is turned into an eejit like the rest of the farmhands. The eejits have implants in their brains so that they are under complete control. They work until told otherwise. Most clones are also eejits since they will eventually be harvested for parts, but El Patrón did not want Matt to have the procedure done. Matt is also given a body guard, Tam Lin.

Matt turns out to be very bright, going to eschool (since no one would want to teach a clone) and learning how to play music. He goes about mostly unnoticed since people completely ignore him. He and Maria develop a friendship. She doesn’t live at the house with him, but her father is an important person to El Patrón so she comes around often.

As he grows older, he begins to understand further what is going on within the household and with himself, and eventually when El Patrón has had another heart attack, he and Maria try to flee. Unfortunately they get caught by Maria’s sister who takes Maria back to the convent, and Matt is taken to the hospital where El Patrón tells Matt that he is only to be used for his heart which he is going to give to El Patrón. Celia pipes up to say that she has been slowly poisoning Matt with arsenic just so that he can no longer be an organ donor. Tam Lin is instructed to take care of Matt but instead, he gives Matt supplies and allows Matt to escape.

Matt gets caught at the border and sent to some sort of juvenile detention center. (This is where the book really derailed for me). The prisoners are governed by older boys who it turns out are just high all the time. The front of the whole camp is that they harvest plankton, but in reality, they are trafficking drugs. For whom and why, it never says. Eventually Matt and a few of his new friends from the camp escape (after Matt and another boy are deposited in the whale bone pile (also unexplained and really bizarre) and end up in the town where Maria is at the convent.

They make their way to the convent/hospital (I was really confused by this point) and Maria and her mother are there. (This is odd because Maria learned that her mother was still alive only recently from a book of Matt’s and she presumably lived in California, but here she just mysteriously appeared). She is interested to know about the center where Matt came from because apparently people have been trying to shut down the drug trade business for years but didn’t have enough evidence to arrest them or something (despite the entire premise of building the country of Opium being that the drugs were going to be sent out of North America). Annnnyway, Maria’s mom tells Matt that Opium has been on a complete lock down for months and that he needs to go figure out what’s going on. Since he and El Patrón have identical genetics, he shouldn’t have a problem getting in.

OK no problem, he gets back into Opium to find out that El Patrón died and during his wake, Tam Lin brings out some wine which El Patrón had wanted to have at his funeral. Tam Lin instructed another of the guards to not drink it, however he and everyone else did, and everyone died. The end. Not really, but it gets even more unrealistic. Now because Matt is technically El Patrón, he becomes the new ruler of Opium. Um, what? The book ends with him speculating about how he can disable the eejits and fix the country.

Verdict: 3 stars

This book has excellent reviews on Amazon, but frankly I don’t know if I read the same book as those people. I was sorely disappointed. Some of the ideas were good, but it did not feel like the book was thought through, and it felt as though the ending was rushed and too coincidental (never resolve a plot with a coincidence; it always feels disingenuous.) There is a sequel to this book, written many years after the original, but I don’t think I care enough to read it.

Leave a comment

Filed under 3 stars, Book Club, Book Review

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau-Banks – E. Lockhart

  Summary (Amazon): Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14: Debate Club. Her father’s “bunny rabbit.” A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school. Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15: A knockout figure. A sharp tongue. A chip on her shoulder. And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston. Frankie Landau-Banks. No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: relatable

I read another book by E. Lockhart earlier this year which I really liked so I thought I would also read this one. It did not disappoint!

The book begins with a letter from Frankie (Frances) to Headmaster Richmond and the Board of Directors at Alabaster Preparatory Academy confessing to a variety of crimes. It’s definitely going to be a good book!

In between freshman and sophomore years of school (at Alabaster Preparatory Academy), Frankie grows up physically, but her parents still consider her to be “Bunny”. She had been doing OK socially at school because her sister was a senior last year and was fairly popular. After her sister left for college, Frankie, her mother, and some uncles and cousins went to the Jersey Shore. On the last day, fully fed up with the youngins tries to convince her mother to let her go into town and eventually her mother settles on letting her go to the boardwalk (even though her 12 year old cousin was allowed to go into town alone). She meets a cute boy there but doesn’t get his name.

Frankie’s dad also went to Alabaster. He and Frankie’s mom separated when she was young, but he pays for the girls’ tuition to his alma mater. Senior (as Frankie’s dad is called) remembers high school fondly as the best time of his life.

Upon returning to school, she spends time as typical 15 year old girls do. Avoiding her last-year boyfriend Porter (who she caught cheating on her with Bess Montgomery), crushing after a new boy (Matthew Livingston), and navigating popularity. Her roommate Trish was a good friend although interested in much different stuff than Frankie. She had a boyfriend Artie who she’d had for a long time who would prove to be very useful in the end.

During a bike ride to the pool, Frankie spots Matthew and accidentally (or is it?) crashes her bike. Matthew comes over to her and they begin flirting. He assumes that she is a freshman, and she corrects that she is a sophomore. Her sister had introduced her to Matthew on multiple occasions, but he has forgotten (either intentionally or not). Regardless, they leave the “scene of the accident” together.

Matthew and Frankie become some sort of an item, and Matthew tells her about his friend Alpha who has returned from New York. When Frankie sees him, she realizes that he is the boy she met on the Boardwalk. But he pretends that he doesn’t recognize her even when she baits him. She’s Matthew’s now, and Alpha doesn’t want to step on any toes. But Frankie also realizes that all of the popular kids pretend not to notice the small people because it makes them feel powerful. And it pisses her off.

Frankie switches out her elective from Latin to Cities, Art, and Protest. During this class, they talk about the panopticon (which gave me some déjà vu as it was heavily discussed in the last book I read!) which starts putting some ideas into Frankie’s head.

Matthew finally (after other invitations had already been distributed) invites Frankie to the party of the year. When she gets the invitation, she notices that the seal on the envelope is a Basset Hound which sparks some memories of her father. The “Bassets” were/are a club on campus that is men only and top secret. Based on Senior’s stories, Frankie deduces that all the Bassets ever did was cause mischief. However, she knows that they kept a record of the mischievous deeds in a notebook that they called The Disreputable History.

As Matthew starts being more secretive with her as time goes on, blowing her off to hang out with Alpha, she decides to do a bit of sleuthing. She realizes that the current Bassets have no idea where The Disreputable History is any more. (The Bassets of past hid it somewhere for safe keeping but no one knows exactly where.) Frankie remembers some of Senior’s drunken reminiscing with friends and realizes that the song that they were singing was actually the treasure map to find this notebook so she locates the notebook on her own (utilizing her roommate’s boyfriend’s set of school keys which she has copied), reads all of the exciting pranks that were committed, and deduces that the Bassets of current are super lame comparatively. So she decides to become the secret orchestrator of Basset pranks!

Her own relationship with Matthew is a typical teenage relationship–tumultuous. She is contacted by her ex who warns her about Matthew. Matthew gives her his favorite t-shirt and she is torn between loving it and hating being marked as property. The confusion is not aided by her Berkley-attending sister either.

Also at this point, Frankie discovers an infatuation with what she calls “neglected positives” and “imaginary neglected positives”. As in impetuous means hotheaded, unthinking, impulsive. However, the word petuous does not exist. So it’s an imaginary neglected positive that could be used for a synonym of careful. The whole thing cracked me up as Frankie continues to use words like gruntled (disgruntled), turbed (distubed), etc. throughout the book.

Her first prank was executed for Halloween. Alpha’s mom conveniently pulled him out of school a few days prior to this  for a yoga retreat which allows Frankie to alias herself as “THEALPHADOG” online. Trish’s boyfriend is dressing up as a woman for Halloween which gives her an idea. Boobs are (indirectly obviously) the reason that she can’t join the Bassets. She emails the Basset members their roles, and when the students awake on Halloween, all statues and portraits (and even a few trees) throughout campus have bras affixed to them. The main  prank though was for the library dome which had a tan parachute with a pink center covering it with a sign saying “IN THE LADIES WE TRUST”. Everyone is atwitter about it, but Matthew and the others keep completely mum, which mostly pisses Frankie off. When Alpha returns, he takes credit for the prank although it’s clear he is very confused. Frankie decides to up the stakes.

She emails Alpha directly from thealphadog gmail address. She mentions how she now has The Disreputable History and he is mad. Prank number two involves a little bit of breaking and entering, but she has realized that no one at the school is paying that close of attention (or caring enough about it). She found an entrance into the old, unused gym, and creates a path for others to get into it afterwards. A week or so later, the windows in the old gym were illuminated with Basset hound figures wearing Santa hats. Upon the success of this, she can’t stop. She has all of the Bassets learn how to draw Basset hounds, break into buildings and draw them on the chalkboards. She masterminds sending every seniorclassman a rubber dog mask to be worn to the school concert. Alpha keeps emailing her but she manages to brush him off.

Frankie realizes that she has the power to plan something that would actually make a change. Thus the origination of “The Canned Beet Rebellion”. A generous alumna was the CEO of a large soft drink company. The school had recently changed to only products of that company and its conglomerates. There are no real fresh vegetables anywhere–only canned products and frozen items. When the CEO arrived at the school for a lecture, all students received buttons to wear saying things like “ketchup is not a vegetable”. When the caterer arrived, the main platter was a basset hound comprised entirely of vegetables. The CEO realized that she was being punked, but the result was real change in the school’s cafeteria–giving Frankie what she wanted.

Before leaving for Thanksgiving, Frankie sees a printout of the emails between her and her ex, Porter, in Matthew’s bag. She’s unsure as to what that means and focuses her off-time planning her final semester prank, one that is important to her as a Jewish student. The Bassets steal the Guppy (a statue at the school) leaving a plastic Basset in its place. The ransom note states that assemblies are to be held in the auditorium of the arts complex rather than in the Chapel as it is an affront to non-Christian students (and Christian students for its mixing of announcements in a religious venue). Once agreement was made, a series of clues leads some students and a janitor to the Guppy which is waiting in the abandoned swimming pool. As Frankie is debating the meaning of this with Matthew, she becomes enraged that he is treating her as though her ideas are cute and insignificant and she lies and tells him she has to study. Instead, she heads back to the abandoned gym to roll up the string she has left as a guide because she realizes that Matthew and the others are too dense to clean up after themselves. As she’s walking along, the string suddenly goes slack and she realizes that someone is on the other end. She runs out, catching a security guard who is heading into the tunnels.

When she gets back to the dorm, she hears some of the other girls discussing the headmaster’s speech about the “vandalism”. Since the pranks have progressed to stealing school property, it is now being taken seriously.

The next day, Frankie ends up going to the infirmary for the burn on her arm that she got when running out of the tunnels. Matthew comes to visit her, and she tells him that he underestimates her. He tells her that she’s adorable. He proceeds to tell her that the security guard found Alpha in the tunnels, and he refused to tell them why he was there. He was therefore charged with vandalism, theft, trespassing among other things. Alpha was the huge mastermind of all the pranks. He will be expelled from school. She asks Matthew if he knew about the pranks and he still told her that he had no idea, so she tells him how she burned her arm. She tells him how mad she was that he would never let her into his exclusionary club so she foiled him at his own game. He turns her into the headmaster.

She is called in where she writes the letter that was at the beginning of the book. She does not get expelled because she has never been in trouble before and her father of course is an active alumni. He also decides to only put her and Alpha on suspension. When she went home for winter break, she wasn’t Bunny any more.

Upon returning to school, she is treated simultaneously as a legend by some and a traitor by others. She goes to a counselor regularly by her mother and sister’s insistence. The counselor suggests she join field hockey. Frankie doesn’t really get into it because there isn’t even a boys’ field hockey and it feels inferior. Matthew moves on, and she finally realizes, so does she.

Verdict: 4 stars

I loved this book. It has a lot of depth for a YA book, and it really felt realistic of how being a teenager can be (as far as I can remember. It’s been a few years!! 🙂 ). Frankie is trying to figure out everything and is simultaneously concerned with popularity as well as the pressures of society. Even as an adult, that’s a very tough line to toe. Plus, pulling off awesome pranks is totally up my alley!

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Review

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

  Summary (Amazon): Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: satisfying

This is our book-into-movie book for the year, but unfortunately, the movie won’t be coming out until next year, so no review on it anytime soon. I am curious how they will make a movie about it.

I liked the book, don’t get me wrong, but there wasn’t a lot to it. Eleanor is the new-kid-in-town after she spent the previous year kicked out of home from her family (mom, stepdad, younger siblings). Her stepdad is emotionally and physically abusive and kicked her out. For unclear reasons, she was allowed to return although she obviously doesn’t like being there because of her stepdad. On top of that, her family is very poor and all share a bedroom with very little to eat and no extravagances.

She gets onto the bus and has nowhere to sit as the hierarchy and politics of a school bus are similar to that of a small corrupt nation. As she is walking back the aisle, she’s getting the dreaded brush off from everyone until she finally gets to Park who scoots over to let her sit. He doesn’t know why he does it. Eleanor is big with wild red hair and dresses strangely so he knows that it is a social misstep to allow this, but for some reason he does it anyway. Park has a Korean mother and a white (Irish) military father. His parents are middle class, although it is socially difficult for him to be the only non-white person at his school in Nebraska. He has worked hard for what little social status he has, but for whatever reason, he still lets her sit with him.

Park continues to let Eleanor sit with him on the bus, and he eventually notices her reading his comics with him so he loans some to her. It progresses a little further and he starts loaning her mix tapes (and the tape player) to go along with them to listen to.  And then they realize that they are in love so the story progresses into a full fledged awkwardness of trying to hang out outside of school and lying to parents and drivers’ tests. The awkwardness is of course exacerbated mostly by Eleanor who looks differently and therefore gets picked on. Someone is writing lewd notes on her textbooks, and she also has an incident of someone flushing her clothes in the toilet at gym class. She’s nicknamed Big Red which is obviously embarrassing. She also doesn’t have a telephone and isn’t allowed really to ever leave her house but she gets around it by saying she’s at her friend’s house.

Eleanor eventually comes home too late to find that her stepdad has figured out what has been going on. He found the stash of make up, comics, and other things that she has gotten from Park and his family, and is in a drunken rage. Eleanor slips out of the window because she is sure he will kill her. Her mom previously had told her that her uncle would like her to come to stay with him for the summer, but she had told him no because she wanted to spend time with Park. But she realizes that her only option is her family in Minneapolis. Park talks to his parents and they allow him to drive her to Minneapolis. When they arrive, she doesn’t want him to stay with her, not even until they know whether her family will accept her, so he turns around and drives back to Nebraska. Her family does allow her to stay, but Park doesn’t know this. She doesn’t call. She doesn’t answer his many letters. Until it’s almost too late. She sends Park a postcard with 3 little words…

Verdict: 3.5 stars

Honestly writing this blog definitely puts some books into perspective for me. When I finished this book, I liked it. I had had a feeling throughout the entire story that something bad was going to happen to Eleanor (a la Allegiant), but in the end, everything turned out OK. I did feel like the book was missing a LOT of the 80s feel, and maybe that was intentional. (I guess only in the 80s or earlier would parents have allowed their newly licensed 16 year old kid to drive out of state alone in a manual transmission vehicle.) Anyway, but as I continued to piece together my thoughts for writing up the synopsis, I realized that I wanted the book to stretch a little deeper. Unfortunately I never felt the love story was very realistic, and I was actually a little disappointed with the ending (yes, I said I liked the ending but I just didn’t want Eleanor to die). I felt that having them both move on would be a little more realistic and add a bit of depth to the story. Maybe that’s just me.

2 Comments

Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

2015/01/img_1041.jpgSummary (Amazon): E. Lockhart’s novel, We Were Liars, is clever, alluring, and wildly addictive. Each summer the wealthy, seemingly perfect, members of the Sinclair family gather on their private island.  We Were Liars is the story of those annual reunions; in particular what happened during a summer that protagonist Cadence is unable to remember. Prejudice, greed, and shifting patriarchal favoritism among the three adult sisters contrasts with the camaraderie and worldview of the teenage cousins and their dear friend Gat. Lazy days of sticky lemonades on the roof and marathon Scrabble games give way to twisty suspense, true love, and good intentions gone horribly wrong. We Were Liars is a story that begs to be read in one sitting. —Seira Wilson

My Review (SPOILERS!!! Seriously do not read this review if you want to read this book)

Executive Summary: Shocking

This is the first book for book club for 2015, and I think we started off well! I ended up buying this book (with a gift card my mom got me for Christmas!) because my best friend’s maiden name is Sinclair. And I know she will want to read this book as it’s so like her upbringing. </sarcasm>

The main character of the book is Cadence Sinclair. Her grandparents, Harris and Tipper Sinclair, are rich, and very controlling. Harris and Tipper have 3 daughters–Bess, Carrie, and Penny (Cadence’s mom) who are all useless individuals. They are drunk, unhappy has-beens who are living off of their father’s money, and therefore their father can control them quite easily. Let’s be honest, most everyone in the book (except Gat who is the “normal” voice) is pretty horrible.

The book begins when Cadence is about 14 or so, and from the start, we know that Cadence will be involved in an accident. (The book bounces back and forth between past and present tense.) The book is written in a style that I think really supports the main character’s age. There is a section near the beginning of the book where Cadence talks about when her dad left her and her mother. She writes “Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound, then from my eyes, my ears, my mouth. It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch…” After a few pages later when I realized that she wasn’t ACTUALLY shot, that the whole thing was a metaphor, I realized what a good metaphor that was for a naive (read: overly dramatic) teenage girl.

Each summer, the grandparents and the families of the 3 daughters go to Beechwood Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, which Harris owns. Each family has their own house on the island, and three of the grandchildren–Cadence, Mirren, and Johnny are all nearly the same age. Cadence is the oldest, but only by a few weeks. Starting at the summer when she was eight, a new child of similar age started coming to the island. His name was Gat. And he was the nephew of Carrie’s new boyfriend, Ed. Carrie never marries Ed because her father is a racist, and she will lose her inheritance if she does. Once Gat arrives, the four older grandchildren become known as the Liars, as they are always getting into mischief.

During summer 14, a different sort of relationship begins to grow between Gat and Cadence. They hang out all the time, share books, write love notes on each other’s hands. But they only hang out during the summer. Each of the Liars have their own “regular lives” during the school years. Right before summer 15 is when Cadence’s father leaves them. She’s excited to get to the island to get away and to see Gat, but when she arrives, she finds him mailing roses to his girlfriend. Between summer 14 and summer 15, Gat went on a mission trip to India. So he’s especially antagonistic about these rich people and their private island and all their silly things that they just shrug off like they are no big deal.

Also prior to summer 15, Tipper dies. The dynamic on the island has completely changed. Cadence and the others are instructed to keep it together for Grandpa’s sake.

And sometime on the island, Cadence goes swimming alone. She is found later curled up on the beach wearing a camisole, bra, and underpants. She doesn’t know what happened. They took her to a hospital off of the island, and can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. She has debilitating migraines, and can’t remember anything from shortly before, during or shortly after the attack. None of the Liars are returning her emails.

The following summer, Cadence’s father decides to take her on a trip around Europe. She’s upset. She wants to go to Beechwood Island to see the rest of the Liars. Her mother won’t allow her. Her grandfather’s house on the island is being redone so the summer won’t be any fun anyway. She reluctantly goes to Europe with her father and has a somewhat terrible time as she is sick so often.

The following fall, Cadence begins to take some of Gat’s lectures to heart. She begins a plan to give away something of hers every day. Some of the things she gives to homeless people. Some she mails to her cousins. Her mother is upset because spending money is her mother’s favorite activity.

Summer 17 Cadence is supposed to go to Australia with her father. However, she doesn’t want to. She wants to go to Beechwood. She hasn’t been there in 2 years and she wants to see the Liars. Her mother compromises and says she can spend 4 weeks there, but then she is staying with her father in Colorado for the remainder.

Cadence asks her mother what happened with the accident, and her mother is obviously frustrated. She’s told Cadence all she knew about what had happened every day since it happened, but Cadence doesn’t retain it. She asks her mother one last time, and this time she writes it down. She’s on a mission to figure out what happened.

Cadence and Penny arrive on the island for summer 17. Grandpa didn’t just renovate. He tore the entire house down and replaced it with a modern monstrosity with clean lines as opposed to the old Victorian home. He even got rid of the old maple tree with the swing. Cadence is devastated but she holds it together like she’s supposed to. But it’s hard. They don’t even stay at their old house now. Cadence and her mother now stay in the “New Clairmont” with their grandfather. She is expected to be there for all meals and hang out with the little cousins. But she hasn’t even seen the rest of the Liars yet. She finally finds some time to escape and find them. They are staying at Cuddledown, Mirren’s family’s house, together. Unfortunately though, Cadence is still required to stay at the New Clairmont. She catches up with them. Things are a little awkward, especially with Gat.

Cadence continues the summer trying to piece together what it was that had happened. She writes down the memories that return and keeps trying to get more information from her cousins and aunts.

STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING. SERIOUSLY

Eventually Cadence remembers that she and the Liars were getting pitted against each other by their mothers and grandfather. They were being used as pawns to get a better share of the inheritance. Penny was using Cadence’s first birth status to try to get more. Johnny’s mother was using his eldest boy status. Mirren’s mother was using the fact that she had 4 kids and the others didn’t. They were all fighting over petty things like table clothes. So the liars devised a plan. Everyone but them was off the island, and they set fire to grandfather’s house. That way there wouldn’t be anything left to fight over. They knew that the fire department would take a while to arrive from the mainland, and they knew that they wouldn’t be prosecuted.

But Cadence was the only one who escaped the fire. Johnny, Mirren, Gat, and the two golden retrievers all died. They weren’t able to get out in time. Cadence burned herself badly in the fire, and the emotional shock blocked most of the painful memories. She’s the only one left of the Liars.

 Verdict: 4 stars

It’s pretty rare that a book fully surprises me, and let’s be honest, especially a young adult book. I even knew there was a surprise ending before reading, and it still got me. For that, it gets four stars. I have read some other reviews that criticized the writing, but to me, it felt very appropriate. It felt like I was reading a journal written by a 17 year old, and I also think that the writing style was critical to the surprise ending. And although my family unfortunately did not have a private island (gasp), I’m certainly familiar with the family drama that accompanies a grandmother dying. I think it’s a relatable theme. All in all, a good way to kick off book club for 2015!

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 stars, Book Club, Book Review