NetGalley Review: Dead Letter Office by Kira Snyder

Dead Letter OfficeDead Letter Office by Kira Snyder
Read: August 18 – August 20, 2013
NetGalley Selection

Many thanks to Coliloquy for sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley!

Published: January 11, 2012
ISBN: 9781937804022
Price: $4.99 USD
Format: E-book

Goodreads Book Blurb: When Celia’s father is killed in Afghanistan, she moves with her mother to New Orleans, the city where her father grew up. Struggling to adjust and haunted by troubling dreams, Celia finds comfort in new friends like Tilly, a practicing witch, and Donovan, the son of police detective. On Halloween, bizarre supernatural occurrences rock the city. Celia meets the mysterious Luc and finds a letter, over a hundred years old, addressed to her.

The paranormal repercussions continue when Celia learns that Luc is the restless spirit of a young man murdered in 1854, only able to assume solid form at night. And then, to her shock, Celia finds that the letter, which describes the suspected murder of a man in 1870, contains uncanny parallels to the present-day death of Abel Sims, a homeless veteran.

With help from Luc, Tilly, and Donovan, Celia races to solve the murder—and the mystery of the letter—using both magical and forensic clues.

This is an Active Fiction title
“Active fiction” is a new type of e-reading experience that allows the reader and the author to interact with each other and the text in new and different ways.

My Opinion: What really piqued my interest about this book was the “active fiction” label. What is this so-called “active fiction”? It sounded really interesting and cutting-edge. Yeah. “Active fiction”? Choose your own adventure. I have nothing against choose your own adventure books, I used to love them as a kid. But it is not a new concept, and I felt really cheated. Not to mention that the way I chose, there were only (I think) three choices to make. So the whole “active fiction” thing fell really flat for me.

The rest of the book was alright, but not stellar. Case in point: I never felt like I wanted to go back and see what I was “missing” with the choices I didn’t make while choosing my adventure. I didn’t read all the choices, as my copy was running out of time.

I am not a fan of love triangles, and Dead Letter Office has one. There were other stereotypes. The father killed in Afghanistan was kind of pointless, from a reader standpoint. The popular girl versus the weird witch was very cliché. While none of it was exceptionally badly written, it was still there, and that was bad enough.

I read this book a while ago, and nothing really stuck with me to today when I am writing the review.

Bottom Line: A mediocre middle-grade choose your own adventure book riddled with cliché.

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Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting GoThe Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Read: August 7 – August 11, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

My Opinion: In the beginning, and for most of this book, I had a really hard time engaging. The prose is written in a convoluted mess of grammar and spelling, in an effort to convey how little Todd knows about reading and writing. For me, this took me out of the story as I was constantly irked by the errors. I think this is very polarizing, and readers will either not care, or care very much.

Todd is a very naive character, and it varied between being an endearing quality and an annoying one. I found that his interactions with other characters, Manchee especially, made this feel like it was driven more towards young boys as an audience than anything. I got really tired of reading about how much Manchee had to poop, personally.

I can’t comment on Ness’ writing from a technical standpoint, because it was stylistically made to be full of grammatical and spelling errors. In the sense of storytelling, Ness knows how to hit you where it hurts, let me tell you. And then he kicks you while you are down, just for good measure.

I spent a lot of this book really hating the characters, in a broad sense. I just wanted them to not be so… stupid? I wanted them to fight for themselves, to not make the obvious mistakes that they did anyways. There were so many times I heard myself screaming “NO” in my head, but of course the characters didn’t listen to little old me. Later in the book, we are told why they behave the way they do to some extent, but it was still one of the most aggravating things, and plot-wise it didn’t entirely make sense to me.

If I was going to colonize a new planet, I would send a mixture of people, not all of one certain type. But that, again, is just me.

The ending is what bumped it up from an OK book to a book I really enjoyed. I actually got a book hangover, almost entirely due to that ending.

Bottom Line: A dark dystopian science fiction that has a questionable young adult label on it. Written in a very specific style that will take some getting used to, but you will be rewarded for your efforts. I definitely recommend this book, and I will be continuing with the series.

NetGalley Review: Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts

Tumble & FallTumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts
Read: July 12 – July 17, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for sending me an advance copy for review via NetGalley.

Release Date: September 17, 2013
Price: $17.99 USD
ISBN: 9780374378615

Goodreads Book Blurb: A novel about the end of days full of surprising beginnings. The world is living in the shadow of oncoming disaster. An asteroid is set to strike the earth in just one week’s time; catastrophe is unavoidable. The question isn’t how to save the world—the question is, what to do with the time that’s left? Against this stark backdrop, three island teens wrestle with intertwining stories of love, friendship and family—all with the ultimate stakes at hand.

My Opinion: In theory, this was a great book for me. In practice, it was anything but.

The biggest thing I really missed in Tumble & Fall was a sense of urgency. The world is ending in a week, and while there is nothing anyone can do about it, that doesn’t need to translate into a lack of urgency. Even if there was nothing I could do about it, the impending end of the world would send me into a tizzy.

The characters were a little thin, and I wasn’t entirely sold on their reactions. Part of this could be the narrative style Coutts chose, opting for a three-way shared narrative. If a two-way shared narrative makes it hard to connect to the characters, a three-way was even worse. And the connection between the narrating characters was tenuous at best.

I didn’t find anything groundbreaking in the prose in Tumble & Fall, though there wasn’t anything technically bad. The words were right, the grammar was correct, but the story lacked the sparkle and magic that makes stories come alive and live within the reader.

One thing I did really like was the ending. Normally I hate endings that don’t tie everything up nicely, but I was so intensely afraid that Coutts was going to end Tumble & Fall with something akin to “And the asteroid missed Earth. Hooray!” that I was pleasantly surprised with the ending. This was also a spot where I feel like Coutts finally came into her strength with prose, and the final twenty pages or so read very hauntingly.

One plot hole I found really aggravating. If the asteroid is large enough to do damage akin to ending the world (or so they think) and is aimed for a direct hit… wouldn’t it be visible to the naked eye?

The Bottom Line: Not an end-of-the-world/apocalypse book by any real stretch. That whole plot point could be removed with minimal rewrites and no real damage to the main stories. Triple narrative makes the characters hard to connect to, and their motives hard to follow. The whole book lacks urgency.

If slow-paced contemporary romance is your thing, I would suggest checking this book out when it is released. For me, that is very much not my thing, so I found little enjoyment in Tumble & Fall.

Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark EndeavorThis Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
Read: June 25 – June 30, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Victor and Konrad are the twin brothers Frankenstein. They are nearly inseparable. Growing up, their lives are filled with imaginary adventures…until the day their adventures turn all too real. They stumble upon The Dark Library, and secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies are discovered. Father forbids that they ever enter the room again, but this only peaks Victor’s curiosity more. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is not be satisfied with the various doctors his parents have called in to help. He is drawn back to The Dark Library where he uncovers an ancient formula for the Elixir of Life. Elizabeth, Henry, and Victor immediately set out to find assistance in a man who was once known for his alchemical works to help create the formula.

Determination and the unthinkable outcome of losing his brother spur Victor on in the quest for the three ingredients that will save Konrad’s life. After scaling the highest trees in the Strumwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing one’s own body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.

My Opinion: I should preface this by saying that I have not read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is on my TBR pile, but it gets pushed down because of my minor fear of classics. I think it is safe to say that everyone knows the basics of the story, though. Except that Frankenstein was not the monster. But I digress.

I was really interested in this series when I saw the second book advertised. A young adult prequel to Frankenstein? I really liked Oppel’s Silverwing series when I was younger, so I thought I would give this a try, and requested it from my library.

Either I am not remembering Silverwing very clearly, Oppel’s writing has changed significantly, or I had much lower standards back then. While there was nothing glaringly horrible about This Dark Endeavor, neither was there anything that really grabbed me and made me love the book.

I really didn’t like how Victor and Konrad were written. I don’t have a twin, and I get annoyed with the way twins are portrayed in literature. It seems like there is always one good twin. There is always rivalry. There is always some super awesome twin-ness. Twins are normal people, and just once I would like to see them written that way!

Aside from the twin things, Victor was just a little too… off. I really don’t mind darker characters, and I know this is a setup for not only Oppel’s other works in the novel’s world, but also Mary Shelley’s character. Again, not having read the actual classic Frankenstein, I don’t know if Oppel’s Victor is anything like Mary Shelley’s.

The plot of This Dark Endeavor was predictable, and contained a love triangle (with cousins, which I think was just done for shock value) that had no real need to be there.

Bottom Line: This book did not grab me, nor did it inspire me to read the original Frankenstein. I will probably pass on the sequel.

Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the StarThe Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Read: June 7 – June 9, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

My Opinion: I liked, but did not love, this book. I love historical fiction. I loved the idea of a paranormal young adult book set around Jack the Ripper. I went into this thinking it would be a thriller, and I was really disappointed on that front.

The big problem with The Name of the Star is pacing. A large portion of the book is taken up with the mundane frivolities of the main character moving to a new city and settling into a new school. The tension didn’t build in the first little bit, and I didn’t feel any real connection to the characters to make the boarding school setting one I was dying to read about.

Also, can I just say… Jazza? Not loving that name. Boo was a little more bearable, because it was an obvious short-hand. But Jazza kind of drove me crazy.

Johnson writes well, I won’t dispute that. I found nothing that made me really glower when it came to prose – stylistically that is. It was just the flat characters and the pacing that made this a three day read instead of a one day read.

The last 50-100 pages of The Name of the Star do pick up considerably, and I blew through those. I really liked how Johnson wrote the romance (because all YA has romance). It wasn’t the “you are my soulmate” that permeates so much YA these days, but rather “I really like you, so let’s make out”. I seem to recall it was a little insta-love for my tastes, but there were also some difficulties, which was appreciated.

The Bottom Line: I don’t know if I will continue with this particular series. I personally found that the tension and thrill was lacking. This makes me think that perhaps Johnson’s contemporary YA may be better suited to her strengths. So that is where I will turn my attention next with this author.

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Read: June 1 – June 2, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

My Opinion: I had a hard time reading this one, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down.

Story time! Last summer, my husband and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant to get some take-out. See, we love food. We eat it pretty much constantly. As I type this, I am eating s’mores trail mix with no real thought for calorie count or fat content. I have never really loved my body, but I have also never hated it. And I love food. But I digress. We stand at the counter and order the food from the same little Chinese woman who always takes our order. As we turn away and go to sit and wait, she congratulates me and asks me when I was due. Except I wasn’t pregnant. The days following that comment were the closest I have ever come to feeling like Lia does in Wintergirls. I weighed myself obsessively, I didn’t want to eat, and when I did eat, I obsessed over what I was eating and would it make me gain weight.

Being chronically ill, I can’t exercise the way most people can. Exercise actually makes me feel worse, not rejuvenated… So when I got sick a few years ago, it killed the little bit of physical activity I was able to manage. And I gained weight. And I hated it. I still do, but I am learning to manage a little better. But even with all that, the closest I have ever come to living with an eating disorder is a week after someone told me I looked pregnant.

Wintergirls triggered the heck out of me. Laurie Halse Anderson doesn’t sugar-coat the realities of hating your body. In 278 pages I was introduced to what my life could have been like if I had been pushed just a tiny bit harder. And it was scary.

From a writing standpoint, I found Lia to be a little flat. I wished that she had something going on besides anorexia and self-harm. It seemed a little one-dimensional to me. Laurie Halse Anderson has made some prose choices that were distracting at times. Wintergirls tended to read like one of my blog entries circa 2005, when I was a teenager and trying too hard to be deep and dreamy at the same time. And no, no amount of money will make me unearth those blog entries.

Bottom Line: In a sense I felt like Lia was her disease, and that made her fall a little flat. But Laurie Halse Anderson pulls no punches when talking about anorexia, and she paints a very real (and triggering) picture. Even with the distracting prose.

Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

City of BonesCity of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Read: April 29 – May 12, 2013
Book club selection (Fantasy genre)

Goodreads Book Blurb: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

My Opinion: OK. I have put off writing this review for long enough. My mom bought these books for herself a while ago, and then she passed them on to me. I had heard mixed things, and so I didn’t really prioritize them until my book club decided to read it for the fantasy selection.

I am just going to come right out and say it. I pretty much hated this book. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I did.

It could be that the characters were entirely one-dimensional. Clary was obviously a failed attempt at the strong female main character. But unfortunately, a strong female character is not made by having her act like a brat. She didn’t treat anyone with respect, herself and her supposed best friend included. She slapped people a lot (which, by the way, doesn’t make you tough) and she just grated on my nerves. I think the name also put me off. The author’s last name is Clare, the main character is Clary. Coincidence? I think not. Other character-based transgressions included talking about everything the character was thinking without regard for if it was realistic, being jealous for no reason, everyone being in love with Clary, etc.

The plot is not original. The world is not original. Clare has taken aspects of many different stories and mashed them all together to make City of Bones. But, as with paint, add too many things and all you get is a muddy mess.

For those who don’t know, there is a very large claim against Cassandra Clare on grounds of plagiarism. She used to write fanfiction, which is of course a derivative work in itself. However, Clare was cited as taking entire chunks of text from other works. TV shows, literature, etc. She just, copied and pasted it. And there are chunks of her fanfiction used in her published works. So where does the plagiarism stop?

There is no such thing as an “original” idea anymore, but that doesn’t mean that plagiarizing someone else’s words verbatim is in any way OK. Though it is also worth noting that I personally don’t know of any straight cases of plagiarism in City of Bones, the whole situation makes me upset as an aspiring author.

The whole tone of City of Bones grated on my nerves. I almost felt like someone was reading the book to me. A very big fan of the book. It exuded a sense of “Check out how clever this is!” and “Isn’t this neat?”… and I just wanted to be able to form my own opinions without being bludgeoned over the head with that of the narrative voice. Also, Clare repeats herself. A lot.

Bottom Line: While I didn’t completely hate the book, I definitely didn’t enjoy it. I own most of them, but I don’t know if I will be reading the rest.