Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review of Frank Portman's "King Dork"

     So maybe my Super Summer is not coming to a realization. I was going strong, downing books like milk at a buffalo wing festival, when it all halted. After some time giving it thought, I think my stoppage boils down to reading books even if they bored me. I tied to convince myself that finishing a book that I didn't like was almost as important or as important as reading ones I do enjoy. I may have been right, but it is draining to spend my leisure time reading mindless dredge, when I could be on the internet doing the same thing with no attachment.
     This is my valiant return, and though I won't finish 25 books by the end of this summer, I will not simply quit. This summer was supposed to be dedicated to reading, and I will make chase.

     I came into this book expecting a change from the common story of a bullied dork, misunderstood by society. What I got instead, was the prime example of what that dilemma should have been about all along. King Dork wound mysteries and hope, but let the real world torment these ideas until this felt like reality. What got me was the all of the mysteries lying in plain sight, and the obvious ones which never got full resolutions. True to life. Every character had premeditated layers of history that keep getting peeled back. Portman has created a living breathing world rich in detail and history.
     The one problem I faced was most of the background of this book was formed through narration. Tom/Chi-mo told us about how much of a nerd he was, but never in the course of the story did he display this. It was as if all of the character development happened between the backstory and the start of the story. That method in general of the main character informing the reader tends to fill the characters out before we even get to meet them in a real sequence. A book should not have all of the characters' reputations proceed them because we only get to glimpse them through the eyes of the narrator. I think the main character should draw conclusions about other characters from their actions during the course of the story.
      I am glad to say, this one will go on the shelf, along with the rest of the best days of my summer.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review of Elisa Ludwig's "The Coin Heist"

     When it takes me longer than two days to post reviews, that's a sign I'm bored to death trying to get through whichever book I am currently reading. Time between reviews, 5 days. I have been inconsistent with how fast I read books, but consistent in how I read the books I enjoy in two days, and the ones I dislike in nearly a week. It is throwing off my schedule, and it is difficult to account for whether or not I'll like a book. By the time I start reading the first chapter, I have already set myself in stone, because it is just as important to read books I detest, as it is to read the ones that make my week. That way, I know what works well, and what falls flat.

    If you're going to have four main characters, make them all uniquely distinguishable. Not just different appearances in backstories, because if they all speak like the same person, it is easy to mix them up. Ludwig was able to shove all the characters into the standard high school cliques, nerd, burnout, popular overachiever, and jock. Then it took the breakfast club, and mixed it with a watered down Ocean's Eleven. Then it took the easy route, setting the main characters attracted to each other.
    If I could add something that this book sorely needed, it would be a villain with a face. The villain in this book was that the characters made a mistake in their plan, or maybe hormones. Otherwise, the threat was nullified because there was nobody throwing himself/herself in the way. The motives were also lacking, because these characters were all doing it for money, but most of them did not justify why they would risk imprisonment for money. One character seemed to only do it because she could hack into the Coin Mint's system. Another did it because he lost his football scholarship to an academics based college prep high school with a poor football team.
    This school was already throwing its money down the drain drafting football players, before it got robbed by the dean. This school has millions of dollars in funding, and somehow entrusted all of that to the dean, rather than a treasurer. And the guy manages to blow $50 million dollars without the school noticing.
    I found the logic in this book so flawed, and the story arc so predictable, I had no drive to see what would happen next. If this ever winds up on my shelf, I hope someone stages an elaborate heist to steal and take it far away.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Review of Blake Nelson's "The Prince of Venice Beach"

    This book I primarily read by loitering inside a Barnes and Noble, which is fitting for this book. I remember going to the setting of this book, Venice Beach once, and my friend said he wished he could be one of the people who just live on the beach so he could get to know all of the interesting folk. I thought, why would you ever want to do something like that:

    This book felt surreal, because it was about homelessness and teens with mental problems, but it was so down to earth. Somehow, the subject matter only bred hope and you almost never pity these characters. Nelson was never trying to make readers feel guilty, and did not try to shove any values down readers' throats. It blended realism and the mundane into a subject that would be abstract to most people.
    I appreciate the effort in keeping this story grounded. It is difficult to wrap one's head around the mind set of some of these characters, but that does not lessen how endearing they are. Cali, shines with optimism and great morals throughout. Jojo just sounds like the best guy you'll ever meet who wears Spongebob sneakers and sleeps on the beach. Other characters play their roles and most are brief, they feel like they exist their in this world, not just plot devices.
    I did have a few issues. The first person narration lead to Cali making generalizations about characters before we got to meet them which tampers with their images. I would prefer if he did not fill my head with the preassembled description that I have for "nerdy girl" and just let a character breathe a bit. I get that we want to see how he perceives her, but that will tamper with how I view her if he makes this statement before he meets her. I also felt like the evil twins showed up too often, too at random. They seemed like they were shoehorned in wherever the plot needed them.
    Otherwise, one of my favorite books of the Super Summer. That's 10 down, 15(+) to go! And shelf.

bad things:
-first person and Cali
-the random twins
-Cali explaining people

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review of John Green's "An Abundance of Katherines"

    I normally try to space out my reading of high-profile authors, but chose to follow up Suzanne Collins with John Green for 2 reasons: 1) I have wanted to read a John Green book for a while now, because he is such a huge author currently in the YA field 2) After reading Mockingjay, I wanted to read something lighter, and so I compromised with my first stipulation by reading a light John Green book. I had wanted to read The Fault in our Stars, but after seeing the movie first, I new it would be heavy. With this review, I've decided to go more in-depth. My review of Mockingjay brief, because had I let myself go, I would have dissected like an alien life form:

    One thing that struck me immediately with this book, was that it was told in the third person. Many popular YA novels thick with quirky narrators and teenage angst opt for the first person view. I appreciated the extra effort. What I did not like so much towards the beginning, was all of the "telling" mostly used to describe character's habits. It felt like my hand was being held too much. The first third had some other troubles such as the narrator giving an opinion out of nowhere, clichéd dialogue and Colin being overly judgmental. Then the last third of the book seemed to get lazy with description, and throw in adverbs. The one thing that annoyed me that isn't a common issue, was the use of the word "fug," and more so its overuse. Until it was explained, the word seemed like a childish way to get around using cuss words. Dialogue does not need cussing to make it impactful, but this turned out to be more of a homage. Now that I have covered my issues, on to the story.
    What carried most of this book was Colin's personality, and just listening to him. Otherwise, not much else had me craving to see what would happen next. One of the strongest problems was the large cast of characters, that are all given limited time and limited personalities so that they seem like filler between Colin's breakthroughs. Most of the other dynamic elements seemed to just fall in place, and Colin merely coexisted with them. His relationship with Hasan and their bickering was also a highlight of the book, but their language made every other character seem too bland. I loved hearing from them so much, and following Colin's train of thought, that it seemed every other aspect was just a nuisance of Green to write.
    I had to admire John Green for the work he put into writing this, such as the cliffnote on remembering the number sequence of pi. He put a lot of love into the little details, that made this book seem real, but almost so real that they seem like they were outright conceived outside of the novel. I think the main issue of this book was spending too much effort on certain aspects that most of the story could not match that level of passion. It was an uneven trip.
    I do not think it was the strongest John Green book to have started off with, but with the few characters he played with, I could see all of the passion and precision he puts into his work. It is hard not to love a book where you can see the author put so much work into. Shelf.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review of Suzanne Collin's "Mockingjay"

    It was an indecent hour, when I finally laid down Mockingjay. I was about to postpone the review, but my nose began to bleed, and I couldn't very well go out like Attila, so I stayed up and started writing. This one differs greatly from any of my other reviews, because it is a sequel. I have, read the other two books in the series, but have decided to review this book by itself, and not rate it compared to the series as a whole:

    It is easy to get lost in the gripping voice of Katniss Everdeen, which distracts from how glum and sometimes dull the beginning of this book could be. Besides her propaganda films, most of the plot is rolled out before her eyes and she just watches. Finally, when she does take the initiative to propel the plot on her lonesome, the payoff is heartbreaking.  This book caught my interest, picked up the action in the middle slowing killing off characters just like the other two, and then the momentum devolves into a snowball during an avalanche, collecting all the pieces into a disorganized jumble that does not know what to do with itself. It was difficult to draw the line at what was supposed to be the climactic moment, but whatever it was, it had way too much fallout. This disrupts the pacing and throws the entire book out of whack after 350 pages. Collins repeats both of her previous entrees, by having the ending of Catching Fire where Katniss is left out on everything and is ineffectual in the climax, but has the prolonged ending of The Hunger Games. 
     To ease my distaste, I was hooked on this book the entire time, and it played out a lot of great moments, that did not quite come together in the end. But, there is no doubt, this one has to go on the shelf.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review of Kate Hattemer's "The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy"

    Honestly, what drew me to the book, aside from the advertising, was the "Vigilante" in the title. Despite not being an actual superhero fiction story, a story of vigilante's has the same concept. However, the plot involving the rebellion against a reality tv show, also had my mind going. Now, let me finally stop dawdling and get to the good stuff (foreshadowing):

    Vigilante Poets straddled the line between ultra realistic, and utterly implausible to a large degree. The characters, emotions, and mundane qualities exuded real life, but much like a reality tv show, there were things that were off. And it was subtle, but I caught wind. For example: A reality tv show shot from a pool of contestants taken from one school that airs Friday nights at 9, and is shot the week prior to airing on tv. A few things wrong with this, in a glorious tricolon: Friday nights between 8pm-11pm is death to a tv show of this caliber, a reality tv show would most likely film months in advance, so there is time to edit every episode, and a reality tv show that takes only students from one highschool in Minnesota would lack diversity  which tv begs for.
    So, I got caught up in some flaws. However, the characters feel all to real. These teens have some unique personalities, are flawed, and do not suffer from many clichés. The writing was exciting, but also having fun with itself. It also had a realistic plot that was not forced towards an absolute resolution.
    The one thing that truly brought this book down was the pacing of the plot. So much time was spent waiting, and discovering, that there was only two instances in the book where the main characters did anything to challenge the system. I could not wait for something to happen, which is normally a good thing, but the breadcrumbs were spaced so far apart it was difficult to reach the next one without getting lost and bored.
    The climax of the book, really grabbed me by the collar though, and I finally got the payoff. If I could suggest anything for this book, it would be that actions speak louder than words. shelf.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review of Craig Schaefer's "The Long Way Down"

     I spent a "good" five days reading this one. That's just an expression, though I did have some good days, but this book wasn't necessarily the highlight for any of them. I didn't have too many issues with this book, I just didn't get into it, so I'll keep this concise.

    "The Long Way Down" had an intriguing premise, and a plot that escalated from a murder case to world domination. I think that is where it may have lost me. I had wanted to see an awesome sorcerer detective solving crimes, and it turned out to be more of a romance, action adventure with little magic. This just took a generic path, mixing in some supernatural elements, but not the break-through I thought this would be. Not going to shelf it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review of Wesley King's "The Vindico"

    This one took me a while to get into because right out the gate, the writing did not impress me. I had suspected this would be a young adult novel, but the characters and writing would make the age range 10-14 year olds. Now, just because a book is catered towards a younger, does not mean that the writing has to be dumbed down. Yes, the jargon must be tamed, but trusting the readers to interpret a story should not change. A 10-year-old can understand that "he smiled" can infer that the character is happy. However, writing, " he said happily," is an insult to one's intelligence. Let's just get on with it:

    Gifted children attend a school where they are taught to control their powers so they may fight a great evil. This description can be used to describe many YA novels. The Vindico slaps on the twist that the children are being trained to be villains, but the only crime they seem to commit is not giving the reader enough credit. This book enlisted lazy adverbs to do most of the emotional work, and employed tons of dialogue for the exposition. The five protagonists are all giving one-dimensional personalities, and the side characters were difficult to distinguish from one another.
    Redeeming factors are hard pressed to find. If anything, the climax was a fast paced mix of twists and turns. King did a better job at juggling a double digit amount of characters in one scene than I would have expected. Overall, much like the villains in this story, the negatives outweigh the positives.
    If I had a shelf dedicated to books I did not want to reread, this would get a spot.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review of Rysa Walker's "Timebound"

     This book I had received for free because it was the 2013 Winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — Grand Prize and Young Adult Fiction Winner. I had started reading it right when I first downloaded it last year, but grew bored shortly into the third chapter. The blurb spun this exciting adventure in the past at the World Fair in Chicago, and that description coupled with the award heightened my expectations through the roof. This time around, I read through it all, and found myself surprised:

        If anything, this book should be rewarded for having the most confusing time-travel story ever told. Granted, I didn't have the patience to flip back through the book to put every step together, because I was too eager to get to the past. And this book kept me waiting like no other. I had come to expect of time-travel books that time travel would be the main focus, whereas in this book, it took the stand as a climax. Rather, the focus of this book was on the main character, Kate, dealing with both budding and disappearing relationships. I suppose I had come with expectations. Like if I go to a famous pie restaurant to eat the award winning pie, but I have to suffer through the other courses before they'll serve me that good ole key lime with graham cracker crust. The appetizer and the entree were fine, but not what I came for.
    Now I'm hungry, even more so than when I was hungry for some action. This book sure knows how to lay the backstory on thick. Honestly, I think it would have been simpler if there was just a prologue summarizing all of the time-travel events proceeding the story, because there were so much time spent on conversations about the past. 2/3rds of the book were spent on set up, and the other 1/3rd was spent on quality writing. 
    Gosh, how I wish I could spend a day (or 6 hours of book time) at a World Fair. I do have to give credit for Walker taking a path different from the obvious, but it worked against the novel.The middle section did have a lot of heart in Kate's reactions to tough situations, but was easy to glance over waiting for the adventure. Once the story finally found its way to the past, I was captivated, and confused. Those two usually work hand in hand for a good story though. Now that this origin story is out of the way though, I think a sequel would meet the expectations I had for the first.
    I'll keep this on the shelf, if only to remind myself to look out for the next book, which I expect to be much better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review of Drew Hayes' "NPC's"

     After that horrendous first attempt, I managed to ruffle through another book in under a day. Thus, I am back on track towards my goal of 25(+) books. This next book caught my attention because its premise was along the very same lines I think, putting the NPCs (Non-Player Characters) of a table top game as the protagonists.

    This one will teach you never to take the background characters lightly. The premise of the story behind NPCs already put my foot into the door, and with all the paths it could have taken, I think it delivered. Truly, besides the association with our world, NPCs is truly an underdog story told in a high fantasy realm. It held my attention and strung me along, but it is still far from a masterpiece.
    The plot was pretty straightforward, a group of nobodies take up disguises as adventurers to go on a quest. It was nothing terribly substantial, but the characters were likable, especially Thistle. The scenes are well described without getting overly ornate, and the characters challenged their prospective roles to a rewarding degree. The twists and turns, though sometimes predictable, kept the plot fresh.
    Though there was plenty of action and adventure, I never truly felt on the edge of my seat craving to see what would happen next. The story had an odd lack of tension, and the stakes weren't raised high enough to warrant a ladder. A further objection was that the adventure was fairly tame. Written well, but tame for this genre. And near the beginning, the characters came off as dense, with the author spoon feeding the plot and then taking more time to summarize what had just been said.
    The concept had ample paths towards a memorable story, and while the one chosen was underwhelming, the characters and witty scenes made it a good read. Shall it sit on my shelf for days to come.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review of Warren Hately's "Zephyr: Phase One"

    I think over a week I spent on this book, the first I picked up after declaring I would read no less than 25 books this summer. It was as if I opened my door to a new life and found a wall of snow there that I had to wallow through for days to find the world outside. Now I can blame a few components to my slow reading time such as my distaste for the narrative, my quest to catch up with Game of Thrones and my attraction to another book. However, the truth to it is I could not understand the book, and here's why:

     There is no doubt in my mind that Warren Hately can weave magic with words. He is certainly skilled at stringing together bold sentences, but almost to a fault. The high concentration of these overly wordy lines often distracts from the story. I can cite multiple instances where entire paragraphs consisted of only one sentence, which was barely related to the plot. Moreover, this style of writing bares no resemblance to the main character's attitude. A blue-collar closet superhero from New York who has the vocabulary of a British professor mixed with a 12-year old gamer.
     Honestly, Zephyr is one of the most difficult to like protagonists I have ever encountered. While his wit and humor had me laughing, they were only drowned by his racism, ableism, homophobia, and sexism. I had just as much trouble trying to deduce how Hately is opinionated on some of these hot button issues. He comes from another part of the world entirely, which also factors in to how odd it was that he wrote a novel set in the U.S., but flavored in his native Australian language. “Colours” and “bloodies” abound. If an American man from Queens with this temper heard another New Yorker speaking this way, he'd sock him. Back on topic though, it is difficult to get past the "Afro-Americans" and "Fags" thrown around all the time. Whether or not Hately understands these terms are offensive or is acutely self-aware, the book reeks of them.
      And the plot. It does have its unique qualities, but that is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, the last few chapters, which are generally reserved for a climax, tell almost a completely different story fit for a book of it's own. 
     Another qualm I faced was the overabundance of characters. I counted 40+ superhero names within the book, all making random appearances. It was such a rough time trying to learn whom characters are when they show up randomly and in such large numbers. Perhaps the only secondary characters I got to know were the ones with the dialogue tags, "the gay hero says" or "a distinctly Afro-American voice." Ah, just a mess. And the attempt at putting heroes at the level of celebrities was just as poor. So many random celebrities were name dropped in the first chapter that I felt the author did all his research by reading People Magazine.

     I do think there is a possibility this deconstruction of the superhero genre could be groundbreaking and brilliant, but the execution was beyond me. I will not be holding on to this one.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review of David Levithan's "Every Day"

     Preface: I have finally completed my first book of my Super Summer. Despite being in the process of reading another book, I picked up Every Day yesterday, and could not stop my indulgence. So here I am, with review #1

     I feel biased reviewing this book, simply because I enjoyed it so thoroughly and it is not my common genre. Had I read more books of this variety, perhaps I would spot more cliches, or instances of derivate narrative. However, I only have my lack of experience to draw from, so here it is.
     Every Day provided a unique narrative strategy that felt fresh. It is handled perfectly by putting little explanation into the how, and investing the story in the now. A, the protagonist is oddly easy to connect with, because A has similar desire to many others, but with an obstacle that makes nearly everything a deal breaker. Waking up as someone new every day prevents A from ever leading a normal life with lasting relationships. The intriguing aspect, once I got past the novelty of the body-changing concept, was when A falls for someone. What ensues is A letting morality subside, to chase love. Envying how A is so motivated by love is only afflicted by the fact that A tampers with all of the lives A embodies in the process.
     Every Day pulled me along like a mule chasing a carrot for the first half, but had a short lapse in the second half where the story became to involved in A's relationship with Rhiannon. My other concerns were the overuse in email in this novel, which felt uncommon in our modern day and how all of the names in the book seemed fake. These issues just brought me out of suspension of belief.
     Every Day is one of my favorite books I have ever read, and I will definitely implore myself to pick up some of David Levithan's other books. I can see this one with a special spot on my shelf, prime for rereading.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


     Already three days into my Super Summer of Reading 25(+) Books and I have yet to finish one. Not the most amazing start. Currently, I am half way through one, and started another while browsing B&N. The kicker is I like the second book even more, but I already am dedicated to the first one (Warren Hadely's Zephyr. Maybe I can keep reading them both? I really want to pursue things with the second book (David Levithan's Every Day), but the first book and I have been through so much, I do not want to lose contact. When it all comes down to it, the purpose of this exercise is to read books both exhilarating and dull. Although neither of these books fit the latter, both new experiences, I should probably finish Zephyr first, and then return to Every Day.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Super Summer

     I would call myself an avid reader, but I'm really just minor league. There are those out there that devour books, and I need to up my numbers. Thankfully, summer. Now that all that studying for college is through, I can hit the books. I have 90 days, and I plan to read at least 25 books. I am just experimenting, so I'm not sure what my pace will be. If I can channel my focus, and look towards my goal, I think I can manage to surpass my goal. I will be posting reviews of all 25+ books. And I'm off.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review of Tom Reynold's "Meta"

    It's back to the summer reading season, and I started off with a book I'd bought a while back but never got to, "Meta." Years after all of the metas, humans who possess mysterious super-powered bracelets, have disappeared, Connor Connolly wakes up to find his wrists wrapped in almost unlimited powers. The bad guy thrown in there is The Controller, a meta who has the power to create monsters to fight for him anywhere he so pleases. Assisting Connor is Midnight, a non-meta vigilante who has been around since the old days.
    The book starts off on a hot streak, and then hits a wall as soon as Connor discovers his powers. Everything comes out of nowhere, and little explanation is every put behind events. Hostile situations will come out of thin air simply to move the plot along. The story jumps from scene to scene like a child playing "The Floor is Lava" where it is okay to omit bridging the gap between sequences. Trying to see it all together is like deciphering a "Connect the Dots to Form a Picture" puzzle that you see on the children's menu. The most glaring example is the magical rooftop of plot advancement, where Connor would teleport, and then some event would be waiting for him in the exact location. The book is relatively short though, so I can see the need to condense.
    One of the aspect that also receives the short end of the stick is character development. Specifically, Connor's relationship with the love interest Sarah. It plods along throughout the book making no significant headway until the end, where it still feels poorly wrapped up.
    The book does have moments that shine, in its humor and witty writing. One particular scene I enjoyed was describing Connor  honing his ability to fly. It was brief, but entertaining and to the point.
The fight scenes are also quite vivid, and the author isn't afraid to censor some of the more questionable moments. It is also a nice break from the slew of superhero fiction that involves months of training in an academy, or fighting the government agency that created the hero.
     Getting back into the swing of things, this was a quick, entertaining read. It has it's share of problems in character development and instances of deus ex machina, but nothing that breaks the tale. It does hint at a sequel, which I would be willing to pick up. This one gets a spot on the shelf.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Mandatory Love Interest

     Though it is not exclusive to the type of books I've been reading, most young adult sub-genre superhero novels with male protagonists have a female love interest as if mandated by society. I see the tactic as a way to interest female readers, but it never makes for a compelling narrative. That is not saying that romance isn't a satisfying genre, but shoehorning a love story into a teenage action-adventure for the sake of expanded the appeal only serves in watering down the story. However, a novel that is chock full of one gender does not have to be a turn off if the focus is spent on the story than on mass appeal.
     For example, Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games trilogy is entertaining for me to read due to the plot, and I view the love triangle as a distraction. But I get it, some men do not want to read a book with all females, and the same applies for women reading books with all men. Still, there are ways to implement both genders while not smashing two together at the lips. Make interesting female characters, who have personalities and interact with each other and that should draw in female readers. Books do not always have to reflect the real world, everything doesn't have to center around love.