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 clich├ęs. 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

Complications

     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.