Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed by Ally Condie
367 pages, Dutton Juvenile

"In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky— taken by the Society to his certain death—only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake. Cassia’s quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander— who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia’s heart— change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever."

To start off this review, Crossed is the sequel to Matched and is the 2nd book in the trilogy. I read Matched because of my obsession with dystopian novels, but, furthermore, was unimpressed. I am the type of person who, once they start a series, must finish it. And I will admit, I had hopes for this series to improve, but really Crossed was yet another let down.

I think Ally Condie's main problem is her characters. Personally, I find that if an author cannot create likable, interesting characters, then I am instantly torn between even enjoying the book at all. The real issue is that after reading Matched and Cassia is unsure who she'd rather be with--Ky or Xander--even I didn't know who she should be with. And this wasn't because Ky and Xander were both equally amazing, it was because I didn't lean towards either of them. The emotional connection just wasn't there. Though we do see Cassia grow from book one to book two as she ventures with Indie, a free-spirited girl ready for any journey, I just could not feel bad for her. For some odd reason I didn't care if she didn't end up with either Ky or Xander. I didn't care if she got stranded on an island even, and that says a lot about a book. We also meet Eli, a younger boy who travels with Ky. He was a side character, just that, a side character. His addition to the plot wasn't much except for an innocence that was looking for sympathy.

The plot again was uneventful. Like Matched, Crossed had all of the action happen within the last fifty pages of the book. I feel as if not much really had happened up until then. My incentive to continue reading was to see how it ended. To be honest, the ending felt like other books I've read before. Maybe I'm picky since I've read so many other dystopian novels, but I just couldn't get over how similar it was to other books I've read.

Ally Condie makes references to poems throughout the novel. One particular poem is actually one of my all time favorites and it is called Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. I love the overall message of this poem and it connects to the major themes in the book. The only problem I did have with references to poems was that I felt as if Condie focused far too much on the poems rather than the plot and characters. Parts of it did enhance the story line, but after a while it really just left me a little bored.

Crossed did not leave me wanting more, but I will say that it was better than Matched. I hope Condie can end the series with a bang or my interest with her books will die altogether. If you're a poetry lover, absolutely enjoyed Matched, or like slower paced novels, then I recommend Crossed. But if you read Matched and couldn't stand it, then I do not recommend reading Crossed because it will only further disappoint you.

Again, I didn't hate Crossed; the writing style just wasn't to my liking.

Rating: 2 stars - I didn't like it. Barely worth borrowing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tiger's Voyage by Colleen Houck

Tiger's Voyage by Colleen Houck
Splinter, 543 pages

"With the head-to-head battle against the villainous Lokesh behind her, Kelsey confronts a new heartbreak: in the wake of his traumatic experience, her beloved Ren no longer remembers who she is. As the trio continues their quest by challenging five cunning and duplicitous dragons, Ren and Kishan once more vie for her affections--leaving Kelsey more confused than ever."

Tiger's Voyage is the third installment in Colleen Houck's Tiger Saga. If you haven't read Tiger's Curse or Tiger's Quest I highly suggest reading them before continuing further into this review.

Tiger's Voyage, where to begin, where to begin... I have been enticed by this entire series. Though the plot intrigues me, the romance is what really keeps me reading. This book is amazing and the longest out of the series so far.

With Ren absent of his memory of Kelsey, Kelsey is torn between who she should choose. Both Kishan and Ren have qualities any girl would swoon over. I don't blame her for being torn between the two. The real plot starts when Kelsey is yet again faced with this choice. But could she be with someone who can hardly stand being around her? Who gets sick by her touch? When it comes down to it, I'm team Ren. Ren is sweet and caring and shares a special connection with Kelsey. Kishan is also sweet and caring, but the strong connection isn't there. Mr. Kadam is a great character throughout the series. He serves as a father figure and is always wise and craving knowledge.

The plot was full of adventure and romantic tension. I loved it! Kelsey, Ren, Kishan, Mr. Kadam, and Nilima take a journey in search of Durga's necklace. Of course, the task is never quite simple and they must take a boat. There are jealous tigers, dragons, and sharks involved! The plot always entertains me, and whenever I finish the book, I feel as if I was on the journey with Kelsey the entire time. Watching Kelsey grow stronger was another aspect I enjoyed. As a reader, we watch her develop from a weak, ordinary girl into a brave, strong woman.

Colleen Houck never fails with her descriptions of the lovely India. It always feels as if I'm there. The food, the clothes, the culture, it's all so interesting to me. I will admit though, at times I did wish Houck's descriptions were a little shorter. Though the food does sound delicious, sometimes I'd rather not read a paragraph about dinner.

One problem I did have with the novel is Kelsey cannot make up her mind. Right when she decides which brother she wants to be with, she changes her mind. It drives me nuts! It really bothered me because I could see who she clearly wanted to be with more. So, if I can see who she should be with, why can't Kelsey? Geez. But on the bright side, love triangles are always a great conflict to add to any story and there are two more books to the series that have yet to be out on the shelves.

Tiger's Voyage leaves you off on a HUGE cliff hanger and I'm dying to read the next book!! If you loved Tiger's Quest, read this book right now! You will not be disappointed!

Rating: 5 stars - I loved it! Buy a copy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, 352 pages

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow — impossible though it seems — they may still be alive."

I first became interested in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children when I saw the book trailer. That trailer was simply amazing! It looked like a genuine movie, and it had such an eerie feel to it. Needless to say, I just had to read the book after watching that trailer.

I have never read a book that used pictures within its storytelling. It was something entirely new to me, and the effect of the pictures was amazing. They greatly contributed to the story, and I am not sure if I would have liked the story as much if the pictures weren't in there. Some parts of the book would literally creep me out if I read at night, so I just read super fast through them until I came to a happier passage.

The plot line was also very original and refreshing. Using the pictures as a guideline, Riggs was able to create something entirely new that I have never encountered before. Everything was perfect. Set in World War II and modern times? Check. Creepy monsters? Check. A possibly disastrous experiment? Check. Peculiar children? Check.

The main character, Jacob, was enjoyable to follow. At times he reminded me a bit of a John Green main character; he was hilarious at times, but he knew when to be serious. His struggle to convince himself that he wasn't crazy was also something new that I haven't read a ton about. The psychological aspect of the story was fascinating. Were things real, or was Jacob making them all up in head? Were Abe's stories true, or were they all made up?

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a fantasy thriller that transcends time. You definitely do not want to miss out on reading this gem of a book.

Rating: 5 stars - I loved it! Buy a copy!

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Simon Pulse, 224 pages

"This book tells the tale of an unnamed 15-year-old girl as she becomes acquainted with the world of drugs. Desperate for friendship in a new town and vulnerable from typical teenage insecurities, the narrator gets involved with a seemingly-harmless group of teenagers who introduce her to substance use. What starts out as an innocent way to have fun quickly turns into a vicious cycle of dependency. This heart-wrenching book that contains authentic entries from a young girl's diary open up the reader's eyes to the reality of teenage drug abuse, as it follows the hero through bad trips, homelessness, and damaged relationships."

Usually, I am apprehensive about reading books that are written in first person and in a diary entry form. But when Emily described this book as a book about drug addiction and how a girl overcomes it, I was more than intrigued. I am very interested in the way that people who are addicted to either drugs or alcohol coexist socially in the world. This book was a lot like one of my favorite books (also written in first person about a person's drug addiction), A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Although this book is a far milder tale of substance abuse compared to A Million Little Pieces, I found it very far ahead of its time, considering it was originally published in 1971.

Go Ask Alice is a book I believe every high school student should read during their freshman or sophomore year. It shows very vividly how drug experimentation and alcohol can really damage a young person's life. The girl who writes about her experiences shows signs of depression, loneliness, and even happiness due to her issues with drugs. I don't believe that this girl was truly a hard core drug addict. I think that the addictive nature that LSD and speed caused her simply couldn't be fought on her own. The girl had support from her family and friends, but she was constantly in different states of reconciliation and understanding with them, which caused more stress in her life.

Her story also helps to show the cultural problems that drugs had on America and the children that were growing up during that time. The same issues that occur in this book (again, it was published in 1971) mirrors many of the same drug addiction issues that America is experiencing today. Reading this book helped me to relate to another time in the world because of the similar things that I see happening in the world that I am growing up in.

Rating: 3 stars - I liked it. Worth borrowing. 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Little Brown, 432 pages

"Once upon a time, an angel and devil fell in love. It did not end well. Around the world black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who crept through a slit in the sky. In a dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war. Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbook with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on "errands;" she speaks many languages not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That's one question that haunts her that she is about to find out. When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?"

I couldn't wait to get my hands on Daughter of Smoke and Bone. There has been an outpouring of positive reviews about this book, and after reading it, I understand why. Daughter of Smoke and Bone takes books about angels and demons to whole different level. Of course, I have read Lauren Kate's, Becca Fitzpatrick's, and Cassandra Clare's take on these characters (of which I love Cassandra Clare's work), but what makes Daughter of Smoke and Bone so amazing is that it clearly stands out from all of those books. It is a completely new take where the angels aren't always the good guys, and the demons aren't always the bad guys, which are my favorite kinds of books! What is even more fascinating is that Laini Taylor toys with the idea that everyone is a bad character. Intriguing? I thought so!

The world building within this book is breathtaking. The worlds are lush, so much so that you can almost feel the blue feathers Karou plays with in Brimstone's store. What is also fascinating is that the real world and fictional worlds mesh so well in the book. Laini Taylor does not try to take our world and add fictional elements to it. Instead, she creates an entirely different world that coexists with our own, which I think adds a bit of believability into the book.

By far, what will draw you into this book the most is the mystery of Karou's past. Right away in the first chapter you become intrigued with Karou, a girl with natural blue hair that draws strange pictures and has a bunch of demons for family members. Who is she? Almost the entire books deals with the question of Karou's identity, which, you guessed it, is extremely important to the storyline. All I have to say is that once you go through and discover Karou's past, you will be officially hooked into the plot from then on. Her past is absolutely achingly beautiful, as is that of Akiva's. How their pasts entwine is even more beautiful.

The only reason I am not giving this book a full five stars is because it is clearly one of those first in a series books. There is so much setting up and explaining in this book that I simply wished for more action. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the next books in the series are going to be absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking.

Rating: 4.5 stars - I really, really, really liked it, and am anxiously waiting for a sequel, but can't quite give it four or five stars, so I decided to compromise! :)

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
Random House, 368 pages
ARC courtesy of Random Buzzers

"Return to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . ten years later. From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Brashares comes the welcome return of the characters whose friendship became a touchstone for a generation. Now Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget have grown up, starting their lives on their own. And though the jeans they shared are long gone, the sisterhood is everlasting. Despite having jobs and men that they love, each knows that something is missing: the closeness that once sustained them. Carmen is a successful actress in New York, engaged to be married, but misses her friends. Lena finds solace in her art, teaching in Rhode Island, but still thinks of Kostos and the road she didn’t take. Bridget lives with her longtime boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco, and though a part of her wants to settle down, a bigger part can’t seem to shed her old restlessness. Then Tibby reaches out to bridge the distance, sending the others plane tickets for a reunion that they all breathlessly await. And indeed, it will change their lives forever—but in ways that none of them could ever have expected. As moving and life-changing as an encounter with long-lost best friends, Sisterhood Everlasting is a powerful story about growing up, losing your way, and finding the courage to create a new one."

I first read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series when I was in middle school. I read them every summer (I wasn't as avid of a reader as I am now, so I read one during every summer of my tween years). I loved the characters and could relate to them, even though they were all so different, in a certain way. So, naturally, when I found out that this book was an Advanced Reader's Copy on one of our blog's favorite sites, Random Buzzers, I was bouncing off the walls with excitement! I didn't even know that Ann Brashares had written a fifth installment of the series. When it finally arrived (a pleasant surprise after a day long trip to Chicago), I was overjoyed to dive in again and see what my favorite fiction characters from childhood had been up to.

As for many other girls my age and older who read the series, this book was like taking a long and bittersweet stroll down memory lane (as corny as that sounds). As soon as I read the first page, I knew that there were probably going to be tears (hypothetical ones, at least), and there were. The journeys that the Sisterhood girls encounter in this book are so raw and real. I think that's why these books are so relatable. I see myself going through similar things as my life will evolve tremendously in the next few years. Beware that this book starts out with a major, shocking event that I can't even begin to explain. The book has a lot of twists and turns that both surprised, delighted, and made me grieve for the characters. I also, again, found things within each of their lives that I could relate to, even after the "ten years" that have passed.

If you have not read the first four of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series, I strongly recommend that you pick them up before reading this book. It will make everything so much easier to understand, and will also add a depth to the enjoyment of the book for you. If you read the books before, like I did, you don't really have to go back at all and read the other books. Once you start to get into the book, you will remember the key events and situations that happened in the previous books. I loved this book so much, especially because it made me remember the younger me (even though I'm only seventeen), and I felt like I was reading the letters of old friends that will live with me forever. In a way, books that you read when you are a little kid will always stay with you, but its nice when their stories evolve with you as time goes on.

This book was amazing and I will definitely read it again. But I caution those of you who haven't read the other books of the series. You should read the other books before buying it to better understand and enjoy it!

Rating: 5- I loved it! Buy a copy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Putnam Juvenile, 372 pages

"A modern-day thriller about Rory, an American high-school student who enrolls at a London boarding school for her junior year. Soon after her arrival, a series of murders begins to take place across the city—on the exact dates and in the exact style of Jack the Ripper. Rory’s ties to the killer bring her in contact with a secret paranormal branch of the British police, as they attempt to stop the mysterious killer."

I will admit, this is my first Maureen Johnson book. Her more famous novels are 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Bermudez Triangle. I had heard great things about Maureen Johnson and decided to give her most recent book a try. Sadly, I was let down. The Name of the Star had the potential to be great, but the plot just really took a turn that I didn't particularly like.

Rory is spending her senior year at a London boarding school, and just as she arrives, there are people being murdered. Not just murdered, but the dead bodies that are killed are also mutilated by so called Jack the Ripper. Rory was an okay character. At the end of the novel she had some development, but the way that the conflict was resolved seemed a little too simple. Another character I had a hard time understanding was Jerome, Rory's love interest. The romance was not very romantic to say the least. To be completely honest, I felt there was no need for a romance. Although I love romance, I would have been content if there wasn't one. The love interest just added to the plot, which I already had a problem with. A lot of the background characters were simply that, background characters. None of them particularly stood out and that's another reason why I was turned off. If a book doesn't have the best plot, then it surely better have amazing characters that I can relate to. I didn't feel any emotional connection to any of the characters, therefore, I didn't really care what happened to them.

The plot was a little off-kilter. At the beginning I was intrigued. I really like the entire plot centered around a boarding school and Jack the Ripper sounded interesting. But there came a point in the novel where I sat there wondering why the plot turned the way it did. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that there are ghosts in this novel and it was the one aspect that turned me off. Also, I was surprisingly not scared at all. You'd think a murderer mutilating bodies would put you on edge just the tiniest bit, but I was in no way afraid. I wanted it to be creepier or darker.

Maureen Johnson does do some amazing writing. I really enjoy her style; it made reading through the plot I didn't like easier. The entire writing about the boarding school and London I found awesome. It made me want to know more about that rather than the ghost mystery.

Overall, The Name of the Star wasn't a horrible book, but it definitely isn't something I particularly enjoyed. I know Maureen Johnson has some other great books out there, so I hope to read those and grow to like her work. The characters and the plot just really weren't anything to write home about. If you were considering reading The Name of the Star, I might take a step back and decide if you have a real interest in ghosts and Jack the Ripper background information. If not, I wouldn't pick up this novel.

Rating: 2 stars - I didn't like it. Barely worth borrowing.