Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review - Evil?

Evil?
by Timothy Carter
Date: 2009
Publisher: Flux
Reading level: YA
Pages: 264
Source: Chapters

When Stuart Bradley, a gay teenager living in a conservative Christian town in rural Ontario, is caught masturbating in the shower by his little brother, it's only the beginning of his troubles. Soon, the whole town has gone crazy, hunting down and punishing anyone they consider guilty of the sin of "spilling".

What the townsfolk don't realize, however, is that they are being influenced by a fallen angel with an agenda. Stuart enlists the help of a Dachshund-sized demon named Fon Pyre to help get rid of the angel... but things rapidly go from bad to worse. It's up to Stu to save his town before all hell breaks loose.

Yeah, yeah, I know... Why on earth would I read this?  I'd heard it was funny, that's why.  And maybe it is... if you're a 10-year-old boy.

The plot actually had promise.  Some fairly heavy themes were touched on, and the events unfolded rapidly enough to hold a reader's interest.  But it just wasn't enough.

Stuart is a fairly bland, one-dimensional sort of fellow whose only distinguishing characteristic is that he's gay.  And gay guys must be fairly hard to come by in the town of Ice Lake, because the pickings for love interests were slim.  I just did not buy the attraction between Stuart and Chester... especially after Stuart had basically spent the entire novel insinuating that Chester was about as smart as a bag of rocks.  The rest of the characters were not much better.  The town seems to be populated by characters from bad 1950s public service announcements with names like Cindy and Chester and Jane.  And those were supposedly the teenagers.

But what I really didn't like about this book was the writing.  It tries to be funny, but comes across as puerile and crude... while also ending up somewhat preachy.  I have no idea how the author managed that, but in any case, it does not work.  The word "spilling" is used endlessly, and it quickly gets tiresome.  The characters were constantly using the "universal hand gestures" for masturbation (what is this, a village of pubescent boys?) and homosexuality and, to be honest, I'm still not exactly sure what those are.  Guess I'm not the audience.

There were also some continuity problems (such as Stu referring to his house as the one he'd grown up in... even though he'd only moved there two years previously) and some questionable punctuation.  Overall, I wasn't impressed.

While the premise had some merit, it just wasn't done well enough for me to recommend this book to anyone.  The characters' ages and subject matter make it more appropriate for teens... but the writing style and overly repetitive and juvenile references would probably only amuse younger boys.  Give this one a pass.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 1/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review - The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles #1)
by Mary E. Pearson
Date: 2008
Publisher: Square Fish
Reading level: YA
Pages: 288
Source: Chapters

Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox wasn't supposed to survive the accident, but she did. Now, after a lengthy coma, she's trying to get her life back. The only problem is, she can't remember anything about that life. She can't even remember who she is.

To make matters worse, nobody will talk about what really happened, leaving Jenna to try to solve the puzzle on her own. Just exactly who is Jenna Fox? And when she finds those answers... will she wish she hadn't?

I haven't read any science fiction (that wasn't dystopian) in a while.  I'd read reviews (and spoilers) of this book a while ago, but I'd since forgotten most of them, so the story was pretty fresh to me.  Even being able to guess at some of the events didn't lessen the impact of some of the overall messages, though.

I enjoyed the plot, even though I guessed at some of the plot points before I actually got to them.  Most of that happened in the first part of the book, though.  The second half had a lot of twists and turns that I didn't really see coming.

The characters were a bit more of a mixed bag.  I'm still puzzling over the motivations of a couple of them, since they didn't seem 100% consistent to me (I'm talking about Lily and Allys here).  I liked Jenna herself, though, even though she's kind of an enigma.  We only find things out about her as she finds them out.  She had an interesting voice, though, and I enjoyed the way she told the story.

I haven't been a huge fan of present-tense narration in the past, but I think part of the reason for that was that I read quite a few duds using that tense.  In this book, it works (and because we're finding things out with Jenna in real time, it's probably the only tense that would've worked).  I also liked the inclusion of the short "poems" on the grey pages.  Sometimes you can say so much more with a few words of verse than you can with a whole page of prose.

Finally, I thought the whole undercurrent of medical ethics was important and timely without hitting the reader over the head.  Some of the questions Jenna asks aren't easily answered... if they can be answered at all.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find those questions in an enjoyable YA novel.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Editing: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.71 out of 5

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review - Room

Room
by Emma Donoghue
Date: 2010
Publisher: HarperCollins e-books
Reading level: A
Pages: 352
Source: Kobo

Room is the only world five-year-old Jack has ever known. Ma is there, too. Together, they play games, read books, take baths, do the laundry, eat their meals, and watch TV. It's just the two of them... except for Old Nick, who sometimes comes to visit Ma at night, and then Jack has to hide in the wardrobe.

While the sameness of this existence is comforting to Jack, Ma doesn't seem to feel the same way. For reasons Jack doesn't understand, Ma doesn't want to be in Room. She wants to get out.

I'd heard lots of good things about this book, so I was a little hesitant to read it, fearing it wouldn't live up to my expectations.  Really, though, I don't know quite what I was expecting.  Room turned out to be nothing like I imagined it would be... and yet it was one of the best books I've read in years.

It's difficult to write a synopsis or even describe what happens without giving away too much of the plot.  There is a good plot, but this book is so much more than that.  It's really about the characters... and mostly Jack.  The author created such a vivid voice for him that I could hear his little five-year-old self in my head, describing things, even when I wasn't actually reading the book.

My only complaint was not with the book itself, but with the EPUB edition.  There were a lot of missing paragraph breaks in the dialogue, which caused me a bit of confusion in certain places.  There was also a line of dialogue preceded by a string of numbers and symbols that was extremely obvious and should've been caught.  A good once-over by a proofreader should've caught those mistakes easily, so I'm assuming nobody bothered to check the EPUB once it was converted... which is annoying, since it was almost $15.

Really, though, there's not much more I can say about the book itself.  It's awesome.  Read it.

Plot: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.86 out of 5

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review - A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles (A Tale of Two Castles #1)
by Gail Carson Levine
Date: 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 336
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When twelve-year-old Elodie is sent to the city of Two Castles to become an apprentice weaver, she doesn't realize that the rules of the kingdom have recently been changed and now all apprentices must pay to learn their craft. Almost penniless, naïve, and with more exciting ambitions than weaving, Elodie decides to follow a new path... and ends up as a dragon's assistant!

The dragon is known throughout the city for its inducing and deducing powers. So when the city's resident ogre suspects he is in mortal danger, he turns to the dragon -- and Elodie -- to help discover who is behind the plot.

This is the fifth book by Gail Carson Levine that I've read.  I can't really say it's up there with some of my favourites (like The Two Princesses of Bamarre and Ella Enchanted), but it is an entertaining middle grade novel nonetheless.

Unlike most of the author's other heroines, Elodie is only twelve years old, and she comes across as very young and quite (especially in the beginning) naïve.  This made it a bit difficult for me to relate to her.  Her voice is distinctive and she's not unlikeable; she's just young.  I did find it a little difficult to believe that parents would ship children of that age off, completely alone, so they could apprentice to some stranger in a foreign land.  I don't know... something about that just doesn't sit right with me.  I realize that that happened in the past, but all I could think about was this poor, vulnerable little girl who would be ripe for abuse by the first ill-intentioned person who came along.

There were some high points for me, nonetheless.  I really liked Meenore, the dragon.  (One of my favourite characters in The Two Princesses of Bamarre was the dragon Vollys.  Gail Carson Levine can really write dragons!)  And I loved what the author did with the names.  It was very clever, and I almost didn't pick up on it.  (Hint: Say the names out loud.)

I loved the world-building in the beginning, when Elodie was first discovering the city of Two Castles and describing everything she saw and experienced.  The plot seemed to take a while to get going, though.  When Elodie was taken on as the dragon's assistant and then hired by Count Jonty Um (the ogre) to investigate who might be trying to harm him, I thought things were finally going somewhere.  But, for whatever reason, the story seemed to lose its momentum when Elodie arrived at the ogre's castle.  I nearly lost all interest and almost didn't finish.

That would have been unfortunate, because after a few more chapters, the story became like a boulder rolling down a hill.  Events tumbled quickly, one after the other, to a conclusion that neatly wrapped up most of the mysteries (and left room for a possible sequel).  The plot itself wasn't bad; it was mostly the pacing that was off.

All in all, A Tale of Two Castles isn't a bad read... but it seems like it's for a younger audience than some of the author's other books.  It's a true middle grade fantasy (as opposed to books like Ella Enchanted and Ever, which fall squarely in the YA category).

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kobo Coupons!

I know I haven't posted a lot lately.  I haven't read much lately, either, thanks to some illness that's kept me (mostly) bed-bound and brain-fogged for a month now.  I will hopefully have a new review up in the next day or so.

In the meantime, here are a couple of cool coupons for Kobo users!

20% Off Kobo eBooks with code "June20off"
Get $1 Off select Kobo eBooks - Kobodollaroff

And don't forget to check out the new Kobo eReader Touch!  I'd love one of these, but I can't really justify buying a new e-reader at the moment.  Still... a touch screen!  So cool.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review - The Day Before

The Day Before
by Lisa Schroeder
Date: 2011
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Reading level: YA
Pages: 307
Source: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab

Sixteen-year-old Amber intends to spend one special day at her favourite place: the beach. A day where she can do what she likes and be who she wants and not have to answer to anyone but herself. She thought she wanted to be alone... but when she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Cade at the aquarium, her plans suddenly change.

This day is special for Cade, too, but he won't say why, leaving Amber to vacillate between fearing for the worst and hoping for the best. And all the while, these two teens share a special day, a day that nobody but them can truly understand: the day before.

I finished this book yesterday and, while I usually like to review books immediately after I've finished them, I just couldn't with this one.  My thoughts needed to percolate for a while.  I haven't read a book like this in a long time, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of my reaction to it.

First, so there is no misunderstanding, let me just say that the book is great.  It's well written, well plotted, and populated with a cast of characters that are vivid and intriguing.  The verse format works really well here and allows the author to use some beautiful turns of phrase that might sound a bit corny in a standard prose novel.

The negative (for me, anyway) was that two of the characters really pushed my buttons.  I'm not the sort of person who ever yells at characters while I'm reading, but if I were, those two would have been the ones to push me over the edge.  I couldn't feel anything but frustration, anger, and hatred toward them, and it somewhat coloured my view of the book for a while.  Separating my dislike for the characters (who I'm sure were supposed to be provocative) from the book itself was a little difficult... which was why I needed to think on this one for a while.  The theme of knowing who you are, what you want, and what's ultimately good for you, while being simultaneously told that someone else knows those things better than you do, is a great one for a young adult novel.  It will resonate strongly with teens (and, depending on circumstances, probably many adults as well).

I prefer a bit more escapism in the books I read.  The Day Before was a little too emotionally exhausting for my taste.  But I really can't find any major faults, so I would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of contemporary YA fiction.  Look for it when it's released on June 28, 2011.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.57 out of 5