Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: The Taming of the Tights

The Taming of the Tights (Misadventures of Tallulah Casey #3), by Louise Rennison. The goodreads summary:
Gadzooks! It's another term at Dother Hall for Tallulah and her mates. But can they keep their minds on the arts with all those boys about?... After the thing-that-will-never-be-mentioned last term, Tallulah is keen to put all thoughts of Cain behind her. But that seems like that the last thing he wants. Their performing arts college may have been saved by Honey's mystery benefactor, but for how long is anyone's guess. So will Tallulah finally get to wear those golden slippers of applause or will Dr Lightowler swoop down on her glory days? And with Seth and Flossie forever snogging, Vaisey and Jack loved-up and Phil and Jo fondly biffing each other can Tallulah resist the call of her wild boy? Don your craziest tights and Irish dance your way to some surprising and hilariously unexpected answers...
I love this series. I really do. It’s pretty much become my go-to for when I need something that will make me laugh without requiring any brain power. Tallulah’s just so great. I love how un-angsty she is—she’s genuine and innocent and fairly na├»ve, and while those things don’t always work for me, they work for me here because Tallulah is straight up hilarious, and I adore her optimism and how she’s not the moody, annoying type of teenager. I cannot stop smiling when I read these books. Especially any scene that involves her knees (I know that sounds weird, but trust me, Tallulah’s knees are the best).

This third book is about the same quality as the second, which is to say not as good as the first book but still pretty great. In this book, Tallulah is sorting out her feelings about Charlie and Cain, while trying to figure out why Dr. Lightowler hates her. Not to mention she’s also still trying to redeem herself after the Sugar Plum Bikey fiasco. For the whole Charlie vs. Cain thing, I know I’m probably supposed to like Charlie the best, but really, I’m all for Cain. I mean, come on—Tallulah calls him the “Dark Black Crow of Heckmondwhite.” How am I supposed to resist that? Especially considering the fact that he opens up for a brief moment in this book, and we get to see a little bit of who he is behind that cocky bad-boy exterior.

Tallulah’s group of friends remains as awesome as ever, with Ruby, as usual, being my favorite of the bunch. How a 11-year-old can be so cool, I don’t know. But when I grow up, I want to have as much spunk and “Northern Grit” as Ruby.

Overall, a lot of fun. A good way to amuse yourself for a couple of hours when you’ve got nothing else going on.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay. The Goodreads summary:
Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.
My feelings for this book are a bit mixed. On the one hand, I thought it was well-written and readable, which was a good thing considering it’s longer than most other contemporary YAs. It also sucked me in for the most part, and I had a hard time putting it down because I wanted to find out the truth behind what happened in Nastya’s past and what was going to happen between Nastya and Josh in the present.

Buuuut . . . there were some things that didn’t work so well for me. Like, I never felt much of a connection to either Josh or Nastya. They’re both standoffish characters, and I felt like not only did they push away other people in the book, but they also pushed me away as a reader. I felt bad for them, sure, but I didn’t really empathize with them much despite all the crappy things they go through. I will admit, however, that their relationship did give me some butterflies towards the end because it was done pretty well.

I also struggled with some of the more minor parts of the book. Like, for instance, where were the parental figures in this book? I just had a hard time believing that Nastya’s parents were okay with sending their traumatized daughter to go live with an aunt who’s never home and doesn’t seem to care overly much what Nastya’s up to. I also had a hard time with (Spoilers) the fact that after Nastya gets attacked at the party, everyone seems to shrug it off like it’s no big deal. I mean, she almost is raped, and no one seems to think anything of it. I also thought it was a little weird that there was never any resolution with Nastya and playing the piano, considering what a big role it had in her former life. I guess I just expected that particular storyline to go somewhere. (End spoilers)

Overall, the book had its good points and its not-so-good points, but in general, I think the good outweighed the bad. It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone, because it deals with some pretty heavy emotional issues, as well as with teen drinking, drug use, and sex. But if that stuff doesn’t bother you, I’d say go for it.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: Shadows

Shadows, by Robin McKinley. The Goodreads summary:
Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.

Then Maggie meets Casimir, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. He’s from Oldworld too—and he’s heard of Maggie’s stepfather, and has a guess about Val’s shadows. Maggie doesn’t want to know . . . until earth-shattering events force her to depend on Val and his shadows. And perhaps on her own heritage.

In this dangerously unstable world, neither science nor magic has the necessary answers, but a truce between them is impossible. And although the two are supposed to be incompatible, Maggie’s discovering the world will need both to survive.
Here’s something I hope you know about me by now: Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. Ever. I’ve read everything she’s written at least twice, and some of her books I’ve reread more times than I can count. So from the first page of “Shadows,” I fell right back in with McKinley’s writing style, and even though this book came out just a couple weeks ago, it immediately felt comforting and familiar.

Of the books McKinley’s written, I think “Shadows” is most closely related in style to “Dragonhaven” and “Sunshine” in that it takes place in an equivalent to the modern word and is written in the first person. McKinley’s books are always sneakily funny, but I feel like whenever she writes in the first person, the humor is given a bit more free reign through the narrative voice. And Maggie in this book is pretty dang funny. She’s a bit snarky and sarcastic and just generally made me smile. She didn’t quite grab me as much as McKinley’s protagonists usually do, but I liked her all the same.

Can I just take a little sidebar here and give a thumbs up for the way McKinley writes about dogs? I swear the dogs in her books are as much characters as anyone else, and Mongo in this book is no exception. McKinley portrayal of him is so spot on and vivid that half the time I expected to look down and see Mongo curled up by my feet. By the time I finished “Shadows,” I was three-fourths of the way convinced that maybe I really am a dog person after all.

Here’s the other thing I want to give McKinley a high five for: she avoids a love triangle! I was seriously worried that “Shadows” was headed that direction, and although I knew that if anyone could successfully handle a love triangle it’s Robin McKinley (hello, “The Hero and the Crown” and “Sunshine”), I was still dreading a love triangle all the same. But thankfully McKinley steers the book clear of that potential emotional mess and keeps that aspect of the story fairly stress-free.

Now here’s the thing I wasn’t so crazy about. This book felt like the beginning of a series. Except, Robin McKinley (with the exception of “Pegasus”) doesn’t do series. So I was left a little confused. Because while all the small, immediate problems in the book are dealt with, the overarching issues don’t get resolved, and I felt like some of the explanation I needed was never provided (e.g., why cobeys suddenly started appearing in the first place, what was going on with the origami, what the heck was going on with that algebra book, etc.). So I fear that rather than this being a brilliant start to a series, it's actually a slightly frustrating standalone.

Overall, this book was by Robin McKinley, so duh, of course I liked it. I’m a bit confused about whether it’s supposed to be a standalone or not, but in general I had a good time. It didn’t end up being my favorite of hers, but maybe I just need to give it some time and read it again. After all, I struggled with “Chalice,” “Sunshine,” AND “The Hero and the Crown” the first time around, and now they’re some of my favorites of hers. So who knows where “Shadows” will ultimately end up.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: The Book of Broken Hearts

The Book of Broken Hearts, by Sarah Ockler. The Goodreads summary:
Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.
Here’s the thing. For a book I liked fairly well, I have surprisingly little to say about it. It has all the elements I usually like in contemporary YAs: a charismatic main character, a hot love interest with a bit of a bad boy vibe, witty banter, and enough serious issues to give the book some emotional heft. But I don’t know—something prevented it from clicking with me all the way, and I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is. I think it has something to do with the relationships in the book—between Jude and Emilio, between Jude and her family, and between Jude and her friends—and how I didn’t quite feel like these relationships ever really had the full depth I needed. And so at the end of the book, I was left wanting there to be more development and exploration in those areas than there was.

I realize this is coming off as more negative than I intended. I really did enjoy the book for the most part, and there are a couple of people I’ll be recommending it to because I know they’ll like it. It just didn’t quite give me everything I wanted.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: A Corner of White

“A Corner of White,” by Jaclyn Moriarty. The GoodReads summary:
Madeleine Tully lives in Cambridge, England, the World – a city of spires, Isaac Newton and Auntie’s Tea Shop.

Elliot Baranski lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello – where seasons roam, the Butterfly Child sleeps in a glass jar, and bells warn of attacks from dangerous Colours.

They are worlds apart – until a crack opens up between them; a corner of white – the slim seam of a letter.

A mesmerising story of two worlds; the cracks between them, the science that binds them and the colours that infuse them.
I picked up this book because I had a lot of fun with this author’s “The Year of Secret Assignments,” but this book ended up not being anything like that. In fact, I don’t think this book is quite like anything else I’ve read before.

So what we’ve got is two teens living in different worlds (one in Cambridge, England, and the other in the imaginary kingdom of Cello), who accidentally end up being able to correspond with each other through a crack between the worlds. That part of the story isn’t the unique part. But you see, the kingdom of Cello, though essentially modern, not only has typical fantasy elements (dragons, werewolves, and a fairy-like creature called the Butterfly Child), it also gets attacked by various Colors. Yes, Colors as in colors: red, blue, purple, etc. I’m still not sure how it works, but the malignant Colors can do a lot of damage. In general, the Colors, like the rest of the world building in Cello, are a fun concept, but you can’t think too hard about any of it because things aren’t really explained.

As for what I thought about the book, my feelings are mixed. I enjoyed the writing style—it was creative and whimsical, and there were quite a few passages that I found myself marking to come back to and soak in again. Creative and whimsical generally describe the plot as well, but honestly, for the first two-thirds of the book, I was left wondering what the point was. Because the story didn’t seem to be moving in any discernible direction. Elliot and Madeleine write to each other, they live their day-to-day lives, and there’s a lot thrown in about Isaac Newton, but other than that, the plot didn’t really go anywhere.

The last third of the book, however, was pretty good. Not only did the story finally gain some momentum, but Elliot and Madeleine both discover that their lives and certain things in their lives aren't what they thought, and the author handled those discoveries quite well. There’s also a big reveal at the end that I certainly wasn’t expecting, so I rather enjoyed that.

Overall, while I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the series, I don’t feel like this book was a waste of time or anything. The author’s obviously got some serious skill with words, so even when the story felt aimless, I could at least enjoy the writing.

Rating: 3 / 5  
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