Romance Review: The Backup Boyfriend by River Jaymes

The Backup Boyfriend by River JaymesThe Backup Boyfriend by River Jaymes

Published by: Amazon Digital Services

Format: Kindle Edition

Genre: M/M Romance

Reviewed by: Judith

Will a hot doctor and his sweaty mechanic ever get their acts together to turn a fake relationship into something real? Heck YEAH and it is hot hot HOT!

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YA/NA Review: How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis

how to repair a mechanical heartHow to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services Inc

Format: Kindle edition

Genre: Contemporary YA

Reviewed by: Judith

Score: 10/10

Let me tell you a secret: I’m not sure why but I had it in my head that I didn’t like this book. Don’t look at me like that. Stop. Let me explain. I have a notoriously bad memory and it told me (repeatedly) that I’d tried How to Repair a Mechanical Heart before and for whatever reason, I just didn’t like it. No idea as to why and no idea where that came from but that voice inside of me kept whispering this crap for ages and it WAS WRONG! Dead wrong. Now, I don’t admit mistakes often – I’m an Aries, we’re perfect…and beautiful and wonderful and funny and amazingly humble – but I’m stating it for the record now, mea culpa and all that. This book is fabulous. No, wait. It’s more than that. It’s so cool that I’m sure in some alternate universe I have neon glitter pink font and some blinking gifs of celebrities screaming at anyone who will listen in order to show what an excellent read this is…cause it truly is!

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In the Company of Shadows: Evenfall by Santino and Ais

Evenfall Volumes I and II by Santino Hassell and Ais

Series: In the Company of Shadows

Published by: self-published

Format: Mobi

Reviewed by: Judith

Genre: Sci-Fi, Romance, and M/M

Final score: 9/10

As you guys know, I’m kind of helpless at finding new stuff to read. Correction: seriously hopeless to the point where every few weeks I whine and beg and plead with Ellen, Onni, and anyone who will listen for recs of their favorite books. It’s annoying, I know, but a girl’s gotta read!

It was nearing that time again when a really intriguing cover caught my eye on the “best of” lists of one of my favorite blogs (namely Boys in Our Books).  It was for this book called 1/27 anthology and the cover was just vague enough to make me wonder. I had never heard of it and the BIOB “best-of” list is exasperating in that you can’t click on the photos and be immediately thrust onto the buy page of the book. But after a bit of investigative work, I discovered that 1/27 anthology was actually part of this series called In the Company of Shadows. And better yet, it was a many volumed series and was free! So I downloaded the first two halves of Book 1, Evenfall and dove in. HOLY CRAP was I not expecting that ride…

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The Number 3 Mystery Book by Chris Pink

The Number 3 Mystery Book, by Chris Pink

Publisher: Self-Published

Format: It’s an actual book! Made of paper! 2011

Plot: Barney is a 13-year-old who suffers from Cherubism and is an amateur Cryptozoologist (think of someone searching for the Loch Ness monster or a Chupacabra). Late one night while exploring around his neighbor’s pond he sees something amazing – a giant fish/monster thing! He and his best friend Jenny (Wonky) begin working together to gather proof and figure out what it could be. However their progress is hampered by several things: Wonky’s paralysis, the fragile constitution of Barney’s mom who has the most sensitive hearing ever, promises made to Barney’s neighbors (the Grundys) to not explore late at night, and all the craziness that is part of being a 13-year-old boy.

Review: First off this is NOT the normal I Love YA Fiction material, so if you’re looking for our typical “squeee!!!!” book then this probably isn’t for you. However I do have to admit I was blown away on so many levels. Not only have I never reviewed a book like this but I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like this in my entire life.

My favorite part of the book was the amazing first-person narration. There were several times that I told Judith I was so worried about reviewing this because I didn’t want to even have the possibility of say something negative about a book written by a young teen (like when people trash those Chris Paolini books and I just say “okay, they’re not the best books ever but he’s like 13!”). And then I had to keep reminding myself over and over that this is actually written by an adult!! The author did an amazing job writing as a young teen and I was beyond impressed.

I have to admit I was a bit confused about a lot of the stuff in the book (like the cryptozoology)

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until Barney stated that he focuses on cryptozoology in order to forget about how difficult his life is: the physical disorder which makes him a target for all the jerkfaces in his grade (who I was wishing the plague on the entire time), his bff/maybe girlfriend is paralyzed, his mom has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, his dad is never around…that’s a lot of crap to deal with. I loved that the majority of the fun stuff in the book was a way to cushion all the depressing material. I know it’s a cliché but this was such a rollercoaster of emotions – especially at the end. One second I was laughing out loud, then I was cheering over Wonky and Barney, then I was bawling my eyes out. The entire last ¼ of the book I couldn’t put it down…not at all what I expected when I started out.

In the end I’m going to give this one an 8 out of 10. Honestly the only reason I’m only giving it an 8 is just because it doesn’t have the romance that I love so much in my YA novels. Other than that it was stellar.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the hero: 10. I’m sure you’ll all be shocked by this but I’ve never been a 13-year-old boy. However this book details exactly what I imagine is going on in the head of a teenage boy. He’s so curious and eager to investigate the world around him, confused by the fact that his best friend is all of a sudden becoming a real girl, and when it comes to his parents is at the same time too aware of what is going on while – like any teen – too quick to believe their problems are his fault. I loved all of the cryptozoology stuff and while reading about his antics with Wonky made me completely cringe I was also laughing hysterically the entire time. Completely unique from any character I’ve ever read about.

How much did I like the love interest: 8. I kinda want to give Wonky a lower score just because there were so many instances in which I didn’t like her but it’s stated from the very beginning that she has an abrasive personality and you can’t penalize someone for being true to form. I really didn’t like that she called Barney “Fathead” all the time (although maybe it’s a double standard because it didn’t bother me that he calls her “Wonky”), her stunts at school scared the crap out of me and are making me rethink this whole teaching thing, and the fact that she didn’t have 100% confidence in Barney was so upsetting. I almost wish this had been one of those books written from two different perspectives just so we could get a better idea of what’s going on in Wonky’s mind because there’s so much I want to know (like did she really not have confidence in him or was she just upset that he wasn’t obviously in love with her? I’m so confused!).

How believable is the plot: 6. Mostly cause of all the stuff to do with the outcome of Barney’s investigation into the possible giant fish/monster which I don’t want to spoil. Everything else was totally believable (sometimes it was depressingly believable).

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. There were a few writing errors but considering that I notice issues much more in print than on my Kindle and I only noticed like 3 here that’s amazing. I mean – Christopher Pike’s book had more than that and he’s world famous! Plus, as I said, his POV writing was amazing.

How much did I want to keep reading: 5. I had a lot of trouble getting in to this one but once I got beyond the halfway point I was sucked in. And the last 50 pages? Forget it. I stayed up way too late because I had to finish.

Glasses of wine I drank while reading: 3. I kept getting upset over everything Barney had to deal with. Which might be part of the reason why I cried so very much at the end but whatever. It happens to us all.

Final Score: 8/10. Different, fascinating, funny, sad, great storytelling. I love when my expectation for a book is actually too low, it’s times like this that I don’t mind being incorrect (well, don’t mind too much. I never like being incorrect). A very impressive first novel.

****Disclaimer: I got this book for free from the author. I swear I didn’t bribe him in any way, or get paid for my review. And we might not be legit enough to need this disclaimer but after working at a law firm for many years it’s better safe than sorry!****

 

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Julian Rigby and the Keepers of Time by John Grammatico

Julian Rigby and the Keepers of Time by John S. Grammatico

Publisher: Shelby House (April 12, 2012)

Edition: Paperback

Plot: Julian Rigby is an orphan living with his granddad inside an old clock shop in London.  On the last day of school, Julian’s granddad’s shop is ransacked and the man himself goes missing. When granddad’s bridge club partners show up to take Julian in, a whole new world is opened to him, one in which his granddad is an important member of a secret society guarding time from all interlopers who wish to manipulate it for their own gain. With granddad missing and in the hands of what appears to be a megalomaniac intent on destroying time as he knows it, Julian is forced to choose between remaining the lonely orphan he’s been his entire life or  becoming the one thing that can stop a madman from destroying everything he holds dear.  His choice is easy but in order to save the day, he must follow his granddad and his captor through a time rift and into the unknown.  With the help of his two friends, Lily and Third, they embark on a journey of epic proportions that begs answers to these questions: what will become of Julian and the world as we know it? Will he be able to stop the villain in time? What’s on the other side of the time rift and will Julian be able to handle it when he gets there? Is he really the only one who can save the day?

Review: I know what you must be thinking: “shut the front door! This is not Judith or Ellen’s typical YA fare.  There’s no romance, no wayward high school students, and no angst. What the what???” But you know, folks, sometimes we gotta shake things up in here. So when the author, John Grammatico, contacted me to review his sweeping novel about a kid that saves time, I was ready to jump on board. I had grown a little tired of all the feelings and the love running rampant through today’s YA fiction and needed something different. And this promised to be different alright. It promised to be entertaining and grandiose, a true adventure tale a la Harry Potter. But let me be blunt: this is no Harry Potter.  I wanted to like this book, I really did. The premise hinted at grand things, the dynamics of time and the inevitable shift from boy to man.  But in the end, what it hints at and what it is are two VERY different things. I wanted to love it but ended up not really feeling engaged by it, a sad outcome for something that sounded so promising.

Right off the bat, we meet Julian Rigby, one of these mischief making British boys who is far too smart for his own good and who turns out to be more than he seems, some sort of chosen one for a society of time keepers.  The only problem is, he’s never really flushed out as a character and it’s like you’re reading an entire book about a caricature of a person. You never can quite figure him out.  All the information relayed to you about him is told via a third-party source; you’re not learning it through action or dialogue. The end result: you never feel like you can connect to him. This method of characterization, through an omniscient narrator who gives knowledge haphazardly, is fine when done well. But Julian and all the characters just fall flat.  They seem one-dimensional to a fault and, when action happens involving them, it feels forced and stilted.  Personally, the further the book went, the more I simply didn’t care about Julian or any of the other characters. They weren’t real to me at all.

Then there’s the writing itself. Let me just preface this with a hearty,  “it’s not bad”.  But that said, it’s not phenomenal either. A story like this one which is trying to describe the mundane transforming into the magical, well, it needs to be pitch perfect with the writing. There really are no descriptors or adjectives to describe the scenes and as a result, I could never visualize the locale or the exact nature of what was going on.  Also the action happens haphazardly and pretty sloppily. A great deal of the scenes feel as if they are imagined from some guidebook on how to write an adventure novel for young boys: Step 1. make him mischievous. Step 2. give him a plucky female friend and an older boy who was his enemy but learns to respect him as the story progresses. Step 3. Give him no parents and an aging grandfather who’s the member of a secret society and guardian of some weird secret that you never fully explain to the audience. Step 4. Have an evil character appear and kidnap Granddad, forcing the hero to realize his destiny.  I could go on and on but I’ll spare you. You know how it plays out. This sort of plot isn’t bad but it has been used and overused a lot so in order to make it feel fresh, you have to be an exceptional writer. And just to reiterate, the writing itself isn’t bad.  It’s just not developed. Plus it needs a good editor, one who’s not afraid to shake things up.  Some scenes are unnecessary while others that are crucial to the plot are skipped over quickly.  Action happens and you, the reader, can’t quite figure out how the characters got from Point A to Point B and yet there they are acting as if it were completely normal. Case in point, the friends Julian acquires befriend him as if by magic. We never get any in depth scenes showing how they went from a girl he met on the street and a bully trying to beat him to good friends willing to follow him through some time rift to save his granddad.  In my mind, that’s just sloppy story telling. And it’s things like this that crop up again and again and it proves disastrous for the story.

There’s also the foreign factor. You know what I mean, right? When you get a writer who is American writing about the British?  This can be done very well but here it’s not.  At one point one of the characters calls her mother, “mom” and later “mum”. All good and well but it’s just inconsistent and as all readers of  British novels know, you never would call your mom “mom” in England. There’s also the overuse of the word “guys” which strikes me as very American. These sorts of American-isms kept cropping up pretty consistently further instilling the idea that the writing needs a good editor.

In the end, if the author could flush out his characters more, give more meat to his story-telling, and clean up the whole of it so as to better explain the why of things, I think that this would be a much better read. As it stands now, I’m underwhelmed and can only call it passably good.  As a result, I’m giving this 4/10 stars.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the hero: 5. Being that Julian is never really flushed out as a character, I didn’t really like him one way or another.  He was pretty one dimensional and I could never get a good grasp on his internal monologue. Maybe this is due to the fact that he’s a slightly younger character than we’re used to reading about (only 12-13) and I’m woefully out of touch with youth.  So I’m giving him as a character the benefit of the doubt and will say that if he was described a bit more and treated less as a flat caricature, then he would be a compelling main character.

How believable is the plot: 5. This is a fantasy book and as such, we have to suspend all beliefs we may have about the way the world works.  With that said, I can see rifts in time existing and crazy villains trying to control them.  But this plot is a little tired and I have to say that I’m just not buying the way it’s presented here. Plus this world that Julian et al go to is kind of annoying with animals that speak in rhyme which frankly seems ludicrous and unbelievable.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 4. The writing was never fully flushed out, a lot of description was missing, the characters were never fully realized, the action happened haphazardly, scenes were linked and situations happened without any precedent…the writing style is terse which I did like and the dialogue was passable.  There were no glaring grammar or spelling mistakes which always gets bonus points with me. But it felt unedited and just in need of someone not afraid to cut out stuff or demand that things be rewritten.

How much did I want to keep reading: 5. 

Final Score: 4/10. Okay, like I mentioned, there are a lot of problems with this story but it’s nothing that a good editor wouldn’t whip into shape.  I’d say give it a try if you’re in the mood for an adventure story set in a fantastical place but aren’t overly concerned about descriptions or the whys of things.

****Disclaimer: I got this book for free from the author. I swear I didn’t bribe him in any way, or get paid for my review. And we might not be legit enough to need this disclaimer but after working at a law firm for many years it’s better safe than sorry!****

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Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher

Publisher: Firebird (February 8, 2011)

Format: Hardcover edition (library binding)

You’re going to need to take a deep breath for this one.  It’s a wild and bumpy ride that you won’t soon forget.

Plot:

Incarceron, a vast and maze-like prison of metal and technology, was created long ago as the ultimate social experiment.  Prisoners were placed inside and given all the resources necessary to create a utopian society.  It was to be the revolution of the modern prison, giving unsavory characters a chance to start anew in a controlled environment.  However over time, the experiment went awry with the prison itself becoming self-aware and controlling and resources dwindling to nothing. As years passed, prisoners grouped into opposing factions but each and every one of them held the same belief: there was no way to escape Incarceron and no one from Outside could ever enter it.  Finn, a teenage prisoner, has odd memories of the world outside and when he comes into possession of a crystal key, he becomes convinced that it will open the exit to the prison.  He begins a monumental quest to leave his prison home and in his travels, collects a ragtag bunch of prisoners that help him on his way.  Simultaneous to Finn’s trek across the maze-like prison, Claudia, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is stagnating in the modern world.  Along with the rest of society, she is forced to conform to 18th century standards, playing out a life of two hundred years prior.  Even though technology exists and is responsible for things like the consistently favorable weather and the limitless wealth her class has access to, her existence is bound by rigid standards of a different age and she feels trapped, suffocating in the hypocrisy of it all.  When she too finds a crystal key and uses it to communicate with Finn in the prison, she discovers that Incarceron is not the utopia it is lauded to be.  She slowly comes to believe that Finn is her society’s long lost prince and she is desperate for him to escape the prison in order to overthrow the tyranny around her.  As both Claudia and Finn race to find the point of entry and exit into Incarceron, other forces are at work attempting to stop them, one of which is the crafty prison itself which has never lost a prisoner.

Review:

Wow.  Seriously, wow.  Somebody hold me up because coming out of the world that Catherine Fisher created is like being whacked in the face with a crowbar. It hurts and I don’t want it to happen. I read this in a marathon session of 2 days and when Incarceron was over, I lifted my head from the kindle and found myself thinking, where are the aristocrats in 18th century garb? Why is everyone on a cell phone? Why isn’t the sexy yet disconcerting Finn communicating with me via crystal key? People, if there’s one thing you take away from this review, it should be that this reviewer was blown away by this book.  All I could say after finishing was, “wow.” Ellen received it multiple times via text obviously.  It is by far the most unique, engaging, fascinating, well written YA fiction fantasy novel I have read in a while,  if not ever. And you know what makes it so enjoyable and well, awesome? Everything.  For real, every detail. It’s all so well thought out and everything has a meaning, a double entendre if you will.  I mean, start with Claudia, the Warden’s daughter.  Girlfriend is stuck in the past.  Literally.  She lives in a realm where Protocol is the ruling factor of everyday life and she is forced to take part in this daily farce of pretending to live 200 years ago. Watching her stagnate in a prison of luxury is a far cry different from the horrific scenes we see inside Incarceron.  But she’s still stuck in a prison and like Finn, she knows there’s a way out of it.  Then you have the prison.  It’s lauded as a utopia but we all know that when the prison starts watching people with cameras at night that nothing good can come from it.  Incarceron has run out of resources and has started creating people and animals out of organic material and metal.  It has trouble feeding its denizens, it is barely capable of generating heat, and is consistently blocking off and recreating portions of its self contained world.  It’s amazing that Catherine Fisher uses the very prison as a character.  It has its own life, its own desires and dreams, but unlike the humans we encounter, we have no clue what the prison wants because damned if I know how a manmade prison can escape itself.  And then there’s the mysterious yet dreamy Finn.  He might be cute and resourceful but at his core is a filthy, traiterous thief who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.  He is savage and ruthless and incapable of real emotion.  But we can’t blame him or find fault with how he is: the prison has made him this way.  Growing up in it without parents, without memories of a life before, Finn’s survival is brutal, yes, but completely understandable.  Of all the characters, I found him to be the most empathetic as he had experienced a whoooooole lot yet had maintained some semblance of self and didn’t give up on his goals.  I don’t know about you, but if I had seen warring bands of grimy prisoners fighting over scraps of food and metal, I would have broken down sobbing and then probably would have been clubbed and eaten. Not so Finn.  His strong character is mirrored by Claudia.  She might be used to her creature comforts (girlfriend needs her candles to see at night, okay?) but she is strong enough to defy her father, the mores of her world, even her Queen in order to see that the rightful heir to the throne is found and that the injustices of Incarceron are eradicated.  There is so much going on in the two worlds Fisher has created, both inside the prison and out.  She creates believable and genuinely likeable characters, and unlike other writers, is able to use her characters as means of social commentary.  In the end, Incarceron is merely a story of two people attempting to change their circumstances but it does so so smartly that you are just blown away.  It mixes elements of myth, religion, ideas about social responsibility and the existence of utopia, with the understanding that there is no right and wrong and that prisons exist whether there are walls to confine someone or not.  It’s so worth the read and lucky us, there’s also a sequel!!!

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: 10.  Claudia was awesome.  This girl defied everything she knew and loved in order to do right by Finn, her world, and the prison.  Don’t get me wrong: she had her own interests at heart a lot of the time–arranged marriages tend to force a girl’s hand–but she was such a strong, resourceful woman which is a rarity in this day and age. Even more so when we consider that she was supposed to be living 200+ years ago.

How much did I like the love interest: 10. Finn was kick ass! This kid could do nothing wrong.  He battled across a wasteland of a prison, lost some friends along the way, had premonitions of the future, had to choose between himself and a dear friend leaving the prison, and then had to confront an entirely new world once he escaped Incarceron.  Yes, he seemed a bit brutal and moody to Claudia but I think he’s allowed a little slack since oh you know, he grew up in a dark prison!

How believable is the plot: 10. Catherine Fisher is the master puppeteer. This was set in the future with a lot of science fiction and fantasy elements but it is so seamlessly and effortlessly written that it reads like a contemporary YA fiction novel.  Everyone can relate to Claudia’s feelings of being trapped or Finn’s desire to break free from the crappy lot in life he’s given.  Fantasy aside, this is ultimately a coming of age story and one of teens doing great things to benefit the greater good.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: About a bagillion! I’ll give it a 10 since a bagillion has an unlimited number of zeros.  This lady is a superb storyteller.  How does she keep so many threads separate and distinct? How does she write in the third person and yet have such clear and unique voices for the different characters? The writing was excellent, the pacing also excellent, the editing was wonderful, and it was just supremely enjoyable to read.

How much did I want to keep reading:  10. God! What’s going to happen to Finn Outside? Will he be able to handle it?  And what about the friends he had to leave inside Incarceron? Will he go back to save them too? And what about the prison itself? Will it implode after losing a prisoner and reaching a higher level of consciousness? Thank goodness there’s a sequel, Sapphique, otherwise it would feel like the book didn’t tie up any loose ends.

Final Score: 10 / 10. I can’t get over how much I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It is wholly refreshing and unique and I promise you, unless you don’t enjoy reading, you won’t be able to put this down.  There’s something for everyone: fight scenes, adventure and travel, a smattering of romance, intrigue, mystery, and techie stuff too.  Read it for any of those thing separately but love it for all of them together.

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Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (December 27, 2011)

Format: Hardcover Edition

Plot:

Minerva “Min” Green is…different. When people first meet her, they all want to call her arty (which she despises) because she wears thrift store clothing, hangs out with a potentially gay best friend, loves avant garde cinema, and wants to be a meaningful, art house movie director.  She peppers her speech with details about the lives of bygone movie stars and long forgotten foreign films and at her core is quintessentially different from all other high school girls but never is she arty. Ed Slaterton, high school basketball star, doesn’t know what to make of Min when he crashes her best friend, Al’s, 16th birthday party.  Ed is your basic jock who lives, eats, and sleeps basketball and doesn’t realize a world outside his own exists. He finds Min intriguing, unique, and utterly enthralling because of her differences and their chance encounter at the party leads to a heady but brief love affair between the two. It slowly and unerringly follows their first meeting at the party to their first date at an old black and white movie, to Min’s first time meeting Ed’s sister, Joan, and his close knit group of basketball buddies, to Min’s slow disassociation with her own circle of friends. We watch them quickly and inevitably fall into and out of love.  It is the huge breadth of differences between these two that finally drives them apart and Min is devastated.  In an effort to purge her heart of all that remains of Ed, she writes a missive to him which she deposits on his doorstep along with all of the mementos of their shared time together.  This book is that missive.

Review:

I have to be brutally honest. I did not like this book. I mean, I did like it for all the reasons that make everybody like it and which mean that it is fundamentally unique: it is witty and ironic and makes demands of the reader that most YA fiction reads just won’t do.  It makes you think and wonder about the nature of love: if we want only what we can’t have, if we choose to ignore the signs of adultery, if we all are destined to be hurt in love and if we in fact like to be hurt.  It is obviously well thought out and the author is extremely clever.  But I didn’t like it.  And here’s why:

1. The author knows he is clever. Now, I can’t be sure if the character Min is actually pretentious or was merely supposed to appear pretentious but with the underlying understanding that she’s a reflection of high school stereotypes or arty girls in general.  Either way, you can just tell that Daniel Handler knows how smart and clever he is as he’s writing this and that he is patting himself on the back as each chapter draws to a close.  There’s one point where Min and her bf, Al, are planning his 16th birthday party and in an effort to be different or unique or whatever they host a Bitter 16th party.  Everything they served was bitter from the ale to the gorgonzola cheese dip to the bitter, inedible cake.  And don’t you get it? Bitter 16 not sweet 16.  Isn’t that so clever? Ugh. Not. God, like the author, you can just see the characters congratulating themselves on how clever and unconventional they are. I couldn’t tell if Handler wanted us to find Min and Al woefully naive or just plain stupid, or even if these two were actually supposed to appear as if they were pushing the envelope on “outside the norm” with their dumb party.  Personally I found their brand of high school weirdness  uninspired and banal but again, I can’t tell if Handler is making a point with how uninspired it all is.  Like is he thinking, “this is what people expect of the arty teenage crowd and I’m going to drown them in it but it’s really ironic because god, these characters are beyond obnoxious and pretentious! This is so deep of me writing a book about a girl who is different but is in fact, just as trite as all high school kids. Her uniqueness is based on the fact that she likes movies! Old movies! Ones with no speech even! That’s daring, ooh…but is it? Is it just a reflection of what we want to see?” I couldn’t take it anymore.

2. This is written as a letter. I get it. It’s stream of consciousness at its best and if you were to read it aloud, it might actually be poetic and meaningful. But we’re not reading aloud and when the basketball star comes off as some wacked out, high school Yoda, I think it has got to stop.  Case in point (one of about…ten bagillion),

Min says to Ed: “Well, I don’t have them. I’ll help you get them out of the attic. They’re not too Christmas-y, are they?”

And He replies, “White, some of them are.”

Who is he, Yoda? Again, god! Annoying. Everything Min says or thinks or feels comes out as a cryptic poem that the reader has to decipher.  Where’s the verb? Where’s the subject? Is there going to be punctuation? But I don’t want to decipher it because there’s no way in hades that the basketball star would ever talk like this, even in Min’s ragingly unique mind.

3. There are pictures to accompany each memento she returns to Ed with the letter.  Pinpointing why I disliked this aspect so much is tough but I think it stems from the fact that the writer knows he is clever but thinks that the reader is not ergo he has to supply pictures for us.  In much the same way he feels the need to beat the dead horse that is Min’s uniqueness among normal people, he has to beat the reader with a picture of every single thing she talks about as the story progresses.  Personally, I thought that children’s book authors used pictures as a way of showing a story through a means other than words as most young readers can’t read.  But I can read and I found it annoying and frankly, childish.  The subject matter is anything but childish and yet, I’m shown pictures of what a bottle cap looks like. Keep beating that horse.

4. Every character was a caricature of his- or herself.  Min was the unique, arty girl.  Ed was the jock who cheated on her.  Annette was the jock’s ex-girlfriend who cheated with Ed. It’s like every character was thought up to be representative of every stereotype you’ve ever had about that type of person or character.  Jocks are dumb and not faithful: enter Ed! Cheerleaders who used to date the jocks are sluts and can’t be trusted with other people’s boyfriends: enter Annette! Arty, thrift store clothes wearing girls will choose something unique to latch onto in order to appear uber cool within their group: enter Min! The only slight variance on this theme is Al the effete best friend whom we all assume to be gay but is in actuality, in love with Min.  Again his existence makes me wonder if Daniel Handler is sitting back somewhere rubbing his hands together and saying, “Everything is working according to plan. They think they know what will happen…but they won’t! My stereotypes are well crafted but Al will blindside them! Ha!”

5. Ed, jock extraordinaire, uses the word Criminy in his sentences in utter seriousness.  Really? Really now? Come on! This kid uses the F- word everywhere, plays high school basketball, has dated half the female population of their high school, and is such a stereotype of the hometown jock, and he uses the word criminy in daily speech.  If such a being exists in real life, I’ll eat this book.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: 1. If you haven’t guessed already, I hated her.  But it really wasn’t her fault.  She just came across as so pretentious and annoying that nothing that happened throughout the novel, no matter how horrific, could force me to root for her or like her in any way.  I’m sorry. But really I’m not.

How much did I like the love interest: 1.  The beauty of Ed is that you want to like him. You’re pre-disposed to like him really.  He’s like the star quarterback of the football team, you root for him because he should be the good guy and you already know pretty much all of the moves he’s going to make.  You know he’ll be dumb and unread but have a sweet, tender heart that opens slowly and gracefully under the fingers of the heroine.  But Ed is just stupid.  He’s everything you despise about men and stereotypes.

How believable is the plot: 10. I had a box of crap I saved from my time with Wes, the floppy haired, guitar playing high school boyfriend. I waited and bided my time to fling it back in his face just to hurt him but in the end, when I was ready to do that, I just didn’t care anymore about him and threw it in the garbage.  Min should have done that too, it would have been cathartic because we all know that Ed didn’t care about her box of crap especially if he was getting some Annette action on the side.  But the story itself was completely plausible. We all know the heartbreak of a bad breakup.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. Not for nothing but Daniel Handler is a good writer. I’ll give him that.  He has a clear voice that seems authentically female and teenage so his being a middle-aged man makes it remarkable.  The pacing left a lot to be desired but the story itself is lyrical and whimsical and like I said at the very beginning of the review, is a book that makes you think which is refreshing.

How much did I want to keep reading: 1. Did you read my review?! 

Final Score: 4.6 / 10 Huh. Surprisingly, Why We Broke Up gets almost a 5 for all that.  I’m a little stumped on the math. Let me go over it again…no, no, it’s right. Well, all I can say is you might like it, you might hate it. I’m sure you can tell which way I swing.

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Singularity by William Sleator

Singularity, by William Sleator

Publisher: Puffin (December 1, 1995)

Format: Paperback

People: I’m sick. Seriously sick. I’m sitting on the couch sniffling all over everything, hacking up a lung, and praying that this cold medicine kicks in soon. In the meantime, you know what all this free time of mine means right? Another review! Let’s just call it a make up for yesterday and leave it at that. So today’s review is of a book that I read first when I was 15. I remember it being mind-blowing and fantastically written even then so when I decided to reread it last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see that 15 year old me did not lead 29 year old me astray. It is mind-blowing and fantastically written. And the story is so simple that I want to smack my own forehead for not coming up with it first (in much the same way I read the Sandman comics and kick myself for not having the great forethought to write them before Neil Gaiman).

Plot:

Identical twins Harry and Barry Krasner are as different as night and day. And given that they are twins with completely different personalities, they are highly competitive. At 16, they are dragged off to Sushan, IL when their reclusive great-uncle dies and all of his worldly possessions (including one creeptastic old house) fall to their mother. Inside the big, rambling house, the twins discover that Uncle Ambrose is beyond eccentric: he has a collection of skeletons that showcase creatures that don’t exist (think lizards with 8 legs and enormous rats) and other bizarre artifacts that the twins can’t fathom. They chock up his fascination with these things to the fact that he was a virtual shut-in at the end of his life. When they begin to explore their new home, Harry and Barry discover a reinforced steel outhouse dubbed, “The Playroom”. Through some harmless experimentation they quickly realize that time passes much more quickly inside this playroom than it does outside and it helps explain the eccentric nature of their uncle and his collections. When their pretty neighbor Lucy enters their lives, the brothers’ competitive nature is unleashed and Harry makes the rash choice to enter the playroom and age more quickly thereby freeing himself from his twin forever. When the playroom is ultimately destroyed, Harry’s choice alters his life and his relationship with Barry in ways he could never conceive.

Review:

Cutesy twin names like Harry and Barry aside, this book is off the charts AMAZING! As Ellen would call it, it’s AMAZEBALLS! Stop reading this review right now (even though the review hasn’t technically started) and go get it. Stat. William Sleator is a genius who uses something as simple as a playroom that alters time to comment on the nature of siblings and the need for one’s unique identity. As the story begins, Harry is tired of being the meek twin. Tired of being the twin that is flabby and unnoticed while louder, more boisterous jock Barry is the life of any party. Harry is through with Barry getting the girl and in their new life, Harry sees this dichotomy between them replaying itself over and over. When cute neighbor Lucy picks Barry over him, he makes up his mind to quit being the same old Harry and to finally become the twin that people notice. So Harry does the only thing he can think of that will definitively break the link he has with Barry: he enters the time altering playroom in order to age himself so the twins no longer resemble one another. In doing so, Harry finally becomes the twin who acts and his personality is transformed through his experience. It is amazing to watch his character grow and mature over such a short amount of time. Believe me at 176 pages, this book is one quick read but watching the evolution of Harry’s character feels so realistic that you don’t notice the shortness. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, my main focus in any YA book is the evolution of the main characters and in Singularity, we get this in spades. Harry not only matures mentally through his time in the playroom but also physically as tangible proof that he is no longer the quiet, unassuming Harry of the book’s beginning. If only we could all be so lucky as to find some time portal that allows all our life-altering experiences to show so visibly on our skin. But I guess that’s why we have tattoos.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the hero: 10. Harry really bugged me at first because come on! We can all see you’re living in Barry’s shadow and that you want to do something about it. But when he does, it is so worth the wait. Forcing yourself to stay in a time altering room in order to age a year more than your tool of a twin? Priceless.

How much did I like the love interest: Doesn’t really apply here so…new category!

How much did I hate the brother: 10 (that’s a 10 for hatred) OMG! I hate the name Barry. Ever since Rachel on Friends was dumped by a douchebag dentist named

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Barry, I’ve hated that name. And the whole rhyming name thing! Ugh. Plus twins in general creep me out and make me feel weird that I don’t have my own doppelganger running around behind me. This guy gets a solid 10 of hatred since he is such a perpetual jerk to his brother.

How believable is the plot: 10. Time altering portals seem really far fetched, don’t they? But here it works and is completely believable. The writing is kind of sparse meaning that we have very few descriptions but what we do get heightens the weirdness and tension between Barry and Harry, and the two boys and their surroundings. You can really see two brothers resenting each other so much that they want to completely change and be free of one another especially if they were put in matching sailor suit costumes for most of their young lives.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. William Sleator has gotten a lot of flak recently for the dip in his writing style. Here however he is pitch perfect. The pacing is so tight that you feel tense and want to know what’s going to happen as quickly as possible. Dialogue is very natural and the characters are highly believable.

How much did I want to keep reading: 10. I’m giving it a 10 because great books get a 10 but honestly, at the end, there’s not really much more to say about Harry and Barry. I wanted to find out how people react to Harry now appearing a year older than Barry or how their relationship suffers from his choice but otherwise, the story as it stands felt complete.

Final Score: 10 / 10. There’s absolutely no romance but you won’t care because it’s that good!

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Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Publisher: Speak (December 28, 2006)

Format: Kindle Edition

You know how everybody has one book, a perfect book that makes you alternate between crying and laughing, thinking and zoning out, a book that you can’t wait to read and simultaneously want to put down (mainly because it’s making you cry too much)?

This is my one book.

Plot:

Miles Halter is one of those high school students who is merely floating through life–no real friends, no girlfriends, no one to notice if he stopped existing (except maybe his parents and he’s not even all that sure that they would). In an effort to change that, he transfers to a boarding school in Alabama and meets Chip, his foul-mouthed genius roommate who is from the wrong side of the trailer park and yearns to give the yuppies at the school a comeuppance. His best friend is the equally intelligent and maddeningly infuriating, Alaska. A girl who is witty, well-read, and possesses that mysterious je ne sais quoi that causes all within her orbit to love her. Chip and Alaska befriend Miles and together they teach him about living through literature, booze and cigarettes, and romance. The book is divided into two sections: Before and After and at the risk of taking away the heartbreaking surprise of the event in between, I’ll just say that the After section deals mainly with Miles and Chip and their quest to discover what happens to Alaska.

Review:

I’m not gonna lie: this book had me bawling like a baby. I didn’t read any plot summaries of it before diving in (sometimes it’s best to go into a book without any preconceived notions, you know?) but the event that the book is centered around knocked me on my butt. I didn’t see it coming at all. When it happened, I freaked: I cried, I texted Ellen while crying, cried to anyone who would listen really (that lady on the plane thought I was just plain nutso, FYI), and in the end, had to put the book down for a day before I was able to continue.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here. When we first meet Miles he is just plain pathetic. So bland and vanilla that I knew he couldn’t stay like that for much longer before offing himself. Seriously. And then he decides to change his life completely, to start anew, and that’s where things go from bland and boring to funny and enthralling. Moving from Florida to boarding school in Birmingham, AL is the best thing that could ever happen to him. It forces him to take chances, to risk opening himself up to hurt, yes, but also to love and to friendship, aspects sadly lacking from his young life. Chip and Alaska are two larger than life characters who are pedants (normally so annoying when 16 year olds spout off like college professors) but taper their intelligence with the usual teenage vices of drugs and alcohol. They didn’t seem forced as characters, their dialogue natural and flowing. With the addition of Miles, their little group is complete. Miles is the quiet, stable one who normally wouldn’t rock the boat and he tempers their zest for life while they in turn, infuse him with some of their own joie de vivre (you know it’s good when I bring out the french). The three make it through the first few months of school with zany antics and witty dialogue until The Incident happens (again I’m not going to tell you what happens because the shock of it all is what really gets you. I mean, I’m sure you can guess and I’m being so mysterious that you’ll more than likely read a more detailed blurb elsewhere but if you really want a shock, just don’t, ok?

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Also, stop reading my review right here.). Afterward, Miles and Chip are left to pick up their lives without Alaska and it’s a difficult process. She lingers even though she isn’t there physically. The fact that Miles has unresolved feelings for her makes it all the more heartbreaking. This is one of those quintessential teen books that feels like it should be more angst-ridden but in fact is a book about life and living that life to the fullest of your abilities. It’s about not waiting for things to happen to you but actively seeking them regardless if the end result is pain and hurt. This is a book that teaches you how fragile young life can be and how we should cherish the moments we have with people, not drift through those moments allowing them to be meaningless. The characters actually grow and mature and we watch it happen. It’s beautiful and funny and sad in a way that lingers but like its message about life, this book is not one you will easily forget.

So based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the hero: 10. A boy as the main character and I like it?! Wha…? Doesn’t usually happen but this book is practically perfect and having a girl in the role of Miles wouldn’t have been the same. It probably would have been much more flighty and sappy so Miles really works here. He’s low key and unassuming, yes, but we actually watch him mature and open himself through his friendships with Chip and Alaska. It’s a beautiful thing to read.

How much did I like the love interest: 9. While Alaska annoyed me at first (girlfriend is not only brilliant and well read, but she’s also gorgeous and so full of life that I wanted to smack her. Also, her parents let her pick her own name and what she chose was Alaska–come on!), her attitude toward living is one I wish I had now. She’s so care free and believes in doing what feels right to her no matter the consequences. She did lose a point however for the fact that she never really cared how her actions affected others, especially Miles.

How believable is the plot: 10. Do boarding schools really exist in Alabama? Do people really have names nowadays like Chip or Miles? You know, little details like that I pushed aside because this story is so freaking believable. You can really see some kid like Miles going off to boarding school as a means to escape his boring life and you can really see people like Chip and Alaska existing and dragging everybody into their orbit.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. John Green is a master of the tightly written book. Everything is seamless. It flows well, the dialogue is 100% believable, the characters are just normal enough to seem heartbreakingly real, and the pacing before The Incident is great. After The Incident, things feel like they slow down a bit but it’s normal that the writing style reflect the mood of what’s happening in a story so no points lost there.

How much did I want to keep reading: Would you believe it if I said I alternate between a 1 and a 10? I mean, this book is fantastic no doubt but The Incident made me stop reading for an entire day because honestly, it made me so sad. But I wanted to know what happened to Alaska, was practically burning to hear the whys of it so I guess that earns it a final 10.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Men writing YA fiction is usually a turn off for me, especially when there is a bit of romance thrown in. With Looking For Alaska you will not be disappointed: it’s a coming of age story that is at the same time a romance and guidebook for friendship. Read it, read it, read it. You won’t be disappointed.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Publisher: Crown (August 16, 2011)

Format: Kindle Edition

Plot: Okay so I’m not going to lie, I don’t know if Judith does these herself or gets them online but I’m doing mine myself and…it’s so not going to be as professional. Deal with it biatches. So there’s this guy Wade who lives in Oklahoma City in the year 2045. In the future we’re still in this recession which has gotten so bad that there’s a multi-year long waiting list to work at the local fast food joint and scores of people now live in trailer parks that are “stacked” one on top of another, up to 25 high (I immediately pictured the tenement apartments in The Alienist). Wade lives in one such stack. But who cares because while that might be his real life it is not his reality – which is as the avatar “Parzival” in the OASIS gaming system. OASIS is the lifeblood of the future, it is how you go to school, keep a job, earn money, and interact with people.

The story beings when the creator of OASIS passes away and broadcasts a message that he has left an Easter egg somewhere within OASIS. The first person who finds the egg will inherit Halliday’s fortune “currently valued in excess of two hundred and forty billion dollars”. So our hero Wade sets out to do this. Of course it is not easy, and an insane amount of 1980s trivia knowledge must be absorbed and regurgitated before the struggle is finished. Oh, and there’s a little bit of romantical stuff.

Review: I’ve got to admit I finished this yesterday and I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. While I LOVED all the movie references (especially the ones that weren’t directly mentioned so you have to catch them yourself) the video game stuff sometimes bored me to tears. If I’ve ever felt completely bi-polar about a book then this is it. One second I would have punched you in the face for trying to take me away, and then 10 minutes later I was falling asleep. But I did always know that something amazing was around the bend.

One thing I really have to give credit to the author for is his amazing descriptions of the video games. It didn’t matter if I knew a game (Pac Man) or not (almost everything else), I really understood the geography and features of the games. I even found myself getting SO excited when I figured out the first key before Wade (ha! I’m awesome!) and yelled to my Kindle in order to help him. Which obviously worked since he soon after figured

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it out himself. (Speaking of yelling to books – Wade names his planet “Falcor” and

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yet there’s not a single mention of The Neverending Story? Shame on you Mr. Author!)

In the end I think I’m glad I read the book but wouldn’t Indian Rug burn someone in order to force them to read it also. Too many video games, too little romance, and a little too much boredom. When it was good it was amazing but when it was bad I started thinking of the other books I had pushed aside in order read this.

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: Or hero, in this case. Ah Wade. As Parzival I kinda love you. You’re a total geek and not ashamed of it, you put your heart on the line, you’re a brave warrior who can formulate plans and fight against potential tyranny. But as Wade you’re not completely doing it for me. I’m sorry I just don’t have the ability to separate your avatar from your actual body sitting in an apartment for 6 months straight. I am SO glad you told us you bathe regularly (an honest to God concern of mine whenever I read future fics) and your diatribe on masturbation is quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve read in years. Working in your favor: anyone who has Monty Python’s Holy Grail memorized better than I do is automatically okay in my mind. So I’m going for a 7 on this one.

How much did I like the love interest: Eh. It’s so hard to judge a love interest when the vast majority of the time they’re just avatars and who knows the truth. But Wade’s open affection for Art3mis was constant, and true, throughout the whole book. It’s what we all hope online dating will be: create a character like yourself but slightly better, pour your actual personality inside and then pray that when you meet in person love truly is about two souls connecting despite physical appearances. I give it an 8.

How believable is the plot: I don’t know that this should really count because of the whole 2045 thing but I’m going with a 10. It is COMPLETELY believable to me that in the future people will be so eager to escape the drudgery of life that they spend the vast majority of their lives living within their computer selves. While I hope that the future actually brings about hoverboards and flying Deloreans (BttF2 promised me this within the next few years!) if the odds are not in my favor I think we can all see this coming about.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: I’ll be the first to admit that unless it’s a glaring problem I don’t notice these issues but I really saw nothing. The pacing was a bit janxy at times but I think that was more due to my own knowledge gaps than a fault of the author. Entonces: 10

How much did I want to keep reading: 8. As I already stated I was pretty all over the place with this one. I loved all the 80s stuff – especially the movies – but a lot of the video game detailing was a bit too much for me. Necessary to the plot: yes. Fun for me: no. However I also don’t think the book could have been the same without that level of detail and I felt like you were actually reading a book written by creator of OASIS, a man who loved the 80s so much that he fired employees for not being able to recite movie lines. Definitely a book unlike anything else I’ve ever read, which is often rare in YA fiction.

Glasses of wine I drank while reading: This one is only for Ellen reviews because when a book pisses me off, or gets ridiculous, I tend to drink more. I have to admit that since I started reading in the afternoon I wasn’t drinking at all. I did take a dinner break and had a glass of wine but then got back in the book and literally didn’t pour another. Amazing. So: 1. (You think this sounds normal now, wait until my next review. My poor liver.)

Final Score: I’m giving this book an 8. Such an amazingly original idea, with such incredible attention to detail, deserves nothing less. Is it completely my cup of wine (f the tea) – no. But sometimes you need to try a new vintage a few times in order for your palate to mature and savor the offering. This is definitely a book I plan to re-read in the future, I can’t wait to see if it holds up as well.

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