Thursday, June 26, 2014

REVIEW: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe
(Across the Universe #1)
by Beth Revis
Released on 01.11.2011
398 pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Source: own - won in giveaway

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone - one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship - tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming (from GoodReads).

REVIEW: I remember clearly when this book came out.  All the buzz, the glowing reviews, the excitement over a sci-fi book for the YA crowd.  I never got around to reading it at the time, despite having a copy.

Argh, you guys, I'm just going to rip the band-aid off: this book was **thisclose** to being a DNFer for me.  I got almost halfway before the tide started turning to the point of being tolerable.  With the help of a good beer (full disclosure: I read the second half a little tipsy).

But it's the first half I have the most issues with.  Subjectively, it simply wasn't my type of writing, which is a shame since I do enjoy science-fiction.  The first thing that caught my eye was the use of an odd metaphor as Amy is being frozen:
"My heart wanted to pound, beat upon my ribcage like a lover beating                          on the door. .  "
This is coming from a seventeen-year old girl.  It makes me cringe.  The simile makes sense in that it explains what her heart wanted to do, but it sounds wrong coming from her.  She didn't say 'knocking'; she said 'beating'.  'Beating' connotes anger, enough anger that it's coming out in physical aggression.  I'm not normally this nitpicky, but it simply sounds odd that this is what she compared it to.  She gave no indication that she was ever in such a relationship, and given her age, the word choice strikes me as sounding so very wrong.  It definitely isn't the last time in the book that a character thinks something that seems so misplaced given the situation.  Check out these lines that Elder thinks after Amy is unfrozen and then is sedated to keep her from becoming hysterical:
"I stare at her, and even though her chest is moving up and down in steady breathes, she looks more dead now than she did in the ice.
I wonder if she dreams."
Really?  You just said she looks like she's dead (well, relatively speaking), and you're wondering if she's dreaming?  Huh?  I mean c'mon, it's like he's trying to evoke Snow White or Lady of Shallot type of sentiments.  It feels melodramatic.

Then there is the back and forth chapters between Elder and Amy while Amy is frozen.  I have no problem with shared first-person points-of-view.  However, one chapter from Amy explaining her semi-conscious distress is enough.  But it just goes on and on with the introspection and the dreams that sometimes become nightmares.  It feels redundant after a point and makes for dull reading.

The other issue is that Amy and Elder feel flat.  They both seem to have the same voice, with the only differences being their backgrounds and settings.  There really isn't anything that stands out in terms of characterization to me, and I need that to truly enjoy a story.

Then comes a very large issue for me, and that's the insta-love.  Look, I get insta-attraction, and maybe I'm alone on this, but never once as a teenager (or ever) did I look at a guy and think, "Ohhhh yeah, great body.  I can totally trust him."  And this is exactly the conclusion Amy comes to after regaining consciousnesses and taking in Elder's physical characteristics:
"The high cut of his cheekbones and the strong curve of his forehead make him look instantly trustworthy, maybe even kind."
And later:
"All of this adds up to a certain something that makes him just look like the kind of guy who can lead a ship.  It's almost as if God had known Elder was going to be some sort of leader or whatever, so He gave him the right face and body for it."
I am going to bypass the opportunity we have here about discussing the issue of young women (or anyone, really) making character judgments based on hotness for the moment, and just sum up my thoughts as, "Ew.  That's wrong."  I guess one must be hot to be a leader?  And what happened to judging people on their actions?  And if one is a leader and also hot, of course, he must be ordained by God.  Or whatever.

If this is Amy, I'll be blunt: I don't like silly heroines.

There are other issues.  Amy in particular has a tendency to be redundant about things as big as constantly wanting her parents and as little as remarking on the difficulty of understanding the ship's inhabitants due to their accent.  There also is SO much inner dialogue/introspection in this book that when action does come around,  it feels like a bridge or a lead-in to more inner thoughts.  A whole lotta shoulda/woulda/coulda that doesn't add much for me.

In terms of plot, I don't know a whole lot about space science, so I can't speak as to whether it's plausible, but here are my issues (beware: spoilers):

  • predictable plot twists (inner dialogue of characters practically give it all away)
  • a love triangle by itself would be a cliche, but this book has a pseudo love triangle between Amy, Elder and a secondary character.  It only serves to give Elder jealously issues over his insta-love interest.  The triangle is rendered ridiculous due the fact that it's never one to begin with.  
  • and the BIG issue: gratuitous attempted-rape scene in addition to simultaneous mass mating.  I'm not even joking.

Look, anyone who reads my reviews knows that I don't have issues with sex in YA and that I support stories that support rape survivors.  The attempted rape scene is during something called the Season, which is when all the inhabitants of this one section of the ship are essentially programmed via the water supply to have sex and make babies.  I don't particularly care for the many descriptions of the various sexual couplings that the main characters had to step over in public.  I think the concept of the Season helped illustrate the lack of individual freedom, but all the public sex as scenery was overkill.  It's during this time of extreme arousal that Amy was attacked and is rescued by a male secondary character.  I feel Amy's attempted rape was slipped into the story for the sole purpose of putting her in danger so she could be rescued.  This absolutely wasn't needed.  We already knew the ship was dangerous for her; she'd been warned multiple times, other characters were worried about leaving her by herself in public and she'd already been cornered and felt threatened once before!  I just felt a level of disgust at it, and it deeply felt like a contrived attempt at sexual salaciousness on top of graphically described scenes of mindless sex.

Not only did this happen, but it was never resolved.  NOTHING happened or was said about the attackers thereafter.  Maybe this was followed-up in a subsequent book, but I'm in the firm opinion that each book in a series should stand on its own as a whole story.  Using something as serious as an attempted rape as a device for moving the plot along and then never coming back to it in a meaningful way made me extremely angry.  It was dealt with very cheaply.

Then there's Amy's BIG epiphany at the end.  I won't spoil it, but let's just say it was weak, way weak and compared the actions of someone who truly loved her to someone who likely played her, and came up with justification for a decision that just had me writing the note, "WHAT?"

In the book's defense, the second half was much better than the first, but I still don't like the book as a whole.  What we have here is a great concept with a weakly executed plot and poor characterization.  Maybe it's me.  Maybe this is an indication that I should stick to realistic contemporary YA for the most part.  Whatever the reason, Across the Universe and I simply did not work on many levels.

I don't care for giving negative reviews, but my issues with the book really stuck with me.  But for many, the book worked.  I've linked to some below.  I encourage you to read them or visit the GoodReads page so you can get a broader idea of what the book was like:

I Read Banned Books

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Gated by Amy Christine Parker

by Amy Christine Parker
Released: 08.06.2013
352 pages
Random House Books for Young Readers
Source: library

A fast-paced, nerve-fraying contemporary thriller that questions loyalties and twists truths.

Appearances can be deceiving.

In the Community, life seems perfect. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pioneer invited Lyla’s family to join his group and escape the evil in the world. They were happy to be chosen, happy to move away from New York and start over in such an idyllic gated community. Now seventeen, Lyla knows that Pioneer is more than just their charismatic leader, he is their prophet . . . but his visions have grown dark.

Lyla is a loyal member of the Community, but a chance encounter with an outsider boy has her questioning Pioneer, the Community—everything. And if there’s one thing not allowed in the Community, it’s doubt. Her family and friends are certain in their belief. Lyla wishes she could feel the same. As Pioneer begins to manipulate his flock toward disaster, the question remains: Will Lyla follow them over the edge?

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand why anyone would join a cult. But Gated tells the story of the Community from the inside looking out, and from behind the gates things are not quite so simple. Amy Christine Parker’s beautiful writing creates a chilling, utterly unique YA story. Perfect for fans of creepy thrillers and contemporary fiction alike. (from GoodReads).

REVIEW: Here's my general impression of Gated: mediocre writing in terms of word choice and descriptions. While a decent writer in terms of structure and plot, Parker's writing in Gated did not achieve much in terms of artistry. Here's a sample from the first page:
The sky is a perfect cloudless blue and the air is hot from the summer sun.
Do you see what I mean? Just boring, first year lit & comp type of writing. I was constantly reminded of the writing style one would find in a Sweet Valley Twins book. However, in that case, we are talking about writing for a serial series, something familiar that a reader can return to the same way she (or he) will tune in for a favorite sitcom. For the subject matter in Gated, I would expect the language to be compelling; instead, it felt languid. Additionally, Sweet Valley Twins was written for middle-grade girls, while the protagonist in Gated is shortly turning 18, and I believe was marketed to the YA crowd.

This is not to say that there are not interesting aspects of Gated. In particular, the reason why Lyla's family joined the Community was a potentially intriguing look into the psychology of family grief, guilt and responsibility. Had this been fleshed out more, I think this would have added more of an emotional base to the book. Again, the rather ho-hum writing rendered many of the emotions expressed in Gated as two-dimensional and flat.  This is very unfortunate as the plot was well executed.

Please bear in mind that I am saying this is boring writing for older YA readers. There is a reason that I kept thinking of an MG series when reading - the writing is very young. Middle graders or struggling readers might find this a very good book and find some excitement that I could not.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Me, Neil Gaiman & a Hammock

Well, hello all!  Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the lovely people over at the Broke and the Bookish.  This week we are discussing our top books on our TBR lists this summer!

Unfortunately, I won't be at the beach this summer, nor am I a 'beach read' kind of girl, but I still have my books to read marked!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman - I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman's work ever since I got way into comic books in junior high and discovered Sandman (although I really was more of an X-titles girl).  Gaiman came to Pittsburgh over a year ago, and I got this beautiful anniversary copy of Stardust, which he was lovely enough to sign, too!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - I was pregnant when I was there,
and as any good bibliophile does, I picked up a copy for my soon-to-be-born son.  When I told Mr. Gaiman who it was for, he looked at me funny and said, "You know, I normally put the person's name I'm inscribing it to in a headstone.  Somehow that doesn't seem appropriate as he is not here, yet. "  HAHAHAHA!!!  Guess he was kind of right!  He did wish my son pleasant slumber, though: 

Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar - yeah, I know, right?  I have no excuse.  This pretty has been on my shelf FOREVER.  In my defense, I stopped blogging shortly after getting this, then got pregnant and then was reading only about baby products, sleep training and how french kids eat everything and are better behaved than U.S. kids.  Considering how much I LOVED Raw Blue and Saltwater Vampires, I have my fingers crossed for this one.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin - another I've had on my
shelf for too long and have heard good things about.  I also think I have the sequel somewhere. . . .  I'm not usually into book covers since they tend to get faddish in YA, but that one really is well-designed.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo - I borrowed and loved The Tale of Despereaux so much that I went out and bought my own hardback copy of it and this one, too.  Never quite managed to get around to reading it, but I'm really looking forward to escaping to my kiddie dreamscape.

White Cat by Holly Black - people SWEAR by this book.  I tried it
once a few years back, but didn't get far.  I think I was just burned out, but I've always wanted to try again and have faithfully kept my copy (it's signed, too - I won it from Midnyte Reader several years back).

Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Willaims - I got this one from a lovely blogging acquaintance as a thank you for a book tour I organized.  It was so unexpected, and I was very touched that she did that, especially since she knew how much I love Aussie YA.  I started this recently on a family trip - loved what I read so far, but was utterly exhausted at the end of the trip and need to pick it back up.

Semi-Charmed Life by Nora Zelevansky -  Nora came to Pittsburgh over a year ago for a
program and signing.  I went with my chapter of the FYA book club and had a wonderful time talking with her.  If I remember correctly, this one is a bit satirical, about a very young woman who ghost writes a celebrity's blog - sounds like it's going to be a fun, tongue-in-cheek read to me!

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski - yet another that's been on my unread shelf for far too long!  Also heard fun things about it and look forward to the shenanigans!

That's it for me!  What do you think?  Can't wait to hear about yours!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Reunited & It Feels So Good!

Well, hello there!  Remember me.  No?  I don't blame you.  It's been a very long time.  So long that I am a tiny bit embarrassed.

Some things have happened.  The first thing is that I simply got into a reading rut.  Nothing really captured my interest anymore.  The second thing is that I became a mom for the first time in spring of 2013!  It's been a wonderful, yet overwhelming, experience.  I've still read for pleasure throughout it all, but mostly books that I've read before or series that I could slip comfortably into at the end of a great, but very tiring day with my son.

But I've missed writing.  And I've missed discussing.  So, here we are.

The posting will be sporadic, but I hope to post at least once a week.  Posts will go up fairly soon after I write them.  And despite what I say in my review policy, I won't be asking or accepting ARCs (e-galleys or hard copies) or review copies any time soon.  I have a LOT of books sitting on my shelf that I need to read before I even think of doing that.  And frankly, trying to 'keep up' with all of that is what burned me out the first time around.  I have to try this out again, find my rhythm and go with it.  My priorities have changed.  So, if I want to blog, how I do it has to change, too.  You'll likely see more back-listed stuff and maybe some books other than YA.  Everything else I'm playing by ear.  As always, I welcome your feedback.

Thanks for sticking around.  I hope you'll continue to do so, and I look forward to talking about the bookish goodness here with you again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bring Raw Blue to the States!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin
Hello Everyone!

I know.  It's been a while, right?  I don't really blog anymore because frankly, I don't feel like I can keep up with a busy reading and reviewing schedule like I used to.  You, as readers, deserve the best.  I can't give my best right now, so here we are.

BUT. . . .  you know I can't pass up an opportunity to stump for my favorite book!

As most of you know, I am a die-hard fan of Kirsty Eagar's work, and of Raw Blue in particular (you might have seen my "Case for Carly" page), so I wanted to send all of you a little request.  Melissa from i swim for oceans and I were tweeting the other day about how we could help promote it better so maybe/hopefully someday it will catch the eye of a U.S. publisher (it's being published in the U.K. this August).  

National Public Radio (NPR) is compiling a list of the Top 100 Best YA Books ever, and to help them, they are asking listeners to send in their lists of their personal Top 5 YA books.

I encourage you to send in your list, regardless of whether Raw Blue is among your personal Top 5. If Raw Blue is among your top reads, I hope you'll consider putting it on there.  Imagine how awesome it would be if a group of book lovers and bloggers starting listing this book that not too many people in the U.S. have ever heard of  - in my world of hoped-for results, the peeps at NPR would be scratching their heads saying, "Whaaaa?"  


Again, I hope you'll consider submitting your list regardless of whether Raw Blue is on there, but I do hope you find room for it!  You can find the link for the article/comment list sections here.  

U.K. Cover
ALSO!  You might have read the sentence up there about Raw Blue being published in the U.K.?  The book is available for pre-order RIGHT NOW at The Book Depository for $8.18 and NO SHIPPING!  So, all you wonderful readers who have expressed an interest in reading this gem now have the opportunity to do so at very little cost!  Go, go!  What are you waiting for?

A special shout-out and thanks to Melissa for also posting about this - if it's a contemp that Melissa is advocating for, you know it's good!