Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?

Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.

A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.

Luce’s own talent at singing captures the attention of the tribe’s queen, the fierce and elegant Catarina, and Luce soon finds herself pressured to join in committing mass murder. Luce’s struggle to retain her inner humanity puts her at odds with her friends; even worse, Catarina seems to regard Luce as a potential rival. But the appearance of a devious new mermaid brings a real threat to Catarina’s leadership and endangers the very existence of the tribe. Can Luce find the courage to challenge the newcomer, even at the risk of becoming rejected and alone once again?
Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.

Hardcover, 291 pages
Published July 4th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(info grabbed from GoodReads)

Note: this is the most positive negative review I've ever written.  When I started writing it, it was filled with a bit more snark.  However, as I continued and really thought about it, this is a really thought provoking tale.  Bear with me and keep an open mind.

This book could be summed up as LORD OF THE FLIES, but with mermaids.  Some may read that and think, "Oh that sounds kind of interesting."

Well.  It's not.

But I hated LORD OF THE FLIES.  Anyway, I'm actually rather torn about how I feel about this book.  It's bad and great at the same time.  It's kind of good, but not solidly okay; it is a wavering on a balance beam kind of good.  Anyway, LOST VOICES is the story of Luce, a fourteen year old girl caught in a pretty rough situation.  Her parents have both passed on and now she is stuck in her parents home town living with her abusive uncle.  In the world of LOST VOICES though, there is a secret: unwanted and unloved girls become mermaids.  Such is the fate of Luce, and she joins the local mermaid tribe.

The mermaid tribe is where I draw parallels with LORD OF THE FLIES.  You stick a group of boys on an island and what happens?  Mayhem and murder.  You stick a bunch of girls in the ocean with fins and what happens?  Mayhem and murder, but more high strung and catty.  Instead of imploding inwardly as the boys did since they were stranded with nothing but each other, the girls in LOST VOICES turn there destructionn outward, destroying passing boats and drowning all aboard.  Catarina (the Queen mermaid) is a slightly off-kilter version of Ralph, leading the tribe under the laws of the timakh, which are undisputable mermaid rules.   While Anais is almost a perfect caricature of Jack from LOTF with her antagonizing the group and leading a revolution against Catarina.  Luce, our MC, would fit as Simon, the only "good" character, as she has morals and doesn't want to kill people.  And because she hides in a cave for a large portion of the book.  I don't agree with such a bleak outlook of humanity, which is I didn't particularly like LORD OF THE FLIES or LOST VOICES.

My biggest writing issue was that it was really hard to put my finger on what the plot was in this book.  For over half the book, we are observing Luce getting into the swing of being a mermaid: Luce has become a mermaid, Luce has met a tribe of mermaids, Luce has met more mermaids, Luce has swam like a mermaid, and Luce has sunk a few boats. That's about it.  Nothing really resembling an issue here other than she doesn't really want to sink boats and the queen is a little crazy.  It's good to keep an audience guessing, but you have to be going somewhere.  No real conflict arises, making it feels as if the story is standing still -- and standing still doesn't make for a very exciting read.

The other writing issue is that it was hard to read at times due to the prose.  The writing is somewhat poetic -- like the author is trying to be poetic, but it came off as haphazard purple prose at times.  Sometimes it was very pleasant to read, and sometimes I was utterly confused.  Not a good trait in a book.  I don't know why, but I was determined to read this book and got past the prose issues.  There are some parts that jump around and there isn't a clear picture as to what's going on, but that is mostly in the beginning.  Once Luce became a mermaid (which is real early), the imagery was a lot more clear.

LOST VOICES has a completely different tone than most YA because it does try to approach real life issues through a fantastical story.  It deals with tough issues (child abuse, neglect, group think, and the anger of children betrayed).  However, I think a lot of the message got lost in the catty drivel that went on for a lot of the book, but furthermore, I think the message that was there is incredibly negative.  Luce fails to have a meaningful and non-abusive relationship for the entire book.  There is the overt abuse by her uncle, the petty hate between some of the mermaids, but then there is the manipulative queen.  It is a very covert abuse that Luce doesn't even understand and the book ends with her still believing she is friends with this girl.  There is very little hope within the binding of this book, and that gave me a real sour taste for it.

LOST VOICES projects a very bleak outlook.  Especially when the story is YA and the target demographic includes girls potentially dealing with these issues.  I do appreciate that an author had the guts to try and approach a story openly involving child abuse and it's affect on the psyche of its victims, but I don't know that I can recommend this book to someone that's not an adult.  But while I didn't like LORD OF THE FLIES, it didn't have a sequel whereas LOST VOICES does.  I'm still very intrigued by this book and it may still prove to be the more uplifting tale I'm hoping it could be.  But I know there is a place in this world for unhappy endings, and that may prove to be the case with the trilogy.  I'm hoping for the best.

Final Thought: 25 out of 50 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Contemporary teen fiction with romance, secrets, scandals, and ESP from the author of Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have).

We weren't always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn't expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we've kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what's coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same.
So stop obsessing about your ex. We're always listening.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: March 11th 2014 by Random House Children's Books 
(info grabbed from GoodReads)

I was skeptical when I got this off of NetGalley.  It really isn't something I would pick up as the cover seemed kind of cheesey -- I'm really picky about cheese.  I need a good Muenster or a sharp cheddar rather than cheep, run-of-mill, oil-based crap.  But DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT turned out to be a creamy cranberry cheese ball: sweet and surprisingly delicious.

When I started reading, I was a bit duped (because I judged a book by its cover) and thought, "Oh, another story about three savvy New Yorker (young) ladies -- never seen that before."  But this book is not about three savvy New Yorker ladies -- it's about the greater part of a home room of savvy New Yorkers.  Boys and girls.  Twenty two of them.  Anyway, the first chapter pulled me in and erased my doubts that this was just another book by dropping that the story will be told by all the mind readers at the same time.  It's third person limited, but in a way I'd never imagined. 

With over twenty characters as just narrators, it does get a little chaotic trying to keep everyone straight, but not nearly as chaotic as it could be.  The story focuses in on about five characters, with the others remaining not more than side characters.  After the novelty of the storytelling wore off a bit, I did miss that you don't get as emotionally involved with any one character.  But the story still worked and was enjoyable regardless.  It made the book a lighter read, but fresh and interesting in ways I didn't expect.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT was unexpected in its originality.  It is an interesting and new way to tell a story, and I really recommend it to anyone craving some lighter reading.  Like the creamy cranberry cheese ball, DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT is like a tasty appetizer as opposed to a deeply satisfying main course.  You don’t get too emotionally involved in any one character; I didn’t feel changed by the end of the book.  And sometimes, one might need that: an enjoyable read that left me with a small smile at the bittersweet ending.

Final Thought: 28 out of 35 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Imposter by Susanne Winnacker

Can Tessa pose as Madison . . . and stop a killer before it’s too late? 

Tessa is a Variant, able to absorb the DNA of anyone she touches and mimic their appearance. Shunned by her family, she’s spent the last two years training with the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities, a secret branch of the FBI. When a serial killer rocks a small town in Oregon, Tessa is given a mission: she must impersonate Madison, a local teen, to find the killer before he strikes again.

Tessa hates everything about being an impostor—the stress, the danger, the deceit—but loves playing the role of a normal girl. As Madison, she finds friends, romance, and the kind of loving family she’d do anything to keep. Amid action, suspense, and a ticking clock, this super-human comes to a very human conclusion: even a girl who can look like anyone struggles the most with being herself.

Hardcover, 274 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Razorbill 
(info grabbed from GoodReads)
So, I hated this book.  I hated it so much, I don't even want to go through the effort of writing a proper intro paragraph.  Quick summary: Tessa is a variant with the power to change her appearance into anyone she touches (like a cross between ANIMORPHS and Mystique from X-MEN).  She is part of a special faction of the FBI called FEA, which is a collection of variants formed for the purpose of fighting crime.  Woop, sounds cool -- but this book is really about Alec and Tessa's relationship and petty hate between girls.

I find it rather pathetic that Tessa's relationship with Alec can be summed up with the Taylor Swift song "You Belong with Me," but without the upbeat music.  Nope, it's just a girl whining about how she should be with a guy because she is less of a primped up skank.  She seriously thinks she's entitled to Alec because she gets him, because liking the same movies and being great friends means you are meant to be.  No, that's not how relationships work.  The only saving grace for any of the characters in this book is that Alec tells her off because he does have a girlfriend. 

Everyone adores Tessa.  They love her so much, they're giving her a super special top secret mission even though she's still a minor.  And for what reason does everyone love Tessa?  Because she is abnormally average except for having a Variation like everyone else at this FEA summer camp?  I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would love Tessa, because there is nothing really likeable about her.  She is jealous, she is impulsive, and she isn't remarkably talented other than having a cool variation.  It drove me crazy that I couldn't stand the main character, but everyone in the book does without reason.

Everyone, except Kate.  Who is conveniently Alec's girlfriend and placed in the hateful bitch trope without any depth.  Kate has no reason to hate Tessa; she just does.  If there was a bit more feeling or a history there, I would have enjoyed that whole bit more.  But alas, this character solely exists as a foil to Tessa, to show how "girl-next-door" and plain Tessa is.  And so we're supposed to not feel so bad that Tessa is attempting to be a homewrecking tramp. 

The girl on girl hate in this book is so rampant and petty, it is unreadable.  The mystery is not very mysterious or even what the majority of the book seemed to want to focus on.  Nope, it seemed rather intent on focusing on Tessa's pity party over not feeling ready for such a mission and pining over her taken best friend.  The end.

Final Thought: NOPE

This review is also posted on GoodReads

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Review: A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard

Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.

Hardcover, 406 pages
Published July 23rd 2013 by HarperTeen 
(info grabbed from GoodReads)

I was not really sold on this series when I decided to pick up A DARKNESS STRANGE AND LOVELY -- I was on a historical fiction/steampunk kick and not really wanting to try something new-new.  I started reading and it was like "Yeah.  Yeah.  Meh."  but then:  "YES.  OMGOMGOMG.  YAY."  I don't know what exactly happened, but I now am in love with this series.  It's not like I didn't like SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, it just didn't have a certain... je ne sais quoi-

Oh.  That's right.  I'm in love with France.  I forgot for a second.

This review could quickly spiral into a rant of how much I enjoyed the fact this book is set in France, but I'll try and stay coherent: I loved the rich descriptions of Paris and how the setting was actually used within the story.  I get annoyed when a book is set in a destination for no real purpose to the story.  A DARKNESS STRANGE AND LOVELY definitely used the locale change to the story's advantage, from Eleanor's excitement over sightseeing, to eating at a cafe as well as other French novelties, to seeing the Palais Garnier and inserting other such landmarks into the plot.  It was wonderful and brilliant and other positive adjectives.  Viva la France!

With a new setting come a couple of new characters.  Laure was a fun addition serving as a female friend to Eleanor and bringing a bit of light to Eleanor's somewhat drabness.  She was charming, insightful, and a little quirky.  Her presence added a bit more spark to the story than it's predecessor had.  And then there's Oliver.  Oliver is the other new character worth mentioning (I suppose).  He wasn't as welcome for me or for Eleanor, and I found him annoying for most of the novel.  It wasn't anything he did, I just didn't like his whole deal.  Why?  Because he is not French.  And he's whiney, but mostly because he is not French.  That aside, both characters add to the story.

The other reason this book was better can be summed up in two words: Daniel Sheridan.  Yes, I am aware he is in the first book.  He is actually in MORE of the first book, but his limited presence made it so much more special when he was around.  Because hot damn, insert GIF here.

All in all, I'd recommend reading SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY just so you can read the sequel.  And if you have read SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY and were on the fence about reading the sequel, then get off that damn fence and experience the glory that is this book.  Because it's amazing and France, France, France, France, France, and sexy rakish Daniel, but mostly France.

Final Thought: TOADSTOOL.

This review is also posted on GoodReads