Monday, February 25, 2013

Audio Book Review: Stuck by Lightning by Chris Colfer

Title: Struck by Lightning
Author: Chris Colfer
Publisher: Brown
Release Date: November 20th, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:
Not a big fan of the cover.  The imagery itself is kind of bland and I think that having the author on the cover is a little cheesy.

The Gist:
Carson Phillips is determined to escape his small town and gain early acceptance into Northwestern University - the first step on his way to becoming the editor of The New Yorker.  But, just being brilliant and maintaining an impeccable GPA isn't enough anymore.  In order to stand out from the crowd, Carson starts a literary magazine, but in order to get submissions, he must resort to blackmailing his fellow students

From the very first line, I loved the main character.  Carson Phillips is snarky and snarly and too smart for his own good.  He is surrounded by people who either ridicule him, hold him back or downright sabotage him.  I loved reading his dialogue with the other characters, but the introspection tended to get a little repetitive and droning.

The other characters helped support the story without stealing the spotlight.  I loved Carson's dedicated relationship with his Grandmother.  Having watched a grandparent suffering with altzheimer's, I found his interactions based in reality - from the hope that springs forth on the good days to the humor that can be found in the smallest moments and the devastation that comes from the worst of days.  I also enjoyed the complex relationships that Carson had with his parents and wanted to shake/strangle both of them (at one point I was actually screaming at stereo because I was so mad at his mother's actions).

The writing is much tighter than I expected from a first time author who is, primarily, an actor.  Except for those moments of lagging introspection, the plot moved quickly.  I was with Carson every step of the way and felt his consternation with every setback.  The one thing that did lose me was the ending.  Naturally, I can't really speak of it without giving anything away but, suffice to say, it left me asking "the fuck dude?" and wanting to call up the author, begging for a re-write.

Overall, I really enjoyed Struck by Lightning and am looking forward to seeing how the film version holds up. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: None
Violence: Bullying
Inappropriate Language: Lots
Substance Use/Abuse: Marijuana Use

Friday, February 8, 2013

ARC Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Title: The Summer Prince
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Release Date: March 1, 2013
Rating: 1/5

Cover Impressions:
Pretty.  Yay, no whitewashing.  Natural hair on a woman of color!

The Gist:
Summer king gets elected, summer king gets killed - still don't understand why.  June is spoiled brat who causes trouble and calls it art.


WARNING: This will be ranty.  If you don't like swearing, please move on to another review - this one is not for you.

This book broke me.  And not in the "oh my god this is so good nothing will ever compare" kind of way.  More in the "reading has become a huge disappointment and I will now spend my time watching reality tv instead" kind of way.

I hated every minute that I spent with this book and, now that I have finally quit, I don't even want to read anything else.  I am that annoyed.

I hated this world.  It was futuristic and fucked up and nothing made sense.  To go along with the nothing making sense was the fact that the author chose not to explain anything.  I made it 3/4 of the way through the book and I STILL have no idea why the hell they choose a summer king or why the hell they kill him some years and not others.  And you know what? I don't fucking care.  That is how little these characters affected me.

The kids were spoiled and entitled.  June spent most of her time glorifying a father who committed suicide and blaming her mother for this, despite any evidence that she did anything to cause it.  When she wasn't being a heinous daughter, she was pulling pranks making art for some weird ass contest to which no one ever explained the rules.  Oh, and did I mention that any other free time she had was spent at lavish parties?
That was the gist of the plot, no danger, no immediate cause to work towards, just an episode of The Hills set against the backdrop of an alternative future.

Despite all these issues, I might have managed to get past it.  However, then came the sex.  I understand the desire to have sexual situations and language in a young adult novel, I really do.  I do not, however, enjoy the way that this author chose to use sex in such a casual manner.  June actually told us of how she and her best friend took care of their "virginity problem".  We hear of the Summer King sleeping with anything and everything that moves and then, to take the literary cake, June strips off OUTSIDE, masturbates, is revealed to have had an audience to her little show and then acts as if it meant nothing.  No.  NO NO NO NO NO!

I can't even.

The fuck?
If I gave this book to one of my students, I would end up fired.
Fuck this.  I'm out.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Female - I guess.
Sex: See review - this shit's fucked up.
Violence: Fist fighting.  Knifeplay
Inappropriate Language: Whore, Shit, Ass, Bastards
Substance Use/Abuse: drug use

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review: Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

Title: Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters
Author: Suzanne Weyn
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: January 1, 2013
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:
The cover has a little bit of an old school feel.  It reminds me of ghost stories that I would have read in elementary school.  The colors are pretty and the setting is ominous.

The Gist:
Giselle and Ingrid have discovered that they are the daughters of the brilliant and wealthy Dr. Frankenstein.  As his only heirs, they inherit his castle in the Orkney Islands and set about making it their own.  While Giselle renovates and plans an elaborate party, Ingrid becomes lost in her father's journals and begins to take her own steps down his dark and dangerous path. 


I love new takes on old classics and was excited to read this interesting spin off of the classic Frankenstein tale.  The story is told through the diary entries of both girls.  While this style works well in the beginning, it becomes a little cumbersome as the action starts to pick up.  There are also a few repetitive issues such as the constant speaking to the diary and informing the reader of when each girl had time to write in the diary.

The girls themselves are a little bland and stereotypical.  Giselle is the pretty one, obsessed with dresses and parties while Ingrid is the smart one, fascinated by science and experimentation.  Giselle is more the more interesting of the two as her exploits seem to constantly put her in danger.  Ingrid, for her part, develops an infatuation with a man whom she must save from a debilitating disease, and we get to see a shadow of the obsession that marked her father's demise.

The plot was a bit predictable and could have been shaken up with a surprise ending.  There was some eye-rolling at the number of men who seemed to want to harm Giselle (she cannot possibly been so beautiful that every man she encountered felt the overwhelming urge to consumer her) and Ingrid's escapades sneaking into university lectures dressed comically as a man. 

Overall, Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters did not wow me, but I would still recommend it for those who love the classics and, perhaps, to inspire those young readers to pick up the original.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

12 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Murder by strangulation, attempted rape, scientific experimentation, body snatching
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse:  None

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First Lines: January 2013

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in January.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
"My Mother's a prostitute." 

 Cinder by Marissa Meyer
 "The screw threw Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle."

 The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
"Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death."

 Pivot Point by Kasie West
" 'Head's up,' a loud voice called from my right."

The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
"I had arrived early for my own assassination."

 The Sin Eater's Confession by Ilsa J. Bick
"To all whom this might concern: Call me Ben.

Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn
"What unbearable guilt!"

Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer
"Dear Journal, one more school year with these shitheads and I will be free."

My favorite this month is a toss up between The Fault In Our Stars and Struck By Lightning.  I love how both lines manage to provide such insight into the main character with just one sentence.

My least favorite this month was Pivot Point.  Boring.

Monday, February 4, 2013

ARC Book Review: The Sin-Eater's Confession by Ilsa J. Bick

Title: The Sin-Eater's Confession
Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Publisher: CarolRhoda Books
Release Date: March 1, 2013
Rating: 1/5

Cover Impressions:
The cover is what first drew me to this book.  I loved the image of the letter and how it was a little faded and travel worn. The scratched in lettering and the blood add an element of mystery and an interesting edge. 

The Gist:
When Ben befriends a young boy who had lost a brother, he never thought that this decision would change the course of his life.  When Jimmy reveals just how deep his feelings are for Ben, the town erupts with anger that a gay boy might be living among them.  Ben struggles with his feelings of anger at having been duped and obligation to the boy that he cares about.   When those responsibilities reach from beyond the grave, Ben tries distance himself from question, while at the same time attempting to seek out a killer.


The Sin Eater's Confession had a lot of flaws.  Firstly, the main character was despicable.  He was unlikeable, cowardly and an all around lame-ass human being.  Whenever given the chance to prove himself and make a decision that might actually benefit someone else, he took the selfish way out.  He seems like a very intelligent young man, but the entire book is based around the stupid decision that he continuously makes.

The writing featured a great deal of conjecture in the main character's head.  This was boring. repetitive and, ultimately, pointless.  We were forced to tag along for the ride as Ben whined about his horrid little life with parents who love him and a looming admission to Yale, when it was abundantly clear that other characters had actual important issues to deal with.  The book also featured frequent graphic descriptions of suicide and murder.  These were crass and disturbing.  While the use of this language appears to be intended to be edgy, it comes off as gruesome instead. 

I never really understood the point of the big cover up conspiracy.  It felt like page after page where nothing really happened and, in the end, nothing was resolved.  This book just did not work for me.  Even with the issues that I had, all could have been redeemed with a killer psychological and surprise ending - but that simply wasn't the case. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 16 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Some description of naked bodies
Violence: Child abuse, Murder, Graphic descriptions of a dead body
Inappropriate Language: Piss, Ass, Jesus, Shit, Fuck, Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking