Book Review: Abandon

Once, I died.

I was really looking forward to reading Abandon by Meg Cabot because over at her blog she has talked at length about her love for the Persephone myth and how she has, basically, been wanting to tell this story since high school.

So believe me when I say that this book is a mess.

The biggest offenders:

– Nothing happens. NOTHING. Main character and narrator Pierce spends the entire book riding around an island on her bike and flashing back to when she died and referencing an “incident” that happened. I really don’t understand why this book wasn’t just told about her death and the years following. I mean, seriously. That’s what Pierce spends all of her time talking about anyway.

– The love interest has NO PERSONALITY. His name is John, and he’s a death deity. That’s all I can tell you about him. And, of course, there comes a point when Pierce realizes that she’s been fighting her attraction to him. But why? Because he has a scar? He does NOTHING. What I’m saying is: you don’t go from Michael Moscovitz or Rob Wilkins to John the boring death deity.

– Pierce is selfish and not in the fun way. She supposedly thinks of others before herself, and that’s what attracts John to her, but seriously. What kind of person ditches her cousin to hang out with people he expressly says he doesn’t like? Especially when said cousin has been living in the town forever and it’s her first day. I mean, is it POSSIBLE that her cousin has valid reasons for not liking these people? And even if he didn’t, would it still behoove Pierce to maybe not WALK AWAY from her cousin to talk to said people after he very explicitly says he doesn’t want to be around them? At least he left her there (he was her ride home). I mean, seriously.

– The biggest issue I have with the book is that it’s not a complete narrative. The book does NOT stand on its own at all. I have no interest in even reading the rest of the books until all three are out now.

(Yes, I will read the rest of the books. I am hoping they will be better as a whole. Hoping.)

It’s not all bad. The book is a breeze to get through, and is very readable. I would find myself reading huge chunks at a time, and it wasn’t until I was close to the end of the book that I realized nothing would really happen in the story. I thought the setting was cool, and the ideas/plot hints that are dropped in the narrative are intriguing, and I want to see how they’ll all come together. I just wish there had been one plot thread followed all  the way through here.

Also: it’s better than Jinx. So there’s always that.

Support Your Local Library: 19/30; YA Challenge: 13/20

Book Review: Saving Maddie

I had no doubt that Madeline Smith needed saving. I just wasn’t quite sure if I was interested in being her savior.

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson is the story of two preachers’ kids, Maddie and Joshua, and what happens when they grow up–and apart.

What I Liked

– I like that at its core, this is a story about friendship. Specifically, it’s about two best friends and what happens when they rediscover each other after some time apart. Maddie has changed a lot, and Joshua has not. Joshua wants to recapture that same innocent friendship they had when they were kids (not so innocent–he always had a crush on her), but Maddie knows that’s impossible because she has been through A LOT, most of which Joshua doesn’t know about and probably can’t understand.

– I think Joshua is a great character, one we don’t see enough of in YA, honestly. He’s smart and responsible (oh, how I can relate), but he’s also tied to the idea of goodness in a way that makes him unapproachable to his peers. He’s included because his dad runs things, and he’s left out because he wants to do what’s right and has no problem saying what he thinks he’s right. That marriage to goodness is also a flaw because, as Maddie points out, he doesn’t examine why he just tows the line with his parents, especially regarding sex. There’s this great bit where she tells him that if he doesn’t want to have sex before he gets married, that’s fine, but to stop saying it’s because the Bible says so and his dad says so. She wants to know what HE thinks and what HE feels about the things he’s been taught, and he’s just not there yet. I really liked that a lot.

– The English teacher in me loves also that Maddie gets Joshua to read and expand his mind. More importantly, I love that she asks him to analyze the literature and not just summarize it. It goes back to my previous point. WHY do you think these things, Joshua? It’s what I have to teach my students, so I liked that it was part of a natural conversation the two characters had.

– Josh’s relationship with his parents is ace. Maddie’s secret just made me sad.

– Oh, I also like how Johnson examines the tension of being a kid who wants to do the right thing while having friends who do things you don’t agree with or condone. It’s not easy, and I think he’s successful at showing that Josh is a good AND a frustrating friend all at once. Usually, we see that in the–I don’t want to say bad, so let’s just say more ethically challenging friends than the straight-laced friend, so it was nice to see.

– I really liked the resolution of the narrative and how Johnson handles the “saving” aspect of the novel. Does Joshua save Maddie? What does it mean to save someone?

Another thing I find interesting is the language we use in these kinds of situations. If the roles were reversed, Maddie would be trying to change Joshua, but because Joshua is the one doing the reaching out, he’s trying to “save” Maddie. (This is not ignoring the religious bent of the novel. I think it still stands that the societal interpretation is that girls want to change boys and boys want to save girls. The terms are practically interchangeable, but the loaded meaning of each is not. Just food for thought.)

– Great characters all around.

What I Didn’t Like

– I hate, hate, hate the cover. The reason I hate it so much is that the narrator is a boy, and the cover has the book squarely marketed at girls. In fact, the spine of the book is pink. Pink! BOYS DO NOT LIKE READING PINK BOOKS. As a friend and I discussed, it makes us wonder about who the publishers think the audience for the book is. It’s certainly not boys who are struggling with being good. Is it “bad” girls who need to know that there are nice boys like Joshua out there who want to save them? Is it girls who wish they were “bad”? Is it “good” girls who also need to know there are nice boys like Joshua out there? I DON’T KNOW. I just know this cover infuriates me because it is alienating half of the audience it should be attracting.

Even if it is pretty. I mean, it matches the book and all, and I love the colors and everything, but ARGH. GENDERED. INCORRECTLY GENDERED AT THAT.

So annoying.

– My other issue is that this book is TOO SHORT. I felt like it could have been a good fifty or so pages longer. I would have really liked to see Joshua deal with his best friend’s little sister having a crush on him, more with the girls in the youth group wanting a dance ministry. And I really, really, really wanted to see more between him and his parents. I think there’s so much more going on beneath the surface, and the narrative as written only touches on some of it. Joshua’s only real defiance is his commitment to Maddie, but there’s so much more he’s dealing with that Maddie should/could have been a catalyst for in the actual narrative, and it would’ve been nice to see it addressed. Fifty more pages! That’s all I ask!

In conclusion: I liked this book. It’s worth a read, even if the cover makes me bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Quirky Brown: 4/3; Support Your Local Library: 17/30; YA Challenge: 12/20; POC: 11/15

Book Review: Sex, Murder and a Double Latte

The downside of writing sex scenes is that my mother reads my books.

Unlike with most authors, I discovered Kyra Davis’s blog before I ever read her books.  I can’t even remember how I ran across her website. I think my Google Reader suggested it, and then I read this post and was hooked. So after almost a year of reading her blog, I finally decided it was time to try one of her books, so I gave Sex, Murder and a Double Latte a try.

With beach and pool weather upon us (I do live in Florida), I will say this book would make a good beach/pool read. While murder is always intense, there’s a lot of comedy in the book and some romance. It’s not too heavy, the characters are fun, and the situations are a bit…well, Sophie (the main character) does manage to get herself into quite a few unbelievable scrapes.

When I finished the book, I thought it read like a grown-up Nancy Drew. Sophie has her two sidekicks, her gay best friend (who I am going to just say is Ned–not that Ned is gay, but he and Nancy were not exactly anything more than dance-going buddies), and her slightly dangerous love interest (Frank Hardy, of course). There are distinct differences between Nancy and Sophie, but I still maintain the comparison.

But I digress.

Again, a solid read. I had the killer pegged about halfway through, which took away some of the suspense, but it was still fun and definitely amped up as it got closer to the conclusion.

POC Challenge: 10/15; Support Your Local Library: 17/30; Quirky Brown: 3/3

Book Review: Peace from Broken Pieces

To be a good fighter, you have to be stripped down to nothing. A fighter is trained to forget what they know and who they are outside of the ring. Once a fighter is stripped down, they can be built up by one voice: the trainer’s voice. And it is assumed that the trainer has the fighter’s best interest in mind.

I’ll just start by being completely upfront. I love Iyanla Vanzant. I think she’s fantastic. When she was on The Oprah Winfrey Show that one year, she got me through my pregnancy and started me on the path to healing that I needed. I read In the Meantime, I picked up Faith in the Valley, and I even got her journaling book One Day My Soul Just Opened Up (which, to be honest, I never used). I love her and was so upset when she wasn’t back on Oprah–especially when Dr. Phil got his own show.

So that’s where I was when I read Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through. I learned about the book while watching her two interviews with Oprah (which I watched with great interest) (and I eagerly looked forward to that episode of Season 25 Behind the Scenes, let me tell you), and I had a great interest in hearing what she had to say about her daughter’s death, the dissolution of her marriage, and, of course, how she went from a superstar speaker with a million-dollar dream home to a woman renting a house with no health insurance. More importantly, though, I needed to know how she found peace through it all.

Throughout the book, I was struck by how great of a teacher Iyanla is. Even in the midst of reading about her devastation, I had so many a-ha moments about my own life. She talks a lot about family pathology and the way we repeat patterns of our forebears (this phenomenon is called a generational curse in Christian theology) even if we don’t know our elders’ stories. There’s a lot about familial patterns and how we try to resolve childhood traumas and repair broken relationships within ourselves. Everything she shares becomes a teachable moment.

The emphasis in the book is also all of the ways we are works in progress. Iyanla talks about how she thought she had dealt with all her stuff just because she recognized she had issues, but, at the same time, she really ignored or tamped down things because she wanted to believe she was better. She especially talks about it in regards to her husband and how she heard a voice telling her not to marry him, but she did it anyway because she loved him and finally felt worthy of his love since he said he wanted to marry her.

The most heartbreaking moments, of course, are those detailing her daughter’s death. Just gut wrenching to read. She finds her daughter’s journals and reads them all, which gives her much more insight into herself and their relationship. She tells the ways her daughter repeats her relationship patterns, and that’s when Iyanla recognizes how strong the ancestral pathology is. While I completely understand why she didn’t, I wish that she had allowed the reader more access to her daughter’s journals because I was fascinated to read how her daughter saw so many of the incidents Iyanla discusses in her book. But, like a friend of mine said, that’s a whole other book.

As a fan of Iyanla, I really enjoyed reading Peace from Broken Pieces. I think, even if you don’t have any particular interest in her life story, there’s still a lot to be gained from reading this account. She is a remarkable teacher.

POC Challenge: 9/15; Support Your Local Library: 16/30

Audiobook Review: Schooled

Hugh Winkleman would be the school joke no longer!

Schooled by Gordon Korman (narrated by Various) is the story of Capricorn “Cap” Anderson and what happens when he leaves his commune to attend a public middle school.

What I Liked

– I really appreciate that there are several voice actors. The book has a different narrator for each chapter, and it would’ve been pretty weird hearing the same person do each part. Unless it was Robin Williams or something.

– I liked Cap’s naïveté; it really serves the story well. My daughter was frequently exasperated by how naive Cap was, and it showed how much cunning and cruelty are learned behaviors.

– The kids’ changing attitudes towards Cap–for better or worse–felt very authentic.

– There is a lot of humor in the story. I liked that I genuinely liked Cap and wanted him to do well, even as I was laughing at some of the mistakes he made.

Trigonometry and Tears! Oh my gosh, it sounds like an awesome teen soap. I love, love that Cap falls in love with it and that he uses it as a teaching tool. And he’s so excited about the reruns! Aw, TV.

– There’s such a great visual of Cap with his big hair and tie-dyed clothes. I could picture him perfectly in my mind.

What I Didn’t Like

– The female characters are horrible (minus the grown-ups). The two girl narrators are boy obsessed, cruel, shallow, and self-serving. They’re just so clichéd; it’s ridiculous. Just…ugh. That said, they both have character shifts that make them more palatable, but I seriously rolled my eyes almost every time we got to one of their chapters in the story.

In conclusion: If you’ve ever read Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, this book is a way more upbeat and fun version. I actually enjoyed the story and its commentary on “normalcy” and middle school dynamics.

Support Your Local Library: 15/30; YA Reading Challenge: 11/20;

Book Review: Saving Juliet

You see, when faced with magic, it’s easier to accept than you might imagine. I had been waiting for something in my life to change. I had been whining about my life for so long I could barely stand to be with myself. I let the moment envelop me.

Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors is a super fun story about a girl, Mimi, who gets transported from modern day New York to the world of Romeo and Juliet.

Did I mention this book is super fun? It’s super fun. I breezed through it pretty quickly because it was easy to read and the absurd situations just kept piling on. I like that Mimi recognizes the magic of the world she’s in and doesn’t really fight it, but just goes with it. I really, really like that the characters she encounters don’t speak in iambic pentameter. There is, in fact, a call to the balcony scene, and a point is made of the fact that actual lovestruck teens would not do the whole flowery poetic language bit in a chance encounter. So that was nice.

I also really like that it’s not a straight retelling of the story, that Mimi encounters the characters and things aren’t exactly like the play. In fact, she can’t even make them get back on the correct timeline, try though she might. (And she does try.) There’s a real sense of danger as Mimi tries to navigate Romeo and Juliet’s world with a modern sensibility.

Also, her friendship with Juliet is super cute.

There’s nothing about the book I didn’t like. I think it’d make an excellent beach or pool read. Some nice fluff with a cute romance.

YA Reading Challenge: 10/20