Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Catherine - April Lindner

Title: Catherine
Author: April Lindner
Publisher: Poppy (Little, Brown and Company), 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 309 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Classic, Realistic Fiction
Started: March 20, 2013
Finished: March 27, 2013

From the inside cover:

Catherine is tired of struggling musicians befriending her just so they can get a gig at her dad's famous Manhattan club, The Underground. Then she meets mysterious Hence, an unbelievably passionate and talented musician on the brink of success. As their relationship grows, both are swept away in a fiery romance. But when their love is tested by a cruel whim of fate, will pride keep them apart?

Chelsea has always believed that her mom died of a sudden illness, until she finds a letter her dad has kept from her for years-a letter from her mom, Catherine, who didn't die: she disappeared. Driven by unanswered questions, Chelsea sets out to look for her-starting with the return address on the letter: The Underground.

Told in two voices, twenty years apart, Catherine delivers a fresh retelling of the Emily Bronte classic Wuthering Heights, interweaving a timeless forbidden romance with a captivating modern mystery.

After reading the author's first book, Jane, a few years ago and adored it, I knew I would read anything this author wrote. When I found out she was writing a retelling of Wuthering Heights in the same vein as Jane was a retelling of Jane Eyre, I knew for sure I'd be reading it.

I have to admit that I have not actually read Wuthering Heights from cover to cover.
*ducks to avoid things thrown at me by aghast bibliophiles*
I do know the gist of the original book and general details, but this does make me a little biased in this review, since some of my issues with the book could be the fault of Bronte's original rather than Lindner's retelling.

First off, I liked having the two different voices narrating the novel, Catherine's and Chelsea's. The only thing that irked me was the difference in time. Chelsea I'm assuming is a modern-day narration, so that would make Catherine narrating from the early 90s? If that's true, Catherine's voice and character didn't sound like a 90s teenager, but came off like a modern teen trying to sound retro. I did appreciate Chelsea's own side story about her search for her mom, it was a nice break from the Catherine/Hence story.

The romance between Catherine and Hence was definitely intense and passionate, but it was unrealistic even for teenagers (even a 90s girl wouldn't be as accommodating as Catherine was for Hence after he discounted her dream of going to Harvard), and I couldn't for the life of me understand why Catherine wanted this guy so much, aside from the emo band guy cliche.

The little details that echo back to the original like the appearance of the ghost when Chelsea first comes to The Underground were awesome. I like how the author managed to update the original story and try to give it a modern feel: making the estate into a music club, the issues of class, and adding Chelsea's story.

I didn't enjoy Catherine as much as Jane, but that's likely due to the differences in the original story. I give the author credit for managing to pull off a modern retelling of Wuthering Heights, and if you're a big fan of the original, you should pick up Catherine.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not as stunning as the cover for Jane, but it's in the same style, so I like it purely because of the continuation factor.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Miracle Stealer - Neil Connelly

Title: The Miracle Stealer
Author: Neil Connelly
Publisher: Scholastic, 2012 (Paperback)
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: March 18, 2013
Finished: March 19, 2013

From the author's website:

There was a time when Anderson Grant believed. She never doubted the goodness of the people at her church. She trusted both her parents. And she felt unshakeable faith in a kind and all-powerful God.

But then a freak accident nearly killed Daniel, her three-year-old brother. After his rescue, strange rumors about Daniel began spreading around town. The faithful claimed he could intercede with Jesus, cleanse the soul, heal the sick, even raise the dead.

The media trumpeted Daniel as a Miracle Boy, and the number of those believing in him swelled. They descended on Anderson's small town, along with a horribly scarred preacher and a dangerous stalker. Now Anderson is certain of only one thing: she has to stop this.

With the help of her once-and-maybe-future boyfriend Jeff, she dreams up a dangerous scheme that will forever cast doubt on Daniel's so-called divine gifts. If it works.

But as the plan comes together, the true believers grow more bold, the psycho stalker draws near, and the disfigured preacher challenges Anderson's resolve. She finds herself wrestling with her own beliefs in God and her brother, and she's left wondering if what she really needs to save Daniel might just be a miracle of her own.

Nineteen-year-old Andi lives in the small town of Paradise, Pennsylvania, and has put her life on hold to look out for her little brother, Daniel. Three years after surviving being buried in a mine shaft for several days, now six-year-old Daniel has been hailed as a religious healer by the townspeople. Only Andi sees the emotional turmoil Daniel endures when the desired outcomes don't happen, how the citizens badger Daniel that he needs to pray harder. What makes matters worse is that their mother encourages the beliefs, even against the wishes of their father, who left the family as a result of the events regarding Daniel. When the town is flooded with pilgrims who flock to Daniel to be healed and begin to present a danger to their family, Andi decides to put into motion a plan that she hopes will make everyone leave Daniel alone.

The premise of this book is if nothing else, unique. The examination of varying degrees of faith (overzealous/Jesus freak faith, lack of faith, confusion about faith etc.) is thought-provoking and the circumstances really make you feel for Andi and Daniel and just want to swoop in and rescue them from the bible thumpers that placed their faith solely on the actions of a little boy and the members of the media that perpetuate it.

However, as the story progresses things go downhill. The subplot with Jeff is inconsequential, and the plot that Andi concocts is completely unrealistic and more appropriate of an inexperienced 10-year-old rather than an intelligent 19-year-old. The ending smacks of thinly veiled Christian literature and to me feels like taking the easy way out regarding Andi's beliefs.

Wonderful premise that starts out well but doesn't follow through.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's okay, but suffers from the "let's have a huge close up of a girl's face as the entire focal point" syndrome that YA covers tend to have.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Out of Reach - Carrie Arcos

Title: Out of Reach
Author: Carrie Arcos
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 250 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: March 13, 2013
Finished: March 17, 2013

From the inside cover:

Rachel has always idolized her older brother, Micah. He struggles with addiction, but she tells herself that he's in control. And she almost believes it. Until the night that Micah doesn't come home.

Rachel's terrified-and she can't help but feel responsible. She should have listened when Micah tried to confide in her. And she only feels more guilt when she receives an anonymous note telling her that Micah is nearby and in danger.

With nothing more to go on than hope and a slim lead, Rachel and Tyler, Micah's best friend, begin the search. Along the way Rachel will be forced to confront her own dark secrets, her growing attraction to Tyler...and the possibility that Micah might never come home.

This book was a finalist for the National Book Award, and since in my experience any book that gets some kind of recognition from that particular award is usually pretty good, I decided to give it a go.

Out of Reach takes place over the span of 24 hours in which 16-year-old Rachel attempts to search for her meth-addicted brother Micah who disappeared several months before. In addition to the search going on in Ocean Beach amongst the druggies and the dealers, we get flashbacks every so often of Rachel and Micah when they were kids that show their close relationship.

I liked how Rachel and pre-meth Micah were portrayed as completely realistic teenagers (they could easily be students in my own classes), and how friendly the sibling relationship was and the bond between them. I especially liked that even though the romantic subplot between Rachel and Tyler was only a tiny part of the story, that the romance didn't feel absurd or forced, and that Tyler was a pretty respectful guy, so that got a thumbs-up from me.

There are reviews that claim dislike for this book based on Rachel's actions regarding Micah, particularly how they feel she didn't try hard enough to find him or that she waited so long, and therefore is unrealistic of a sister who seems to be so close to said brother. I can understand that viewpoint, but I didn't feel that about Rachel at all. Perhaps it's because I've had personal experience in dealing with highly toxic and dysfunctional individuals (a lot of them family, a few with addictions of various sorts) and have done a slough of reading about the addict's mentality, how family members react, and have gone through that obsession that you can somehow save them from themselves and can get them to see reason if only you tried harder, that I can understand exactly why Rachel did what she did.

Anyone who's ever been through the process like I have eventually comes to the realization (and it took me a good long while) that you can't change anyone's behaviour but your own, and although you can arrange help and resources for the person that needs it, they are ultimately responsible for making the decision to actively seek out that help to get better, you can't put a gun to their head and force them if they don't see their own problem. I can read between the lines and see that Rachel has already been through those motions with Micah. She talks about the stint Micah had in rehab and when her family went to see him, how she was already coming to terms with the fact that the brother she loved wasn't there anymore. How she did have immense guilt over not telling her parents sooner, or searching sooner, but knows deep down that it really wouldn't have helped anyway (and really, she was barely sixteen, it's not exactly like she has the resources to be the sole saviour of her brother anyway). There's all the background information that came before the events in the book that we only see glimpses of through the flashbacks that culminates at the end when Tyler and Rachel are in the church where Rachel finally realizes that drugs (and anything else that consumes a person so deeply) are a horrible thing that sometimes happens to families and friends and takes away people you care about, and that you are so desperate for some semblance of control that you cling to it where it's impossible to impose it.

I think the author does a wonderful job of portraying the feelings and consequences of having an addict in the family but does so in a bit of a crash-course, and I think the seemingly quick way that Rachel comes to terms with things is what confuses readers and reviewers. But that switch inside a person where they go from caring to the point of self-destruction themselves to accepting the things they have absolutely no control over (hence the use of the Serenity prayer in the book) can sometimes flip very quickly and it doesn't flip back. I think if the author had shown more of the flashback moments where the family struggles with Micah in the early days of the meth addiction then Rachel's actions might be less criticized by readers who have never been through this kind of struggle. But I applaud the efforts of the author regardless of the condensed result.

Excellent portrayal of the effects of having an addict in the family. Very real characterization and interactions, along with good writing. One of those "difficult topics" books that kids should read.

Thoughts on the cover:
Doesn't really have much to do with the story itself (would have been more appropriate if the model was supposed to be Micah wearing summer clothes, they are in southern California in the summer), but is different for a YA book and makes you stop and look.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shatter Me - Tahereh Mafi

Title: Shatter Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Publisher: Harper, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 338 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: March 6, 2013
Finished: March 13, 2013

From the back cover:

No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she's finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time-and to find a future with the one boy she thought she'd lost forever.

In this electrifying debut that Lauren Kate, New York Times bestselling author of Fallen, calls "addictive, intense, and oozing with romance," author Tahereh Mafi presents a riveting dystopian world, a thrilling superhero story, and an unforgettable heroine.

I'd heard some hype about these books (I think three so far) when I saw a listing for them with cover redesigns, so I decided to give the first one a try.

First off, this isn't a dystopian so much as a hormone-addled romance using the X-men superpower scenario as a backdrop. I feel for Juliette and what her life was like being ostracized and isolated without human touch, but having her fall for Adam so quickly without really feeling the validity of the relationship plus having the love interest and the villain just happen to be resistant to her soul-sucking death touch is just a little too convenient (talk about really pushing suspension of disbelief). The fact that Juliette has spent months and months in captivity without exercise or proper nutrition and hygiene practices and just happens to recover her immense beauty after a simple bath and can run for her life without collapsing. Plus she just happens to be able to break through concrete.

Every scene with Adam felt like this should have been a harlequin novel, no real substance, just wanting to bang each other in the midst of chaos around them. Heck, Juliette even somewhat gets the hots for Warner, the insane psychotic man who is very honest about his plan to use her as his personal torture device.

Interesting premise that could have had potential but was just executed poorly. The characters aren't anything special (Juliette makes me want to slap her silly), the writing isn't great and heavy on the cheesy metaphors, things come together way too easily, plus the obvious hormone fest is a bit overdone.

Thoughts on the cover:
Doesn't jive with the feel of the story at all. Warner does force Juliette to dress up like that a few times, but this just makes me think cover designers took the easy way out and just slapped on a girl in a pretty dress with sparkles on it cause, "that's what girls will buy" (*rolls eyes*)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books (Penguin), 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 313 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: February 28, 2013
Finished: March 5, 2013

From the inside cover:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

This book has received so much hype and so much love it doesn't need an introduction. John Green's books are a hit or miss with me. The man is a freaking brilliant writer, it's just that some of his stories don't hit it off with me. This book however, was a glaring exception; it is brilliance, love, and profundity on paper, and I adored it.

Hazel is 16-years-old and has Stage IV thyroid cancer. Thanks to a new drug, her life has been extended, but it's only a matter of time. Since she faces her own mortality every single day, she has a wit and insightfulness about her that normal teenagers don't have, so she definitely doesn't come across as a realistic teenager, but given the whole scenario is about kids dying of cancer, I can ignore the fact that the teenaged characters aren't your average kids. Augustus does come off pretty pretentious at first, normally it would bother me but I didn't even mind so much. Issac is a nice addition, and I wish we'd seen more of him (I think my favourite scene was towards the end when he and Hazel are issuing perverted commands to his video game, it was hilarious).

I love the themes presented here. The characters have to deal with concepts as teenagers that most people don't face until old age: life and death, knowing you will die soon and leaving people behind, and being afraid that you'll die without leaving any kind of mark upon the world and won't be remembered. Hazel also has the added guilt of being an only child and worrying about her mother in particular having a life beyond caring for her.

I won't lie, this book will make you bawl like a baby, especially if you have watched someone close to you wither away and die from from cancer. I give the author credit because he doesn't portray the kids as super heroic and bathed in a fragile sickly glow, they get angry and pissed off because they're dying and expel any and all sorts of bodily fluids because that's what cancer does, so I appreciate the no-holds-barred honesty here.

I'm not doing the book any justice with this review, so I'll just say READ IT. Seriously, it's worth it. You will laugh and cry and contemplate the meaning of life and suffering, but it's so worth it. Plus the whole novel is so full of quotable lines it's amazing.

Thoughts on the cover:
Considering there's not much that would have been appropriate as the cover, I think they did a good job. Perhaps a constellation-filled sky would've worked, but I like the blue and the cloud-like shapes.