Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a true storyWe Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a true story by Josh Sundquist

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Received from NetGalley in exchange for honest review.

This book is kind of a mixed bag for me. I did like it. I liked the main character and his story was interesting. I liked the format of the book, with the MC (Josh) looking at all his relationships and investigating why they failed. And I liked that eventually he admitted to himself that part of the problem was his own perceptions.

However, I really would have liked better answers! I know this is a true story, but sometimes, when he contacted the girls he'd dated to ask why it didn't work out, they didn't give much of an answer. Which I guess is how it works in real life. This is supposed to be a true story, after all. But it didn't make for the most satisfying read. Plus, some of the relationships failed for the most obvious reasons to the reader, but Josh never seemed to realize what had happened. It wasn't clear that he'd learned anything when he looked at the relationships in retrospect.

I did enjoy the little diagrams, and overall, it was a good story. The MC just seemed a little clueless and out of touch with reality.

Overall, this was a fun, fast read that left me with a good feeling. Recommended for all ages, but would probably not appeal to anyone younger than 12 or so.

Content: Nothing objectionable except a few subtle hints about a teenage boy getting, ahem, excited.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: Nest by Esther Ehrlich

NestNest by Esther Ehrlich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Received from NetGalley in exchange for honest review.

This is a sweet, sad MG novel set in Cape Cod. I can see this being nominated for a Newberry Award, as it has lots of issues--mental illness, physical disability, grief, family relationships, etc. It stops just short of drowning in so many issues that I couldn't enjoy the story itself.

I loved the girls' relationship with their father, and how 'shrinky' he was. I loved how Rachel, the MC's sister, began to change as she became a teen, and how her psychologist father struggled with that--with knowing why she was doing what she did, but also being her father and emotionally invested. I also loved the girls' relationship with their mother, the little that was shown. And most of all, I loved their relationship with each other. I definitely recommend reading this with a box of tissues nearby, as it will likely make you cry. And I love a book that can make me cry.

So why only 3 stars?

I requested this book because I spent summers on the Cape as a kid, and everything Cape Cod related makes me nostalgic now. And while at times the author mentions a place (Route 6, etc), I never felt like I was THERE. I love books with an atmosphere that swallows me or brings me back, whether I have been to the place or not. I want the setting AND the atmosphere of the place. This book could have been written by someone who had never set foot on the Cape and simply Googled a map of it. So I was disappointed that the setting did not come alive. It could have just as easily been set in Michigan or Florida or Arizona and it would not have made a bit of difference. Which is fine, if your story isn't about place. But this one seemed like it wanted to be.

Also, the MC's best friend, Joey, was completely irrelevant to me. He had a story, but it was never satisfying to read. Every time she and Joey hung out, I was waiting for her to go home so I could see what was really going on. I understand that the author wanted her to have a life outside of home, too, but it seemed so trivial compared to her home life. AND, the last quarter of the book and the climax all included Joey instead of her family, and I just didn't feel like he was a strong enough or interesting enough character to carry the story that way.

I started out with high hopes, and at first, this book met them. But then it kind of fizzled out, going back and forth between the real story here and what feels like extraneous, filler pages. The focus of the book ends up seeming to be about her and Joey. I would have liked the author to pick one central plot and stick to it, just adding Joey on the side. Instead, it feels like the book can't decide what it wants to be about, like it's just random exciting incidents that don't tie together to form a strong central story.

Would recommend this to 10+ fans of MG novels. Please be prepared to talk to your child about death, grief, and dealing with the loss of a parent.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday #4: At the Water's Edge, by Sara Gruen

 For Waiting on Wednesday, a feature over at Breaking the Spine, this week I had to pick Sara Gruen's new book (out March 31). I loved Water for Elephants, and this one looks amazing. Can't wait to read it!

Goodreads description:
In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review: When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez

When Reason BreaksWhen Reason Breaks by Cindy L.  Rodriguez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Received for review from Netgalley.

I'm not really sure what to think about this book. It had some interesting aspects that really drew me in, but overall, I was left with a kind of 'eh' feeling about it.

This is a book about 2 girls and their teacher, who teaches Emily Dickinson for English class. Both girls have their troubles. Elizabeth has a bad family life and acts out at school and at home, and is a mild trouble-maker and sort of hardened. Emily is quiet and a bit meek, stifled by her politician father and largely ignored by the rest of her family. They bond over Emily Dickinson.

I loved the Emily Dickinson theme that ran through it. It was a cool exploration of her life and her poetry, even though I've never been a big fan. I liked the girls' relationship with each other and with their teacher. But...

This book felt shallow. It deals with big issues (children effected by actions of their parents--divorced, adulterous, controlling, gay), a girl growing apart from her childhood friends, first love/sex, sibling relationships, friendship, suicide, depression, a pregnancy scare, etc, without really getting into any one of them. I feel like any of those issues could have been the entire plot of the book, but with so much going on, nothing was explored with any depth. The two main characters barely speak for most of the book, and I never felt I knew either of them very well. I picked up on Emily's depression and Elizabeth's frustration, but I never felt those along with the characters. I never felt outraged on their behalf. Emily was almost a fully developed character, enough that I shed a tear or two for her. But I never got inside her head, esp. with her relationship with her boyfriend. He was a regular guy--a cutup in class but sweet to her, and I loved him for being a real guy and not one of those annoyingly perfect YA boys. But I never felt her emotion towards him. She gave up her friendships with her two best friends to hang out with him, but why? I could barely tell she liked him. Mostly she isolated because of her depression, so her relationship with him didn't feel real. And Elizabeth just seemed too erratic and all over the place. I didn't dislike her, I just didn't care, which is much worse when I'm reading a book.

Another problem was that it's told from several points of view, and there's a lot of head hopping instead of moving from one scene/chapter to another before switching to a new character. And the past/present tense switches were confusing and seemed at random much of the time. It made scenes more complicated and disjointed than they needed to be, and disrupted the flow of the narrative.

Reading this was kind of like beta reading a draft of someone's novel that just doesn't have a plot. It feels like the author tries way too hard to tie all the Emily Dickinson stuff in and ends up with a novel that doesn't feel authentic. It's like when someone writes a book to make a point, with the story being secondary. Which never works for me.

Overall, this was a novel with some important issues to discuss, but it fails in the execution. I wish it had been a beta read, because then I'd have more hope that it would be excellent after a lot of work. It has the potential to be awesome, but as is, it's just okay.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Where to start...perhaps with the back cover (makes sense, right?): the back cover says that this book is a thriller.


Okay, now that THAT is out of the way. I read another book by this author last year, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which is much beloved by me and many others. And while this book was not my favorite, I am keeping Ms. Lockhart on my list of favorite authors for now, because I really, really, really want her to be there. I really, really, really wanted to love this book. I pushed for my book club to read it. I put it on hold at the library for ages. And I was super excited to hear that it won the Goodreads Choice YA award. I may have even voted for it before I read it (I can't remember if I actually did this, but I wanted to read it that bad). When I popped the first audiobook disc in my CD player, I was all smiles. And they lasted for most of the first disk (1/5 of the book).

The author does a lovely job describing the scenery, the place, the atmosphere. She paints a lovely, perfectly imperfect picture of the old-money family and their perfect exterior. And the kids were real, smart, each different than the others. But here's the thing about reading YA. It's about teenagers. And it's so easy for adults to overwrite teenagers. There's the one end of the spectrum, where the kids are clueless and talk like in text-message lingo or non-stop slang until the reader is left rolling eyes and laughing at the author's overdone juvenile portrayal. And then there's the other end of the spectrum, where the reader is rolling her eyes saying, "Oh come on! I'm a college-educated adult and I don't talk like that!" If an author is going to go this way, they will usually acknowledge it (John Green writes about 'nerds' although I still don't believe he spoke anywhere near the way his characters do when he was a teenager), which Lockhart does to some extent, saying how Gat is so thoughtful and wants to understand, having another character mention how he's always bringing up the patriarchy. I'm not a fan of the smarter-than-adults trope in YA.

But overall, this book was just okay. I wasn't completely shocked by the ending. It kind of fit. It seemed a bit anticlimactic, to be honest. I didn't see it coming. I just wasn't terribly surprised by it, either.

The author had some good things to say about the patriarchy, actually, and how the grandfather's money, manipulations and even his love had formed his daughters into the kind of people they were. I just thought the book could have hit a little harder, dug a little deeper, instead of focusing so much on the mystery of what happened to the protagonist before her accident. I feel like this book had a lot to say, but wasn't quite brave enough to say it all the way.

Recommended for ages 12+
A bit of language and some traumatic events.

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Tuesday is Now Review Day!

Hello, readers,

I want to keep doing reviews but I've now joined Waiting on Wednesday, so I've moved my reviews to Tuesdays. New books are released that day, so it seems logical. You can expect more YA reviews, like always, along with a few adult reads and some MG scattered in there as well. I will post reviews for new books on the date of release, since I often get them ahead of time for review.

Thanks for reading, and look for reviews every Tuesday this year.