Review: Underdog (Wolfe Brothers #1) by Markus Zusak

 

Cameron and his brother Ruben are hopeless. Not quite sure how to fill their time, the two get into quite a lot of trouble– needless violence, humiliating moments, and making up robbery plans that never take place. But then Cam falls for a girl, and suddenly things aren’t quite so simple. While Cameron hangs his heart on his sleeve, he isn’t too sure about how to approach her. After all, who could ever fall for an underdog like Cam?

Personal Take: This is quite a different tone from Zusak’s other books. Not quite a masterpiece like I Am The Messenger, but it still packs a little rawness. The setting Zusak paints for his characters is quite bleak, and yet, they fit so well in it. Cameron, his family and friends, the people he interacts with– it’s all so well crafted into this short story that I was still captivated by it. The format was also interesting, ending each chapter with a little of Cameron’s dream that feeds into his reality somehow. This is the first of three books, and while it doesn’t delve too deep into Cameron’s life yet, I enjoyed reading about his “beginnings”.

It’s a little rough around the edges compared to his other works, but it’s still a page-turner.

Audience: Older teens and adults.

Rating:

Recommendations: Markus Zusak is well known for two major works: The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger (which is my personal favorite). He also wrote The Wolfe Brothers trilogy.

 

Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

In town, Chloe’s sister Ruby is the the girl everyone wants to be and wants to be with, and for Chloe being just under her shadow gives her enough status around town too. Except one night party at the reservoir goes horribly wrong when Chloe finds a dead girl in a boat. Two years after the incident, Chloe is living a boring life– until Ruby shows up to take her back home. And everything is as it should be; Ruby the queen of town, and Chloe the little sister basking in her brilliance. But Chloe can tell something is off. Something dangerous that Ruby is hiding, and could unravel their sisterly bonds in a way Chloe could never imagine.

Personal Take: I knew this was a contemporary read, but I didn’t think it would be so dark. Imaginary Girls was written so beautifully and so vividly. It took its time, weaving things into existence, and showing us how Chloe saw things. Half way through it though, I was torn between being at enchanted by it or simply annoyed.
Imaginary Girls could easily be a classic that could be analyzed over and over for the messages it holds, or the literary techniques Suma used. It’s that well written. But I couldn’t connect to Chloe, the narrator. She was so clinical in her narrative, with not so much as a spark of emotion to make me feel what she’s going through why she reached that particular thought when she did. Maybe Suma wanted it that way, but as a reader, it bothered me.
It also bothered me that Chloe didn’t change at all throughout the book because of it. With all the evidence weighed in, she was so stubborn about her own convictions, and I was put off by her (there were other reasons too).
There was also the issue of vagueness throughout the whole book. Events and plots were hinted at, but not directly spoken out, and that just frustrated me.
I would still recommend people to read it, because the idea of it is so dark, twisted and fascinating. It’s sad that I was so close to loving it, but couldn’t.
Audience: Older teens. It was so dark, I was a little freaked out myself.
Rating:
threestars
Other recommendations: Now, just because I didn’t connect with this book doesn’t mean I’ll stop reading Suma’s beautiful writing! Suma wrote a middle-grade level book called Dani Noir. Her next YA book is 17 & Gone, which I’ll definitely pick up.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Welcome to Le Cirque des Reves. Within these nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits an utterly unique experience, a feast for the senses. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way– a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imaginationAs the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is in motion and the lives of all those involved–the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, and the mystical fortune teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them–are swept up in a wake of spells and charms.

But when Celia and Marco innocently tumble headfirst into love–a deep magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands– their masters intervene with dangerous consequences.

Personal Take

Reads like the dream you never want to wake up from. I feel bereft that it ended, although I know its not the kind of book everyone would love. It moves at its own pace with short chapters and alternating points of view. My favorite characters are the twins, Poppet and Widget and Baily, a boy who keeps being drawn to the circus. The description was pure art and woven tapestries. I felt like I had visited the circus many times, like it was deja vu and yet new all at the same time. Beautiful and so breathtaking that I’m still holding my breath, hours after I’ve finished it.

Audience: 17+ and adults

Rating:

5stars

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

Lia and Cassie are best friends, and each other’s support to maintain their matchstick figure. But when Cassie dies, Lia does the only thing that makes her feel in control- lose more weight, as much as possible, as fast as possible. None of her family members are aware of her “goal”, and there’s only Cassie, haunting Lia through her deteriorating state, and beckoning her to the other side.

Personal Take: I wanted Speak to be the first book I’d read by Anderson, but I know that most of her books are generally admired. And as it turns out, this is the first I’ve ever read by her. This book is..amazing. Anderson literally takes you into the mind of a girl with an eating disorder, and it’s just.. disturbing and fascinating. The writing is emotional, and describes the state Lia is in. I can’t describe how horrified and awed I was while reading this. Anderson has put me in the shoes of someone I’d never thought I’d understand. She made me sympathize with Lia and her bad decisions, with her family who are not without flaws, but are so realistic and lovable in their own way. And I think that makes Anderson an amazing writer.

She uses a lot of imagery as well, which makes it more gripping and surreal. The back story build up was also very well done. The message itself is powerful. Anderson took an issue most girls go through, and weaved an intense and cautious story out of it. The minor characters were also great and realistic.

Loved it, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Audience: Language-wise, this book is safe. The imagery can be a little disturbing, but nothing radical or overly graphic. More poetic.

Rating:

5stars

 

Other recommendations: Anderson wrote a lot of books, most concerning young girls, and from the writing and subject matter, all of it are worth reading!

Review: Paper Towns by John Green

 

Quentin Jacobson has loved Margo all his life- girl next door, adventurous, and shrouded in mystery. Running in different social circles, he can only admire her from afar. Until she breaks into his room one night and beckons him on one of her vengeful adventures. What could have started a new friendship between the two fades, as Margo goes missing the next day. While everyone concludes is a Margo-like behavior, Quentin also notices clues she has left for him. But the closer he gets to finding her, the more Quentin realizes that the girl he’s after isn’t quite who he’d always imagined.

Personal Take: The one thing I looked forward when I started reading this book is meeting the characters, because Green has a gift of blowing life into them, making them the craziest teens I’ve ever read about. Their dialogue and banter is snappy, which makes me relate to them. They’re hilarious. They’re honest. I just loved them. The beautiful thing about this book is how it eases from the silliness of these characters’ lives into a somewhat philosophical quest. At times, I expected the book to take a dark turn, but it had always stayed at the edges, especially concerning Margo. The tone transition was natural, and the literary references added didn’t slow down or bog the main idea. This book delivers a life lesson for both teens and adults. It’s a great read, with equally touching and hilarious characters.

Audience: Teens and adults looking to read about smart, fresh characters. There are swear words, and a bunch of dirty jokes, but..it’s fun. =p

Rating:

5stars

 

Other recommendations: I’ve already reviewed Looking For Alaska (which is still my favorite), but also check out An Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written with David Levithan).

Review: Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman

Andromeda is going through a hard time. Her social life is non-existant because of her interest in magic, her love life is impossible because she’s got brittle bones (her older, possibly love of her life boyfriend dumped her), and her best friend and instigator of all their magical processes, Daisy, is dead. Andromeda is left to navigate the difficulties of magic and life on her own, especially since she had a dream about Daisy trying to tell her something and a mysterious fellow called the King of Sacramento acting as her guide.

Personal Take: It’s pretty hard to describe this book. The writing is solid. The characterization was pretty good. The only thing that’s missing was the plot, which brings me to the question: does a story need a plot?

Well, I can’t answer that, but I did ask my friend, and she pointed out that Catcher in the Rye didn’t exactly have a plot. She’s right, but the difference is, Catcher in the Rye was not 400+ pages.

It carried itself well in the beginning, but then it became painfully obvious that it needs a “driving force”. I didn’t feel like I wanted to read the book, which is sad, because it’s written pretty well, with interesting characters and amazingly specific details on magic and the science behind it. Yes, Andromeda’s magic is pure science and math, with a bit of spiritualism. It’s actually pretty interesting, but most of the explanations went over my head.

It’s only towards the last 100 or so pages that there’s finally something, and even then, only a few questions are answered. It felt like the author wanted to tack together a somewhat positive outcome for Andromeda. I wasn’t that satisfied with it.

I still enjoyed the funny parts dispersed throughout the book though, and I don’t regret picking it up. Portman is definitely an author worth checking out.

Audience: Older teens and adults. There were swear words, drinking, mentions of meth labs (none of the characters were on drugs though).

Rating:

threehalfstars

 

Other recommendations: Frank Portman wrote another book called King Dork, which many described as similar to Catcher in the Rye. I read an excerpt on Amazon, and thought it worth reading.

Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

Miles “Pudge” Halter’s parents don’t understand his decision of uprooting from his Florida school, to settle for Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama, to seek the Great Perhaps. Once there, he blends well with the smartest gang, who are also the biggest pranksters around. Things don’t seem bad, especially since across his room is the beautiful, smart, sexy Alaska Young, who changes Pudge, and steals his heart in the process.

Personal Take: This novel is so beautifully written. The characters are wonderful, colorful and diverse. The emotions Pudge experiences, and the moments the friends spend together is so familiar, painful, hilarious and beautiful. Though this is not the first time I’ve read through a guy’s point of view, I have to say that Pudge’s voice is the best I’ve come across. The other characters are wonderful as well, and readers won’t help but get attached to them. Their dialogue comes out so natural, it’s almost like a movie. They’re not too vague, not too out there, and just enough is known that you’d want them as your friends. A little. Honestly, I loved everything about it. I highly recommend it.

Audience: Here, I must disappoint younger readers. Though this book is classified as YA, it has drinking, smoking, and a lot of swearing. And a bit of groping too. So another book for 16+ readers, and older.

Rating:
5stars
Other recommendations: John Green published 2 other books; Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines. He also co-wrote the upcoming book with David Levithan; Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Review: Crunch Time by Mariah Fredericks

Max, Leo, Daisy and Jane have nothing in common, other than that they all go to the same school, and that they’re in the same SAT prep school. And they all ditch it together. Instead, they form their own study group, and they all bond. But when someone from their school cheats on their SAT test, everyone starts suspecting others, including the four friends. Slowly, events take a nasty turn as chaos and cruelty ensues, and the truth starts to unravel.
Personal Take: I love, love, love Fredericks’ characters in the story. They’re selfish, sometimes hateful, lost, confused, deceitful and make so many mistakes, there’s no mistaking that they’re cut from the same cloth as the readers– being human. Despite all that, you can’t help but like them. The pressure they feel through the SAT seems real, as is the friendship. The book is told from the point of view of all for characters, which had me worried about being confused when reading, but it wasn’t. Fredericks does it so well, and distinguishes their personalities so well, it’s easy to get used to. And I think that’s one of the strongest points in the book. Not only that, but she also has a precise depiction of high school- so precise that memories of my encounter with SATs resurfaced. Strong characters, and a strong statement.
Audience: Slightly older teens. There are some intimate scenes (not sex though), but nothing major, I think.

Rating:

4halfstars

 

Other Recommendations: The True Meaning of Cleavage was a hilarious laugh, despite the misleading title, a great debut work. Another book Head Games, which is on of her darker novels.

Review: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti

Quinn is constantly warned by her mother, aunt and grandmother against falling in love with Mr. Wrong and getting her heart broken. Quinn believes that there is some exaggeration to their warnings, until she experiences a bad break up. She consoles herself that her father, whom she recently reconnected with, is different from other men, but when she finds certain objects in his house, she is sent into a wild chase along with her little sister and older half sister, to return them to their rightful owners. Slowly, all three of them piece together the truth of who their father is- which could alter their relationship with him, but strengthen theirs.
Personal Take:
I’ve always admired Caletti’s writing style; the crisp, fresh, realness of her characters, and the realistic situations they go through. This one is no different. It started off a little slow, but once you warm up to the characters and their mission, the lesson in this book is a gem. It’s wonderful to see this book challenging the popular perception of love among women; “the one”, or “perfect guy”, etc. Caletti keeps that theme going by offering a realistic finality to the sisters’ adventure. And though there is a romance, it seems unforced and very natural (and he’s a crush worthy character too!).

As for the characters, as I’ve said before, it needed a little warming up to first. Caletti adds details that don’t seem relevant, but still realistic. Once the story gets going, the growth these characters show is both heart warming and courageous. Readers will sympathize with them, be it minor or major characters, they all have a story to share.

Audience: Both adults and older teens will enjoy this read, and hopefully get something out of it. As best of my knowledge, there is probably minor swear words, but nothing serious.

Rating:

4stars

 

Other recommendations: The Queen of Everything is Caletti’s debut novel, and is another great realism YA book worth the read.