Book Review: American Girls by Alison Umminger

She was looking for a place to land.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she’s had it with her life at home. So Anna “borrows” her stepmom’s credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn’t quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn’t the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

There are a few things that I found a bit weird about this novel, but I will tell you that the first thing that threw me off about this book is the title.  “American Girls,” just really didn’t seem to fit with the overall narrative of the story, and I definitely prefer the UK title, “My Favourite Manson Girl,” as that phrase is uttered multiple times throughout the story.  Plus, the cover for that novel is way more fitting.  Although it does feature the popular rounded sunglasses of the 60’s much like the cover of The Girls by Emma Cline, and they were being released on the same day, so I understand if the publisher decided to go a different way because of that.

I basically decided to pick up this novel because it was influenced heavily by the Manson family murders and found it interesting that two novels, one a cross-over adult novel (The Girls) and a young adult novel (American Girls) featuring details about some of the most infamous female criminals in history.  Now, where The Girls is set during the summer of 1969 and leads up to the family murders, American Girls tries to parallel some of the basic human aspects of these women and the narrator and her sister.

American Girls really is more of a commentary on life in Los Angeles and the modern teen than anything else, but there are some things that just didn’t sit right with me.  I found the main narrator, Anna, to be incredibly unlikable. She basically threw a $500 temper tantrum over feeling lonely and disregarded by her mother and her stepmother.  You don’t find out until later that she is being forced to switch schools (also something that happens to the narrator of The Girls) due to being part of some significantly disturbing bullying.  She somehow ends up being able to stay in LA with her sister after her $500 runaway scheme and is handed all of these opportunities that she takes for granted and doesn’t appreciate.

Sure, she gets in the middle of the weird life of her sister, who to be honest, I found more likable due to her acknowledgement and acceptance of her mistakes and who she is as a person, despite her flaws.  There are some pretty gruesome things that happen to her sister because of her idiotic choices, and there is a stalker/creeper factor going on that I think could have been a stronger plot point than it was, but I understand that the majority of the novel is about Anna’s journey rather than anything else.

The writing was fairly standard for a young adult novel, there wasn’t anything absolutely impressive about the narrative voice, word selection, or any risks taken with style.

I know it seems that I kind of bashed this novel, but overall, despite the flaws, I still found it an enjoyable read.  It isn’t one that I’d likely re-read over and over, unlike The Virgin Suicides (another novel about the lives of teen girls and the implications of the world around them), but it is one that I’d willingly recommend.

I’m going to give this novel an average rating of 3 Bards

threebards

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

You can check out Jessica’s review of the first novel, Seraphina, too!

First, I would like to say thank you to Rachel Hartman for including a summary of Seraphina at the opening of Shadow Scale. It has been at least a year, if not more, since I read book one, and having a reminder of the major plot points and characters made it much easier to slip back into the world of Goredd. I wish more authors did this.

I wanted to just LOVE this book, and it quite upsets me that this review isn’t going to be glowing. I loved Seraphina and had been really looking forward to seeing how Seraphina developed in the second book and if and how war between the dragons and the humans would be averted. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I loved it. I liked it, yes. Maybe I even really liked it, but I most definitely didn’t love it.

Let me start with the parts of the story I did like. I enjoyed Seraphina’s journeys – both the physical journey to all of Goredd’s neighbouring countries and her internal journey to learn more about herself. Seraphina has found herself in the middle of a diplomatic crisis, and this crisis gives her the opportunity to travel to a number of different countries where she learns that Goredd’s way of doing things is not the only way, or even the best way. This physical journey corresponds with her internal journey. Seraphina has always felt different (being half dragon will do that to a girl) and now that she has embraced her existence as half dragon and half human, she is learning what that means. It was heartbreaking to me when Seraphina realized that all of the other half dragons could see what they called mind-fire – an internal light that all half dragons have – and she couldn’t. Much of the first book was taken up with Seraphina’s search for others like her, and now that she has found them, she is still different.

I also found the love triangle between Seraphina, Prince Lucien Kiggs and Princess Glisselda very well done. All three characters love each other deeply, and none of them want to see either of the others hurt in any way. This leads to them taking great care with the emotions of the others.  These are characters who are not selfish; who realize that there is more to the world than their wants, or even their needs. It was refreshing to see this. Unfortunately, this also led to a part of the story that I did not like. Throughout all of the first book, and about 80% of the second book, the characters have behaved in one way. Suddenly, near the end of the second book, there is a massive change that has come out of nowhere. I don’t mind plot twists, but this particular twist didn’t seem to serve any function; especially given how the love triangle is eventually resolved. It seemed to me to be pandering to a specific demographic, and I did not see how it added to the story in any way.

I wish that had been my only disappointment in the story, but it wasn’t. Sadly, Rachel Hartman used one of my least favourite plot devices to end the problem – she invoked Deus ex machine. The entire story has been about Seraphina learning to accept who she is, along with all that goes with that, and in the climactic moment, when Seraphina is faced with her nemesis, a supernatural being comes along and walks off with that nemesis. Wait, what? Why couldn’t Seraphina have defeated Jannoula on her own? Why did we need an external force to come in? Seraphina has just discovered her abilities, and is learning to use them, and suddenly the need is gone. It was such a letdown for me. I wanted Seraphina to embrace herself, to accept that she has abilities beyond those of humans, and learn how to use those abilities.

This leads me to my biggest problem with the story – the unequal power between Seraphina and her nemesis, Jannoula. Jannoula was mentioned briefly in the first book, but in this book, she takes centre stage. She has the ability to take over the minds of others – and there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how many other minds she can control. How does one fight against this? I understand that to create drama, and a build up to a strong climax, the reader needs to feel the hero’s pain, but t his just went too far; so far, in fact, that Seraphina couldn’t defeat Jannoula – it required the last minute intervention of a godlike figure. I wanted Seraphina to learn how strong she really was, and to be able to defeat Jannoula on her own, but that didn’t happen.

For all these reasons, I can only give Shadow Scale 3 bards.

threebards

 

 

 

 

 

This review was submitted to A Midsummer Night’s Read by Sarah. 

Book Review: Compulsion by Martina Boone

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lives with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead–a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family’s twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.

Okay, when I first heard about this book it was after a number of bloggers I follow on twitter were posting that they were currently reading this or that they really liked it.  It was definitely not a book on my radar until the blogging community adopted it and really gave it some clout. Shout out to my fellow book bloggers, you definitely make a difference!

Anyway, I really liked Boone’s use of setting in this novel.  I was born and raised in the south, granted I was in a small town outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, a place definitely different from the fictional Watson’s Island.  (Apparently there actually is a Watson’s Island near Miami, Florida) There is a wealth of beautiful words that can be used to describe the regal plantation houses, the Spanish Moss hanging from tree branches, etc, and Boone did an excellent job of capitalizing on this.  While the Watson Family plantation house isn’t described as being as kept well, I imagined the three founding houses to look a lot like the plantations I’ve visited in South Carolina.  My favorite being BOONE_HALL_PLANTATIONBoone Hall Plantation (see picture).

While I loved the setting and I really liked that Boone kind of mentions that the curse comes from the mistreatment of the natives when the founding families arrived on the island, the storyline was a bit confusing.  Barrie was a very hard character to relate to for me because she was very naive and too willing to accept the weird happenings on the island.

The love story for me was kind of obvious and a little bit boring, because it literally seemed like Eight was the only attractive guy on the island and of COURSE he was also partof a founding family and that Barrie had no one else to spend time with.  I really wish that it had been a little bit more explored, but Boone really just threw them together rather than giving them any real obstacles.  It just seemed so easy.

Overall I didn’t hate this book but I didn’t really love it either.  I’m giving it an average rating of 3 Bards.

threebards

Book Review: Stella by Helen Eve

Seventeen-year-old Stella Hamilton is the star blazing at the heart of Temperley High. Leader of the maliciously exclusive elite, she is envied and lusted after in equal measure. And in the Hamilton tradition, she is in the final stage of a six-year campaign to achieve her destiny: love with her equally popular male equivalent, and a triumphant election to Head Girl.

Caitlin Clarke has lived a quietly conformist life in New York City – until, with the collapse of her parents’ marriage, she’s sent across the Atlantic for a strict English boarding school education. As soon as she arrives at Temperley, she learns that the only important rules are the unwritten ones. The upper echelons of her new society are marked not by neat dresses and Kate Middleton hair, but by skinny jeans, cigarettes and scars.  It’s a world of the beautiful and the dangerous, and acceptance means staying on the right side of the most beautiful and dangerous of them all.

As Caitlin’s popularity grows, she discovers that not everyone is happy under Stella’s rule – that it might finally be time for a new order among the Stars and the civilians. Fighting the system, however, means Caitlin must tread the same dark path as Stella, where absolute power and absolute destruction are only a breath away . . .

Release Date: March 25, 2014

I’ve always had a soft spot for dark comedies and Heathers is still one of my favorite movies of all time.  Once I read the synopsis of this novel, it really seemed like it would be a match made in heaven since there are some clear tropes that are in both Heathers and Stella.  (The similarities are not just in the fact that both titles are female names)

Stella Hamilton is a fairly tame, yet still terrifying, reincarnation of Heather Chandler.  She is the lead of the most powerful clique in school, she is admired by all, (or as Heather Chandler says, “Everyone wants me as a friend or a f**k”), and there is at least one very chubby girl that is the focus of a lot of her jokes. (Poor Martha Dumptruck and Hannah)

Oh, and for some reason the place where everyone eats is really important to the hierarchy of the cliques:  Stella and the stars have their special table that is carved with their initials.  The Heathers have their lunch time poll.  It is almost impossible to not see the influence that Heathers and other clique movies (like Mean Girls and Jawbreaker) had on Eve during the construction of this novel.

I’m not complaining about that, because I absolutely adore Heathers.  However, there is just so many similarities that it was hard to view Eve’s novel as something completely stand alone.  There are some slight differences, the inclusion of family issues, a dual point of view, and the fact that it is set at a British boarding school.

And yet, somehow everything goes up in flames in both.  (Am I being metaphorical? Read Stella and watch Heathers to see). In addition, Eve directly quotes Heathers in the novel with “What’s your damage, Heather?”damage

So, while I enjoyed reading this novel, it mostly ended up making me nostalgic to watch Heathers and made me even more excited to see Heathers the musical in NYC when I’m there for BEA.

 

3 Bards.

threebards

 

This novel was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

The Universe Versus Alex WoodsA rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.
But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …
Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

 

JESUS.

My brain hurts.  There was so much information packed into one book that had nothing really to do with the plot at all it was hard to process it.  The book had me hooked from the first thirty pages or so.  I thought it was going to be an awesome read.  To be honest it went downhill from there.  This book reminds me a lot of a John Green book (and we all know how much I dislike his books).  The main character was exceedingly smart to the point of not being relatable to the majority of the population.  The other major problem I had, was quite frankly I got bored with all of the in depth descriptions and explanations about meteorites, epilepsy, astronomy, and brain functions.  It was like reading from a PhD dissertation.

From what I gathered the main plot of the book was the relationship between Alex and Mr. Peterson.  That relationship I liked.  I thought it was sweet. I also somewhat identified with having to care for an older person in your life.  I cried like a baby at the last chapters of the book, but let’s face it, I cry at everything.  So I can’t say that I cried because the writing was particularly good, or that I grew to love the characters.  I was, at best, indifferent towards Alex.  I liked Mr. Peterson better than Alex but he is not someone that will stick with me long term.  I don’t understand what the purpose of Ellie’s character was.  She was not a love interest or a moral compass for Alex.  She was just there. Overall the character development was not great.

There were aspects of the book I did like, but not enough for me to read another book by Gavin Extence.  I also would not recommend this book to friends (unless the like John Green books then I would highly recommend the book).  I thought the beginning was so good and interesting and was so disappointed in the way the rest of the book turned out.

3 Bards

threebards

 

 

Book Review: Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta

 

Seventeen-year-old Cade is a fierce survivor, solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar. Or so she thought. Her world shakes apart when a hologram named Mr. Niven tells her she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan.
Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws—her first friends—on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

 

Yikes what an abrupt start to a book.  I literally had no idea what was happening, where the setting took place, or what year it was supposed to be.  And then I am introduced to this girl (I assume) who has white noise in her head and plays guitar.  At first I wanted to put the book down and pick another to read.  But I kept reading.  And I’m glad I did.  They book turned out to be decent.

 

I thought the story was neat.  The idea of being connected to another person on a cellular level was interesting.  However some of the terminology went over my head but that’s ok.  I liked the supporting characters.  I found the weird romance between Cade and Rennik to be unnecessary, however that might develop into more in subsequent books.  I thought Xan would be more of a romantic contender or that their romance might play a part in the book, since the whole book was centered around finding him.  However that is clearly not the case.  I didn’t find the end to be very good.  I get that there could be potentially more books in the series but it was kind of final for me.  If more books come out I feel no urge to read them.

 

I  think my favorite character was the ship.  She/he seemed to have a better description and personality than some of the main characters.  I don’t want to bash the book too much.  I didn’t hate it, it was a good book.  It is a “give it a chance book”.  So if you find yourself wanting to put it down, keep reading.  It gets better.

 

3 Bards

threebards

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