Book Report: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

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A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Released: May 1999
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Non-fiction, Travel
Pages: 304
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads The Appalachian Trail trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America: majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way; and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).

My Thoughts:
Good gravy! All I really want to say is, “OMG! GO READ THIS BOOK NOW!”. But, that doesn’t really make for an interesting review. Does anyone else find it challenging to write a review for a book that you absolutely loved?

There is no doubt that Bryson is a well-traveled individual, but he seems so out of his element on the Appalachian Trail. This makes for some pretty hilarious stories– his foray into a camping supply store, meeting other foolhardy hikers, his companion (Katz), crossing paths with a moose, and of course bears. If you’re familiar with Bill Bryson’s writing, then you know it’s never short on snark. Sometimes his style of humor can be exhausting, and it can make him seem pretentious. This is not the case in A Walk in the Woods. For every jeering remark he makes, it’s followed up by an anecdote of his own ineptitude. Hiking the Appalachian Trail seems like it was a humbling experience for Bryson.

Bryson’s account of the trail was satisfying enough, but the gem of the book was his discussion of human interaction with nature. The first half of the book, while it focuses on Bryson’s experience of hiking the trail, introduces the reader to the National Park Services. The NPS is a government organization created to preserve nature, though they have been known to single-handedly eradicate entire species of animal or plant. Oops! The second half of the book provides a more in-depth look at the human/nature relationship and on a broader timeline– from the European explorers first trek into the woods to modern-day ghost town made so because of a massive fire that’s been burning in a coal mine since the 1960s . You come away with the feeling that humans, who have always had a fascination with their surroundings, manage to destroy the beauty of nature out of sheer curiosity or their desire for recognition or monetary compensation.

A Walk in the Woods is the fifth book I’ve read by Bill Bryson, and I think it might be my favorite. It’s a perfect balance of everything that is typical of Bryson’s style. It’s equal parts breathtaking, informative, and hilarious. The landscapes he creates with his words makes me want to trek along over 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail myself. Then, he obsesses over bears and hantavirus-carrying mice, which immediately brings me back to reality. I am not a hardy person, and I am better suited to experiencing Mother Nature vicariously through others. Thank goodness for Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.

Read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson if– OMG! JUST GO READ THIS BOOK NOW!

Book Report: Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Dark Parties by Sara Grant
Released: March 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian
Pages: 320
Source: Giveaway hosted by Khy @ Frenetic Reader

From Goodreads Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped since birth. She was born and raised under the Protectosphere, in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies, and xenophobia. A shield “protects” them from the outside world, but also locks the citizens inside. But there’s nothing left on the outside, ever since the world collapsed from violent warfare. Or so the government says…

Neva and her best friend Sanna believe the government is lying and stage a “dark party” to recruit members for their underground rebellion. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she’s ever known, including the people she loves the most.

My Thoughts
Inside the electrified walls of the Protectosphere is a community cut off from the rest of the world. The government says they’re better off because beyond the Protectosphere lies a wasteland. Citizens may notice luxuries like blueberries, chocolate, and new clothes are disappearing, but at least they are alive.

But, are they really living when the government determines what job an individual holds? Or tries to brainwash the youth into reproducing at a younger age to save a dwindling population? Are they really alive when troublemakers are injected with tracking devices? Or worse, when family members and friends suddenly disappear during the night? Only the government knows where to, but to question them might create for you the same fate.

The teens hold Dark Parties to start underground rebellions, to join celibacy pacts, to spray paint anti-government propaganda on city walls. But, when their friends start disappearing, their rebellion fizzles out. Of the youth that attended the Dark Parties, three fighters remain– Neva, Sanna (her friend), and Braydon (Sanna’s boyfriend). Without the support of their peers, the three dig into their government to discover the history of the Protectosphere, and they begin to learn the atrocities their government is capable of.

Dark Parties by Sara Grant could have been a great novel, but like most of the other books I’ve read in 2013, it fell short of amazing. “Decent” and “all right” are more fitting adjectives. Perhaps my opinion would have differed if I hadn’t read two, awesome dystopians prior to Dark Parties. Already, the novel had some pretty big shoes to fill, and I approached reading it with a more critical eye. At first many of the elements of the society in Dark Parties seemed generic, but as I read on, they started to seem similar. Dark Parties by Sara Grant is to Young Adult as The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau is to Middle Grade. I’m not implying Dark Parties is a rip off because there are a few elements unique to its storyline. I am saying that because I’ve experienced a similar story already, Dark Parties failed to excite me. Besides, I liked Lina and Doon better than Neva, Sanna, and Braydon.

Neva, the main character, lacks passion and personality. Her ability to lead a rebellion seems more a result of circumstance than her own drive. Then there is Braydon, the love interest. He’s dating Sanna, Neva’s best friend, but Braydon is trying to become intimate with Neva, too. And Neva falls for it! As I read the story, I kept wondering how Neva could be attracted to a guy, who is two-timing her best friend. Hoes before Bros, amiright? Even worse, Neva is barely remorseful about it. I mean, she keeps saying she feels bad, but she still pursues Braydon. Aside from his teenage infidelity, Braydon lacks a personality, like Neva. (Perhaps they are meant for each other after all.) He’s pseudo-mysterious. He appears to be brooding, but that’s only because he doesn’t have anything valid to offer in a conversation. He does drive a motorcycle though, and everyone knows the ladies find motorcycles sexy or something. Braydon seems to exist merely as a plot device– Neva’s temptation to break her celibacy pact. But, I feel like the author should have given Neva someone more worthwhile and convincing. Sanna is about the only character in the story that is interesting, though at times she seems artificially sweet. Regardless, she has more passion, she has more challenges to overcome, and she has more life-altering decisions to make. Why couldn’t the story have been about Sanna?

While most of the characters lacked substance, the world didn’t. About 16 chapters in, the reader learns the founding fathers of the Protectosphere were xenophobic. The Protectosphere was developed to keep the effects of globalization out– no sharing religion, no sharing language, no sharing culture, no sharing ideas. I think this is an interesting idea given the shrinking world we live in, but I don’t think the idea was explored as well as it could have been. In fact, it caused a few holes in the world building. Earlier in the story, Neva laments over blueberries, which are no longer available in her world. Except, chances are, if she’s living in America or Europe, blueberries probably grow…naturally. Things like coffee and gas for cars still exist in Neva’s world though, and both of these most definitely would have to have been exported from the outside world. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense any irony or hypocrisy here, which makes this aspect of the world seem underdeveloped.

Even though I didn’t find the storyline compelling for the most part, I continued to read because I kept hoping the story would improve. And improve it did. Things took a turn for the better when Neva infiltrates the Women’s Empowerment Center. For the first time, the reader and Neva understand the grotesque and horrible things the government does to its people, its women. Finally,  a fire sparks in Neva; she realizes what she’s fighting for and fighting to get away from. Then, Grant leads us through a series of twists and turns and twists that had me at the edge of my seat. And just when I thought things could get any more satisfying, the last few pages happened. The end. OH MY GOD! I mean, I can’t tell you what happens because spoilers, but trust me when I say the ending was perfect. Unexpected. Thought-provoking. Grant doesn’t wrap up Dark Parties neatly with a nice little bow. As many answers are provided as questions are created in those last few pages. I guess you could say the story ends on a cliffhanger, which I understand is an acquired taste. I’m obviously a huge fan of them. I like it when a little is left up to the imagination, and since this book appears to be a stand-alone, all I will have is my imagination. I loved that the ending of Dark Parties filled me with as much wonder as it did Neva.

Read Dark Parties if you enjoy dystopian novels but haven’t read too many stories that fall into that genre. The character development and world building seemed worn out at times, but Grant’s storytelling shines during the second half of the novel. I’m not even being cheeky when I say the ending of Dark Parties makes it a book worth reading.

Book Report: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful CreaturesBeautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles #1) by Kami Garcia + Margaret Stohl
Released: December 2009
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 563
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

My Thoughts
You guys, why didn’t you tell me how amazing Beautiful Creatures was? Oh wait, You did! I often talk about how book hype usually ruins books for me, but on this rare occasion it didn’t! In my opinion, Beautiful Creatures deserves all the rave reviews it’s received so far.

There is something so satisfying about Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It was the setting that sucked me in first. The fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina reminded me of hot and soggy summers spent in the woods and creek behind my house in northern Georgia. I half expected kudzu to creep and crawl from the pages of my book. Had the transmission in my car not gone kaput a month prior, I may have jumped in to my dodgy Ford Taurus and drove south for the winter. Next, I was immediately preoccupied by the lives of the people in small-town Gatlin. I wanted to stand in line at the corner store sipping sweet tea while nonchalantly listening in to gossips air their neighbor’s dirty laundry.

The characterization in Beautiful Creatures was near perfect. They all came alive almost effortlessly. The southern belles and their jock counterparts were a cause of friction that was written well. The mean girls/jock conflict might be overdone, but Garcia and Stohl’s approach is surprisingly refreshing. Perhaps because it reads more like a small town versus an outsider threatening what is comfortable rather than the mean, preppy girls versus the goth. The Sisters, with their batty ways were hilarious! But Amma, with her crossword obsession and her voodoo superstitions stole the show for me.

If the characters and the setting don’t suck you in, perhaps the point of view will. What a surprise it was to discover that this paranormal romance  was written almost entirely from a male’s point of view. When was the last time you read a book dealing with romantic elements from a guy’s perspective? It’s just not usually done, which makes this book even more outstanding. Ethan is more complicated than some high school horn dog. He struggles with parting himself from the small town mentality that his friends are trying to shove down his throat as he realizes he’s falling for mysterious and eccentric looking Lena. The romance that develops between the two is sweet and so reminiscent of what I remember of high school romances—holding hands and almost-kisses and wondering if you’ve really just fallen in…well, the “l-word”(because who knew saying “love” would be so anxiety inducing even though it’s kind of invigorating?). It’s such a nice break from overly dominant and manly teenage boys and submissive teenage girls.

The supernatural elements were a show-stopper as well. They were just plain, ol’ neat. I mean, we’re talking about controlling elements, shape shifting, seeing time, mind control, healing, and that’s only scratching the surface. But, that’s not all. There is also Amma who wards off bad spirits with voodoo charms and pleases dead ancestors with chicken and whiskey. There is a natural conflict that arises between the casters and Amma just as there is a conflict that arises between all of the mortals in Gatlin and the casters. It makes for some pretty suspenseful moments.

Beautiful Creatures would be perfect except for two issues that I had with the book. First, the book seemed long. I understand that it is long but so are Harry Potter books, and sometimes those don’t seem long enough! I don’t know if it was pacing or if certain events in the middle were dragged out a chapter too many or even if my anticipation for the events at the end made the book seem so long. Regardless, at some point, I lost my reading vigor because it seemed daunting. Now, on the flip side, it seemed like the ending was rushed! And it seemed like a few explanations were made up suddenly at the end to cover holes in logistics. Like, how is Ethan supposed to get from the Library back out the spooky mansion when they’re clear across town from each other? A perfectly rational supernatural explanation is offered even though no mention of such a thing was made when Ethan first visited the library.

Overall,
I LOVED Beautiful Creatures! The setting, the characters, and the point-of-view made the book a refreshing read. Especially in a genre that has exhausted shoddy love interests, vague characterization, and love triangles. Perhaps Beautiful Creatures was a little too satisfying though. I honestly felt Beautiful Creatures would have worked perfectly as a stand-alone novel. It tied things up nicely but left enough to the imagination. So, as much as I loved Beautiful Creatures, I’m not entirely convinced I want to continue on with the series. Conflicting, eh? I’m not sure book two can live up to its predecessor. If I’m way wrong, please tell me in the comments!

Cover Story
I’m not nearly as smitten with the cover as most people seem to be. The bold colors and the font are lovely, but that’s the only striking thing about it. I don’t think I’d be encouraged to pick this book from the shelves (maybe 10 years ago when I was in my goth stage I may have…)

Read this book if you love supernatural stories. Read this book if you like those supernatural stories tinged with forbidden romance. Read this book even if you’re skeptical of supernatural stories tinged with forbidden romance. It’s not like all the others on the market, I swear! Read it!!!

Book Report: If I Tell by Janet Gurtler

If I Tell by Janet GurtlerIf I Tell by Janet Gurtler
Released: October 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 244
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads
“It was like watching a train wreck. I wanted to look away but couldn’t take my eyes off them.”
IF ONLY …If only I hadn’t gone to that party. I never would have seen what I did. Jackson wouldn’t have driven me home. I wouldn’t have started to fall for a guy just out of reform school. I could go back to pretending everything was normal. I wouldn’t be keeping a secret from my mom that could blow our family apart …

My Thoughts
I wanted to love this book. It seemed promising enough. I mean, at it’s bare bones If I Tell was good. The main character, Jasmine, is a bi-racial girl in a white-washed suburb in Washington. If feeling like an outside because of her skin color isn’t bad enough, Jasmine also sees Simon, her mother’s boyfriend, mackin’ on some other girl at a party. (Do people even use the word “macking” anymore?). Jasmine struggles with how to deal with this situation: how will she keep her cool around Simon? He’s been a good friend to her, and he is one of only two black people in Jasmine’s life. She also struggles with how to approach this issue with her mom– if she even should bring it up. Because Jasmine’s mom is pregnant, and Simon is the father.

If I Tell also deals with the issue of postpartum depression, which adds depth to the storyline. Jasmine was born when her mother was a teenager and unprepared to take care of a child on her own. So, Jasmine was raised by her grandparents. Now, Jasmine’s mom has a second chance at being a parent, and all throughout her pregnancy she’s excited by the idea. But after Jasmine’s mom gives birth, the depression settles in. The moment she’s been waiting for for nine months disintegrates. It’s truly heartbreaking.

But…the rest becomes really muddled. I mean, if you’re looking for an “issue book”, If I Tell really fits the bill. Infidelity, racism, and broken families aside, this book also deals with…molestation, alcoholism, homosexuality, AIDS, drugs, psychotic ex-girlfriends, death, uh…and sexual assault. I just felt like all of these issues piled into one book that was a little much for a book that has a little more than 200 pages.

I also didn’t care for the author’s approach to sex. Or maybe it’s really Jasmine’s view of sex, but sometimes it’s hard to separate the two from the message. Most of the time, whenever the topic of sex was brought up, slut-shaming was involved. Even more, the slut in question was an adult very capable of making adult decisions. I don’t know why this character’s sex life was blamed on her troubled past.

Overall,
This book was okay. I think there was a good story here, but all of the other characters’ problems was a distraction.

Cover Story
I think the cover is lovely. I like the colors and I adore the setting. I’m kind of curious if the gal on the cover really is bi-racial though. It would be crummy if the cover was white-washed.

Read this book at your own risk. I’m wondering if there might be too many issues present in this book for even this biggest fan of “issue books”.

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Book Report: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica RothDivergent by Veronica Roth
Released: May 2011
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 487
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Thoughts
For the most part, there are more important things to me than world building. I’d rather get trapped in a character’s mind or a character’s conflict than in their world. I think this is why I struggled with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sometimes there is a perfect balance of world building, adventure, and character development like in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

And then there is Divergent by Veronica Roth, a reading experience for which I struggle to find adequate words to describe it. The world in Divergent is so full of holes and contradictions that it was distracting.

Divergent takes place in Chicago in the future. Readers know this because famous landmarks are name dropped on occasion—the Navy Pier, Lake Michigan, the Hancock Building. If you’re not familiar with Chicago, you’re screwed. Roth doesn’t make it a point to paint you a cityscape. Nothing about the scents and sounds and hustle n’ bustle is mentioned. Even the lack of the aforementioned is not described. I had no concept of how Chicago may have changed due to the dystopian society, and I had no idea how the people actually interacted with the city. It became like a backdrop in a middle school play—poorly painted and only there so the characters can walk in and out of door frames. Chicago was so vague that I didn’t even realize that the train the Dauntless were jumping from was the famed L-Train; I thought they were just your run-of-the-mill freighters that roar through the rest of the Midwest. (This explains why I kept wonder what the big deal was because gunslingers and hobos have been jumping in and out of freight cars since they first invented the dang steam engine).

Then there is the matter of the society that induced MASSIVE amounts of eye rolling.

It’s mentioned in passing that the people grew dissatisfied with war and greed, so they decided to do something about it. This is hardly the cataclysmic event that leads to dystopian societies, but whatever. Chicago in the future is divided into factions based on personality traits: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (…niceness?), Candor (honesty), Erudite (intelligence), and Dauntless (daring). It’s believed that nurturing one of these traits can eliminate all of the injustices in the world. For example, the Abnegation raised their children to be selfless because they thought greed was the downfall of the world. Uh, what? Further, there is this type of person considered Divergent, which means they embody multiple personality traits; it’s dangerous to be Divergent. But…human nature will inevitably kick in, and so most of the people will at some point value multiple and perhaps contradicting traits. It’s evident when the kids choose their factions when they’re 16. One may have been nurtured to be selfless, but desire for knowledge may truly be in their heart, so they abandon their old faction for a new one. Based on this pretty much everyone would be in some sense Divergent.

Also, I should mention that this is all disregarding the Factionless who are such because they chose to or they failed their initiation. Everyone pretty much views them as the scum of the earth. I don’t know why they haven’t started a rebellion yet. Those factions are so bourgeois!

I read somewhere that if you can get past the poor world building, Divergent is a really fun novel. I’m not so sure I agree with that statement. Most of Divergent takes place during the Dauntless initiation. It was like…oh God, 400 pages of boot camp and daredevil stunts. During initiation, potential Dauntless candidates learn how to shoot guns, throw knives, and beat the ever-living stuffing out of each other. Because that’s what real daring people do. Every day is Fight Club when you’re brave. I felt like there was an extreme lack of story line during initiation.

The violence in this book made me uncomfortable. Bloody noses and broken bodies don’t make me squeamish, but lack of remorse surrounding those things does. The Dauntless candidates are cold. The main character, Tris, is cold. And they weren’t even raised or brainwashed to think this way. Tris’s passive past and aggressive present is alarming, and it’s not even because she’s a Divergent. The rest of the other candidates from Candor and Erudite are equally, if not more aggressive. Drawing blood is bravery. Almost killing your friends is bravery. Being able to stand in front of a target while someone throws knives at you is bravery. Really? It’s not like they’re even training to butt-kick enemies; they’re just beating the crap out of each other. Why? What’s the point?

The other half of the story revolved around the “shocking” appearance of the Dauntless. They had tattoos and facial piercings and wore leather jackets. I think the last time this kind of attire was considered shocking was…when? The 1980s? Roth successfully described half of my friends.

More annoying than the world were the characters because they’re all flat and symbolic of their initial faction. You know what they say—once a Candor, always a Candor. (They don’t really say that, I just made it up).  Oh, but really they’re Dauntless. You can tell from their left hooks.

And then there is Tris, who is a walking contradiction—and not because she’s Divergent. One minute she’s all gung-ho about beating someone to near death and ziplining off the Hancock Building because that’s what daring people do. The next, she thinks her bravery actually lies in her Abnegation values, which I think is a valid conclusion.  Then she back tracks during the next chapter when she’s channeling Chuck Norris and repeating her mantra—I am brave. I am Dauntless. My biggest pet peeve is a nitpicky one that revolves around her motives. During the last 40 pages, something interesting actually happens. And during these 40 pages, Tris comes face-to-face with several enemies. Her new-found Dauntless-ness means she should be able to kill them on the spot, but her Abnegation side keeps surfacing. Instead she decides to disable them by shooting out their knee caps. But then, when she’s face-to-face with a friend, she lodges a bullet between his eyes and doesn’t think twice about it. That’s what being Dauntless is all about afterall. But, wait…why couldn’t she just disable this person like she did to all of her enemies? But, it’s okay! Because this will provide conflict for future novels, I’m sure. Tris will have to deal with the regret of taking her friend’s life over her enemies’. LOL Tris, you don’t make any sense.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on Four, Tris’s love interest. He has about as much personality as Molly Ringwald’s character’s love interesting in Pretty in Pink. He treats Tris like garbage in front of the faction because the two have to keep up their appearances. That’s supposed to justify things? How is this not the same, problematic relationship we see time and time again in young adult novels these days?

Overall,
I didn’t like this novel, and I do not understand the hype surrounding it. Goodread choice of the year…really? I won’t be continuing this series. I don’t even want to hit of wikipedia to find out what happens next.

Cover Story
Okay, the cover is pretty freaking neat. I love the symbol and the bold colors. This would definitely catch my eye from the shelves.

Read at your own risk. If you like your action with a side of action, have at it. But, I don’t really feel like I can recommend this book because I didn’t find anything redeeming about it. But, there are loooooads of people who LOVE Divergent. Here is a raving, five-star review. Heck, here is a well-balanced 3-star review.

Book Report: Office Girl by Joe Meno

Office Girl by Joe MenoOffice Girl by Joe Meno
Released: June 2012
Publisher: Akashic Books
Age Group: Adult
Pages: 295
Source: Library

From Goodreads
No one dies in Office Girl. Nobody talks about the international political situation. There is no mention of any economic collapse. Nothing takes place during a World War.

Instead, this novel is about young people doing interesting things in the final moments of the last century. Odile is a lovely twenty-three-year-old art-school dropout, a minor vandal, and a hopeless dreamer. Jack is a twenty-five-year-old shirker who’s most happy capturing the endless noises of the city on his out-of-date tape recorder. Together they decide to start their own art movement in defiance of a contemporary culture made dull by both the tedious and the obvious. Set in February 1999—just before the end of one world and the beginning of another—Office Girl is the story of two people caught between the uncertainty of their futures and the all-too-brief moments of modern life.

Joe Meno’s latest novel also features black-and-white illustrations by renowned artist Cody Hudson and photographs by visionary photographer Todd Baxter.

My Thoughts
It’s easy to write a review about the books that I adore and would encourage every single person in the universe to read. It’s even easier to write a review for a book that I loathe. But the stuff in the middle? The books that were decent but otherwise didn’t conjure up any emotions? Those reviews are the hardest to write. Such is the case with Joe Meno’s Office Girl.

Office Girl is a short novel about a romance that came and went. Most of the stuff in the middle is about Jack and Odile falling for each other while Odile subsequently tries “sticking it to the man” with her art projects. Maybe this is amusing if you’re a fan of guerrilla art, but it left me feeling indifferent. For me, most of the book falls into the realm of mediocrity, though I did find the ending to be redeeming. I don’t mean that in a snarky sense either. I really do mean the ending was perfect. It doesn’t suffer from a case of the rom-coms, where everything is pieced together and wrapped up in a pleasant little bow. It seemed realistic, and despite its bittersweet-ness, it left me feeling positive and fulfilled.

I figured Office Girl was one of those books that has to be read by a certain age so it can resonate with the reader. Kind of like Catcher in the Rye, maybe. And considering I am around the same age as the characters in the book, I figured Office Girl would be the same kind of mind-blowing amazing that was Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned back when I was in high school. Office Girl wasn’t though. Mostly I just found the characters to be kind of annoying and whiny and too angsty to be 24 years old. Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh on Jack. He was actually a pretty interesting character, but Odile was too much of a hipster for me to appreciate. She caused me to suffer eye strain as a result of massive eye rolls.

Overall,
I’m not saying I hated Office Girl. I’m not even saying I disliked the book. I just didn’t think it was as good as some of Meno’s works that I was introduced to prior. Had I not approached Office Girl with expectations, I may have enjoyed it more.

Cover Story
If it didn’t have Joe Meno’s name across the cover, I probably wouldn’t have touched this book. American Apparel would probably use this to wallpaper its store walls. Or screen print it onto flimsy t-shirts…

Read if you’re looking for a short romance to entertain you on the beach or during a flight to some vacation destination. Honestly though, I’d read something else by Meno because Office Girls doesn’t do him justice. Try the Boy Detective Fails, instead.

 

Book Report: Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Punkzilla by Adam RappPunkzilla by Adam Rapp
Released: May 2009
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 244
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads
For a runaway boy who goes by the name “Punkzilla,” kicking a meth habit and a life of petty crime in Portland, Oregon, is a prelude to a mission: reconnecting with his older brother, a gay man dying of cancer in Memphis. Against a backdrop of seedy motels, dicey bus stations, and hitched rides, the desperate fourteen-year-old meets a colorful, sometimes dangerous cast of characters. And in letters to his sibling, he catalogs them all — from an abusive stranger and a ghostly girl to a kind transsexual and an old woman with an oozing eye. The language is raw and revealing, crackling with visceral details and dark humor, yet with each interstate exit Punkzilla’s journey grows more urgent: will he make it to Tennessee in time? This daring novel offers a narrative worthy of Kerouac and a keen insight into the power of chance encounters.

My Thoughts
I’ve put off writing a review for Punkzilla by Adam Rapp because I’m a little intimidated. Punkzilla was given a Printz Honor medal, which means this book is legit. That shouldn’t matter but it does because people who actually know what they’re talking about hold this book high in esteem. What more can I say about it?

Books like Punkzilla send conservative parents in a book-banning tizzy. It touches on drug use, homosexuality, pedophilia, the struggles of transgendered individuals, sex, mental abuse, and death. It’s hard to believe that all of that exists within 200 pages of a young adult novel. None of it is gratuitous, but I’d be lying if I said parts of this book didn’t make me uncomfortable. Sometimes that’s the point though.

The story of Punkzilla is told through a collection of letters. Most of the time, Punkzilla is writing to his dying brother, but letters from Punkzilla’s family are sprinkled throughout. These letters from Punkzilla’s family present a different side to the story or at least provide a richer reading experience. Throughout his letters, Punkzilla’s voice seems genuine. I mean, if you can get over the fact that few thirteen year olds could write that way stylistically, then it seems genuine. He writes like his mind if going a mile a minute from the meth he did the night before. He’s so honest in his letters about all the horrible things he’s done. But what’s even more interesting is, despite his hooligan tendencies, his innocence shines through when he meets various people on his travels. It’s in these instances the reader catches a glimpse at how vulnerable Punkzilla is, and really it’s kind of heartbreaking.

The only letdown in Adam Rapp’s Punkzilla was the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending. Punkzilla’s decisions left me satisfied. But, I thought it ended rather abruptly, like Rapp ran out of steam.

Overall,
I really enjoyed this book, but it left me feeling pretty heavy at the end. I guess that’s a sign of a job well done.

Cover Story
I don’t really care for the version presented in this review. Cracked pavement and some grungy letters wouldn’t encourage me to pick this book off the shelf.

Read this book. But if the issues I mentioned in the review make you squeamish or if vulgar language offends you, approach this book with caution. If you’re a parent, don’t read this book. It will probably want to make you send your kid to military school. Punkzilla’s parents sent him to military school, and look what happened to him.

Book Report: The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

The Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare
Released: August 2010
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 479
Source: Purchased

From Goodreads
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa’s power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm’s length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

My Thoughts
There were two things I liked about The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare– Church, a cat adopted by the Shadowhunters at the end of the book, and Jem (James), one of Tessa’s love interests (supposedly, but more on that later). The rest was mediocre at best if not just downright boring. 479 pages isn’t that long, but 479 pages of The Clockwork Angel took me five months to plow through.

The beginning was interesting enough. I was mildly intrigued by Tessa’s supernatural ability. And I was even more intrigued by the Dark Sisters, their icky lifestyle, and their desire to please this Magister fellow. Who is he? I wanted to know! (I’ll admit, when his identity was revealed, I was pleasantly surprised).  But then, chapters 3 through 20 happened. As much as I wanted to throw the book down like I did with Heart of Darkness, I couldn’t because I spent my hard-earned money on a hardback copy of the book. I kept hoping that there would be some redeeming quality by the end of the book (besides Church, the cat) that would have made it all worthwhile. But, at the end of my reading experience, I was left wishing I could have had my lunch breaks back to spend doing something more interesting…like taking a working lunch to organize my filing cabinets.

First, the pacing is all off in this book. There are maybe one or two interesting and action packed scenes in The Clockwork Angel (ie. where vampires died and stuff), but everything else seemed to drag on for chapters. Anything interesting was but a blip amongst 479 pages of boring and stuffy writing. Just, not a whole lot happened. Really.

I also found it difficult to immerse myself in the world that Clare created. It’s Victorian England with a vaguely steampunk aesthetic, but the title and the cover might suggest otherwise. Don’t be mislead like I was. There were only two things I found remotely steampunk.

  1. The clockwork angel necklace Tessa wears. In all honesty though, you’ll probably forget all about this trinket until the very last chapter of the book. Nevermind that it’s the title of the book.
  2. The automatons. These automatons are jokes though because MAGIC and the full moon bring them to life, not…well, anything remotely mechanical or scientific.

It’s like Clare discovered Steampunk was popular and thus a viable money source, so she adhered some cogs and brass to the pages of her book and called it good. If you have the audacity to try to pass this off as steampunk, at least give us something more. Like zeppelins or something.

Zeppelin LZ 4 or Led Zeppelin. You pick, either will suffice.

Zeppelin LZ 4 or Led Zeppelin. You pick, either will suffice.

I found the characters to be annoying as well (sans Jem and Church, mind you). Tessa was annoyingly prudent and proper, and all she seemed to do was slander England. Will was an asshole, so naturally the female main character pines for him. Jessamine could have been interesting because she seemed like the only character who had a valid internal struggle. Unfortunately, she acted like a spoiled and superficial brat. As for the rest of the characters? I can’t even remember their names. Or their personalities. Or their involvement with the story line! I think the characters in this book were one-dimensional caricatures rather than a character with any sort of depth. I’m pretty sure there was a tinkerer whose experiments always went awry [EDIT: Yes there was. His name was Henry Branwell].

Finally the romance. The Goodreads summary suggests there is some quality, love triangle action going on in The Clockwork Angel. And maybe this is expanded upon in later books. But, I’m not even spoiling the story for you by saying there isn’t one iota of a love triangle going on in this book. That should be a good thing, right? Instead, Tessa pines for Will Herondale, the book’s biggest jerk, and she immediately friendzones Jem. For shame, Tessa! Will has a shady past that he uses as an excuse to put up his guard. He’s just mean to the other characters in the book, especially Tessa. Jem has a shady past to, but he’s open and honest about it with Tessa. And he’s a really kind, caring, and genuine individual. I wonder why the female main characters never fawn over the guy I would. It leads me to believe that some authors have really poor taste in men. Someone, please explain to me what’s so romantic about a jerk who makes you question your worth. Why is this even trendy?

Overall,
I didn’t like the book. And that really sucks because I’m genuinely interested to learn why Will is such a shifty character and what kind of supernatural being is Tessa. Do they have Cliffsnotes for this?

Cover Story
When I read the synopsis of the book, I kind of scrunched my nose up at it. But, then I looked at the cover and convinced myself that a crappy book wouldn’t have a cover as beautiful as this.

Read…at your own risk. I didn’t like this book, but other people do. Take this book review from Truly Bookish– she says the exact opposite of what I do! But, if you’re a fan of the Mortal Instruments series, approach The Infernal Devices with caution. From what I’ve read on Goodreads, there are many people who loved the Mortal Instruments series but hated the Infernal Devices because it was too similar to the series they adored first.

I’m sad that this is my introduction to Cassandra Clare. So many book bloggers, nay readers, out there seem to adore her characters and the world she created. Maybe I just started with the wrong book. Tell me, should I take a chance and give Clare’s Mortal Instrument series a try?

Bite Sized Book Reports

I read these two books back in 2012, but I never got around to writing a review for them. Now, so much time has passed that anything I could come up with wouldn’t do the books justice. I did want to highlight these books though because I think they are still worth sharing.

Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
Released: January 2012
Publisher: Feiwell and Friends
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 390
Won from a giveaway hosted by Fiktshun.
Goodreads

My Thoughts:
Most of the books I purchase end up donated to the library after I’ve read them. But, I do have a selection of books that I’ve held on to for my hypothetical, future children. Cinder by Marissa Meyer is now a part of that selection. It is such an imaginative fairy tale re-telling. I mean, Cinderella is a cyborg. What’s not to like? Plus, the world and characters Meyer creates are rich and vivid. Cinder is the type of book that makes me truly excited to read, which seems more and more like a feat these days. If you’ve not already read the book, go out and buy it now, and read it as soon as you get home. Better yet, see if your mom/dad/sibling/significant other/neighbor/pastor will give you a ride to the store so you can start reading it during the ride home.

The next book in the series, is Scarlet, and the book introduces us to another fairytale inspired character. With a name like Scarlet, I bet you can guess who it is. Needless to say, I’m very excited for the new release, and I want it to be in my possession. Like now, please.

The MockingbirdsThe Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Released: November 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 332
Purchased for my Nook
Goodreads

My Thoughts
I think I didn’t write a review for The Mockingbirds because I couldn’t find the right words for it. The Mockingbirds deals with rape and sexual assault, and it made me feel discomfort in a way that Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Just Listen by Sarah Dessen did not. Not that the book was distasteful– it just seemed all so real the way protagonist Alex Patrick re-lived that night and the way she avoided confronting people following the attack. And what makes matters worse, her attacker’s “boys will be boys” attitude just makes me taste bile.

I only have two concerns with the Mockingbirds. First is Whitney’s execution. I felt like some aspects were redundant. The author seemed to explain how the Mockingbirds worked and the purpose of the vigilante group frequently, like it was a concern that the reader would forget from two chapter prior. I’m also a little weary of the resolution. SPOILER ALERT! I appreciate the idea behind the Mockingbirds, especially since the school’s faculty seems to turn the other cheek to the horrific incidents described in the book. But, I felt like the punishment delivered was the equivalent to a slap on the wrist. Yet Alex was okay with it. It made me angry because I didn’t feel like any justice had been served.

I know the story of the Mockingbirds continues, but I don’t know if I will read on or not. I’m not sure how it could possibly measure up to book one. Then again, maybe Alex will realize she didn’t get the justice she deserved, and maybe she’ll seek out a better resolution. Like with actual legal implications.

Book Report: Timeless by Alexandra Monir

Timeless by Alexandra Monir

Timeless by Alexandra Monir


Timeless
by Alexandra Monir
Released: January 2011
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Sci-Fi? Supernatural?
Pages: 304
Source: Won from Kathy @ I Am a Reader Not a Writer

From Goodreads
When tragedy strikes Michele Windsor’s world, she is forced to uproot her life and move across the country to New York City, to live with the wealthy, aristocratic grandparents she’s never met. In their old Fifth Avenue mansion filled with a century’s worth of family secrets, Michele discovers a diary that hurtles her back in time to the year 1910. There, in the midst of the glamorous Gilded Age, Michele meets the young man with striking blue eyes who has haunted her dreams all her life – a man she always wished was real, but never imagined could actually exist. And she finds herself falling for him, into an otherworldly, time-crossed romance.

Michele is soon leading a double life, struggling to balance her contemporary high school world with her escapes into the past. But when she stumbles upon a terrible discovery, she is propelled on a race through history to save the boy she loves – a quest that will determine the fate of both of their lives.

My Thoughts
Book hype can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it certainly draws attention to a book, and it can help drive sales. On the other hand, the more the book is built up, the farther it has to fall. Such was the case with Timeless by Alexandra Monir. I had high hopes for Timeless. Every review I read about the book seemed to rave about it. But, after I finished the book I was left scratching my head and wondering why. Now wait just a tick! This is already starting to sound like a negative review. I promise you, it’s not really. It’s just one of those books that made me wonder why there was all the hype.

As an individual who loves character development and character driven plot, Timeless left me feeling disappointed. All of the characters in this book read a little generic to me. Michele was alright as a protagonist because she wasn’t annoying, whiny, weak, or any other negative personality trait that really grates my nerves. But, she didn’t really stand out to me either. She wasn’t the kind of character I could relate to or empathize with. Unfortunately, I felt that way about most of the other characters in this book except for Lily, one of the Windsor ancestors Michele meets during a time travel episode. Even though Lily is essentially a caricature of a 1920s flapper girl, I couldn’t help fall in love with her boldness and her sass.

Then there is the issue of the romance. Michele has been having dreams of a handsome boy with astonishing blue eyes all her life. During one of her time travel episodes, she comes across him. This boy! He’s real! His name is Phillip Warren! And then they start a cross-time love affair. I mean that kind of literally since Michele’s presence causes Phillip to break off his engagement with another one of Michele’s ancestors. And then ever since, the Windsors have hated the Warrens. Way to go Michele. You’ve started at century long family feud. Anyway, I digress. I get the feeling that Michele falls in love with the idea of Phillip and not Phillip himself. I understand she’s been having dreams of him forever, but that’s all they really are– dreams. Throughout Michele’s time travel episodes, she probably has only spent literally 2 or 3 days total with Phillip. And yet, she professes her love to him! And he breaks off an engagement! I mean, if ever there were a case of insta-love, it’s present in Timeless. And, the whole time I’m wondering, if 100-year-old Phillip Warren were still alive in Michele’s time, with his wrinkles, grey hair, and liver spots, would she still love him? I mean, that’s the kind of thing you have to take in consideration when time travel is involved!

When Phillip and Michele weren’t professing their love to each other, they were writing and composing songs together. As a music lover, I should have appreciated this, but it just came across as really cheesy. Especially when the song lyrics were included in the book. Song lyrics out of context make me cringe. On the plus side, Alexandra Monir actually had these songs produced, and you can listen to them on her website. In this context, the songs are wonderful! Especially Bring the Colors Back. Monir’s vocals and the jazz band sound really capture the 1920s atmosphere. Unfortunately, this isn’t a review on Monir’s singing abilities.

The final aspect of the book that struck me as problematic was the time travel. Time travel is pretty neat, but I imagine it’s difficult to write about. There seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies in the time travel in Timeless. Michele has no control over her time travel episodes. All we know is that it involves a special key necklace and maybe an old Windsor relic (most of the time). Except for that one time when Michele suddenly hopped back in time when she was watching a Broadway show. Uh wut? But, then Monir tries to go scientific on her readers. One of Michele’s new, smart friends brings up Einstein’s theories of time travel as a way to justify her belief that Michele is actually traveling through time. But, it just doesn’t work for me as a reader. Because there is no scientific basis for Michele’s experience. A key necklace does not even have the physical properties to bend space-time, so don’t try to convince me that it does. Also, there are inconsistencies in the way Michele meddles with the past. At first, she has no problem stealing the heart of her great-great-great aunt’s fiance. But, she’s too afraid to tell her aunt from the 1940s that America wins WWII. She thinks if she spills the beans America will lose the war. Really? Telling one insignificant person that there is hope will ruin the world? But, boyfriend fiance-stealing is okay.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering why I stuck around for 304 pages. I thought the characters were alright, I hated the romance, and I pointed out all the inconsistencies in Monir’s time travel. But honestly, at the end of it all, I simply loved Monir’s writing. The descriptions were beautiful, and I could see the events unfold in my head. Even more, Monir’s accounts of America in the past were stunning. The atmosphere she created and the descriptions of new Ford Model Ts along side horse and carriages just struck a chord in me. It’s so evident that Monir put a lot of time and research into the eras she wrote about, and I whole-heartedly appreciate that as a reader. Also, Monir wrote about the Gilded Age. The only time I’ve read about the Gilded Age was in 10th grade, and I read about it in a school textbook. I found Monir’s inclusion of this time period to be absolutely fascinating!

 Overall,
Due to all of the inconsistencies, this book was mostly a miss for me. But, because of Monir’s beautiful writing and in-depth research I stuck around for the entire book. There were aspects of this book that were lackluster, but then there were aspects of this book that made the book hard to put down. I’m truly conflicted!

Cover Story:
This is quite possible one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen. You can’t really tell from the picture on my blog, but the image continues onto the back, and it’s like it tells a story. Lovely! Truly lovely!

Read if you like books about time travel, but you aren’t a stickler about time travel theory and paradoxes. Read especially if you’re interested in the Gilded Age. If generic characters and insta-love aren’t you’re thing, you might want to approach this book with caution. Then again, maybe not because almost every review I’ve read for this book is a positive review despite that.