October 1

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

I felt…wronged by this book. It started off with so much potential and then it backslid, reverting to already popular story lines to tell the rest of the story, namely Harry Potter and Star Wars. It made the book entirely too predictable for my taste. However, the way this first book is written, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the plot lines established in this book are reneged on later,  “Oh, yeah.  We told you that.  But it wasn’t true.  Surprise!”, which would suck and I really don’t like books that do that to you.

I did enjoy the banter found in the book. However everyone in the story seems to have been blessed with a repertoire of witty comebacks, which is a bit unrealistic but I was willing to let it pass. The action scenes had a lot of potential, but I don’t think they moved along fast enough or had enough tension to really keep my interest.

There were a lot of plot conveniences. Clary’s mother is kidnapped, kept unconscious but otherwise, from what readers are shown, left unharmed. In effect, Clary no longer has an adult she needs to worry about.  The information her mother could have provided her is  revealed until a more dramatic moment. There really weren’t any adults in the book.  One is stuck inside the Institute forever and the Brotherhood does basically nothing. Lupien…I mean Luke (that’s his real name. But he also has similarities to Skywalker and to Snape) “saves” the day after being absent for most of the book.

At one point, Jace takes Clary to a restaurant and they discuss the menu.  “That food is for werewolves, Kelpie, Zombies, vampires, Sirens.”  Honestly what was the point of that scene? As far as I could tell they were naming every mythological creature they could to show they were a part of the world Clare built but some of the creatures listed are so rare, I’m sure not everyone would know what they were talking about and there was no explanation for the creatures they named. So if you didn’t know what a Kelpie was, well, look it up.

A lot of Clare’s similes and metaphors are awful.

“Leaving the Institute was like climbing into a wet, hot canvas bag.”

Um.  How does one fit into a canvas bag, wet or otherwise?

“Her face felt like one big bruise, her arms, aching and stinging, like raw meat.”

I think there would be a lot more vegetarians out there if raw meat stung upon contact.  I could be wrong, however.

Clary is whiny and, other than complaining and getting mad at other people, doesn’t seem to do much. She does manage to find the cup everyone is looking for but that doesn’t help her case much as it was a small thing. She does punch and hurt a few people, but considering they were all on her side can’t really be attributed to her doing something in the book. She got credit for killing a demon but a frightened two year-old could have done what she did. So apparently ravener demons aren’t that hard to kill.

Very few of my friends would find value in reading City of Bones. It’s very much an introductory novel that could have been significantly trimmed down and a little less Star Wars-esque. If I read any of the sequels to this book, it’ll be because I’m hoping the storyline gets better. However, if you don’t mind a do-nothing-female protagonist and a predictable storyline it may have some entertainment value.

September 23

End of Semester is Coming

So some of you may already be aware that I am working on my last packet for this semester.  I won’t be able to attend school for the fall semester, which starts in November.  However, I plan to attend the next spring semester–late May.  By all appearances, second semester students are strongly encouraged to try a different focus for a full semester.  So, instead of taking in YA next semester, try memoir, poetry, screenplay, playwright, adult….  I’m leaning toward Screenplay.  I’ve just heard a lot of great things about that program and it would be different from what I currently write.  I think Adult writing would be too much like YA for it to show me a different way of writing in a significant way.  So I thought I’d ask readers to recommend books or screenplays to me.  Partially so I can keep posting reviews on this blog.

Any genre will do, though I would prefer YA novels for books.  And I have no idea what I’d want Screenplay-wise so I leave that to readers to suggest.

Also, I know, I owe a book review on City of Bones still and two more critical reviews.  Those will be coming shortly!

September 15

Tenderness by Robert Cormier

Eighteen-year-old Eric has just been released from juvenile detention for murdering his mother and stepfather. Now he’s looking for some tenderness—tenderness he finds in caressing and killing beautiful girls. Fifteen-year-old Lori has run away from home again. Emotionally naive but sexually precocious, she is also looking for tenderness—tenderness she finds in Eric. Will Lori and Eric be each other’s salvation or destruction?

This was an interesting book. I was expecting this story to go down a different route, to have a different focus than it proved to have but it was still an enjoyable read.

Both protagonists in this book are anti-heroes, and anti-heroes, especially female anti-heroes are extremely rare no matter the genre. For that alone this book is worth a quick read.. But structurally, there are several reasons to do so. I had twenty pages left to read of  Tenderness when I realized that the book switched between third and first person throughout the entire novel, which is something I normally notice immediately. But it never jarred me making the switch between the different personages.

This book however did not sit well with me in several ways.  Both Lori and Eric felt older than they were in the book. I would have believed Lori closer to 17. Eric felt more in his 20s. However, the plot wouldn’t have worked with the characters those ages.  Once you read the book you’ll know why. I don’t want to spoil anything.  But…I don’t know, it rubbed me wrong.

Other than that, I really didn’t have any issues with the book.  It was a bit on the dry side for me.  And it will probably never be a book that I have on my must keep shelf.  But it kept my interest the entire way through, which is always a good sign.  I would recommend this book more for the structure and the story than the entertainment value.  But that’s my taste.  I know some of my friends will completely and utterly love this book.

 

September 14

Holes: A Critical Review

No Holes in Emotional Arc
Louis Sachar’s Holes is about fifteen-year-old Stanley Yelnats, who is falsely accused and charged with theft. He is sent to Camp Green Lake instead of a Juvenile detention center where he endures and survives inhumane conditions. Sachar gives Stanley a strong, and believable emotional arc through the entire story.

When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake he is overweight, he has no friends and no self-confidence. He’s miserable at this term of his life and at the circumstances that brought him to Camp Green Lake.  Despite his emotional dislike of himself, Stanley does still feel sympathy for the guard and bus driver that took him to Camp Green Lake, which is conveyed after the guard grumbles about the return drive: “Stanley thought about the long, miserable bus ride and felt a little sorry for the guard and the bus driver (13).”

However Camp Green Lake is hard on Stanley.  Digging Holes in desert heat, Stanley begins to grow physically stronger, and loses weight. His body, like his personality,  begins to harden due to the harsh conditions of Camp Green Lake.  This is perhaps best demonstrated when Zero, another camper, admits he can’t read or write and would like Stanley to teach him.  Stanley’s reaction is unsympathetic and unkind:

After digging all day, he didn’t have the strength to try to teach Zero to read and write. He needed to save his energy for the people who counted.

“You don’t have to teach me to write,” said Zero.  “Just to read.  I don’t have anybody to write to.”
“Sorry,” Stanley said again. (82)

Later, Stanley gets in trouble when one of his fellow campers steals a burlap sack of sunflower seeds.  Stanley takes the blame for it and is sent to the Warden’s for the theft.  When he returns to finish digging his hole, he finds that someone has nearly finished digging his hole for him. He realizes that Zero, who hadn’t been involved in the theft, had done the work for him. Zero’s act soften’s Stanley toward him. He agrees to teach Zero how to read. From this point on Zero and Stanley begin to grow as friends.

The hardness Stanley developed earlier does not completely disappear though.  It’s just changed into a different kind of hardness–he becomes less sensitive, more confident in himself and as a result, willing to stand up for himself and others. On page 138, the Warden tells Stanley that he can no longer teach Zero how to read. Instead of accepting this as he would have at the beginning of the book.  He stands up to the Warden.  “‘Why can’t I dig my own hole, but still teach Zero to read?'” he asked.  “What’s wrong with that?” (139)

Thus completes the emotional arc of the story. Stanley starts at an emotional low at the beginning and concludes the arc as a strong, confident and emotionally empathetic guy.

September 12

Girl Meets Boy: Critical Review

Please note: This is a critical review.  A overall review will not be provided for this book.

No Clue, Aka Sean by Rita Williams-Garcia is the companion piece of Sean + Raffina by Terry Trueman and vice versa.  Through these two short stories, readers can see the point of view of the boy and girl as they try to start a romantic relationship. In a few short pages each, Williams-Garcia and Trueman reveal a lot of information through voice.

According to Julie Wildhaber, “Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work.” Voice is often conveyed from a mixture of things, namely word choice and sentence structure. Williams-Garcia and Trueman have developed very different voices. Even though the narrators are talking mainly about the other person, reveal a lot of information about the narrators.

In two paragraphs we know that Raffina is a confident, black teenage girl who is perhaps a bit aggravated with her love interest:

What a bug-out. Here I am watching you pretending not to watch me.  I’m not turned off by shy, but shy will get you sitting by your lonesome. Shy will get you watching from the sidelines while I’m stepping out with some other guy.  Come on, Sean.  Let’s get in the game.  Say those two words as only you can say them: Hey, Raffina.

I have to admit the whole shy thing is part of the appeal.  Sean’s a complete switch from what I’m used to dealing with.  A girl can’t eat a hoagie in the caf without some playa rolling up, trying to get those digits. Now that’s a turnoff.  Guys assuming too much, too soon.  It’s not just because I’m fine–which I am, but because I’m Gary’s sister.  The Highlander Hero. Holds the state record for the most triple doubles in a season.  Scores thirty-two points on a slow day. So you know what that means.  Everybody’s scouting. Recruiting. Rubbing up on him, trying to get to know him.  Yeah. Even if they have to go through me to be in with Gary. The guys want to part of the entourage.  The chicks want to be the girl in the prom picture when ESPN takes a look back on the life of Gary Frazier. (p. 103)

Outside of what Raffina actually tells us, we learn a lot by how the narrator speaks, thinks and the vocabulary she uses. Words like “bug-out”, “stepping out”, “caf”, and playa” all let us know she’s a teenager.  Lines like Come on, Sean, lets readers know of Raffina’s discontent with Sean. There is also a rhythm to the words that mimic the African-American cadence.

With Sean we get a totally different voice. In two paragraphs we have the same affect, learning more about the characters than they are actually saying through voice:

Her name is Raffina, pronounced “ruff-eena.” I’m not even sure I’m spelling it right.  Maybe it’s spelled Ruffina, but I don’t so.  I glanced at a homework assignment she turned in for Human Relations 2, and I’m pretty sure it was an a not a u.  Whatever, it doesn’t matter what her name is, or how she spells it anyway–what matters is that I wanna hit on her, and I’m not sure if I should or how to even start.

She’ll be the first girl I’ve tried to ask on a date since I got TKO’d in the seventh grade.  That’s if I ask her.  I’m not sure about that yet.  If you’d been coldcocked by a petite blonde when you were thirteen, you might hesitate to think of yourself as God’s great-red-hot-lover-boy gift to girls too.  I owe my nondating history to Debra Quarantino. (p. a111)

The reference to homework and the slang, like “wanna hit on her” and “TKO’d”, let us know that Sean is also a teenager. The minimum rhythm to the sentences makes it read like a caucasian is the speaker in this one.  He isn’t as aggressive as Raffina comes across, nor aggravated with his love interest.  He just seems, as Raffina accuses him of in her story “shy.” 

With the help of word choice and sentence structure, Rita Williams-Garcia and Terry Trueman create voices that convey a lot of information by letting the narrators’ voice speak louder than their words.

Works Cited

Crutcher, Chris, Joseph Bruchac, James Howe, Ellen Wittlinger, Rita Williams-Garcia, Terry Trueman, Terry Davis, Rebecca Fjelland Davis, Sara Ryan, and Randy Powell. Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story. Ed. Kelly Milner Halls. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 2012. Print.

Wildhaber, Julie. “Understanding Voice and Tone in Writing.” Web log post. Grammar Girl :. N.p., 1 July 2010. Web. 09 Sept. 2012. .

August 22

Holes by Louis Sachar Review

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.

I remember that Holes was popular when I was a teenager but it just didn’t interest me enough to try to read it at the time. Left to my own devices, I still probably wouldn’t have picked it up for myself.  Surprisingly the story has a lot of elements to it that I’ve always enjoyed–magic, friendship, a historical timeline–at least part of the time, and society values and perspectives, mixed in a modern, realistic world, or what was modern when the book was published. I am a multi-genre lover after all.

Their weren’t really any surprises anywhere in this book for me. But I can’t say whether or not all of it was because I picked up on the clues, I’m too old for the book, or because I have very vague memories of listening to six or seven book reports on the book as a child.

Stanley is an interesting character–not something I normally ran into at that age. He’s heavy and tall, which gave him the nickname of “Caveman” while at Camp Green Lake. However he is bullied in school, and by a kid smaller than him…a fact that confuses his teachers. He starts with low confidence but slowly finds his voice and who he is at Camp Green Lake, despite the degrading circumstances he finds himself in. It’s a coming of age story that feels realistic. Some of the stuff stretched the coincidental line.  I would rather have seen Stanley or Zero somehow get out of the mess with the warden and the lizards instead of having both of them saved by a patent lawyer. But, I believe, in the end every character got what they deserved.

The book was a quick read and something I would recommend reading, especially to those around ten or eleven years old.

August 22

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff Review

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

I’m going to open by saying I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. It’s short and a quick read. Despite the unconventional writing style, I was interested in the story. I think the main thing that bothered me about this book was the consensual incestuous relationship in the book. The sex wasn’t my problem. I just would have preferred the couple to not have been related–and no matter what the authors suggests, both characters were old enough to know their intimate relationship should be avoided.

The book doesn’t focus on the relationship the teens are involved in, that’s just one element in the story. Daisy is, probably what is considered, an anorexic. The kids are forced to survive on their own. The main focus was the war and how it affected the lives of all those involved. It’s told in Daisy’s point of view, so you only find out what happens to some of the characters at the end of the book. Everyone starves, and everyone has to find their own coping mechanisms to survive the war–even after the war ends.

This book could have been more powerful. But it was an interesting mix of what past wars were like, coupled with what those wars would be like in modern times. It was an interesting world that Rosoff created. I read through it all quickly, compelled to learn more to see what happened next, but I wanted it to be more. And I think why it didn’t have the impact it could have was because Rosoff was trying to address too many issues at once–living alone without parents, incest, starvation, anorexia, family relationships, death, war and terrorism. That’s a lot to chew.

August 15

Packet 4 plans

I’ll be turning in everything for packet three later today. The critical essays are difficult for me to write, mainly because I have problems picking out the elements. I’ll get stuck on one thing, whether it actually qualifies for what my essays need to be or not, and have a hard time looking for something else that would fit the assignment better.  I think I did a fairly good job with this packet’s critical essays and I’m hoping my next essays for packet four will be a little easier.

For packet four I’ll be reading   Holes by Louis Sachar and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I trust the people who recommended them to me and looking forward to reading them, though they probably aren’t books I would have picked up on my own.

Have you read either of these books?  What do you think?  Is there something the authors did particularly well with the books?  Or something in particular you want me or recommend I focus on as I read through it, like dialogue, description, characterization, time, etc.?  I may write about it when I’m done reading.

August 5

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

I thought, pacing-wise, that Catching Fire was better than Hunger Games.  If I hadn’t been told how good Hunger Games is, I would have stopped reading half-way through the first chapter.  I couldn’t get into it. And even once the plot started, I kept wanting to put it down.  I was interested in it enough that I kept reading, but their were a lot of areas where I just put it down and let it sit for a day or two before going back to it.  Also, with Hunger Games I wasn’t too worried about completing the series. It was a good book, but not good enough for me to want to spend money on its sequels. I had none of those issues with Catching Fire.

Catching Fire was hard for me to put down.  The pacing was faster.  The stakes higher and I was more invested in the characters, the outcome and the story. Katniss had some tough decisions to make and obviously some of those decisions resulted in devastating consequences.

However, that is not to say Catching Fire is without its flaws. I did find Catching Fire on the predictable side, which ruined some of the story for me. I wish Collins could have left out some of the major clues that let me know how the book would end.  However, I’m not sure how she would have managed to do that.  I also thought this Game Field setup was kind of…meh.  Once the characters figured out what was going on, they had no real problem getting around the Field, which took some of the tension away. Collins did compensate for the lack of physical danger with more emotional danger though. But if the characters hadn’t figured out what the arena was and had the emotional danger element to it, I think the book would have been much better.

The ending sucked. It’s not because it was a cliffhanger, guaranteeing more people would buy the next book.  But it felt… convenient. Katniss has been threatened by the Capitol, her family has been threatened.  We get warnings of that.  But their didn’t seem to be enough of a warning for what happened at the end of the book. I wanted more of a buildup. Perhaps the theory would be raised by one of the characters.  I don’t know something more before the event.

The ending worked.  But I felt kind of played at the end of the book.

Pick it up. Read it.  It is the middle-child of books. So it’s good. But it’s obviously something meant to connect book one to book three with a lot of backtracking and character development, etc. etc.  I mean was the Victory Tour even required? It set some things up beautifully, but other than that set-up it didn’t do much. We could have learned about the revolts through characters in the arena, news stories, more threats, etc.

July 30

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke Review

Meggie’s father Mo has an interesting talent: when he reads aloud, things, and sometimes people, come out of their stories and into the real world! But now the evil Capricorn wants to use Mo’s talents to bring himself great wealth and power. Then Meggie discovers that maybe Mo isn’t the only one who can read things to life. 

I saw the movie long before I saw the book.  Usually that isn’t a problem for me. The books and movies are often significantly different from each other.  And their different enough where I can see the similarities but feel like I’m reading/watching something completely different. While reading this book, I kept thinking of the movie and how the movie did it better. The plot and characters are overall the same, but the movie tightened everything, made everything happen faster, kept my interest more, much more.

The book has its good things. It breaks some YA conventions.  In a lot of YA/Middle Grade books the parents are vague, dead or don’t make an appearance in the novel. In Inkheart, the Father, Mo, is not only a major player in the book but he’s the reason Meggie goes on the adventure she does. Not everyone in the book gets a happy ending.  Some do, some are left wandering the world, looking for their happily ever after. The story does combine different stories and characters into Funke’s own fictional world.

Their are a lot of cliches though. The main characters are, obviously, book worms.  Their are the imbecile bad guys and the bad guy who everyone seems to fear but he never seems to actually do anything to be worthy of the fear.  He orders everyone to do his crimes for him but other than hoarding money and wanting people to fear him, he doesn’t seem to have anything remarkable or scary about him.

The concept of the story is great but it was poorly executed.  Funke pushes and pushes and pushes the fact that Meggie, Mo and Elinore are book lovers. She makes several references to books, some I’ve read, some I haven’t. And if I hadn’t read the book I was sometimes confused as to the reference and how it related to the book.  I can’t really think of single character arc in the story. The characters simply don’t seem to change from start to end. As soon as the great bad is over, they all return to their old ways, even Dustfingers, who had the most potential at having the greatest arc.

Despite the lack of character arc, the characters were interesting.  As a bibliophile, I felt an affinity for the three main leads. They all showed the love of books/stories in different ways. Though that was all they seemed to think about outside of surviving and each other. Meggie, never mentioned friends or games she liked to play, unless the game was somehow related to a book. Dustfingers was probably the most interesting of the characters.  He earns money with fire tricks–eating fire, dancing with fire, etc.–has his charm, is quick both on his feet and in mind, he has a tame marten.
However, the book was so slow, and repetitive that the book could have been cut in half, or half of a half–kept all the important parts of the story and been so much stronger and compelling. I’m not sure if the way the book read was because of a Anthea Bell’s translation or if Funke really read it so it was as repetitive as it came across. An example of the redundancy could be found on the very first page:

“Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.  Many years later, Meggie had only to close her eyes and she could still hear it, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane.  A dog barked somewhere in the darkness and however often she tossed and turned Meggie couldn’t get to sleep.

“The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages.”

Two pargraphs later we read this:

“That night–when so much began and so many things changed forever–Meggie had one of her favorite books under her pillow, and since the rain wouldn’t let her sleep she sat up, rubbed the drowsiness from her eyes and took it out.”

One mention of the rain and the book under Meggie’s pillow is all that is required.  We don’t need to be beat over the head with the details.  However, it felt like every detail of the story was repeated, two or three times.  Sometimes more. And usually the details are told in the same irrelevant way. Funke also uses a lot of the same similes and metaphors throughout the book.  As if she simply cut and paste them and didn’t bother thinking of something better or more relevant to what she was describing.

Other times I think she trusted that her story was riveting, so hard to put down that she could linger on things of no importance. She overestimated the books hold on me.  I was well-aware of the entire chapter she spent on Meggie reading for example.  We were told about how the sun fell through the window, and the positions she moved in when she grew stiff and tired from being in one position too long.  Her father is doing things. She knows he is and that she doesn’t want her to know what he’s planning.  So, she reads.  She doesn’t spy or anything that might make that time more interesting. Meggie reads and instead of simply glossing over this fact with a “few hours later”  or “the next day” and moving onto the next scene. We’re forced to read through the entire scene.  By the end of that chapter I was certain a whole day had passed in the real world, because I was so bored.

Get on with it!

Eventually she did, but with that continued snail’s pace.

The closer to the end we got the faster the book seemed to move.  The last 130 pages or so started getting my attention.  I do like the book ends. I think it sets up the sequel well. Though I have not read Inkspell, I glanced at the first two pages of it via Amazon.com and it immediately sounds better than Inkheart did in it’s first two pages. Because of that, I might try reading Inkspell.  But Inkheart, the copy I got, does not make me want to read the sequel as it is.

I recommend this book to those who can much more easily read past the slow pacing, and redundancies. If you are not one of those people but would like a decent idea of what the book is about, I would suggest the movie. It’s better than the book and the overall story is similar.  The movie is faster-paced, tighter and more compelling.  It doesn’t stay directly with the book, for example, in the book Meggie reads Tinker Bell out.  In the movie, she reads Toto from the Wizard of Oz out. But it is close.

Have you read Inkheart? Was it a different version than what I read?  What did you think?