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Friday, September 30, 2011

Review for The Scorpio Races

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by Maggie Stiefvater
Published October 18 2011 
Published by Scholastic
Strangemore Rating: 2 stars


From Amazon: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Shiver and Linger comes a brand new, heart-stopping novel.
With her trademark lyricism, Maggie Stiefvater turns to a new world, where a pair are swept up in a daring, dangerous race across a cliff--with more than just their lives at stake should they lose.

This is basically the paranormal version of Misty of Chincatigue with (gasp!) romance!

Like Hidalgo, on the beach instead of the desert with (gasp!) kissing! Between two riders! NOT between the horse and it's rider though. Well... sometimes between the horse and it's rider. Just a little.

When this book started, it felt like a breath of fresh sea air, not rife with the smell of YA cliche. That was mainly because I thought this book was told from the alternating perspective of two boys, Sean and Puck, which would have been a nice change for Steifvater. Maybe I was in the mood for a buddy story or a brother story, instead of the usual stereotypical romance. But it wasn't meant to be, you see, because Puck is a SHE and not a he. (Sorry, my inner Dr Suess came out for a second.)

Not that this is a spoiler or anything, as it it mentioned fairly quickly. It was just something my mind was set against. I wanted Puck to be a boy. I'm tired of the "here's a girl who does this and here's a boy who does that, hmmmm, I wonder when and how they'll meet and, gee, wouldn't it be weird if they fell in love, because, oh boy, we've never seen THAT happen before."

The Rundown

I understand now why the blurb is so impossibly vague. This is a difficult book to sum up.

Two individuals, Sean and Puck, are preparing separately for the annual Scorpio Races (where the dangerous water horses of Thisby face off against each other with their riders and generally lots of bloodshed) until their lives eventually collide into each other. Sean is the typical Thisby teen boy who just so happens to compete every year in the races. Puck is a young girl having some family issues, in particular with her brother's desire to leave the family home and the island that they live on, and she thinks that competing in the Races will force her brother to stick around. But Puck decides to race her regular horse against the blood-thirsty water horses, which cause quite a stir and tons of problems. And that's just the beginning.

The Writing and World-Building

If there was one word to describe this book, it would definitely be "atmospheric." The descriptions were gorgeous, but the location for the book is more than a little mind boggling. It seems to be a created fantasy island located in Ireland? I think. The term they use for the water horses is a Gaelic term but it takes place on a fictional island, I guess? The specifics are never really laid out about where or what or when this "Thisby" is.

Many reviewers raised concerns about the lack of world-building in the Maggie's Wolves of Mercy Falls series. That being said, I feel like she almost went in the opposite direction with way too much world-building, including tiny details about minor characters, and it honestly wasn't very interesting to me. The characters all had their own quirks and backgrounds, but we were told too much and too often about them. More than was necessary.

However, the world that she built around The Scorpio Races was much better than the world of Mercy Falls. The prose isn't quite as purple and the romance isn't nearly as cheddar. I'd say it's more like a magenta colby jack. It was just a very bland and tasteless magenta colby jack.

The Pacing

Pacing was my biggest problem with The Scorpio Races. It takes at least 100 pages or so before anything remotely interesting happens. Usually by then, I would have put a book down not knowing whether or not I would pick it back up, but because this is an upcoming release, I felt like I needed to keep going. In addition, because of the way the environments are described and the action builds slowly, a certain intrigue simmers in your mind and drives you forward regardless of the slow start. But I'm not entirely sure that the pay-off was worth the anticipation.

Around page 380, the seemingly fabled races begin. Now that would have been a great place to start the book! Because up until that point almost NOTHING had happened. It was all setup. I'm sorry, but I do not need three hundred and eighty pages of setup. Even if it has pretty words and HORSES!!!

Because by the time that part finally came around and I thought, "Now this could be interesting," -- it was much too late. I was looooong past mentally checked out and had become disinvested and disinterested.

This might come off rude, but this is the best way I know how too explain what it seems like has happened.

You know when a little girl first discovers the way her skirt twirls when she spins? It's cute, right?! You're like, "Oh, isn't that precious. She's twirling." But then it's two weeks later and she's STILL twirling like the world won't be able to turn itself if she stops, you're like "Okay, we get it! You can twirl" But you can't say that because then you're just being an asshole for ruining a little girl's "twirl time."

Well, Maggie Steifvater can twirl... and whirl... and swirl... and canter... and whinny. It just seems like the author discovered for the first time "Wow, I can write pretty prose. Let's throw some more of that in there."

Don't get me wrong: It is pretty. But holy well of words, do we need SO much of it?

The Scorpio Races don't actually happen until the last 20 or 30 pages of the book, and even then, the actual Races only last about 12 pages, the rest is aftermath. For a book that's 410 pages long, that is not a good chunk of the content. Only about 3 percent of it, in fact. Maybe it should have been titled "The 380 pages leading up to the Scorpio races".

I mean, sure, Hunger Games had some setup as well. But it would have been an entirely different book had the Games only lasted 12 pages.

Who Should or Should Not Read It

I wouldn't read this book again. And I wouldn't recommend it for a lot of people. But I think a lot of people will read it anyway.

Here's why:
1) It is written by Maggie Stiefvater.
2) It is a paranormal written by Maggie Stiefvater.
3) It is a paranormal written by Maggie Stiefvater about HORSES! HORSES! HORSES! HORSES! HORSES! HORSES!
254) It is a standalone. (Finally!)

If you hated Shiver, then you'll probably hate this one as well. If you loved Shiver, then you might love this one.

Right around the time that the Black Beauty movie with Chris O'Donnell came out, I went through horse phase like many young girls probably do. But I got over it and I think I'm still over it, which might be why I didn't love this book. I also went through a dog phase, Old Yeller, Rin Tin Tin, Turner and Hooch, except that I never grew out of it and never will.

I think Horse People will love this book. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between liking horses and being a Horse Person. I like horses. They are pretty and I like to imagine them with horns or wings or gills, but my thoughts don't revolve around them. I am a Dog Person.

I've heard people say that horses are like really big dogs, but I think that those people are just Horse People trying to convince you to be a Horse Person. When really, it's like comparing Chihuahuas to Labradors. Some people say that small dogs and big dogs are the same. They aren't. Not even close. Usually, those who say that are Small Dog People trying to convince you to be a Small Dog Person. This isn't to say that any of them are better or worse than the other, they are just different. I am a Big Dog person, not a Horse Person, not a Small Dog Person.

If this had been about magical sea-faring German Shepherds, I would have LOVED it.... probably.

Other Thoughts

The one thing I really like about what Maggie did with this book, though the same may not be said for Shiver, is that she didn't follow the pack with The Scorpio Races. After the vampire-werewolf craze hit and SMeyer announced on her website that she was writing a mermaid book, strangely, we saw a surge in the number of mermaid based books on the market, many of a questionable quality due to the fact that they were most likely rushed onto the shelves. Maggie didn't go with the surge but she didn't go against it either. She went along side it by creating her own mythology similar to many ocean based tales. It wouldn't be surprising if we see a rise in ocean based mythology books after The Scorpio Races.

Although the pacing is slower and the story not quite as involving as Shiver, this book still seems to be a step in a better direction (albeit almost too far a step) for Maggie. The world-building is much more fully realized and detailed than that of Shiver and the storyline isn't purely romance based, which leads me to think that maybe, just maybe, authors do pay attention to reviewers complaints. Maybe she just decided to put more time into her world-building on her own, or maybe, hopefully, we are having some minuscule effect on how the book world evolves. And that makes me very VERY happy.

The Verdict

The Wolves of Mercy Falls was just a little too soft for me and the Scorpio Races was just a little too hard, so maybe by the time the next book comes around from Ms Stiefavter, that one will be juuuuust right for this little goldilocks.

I'm giving it two stars because it was written well, just badly paced and plotted, in my opinion. The pretty words weren't enough to make up for the boredom. And unfortunately, I never connected to the characters or the romance between them.

The thing that frustrates me the most about books is when feel like I didn't learn anything. I don't really mind not being entertained if I take something away from it that I had never thought about before. But I at least want one or the other.

If you aren't going to entertain me, then teach me something. If you aren't going to teach me something, then by George Washington, at least ENTERTAIN me!! I'm very sorry to say that this book did neither. But that isn't to say that you will feel the same.

Personally, I didn't love it. I don't think I even liked it, but it wasn't terribly written; it wasn't too terribly involving either.

Meh. That's my word for this book. Or rather more like -

MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAH.



Yeah, I just whinnied. Whatcha gonna do about it, huh?
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review for Anna and the French Kiss

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by Stephanie Perkins
Published December 2nd 2010 
Published by Dutton
Strangemore Rating: 5 stars


Anna is not happy about spending senior year at a Paris boarding school, away from her Atlanta home, best friend Bridgette, and crush Toph. Adapting isn’t easy, but she soon finds friends and starts enjoying French life, especially its many cinemas; she is an aspiring film critic. Complications arise, though, when she develops feelings for cute—and taken—classmate Etienne, even though she remains interested in Toph. Her return home for the holidays brings both surprises, betrayals, unexpected support, and a new perspective on what matters in life—and love. Featuring vivid descriptions of Parisian culture and places, and a cast of diverse, multifaceted characters, including adults, this lively title incorporates plenty of issues that will resonate with teens, from mean girls to the quest for confidence and the complexities of relationships in all their forms. Despite its length and predictable crossed-signal plot twists, Perkins’ debut, narrated in Anna’s likable, introspective voice, is an absorbing and enjoyable read that highlights how home can refer to someone, not just somewhere. Grades 9-12. --Shelle Rosenfeld

Holy St Clair, hypothetical Batman!

This book put me in a whole new state of consciousness. It put me in the life of Anna. It took me straight to Paris and I never looked back.

When I get desperately into the groove of a book, I literally (okay, fine, figuratively) transform into a hermit crab.

I curl up so tight in the shell of my blanket in that special nook carved out in my chair, so tight that everything else melts away. It's just me and the blanket and the book. Just me and my shell. The world blurs and every word on the page comes more into focus than anything around me. It is the ultimate escape. The ultimate getaway. However, I have to make sure that I have everything I might need somewhere close by, because if I can't reach it while I'm in my shell, then I don't get it.

This is exactly the kind of book that I would consider peeing in a cup for (not that I did that or anything, just sayin'). It's really THAT addictive.

The Rundown

The synopsis of this book is fairly straight forward. Girl goes to boarding school in the City of Love and falls for a charming guy and he just so happens to be the last guy she should have fallen for. Dramarama and hilarity ensue.

While this is a fairly PG or PG-13 book, the tension between the two main characters is palpable. I used to think that true tension, capable of thickening the air around you, required a book series to develop properly. I didn't think it could be done within a standalone book. I was so, so wrong.

The Writing

This book is..... Cutesy. Everything Anna does and says is adorable. If that kind of thing bothers you, then it might not be for you. While I can often be Captain Sarcastic, I am also the cornball capital of America. So the cheese in this book didn't bother me at all.

Really, it's a total cheesefest. Oh, and it's also very ANGSTY with a capital everything. But in the best way.

This woman completely nails EVERY aspect of having a teenage crush. How the littlest detail can spark an intense puppy love. The awkwardness of being so close to someone you want to JUMP but can't. They way your heart races at the slightest touch, be it the brush of a hand or the nudge of a foot.

Pretty much: she's amazing. I would read the Bible, Book of Mormon and the Quran all in one day if they were written by Stephanie Perkins.

PS, Stephanie - Callipygian is my favorite new word.

The Characters

Don't EVEN get me started on our love interest, Etienne St Clair. Sigh.

But Anna, oh Anna. With your raisin-sized tooth gap and your skunk-striped hair. Wait a tic... Oh my GOD. I'm freaking out. Anna from Anna and the French Kiss is totally ROGUE. Wow.



Let's see:
The gap between the front teeth? Check.
Brunette with a white streak? Check.
Can't hook up with the guy she wants to hook up with? Check. Granted it's for different reasons than the fact that she might kill him. Still.

And guess what the name of the actress who plays Rogue is. That's right. AN-freaking-NA! Rogue is played by Anna Paquin! Holy shiz!! What a coinkydink. (Woooohoooo my autopredict knows the word coinkydink. That's a hell of an accomplishment right there.)

The Verdict

This is one of those kinds of books, one that I can groove with. I grooved so hard with this book that at some point near the middle, for a split second, I actually considered calling my poor poor better-half on his cell phone and asking him to bring me a glass of water, even though I knew he was asleep in the other room. I KNOW!! But I only considered it for a teeny tiny split second and then thought "Damn, this book is making me crazy."

To be honest, I hadn't had that experience in a loooooong time. I hadn't felt this in way too long. By "this", I mean that desperate need to consume every inch of a book in one sitting. Your eyes blink with sleep, but you will not let them close. You can't imagine being in a state of NOT reading the book. You inhale it feverishly like a starved animal, and when it's over, you can't believe it. Full and content with happiness yet you still crave more, even though there isn't any.

So, let's see now... It's an entirely addictive romance in Paris starring a non-celibate Rogue and a hot guy with a British accent. Do you really need me to say it? FIVER.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review for Heist Society

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by Ally Carter
Published February 9th 2010
Published by Hyperion Book CH
Strangemore Rating: 3 stars


From Booklist: After a childhood spent assisting her father, one of the world’s most talented art thieves, Katarina Bishop tries to leave the family business behind when she forges her way into a New England boarding school. She quickly discovers, though, that her past is inescapable. Her father has been accused of stealing already stolen masterpieces from a dangerous Italian billionaire. Certain that her father is innocent, Kat resolves to find the missing paintings and return them to their unsavory owner, who has given her a two-week deadline. Carter, the author of the Gallagher Girls series, skillfully maintains suspense as Kat assembles a team of teen accomplices, travels across Europe, and plots an impossible art heist to save her dad. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, cinema-ready adventure, and the details of thieving tools and techniques, lavish settings, and cast of eccentric characters, including possible spies and love interests, all add texture and depth to the action. Readers will hope for a sequel to answer the book’s central mystery: if Kat’s father isn’t guilty, then who is? Grades 6-10. --Gillian Engberg

Who is in the Heist Society?

    * One of them is a mini Sydney-Bristow-in-training, whose family has been falsely accused, and she's armed with a big attitude and huge problems.

    * Then there is the handsome and debonair millionaire thief who compares dancing to navigating through a laser grid.

    * There is also the beauty who is literally electrifying in high heels and a skirt. At least, when she gets too close to priceless works of art.

    * Two of them are the ones who've been blacklisted for stealing from a nun. Because whoever you are, that's just wrong.

    * Another is a pickpocket and a newbie, with a British accent and mysterious eyes.

These are the people who make jokes about the time so-and-so ransomed The Queen's prized pooch. They are the teeny-bopper versions of Ocean's Eleven, but with less crew members and an even bigger job.

They are also the ones who take on the biggest heist job in the world. Their story isn't heart-wrenching or gut-churning, but it's fast, fun, and full of intrigue.

I feel like I should tell you more, but the first rule of Heist Society is that you don't... Well, if you don't already know, then I probably shouldn't tell you.
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Friday, September 9, 2011

Review for Angel by James Patterson

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Angel: A Maximum Ride Novel
by James Patterson
Published February 14th 2011
Published by Pageturners
Strangemore Rating: 4 stars


From Amazon: In the seventh book in the bestselling series, evil scientists are still trying to convince Max that she needs to save the world, this time by providing the genetic link in speeding up the pace of evolution. Worse, they're trying to convince her that her perfect mate is Dylan, the newest addition to the flock. The problem is that, despite herself, Max is starting to believe it.

Fang travels the country collecting his own gang of evolved humans, but the two separate flocks must unite to defeat a frightening doomsday cult whose motto is "Save the planet: kill the humans." And this time, the true heroine, for once, might just be little Angel.
  

Oh schnikes.

James Patterson is now using the word "imprint" nowGod help us all. 

Well, considering the imprinting in this book is from one teenager to another and that they are actually BIRD mutants (the term imprint originated from the act of a baby bird bonding with it's mother), it isn't quite as icky as a wolf imprinting on and falling in instatruelove with a newborn baby. Because we all know that bestiality combined with pedophilia is totally romantic, right? But still, Patterson. WTF?

Other than the obvious blatant attempt to appeal to the Twilight generation with the onset of a love triangle between a blond Adonis-type mutant and the rugged dark-haired broody mutant, I had a lot of fun reading this book and the series in general.

I probably should be ashamed to say that I read the Maximum Ride series, but who am I kidding? I have no shame. It's a guilty pleasure. I started reading them before I matured literaturicly, and no, I'm not sure that I'm proving my point by using a made up word like literaturicly but "So what? Who cares?" *multiple exaggerated shoulder shrugs*

The Rundown

For you sci-fi gurus, you may notice similarities with James Cameron's masterpiece television series Dark Angel, which if you haven't watched... what the hell is wrong with you? Let me break it down: Jessica Alba, as a mutant, kicking ass while wearing leather - Do you need more convincing than that? REALLY?!

Some facts about the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson:
  • Girl named Max, short for Maximum.
  • She kicks ass and doesn't stop to take names.
  • She is a mutant with special abilities because of her recombinant DNA.
  • She has a "flock" of other friends with special abilities.
  • Her love interest is part of her group but it seems they are destined to NOT be together.
  • Her main job is saving the world, but she mostly ends up just doing a few odd jobs here and there.
While this may not be Dawson's Creek with mutant teens who have a ridiculously large vocabulary, it IS a lot like Dark Angel, complete with angst, wangst, and a love triangle but specifically with recombinant DNA bird kids! WOOOOOO!

These books are by no means "brain food." In fact, most would consider them juvenile, which is one thing I love about them. They don't use complex or lyrical language. They can be melodramatic at times, but mostly they are just unadulterated fun, not to mention entirely addictive.

The Tone and Pacing

The Maximum Ride books usually fly at a breakneck speed and don't often slow down. The flock is always on the move, always performing ridiculous feats of awesomeness, and always making stupid jokes. Regardless of the camp in these books, they have a lot of heart also, as well as great messages for younger teens or pre-teens.

"There's nothing more dangerous than someone trying to act for the greater good."

Which is so true in lots of ways. Many horrific things have been done in the name of the greater good. Hitler thought the Holocaust would create a superior master race. Religious extremist think that ridding the world of all religious opposition is for the greater good. People who think they have the best intentions can often be the most ruthless.

Apart from messages about saving the world and being the best version of yourself, there are also not-so-complex undertones about doing what's right and taking care of the planet. It did get a little preachy for my taste in one or two of the books, but overall, the series is still worthwhile and hella fun to read. And there is only ONE more after this book. *cries like a little baby, like a little baby in it's crib*

The Verdict

I'm so ridiculously attached to these books and these characters that I just can't give this one any less than 4 stars.

There are not very many articulate reviews of these books (I mean one review actually calls a main character "butt poop") and unfortunately the books themselves are not highly intelligent. There aren't really any prerequisites here. No thinking required.

The Scarecrow could read these books. *sings* "If I only had intelligent conversational techniques."

SCARECROW

These books are FUN, FUN, FUN! And mainly just that, which is exactly what I needed.

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