Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Alchemy of Forever

The Alchemy of Forever
by Avery Williams
Genre: Paranormal
Big Themes: immortality, alchemy, death, souls, humanity, escape, friendship, love, suicide
2012 Debut Author Challenge

Summary: Seraphina should have died 600 years ago, but a young alchemist named Cyrus had her drink an elixir that would allow her to insert her soul into any human body and enable her to live forever.  However, the human soul that originally inhabited the body... dies.  Sera is tired of being a murderer for her own survival and decides it's time to escape Cyrus, who doesn't want her to leave him.

What I Liked:
The premise had potential.  The idea of living forever by slipping your soul into others bodies and the conflict that creates (either you die or they die) was interesting.

The villain was pretty scary.  Manipulative, stalker, violent boyfriends rank up there in types of people I don't like... and I could pretty easily find myself both hating and fearing Cyrus.

What I Didn't Like:
I had lots of questions.  Lots of logistical issues with the plot, world, and characters.

  • First, would someone who had lived for 600 years really not mature at all and end up finding happiness as a 16 year old girl?
  • Would immortal beings really spend most of their time partying and not find some greater purpose?
  • Would a 600 year old being really be able to pass off as a 16 year old?  There are several times it is too obvious that Kailey is no longer Kailey, and I wanted the characters in the story to address it.
  • It was my understanding that the elixir made through alchemy allows the soul to become a free entity that can reattach to any body, but how can this soul heal a body near death?  I had a hard time suspending disbelief here.  Where does this healing power come from?  A little too magical for me.
I just had a really hard time buying into the idea that a 600 year old soul could still sound and behave like a 16 year old girl.  I don't think what makes us age and mature is our bodies but our experiences.  What I mean is, I think after you have certain experiences, your outlook on life changes and develops.  I can't imagine someone who has seen the tragedies of the world over a period of 600 years could then find satisfaction going to high school and crushing on the boy next door.

My Rating:  I was glad this was a short, quick read.  There's a cliffhanger ending, but I probably won't read the next book because I didn't become terribly invested in the story or characters.  I'd give the book 2.5 stars.  Just meh.  Average.  Had potential, but it wasn't well thought out.

COMING SOON... My review of Insurgent by Veronica Roth!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door
by Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Big Themes: Love, Friendship, Uniqueness, Family, Breaking Up, Costumes, Figure Skating, Inventions
Summary: Lola is happy with life.  She has a full wardrobe of bright, sparkly clothes and a gorgeous rockstar boyfriend.  But then a moving truck rolls up to the house next door, and Lola learns the Bell family is returning.  She'd hoped she would never see the Bell twins again...

What I Liked (or in this case LOVED):

The Characters: Each character is incredibly endearing despite the fact that they each have manic interests.  Lola has costumes.  Lindsey has mysteries.  Max has music.  Andy has pies.  Calliope has skating.  Cricket has inventions.  I think this is part of how Perkins goes about bringing her characters to life: giving them a passion or interest.  And while maybe people in the real world aren't this singular in what they are passionate about, I love how she uses it to bring each character to life.  Some critics might argue that it creates stereotypes, but I love to see characters who are passionate about something.  For me it makes them more real.

Conflict: The problems faced by Lola and her torn emotions between Max and Cricket were both plausible and extremely well-written.  I completely understood and felt what she was going through.  And the way secondary characters like her parents and Lindsey were woven into the conflict added to the realism.  I don't want to give anything away, but the conflict was just very well-done.

Cricket: I adore Cricket.  A gangly, high energy, slightly nerdy inventor was a totally swoonworthy male lead for me.  I prefer him to Etienne St. Clair because he was so well-developed and interesting.  I loved all his little quirks.  I loved how he was constantly tinkering with things.  I loved how he wrote on his hand.  Cricket really came to life for me, and I love his character.

Resolution: Another positive was how Lola grew over the course of the book.  Her low point was really low, but what she learned from it and how she handled it really impressed me.  I think she's a really strong role model for girls in a similar situation. (Really trying not to give away the ending here!)

Sort of Didn't Like:

The Predictability: There was very little I didn't like, but if I have to nitpick, the book was a little bit predictable.  When we finally learn the history between Lola and Cricket, I wasn't surprised.  And I knew who Lola would end up with.  But there were some little surprises I wasn't expecting, and I never found myself being annoyed with the elements that were predictable.

My Rating: I'm giving this book a full 5 stars.  I don't often enjoy contemporary fiction, but this book was exceptionally well done.  I enjoyed every minute of it and fell in love with some of the characters.  Would recommend to 14+ due to some mild sexual situations.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

DNF: Fever

by Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Sci-fi/Post-Apocalyptic
Themes: Escape, Prostitution, Drugs, Genetic Deformities

This is my first "Did Not Finish" (DNF) post.  I will not be finishing this book for the following reasons:

  1. I do not care about any of the characters. Supposedly Rhine is special, but I don't see it.
  2. The challenges faced by the main character are solved too conveniently and with little effort on the main character's part.
  3. The whole premise of the book is not plausible. Or at least, I don't buy it. Six out of seven continents being destroyed? People dying at precise ages due to their genetic code? Absolutely no safety for women anywhere?
  4. The pacing is slow. Rhine keeps escaping to nowhere. No plans. No purpose.

I have a huge stack of books to read, and can't stick with this bleak and violent premise to find out what happens to characters I feel nothing for.  I very rarely don't finish a book that I both purchased and read the first 150 pages, but I literally could not force myself to pick up this book all weekend.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: Wither

by Lauren DeStefano
Genre: Sci-Fi, Post-Apocalyptic
Big Themes: Polygamy, Reproduction, Genetics, Virus, Social Class, Love, Escape, Death

Summary: In the future, mankind suffers from a terrible virus that kills men at age 25 and women at age 20.  Scientists are desperately seeking a cure whilst the world has been driven to poverty, kidnapping, prostitution, and lawlessness.  A girl named Rhine is kidnapped and forced into a polygamous marriage.  Rhine is showered with gifts, fine clothing, and the best food in the mansion of a wealthy mad scientist, but looks for a way to escape and return to the free world and her twin brother.

What I Liked:
Originality: This premise hasn't been done before.  The idea of humans messing with genetics to the point where they do something drastically wrong to the genetic code (and can't undo it) is a fascinating starting point for a science fiction story.

Gritty Beauty: The contrast between the splendor and richness of Rhine's surroundings with the horror of the disease and state of the world was mesmerizing.  It reminded me of the gritty urban fantasy worlds of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.  The contrast between beauty and darkness draws attention to the extremes of this post-apocalyptic world, though I'm curious to see if the author does more than just draw attention to the differences between social classes.

Characterization: I grew to love several of the characters and thought they were well-developed.  Jenna, Cecily, Dierdre, and even Linden were full and complex personalities.

What I Didn't Like:
World-Building: If this were simply a story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken to a mansion, then I might have been satisfied with the world-building.  The mansion is a fully developed location.  But the rest of the world?  I could not buy into how the world got to be the way it is.  People dying young does not in my mind equal kidnapping, killing, and forcing girls into prostitution.  The world was described as so unsafe for girls that they weren't even out of danger in their own locked and booby-trapped homes.  I really don't understand how the world got to be this way.  This world is so violent against women that it seems implausible.  Especially considering the trigger is a genetic virus... Genetic Virus = Enslaving Women???

Rhine's Conflict Resolution: I completely understand Rhine wanting her freedom back.  That is completely understandable after being kidnapped.  But I did not understand her logic of wanting to go back to the life she led before.  Cowering in the basement with dead rats in a booby-trapped home?  Not feeling safe walking anywhere because someone might pull you into a dark truck in an alley?  Yes, you have memories of family and your old life.  Yes, you have your twin brother who does what he can to protect you.  But this is no way to live.  And if she goes back, she's just going back to living in fear and possibly being kidnapped again.

So when Rhine is at the mansion, her only plan is to escape, with no money or resources, and make her way from Florida back to Manhattan.  This plan is idiotic.  Rhine is presented as intelligent.  Her parents insisted on her being educated and she has more knowledge of the world than most other girls.  But this plan shows no indication of her intelligence.  Here are some other plans that I would have liked to see Rhine try:

  • Asking Linden if he could find her twin brother, Rowan
  • Revealing to Linden what a creeper his dad is
  • Actually figuring out what creeper Vaughn does down in the basement
  • Getting the house staff to rebel against Vaughn
  • Researching hidden islands or remains of the other continents
  • Asking Linden to go on a boating trip (bringing Gabriel)

There were just so many different directions that the author could have went in that would have shown more strength and intelligence on Rhine's part.  And Linden never presented himself as an unreasonable character.  He really did love Rhine and we are led to believe that he did not know the violence that brought her here or the life he had stolen from her.  I would have liked to see Rhine at least try to reason with him.

My Rating: Only 3 stars, and I think that's pretty generous.  The reason I'm being generous is because I'm hoping DeStefano has a plan up her sleeve for the rest of the trilogy.  If I weren't doing this event, I'm not quite sure I'd pick up the sequel, Fever, on my own initiative.  But I already started Fever, and let's just say I think Rhine's total lack of planning is getting her into some pretty deep trouble.

This book review was part of the Catch Wither Fever Event.
Stay tuned for my review of the second book in the trilogy, Fever.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Back to School: Summer 2012

It's that time of year again- I'm registering for my summer graduate courses!

In case you weren't reading my blog the last two years, here's a recap of my graduate studies:
I'm enrolled in an MFA program in Children's Literature.  It will take me about four years to complete the program and my thesis will be a complete draft of a novel (likely YA and hopefully a manuscript that will eventually see publication).  This graduate program has been my own little paradise.  I'm in love with the subject matter, the classes, the people, and the atmosphere.  It's what I look forward to all year long.  Here are the courses I've taken so far:

Summer 2010
History and Criticism of Children's Literature
Craft of Writing for Children

Summer 2011 (Click to view course descriptions and text lists for these courses)
Genre Study: Forms and Boundaries
Genre Study: Fantasy
Young Adult Science Fiction

Fall 2011 (online course)
Special Topic: Newbery Books  (text list)

Last summer was rough.  The school doesn't recommend taking three courses, but I did it to speed the program along.  My reading list for the summer was 28 books long and had to be read in 3 months time.  I definitely learned a ton, stretched my comfort levels with certain genres, and kept my 4.0--but I have no desire to go through another summer of feeling overwhelmed.

This summer, as soon as I saw the text lists, it was sort of a no brainer what course I would be taking.  I want an easier summer than last year and I really want to focus on writing and being creative.  I didn't want a long reading list, and I wanted books I was already interested in.  One course had 5 out of 7 books that already were on my read/to-read list and it's a creative course.  Here's what I'll be taking:

Genre Study in the Craft of Writing for Children: Dystopian and Science Fiction

Course Description:
This course focuses on the fundamentals particular to the writing of science fiction short stories and novels. We’ll discuss various forms of science fiction and sub-genres with a particular emphasis on dystopian young adult fiction and read some outstanding (mostly current) books in the field. We’ll look at originality, world building, plausibility, where to get ideas, and how to set up unique consequences for your characters in an imagined future. All writing will be workshopped in a nurturing and supportive environment that will inspire growth and risk-taking.

Text list:
Anderson, M.T. Feed
Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game
Condie, Allie. Matched
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother
Pearson, Mary E. The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Revis, Beth. Across the Universe

The two books I hadn't heard of are The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Little Brother.  Anyone read them?  What did you think?

I'll also be taking an Advance Tutorial, which is essentially a writing workshop class.  I'll be focusing on writing YA fiction, but I haven't decided which of my WIP I'll focus on this summer.  But a 7 book reading list sounds so much more manageable than a 28 book reading list, don't ya think?

Next post: my review of Wither by Lauren DeStefano.  Stay tuned!