Monday, January 30, 2012

Ugly To Start With

I agreed to read and review this book simply because it was something so different than what I usually read. I love short stories and find it hard to find a book from a teen male point of view. So of course Ugly To Start With was intriguing. Award winning author John Michael Cummings paints a very real picture of what a small town boy like Jason might be going through when your dreams are just too big for anyone to understand. Ugly To start With is eloquently written and this allows the book to give life and heartbreak to a character like Jason who has to see at a young age how real life can get.

Jason Stevens is growing up in picturesque Harper's Ferry, West Virginia in the 1970s. Back when the roads were smaller, the cars slower, the people more colorful and Washington, DC is way across the mountings--a winding 65 miles away. Jason dreams of going to art school in the city, but he must first survive his teenage years. He witnesses a street artist from Italy charm his mother, from the back seat of the family car. He stands up to an abusive husband--and then feels sorry for the jerk. He puts up with his father's hard-skulled backwoods ways, his grandfather's showy younger wife, and the fist-throwing schoolmates and eccentric mountain characters that make up Harper's Ferry--all topped off by a basement art project with a girl from the poor side of town.

The only thing that I can say about Jason is that through his young trials you can see that he may wind up being an honest man. He observes so much about life in a small town, and in my opinion during the briefest point of everyone’s lives that he can only come out with wisdom. He wants to be an artist and receives some ridicule for that from is father. I was also able to see how much he loved his mother since she seems to be the one to encourage his art. Even though Jason’s family is poor he comes out rich in different ways. His interactions with the characters of Harpers Ferry are funny, edgy and truthful with no holding back…at all. I’ll admit at times when I was reading I was challenged at how real Jason’s experiences were. But I’m glad I did because that is what a great book does. It challenges you to read, egging you on beyond your curiosity to keep reading. Jason interested me so much as a character I had to keep reading.

I think my favorite story was Rusty Clackford. Only because I was able to see Jason as himself in the quietest environment allowed, lonely Rusty Crackford’s house in Pipertown. Jason is selling magazine subscriptions and Rusty is a person who he decides to visit. Rusty is described as a withering old man, who smokes and is hard of hearing and still barks out orders to his dead wife Jen. Jason entertains Rusty’s conversations about television, mountain people, and the tough characters of Pipertown. They eat spaghetti together while watching TV and then Jason’s decides to help Rusty paint a tin roof. This is when you see how much joy Jason gets from painting. Just painting a roof makes him happy because he’s doing what he loves.

Ugly To Start With is for a mature audience that is willing to digest the reality that Jason lives. He is the reader’s observer and serves as the interpreter for the characters of Harpers Ferry. This is a book that I feel that adults will enjoy and teens that are serious about life. Author Cummings writing allows Jason to admit his true dream and take it no matter the sacrifice or the opinion of others. I feel teens and parents will be able to see both sides of a dream. Specifically a dream that doesn’t always come out profitable but a dream that will guarantee a person’s happiness as long as they are doing what they love. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Notes To Self: Two climbed up. Two fell down. One woke up.

I was contacted to review Avery Sawyer’s YA novel Notes To Self and I am quite thankful I was asked. It is a work of fiction that tells a common coming of age story of a young girl but with an original layout. Robin Saunders the lead character takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery that summon new mental challenges and past characteristics of who Robin was before her accident.

Robin wakes up in a hospital realizing that her and her best friend Emily have suffered a terrible fall after climbing up an amusement park ride. Only Emily is still in a coma while Robin suffers from a brainy injury that disables much of her memory of that dreadful night. Robin must endure the whispers at school; the questions from the hospital and the guilt she takes from the accident and try to remember the one important thing that occurred that fateful night in hopes that it is the key to helping her friend awake from her coma.

Author Avery Sawyer was able to develop Robin as a character who I never felt sorry for. Instead I was able to be involved with her struggle to live with her unexpected brain injury. Sawyer was able to write enough detailed inner thought that I was able to get why Robin suffered day to day. The first time she has to take a shower and doesn’t remember the steps involved was when I really had an idea of how bad her injury was. She is able to remember people but sometimes struggles with day-to-day tasks and simple memories like which is her favorite starburst flavor or which locker is hers. Robin has to deal with the person she is now and learn from her discovered past mistakes. She also has to live without her best friend Emily who she may have relied on a bit too much in the past and has to learn who she is now as a person. Robin gives us a glimpse of how people may rely on our friends and struggle with a personal separate identity that makes us unique.

Reno is Robins other friend who I only wish there were more of in the book. When he enters a scene in the book I always held my breath a bit because I knew he had to hold a major key of helping Robin discover something big. Reno brought a sense of mystery as a reader and a blanket of comfort for Robin. He seemed like someone you would meet anywhere and would want to keep as a close friend. He was genuinely written with a strong shoulder complete with nerdy tendencies.

Do not get the wrong idea of Notes To Self. This is not a depressing deep walk through teenage angst. Whether it’s about Robin’s identity, Reno’s identity, family secrets, finding the secret that can save a best friend or seeing the woman who your mom actually is, it’s all about discovery. It’s lifting the vale of the way you saw things before to see that they are way better then you ever realized. This path is heart warming, dramatic and sometimes funny because of the characters that Avery Sawyer has included on Robin’s journey. I am not usually drawn to this type of YA fiction but I am glad that I got the privilege to read it only because I may be willing to take more chances on titles such as Notes To Self.     

Friday, January 13, 2012

Shatter Me, A Refreshing Debut From Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me is an impressive debut from Tahereh Mafi that girl comic book lovers will appreciate. The lead character Juliette has one of the most authentic young female voices that I feel most women will identify with, even with her supernatural powers. That is a difficult task in a world of vampires, witches, and all other supernatural beings. Shatter Me is a series that people will be talking about in the future. I would even go as far as putting Juliette on the same pedestal as Katniss. Especially after the forthcoming ending of Shatter Me.

Juliette has been locked up in a 16 square foot cell close to 300 days without being in contact with a single human in a dystopian future. Of course this is because people feared her when they realized she could kill a human with a single touch. So why now has another person been thrown in her cell? Adam, the boy Juliette thought she’d never see again will help her discover that she is not a monster and can be free for the first time in her life.

Juliette is X-Men’s Rogue reincarnate. She has a similar power of no touching or she will, well, kill you. Juliette is a tortured soul that has a heartbreaking past that makes you empathize with her. Author Tahereh Mafi writes Juliette’s dialogue and then includes an additional true voice that is scratched out. This is what makes Juliette so identifiable with a woman of any age. She says what she should say, but in her head says what she is really thinking. Juliette is also a force to be reckoned with. You wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. Even though she seems timid she is so not. Her inner thoughts are beautifully poetic but sadly caged within her cursed prison. Mafi put a lot of soul into Juliette when writing her.

Adam is a hero that is written perfectly. He is someone with a lot of secrets that allows him to stand on his own as a character. One of those secrets I’ll just spoil right now since it’s a major part of the story anyway. He can touch Juliette! He finds out before her and is surprised himself. So you can only imagine the romantic interludes that go on with these two. They were a bit steamy but I guess if you haven’t touched a human…ever, than that would be expected. Usually Adam is a serious guy who we come to find out is a soldier with his own reason for fighting. He has a great backstory that sheds a profound light on him that creates another book within a book really. The best quality that I took from Adam is that he never really rescues Juliette, she could have done that on her own, he just wants to be there with her when she finds the strength.

Warner the villain! I loved to hate this guy. He is intriguingly evil and being Juliette’s capturer made me as a reader nervous for her each time they interacted. He is around the same age as Adam and Juliette, ordered by his father to run things and doesn’t want to disappoint. Warren does not flinch when ordering his troops to do the unthinkable when it comes to Juliette. They are like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. He even challenges poor Juliette with using her death touch in an incredibly gut wrenching exercise that I can’t even speak of. In a believable way, Warren is taken with Juliette and sees her curse as power. This makes for interesting reading and starts a third story within a single book. Warren’s character has a juicy twist that had me cheering for Tahereh Mafi as an Author. Well done!

Shatter Me is an awesome read that I feel comic book readers will appreciate. It does have a bit of steamy romance but I feel that the second book will offer even more action than the first. Tahereh Mafi has managed to take a story that really takes you into four worlds in a short time, a cell, a fortress, the desolate slums, and a prosperous future. The prosperous future is a quick kick in the head for a promising second book, the new characters, the expectations, and the infamous twisted love triangle that I hope for. Shatter Me will be a series of books that I can see stacks of in bookstores because of course the film rights have been optioned by 2oth Century Fox. So read it now!            

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Switched from Indie Author Sensation Amanda Hocking

Okay so Switched originally came out as a self-published eBook in 2010. It is now an official published book today and available in stores. After Switched became a success, Indie author Amanda Hocking was given a book deal for the entire series. After reading the Hocking’s Cinderella story I had to read the book before it was published and see what all the fuss was about.

Wendy Everly is a teenage girl living with her older brother Matt and Aunt Maggie. Her mother is not in the picture due to the fact that she tried to kill her with a kitchen knife when she was six years old, convinced that the hospital switched her true baby. This doesn’t help that even while in school Wendy doesn’t feel she belongs, never able to make friends because they don’t like her makes life difficult. Now at another school a boy named Finn seems to be stalking her and for some reason Wendy does not seem worried, yet drawn to him. Finn will shed light on why Wendy doesn’t seem to fit in and why she must leave with him to see where her destiny is waiting, where her home truly is.

Sorry to say that no characters really stood out for me on this book. Wendy is the typical girl who is searching to belong. When she is taken to a magical realm where others like her exist, she still seems to struggle to fit in a place where she is actually welcomed. I think my major disappointment is when I read about all the powers that Wendy is told that she possesses from her birth mother, and Finn then never really read any of them in action. No actual action takes place until the very end of the book so I guess that may be why I didn’t really see Wendy.

Finn seems to have a bit more depth then Wendy. He has a backstory that is good and will carry well on into the next book but he seems so strong at first then completely torn with his duty to protect Wendy and who he is. I did enjoy how author Hocking works in Finn’s cruel dialogue at the dance with Wendy. I do feel she went “there” as an author, challenging the reader to like him in the end.

I will say that specific scenes from Switched resonated with me. I think one of the most chilling moments is when Wendy visits her mother Kim in the hospital, yeah the one who tried to kill her. After all the years have passed her mother, who requests to be called Kim by Wendy, is still certain that Wendy is not her daughter but a monster. The quips back and forth are endless. Her mother constantly picks at her appearance and asking where her baby boy is because she didn’t deliver a girl.  

I don’t know if I’ll read the second book in the trilogy…maybe. The ending was good and it was a quick read. I just didn’t latch on to any specific character to wonder what would happen next. The plot was original but yet predictable, still it was a fun read. So if you are a willing and an unpredictable reader, Switched is worth taking a chance on but decide for yourself if you crave the second book.