May 30, 2013

Graffiti Moon: A Panoramic Review

"Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight, she's going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. He's out there somewhere—spraying color, spraying birds and blue sky on the night—and Lucy knows a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for. Really fall for. Instead, Lucy's stuck at a party with Ed, the guy she's managed to avoid since the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells her he knows where to find Shadow, they're suddenly on an all-night search around the city. And what Lucy can't see is the one thing that's right before her eyes." (from Goodreads)
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

My reaction: Plenty of bloggers have raved about this book, so I'm sorry to have to say it, but Graffiti Moon really didn't do much for me. I don't feel passionate about it one way or the other. It's not poorly written — Cath Crowley has a talent for stringing words together and conjuring up imagery through description — but it just wasn't my cup of tea. 

I found the plot to be quite boring, or more to the point, non-existent. Not a lot really happens in this book, and the little that does happen occurs at a painstakingly slow pace. It's very much about the characters and their relationships and introspective discoveries. Most of the story is just Lucy and Ed wandering around the city one night and discussing artwork. Now, I like art as much as the next person, but unless you are an art aficionado it might get a little old. Also, the reveal of the "mystery" of Shadow's identity (which is not a mystery to the reader for most of the book, but is to Lucy) was anti-climactic and quite frankly, rather confusing.

As for the characters, I couldn't visualize them that well and their personal details just weren't sticking in my head. Generally, they're kind of quirky/strange, with Lucy being one of the more "normal" of the bunch. Lucy's a relatable enough narrator, but she didn't make me care strongly about her. I did feel sorry for Ed, as he's had a pretty rough past. Sometimes he makes poor choices, but he has good intentions and he learns some valuable lessons throughout this book. I thought his perspective was written quite well and, though not a "typical" male teen voice, felt authentic for his personality.

Best aspect: There were some great humorous lines sprinkled throughout, and also some thought-provoking commentaries on life. And I enjoyed seeing Lucy and Ed go from this uneasy, mocking relationship to one where they actually are interested in each other, and trust each other enough to share things they've hidden pretty deep inside themselves.

If I could change something... I'd give it more of a plot, I guess. And maybe cut out a couple of seemingly extraneous side characters so that the main ones get more focus. I didn't feel like we got to know Daisy and Dylan very well, for example, and they really weren't necessary (except, I suppose, as a refreshing change from the more eccentric characters). And I'd make the dialogue more teen-believable. Yes, these are atypical, geeky teens, but they were spouting contemplative, wise-beyond-their-years statements a few too many times.

Ultimately, though, judging by the praise heaped on this book by some readers, I think this is a case of just a wrong fit for me. 

If you haven't read it: and you are into art, "deep" realizations, and plenty of dialogue, you might enjoy this book.
If you have read it: did you love it like most of the YA blogosphere did? Or did you have an apathetic reaction like mine?

Just one more thing I want to mention: it would've been neat to have some actual illustrations accompany this book. That might've heightened the artistic aspect of the story and helped keep my interest a little more.

Final verdict: 3 shooting stars. Since there's virtually no plot to speak of, a book like this hangs on its characters — and I just couldn't care very much about them.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book for review from the publisher.

I'm not positive if this book falls in the "new adult" category, but I'm counting it towards the challenge!

May 20, 2013

Sapphire Blue: A Snapshot

Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier

"Gwen’s life has been a rollercoaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.
At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he’s very warm indeed; the next he’s freezing cold. Gwen’s not sure what’s going on there, but she’s pretty much destined to find out." (from Goodreads)

The subject:
a girl trying to juggle a time-travel mystery, a hot-and-cold romance, a snooty cousin and a snarky gargoyle.

The setting:
present-day Britain, along with a whole slew of different times and places!

Shutter speed:
Slower than I would have liked, all things considered. Not a lot actually happens in this one — I would've liked more action, fight scenes and dramatic tension. I thought it dragged a little, it seemed like there wasn't that much momentum pushing it forward.

What's in the background? The comic relief provided by the gargoyle. He was quite funny, and although his jokes did get kind of tiresome partway through, he definitely added some levity to the book. Overall he was just an enjoyable character!

Also, Gwen gets to wear some really awesome dresses.

Zoom in on: Great-aunt Maddy! We didn't see her very much in this one, which is a shame because she can be humorous.

Anything out of focus?  I kept losing track of the next step as they jumped around from one century to another — the whole time-travel angle definitely complicates matters. I found myself thinking things like, "Does this person know that this will happen in the future?" (Then again, I suppose that is a necessary evil of just about any time-travel story.) They don't really get that much further in terms of figuring out how everything fits together and what the 'ultimate destiny' is. This is the type of series where each book serves as part of a larger story arc, rather than having any sort of internally contained one.

It's definitely more about the relationship between Gwen and Gideon, which – while really cute – I also found frustrating. They have so much trouble with communication and they're always keeping secrets from each other. Gideon is particularly moody in this one, although he does have some reasons.

Ready? Say...
Time travel, gargoyles and teen angst, oh my!

3.5 shooting stars. Some things frustrated me, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit and whipped through it in a day. All the same, at the end I was left feeling dissatisfied, as it didn't feel like much had been solved or accomplished.  

Just a couple suggestions: I think it'd be a good idea to re-read the first book before starting this one if it's been a while, since Sapphire Blue drops you into it head-first and you're going to be lost about what's going on if you haven't (I skimmed Ruby Red beforehand and it's good I did!) Also, although I read this as an e-book I suspect it might be more helpful to read a physical copy, because it's difficult to remember all the characters' names and connections without flipping back to check the family trees.

Disclaimer: I received this as an e-book for review from the publisher.

May 13, 2013

Kiss, Marry, Kill: the Divergent series

Here's how it works: you take a book, choose 3 guy characters from the book, and then the other person has to pick one to kiss, one to marry, and one to kill.

It's been so long since I had one of these! This time around, you'll have to choose between a few guys from the Divergent series (you can decide if you want to base your choice on Divergent and/or Insurgent, where applicable).

The choices:

1.) Caleb

2.) Eric

3.) Al

So...who do you kiss, who do you marry, and who do you kill? (No, Four is not an option :P)

And as always, if you'd like to do your own, feel free to mention it in the comments or leave a link to your post there :)

Also, what do you guys think of the Allegiant cover that was revealed recently???

May 5, 2013

Never Let Me Go: A Panoramic Review (Adult)

"From the acclaimed author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, a moving new novel that subtly reimagines our world and time in a haunting story of friendship and love.

As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.
" (from Goodreads)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

***SPOILER ALERT: It's pretty much impossible to discuss this book in any depth without spoiling, so be prepared for general spoilers about the book's premise in this review.

My reaction: A warning right off the bat – this is a book that makes you think. It's also rather bleak and depressing. So if you aren't a fan of either of those factors, you might want to choose some other reading material.

The dystopian/alternate-reality premise of Never Let Me Go is really just sort of a jumping-off point for exploring a girl's coming-of-age in a bit of a different light, because she's a "donor" (i.e. a clone). So yes, it touches on how life would be different for people who are donors, but it also touches on some topics that are very universal. Most of the book is very slow-moving, and the focus is not so much on the dystopian nature of the society as it is a chronicle of Kathy's life up until the present (skipping a number of years in between). As this is told from Kathy's perspective as a grown woman, going over her memories, it's written in quite a conversational, rambling sort of style. In the grand scheme of things, the story moves forward in a logical, chronological fashion, but within each time frame, Kathy jumps backward and forward a bit. This makes things a little confusing to follow if you're trying to map everything out in sequential order, but to the author's credit, Kathy does manage to strike up a rapport of sorts with the reader.

It's also at least partially an explanation for how she and the other Hailsham students ended up in this situation without rebelling. Spoilers, highlight to read: Still, I did find it rather unbelievable that no one makes any escape attempts in this book. The donors all seem so complacent and docile with their status as spare parts; yes, this is thanks to the brainwashing happening, but you'd think there would have been some rebellion attempt dredged up. As for the ending, I found it unsatisfying – it didn't feel full and complete enough for me.

Generally, the characters are well drawn. I found Kathy easy to relate to, with a sympathetic voice. She makes mistakes, but she's someone you can root for. I didn't feel like I had such a good grasp of Tommy's mindset, but his character stands out in a couple ways. He's a little unpredictable in how he'll react to something, and he's thoughtful and reflective (even as a teenage guy). Unfortunately, we don't get enough of Miss Emily or Madame to really understand their characters. Miss Lucy has promise — ostensibly she's the closest one to a "rebel" in here — so it was disappointing that she remains on the sidelines through the first part of the book, and then is absent entirely in the latter part.

The relationship between Kathy and Ruth is quite fascinating. Ruth is very complicated, and for most of the book I didn't like her. She is manipulative, selfish, self-absorbed, and cares way too much about what other people think of her. She always has to be the center of attention, and she enjoys being in control, pulling the strings of the puppets around her. Towards the end, it seems like she somewhat redeems herself, or at least acknowledges how in the wrong she was, and it did make me soften towards her a little. She has her good moments, but a lot of the time she is a pretty sorry excuse for a friend. Kathy's not perfect either — she can be purposefully mean sometimes as well — but Ruth was deliberately spiteful and cruel on multiple occasions. It was practically her default. 

Best aspect: the neat questions and concepts this book raises. There's a lot in here about the innocence of children, and individuals who have been raised in a very sheltered manner and effectively brainwashed, in how they approach the world. Most of the donors in this book are very naive in some ways, and they don't really question things a lot and even if they do, they don't really know what society is like outside of the bubble of Hailsham, or even the bubble of their donor community once they move on from Hailsham. I think there's a good deal of psychology at play, in how the donors are educated about their function in society. The adults in charge introduce this idea very slowly and gradually throughout the donors' lives, giving them a little bit more information as they get older, so they don't really understand what they're being told each time. Since they don't question it, though, it has time to sink into their general consciousness, and become part of the general knowledge base that they then draw on. 

Never Let Me Go also brings up an excellent question: is it better to be brought up in ignorance and be happy, not knowing that you're going to die much earlier than most people because you were created to be spare body parts for others to use? Or would it be better for the donors to be told at a much earlier age exactly what's going to happen to them, and take away that innocent happiness of childhood because they know they're going to die? Personally I feel like the truth would be more important, but it's an interesting, debatable sort of conundrum.

If I could change something... I'd give the relationship between Kathy and Tommy more emotional heft. Although I definitely thought there was potential there, and I could see they shared a similarity in world view – sort of like "kindred spirits" – I never felt the romantic pull between them. Spoilers: they were initially just friends, and while there were very subtle hints it never amounted to anything until much later. When it finally did, they just skipped everything else and went right to sex; it seemed like a very abrupt transition, and we don't really get to see how they feel about each other once they are in that relationship. (Granted, we do see that they are emotionally drawn to each other throughout their years at Hailsham.)
Also, I wish we'd seen more of the outside society. I find it a little unbelievable that once the donors left the school, they didn't find out more about how the real world works and how people who are not donors function. It just seems like they're blind for so unbelievably long! I wish we'd seen more of the general society's reaction to these donors, just more of the "regular" people's perspectives. It's quite a communal mental bubble the donors live in.

If you haven't read it: and you like books in the vein of Brave New World or The Handmaid's Tale, then you might want to give this one a try. You shouldn't go into it expecting an action-packed dystopian fight-against-the-system sort of read, but rather a woman recalling her story growing up as a clone in this society. 
If you have read it: were you also left wondering who took a certain item of Kathy's? (Spoiler: the tape! Who stole it???)

Just one more thing I want to mention:
I liked the idea of Norfolk being this place of lost things; it's a thread running throughout, this hopeful, innocent idea that you can find the things you lose in life in Norfolk.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. While Never Let Me Go is not a feel-good book by any stretch of the imagination, I enjoyed it in a way. It's depressing, sad, and frankly left me feeling a little hollow — but it is well-written. Questions are brought up without being in-your-face about it, and without shoving an obvious message down the reader's throat.

May 4, 2013

April "New Adult" Challenge Reviews – Link Them Up Here!

That's right, time again for participants in the "New Adult" reading challenge to share their NA reviews! If you have reviews from April, here's your chance to link them up. And if you have not yet signed up for the NA Challenge but want to participate, don't stress: you can still sign up here :)

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