Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sam tries to make it right in Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This book isn't the type I normally grab off the shelves because of my general preference to not read about depressing topics.  But it seemed like everywhere I looked I read something good about Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

Sam Kingston is an uber-popular Senior at Thomas Jefferson High School.  February 12, Cupid Day, is her and her BFF's chance to flaunt what they got--until an accident ends Sam's life.  Like Groundhog Day but full of teen angst, Sam wakes up over and over again on February 12, trying to set things right.

What's great about this book is that Lauren Oliver describes, in accurate detail, a day-in-the-life of a teenage girl.  What's horrible about this book is that Lauren Oliver describes, in accurate detail, a day-in-the-life of a teenage girl.

The first fifty pages were kind of painful to read.  Oliver's take on high school life was so on the money, that I found myself cringing as I spaced out to remember some of my high school moments.  When I wasn't hitting my head against the wall trying to forget my adolescent mishaps, I was wincing at the characters' actions.

Sam and her friends are pretty callous and annoying.  It was difficult to read about characters who I wanted to reach into the page and smack.  But really, this is all a compliment to Oliver's skill as a story teller.  She created flawed and believable young women who are desperately trying to divert attention from their own vulnerability.

And trust me, Junkies, after you get past that first day of Sam's last day on earth, the story gets really GOOD, squealing girls and all.  Sam does not start off as a heroine, but as she struggles to make things right in one day, she gains the strength, nobility, and courage to rival the most kick-ass of leading ladies.

Before I Fall asks the questions: What would you do if today was your last day on earth?  and If you could live one day over again, which day would it be?

But what I loved most about this book was how it played with the idea of fate, destiny, and predetermination.  I loved watching how Sam's choices unraveled new paths and revealed different connections.  The story explores the web that links us together and how cutting one thread can leave us feeling undone.  Oliver did a great job of building up the tension in everyday scenes.  She played with the butterfly effect and made me realize that we are all just one choice away from kissing our math teacher.

I also liked how there were no real bad guys in this book.  Even Sam's best friend and her boyfriend, both of whom I wanted to strangle in the beginning, are just young people trying to figure it all out.

I'm curious to hear how readers currently in high school view this book, especially the beginning.  

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm as conflicted as the characters of FALLEN by Lauren Kate

Just as Luce is inexplicably attracted to Daniel, I was unable to put down Fallen, despite so many things that normally bug me about a book.  I read this book while visiting my parents, so I'll show you a conversation between my mom and me so you see what I mean.

(SPOILER ALERT: I won't divulge anything that can't be figured out from the prologue, but if you're one of those people who need things spelled out for you, avert your eyes now.)

Mom: What's that book about?
Me: Um, I don't know.  It's a YA paranormal romance.  I'm pretty sure the characters knew each other in past lives or something.  I think the guy might be a fallen angel.
Mom: So, you're more than half-way through it and you don't know what it's about?
Me: Yeah, kinda sucks.
Mom: So are you going to write a negative review?
Me: No, I try not to do that.  I just won't blog about it.

You see Junkies, I WASN'T going to blog about Fallen, but I kept thinking about it.  Two days after I've finished the book, I can't get the characters out of my head.  I think that must mean I really liked it. Maybe I'm like Daniel, I act hot and cold towards Luce, but I'm secretly in love with her...

It's a toughy because really, Luce doesn't quite meet my minimum threshold for kick ass heroine, but at the same time, I'm jonesin' for the sequel.  I'll just break it down and let you decide.

Luce is a straight A student who finds herself at reform school after a mysterious incident with a fire in which Luce survived, but her male companion did not.  Luce is immediately attracted to Daniel, who gives her the bird when he first sees her.  Cam is a popular hotty at the school who tries to seduce Luce every chance he gets.

All her life, Luce has been plagued by shadows that creep up from dark places and terrify her.  Luce keeps struggling with this feeling she knows Daniel from somewhere and is confused by Daniel's hot and cold response to her.  And the book goes on like this for a while...

I got a little frustrated with all the mystery.  I don't like it when books seem to build forever and then so much happens at the end that it's hard to keep it straight.  It reminded me a little bit of the movie Dogma, where at the end, in the middle of an action scene, characters are shouting the rules of religious doctrine: "Kill Matt Damon, the angel"  "No!!!  You shot Ben Affleck's wings, now the world will end!"  "Shoot Ben Affleck!"  "Don't shoot Ben Affleck, then he'll be immortal!" All very confusing.

I didn't like how Luce was ALWAYS being saved by Daniel.  Couldn't she have saved herself a least once?  I also didn't like the punch-out-I'm-fighting-for-my-woman-while-she-stands-there-shocked-and-scared-scene.

But, the star-crossed lovers thing totally got me, as much as I hate to admit it.  For some reason, this is a couple I'm rooting for.  I also fell in love with all the minor characters.  Lauren Kate did a brilliant job creating vivid minor characters with only a few words.  And these girls are bad ass.

I can't get Arianne or Gabbe out of my head.  I even want more of Cam, Roland, and Molly.  So even though I can point out things that bothered me about Fallen, it left me with that feeling of wanting more.  The world and the characters are believable and seem so real that I can't wait for this story to continue.

Luce grew a lot in Fallen, so I'm really hoping she'll become a kick-ass heroine in Torment.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Gabry searches for meaning in DEAD-TOSSED WAVES by Carrie Ryan

OK Junkies, I had been waiting for Carrie Ryan's next installment in her post-apocalyptic, dystopian, zombie series (at least I hope it's a series, there better be more where this came from Ms. Ryan!) and now that I've finished Dead-Tossed Waves, I can't wait to tell you all about it.

I loved Ryan's first book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and you can read my post about it here.
Dead-Tossed Waves is a companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and the main character is Gabry, Mary's daughter.  At first, I was afraid this book would be Zombies: The Next Generation--the same story only with new characters and a slightly different setting.  I'm so glad I was wrong.

Gabry is very different from her mother.  While Mary is brave and was willing to risk anything in pursuit of her dreams, Gabry is terrified of the world outside the walls.  While Mary felt trapped by the fences surrounding her village, Gabry welcomes the safety the walls around her provide.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth starts slow and thoughtful, building up to the blood, violence, death, and decapitations that plague the zombie-ridden world.  Dead-Tossed Waves begins with a bang.  Characters are attacked, infected, and killed as soon as we meet them.

What I loved about Dead-Tossed Waves was that the entire story is set in motion by Gabry's decisions.  In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, so much seemed to happen to Mary that was out of her control.  Other people's decisions and outside occurrences created the conflict.

Gabry and her choices are the driving forces behind Dead-Tossed Waves.  Ryan did such a good job of creating Gabry's character and setting up her decisions that I was yelling at the book each time Gabry made a choice.  I think my new barometer of how good a novel will be whether or not it makes me holler at it).  

Gabry is a perfectly flawed heroine and some of her decisions in the beginning drove me nuts.  I found myself intermittently shouting at her for being a pathetic coward and for taking dangerously stupid risks.

And that's part of what this book is about.  We all make mistakes, that's what makes us human--something that's easy to forget with Mudo pushing themselves against barriers, waiting to infect anyone who missteps.  Dead-Tossed Waves is so much more than an action-filled love story surrounded by zombies.  The book asks us to examine the distinctions between surviving and living and asks us to think about what it means to be human.

Dead-Tossed Waves is an amazing book that kept my heart racing and my mind whirring.  I really hope there is a sequel.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Vampires do it best in BLOOD SUCKING FIENDS by Christopher Moore

Hey there Junkies, I'm bending my own rules a bit.  Although Blood-Sucking Fiends: A Love Story is not YA, anything with vampires attracts the attention of teenagers, so therefore it totally counts.

Christopher Moore is a genius.  I don't know why no one gives him credit for starting the whole paranormal romance craze.  Blood-Sucking Fiends was published in 1995! (A man WAY ahead of his time!) I still think it has the best vampire sex of any fanged book out there. 

OK, so Jody is a ho-hum gal until she wakes up beneath a dumpster with her exposed hand burnt to a crisp.  But that's ok, because after she gobbles a critter, it heals itself.  Eventually Jody figures it out.  Oh crap, she's been turned into a vampire.  Which sucks because that means she'll NEVER lose those 5 vanity pounds.

But Jody is a smart chick and she knows the first thing any good vampire needs is a human sex slave.  Or at least someone to find her an apartment and pick up her dry cleaning.  This is where Thomas Flood comes in.

Tommy is a mid-western corn-fed young man who came to San Francisco to pursue his dream of writing the great American novel.  So naturally, he spends his time turkey-bowling as an after-hours stocker at Safeway.  Jody meets Tommy and ya know, vampy shinanigans ensue.

You Suck: A Love Story is the awesome sequel and I can't wait for Bite Me: A Love Story to come out 3/23/10.

These books are so refreshing because they don't take themselves too seriously.  One of my favorite parts in Blood Sucking Fiends is when Tommy and Jody test out all the old vampire myths.  Jody does have a reflection in a mirror, who knew?

Moore creates a hilarious world with memorable characters.  The city of San Francisco almost serves as a character itself, and anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in the city will appreciate these books so much more for the setting's idiosyncracies.

Of course, my favorite character is Abby Normal.  She started as a minor character in Blood Sucking Fiends, narrates some of You Suck and I believe she is the central character in Bite Me.  Abby is a gothic teenager who wears Converse tennis shoes, reads Anne Rice, and fantasizes about meeting a vampire.  But you see, Junkies, Abby's real name is none other than, Alison Greene.  Her parents named her after the Elvis Costello song.  I wear Converses (my maiden name IS Converse), I read Anne Rice and fantasize about meeting a vampire (well, I did when I was a teenager).  My name is Alyson Greene and my parents named me after the Elvis Costello song.  I AM Abby Normal!

So, I told Christopher Moore this when I met him at a signing and he just looked at me, looked back at my name written on a post-it, and said "It's spelled wrong."  Sigh.  Well, at least he signed my book "To the real Abby Normal."

OK Junkies, so we're counting down the days until Bite Me comes out.  Remember, if you're going to read a vampire book, let it be one that makes you laugh.