Review: The Accident Season

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Review for “The Accident Season” by Moira Fowley-Doyle (2015)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Umm, don’t read this.

I went into this book based on the title alone. Accident. Season. Two words that don’t go typically together, because accidents are usually random events and they aren’t seasonal. Hence, I jumped into this book. Needless to say, I am not pleased.

Cara and her family are ‘cursed’ during a period every October in which they become extremely accident-prone. They clutch the railings of stairs, they pad the edges of tables, they wear extra layers of clothing to protect against potential injury and death. It happens so regularly during this particular time of year that Cara and her family accept this as a normal part of life. That is, until one day, Cara discovers a childhood friend eerily present in her family photos. She recruits her tarot card reader friend Bea to help her with her friend’s mysterious disappearance, as well as the source of her family’s accident season.

Sadly, the first 100 pages of this book are a complete waste. There is literally NOTHING that happens here to compel you to give a damn about any one of the characters. Luckily I picked up on this around page 25 and skimmed my way to the middle, and boy am I glad I did. I didn’t miss much.

Miss Dowley (bless her heart) muddles this book with a lot of vivid imagery–broken bridges, old bookstores, a mysterious typewriter, etc. There is a gothy kind of appeal here…it’s lush and dreamy, but it does absolutely nothing for this book because you’re too busy trying to figure out when the hell the subplots (the disappearance, the accidents, etc) are all going to come together in any kind of meaningful way. It’s terribly confusing, and confusion while reading fiction is never a good thing. And yes, for those that ask: I’ll take a bad book (bad writing, weak characters, bad everything) over a confusing book any day, ok?

There is a romance in this book (it’s YA, people!) but even that is, umm…confusing, weird, awkward, strange. I won’t say any more about it. Matter of fact, I won’t give away any details here, because honestly, it doesn’t benefit me to spoil it for those who really want to read it. Like really, what would be the point? It just sucked.

The cover’s nice though.

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Review: Mosquitoland

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Review for “Mosquitoland” by David Arnold (2015)

Rating: 1.25 out of 5 stars

Meh.

I didn’t like this book. I read about 100 pages, put it down for a week, and still just…meh. The last 100 pages I skimmed through, I gave no fucks…

Anyway, “Mosquitoland” is the story of Mim (an acronym for Mary Iris Malone), a 16 year old girl living in Jackson, Mississippi with her newly-remarried father and stepmother. Her mother, the reader quickly learns, is reportedly sick and living in Ohio. Mim overhears her father and stepmother discussing her mother’s illness and proceeds to take a stash of cash and catch a Greyhound bus to her mom in Ohio. What follows as Mim goes on an almost 1,000 mile journey is a series of misadventures that I won’t go into for fear of spoiling the book, but she does meet several people along the way–some nice, some not so nice–and somehow manage to reach her destination. In the end she learns a lot about herself and the meaning of family.

The book would have been mildly enjoyable if it had not been for Mim herself. Mental illness is alluded to as the source of Mim’s problem, but it’s never definitively confirmed. She is sarcastic, but she’s so overwhelmingly negative about everything (her parents, her life, the people around her, etc.) that her particular brand of sarcasm never grew on me. Mim is very much like that bratty grade school kid you all know (only ten years older) who has no filter: many times in the story she was just plain obnoxious towards the people around her or just flat out rude altogether. I understood that living with her dad and stepmom in country bumpkin-ville wasn’t her cup of tea…but sooo many times in the story I wanted to roll my eyes and yell at her to get over herself. Sheesh.

Plotwise, this book is all over the place. In addition to the road trip, a large portion of the story is letters she writes in her journal and general retellings of past events. Honestly I was done with Mim’s (aka the author’s) Holden Caulfield-esque posturing in the first 50 pages. I kept reading because, in the end, I guess I just wanted someone remotely likable here. Pfffft.

Apparently, I am in the minority with not liking this book. It is currently receiving overwhelming praise by readers on Goodreads and has received a “Best Of 2015” nomination there. I can certainly understand why this is, Mim is somewhat of a manic pixie dream girl character with a hell of a story. In the end, it’s just not MY kind of story. I generally don’t care for road trip novels and this one was no exception.

The cover art is stunning, however. I’ve always wanted to climb on top of a moving vehicle and write. Yassss!

Review: Finding Hope

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Review for “Finding Hope” by Colleen Nelson (scheduled to be published in April 2016)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Closer to 1.75 stars, because “Finding Hope” didn’t do it for me.

I won’t spoil this book with small details because there’s still quite some time left before its scheduled publication date. In a nutshell though, this novel focuses on Hope and her brother Eric, teenaged siblings who live in a small town in Canada with their parents. Eric is a promising soccer star with a bright future until he becomes entangled in a vicious meth addiction and gets kicked out of the family home. Meanwhile, Hope is sent to a private boarding school where she falls in (and quickly out) of favor with a cadre of mean girls. Their lives intersect at the most unlikely moment and Hope and Eric both make choices that impact their futures.

The story is told in the alternating POVs of Hope and Eric. This book is all over the place and a lot of topics are covered: sexual abuse, bullying, drug addiction, homelessness, etc. Hope is naive and an enabler of Eric’s addiction, stumbling into one bad choice after another at her new school. Eric’s chapters are far more compelling than Hope’s, but the one thing that got me here was the bland storytelling, the predictable plot lines. There’s nothing in this story that you don’t see coming a mile away. Although I sympathized with both characters, they became quickly forgettable once I turned off my Kindle. There’s nothing the author does here to draw you to either of them beyond just a general understanding of their respective situations.

Wouldn’t read this again, but am open to reading more from this author. On a lighter note, I love the cover art of this book. BEAUTIFUL!

[Note: I received this advanced publisher’s copy from NetGalley and Dundurn Press in exchange for an honest review. :-)]

Other note: TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 29 IS MY BIRTHDAY!! YAYYY! I won’t tell you how old I am, other than to say that I have long been old enough to call myself a true “80’s baby.” I’ll pretend it’s my 32 birthday again, for the umpteenth time. Ha!

Review: Challenger Deep

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Review for “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman (2015)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

“Sometimes the darkness beyond isn’t glorious at all, it truly is an absence of light. A clawing, needy tar that pulls you down. You drown but you don’t. It turns you to lead so you sink faster in its viscous embrace. It robs you of hope and even the memory of hope. It makes you think you’ve always felt like this, and there’s no place to go but down, where it slowly, ravenously digests your will, distilling it into the ebony crude of nightmares.”

Wow…I liked this book. It’s one of the few YA books that I’ve read in the past few years (other than Francesca Zappia’s “Made You Up”) that actually manages to explore mental illness in a thoughtful, realistic way without becoming too technical or preachy in the process. I’m tired of YA books that seem to feature the so-called glamorous, damsel-in-distress kind of characters in mental institutions. It’s ridiculously unrealistic, as well as a mockery of the fact that mental illness is indeed real, that real people suffer from it. There’s nothing “beautiful” about it.

“Challenger Deep” is the story of Caden, a likable 15 year old kid who experiences mental illness first hand. The word ‘schizophrenia’ is mentioned only twice in the entire novel. Caden’s diagnosis is never named explicitly to the reader, but his experiences have all the hallmarks of this disease. The chapters are short and erratic, switching between Caden’s clinical observations of reality to highly detailed delusions of his role as a sailor on a ship with an evil captain, moving ever closer to the Mariana Trench and ‘Challenger Deep,’ the deepest point on earth. For a while no one seems to suspect what is going on, Caden mostly keeps his troubled thoughts to himself. As he becomes more and more detached from reality, however, his parents place him in a mental hospital for treatment, where he remains until the end of the book.

If you must have a definitive plot when you read fiction, then this is not the book for you. This story is not so much plot-driven as it is an extended, interior stream of Caden’s thoughts. It is a difficult book to read, the narration goes from third person to first person as he goes from normal to delusional and back again, with no warning as to when these shifts will occur. Every now and then a page is decked out with a haunting kind of scribble drawing, created by the author’s son when he went through his own journey with mental illness. Throughout the whole novel, there’s a weird kind of “calmness” to how Caden becomes unraveled that’s scary and heartbreaking. The confused, lucid manner in which the story is being presented is the only way that Caden knows to cope.

I personally felt that the ending was a satisfying one. We know there’s no cure for schizophrenia, and the author does not put on the pretense that Caden will not have challenges ahead for him. What is important is that this story ends with a suggestion of hope, some of kind promise of a normal life for Caden. This book carries an important message that is definitely worth reading about and definitely worth sharing. Highly recommended.

NOTE: With this story, I do admit that I wonder how younger readers with far less knowledge of mental illness will receive this book. As an adult reader with some background knowledge of this subject, I realized very early on what was going on here. Not so sure a teen reader would have the same experience. I’ve been wrong before though, so I dunno…

 

Review: Jumping Off Swings

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Review for “Jumping Off Swings” by Jo Knowles (2009)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I’ve been on a gloomy reading kick lately, haven’t I? This should lighten the mood for you softies. Spoilers abound, though. FYI–usually when I don’t like a book, spoilers are inevitable, for no other reason but to explain why I didn’t like it.

Anywho, YA books about teenage pregnancy are always kinda risky–on one hand the author wants to avoid glamorization, on the other hand the author can be completely out of touch with the sex lives of real teenagers. I picked this book up on a rainy afternoon at my local library because I was curious how a modern YA author tackled this subject. Needless to say, I was highly disappointed. I didn’t like this book at all.

This book is told through four perspectives–Ellie, the teenage mom and the “town tramp,” Josh, the reluctant virgin and the father of Ellie’s baby, Caleb, a virgin and a friend of Josh’s (who later falls for Ellie’s friend), and Corinne, also a virgin, and a friend of Ellie’s. The perspectives switch throughout the story, which I didn’t like, because the only perspectives that we should be concerned with to develop the plot were of those directly involved, Ellie and Josh. Who wants to read a book about teenage pregnancy where only half is about the parents? There was no buildup of action here, and just when the momentum began, the POV changed again.

The characters here were mostly thin and underdeveloped. For the first half of the book Ellie doesn’t say or do much other than cry while Corinne feels sorry for her and tries to help her. There is an indication that Ellie’s home life isn’t all roses, but beyond the standard, upper middle class dysfunctional stereotype (right down to the stoner older brother), there’s not much that is said about Ellie. Josh’s home life is a little bit more fleshed out, but not by much, as he stays isolated and wondering what the hell is happening with Ellie for most of the story. He doesn’t even find out about the pregnancy until the middle of the book, long after all of the other three main characters do. Also, there isn’t one single scene of Josh and Ellie so much as breathing the same air after she gets pregnant at the very beginning of the book, which I found to be completely bizarre. It’s almost as if the author completely shut the door on these two characters ever speaking again after they procreate. Even if they weren’t boyfriend/girlfriend at the time of the pregnancy, why are these two characters completely isolated from each other after such an occurrence? This made no sense at all.

I did come away with a full picture of Caleb, a child raised by a single mother. However, I never got a decent sense of Corinne beyond her interest in Ellie. Her home life seemed to be normal, but it’s only vaguely mentioned in the book. At the end there was the indication Caleb and Corinne will embark on a relationship, fully aware of the “mistakes” of their friends and without the pressure of sex.

I put “mistakes” in quotes in the last paragraph because I completely loathed the message of this book. The message that Knowles is sending here seems to be that premarital sex is bad, unwholesome, and leads to not only a bad reputation (if you’re female), but misery, isolation, and shame. This is simply ridiculous. It seems that there still cannot be a book where a teenaged female character has sex without some kind of horrific consequence—either getting pregnant, ostracism for being a “slut,” or being forced to do something she completely disagrees with. In this book, all three happen to Ellie. Eventually she gives her baby up for adoption, but she clearly doesn’t want to. And why does it have to end that way anyway? Plenty of teenage parents keep their babies and go on to live productive lives. Why is adoption presented as some horrifying fate that awaits the wayward, pregnant teenager? Arghhh…

Although the cover of this book was cute, I don’t recommend this book to anyone–teens or otherwise.

Review: Violent Ends

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Review for ‘Violent Ends’ by Shaun David Hutchinson, et al (2015)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After I finished this book I spent about 10 minutes staring up at the ceiling, thinking: Wow.

This book takes a very unique narrative approach–it is a novel told in 17 different short stories, all centered around one terrible and tragic event, a school shooting. Each story is by a different author of YA literature, some of whose names I’m familiar with, but many of which I’ve not yet read. The stories are non-linear. Some take place over various periods before the shooting, some after, and some during the actual shooting.

The unifying thread throughout all of the stories is Kirby Matheson, the teenage shooter who kills a teacher, several of his classmates, and injures a dozen more before finally killing himself. Kirby never speaks to us directly, but the people connected to him do–friends, acquaintances, family members, his classmates–some that knew him intimately, some that didn’t know him at all. You never really get a sense of who Kirby was or why he did what he did, but the gaps in your understanding are precisely the point of this book. After such tragedies occur, we pause to wonder why seemingly “normal” people become violent. Was he bullied? Was he mentally ill? Were there signs? Did his parents know? “Violent Ends” offers no clear answers, just a picture of an American tragedy and the people left in its wake.

Be cautioned that all of the stories in this book are not created equal, however. Some were quite forgettable, but there were several standouts. “Grooming Habits” was sensational, as well as “Survival Instinct,””History Lessons,” and “Presumed Destroyed.” The authors of these stories I will most definitely be reading in the future, just because the writing was that damn good.

Read this book. Once you start it you won’t be able to put it down.

Review: 52 Likes

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Review for “52 Likes” by Medeia Sharif (2015)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I like thrillers, especially YA thrillers, so naturally this book drew my interest. At the beginning, there’s barely enough time to meet Valerie before she is brutally raped and almost killed by an unknown assailant. As horrible as it is (and it is really horrifying and terrible to read), I thought that the author handled this subject matter well. When dealing with unpleasant topics there is always the option to linger and lose the reader in unnecessary, gory details, but thankfully Sharif doesn’t do this. After the rape Valerie is harassed by peers at school, and sent mysterious messages on a social media website that hints of the rapist’s identity. Valerie begins to follow these clues and it leads her into the knowledge of more unsolved crimes by this mysterious man–with a supernatural twist.

Why 3 stars? I liked this, but ahhh…the character. Valerie is a strong girl who (she doesn’t take her fate laying down), but for some reason I never really connected with her. The writing here is flat–the parts of the book when I should have been scared I wasn’t, and where there was supposed to be other emotions (tension, maybe?) I never really felt them. And much of the book, especially the end, just seemed, I don’t know…rushed. Like the author was aware of some deadline and had to wrap it up as quickly as possible. It’s a quick read–one that teens will probably like–and I wouldn’t necessarily be against reading other books by Ms. Sharif in the future. But I wouldn’t put this book on a recommended read list.

[I received this advanced publisher’s copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]