Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Love is The Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

  • Release Date: September 30th 2014
  • Pages: 352 
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)

A few months ago I read Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince as my starting point to supporting the  We Need Diverse Books campaign and to start including more diverse books in our blog. The Summer Prince started out kind of rocky for me,  but morphed into an intricate, creative poignant dystopian tale. When I saw Johnson's  next book on NetGalley  I jumped at the chance to review it.

In the political, power hungry world of Washington D.C. Our main character 18-year-old Emily Bird occupies a curious space as a black upper class teen in D.C. society. Bird grits her teeth and bares it as her mother, who raised herself up from the lower income Northeast DC neighborhood, pushes Bird to join the Ivy league crowd whether she wants to or not. But when  Emily loses hours of memories right before  a pandemic flu turns D.C into a quarantine zone, she becomes a girl of her own making. With the help of Coffee, the son of a Brazilian diplomat and new friends, they will uncover her memories and who is trying to keep her from remembering.

There are a lot of things to love about this novel. The way Johnson looks at race and class is something I haven't seen in literature. Usually, the black student at an elite private school is on a scholarship or something, but in this case Bird's family is just as wealthy as any other family. She examines this culture of upper class black students which I found unique.

Johnson's portrayal of Bird's character evolution was perfect. In the beginning she is trapped by her mother's own ambition and slowly she learn to free herself with her own transformation. In the book Bird kind of fights back and forth between going by the name Emily and going by the name Bird (which her love interest, Coffee calls her first) and you can feel her fighting between these two personalities and once she decides who she is going to be the book gets really interesting.

However, the conceit of this novel's plot was really hard for me to believe. Johnson made it seem like there are high stakes involved in what Emily had been made to forget but when it's finally revealed it doesn't seem all that important. As I got to the end, I was reading less for the plot and more for the characters and their relationships.

I think when authors want to know how to write authentic black female characters this is a book to look at, but to remember it’s also only one side of  a much more complex story.  Johnson took her setting and brought it to life and made me believe in this girl caught up  in two worlds. It takes me a while, but once she gets a story rolling, Alaya Dawn Johnson is amazing,

* ARC received from NetGalley 

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

(Get it ? Cause her name is America...)

This book seems to be lurking around every corner since we started Book and Sensibility three years ago. I finally grabbed  the ebook  and  when I put it in the running for book club selection, it ultimately got...selected. I couldn't really get a sense of the story from the first book, so I went to the second and figured what the heck, since I’ve been taking a lot 30 minute bus rides lately. I may as well finish it. 

 The Selection is set in an alternate universe where the US is now called Illea and citizens are divided into castes numbered 1-8,  with One being the highest and Eight being the lowest. As a Five, America's family scrapes to survive as artists. America dreams of marrying her secret lower classSix boyfriend Aspen which will ultimately bring her down a caste.  She is content with this future until a series of events lands her in The Selection, a televised competition to choose a common girl to marry the Prince and become a One.

 The main pull in the first book is how American navigates palace life and tries to figure out how to deal with the feeling she develops for Prince Maxon as well as feeling for Aspen. There is  a dash of political unrest thrown in, but it doesn't serve a plot until the end of the book.

Borrowing this  image from The Midnight Garden
 I’m going to have to take this image from the ladies at The Midnight Garden's review of Alienated because I’m a black sheep when it comes to this book series. People seemed to love this series and I was just... okay on everything. The characters didn't stand out for me, the political system felt underdeveloped and I was never  fully invested in this world. 

 The books do get progressively better with each installation, some of the critiques I had about world building and the competition get explained in the later books, but it never felt natural.There are some interesting things going on about castes , feminism and monarchies, but I wish it had gone into the political stuff deeper since it ends up playing a big role in the end.

 This is a series that doesn't seem to know how to be a series. It doesn't have an overarching arc, but it also doesn't have individual plot arcs. Even as I think of the book it's hard for me to remember what happened in which book. Yes, there is the competition but the competition doesn't require much agency from the girls or any of the characters. It’s not until the last book that they even start to do things. 

My thoughts aside this book is popular and has lived most of its publication on the bestsellers. I think that’s a combination of a pretty cover and the love triangle which I could go both ways on. 

It was recently announced that Cass will be writing two more novellas and two whole new books for The Selection. Which makes me mildly annoyed since I was so proud of myself for committing and finishing a series in only a few weeks. Oh, well !

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Audiobook Review : Cress By Marrisa Meyer

  • Release Date: February 4th, 2014
  • Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
  • Audiobook length: 15 hours 40 minutes
  • Publisher: Macmillan
Cress is the third book in Marrisa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles Series. In this book we get introduced to Cress who  briefly appeares at the end of Cinder.

Cress is a highly imaginative teenage girl who has spent most of her life in isolation aboard a satellite. When the chance comes for her to embark on a real adventure with the crew from the previous novels; her will, smarts and survival skills are put to the test.

In a series featuring three (soon to be four) female protagonist, it's amazing just how different each of their voices are. Cress is very much the opposite of Cinder and Scarlet. She's a bit more on the whimsical side and isn't quite as brave and fearless as they are. I liked that she was more a vulnerable character.

Meyer also  rounded out the world in this book, one thing of note is that this book actually cleared up something that is never really addressed in the first two books (or at least I never caught on to) . She explains why there is so much prejudice against cyborgs.

As far as the continuity in the  story goes , the  novel doesn't make a lot of leeway. As a third book there was mostly a lot of filler.  However, I enjoyed the characters and audibook narrator Rebbeca Soler's performance so much in this book, that I wanted to see what they were going to do next.

An adventure story that spans across the galaxy, this book sets the tone for the fourth book in the Lunar Chronicles, Winter.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Audiobook Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Audio CD Giveaway Below !

  • Narrated by Kirby Heyborne
  • Release Date: April 8th 2014
  • Pages: 356
  • Audiobook Hours: 8 hours 45 minutes
  • Genre: Science Fiction ???
  • Publisher: Antheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)

First off, congrats to John Corey Whaley and Noggin for being longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award !

From man eating grasshoppers to Wizard of Oz revisited there were a lot of high concept YAs this year, but of all of them Noggin (and it’s weird cover) caught my attention; A boy whose head is cryogeniclly frozen and then reattached to someone else’s body.

I like to think of Noggin as the book with the blue cover about cancer written by a guy named John that you aren't talking about.

In Travis Coates’ last days of battling leukemia he and his family decide to participate in an experimental procedures where his head will cut off his dying body, cryogenically frozen and then reattached to a healthy body when the science is right. Travis expects to wake up in the distant future, but when he opens his eyes again, he has the body of Jeremy Pratt and it’s only 5 years later.

When I first heard about this book, I had expected it to be science fiction-y in the vein of Unwind by Neil Shusterman, but it’s really not. It’s more of a coming of age story about how Travis learns to live a life where everyone he knows has lived 5 years assuming they'd never see him again. His friends are all 21-years-old, his girlfriend is engaged to someone else and his parents don't know how to react to him. I've read a few books about people dying, but for some reason I found this novel about someone living to be really sad.  

I’ll admit, nothing much happens in this book plot wise, Whaley has a great concept and characters, but he didn’t seem to know where to take them and the end felt a little tacked on. But, that was fine with me I really like the aimless wandering books. There is a major subplot involving Travis trying to get back with his girlfriend, but I found those parts especially cringe-y. And while Travis seems completely serious about his attempt, I think Whaley realizes how juvenile Travis' attempts are.

What really stuck out to about this book is that it’s funny. Humor in books is so weird, I rarely find myself laughing at books like I do with TV and movies, but I was chuckilng out loud a few times. I do think some of that comes from listening to the audiobook. One of the reasons I requested this book from Simon and Schuster is because Kirby Heyborne does the audio book. I think he has the perfect youthful voice for YA and he can really interpret lines that don't have direction.

Now, JCW is no newbie to YA fiction his debut, Where Things Come Back won the Printz ( and has been sitting on my TBR shelf since) in 2011 . I am excited to see what he writes next ! 

*Audiobook received for review from Simon & Schuster

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Complicit by Stephanie Khuen

  • Release Date: June 24th, 2014
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (Macmillan)

Kheun's 2013 debut, Charm and Strange is in the top 5 books I read this year, and when I saw Khuen had a new book coming out this year I had to get my hands on it ! 

As in Charm and Strange, Complicit introduces us to a loner narrator who is living with an undiagnosed mental issues. 17-year-old Jamie has always been told he should feel fortunate to live with a rich, caring foster family after his mother died when he as a child. While his adjustment was hard at first, he fits into the family quite nicely. But now things are changing because his older sister Cate is back from jail which will set him, his family and his town on edge,.

Complicit has similar motifs to Charm & Strange, most noticeably the collision between past and present.

The ending of this novel is just insane. I wouldn't call it a twist or anything but Khuen loaded the ending with so much suspense I could not stop once I reached the last few chapters.

By creating these unstable first person narrations she takes away the trust in the narrator. They are not only unreliable they are often intentionally leaving things out.

While it doesn’  like this like I liked  Charm and Strange, I love Khuen’s style, she's one of those authors that once you get to a certain point you’re hooked to the end.  She says her next book will be  a little aversion from these first two so I’ll sit and wait (not so) patiently.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

So, by the time I finished Grasshopper Jungle I was like:

Which I believe  is the only correct response to this book. How do I know this ? Because when I Google Image Searched for this meme I found it on Writer For Wrongs review of the same book.It also shows up in pretty much every review of this book.

We on Books and Sensibility occasionally use tropes when we review books and if I had to pick some out for Grasshopper Jungle they'd include And I Must Scream, Nightmare Fuel, High Octane Nightmare Fuel, Fridge Horror with a sprinkle of Nausea Fuel

Seriously, bring on the brain bleach. Every time I dove back in to this I was like, well it can't get any worse and then Andrew Smith proved me wrong.

All that said...you can’t deny Andrew Smith is an excellent writer and is doing something very unique with the YA genre. His writing is probably some of the best I've read this year.

If you know this book, then you know the basic plot and it's very WYSIWG

Grasshopper Jungle centers around two major conflicts in 17-year-old Austin Szerba's life; he's in love with his gay best friend. And man-eating bugs the size of refrigerators are infesting his small Iowa town. There are also a few themes about identity and heritage that I liked, but I think the first two are all you need to know.

Despite the squick, I actually really liked this novel. Once I finished I couldn't stop thinking about it, I think it's because of how well Smith built Austin's town of Ealing, Iowa and the characters around it. I feel like I know the characters and how to act if I was dropped in this fictional Iowa. I mean look, these character's aren't in anyway likeable, they are extremely flawed and I think that's what makes them feel so real. You get the sense there is a lot of despair and pent up frustration in this town.That said the female characters do left a lot to be desired, they were like cardboard and maybe that has to do with out narrators perspective, but it was annoying that they didn't seem to have any agency or personality.

In a lot of reviews, Smith's style is often described as being Kurt Vonnegut-esque and I totally got that while reading Grasshopper Jungle. I haven't read a whole lot of Vonnegut, but the narration has this repetitive, rhythmic language like Slaughterhouse-5 and the weird science fiction elements I think Vonnegut is known for. I really loved how this novel was written. From page one you know you are reading a history so Austin will occasionally switch to what other people were doing while he was doing something and it turns the first person narration into a kind of third person with an opinion. 

However, if anyone asked me, I would be very cautious in suggesting this novel. I'm laughing at myself because I called Charm & Strange explicit, but it has nothing on this book. Smith examines the ugly side of life, this book has it's gritty moments, so I don’t think that’s going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And while there is a fair amount of stuff related to sex in here, I wouldn't call it titillating or super inappropriate or anything. The narrator tends to be kind of antiseptic about it.

Although I guess graphic content is just Smith's thing. As I was on Goodreads, I realized Andrew Smith is also the author of The Maybury Lens, a book I was going to read but had been warned it was graphic. That all said, I’ll be darned if Smith's next book, 100 Sideways Miles, about a boy who thinks he's a character in his Dad's cult classic novel sounds good (although the cover freaks me out).

Okay, off to find a coming of age contemporary romance to cleanse my brain!

1. The book was cool, but you couldn't pay me enough to see this movie.
2. The only thing better than reading this book is reading people's reactions to this book.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Jennifer Govenrment by Max Barry

When I finished reading Max Barry's 2013 novel Lexicon I went to Barry's site to learn more about him. From what I can tell Barry seems to have a thing for writing and satirizing the culture of  corporate America and marketing. I had mixed feelings about the  female characters in Lexicon, so the synopsis and title to Jennifer Government caught my eye.

Jennifer Government is set in a surreal low key society where everything has been privatized. The Government, PACS and even the Police are all private independent companies along with some of your well known favorites including Mattel, Nike and Pepsi. Corporations rule all and your employer is everything. . . even your last name. In a world now dominated by the free market anything can be bought  and everything has a price, including murder.

When  John Nike, an overly ambitious Nike executive, creates a killer (literally) marketing campaign to make Nike shoes seems more valuable,  he and numerous other characters get caught up in a twisty plot that spans halfway across the globe.

 Leading the way to bring the murders and those involved to justice is the cop with an axe to grind Jennifer Government. A government agent  who will quite literally stop at nothing to see Nike bought to justice.

Despite the somewhat out of the box "you never know what's behind the door Kafka-esque set up", the world in the book is actually quite funny in how unbelievable it is. Every page characters find themselves in slightly outlandish situations.

The titular Jennifer Government (though I suspect in a book where characters take the name of their employer Jennifer Government was the preferred title than John Nike or Buy Mitsui or Billy NRA) is your typical H.A.M rebel cop character who I see as filling a satire of this archetype.

For example, her opening scene has her chasing down a bad guy, jumping off a third floor in a mall and landing on a car. A few scenes later she driving a car with her knees and firing a gun out of window (with a broken arm) She's a fun archetype but I think she has a interesting back story. While I found her "motive" a little weak she was still a  fun character to read about.

Barry seems to have this thing for characters who sort of amble around and find themselves in crazy over the top situations. Billy NRA in this story reminded me of a less developed Will Park from Lexicon.

Unfortunately, like in Lexicon Barry just doesn't develop character relationships in a way that makes a reader invested. A lot of it is glossed over for the next over the top moment.

With its over the top attitude and unbelievable plot turns this book was a lot of fun, it was one of those stories where I had not idea what to expect next,  I just kept wondering HOW Berry came up with this idea


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