Note: this is a spinoff story from the Hex Hall books, which I have not read. I have also read online that this is a one-off book with NO sequel forthcoming, which.... well, when you read the ending, you will think a sequel is coming. So be forewarned that this is it.
Isolde (Izzy) Brannick comes from a very long line of monster-hunters. At this point, they kind of operate as supernatural cops for the "Prodigium" (this is what the monster and magic-types call themselves), capturing anybody who's misbehaving. Unfortunately, the family line is nearly at an end. It was just Izzy, her older sister Finley, and her mom...and then her sister disappeared while going after a coven. Izzy and her mother searched and searched for her...but by now they've just kind of mostly given up and are trying to move on. At age 15, Izzy's trying to work jobs on her own without her sister around....but whether or not she's up to that yet is unclear.
Her life circumstances will remind you of Kendra on Buffy the Vampire Slayer--no friends, no socialization. Literally the only person around she has to talk to that isn't a relative is Torin the dark warlock who got himself trapped in a mirror in 1583--the Brannick family has been in charge of babysitting him since they found him. Torin's occasionally psychically helpful and sort of stood in as a babysitter for Izzy back in the day, but they're aware he's a dark warlock.... even though Torin tries to be helpful and friendly, is he trustworthy? Probably not. Plus he's kinda dream-invasive towards Izzy in a creepy sort of way.
Anyway, Izzy's mom, like many parents of non-social teenagers before her, gets the weird idea that perhaps Izzy should get a bit of...socialization. Or practice going after bad ones by herself--I'm not totally clear and Izzy isn't either. What we do know is that Izzy's mom finds out about a ghost haunting a high school and suddenly decides that nothing will do but that she and Izzy temporarily move to Ideal, Mississippi, and have Izzy take care of the problem. It should only take a month. And Izzy gets all the DVD sets of a teen soap called "Ivy Springs" so she can catch on as to how Real Teenagers act....Torin watches along with her, and the increasing crazy of the plots becomes a running gag.
Izzy is, of course, weirded out to be in school for the first time. She's physically awesome and "accidentally" ends up dislocating a guy's shoulder in dodgeball on the first day--but on the other hand, that kind of thing won her some friends. The high school actually has a paranormal investigation society, which Izzy gets into quickly after befriending the members--the lovely and nice Romy, Anderson who has a crush on Romy, and Dex, who gets to skip PE due to his asthma and falls like a ton of bricks for Izzy after he finds out about her dodgeball incident.
Oh, Dex. I love Dex. I want a Dex of my very own, should one ever exist. He's adorably hilarious and fun to hang out with and smart and I WANT ONE AND WHY DON'T PEOPLE EXIST LIKE THIS IRL? (Just saying, universe. Work on that.) But Izzy gets a bit of psychic-Prodigum-ping from touching him (or is that hormones? or both?), and she doesn't know if he's someone that she needs to watch out for. Especially when he mentions that his grandma gave him a bracelet that he's not allowed to take off.
The ghost does turn out to be real...yes, it's the dead girl the high school is named after. But how come she's acting up this much when she never did before? What brought this on? Izzy thinks that salting her grave at the end of the month should take care of the problems the ghost has been causing--attacking the descendants of the folks who done her wrong back in the day. But when that doesn't cover it, something else might be going on.
I really enjoyed the voice of this story and the characters--creepy/friendly Torin, the enigmatic mom, Izzy who's just trying to figure stuff out, Romy who's delighted to have a female friend (and likewise, so is Izzy!), and Dex. I liked these folks and wish I could spend more time with them. And I'll admit that the ending wasn't where I was expecting things to go, so points to the author there. (Though I suspect folks who are used to this universe probably guessed where it was going before I did through prior knowledge.) I didn't want to buy this book because I was already buying a ton of books that day, but I couldn't not get this one and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
And given the end....YEAH, I'M ANNOYED THERE'S NO SEQUEL PLANNED. Because I would have loved to have seen where that's going. Darn it.
I've been trying to read this book in e-book for...months now, I guess? I keep skipping out of it to go read more interesting e-books, which is saying something. I finally bit the bullet and finished this one while waiting around at the airport. It was...okay, I guess...but I think overall this is just kinda Not My Thing, but may be someone else's thing. So keep that in mind when you read the review.
Sentences ending in an asterisk (*) are referring to things that I will discuss below the spoiler cut.
The plot: 17-year-old Ginny Blackstone had a beloved Aunt Peg. Aunt Peg was a wild child artist who roamed the world and didn't settle down and just did what the heck she felt like. (She is repeatedly referred to as "your mad aunt" or "Your Runaway Aunt" throughout the book.) However, after another months-long disappearance, Aunt Peg eventually died of cancer three months ago. Ginny gets the title envelopes in the mail posthumously from her aunt, who is sending her on a quest across Europe. Her funds will be supplied (er, until she runs out of money, anyway), and she can't bring more than a backpack and NO electronics or Internet allowed. (Not that Aunt Peg can check this from beyond the grave, mind you.) Ginny is to open the envelopes at certain times and places when prompted and do what the letters say. Amazingly, Ginny's parents don't apparently object to this.
So Ginny bounces around Europe, following the instructions. The instructions are along the lines of "Give this large chunk of money to an artist you'd like to patronize" and "Go stay with this random friend of mine in Amsterdam." Unfortunately for Ginny, these things don't always go smoothly. I know Aunt Peg flew by the seat of her pants in life and yet somehow would miraculously find someone to crash with, but what with the failure to communicate travel plans from beyond the grave and all, it means that at one point Ginny is instructed to stay with someone who no longer lives there. Which leads her to have to stay in the world's skeeziest hostel (eeeeeesh!), followed by getting temporarily adopted by a super-perky set of parents.* To quote from the Amazon review: "The reason Ginny is sent to meet certain people is not always clear;
sometimes she (and readers) wonder about the point of the exercise." Yeah, that's true.
The reason Ginny is sent to meet certain people is not always clear;
sometimes she (and readers) wonder about the point of the exercise.There is also, of course, a boy. Because there has to be a boy. The boy in this case is Keith, the English creator of "Starbucks: The Musical" that Ginny decides to patronize (as an artist), with awkward results. I'll be honest with you, I didn't really see the charms of Keith. He wasn't terribly charming or interesting to me, AND even from the beginning he came off to me as the sort of dude who will flake out on you at any minute, even if he lived in the same country as you. Feh, I didn't really give a shit about Keith.
Eventually, there are some twists to the story. Some of which I guess made sense, but others I found frustrating. You figure out as you go on that Peg is trying to have Ginny retrace a pilgrimage(?) Peg herself made in the past--but why? There's one surprise reveal that was kind of nice, but in retrospect, I thought it was weird that this was never clarified earlier.** Another one just kind of drove me crazy and from what I've heard, sounded like it was more for sequel bait than anything else*** Maybe other people are okay with this, maybe it's considered "artsy" or meaningful, I don't know. But it was annoying to me, and I just can't say that I was into it as a writing choice.
Overall, it's okay. The characters are mostly on the okay/bland/barely sketched in (that Knud guy? Huh?) side. Ginny is okay, but doesn't exactly stand out as a memorable personality. The plot itself is kind of weird and contrived, and like I said, has some failures here and there built into it. Possibly about the only thing that really stood out to me is Posthumous Aunt Peg, who sparkles on the page, even through a few short letters. She has more personality and spunk and creativity and daring than well, everyone else in the book--though she's clearly trying to pass that on to Ginny as best she can from beyond the grave. I guess Ginny is working on it.
This is the first of two reviews I'm going to write about Jane Eyre adaptations, which I bought and read at about the same time. This one takes place in the modern era.
Disclaimer: since most people know the plot of Jane Eyre, I am going to
be spoilery throughout the entire review. Mostly because I
want to talk about the changes she made in the story and how they were
executed, and that's a pain in the butt to do behind the spoiler cut. Especially since well, you can probably guess a lot of how it's going to go here!
Jane Moore has always been awkward and disliked. Her parents weren't terribly thrilled with her, and her brother and sister are just complete wastes of space and air as human beings. But even with her awful family, Jane is...a girl out of time, I'd say. She's not exactly super social or into modern things, and is just generally awkward around other people. Her main interest in life is painting. She goes to Sarah Lawrence for college, but after her parents die and she's pretty much disinherited, she can't afford it any more and has to drop out and get a job.
Jane ends up getting a job as nanny to the daughter of Nico Rathburn, a famous (one of those legend types who hasn't been as prominent in recent years and is about to have a comeback--he's clearly modeled after Springsteen and the author confirms it at the end) guitar player and singer. She primarily gets the job because Jane is so out of touch with the rest of the world that she barely knows that the man exists, and primarily does because her brother played one of the man's albums incessantly. Jane likes the one album, but isn't so into the rest of his music at first. At any rate, she's an unlikely candidate to become a drooling fangirl and have that interfere with her work.
Well, you'd assume that, anyway. But Nico is taken with Jane despite her being poor and plain and generally quiet. Because she tells him what's what, she's honest, she's firm, and she can both give him respect and take him down a peg when he needs it. Despite her youth and awkwardness, they're a good match when they're having conversations. Buuuuuuut....the dude has a secret that will bust up their happy union.
What's good about this one:
We skipped through the school/Poor Harriet stuff in this one, which I was totally fine with. Jane's uninterested parents and shitty siblings are enough of a bad deal to have to live with, especially when they apparently ended up with all of the money.
I really like the idea of having "Rochester" be a rock star. It works really well for this time period and is just fun to read about. It especially adds needed contrast and status issues to the scenario, plus there's always that fascination that a lot of us have with musicians. The character works well in this dynamic, big time.
I liked how the "compare myself to the beauty of the other woman" scene was handled here, since Jane's an artist.
I liked the women who tried to befriend Jane, and wish they had succeeded. Didn't mind the "makeover" scene either.
Sex happens! The way it does with modern adults! Woo!
Actually explaining that Nico's wife has schizophrenia--and that he blames himself for her condition because he didn't know it ran in her family AND he introduced her to a metric fuckton of drugs that probably brought it on--really worked with the story. We even see Bibi in a moment of non-total-rage-crazy, which makes it more believable that Nico would still care about her enough to keep her safe. And Jane can't help but realize that if Bibi would take her medication, she could very well come back to him in some way enough for them to be together romantically again. That's a nice thing to see in this story, which is usually about how Rochester was forced into marrying this crazy bitch he doesn't care about and really, isn't he entitled to get someone else he wants even if he's still trapped with this one?
The "St. John" period is handled pretty well. This Jane only flees as far as New Haven, where she's taken in by the Rivers siblings--who in this story, aren't her long-lost relatives, nor does she come into any inheritance. Which is more plausible, so I'm fine with it. Apparently she manages to get a job without showing any ID (how is that happening now?! I guess Sinclair got her a pass there?), but other than that she sounds like she's staying off the grid and avoiding listening to the radio/TV and shopping at a co-op so she doesn't see tabloids. Note to self: should I ever break up with a famous musician and I need to stick my head in the sand so as to not know what happened to him, co-op shopping is totally the way to go! The only person that pegs her right off is a mentally ill homeless woman that the cops don't believe, so...it's a bit of a stretch, but I guess it works that Jane isn't noticed in plain sight, especially since she wasn't with Nico publicly for long.
Sinclair (St. John) is...pretty much the annoying modern version of the original. Though I do like that he admits to being socially awkward and not really good with small talk and making people feel comfortable.
The supernatural aspect of the story is completely replaced with a modern equivalent of a "sign"-- Jane finally hearing Nico's new song for her on the radio and being directed to see a documentary that was just made about him. While I've always liked the supernatural voices scene in the book, this worked well, even if the documentary seemed a little overly emphasized on Jane more than it seemed plausible.
Nico's hand being injured...yup, terrible for a guitar player. His sight was left alone, which was also just fine by me since that was always pretty weirdly implausible in the original (and the book I'll mention tomorrow).
I liked the ending, which fit just fine to me and wasn't all "babies ever after" for a 19-year-old. I like how Jane came into her own with some authority. Plus how Nico wondered if he was on some kind of drug trip when he saw her, hah.
What's not so good about this one:
One does wonder that the paparazzi/tabloids never bothered to
find out there was no divorce. That's...less believable in 2010. I've seen enough "so-and-so is now officially divorced" notices in magazines/online to think that someone would have kept track of that shit now.
Why the hell would Jane even give a shit about checking on her siblings, who make it clear that they have no use for her unless she can do something for them or give them money even though she's broke? I know she's nice and all, and it happened in the original, but she's not stupid. Other things got thrown out in this adaptation, so why not this bit?
Jane is...an odd character, I have to say. She's just so formal and from another world that it's hard to relate to her in some respects. It's like she sprung forth from Zeus's head or something, with little or no relation to how 19-year-olds operate in our culture. Or for that matter, how humans operate. I felt sorry for the folks who were trying to befriend her, but she's just too awkward or whatever to go for it. She's a nice enough girl, I suppose, but not exactly secretly brimming with the passion and will that the original girl had either. She's almost all wallflower, rather than being a passionate girl hiding in the closet about it. She has her moments, but I wasn't super attached to her, I guess. I was more attached to Nico.
Overall, I'm going to give it three and a half stars. Not bad for what it's going for.
Evelyn Winters lives in Elysium, an underwater habitat. The folks there have gotten away from the wars and destruction that happened on the surface, and their overseer, "Mother," runs everything. Evelyn is the adopted daughter (official title, "Daughter of the People") of Mother, and she's been gently reared to enjoy her garden, play the violin, visit her therapist, and entertain suitors, because she needs to officially start making babies soon. Her life is just about perfect. As she'll tell you. Frequently. Because she has to. Because Evelyn is getting all kinds of mind-wipes and brainwashing going on, such as having the memory of her favorite suitor--and how he got murdered for barely touching her--out of her brain.
And then a Surface Dweller, Gavin, gets into Elysium. Oddly enough, Evelyn doesn't get him mind-wiped out of her brain, as she volunteers to get information out of him as to how he got in there. They are attracted to each other immediately, to the point where Evelyn proposes him as a potential suitor. And it's allowed....so that Mother can well, get him killed. And thus the book is off, as Evelyn and Gavin spend most of the book on the run and trying to get the hell out of a place that constantly tracks you. And all of the mental Conditioning Evelyn has gone through--a ton-- starts to kick in on her, big time. She starts remembering things, she starts forgetting things, and she has to fight the conditioned reflexes in her to kill Gavin....
It's a lulu.
On the one hand: I'll be honest with you, I don't think this is the world's best written book here. There's a lot of weak plotting.I can't even cover the amount of weak plotting. This is the stuff that stood out to me specifically:
Given how we're shown very quickly how Evelyn gets mind-wiped and what for, it seems really weird that nobody drags her away from Gavin right off and nobody mind-wipes her about him. Hell, why wasn't Gavin just killed immediately the way that his barely-mentioned compatriot apparently was? There's not a lot of great justification for either of these things, other than "well, if those things happened, we wouldn't have a plot of this book."
Evelyn and Gavin fall in love immediately. And while yeah, I'm aware that folks frequently fall in love while on the run/in stressful circumstances, and they seem like nice enough kids other than Gavin being a teen perv at times....I dunno, I guess I just wasn't feeling why Evelyn would chuck her life out the window for this dude so quickly, especially since--mind wiped or no--she was recently having feelings for another dude. The flashbacks to Timothy (her murdered suitor, who it sounds like she did get pretty physical with, ahem) don't really seem to pang her so much. You'd think this might back up on her at some point, or she'd overlap her feelings for both boys, or...something.
Evelyn has a best friend, Macie, who she goes to for help in her situation. Unfortunately, I don't feel like Macie and Evelyn's relationship was developed all that well. (Again, if you're writing about a teenage girl and her best, most loyal friend, that's something you need to get right in a YA novel.) There really isn't the time to establish the friendship, and for most of her brief screen time, Macie's pissed off at Evelyn. I actually wondered if Conditioning was kicking in on her or something to provoke that reaction--but I guess not?
And then when Macie's boyfriend walks in, things really go to hell suddenly, and we find out The Big Twist about Evelyn. While I think that works pretty well within the book's plot, and it certainly makes things interesting in the scary ugly sort of way to have that kicking in in her brain, the suddenness of it...I dunno.
There's also a fair chunk of "Evelyn only finds out what happened in the past by suddenly stumbling across someone's secret journal, which she managed to have time while on the run to read" going on. I don't really have a better way to suggest that the author handle that either, mind you, but the ol' secret journal tactic tends to work better when the hero and heroine actually have time to sit around and read these things. It just seemed weird that everything stopped just to read, even if that information is important.
Oh yeah, and while I'm reminded of this, the whole Enforcer thing is...odd. Only teenage girls are suitable to be Enforcers? Not adults, not men, just teen girls, really? And the proper age to start brainwashing them is age three? This seemed...strange.
"Mother" is a one-note crazy, presumably racist/Aryan bigot, villain. I have to Godwin it--yup, there's a lot of "I bet Hitler would have gotten up to this shit if he'd been in the future and underwater"-type stuff going on. Brainwashing, murder, genetic manipulation and "perfect" genes, ahoy!
And I wish we'd gotten to find out more about "Father," whoever the hell he is and whatever he had going on with Evelyn secretly. He knows shit, but is barely in the story and we just have a vague indication that he's not all down with Mother. Is he the fellow whose journal Evelyn found? I wonder, but we don't find out.
So there's a lot of weirdness and awkwardness going on. On the other hand...you do root for the leads and hope they get out, and they seem like nice folks. I do think the author covered the topic of brainwashing pretty well. You are clear as to which thoughts are actually Evelyn's and which are the brainwashing ("My life is just about perfect.") well. And as the plot goes on and Evelyn's memories and reflexes become a tangled mess, she definitely has a battle within herself that she's fighting in addition to just trying to get the hell out of there. I did find it confusing as to which memories she was regaining and losing, but (a) I think I was supposed to be confused, and (b) the sudden forgetting seemed to be being used as a consequence of rebelling against her Conditioning. Like, "Fine, you're blowing off Mother? Then watch your memories flush down the toilet then!" This strikes me as being a fair consequence of the story, so I'm okay with it. I was reminded of the end of the TV show Chuck a bit there--okay, more than a bit--but I was okay with how it ended. If you're into rip-roaring "escape from the watery depths" extended chase scenes, this is definitely the book for you, because the author does dire underwater chase scenes fighting back against super technology very well.. And I will say that the cover is actually pretty accurate for the start of the book, even if it pretty much ends in horror movie/zombie slaughter-type of stuff in the end.
Overall...I think I'm going to give it two and a half stars. Overall I can't say it's well written exactly, but some stuff is done well and it does keep you reading it.
This book takes place in the same universe as the Parasol Protectorate series, but 22 years ahead of Soulless. The technology is notably better than what we're used to in this series... Having recently attended a signing/Q&A with the author (which was a very good time!), I can tell you that she said there's a reason for the technology being more advanced...and the main character in this series most likely has something to do with that.* Given how much time is spent manipulating the mechanicals to not sense you when you're sneaking about, I can already imagine.
Anyhoo: Sophronia Temminick is 14 years old and always getting into trouble. She likes climbing and investigating and trying new things out and getting messy--and of course, that doesn't go over well in a proper British family. Much to her surprise, she finds out that she's being sent off to boarding school--Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Only, the Mademoiselle Geraldine that came to pick her up is....fishy. She interacts with Sophronia in odd ways, she lies, she's clearly younger than she's pretending to be--heck, she's not actually Geraldine and makes some pungent comments about the woman.
Their escort has also picked up two other students--Dimity and Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott. (The latter is a boy, who's about to attend Bunson and Lacroix's Boys' Polytechnique--for EVIL GENIUSES.) You have to wonder when Dimity tells you that her father is "a founding member of the Death Weasel Confederacy, and Mummy is a kitchen chemist with questionable intent, but poor Pillover can't even bring himself to murder ants with his Depraved Lens of Crispy Magnification." What the heck kind of school is this? And things get even weirder when their carriage is attacked by "flywaymen" (yup, that's flying highwaymen) who are after the mademoiselle for some kind of prototype. They don't get it...but she seems to have hidden it somewhere. Anyway, Sophronia takes charge of the situation and gets them out of it, while the mademoiselle basically cries and faints and whinges about being useless. Is this some kind of rigged test for new students? At the very least, Sophronia thinks it's fishy.
As you guessed from the title, this is a school for ladies who learn to finish...anything and anyone that's necessary. They're schooled in weapons, poisons, eyelash batting, fainting to their best investigative advantage, deportment, seduction...it's a busy place. Oh yeah, and the school is located on a GIANT flying dirigible. And the actual Mademoiselle Geraldine is the only school employee who's not in on the spy game--classes with her involve sneaking around without her noticing anything. Hah. Sophronia finds out that she's a "covert recruit," i.e. her parents have no idea what kind of school their little girl has been recruited into. The other debuts are from, well...good, ah... well, let's just say that Dimity's family sounds fairly typical for this bunch? Except for one Sidheag Maccon, who you may remember from Changeless. (Also in attendance in this story are Beatrice and Genevieve Lefoux, the latter as a 9-year-old budding inventor who likes ladies' clothes, but refuses to wear 'em.) As a 13-year-old, she's been raised by wolves and really isn't all that ladylike for a finishing school either. Sophronia makes friends with her, as well as the "sooties" that work on the dirigible. She also ends up with a tiny mechanical dachshund, which she names Bumbersnoot.
The fake mademoiselle turns out to be Monique, a senior girl who's just screwed up big time on this final exam mission--and gets demoted into having to rejoin the debut class and start all over again. Oh, GREAT. She also lies her ass off about the flywaymen attack. Naturally, she's thoroughly unpleasant to everyone--and Sophronia and Dimity are well aware that the girl is up to something crooked. But why is she being allowed to somehow not have the prototype on her person? The rumor mill says she's got some professor on her side, but who? Meanwhile, the dirigible is getting attacked by flywaymen (and worse, the Picklemen--wait, what?) wanting that thing....While the school can drum up the prototype to the prototype, they spend most of the season flying in the grey and not landing. By the time they come out of it, it's time for winter break, and Sophronia's figured out what's going on...
This is a fun book. Obviously, the style and attitude in this is both ludicrous and entertaining, what with the names and all. The author keeps up the same sense of amusement that I enjoyed in the previous series, though I think this one is even more amusing in its way, what with the secret societies of evil and the things that the debuts study. I enjoyed Sophronia as a character-- her curiosity and ability to synthesize information that she gathers is top-notch. I also really enjoyed Dimity--she may be unabashedly girly and supposedly not into fighting, but she's got her own skills. And I also enjoyed seeing a teenage Sidheag, who's regarded as mannish and sulky, but eventually lets her guard down and makes some friends. Plus, robot doggie that eats coal! What's not to love about that?
If there's anything that's not super awesome about this book, it's that I still feel a bit lost as to what the overall game of the school is. Who do they work for? What are they training these girls for? Is this an evil spy agency or a good one? (Most likely the latter--when your professor encourages you to take an interest in killing....) While god knows I love the idea of girls' spy schools, I'm not sure what these girls are in training for and why this place exists so much. It's a little vague, which I found odd. The mystery of the book itself, while it's explained well, still made me feel like I may be missing a detail or two as well. I'm going to assume we'll find out more about that in the next book, though.
I did also find myself wondering how this series ties into the world we've previously known, and trying to keep straight the ages of the folks I know already compared to the ones here. Is it possible that Sophronia could turn up in the eventual third series in this world, or would she be way too old? I'll be curious to eventually find out.
* I'm rereading Timeless right now--check page 257, the Clandestine Scientific Information Act of 1855. Foreshadowing!!!
Echo Emerson was one of the "popular" girls. She was an artist, she had a popular dude boyfriend. She also had divorced parents and a bipolar artist mother that her did did everything to get custody away from. Oh yeah, and Dad ended up marrying the babysitter. Two years ago, Echo's brother died in the war, and her mother snapped and tried to kill her. Echo doesn't remember the incident, but has tons of scars up her hands and arms that she can't explain. Her dad has a restraining order out on her mom, he's knocked up his new wife, and he forces Echo to take business classes instead of art. There's also the mandatory CPS therapy sessions that Echo has to go through with the new counselor at school, Mrs. Collins.
Three years ago, Noah Hutchins was a budding jock from a loving family of three boys. Then while he was out on a date, his house burned down and his parents died. Noah got thrown into foster care alone, into a series of crappy homes. After punching an abusive foster father, he now has a terrible reputation in the system and is only allowed to see his brothers occasionally under supervision. Having lost what remains of his family, he's determined to file for custody of them once he turns 18. He's also in CPS-mandated counseling at school with Mrs. Collins, who assigns Echo to tutor him (not that this happens a lot). Yes, this is kind of a "bad boy meets good girl" sort of story, but not really. Noah may smoke some joints and have a few tats, but he's clearly a good dude at heart who hasn't been able to keep up the jock rep given his changes in circumstances. He's still protective as all hell of his little brothers and his foster siblings.
Echo and Noah hit it off, adorably. He's not freaked by her scars the way her ex is, and he is totally down with being with her and helping her, and vice versa. (They have a running arrangement to try to sneak into their files if possible, which doesn't really fly.) After realizing that things can't be fixed with her old boyfriend, who is still uncomfortable with her scars and is dumb enough to drag her to a war movie, Echo gets together with Noah even if "the popular crowd" isn't cool with it. While Echo's best friend Lila stands by her, there's another so-called (more like fair weather popularity) friend Grace who will only associate with Echo if she's acting popular and dating a popular boy again. Feh on her. While Noah's foster sister Beth isn't real thrilled with Echo, she hits it off with other folks on his side.
Echo starts to remember what her mother did to her with the help of Mrs. Collins, who really does strike me as a great therapist, even if she kind of skirts the boundaries of what I suspect she's legally allowed to do. Mrs. Collins is also great backup to Noah in helping him see his brothers and figure out how to handle the situation. After finding out the truth--which is an emotional steamroller for plenty of reasons-- Echo needs to sort things out for herself on a lot of levels. It's an emotional rollercoaster of a book when it comes to the parental situations and revelations. We're pretty damn sure that Echo's dad is a jerk from the first few pages of the book--and yeah, in some ways he is--but as things go on, you understand what happened and why he does what he does. Likewise, Noah and his brothers' foster parents see each other as the enemy--Noah is convinced the kids are being abused and Carrie and Joe are hiring lawyers to keep him away--but they eventually realize that everyone's been acting with the kids' best interests at heart. While Echo's mom...okay, she's the one real villain in the piece, I have to say. But you get why Echo had fond feelings for her and misses her, when she wasn't having crazy moments.
As for the the not-so-hot bits of this book, there are not too many. There's a third act breakup--Echo and Noah somewhat reasonably assume that their relationship won't help Noah win a custody case under the circumstances--which is frustrating after awhile. And while most people in this book are developed well or fairly well in one way or another, I didn't think that Echo's best friend Lila ever stood out to me as a personality compared to everyone else. Most YA books do a good job of portraying girl-girl friendships, but Lila's importance to Echo pretty much fell by the wayside to me.
Overall, this is a very well written story, with compelling characters and situations. Good job! Four stars!
Rella Lee Jones has always wanted to be a country singer. Upon graduating from high school, she wants to leave...if she can just figure out that whole "I don't have a car and thus can't move" problem. It doesn't help matters too much that the money she makes at her job usually goes to her parents at home, and that she just had to leave her job due to sexual harassment. She feels like she's never going to move after all. But after unexpectedly being allowed to use the car of an elderly relative for the summer, Retta heads the hell out for Nashville, 2.5 hours away, to make her fame and fortune.
Of course, it's gotta start out as a hard luck story--this is Tennessee, after all. She gets a parking ticket, hits a wall, gets harassed by a cop, and mugged in fairly quick succession. Luckily for Retta, she makes a few friends--the owner of the business that tows her car, a college girl working retail, the shifty staff of a rundown hotel. Even though she's flat-out homeless, she manages to survive somehow and get some singing in. But when her parents' marriage goes awry, Retta returns home and wonders if she's obligated to stay there rather than chase after her dreams. She's got the talent, but how do you get noticed when you're living in your car and struggling to afford gas and food?
This is an old school tale of Making It In Country. (Dolly Parton read this book and endorsed it!) Retta is a nice girl with the occasional "grr" moment so she's not too perfect. She struggles, but you know that like Mary Tyler Moore, she's gonna make it after all in the end. There's a variety of characters ranging from the occasional creep to the super miraculously helpful. You don't see that much of her parents, but you definitely get the feel of how their marriage is going and what they're like to deal with. Her friends are loyal. I also like that this book doesn't really do a romance in it beyond Retta's love of singing--there's a crush object that crops up here and there, but nothing major-- it keeps things focused and you aren't expecting her to get some kind of romantic rescue from her troubles. (Then again, I guess Ricky Dean, the car guy, kind of fulfills that role.) Things are a little too miraculous at times, but it's contrasted enough with the life of being a homeless teenage girl enough to not be too off. It's a sweet story. And I will say that as a songwriter, Retta is really very good. Her song about parents splitting up was especially good and I really wish I could hear it recorded. Even though we can't hear Retta sing, you do believe she has the goods to make it.
On the caveat side...I can't believe I of all people am mentioning this, but what time does this story take place in? Honestly, it feels like it's out of the 1980's or something. Except for the fact that Retta is gifted with a cell phone so she's able to call home (and that is needed in the plot), it really feels old school. The book was published in 2010, and since there's no date on the story proper, I have to assume it is taking place in the modern era. And...there is no Internet in the world of this story whatsoever. Heck, when Retta makes the newspaper, the young adult characters actually read a newspaper and talk about getting copies of it. I remember those days, but those days were awhile ago.
Okay, so Retta is homeless for like 95% of the novel and her friend paying the phone bills probably couldn't afford a smart phone and Retta really doesn't have the ability to go online. But for a book that's about figuring out your niche and how to market yourself and send around demos and blah blah blah, taking place in probably around 2009, it's incredibly huge to NOT mention the Internet.I think it's a fine line these days to write a YA novel that stays classic and isn't totally tied to writing about teens using social media/texting/online stuff/bragging about their iPhones, when these days teens are constantly using those things and dropping the brand names IRL. (See this review for further commentary on this topic.) God knows I feel like a book is dated when I read teens raving about their Nokias or Blackberrys, and iPhones will probably be just as dated two years from now. But much as I super despise social media and refuse to participate in it, I'm aware that anyone looking for fame has to be pimping the shit out of themselves online these days. Leaving it out of Retta's journey entirely just plain DOES NOT WORK for pluasibility if the story takes place in this day and age. At the very least, Emerson the college girl should be volunteering to set up a website for her or something. I think it might have been better to just say officially that the story takes place earlier in time--hey, it worked in Maybe This Time. But who knows, maybe the marketing folks for this book said it had to take place now so it would sell or something.
Anyway... I'll give it three and a half stars. A pleasant read, with sweet characters. It just...well, feels a bit distractedly off in time.
Arras is a manufactured world. It seems to consist of scientific/magical weaving, and only certain women have the ability to weave the fabric of Arras, to deal with life and death and weather. Of course, though, men run everything as usual, and those women who aren't talented enough to work as a Spinster have to get married off by 18. And they can only have traditional female jobs. Heck, the sexes are kept segregated until after about age 16, when girls (who have been kept "pure") are tested to see if they have Spinster talents.
Adelice started showing weaving talent at an early age. She's never had access to a loom, but she can weave the world without one. Her parents figured this out at an early age, and they've been training her for most of her life to NOT pass the tests. Unfortunately for them all, Adelice screwed up during the test, they caught her, and the powers that be are coming to take her away from her family forever tonight. Adelice lies and says she failed just so she can have one last night of normalcy, until the men come for her. Which is chilling. But once the men come, Adelice's parents start dragging her and her sister Amie down some secret passages the girls didn't know about....But they get caught. Adelice's parents are killed, her sister is rewoven into a new identity and family, and Adelice...well, has to pretend for the cameras that she's delighted to become a Spinster.
Adelice is kind of reborn as a rebel, under the circumstances of losing her family under suspiciously terrible circumstances. She's immediately thrown into a viper's nest of people, and fuck if I know who she can trust. Or can keep on trusting, in a world where your memories may be rewritten or wiped at any time. (Super creepy I hate to be all "reminded me of The Hunger Games a bit," but uh...yeah, it did on that level..) She's not totally cool with what's going on, or faking it 100%, but it's even more complicated than that. Since she has the ability to weave without a loom, that means Adelice is more of a Creweler-- i.e. the one person in the world who can make new things in the world. The current Creweler, Loricel, is incredibly old and desperately in need of a replacement. So while Adelice would normally have been eliminated by now, they can't get rid of her. But the powers that be can sure as hell find ways to force her into doing what they want, like hanging her sister over her head--or killing a fellow Spinster's sister just for kicks. It's a completely ominous, terrifying "perfect" world she's in, and how do you get out?
Because every damn book these days has to have a fucking love triangle (sorry, but god, those get old), we have two hot young guys who are allowed to work in the presence of young, hot, single women--albeit supposedly ones who have to remain lifelong virgins. Erik and Jost work in different jobs around Spinster HQ. Jost is a grieving widower with a grudge, Erik is a bit more mysterious, but he's been "claimed" by a psychotic Spinster as her trophy boy or something. Both of them are okay, I suppose. I guess Jost is a slightly better choice, but overall I didn't feel strongly there. Mostly I was just creeped out by Cormac, the bigwig who wants in Adelice's virgin drawers. Ewwwww.
There are a few twists in this book--there was one big one that I pretty much guessed logically even though I gather it's supposed to be a big shock. Okay, so it would be a shock for folks in Arras, not so much for readers here on Earth now. (It's the same kind of thing that would occur to you if you were reading Ascendant, I'll just say.) Another did surprise me. And I thought the end, even though it was foreshadowed, leads to great potential. I don't know if I liked it or not, but I was fascinated by the whole setup and I definitely want to read the next book. I don't think I was massively in love with any one character, but I want to see where this goes. I looooooooooved the cliffhanger the book ended on and I was definitely hoping it would go that way.
"Once You're A Jedi, You're A Jedi All The Way" by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci: What happens when a Klingon and a Jedi wake up together after uh...the night before at a con? Amusing awkwardness and geek tribes collide. They're not sure what to make of each other or what happened the night before, but it could get interesting....Pretty amusing.
"One of Us" by Tracy Lynn. Cheerleader Montgomery decides to pay a group of geeks to educate her in their ways since her boyfriend is "into that stuff." Her interactions with the group very--girl geek Ellen is annoyed as hell, Ezra looks like he's going to try to get into her pants, but the other two dudes aren't that bad. Much to their surprise, the two girls start relating to each other. Even if the girl doesn't go full geek, it's nice to see her appreciate them and vice versa. Good bonding story.
"Definitional Chaos" by Scott Westerfeld: this is a strange one about two exes on a train, one of whom is perosnally paying money for an upcoming con. The other...has other motivations. There's a lot of discusison of character alignments. I found it to be very weird and I was mostly making the "huh?" face a lot while reading it.
"I Never" by Cassandra Clare: Two girls who hang out at a cyberspace place go to a meetup. Our narrator plays Catherine Earnshaw in the game and she's looking for the Heathcliff she chats with online. In the grand tradition of online meetings, he's not who she thought. Awkwardness ensues. It ends okay, but overall I felt somewhat weirded out reading the story.
"The King of Pelinesse" by M.T. Anderson: This is what happens when a sci-fi geek finds out that at one time, his mom had an affair with his favorite author. Jim decides to take off and track the guy down to either fanboy out or find out the deal with his mom, or both. It's written in an odd tone, mixing in the formal fantasy language of the author's work with the kid's country dialogue. It just felt strange to read, especially when you found out more aobut the affair situation. It all just seemed off.
"The Wrath of Dawn" by Cynthia & Greg Leitch Smith: A short but pithy and painful tale about a geek girl and her annoying new stepsister on a double date to a Rocky Horror-style showing of "Once More With Feeling." Our narrator, named Dawn, starts feeling sympathy for Buffy's sister and does something about it. A good one!
"Quiz Bowl Antichrist" by David Levithan: Alec is the bad-boy alternate on the school Quiz Bowl team, whcih is doing very well this year. He has definite 'tude about the whole thing, but he likes to be smug about getting answers. He has an unarticulated (not unrequited--that would require conscious knowledge) crush on teammate Damien. He finds the team captain and his quiz bowl varsity letter jacket to be annoying. It's got an interesting tone to it, though I'm not sure where exactly the plot was going on this.
"The Quiet Knight" by Garth Nix: Tony is a large, quiet kid. He's quiet because as a child he ruined his voice by drinking bathroom cleaner. His dad thinks he's going off to basketball practice, but really he's going off to do medieval LARPing. Playing "Sir Silent the Quiet Knight" (anonymously), he protects the new players in the game. But when the newbies run into trouble at school, Tony speaks up. It's awesome and sweet.
"Everyone But You" by Lisa Lee: I liked this one a lot--it isn't overly nerdy like the other stories (unless you count baton twirling as a nerd activity), but it covers "fish out of water" well. Felicity is Miss Pep back in Ohio, but when her mom married a rich dying man in Hawaii, she's thrown that hte kids at school have opposite interests to where she came from. It's a slow build and more of a "here's how life is going" story than one driven by plot, but I loved seeing Felicity figure out her people and how to come int oher own and deal with bullies in Hawaii.
"Secret Identity" by Kelly Link: Story about a 15-year-old who skips off to a hotel to meet the adult man she's been chatting with on the Internet while her relatives are gone. The dude is AWOL, so the girl wanders around the hotel, where a con is going on. I really didn't like this story at all--not just because I hate "teen girl with skeevy dude on the Internet" stories (though in this case, the guy thinks he's talking to an adult), but because the narration jumps ALL OVER THE PLACE from first to third and in time and space and it's confusing, irritating, and awkward. It also goes on for-bloody-ever and needed to be cleaner and shorter.
"Freak the Geek" by John Green: Two girls go on the run after they get targeted for harassment by the rest of their school. Running, hiding, and talking ensues. I did not enjoy it too much--both for "not fond of this either" plot reasons and "I'm not sure what the point is" reasons.
"The Truth about Dino Girl" by Barry Lyga: Katie is a freshman who can't wait to become a paleontologist. She gets a crush on the one guy in school who's nice to her, but of course he'es older and has a girlfriend, Andi. Katie's best friend can't stand Andi because she's evil, but Katie idolizes her until she gets burnt. Then Katie decides to think like the lizards in order to get back at Andi. I appreciated the part where being a "dino girl" kicked in, but I felt like it took awhile to get there. And I kind of wonder if the end was a bit too nasty, somehow. I was less all, "Bitch got SERVED!" than "Ew, this seemed skanky."
"This Is My Audition Monologue" by Sara Zarr: Oh dear lord, this ramples on and on for what feels like a billion years. I suspect the point of it was, "Pay attention to me, dammit!", even if it's ostensibly about a guy dying. I glazed over reading.
"The Stars at the Finish Line" by Wendy Mass. Peter and Tabitha have been academically competing against each other since Tabitha said she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up--and Peter seconded that. Tabitha has been desperate to kick his ass since and get dibs on the astronaut job. Peter actually doesn't want to be an astronaut, but is secretly in love with Tabitha. When she finds out about a star watching marathon Peter is doing, she wants in too. Finally, they get closer. And it's very sweet and I really liked it.
"It's Just A Jump To The Left" by Libba Bray: Another story that just kinda feels like it's wandering through without major plot. Leta and Agnes are BFF's who love Rocky Horror. Then Agnes gets a boyfriend and kinda drifts in and out, and Leta starts experimenting a bit herself, distracting herself from her troubles at home. I wasn't really feeling this one either.
In addition to the stories, there are cute cartoons in between each one. Some I found pretty funny, others, not so much. I'd recommend "How to Cheat Like A Nerd," "How to Cosplay with Common Household Objects," What Your Instrument Says About You," and "How to Hook Up at the Science Fair."
Overall I'm inclined to give the book three and a half stars. Some stories get too out there, overly geeked, or kind of pointless--but some do really rock.