Saturday, February 25, 2012

Two-Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt - Curse Much?

Pros: Fun, light reading
Cons: The surprising number of curse words may make some parents freak (teens, not so much)

The Bottom Line: While Courtney had her annoying moments, I'm surprised the cursing made it through the agents/editors, and the climax was ho-hum, I had a good time.

Normally I don’t read this sort of teen book. You know, the kind where the girl and the boy have issues but they love each other so much even though it’s still high school (high school – come on people), but for some reason it sounded like it might be fun when I took a quick peek at the back cover. Finally I picked it up at the library and got to read it in order to satisfy my curiosity.

Courtney hates Jordan. After all, he dumped for some chick he met on the internet. Who does that anyway? But she’s stuck going with him on their road trip to college – seeing as they’re going to the same school and all. Yippee.

Jordan, on the other hand, knows for a fact that this trip is going to suck, but he’s glad he’s with Courtney, even if she does hate him. Because he’s got a little secret that has to do with why he broke up with her – and it has nothing to do with a anyone he met online.

The book jumps back and forth in different ways. You get two points of view – Courtney’s and Jordan’s. However, you also get the present and the past. You get to see Courtney’s point of view during the trip as well as 125ish days or so before the trip. Same with Jordan. The number of days eventually tick down to the trip so you discover why Jordan broke up with Courtney and how she feels about him and so forth. You get the entire relationship in a rather neatly tied up package. It may confuse some people, but if you pay attention to the chapter names (which are the character’s names) and then the little subheadings that tell you where you are in time (i.e. 77 Days Before the Trip), then there’s no need to get confused.

It’s interesting to see how their relationship evolves. How they go from basically being strangers to growing close despite the fact that Jordan’s a bit of a player (aren't they all?) and Courtney knows better. But they become comfortable with one another and eventually realize they want to be together. It’s nice, actually, to see how well the author blended all this time and information together.

The conflict they have between them is definitely interesting. It’s not hard to guess what it is right away, but I don’t know if Lauren Barnholdt actually intended it to be a bit of a mystery or not. Doesn’t really matter though. I did have some trouble understanding just why Courtney’s dad had such a hold over Jordan (honestly, I think it would be the other way around) or how breaking up with Courtney would make any difference. But oh well.

I did have some issues with Courtney and her twitchy behavior. Some things didn’t really surprise me, such as dolling up for another guy that doesn’t actually exist in order to make Jordan jealous (how many of us ladies haven’t done it or at least thought about it?). But other things she said or did just came across as annoying or stupid. Then again, I need to remind myself – high school kids are still kids and do dumb things. Not everyone, of course, but come on. How many of us have looked back at our former selves and thought, “Wow…how ridiculous was that decision?” And anyway, people do act like idiots after breakups, especially when they’re still smitten with someone. So I guess plenty of teenagers will relate.

The ending where they finally confront one another was actually a lot less emotional and climactic than I expected, which sort of let me down. I was hoping for just a smidgen more, but just didn’t get it. Then again, that’s why I typically read fantasy/adventure/science fiction where reunions and relationships tend to be more dramatic and powerful.

I guess I should mention the cursing since I went and pointed it out twice above. I maybe it’s because I don’t read enough of this type of teen book and I’m not familiar with what’s acceptable and what’s not, but I really was surprised at the amount of cursing, or I suppose more specifically, the frequent use of the word "fuck." Not that it’s rampant in the book. It’s used like it probably would be here in the real world. And it’s not that I’m offended in anyway (heck, I have my moments where I curse like a sailor and cause people’s mouths to drop open when they finally hear me do so). It’s just that for a teen book, I’m kind of surprised that Lauren Barnholdt’s agent/editor let it through. Maybe it’s because she’s been published before and that’s her style. Maybe it’s that the teen market isn’t as strict as it used to be or as I thought it was. All I know is that even in my manuscripts (for adults), my use of limited swearing tends to get poked at. Odd, but maybe it’s just different. Who knows? However, it is something I know some parents may balk at, so just be aware I guess.

In the end it was a light, fast, easy read with an interesting little plot and happy ending. Just what I figured it would be. Curiosity satisfied.


Originally posted on

notes from the playlist: "Burning in the Skies" by Linkin Park

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Recommended for New Insight

Stuff by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee

This year I'm trying to focus on my To Be Read list since I have dozens of books written down but still havent' touched many of them. So instead of constantly picking out new things, I'm reading what's on the list (though not always following through with this particular plan *coughAMillionSunscough*). Stuff was something I'd found last year(ish) while putting books away that (lazy) people left out. Yes, I'd seen the show Hoarders, which is partially why I was interested in reading this in the first place. It's one of those kind of disorders that really gets your psychology brain going. What is it that makes a person keep so much stuff when so much of it is pure garbage (i.e. a candy wrapper, scrap of paper with non-legible writing on it, etc.)? Why can they not let go of things the way we do? Traumatic childhood incident? A higher functioning sensory and tactile part of the brain? Stuff goes through the cases of several hoarders, how they look at things, why they gather so much, and whether or not they are able to part with it. You do see some similarties that may mean psychologists are getting closer to understanding it, but there is still a long way to go. I found it to be a totally absorbing read, and I had trouble putting the book down.

Notes on the playlist: "Twisted Transistor" by Korn

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - Fueling the Flames of Rebellion

Pros: Engaging, characters you care about, a Capitol you hate
Cons: None now that all three books are out.

The Bottom Line: It's exciting, hard to put down, and contains plenty of twists with an ending that leaves you hanging like a climber without a rope.

I read The Hunger Games well over a year ago. After letting its excitement settle a little, I fully intended to read this next. Then I thought perhaps I would wait until the third and final book, Mockingjay was out before I dove in so there wouldn’t be any additional gaps. Ha. Guess it didn’t matter because I just got done finishing Catching Fire today – an additional three days after I actually decided to read it (I got distracted by Beth Revis’s A Million Suns). By the way, you’ll need to read the first book if this one is to make any sense.

Katniss has survived The Hunger Games along with her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta. Now they get to go on a Victory Tour of the other Districts. Except Katniss soon realizes that she’s started something she never intended to start. The potential for rebellion. By saving Peeta and allowing two people to survive the Games instead of one, the people of the Districts see her as a symbol of hope and defiance. Katniss just wants her friends and family safe. But it’s not so simple. Even the President of the Capitol will make her pay if she can’t help quell the sense of rebellion flowing through the Districts. But no matter what she tries to do, it seems as though she only makes things worse. And this is the year she and Peeta will have to face down the Quell – a very special and extra deadly version of The Hunger Games.

At first I thought this might be mostly a repeat of the first book, but found out that I was completely wrong. The vast majority of this book is Katniss dealing with the repercussions of her actions from the first book. Some she manages to handle, though many of them she cannot. And who could blame her? I certainly don’t. That’s a lot to thrust upon a teenage girl. No wonder her mentor Haymitch is drunk all the time. Katniss tries as hard as she can and as best she can to convince everyone – especially President Snow – that she’s just a girl in love with Peeta. She never intends to start an uprising and she certainly doesn’t know how to be the leader of one should things get to that point. She’s too busy worrying about the safety of her friends and family.

There is that thin romantic line that gets played here and there – the triangle of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, but it’s not all that prevalent. Just enough to keep us reminded of it and interested, although ultimately this isn’t Twilight (and anyone who makes that comparison is deranged to say the least). Katniss even comes right out and says that now is not the time to make such decisions. Frankly the fact that the boys are so into her making a choice is ridiculous considering the conditions everyone is living under. They’re lucky Katniss doesn’t freak out and tell them both to back off – except even then with constant monitoring by the Capitol, she wouldn’t even be able to do that. Poor girl.

I zipped through this. I had those reading moments where I’d have to get back to work and carry my book to my locker to see if I could squeeze in just a few more words. Or at night when I thought, “I’ll finish this chapter” and then end up reading three before finally going to bed.

The author, Suzanne Collins, has done an excellent job of painting a world that readers will be both intrigued with and despise. The array of characters will have you alternately cheering for some and eagerly awaiting the death of others. Her description is right on par for me – enough that I can see exactly what she wants (or what works for me) and without going so overboard so that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to imagine. There are several surprises and still other things that you’ll be surprised Katniss doesn’t pick up on (though they seem painfully obvious).

The book ends on a sharp cliffhanger with some characters missing, others gone for good, and several secrets revealed. Makes one wonder just how so much will be wrapped up in the final book. Also makes me wonder just how Collins managed to fit that wrap up in a book the same size as the first two (as you normally don’t see that. Must say, I’m impressed). I look forward to reading Mockingjay – and this time there won’t be a year-long gap.


Originally posted on

Notes from the playlist: "Still Alive" by GLaDOS

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Recommended for Post-Apocalyptic Romantics

Pros: I love a good post-apocalyptic story
Cons: Reading it as a 28-year-old (which I was at the time)
The Bottom Line: Aria and Perry make for a very unique couple, and in a world that reminds me of Ergo Proxy, I'm totally game.

I won’t lie.  I judge books by their covers.  When we first got this in the back room at the bookstore, I sort of wrote it off.  Another “tough girl” teen story.  Whatever.  Out of curiosity, I eventually read the back.  Mm.  Interesting.  Later on I peeked inside at a few pages.  Finally I decided I might as well just take the ARC (advance reading copy) and read it.  Author Veronica Rossi also has an extra bit for you – her book has already been optioned by Warner Brothers.  Jackpot, Ms. Rossi.

Aria has been framed.  Now she’s been thrown out of the safety of the protective dome city she’s lived in all her life.  Into a world that can kill her in a staggering number of ways.

Perry has just lost his nephew to Aria’s people.  Those he calls Moles because they don’t live out in the open anymore.  He vows to get his nephew back at any cost.

The two must team up together in order to get what they want.  But it will mean trusting each other and staying alive in the desolate world – including staying clear of the violent aether that flows in the skies above and the storms that it creates which scorch the ground black.

One of the big things that drew me into this book was the description Rossi offers.  The desolate landscape, the individual domes that exist throughout the world.  The people that struggle to live outside of them.  It reminded me of the anime Ergo Proxy.  And while there were no proxies running around and Rossi’s sky is filled with powerful energy flows called aether, that sort of thing still really intrigues me.  It’s the strange part of the future world where you wonder – where did it come from?  Is it truly everywhere?  And how does it relate to the skills of some of the characters?  Questions, questions…

Another thing I liked is just how different Aria and Perry were from one another.  Usually people, even in many stories like these, remain people.  Perry, however, is a lot more feral.  Because of this, Aria and Perry basically hated each other, which I haven’t seen in a while either.  They both thought of one another as total freaks, and for a while I started to wonder how on earth Rossi was going to bridge such a wide gap between the two (because you basically knew they were going to hook up at some point).  But I liked that gap.

When it comes to all the other post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories out there, this one is a bit set apart in that everything takes place outside of the "perfect society" location - in a place where the environment will straight-up kill you and people scrape by on practically nothing. I liked the atmosphere – and the aether. It’s a good time and has a lot of unique points going for it.  There’s a surprisingly anti-climactic part near the end which, because of its anti-climactic design, is quite nice.  It does, however, end in a way that heralds the door to the next two books in the trilogy.

My con up there is because this is a teen book, and for some reason I tend to start out thinking of my characters as kids, like 15 or 16 (sometimes younger) even if they’re not.  Aria and Perry are 17 or 18, and Perry is a tough, feral kind of guy.  Yet during this book I kept thinking of him as younger and not all that wild until Aria saw him do some badass stuff.  I was in the 14-15 range, and the name Perry didn’t help either (no offense to guys named Perry.  It just didn’t come off as tough – even if his name is officially Peregrine).

But that’s my own fault.  Funny enough, while reading thing I thought, “This would be cool as a movie,” and then remembered that it’s going to be (or at least, Warner Bros has their hands on it).  I hope they do a good casting job whenever they finally get around to it.

So read this for yourself, or wait until the other books are out and then read it so you don’t have to wait.  Either way, I might have to go see the movie while I wait.  If it exists by then, anyway.


Originally posted on

Notes from the playlist: "Seven Lives" by In Strict Confidence

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...