Review of “Goddess Test,” “Iron King,” and “Switched”

I decided to review these three books together as they were the last YA books I read recently. They also all have very similar plots.

Carter, Aimee. The Goddess Test. Ontario, Harlequin Teen, 2011. ISBN: 9780373210268
Kate’s mother is dying and her last wish is to return to her hometown. While Kate struggles to adjust, she finds new challenges. After having a run-in with a classmate over a boyfriend, Kate is approached by a dark character named Henry. He convinces her that he will save her classmate, and prolong her mother’s life, if she lives with him six months out of the year – just as his last wife, Persephone did. In order for Kate to become Henry’s new wife, she must pass the tests of the gods and goddesses in the Underworld where she calls home in the winter.
I read this entire book because it was pretty quick and easy to read. It was interesting to have a book try and use mythology for its paranormal themes too. I can’t say I’d read the rest in the series, however. I couldn’t connect to the situation at all – aside from it being ridiculous, I didn’t feel anything from Kate other than the heartbreak of losing her mother. Henry was only described as dark and young-looking until half way through the book she says he has black hair. I wasn’t interested in their relationship at all and I really felt bad for Kate to be tricked by her mother and being Diana in the end. The poor girl went through the loss of her mother as a test? Plus, having everyone she encountered all members of the Underworld was a bit convenient as well.
In every review I’ve read, no one seems to recall any other characters’ names for some reason. I guess it was all the same thing – girl is the chosen one of some powerful guy and she is “forced” to wear pretty clothes and live in a beautiful palace. That was the theme in Breaking Dawn, The Princess Diaries and that’s the theme for all these books in this review. It’s getting old.

Kagawa, Julie. The Iron King. Ontario, Harlequin Teen, 2010. ISBN: 9780373210084
Meghan’s father disappeared when she was a child, and she’s always had a hard time at school because she’s a “hick” who lives on a farm. She has one friend, a boy who is very mischievous, and a little brother who one day turns feral.  Meghan had no idea that she was a part of a magical world of fairies and she is the daughter of the king. She must travel with her best friend who turns out to be the literary historical Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and rescue her brother, and possibly her father.
I really liked this book at first because of the style and the normal day to day stuff then being transferred into a Narnia-type land was pretty cool. I loved her cat friend and I loved the action but half way through the action drove me crazy. There was always something going on to the point that I was exhausted. I didn’t finish the book because while I knew it would be interesting, I just couldn’t keep my attention up for that long to go through another fight or chase with some new creature that pops out of nowhere. By this time I was getting tired of Fairyland.
This book also had the same themes as the other two. Like The Goddess Test, there is the issue of having to wear pretty dresses and look fancy because the main female character is special. Like Switched, the family member is mysteriously gone and the evil mother doesn’t like the main character and they have to fight in the new, pretty palace that seems wonderful but it’s really terrible. Surely paranormal fiction can come up with something new soon.
Did Not Finish

Hocking, Amanda. Switched. New York, St. Martin’s, 2010. ISBN: 9781250006318
Wendy was always hated by her mother and when she was a child, her mother was institutionalized for trying to kill her. Now Wendy lives with her aunt and her brother but she still has a hard time fitting in at school. She has a power to make people do things if she thinks hard enough. Her friend, Finn, helps her escape when to goths try to attack her. She is forced to convince her brother that she is okay but that she needs to be away for a while. Finn takes her to find her real mother, a queen of the trolls who isn’t at all pleasant. Wendy has to keep her feelings for Finn at bay and try to adjust to not only being different but being the princess of this new world.
I was really excited to read Hocking’s work and I do think she’s  great writer. However, at this point of my three book stint, I was sick of the same plot lines. Not only does this also have the something happened when the heroine was a kid that hints to her being special, but it has the Princess Diaries plot line of having to live in this beautiful place with everything they get ever hope for, except it’s miserable. I didn’t mind the writing style or Wendy’s voice, it was just the troll thing that bothered me, especially since Wendy is short with crazy hair. I kept imagining a lawn gnome trying to put the moves on his fellow garden statue. I may go back to this book later but after reading three books in a row like this, I got tired of it.

Did Not Finish

Review of “Fahrenheit 451”

Guy Montag lives in a world without books. In fact, he burns them. But after meeting a strange young girl named Clarisse, she asks him if he is happy, and Montag begins wondering if being a fireman is worth it. His wife, Mildred overdoses on sleeping pills and nearly dies – something which she denies because she is so caught up in this world of watching interactive television. After Clarisse dies and Montag witnesses an old woman who would rather be burned alive with her books then part with them, he begins to revolt against the world without literature. He steals a book himself. Eventually after Mildred betrays her husband, Beatty, Montag’s boss, decides to burn Montag’s house due to his new-found love of books. As the mechanical house from the firehouse tries to capture Montag, he escapes and finds a group of men who have made themselves into books by memorizing whole texts.
This dystopian novel is astounding even for today with the idea of television over books. What makes the novel so lovely is the language of Bradbury: “The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings ablaze with red and yellow feathers.” I liked the concept of the book very much and I appreciated that the whole thing was pretty quick. It was confusing at first, being in 2012 to get the idea of the family on television but then I understood it as a continuous reality show that Mildred watches around the clock. That isn’t very far from reality now, is it?
I would recommend this one as a good look at a classic dystopian novel. Since The Hunger Games are so popular now, students would be able to get the gist of this, I think. The idea of television rotting your brain so much that books are silly, ridiculous things is something I’m sure young adults can understand that idea.

Review of “A Moveable Feast”

“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

Ernest Hemingway wrote of his time in Paris in the 1920s. This was a time of painters, writers and the Lost Generation between World War I and World War II. While Hemingway and his wife Hadley are poor at the time (as he claims in the memoir)  they enjoy good food and the kindness of others to get good books. Many of these creative minds are wonderful people personally, as Hemingway tells us of Ezra Pound, tiresome and unnerving as well. We get a look inside what these friends of his were really like in the way only Hemingway can do.
I wanted to re-read this after going through passages here and there over the years. The best part of Hemingway, to me, is his life. His style of writing is so interesting when he’s talking about himself and people he comes into contact with. His descriptions of physical features, conversations and the way he feels about these people is extraordinary. You don’t even have to know all of their works to get the idea of them as people who are intermingling in a play, of sorts, during this time in Paris.
For anyone who wants to read Hemingway in a quick and dirty way, I highly recommend this. I know some have been scarred by their high school assignment to read Old Man and the Sea but getting to know Hemingway is really rewarding. It’s all in his style that makes the reading so good. He doesn’t mess around with his readers – he tells you the story as straight as he can and it’s totally worth taking the time to read his short memoirs of Paris.
Best line of the whole book, when describing an Wyndham Lewis, “I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man…. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.” Only Hemingway can explain things like this, bless him.

Review of “Pride and Prejudice”

Elizabeth Bennett is one of five daughters whom her parents hope to marry off to rich husbands. Lizzy, being the quick witted, sensible one does not accept any proposal easily, nor does she think her sisters should either. Her encounters with Mr. Darcy prove him to be a mean, unlovable man but he shocks her with his proposal of marriage and subsequent good deeds to help her family. While her sisters are marrying left and right, Lizzy ponders her choice and realizes in the end that Mr. Darcy is not the horrible wretch he thought he was and she agrees to become the wealthy Mrs. Darcy.
I’ve glossed over a lot of the main points to this book because I had to get my head around the plot during this first attempt at reading Austen. I’m sure I’m not the first to complain that the language is so overbearing that it is hard to get into it at first. So I admit, I went to the summary on Spark Notes and prepped myself for each chapter before reading it myself. Me, being a big literary nerd, I loved that. It made me feel like I was back in college and actually challenging myself again.
While many readers would be totally put off by needing help getting the key elements in the story, I loved it. It made me re-think how I read. I had to concentrate and take in the whole world that Austen had created.  I opted for classical music to listen to so my wandering thoughts wouldn’t get in the way. I appreciated each scene on its own and felt as if I were in the scene that I had watched on the Colin Firth film version of the book. It made me a Jane Austen fan even though I have to re-read this to get past the plot and into appreciating her good writing.
There is plenty of study on with this novel and the discussion questions in the back of the book would help even me from a teaching/student perspective. However, unlike Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre the language is much more dense and it wouldn’t be a book you could just throw at anyone and expect them to get caught up in the story very easily.

Five mini-reviews of YA books

I haven’t written a review for any of the books I’ve read since last November so I decided to do a quick catch-up entry. I’ve been on a role with my reading, thankfully, so now the “unfinished” side has changed from the lack chapters read to the incomplete reviews I’ve written. l need to write my reviews in a more timely manner, otherwise I forget that my initial reactions were.

Meyer, Stephenie. Breaking Dawn. Little, Brown and Co., London, 2008. ASIN: B004SIFYYW
Bella and Edward get married but there are complications with a human being in an adult relationship with a vampire. Bella get pregnant by a vampire-human baby that is killing her from the inside. After the child is born, Edward must change Bella into a vampire in order to save her. This creates concerns with the Volturi and the Cullens must build an army of vampires from across the globe to stand up to the ruling class of vampires.
This book took me forever to finish. The wedding was over in a second with no real description, the honeymoon was on “Island Esme” in Portugal where Edward just happened to speak Portuguese. Then after really awkward and brutal nights in the marital bed Bella ends up pregnant with a demon baby – okay, now this is interesting. The middle of the book is in Jacob’s perspective so most of the dialogue is in italicised thoughts between the werewolves. Finally as Bella gives birth in the most dramatic and gory way, she has to be turned into a vampire. But the martyr Bella doesn’t want poor, sweet Edward to know that she is in unspeakable pain so she never even screams as her whole body feels like it’s on fire. This is after she has bones break from giving birth to the demon spawn Renesemee (which is a name no one in the world can pronounce.) Then, of course, Jacob imprints on her (creepy) and then we have to sit for the whole rest of the book to hear about the possibility of a Volturi visit after the hope of cool new born vampire stuff can happen with Bella (because she didn’t want to be out of control so she wasn’t – of course she didn’t.) So there’s even an index with all the characters and clans of vampires who come to defend the Cullens – as if we care at this point because it’s the end of four books.
Anyway, I did like the end where Edward has a glimpse into how Bella felt about him. That was the one redeeming quality in the whole story. Otherwise it just dragged and was just not doing it for me. I think reading all four in a row made me just way too jilted to take the whole thing seriously.

Stiefvater, Maggie. Shiver. Scholastic, New York, 2009. ISBN: 9780545123273
Grace keeps seeing wolves in her back yard. When they become a danger to the town of Mercy Falls, the police take action and try to shoot the wolves. This is when Grace finally meets Sam who has very familiar yellow eyes. This year will be the last time when Sam will be human again and Grace is desperate to keep him with her.
I really liked the story and how it was written but it is a subtle novel – I don’t remember much about it, honestly. A lot of people have reviewed this as “boring” but I quite enjoyed it. I appreciated the language that didn’t exist in the Twilight books (this was listed as an alternative for such fans.) Grace was a character I actually was interested in and Sam played the werewolf boy who was in love with her. Using the two different point of views was a nice way to even out the story because Grace tried to save Sam while Sam was trying to survive. I appreciated that style of story-telling a lot and while I’m not really super eager about reading Stiefvater’s other books, I know I will get to Linger and the Ballad series eventually.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, New York, 2008. ISBN: 9780439023528
Katniss Everdene is a teenager from District 12 who has to volunteer for the annual Hunger Games in order to save her little sister Prim. Katniss is thrown into the Capitol where she is created to be a reality-show star for a deadly game. Her partner, Peeta, confesses his love for her and with the insistence by her mentor Haymich, she gives the audience the star-crossed lovers show that they want. Once in the arena she fights to the death before saving herself and Peeta – at least for this year.
Ah, our beloved Katniss! She is the heroine that we all cheer for these days. I made sure to read this before I saw the movies. I had bought the series before moving and I’m proud to say I own a hardcopy and an ebook copy of two of them now.
I know plenty of people have written better, more in-depth reviews about how great these books are. The fantasy, dystopian novel is so well done that you are on the side of Katniss from the first page. I appreciate how the first person point of view works so well and the reality mixed with the touches of science fiction make it that much better of a book.
No, it’s nothing like Twilight. This is amazing.

Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire. Scholastic, New York, 2009. ISBN: 9780439023498
Now that Katniss is back in District 12 as a winner of the Hunger Games, she has defied the Capitol with her cunning ability to save herself and Peeta. The government is tightening their grip on all of the Districts and after President Snow makes a personal visit to see, and warn Katniss that her actions are not forgotten, she finds herself going back into the arena in a special all-winners fight to the death. What Katniss doesn’t know is that she has now turned into the symbol of a revolt and her survival is eminent for the hope of every district who wants to overthrow President Snow.
Of course, I picked this book up immediately after reading the first but I dragged with it a bit. The impact of the first book was great because you were learning about the world that Katniss lives in and the Hunger Games themselves. With this book, however, there was a lot of “Where are they now” kind of description at the beginning. But Katniss’s life is still in turmoil and we still have to go through more pain with her.
I have not read Mockingjay yet and I’m holding off for a while. The subject matter of these books is awesome and intense and after two books in a row, I felt drained. I’ve heard plenty of reviews saying the last book isn’t as great and that Katniss isn’t the strong female heroine that we loved in the first book anymore. But I’ve also heard that people loved it, so I’ll read it soon but not just yet.

Bushnell, Candace. The Carrie Diaries. Harper Collins, New York, 2010. AISN: B005UVQE68
Our beloved Carrie Bradshaw was a girl once herself. She had best friends, gay men, unrequited love interests and a deep commitment to her writing from her teenage years.
After all the intensity of the Hunger Games books, I decided to pick something easy, fun and pink. Not having read all of the original Sex and the City novel, I can only assume that what kind of upbringing Carrie had in the television show was completely made up by HBO. While this book wasn’t jam-packed with excitement it really harkened to my love for a good, real-life first-person girl’s story. I saw Sebastian as an early Mr. Big and the betrayal by her best friend and the conflict with the over-popular bully are just hints at what Carrie will have to learn to live with in New York City.
By the way, Ms. Bushnell, awesome twist to Donna LaDonna’s secret family member. I cheered. I’m also super excited that they’re making a movie for this book now. Something else to cheer about!

Smith, L.J. The Secret Circle: The Initiation and The Captive, Part I. Harper Teen, New York, 1992. ISBN: 9780062119001
Cassie Blake and her mother move to New Salem where she meets a group of witches. She discovers that all of their families have been bonded together by the making of a new city, and the untimely deaths of their parents. Despite her acceptance into the group by Diana, the cruel Faye holds Cassie captive (hence the title) in lieu of blackmail. Cassie and Adam know they are destined to be together but the friendly and beautiful Diana already has been in love with Adam for years.
I read this book as an alternative to The Vampire Diaries popularity with the books and TV show. Unlike the Secret Circle show, the ideas that were brought forth in this first book were pulled together nicely to make a basic plot to work with for all of the episodes. I can only assume that the second book has more about the witch hunters and the other boys that Cassie has tried to be involved with but as far as the book goes, it was pretty bland.
What I did find interesting is that I felt like a teenager again as I read this because it reminded me so much of the Christopher Pike books I devoured in high school. After I just looked at the publishing date as 1992, this makes complete sense and it just goes to show that there may very well be a time for your book to hit it big – even if it takes twenty years.

Now that I’ve finished my stint of YA books, I am planning on a few classic books to get under my belt. More updates soon!

Review of “Eclipse”

Meyer, Stephenie. Eclipse. Little Brown, New York, 2007. ISBN: 9780316027656
Edward is now back in Bella’s life, much to her father and Jacob’s dismay.  Now Bella has to deal with a strange intruder in her room and the discord between the werewolves and the vampires.  Edward and Bella get engaged but she realizes that she loves Jacob as well.  What’s a girl to do? 
I’m starting my review of Eclipse before I finish it so I can keep tabs on the reactions I have throughout the book.  First I have a hard time with Bella.  She is in love with Edward but not for his money and beauty, as she claims, but because of him because of how caring he is.  Okay, fine.  So he never lets her out of his sight, never lets her visit Jacob, already made her father hate him for leaving her a mess, but yet she wants to become a vampire, marry him and leave everyone behind?  Rosalie already explained how awful the pain was and how much not having a normal life sucks.  And this girl is our heroine whom we want to see happy in the end?  Is what the heroine wants better than what we as the reader want though? 
Bella tells Jacob that, “I love him [Edward]. Not because he’s beautiful or because he’s rich” (110).  Oh, that’s a good one, Bella.  That’s the only reason you love him.  A couple hundred pages later she says, “I had so many more important things to think about, but his smile still knocked the breath out of me.  He was so beautiful that it made it hard sometimes to think about anything else…I was only human” (314-5).  That’s right, Bella, you’re a stupid human.
She was an emotional wreck when Edward left and Jacob was there to befriend her.  But now that Edward is back and gung-ho on this whole marriage thing, she’s mad at everyone who is standing in her way.  Oh no, my father doesn’t deserve how nice my boyfriend is to him.  Oh no, Jacob doesn’t like him and so I have to fight with him all the time.  And if I want to go see him I can’t anyway because my vampire cult soon-to-be in-laws are keeping me captive. Oh well, I’m only human.
I don’t like Bella.  I guess Meyer wants to write her abhorrence for marriage to be some testament to her problems of being a child of divorce.  But how does that work?  All she does is cook and clean for her father.  He tries to stick up for her but she’s not worried about leaving him forever as a vampire, she’s just worried about Alice being disappointed that she can’t do a wedding for her. Yes, I totally believe that this girl is this beloved that everyone would take the time to go out of their way to force her to be social.  She doesn’t do anything that gives her any personality except get depressed and ride motorcycles (hence why New Moon is the best book so far.)
I don’t like Edward.  He’s a pretty vampire.  Hooray.  He loves Bella and wants to “protect” her so he suffocates her.  She is never out of his sight or ever anywhere without his say-so.  In the real world we call this abuse.
But this is fiction and we understand that love is blind and dumb (very dumb) and things happen because of the intensity of a love relationship.  Honestly though, it didn’t need to go on this long.  Someone had said you can read the first book and the last and get the whole drift of the story.  I believe that.  This book was merely fluff.
I really don’t want to read the last book.  Eclipse was the dullest thing, albeit entertaining in a Snakes on a Plane kind of way, but still nothing happened except for some lovey drama and some dismembering towards the very end.  Wow.  I had to read through three back stories (snore) and then being told over and over that this book was based on Wuthering Heights because Lord knows I or any teenage reader would be too dumb to figure this out.  (And besides, Heathcliff had a deep, long-rooted love for Cathy that went way beyond a year of being stalked by a vampire and…you know what, never mind.)
I’ll go as far as to say that the idea is great, it just could have been done better.  And what was up with the epilogue being written in Jacob’s point of view?  Where the heck did that come from?  You have four books in a series and at the end of the third you decide to throw in a different narrator?  Meyer must have gotten as sick of Bella as we did. 
I was told that Jacob tells half of the story in the last book too.  No, just no.  I don’t want to read anything about how much he loves this little twit and how she is the “stubbornest” person in the world.  I also don’t care if Bella and Edward get married, have a wedding night, have a kid, turn into a vampire or anything.  I read other criticisms;  I know how disappointing it’s going to be even if it had a chance of being interesting. 
But, alas, I’ve made it this far.  I’ll take a hiatus and read Breaking Dawn at some point and put that under my belt of experiences.  I just don’t know when I can stomach it.  I’m afraid my own writing is going to suffer from the saturation of bad writing. (Sorry, Stephenie, I know you tried.) 

Review of “New Moon”

Meyer, Stephenie.  New Moon. Kindle. Hachette, London, 2009. ISBN: 1904233880
On Bella’s sixteenth birthday, the Cullens have thrown her a party.  Once there, she unwraps a present and cuts her finger, leaving Edward’s brother, Jasper, trying to attack her.  The Cullens decide to move and Edward tells Bella that they need to make “a clean break.”  Bella is shocked and hurt and is discovered in the woods by Sam Uley, one of Jacob Black’s friends.  For months Bella is depressed and there is no sign of Edward or his family.  Eventually Bella becomes closer to her friend Jacob Black, a match her father Charlie approves of.  Bella feels happy again with Jacob and starts riding motorcycles with him.  However, the memory of Edward lingers and each time she finds herself in the midst of danger, his voice is in her head.  Jacob suddenly stops calling her and after an incident where she had seen Laurent in the same woods where Edward had left her, she discovers that Jacob and his friends are all a pack of young werewolves.  In order to hear the “delusion” of Edward’s voice again she decides to go cliff jumping alone and nearly drowns until Jacob saves her.  In a vision Alice, Edward’s sister, comes back to see Bella only to find that she is only alive.  Edward, however, believes she is dead and goes to Italy to try and get the Volturi family to kill him.  Bella and Alice have to go and stop him where the Volturi family explain that Bella must become a vampire in order to appease them.
This book is young adult / teen romantic fantasy.  I liked this book immensely better than TwilightWithout the blubbering over Edward, Bella had some kind of real personality.  She was heartbroken, depressed, interested in motorcycles, had new friends…she was a teenaged girl hanging out with a teenaged boy.  I liked the character of Jacob Black a lot and I hope that Meyer gives him more to do in Eclipse as well.  The detail that Bella gives Edward is just about his allure and his “perfect” insert-random-body-part-here.  The relationship with Jacob was much more enduring and much more connective.  I actually felt like Bella was a real human being.
However, it amazed me that while we were all pretty much guessing that Jacob was a werewolf in Twilight, poor Bella couldn’t figure it out even after Jacob’s persistence to remember exactly what he has told her.  (The treaty about the vampires and werewolves in Forks.)  I don’t like being two steps ahead of the narrator.  I also like the Native American legend of the werewolves too.  To me that’s very cool and it makes some kind of sense.  Native American oral legend would have tales of men turning into wolves – a creature they honour.  So Meyer did a good job on that, in my humble opinion.  I’m still not sure why they turn into wolves when they get mad instead of when the moon is full (*cough cough* Title of the novel. *cough cough*) but I can overlook that.  It’s also way more interesting to me, again, that these young wolves are just that – young.  It works well and I enjoyed the story of them.
But of course the vampires showed up again.  Now, the whole Volturi thing bugged me a bit but making them very creepy was a good way to go.  I haven’t even watched the stinking movie and I knew who Dakota Fanning’s character was the minute they described her.  The Volturi reminded me of Interview with the Vampire so it felt a little more like a traditional vampire story.  I still don’t understand how the “delusions” of hearing Edward’s voice was just the truth coming to the surface instead of some cool ability to speak to Bella when they are at such a distance (as opposed to when they’re always together.)  Seems kind of cheap to me.  And what’s with the hyphenating of words, Stephenie Meyer? “Too-big” and “too-warm” are not proper words.  Plus, everyone in this book is either chuckling or hissing.  Can’t they just talk?  Oh yeah, they’re monsters, so no?
Ultimately I do like this in some ways and in some ways I don’t.  I know Meyer said she didn’t like having to have Edward be gone for so long but I love that it gave Bella some depth and Jacob more purpose.  I don’t like that this is going to lead into “see ya, I’m off to be a bloodsucker now.”  I guess Meyer is trying to ease it more with Jacob being so angry (and potentially hurting Bella if this happens.)  But that will be for my review of Eclipse which I fumbled through the first 20% of already before writing this review.
I like that they have discussion questions in the back of the book too.  If books that are this engaging for young readers they need to know how to analyse the material in a way that they can transfer it to other school books.