Thursday, August 22, 2013

Under Shifting Glass by Nicky Singer

[description from goodreads]

Jess has a secret: a mysterious glass flask she finds in an heirloom desk's hidden compartment. Its surface swirls with iridescent colors, like something's inside, something almost like a song, something with a soul. No one else sees anything under the shifting glass, but Jess is convinced there must be some kind of magic in there. And when her twin brothers are born critically ill, Jess begins to believe that the force within the flask just might hold the key to saving her brothers-and her family. In this emotionally rich novel, award-winning author Nicky Singer crafts a world of possibility that is steeped in hope and the power of love.

Review:

I'm used to reading about characters dealing with the illness or loss of others, but usually not with a narrator as young as Jess in Under Shifting Glass. For that new perspective, plus the added hint of magic, I very much enjoyed the story (well, as much one can "enjoy" such a sad tale). 

From the get-go, Under Shifting Glass is clearly a "grief tale." Jess's aunt just died, and her new siblings are actually conjoined twins, so she has to deal with mourning and all the stress that comes with worrying about how the twins will survive. That, plus other crumbling friendships and school problems, give Jess an overwhelming amount to deal with, but I'm impressed with the way most everything was handled. Although some things, like Jess's troubles with her best friend, escalated too quickly to make them seem realistic in this rather short novel, her fixation on the seemingly magical flask from her aunt's desk ties everything together. She ties it to both her aunt and her brothers rather quickly, and as it seems to shift and change, so does everything in her life. It makes for a consistently changing, interesting tale, especially since the flask does seem to have some powers and gives Jess's story a sense of wonder as a result. 

The magical flask helps show Jess's true character too. It would have been easy for her to think the flask had powers and simply wait for them to happen, but instead, she tries to fix things in her own way. It was often clear to me that her methods wouldn't work, but reading about someone with such pure hope and wishes for things to improve made the whole ordeal heartbreaking rather than a waste of time. I only wish the other characters could inspire such emotion; Jess runs around so often and interacts with so many different people, often for only a few pages at a time, that I mostly didn't find the supporting cast to be three-dimensional. Believable, surely, and realistic for the most part, but they mostly seemed to be there to move the plot along rather than be fully-realized individuals. 

Although it's not developed to its fullest potential, Under Shifting Glass is a bittersweet, prettily written read that feels a lot like the magic its heroine believes in.

Book details: Chronicle/Hardcover/$16.99

Source: sent by publisher for review

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Semi-educated YA Movie Adaptation Predictions (Part 2)

A follow-up to yesterday's post regarding YA book-to-movie adaptations, this time discussing the upcoming films that do not yet have trailers. Because I like to think I know more than I do about movie adaptations, I want a record of predictions to check back on after these movies come out so I can see if I'm right about how well they do:


The Book Thief - November 15, 2013

I am so excited for this movie I almost wrote this sentence in caps because of it but thought against it because my rambling and exclamation points could do just as decent/annoying a job of showing my enthusiasm!!! Although the movie is out in a couple of months, there's no trailer that I've seen, but USA Today released a set of photos. The one I posted is by far the most adorable, but the other five show some of the sadness involved in most of the story. I think this movie will do very well since the book is still insanely (and rightfully) popular, and I'm just hoping it's really good too. I'm mostly worried about how Death will be integrated, but I'm excited too. 



The Maze Runner - February 14, 2014

I've had this book since it came out, but I haven't managed to get around to reading it quite yet. I know people both online and off who love it, though. Of all the in-progress adaptations I've come across, I think this one has most of a chance of getting the sequel produced. I feel like it will go the Percy Jackson route-- the first one will make just enough money so the studio produces the next one, even though the first isn't the runaway success they hoped for. I'm not sure if I will go see it, but I will surely watch more videos of the cast being silly. 

From divergentfans.com
Divergent - March 21, 2014

The more I think about Divergent, the less sense it makes. I understand it takes place in a dystopian world based on five factions, with people separated by personality. But the whole premise is that there's a girl whose personality doesn't fit into one spot-- and, like, duh? Why wasn't that a problem before Tris showed up? Was she really the first to rebel against this faction system? Aren't there a million Divergents running around? Maybe I should read the rest of the series to find out these answers. I don't know if that would make the series make any more sense to me, but hopefully, since the movie looks a bit ridiculous too. I don't think the movie will make enough money or get enough attention to warrant adapting the sequel, but I'm sure it will do fine enough. 



The Fault in Our Stars - 2014

I understand the hype for this book even though I never managed to fully connect with it myself. The movie will be an indie darling, and the internet (mostly tumblr) will be exploding with love and excitement even months after it's released. I will see it, I will find it enjoyable but overrated, and I will hate seeing it all over the internet, because I am unbearably cynical and difficult to please.


Fallen - 2014 

The two leads of this were just cast, and I didn't even know it was set to be adapted. Which makes sense, considering I've never read the book and know myself well enough to know that I would probably not enjoy it. I never saw the sequels to the book as much as I saw Fallen around the internet, so I'm skeptical about how well the movie will do (assuming they continue to go forward with it).


If I Stay - unknown release date

I loved this book, but I'm not sure how they'd translate it to screen. It could be beautiful if done well, so I remain hopeful that it will actually make it to theaters. Only a couple people have been cast, and I really don't care Chloe Moretz, who is set to play Mia, but I'll remain optimistic. At this point, I just hope it's made, since having a cast doesn't really mean anything-- remember when Selena Gomez was set to star in Thirteen Reasons Why

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Semi-educated YA Movie Adaptation Predictions (Part 1)

Despite the underwhelming box office performance of movies based on bestsellers such as Beautiful Creatures, there's a whole slew of other movies based on YA novels coming out between now and 2014. Because I like to think I am more knowledgable about YA books and movies than I actually am, and I'd like a record to check back on at the end of next year, I thought I'd put together a list of predictions regarding the quality, success, potential sequels, etc. of some upcoming movies:



Being that this one comes out next week, I thought it only fitting to put it first on my list. There's been a decent amount of promo for this movie-- I see a billboard or poster for it nearly every time I leave the house, and a decent number of movies I've seen this summer play its trailer beforehand. However, with reports about the relative lack of interest at huge events like Comic-Con, I'm not convinced it will be a wild box office success. I know plenty of people excited about it, but that's mostly because those people are invested in any YA adaptation. I'm not so interested myself because, to put it kindly, if I reread these books now, I highly doubt I'd find as much enjoyment or quality in them as I did when I read them when I was 14. 

However, they seem to already be seeking to cast the sequel, City of Ashes, so maybe even if City of Bones does not fare too well, the studio will still try to turn it into a successful franchise. I still won't be interested.



How I Live Now - October 2013 (UK)

I read this book in 2008, so my memories of it are extremely fuzzy. I don't remember liking it very much, but I think that had more to do with the strange writing style than content. I actually think I'd like it more if I read it now, so hopefully I get around to rereading it before the movie comes out in the US. I'll probably make an effort to see this one since I love Saoirse Ronan. However, I don't know how well the incest plot will play out on screen, because, well, incest. I'm also not digging how much this trailer shows-- I feel like I watched the entire movie. As far as the financial success of this film goes, I think it will do fine in at least making more money than it cost to produce. Probably not a worldwide phenomenon, but I'm sure it will do particularly well in its home of the United Kingdom.


Ender's Game - November 1, 2013

This one is based on another book I read way back when I was middle school and didn't find particularly great. I do not care at all about seeing this film, but I am extremely interested in how much money makes. Plenty of people are already planning to boycott the film since the book's author, Orson Scott Card, is a vile human being. Other people like to separate the film from the book, a perspective I can understand, or don't know about Card's idiocy. The financial success, or lack thereof, of the movie will be interesting no matter what and I'm sure will spark plenty of discussion about supporting work by those with such controversial views.



Catching Fire - November 22, 2013

It will make lots of money and be a pretty decent film too (probably). We all know this, this is boring, moving on.



Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters - February 14, 2014

I have a long-standing love for Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, and I maintain that they are the best YA vampire series. I think the trailer, though, is campy in all the wrong ways. I feel so bad for thinking so because I would love for the movie to be good, and the screenwriter also wrote one of my favorite movies, Heathers, but I remain insanely skeptical. I also don't feel like it's going to be successful either. Even with my love of the series, I didn't even know they had casted anyone or were actually turning it into a movie until filming was practically over. If they couldn't even promote that the movie was being made, I fear for the marketing closer to the film's actual release. I sincerely hope I'm wrong, since I love the books, so I'll remain outwardly optimistic (while actually being overly angsty).

Since this post is already obscenely long, I'll be discussing adaptations that do not yet have trailers in another post tomorrow. That stuff requires a whole other kind of random predicting.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey

The Curse of the Wendigo is the sequel to The Monstrumologist. Each of the novels stand pretty well on their own, so no spoilers for book one follow!

[description from goodreads] 

While attempting to disprove that Homo vampiris, the vampire, could exist, Dr. Warthrop is asked by his former fiancé to rescue her husband from the Wendigo, a creature that starves even as it gorges itself on human flesh, and which has snatched him in the Canadian wilderness. Although Warthrop also considers the Wendigo to be fictitious, he relents and rescues her husband from death and starvation, and then sees the man transform into a Wendigo.

Can the doctor and Will Henry hunt down the ultimate predator, who, like the legendary vampire, is neither living nor dead, whose hunger for human flesh is never satisfied?

This second book in The Monstrumologist series explores the line between myth and reality, love and hate, genius and madness.

Review:

The first book in this series, The Monstrumologist, was a breath of fresh air that tasted mostly of cobwebs and dust. Although it took me quite a while to finally get around to reading The Curse of Wendigo, I found it just as original, spooky, and atmospheric as its predecessor. 

It's difficult to review sequels because if they aren't dramatically better or worse than the other books in the series, I mainly have the same things to say. Such is the case with The Curse of the Wendigo; like The Monstrumologist, it's creepy and full of all sorts of exciting monsters. It's actually more focused than book one, being that from the beginning the wendigo makes itself present in the story, rather than a variety of creatures. The wendigo mostly comes up through tales and myths, which kind of sucked since it's so cool that I would not have minded reading about one going around eating people for two hundred pages, but it worked out since it was long and well established via all the stories that these things are twisted. 

Something different about this sequel is that there's more about the characters beyond simply their penchant for monstrumology. It was delightful and interesting to read about Warthrop's romantic past, for example, since he mostly seems like a cranky old man. With the appearance of an old flame, though, he began to show actual emotion and concern for keeping things from Will, which sent their relationship into much more complex territory. Despite all this new character development, I once again had trouble connecting to Will, the narrator. He's the refreshing beacon of normalcy amidst all the gore, but that also means he's just not super exciting. He spends more time discussing what he sees and encounters, so he got a bit lost among all the monster hunting, which is expected but still unappreciated. 

Much like the first book in this series, The Curse of the Wendigo is an dark, macabre adventure, featuring a wonderfully horrific monster and some added character development that makes everything a bit more personal. 

Book details: Simon and Schuster/Paperback/$9.99

Source: sent by publicist for review

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh

[description from goodreads]

Fate: 
Is it written in the stars from the moment we are born? 
Or is it a bendable thing that we can shape with our own hands? 

Jepp of Astraveld needs to know. 

He left his countryside home on the empty promise of a stranger, only to become a captive in a luxurious prison: Coudenberg Palace, the royal court of the Spanish Infanta. Nobody warned Jepp that as a court dwarf, daily injustices would become his seemingly unshakable fate. If the humiliations were his alone, perhaps he could endure them; but it breaks Jepp’s heart to see his friend Lia suffer. 

After Jepp and Lia attempt a daring escape from the palace, Jepp is imprisoned again, alone in a cage. Now, spirited across Europe in a kidnapper’s carriage, Jepp fears where his unfortunate stars may lead him. But he can't even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master—a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars—who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past.

Masterfully written, grippingly paced, and inspired by real histori­cal characters, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the tale of an extraordinary hero and his inspiring quest to become the master of his own destiny.


Review:

I'm not sure what it is about the title Jepp, Who Defied the Stars that I like so much, but it's been in the back of my mind since I first got my hands on this book. Something about it is just so subtly lyrical and fantastical; I actually put off reading the book for so long because I didn't want it to not live up to its beautiful name. It turns out that I had no reason to fear, because although the book is nowhere near perfect, it sure has the magic its title hints at. 

The most striking, and by far the best, part of Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the very pretty way in which it is written. Take, for example, this random passage I found flipping back in the first few pages: 
Her eyes could flash stern enough to shame the rowdiest drunk or-- upon viewing a mewling kitten or another of the hapless creatures she so enjoyed-- crinkle with mirth. The remaining families of Astraveld, who felt deep gratitude toward her, showered me with affection and praise. As the popularity of the inn grew but I did not, I attributed the laughter and smiles of passing travelers to the love owed me as prince of my mother's spirited kingdom (4).
Not the most descriptive language in the world, nor made of the most impressive words, but things like "mewling" or "crinkle with mirth" give enough description of happiness without being distractingly long. I also chose this passage because it contains the name of "Astraveld" as well as the phrase "spirited kingdom;" that name, as well as most of the others in this book, sound like they are straight from fantasy, and their prevalence make the story as a whole seem otherworldy too. However, there isn't actually any magic in this book. It's a piece of historical fiction, but it's far from dry and boring. Instead, the writing flows perfectly and makes everything seem it comes straight from the stars Jepp so often thinks about.

The positively lovely writing of this book made me happy enough to not care so much about the rest of the novel. The premise is great-- a fictionalized version of what happened with real court dwarves and the real Jepp in the sixteenth century-- and something so delightfully original that it caught my attention immediately and never let up. I loved reading about the court life and Jepp's adventures elsewhere in the kingdom, because he absorbs and describes his surroundings without ever dumping too much information at once; it's a much more subtle world-building. However, even with my enjoyment, I must admit this book is woefully slow. So slow that I'm sure some people will not be able to get past it, which makes sense because even I was wondering why it took so long for Jepp to stop gallivanting around and take some action. Despite all the places Jepp goes, and the people he meets, there's just not much in this book that feels exciting or inspires a particularly emotional reaction. Jepp describes his feelings for people, for example, but it's in the same way he discusses his home and the court and everything else in the story, so his emotions don't stick out very well. If the narrative could move from being "pretty" into "emotional," I would have loved it even more.

It lacks a sense of adventure, but Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is so lovely in its writing, world-building, and mood, that even without an emotional connection, I absolutely adored it.

Book details: Hyperion/Hardcover/$16.99

Source: sent by publisher for review

Sunday, August 11, 2013

School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins

[description from goodreads]

Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy's mom decides they need to take a break.

Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who's always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.

Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt? 

Rachel Hawkins' delightful spin-off brings the same wit and charm as the New York Times best-selling Hex Hall series. Get ready for more magic, mystery and romance!


Review:

I read the debut of Rachel Hawkins' first series, Hex Hall, way back when it first released and found it to be a fun, light twist on the paranormal phenomenon that was saturating bookstores. I still have not read the third book in that series because of my inability to keep up with series when so many other books are out there, but I happily began School Spirits, the new spin-off, and found it to be almost as delightful as Hex Hall. 

Although I admit my memories of Hex Hall are rather fuzzy, being that I read the book so long ago, I do remember the humorous, even spunky, tone of heroine Sophie Mercer. Izzy, the narrator of School Spirits, is not quite as bubbly as her cousin, but she's fun all the same. Her upbringing as a paranormal cop of sorts makes her both capable of handling the more dangerous aspects of her job with ease, a badass trait if there ever was one, as well as rather practical and level-headed. I greatly appreciated this practicality when she headed out into the "real world" for the first time, since she so easily could have been obnoxiously enthusiastic or unaware of how things at high school go. Instead, she takes in her new surroundings trying to act as normally as possible, which really makes her mishaps funnier. Plus, her ease going in makes her new friendships seem so much more valid, since she doesn't judge her peers quite like everybody else does. Being that these people become so important to the story, this normalcy was greatly appreciated.

I do like Izzy quite a lot, but with other aspects of this book I am a bit more torn. I love that even when Izzy isn't dealing directly with paranormal happenings, there is always a sense of them in the background. Whether it's with her friends, love interest, or the guy trapped in the mirror at her house, there's always a sense of magic and ghosts about, which makes even the high school P.E. scenes fun to read. However, I think this book attempted far too much in such a short amount of time. There's Izzy's new school life, her ghost-hunting friends, and possibly magical love interest to worry about, plus a missing sister, emotionless relationship between Izzy and her mother, the actual ghost hauntings, and a slew of other conflicts. It's far too much for a 300 page book (with no sequel) to cover, so much of it ended up feeling shallow and emotionless. Everything ended up rushed and unresolved, which sucks considering it was such a delight until then.

Too short to handle all it tries to cover, School Spirits is nevertheless a fun read, with a heroine that matches the balance between silly and serious in this book's many conflicts.

Book details: Hyperion/Hardcover/$17.99

Source: sent by publisher for review

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl

[description from goodreads]

One day, fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious, handsome young man. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with Mr. "Nobody" until he turns up dead in her family's pond. She's stricken with guilt. Only Emily can discover who this enigmatic stranger was before he's condemned to be buried in an anonymous grave. Her investigation takes her deep into town secrets, blossoming romance, and deadly danger. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, this novel celebrates Emily Dickinson's intellect and spunk in a page-turner of a book that will excite fans of mystery, romance, and poetry alike.

Review:

I'm very much into retellings of traditional stories, but I have to say my familiarity with "prequel" tales of sorts isn't as expansive. I'm usually open to them, though, especially when they involve things I like, as is the case with Nobody's Secret, which imagines a story about teenage Emily Dickinson and the inspiration for her "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" poem. A fun premise, though, in reality, I don't think it's necessarily vital for this to be an Emily Dickinson tale. 

It's a short novel, but it still takes a bit of time to get to the murder mystery regarding Mr. Nobody. For once, I actually didn't mind the delay, as it gave time for Mr. Nobody to actually appear before his death. It was nice to get to see him and Emily interact directly, since their encounters were filled with enough fun and flirtation to make me see why Emily would be invested in figuring out why he died. I also appreciate that her interest was based more on friendship than romantic love, since it would have been easy to say that Emily sought answers because she was in love with the man. Plus, the emphasis on friendship kept it a bit more lighthearted, which was nice since death is so prevalent in the story. Combined with the many different people and places Emily encounters on her search, it's actually a rather fun mystery, one that's not too difficult to solve but still interesting because of all the adventure so deeply rooted in history. 

One thing that hindered my enjoyment of this book, though, is that I'm not sure how essential the fact that it's Emily Dickinson, not just any Emily, is to the story. The real Emily's hometown and family comes into play, and her poetic side is brought up numerous times, which was a cool, more subtle bonus. However, perhaps it's just because I don't know too much about the real Emily Dickinson's personality beyond the fact that she turned into a hermit eventually, but I don't really see a big connection between this version of Emily and the real one. It could also be my obsession with historical accuracy, but I don't know, Nobody's Secret's Emily seemed like she could have been any Emily. Maybe that's the point, in which case, that's super cool, but I'm cynical so most everything bothers me.

Nobody's Secret is a solid story, rich in the history of the setting if not the true history of Emily Dickinson, with a nice balance between adventure and darkness despite the fact that its mystery is not too difficult to solve. 

Book details: Chronicle/Hardcover/$16.99

Source: sent by publisher for review