December 23, 2013

Review: Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always



The title of this novel—as well as that cover—intrigued me. After reading the novel, I don’t see the connection between these two things and the novel itself, and I feel like I’m missing something important.

Do you ever feel that way about a cover and/or title? It seems there’s no cohesion between them? That is what happened for me with this book; however, as a whole I enjoyed the storytelling element.


Title: ‘Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always’
Author: Elissa Janine Hoole
Pages: 349
Publisher: Flux
Available: NOW
Source: requested from Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Cassandra fears rocking the family boat. Instead, she sinks it. Assigned by her English teacher to write a poem that reveals her true self, Cassandra Randall is stuck. Her family's religion is so overbearing, she can NEVER write about who she truly is. So Cass does what any self-respecting high school girl would do: she secretly begins writing a tarot-inspired advice blog. When Drew Godfrey, an awkward outcast with unwashed hair, writes to her, the situation spirals into what the school calls "a cyberbullying crisis" and what the church calls "sorcery." Cass wants to be the kind of person who sticks up for the persecuted, who protects the victims the way she tries to protect her brother from the homophobes in her church. But what if she's just another bully? What will it take for her to step up and tell the truth?

My Thoughts:

Hoole really jammed a lot into the 349 pages, almost too much for me to keep up with by novel’s end. The storytelling of this novel felt personal, as if Hoole herself has lived this life, or knows someone who has.

Cassandra has been raised in a conservative household, one that begins each morning with a prayer circle before the kids head off to school. There is just one problem: Cass is no longer a believer. She hasn’t been for some time, but she keeps up the fa├žade for her parents’ sake.

A single gift changes everything: a $20 bill given to her by her brother. She finds herself in unknown territory, the mall, and a bookstore. She walks in with no expectation but walks out with a tarot deck. Her curiosity is peaked. She lives in a conservative household and is a member of the most conservative church in her area. This is absolute blasphemy. But she takes out the deck, and her life changes instantly.

And not necessarily for the good. She finds herself in sticky situations that she would usually not be in—and she finds herself being overly secretive and lying to her parents. This is pretty normal teenage behavior, but not in a household like Cass’.

Once Cass starts a blog posing as a fortune teller, her whole life seems to spiral out of control into a mess of cyber-bullying and a deteriorating friendship. But if that is not enough, add in a strained parental relationship, a gay brother trying to figure out his life, and first “love” for Cass.

I felt the author gave readers too much to juggle in this novel. There were too many other stories to tell, not just Cass, and she really should have been the focus.

With that said, I do think this novel is worth reading. Hoole really deals with several teen issues, but the most important one is being true to one’s self. We see a glimpse of that message through Cass’ English teacher, a man who just wants her to write a poem celebrating herself—something she cannot seem to do.

This is where Cass’ woes come into play, and the novel is about her self-discovery. But the sprinkling of too many other elements made it hard for me to focus on just her and her self-discovery.
I would’ve enjoyed the novel more if the focus had been kept on her struggle with her family and her faith. I felt I wasn’t ever able to connect with Cass because she was all over the place in her life, and I know this is a truth with teens today, but I like my realistic fiction novels more focused in plot.

If you’ve read Melissa Walker’s ‘Small Town Sinners’ and enjoyed it, you will enjoy this. If you read this novel and enjoyed it but have not read Walker’s tale, you should.

What’s the most interesting realistic novel you’ve read lately?

Comment below and let’s talk about books.
                                                                                          
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

Review: Pawn


It has been over a month since I blogged about a book. Yikes! I could blame it on the devastation of ‘Allegiant,’ but the truth is that my life as an AP Language teacher took over my time—and my brain—and now that I am on break, I hope to get a few ducks in a row to keep this a bit more up-to-date.

My first blog back is on one of my favorite genres, dystopia. I really enjoyed the storytelling of this novel, and it has become one of my favorite reads of 2013.

Title: ‘Pawn’
Author: Aimee Carter
Pages: 352
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Available: NOW
Source: requested from Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

YOU CAN BE A VII IF YOU GIVE EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked - surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There's only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed, and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that's not her own, she must decide which path to choose and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she's only beginning to understand.

My Thoughts:

I love a good dystopian tale. There are so many on the market now, and some are very high quality storytelling while others are not, so when I find a new one, I always begin my reading with caution.

A few things I look for in a good dystopian novel: fast-pace plot, strong characters, a surprise twist I do not see coming.

This book had all three.

Some novels like to walk readers into the plot, to make us work for what is to come, but that is not the case with ‘Pawn.’ We are thrown in immediately, like ‘The Hunger Games.’ (I know a lot of people compare books to THG, but there is a reason. If a reader is a fan and is looking for another read that is as comparable, this is the best analogy to give.)

The first chapter mirrors the same pacing of THG—we are introduced to our main heroine, her plights in life, and then BAM! We are thrown into the overall plot. It is fast. It is horrific. It is wonderful.

And by wonderful, I mean the pacing. There was no wait for this novel. There was no “working for it.” There was just plot. And it was fast.

Then there is Kitty, this novel’s star. She owns this plot, period. I always felt like in THG Peeta and Gale hijacked the story, but not with this novel. It is Kitty’s world—and we are just reading about it.

What I love about her character is her strength in herself. She is an orphan. A nobody in the new world. She is also a level III for one simple reason: she cannot read. (Even in a dystopian world reading trumps in society.) This is a part of the novel that I really enjoyed because it reminded me of ‘The Reader,’ and it reminds readers that reading can save lives.

But back to Kitty. I really enjoyed getting to know her character, and I am curious to see where Carter takes us next with her. She is ferocious on the page, willing to do what she needs to do to survive and protect those she loves. There is a distinct difference between her character and that of other dystopian heroines, especially Katniss—Kitty is likeable. By likeable, I mean she seems like she could be one of our friends. In many dystopian novels it seems the heroines are so broken that being “friends” with them seems impossible.

But I could see myself hanging with Kitty.

And then of course there is a surprise twist. That is all I have to say about that. While some may say the twist was predictable, I didn’t see it coming, and it can be hard to “trick” me because I’m pretty good at seeing where an author is taking the story.

Not the case here. Carter has left the door open to many different possibilities, and I like it.

This book is for the dystopian lover in your life, period. It would also make a fabulous gift under the tree. Nothing says Christmas like a novel about a broken America where people are forced into living in the “categorical number” they are yielded by the government. I kid. But not really.

What’s the best dystopian novel you’ve read lately?

Comment below and let’s talk about books.
                                                                                          
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

November 17, 2013

Review: Allegiant


Well, I finally tackled it. I didn’t want to after seeing there was a bit of a backlash from fans…and after seeing on ‘Entertainment Weekly’ an article on her “controversial ending.”

But last weekend was a three-day weekend, so I decided to go ahead and see what had everyone in such an uproar.

I found out. I did. And I understand. And this is hard to write without spoilers…but I’m going for it.

Title: ‘Allegiant’
Author: Veronica Roth
Pages: 526
Publisher: Katherin Tegen Books
Available: NOW
Source: personal copy

Summary (from Goodreads):

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

My Thoughts:

First, let me say that this was a lot easier to read than ‘Insurgent.’ When reading a series, I usually do not go back and re-read the other novels (‘Harry Potter’ is an exception) because I just don’t have time with my grading load, but I HAD to re-read parts of ‘Divergent’ in order to read ‘Insurgent,’ which I did not like. This is not the case with the final installment.

I was able to pick up the novel and read and remember everything from the previous book with no issue.

Readers are thrust back into Tris’ Chicago, one full of corruption, one on the brink of total chaos. There is a fight for power as those who prefer a Faction life seem lost in the cracks to those who do not. But this is the least of Tris’ worries.

Tris and Tobias reunite and decide it is time for outside intervention. It is time to see what is on the other side of the fence. The consequences are great, and the world discovered sends both Tris and Tobias into a tailspin. The question is, can they survive it—and can they find true meaning within their own lives?

Roth really had me with this novel. I read the entire story in one day. I could not put it down. I had to see where she was taking me, and where she was going to leave our beloved Tris and Tobias.

If you are a fan of the series, you cannot miss this conclusion to the tale. I do not care what you have read/heard/seen, etc. You have to read and experience it for yourself.

With that said, I do have a few issues with the novel. There were several holes in the storytelling that were never answered. But I do have a theory: those holes were just a distraction to where Roth was leading us. While I have those questions, I feel as if I have enough of the story to fill in those holes myself. I just don’t always like to do it.

I was so torn about this novel when I finished it. I could not reach out to my fellow readers if they had not yet read it—but I could reach out to the hubby. So, I asked him to read it so we could discuss the ending. He read it. Then he said, “You had me read that book and now we aren’t going to discuss it?!” That man.

While I felt I read a story of love and friendship, he read ‘Insurgent.’ He felt as if Roth just re-wrote the second novel in a different setting. This is what I want to ask you all: did you feel the same way? I did, and I didn’t at the same time. If that makes sense.

But, he and I agreed on the ending—and without spoiling it here, let me just say that we both believe it was not the ending for this novel. I have spoken to several of my students and fellow teachers who have read the novel, and they side with us on this as well.

But, I do not regret reading the series. At all. I really enjoy Tris and Tobias as separate characters, but I really enjoy when they are on the page together. Roth has a nice pacing to her storytelling, and while she is not a master at world building, she doesn’t need to. In this series, she shows how easily the world can be torn apart, a world that many of us already live in—in a metaphorical sense.

If you are a fan of ‘The Hunger Games’ series but you have yet to pick up the ‘Divergent’ series, this is the perfect time to do it. All three novels are out, you don’t have to wait, you can read all three in a row. Then, come back and tell me what you think. I would love to know.

While I am NOT going to put spoilers in the review, please be warned that there may be spoilers in the comments below.

So fellow readers, what are your thoughts on the ‘Divergent’ series—but most especially, what did you think of how Roth chose to end it? Comment below and let’s talk about it.
                                                                                          
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

October 27, 2013

Review: Goodbye, Rebel Blue


What first attracted me to this novel was that cover—I mean, how awesome is it? I am so jealous of her awesome hair.

But also the plot. It sounded interesting, like a book I would really enjoy. I did.

Title: ‘Goodbye, Rebel Blue’
Author: Shelley Coriell
Pages: 320
Publisher: Abrams
Available: NOW
Source: requested from Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Rebecca Blue is a rebel with an attitude whose life is changed by a chance encounter with a soon-to-be dead girl. Rebel (as she’s known) decides to complete the dead girl’s bucket list to prove that choice, not chance, controls her fate. In doing so, she unexpectedly opens her mind and heart to a world she once dismissed—a world of friendships, family, and faith. With a shaken sense of self, she must reevaluate her loner philosophy—particularly when she falls for Nate, the golden boy do-gooder who never looks out for himself. Perfect for fans of Jay Asher’s blockbuster hit Thirteen Reasons Why, Coriell’s second novel features her sharp, engaging voice along with realistic drama and unforgettable characters.

My Thoughts:

Who knew a stint in detention could change someone? Well, if you’ve seen ‘The Breakfast Club,’ you already know this is possible. That is the feel this novel had for me—it was a John Hughes novel on paper.

Detention: the bane of teenager experience. What happens when teens are asked to make a bucket list while sitting in detention? Is the assignment taken seriously, or is it just something to do to pass the time? For Kennedy Green, it is a time to discuss belief and the afterlife. Rebel, not so much. It’s just one more hurdle.

When a peer is lost, it shakes teenagers. It reminds them that they are not invincible. For Rebel, she is not only shaken but also curious. After all, she just talked with Kennedy the day before, and it wasn’t just random teen banter.

After being called to the principal’s office to discuss the loss of this young lady, Rebel becomes curious. Whispers are that the girl make have taken her life, and Rebel wonders: “What was on her bucket list? Was there something there that could have shown that she was willing to give up on life?”

Rebel decides she must find that list, and she sneaks back into the detention room. The list seems normal enough. But what happens when that list haunts and keeps finding itself back into Rebel’s hands? Is the universe trying to tell her something?

Is it time to take a different path and do more good in the world?

And thus the novel goes…

Rebel is a character I can get behind. After losing her mother and having to live with family, she finds her own beat and continues to thrive on that beat. But she also recognizes that the universe has different plans for her.

At first, working through Kennedy’s bucket list is daunting. This is not the life Rebel was planning, but she quickly learns to embrace what she can change and that her one life can make a difference.

While Rebel is the star of this storytelling, Nate is the one who steals the show. He is the big man on campus, the do-gooder, the all-around American high school boy. Why would someone like him be interested in someone like Rebel? It’s simple: he sees the real her. He has faith in her ability to change the world, in her own way. He understands her…but can she open herself enough to allow him in?

The on-page flirtation between Rebel and Nate was almost too much to take. I do not understand why authors play with readers in this way. I mean I do, I get it: you have to keep the reader engaged, turning that page, but man it is torture to wait.

The secondary characters in the novel really enhance the story in one way: they are there to help Rebel (and Nate) shine. They remind readers that even in high school there is a system, and when an outsider tries “invading” that system, both sides of the coin have strong feelings.

I did mention this was like a John Hughes movie on the page, right? Think ‘Pretty in Pink’ meets ‘Sixteen Candles’ meets the modern day bucket list.

And I loved it.

I recommend this to all readers of YA but most especially to fans of Stephanie Perkins because it has that same feel to it.

What has been your favorite YA novel lately?

Comment below and let’s talk about books.
                                                                                          
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator