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