Pinch Reviews: February 2014

Apologies for the delay in pinch reviews this month: it’s been a hectic few weeks as far as computers go, and I didn’t have a spare moment until now. Work is picking up, too, so when I have a minute to think about this, I have to grab it! Without further ado, pinch reviews. As always, if we aren’t friends on Goodreads, add me.

UNINVITED (Sophie Jordan) – 1/5 pinches

It’s not often that I really hate a book. I wrote a very spoiler-filled and extensive review for this on Goodreads, but for the sake of brevity (pinches!), suffice it to say that I thought the concept was brilliant and the execution was terrible. I love the idea of the discovery of a “kill gene” that indicates probable homicidal tendency, and the aftermath of the idea; however, it seems like Jordan got too excited about the save-the-cheerleader-save-the-world trend that tends to trap YA series right now, and forgot to invest in the science, the characters, and plausibility of plot. Overall thoughts: do not read this unless, you know, it’s killing you not to.

GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (Lawrence Wright) – 5/5 pinches

Now, back on to the books that I loved, which is the rest of them. GOING CLEAR, a 2013 National Book Award finalist, is a thoughtful non-fiction discussion of Scientology, from its foundation with L. Ron Hubbard to its current existence and membership. Not only did I feel that Wright left no stone unturned, the book also filled in sociopolitical gaps from the last fifty years for me. There were moments here where historical events just clicked together for me, and it was easier for me to see why some things were the way that they were. If you have even a passing interest in Scientology, you’ll be unable to put this down. There’s a reason it was on the NBA shortlist.

CRESS (Marissa Meyer) – 3/5 pinches

Cress is the third book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series (Cinder, Scarlet) that retells classic princess fairytales against a futuristic sci-fi YA landscape, and it’s exactly as awesome as you think. I liked CRESS a lot, but I have to say that I didn’t like it as much as the first two. I found Cress to be a rather weak character compared to Cinder and Scarlet, especially in our post-Tangled Rapunzel world. Meyer clearly has the rest of the series plotted, if not written, though, and while this book wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, it’s perfectly interesting and serviceable to the greater story. Read CINDER first (duh).

THE MOON SISTERS (Therese Walsh) – 3.5/5 pinches

I have a lot of feelings about this book. I’ll probably write a longer review just because I’d waited until its release to talk about it, as I usually try to do with books I read in advance. Sisters Jazz and Olivia Moon both come of age and find each other emotionally as they deal with their mother’s suicide in the different stages of grief. The sisters were so full as characters that everyone else fell a little flat, and at times I was irritated that other characters were interrupting the growth of the sister relationship. This book is sad and beautiful and interesting in its own way, and I’d probably recommend it. It would be a great book club title.

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (Audrey Niffenegger) – 5/5 pinches (annual)

One of my favorite books, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE makes it around to the list about once a year. I just can’t get enough of the story, and every time I read it new details stick out to me. I find myself in a different place emotionally each time I reread it, and the layers in this book are just truly complex and lovely. Listening to the audio book is really wonderful, too, since the alternating chapters are read by a man and woman. If you haven’t read this, drop everything else.

THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER (Leslye Walton) – 4.5/5 pinches

I received this on Net Galley in exchange for a review, and I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. I sat on it for about a month, and decided to give it a try—and then I fell in love. Less about Ava and more about the generations of a family who immigrate to the US from France, the story entwines magical realism into a spellbinding story written in nearly poetic prose. Walton wrote this book for adults and it was sold as YA, so it tends to the more serious. Truly loved this book—look for it.

A LONG, LONG SLEEP (Anna Sheehan) – 3/5 pinches

There’s just something about sci-fi retellings of fairytales that I can’t step away from, this time being Sleeping Beauty. Rosalinda Fitzroy is woken up after sixty years in a chemically-induced coma and must readjust to not only the world around her and high school, but with coming to terms with the fact that everyone she knows is dead, she’s the heir to one of the world’s largest corporations, and that perhaps not everything that happened to her has been an accident. If this sounds like your jam, read it; if not, you should probably skip it. What finally hooked me was an interview with Sheehan where she said she’d like to know what happened to Sleeping Beauty after she woke up, and what she did then. It’s great in most regards, though at times seems to try too hard. If you read YA regularly, you’ll probably like this.

WE WERE LIARS (E. Lockhart) – 5/5 pinches

I can’t say much about WE WERE LIARS, given that I don’t want to give anything away for you. Lockhart weaves together fairytales and classic stories as coping mechanisms for our protagonist, whose memory of a night years ago she must recover with the help of her family and friends. This isn’t typical YA, and I’d recommend for any audience. Really sad. Really beautiful. Really perfect. It comes out in May—order it now and read it immediately.

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Pinch Reviews: January 2014

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Can you believe the first month of the new year is already over? Every year seems to go faster and faster. It’s pretty incredible, right? That said, I wasted no time in getting to work on reading new books for the year. I set my Goodreads goal at 75 books for the year, an increase over my ambitious and surprising 68 from last year, and so far it seems like I’m on schedule–and even a little bit ahead.

I’m going to try to do this kind of post at the end of every month, with a quick recap and a short review, so I’m going to call this Pinch Reviews. Just a little bit of a review, enough to get your attention and hopefully pique your interest. I try to stay fairly current with my reading, so I’m hoping this will put out some attention on some lesser-read books (although almost everything I read this month was wildly popular among the contemporary set, I think).

While it looks like I read 10 books in January, that’s not entirely true. I started reading THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) on the plane back from Oklahoma at the end of the year and finished it in January, so I didn’t technically read all of it in 2014. Also, I started both I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE and ALL YOU NEVER WANTED last summer, read a few pages, then put them down and didn’t pick them back up until last week. However, on both of those, I read the majority of it this month, so I’m still willing to put them in the January category.

I was pretty pleased with my stats on this month, too–out of 10 books, 90% were by women authors and had women protagonists. Tim Tharp’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW was the only male-authored and -lead book from this month, but it was set in contemporary Oklahoma City, which I’m always a fan of.

THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) – 2/5 pinches

I really wanted to like this book–a YA novel starring a geek girl who’s the best coder in her school, or close to it, and a plot that involves her using her smarts and skills to promote herself, all while working through family tragedy, social class discussion and teenage romance. And the first half is great! Then Audrey uncovers a greater conspiracy (this isn’t a spoiler because it’s on the jacket) with the company offering her a scholarship, which also sounds good, but it never really felt like Sise had a handle on what the plot was really going to be when it found itself. The second half just never felt real or grounded, and it ended predictably. It was fine, but unless you’re really into this type of book, you might lose interest.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Tim Tharp) – 3.5/5 pinches

This is a quick and easy coming-of-age story about Sutter Keely, an alcoholic teen who never got over his father leaving his family and who is trying to figure out what his future can be, and if he even wants one. There are things I found unbelievable about the characters, but overall this is a solid book intended to appeal to male readers, which is rarer than it should be in YA. This is more of a crossover book, too, in that I think many adult readers would enjoy reading this, since it is layered heavily in that it would mean different things to different people at different ages. It’s a good but sad book. I recommend it.

Plus, it takes place in my hometown of Oklahoma City, which is great–not every book in a city needs to be New York or LA, and I appreciate this. You might have seen the movie, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and it was a National Book Award Finalist, which speaks heavily to its relevance.

DREAMLAND (Sarah Dessen) – 4/5 pinches

This is an oldie-but-goodie Sarah Dessen title that was first published in 2000, so I’m obviously behind here, but I bought it on an Amazon daily deal whim months ago, so I decided it was time to get down to it. This is another heartbreaking coming-of-age story about Caitlin, whose older-and-“better” sister Cass ran away, who starts dating bad boy Rogerson while drowning in her own impending depression. It’s a sad story, but it’s real–this is how things happen and how people fall through the cracks of their own lives when no one else is looking. It’s making me sad just thinking about it. I loved this book, but it is some heavy business, so prepare yourself.

LIFE AFTER LIFE (Kate Atkinson) – 3/5 pinches

Atkinson is a new author to me, known for her mysteries, but the concept of LIFE AFTER LIFE grabbed me immediately–a WW2 -centric book about Ursula Todd, who keeps dying and “resetting” to a certain point, basically until she gets it right. This sounds right up my alley, and I have to say that I didn’t love it. Once you get past Ursula’s childhood (about 120 pages), it picks up dramatically, and weaves an interesting series of tales with varying levels of involvement that come with living in Germany and being well-connected in early Hitler days. It’s interesting, to be sure, and it’s getting a lot of buzz, but it just fell a little short for me, personally. It’s more literary when I wanted it to be more genre, and more descriptive when I wanted more action. I am glad I read it, but I feel only okay about it.

Winner, Goodreads Choice Best Historical Fiction 2013

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? (Maria Semple) – 4.5/5 pinches

The beginning of the year started off fairly mediocre for me, bookswise, and this turned it around entirely. Protagonist and sometimes-narrator Bee is trying to figure out where her mother, Bernadette, disappeared to when they were about to leave for their cruise to Antarctica, and finds more in the files than she ever expected. This is a book I fell in love with, a book told mostly in documents and communications, interrupted occasionally by the young narrator’s voice. This is an adult novel with a young protagonist–I think teens would enjoy reading this because of the novelty of the format and the interesting plot, but I think this is a book that older readers might appreciate more, for its discussion of adult family dynamics and mental illness. I thought the end was wrapped up a little too quickly for the problems presented it later in the novel, but overall I loved this book a lot. It’s worth every bit of hype.

THE DIVINERS (Libba Bray) – 5/5 pinches

Now, if we’re going to talk about favorite books, this is far and away the best book I read this month (and for a 600 page book, I read it in four days). Bray is a YA master with a wide, wide oeuvre thus far, but this epic urban fantasy proves she can still do no wrong. Set in NYC in the 1920s, the book features an ensemble of youths (led by transplant Evie O’Neill) with unique abilities who unknowingly combine forces to defeat Naughty John, a serial murderer returned to life by chance. It’s full of wit, slang and incredibly-rounded characters (with actual diverse representation!), and honestly, I don’t think there’s really anything bad to say about this book. It’s the first in a series that I am dying to read. It’s long, but if this even remotely sounds like your jam, you’re going to love it.

TAMPA (Alissa Nutting) – 4/5 pinches

This should have been one of the hottest books of 2013, and for some reason, I feel like it wasn’t. Maybe the subject matter, a young teacher who is sexually attracted to and seduces her young, on-the-verge-of-puberty male students, was too much for people. It is very explicit in many ways, but I felt like it was a book I needed to read in order to expand my reading horizons and escape my comfort zone. I had issues with the pacing of the book and with parts of the end, but overall I loved it. If you think this is something you’re mature enough to read, you should, because it makes strong statements on not only statutory rape (especially when it’s a woman preying on teen boys) but on the justice system. This book will make you think about a lot of things and will leave you grappling with your thoughts for long after you’ve finished, which is important. This is a book meant for discussion, and that happens less than it should these days. Recommend heartily, if you think you can read it.

I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE (Sloane Crosley) – 3/5 pinches

This is a collection of essays from writer Sloane Crosley, all about being an at-wits-end twenty-something in New York, something that you read about a lot these days. The stories are funny and well-written, and I enjoyed reading this book. Unfortunately, the stories could have been stronger and made sharper, and I thought they were out of place in the book. The book was fine and I’m not unhappy that I read it, but ultimately it didn’t seem like anything new, and it’ll probably get lost in the heap of collections like this going around right now.

ALL YOU NEVER WANTED (Adele Griffin) – 3/5 pinches

This is a short, quick YA about two sisters (with alternating narrator chapters) who are experiencing growing pains in their relationship as well as the confusion of going from rags to riches within a year. The relationship between the sisters was great, as was the development of their own personal issues. It was a fun and easy read that I finished in a couple of days. Ultimately, this isn’t the book for me, but I think this is a book that is actually intended more for a younger audience.

TIMEBOUND (Rysa Walker) – 4.5/5 stars

I finished this book last night, and I absolutely loved it. It’s in a similar vein to THE DIVINERS, which is partially the reason I picked it up (and that it was a Kindle daily deal a few weeks ago–I’m a sucker for those). Protagonist Kate Pierce-Keller is the granddaughter of a time-traveler, essentially, and when someone starts messing with the timeline, it’s up to her to set things straight and bring her family back from nonexistence–once she learns exactly how to time travel from her grandmother. It deals pretty successfully with time travel and history, including a visit to the 1893 World’s Fair and H.H. Holmes (murder!), and again, if you think this sounds remotely like your jam, read it asap. It’s great. It doesn’t get a full five stars because the end is kind of an info-dump, which, though interesting, is less exciting than it could have been. Otherwise, love it.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013

As you can see, the end of my month picked up spectacularly, and right now I’m reading both Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR and Sophie Jordan’s UNINVITED, so things are going quite swimmingly.

What did you read in January? Have you set a yearly goal for yourself–if so, how’s it going? If not, sign up for Goodreads immediately and add me!