Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe by Shelley Coriell

Goodreads Description: "Big-hearted Chloe Camden is the queen of her universe until her best friend shreds her reputation and her school counselor axes her junior independent study project. Chloe is forced to take on a meaningful project in order to pass, and so she joins her school’s struggling radio station, where the other students don’t find her too queenly. Ostracized by her former BFs and struggling with her beloved Grams’s mental deterioration, lonely Chloe ends up hosting a call-in show that gets the station much-needed publicity and, in the end, trouble. She also befriends radio techie and loner Duncan Moore, a quiet soul with a romantic heart. On and off the air, Chloe faces her loneliness and helps others find the fun and joy in everyday life. Readers will fall in love with Chloe as she falls in love with the radio station and the misfits who call it home."

My Review: I think reviewing this book is fitting after reviewing Paisley Hanover Acts Out because both books are about a quirky, popular, and friendly redhead who encounter friend problems and fall down the popularity totem pole at school---but where Paisley Hanover Acts Out messed everything up, Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe actually got it mostly right and I enjoyed this book. 

The biggest draw really was Chloe herself. I loved her penchant for fabulous vintage shoes but I liked her cheer, charm, and good nature even more. Even when she was being disrespected and insulted, she usually maintained her cool and tried to stay upbeat. She never crossed the line into Mary Sue hokey territory, however---she did snap and break down a few times, which made her more realistic. But ultimately, she was cheerful and just generally a nice person and I liked how she dealt with the stresses and problems in her life. If more people dealt with struggles the way Chloe did, the world would be a happier place. 

The plot was also fun. I admit, I did find it slightly unbelievable---and weird---that her friends would turn on her so quickly for something so trivial (I mean really, had none of them ever made a mistake before? Because that's all Chloe did, make a mistake for one night and it wasn't anything super harmful either) but I guess sometimes that's all it takes for friends to turn on you, so alright. At least Chloe always tried to remain civil to them, even when they weren't civil back. I kind of like how the book ended with all three of them going their own ways, making their own new friends (well---two of them, anyway), and kind of forging their own new paths. It was kind of sad and a bit strange---a years-old friendship ended so suddenly?---but friends do drift apart in real life, so again, I guess it is realistic if a bit depressing. Chloe's new friends in the radio club, however, more than make up for it because they were such a unique bunch. Clementine especially made a huge impression because she had such a fiery personality. She was the kind of secondary character you love to read about because they have a presence. 

The romance kind of took a backseat to the plot and it was a sweeter, milder romance and I liked that because honestly, both Chloe and Duncan had larger problems in their life to deal with and I liked reading about their family troubles more. They were interesting, if---again---a bit depressing. Chloe's family struggles were really touching and I really liked how Shelley Coriell made her grams and her parents and brothers a strong presence in Chloe's life, a strong anchor, something for her to hold onto. Families don't usually get too much "screen time" in YA books, so it was nice to read about Chloe's family, because as much as they had their own issues, they were a nice family. 

Ultimately, there isn't much to say about this book because it was a touching, cute, and mild YA story to read with a quirky, outgoing, and upbeat protagonist. The book wasn't too harsh and too deep, nor was it too light and glossy. It had an even balance of light and dark and it ended on an positive note so you're kind of left with a lot of feel-good emotions for the rest of the day after reading it. Not a hugely impactful book but one that was just nice to read. And sometimes, isn't that just what you want? 

Cover: Love it! It's so bright and "shiny" and electric. The lettering of the title is so pretty and it's definitely eye-catching and cool. I've seen it multiple times at the bookstore and it's always popped amidst a dull sea of books with girls in goddess gowns on the cover, so yeah, I definitely like this cover. It's quirky and fun and kind of vintage-looking---just like Chloe herself. 

Overall Grade: B+

Paisley Hanover Acts Out by Cameron Tuttle

Goodreads Description: "Always one of the popular kids, sophomore Paisley Hanover gets a rude awakening when she’s booted out of yearbook and into the badlands of drama class. Out of her element but only momentarily out of ideas, Paisley takes action—and an unexpected liking to her drama buddies. The result? An undercover crusade that could bring down the popularity pecking order, and Paisley along with it.
This is the story of how Paisley Hanover gets wise, gets bold, and gets into a hilarious mess of trouble. With a package as fresh and clever as Paisley herself— including a cool slipcase, a fabulous novel, and Paisley’s notebook of embarrassingly funny ideas and doodles—it’s the start of a series that embraces the “Un” in UnUsual."
My Review: As much as I love action/adventure books, fantasy, and thriller/suspense novels...I do, and will always, have a soft spot for girly YA books, chick-lit, whatever you want to call them---especially those that are really funny as well. Some of them can be disastrous but some of them can be amazing (Audrey, Wait! comes to mind). And upon seeing the cover and summary of this book, I had a feeling it would be a winner. 
I was wrong. 
I disliked this book immensely. One of the biggest things I hated about this book was the weird "teen slang" Cameron Tuttle tried to interject into the book. The characters used words, phrases, and slang that were not only horrible dorky and awkward but I'm pretty sure don't even actually exist in the real world. No one actually says "OMG" out loud that often un-ironically. And that wasn't even the worst of it---she had all sorts of slang that was cringe-worthy and super fake sounding. I can get behind weird teen slang if the author hints to the fact that the slang is supposed to be kind of exclusive and weird (by showing that other kids don't use it), such as the slang from the Clique series (ah, remember the days of the Clique series? Good times, good times). OR I can totally get behind using teen slang in a book if it' know, real teenage slang. Authors need to keep up with the times. Teenagers aren't saying "Oh my gushers," and "fabulicious" or whatever weird things Paisley was slinging out. They're saying "hella" and "ratchet" and stuff. And teenagers definitely don't walk around calling popular kids "pops" (oh my god, that made me cringe every time I read it). Paisley's slang and the diction for the whole book was jarring because it was so odd and it was supposed to be normal which made it even more obnoxious. I don't think I've ever even meet a TWEEN who talks like that. This was one reason her blog posts made no sense to me (not to mention they were kind of judgmental and one-sided; in her crusade to "be real", she ended up generalizing and demonizing a whole section of the student body so...). 
So that was one huge issue I had. I could barely focus on the story when Paisley's way of talking and the language in general was so obnoxious. 
The plot was weird too. I definitely like quirky and outgoing female characters in YA but this plot was just...all over the place. First Paisley's joining drama, then she's running for student president, then she's focusing on two different guys, then she's a secret blog writer (and honestly, if her ideas are what is considered "radical" at her school, then these kids needs to go out into the real world because her rants kind of sounded like a frustrated 12-year-old on too much caffeine), then she's having major friend drama... It was like the author was trying to fit multiple main plots into one book (which might explain why the book was so big) and kept ping-ponging all over the place. Also, none of it even made sense. None of the characters behaved rationally. One day her friends are being evil jerks to her and doing terrible things, the next they're not even apologizing to her but asking favors of her---and Paisley's just going with it? And then there's this jock who's a huge jerk and tries to run against Paisley for student president...but he---SPOILER---gives up so randomly and easily? What
Paisley herself was very odd. It was almost like the author couldn't decide who she wanted her to be. She was popular and friendly---but then she made fun of a lot of people in her mind and was randomly judgmental and made the silliest decisions and had the weirdest ideas...
I don't know. This book was not my cup of tea. I found it somewhat ridiculous and nonsensical, and not really in the good way. I think it would have been better if the language, plot, and Paisley had all been toned down a bit because reading this book felt like playing with a manic hyperactive puppy for two hours. I walked away feeling a bit like, What did I even just read? Will not be reading the sequel. Sorry, Paisley Hanover, but this was just unFun. 
Cover: Even though her hat is kind of lame, it's bright and fun so I did like it at first. It definitely made me pick the book up. Now I wish I'd put the book back down. 
Overall Grade: D-

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Goodreads Description: "What if the world's worst serial killer...was your dad?

Jasper "Jazz" Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he's also the son of the world's most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could—from the criminal's point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo's Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret—could he be more like his father than anyone knows?"

My Review: I wanted so badly to like this book...but I just couldn't. It wasn't horrible but it wasn't anything amazing for me. 

I like reading about killers, serial killers, and murder. I enjoy watching TV shows about killers, murder, and crimes. It's kind of a dark fascination of mine---one I'd say quite a lot of people share. I love reading books about killers and crime and when they're YA, it's even more interesting and unique. I adore the show Dexter (though let's pretend the finale never happened) and I love other crime/cop shows like Criminal Minds. So I really thought I'd like this book---it seemed like Jazz would be a mini-Dexter, likable and charming and funny...with a vicious, disturbing edge. 

But he wasn't. And that's my MAIN gripe with this book: the main character. Jazz is supposed to be good-looking, charming, funny, etc, while also struggling with inner demons and the rising urge to kill people. But that's not what Jazz was, in my opinion. He actually came off as sort of Gary Stu-ish. I know, I know---the son of a serial killer, wrestling with murderous urges, a GARY STU? But honestly, that's what he seemed like! First of all, in what world is it believable that the son of the country's most notorious serial killer would ever be this well-liked or trusted? I mean, has Barry Lyga actually seen what happens when someone is arrested for murder, serial killing, or other violent crimes? People usually condemn those closest to the criminal. I find it very hard to believe that the towns people were just mildly suspicious of Jazz but still treated him nicely. I find it even harder to believe that women would trust him, no matter how handsome he was. I'm sorry, but that doesn't seem like most women's natural reaction: to trust the son of the serial killer who was famous for hunting young women. People should have been shunning Jazz, spray painting his house when the murders started up again, throwing rocks through his window, high school jocks should have been trying to jump him... But no, everyone treats him relatively nicely and that's just not believable. 

Also, I didn't like how, just because Jazz's dad was a serial killer, he was somehow an authority on everything murder-, crime-, and crime scene-related and managed to almost always hunt down the clues before the police. That just reeks of Gary Stu-ness. It's not believable or realistic; there's really no way Jazz would understand all of the information he somehow knew in the book, even with a serial killer dad. And there's NO way a cop would ever allow Jazz to help with the investigation, especially considering Jazz was a minor as well. It's just...not realistic! At all! And it annoyed me because it seemed like Barry Lyga was trying to make Jazz this all-knowing, handsome, charming authority who was actually accepted by the police in the investigation AND the townspeople. In short, he was way too perfect and unrealistic. 

And then come his "murderous urges." Again...I just didn't find them believable. It was like he was telling us rather than showing us that he had dark urges. Like if his girlfriend was in the room, he'd be like, "I could kill her so quickly right now." Okay...that's not really convincing. And honestly, if Jazz is so smart, you'd think he'd have figured out that the fact that he is agonizing over his darker urges OBVIOUSLY means he's not evil like his dad. I mean, c'mon, it shows the guy has a clear conscience. Yeah, he was sort of empty and emotionless on the inside at times but there's a lot of people like that. It doesn't automatically mean you're going to become a serial killer...even if your dad was one. 

Anyway. The minor characters were actually a little more interesting. The chief, G. William, was actually quite interesting to read because we don't always get such developed adult characters in YA books. I tried very hard to like Connie, Jazz's girlfriend, and I was very glad that Barry Lyga chose to make her black because interracial relationships are not depicted very often in YA books---but then he chose to use some gross cliches, such as Connie having a Sassy Face stance. And there was this sentence about "You shall not touch thy black girlfriend's hair." And...really? Really? You have a black female character so you have to throw in these gross cliches? Not cool. I also couldn't really see her and Jazz's chemistry, I really couldn't. I had no idea why they liked each other. Connie seemed a little too "trying hard to be the cool, supportive, kick-butt girlfriend," to me and Jazz had these strange thoughts about him not wanting to murder Connie because she was a black girl and... Basically, the whole relationship was very weird. Billy Dent, however, was wildly interesting to read about and I wish he'd been featured in the book more because that was someone I could definitely get behind reading about.

As for the plot...I guess that was pretty interesting. I did wonder who the killer was and it did come as a surprise, so that's always good, when you're reading about a serial killer. But the mystery/murder aspect was just overshadowed by Jazz's unbelievable and unlikable character so I couldn't really enjoy this book or the mystery. Honestly, it really was like a YA spin on Dexter Morgan's tale...but Dexter still does it better. I'll stick to that charming-but-disturbing guy in the future. 

Cover: Not exactly pretty or elegant...but it's to-the-point and startlingly honest (haha) and it did make me immediately pick up the book in interest, so I think it did it's job pretty well.

Overall Grade: C-

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

Goodreads Description: "Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing.

So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime—a crime that ends in murder—Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him.

But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about? Nikki’s love for Dee is supposed to be unconditional…but even true love has a limit. And Nikki just might have reached hers."

My Review: I have so many mixed feelings about this book, it's hard to know where to start. I picked it up because of the cover---it's really cool in its simplicity. It's elegant and kind of thrilling. So I read the inside jacket and thought, Hmmm, this looks interesting, despite the fact that the book was pretty slim. wasn't really that interesting. I guess I'll preface by talking about the things I did like about this book: it was honest. It basically told the story of a weak-willed girl who fell in love with a gangbanger and dug herself into a hole she couldn't claw her way out of. It was hard to read through Nikki's POV because she was so...weak. So desperate for Dee (who was a regulation emotionally-manipulative and abusive jerk). So willing to lie for him, ruin good friendships for him, simply because she craved his love and she deluded herself into thinking he actually loved her and was good for her. It made me cringe because it goes against everything you're ever taught regarding female characters. But then I had to stomach my disgust for Nikki (and my obvious disgust for Dee) and appreciate Nikki a little bit because girls like her really DO exist. Girls fall into traps, they get sucked into relationships they can't get out of, they get trapped with unsafe people, they get psychologically and emotionally manipulated and groomed. The tell-tale signs of an abusive relationship. And as much as Nikki's weak will and wishy-washy-ness and willingness to make excuses for Dee grossed me out---I had to set aside my feelings to remember that girls like Nikki really do exist and really do need help. So in that sense, this book was good, because it told a simple and honest story: girl falls for wrong guy, guy manipulates girl, girl ruins life and friendships over guy because she's young and poor and doesn't have much of a bright future. 

The story also spoke subtle messages about what it means to be young and poor, how vulnerable you are to falling in with a bad crowd, so I thought that was very interesting. YA fiction dealing with issues about poverty isn't exactly common. 

I was also pleased to see a woman of color as one of the main characters (Bird, Nikki's closest thing to a friend and somewhat-sister/mother figure). We don't really see POC, and especially WOC, represented in books and I was really glad to see a WOC---a black woman---shown as someone who embodied all the stereotypes about black women ("Oh, they're all poor and live in apartments. The father of the baby doesn't stick around. They do hair and nails for a living.") and rose above those stereotypes to show that even if a WOC does fit all those stereotypes, why does it mean she's a bad person or someone to look down upon? Bird had more morals and common sense than anyone else in the story and that made me love her. 

I guess what I didn't like about the book was the same thing I had to force myself to appreciate: how unsatisfactory the conclusions were. The endings were very open-ended and somewhat random; they weren't exactly sad, nor were they happy, they were mixed and realistic and while I appreciate that, it makes for slightly boring, depressing reading. There wasn't much closure. In that sense, I suppose this book was ultimately a decent way to pass an hour or two. It talked about some tough, realistic subjects (though I think other books have done it better) but wasn't too deep or complex, so that may be a good thing for some people and a bad thing for others. It was a slight turn-off for me, I prefer more discussion in my books, but hey, it is what it is.

Cover: Simple, elegant, and it tells a story. I do love the cover, it's what made me pick up the book in the first place.

Overall Grade: C-