Sunday, March 30, 2014

Insanity by Susan Vaught

"Never, Kentucky is not your average scenic small town. It is a crossways, a place where the dead and the living can find no peace. Not that Forest, an 18-year-old foster kid who works the graveyard shift at Lincoln Hospital, knew this when she applied for the job. Lincoln is a huge state mental institution, a good place for Forest to make some money to pay for college. But along with hundreds of very unstable patients, it also has underground tunnels, bell towers that ring unexpectedly, and a closet that holds more than just donated clothing....When the dead husband of one of Forest's patients makes an appearance late one night, seemingly accompanied by an agent of the Devil, Forest loses all sense of reality and all sense of time. Terrified, she knows she has a part to play, and when she does so, she finds a heritage that she never expected. 

With her deep knowledge of mental illness and mental institutions, Susan Vaught brings readers a fascinating and completely creepy new book intertwining the stories of three young people who find themselves haunted beyond imagining in the depths of Lincoln Hospital."

So this was an advance copy--I didn't realize until today that that means it won't be at any of the libraries, but I'm still going to go ahead and review it and you can find it if you want. As a whole, I'm not sure exactly what to make of this book. There's a couple different angles you could take with your opinion of it, and I ended up in the weird situation of relating to a lot of them. So for one thing, it was kinda disjointed. It's split into four parts (with four different points of view) and each tends to summarize an "arc" of action, so to speak. I felt like each one gave an interesting view and backstory of each character, but they were pretty episodic; events happened, then didn't actually end up contributing to the plot at the end. The characters were tied in with each other, but the concluding plotline of the book was just contained in the fourth section and didn't reach back any further. 
Similar with the character development: it definitely took sudden jumps between sections, like the author decided on a late backstory plot twist and forgot to go back and add foreshadowing or context. But I can say that by the final section, when everything and everyone had settled in, I really liked reading the characters. I honestly quite liked them all the way through, ignoring the weird shifts. Yes, they occasionally fall prey to tropes, but in such a way that makes you still invest in them. There was a romance, but it took the background to the action and subtly wove its way through--I really liked its presence and the extra interest it gave to the characters (and it was really sweet, too). 
And speaking of tropes, be warned: they pop up in the action a bit. Some stuff was a little expected or cheesy; I suppressed a small eye-roll at the creepy horror-movie children's music floating out of the scary cave, and I kind of had a hard time with the demonic tree. I mean really, any time you put features on a tree and call it a "witch-tree" I have a hard time taking it seriously. But things were appropriately creepy most of the time.
So all in all, though the book felt like it would work better as four novels than as one, you can sometimes appreciate that it was kept shorter and faster to get through. If you suspend a little disbelief, it's honestly a pretty compelling book to read. Just leave your literary critic behind and you'll enjoy yourself. I'd give it just under four stars. There might be a copy at Old Harbor, and there definitely is online.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

"Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He's won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he's gay. He's been out since 8th grade, and he isn't teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that's important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys' boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret -- not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn't even know that love is possible.

This witty, smart, coming-out-again story will appeal to gay and straight kids alike as they watch Rafe navigate being different, fitting in, and what it means to be himself."

A quite nice novel, if I do say so myself. It was incredibly easy to read, but managed to tackle some really important concepts as well. It balanced the serious questions with some quality color and fun--all of the characters were hugely interesting and unique to read. I liked that none of them were a glossy stereotype of a character; each one had things that I wanted to hug them for and things that would probably get under my skin. It wasn't really separated into "good character" and "evil character." And it was willing to discuss issues that tend to be a little more taboo in books, doing it in such an offhand/straightforward way that I didn't really even register that it's usually an issue. It's just an added part of the book. So if you're not afraid of a tiny bit of that, I really recommend reading this. There's a copy at Kettleson.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature."

I'm really glad I got around to reading this. Within the first ten pages, I was basically drooling at the caliber of the writing. That's the one thing you can't dispute about Gatsby: the prose is freaking unbelievable. And it continues to be throughout the book. I was equally as in love on page 187 as on page one. At times it managed to twist itself into precisely the thoughts of the reader, the ones that you never manage to express out loud quite as elegantly as in your head. It drew you into the scene and brought out your own similar feelings, making it incredibly vivid. The plot was really well executed, though not actually optimistic: it was deeply fractured and complex and intense behind the facade of grandeur and romance. Gatsby isn't this noble pursuer of true love, he's just a brittle steel man with an obsession and all-encompassing yearning for the past and future. Nick, the narrator, tends to serve as the single sane observer in the whole affair. I loved it, really; this is a brilliant and wholly literary book. I highly recommend you read it (and prepare to have your world rocked by the writing, I wasn't kidding).  There're copies at Mt. Edgecumbe, Sitka High, and Kettleson.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black

"Dancing with someone is an act of trust. Elegant and intimate; you're close enough to kiss, close enough to feel your partner's heartbeat. But for Vanessa, dance is deadly – and she must be very careful who she trusts . . .

Vanessa Adler attends an elite ballet school – the same one her older sister, Margaret, attended before she disappeared. Vanessa feels she can never live up to her sister's shining reputation. But Vanessa, with her glorious red hair and fair skin, has a kind of power when she dances – she loses herself in the music, breathes different air, and the world around her turns to flames . . . 

Soon she attracts the attention of three men: gorgeous Zep, mysterious Justin, and the great, enigmatic choreographer Josef Zhalkovsky. When Josef asks Vanessa to dance the lead in the Firebird, she has little idea of the danger that lies ahead – and the burning forces about to be unleashed . . ."

Hah. Yes, I'm aware of how incredibly cheesy this blurb is. Honestly, it couldn't really be portrayed in any way other than cheesy. I picked it up because of the dance, but I was acutely (and slightly painfully) aware the whole time of the ridiculous cheese factor. You kind of had to suspend disbelief to get past it. Once you did, I was generally okay with the book. It wasn't great literature by any stretch of the imagination though. Idiotic romance, unbelievable plot, shallow developments... all it's really good for is getting some fluff between your ears and occupying some time. Maybe 3, 3.5 stars max. A resounding meh. Was an advance copy, so not in the libraries.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork

"Pancho has one goal in life: to find and murder his sister's killer. Then he's assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. is writing a book called The Death Warrior Manifesto, a guide to living out his last days fully--ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. But as Pancho tracks down his sister's murderer, he finds himself falling for Marisol as well, and he soon must make a decision: to avenge his sister and her death, or embrace the way of the Death Warrior and choose life."

Soo... I didn't really know what to expect going in. I was kinda neutral starting out, and didn't expect it to be awesome or anything. Well, it mostly proved me wrong. It wasn't mind-blowingly wonderful, but it was a good solid four stars. I got more invested in the characters than I expected to, and it was an honestly good book. It had a good approach of kids with life-encompassing diseases and the way they live their life and every little thing that makes life important to them. And in general it was impactful without being hard to read; I give this one a good recommendation. Pancho was prickly and complex but still had qualities that were heartbreakingly human and relatable. The same can be said for D.Q. No stereotypes anywhere, just people for better or worse. Not much else to say other than that; get a copy at Sitka High, Mt. Edgecumbe, and Kettleson.