Review: Frost by Kate Avery Ellison

Frost is the first novel in yet another new dystopian series. I’d say something sarcastic about the need for new dystopian series right now, given the severe shortage and all, but the truth is I love the current trend. I like reading about the imaginary and plausible-to-varying-degrees worlds that authors can come up with.

It’s the same reason I like reading books about dragons. And aliens.

Still waiting for someone to send me a book about dragons and aliens, BTW. Just a reminder.

Anyway, I like books that spark my imagination. Real life has enough drama to make me not want to spend my precious reading hours delving into fake “real-life” drama. (Yes, I know, there’s always exceptions. But I’m all about broad generalizations right now)

So I picked up Frost based on 4 factors:

1) It was another YA dystopian, and I like those.

2) It had a good rating on Amazon.

3) The cover was pretty.

4) It was short (194 pages), and I wanted something short to balance out the epic fantasy novels I’ve been trudging through lately (I say “trudging” like this is somehow painful for me. It’s not. Just loooooong).

It turns out that reason 3 was a sham, because the cover has absolutely nothing to do with what the book is about.

[One of these days I’m going to learn a valuable about judging books by their covers. But that day is not today.]

What the Book Is About

Frost is the story of Lia, a teenage orphan taking care of her crippled twin brother and younger sister. They live on a farm near a small village in The Frost, a hostile and chilly area located somewhere near mountains and forests. Maybe Canada. I don’t know.

Lia has her share of troubles. First, she has been responsible for providing for her family since her parents were brutally killed by Watchers, mysterious and vicious beasts living in the forests of The Frost.

Second, between the Watchers and the equally mysterious and slightly less vicious Farthers — the people who live outside The Frost — Lia lives in constant fear for her and her family’s safety.

And third, she and her sister just rescued an injured Farther from the Watchers, and are hiding him in their barn.

Lia can’t imagine what possessed her to help a Farther, but she finds herself reluctantly nursing him back to health. And the more she learns about him, the more questions she has about her village, her family, and the people she thought she knew.

What I Thought

Let’s start with the good. Frost has a really interesting story. I like Ms. Ellison’s writing style, Lia’s character, and the world she lived in. I saw some of the twists coming, but some were genuinely surprising. I still have a lot of questions about exactly why the village is located in such a hostile environment as The Frost, but the groundwork was laid to get answers in future books.

And yes, there’s a bit of a love story in Frost. It was sweet and mildly necessary, and pretty much what you’d expect in this genre. I liked both Lia and her guy (I’m not going to say which guy, as the beginning sets up 3 potential candidates. Don’t worry though, it’s definitely not the dreaded love triangle). As with pretty much all YA love stories, I thought their feelings got too deep, too fast, without much foundation. But that’s probably just because I’m too far removed from being a teenager, so I have no real complaints.

The pacing in the first half of the book was great. I felt like the characters were set up well (some were a little under-developed, but then again, I’d have a hard time naming a book that doesn’t rhyme with Barry Trotter where all of the characters are well-developed). The world-building was good. A lot of potentially fascinating elements were introduced to the story: the Watchers, the Farthers, why the village was located in The Frost to begin with, the death of Lia’s parents, and the mysterious boy she blames for their death.

The main problem I had was in the second half. I felt like we kind of skipped most of the plot development and skipped straight to the grand finale. It felt rushed. I know I said I picked up the book because it was short, but a short book should still tell a complete story; it should just be a short story. Frost was an average-to-long story crammed into a short book.

It was like we jumped straight from the set-up to the conclusion, with no development. The characters of Ann, Cole and Adam all had significant contributions to the plot without much leading up to it, making their actions seem kind of out-of-the-blue.

In the first half of the book, Ms. Ellison does a great job with the “show, don’t tell” mantra that always gets thrown around writing circles. But in the second half, everything is “tell.” The big showdown at the end has absolutely nothing leading up to it, and the entire thing is explained by The Bad Guy doing some extensive monologuing, with no prompting whatsoever.

Also the ending has three — count ’em, three — dei ex machina (Yes, that is the plural for deus ex machina. Yes, I looked it up), back-to-back. I will name list them vaguely to avoid spoilers:

1) Extremely specific overheard conversation that prompts the events leading to the ending.

2) Reveal of the Bad Guy.

3) What happens to the Bad Guy.

It just seemed like there should be a better way to get to the ending without forcing it. I’m not a fan of unnecessary exposition and buildup, but this story needed more of both to really feel satisfying.

There had to be a more organic way for the same events to have taken place, but with Lia & Co. actually figuring things out on their own through subtle clues rather than having their next actions spelled out clearly by external forces. There had to be a better way to reveal who the bad guy was and what exactly he did, without just dropping him in for a point of a final confrontation. And there had to be something better to do with the character than what happened after the extensive monologuing.

It’s just too fast. Too much happens in too little time. Especially when the beginning seemed like it was really going to take the time to build up some steam. Instead it barely started simmering, then it exploded.

Frost is a good story. I’ll be interested in the next book in the series to see where things go. Ms. Ellison has a natural, engaging writing style that I like. I just hope that with the next book, she slows down her pacing a bit. I’d like to spend more time with these characters. Let them develop, grow, and learn. I think it would be neat.

Grade: B-

Content guide: Contains some mild violence.

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

So in all my blog hopping madness today [which has been SO much fun — I’m probably following a couple dozen new blogs now, and gained a nice handful of followers myself! Thanks, Parajunkee and Alison Can Read!] I came across a review for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children over on Movies In My Head. And that reminded me that I, too, read this book recently, and it is so good. And kind of creepy. And decidedly unique. And now I want to talk about it too.

What It’s About

Miss Peregrine’s is the story of Jacob, a teenage boy living a normal life, until the mysterious and horrific death of his grandfather sends him across the ocean, to a tiny island off the coast of Wales, to discover the truth of his grandfather’s past.

What he finds on the island only seeks to arouse his curiosity further: An orphanage secluded from the rest of the world. A tragic bombing that wiped it off the face of the earth. A town that refuses to talk about it.

As Jacob digs deeper into the tragic past of Miss Peregrine’s orphanage, more and more questions arise, until finally he makes a shocking discovery. Soon Jacob is caught up in an incredible — and peculiar — adventure he never even dreamed of.

Here, before I get to my thoughts, watch the book trailer. It’s probably the best book trailer I’ve seen. Period.:

What I Thought

[I am going to have to get into mild spoiler territory here. I’ve been pondering how to avoid it, and I just can’t. It’s alluded to very early in the book though, and I don’t think your enjoyment will be lessened knowing this in advance. Even so, my apologies.]

First off, this book is nothing like what I expected (I should mention that I checked it out from the library as an e-book, so I didn’t know that it’s typically classified — mis-classified, in my humble opinion — in the horror genre). I thought it was going to be a bittersweet story of a young boy digging into his grandfather’s tragic past, and learning a valuable lesson. I knew creepy vintage photos were incorporated, but I figured they’d be like a metaphor for the way his grandfather had tried to dress up what had happened to him, to make it all seem magical and mysterious instead of just sad and depressing.

Because I was thinking that “tragic past” meant something like “Holocaust survivor.” I was pretty sure monsters = Nazis.

But no. Monsters = freakin’ monsters.

This story is full of fantasy, magic, and unexpected twists and turns that totally blew my mind. I had no idea where it was going, and when I turned the last page, I found myself dumbly attempting to flip another non-existent page, and yelling, “that’s it?!

Needless to say, I sincerely hope Mr. Riggs goes forward with the sequel(s).

What makes Miss Peregrine’s even more interesting is the vintage photography that is incorporated into the story. Authentic (yes, they’re real!) and decidedly creepy photos are woven seamlessly into the narrative, adding a level of realism and creepiness that both grounds the story and enhances its impact.

It’s not without its flaws. It is a little slow to get moving. Jacob spends a good chunk of time on the island before anything really happens. But once it took off, I couldn’t put it down.

Keep in mind, I definitely think it’s mis-classified as horror. It’s much closer to YA/mid-grade fantasy. I think the cover misleads people (bad font choice, publisher). I don’t think the intent of the book is to scare the reader; I think it’s to enthrall and amaze. So there are a lot of people out there who are kind of peeved that this book “wasn’t scary enough.” I’m obviously not one of them. No, it’s not scary. It’s creepy (which can be attributed largely to the photos), but mostly it’s just a fantastical adventure story.

Grade: A

Content guide: Contains violence and some scenes of overall creepiness. Plus creepy photos.

Feature & Follow #93

Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly blog hop hosted by Parajunkee’s View and Alison Can Read. Each week, they’ll pick one blogger to feature, and it’s also a great way to discover new blogs and gain new followers. I’m excited to be participating this week, and can’t wait to discover some new blogs!

If you’re participating in the hop, I’d love it if you could follow me via the Linky Connect link in my sidebar, or you can sign up to follow me via email. I’d also really appreciate it if you’d leave a comment to let me know you were here. I’m still new to all this, so I want to know who’s out there in the blogosphere!

EDIT: Due to the weirdness of this WP layout, which I can’t seem to fix unless I stop being cheap, if you came to this post via a direct link, the sidebar won’t be visible. You have to go to the home page, and then the sidebar and all of its follow-y goodness will be available. Sorry about that.

Thanks everyone! I look forward to “meeting” all of you!

So, moving on to this week’s question:

Q: Fight! Fight! If you could have two fictional characters battle it out (preferably from books), who would they be and who do you think would win?

Okay. This may be because one of my kids woke up crying for no reason, then I remembered I forgot to load the dishwasher last night, and then there was a bug on my coffee maker.

Needless to say, I woke up snarky this morning.

Anyway, I would like to have Bella Swan (Twilight) battle Hermione Granger (Harry Potter). And no, Edward is not allowed to save Bella.

Hermione would win. Duh. She would trounce her. Even if 11-year-old Sorcerer’s Stone Hermione was fighting 18-year-old vampire Bella, Hermione would win. Why? Because Hermione is resourceful, intelligent, and downright scrappy if need be. Oh, and also she knows magic. Lots of magic.

So yeah. I think what would make me happy this morning is a good smackdown of someone who needs a good smackdown, and Bella definitely could use one.

But Hermione is kind and fair, and she’d want to adhere to the rules of proper deuling (especially 11-year-old Hermione), so she wouldn’t leave Bella bruised and bleeding (well….maybe bruised). She’d just teach her a lesson about standing up for herself, even if you don’t have the boy you want, and how whining and moping isn’t the answer.

Then she’d probably help her up. Because Hermione is cool like that.

Giveaways Galore!

No, I’m not doing a giveaway. I’m still a blogging baby. I have few fans and no money.

BUT!

There are lots of established and extremely generous bloggers who ARE hosting giveaways right now, and I have been gleefully bouncing around from blog to blog, entering tons of giveaways and twitterbombing my followers.

Sorry about that (but not if you win something. In that case, YOU’RE WELCOME).

Here’s some of the ones I’ve entered lately:

Lots of ARCs Giveaway from ImLovingBooks.com!

i’m loving books ARC Madness Giveaway

I Am A Reader, Not A Writer Showers of Books Giveaway Hop

There are a TON of giveaways listed in that one!

I Am A Reader, Not A Writer No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop

This includes links to dozens more no-strings-attached giveaways, from many other generous bloggers, that don’t involve “liking” on FB, posting on Twitter, or anything other than clicking the “enter” button.

Gotta Have YA Kindle Fire + $$ for books Giveaway

May the odds be ever in your favor! (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

The last few weeks

Well, I’m 3.5 weeks into this book blogging thing. [Side note: what is the etymology of the word “blog?” Because it looks and sounds weird.] And already I’ve done a few things right, a bunch of things wrong, and learned a whole lot.

I’ve had a personal blog for a bunch of years, but this book blogging thing is a whole new beast. The personal blog is, let’s face it, mainly for my mom. It’s about my kids and how they’re weird, and is really only entertaining to people who know me.

But this one is for…well…anyone! Or at least anyone with a similar taste in books and a tolerance for my long-windedness.

[I had a dream the other night that people were commenting/complaining about my long-windedness. I woke up relieved (that it was just a dream) and somewhat abashed (since I am long-winded).]

Anyway. In the last few weeks, I’ve had my eyes cracked open to the world of book bloggers, and it’s pretty neat. Book bloggers are cool. They’re a whole tightly-knit community that I never was really aware of. I’ve had a lot of fun reading their posts, drinking in their wisdom (The Broke and the Bookish just had a Top Ten Tuesday on Tips for New Book Bloggers, and I lost several hours of my life skipping from blog to blog, soaking up knowledge), and “meeting” several of them via comments, email and Twitter. It’s strangely exciting to start to slooooowly crack my way into this new society of awesomeness.

I’ve also emailed a few publishers/publicists with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mentality. And guess what? They also turned out to be actual, friendly human beings. No, they’re not tripping over themselves to send me review copies yet, but they made me feel a lot more comfortable about asking in the future.

I’ve tried to keep an active presence on Facebook and Twitter to gain readers and followers, and also just to be social to the world at large. It’s trickier than it sounds, since I can only hit up my personal social circle so many times before they’re going to start blocking me (who knows, maybe they already have). No wonder companies hire social media specialists.

My biggest error: posting multiple reviews the day I launched the site. I should have kept some in reserve while I got my feet under me. Now I either have to:

A) dig way back in my memory and my library to find new (old) stuff to review,

B) take time off to read new stuff, or

C) neglect my “real” life so that I can read fast and review immediately.

Since my family would frown on option C, and since taking a hiatus immediately after launching a new blog doesn’t seem wise, I’ve been going for option A. I figure even if a book’s been out for a few years (or decades), it’s probably new to someone, right?

So anyway. That’s the update on my little 3-week-old blog. If you like it, great! Follow the blog, leave comments, tell your friends, etc. It would make me do a little happy dance.

And if you’re an established book blogger and have some words of wisdom for me: I’m all ears!

Or eyes. Since technically I would be reading your wisdom, not hearing it.

I’m having fun. Here’s to THE FUTURE.

 

Review: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

I know, I know. I just reviewed Twilight, so why the heck am I reviewing another Stephenie Meyer book so soon? Well, two reasons:

1. The Host is nothing like Twilight.

2. The trailer for the movie was recently released, and it is weird and kind of confusing. So if you are one of those people who saw The Hunger Games recently and wondered what that weird trailer with all the eyeballs was about, I am here to enlighten you.

The Plot

The Host is the story of two characters: A human, Melanie Stryder; and an alien, Wanderer. The kicker is that they’re both inhabiting the same body.

Melanie was one of the leaders in the human resistance, fighting to keep Wanderer’s alien race from taking over their bodies and consciousness, even after the aliens — or “souls,” as they refer to themselves — have already conquered Earth.

Obviously, she fails.

Wanderer is surgically inserted into Melanie’s body, reboots the hardware, takes a look around…and discovers Melanie’s still in there. Her consciousness, which is supposed to be snuffed out when a “soul” sets up shop, is very much present. And cranky.

What follows is an internal struggle between Melanie and Wanderer, as both fight to take control of the host body. And things only get more complicated when Melanie convinces Wanderer to seek out her allies in the resistance, bringing them both face-to-face with Melanie’s brother and boyfriend.

My Thoughts

First off, yes. This basic plot device has been used before: aliens who come to Earth and take control of our bodies. But really, most interesting plot devices have been used before. As long as it’s interesting and the author’s spin is unique and fun, I don’t care.

As for the book itself, I really enjoyed The Host. Ms. Meyer has come a long way from Twilight. Gone were most of the endless, repetitive descriptors; the grammatical errors; the absurdly cheesy metaphors. No, her writing is still not the gold standard against which all others can be measured, but then again, neither is the writing in most of the books I enjoy. But I can honestly say that if I didn’t know, going in, that this was the same woman who wrote Twilight, I would never have guessed it.

That’s a good thing.

Technicality aside, it was a good read. The pace was a little slower than that of your average YA novel; but then again, this technically isn’t a YA novel (although it’s perfectly appropriate for a teen audience). It’s definitely more character-driven than action-driven. There were parts that dragged, but I never got bored. And I have a bone to pick with part of the ending (Meyer left it open for a sequel, which is fine, but how she did it I found a bit creepy).

I don’t want you to think The Host is all plodding inner monologues, though. There’s definitely some good action and suspense in it, as well as a hefty helping of romance. Twilight it is not, but don’t be fooled: Meyer is a sucker for love triangles. Although, to be fair, The Host has more of a love square.

Bottom line: I enjoyed The Host. It’s not “great literature.” It’s not going to change the way you think about anything (unless you have very strong views about alien colonization. No judging here). But it’s interesting, it’s exciting, and it made my heart race and my tummy flutter at all the right times.

I found myself thinking about it after I finished (always a good sign). I’m looking forward to the sequel (The Soul, which Meyer may write someday if she feels like it) and for the film adaptation. Even if the trailer is weird.

Grade: A-

Content Guide: contains mild violence

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is quickly climbing my list of “authors I trust.” She may not have many books under her belt yet (she is also the author of Delirium and Pandemonium – read my review of the latter here), but I love what I’ve read so far. She has an amazing talent for writing characters in such a way that I feel like I know them and understand them – even if I don’t agree with them. She tackles subject matter I wouldn’t normally be interested in, and makes me care.

Such is the case in her debut novel, Before I Fall.

The Plot

The story follows Sam, your typical popular, Plastics-esque high school villain. She has it all: good looks, charmed life, macho boyfriend, beautiful friends.

That is, until the night she dies in a fiery wreck.

Imagine her surprise when she wakes up the following day…only to find out it’s not the following day. It’s the same day. Again.

What follows is a week of Sam reliving (and sometimes re-dying) that same fateful Friday over and over again.

She goes through it the way I imagine most of us would. First she denies what is happening to her. Tries to pretend it was all a dream or a hallucination. But it quickly becomes clear that what she’s going through is very real. And once she figures that out, she struggles with how to move forward.

Should she approach each day with a carefree, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow I’ll be dead” attitude? Should she try to right her past wrongs? Should she attempt to change the future?

As Sam goes through each day, her eyes are slowly opened to the realities of her life and the lives around her, and the truth behind her death.

My Thoughts

I’ll get it out of the way early: Before I Fall is Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. Sam’s story is equal parts Cady Heron (post-Plastification) and Phil Connors (although she probably resembles Lindsay Lohan a bit more than Bill Murray).

But you know what? I love Mean Girls and Groundhog Day. And I loved Before I Fall. So who cares? A good story is a good story.

So, that said, what’s the fun in reading a book about a Mean Girl that lives the same horrible day over and over, and dies after most of them?

As I said before: Lauren Oliver has an amazing talent.

I’m guessing that unless you really are Regina George, you will hate Sam at the start of the novel. She’s shallow, she’s rude, she’s selfish, and she’s mean. She justifies all her actions to herself, but she’s not in any way likable. I spent most of the first few chapters wanting to shake some sense into her vapid, empty head.

However, the more I read, the more invested I was in Sam and her journey. She grew. She transformed. Sometimes I wished she would snap out of her Plastics mentality faster, but Ms. Oliver wrote her arc very naturally and organically. And even when I didn’t agree with her decisionsI understood them.

Yes, there were parts where it dragged slightly (the fact that those parts are few and far between is still a monumental achievement in a book that recounts the same day seven times). And while I found myself ultimately liking Sam and cheering her on, there were a few other characters that made me gag every time they entered the scene (Sam’s BFF, Lindsay, and hunky boyfriend, Rob, are two prime examples). I understand their necessity to the story, but man, were they ever annoying.

The biggest problem I had with the book was that even after Sam realizes the error of her ways, she never calls out her friends (especially Lindsay) on their incessant bullying of…well, just about everyone. On the one hand, I can see how Sam is still intimidated by Lindsay and afraid of upsetting her. On the other…I kind of just wanted her to grow a spine.

However, those annoyances were completely overshadowed by my investment in Sam’s story; my complete adoration of the character of Kent, the sensitive, socially awkward boy who’s had a crush on Sam ever since elementary school; and my fascination with the character of Juliet, a reclusive girl who Sam, Lindsay & Co. have been tormenting for years.

Before I Fall ended before I was ready, but it ended where it needed to end. The story was resolved the way it should be (and no, I’m not going to tell you if she lives or dies. You’ll have to find that out for yourself).

I found myself thinking about Sam and her story long after I put the book down. Her story is haunting, sweet, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I loved it.

Grade: A

Content Guide: Contains some violence, teenage drinking and drug use, bullying, minor sexual content and language.