Orphan Train | Review

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Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Between 1853 and 1929, some 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, and/or homeless children were relocated to homes across the United States via Orphan Trains. Many of the children who were adopted were used as free labor, and the stories rarely had happy endings.

This was the premise behind Kline’s novel, which follows the story of Niemh aka Dorothy aka Vivian, an Irish born orphan who was sent on an orphan train from New York out west. Paralleling her story is the story of Molly, a 17 year-old orphan in the foster care system whose path runs across Vivian’s. The novel connects these stories of these orphan girls, who, even though they grew up decades apart, have similar experiences.

Overall, I was pleased with the book. It was gripping, the characters were well developed, and I’m a big fan of split narratives, especially across space and time. I felt for Vivian, I wanted her to find happiness, and I enjoyed her story of hardship and growing up as an orphan, without a place to call home or people to treat her nicely. She ended up going through multiple families before finding one that stuck, and the experiences with the failed families were disgusting, sad, and pitiful. I felt for Vivian, and hoped those people would get was coming to them.

Orphan_train_flyer_285Some things I didn’t like were the stereotypical “evil” families (particularly women), the melodrama and predictability of forthcoming events, and the lack of emphasis on the orphan trains for which the novel was named. Sure, she goes on the train, but she gets picked up fairly quickly (considering), and her life is hard, but in the end it’s all like “well, if I hadn’t gone on the train, all this wouldn’t have happened to me, so I’m thankful”. I also felt like some of the plotlines were too convenient, particularly the one with Dutchy.

As for Molly’s story, I wanted to know more about her background, and as much as I enjoyed her transformation and camaraderie with Vivian, it happened pretty fast, and I didn’t really get why she’d had so much trouble with foster parents (besides them just being “mean”). Her actions were very teenager-ish, nothing for which to kick her out.

It’s a bit Anne of Green Gables, which I like (Anne is one of my favorites!), though with more drama and heartache.

Another book that deals with orphan trains is The Chaperone, which I’ve read, and because of which I kept having déjà vu when reading Orphan Train.

Overall, it was an interesting read that really gripped me (I read it in about a day).

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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) | Review

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City of Ashes (Mortal Instruments 2) by Cassandra Clare

The second book in The Mortal Instruments series is an improvement on the first: the characters are better developed, the plot is more interesting, and there is more dramatic tension.

The plot of City of Ashes focuses more on Valentine and his quest to obtain the different Mortal Instruments. It also deals with the aftermath of Clary and Jace discovering their sibling relationship, and how that affects their feelings for one another… which is weird and incesty and confusing. In addition, Clare leaves hints at the true nature of Jace’s heritage that keep the reader intrigued through the series, which makes it slightly less weird/incesty, but even more confusing.

Jace is more brooding, Clary is just as clueless, and Simon is still annoying, but Luke and Magnus’ awesome levels rise, and I found a softer spot for Alec. I did miss the presence of Isabelle, however, as she was not in as many scenes as in City of Bones.

Even though the City of Bones movie ruined it for me, Simon’s transformation was fun to read and a nice twist on the story, though the ending was a bit too convenient.

7a64ecc7319acd3bbf2b05c903c642eeI was still bummed about the lack of Jocelyn in the book (she’s in a coma the entire time), and it bothered me even more that Clary rarely went to visit her mother in the hospital, leaving it up to Luke to do so. If my mom were in the hospital, I’d be there every day.

I also wasn’t a fan of Simon-Clary. It felt like she was just trying to use him to get over her conflicting feelings about Jace, and he just let it happen because he wanted her so badly… but then gets mad when her attention is easily thwarted by the presence of the latter. It just felt awkward and clumsy, and I didn’t buy it. There just wasn’t any chemistry, and honestly, half the time I don’t even buy their friendship, because Clary forgets about him so easily and treats him terribly.

Valentine’s character was also a bit more three dimensional, as his character started to shine through more and you could see how he so easily affected those around him. He’s creepy, but he’s kind of a badass.

I’d like to see more of Clary and Jace’s “special” abilities developed, and I really want to see Clary go through some shadowhunter training so she can be less useless in a battle (ugh) and Jace can stop calling her a mundane.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock | Review

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
(audiobook)

Leonard Peacock is a distraught teenager whose birthday plans involve him shooting his former best friend, and then himself, and ending all the pain in his life.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock follows Leonard around on his birthday, as he says goodbye to his friends and himself, preparing for the end of it all. He exchanges Bogart quips with his elderly neighbor, feels bad about accosting his English teacher, gives away his college fund to a foreign musician and the closest thing to a friend he has at school, has his first kiss and a discussion on religion, and is almost discovered by his Holocaust teacher, who is hiding a secret of his own.

The novel throttles along with a “will he do it?” tension throughout, and the reader is easily gripped by his story, but finds themselves wanting to shake Leonard out of it at the same time. Surely his pain isn’t that bad?

imagesAs a high school teacher, school shootings, suicide, and depression is something on my mind a lot. We have drills in case of intruders and just went through an hour long session hosted by the local police department, of what to do in case of a shooter. Shootings are more popular than ever, and it’s terrifying.

I’ve also read Nineteen Minutes, Mockingbird, and Columbine as ways to better understand the mentality behind school shootings and how to prevent and protect the students. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock just re-emphasized the importance of teachers in the lives of students, and how just saying something as simple as “Happy Birthday” can change someone’s life.

The novel showcases what it’s like to be a teenager who feels different, who doesn’t connect well with people, who has been abused, who feels alone. I’ve never gone through that kind of pain to want to end my life, or those of others, so getting inside Leonard’s head was a bit eye-opening.

The side stories and anecdotes about Leonard’s friends and how they impacted his life were interesting, but could drag the pace of the story down a bit, particularly the story with the religious girl.

I found Leonard to be an interesting, bright character, and the kind of student teachers want to have: one that thinks outside the box, that notices irony and thinks analytically.

The reader for the audiobook did a wonderful job capturing the emotions in Leonard, and read the story in a pace that was fitting to the novel. I’ve heard the printed writing style is unique, which I missed out on, but listening to the story helped me better get in the head of the character.

I struggled not to cry and was profoundly affected by this story, and it’s not one that will leave me anytime soon.

InterWorld | Review

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InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

InterWorld is basically a story about a boy named Joey who can Walk between different dimensions, and the InBetween which connects them all. There are Magic-based worlds and Science-based worlds, two opposing groups trying to control them all, and an army of Joeys from all the different worlds trying to stop them. Or something.

To be honest, some of the sciencey stuff was lost of me. I tried to understand. I felt like I SHOULD understand, but I didn’t. I mean, I got the basic gist of it, but most of it was over my head There was too much jargon and trying to sound smart, but what doesn’t fit is the story is geared towards younger audiences. If I’m having trouble understanding it, and I consider myself fairly well-read and adult-like, how will a tween fare?

I liked the idea behind the story, the science vs. magic (though I wished that had been developed more), the multiple universes, and the ability to Walk between them. I liked the Hero’s Journey feel of it all (I’m a sucker for those), and I liked imagining what the different worlds would look like. I wish we’d seen more of the other Earths, however, and some of the backstory was quite confusing. Or maybe I just skimmed over it.

Interworld_Interior_number_twoI really liked the idea of the multiple Joeys, and even though they’re all technically the “same” character, the authors did a good job at giving them differences and standout features, though because they all have similar names, it took some time to remember who was who and for their “personality” to shine through. It’s something to say, however, when my favorite character (Hue) was one who only spoke in colors and acted more like a pet (albeit a super awesome one).

As I get older, I have a harder time going back and reading books suited for younger audiences, because so much of the story is glossed over and skipped, and InterWorld was no exception. I wanted more depth to the story and to SEE the scenes and the action rather than just hear that they happened.

There’s a lot that can be done with this world and concept, discussions on magic vs. science, nature vs. nurture, parallel and multiple dimensions, etc, and I’m hoping the next two books in the series mature a bit and go into them. I’m curious to see how the story will develop as well.

Falling Kingdoms | Review

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Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms 1)
by Morgan Rhodes

The best way to describe this book series is Game of Thrones light, or Game of Thrones for teenagers.

It’s set in a land divided into three kingdoms: Limeros, Paelsia, and Auranos; each with a different king (or chief), with different belief systems and priorities. There’s also an ancient magical myth that could be the reason for the kingdoms’ demise and slow decay.

Much like it’s more mature counterpart, Falling Kingdoms follows various perspectives and deals with political intrigue, war, and magic. The difference is that it’s much easier to follow and understand, and all the main characters are teenagers.

Cleo is the flighty Princess of Auranos who is used to getting her way. From Paelsia, Jonas is a rash wine sellar’s son who wants revenge for his brother’s murder and rights for his people. Prince Magnus of Limeros who seeks his father’s approval and is stuck between wanting to do so while avoiding becoming him.

264daef74849cd899eeada489e9dc8daIt’s a fast, easy read with plenty of mystery, plotting, and action. You aren’t stuck too long in any character’s perspective, which is good and bad at the same time, because while you don’t get bored, you also don’t really get to know the character as quickly. It’s also slightly confusing, because the chapter is named based on the location rather than the character, and sometimes the perspective will shift mid-chapter between two characters in the same world, rather than just sticking with the one character the entire time.

I also found the writing to be a little lazy at times, with a lot of emphasis on telling rather than showing. Some of the scenes that seemed pivotal were never described but instead simply glossed over with “this happened,” and I felt a little disappointed and cheated by that.

I also felt a little underwhelmed with some of the character development. Cleo is the typical YA heroine, misunderstood by her family, flighty, and without any special skills or abilities, yet she is able to avoid danger multiple times and have plenty of boys fall in love with her. And her own “love”? Seems more like teenage lust to me.

Another thing I felt slightly annoyed with was all the death. I totally get the necessity of character death, I’m a big Game of Thrones fan after all, but many of these deaths just felt like they happened just to happen, or to make Cleo alone, or make Magnus feel something. They weren’t super shocking and they weren’t powerful enough for me to really care, and I felt a little like they were done just to be more like GoT.

The world building, however, was nice in that it wasn’t just an info dump, as many first books, particularly in new worlds, can be. Rhodes gave that information through myths and stories, gradually throughout the books, which helped the reader get a better understanding of why characters acted like they did. And even though some of the characters were very typical, I did enjoy them, and I liked that they started to grow as characters by the end of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed the premise and the intrigue in the novel, and thought it was a fun read, especially while waiting for The Winds of Winter. 4 stars.

Vicious | Review

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Vicious by V.E. Schwab

If Magneto and Charles Xavier were crueler characters with more ambitious hubris, the X Men would look more like Vicious.

Eli and Victor are both top-of-their-class smart, with successful futures guaranteed. Lurking beneath the surface for both of them, however, is an insatiable hunger of darkness, of something cruel and vicious.

Eli’s graduate thesis is about finding EOs – ExtraOrdinary’s – and figuring out if they exist, and why. When Victor suggests taking the thesis a step further and experimenting on themselves to test their creation theory, jealousy and hubris get in the way, ripping the friends apart.

The story is told through multiple perspectives over the course of ten years. While it is mostly Victor’s POV, it sometimes shifts to the other supporting characters, but vary rarely does it transfer to Eli. The flashbacks are mostly set to ten years prior, when the events of creation existed, and the lead up to the final showdown between Eli and Victor.

trading-card-group-finalNeither character is good, and neither is solely bad. In the public’s eye, Eli is the hero, saving the world from the EOs (read: Magneto), and Victor, the one trying to stop Eli (Professor X), is the villain. But it’s so much more than that, because while Eli believes in what he is doing, that EOs are wrong, that it’s God’s will to exterminate them, he is also playing God (though he won’t admit to it). Victor, a quiet, lurking guy, a wolf with pain at his fingertips, isn’t all bad, but he’s not so good either. Vicious plays with what it means to be good and what it means to be evil, much like Gregory Maguire did with Wicked.

The characters are so complex, and the relationships fractured and layered. The people the characters choose to surround themselves with speaks volumes to their characters as well. Both Eli and Victor come in contact with a young EO, Sydney, but their separate reactions to her, though both selfish, show more of who they are as a character than most of their other actions.

Much like the world of Heroes, where heroes and villains intertwine seamlessly, quietly shifting in the gray middle area, Vicious tackles the concept of normal people with abilities, and how those abilities change who you are as a person, how some slowly define you, and how others make you feel invincible.

Wonderful, gripping, and an interesting take on the concept of superheroes.

Fahrenheit 451 | Review

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Dystopian? Check. Classic novel that should’ve been read in school but was never assigned? Check. Deal with books and the danger of the loss of literacy? Check. Sounds like a book I would love.

And I did. Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman who doesn’t put out fires but starts them, specifically in order to burn books.

It’s an interesting world Bradbury painted in Fahrenheit, and one that I can see us shifting to more and more each day, which makes me incredibly sad. He describes rooms with tv screens taking up the entire wall, all the way around, with tv “families” inviting you in. They even give viewers scripts to read to feel like they’re actually a part of the drama. Why live in the real world when you can live in fake ones? People are afraid to have their own ideas, and books are forbidden, burned, because people shouldn’t be able to think differently; the risk of offense is too great with books, so if they’re all taken away, no one is offended, everyone is happy.

749824In a world of “political correctness,” where people are afraid of offending, this doesn’t seem too far off, but the idea of burning books so as to refuse people from feeling offended in any way, under the pretense of wanting everyone to be happy, takes away that very same happiness and replaces it with a stale, faux-happiness that is, in fact, deep sadness. The fact that people have to lose themselves in their tv “families” and earbuds just proves how terrible and pathetic the real world actually is. And it’s frightening.

Especially since so many of these predictions have come true. Everywhere you go, people are walking around with either a bluetooth device or headphones stuck in their ears, drowning out the real world in favor of one of their desire. Flatscreen televisions are everywhere, the bigger the better. And the fact that the media faked the ending to Montag’s chase because of audiences’s short attention spans is perhaps the scariest and most striking resemblance of them all, the most detrimental to literacy and knowledge, and the way the human race is evolving.

A much more accessible dystopian classic novel than its 1984 or A Brave New World counterparts, Fahrenheit 451 is equally chilling, gripping, and predictive, and I’m not quite ready to watch the world of books burn.