Monday, June 29, 2015

Vivian Divine is Dead - Lauren Sabel

***SPOILERS*** If you follow my blog, you know I tend to post some spoilers in my book reviews!  I do have some spoilers in this review, so if you want to be surprised, save this review for later.
Vivian Divine is Dead is the debut novel of author Lauren Sabel.  It is a YA mystery novel with plenty of twists to keep you hooked.  The novel opens with Vivian, a teen actress, receiving a DVD in the mail, and finding a note inside that says, "This is how Vivian Divine dies." Vivian tosses the DVD to her manager.  She's not worried at first, until her manager, Mary, tells her what is on the video. 

Mary shows the video to Vivian - and when Vivian sees it, she is shocked and scared (and rightfully so.)  The video shows Vivian being killed (in the same fashion as her mother.)  So, Mary sets up a whole plan to get Vivian to Mexico, where she can hide in a safehouse on an island.  Vivian leaves on a bus right away, using a fake name and a disguise to keep anyone from recognizing her.  While on the bus, Vivian falls asleep, and wakes up later to find the bus has broken down.  She gets up, walking off the bus and leaving her backpack behind, to find out what's happening.  Needless to say, someone steals her backpack from her.

While waiting for the bus to be fixed, Vivian meets Nick, who offers to help her get to her location.  He keeps calling her princess, and she doesn't trust him at first, but she lets him help her.  Throughout the journey, they stay at a church, almost get killed, find a dead FBI agent with two different colored eyes, meet a woman who is searching for her daughter, Paloma, and meets someone who says he is her birth dad.

There were a few moments where I thought to myself, "This book has potential," and a few moments where I thought, "Holy god, what is going on? This is terrible!"  For example, when the FBI Agent shows up at a church the Vivian is hiding at with Nick - it just felt a little too convenient.  Then, when the same FBI Agent shows up dead - also too convenient.  There were a few things that really bothered me about the book.

1. The action starts immediately. There is no real lead up to Vivian having to escape.  She gets the DVD in the mail, and within the first twenty pages, she is already on the run.  When action happens that quick, it is usually because it's occurring in a short story, and the action needs to be quick because their is not as much time to tell the story.  This would have been better had a lot of stuff been cut and made into a short story.

2.  When Nick and Vivian first meet, they hate each other.  He finds Vivian to be a spoiled brat (and he's right,) and she thinks Nick is kind of arrogant and rude. Then, out of nowhere, they are just in love with each other.  After knowing each other for three days.  Love takes time, and three days is not enough time.  Especially considering that a day and a half into their journey, Nick gets "kidnapped" and taken to Rosales ahead of Vivian.  Vivian is simply confused by the fact that Nick is "helping" her, and is making it seem like she's in love with him.

3. The characters were a bit flat - especially Vivian and Nick.  At the beginning of the novel, all each of them cared about was themselves.  At the end of the novel, all either of them cared about was themselves!  There was no character growth in the novel.

4. It really bothered me that Marcos kept referring to himself as Vivian's real dad.  Sure, he is her birth father, but he wasn't there to help raise her, feed her, etc.  Her real dad is the one who was there with her mom, caring for her her entire life.

Overall, I'd give this book 2 stars.  It had potential at the beginning, but fell flat and flopped around.  The plot was predictable, the characters were all selfish and underdeveloped and the story felt rushed through the entire novel.  Read it if you must, but there are surely other novels you could pick instead. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The School for Good and Evil - Soman Chainani

***Spoilers Ahead*** If you have yet to read this book, and you don't want to know what happens, read this review later.  I try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but a few tend to make their way into my reviews.

I just finished reading Soman Chainani's debut novel The School for Good and Evil.  This is the first book in a trilogy, and I have the second on my bookshelf waiting to be read as I type this!  

The basic plot of this book is that every four years, two kids from the village of Gavaldon are kidnapped and taken to the school for Good and Evil.  The kids are usually between the ages of 12 and 16.  According to legend, one kid is usually beautiful and ends up in the school for good, while the other kid is usually ugly and ends up in the school for evil.  Sophie, one of the main characters in the book, is convinced that she will go to the school for Good, while her "best friend," Agatha, will end up in the school for Evil.  Agatha, on the other hand, is convinced that Sophie is crazy, and that the School for Good and Evil does not really exist.  On the eleventh night of the eleventh month, Sophie is beautifying herself, so as to make herself ready when the school master comes to take her.  (For a 12 year old, she has the most ridiculous beauty routine ever.  It includes a minimum of 9 hours of sleep, rubbing fish eggs on her skin, then rinsing it off and rubbing multiple other things like pumpkin puree and goats milk onto her skin as well.)

As Sophie is getting ready, her father is preparing in his own way - by pounding wood over Sophie's door to prevent her from leaving and to stop anyone else from getting in and taking her.  Sophie finds this infuriating, as she desperately wants to get kidnapped and have her own fairy tale.  Well, Sophie gets away in a different manner.  See, when Agatha sneaks over to steal the cookies Sophie left on the windowsill, Sophie sneaks out, follows Agatha, and they both get kidnapped while climbing a tree.  They get taken by a giant bird to the School for Good and Evil, where, much to the shock and surprise of both girls, Agatha gets sent to the School for Good and Sophie gets sent to the School for Evil.  Anyone who can discern character well will understand that this is actually the appropriate spot for each girl. 

So, now we know where each girl ends up.  Both are convinced they are in the wrong school, and as a result, they both do poorly on their tests for a while.  Then Sophie convinces Agatha to help her, so Agatha becomes a cockroach and assists Sophie, ensuring that Sophie becomes the top student in the School for Evil, and causing Agatha's grades, which had been improving, to slip.  Over the course of the novel, Sophie and Agatha change, both finally realizing that they are in the correct schools after all.  When Agatha realizes she is in the correct school, she also gains confidence in herself and realizes she is beautiful after all.  Sophie, on the other hand, is truly, completely, 100% pure evil.  As a result of this discovery about herself, Sophie turns into a hag and administers attacks on the School for Good in an attempt to get Tedros, the boy she thinks she loves, to be with her instead of Agatha.  The drama between school ensues, reaching a high when Sophie tries to kill Agatha. 

Now, overall, I think this book was very well written.  I think the author does a great job of drawing the reader in and making them fall in love with the story.  The descriptions in the book were wonderful, really giving the reader a great idea of what the school and the characters looked like.  However, I have some worries about content in this book.

Sophie and Agatha, as well as the other students described in this book, are young.  They are 12 years old.  Now, I know that around the age of 12 is when young girls and boys start going through puberty, and experiencing all the feelings that go along with that.  However, I feel that the author sexualizes the characters way too much.  12 year olds should not be sexualized at all, because they are way to young to have sex, or to understand everything that goes along with that.  This was a big issue for me.  Chainani had characters who were talking about being in love with each other and wanting to get married and all that.  At the age they are, these kids should be more worried about learning what it means to develop, and learning about the changes their bodies are going through.  They should not be competing with each other to get the hottest date to the ball, or the best man for a husband.  It is absolutely ridiculous to expect content like that to be included in a novel for young kids. 

Also, I didn't think it was appropriate for Chainani to place such importance on the looks of the kids in this story.  There was heavy emphasis throughout the story that the only way to make a guy really like you is if you were beautiful - which is why Evers could earn the use of the Groom Room.  The Nevers, on the other hand, were taught that they would always be ugly, and that they should focus on evil things, because they would never have happy endings.  Ridiculous. 

While I think this book is well written, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it for kids under the age of 16.  If you are a reader with a well defined sense of self, and a knowledge that being kind is better than looking beautiful, then I think you will do well reading this book.

I would give this book a C rating for good writing, but questionable content.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book A Day Continued!

Yesterday started my year long challenge to start (and complete) 365 books!  Can I do it?  I think so.  So, here, on day 2, is where I am:

Books Started: 2
Books Finished: 0 (but it's only the second day!)

Here are the two books I've started so far: 

Hollow City - Ransom Riggs

***Spoilers:  If you've read my blog before, you know that I often post a few spoilers in my reviews.  So, if you haven't read Hollow City, and don't want to know anything that happens until you do, wait to read this review.  If you don't mind a few spoilers: read on.***
At the end of last year, I read the book Miss Peregrine's home for Peculiar Children.  I fell in love instantly.  It is an absolutely magical book, and I knew right away that I would read the rest of the series!  So, a couple weeks ago, I picked up Hollow City, the second book in the series, at the library. 
So, I finished this lovely book, and again, was not disappointed.  The book starts right where the last book left off.  The kids from Miss Peregrine's home have lost their loop, and time has started for them (in 1940!)  What that means for Jacob, of course, is that he is now trapped in 1940 and can't get back to his own time because they lost their loop.  He says he is okay with this, and as of the end of the novel, remains convinced that he is happy with the choice to stay with the peculiar kids. 
Now that the kids are in time moving forward, they are trying to find another ymbryne who can help save Miss Peregrine and make her human again.  As you may remember, she was stuck as a peregrine in the last novel by something called a wight.  The wights are chasing the kids now, because the kids are peculiar, and the wights want to either kill or experiment on them.  Through a roundabout journey, the kids end up in an entertainment loop, where they meet Miss Wren, another ymbryne that they are hoping will help them make Miss Peregrine human again. 
On their journey, they meet several fun and peculiar characters, including a young girl who can make herself whole after being injured, two boys who are blind and can find their way around via clicking their tongues and listening to the echos, a clown, and a folding man.  They kill several hollows, two unintentionally, meet a talking dog and a telekinetic girl, and travel through a church in London.  Their are so many fabulous things that happen to them on their journey that I can't even mention them all here or you'd be reading forever!
There are so many reasons I loved this novel.  I love the way the author continued it right where the last novel left off.  I love that, in the face of adversity, the kids rise to the occasion and prove that their age doesn't mean they aren't capable.  I love how each character grows throughout the story, proving that they are mature and can handle so much more than people give them credit for.  The photos in this story work well to create a novel that is as magical as its predecessor. 
I think my favorite part of the novel is that Jacob seems to really come into his own and accept his fate as a hollow killer.  He seems to finally become comfortable with where he is and what he is supposed to do and be for the kids who have become some of his best friends, even in just a short period of time. 
If you haven't read this novel yet, get to it!  You won't be disappointed.