December 30, 2012

Kathe Koja: "Talk"

Title: Talk [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kathe Koja [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2005
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Honest, emotive, and most of all, gorgeously written.
Cons: Could have been longer and more detailed, characters-wise - though still we get to know them enough. Leads first-person voices blur into each other a little sometimes.
Will appeal to: GLBTQ fiction lovers of course, but pretty much anyone who values staying true to oneself and standing up for what ones believes in. And, last but not least, anyone who's a sucker for beautiful, poignant prose.

Blurb: Kit Webster is hiding a secret. Carma, his best friend, has already figured it out, and pushes him to audition for the high school play, Talk. When he's cast as the male lead, he expects to escape his own life for a while and become a different person. What he gets instead is the role of a lifetime: Kit Webster. In the play, Kit's thrown together with Lindsay Walsh, the female lead and the school's teen queen. Lindsay, tired of the shallow and selfish boys from her usual circle of friends, sees something real in Kit - and wants it. But Kit's attention is focused on Pablo, another boy in school. The play is controversial; the parents put pressure on the school to shut it down. And when Kit and Lindsay rally to save Talk, they find themselves deep into a battle for the truth: onstage, and inside themselves. (Amazon)

Review: (Well, first off, a little premise. I'm currently waiting for twelve books, some new some not, to be delivered by a web bookseller. Among them, the notorious last installment in Jeri Smith-Ready "WVMP series" I've been blogging about lately. While I was waiting for said book, I thought I'd shared my thoughts on all the previous ones in the series with you...but I've been reminded that this is primarily a YA blog, so I decided to put my vamp DJ friends on hold and go back to a teen book instead. I also picked something different from my aforegoing stuff, and here goes...).
This is really a very small book - around 130 pages. It basically revolves around a group of high school seniors staging a play called "Talk", by the (fictional) author Lawson Shoals, and dealing with obstructionism on behalf of a group of adults and the very school board. Also, we follow the two leads - gay-in-the-closet Kit and queen-bee Lindsay - coming to terms with their own lives with the help of said play. A pretty simple and even common canvas in itself, on which Koja manages to paint an engrossing, distinct masterpiece
The thing that makes a winner out of this one is the gorgeous prose. Kit and Lindsay's voices alternate, chapter by chapter, in a stream-of-consciousness form, often beset with broken lines, and are interspersed with fragments from the play. The only complaint I have about this is the odd similarity those voices seem to bear sometimes, though the two characters couldn't be more different. Kit is sweet, insecure, torn between the need of coming out of his closet and the desire of escaping from himself. Lindsay is self-centered and ambitious, unable to see her own faults, though she does recognize those in the members of her social circle. Both seem to find what they're looking for in the play though, even if their reasons are completely different. [...]

December 20, 2012

Jeri Smith-Ready: "Bad to the Bone"

Title: Bad to the Bone [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: WVMP Radio (2nd of 4 books, but there's also a free-download novella that is book 3.5 in the series. See Jeri Smith-Ready's site)
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Year: 2009
Age: 18+ (though Jeri's site actually says 16+, but I think the whole series would be better handled by more mature readers)
Stars: 3,5/5
Pros: Original take on the overused vampire theme. Interesting, mostly tridimensional characters. Radio station and music play a big role (if you love them passionately, that's a real bonus). Plenty of action in this one.
Cons: Can get a bit confusing at times, with all the twists and turns. A couple of graphic sex scenes (if you aren't into the stuff). Gorier than the first.
Will appeal to: Those who liked Wicked Game but are thirsty for more action.

Blurb: Welcome to WVMP, where Ciara Griffin manages an on-air staff of off-the-wall DJs who really sink their teeth into the music of their “Life Time” (the era in which they became vampires). Ciara keeps the undead rocking, the ratings rolling, and the fan base alive - without missing a beat. For Halloween, WVMP is throwing a bash. With cool tunes, hot costumes, killer cocktails - what could go wrong? To start, a religious firebrand ranting against the evils of the occult preempts the station’s midnight broadcast. Behind it all is a group of self-righteous radicals who think vampires suck. Ciara must protect the station while struggling with her own complicated relationship, her best friend’s romance with a fledgling vampire, and the nature of her mysterious anti-holy powers. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: (Note: though this blog primarily focuses on YA Lit, I'm currently going through all the WVMP books, because I want to be able to blog about Lust for Life - the last installment in the series - as soon as I receive it from the webstore. So I'm basically doing my homework LOL).
First off, so many things happen in around 400 pocket-format pages, it's difficult to keep up with them all at times. The core of the novel is the threat posed to the station by an alleged cult, that turns out to be a schismatic leg of the Control - an organization that is busy protecting humans from vampires and vice versa (see book 1). But the truth isn't so simple - the final revelation (or not so much, if you follow a certain clue) opens a whole new can of worms, though the two things are closely linked. Also, we have Ciara's dad who could be in league with the bad guys or not, given his con artist status and his recent treachery (again, see book 1), plus his usual double-dealing attitude. Luckily, the station gained two more allies lately, though one of them will meet a sad fate at the end of this novel. Also, Ciara's anti-holy blood (discovered in book 1) comes into the equation a couple of times, with life-changing results both for her and some of her friends; one could say its discovery will actually boot the next installment in the series. You want more? One of the vamps get dangerous (guess who? it was hinted in the previous novel, though I'm not sure Smith-Ready had meant to take this thing so far right from the start)...and oh my, I was forgetting this very small detail...Ciara and Shane take the next step in their relationship, sharing a flat and parenting a...vampire dog (or maybe he's parenting them!). Plus Ciara's friend Lori gets a taste of the vamp side of love. But wait, there's weird and/or sweet family reunions, red hot sex and lots of blood - this time. So this book is packed with everything you ever dreamed of and more, especially action-wise...though, like I said, all this stuff can confuse the hell out of you, especially when reading it for the first time. So, basically, this second installment is more exciting than the first, but watch out for a bad case of vertigo! [...]

December 12, 2012

Jeri Smith-Ready: "Wicked Game"

Title: Wicked Game [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: WVMP Radio (1st of 4 books, but there's also a free download novella that is book 3.5 in the series. See Jeri Smith-Ready's site)
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Year: 2008
Age: 18+ (though Jeri's site actually says 16+, but I think the whole series would be better handled by more mature readers)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Original take on the overused vampire theme. Interesting, mostly tridimensional characters. Radio station and music play a big role (if you love them passionately, that's a real bonus). Not too gory for a vamp novel. A few surprises along the way.
Cons: The way book heroine and grunge vamp start their relationship...feels like a vampire version of human rape to me.
Will appeal to: Vamp lovers who want to sink their teeth into something different. Music/radio lovers - even if they don't usually do vampires.

Blurb: Recovering con artist Ciara Griffin takes an internship at a local radio station, whose late-night time-warp format features 1940s blues, '60s psychedelia, '80s goth, and more, all with an uncannily authentic flair. Ciara soon discovers just how the DJs maintain their cred: they're vampires, stuck forever in the eras in which they were turned. Communications giant Skywave wants to buy WVMP and turn it into just another hit-playing clone. Without the station - and the link it provides to their original Life Times - the vampires would "fade," becoming little more than mindless ghosts of the past. To boost ratings and save the lives of her strange new friends, Ciara, in the ultimate con, hides the DJs' vampire nature in plain sight, disguising the bloody truth as a marketing gimmick. WVMP becomes the hottest thing around - next to Ciara's complicated affair with grunge vamp Shane McAllister. But the "gimmick" enrages a posse of ancient and powerful vampires who aren't so eager to be brought into the light... (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I know, I know. The last WVMP book came out a few days ago, and I'm only starting on the whole series now, 4 years after its first release. My more than valid excuse is, I only set up this blog a couple of months ago - so I want to make up for lost time, plus review the last installment of the series, Lust for Life, as soon as I'm getting it from the web bookseller. So, in the meantime, let's just take a look at how it all began, 4-years-and-something ago...
First off, I usually stay clear from vampire books, especially since Twilight was out. There are so many out there, it's not even funny. I suspect many of you who are reading this have a penchant for vampires instead - and there's nothing wrong with it of course. Only, all the clones in the market are not a compliment to the genre...just an exploitation. If I have to read about vampires, they're required to be unique in some respect - and, according to other reviews and the genre's overview I got, Smith-Ready's are.
What sold me on this series was the music angle, or better, the radio one. Smith-Ready's idea to equate vampires with people who got stuck in their "glorious" and young age was totally brill. Most radio personalities - at least those who work for small, local stations - do tend to get stuck in a music era and overlook what comes me on this, 'cause I'm actually a DJ (I prefer to call myself a "speaker" though) for one of said stations here in Italy, and I've seen my share of that. So the core idea for the book rings true to me, and while on one hand I can sympathize with the vamp DJs, on the other hand I find Smith-Ready addresses a real issue here - fossilization (not only for what concerns radio personalities - or vampires - of course). But she goes even further - her vamps also develop obsessive-compulsive personalities after they're turned, as a way to cope with their new reality and maintain a form of control over it. Another interesting and unexpected detour from the old vampire cliché. [...]

December 04, 2012

Sara Zarr: "Sweethearts"

Title: Sweethearts [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sara Zarr [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2008
Age: 12+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Heartfelt story with flesh-and-blood characters. Addresses poignant themes. Language is simple but masterly used. No forced teenager jargon.
Cons: Bittersweet ending (if you're a fan of happy ones).
Will appeal to: Those who value real friendship and the act of being true to themselves. Those who had their share of school bullying. Those who don't necessarily need a boy-meets-girl type of story. And yes, parents too.

Blurb: As children, Jennifer Harris and Cameron Quick were both social outcasts. They were also one another's only friend. So when Cameron disappears without warning, Jennifer thinks she's lost the only person who will ever understand her. Now in high school, Jennifer has been transformed. Known as Jenna, she's popular, happy, and dating, everything "Jennifer" couldn't be - but she still can't shake the memory of her long-lost friend. When Cameron suddenly reappears, they are both confronted with memories of their shared past and the drastically different paths their lives have taken. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: Before I start on this book,  I have to confess my bad case of allergy to love stories. I don't read YA (or adult stuff either) looking for a display of smooches. So, based on the rather fluffy cover and the misleading title, I shouldn't have read this novel at all...but I trusted the blurb and some fellow bloggers reviews. Boy, am I glad that I did. Though in retrospect, the cover makes sense, since this book also deals with eating as a compensation, and even with having one's heart eaten at (I'm not sure it was intentional though!). But the main themes are bullying/abuse, friendship, and most of all, staying true to oneself.
Jennifer and Cameron meet at Elementary school and strike up a deep friendship. They're both social outcasts, but Cameron is the one who stands up for Jennifer and tries to protect her from the constant bullying. Till one day, when they are nine, Cameron is gone without a word, and Jennifer's classmates perform a cruel joke on her, stating that Cameron is actually dead. Having lost her only friend and anchor, Jennifer feels like her real self - the Jennifer version that only Cameron loved - is dead with him, and painfully decides to "bury" it with her alleged dead friend and start anew.
Eight years after, Jennifer - now renamed "Jenna" - is a new and improved character, so to speak...slim, popular, apparently confident, with a social circle and even an equally popular boyfriend. That's precisely when Cameron comes back from the dead, calling her whole world into question. We follow Jenna since her seventeenth birthday, while she tells her present story alternated with small flashbacks from the past - particularly something that happened to her and Cameron eight years before, courtesy of his dad. There's a build-up of tension and anguish, that finally discharges into a poignant epilogue, though not quite the one we were expecting. Some have commented that it's a drop off, the way nothing actually happens in the end. I think that, in a way, much happens - because Jennifer is able to face what could have been a desperate situation, and to realize (with Cameron's help, eight years later) that she is stronger and more resourceful than she thought. Also, she finally gains a perspective of Cameron's life, and is able to understand the main reason why he's always protected her in the first place. [...]