Monday, 29 December 2014

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters

Published: June 10 2014
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Website: Author’s Website
Format: Audiobook, Unabridged 
Narration by: Christine Lakin

Quick Review

During a run, Swanee dies from an unexpected cardiac arrest, leaving the people around her reeling. One of the people left behind is her girlfriend, Alix. Swanee also left her troubled sister, Joss, behind.
The death of Swanee unravels the lives of everyone around her. With her death, Swanee’s lies also unravel, and it is apparent to Alix that her girlfriend was living a double-life. A mysterious caller continues to text Swanee’s cell, not knowing that she died.
Alix has burning questions, and for some reason, Joss isn’t helping Alix understand what Swanee did.
As Alix struggles to fathom Swanee’s lies and if she ever loved Alix, she becomes close to someone through her own lies. Alix has left her own trail of deceit and destruction in her quest to figure out Swanee, and she’ll have to answer to someone she met because of Swanee’s death. 

            This was narrated by Christine Lakin, and I have no complaints. The narrator has a grasp of the subtleties of the emotions that she is delivering, but she is very natural sounding too. No matter what character she was reading, she sounded like someone I could meet in real life. This naturalness is something that Tavia Gilbert (narrator of Eve) doesn’t have. Such an effortless voice grounds this story in reality.

            Obviously, this story is about two girls in a romantic relationship, planning on spending their lives together. What I really enjoyed was that the book wasn’t all about “OMG I’M INTO GIRLS AND NO ONE ACCEPTS IT!” Alix and Swanee are already lesbians without doubts (so it seems), though they are “out” to various degrees. I appreciated that this book was a tragic love story gone wrong, and the characters involved happen to be young women. I think some of the elements were thrown in there because the author felt like she had to (it gets a bit preachy). The lesbian characters treat intimacy the same as heterosexual book couples. The media tends to glorify and sexualize lesbians, and it’s nice to see that this doesn’t happen in this book (not too much, anyway - what’s there is more of a funny way to hang out that is awkwardly sexual).  

            The very beginning was boring to me. As in, I was walking down the street in the cold pre-sun darkness and I was considering taking off my mitts to listen to a different audio book. Alix’s parents drugged her after Swanee died. Yes, it strikes Alix deeply, and for a stretch of time she can’t accept that Swanee is dead. But how do I let go of the fact that her parents drugged her? I can’t. Not only is it deplorable, it’s unrealistic. Mix the drugging with Alix’s inability to accept Swanee’s death, and that was a painful beginning.  
            Personally, I didn’t find this to be too angsty. Can we ever know how we will react if a loved one dies unexpectedly?

Alix has a fantastic character arch as she realizes her late girlfriend wasn’t that great of a person, even though Alix loved her. On the other hand, Alix isn’t the greatest person, girlfriend, friend, daughter, or sister in the world. While this bothers a lot of people, I enjoy imperfect protagonists. No one is perfect, and I do have to say that her parents don’t allow her too much grieving time (seriously, her girlfriend just died, how reliable of a babysitter do you think she’ll be?), so her behaviour is probably at its worst.

Final Verdict
            Alix discovers other people’s secrets that fundamentally changes how she sees them. This happens in reality as we grow older, our delusions are stripped away, and there are plenty of moments in like this in the book. This is a beautiful romance and tragedy novel that happens to have two girls instead of a girl and a boy. I highly recommend LIES to teens and those who enjoy teen lit and who are open to the concept of two people loving each other regardless of gender. I would make sure that it is an appropriate book club read before putting it on the list, though, as not everyone has the same views nor the respect for diversity.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Eve by Anna Carey

The Eve Series
Published: October 4 2011
Publisher: Harper Audio
Website: Author’s Website
Series: Eve
Format: Audiobook, Unabridged 
Narration by: Tavia Gilbert

Quick Review 

98% of the world’s population was killed 16 years ago by a plague. The King is trying to rebuild America, and by his command, female orphans are kept in highly secured schools to educate them and protect them from the chaos outside. Surrounded only by female teachers and guards, they are taught that all men are ruthless, untrustworthy rapists. They are taught that after graduation, they will be moved to another building to learn a trade and move to the City of Sand to start a new life. Eve, the smartest student, wants to be an artist, but the trouble-maker Arden tells Eve that everything is a lie. When Arden disappears, Eve goes to see where the graduated girls go and discovers the truth for herself. With the truth in hand, Eve flees from the school, trying to survive in the wilds while being hunted by the King.

Tavia Gilbert's voice was something I disliked at first, but as the time went by, I have come to like her voice. Perhaps not everyone will like it, though I think she fits the voice of Eve very well, and this story is told by Eve.  

World Building
            Eve recounts her final days with her mother, and for the most part, that’s all Eve knows about the world before the virus. Then, she only knows what the school has told her. When she is thrust into the world on her own, she has to figure it out on the fly. So no one is dumping every truth on her so the reader can know the details about how the new world functions. Some people “know” snippets, but even they might be wrong. It is apparent that surviving by yourself is not an easy task. Hopefully, the world will be explained more in the next two books.

            First off, Eve is not an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator is the result of when a narrator’s credibility has been compromised. Eve (and Arden) simply don’t know everything about the world as it actually is. The only information they have before they leave is what they were taught in school. If you wrote in a book report that she is an unreliable narrator, I hope your teacher corrects it with a lot of red pen.
            That said, Eve is terribly boring. She has no character traits other than the not-surprising “book smart”, and the not-a-character-trait of “girl”. I don’t mind her naiveté, because it makes sense. And yes, she is book smart (as in literature and math), so she doesn’t stand a chance of surviving in the wilds by herself (I wouldn’t either). What I hate about her is that she has no character arch. She makes terrible decisions that get people killed and she is only remorseful for a moment. In the next book, she ultimately blames the King for it. No, Eve, that was your fault, because you did something stupid without asking if it was ok first.

            Arden is awesome. She is sturdy and prickly like a cactus, and she has an actual character arch! The main character didn’t even get one, but she did.

            Who is the antagonist here? Possible antagonists include: the King, the wilds, the plague, Leif, and Eve (because she makes so many stupid decisions). If you had to write a book report, this could certainly be a point.  

            The first boy around her age she meets…she falls in love with. Of course, she argues and fights with him, and he saves her over and over again, and she knows him for such a short period of time but she loves him. Can YA stop this? You could argue that with her old education (all men are evil) she shouldn’t love him. But you can also argue that now she knows she has been fed lies for her entire education, she is naively open to going against that old education. Either way, I dislike the formulaic way the romance pans out.

Plot Holes
Spoilers! Read at your own risk!
            Why would the King decree that all girls be educated when they will just be strapped to a table and give birth to the future population until they die? This is not cost-effective. Why not indoctrinate them at a young age that this is how they will serve their country?
            Arden is labelled as a trouble-making liar. So what does Eve do when Arden tells her something that changes everything she has ever known to be true? She believes her. Why on earth would you believe her? If you have working brain cells, you wouldn’t. But the most intelligent girl in school does.

            The ending was awesome, because it stabs the Insta-love in the heart. I didn’t see it coming. Because I didn’t care about the love story, I was alright with it. I was walking through a wooded path when I listened to the end, and my jaw dropped and I subsequently laughed.

Final Verdict
            I recommend this for readers who like dystopias, though I think more girls than boys will definitely enjoy this. The beginning starts with a quote from Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and yes, there are parallels. If you had to write an essay, I’d say The Handmaid’s Tale, Wither, and Eve would be great to discuss repopulation and women’s rights (though Eve is a pale comparison). I will definitely listen to the next installment, Once, and the audio book experience has been enjoyable for me.   

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Endure by Carrie Jones

The Need Series

Published: May 8th 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Website: Series website

            The final book of the tetralogy, Endure is about avoiding Ragnarok and driving the evil pixies out of Bedford. Betty is still missing and the pixies are even hunting girls now. Some interesting gods become involved and Zara has to rise to the occasion and become a leader. But now that Nick is back with them, he complicates everything by detesting what Zara has become to save him: a pixie.
Zara has to decide who her heart wants, but he might not love her anymore.  
            The other covers are beautiful and relate to the story; the cover of Endure just seems lazy to me. Instead of gold glitter, there is a single gold eye on a face that is horizontal. Aside from battles when girls are knocked down, when is anyone ever laying down? At some point Zara jumps into something, but as far as I know, she didn’t just jump and position herself horizontally midair like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Is the gold eye supposed to resemble pixie-dom? Because I don’t recall pixies having unusual eye colours.

            The pixie queen of crazy came back to mess everything up. I wish she was in more of the series, as she is powerful and nuts. Jones should write a tetralogy on her life and shenanigans. She is only in this book for a few pages and then gone forever, but she has a lot of knowledge and strength that could be used for other books.

            For the protagonist, there was a lot of character growth in this book. She has to step up as a leader, not just as a pixie queen, but as a leader of an army against Frank and Isla. The last time, in Entice, when she tried to give a speech to her own pixies she ran away. In Endure, she has to convince beings she doesn’t know to help protect Bedford and the rest of the world. It seems like the last three books had her changing and leading up to this point.

            Hel, as the place and the goddess, is very cool and handled in a way that is accurate enough, even with the artistic liberties that Jones took. Not a bad place, not glorified like Valhalla, not a good goddess, but not evil or malicious either. It is a place where the dead go if you don’t die in battle, ruled by someone who just has to, who didn’t make the rules. This is another character that I wish received more presence.

Spoilers Ahead!
            Who could still be team Nick by this book? He says he can’t stand Zara’s smell, she has no soul, etc. How is choosing between Astley and Nick difficult? Yes, I’d be heartbroken that Nick decided to be bigoted and forget what Zara did for him and that she’s getting stronger to protect everyone. Of course, Zara goes through another change and Nick is right there to tell her that he loves her.
            I also detest that he doesn’t like that she has gotten stronger and, yes, killed pixies. But he kills pixies to protect people too. He is so hypocritical it is mind-boggling. I’ve said it before, but everyone grows and changes. People who can’t accept change should be avoided in the long-run, because change is a part of life.
            So, after all this, who is still team Nick? Show of hands, please. Anyone who raised their hands needs a crash course about what an abusive relationship looks like, because that’s what Zara would be getting if she ended up with Nick.

Spoilers Ahead!
            Loki’s, “Oh, my wife and I forgot that I could have escaped centuries ago, derp.” and Astley’s betrayal and then not-betrayal was asinine and seen a mile away (though it still infuriates me).
            Then Zara jumps into the Hellmouth like it’s an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to stop the apocalypse. The book can’t decide what Zara is at this point, or what she’s becoming as she jumps in. But apparently getting pixie-kissed is more like getting friend-kissed, I guess, because the end is love is magic, and by extension, platonic love (friendship) is magic.
             Then it is three or four months later and everyone is sitting on the grass, talking about mundane stuff. Astley is taking high-school classes, which seems pointless. Wouldn’t he have a post-secondary education by now, or at the very least have already graduated high school? What bothers me the most is that Nick and Zara talk about their relationship right in front of Astley and everyone, including Astley, is ok with it. This doesn’t happen in real life. Your new partner does not want to hear about the details of your past relationship. I’m not saying that you can’t explain stuff (example: an ex didn’t let you have a credit card, drive, go to school, or have a job, all the scary stuff that can affect you now that needs an explanation), but don’t talk about the good times. Most people don’t want to hear it. Maybe if they ask about it, then sure, if you want to talk about it. Otherwise, no one is that cool that they can listen to their partner talk with their ex about their relationship in a positive light.     

Final Verdict
            The Need series has come to a close and I will still say that my favourite was the first book, Need, followed by the last book, Endure. I still find the introduction of Norse mythology to be strange and unneeded. A saving grace for me is Astley, who is a gentleman and patient with Zara, though he is a glutton for punishment for taking on the task of saving Zara’s dead boyfriend when she is in love with him. Betty and Isla were also strong and likable characters that held my attention, and Zara is a protagonist that is stronger than most, though she is driven so strongly she might be called selfish by some. Overall, the series took a turn after the first book, so if people stop reading after the first one, I wouldn’t blame them, though I think the series is highly enjoyable either way. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Entice by Carrie Jones

The Need Series
Published: January 3rd 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Website: Series website

            Beginning right where the last book left off, Zara has become a full pixie to get to Valhalla and bring Nick back. Unfortunately, getting there is still a problem. Zara and friends have to chase down leads from unlikely sources to gather the information they need. During all this, people are still going missing in Bedford, and Zara has formed a bond with Astley, even though she loves Nick. As his queen, she also has to step-up to the responsibilities of the role.

             There are two possible covers for this book. This cover is the one I own. I think of touching between two people that creates a bond (mother/child, lovers, rulers). I think of intimacy and heightened physical sensation. It looks like she is touching her own face, and then I get a sense of loneliness, like she is longing for someone’s touch. 
This cover has a more “magical” feeling to me, and I like it the most. The blowing out of gold dust can symbolize speeches, in front of pixies, good and bad, and humans. It can also have connections to life and the concept of a soul, which comes up in this book and the last, Endure. From your mouth, lips, and breath can also bring words of love, or the opposite. In this book, I think this cover definitely relates to Zara, as she is now a pixie queen that exudes power, but not necessarily evil. She has to use her words and her strength to win her battles.

Story and Characters
            There is more plot here than in Entice. There are a lot more places that they travel to that make the story feel like an urban-fantasy, but then it switches to straight-up fantasy. The creepy factor is still gone, and I miss it.
            However, there are some touching moments in this book. Astley is developed here from many angles, and the reader gets to know him more than Nick. I was rooting for Astley to get Zara, though the way that he would risk his life to save her boyfriend is unrealistic. If you liked Astley from Captivate, read Entice.
            I really enjoyed how people are dealing with the fact that Zara has turned pixie. Not everyone is accepting of it, and Zara knows that Nick might not love her now, but she still continues on to save him. That takes guts.
            Someone’s mother is introduced. I won’t write her name or who they are a mother to, but she is amazing, because she is absolutely nuts. She is more interesting and detailed than most of the characters that were introduced in Need and onward. In Entice and Endure, she was a shining force of a character that I wanted to see more of.

Chapter Headings
            This book has social media status updates from people in Bedford/Sumner, News Reports, blog posts, and Tweets. Yes, some of these will date her book, and maybe in 30 years no one will know what a Tweet is, but unless the world goes ka-blewie, you’ll still be able to research it. People will probably always have similar forms of communication. We still know what Morse code is, or post cards, smoke signals, or floriography is because we have records of it and can research it. I enjoyed these chapter headings, though they didn’t add much to the book. I liked reading about what other people in Bedford/Sumner were thinking during this time, especially because the characters weren’t solely focused on saving everyone.

Character Deaths
            Some established characters die in this book. I’m alright with that; mildly sad about it, but ultimately ok. I was more moved by the reactions of the remaining characters. Some people (on the playground that is the internet) do not like that these characters died.
Did you know that people do, in fact, die? This is real life that I’m talking about. If a work of fiction is to emulate real life, it is reasonable that characters will die. Characters that you like are totally capable of dying, just like in real life. It isn’t only un-liked characters or people that die.
In fiction, characters die for plot, to get emotional reactions from the readers, or both.   

            The anti-iron pills are very convenient. Too convenient. No one else had these in the last books? What about the pixies that drove and took the bus and were in the school surrounded by computers and cell phones and everything else that is metal?
            Saving Nick is too much of a focus for the group at this point. How many people have gone missing because of the evil pixies? And no one goes to look for them. Why?! In Need, it was imperative that the pixies be stopped and the kids saved, if they weren’t dead already. It’s unrealistic that they don’t focus more on saving the people of Bedford.
            There are a lot of descriptions, in Entice and Captivate, of people sucking in their lips and pressing their lips together. That is terribly repetitive. Also, people are constantly touching one another in this series. Constant hugging, hip bumping, rubbing, and elbowing abound. This isn’t a family-friendly television show from the 90s; no one touches their friends that much.

Final Verdict
            The third installment of the Need series is far better than the second installment, and this book gets plot done. They travel, solve mysteries, get into danger, overcome danger, and the plot thickens for the third book, Endure. During this, relationships build up and break down. The creepy atmosphere is still absent, becoming an urban-fantasy and fantasy book. If a reader liked the previous two books, then I advise that no one skip this book. This final book sets the stage for Entice, the finale.