Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book review: Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best by Maria Padian

This is a hilarious and heartbreaking story of two teen girls and the summer when everything changes for them. Both Henry and Eva are New Jersey natives and excellent athletes: Henry's a master on the tennis court and Eva is a graceful ballerina. When opportunity knocks for both of them the summer before their junior year in high school they throw open the door: Henry sees freedom from her overbearing father and a chance to build her talents on the court. Eva sees the chance to be the best as well as even more pressure to be graceful, lighter, more perfect on the dancefloor.

Soon, Eva's obsession with physical perfection leads her down the path to anorexia, and her health issues overwhelm everything else. But through it all these two best friends know that Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, and nothing will come between them no matter the distance.

Well, it seems Maria Padian had a bad case of bad book summary with this one.  The one on the back is actually an excerpt from the book, and out-of-context at that.  It makes it seem like the entire thing is just about them living in New Jersey and surviving it, when it’s actually about two friends who get into summer programs for their respective interests.  One learns that competitive sports should be about the game, not psyching your opponent out to the point where they mess up.  The other descends further and further into an eating disorder that apparently started long before the book does.

Like her previous book, Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress, the book does live up to expectations where it counts.  The story itself is well thought-out, and the characters are, for the most part, interesting.  The basic writing is just as good as it was in her first book, too, with no clear flaws.  She writes clearly and concisely, with no instances that come right to mind where she overwrote and brought more attention to the prose than what it was trying to say.

When it comes to more complicated conventions, though, she does fall a little short with this one.  This book relies heavily on flashback scenes within the text, no indicators separating them from what’s currently happening.  The flashbacks are in past tense, while the current action of the book is in present.  As I said, the book relies heavily on these flashbacks rather than just having the scenes happen in real time, and it can get complicated and confusing, not to mention there are places here and there in the present tense text that switch to past (an editing problem, of course, but with so much jumping around it’s more of a problem than it might have been if the book had all been in past tense and some things were simply missed in the conversion).

Eva’s anorexia is handled realistically, I think, for the most part, but it gets a bit ridiculous when it comes to them actually sitting down and looking back at warning signs leading up to her being hospitalized.  A common symptom of extreme anorexia in girls is missing their period.  If I remember right, this is because the body is so malnourished that it uses the nutrients that would go towards preparing it for reproduction to sustain itself, and sometimes even eats the egg cells.  According to the book, Eva hasn’t had her period in almost a year, which would suggest that her condition got really bad a long time ago.  By all means, she should be extremely sick, if not dead.  If it weren’t for that, Eva’s character arc would’ve been fine.  As it is, it just looks like a bit of bad research and a lot of unhealthy denial on the part of pretty much everyone Eva knows.

For the most part, this is a good book, especially for one that alternates first-person points of view.  Padian tried some new things with the book that didn’t quite work, but they didn’t deter me from wanting to finish it, and I say that’s a whole lot of points towards her.  So, happy reading!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book review: Afterlife Academy by Jamie Admans

Dying wasn't on sixteen-year-old Riley Richardson's to-do list. And now, not only is she dead, but she's stuck in a perpetual high school nightmare. Worse still, she's stuck there with the geekiest, most annoying boy in the history of the world, ever.

In a school where the geeks are popular and just about everything is wrong, Riley has become an outcast. She begins a desperate quest to get back home, but her once-perfect life starts to unravel into something not nearly as great as she thought it was. And maybe death isn’t really that bad after all...

Welcome to Afterlife Academy, where horns are the norm, the microwave is more intelligent than the teachers, and the pumpkins have a taste for blood.

A free copy was given to me in exchange for an honest review.

Well, what can I say about Afterlife Academy? Unfortunately, not a lot of good things. I was part of the cover reveal tour, and I will give it credit and say that I still think it’s a rather nice cover. The premise for the book itself is interesting, too, making the afterlife seem like just another life, rather than the popular perception of the afterlife that Christianity has given us.

Unfortunately, the book itself falls apart almost immediately. Its biggest fault is the main character, Riley. She’s utterly unlikable. She’s a Mean Girl all the way through the novel, and she’s the worst kind, too, because she’s both unaware she’s one and thinks that what she does to other people is justified. Her excuse for relentlessly picking on Anthony is literally just “Well he enjoys math and science so obviously he’s brought it on himself.” She’s like this through the entire novel, so much so that it makes me wonder why Anthony forgives her for the horrible things she’s done, and why the headmistress, her roommate, and the half-demon lunch lady all say they “really like her,” with the lunch lady saying it right after they meet. What’s there to like?

As a side note, I will never understand why British English says “maths” instead of “math.” I understand it’s short for “mathematics” but it just sounds awkward to me. It might be a case of “say a word enough and it stops sounding like a word,” though. The word “maths” comes up so very much in this book because Riley spends so much time thinking about Anthony, mostly justifying her actions towards him in life.

The book is also inconsistent, which doesn’t help Riley’s case for being a good character. It starts right in the first sentence, in fact, with Riley saying she’s always been a good girl, and that of course the first time she does something bad, she dies. However, it’s clear she’s done a lot of bad things in her life, and even she’s aware of it; she says more than once that she cut class more than attended in life. So while she’s never gotten in a car with someone without a license and run someone over before the start of the book, she’s skipped class, given her parents more grief than most girls her age, and spent her free time doing things like stealing Anthony’s glasses and pasting the heads of people she and her friends don’t like on the bodies of porn stars and posting them online.

Another inconsistency is that Riley seems to make a major character development almost every chapter, but the thing is, it’s the same one. She’ll realize what a horrible person she was in life, either to Anthony or in general, and vow that she’ll be a better person, or at least try. But by the next chapter, or in extreme cases the very next paragraph, she’s right back to calling Anthony a geek and worrying what her friends would think if they could see her now. At some point she starts worrying that she’s in love with Anthony rather than her old boyfriend Wade, but it comes right out of left field amidst her still calling him a geek and failing to see why he even qualifies as a human being.

Tied in with this point is her wanting to escape Afterlife Academy. She spends the whole novel on it, first thinking that she and Wade are so connected that he just knows she’s there and will somehow break in despite everyone saying that no one alive knows about the place. When that doesn’t pan out, she tries to get expelled, despite being told that no one has ever been expelled because there’s no place for them to go- and there’s certainly no hint that if someone were to be expelled, they’d be brought back to life rather than being sent into limbo or something. I say this ties in with the previous point because, again, she makes realization after realization that she enjoys being at Afterlife Academy and thinks she wants to stay, and then in the next chapter, scene or paragraph, she’s right back to thinking Wade is going to save her or she’ll be able to find the rumored exit portal and go back to Earth.

The lesson she learns is pretty weak, too. Everything and everyone in the afterlife is grey (with a few exceptions like Narcissa’s horns and Caydi’s vampiric pumpkin) but parts of Riley are still colored and it supposedly makes her stand out. It’s mentioned in the context of wondering why she still has color and that’s about it, though. Riley’s bullied a grand total of once, but the only indication that she can’t make friends is that she’s still judgmental and, for instance, won’t even try asking someone else if she can sit with them in the dining hall. She says she learns what it’s like for someone she bullied in life and it makes her regret her actions, but again, the lesson never seems to stick and there’s little shown for why she actually knows this because barring the one mentioned instance, she’s pretty much brought the loneliness on herself.

All-in-all, the novel just doesn’t work. The author can’t seem to decide when things are supposed to happen, or even if Afterlife Academy is a good place or if this was supposed to be a dystopian-type novel. Combine this with a horrible main character, and it was just hard for me to care whether Riley adapts to (after)life there or gets out and reverses the accident that got her and Anthony there in the first place. Speaking of that, though, the ending is just as weak, rushed and unbelievable as every other plot point. It makes me sad that such an interesting concept wasn’t used in the kind of better, more effective way it deserves.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Gemini Rising: Ethereal Fury by Jessica O'Gorek


Angry at the human race and its methodical destruction of her resources, Mother Earth recruits souls who have just left their bodies to serve Her, and turns them against humanity. Gemini, a clan of paranormal beings, picked from these possessed humans, emerges. A powerful, rising force proceeds to carry out Mother Nature’s plan to systematically destroy towns, cities, states… and eventually, the world. 

Amidst the chaos, a forbidden relationship between a human girl, Violette, and Onyx, a lead Gemini, begins. They will both find themselves in the middle of a revolutionary war that will either save, or destroy our world.

A free copy was provided to me in return for an honest review.

Gemini Rising has  kind of an otherworldly feel to it a lot of the time.  It’s a complex book, I’ve decided; the characters have layers to them, even Onyx, who you see first as his human life in the prologue.  The author does well in connecting previously mentioned plot points to ones that others mention later, showing just how small the operation the Gemini are carrying out really is right now- Violette reads a book about previous demon possessions, and one of the stories even seems to imply that Father Darius is a survivor of it.

The book also isn’t black and white- while the Gemini have their hearts (or lack-there-of) in the right place in wanting to protect the Earth from being ruined, they mass-murder and possess people without caring about the consequences.  The church believes that the Gemini are some kind of demons that only care about destroying them because they believe in God (which is a reasonable assumption, since the Gemini almost exclusively target churches when they go to a new town) but they are more than willing to maim, trap and kill anyone who gets possessed by the Gemini, just because it’s quicker and easier than trying to drive them out.  The Gemini do seem a bit more sadistic, though; the church officials do it because they think it’s right, and they have no personal connections to the “demons” they’re getting rid of.  When the man who becomes Onyx is killed and dragged before The Mother, however, they purposefully torture him mentally with information about what they plan to do, knowing full-well that when they make him one of them, he won’t remember a single thing.  Given that, there’s really nothing to be gained from letting Onyx as a human being know about them other than scaring him.

The book does have its flaws, mostly editing problems.  Words are often missing from sentences, at one point the narration seemed to really like using the word “literally,” and it can sometimes get either overly-complicated or repetitive. (for instance, it’d do something like “’It will be okay.’ He tried to reassure her.”) 

Regardless, this is definitely a book worth your time if it’s your thing- and even if it isn’t, it can’t hurt, right?  Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Quick apology

Just wanted to post to apologize for authors who've sent me their book to review.  My student loans are starting to come in so I've been working on getting more freelance work and an actual job.  The review for Gemini Rising will be up on Thursday, and I will hopefully be back on track after that.