Book Review: Blood Brothers by Colleen Nelson

Title: Blood Brothers
Author: Colleen Nelson
Publisher: Dundurn
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Fifteen-year-old Jakub Kaminsky is the son of Polish immigrants, a good Catholic boy, and a graffiti artist. While his father sleeps, Jakub and his best friend, Lincoln, sneak out with spray paint to make their mark as Morf and Skar.

When Jakub gets a scholarship to an elite private school, he knows it s his chance for a better life. But it means leaving Lincoln and the neighbourhood he calls home.

While Jakub s future is looking bright, Lincoln s gets shady as he is lured into his brother s gang. Jakub watches helplessly as Lincoln gets pulled deeper into the violent world of the Red Bloodz. The Red Bloodz find out Jakub knows more than he should about a murder and want him silenced for good. Lincoln has to either save his friend, or embrace life as one of the Red Bloodz.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Alright so I had a tough time with this one.  On the one hand I tore through this book.  It took me about 24 hours to get through the whole thing which usually indicates to me that I really liked a book.  And to an extent I did.  However, something just felt off about this book.  After thinking about it for a while I’m still not entirely sure, but I think my issue with it is that it just does not “follow through” in any of the areas that I found interesting.  I thought that the Jakub’s graffiti story lines were really interesting and fairly well developed early on, but this was not really explored as much as I would have wanted.  Catholicism seemed to play a pretty important part of Jakub’s life, but only when convenient.  Lincoln had a really unique relationship with his family, but despite having some conflict he seemed to consistently default to the most simplistic answer (this point I will concede could be somewhat realistic).

I think that at the end of the day this book just felt a little too paint by the numbers young adult/gang story.  There were flashes of brilliance. For example, at one point Lincoln’s brother mentions that the system is set up against them unlike Jakub, but this is never explored and I can’t remember if there is even a reference to what their background is throughout the rest of the book.  That one wrinkle could have made this book infinitely more interesting.  Furthermore, this book seemed to want to have it both ways by being super realistic, but also not wanting to be too harsh.  I still cannot fully place why this book stuck in my craw so much, but it did.

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Book Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Title: Things I Should Have Known
Author: Claire LaZebnik
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcout
Paperback: 320 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

From the author of Epic Fail comes the story of Chloe Mitchell, a Los Angeles girl on a quest to find love for her autistic sister, Ivy. Ethan, from Ivy’s class, seems like the perfect match. It’s unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people, but Chloe can deal, especially when she realizes that David is just as devoted to Ethan as she is to Ivy.

Uncommonly honest and refreshingly funny, this is a story about sisterhood, autism, and first love. Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan, who form a quirky and lovable circle, will steal readers’ hearts and remind us all that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.*

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

We are not supposed to judge books by covers or at least that is how that platitude goes, however, the cover for this book was a large factor as to why I picked it up.  I found the description of the book to be an interesting one, and adding in another element to a typical YA book of having an autistic sibling related to the main character drew me in.  I thought it was clever playing with the title on the cover to change the tense of when the character should have have/did “know” these important things.  I was a little let down by this idea not coming up more in the book itself.

Let me start with what I think is my really positive takeaway from the book.  I think that the autistic characters in the book were written very well and respectfully.  There is some interesting nuance used both in developing those characters themselves and, maybe more strikingly in the book, the way that family members interact with these characters.  Any time the book was focused on these relationships I was really interested, and I think that it did a wonderful job portraying these things.

Unfortunately, I found the rest of the novel to be a bit boring and predictable.  I did not particularly like the main character Chloe and think that although there is some growth throughout the book she starts off in such a ludicrously stereotypical place that this character growth doesn’t feel satisfactory.  The same can be said about her dating life in the book.  Things are not just telegraphed but explicitly stated at times in the book in a way that makes them feel a bit inevitable and like a slog to get through.  I kept hoping that something would happen to subvert this or at least be propelled forward in an interesting way, but at least in my opinion it did not.

That is not to say the book was entirely predictable.  There were a few moments that genuinely seemed to work against the overly simplistic and predictable nature of the majority of the book which were greatly appreciated.  For that reason, I think the book may be one that high school students would enjoy reading.  The more I think about it, the more I feel my criticisms may come from a place of not being the target audience.  Overall I would say it is decent but definitely not something I would go out of my way to read.

Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, Book 1
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Hardcover: 326 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

I brought ARCs to my classroom after we attended Book Expo last year.  I have an extensive classroom library, but rarely do students ever take up my offer to borrow books to read independently.  I pitched having these ARCs in the class as a really cool insider opportunity to read books before many other people were able to and even would tell students about how they would get in trouble if they borrowed one and then sold it (which most students laughed at, but I think did emphasize the specialness about them I was trying to create).  Most of the students who borrowed books were pretty strong readers.  However, I had one student who I would have pegged as a reluctant reader.  He looked through the books after class one day and grabbed this book.  He told me he was interested in serial killers and asked if he could borrow it.  Of course I let him, and several months later he returned saying he really liked it.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to pick the book up myself (I had also heard some decent buzz about it as well since it came out) and some of the things that delighted me about the book, I must be honest, impacted me more through the lens of thinking about my students reading the book.  I feel I would be remiss if I did not start with my favorite element of the book, which is how Audrey Rose, the main character, is developed.  She starts off seeming to be another run-of-the-mill example of a female character interested in non-feminine topics.  What I think is done so well though is that her disgust is not directed at these feminine pursuits (and indeed even shows some interest and admiration towards some elements of it), but rather the way society pigeonholes girls and women into them.  I thought this was a nice balance and one that usually tips one way or the other far too often.  I must note here that I think this being such a large part of the story is something that made me smile a lot thinking about my student reading it.

The one criticism I have with the book is Audrey Rose’s relationship with Thomas Cresswell.  I do not want to overstate this point, since I think both characters were well written and interesting, but I do think that some of their exchanges were the few moments I found myself wanting to skim rather than poring over the words in front of me.

Finally, I have a huge issue with television, movies, books, or any other form of media that has a mystery that would be impossible to solve until it is resolved within the story.  I think that what this book does, which many great mysteries do, is that looking back on the story you can pick out moments that could have allowed you to guess at the big reveal, but along the way (unless you are really taking the time to ponder it) you might miss.  I will admit that I figured it out only a few pages before the reveal and found that to be thoroughly satisfying.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book and tore through it on my winter break.  I definitely think it is worth checking out.

Podcast Review: The Worst Idea of All Time

Podcast: The Worst Idea of All Time
Hosts: Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt
Summary: (taken from Worst Idea of All Time)

The Worst Idea of All Time is a podcast hosted by Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, two New Zealand comedians who watched Grown Ups 2 once a week, every week for a year. The duo then watched Sex and the City 2 52 times. They are currently watching We Are Your Friends. 52 times.

What started as a simply stupid idea, quickly turned into a public mental unraveling of two grown men, week by week. The podcast has been downloaded over 5 million times since it began in Feb 2014. They hope you enjoy the show and recommend you join their Facebook page.

 

4.5 out of 5 stars

I have a confession.  I really wanted to give this podcast 5 stars but just couldn’t do it.  The only reason it does not get 5 stars is that the backlog is impressively long (and I will get into below I think necessary to knock out).  I almost created two separate categories (Quality and Ability to Jump In) but that seemed overly complex so here we are.  Sorry.

The Worst Idea of All Time is hosted by Tim Batt and Guy Montgomery, two New Zealand based comedians.  About three years ago now they conceived this terrible idea to watch the movie Grown Ups 2 once a week every week for a year and record a podcast “reviewing” the film immediately after.  This led to one of the funniest, weirdest, most wonderful experiments in podcasting.  Both Tim and Guy are hilarious and start off having some fun with the idea.  They have some interesting theories in the first few weeks such as the film being sort of money making scheme like in The Producers.  This quickly devolves into more and more ludicrous theories and approaches being needed to be taken in order for them to just get through the movie each week.  Listening to them simultaneously devolve into madness and become closer friends in the process is just amazing.  Episode to episode the experience is both wildly different yet incredibly familiar.  Sometimes both are just in a  goofy mood and sometimes one or both of them is just angry that they are being “forced” to watch the film again.  It occasionally feels like they are having existential breakdowns, but the whole time they are both incredibly endearing and humorous.

They finished their first year and for some reason decided to repeat this experiment twice more with two other movies (which I will not spoil if you are interested in checking out the podcast).  And this is where the only criticism I have with the podcast comes in for new listeners.  So much of the podcast is built on the inside jokes that develop through the course of these repeated viewings and even from year to year with new movies.  It really feels like you are along for the journey with Tim and Guy so even when there is the occasional episode that seems like utter nonsense (“Prawn Salad” from season one I believe still has the distinction of being the best example of this) you at least are able to enjoy it and be there for the journey.  If you were to start in the middle of a season or I would even argue with the beginning of one for the second or third movie the full enjoyment of the podcast would be very much mitigated.  This is even more of a bummer since season 1 is now only available through HOWL.fm.  The length of these episodes are every inconsistent, most being between twenty minutes and about an hour, however, there is one glaring outlier in an episode that is almost five hours long.  This is all very much in the free form style the podcast creates for itself.  Overall, I would absolutely say if you have the time this is an incredibly charming podcast that is well worth the investment.

Podcast Review: Crimetown

Before I get into this review, I should probably explain how podcasts have taken over my life over the last few years.  My first year teaching, I used to listen to sports talk radio on the way to work.  I would occasionally listen to music, but found that I got more out of people talking.  This wore on me very quickly.  I then started listening to NPR (which I now joke is my obligation as a teacher).  One thing quickly led to another and I found myself subscribed to NPR podcasts of segments I liked and suddenly realized I could listen to “talk shows” of just things I was interested in, as opposed to whatever happened to be on the radio, and off I went.  I tend to alternate between subject matters. I usually alternate between episodes of a “serious” podcast and then to a goofier one.  This both reflects my interests and is also a direct result to my over-saturation of politics earlier this year when I was at one time listening to exclusively six or seven different politics podcasts, several of which were releasing daily episodes which super bummed me out. So, you will probably see a similar pattern as these reviews roll out.

Podcast: Crimetown
Producer: Gimlet Media
Hosts: Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier
Summary: (taken from Crimetownshow.com)

Welcome to Crimetown, a new series from Gimlet Media and the creators of HBO’s The Jinx. Every season, we’ll investigate the culture of crime in a different American city. First up: Providence, Rhode Island, where organized crime and corruption infected every aspect of public life. This is a story of alliances and betrayals, of heists and stings, of crooked cops and honest mobsters—a story where it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Hosted by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier.

5 out of 5 stars

Crimetown is produced by Gimlet Media and hosted by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier.  It has been mentioned before that I have an outrageous fascination with non-fiction books and that love extends to other form of non-fiction as well.  I often find myself watching documentaries as often as traditional TV and movies.  I have a vague interest in the genre of “true crime” although I was never really sucked into it all that much until I read The Lufthansa Heist by Henry Hill and Daniel Simone.  I must have missed the period of fascination most people (or at least males I grew up with) had with the mob, but I hit a period last year after reading that book and seeing other documentaries and of course the classic Goodfellas that got me supremely interested in all the different angles around Henry Hill.  It passed.  Or so I thought.

A friend and I will often drop into conversations if we’ve started listening to a podcast we think is worth checking out.  He led me along on a string a little for this one.  He said it was a podcast that was in the style of a documentary about organized crime.  They were going to spend each season focusing on a different city.  At this point I was already pretty interested and figured I would chuck it onto the backlog of podcasts to check out.  Then he reeled me in.  “It’s just started it’s first season and that season just happens to be about Providence.”  A podcast that sounded interesting, I would only have to listen to a couple episodes to catch up to, and was about my home state?  How could I not at least give it a chance?

True to the description, Crimetown is an incredible undertaking.  The podcast uses archived audio as well as interviews with several people intimately involved with the politics, law enforcement, and mafia starting in the 1970s.  It uses several people of interest to drive the story, however, it is fair to say that the infamous Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, the former mayor of Providence, is the focal point of the podcast.  Each episode or chapter runs about 30 to 45 minutes and are packed with stories and interviews.  They do a great job telling just a couple specific stories each chapter that drive the overall plot forward.  At the time I am writing this, six chapters have come out and each chapter has a companion page at their website crimetownshow.com where they put up pictures of the people involved and occasionally archived documents and videos.  It really is quite amazing how well they paint each of stories and it has become a must listen for me as soon as it is released.  If you are at all interested in true crime or even just someone who finds the style of documentaries to be interesting this podcast is completely worth checking out.  I look forward to the rest of the season and any/all of the future seasons to come.

Book Review: Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes

dark-sons-by-nikki-grimes
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Title: Dark Sons
Author: Nikki Grimes
Publisher: Blink
Paperback: 208 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A guy whose father ripped his heart out too.

You and me, Ishmael, we’re brothers, two dark sons.

Destroyed, lost, and isolated, the perspectives of two teenage boys—modern-day Sam, and biblical Ishmael—unite over millennia to illustrate the power of forgiveness.

 

 

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’ll be honest and say I did not know what I was getting myself into when I picked up Dark Sons.  I knew I had read things by Nikki Grimes before (and am embarrassed to say I could not remember what those things were) and that it looked like kind of interesting.  I was pleasantly surprised both by the format and content of the book.

One thing to know (and again something I should have but didn’t know before I read the book) is that it is a collection of poems that tell the story of two sons dealing with a changing relationship with their father.  The first is Ishmael and his relationship with his father Abraham (from Old Testament fame) and the second is a more modern distancing about a teenager named Sam.  Through the course of the book the similarities and differences of these two interpretations are brought to the forefront through alternating sections of poetic cycles.

As someone who grew up in a fairly religious household (and as a result when I stopped being particularly interested in faith for religious reasons and more for academic ones), I really enjoyed the Ishmael side of the book.  He has always been a fascinating character to me and the role he plays is one that I feel like is ripe for a lot of different interpretations.  I felt like this interpretation of what his emotions and feelings must have been were incredibly well done and were interesting when compared to the Christian response in terms of how Sam was able to deal with his father’s new family in the modern part of the book.  It set up an interesting parallel of having God take care of these people while still not making a great life for them or seeming to always have their best interest at heart.

I thought the portrayal of Sam was also incredibly well done.  It felt incredibly real and is one of the few reasons I would potentially recommend this book to a student.  The way that the character processes emotions and was able to separate his feelings for his father and his new wife from those for his step-brother was quite interesting and something I feel like most people have had to do even if not with this particular situation.

I do not think I would ever assign this book primarily because I think that religion is a bit too explicitly central.  That said, I have several students that I am already thinking of who could relate and benefit immensely from this.  I also think that there are students like me who might see the comparison of Ishmael as almost a “patron saint” of someone abandoned by their father to be compelling even without the religious overtones it produces.  Overall, it was a good, quick read and the format was something different that I found quite refreshing (although, this should not be super surprising coming from me since my favorite format for books are short story cycles).

Book Review: Elite by Mercedes Lackey

Elite by Mercedes Lackey.jpg
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Title: Elite
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Series: Hunter, Book 2
Hardcover: 368 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Joy wants nothing more than to live and Hunt in Apex City without a target on her back. But a dangerous new mission assigned by her uncle, the city’s Prefect, may make that impossible.

In addition to her new duties as one of the Elite, Joy is covertly running patrols in the abandoned tunnels and storm sewers under Apex Central. With her large pack of magical hounds, she can fight the monsters breaking through the barriers with the strength of three hunters. Her new assignment takes a dark turn when she finds a body in the sewers: a Psimon with no apparent injury or cause of death.

Reporting the incident makes Joy the uncomfortable object of PsiCorp’s scrutiny—the organization appears more interested in keeping her quiet than investigating. With her old enemy Ace still active in Hunts and the appearance of a Folk Mage who seems to have a particular interest in her, Joy realizes that the Apex conspiracy she uncovered before her Elite trials is anything but gone.

As the body count rises, she has no choice but to seek answers. Joy dives into the mysterious bowels of the city, uncovering secrets with far-reaching consequences for PsiCorp… and all of Apex City.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I don’t know if I’ve been meta-analyzing books for too long, but I found myself willfully resisting the urge to do so with this book.  What I mean is that when I started reading it (more or less directly after finishing the first book in the series, Hunter), I found myself spending a lot of time trying to decide if I liked the way Lackey was trying to give enough background information for people jumping in cold vs. hampering the plot developing.  From there ,I found myself trying to decide if the pacing of the overarching story was well done.  While I have answers to both of these things now (if you are curious, I think she kept it about as short as she could and I actually loved the pacing since it didn’t seemed rushed, respectively) I found I had a lot more fun reading this book when I just took it for the story it is without trying to over think it.  And I have to say the result was one of the more immersive experiences I’ve had with a book in a while.

I get scared with sequels, particularly of YA, when I like the first book in a series.  A lot of times, authors seem to use the first story to build a great world in the opener and then just hit the turbo button to too-fast-developing-not-super-thought-out plot in book two.  This book absolutely did not do that.  At one point I found myself thinking that this book can feel at times feel like it is just an extension of adventures from part one, which some may see as a negative but I really enjoyed.  This is not to say that the larger plot does not advance.  There are a lot of pretty important developments and the conflicts between the different government programs that are theoretically all supposed to be working together is particularly interesting, however, this information is spread out throughout the book with fun “hunts” and social activity thrown in so it feels like a much more natural progression of story than other books I have read.

The conceit that was hinted at in the previous book that all of the Othersiders are represented in some way in human folklore or mythology is expanded upon in this book in an incredibly interesting way which opens up for even more questions about the worlds relationship with the Otherside.  I also found the consistency of magic in this universe to be very satisfying.  There is something almost scientific about the way magic usage is explained in this world and it leads to new discoveries in magic to be satisfying as a reader rather than random and like a crutch of some type to advance the plot.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this book even more than the first one.  All the things I said in my previous review remain true, especially that the characters seem to act the way people really would which is something I love particularly in YA.  Now I just hope that the series does not suffer from my other largest concern which is not knowing how to end which retroactively makes me not enjoy the previous books as much, but for now I can confidently say that I cannot recommend this series enough if you are at all interested in YA fantasy!

Book Review: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Title: Fever Pitch
Author: Nick Hornby
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In America, it is soccer. But in Great Britain, it is the real football. No pads, no prayers, no prisoners. And that’s before the players even take the field.

Nick Hornby has been a football fan since the moment he was conceived. Call it predestiny. Or call it preschool. Fever Pitch is his tribute to a lifelong obsession. Part autobiography, part comedy, part incisive analysis of insanity, Hornby’s award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom — its agony and ecstasy, its community, its defining role in thousands of young mens’ coming-of-age stories. Fever Pitch is one for the home team. But above all, it is one for everyone who knows what it really means to have a losing season.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I have a lot of feelings about this book.  I am pretty fanatical about my alma mater’s American football team and as a direct result, parts of this book felt a bit too real.  The way that Hornby is able to describe the relationship one has with a team is truly beautiful.  In the intro alone (which I forwarded to several of my friends who are not huge readers) he really delves into the emotions involved with a crushing defeat.  He goes in with the opinion that to a degree, to be this big of a fan you have to be somewhat depraved and then goes on to show how this fandom is both the largest blessing and curse of his life.

First of all, his point about being somewhat literary and therefore often times making metaphorical connections between his team’s performance and his life rang incredibly true to me.  Much like Hornby, I can often times take what I see from a performance of my team as grand analogy to my own life at the time.  We are losing every game despite looking like a good team in the preseason?  That’s my senior year where I was poised to glide through the last semester and finish early, but for whatever various outside reasons was a non-starter.  We pull together an amazing season despite having no reason to do so?  It’s the year I am living with my wife for the first time, I’m beginning to feel comfortable at my job, and just generally feel like I can deal with the things life throws my way.  Hornby points all this out and does so through some comic, some serious, and some heart-wrenching examples from his own life.

The other thing I think this book does incredibly well is give a glimpse into football (soccer) culture in England particularly in the 70s and 80s when the majority of these events take place.  I do also quite enjoy soccer and the English Premier League is my league of choice so being able to learn a bit more about the atmosphere in grounds at this time was fascinating.  Besides that, it is wonderful to get the perspective of someone who had some of the traits that often lead to hooliganism, but for a variety of reasons was not a hooligan himself, and his reflection on these rougher fans as he grew older and distanced himself from them entirely.  There is a lot of interesting commentary on class and race, which was a pleasant surprise for me.  Finally, being able to hear about a football nuts opinions on Heysel and Hillsborough thinking back to when they happened was absolutely incredible and a perspective that has been missing from most of the other coverage I have seen on these tragedies.

My only issue with this book at all is that it was occasionally a slog to get through.  The format of each section being a game was really cool in terms of driving home just how obsessed he is, but it made it a bit daunting and disorienting at times when reading.

Fair warning: If you expect this book to be anything like the films by the same name prepare to be disappointed.

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

Title: Hunter
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Series: Hunter, Book 1
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 374 pages
Source: County of Los Angeles Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.

Monsters.

Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.

Joy soon realizes that the city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in—to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.

When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

First of all, I cannot emphasize enough that I think this book is worth sticking through the first quarter or hundred pages.  I only feel the need to bring this up, because I was surprised by the amount of one-star ratings I saw for this book and realized the reason for them was overwhelmingly that people gave up on it about 20-25% in.  I’ll be honest, I don’t blame those people who did.  The first part of the book really seems like it is setting up to be another run-of-the-mill dystopian YA book like Hunger Games or Divergent.  However, while it does not go into a completely different direction I think that the latter part of the book is incredibly well done and more than makes up for the stale beginning.

There are several things that I really liked about the way this book handled itself after the initial set up.  The first was that I enjoyed the relationships between characters.  Most importantly, I liked the way the main character (Joy) was developed.  There was a lot of internal monologue by Joy, as often happens in these kinds of books, but also actually interacted with several other characters including her Otherworld hounds which greatly improved the monotony that occasionally occurs.  The friendships she developed were well written and nothing seemed overdramatic and were still quite compelling.  Most importantly to me, she was in no way spurred on purely through romantic interest of any kind.  This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to strong female characters.  I think that she was a nice balance between still being the young girl she is and being incredibly strong and mature when the time called for it (as expected of a heroine).  The book is not devoid of romantic interest, which I think could also ring somewhat false or hollow, but it is very much a subplot that informs feelings and decisions but in no way could be considered a major part of the novel.

The other thing I thought was handled quite well that worried me at first were the Christians (referred to as Christers in the book).  I hate to admit I went from laughing about the fact that they were angry that this cataclysmic event was not the apocalypse to beginning to cringe about how they were being talked about for the most part (again in the first hundred pages or so).  Again though, I think that this was beautifully handled in the subsequent sections of the novel when Joy befriends a Christer hunter nicknamed “White Knight” and we get to see her much more nuanced and interesting relationship with them as a whole.

Also, the hounds are really cool and I want some.

Overall, I don’t think this book will blow your socks off and if you can’t deal with a slow start it is not for you, but if you can get past that and like this sort of novel I think you will be well rewarded with the rest of it.

ALYSSA *added 3/7/2017*

Maybe I was sufficiently warned from Andrew, or maybe I’m just used to Lackey’s style at this point, but I had no trouble getting into this book. The start was slow, but I genuinely enjoyed being slowly introduced to this weird science fiction/fantasy world. It’s incredibly complex, with its mythology and politics, and I love that Joy is at the center of it; she’s keeping the secrets of the place where she grew up while also playing the game and being a good Hunter for the higher-ups.

I agree with Andrew that the way relationships between the characters is developed is amazing. I felt like I had emotional connections with the characters almost instantly, and whether that’s because Joy is so well developed and I felt such a connection to her, or because all the characters are developed well, I don’t know. Probably a combination of the two. One of my pet peeves is also how romantic relationships are often developed in YA books, particularly. It all too frequently takes center-stage, even in a book like this one, where it seems like the pressing danger of the Othersiders should theoretically take precedence. Luckily, Lackey knows what she’s about and focuses on the story rather than the romance. There is just enough of the whole this-guy-is-cute-I-want-to-date-him thing.

My absolute favorite part, however, is how well the mythology/fantasy elements are tied together with the science fiction/post-apocalypse elements. I love how religion and fairy tales are almost given the same level of importance in this new world, where Othersiders seem very much to match a lot of the folk tales and legends found in old stories. And the ways they fight these supernatural creatures with a mixture of magic that the Hunters have within them and the tech developed by the military is also really cool; as I said, I was fascinated by this science fiction/fantasy fusion. I found it incredibly compelling.

Super excited to start the sequel!

Book Review: Ithaca by Patrick Dillon

Title: Ithaca: A Novel of Homer’s Odyssey
Author: Patrick Dillon
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Hardcover: 352 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Telemachus’s father, Odysseus, went off to war before he was born … and never came back. Aged sixteen, Telemachus finds himself abandoned, his father’s house overrun with men pursuing his beautiful mother, Penelope, and devouring the family’s wealth. He determines to leave Ithaca, his island home, and find the truth. What really happened to his father? Was Odysseus killed on his journey home from the war? Or might he, one day, return to take his revenge?

Telemachus’s journey takes him across the landscape of bronze-age Greece in the aftermath of the great Trojan war. Veterans hide out in the hills. Chieftains, scarred by war, hoard their treasure in luxurious palaces. Ithaca re-tells Homer’s famous poem, The Odyssey, from the point of view of Odysseus’ resourceful and troubled son, describing Odysseus’s extraordinary voyage from Troy to the gates of hell, and Telemachus’s own journey from boyhood to the desperate struggle that wins back his home … and his father.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, the idea of telling a classic Greek tale through the perspective of another character in the story really intrigued me.  I love The Odyssey and was super excited to sink my teeth into a story from Telemachus’s perspective.  And I have to say, on that count I think this book was super interesting and successful.  Part one of this novel sucked me in, and I could not wait to keep pushing my way through the story.  I thought Telemachus was a completely fleshed out character and a lot of thought had gone into the effect not knowing his father would have on him.  I also thought that his exploration with Polycaste was one of the strongest parts of the novel.  Partly because she was another super interesting character and partly because this is a part of the story that has not been told to death and was rather innovative.

The rest of the book began to fall flat for me, though.  Odysseus being discovered and recounting his tale is when I started to drift out of my engagement.  I do not know how else the author could handle this (if someone has not read The Odyssey then they need to know what happened), but having Homer’s epic condensed to a chapter in plain English felt more like I was reading sparknotes than anything else which kind of bummed me out.  It also has the problem that the reader knows how the story is going to end and the final few scenes playing out are kind of a let down for that reason.

So again, I am torn.  I think that this book is really amazing at its best parts.  The characters are well developed and the take on various characters’ psyches is super interesting.  The idea that many of the heroes in these epics are brutes that are romanticized was a super interesting thread throughout, however, in the end it just feels like a lesser telling of a story we already know.  I do not know how this could be worked around, since changing the source material would obviously also be a problem, however, if this book were completely from Telemachus’s perspective and followed the format of the first part throughout, I think I would have enjoyed it much more.

That said, I have several students who either really love The Odyssey or think it is interesting but can’t get past the language.  I think this is the perfect book for either of those kinds of students since it is more accessible but also adds new ideas and viewpoints to the story.  I would happily have a copy of this book in my classroom to recommend to those students and think it could lead to some interesting discussions about the values of various societies.