WINGER BY ANDREW SMITH (2013)

Rating: 4/5

Reviewed by R

So, yeah. We’ve been real slow to update recently. In the unlikely event that you read the “about” section of this site, you’d know we are teachers. And in case you live in some place without deciduous trees or a calendar, you should know that school is back in session. As a result, we’ve been busy. Really busy.

Sadly, this updating this site was not a priority.

However!

I do enjoy talking about what I’m reading, so I’m going to try harder. I promise. (Just be prepared for shorter reviews.)

So. Winger by Andrew Smith. 

Great freakin’ book. Winger (last name—I forget the first—Patrick, maybe?) is a 14-year-old junior at a boarding school who plays rugby. Being young and small and a smart-ass, he kind of has difficulty navigating life. He gets in fights and makes poor decisions about basically everything.


But as I said: great freakin’ book. Smith’s writing is absolutely hilarious. I can probably count the number of books that actually make me LOL, and this is one of them. Winger’s voice might annoy some, but I loved it. However, it’s not all fun and games. Something eventually happens that will crush your soul. And the dramatic shift in writing style at that point demonstrates Smith’s skillful prose.

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  • 1 week ago
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Joey told me nothing ever goes back exactly the way it was, that things expand and contract—like breathing, but you could never fill your lungs up with the same air twice.

Winger by Andrew Smith
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  • 1 week ago

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014)

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewed by R

Cadence is a girl from a white, affluent New England family where everyone is expected to be blonde and brilliant and a Democrat. Her entire life, she’s spent her summers with her extended family on her grandparents’ private island in New England. Though her mother and aunt’s marriages didn’t stick, everything seems wonderful.

The story opens by acknowledging that Cadence had an accident the summer she was 17 but has no memory of it. She recounts some events leading up to the accident that she does recall, the most significant of which is the entrance of Gat to the crew of cousins. He’s the dark-skinned, politically-minded son of her aunt’s live-in boyfriend, there to introduce/uncover tensions.

You have to open a book titled WE WERE LIARS expecting a certain amount of narrative trickery, and Lockhart delivers. As Cadence remembers more and more about her summers with him and her two cousins (collectively called “The Liars” by the rest of the family), she gradually uncovers more about her family and the events her brain has repressed. You know these are not going to be pleasant, and each slowly revealed detail is progressively more tragic than the last.

I know that many readers saw where the story was going, but oh well. This is not a book to be read for its plot twists. In my opinion, the absolute best thing about this story is the voice. The writing is so stylistically powerful that the story became secondary to the taste of the sentences on my lips. Her prose is dark and sparse, at times understated and at times melodramatic. Reading this book FEELS like sitting on a secluded beach at night, trying to see into the black. 

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  • 2 months ago
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  • 2 months ago

If you want to live where people aren’t afraid of mice, you must give up living in palaces.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
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  • 2 months ago
  • 5

The Gateway Through Which They Came by Heather Marie (2014)

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewed by R (Disclaimer: The author provided a free digital copy of the book for review.)

If you imagine a soul passing on to the afterlife, what exactly would that process look like? Perhaps you would visualize a translucent spirit rising from the mortal body and ascending toward a heavenly light (or descending toward hellish flames).

But that’s been done.

In The Gateway Through Which They Came, debut author Heather Marie imagines that the ghostly souls—deemed “bleeders” by our narrator—wander about searching for a gateway. Except that Gateway is inside of a living person. In order to pass on to the afterlife, they need to walk through such a person. 

Aiden is a Gateway, and he’s pretty used to it by now. Gruesome dead person appears. He converses with it a bit. It walks into him. He’s left with a wicked chill and a lack of consciousness for a spell. (Not unlike drinking too much in the snow.)                                                                                    

This normalcy is disrupted, though, when a bleeder shows him a vision of an ominous figure in a black cloak telling him it’s time. Time for what? You’ll have to read it for yourself to see. (But here’s a hint: evil.) On top of this, Aiden’s pseudo-ex-girlfriend and her family disappeared months ago without a trace.

The beginning of the story was a bit rough for me. Marie offers more exposition than I prefer. Almost every time a new character is introduced, we get full name, physical description, back story, plus Aiden’s commentary. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to take it slow.  

However, the strangeness and darkness of the premise kept me reading. I wanted to know And once I met all of the cast and moved beyond the abundant exposition, I fell into the story which proves to be part horror, part mystery, part thriller.  

The author sustains the suspense well by dangling questions in front of the reader like carrots. She drops just enough hints (and red herrings) to keep you guessing but lacking confidence in your theories. I probably batted around .500 with my predictions and am still kind of bitter about one of them.

Anyways. Like all good mysteries/thrillers, the answers Aiden unearths in The Gateway Through Which They Came often lead to…more questions.

And to evil, of course.

Overall, have faith that if the premise appeals to you, this story will deliver the goods…and the evils.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) 

*The Gateway Through Which They Came will be available August 25, 2014. 

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  • 2 months ago
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There can’t be light without dark. There can’t be good without evil. You know the saying.

The Gateway Through Which They Came by Heather Marie
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  • 2 months ago
  • 3

Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson (2009)

Rating: 3/5

Reviewed by R

We all have that annoying friend who is passionate about worthy causes but isn’t really doing anything about it besides ranting. If you know someone like this, then it will be easy for you to conceptualize James, the protagonist and narrator of Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson.

If you couldn’t guess from the title, James hates cars. You know, they pollute the world and blah blah blah. He also hates many other things. Consumerism. Humanity. His ex-girlfriend Sadie. Using a combination of journal entries and AP English essays, the novel follows James over the course of his junior year as he tries to get over Sadie and cope with humanity.

Something that immediately bothered me about the novel is its use of present tense. Who writes in a journal/diary about what happened to them that day in present tense? Nobody.

If you couldn’t already tell by now, I also found James obnoxious. This type of person is probably one of my least favorite people in the world. And, yes, I realize this is an intentional character flaw the author wants us to root for him to overcome. But that doesn’t make it fun to read two-hundred pages of his oversimplified, oft-ALL CAPS perspective.

On the flip-side, it’s a quick read. It’s often humorous. It’s a realistic portrayal of an egotistical teenager who doesn’t realize he’s egotistical yet.

So should you read it?

As James would say, don’t be a robot. Make up your own mind. 

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  • 2 months ago
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GO TO THE MALL AND LOOK AT THE PEOPLE. LOOK AT THEIR FACES AND TELL ME THEY HAVE REAL THOUGHTS…PEOPLE REALLY ARE ROBOTS.

Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson
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  • 2 months ago
  • 1

Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard (2013)

Rating: 4/5

Reviewed by R

If we were to clone any human being, who would you clone? Ghandi? MLK, Jr.? Mother Teresa? Jesus?

Or how about Jeffrey Dahmer? John Wayne Gacy? Jack the Ripper?

If that second set of names tickles your fancy, you may want to check outProject Cain by Geoffrey Girard. In this YA horror/thriller, Girard imagines a world in which the U.S. government has been secretly cloning serial killers in order to weaponize them. To better understand the extent to which nature or nurture shaped their murderous tendencies, some are raised in healthy, stable homes while others are brought up under conditions meant to replicate their original traumas.

Initially unaware of all of this, Jeff has been raised in the control group by the director of the cloning program. He was educated, kept safe, and treated to a relatively normal childhood. And with the exception of some strange visions, he supposes he’s a normal teen.

That is, until his father disappears and leaves Jeff to discover the truth of his origins. To make things worse, his father freed a group of other teenage serial killer clones and they start living up to their names. After Castillo—a man hired to locate the clones—finds Jeff, the two set out to stop the killings.

Though the premise may strike you as ridiculous, Girard lays the groundwork to make it more than believable. Fun facts about the U.S. government’s questionable experimentation in the name of National Defense are threaded throughout the story. While some are insubstantial conspiracy theories, others are undeniable fact (for example, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). This may feel a bit info-dumpy to some readers, but I found all of it fascinating. I kept Googling everything, and by the time I finished the novel, my wife was ready to strangle me because of my HEYDIDYOUKNOWs.

The story itself is interesting and suspenseful. It moves at a quick pace with short, fragmented sections, punctuated with some pretty gruesome scenes. The author forgoes quotation marks around dialogue, which creates a creepy, psychological tone that highlight Jeff’s own struggle to determine whether or not he is inherently evil and insane. I would have liked to know more about Castillo, but apparently Girard has already written a companion novel covering his side of the tale (Cain’s Blood).

This is definitely not a book for everyone—just those who would rather walk down a dark alley than stroll along a beach. 

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  • 2 months ago
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This is what a killer looks like.

Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard
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