Waiting on Wednesday: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Expected Release Date: May 1, 2013

Sookie Stackhouse has one last adventure in store.

Life has taken her from a waitress in Merlotte’s Bar, Bon Temps, to part owner; from social outcast to the heart of her community; from a vampire’s girlfriend to the wife of one of the most powerful vampires in the state. She has survived earthquakes, revolutions and attempts on her life. Sookie has endured betrayal, heartbreak and grief . . . and she has emerged a little stronger, and little wiser, every time.

But with life comes new trials . . .

The question is, in the end: who will love, who will live, and who will be dead ever after?

(summary via Goodreads)

You guys.  I don’t know what it is about this series and my inability to quit it.  I’m not even caught up to the point where I can read this one–I have at least two other books in the series before I can even get to this.  But since this is supposed to be the last book in the series, I have to know how it ends.  Don’t you?  I mean, really?

I’ll definitely be picking this one up when it comes out.  There’s my motivation to move through the rest of the series.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

In this conclusion to Janie Johnson’s harrowing story about being kidnapped as a child and raised in another family, readers finally get answers to all the questions they have about Janie’s life, Janie’s families, and what happened to Hannah, the woman who kidnapped her.

Except this is a hot mess of a novel and pretty much undoes any of the good that the beginning of the series ever did.  Unless you’re a die-hard fan of Cooney’s early 90s series, there’s no reason to pick this one up.  Ever.  At all.  A confusing timeline, what can only be described as flat, lifeless writing, and virtually NO PLOT make this one a total miss.

Nothing about this ever gels.  Janie’s in college now, but she’s still as vapid and childish as she ever was.  The way she talks and thinks about the world is from another era, but somehow we’re in present-day, where everyone has Facebook and iPhones and is connected via social media.  If we’re only five years in the future from when the first book took place, how did we make such a jump in terms of technology?  Nothing about the previous story lines work within the context of present day, and because of this, nothing about this story feels at all plausible.

None of the other characters make up for Janie’s rampant obliviousness and selfish actions.  I read one review where the reviewer referred to Janie’s family as a bunch of “wackadoos,” and it really couldn’t be more apropos.  Everyone in the novel is straight up crazypants, and not in a fun way.  The only person with anything resembling an interesting voice is Hannah, and the novel’s rushed ending ruins even that.

Therein lies the real problem here: nothing happens.  For 300 pages, Cooney wastes everyone’s time by not doing anything to really further the plot.  It’s only in the novel’s rushed final pages that readers and characters alike get anything resembling a conflict, a climax, and a resolution.  It’s a bore and a chore to get through this one, and the pay off isn’t nearly worth the time invested.

If you’re a die-hard fan who must know if Janie and the totally cardboard Reeve get together, read the last couple of pages.  Other than that, this is a total miss.  Just go re-read the first novel in the series again and bask in the 90s glory.  A total disasterpiece.

Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney. Delacorte Books for Young Readers: 2013. Electronic galley accepted for review.

Graphic Novel Series You Should Check Out: Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn

Posting on this here blog has been more sporadic than I’d like due in large part to how busy I am.  But it’s also due to the fact that my reading is down, and the things I’ve been reading aren’t actually out yet–I’m that deep into some ARCs these days.  So instead, I thought I’d talk a little about a graphic novel series that I think is well worth your time.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn.  Originally published as a series of comics beginning in 2002, the series focuses on our world.  A strange virus has wiped out every mammal with a Y chromosome–every man and animal was killed instantly, leaving behind only women to pick up the pieces.  Except, for some reason, one man (child) has survived: Yorick Brown and his male Capuchin monkey Ampersand have somehow managed to survive against all odds and reason.  The two of them set off with the mysterious (and totally kick-ass) Agent 355 in search of Dr. Mann, who might be able to help them figure out why Yorick survived–and if there’s a way to bring humankind back from the brink of extinction.

That’s a very basic summary of a graphic novel series whose twists and turns keep readers guessing all the way to the series’ moving and memorable end.  The series has been collected into 10 paperbacks or 5 (gorgeous) hardcover deluxe editions.  It’s the kind of post-apocalyptic series that finds appeal with both adults and teens.  Stephen King once called it “the best graphic novel [he's] ever read.”

It’s definitely the best, most compelling graphic novel I’ve ever read or re-read.  On this time through, I’ve noticed so much more about the mythology of the story and the characters.  It’s a story that is rich, complex, and never easy, and it’s definitely a staple for any graphic novel collection.  It’s funny and heart-breaking and often really, really awesome.

There’s a movie in the works, but it’s been in the works for a long time.  Who knows if we’ll ever see it–I hope we do, but I’m also nervous about it, because I want it to be so, so good.

If you haven’t read it, consider doing so soon.  It’s really that good.

On Re-Reading a Series: Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris

In lieu of a review today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what it’s like to re-read a series.  I think I’ve talked about re-reading before, and how your relationship to a book can change over time, but I’m speaking very specifically about a particular series right now: The Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris.

With the start of the new year came a fresh reading rut for me, and it’s one that I’m still struggling to crawl out of.  I’ve had a great deal of changes in my personal and professional life over the past several months, and reading has taken a backseat to the demands of my life (see: graduating from a master’s program, applying for jobs, moving in with boyfriend).  It doesn’t help that I’ve felt listless whenever I’ve picked up a book.

Which is why I’ve started re-reading books in search of comfort and something that holds my attention.  I’m still reading new stuff when I’m on  the treadmill, and I’m enjoying a lot of it, but there’s nothing like something you know you like to bring you that cozy feeling.

Re-reading Charlaine Harris’s Sookie series is interesting, because I’ve grown as a reader since I started reading it.  I first read Dead Until Dark years ago, way before TrueBlood became a TV show and before the vampire craze went nutso.  I liked it, but it was definitely out of my wheelhouse.  Here was a mystery featuring a plucky heroine who spends much of her narrative in the minutiae of her life.  There is so much detail about how Sookie spends her time in really unremarkable ways that it’s astounding.

That being said, there’s something comforting about reading about Sookie’s small-town life as a telepathic barmaid who sometimes has really great sex with supernatural creatures.  I’m finding that I’m enjoying the series in a different way: it’s not particularly well-written or well-paced, but there’s enough detail about small-town life and Sookie is a nice enough narrator (for a while, at least) that it’s kind of fun.

Plus, I’m determined to finish the series.  I haven’t read the last few books because they’re so bogged down in the story’s mythology that it’s kind of like drowning.  But I have to finish the series and see if I’m right.

The bonus? Sookie’s clothes, especially in the early books, are HILARIOUSLY bad.  Seriously, why hasn’t someone started a Sookie clothing blog yet?  COMEDY GOLD.

Have you ever read these books?  What do you think?  How do you feel about re-reading series from start to finish?

Top Ten Series I Haven’t Finished

I don’t often participate in the Broke & Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday, but this week I am because I’m dangerously low on books to review and because I think this is a really interesting topic.  Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Top 10 Series I Haven’t Finished:

1. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Without question, this is the best-written series on the list.  I don’t know what to say about not having finished the series, except for the fact that I’ve tried–and failed–several times to read the second book in the series.  Something about the beginning doesn’t grip me, and since my friend accidentally spoiled me on how the series ends, I don’t have a compelling reason to keep trying.

2. Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris

This is probably a case where the series has gone on too long and isn’t compelling to me any more.  That, combined with the over-hyped TV show True Blood, has soured me on the series.  I still really enjoy the first several books in Harris’s charming series, but I jumped ship somewhere around book 8.

3. Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal

This is embarrassing, since I have a (long-neglected) blog devoted to the series and everything, but I’ve never read the entire series.  I know how it ends, but I haven’t read all the books.  Guys, there’s something like 180 books in the series, and while I have almost all of them, I haven’t had time to read them all.  Maybe someday?

4. The Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I read the Alice books as a pre-teen, and what’s interesting to note is that Naylor has continued to write the series well into my adulthood. For a long while, I kept telling myself that I would one day read all the books in the series, but it feels like a lot of work, and, well, I’ve got so much else to read I don’t know if it’s a feasible goal. That being said, it’s an excellent series and great for tweens.

5. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater

I read the first book in the series (Shiver), and while I didn’t love it, I liked it enough.  A combination of paranormal romance overload and several slightly annoying things related to the author kept me from ever really trying to finish the trilogy.  I did pick up the second one, but since I couldn’t remember much from the first, I didn’t find it compelling enough to continue.  I don’t feel like my life is missing anything by  not finishing this series, so I’m going to give it a permanent pass.

6. Last Survivors series by Susan Beth Pfeffer

A series about a cataclysmic event that forever alters life on Earth is a book that’s right up my alley. I really liked the first book in the series, and I was super-stoked to read the follow-ups until I realized that Pfeffer was telling the same story over and over again from different points of view.  This didn’t make the books slow down: it made them straight-up grind to a halt.  Not interested.

7. Goddess Test series by Aimee Carter

I sort of hate-read the first in the series but also found it oddly compelling, despite the fact that Carter got so much of the mythology wrong (intentionally or not, it was irritating).  The second book in the series was a total trainwreck in my opinion, and that’s…pretty much the end of that.  Life’s too short, etc.

8. Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick

The first book was beyond problematic for a variety of reasons (google “Hush Hush and Rape culture”), but even looking away from that, the series is totally boring. I read the second book in the series and couldn’t have been less connected to its characters.  The third book was out of the question, and I actually laughed when I saw they were going ahead with a fourth one.  This is a series that I find insulting, boring, and not worthy of my time.  Pass.

9. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

I read the first book at an ex-boyfriend’s near-constant urging. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I soldiered on because it was important to him.  It was overly long and in desperate need of editing.  Then he and I broke up and I didn’t have to worry about finishing the series.  This is not a pop culture phenomenon that I understand in the least.

10. Hereafter by Tara Hudson

Hands down the most boring books about a ghost falling in love with a human that you will ever read.  There are too many titles like this flooding the market for me to stick with a series that’s a chore to get through.

 

What series have you given up on? Any of these I should give another shot?

Waiting on Wednesday: Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

Expected Release Date: January  2013

In this riveting and emotional conclusion to the thriller-romance Janie series, that started with The Face on the Milk Carton, all will be revealed as readers find out if Janie and Reeve’s love has endured, and whether or not the person who brought Janie and her family so much emotional pain and suffering is brought to justice.

You knew this was coming, right? There was no way I could feature the Janie books in a post last week, mention the fact that a fifth book was being written, and not feature the fifth book as a WoW post. I’m anxious to get my hands on this one, not only because I just finished the other books and they’re fresh in my mind, but also because I’d really like to know how Janie’s story really, finally ends.

Recently, I read an interview with Cooney wherein she talked about how much mail she gets from readers asking if Janie and Reeve ever get married.  While I can see how this would have been the question weighing most heavily on my 13-year-old mind, now all I want to know is if Janie ever came face-to-face with Hannah. (Spoiler alert: based on the title alone, I’m guessing the answer is YES).  Okay, maybe I want to know if she married Reeve. And if she named her kids Denim and Lace, because how terrible/epic would that be?

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood can’t get over the fact that the ghost of Anna Korlov opened a door to hell and sacrificed herself to save him and his friends.  He can’t move on, even though his friends urge him to do so.  He begins to see Anna everywhere, and it starts to mess up his work as a ghost-hunter.  It’s like living in a nightmare, and Cas can’t do anything to help Anna.  Or maybe he can.  With the help of a mysterious and ancient cult, Cas might be able to cross over and help Anna find peace, once and for all.

Blake’s follow-up to last year’s successful and smart horror novel Anna Dressed in Blood offers a satisfying ending to Cas and Anna’s story.  Blake’s smart, sharp writing is infused with wit and a clever self-awareness.  A few pacing problems plague the novel, especially in its middle, but fans of the first book should find this one to be just as much of a page-turner.

Never short on suspense, Blake manages to hook the reader from the beginning and create the very real sense that Cas and his friends live in mortal danger.  Her writing is pitch-perfect, managing to straddle the line between humor and horror without ever going too far in either direction.  The suspense in the story is some of Blake’s best work, and readers will be on the edge of their seats as they wait to see what will happen.

Cas’s voice continues to be consistently authentic.  Blake manages to create a deeply-flawed character whose predicament is unique to say the least: despite the fact that Cas is in love with a gruesome, murderous ghost, readers are sympathetic and maybe even understand his desire to be with a girl who is dead.  It doesn’t have any of the campy feel of so much of the other paranormal offerings out there, because Blake doesn’t shy away from the fact that Anna is more than kind of nasty.

The book starts to feel overly long about the time Cas and Thomas head off to the UK to search for answers.  Although there are still some great thrills after their arrival, something about the novel stalled out there for this reader.  Most readers won’t have the same problem, though, and will be all too happy to keep reading about Cas’s journey.  It would’ve been nice to have a little more of Anna’s presence, though.

Funny, sharp, and well-written, Blake is an author to watch, no matter what she decides to do next.  This is great Halloween-season reading.  Recommended.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Tor Teen: 2012. Library copy.

Book Review(s): The Janie Johnson Series by Caroline B. Cooney

Instead of reviewing each of these books separately, I thought I’d write about the quartet (soon to be a quintet) in one post.  I read one book right after another, and this seems like the right thing to do with these books, which were a trip down nostalgia lane.

Fifteen-year-old Janie Johnson has a good, safe life with her parents in suburban Pennsylvania.  She wishes she were more exotic like her friends Sarah-Charlotte or Adair, but overall, she likes her life.  All of that changes when she grabs a carton of milk in the school cafeteria and sees her own face staring back at her.  How can she know that the three-year-old girl on the milk carton is really her?  And if it is her, does that make her loving parents cold-hearted kidnappers?  Things become more complicated once she decides to speak up, and when her real family in New Jersey wants her back, Janie feels torn between the people who have raised her and the people who are her blood.  As she struggles to come to terms with her life, she leans on her boyfriend Reed, but he needs to process what’s happened, too.  Over the course of four books, the two drift apart and come back together as Janie gets to know her real family–and herself.

Caroline B. Cooney’s series about Janie and the aftermath of discovering her kidnapping as a child is a series firmly rooted in the early 90s.  Despite the fact that the four books featuring Janie were all published in the 90s (with a fifth book to be published in January this coming year), most people only remember the first book, The Face on the Milk Carton.  The other novels, while all featuring the same cast of characters, seem to take a backseat to the first one.  There was even a pretty terrible made-for-TV movie based on the first book (it starred Kellie Martin and yes I’ve seen it).  For whatever reason, despite loving the first book in this suspense series, I never went on to read the other books.  That changed this summer, when I decided I really wanted to see what would happen to Janie.  The result was sort of anti-climactic, in that not a lot actually happens in these four books.

However, they’re fairly well-written books featuring strong, well-developed characters, and Cooney doesn’t shy away from the tough questions.  Nor does she offer any easy answers: Janie is genuinely torn between the two families, and it becomes clear that both families love her dearly.  One of the strongest aspects of all the books was the development of a relationship between Janie and her siblings, and this reader appreciated the fact that it was slow going, often incredibly frustrating, and super awkward as the kids all got to know one another.  It was exceedingly well-done.

It’s hard to tell if these books are really meant for teens or for more of a middle-grade audience.  I also wonder if these books stand the test of time in terms of becoming obsolete: there’s a lot that happens in the first few books that could have been solved with a quick Google search.  Even so, there’s no denying the books hold an immense amount of nostalgia for readers of my generation, and Cooney was a pioneer in creating suspenseful, thoughtful novels for young readers.

Looking forward to the fifth book, entitled Janie Face to Face, out this coming January.

Waiting on Wednesday: Sever by Lauren DeStefano

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Sever by Lauren DeStefano

Expected release date: February 12, 2013

With the clock ticking until the virus takes its toll, Rhine is desperate for answers. After enduring Vaughn’s worst, Rhine finds an unlikely ally in his brother, an eccentric inventor named Reed. She takes refuge in his dilapidated house, though the people she left behind refuse to stay in the past. While Gabriel haunts Rhine’s memories, Cecily is determined to be at Rhine’s side, even if Linden’s feelings are still caught between them.

Meanwhile, Rowan’s growing involvement in an underground resistance compels Rhine to reach him before he does something that cannot be undone. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future—and about the past her parents never had the chance to explain.

In this breathtaking conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, everything Rhine knows to be true will be irrevocably shattered.

(summary via Goodreads)

I could have sworn I already featured this book in a WoW post, but my records don’t indicate it.  At any rate, I’m looking forward to the end of DeStefano’s lyrical dystopian (post-apocalyptic?) world.  Even though I think the second book in the trilogy dragged and was ultimately a total let-down, I’m committed to seeing how Rhine’s story ends.  I won’t miss the (kind of) silly covers, though.

What are you waiting on this week?

 

Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Lena lost Alex in the woods after they escaped her village.  Now she must trek through the wilderness on her own and try to find her way to safety.  It isn’t long before she’s welcomed into a homestead filled with a ragtag group of survivors and is taught to be an insurgent to fight the supporters of the cure.  Will Lena ever be truly safe?

When I read Delirium last year, my biggest problem with the novel was its basic premise.  A world in which love has been eradicated is hard to swallow, not only because Lena’s world seemed to be based on the same Judeo-Christian values that define our society.  These values have love as a cornerstone (well, they do in theory, at least) to their existence, and to create a world in which that would so suddenly change was hard to accept.  Oliver has gone on record as saying that Delirium and Pandemonium take place in an “alternate history” world, which makes the pill less bitter going down, but I still think that there’s not enough evidence of this in the actual stories.  That being said, Pandemonium is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor in every way imaginable.  This one was surprisingly enjoyable.

Unlike many middle novels in a given trilogy, Oliver’s Pandemonium ups the action and suspense, expands upon the world in which Lena lives, and provides a realistic, absolutely stunning evolution of her character.  Over the course of this novel, Lena grows significantly as a character.  Instead of just being described as being strong, Lena actually becomes it.  It’s a logical growth that never feels unrealistic, and it’s an absolutely gripping transformation.

It helps, too, that Oliver introduces a much more interesting love interest for Lena in this story.  Julian Fineman is a much more realistic character who can elicit the sympathy of readers.  His back story, including his illness and his family situation, make him a much more authentic character and infinitely more compelling than the cardboardy Alex.  The chemistry and tension between the two characters is much better as well.

Oliver plays with the narration and the time line by alternating chapters with “Then”–right after Lena’s escape from her village and “Now”–after she’s become an insurgent and is captured during a rally.  This structure works exceedingly well here and helps propel the plot forward at a whip-fast pace.  The balance of action and suspense will keep readers turning pages long into the night.

The book loses its footing slightly with two extremely obvious and contrived plot twists near the end that savvy readers will see coming from a mile off.  I was so disappointed by the book’s final twist, in the last two pages or so, that I actually cried out in frustration (much to the chagrin of the other gym patrons).  These plot twists feel like Oliver is pandering to her audience, going for the obvious shock value over actual substance, and that’s disappointing, because Pandemonium is otherwise a pretty great dystopian novel in a sea of mediocrity.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. Harper Teen: 2012. Purchased copy.