July 22, 2012

Review: Zero by Tom Leveen

PhotobucketSynopsis (from Goodreads): For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn't materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero's parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she's so much more than a name.

Review: Zero is a novel that took me completely by surprise. I expected it to be a typical teenage coming-of-age story - and in some ways it was - but it turned out to be so much more than that. When we meet Amanda, or Zero as she prefers, she’s a timid girl trying to figure out what to do next. She’s lost her college chances, her best friend and has family problems aplenty. This all seems fairly standard fare, but Tom Leveen manages to give a refreshing take on the situation that helps Zero stand out from the rest in its genre.
I’ll admit, Amanda annoyed my for a lot of the novel. She was just so angsty. Obviously she had to be, and it was an honest portrayal, not forced, but sometimes it just felt grating. This complaint resolved somewhat as the novel progressed and Amanda starts to see herself as more than ‘zero.’ Her character development was natural and never felt forced. And the best part - it came from herself! Yes, there was a boy involved, but he wasn’t the sole reason Amanda developed. 
Speaking of the boy, Mike was interesting. He was a sweet love interest, although I am a bit biased - musical guys are my soft spot. He was a good fit for Amanda, and was so sweet.  He builds Amanda up, but not in a creepy, demanding way. He just acknowledges her awesome-ness like it’s a fact, and never talks down to her or forces her into anything. Woo-hoo for a healthy relationship being portrayed in YA fiction!
Overall, I found Zero to be a refreshing, sweet read. There was definite depth and growth within its pages and it’s more serious than your typical YA contemporary. If you love art, music, or just want to read a quality book, give this one a go. 
Rating: 4 out of 5

January 7, 2012

Mini Reviews

PhotobucketUnearthly by Cynthia Hand
I have to admit, with all the awful YA angel novels out there, I didn’t expect anything special from this book. However, Unearthly turned my expectations on their head and was a fantastic read. I loved that the author researched her subject material and knew the mythology behind what she was writing about. Many YA authors fall at this simple hurdle, so it was refreshing to see one that puts some effort in. I also loved the way Clara was written - she actually had a personality! She was funny, undramatic and intelligent, and didn’t succumb to the ‘instant-love’ trope so many YA protagonists fall into. Her relationship with Tucker was believable, happening over time and never becoming her whole life. Unearthly is a great addition to the paranormal genre, and I, for one, cannot wait for the sequel.
Rating: 5 out of 5
PhotobucketOrdinary Beauty by Laura Wiess
Ordinary Beauty is definitely the most powerful, heartbreaking novel I’ve read this year. It follows Sayre as she copes with the life her drug addict mother has provided her with. This is an example of how to write well in flashbacks. I usually don’t enjoy this style of writing but it really works here, with the reader slowly coming to understand the events that have led to Sayre’s current situation. Sayre’s voice was so powerful and I actually had tears in my eyes at a couple of points. This is definitely a must read for anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction, and if you don’t this novel might just change your mind.
Rating: 4 out of 5
PhotobucketCrescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
Crescendo is a novel that, in my opinion, highlights everything that is wrong with the YA paranormal genre. I mean, it has it all - Nora, the insipid, supposedly intelligent but actually incredible stupid protagonist; Vee, the best friend who Nora constantly belittles and degrades; and Patch, the love interest who rivals Edward in rapey-creepiness. I’m not going to go into too much detail, as I’m really not a flamer, but there is honestly nothing that I can recommend about this novel. It’s full to the brim with flat characters, pointless plot twists and horrible messages for young girls. I have no desire to continue the series and, with the announcement of a fourth novel, I probably won’t.
Rating: 1 out of 5
Beige by Cecil Castellucci 
Beige is an adorable novel that will appeal to all those who have music in their hearts. When Katy is forced to spend a summer in Los Angeles with her aging rockstar father, she believes it’ll turn out to be the worst summer of her life. However, things change as Katy starts to meet exciting new people who prove to her that being ‘beige’ isn’t all she wants to be. This was a definitely a cute read, but I was expecting a bit more depth from the characters. Instead, they were too young for me to fully connect with them and this stopped me from enjoying the story as much as I should have. I did enjoy Katy’s friendship with Lake, this felt to me the most realistic relationship in the novel. I recommend this to anyone who loves music, particularly punk, and wants a book that doesn’t involve too much thinking.
Rating: 3 out of 5

January 6, 2012

One Year Blogoversary Giveaway!

I'm a bit late, but the second of January marked one year of Crack A Spine Book Reviews! I know I haven't been the most consistent reviewer (I guess starting the blog during my last year of high school wasn't my brightest idea) but I aim to be a lot better in 2012. I have lots of cool features planned, including a spotlight on self-published authors. I aim to bring more author interviews and giveaways, as well as plenty more reviews. Thanks to everyone who has supported me this year, your kind comments have constantly inspired me to be a better blogger.

Now, on to the giveaway! I've decided to give away two of my favourite books from 2011 - Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and Angelfall by Susan Ee (follow the links for their Goodreads pages). This is an international giveaway, but please check that The Book Depository delivers to your country. Also, Angelfall is currently available only as an ebook, so if you are entering for it you must have an ereader or be able to read ebooks in some way. 

Contest Details
- Fill out the form below to be entered for the contest.
- Must be 13 or over to enter.
- There will be two (2) winners.
- Must be a follower to enter.
- Contest is international.
- Runs until February 6th.
- Winners must reply within 48 hours.

2012 Debut Author Challenge

I've decided to participate in the Debut Author Challenge next year as a way to discover fantastic new authors that are out there. Hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, this seems like a really fun challenge, and I hope to get introduced to the beginning of some exciting new series. Click here if you are interested in signing up.
I am planning on reading at least 12 debuts in 2012, and those include:

1. Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
2. Everneath by Brodi Ashton
3. Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
4. Above by Leah Bobet
5. Fracture by Megan Miranda
6. Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
7. Where It Began by Ann Redsich Stampler
8. The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
9. Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers
10. Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham
11. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
12. Slide by Jill Hathaway

1. Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
2. Struck by Jennifer Bosworth
3. Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic
4. The Selection by Kiera Cass
5. Ditched: A Love Story by Robin Mellom
6. Level Two by Lenore Appelhans
7. Crewel by Gennifer Albin
8. Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris
9. Undeadly by Michele Vail
10. The Girls Of No Return by Erin Saldin
11. Croak by Gina Damico
12. The Glimpse by Claire Merle
I do hope I can get to more books, but I'll be starting my first year at university, so I may not be able to afford too many new books. There are so many debuts I'm excited about and this is just a fraction of them. If you'd like to see my full list, check out my 2012 DAC shelf on Goodreads. 
Are any of you participating in this challenge next year? What books are you looking forward to in 2012?

January 5, 2012

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

PhotobucketSummary (from Goodreads): Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. 
The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. 
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war-- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now. 
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior. 
In this electrifying debut, Tahereh Mafi presents a world as riveting as The Hunger Games and a superhero story as thrilling as The X-Men. Full of pulse-pounding romance, intoxicating villainy, and high-stakes choices, Shatter Me is a fresh and original dystopian novel—with a paranormal twist—that will leave readers anxiously awaiting its sequel.

Review: A combination of dystopian and paranormal, Shatter Me is a unique novel that follows Juliette, a young woman unable to touch anyone. Then she meets Adam, and starts to learn more about the world outside of the cell she’s been confined to. As Juliette’s knowledge grows, her view about her power begins to change. Is it really a curse, as she has always believed? Or does she have the ability to make it a gift?
Shatter Me is definitely a book that has a lot of potential, and while this potential is never fully realized, there is no denying that Tahereh Mafi is a talented author who actually has the ability to write a moving novel. Unfortunately for me, this was not that novel.
Juliette is a likable enough protagonist, but also had her fair share of annoying traits. For the first half of the book it felt like every time she entered a new room she’d either cry or blush. For a character who is supposedly strong at heart, Juliette’s constant breakdowns felt contrived and unnecessary. Half the time it felt like her emotions only presented themselves so Adam or Warner could comfort her. This wasn’t good enough for me. When an author states repeatedly that their character is strong and tenacious, I actually want to see proof of that, not a scared teenager running to a love interest whenever something bad happens. I wouldn’t have cared that Mafi had written Juliette the way she did if she hadn’t tried to pass off Juliette’s behaviour as strong. Juliette was not strong for the majority of the book and I hated the feeling of being force-fed the idea that she was.
Shatter Me also contained two of the most loathed tropes in YA literature - insta-love and a love triangle. The love triangle was wholly unnecessary and seemed to exist just for the sake of it. I honestly didn’t see the point of including it - I felt some of the tense scenes with Warner were diminished when all Juliette could think about was how attractive he looked.
The prose in this novel was both its biggest flaw and its saving grace. There were times that I was able to be swept up in the beauty of it, and other times when I was rolling my eyes, wishing Mafi would just get on with the story. I think the prose would have had more effect if the overdone phrases were more spread out. When every other sentence is an overwrought description, the overall effect of the writing is diminished.
Overall, Shatter Me just wasn’t the book for me, but I know plenty of others will enjoy it. Mafi succeeds in blending the dystopian and paranormal genres and the book contains some truly touching moments. Although I wasn’t a huge fan, I will check out Mafi’s future work, if only because her writing had enough sparks of brilliance to convince me that, with some work, she could produce something genuinely special.
Rating: 2.5 stars