Review: Austentatious

Austentatious
Alyssa Goodnight
2012
Kensington
978-0-7582-6743-6

Straitlaced engineer Nicola James has had her entire future mapped out since the age of thirteen. “The Plan” leaves little time for romance and certainly no time for magic journals that write back. But that is exactly what she finds when the journal she buys at an antiques stores, hidden among a set of Jane Austen novels, offers up its own critiques of her innermost thoughts. A self-professed “Janeite,” Nicola wonders if the spirit of Jane Austen, whom she dubs “Fairy Jane,” is somehow wreaking havoc on her love life. Fairy Jane’s advice leads her into a passionate romance with sexy Scotsman Sean MacInnes, forcing Nic to choose whether to follow her plan — or her heart.

I picked up this book because I am a huge Jane Austen fan. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Nicola overly likeable as a character and certainly not worthy of comparison to an Austen heroine despite the frequent attempts made to compare her situation to Elizabeth Bennett’s. I don’t think the analogy really worked. Sure, Nic is hesitant to get involved with Sean at first, but he is never rude to her the way Darcy is to Lizzie, quite the opposite in fact. I found Nicola’s anal-retentiveness exasperating at times. Also, I get that she loves cupcakes but is it really necessary for her to bake them every day? And still go out the cupcake bakeries for more? Seriously, how is this girl not obese? But I digress. My complaints aside, Austentatious is a light read perfect for the beach, a piece of sugary fluff, not unlike one of Nicola’s prized cupcakes, that will satisfy your craving for romance.

Review: Fever

Fever
Lauren DeStefano
2012
Simon & Schuster
978-1-4424-0907-1

Picking up where Wither left off, Fever finds Rhine and Gabriel on the run after escaping from Rhine’s husband, Linden Ashby, and his evil father, Vaughn. Rhine is determined to make it to New York City to reunite with her twin brother, Rowan, but her plans go awry when she and Gabriel stumble across an eerie carnival whose ringmistress plans to make them part of her twisted show. Meanwhile, Vaughn is determined to track Rhine down and bring her back to the mansion, where he continues his sadistic experiments to try to find a cure for the illness that kills all women at age twenty and men at twenty-five. With only three years left to live, Rhine is beginning to feel as if time is running out. Can she escape Vaughn for good and find her lost twin?

Given that it’s book two in a planned trilogy, I was expecting Fever to feel a lot like filler, as so often happens in YA (and other) trilogies. Fortunately, DeStefano kept me flipping the pages to find out what happens to Rhine on her seemingly doomed quest to find her brother. I am curious to see how DeStefano will deal with the matter of the deadly virus. I suspect somehow a cure will miraculously be found by the end of book three, but I am sure there will be plenty of twists and turns to get there.

Review: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides
2011
Alfred A. Knopf Canada
978-0-307-40186-1

Set in the 1980s, The Marriage Plot follows the post-graduation lives of Madeleine, her boyfriend, Leonard, and her old friend Mitchell, who happens to be in love with her. When Madeleine and Leonard move to the Cape for his research fellowship, Leonard’s manic depression threatens to drive a wedge between them, while Madeleine tries to figure out what to do with her life after being rejected from graduate school. Meanwhile, Mitchell develops an interest in religion and sets off to Europe and then India, all the while convinced Madeleine is destined to marry him.

I decided to read this book because I had never read Eugenides before and I remember Middlesex being quite popular. I am also a fan of Jane Austen and thought the marriage plot concept of Madeleine’s thesis sounded interesting. However, this concept didn’t really play out in the novel the way I expected it to. There is a section of the book that describes Madeleine’s past romances, all of which went wrong one way or another. But the marriage plot thread seems to be dropped somewhere in the middle and then quickly resurfaces on the final page. As a former English major, reading this book reminded me of fourth-year seminars discussing literary theory, and I have to admit that is not really a time I want to go back to given how pretentious I found many of the comments made by some of my classmates. I couldn’t help but find this book a little pretentious also and I felt that it would have made more sense had I read more of the works mentioned. It was an interesting enough story but not one I would wildly recommend to others.

Review: The List

The List
Siobhan Vivian
2012
Push
978-0-545-16917-2

Every year at Mount Washington High School, a list is put out in the week leading up to homecoming naming the prettiest and ugliest girls in each grade. No one knows, who writes the list, but the tradition has continued for years. For freshman Abby, being on the list is exciting even if her older sister, Fern, resents her for it. Danielle worries her older boyfriend won’t like her anymore. Popular girl Candace knows being named ugliest must be a cruel joke, while Lauren, who had previously been homeschooled, is overwhelmed by her newfound popularity. Bridget obsesses over her weight despite being named prettiest, while Sarah rebels against traditional ideas of beauty. Jennifer is named ugliest for the fourth year in a row, while her former best friend, Margo is named prettiest. For each girl, being named to the list has lasting consequences.

I found The List an interesting read given all the girl-on-girl meanness in today’s pop culture, from Mean Girls to Gossip Girl and all the various Real Housewives shows. The list is created by girls, not guys. It’s bad enough for boys to judge girls by their looks and call them ugly, but somehow it seems even worse seeing girls turn on each other rather than stand together to protest such misogynistic treatment. The creator of the list is revealed at the end of the book, and while this person’s identity may surprise you, I found the ending fell flat. I was hoping for more, some kind of statement about self-esteem or bullying or something a bit more meaningful than what I got. Still, The List was an interesting read that attempts to examine the way the opinions of others can damage the way girls see themselves.

Review: Glow

Glow
Amy Kathleen Ryan
2011
Macmillan
978-0-330-53558-8

Teens Waverly and Kieran live on a spaceship, part of a group of settlers travelling through space towards New Earth, where they will establish a colony, along with the passengers of their sister ship, the New Horizon. Waverly and Kieran plan to marry, but their happiness is interrupted when the New Horizon launches an attack on their ship. It turns out the women aboard the New Horizon are unable to have children, and so their leader, Anne Mather, abducts the girls of the Empyrean. With the adult killed or severely injured during the attack, it is up to Kieran and the rest of the boys to keep their ship running and try to rescue the girls, while aboard the New Horizon, Waverly plots her escape.

I wasn’t sure whether I could get into Glow at first. It seemed a little too sci-fi for me, but Ryan eventually won me over. The premise is certainly disturbing but also highly intriguing. Ryan keeps you anxiously flipping the pages to find out what happens next. Science fiction fans are sure to be entertained.

Review: Something Wicked

Something Wicked
Lesley Anne Cowan
Puffin Canada
2010
978-0-14-317393-9

Troubled teen Melissa is struggling to get over her breakup with her twenty-eight-year-old secret boyfriend, Michael. To dull her pain, she turns to drinking, drugs, and promiscuity. But her troubles don’t end there. Melissa is also dealing with her younger brother’s death, an irresponsible mother, and being kicked out of school. Can she overcome these challenges and get her life back on track?

Cowan has written a gritty, compelling novel about a lost girl struggling to get through life. Melissa makes a lot of mistakes, but she is also smart. She is capable of doing well at school when she can focus and dreams of going to university to become a veterinarian. Given her difficult childhood as the daughter of a single mother who is still somewhat of a child herself, living in poverty, it is hard not to sympathize with Melissa no matter how many bad choices she makes. Fortunately, help is available in the form of counselors and social workers if Melissa can decide she is worth saving. Something Wicked is nominated for the 2012 White Pine award.

Review: Born Wicked

Born Wicked
Jessica Spotswood
2012
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
978-0-399-25745-2

Cate Cahill and her younger sisters, Maura and Tess, are witches. With their mother dead and their father oblivious to their powers, the three girls must learn to control their magic and keep it hidden from the watchful eyes of the Brotherhood, a group of priests who form the town council and are known to persecute women they suspect of witchcraft. Cate vows to protect her sisters, but a secret prophecy revealed in her mother’s hidden diary could make that impossible. Cate must choose between marriage to her childhood friend Paul or joining the Sisterhood, a group of ostensibly pious women who are actually a group of witches determined that Cate join their ranks. Complicating matters further is Cate’s intense attraction to Finn Belastra, a man whose lower social statues makes him an unsuitable match. Now, Cate must figure out how to protect her sisters and herself from those would seek to harm them.

I really enjoyed Born Wicked. At first I feared this book, the first in a series, would be too predictable. It seems obvious Cate does not love her childhood friend Paul and will not be able to marry him, and that somehow she’ll find a way to be with Finn. However, there are enough twists and turns to keep readers interested, including the revelation that there are more witches in town than Cate thought, and the identity of some of these witches is surprising. I look forward to book two.

Review: The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers

The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers
Lynn Weingarten
2012
HarperTeen
9780061926181 

When Lucy’s boyfriend, Alex, breaks up with her on the first day of school after a summer apart, Lucy is heartbroken. She can’t understand what went wrong and is determined to win him back. A mysterious trio of girls offers her a solution: break someone’s heart within seven days, and become part of the magical Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, never suffering from a broken heart again. How far will Lucy go to get what she wants?

Unfortunately, this book wasn’t nearly as intriguing as its premise had me hoping. Alex seems like a jerk right from the beginning and not worth fighting for. And of course, it’s glaringly obvious whose heart Lucy will break. Although Lucy finds happiness at the end of the novel, the reader is left with an icky feeling over the turn of events in the final few chapters. Not a very satisfying read.

Review: Pandemonium

Pandemonium
Lauren Oliver
2012
HarperCollins
978-0-06-197806-7

Pandemonium picks up where Oliver’s previous book, Delirium, left off. Lena is on the run after escaping into The Wilds. Her boyfriend, Alex, didn’t make it, killed by the regulators, but Lena must put her grief behind her and try to survive. The novel is divided into passages marked “then” and “now.” “Then” chronicles Lena’s escape from the regulators and rescue by a group of “Invalids,” people who don’t believe in the government’s orders that everyone must receive a surgical process called “the cure” to protect them from the disease amor deliria nervosa, aka love. “Now” finds Lena living in Manhattan and working as part of the resistance trying to bring down the DFA (Deliria Free America), led by Thomas Fineman, whose son, Julian, becomes the face of the DFA’s campaign when he agrees to undergo the cure even though it will likely kill him due to his past medical history. When a group of resisters attacks a DFA rally, Lena and Julian are kidnapped and must learn to trust each other despite being on opposite sides in order to escape.

I really enjoyed Delirium, so I was anxious for the sequel. I’m not sure I enjoyed Pandemonium as much in the beginning, as I found the pacing a bit slow and was less interested in the “then” sections. I suppose it’s important to know how Lena came to be involved in the resistance and how she survived out in the Wilds as well as what the conditions are like out there, but I found myself much more interested in the “now” and watching Lena’s relationship with Julian develop. Lena finds herself in many sticky situations throughout the book, and at times things seem to come together a little too easily to allow her to escape and move forward. However, there is a twist at the end of the novel that sets up what is sure to be a drama-filled final book in the trilogy. I can’t wait to see how Lena’s story will end!