Review: Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

Review: Chain Reaction by Simone ElkelesChain Reaction by Simone Elkeles
Series: Perfect Chemistry #3
Published by Simon & Schuster, Walker Books for Young Readers
Pages: 308
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Rules of Attraction, Perfect Chemistry

Like his brothers, Luis Fuentes is a risk taker; whether he’s scaling the Rocky Mountains or dreaming of a future as an astronaut, Luis is always looking for the next thrill. Nikki Cruz lives her life by certain rules -, don’t trust a boy who says “I love you”, boys lie to get their own way and never date a boy from the south side of Fairfield. Then she meets Luis at his brother Alex’s wedding and suddenly she’s tempted to break all her rules. Getting Nikki to give him a chance is Luis’s biggest challenge, until he finds himself targeted by the head of the gang that nearly destroyed his brothers’ lives. Will Luis’s feelings for Nikki be enough to stop him from entering a dark and violent world that could prove to be the ultimate risk?

Thoughts: I really enjoyed the first books in this trilogy, Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction – they were extremely readable books that starred some surprisingly fleshed out characters. And while Chain Reaction was certainly readable, it’s characters were some of the most one-dimensional I’ve read in a long while. In fandom, we would have called this book “crack” – the kind of story that is just so unbelievably terrible, and is yet extremely addictive. The one where Spock is pregnant with Uhura’s lovechild and decides to run away on the TARDIS. This was that kind of story.

None of the new characters in this book made a lick of sense: Luis is a “good boy”, but spend the last 50 or so pages oscillating between crazy and crazy with love of violence. While Nikki… ick. I don’t even want to get into her. This girl had zero character and was completely defined by a traumatic experience. While I kinda “get” why Elkeles might want to traumatize her characters, you’ve got to give me more than just that if you want me to actually like them. *stabs them both*

Seriously, if it hadn’t been such a fan of Rules of Attraction, I would never have finished this thing.

Bottom line? Disappointing ending to an otherwise entertaining series; Perfect Chemistry’s  Breaking Dawn, if you will.

Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Review: Breathe by Sarah CrossanBreathe by Sarah Crossan
Series: Breathe #1
Published by Bloomsbury, Greenwillow
Pages: 384
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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When oxygen levels plunge in a treeless world, a state lottery decides which lucky few will live inside the Pod. Everyone else will slowly suffocate. Years after the Switch, life inside the Pod has moved on. A poor Auxiliary class cannot afford the oxygen tax which supplies extra air for running, dancing and sports. The rich Premiums, by contrast, are healthy and strong. Anyone who opposes the regime is labelled a terrorist and ejected from the Pod to die. Sixteen-year-old Alina is part of the secret resistance, but when a mission goes wrong she is forced to escape from the Pod. With only two days of oxygen in her tank, she too faces the terrifying prospect of death by suffocation. Her only hope is to find the mythical Grove, a small enclave of trees protected by a hardcore band of rebels. Does it even exist, and if so, what or who are they protecting the trees from? A dystopian thriller about courage and freedom, with a love story at its heart.

Ahead: BAD SCIENCE, characters who go off the rails and a good premise.

Thoughts: I really wanted to love Breathe. Really, I did. It had an extraordinary premise with an environmental message I fully approve of. I mean, how many YA books deal with deforestation and mass climate change?

The first half of Breathe was really rather good. Sarah Crossan bounced back and forth  between three well-developed characters – all teens, but all radically different. There’s the cold resistance member who seems horrid, but is really just trying to stay alive. The scholarship girl who is brilliant but will never get anywhere because of her birth. And the rich-but-mostly-kindhearted boy who doesn’t stand up to the system, but doesn’t lie down in front of it either. Three kids who are pretty much on their own, and who all learn to fight the status quo in their own way.

As I said, pretty good stuff – and while I wasn’t over the moon about the characters, I could see myself starting to connect with them. But then, about half way through the book, things started going downhill. The chapters started getting shorter, yet covered twice as much action. Characters were introduced who were supposed to be leaders but were genuinely psychotic – but no one dealt with or acknowledged this. And badda-bang instalove! I was kinda shocked.

But it was about to get worse… bring in the bad science.

OK, I understand that most people are not scientists – but there were mistakes in this book that were the equivalent of writing, “the island of France” or “Earth’s second moon”. Things so blindly obvious, someone should have noticed them. I don’t necessarily think Sarah Crossan should have been responsible for spotting her scientific faux-pas, but someone. Anyone.

*Minor Spoilers*

For those of you who are doubting me, here’s an example. Breathe describes a world where, as the oxygen levels decrease, people start dropping like flies. Suddenly, graveyards are full, mass burial sites aren’t enough, so… people start burning the bodies.

*head desk* You cannot burn people in a low oxygen environment!! Flames need oxygen!! Human bodies are not super combustible! It’s basic chemistry that we worked out in the stone age.

I told two people this specific example, and both of them spotted the mistake immediately. Why didn’t an editor? I can only pray that that line did get cut from the final version… but doubt it.

*Even More Spoilery*

Another thing that made no scientific sense whatsoever was the rebel’s miraculous ability to breathe in a low oxygen atmosphere. It’s true that people who live in high-altitude areas develop higher red blood cell counts and can cope in less oxygenated atmospheres… but not the 6% oxygen levels of Breathe. This becomes even more unbelievable when you find out that all the rebels had to do to breathe like this was practice and throw in a few meditation sessions.

What’s sad is that science in Breathe didn’t need to be bad science. If a one-line explanation had been tossed in saying that humanity had evolved genetically to require less oxygen, I could have bought this. It’s science fiction, for goodness sakes! That Breathe masquerades as a scientifically sound novel is rather… off-putting.

*END Spoilers*

So, after all that, am I going to read the sequel Resist? Maybe. I know that Sarah Crossan is capable of writing a good book – there’s half of one right here in Breathe.

Double Review: Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

After finishing Rules of Attraction, I knew there was no way to review it without referencing Perfect Chemistry.  So, here they are – reviews for Simone Elkeles’s romantic YA novels, Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction.  Even if you haven’t read the first book, read the review to Rules of Attraction – there’s nothing there that you wouldn’t have worked out all on your own, anyhow!


Double Review: Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction by Simone ElkelesPerfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Series: Perfect Chemistry #1
Pages: 368
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary YA
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Also in this series: Chain Reaction

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she's worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect.

Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

Thoughts: If you’ve read The Bookette’s review of this book, you no doubt ran to the store and bought a copy.  Becky calls it her favourite book of all time – and as a general rule, I tend to agree with her.  But while I really enjoyed Perfect Chemistry – Elkeles’s writing is positively addictive – I did have quite a few problems with the plot.

Let’s start with what I did like.  I thought Brittany was a wonderful heroine.  At first, you’d think a cheerleader would not be a character you could identify with – but Brittany’s love for her disabled sister was utterly endearing.  I also loved how Elkeles discussed the real-life misery of most teens.  Perfect Chemistry is filled with drugs, gang violence, teenage drinking and a fair bit of barely-suitable sex.  Perhaps not what you want all teens reading, but that’s real life for you.  It isn’t pretty and it sure isn’t fun – but you can believe it.

Elkeles also did a brilliant job portraying the Mexican-American community – especially the family-oriented values of a lot of latinos.  Alex does a lot of bad things out of duty and love to his family – and it felt real.

However, my main issues in Perfect Chemistry were with Alex.  He’s set up as this bad boy who secretly wants to be good – he is supposedly a brilliant student who only wants to go on to have a “normal” life.  Apparently, he can’t do just that out of fear of retribution from his gang.  Kinda understandable – especially if he’s protecting his family.

That’s page one.

But then he spends the rest of the book enjoying the trouble he stirs up.  Huh?  I thought his bet to seduce Britt positively degrading – but somehow we were supposed to think he was doing it against his will.  If he had started out a thug and then changed, his character would have made more sense (read my review of Rules of Attraction for a longer rant on the matter).  Instead, all I wanted to do was slap him up the side of the head for 3/4 of the book.  Honestly.

Bottom line? Even though I thought Perfect Chemistry was a fun, addictive read – it won’t be on my favourites pile.  Rules of Attraction, on the other hand…


Double Review: Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction by Simone ElkelesRules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles
Series: Perfect Chemistry #2
Published by Simon & Schuster, Walker Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary YA
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Also in this series: Chain Reaction

When Carlos Fuentes returns to America after living in Mexico for a year, he doesn’t want any part of the life his older brother, Alex, has laid out for him at a high school in Colorado. Carlos likes living his life on the edge and wants to carve his own path—just like Alex did. Then he meets Kiara Westford. She doesn’t talk much and is completely intimidated by Carlos’ wild ways. As they get to know one another, Carlos assumes Kiara thinks she’s too good for him, and refuses to admit that she might be getting to him. But he soon realizes that being himself is exactly what Kiara needs right now.

Two rather superficial notes:

  1. The trailer to this book is absolutely fantastic.  I don’t usually like book trailers, but this one made me rush out and get PC so that I could read the seqeul.  It’s that good.  Watch it!
  2. The scene on the fantabulous cover?  It is actually in the book.  *dies*  ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts:  Rules of Attraction is bloody brilliant.  I stayed up to 7am to finish this book – and I don’t regret a single minute of my missed sleep.  It had everything I loved from Perfect Chemistry, only with leading characters that I not only liked – I loved.

Let’s start with Carlos.  When we are introduced to Carlos, he is exactly what he looks like: a thug.  He’s accepted that that is all anyone will ever see him as – a drug runner and a Very. Bad. Man. – and decided he might as well roll with it.  In his mind, his brother is delusional to think he could ever be free from the prejudice – so why should he bother trying.  That he’s stuck living in his brother’s apple-pie world?  Not something Carlos is happy about.

But he can’t fool us.  You see, we saw kiddie!Carlos in Perfect Chemistry – so, deep down?  We know he has the potential to be a good guy.  If he can just allow himself to see that, we’d be home free.  (Not to mention the fact that Carlos at his worst was still a nicer guy than badboy!Alex.  But, never mind.)

Watching Carlos accept that he can change – and that he wants to change – was fantastic to read.  He has the advantage of some kick-ass back up who helped him break away from gang violence.  Although his fight against the baddies was easier than Alex’s, his emotional struggle was a hell of a lot harder.  And watching a character on the road to redemption?  A hell of a lot better than watching some guy (*cough* Alex *cough*) who knows the right path but is too much of a coward to go down it.

Ok, that was harsh and I don’t quite mean that – but you get my point.

And then there is Kiara.  Oh, Kiara. *hugs*  I absolutely loved Kiara – she’s a such fantastic character.  She makes salads with spinach, has a gay BFF, loves to go hiking and only buys organic meat.  She’s even had proper parenting – the type with open and frank discussions about sex and drugs and whatnot.   In other words, Kiara would be my best friend if she actually – ya know – existed.  Of course, Kiara’s not perfect.  She has some serious confidence issues and a terrible stutter – all of which made me love her more.

Anyhow, Carlos and Kiara made sense together in a way so few pairings do.  Unlike Brittany and Alex, who were compatible because they were both caretakers as older siblings – Kiara and Carlos manage to be together without all that emotional angst.  She softens his edges, and he gives her courage – they are healthy couple and it’s fantastic to read.

Bottom line?  Rules of Attraction made me a believer.  A believer in true love, people’s ability to really change, and ability of cookies to unite the world in songs of love and joy and happiness and… where was I?  Oh yeah.

The third and final book in the trilogy will focus on Carlos and Alex’s brother Luis. Instead of a bad boy-good girl romance, it Luis will fall for a bad girl. Kinda awesome, huh? Comes out in 2011.

Review: Old Magic by Marianne Curley

Review: Old Magic by Marianne CurleyOld Magic by Marianne Curley
Published by Bloomsbury on 2012-09-13
Pages: 320
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Jarrod Thornton is mesmerizing, but Kate Warren doesn't know why.

The moment the new guy walks into the room, Kate senses something strange and intense about him. Something supernatural. Her instincts are proven correct a few minutes later when, bullied by his classmates, Jarrod unknowingly conjures up a freak thunderstorm inside their classroom.

Jarrod doesn't believe in the paranormal. When Kate tries to convince him that he has extraordinary powers that need to be harnessed, he only puts up with her "hocus pocus" notions because he finds her captivating. However, the dangerous, uncontrolled strengthening of his gift finally convinces Jarrod that he must take Kate's theories seriously. Together, they embark on a remarkable journey—one which will unravel the mystery that has haunted Jarrod's family for generations and pit the teens against immense forces in a battle to undo the past and reshape the future.

Spoiler Alert: This review has a few in it – but they are basically the facts that I wish someone had told me about before I started reading.

Thoughts: Old Magic is really damn hard to review. Because although it had a lot of elements in it that were enjoyable, it was ultimately a let down.

The main character Kate and Jarrod were relatively enjoyable, but not all that well developed. In fact, Jarrod’s main character trait was his extraordinary cowardice. Sure, that was entertaining and believable for about 100 pages – but after a while I wanted to slam his head into something hard. Because of his utter lack of spine, I found Kate’s attraction to him rather peculiar.

Despite that, I really enjoyed the first half of the novel. It is set in a sleepy town surrounded by woodlands. The atmosphere was rather dark and magical – reminding me of Need and Shiver in many parts. But then, half way through the book Kate and Jarrod time-travel back 1000 years.

Er, what? No! Take me back to that mysterious little town!

That was pretty much my only thought for the rest of the book. Curley introduces us to a dozen new characters, some rather over-the-top villains and some rather drawn-out plot. I don’t really have a problem with time-travelling in books – I just would rather it be the sole focus of the novel. Instead, I felt like I had been tossed into the poorly made sequel to the first half of the book.  One where they had to recast the leads because the script was so bad…

Bottom line? Curley is a very believable writer. And while I was disappointed with Old Magic, I shall be picking up some of her other books in the near future.

Review: Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

Review: Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn DolamoreMagic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
Series: Magic Under #1
Published by Bloomsbury on 2010-08-28
Pages: 256
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Nimira is a foreign music-hall girl forced to dance for pennies. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to sing with a piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new and better life. In Parry's world, however, buried secrets are beginning to stir. Unsettling below-stairs rumors swirl about ghosts, a madwoman roaming the halls, and Parry's involvement with a league of sorcerers who torture fairies for sport. Then Nimira discovers the spirit of a fairy gentleman named Erris is trapped inside the clockwork automaton, waiting for someone to break his curse. The two fall into a love that seems hopeless, and breaking the curse becomes a race against time, as not just their love, but the fate of the entire magical world may be in peril.Look out for the follow-up to this book, Magic Under Stone, out next year!

Thoughts: I was really disappointed with Magic Under Glass. It had been on my wishlist for so long, and when I got a copy I was really eager to dive in.

There was just so much I wanted to love – an interesting, fantastical world filled with magic, faeries and complex social divisions.   Unfortunately, there is nothing here that is all that special.  The universe is basically Regency England with faery foreigners and a bit of magic thrown in for the hell of it.

And the characters? Extremely one-dimensional.  Leading lady Nimira felt more like a plot tool than an actual character – moving from scene to scene for the sake of it.  Her love interest, Erris, was as mechanical as his automaton exterior – and needless to say their “tragic” love felt forced and unrealistic.

Magic Under Glass was supposed to be a lovely wholewheat-brown-bread guaranteed good read.  But it was the literary equivalent of white bread.  Very disappointing.

Bottom line? Magic Under Glass is an old-school faery tale – lots of plot, no character.  I didn’t think it was a bad book, it was a bland book.

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