Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta SepetysOut of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books, Puffin
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.

Thoughts: I really thought I would love Out of the Easy. I thought it would be an eerie, atmospheric novel, filled with intrigue and southern charm. Let me tell you now: it was none of those things.

Everyone raved about Between Shades of Gray, Ruta’s first book, but it never appealed to me. Out of the Easy sounded like it would have everything I’d want in it – and that was one of its problems. All of the content for a great book was there – New Orleans, a girl fighting the system, murder and intrigue, even a used bookstore – but there was no life in any of them.

Let’s deal with the main source of that lack-of-life: our leading lady, Josie. Ignoring all the upstairs-downstairs crap that was supposed to make this book “insightful”, Out of the Easy is based on two basic premises:

  1. Josie is brilliant. She’s a genius who deserves All. Good. Things.
  2. Life is so hard for poor Josie. Woe is Josie.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? If only.

Let’s start with that first point. For someone who is supposed to be so smart, she makes many, many stupid decisions. She trusts the wrong people, lies to the wrong people, and rolls over passively when a simple phone call could get her out of a bad situation.

Namely, it’s Josie’s passivity when dealing with her mother that was one of my biggest problems. This is a woman who – at every available opportunity – treats her horrendously. She beats Josie, she lies to Josie, she steals from Josie, she treats Josie like she is beneath her contempt. And it’s not as if Josie even excuses those things… she just doesn’t do anything about it. It’s as if the plot required Josie to do things “because that’s her mother”, and no thought was given to thinking about how Josie should react to her mother’s actions. Not to mention that, though she hates the stigma of being a prostitute’s daughter, she doesn’t seem to connect that stigma with her mother. I don’t think that’s how a

Maybe she has book smarts, because she sure wasn’t gifted any emotional intelligence.

Then there’s the “Woe is Josie” premise. Huh?? So many people in this book treat Josie like an absolute star, like she is the best thing since sliced bread and could well be the second coming. Which is great and everything, but it makes the “Woe is Josie” core of the story virtually impossible to buy into. Yes, her life isn’t what she wants, but whose isn’t? In all honesty, the life of a madam in New Orleans actually didn’t look to bad from where I was, so why was it so terrible for Josie? Other than her mother, Out of the Easy‘s prostitutes and chauffeurs all seemed rather content with their lot in life. Why wasn’t Josie? I have no idea.

Actually, “talking” it out now, I can see what really irked me about this book: Out of the Easy is a book about getting out of New Orleans, but it should have been a book about learning to love the “New Orleans” you’re dealt.

As if that weren’t enough, all the intrigue promised by the summary was not at all delivered. The mystery took a back seat to Josie’s angst and its resolution was met with a shrug. And as for New Orleans? The book could have been set in Harlem for all the effect the city had. Not cool. Not cool.

Bottom line? If you aren’t a reader who spends far too much time nitpicking characters, you’ll probably enjoy Out of the Easy a hell of a lot more than I did.

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.

Review: Beastly by Alex Flinn

Review: Beastly by Alex FlinnBeastly by Alex Flinn
Published by HarperTeen
Pages: 304
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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I am a beast. A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog, but a horrible new creature who walks upright – a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever – ruined – unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and a perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly beastly.

Before you read: Apparently Alex is a she. Huh. So, note that this review was written before Jan set me straight!

Thoughts: Alex Flinn was never a teenager. He went straight from 12 to 20. It’s true. How do I know? Well, I read his book Beastly.

Despite what some people may believe, writing about teenagers is like dealing with teenagers… not easy. You have to write about their hormone-fueled decisions without making them seem completely irrational. It’s really hard, and your “research” cannot be limited to watching She’s All That 30 times. Which is what Alex Flinn did… I can’t think of any other explanation.

Beastly just fell flat. Its characters were illogical, one-dimensional creatures, even though they were based off of the brilliant characters from the Beauty and the Beast tale. In short, Flinn’s Beauty is an idiot and his Beast a real ass. I mean, would the Beauty we all love – who loves her family as much as they love her – risk her future for a drug-addict Daddy? I think not. And would Beast ever purposefully lie to Beauty? No, because he’s a straight-forward ass… not a backstabbing one! *shakes fist* And don’t even get me started on the Beast’s entourage. I mean, what self-respecting teacher would condone kidnapping a teenage girl for some spoiled hermit? Seriously? Seriously?

Ok, so while Flinn completely missed the mark with his characters, there were some things that I liked in this book. I liked the fact that the novel is told from the Beast’s point-of-view. It’s a perspective I honestly had never considered. I also liked how Flinn transferred the tale to modern Manhattan – Beast goes to plastic surgeons looking for a cosmetic cure, and he dresses as a Muslim woman in order to go out in public… isn’t that just ingenious? Shame it didn’t make the characters any more likable.

So… I am giving this book 2.5 stars despite everything I’ve just written. Why? Well, it’s still Beauty and the Beast. And anything Beauty and the Beast is inherently brilliant – even when it misses the mark.

Bottom line? Not worth reading unless you’re a die-hard Beauty and the Beast fan. And even then…

Review: Ghost Town by Rachel Caine

Review: Ghost Town by Rachel CaineGhost Town by Rachel Caine
Series: Morganville Vampires #9
Published by Allison & Busby
Pages: 479
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Glass Houses, The Dead Girls' Dance, Midnight Alley, Kiss of Death, Bite Club

While developing a new system to maintain Morganville's defenses, student Claire Danvers discovers a way to amplify vampire mental powers. Through this, she's able to re-establish the field around this vampire-infested Texas college town that protects it from outsiders.

But the new upgrades have an unexpected consequence: people inside the town begin to slowly forget who they are-even the vampires. Soon, the town's little memory problem has turned into a full-on epidemic. Now Claire needs to figure out a way to pull the plug on her experiment- before she forgets how to save Morganville...

Thoughts: I really cannot believe I am writing a non-glowing-verging-on-negative review for a Morganville book. This series has consistently been one of my favourite reads – I thought that there could be no such thing as a bad Morganville book. But after reading Ghost Town, I remembered the problems I had with the first book in the series (Glass House). Namely, it just didn’t make me care about the characters.

Claire and the gang are, as usual, in the midst of another action-packed drama – this time centred around Claire and Mrynin’s experimental new machine. Now, that should make my knees turn to jelly, because a) I am head-over-heels in love with Myrnin, and b) I absolutely adore the Claire/Myrnin relationship. And yet their dynamic in this book is pretty much centred around Ada – which was just one of those characters I wish Caine would drop already. Seeing Myrnin – of all people – so love-crazy (instead of regular crazy) just annoyed me. There were a few scenes between them at the start of the book that I loved, but then it was all downhill.
Same goes for Amelie and Oliver – usually two kick-ass characters who seemed to spend this book going on and on about their unbelievable emotional angst. Not to mention the fact that they have been having the same argument about Morganville for nine books. Every time they brought it up, my eyes would start to glaze over. I get it already! Geez.

As for the Glass House residents, I have been growing less and less attached to them with each book. Shane/Claire used to make my heart pitter-patter, and now I feel like skipping through all their lovey-dovey business. I guess they’ve reached that point in their relationship where the camera would usually fade to black and display a “happily ever after” banner. It’s great for them, but not so interesting for us readers. Not that I want angst, per say, but some kind of development would be nice.

Bottom line? Depressing installment to a great series. I remain a fan, but have lost my faith in the series.

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