Saturday, March 28, 2015

Unbreakable: Let's Talk About Cults & YA

Cults in YA? Yep, I found a few books that will curb your appetite for more Kimmy Schmidt for now, until we can get season 2.

I don't know about you, but I've been obsessed with The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Fey's new Netflix comedy. Not only is it hilarious because I'm loving that Indiana is becoming the center of everyone's shows, but I have just moved to New York as well, so I'm identifying a lot with Kimmy as she tries to navigate her way through the big city.  Of course, I wasn't held hostage in a bunker. If you're not watching this show, you should be.

[It's also got one of the greatest opening credits in the history of television shows, as a song-ified newsreel clip. "Females are STRONG AS HELL"]

Since I finished the first season last week (a downside to releasing all the episodes at once is I can't control myself), I wanted to see what kind of YA was out there that I could read that would be similar. I knew of No Parking At End Times because it's going to be released pretty soon and I received an ARC in the mail, but I wanted to find another one as well. Luckily, I came across Searching for Sky on my Kindle (downloaded from NetGalley forever ago), and I was ready to go with a fun-filled weekend of reading about cults.

Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Pages: 288
Keywords: cults, ocean, family
Format Read: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads | IndieBound

The thing about this book is that I was captivated by the general idea of what was happening. She was suffering from (unknown, at least to her) Stockholm Syndrome. Her mother ran away with a cult leader to an island (there's more to the story, and it involves a lot more people than those who ended up on the island) when she was barely two, and it's all she's ever known. She had literally no idea there were other humans in the entire world. Her world was fishing, hunting, and being in nature with her mother and River, Helmut's (cult leader) son. It was pretty interesting to see her assimilation into Californian culture after not knowing that anything else existed. She didn't know what jeans were or why people were obsessed with makeup or what a stove was. I liked seeing my very familiar world from that point of view, and it made me think about all the things I take for granted in my every day life.

However, it wasn't one of my favorite books I've read. Once I got through the first 30%, the novelty kind of wore off, and the story didn't seem to move anywhere after that until I hit the last few pages. By the end, everything seemed extremely dramatic, and every possible outcome was happening all at once. There were way too many things happening that none of them became believable. It was very soap-opera-like, and that frustrated me. For such an interesting topic to explore, I was a bit disappointed with the delivery.

No Parking at the End Times by Brian Bliss
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Pages: 272
Keywords: cults, family, moving
Format Read: ARC via publisher (thank you!)
Goodreads | IndieBound

This book follows the opposite track. A family that is used to the modern and cushy life loses everything — that is, the kids lose everything. Their father lost his job, joined a church (turns out it's a doomsday cult), sold their house and belongings, and packed up a van to move his family cross-country for their new leader, whom they also give all their cash to in order to "keep up the church."
I enjoyed experiencing the struggling nature of this family. Abigal tries desperately to patch her family up amid their move and loss of everything, and her brother wants nothing to do with it. Her mom is sneaking her a few ice cream dollars, and her dad is only focused on attending mass. This was an extraordinarily complicated family and situation, and I loved being involved in their lives. I wanted more of their experience though. Much of it revolved around Abigail trying to figure her brother out, and there didn't seem to be too much in-betweens with the family. It was confusion and then redeemed. Abigail had such a great voice that I wanted desperately to care more about the family and get more information from them. This was a great story about faith—not necessarily the religious kind—but faith in your family and in yourself, and that message was really important. I just wanted more plot to back that great message up.

Have you read any other books with cults in them?
Let me know!
I'm still sad I don't have new Kimmy episodes to watch!
Do you watch the show?

Let's discuss in the comments!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Insurgent Movie Review

I went to see Insurgent over the weekend, and I definitely have some feelings about it. While I'm not the best with remembering plots from books (especially in series because I am TERRIBLE at series), I definitely know there were some differences, but those weren't what truly bothered me. Let's dive right in!

There will be spoilers in here if you haven't read the book. I mean, also for the movie, but I'm assuming if you've read the book you know the basics. So read with caution.

You could tell the budget for this movie was upped, which was great for my vision of Amity. I loved seeing this faction in particular because of the vivid imagery from the book and the fact that this is the most colorful of all the factions being outside the city. This was also the start of what I thought was going to be an awesome movie. There was a ton of humor (Miles Teller pretty much carried the humor aspect of the entire movie, and I loved it. He is the perfect Peter) as well as some serious bits when the evil Dauntless first show up.

As we all know, Tris, Four, and Caleb escape and jump onto a train (at which point I seriously miss one of my favorite characters, Edward, a former Dauntless initiate who didn't make it in the movie. Uriah is my favorite and he's not there either, or he may show up briefly, but I wasn't totally sure it was supposed to be him in the movie) filled with factionless who fight them off.

It's at this point Evelyn enters the picture, and it's clear Four has trust issues, but Tris seems to be interested in what she has to say, which is totally backwards from the novel. I'm okay with some changes, so I was still interested in what was going on. Tris has nightmares here, and Shailene Woodley pretty much carries the movie from here on out. Her emotional struggle was real and believable, and her portrayal of someone suffering from PTSD after shooting a friend is excellent, though I wish her struggle to hold a gun in this movie would have stayed in the plot.

Which brings me to THE BOX.

So, in the book, Jeanine wants to capture Tris, test her, and kill her. Problem solved. Movie Jeanine (Kate Winslet) wants her alive because Tris is "the very special one" (direct quote) who can pass the sims to open this damn box. That she found at the Prior household in abnegation. No.

My guess is the producers/writers didn't feel like there was enough plot in the book to carry the movie alone, so they added in this aspect of the movie to amp up the action. I definitely did not think it was necessary, and it made the second half of the movie long and especially cheesy. I was also extremely disappointed with Winslet's portrayal, saying her lines SUPER. DRAMATICALLY. With gigantic pauses. No one talks like that in real life, and it definitely made me laugh at things that were not supposed to be funny. Fortunately, Woodley breaks her lines up and helps keep things on track.

It was at this point (about 35 minutes from the end) that I totally gave up on liking the whole movie. Four became much more "in love" with Tris, and I mean that only in the super dramatic, cheesy way. I missed the Four who was working on being kind and was sarcastic and snippy, and by the end of this movie, he was a sappy mess who couldn't even focus long enough to punch anyone. What I loved about their characters in the books were their abilities to remain level-headed throughout all of this and focus on feelings later.

When Tris finally gets the BOX open, it's the message from Edith Prior (which was not explained) that tells them they're an experiment, and as soon as there are enough Divergents, they can open the gate and rejoin the world. And then EVELYN kills Jeanine. Let's all take a moment to grieve that Tori didn't get to do that. That's like not letting Neville kill Nagini. COME ON.

It seemed to me like this movie sacrificed a lot of character development and behind-the-scenes set up for a lot of action and running. The thing I enjoyed about the books is the complex nature of the infiltration of the factions. The Dauntless are much more than fighters, and there's a whole process of them getting the information from Jeanine's system rather than Tris just beating the sims to get to it. I missed seeing that. I also miss quite a few of the characters, and I know that it's inevitable that some of them get dropped, but it's seeming like too many characters are now responsible for too many things to happen, and it's just not believable.

As far as movies go, this one was only so-so. The first definitely trumped it. Even though the budget was smaller and the story was still being set up, the characters were still given great identities and the plot wasn't so confusing. Now, it seems like viewers are supposed to believe this because REASONS and Jeanine says so, and it's not nearly as explained as it is in the book.

I'm not one to say IT'S NOT LIKE THE BOOK I HATE IT, but in this case, some critical things were missed, and I'm skeptical of the next ones.

Also, this movie felt really long. How on EARTH are they making Allegiant into two movies? Just a thought.

What did you think of the movie? Have you seen it yet? If not, what are you most/least looking forward to about it?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Memory Key Review

The Memory Key by Liana Liu
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 368
Keywords: memories, family, secrets, government
Format Read: ARC via publisher (thanks!)
Goodreads | IndieBound
Lora Mint is determined not to forget.
Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return.
But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would. Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad—burying the truth forever?
I like this one. Mostly because of the intricacies in the background. I think it fits really well with the feel of the book. I'm not madly in love with it, but it does the job and fits with the book, so we're doing good.

This was different from your "average dystopia" read. I liked that it took a problem that we deal with today, an issue like families dealing with loved ones affected by Alzheimer's, and proposed a futuristic solution from the government. It was less removed and felt more real and more of something that could happen soon to us, which was an aspect I thought was really interesting and important.

Unfortunately, I had more issues with the book than points that I liked. The style of the narration was confusing to me. Most of the text was split 50/50 between Lora's actions in real time and inside Lora's memories and past trying to figure out what happened. However, these are mixed together in the text, only differentiated by italics. It switched back and forth so quickly that it was difficult to keep up, even with the type being different.
I also had an issue with the plot. I don't think we saw enough of how the memory chips were supposed to work prior to the accident that messed Lora's up. I didn't really get a feel for her life or her friends before everything changed, so it was difficult to gauge what was happening in the present because I wasn't sure of the difference between the two times.
I also think there were a few relationships that were just too weird/convenient/plot devices only. Her relationship with the boy from the nursing home seemed to only be there for plot, and I really couldn't figure out why she was talking to him or liked him in the first place if the whole time she really had a crush on someone else.
In general, most of the things that were happening just seemed to be gigantic neon signs that blinked PLOT DEVICE throughout the whole book.

I also saw right where the book was going. For a premise about memories and the fact that the government could control people's memory chips, I thought there was going to be a couple crazy twists at the end, but it was extremely predictable and I kind of saw right where everything would end up.

Exploring today's disease and a solution was really interesting, but the final product was not my favorite. Obvious plot movers and too much predictability were what made me ultimately decide this book wasn't one that I particularly enjoyed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Reshelved (7)

Welcome to back to Reshelved! This is an installment of books I didn't finish. I don't like to do full posts because it's not fair to the book for me to not like it and review it if I didn't finish it. So these just weren't for me, but I still want to give them publicity because maybe you all read them and thought differently or they sound spectacular to you. Let's discuss in the comments what you thought about these if you've read them, or why they sound good to you!

I also recently discovered (I don't know how I didn't know this before) that Jamie has a Reshelved feature where she talks about stuff she didn't get around to and stuff she put down! I always hate when people don't credit my features & posts, so you can go look at her reshelved posts!

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O'Brien
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Pages: 432
Keywords: photography, boarding school, television
Format Read: eARC via NetGalley
DNF at: 56%
Goodreads | IndieBound
The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success: every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the ridges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.
Part of this is a case of "I feel like I've read this before and I'm just not that into it" and part of it is an issue I've had with the book. Yes, it's no secret I'm a bit burnt out on the whole alternate-world dystopian future sort of thing. I've been trying to avoid books like that all together because I'm not in the right frame of mind to read them, but this one seemed different enough that I'd give it a shot. And the premise is great. Arts school that's also a reality show? Sign me up! But I made it almost 2/3 of the way through the book and I still feel like nothing has happened. So little has happened, in fact, that I ultimately decided I didn't care one way or the other what happened so I would just stop reading it. I wish I cared. But the plot was moving so slowly that I ultimately just lost interest.

Killer Cruise by Jennifer Shaw
Release Date: September 23, 2008
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 368
Keywords: summer, vacation, murder
Format Read: paperback
DNF at: page 50
Goodreads | IndieBound
Onboard facilities:
Pool 1, Caribbean Deck
Met hot crew member while soaking up the sun!
The Santorini Restaurant, Olympia Deck
Heard about last year's mysterious disappearance on board. What could have happened?
Movie Theater, Fiesta Deck
Still can't stand horror flicks. Too scary.
Paris Boutique, Panama Deck
Then again, so was my near-death fall overboard last night . . .
Glamorama Spa, Bermuda Deck
Must relax. No one's trying to kill me—I'm just being paranoid.
Club Paradise, Diablo Deck
But what if someone does want me dead?
I bought this book for a dollar from Book Outlet because it looked like a super fun, super fluffy summer mystery. I couldn't get past the stereotypical and superficial narrator. She was a sixteen-year-old on a cruise with her friends by herself, broke up with her boyfriend on a whim, and then got angry when he was partying with other people, even though she did that even before they broke up. She was whiny, irritating, and made no sense. I also was irritated by the amount of things I was asked to believe to make this plot believable. The ship didn't port after an actual murder took place, no one seemed worried, everything continued as normal, and no one seemed to check in on or care about the care of the kids trapped on a boat with a murderer. ?? I just couldn't do this one anymore, unfortunately.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Unlikable Main Characters

I've said it before: A highly unlikable main character does not ruin a book for me. In fact, I've read some really great and interesting books that feature MCs I didn't fall in love with. But their flaws were what made them real to me.

However, I recently finished a book that I really didn't like. And I've thought about this for a while — I finished the book well over a week ago and kept drafting a review, but I think I'm going to do a discussion-style post for this one. Here is the book in question.

How to Win at High School by Owen Matthews
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 528
Keywords: high school, popularity, drugs
Format Read: ARC via publisher (thanks!)
Goodreads | IndieBound
Adam Higgs is a loser, and he’s not okay with it. 
But starting as a junior in a new high school seems like exactly the right time to change things. He brainstorms with his best friend, Brian: What will it take for him to take over Nixon Collegiate? 
Adam searches for the A-listers’ weak spot and strikes gold when he gets queen bee Sara Bryant to pay him for doing her physics homework. One part nerd, two parts badass, Adam ditches his legit job and turns to full-time cheating. His clients? All the Nixon Collegiate gods and goddesses.
But soon his homework business becomes a booze business, which becomes a fake ID business. Adam’s popularity soars as he unlocks high school achievements left and right, from his first kiss to his first rebound hookup. But something else is haunting him—a dark memory from his past, driving him to keep climbing. What is it? And will he go too far?
So I put the book's summary above, but it's a little lengthy and I know some people may skip past it. The basic gist is that Adam is at a new school. And he's tired of being a loser. So he's on a mission to win high school and become king of school, or something. So he starts a homework business to get in good with the cool kids.

This book is written differently than most. Not really in verse, but not really in prose. It's a sort of stream of consciousness, broken thought paths voice. And it's interesting. I will say the book went quickly because some chapters were only a few lines long.

But here we arrive at the main problem: Adam was a deplorable character. He started out pretty bad, and this was expected. He's looking to make a change, and he's working on it, and things start to get busier and crazier and worse. He makes some poor decisions when it comes to his new and old friends, and that was all expected. But it didn't redeem anything for me. I didn't feel connected to Adam at all. He treated his brother horribly, his girlfriend horribly, his old friend from the other school horribly, and I just wasn't sure what the benefit of his actions were once they got so far.

It's at this point in the story when the bad decisions and the hatred of the character usually has some kind of reasoning behind it, and the reader can begin to understand why the character is behaving the way they are. This did not happen with Adam. I finished the book feeling confused more than satisfied, and I think this is what made me not like the book. By the end, Adam didn't seem to have learned anything or changed at all. Which is not totally necessary I suppose. But no one in the book changed at all either. There didn't seem to be any point to it other than to recount the tales of high school juniors for 528 pages and then simply be done. Poof. That's it.

So while I try to not let unlikeable main characters affect my opinion of the book, this one was too much. There was too much to hate about the character and no clear point as to what we were supposed to get out of the story for me to enjoy it. Sure, there were about 4 lines at the end with the "moral meaning" but it was forced and cheesy. So I ultimately really didn't enjoy this, and I'm a little sad I spent so much time reading this many pages.

What do you think about unlikeable characters? Does this affect how you read a book? Let's talk in the comments!