Review: Team Human

Team HumanTitle: Team Human
Author: Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 344
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Team Human works best if you are familiar with and have a fondness for vampires. Even though I’m only middling on both of those criteria, Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan did a great job of keeping my interest with Mel, their American Born Chinese protagonist.

What I find most fascinating about Mel is how, in a book from Cathy’s point of view, she would fit neatly into the Meddling Second Lead™ role. Most books and Korean television shows have trained me to despise such characters and their repeated attempts to break up True Love™, but I adored seeing the vampire romance play out from Mel’s point of view. The fact that Mel is motivated by genuine concern and fear for her friend (as opposed to romantic jealousy) helps a great deal in this regard. While I was occasionally annoyed by Mel’s insistence that she knew what was better for Cathy than Cathy did, I was still extremely sympathetic to her. In her place, I probably would have acted much the same after my best friend fell in love with and decided to become a vampire (which carried a 10% chance of death and a 10% chance of zombification) in a matter of weeks.

The other character standout was Kit, the vampire-raised human that Mel falls for. Kit’s backstory (and how some of his vampire family treated him) made me rather upset on his behalf and wishing for all sorts of bad fortune upon minor characters. Despite this, Kit was consistently a source of humor and awkward misunderstandings thanks to his lack of knowledge about human society. Some of these misunderstandings were brilliant and hilarious (kissing) and others were disappointingly easy to predict (promising to call).

The world building for this book was unexpectedly delightful, from therapists who deal with vampires who are having trouble transitioning to laws requiring smoked glass in all public buildings to block vampire-killing UV rays. I love that turning people into vampires is a regulated process requiring counseling and you-could-turn-into-a-zombie scare tactics. Mundane details like that really make this world feel like it could exist if vampires were real.

Unfortunately, the mystery surrounding Anna, her mother, and her missing father wasn’t something that held my attention very well. If Anna had been the narrator, I would have been more invested in it, but Mel was constantly distracted by getting in the way of True Love™ or establishing a loveline of her own. While I’m normally not much of a comedy person, I really wish that Team Human had focused more on the comedy/satire of the vampire genre and less on a mystery that I did not find compelling.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Ultimately, Team Human is a quick read, but it doesn’t have much staying power for me. It would be a great beach book for the last part of summer, especially if you are in the mood for some gentle mocking of vampire tropes.

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Review: A Moment Comes

moment
Title: A Moment Comes
Author: Jennifer Bradbury
Genres: Historical
Pages: 288
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Edelweiss
Availability: June 25, 2013

Summary: As the partition of India nears in 1947 bringing violence even to Jalandhar, Tariq, a Muslim, finds himself caught between his forbidden interest in Anupreet, a Sikh girl, and Margaret, a British girl whose affection for him might help with his dream of studying at Oxford. [cover image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The beautiful and colorful cover caught my eye immediately though it seemed to be trying to go for the exotic look with the peacock feather. Anupreet is beautiful, but of the three main characters, Tariq was actually the one whose story stood out to me. It might have been nice to have him on the cover.

Writing a book with three distinct points of view and sharing them equally is a challenge and I felt that Tariq stole the show. He is the one who seemed to go through the most inner turmoil and he grew and changed more than the others throughout the novel. All this is in addition to the fact that he is quite the attractive young man. Margaret was more of a bored white rich girl “type” and Anu hung back so much, it was hard to get to know them.

The story itself happens during the partitioning of India. This was a tumultuous and dangerous time. There is upheaval, fear, anger, and resentment from all sides. Readers without much background knowledge will still understand the story, but after finishing the book, they will probably be happy to read the author’s note at the end filling in some of the history surrounding the book.

There are many racial and religious tensions in the book as the British are backing away from this piece of their empire. It is interesting to see the reasons behind the slicing up of the county and the forced migration that occurs as a result. Having privileged one group over the other, the British had complicated the relationship between the Sikh and Muslim people.

In addition to the prescribed roles designated by race and religion, gender roles are another notable aspect of the story. Regardless of culture, the women have very specific roles and must not deviate or face serious consequences. Anu must be hidden away because of her beauty and is always protected. Elizabeth is allowed to be out and about, but in a very restricted manner and has very little choice in what she wears and does outside of her home though she gets away with things inside. She rails against her mother’s rules though by smoking, buying Indian clothing, and flirting with men she knows would not have her mother’s approval. She’s a bit of a rebel, but doesn’t stray too far. This all seems normal for the 1940s though.

I found the events and issues of the time pretty fascinating and wanted to know more, but wished that the story could have been in two voices in stead of three so I could get to know the characters a little better.

Recommendation: If you love historical fiction or are interested in India, you will want to get this soon, but otherwise, borrow it someday.

 

 

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Review: Beauty

beauty
Title: Beauty
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 208
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: Purchased Kindle version
Availability: May 7, 2013

Summary: Ana is nothing like her glamorous mother, Queen Veda, whose hair is black as ravens and whose lips are red as roses. Alas, Queen Veda loathes anyone whose beauty dares to rival her own—including her daughter. And despite Ana’s attempts to be plain to earn her mother’s affection, she’s sent away to the kingdom’s exclusive boarding school. At the Academy, Ana is devastated when her only friend abandons her for the popular girls. Isolated and alone, Ana resolves to look like a true princess to earn the acceptance she desires. But when she uncovers the dangerous secret that makes all of the girls at the Academy so gorgeous, just how far will Ana go to fit in? — image and summary via Goodreads

Review: What is beauty really? Is it smooth skin, fabulous bone structure, silky hair and bright eyes? Is makeup an essential part of beauty? And above all — what is beauty worth? These are some of the questions that came up for me throughout this fairy tale retelling. Initially when I saw the title, I thought maybe this was a Beauty and the Beast story, but instead, the book is a Snow White story and centers on the importance placed on beauty.

Some of my favorite novels are retellings of fairy tales. Retellings are often excellent because original fairy tales often have very flat characters and are mostly about the plot. Novels allow plenty of time and space for readers to get to know the characters well and see new aspects of the old tales. They feel familiar, but not boring and worn out, since  authors add their own twists to the story or think up unique explanations for events.

In Beauty, Ohlin focuses quite a bit on the glamorous Queen Veda. She doesn’t have a mirror on the wall, but does have a beauty consultant who is an audience for her beauty and acts as a mirror. There are several interesting additions to the story (that I won’t share for fear of spoiling them), but I felt that the characters still were not fully formed and developed. We meet Ana and realize that she doesn’t want to outshine her mother, but other than that and her interest in history, we don’t learn all that much about her. Queen Veda is also very one dimensional. Yes, she is hyper focused on beauty, but that is pretty much all we know about her. It would seem that a fully developed character would also have some positives to note. There are no gray areas here and I found myself looking for them in vain.

I did appreciate the way the book led me to contemplation of beauty and of war. A standout line is “War is what human beings do to each other when their is no morality left.” This was way more of a thinking book than I had anticipated. I just didn’t feel like I got to know the characters all that well.

If fairy tale retellings are your thing, you should borrow it someday, but otherwise, you may want to skip this one. Some other fairy tale retellings I would recommend are Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Ash by Malinda Lo, and Beast by Donna Jo Napoli.

Extras:
Read an excerpt
Blog Tour and Giveaway

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Review: Flowers in the Sky

flowers in the skyTitle: Flowers in the Sky
Author: Lynn Joseph
Genres: Realistic fiction, contemporary
Pages: 232
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review copy: friendly local library
Availability: March 5, 2013

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Nina Perez is faced with a future she never expected. She must leave her Garden of Eden, her lush home in the Dominican Republic, when she’s sent by her mother to seek out a better life with her brother in New York. As Nina searches for some glimpse of familiarity amid the jarring world of Washington Heights, she must uncover her own strength. She learns to uncover roots within foreign soil and finds a way to grow, just like the orchids that blossom on her fire escape. And when she is confronted by ugly secrets about her brother’s business, she comes to understand the realities of life in this new place. But then she meets him-that green-eyed boy- who she can’t erase from her thoughts, the one who just might help her learn to see beauty in spite of tragedy. (Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I have to be honest — I borrowed this book because of its gorgeous cover. I mean, look at it! Those orchids, that blurred background, the italicized title — it’s like one of those artsy pictures on tumblr with the inspirational quote in the middle (“the road to love takes many paths”). Props to jacket designer Erin Fitzsimmons.

From the very beginning, you are awash with a sense of the bittersweet. The protagonist Nina Perez does not want to leave her “seaside home in Samana on the north coast where the humpback whales come every winter and fill Samana Bay with miracles and tourists” (1). She has every reason to love her home in the Dominican Republic, a place brimming with sunlight and blooming life. Nina is the flower girl and she belongs there. The chapters set in Samana are truly beautiful.

The first person narration allows you to view New York through Nina’s eyes as an immigrants unused to city life. While Nina’s perspective makes her plight easily understood, it does little to explain her sudden love interest. To me, it felt like the romance split the narrative into two parallel stories. There is the story of Nina, the flower girl who adapts to New York and grows strong enough to recognize the desperation of her brother. Her strength and independence manifests itself in the orchids blooming on her fire escape. And then there is the story of Nina, the helpless girl who needs her green-eyed love to rush in and carry her off on his trusty white steed. (Seriously, the guy has a white jeep.) The sibling dynamic between Nina and her brother is compelling enough to drive the story forward and I wish it had gotten the attention it deserved.

For the most part, Flowers in the Sky lives up to its title. The story and the floral theme work together to conjure up an image of orchids struggling to flourish in the sky — it’s a poem in the guise of a novel.

Recommendation: Borrow it sometime if you see it in the library. (If lover-to-the-rescue isn’t your thing, maybe skip it.) It’s a short, sweet read.

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Review: Tiger Lily

Title: Tiger Lilytigerlily
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 292
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Copy: Purchased from Amazon
Availability: Paperback available July 2nd. (Hardcover on shelves now!)

Summary: Before Neverland faded into myth, it was a remote and dangerous island filled with deadly mermaids, psychotic pirates, and watchful faeries. And before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair . . . Tiger Lily.

When fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily meets the alluring teenage Peter deep in the forbidden woods, the two form a bond that’s impossible to break, but also impossible to hold on to. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. With her betrothal to another man and deadly enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies lurk inside even the most loyal and loving heart. (image via Goodreads, summary via Amazon)

Review: It was a chilly afternoon when I discovered Tiger Lily, a re-telling of the classical Peter Pan. I was excited to read the book, especially knowing that the novel would focus on Tiger Lily’s, a character who is often treated with  disrespect. I found the concept to be unique, interesting and worthy of my time. I thought Anderson’s decision to re-tell Peter Pan from a different perspective, one from a character of color, was a bold move. I applauded her, in fact.

 
And then I read the novel. I wish I could say that Tiger Lily lived up to my expectations. I wish I could say that Anderson treated the voice of a character of color with sensitivity and distinction. I wish a lot of things, but unfortunately the novel I imagined, is not the novel that I actually read.

 
Anderson had a wonderful opportunity to give voice to one of classical literature’s most misunderstood characters and instead of narrating her novel from Tiger Lily’s point of view, she choose to use Tinkerbell. Now, I love Tinkerbell, do not get me wrong, but the emotional impact of Tiger Lily’s story would have stronger if the reader was in her head during the entire novel. Anderson explains that Tinkerbell is able to understand Tiger Lily’s thoughts because the little fairy empathetic and can read the changes of the heart and mind. Interesting concept, unfortunately, this makes Tinkerbell an unreliable narrator. Because the reader cannot trust Tinkerbell, our perception of Tiger Lily and the decisions she makes is warped.

 
Tinkerbell makes many assumptions about Tiger Lily and is often unsure of her motives, especially when Tiger Lily makes a very out of character decision in regards to Peter. I feel that if the reader was privy to Tiger Lily’s thoughts in that moment, understood her motivation, I wouldn’t have been angry at the character. Instead, I felt like some of the choices Tiger Lily makes is for convenience of the story and not very true to the character – solely because of Tinkerbell’s narration.

 
Choosing to use Tinkerbell as the narrator, instead of Tiger Lily, also brings up the very fact that another character of color’s voice was muted. This simple fact makes me quite angry. In 2013 when the call for more diversity in YA literature by readers and authors is getting louder, to have the opportunity to write outside of one’s comfort zone and write a strong character of color, but don’t, is heartbreaking. Anderson had a wonderful opportunity to push her own personal writing boundaries, to give voice to a people not usually heard from and she chose to not take it. Instead, the novel often times feels like a National Geographic special where the colonists are observing the natives and making assumptions based on the people’s actions. Tiger Lily did not end up being a distinct character and ended up being more of a stereotype/stock character.

Despite using Tinkerbell as the narrator, Tiger Lily is still an entertaining read. Anderson does create a world that fits into our previous knowledge of Neverland, while being different and wholelly her own. Her Captain Hook and Mr. Smee are not entirely one note characters, and she does turn Wendy into a character that one loves to despise. To me, Anderson has an unfinished story here and while Tiger Lily is good, Anderson needed to go the extra mile to make it great.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday.

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