Saturday, February 23, 2013

Jennifer's Book Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

 

Most people have reasonable fears – like clowns – but because of the horror stories Astrid’s mother, Lilith, told her as a child, Astrid has always had a fear of unicorns. Lilith claims the terrifying stories about man-eating unicorns are true, and their family is descended from a long line of unicorn hunters who went into retirement after the beasts went extinct more than a hundred years ago. So when a unicorn attacks Astrid’s boyfriend, Brandt, Astrid is surprised to learn her mother isn’t entirely crazy about the whole unicorn hunter thing. Lilith packs off a reluctant Astrid and sends her to Italy to hone her warrior-girl skills. The only people who can be unicorn hunters are virgin girl descendants of Alexander the Great. Why Alexander the Great? Because he tamed one of the biggest unicorns ever, of course. Why virgin girls? Because when they are no longer pure, they lose their special hunter abilities around unicorns. Duh. (Oh, and the smallest of unicorns, zhis, attack anyone who isn’t a virgin Alexander spawn on sight. But they’re like goat-sized puppies for the virgins. Because that totally makes sense.)

I loved and hated this book. Why the love? Killer unicorns! Five kinds of man-eating, violent, intelligent unicorns. This made Rampant different. Show me another book about killer unicorns. Can’t think of one? Neither can I. Forget sparkly vampires, angsty teens in dystopias and angels falling in love with humans – the protagonist in this book was destined to hunt unicorns who like their meat raw, bloody and a bit human. (They are known to kill farm animals, pets and other wildlife when humans aren’t readily available, though.) The book was a quick, easy read, and I was so invested that I finished it in one sitting. While I was reading it, I enjoyed every last bit. It’s filled with action, a bit of romance (destined to be chaste, of course), and an original premise. The flow is steady and never drags.

And the hate? A few things were a bit odd and never fully explained. A pharmaceutical company is financing the new hunter school (in a convent, because virgins). The company would like to find the recipe to a magical, mythical cure-all called Remedy so it could make gazillions. But then we discover the company is somehow hampering the girls, too, which makes little sense. Why pay for them to train, but then get in their way (including paying guys to deflower them, which results in an off-page date-rape for Astrid’s cousin)? The pharmaceutical company is a convenient villain, but its reasoning behind its actions is flimsy and never fully fleshed out.

The majority of characters in Rampant are one-dimensional, and none of them really develop any personality of their own. (Astrid, her cousin, Philippa, and another hunter, Cory, are the main exceptions.) The best character in the book is the zhi Bonegrinder, a tame unicorn that the girls basically inherited after Cory killed the zhi’s family. (In all fairness, the other unicorns in the family killed Cory’s mom.) But even Bonegrinder’s presence is a bit weird – why would anyone choose to keep it around knowing it is part of the reason Cory’s mother died?

My least favorite character? Lilith. Astrid’s mother is a crazy woman. Even when her unicorn theories are proven right because of the return of the carnivorous beasts, she’s fanatical and a bit witchy with a B. She’s convinced her daughter is destined to become a great hunter, and she’s willing to let a few other teens and tweens die because, hey, people die in this business. She even blames her own niece for getting raped (yay blame the victim!), which is just disgusting. And our protagonist never stands up to her mother, even when she knows that Lilith is putting them all in danger.

Cory’s cousin Philippa, a.k.a Phil, is a bit odd herself. She flew to join the hunters on her own, partly with the idea that she could convince them to treat unicorns like endangered animals (protection and relocation versus killing them). Joining a group of girls who are training to kill the unicorns doesn’t seem like the best way to do this, but whatever. Phil overlooks the fact that unicorns not only eat people, but actively seek out hunters and kill anyone who happens to be with them. Sometimes unicorns don’t kill people to eat them, but instead murder them just for fun. Nature’s own serial killers. But Phil drops the preservation idea like a hot potato about halfway through the book, and it’s never revisited. It would have been better if it had never even existed, honestly.

It may sound like the negatives outweigh the positives in Rampant, but they really don’t unless you overthink it (like I obviously did). It’s a fun, easy-breezy read, and it’s a great book to recommend to fans of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal romances – especially if they’re tired of reading the same story about fairies, vampires, angels and werewolves over and over. Even with all of its faults, I look forward to reading the sequel Ascendant.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Introducing Kellie!

There’s a new face at the Inman Branch! Meet Kellie, our newest Teen/Tween Assistant.

 

  

HOMETOWN: Inman, SC

 
THEN WHAT: Clemson, SC then back to Inman,SC

 
FAMILY: Justin (husband), Oscar and Ariel (cats)

 
HOBBIES: Dancing, Writing, Reading, Running, Video Gaming, DIY Projects

 
FAVORITE QUOTE:
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” - Isak Dinesen

 
FAVORITE TEEN BOOKS: Graceling by Kristen Cashore, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano

 
FAVORITE NON-TEEN BOOKS: One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash, The Host by Stephanie Meyer

 
RECENTLY READ:  City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Travis' Book Review: Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer

 

Chris Colfer, famous for his role on the television show, Glee, is proving himself to be a triple-threat talent. Not only did he write and star in the movie adaptation of Struck By Lightning, he wrote the book. Normally, the whole movie to book scenario is a big literary turnoff – I mean it is one thing to turn a novel into a mediocre movie, but another to turn a movie into mediocre book. Since Colfer wrote the film and the novel, however, I decided to give this book a shot. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

 

Struck By Lightning is the story of Carson Phillips, a self-righteous teen that knows exactly how he wants his life after high school to end up – far away from the small town of Clover, a “place where the pockets are small and the minds even smaller.” To be more specific, Carson will be attending Northwestern University before getting published in the New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and eventually becoming the editor of The New Yorker. His goals are lofty, yes, but unlike everyone else in his small town, he is focused on his ambition and will do anything to reach his goals – which starts with being accepted into Northwestern. Getting accepted into his dream school, however, is going to be a bit more difficult than he thought. Being the editor of a school paper and head of the writing club (of which he is the only real member) is not enough to ensure his acceptance. If Carson is to be accepted, he needs to find a way to prove that he is a leader and capable of inspiring others. He decides to create a literary journal of works written by the popular kids, but the problem is that they all hate him (because he is a bit of a jerk). When Carson starts uncovering the popular kids’ secrets, though, he decides to use his knowledge to blackmail them into writing for him.

 

Struck By Lightning isn’t trying to tread any new grounds when it comes to portraying the high school dynamic. Each of the popular kids that Carson targets is a representation of one of the common social classes of high school. The targets consist of Clair, the head cheerleader; Remy, the yearbook editor; Justin, the captain of the football team; Scott, the Drama Club president; and Nicholas, the son of the richest family in town. There is also the goth girl, the stoner boy, and the foreign exchange student. Colfer doesn’t really give any of them an individualized characterization, but rather chains them down to their common stereotypes. The most unfortunate instance of this unflattering characterization is with Malerie, a sweet but very misguided girl that really tries to work with Carson. Unfortunately, Colfer portrays her as if she is an idiot because she is constantly plagiarizing books to pass off as her own, often starting her works with lines like, “Call me Ishmael,” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By the end of the book, Malerie had actually written The Hunger Games and an Adele album. The concept is funny, yes, but they are also evidence of lost potential. Colfer wrote the script for the film before he wrote the book, and in film, some characters can be a little more vague and undeveloped. Literature is less forgiving.

 

Despite the character flaws, the novel is still both funny, refreshing, and an overall joy to read. Most of Colfer’s witty commentary on the high school dynamic is spot on, and there are plenty of pop-cultural references just ambiguous enough for the reader to feel smart for understanding. I mean, who makes a Dante’s Peak reference in 2012? Colfer even has the audacity to write a reference to his Glee character, which seems a bit egotistical, but fits right in with his, and Carson’s, tone. Ultimately, the writing does branch beyond social commentary and sarcasm. Carson is forced to face the moral consequences of his actions, often struggling with the idea of hurting others and using others to achieve his own goals. In the end, it turns out that each character is searching for his or her own form of acceptance – be it accepted by parents, peers, or society. Carson’s strive for acceptance is just a little more tangible. The writer is also not without his moments of simple brilliance, expressing ideas like, “the higher your cloud, the farther your rain falls,” and,I never planned to fail, so I failed to plan.” The writer is also not without use of foul language. Parents and younger teens may shy away from the “f-bomb,” but Colfer certainly does not. That said, I would highly recommend this book to fans of Chris Colfer’s character on Glee, as well as older teens and adults looking for a fast, fun, and thoughtful read. 

Emily's Book Review: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

 

Can a fifteen year old girl and a twenty-one year old boy ever find the equal ground necessary to form a real relationship?  Is such a relationship inherently creepy or can it make sense, given certain circumstances?  These are the questions Love and Other Perishable Items examines in a smart, engaging story that combines all the things I love in a book.  This book is a realistic love story that goes beyond the touchy-feely and gets into the meat of characters’ lives and hearts and what draws them together.  It’s funny, it’s well written, and it draws a clear and detailed backdrop for the characters’ romance to play out.  I read a review of this book several weeks ago and mostly forgot about it, so I’m glad I didn’t miss it when it appeared on our shelves.

 

Amelia is a barely fifteen-year old Australian girl who begins working at Coles Supermarket for extra spending money, and Chris is the poor but charismatic college student she quickly falls for there.  He charms all his female co-workers at Coles, but readers get a hint that he may have more than friendly feelings for Amelia when he abruptly buys her a bouquet of marked-down flowers at close on Christmas Eve.  When the book transitions into Chris’s own journal, we find that he doesn’t understand why he did this any more than Amelia does, but his thoughts about her seem to grow by the page as she appears more and more in his writing.  He is amused by her angry diatribes about everything from her parents’ smoking habit to Great Expectations, and he is impressed by the way she has the motives of everyone else who works at the supermarket figured out perfectly.  Yet, when he lists “The Field” in his quest for a perfect woman, he never includes Amelia because of her young age.

 

A lot of things about this book appealed to me.  First of all, I loved that it is set in Australia.  Realistic fiction set in another country is always an interesting change, even if I did get a little confused at first with Christmas taking place in the summer.  As always, I loved the international slang.  I also thought it was genius that Buzo decided to make a supermarket the main setting of this novel.  A part-time retail job is one of the few places where Amelia and Chris can be equals.  It doesn’t matter so much that he is in college and she is in high school when they have the same position at Coles, and it is one of the few places where a high school student and a college student could have become friends in the first place.  I couldn’t decide at first if I liked the inclusion of Chris’s journals in the book—mostly because they turn him from a twenty-one year old dreamboy into a mildly alcoholic slob—but ultimately, the story wouldn’t have been the same without them.  In them, we see Amelia turn Chris into a better man, and it’s especially cool when their conversations about family life, feminism, and the books Amelia reads at school are all woven together in letters they write to one another.

 
I would recommend this book to fans of realistic fiction and those who like romance that goes beyond the surface level.  Fans of Megan McCafferty and Sarah Dessen should be intrigued and will hope that Buzo continues to publish books in the same vein as this one.