Review: Various Positions by Martha Schabas

Mar
02
5 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 2 stars, Contemporary

Book: Various Positions
Author: Martha Schabas
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release date: February 14, 2012
Source: ARC received from Debut Author Challenge ARC Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Trapped between the hormone-driven world of her friends and the discontent of her dysfunctional family, fourteen-year-old Georgia is only completely at ease when she’s dancing. When she is accepted into Canada’s preeminent ballet school, Georgia thinks it is the perfect escape. Artistic Director Roderick Allen singles her out as a star, subjecting her to increasingly intensive training, and Georgia obsesses about becoming the perfect, disciplined student. But as she spends more and more time with Roderick, it’s not so clear exactly what their relationship means. Is he her teacher and mentor, or is there something more? These blurred lines will threaten both Roderick’s future at the academy and Georgia’s ambitions as a ballerina.

First impressions: The prologue in this book is incredibly necessary. I know some people hate them, but here it is absolutely vital to our understanding of what is to come. This is not just a ballet book. This is going to get dark, and sexual. If anything about the prologue bothers you – STOP READING.

Lasting impressions: I considered not rating this book at all, because I had such ambivalent feelings about it. Parts of it were interesting in a Black Swan kind of way, but the story meandered without much purpose for large chunks of the book.

Conflicting impressions: What was Georgia’s goal? That’s a huge question to have dangling over the entire book. I never got an answer.

Overall impressions: I am a former ballerina. I love books and movies and TV shows about ballet. I was really excited to read this book, but I very quickly realized that it had nothing to do with ballet. The ballet school serves as a setting only, and as perhaps an extension of Georgia’s slightly obsessive-compulsive personality. She is a ballet dancer because she is, and that’s supposed to be good enough for us.

Once I got past that initial disappointment, I found the teaser from the prologue to be an interesting dangling carrot. We know sweet and innocent Georgia is going to meet someone at ballet school and seduce them. What I found strange by the end of the book, and I still can’t figure it out, is that the prologue scene never reappears in the book, nor does it fit with the actual sequence of events. Was it a dream? A fantasy? Did any of it really happen? I was looking for the payoff from the prologue, and wound up with a drastically different ending than I expected.

Georgia is only 14 years old, and I found her voice inconsistent. At times she felt much, much older and at other times she seemed naive and juvenile (as I would expect from a sheltered 14 year old). Her actions snowballed rather quickly, and over the course of only a few months she experiences a kind of sexual awakening that seemed suspiciously quick. Teenagers experience a whole host of emotions and thoughts about sex that are all over the map, but Georgia goes from zero to 60 and shows no signs of stopping. I’m not sure that’s going to resonate well with teen readers.

I didn’t find Georgia’s actions to be as disturbing as some other reviewers did, but the one aspect of the book that made me uncomfortable was that the reader had to essentially root for Georgia to act on her feelings for her teacher. To my mind, that’s the only goal Georgia was trying to achieve throughout the book, and it was weird to be dragged along on this escapade.

She expresses no thoughts on becoming a grand ballerina, doesn’t focus on the future in the slightest, and makes no effort to do anything besides passively fall in with a group of outgoing classmates and find time to be alone with her teacher. I desperately wanted Georgia to DO something or WANT something, but instead she simply reports on things as they happened. I didn’t understand how her family dynamic impacted the plot, and they gave us very little additional insight into her character.

At the end of the day, I must admit that I simply didn’t get the point of the book. It was an interesting, bizarre, dark little story that is recommended only for older readers.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Dec
31
2 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 2 stars, Fantasy

Book: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: February 28, 2012
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephewâ??s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

First impressions: The initial scenes in this book are dark, futuristic, and set up the conflict surrounding the world. Aria and some friends break into a compound in their city of Reverie, where everyone stays indoors for fear of disease and death in the atmosphere outside and communicates through SmartEye devices that allow virtual interaction in various imagined worlds. When the break-in goes horribly awry, Aria finds herself in danger and is saved by a tattooed tribal man from the outside real world, although this has even more profound consequences.

Lasting impressions: I think some more information on the rules of these worlds and societies would have made this reading experience more enjoyable. Though the mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements seemed interesting at first, by the end it all seemed like too many different ideas thrown into a giant mixing bowl, muddying the entire concept.

Conflicting impressions: If you’re going to have a book about two characters falling in love, it helps if they have chemistry. I did not connect at all with either Aria or Perry, so their love story became something of a snooze.

Overall impressions: I’m having the hardest time pinpointing what it is that didn’t work for me in this book. There were lots of individual elements that were interesting and exciting – the stormy Aether atmosphere, the Blood Lords and the tribal sensory enhancements, the Dwellers and their futuristic SmartEyes – but somehow when it all got put together it created a book that got bogged down by the weight of all of these Big Ideas.

Aria is a nice enough main character. She’s strong, gets by mostly without complaining, despite some pretty awful situations. Perry is more interesting in that he has this heightened sense of smell and is constantly at odds with his Blood Lord brother. He spends most of the book nobly trying to save his nephew, but treats Aria pretty brusquely. I knew at some point these characters were going to fall in love, because that’s the way things work in books, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they would want to be together. They didn’t seem to connect in any realistic way.

At the end there are some reveals that are a bit predictable, and set up some action for the future, but overall this book didn’t pack enough punch for me. I didn’t have enough information to fully invest in either the characters or the worlds they were fighting, so it ended up falling a bit flat.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Book: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: September 29, 2011
Source: ARC received for review from Around the World Tours
Series: Companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss
 
Summary: (from Goodreads) Budding designer Lola Nolan doesnâ??t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit – more sparkly, more fun, more wild – the better. But even though Lolaâ??s style is outrageous, sheâ??s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket – a gifted inventor – steps out from his twin sisterâ??s shadow and back into Lolaâ??s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

First impressions: Lola is such a refreshingly unique character! Stephanie Perkins nails the teen voice yet again.

Lasting impressions: Though I didn’t connect with this story as much as Perkins’ first novel, Anna and the French Kiss, there were elements I liked much better in this tale.

Conflicting impressions: At times Lola was written so convincingly teenaged that she became unbearably frustrating.

Overall impressions: Lola is a girl with a love of costume. She chooses to express herself in vastly different ways every day through a variety of interesting fashion pieces and wigs. It’s a chance to be someone new. I loved this quirk of hers – I suppose you could call it a personal philosophy – and it gave us an instant sense of who she is.

Lola has typical teenager problems. She’s dating a boy her parents think is too old for her, leading to insufferable weekly brunches where they grill him about his life goals. He’s in a band, has tattoos, and they are in love. Or at least they think they are.

Lola is the daughter of two gay parents, a nice touch that introduces a new dynamic in YA literature as far as relating to parents goes. Perkins does a lovely job of reinforcing the fact that gay parents are just like anyone else’s parents – at times too restrictive, sometimes embarrassing, and always loving. The wrench in this relationship is that Lola’s birth mother appears from time to time, always one step away from being homeless and never owning up to her poor choices due to drinking and drug abuse. While I loved the role of Lola’s parents, I never felt the relationship with her mother was fully developed and I didn’t get how it served the story.

Of course you’re probably wondering who is this mysterious boy next door, right? Cricket, and his twin sister, Calliope, are Lola’s next door neighbors who come and go due to Calliope’s competitive figure skating. There is some history between Lola and the Bell twins, and Perkins slowly unfurls that complicated history as Lola tries to deal with it.

For those of you who have read Anna and the French Kiss, Lola’s love triangle between her boyfriend and the boy next door felt like Etienne St. Clair trying to decide between his girlfriend and Anna. In fact, at one point Lola even has a conversation with Etienne about this very topic. As much as I wish we didn’t have a re-hash of the “I already have a boyfriend and I love him but I also kind of love you tooooo!” arc, I recognize that this is fairly typical for teenagers. When you’re young, relationships seem both eternal and frivolous at once. You think you’ve found The One, and it’s hard to let go, even if you recognize that you like this other person, too.

I was disappointed at how much Lola strung along poor Cricket, though. He was a saint for hanging in as long as he did, sort of like Anna did with Etienne, and I never fully understood what was holding Lola back. There never seemed to be too much of a conflict in ditching the boyfriend who seemed to be moving on without her, yet she still clung to him. Sure, he was her first love, but Cricket seemed like the obvious choice and that she enjoyed spending time with him far more than she did with band boy.

This is a cute romance with fresh characters, a hip San Francisco setting, and lots of teen indecision. It’s a great read if you’re looking for some light refreshment in a market flooded with dark, brooding paranormal fare.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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