Pros and Cons / Highly Illogical Behavior

Hi friends!Pros and ConsHow’s life? And the far more pressing question: what are you currently reading? I’m wrapping up Wild for an extra credit assignment, and I have just a few more chapters in Wuthering Heights, the second of two books I have for summer reading, to finish before I can treat myself to Morgan Matson’s The Unexpected Everything. Of course, I do hope to carve out time to watch the movie versions of both books this week too! Meanwhile, my back-to-school preparations – everything from designing binder covers to scheduling and coordinating meetings – have kept fall on my mind, though I do have a few more reviews I want to share before the summer officially comes to a close. First up? My thoughts on  John Corey Whaley’s recent publication Highly Illogical Behavior.

Highly Illogical Behavior

Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college {she’s being realistic}. But is ambition alone enough to get her in?

Enter Lisa. Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol, and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same. {Goodreads}

A well-drawn and fleshed-out set of characters I first discovered John Corey Whaley’s novels on a whim, grabbing Noggin, its eye-catching cover and all, after reading about it on another book blog. I’m so glad I did, for his dynamic characters and interesting storylines converted me from a curious reader to a lifelong fan. His writing only improves here in his third novel, which follows the friendship between an agoraphobic teen and an overachieving student. The growth is noticed best in the characters: Solomon, who I thought to be an utter sweetheart; Lisa, who is equally compelling as she is driven; Clark, who proves the YA world needs more easy-going guys; and Solomon’s family members, all of whom have a distinctive trait of their own. They each stand individually as terrific character studies, but their vibrant friendship, with its messy crushes and awkward first meetings, is simply the cherry on top.

A balance between the humorous and the bittersweet While there is a certain sadness throughout the plot, the emotion doesn’t overwhelm the story thanks to Whaley’s humorous writing style. Solomon cracks dry, sarcastic jokes throughout, and the numerous references to nerdy programs of pop culture add to the book’s charm. Even Lisa’s ambitious plot to get into college {a misguided plan at best, a manipulative idea at worst} has a certain lightness to it despite the very real and very relatable topics Whaley covers, among them social anxiety and first relationships. The balance between the two is difficult to strike, much less excel at, but it’s quickly becoming Whaley’s specialty.

A unique take on the coming of age narrative Finally, the synopsis might lead potential readers to think the story focuses solely on the bond between Solomon, Lisa, and Clark, but in all truth, it’s just as much of a tale of Solomon finding confidence in himself. A coming-of-age story is not new to the genre, but by use of Solomon’s fear of the outside world, Whaley allows his novel to stand apart from the crowd. Furthermore, the intensity of the story doesn’t hit readers until the book has been put down and one can fully recognize the significance of Solomon taking a step outside his front door.

+ Though a solid story all-around, the book could be longer, allowing for further development This is a rare complaint – too often do books drag on rather than the opposite – but I think Highly Illogical Behavior could have benefitted from being longer. The pace is fast, and it moved so quickly that I was able to fly through the book in a single afternoon. Fortunately, Whaley keeps things tight enough that the length is not so much a glaring error as it is a request for more time with Solomon, Lisa, and Clark. If it’s more of Whaley’s writing that I desire, however, I won’t have to wait long – I already have Where Things Come Back on hold at the library. I’ll be reading it soon!

Have a wonderful start to your week! :)

Pros and Cons / Poison is Not Polite

Hello!Pros and ConsWhen it comes to my middle grade reads, I’m all about the mystery genre. From the fast-paced, high-action adventures of Spy School to the suspenseful, puzzling cases of The Red Blazer Girls, mysteries, I’ve found, are an easy cure for any and all reading slumps. Poison is Not Polite, the charming sequel to Robin Stevens’ Murder is Bad Manners, is the latest to join my long list of favorites, proving yet again that sometimes all a burnt-out bookworm needs is a good story with which to spend the afternoon. I wanted to sneak in a review before the month came to a close, but before I do, let me ask: what are you currently reading?

Poison is Not Polite

A tea party takes a poisonous turn, leaving Daisy and Hazel with a new mystery to solve in the second novel of the Wells & Wong Mystery series.

Schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the holidays. Daisy’s glamorous mother is throwing a tea party for Daisy’s birthday, and the whole family is invited, from eccentric Aunt Saskia to dashing Uncle Felix. But it soon becomes clear that this party isn’t about Daisy after all—and she is furious. But Daisy’s anger falls to the wayside when one of their guests falls seriously and mysteriously ill—and everything points to poison. It’s up to Daisy and Hazel to find out what’s really going on.

With wild storms preventing everyone from leaving, or the police from arriving, Fallingford suddenly feels like a very dangerous place to be. Not a single person present is what they seem—and everyone has a secret or two. And when someone very close to Daisy begins to act suspiciously, the Detective Society does everything they can to reveal the truth… no matter the consequences. {Goodreads}

Inspiring, distinct young sleuths The enthusiastic Daisy Wells and the inquisitive Hazel Wong are faced with quite the case: what to do when a dinner guest falls sick and dies? Anyone else would call the authorities, but Daisy and Hazel, detectives they are, decide to look for the truth themselves. Their friendship could be overlooked in favor of moving the mystery along were it not for Stevens’ talent in characterization; her main characters come off as a relatable pair of best friends, albeit a pair with a knack for solving cases, rather than the other way around.

A colorful and well-developed ensemble cast of characters Daisy and Hazel are joined by many family members and friends who have just as significant of a role in shaping the story: Aunt Saskia, who has a secret up her sleeve, Miss Alston, who doesn’t act like the governess she claims to be, and Lord Hastings, who has a fondness for bad jokes, among others. This eccentric ensemble plays a pivotal part in the mystery – they all have motives, only some have alibis – and their different personalities add yet another layer to the whodunit. Furthermore, though the number of characters first seems overwhelming, Stevens takes care to develop each supporting member with as much care as she does Daisy and Hazel.

An engaging, if somewhat predictable, mystery From the classic red herrings to the gloomy, anything-could-happen weather, this story is an homage to traditional mysteries à la Agatha Christie or Clue. With or without the well-written case, I could easily see budding detectives and avid readers devouring this book in one sitting, but even I found it hard to put it down once I was invited into Fallingford Mansion – a testament to the novel’s addictive nature if I ever saw one. In addition, what the mystery lacks in shock-factor is further made up with in its final scene, where Stevens brings the case to a realistic close while also setting the foundation for the next adventure of Daisy and Hazel.

An abundance of charm and humor As she does in Book One, Stevens weaves her trademark British charm throughout the narrative, a task easier said than done with such dreary topics as arsenic poisoning, sudden death, and old mansions. It’s a delicate balance to walk, but Stevens does it with little issue, writing from the eyes of Hazel in a case-book style. It’s a subtle technique, but the resulting, humorous quips are too charming to escape notice. For added smiles, Hazel shares British terms and phrases that may be unrecognizable to American readers in a glossary – it, in addition to the Wells Family Tree, is a delightful treat that only deepens my love for all things Wells and Wong.

+ Use of a common setting and plot makes it less memorable than the first book Finally, the only area where I believe the book falters is in its memorability. Poison is Not Polite uses a number of common mystery tropes – too much? – that I fear it loses the impact of the first book. It’s a minor complaint in an otherwise excellent read, one that I’ve already begun recommending to friends. Meanwhile, I’ll be awaiting the release of the third book, First Class Murder; April couldn’t come soon enough.

Have the most wonderful Thursday!

Pros and Cons / The Gospel of Winter

Hi!Pros and ConsLong time, no see, my friends! Thank you for sticking with me during my brief hiatus; it was just what I needed as I finished out the trimester. I return to school today with an all-academic schedule to look forward to {I swap out yearbook for pre-calculus}, but after a leisurely, decidedly springy weekend, I can’t complain: homework was light, warm weather was in abundance, and new books were aplenty! I have a number of library check-outs to attend to, but, in the meantime, I thought I’d kick off the week with a review of Brendan Kiely’s The Gospel of Winter. What are you currently reading? How was your weekend?

The Gospel of Winter

A fearless debut novel about the restorative power of truth and love after the trauma of abuse.

As sixteen-year-old Aidan Donovan’s fractured family disintegrates around him, he searches for solace in a few bumps of Adderall, his father’s wet bar, and the attentions of his local priest, Father Greg—the only adult who actually listens to him.

When Christmas hits, Aidan’s world collapses in a crisis of trust when he recognizes the darkness of Father Greg’s affections. He turns to a crew of new friends to help make sense of his life: Josie, the girl he just might love; Sophie, who’s a little wild; and Mark, the charismatic swim team captain whose own secret agonies converge with Aidan’s.

The Gospel of Winter maps the ways love can be used as a weapon against the innocent—but can also, in the right hands, restore hope and even faith. Brendan Kiely’s unflinching and courageous debut novel exposes the damage from the secrets we keep and proves that in truth, there is power. And real love. {Goodreads}

+ Gripping, relevant story on a topic not often seen in YA The movie Spotlight recently snagged the Best Picture award at this year’s Oscars ceremony. The title was well-deserved, as the acting was phenomenal, the directing superb, and the story both true and engrossing. When I picked up The Gospel of Winter, I hadn’t realized that it focused on the same event, the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal first reported in Boston, but a few chapters in and I was immersed in the emotional, saddening storyline, just as I was with the film. Abuse, loss of innocence, and secrecy are not unknown topics in young adult literature – in fact, I’d argue they’re common elements in gritty contemporary novels – but I’ve yet to see them threaded in the same setting as Kiely’s debut. Snaps there.

Gut-wrenching and fully developed themes In a similar vein, Kiely doesn’t lose the importance of exploring various themes throughout the novel as he crafts a disheartening atmosphere. The Gospel of Winter is very much a literary novel, that is, prose and messages are emphasized over the action of the plot; read a passage, and you’ll come to the same conclusion. It’s a novel that deserves to be read twice for this reason alone – Kiely allows the themes of betrayal and tradition and intense hurt to define the story and with it, the audience’s reactions. Such controlled use of themes is difficult for even a seasoned author, so it’s a promising sign for any of Kiely’s future publications.

A compelling, well-drawn cast of characters Of course, characters are just as significant of elements in a book, a fact Kiely recognizes as he develops the protagonist, Aidan, and the individuals in Aidan’s life: his mom, who keeps a facade up for the rest of society; his housekeeper, who struggles to choose between what she believes and what is right; his newfound friends, all of whom have problems of their own that plague them. I have a soft spot for characters from highbrow society – I find the culture fascinating to read about – but even my bias doesn’t discount the alluring nature of their respective stories. Aidan’s narration isn’t perfect, but it does invite you into the plot and offers a method in which to experience his pain, faith, and eventually, hope.

+ Story often weighed down by sophisticated vocabulary and structure Where my enjoyment falters is in the book’s language. It’s verbose, oddly refined for what is supposed to be the voice of a teenage boy. Unfortunately, the jarring nature – what is written versus what is expected – can pull the reader from the story; you’re less focused on Aidan’s haunting narration as you are on deciphering exactly what is being said. Fortunately, however, after reading Kiely’s All-American Boys {a novel he shares with author Jason Reynolds}, I’ve come to think it was a skill that only required some practice – and one that is sure to be further improved in his third release, The Last True Love Story, when it hits shelves in September.

Happy Monday – make it a wonderful one! :)

Psst. Book recommendations are my middle name. Here are a few more powerful contemporary favorites: All the Rage by Courtney SummersThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, and Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert.