The Testing Review, July 2014
By: Ann Baillie
Have you ever heard of The Impossible Quiz? It’s an online game that is a fake quiz where none of the answers make sense, and the taker must use various tricks to figure out the right answers. Today I would like to add another question to this quiz.
Q: I am reading a book in which a teenage, female lead is challenged both physically and mentally by having to see and do horrific things she never thought she would do while discovering unpleasant truths about her government in America after the apocalypse. What book am I reading?
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Divergent by Veronica Roth
- Legend by Marie Lu
- The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Okay, if you read the title of this review, the answer is probably not surprising. But be honest: if you had just read the question, would you have been able to select The Testing? Probably not, and with good reason – this book is terrible. It lacks any sort of originality. It is so unoriginal that I find myself wondering what the publishing company’s motivations were for publishing this book. I imagine it was something like this –
Publisher Executive A: You know what? A lot of teens read The Hunger Games.
Publisher Executive B: Oh my gosh! You’re right!
A: Did we publish that?
B: Um… Let me check… No.
A: Well, what about Divergent?
A: We at least did Legend, right?
B: Maybe. [Checks computer records]. I take that back, it’s a no.
A: Well we need to get in on this trend somehow!
B: Good point. How about we publish this one? [Pulls out that manuscript of The Testing]
A: What is it?
A: Yay! Let’s do it – oh! And make it a trilogy!
If my feelings about this book are not clear, let me be plain. The Testing is unoriginal, poorly written, the characters are poorly developed, and the plot line suffers from poor pacing. Charbonneau’s writing is among the worst I have ever experienced. Unless you are being tortured by a government after the apocalypse and thereby must, do not read this book.
The Nightmare Affair Review, June 2014
By: Anne Baillie
The Here’s the first of twenty-five book reviews of the nominations for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten. Over the course of this summer, it is this reader’s goal to read and review them all, along with ending with a personal ranking of what the final Top Ten should be. This novel is The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett. It is the story of Dusty, a magical girl who is called a Nightmare (Arnett explains what that means), who with the help of her boyfriend Paul, her best friend Selene, and mysterious newcomer Eli, must solve the murder of another student of their school just for magical creatures.
In writing this review, I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to think of a word to describe this book. It then occurred to me that Arnett has already used the only proper word: nightmare. The problems with this book are numerous and vast. The characters have little depth, especially the important characters, such as Selene and Dusty. What is so amazing about this is that the story is from Dusty’s perspective. I did not think it was possible to read a novel from a character’s perspective and still not fully understand the character’s motivation. The narrative’s other major problem is how predictable it is. From chapter 5, I predicted the end of the novel: which would be impressive, if not for the fact I predicted the most stereotypical ending. In fact, with the brief list of characters I used in the summary, you probably could predict the ending, too. The most surprising thing about The Nightmare Affair is why YALSA put it on the list. The only rating I can give this book is “surprisingly bad”.
Castle Waiting: A Graphic Novel by Linda Medley Review
By: Ann Baillie
To say that Linda Medley’s first volume of Castle Waiting contains everything might be stretching the truth – but only a little. This graphic novel contains references to Dr. Seuss, the Middle Ages, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and feminism. But more than anything else, this book is about life. And redemption. And what’s good. And what’s bad. Characters from all over the world stay at Castle Waiting, for no cost, whenever they have to, no questions asked. The castle has a small staff who makes the food and cleans the rooms. The staff serves as the main focus of the graphic novel.
This graphic novel is fantastic. It’s perfect. It’s inventive. It’s hypnotizing. It’s magical (literally and figuratively). The characters are well drawn. The storyline is constantly changing throughout the work. When I read it, I was reminded of Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh. Like these works, Castle Waiting is more character-driven then plot-driven. This makes the book feel comforting, like a story your parents would have told you late at night when you could not sleep. But there are some very adult themes in the book. Good and evil is not treated in the same black-and-white way as it is in children’s stories.
I do not know of any bad things about Castle Waiting. This graphic novel is flawless. It makes sense, seeing as Medley won an Eisner for it. I can say, however, that when you read the book (and you should read the book), take it slow. Like most graphic novels, the book can be read very quickly. To do this would make you miss most of the inner subtleties of Castle Waiting. This book demands to be taken slowly. This book is designed to teach, about feminism and life. And the only thing better than that is that there is a volume two. Five out of five stars.
A Review of A Novel Way to Die by Ali Brandon
By: Ann Baillie
Bookstore owner Darla Pettistone is back in another installment of Ali Brandon’s Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries. This case, A Novel Way to Die, centers around the murder of one of Darla’s semi-regular customers, Curt. Darla must try to solve the case with the help of her PI friend Jake, her store’s manager James, her cop friend Reese, her newest employee Robert, and of course, Hamlet the cat. As the suspect list rises, so do Hamlet’s cryptic clues. The book is a definite improvement after the first book.
Brandon’s writing ability has increased over time. Novel has quite a bit of character development, and the pacing is more appropriate. The repetition of specific facts that made the first book in the series, Double Booked for Death, drag so much is gone. Those pages have been replaced with more dialogue between Reese and Darla, which makes Darla more relatable. The book also features fewer clues from Hamlet. These clues do not obviously suggest one character, making it more fun for the reader to try to guess what cryptic message Hamlet is trying to relate. Further, the side plots in Novel relate more to the overall story and advance the plot.
That being noted, Brandon is still a new writer. The characters featured in every book (Darla, Jake, James, and Reese) are well developed, but the characters specific to this book (Curt and the suspects), have almost no development. This was frustrating as a reader, because I felt like I was not being given enough information to solve the case. I get that the focus is supposed to be on Hamlet’s clues, but there was very little information about the actual lives of the suspects that could be used to solve the crime. Still, the book was well-done overall. I give it three out of five stars.
Confessions of My Reading of Confessions of a Murder Suspect by James Patterson
By: Ann Baillie
I’m a big Stephen King fan. Novellas don’t get much better than “Apt Pupil”. And Stephen King hates James Patterson, with a burning passion. With this thought in my head, I picked up Confessions of a Murder Suspect with the intention of getting a quick laugh. After reading the first chapter, I could not put it down.
The book is James Patterson’s latest exploit in YA fiction. What separates this book from the Maximum Ride, Witch and Wizard, and Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, is that Patterson is finally getting back to murder. This is a tad surprising, as Patterson made his fortune and his reputation writing murder mysteries. And after reading Confessions, I get why. The story follows Tandy Angel, a rich and successful teen from a rich, successful, and eccentric family. The story begins when Tandy discovers both her parents were killed in their bed. Tandy and her three siblings are the only suspects.
What makes the book interesting is that Tandy has literally no idea who the killer is, and wants to solve the murder anyway. She realizes that the murderer could be one of her siblings – even herself – but she wants the truth. This makes the character very interesting. She is too perfect to be relatable, but Patterson compensates for this by having Tandy talk directly to the reader. This adds to the book’s charm.
What bothered me about the book was the overwhelming amount of cliffhangers. Partly this is because the book is the first in a series, but at times the book just seemed unfinished. It distracts from the ending, which is otherwise beautifully done. Rest assured, Patterson does answer the most important question of who killed Tandy’s parents, in a surprising and interesting way. A fun, great read.