Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach

27 07 2012

 

 

Last year, I read and reviewed Geoff Herbach’s debut novel, Stupid Fast, and loved it — I loved the characters, the writing, and the voice. When I heard that there would be a second novel, I was beyond excited. I’m happy to say that the 2nd book in this series (is it a series? I say yes) is just as good.

In Stupid Fast, we met Felton Reinstein, a loner turned jock, and his family — his crazy mother Jerri and  his weird brother Andrew.  In Nothing Special, Felton returns, and he’s the one that narrates the story, but Andrew is the one that really takes full front. He’s the loner now, the quiet one. He loves to play the violin and he loves his family, going as far as to write a blog about his brother’s achievements. But he feels lost and distanced in his family, and so Andrew takes off. He says he’s off to orchestra camp, and Jerri, who’s always a little confused, agrees, and Andrew takes off on a road trip and disappears. Felton’s having his own issues too — he’s worried about the pressure on him from coaches, he doesn’t know what his future is, and he feels like a douchebag all the time. When Andrew disappears, he heads off to find him, crafting a few lies. The caveat: he’s going with his ex- best friend. And the other problem: he has no idea what he’s doing.

This book focuses a lot more on Andrew, like I mentioned. We get to learn more about him, his ideas and opinions, what he thinks of their screwed up family. What’s great about this is that the reader is like Felton: we like Andrew, but we’re sort of distanced from him. We have to go along with Felton, rediscovering his brother.

There’s another pretty cool element of style in this story. Andrew’s heading towards Florida, and so half of the story is Felton finding him. The other half is Felton writing the story of the trip to find him while on another road trip, leaving readers wondering where he’s going, and adding to the suspense.

Herbach’s writing and voice are still top notch. Felton sounds just like a guy, and his voice carries off the page, showing us every inch of himself, his worries, fears, and jokes. The rest of the characters are just as well-developed and strong, and Herbach explores more themes in this story in great depth; the instances of family, how a family responds after a suicide, and how brothers behave and act around one another, and what they don’t tell each other.

If there are any issues with the story, I can see the complaint that Felton’s family members are just too quicky. But at the same time, most families are quirky and different, so there’s a bit of realism there. Otherwise, though, I found the story to be almost perfect. It’s a wonderful, charming story about realistic characters, and Herbach is definitely one of my new favorite authors of contemporary fiction. Fans of the first book, as well as fans of authors like Chris Crutcher, will enjoy these novels.

And — and this is the best part! Recently Sourcebooks (the publisher of the novels) announced that there will be a THIRD Felton book, about his senior year of high school, out in 2013. So even more Felton = awesomeness. And after this series is complete, I will surely look for whatever else Herbach publishes.





Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

3 05 2012

The years is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance

Recently, I was emailing with an author who writes steampunk. She gave me permission to print this excerpt from her email:

I know this book won’t be for everyone and I knew from the get go the hard core steampunkcommunity probably wouldn’t like it, but I still want to put out the best story I am capable of.

Something Strange and Deadly seems to fit this quotation very well. It isn’t a hardcore steampunk, but it’s an interesting steampunk (and it actually has steampunk!). The story isn’t perfect, but I really enjoyed the book and I think that I will continue to read the rest of the series.

Eleanor Fitt (“Miss Fitt”) lives in 1800’s Philadelphia. Her father has recently died and her older brother, Elijah, went on a trip and has not returned. Eleanor lives at home with her uptight mother and spends her days courting suitors, entertaining guests, and hanging out with other suitable young ladies. Philadelphia is perfect and lovely, but there’s an issue: the Dead (zombies) are rising. Eleanor must work with a group of three Spirit-Hunters to take down the zombies and find her brother.

So this book is really fun. I whizzed through it in a few hours and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fast paced and many of the twists I didn’t expect. I found the mystery to be fairly predictable and who the necromancer was to me was not shocking. Still I enjoyed the book. However I have two main things to note (one good, the other bad):

1. the zombies aren’t really that scary! First off, the premise for this book is basically awesome personified, because steampunk + zombies = awesomeness, usually every time. I was really eager to begin and see how the author would put a twist on zombies. Well, her zombies are fairly traditional (flesh eating, destroyed, pale, etc) and they aren’t really described in much detail. I never really could get an understanding of what these zombies looked like. And the descriptions that were included of the zombies weren’t really that scary and I wasn’t scared of the zombies at all, more scared for the situations that the characters had found themselves in. I never really felt the threat of the zombies. But I understood the zombies and how they worked and acted, even if they were barely described/shown. I also loved that the author actually gave them a name — “the Dead” is a bit more unique than just “zombies”.

2. there is actually steampunk in this book! Steampunk seems to be making a resurgence in the YA world at least in the titles I have seen. (Of course, some say that steampunk is already out, so…) Of these new titles, many reviewers have said that they felt that there was not enough steampunk in them, that the steampunk element was barely shown and simply thrown in by the publisher or author. Something Strange and Deadly, however, actually makes an effort and a point to show steampunk elements beyond the book blurb and a few scattered mentions throughout the text. Victorian society (teas, balls) is mentioned alongside elevators and machines and goggles, and there is even an explanation to how the world suddenly became so steampunk. I was very impressed with Dennard’s skills here; she is a strong world-builder, it seems, and I enjoyed reading about her 1800-steampunk world.

On the characters, I really enjoyed all of them. Eleanor was very well rounded and I liked that her flaws were shown (as well as a scene where she is shown to have never seen a Chinese person before; this really showed her flaws and the views she had learned in her culture). I was unsurprised about her romance with Daniel but they seemed well suited enough and I liked that the romance really took a backseat to you know, saving Philadelphia from zombies. Daniel, Joesph, and Jie (the Spirit-Hunters) were well rounded though we did not learn much information about them beyond their personalities and backstories.

Dennard’s writing is easy to read and mixes the right amount of formality and modern-day terms. She seems like a writer to watch.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I will be looking for the next book in this series, due in 2013.

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FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for review from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. No money or other bribes were exchanged.





The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

5 04 2012

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

Antonia Lucia Labella has two secrets: at age fifteen she’s still waiting for her first kiss, and she wants to be a saint. An official one. Seem strange? Well, to Antonia, saints are royalty, and she wants her chance at being a princess. All her life she’s kept company with these kings and queens of small favors, knowing exactly whom to pray to on every occasion. Unfortunately, the two events Antonia’s prayed for seem unlikely to happen. It’s not for lack of trying. For how long has she been hoping to gain the attention of the love of her life — the tall, dark, and so good looking Andy Rotellini? Too long to mention. And every month for the last eight years, Antonia has sent a petition to the Vatican proposing a new patron saint and bravely offering herself for the post. So what if she’s not dead?
But as Antonia learns, in matters of the heart and sainthood, things are about as straightforward as wound-up linguini, and sometimes you need to recognize the signs.

I think I enjoyed this book more than the first Donna Freitas book I read — The Survival Kit — but I still had some reservations.

This book is firmly built in Catholicism, saints, and Catholic and Italian culture. I am not Catholic or Italian, and at times it was hard for me to understand (for instance, when they elect the new pope. I don’t know anything about how popes are chosen and that scene was confusing).

Antonia is a feisty, vibrant girl who was named after St. Anthony, and loves the saints. Every where she goes she prays to the saints, always knowing exactly which one to pray to. She keeps track of the saints in thick notebooks filled with mass cards and notes on the saints’ powers — ie, what to pray to them for — and information on each saint. And every month, Antonia writes to the vatican suggesting a new saint. There’s a saint for cooking? Why shouldn’t there be a saint of fig trees or pasta? And every month, she suggests herself to be the new saint. Since she was eight, her biggest dream has been to be a saint. Her romantic life is just as tangled, as she decides between her crush Andy and her friend Michael.

This time, I think I enjoyed the plot more. Obviously the plot is a bit farfetched, but if someone wanted, they really could write to the Vatican and beg to become a saint. Freitas seemed to understand that her plot was farfetched as well. However, the plot was again predictable. I knew who Antonia would choose right away, as it was fairly obvious. And the ending of what happens to Antonia and her dreams of being a saint is also easy to figure out. But, I did like reading Antonia’s letters to the Vatican. They were fresh and full of voice, and pretty darn hilarious. The plot was fun to read about, and I think that it would make a good “comfort read”, but really the story was simply just predictable.

The reason I really enjoyed this book more than The Survival Kit was Antonia’s voice. She was fresh and funny and sounded like a real (saint-crazed) teenager. She was funny, too, and her use of capitals when she became excited was funny rather than being gimmicky. I can understand how some reviewers thought that she was immature, and think that the letters were stupid, but I thought it was cute and didn’t mind. The characters seemed a bit more developed here. We learned about Antonia, Michael, Andy, and Antonia’s mother in greater depth. However, again some characters were not developed, like Antonia’s friends (they again seemed to be pawns in the story) and Antonia’s cousins (they seemed a bit too stereotypical).

So, yes, I did enjoy this book more. It would make a fun “comfort read” and it’s pretty darn funny, not to mention having mouthwatering food in it. (Don’t read this book before breakfast/lunch/dinner!) And above all, I found it to be more interesting than the first Donna Freitas that I read.

Three point five stars.