Confessions of a Hater

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by Caprice Crane

Published 2013 (The copy I read is an ARC sent to me from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.  Ha.  They lose again.)

So, truly, I only apply to receive ARCs that I think that I will enjoy, or at least will find interesting.  Confessions of a Hater is a YA debut novel for Crane.  I have never read any of her adult works, but this one sounded interesting.  It’s about a teenage girl, Hailey, who moves (with her parents) the summer between her freshman and sophomore years of high school.  At her old school, Hailey has her group of friends, but she’s never been popular or had a boyfriend.  While packing for the move, she comes across a diary that belonged to her older sister (who is away at college) when she was in high school.  Titled “How to Be a Hater,” Noel’s diary is full of practical tips on just that–how to dress, act, talk, walk–you name it.  Hailey decides that this book is her ticket to a new life at her new high school.  Her first day there, implementing the diary’s techniques, Hailey is accepted into the selective clique of Skylar, the most stereotypical popular cheerleader girl you could ever imagine.  After a few days of keeping up appearances, Hailey abandons the popular girls and makes friends with some outcasts.  Together, they form their own clique, and call themselves the Invisibles.  The rest of the book is the Invisibles’ attempts to bring down the Populars, Skylar in particular.

My hope for this book was that it would have some depth.  Instead, it was full of cliches and stereotypes.  The Invisibles are comprised of a girl who got pregnant as a freshman, a shoplifter, a super-intelligent genius girl who’s addicted to drugs, a fat girl, a girl who’s super good with computers, etc.  The girl who was pregnant, Anya, is the only one whose story actually adds to the overall plot (she ends up being Hailey’s best friend).  The other stereotypes are superfluous.  I was especially distressed by the shoplifter and the drug addict.  Both of these are treated as minor problems, and sort of shrugged off and swept under the rug.  The shoplifting is basically treated as completely normal and acceptable behavior, while the drug addict is given a little more time–towards the end, she overdoses and goes to the hospital, and then everyone is like, Cool now she’ll be okay.  Say what?!

Meanwhile, Hailey starts dating a super nice guy.  While she isn’t willing to go “all the way,” there is a completely unnecessary scene where she first of all asks Anya for advice (which Anya gives, by telling her to practice on a frozen banana?!?!!?) and then proceeds to perform a sexual act for her boyfriend, all described in pointless detail, mostly her feelings about how weird this is and wondering if he likes it, blah blah blah–again, NOTHING to do with the overall plot of the story.

Hailey’s parents were a bright spot for me at the beginning of the book.  Finally, I thought, a book about a teenager who just has normal parents who have stayed married.  Spoiler alert: don’t get too attached to that detail.  Guess what other stereotype we’re going to fill in??

The main plot of the book, wherein the Invisibles and the Populars prank each other, escalates to a completely unhealthy and unrealistic level.  I find it hard to believe that someone like Hailey, who claims to have been mistreated by similar populars at her old school, could possibly not see that what she is doing is cruel, stupid, and immature.  Hailey’s method of apology, which involves committing a pretty major crime, is ridiculous as well, especially since she receives basically no punishment whatsoever, and is, in fact, rewarded for her crime–her friends accept her apology and the guidance counselor is convinced that he can land her a special internship at a prestigious art school.  So glad that this is the message we’re sending to our young people.

Finally, while Hailey’s narrative can be funny and snarky, it is also crude, full of profanity, and littered with references to brand names and pop culture.  Honestly, I only finished this book because I felt an obligation to do so.

Crane had an opportunity to tell a story that actually meant something.  A story about a girl who truly experiences what it is like to be invisible, and who honestly realizes the importance of looking beyond stereotypes and embracing our unique and individual selves.  A story about the strength of forgiveness and the power of helping others.  Instead, she wrote a story that emphasized stereotypes, embraced cliches, and makes extra-marital sex, profanity, shoplifting, underage drinking, and vandalism (to name a few) sound like completely normal and acceptable activities for high schoolers.

If you’re a parent of a young adult, don’t let them touch this book with a ten-foot pole.  If you want to teach them about breaking through stereotypes, have them watch High School Musical.

1/5.

Carney’s House Party

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by Maud Hart Lovelace

Published 1949

Besides the Betsy-Tacy books, Lovelace published three other stories that took place in Deep Valley, Minnesota.  Carney’s House Party, time-line wise, takes place in the four-year gap between Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World.  And actually, it would have been nice to read this book in its place, as it helps fill a bit of the gap there.

As always with Lovelace’s works, I really enjoyed this story, which follows a summer in Carney’s life, between her sophomore and junior years of college.  Home for the season, several of Carney’s friends come to stay, leading to a summer full of fun and frolics, with a bit of romance thrown in.

While the story is happy and it’s great fun to see old friends again, the story’s beginning and end take place at Carney’s college.  These chapters seem a bit out of place, since the author takes a decent amount of time to describe the college and its main buildings and people Carney knows there–people and places that are completely irrelevant to the rest of the story.

This book doesn’t flow quite as naturally as the Betsy books, but this is understandable as Betsy is based on Lovelace herself, while Carney’s story is that of a real-life friend of Lovelace’s…  perhaps it was a bit more awkward to write about the thoughts and feelings of someone else who is a real someone else!

Still, overall another delightful book, and one that I would definitely recommend reading in that gap after Betsy and Joe.

Black Hearts in Battersea

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by Joan Aiken

Published 1964

For some reason, even though I have dearly loved Wolves of Willoughby Chase since I was a little girl, I never read any of the rest of the Wolves Chronicles.  It seems as though I may have picked one up when I was quite younger and was confused by it, expecting it to have the same characters as the first book.  At any rate, I have decided to give them a whirl.  

I would call Black Hearts in Battersea a sort of indirect sequel.  The main character, Simon, was a secondary character in Wolves of Willoughby Chase, (albeit the one that I had a crush on).  In this story, Simon travels to London to study art with a friend.  But when he arrives, not only is his friend no where to be found, everyone acts as though he never even existed.  In Aiken’s England, James III from Scotland is on the throne, creating an intriguing alternate universe of Victorian times with Queen Victoria.  In this story, Simon makes new friends and meets up with old ones.  I was slightly confused because in Willoughby Chase one of the main characters is Sylvia; in this book, Simon almost immediately sees a girl named Sophie, whom he apparently knows from the past, even though we (as the readers) have never met  her.  Actually, you have a bit of a feeling of trying to catch up during the whole beginning of this book, as Aiken doesn’t really tell us much of what is going on, leaving us to follow the trail as best we can.

Even though Aiken writes for children, she is unafraid of drastic plot twists, including the deaths of characters.  While Black Hearts is not as light-hearted as Willoughby, it is still an excellent story with a fun mystery and delightful characters.  4/5.

The Heretic’s Apprentice

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by Ellis Peters

Published 1990

This is actually one of my favorites of the Cadfael series (and, fear not, I finished these on vacation, so you are almost done reading about Cadfael! :-D).

In this story, a young man returns to Shrewsbury, bearing the body of his employer, whom he had accompanied on a pilgrimage that had lasted the last several years.  Although the older man had died on his trip, he had desired to be buried at his home church, and had charged (before his death, obviously) Elave (the young man) to bring his body home.  However, when Elave arrives at the abbey, another guest has arrived first–an Augustinian canon, Gerbert.  Gerbert’s horse has been lamed, and so he has had to unexpectedly stay at Shrewsbury for several days.  A strict (some may even say narrow-minded) man, Canon Gerbert is swift to pounce when he finds out that the reason that Elave’s employer went on a pilgrimage to begin with was because he had been accused to heresy.

While the mystery is good, per usual, my favorite part of the story is the non-mystery part–the part where Peters really studies human character.  She does a beautiful job working with the concept of heresy, managing to show several perspectives as reasonable, reminding all of us of the importance of humbleness (especially when it pertains to spiritual matters).  There is even a point where Brother Cadfael experiences a sudden understanding of Canon Gerbert’s viewpoint–

As for Gerbert himself, Cadfael had a sudden startling insight into a mind utterly alien to his own.  For the man really had, somewhere in Europe, glimpsed yawning chaos and been afraid, seen the subtleties of the devil working through the mouths of men, and the fragmentation of Christendom in the eruption of loud-voiced prophets bursting out of limbo like bubbles in the scum of a boiling pot, and the dispersion into the wilderness in the malignant excesses of their deluded followers.  There was nothing false in the horror with which Gerbert looked upon the threat of heresy…

The entire topic of heresy at this point in history is a fascinating one anyway.  Sometimes we forget that, at this time, the Catholic Church was the law and THE religion.  You were either Catholic, or you were a heretic, an outcast.  But Peters handles this beautifully.  Per usual, this book made me fall in love with Father Abbot quite a bit more.  He is my favorite character by far.

Since I haven’t posted in a while, I haven’t mentioned it in a while–you MUST read these books!

Indiscretion

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by Jude Morgan

Published 2005

I read this book in JULY, and am still excited to review it!  ;-D

There is a specific type of book that I really love–books that are romantic, funny, and light-hearted, without being full of smut and shallow, insipid characters.  You would be surprised at how incredibly difficult it can be to find books that fit into that category, especially books published in the last ten years!

So many recent so-called Regency Romances are simply written pornography with a few sentences of linking “plot.”  Ugh.  And, having been burned before, I approached Indiscretion with some hesitancy.  The story is about Caroline Fortune, a young woman who lives with her father (her mother has passed away), a man full of grandiose ideas and schemes that somehow never seem to materialize beyond the point of spending money (which they don’t have) on them.  Determined to find a place for his daughter, Captain Fortune makes arrangements for her to become the paid companion of an elderly woman, Mrs. Catling.  From there, Caro finds herself entangled with all sorts of people and plots.

While some of Morgan’s plot line has to be covered with Austen-like coincidences (think: My cousin happens to be the clergyman of your aunt!?  What are the odds??), it flows well.  The characters are very likable (even the not likable ones), and Caroline herself manages to be charming and witty, without being obnoxious.  The dialogue is delightful.  I literally laughed out loud at multiple points in this story.  Morgan actually takes the time to develop the characters you meet, and while they rarely present you with a surprise, they generally manage to give you a smile.

Caroline manages to balance the line between realizing many of the absurdities and inconsistencies of her culture and time, without being too forward or radical (although, towards the end, she does jaunt off to London in a public carriage by herself, something that stretched the line of what she would have actually been able to do at the time without her character being much more severely doubted).  A conversation about dancing was one of my favorite exchanges:

“You do not dance, Mr. Milner?”

“I do–once in an evening, twice if in thoroughly madcap mood.  What I dance, though, I must talk all the time.  Otherwise I begin thinking about dancing, and how absurd it is, and what prize boobies we would look if you took away the music.  Well, I suppose it will pass the time: do you want to go through the ghastly motions with me, Miss Fortune?”

“How can I refuse such a charming invitation?”

This is not a book of great depth, or one that will (likely) cause you to ponder your life and have an existential crisis of any kind.  However, if you are looking for a fun, light-hearted, humorous, clean read, this is an excellent choice, and one that I highly recommend.  5/5.

Dear Marguerite Henry

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by Marguerite Henry

Published 1969

As a little girl I was, as are many little girls, obsessed with horses.  Marguerite Henry’s books, introduced to me when I found an old copy of Misty of Chincoteague in a pile of my aunt’s childhood books, became one of my favorite authors.  As many of you know, I’m trying to read through every book I own, and I’m looking forward to getting to Henry’s stack–I haven’t read her books in years!

For my birthday last year, Mom gave me this books he had found.  Basically, Henry compiled some of the letters she received from readers over the years, and answered their questions about her books (at least the ones that had already been published!).  If you read Henry’s books as a child, and ever wanted to know the background story for her stories, this is a fun little read.

O my

Wow, it has been a LONG time since I posted, and I am SUPER behind on books!  I have a very long list of books to review and will hopefully begin whittling that list down over the next couple of days.  So, advance apology if I end up avalanching you in books, and, alternate advance apology if I don’t.  :-D

Hope you all are well and reading!

Rules of Murder

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by Julianna Deering

Published 2013

SO sorry for the long delay in posting.  Things have been super crazy around here!  Tomorrow, we’re off on a new adventure, which, if you’re interested, will probably be blogged over on the travel log.

Anyway.

So, Rules for Murder.  Drew Farthering is a dapper young man living in England in the 1930’s.  Comfortably upper class, he is a Gentleman to the core.  At the opening of the book, we are introduced to Drew, his mother, and his step-father, plus other sundry household members.  Step-father’s American niece and her friends arrive for a visit early in the book, and Drew is smitten with the charming young Madeline.  When tragedy, in the form of murder, strikes the house, Drew, his best friend Nick, and Madeline, do a little detecting of their own.

I enjoyed this book.  It was a low-stress read (especially for a mystery).  I never really felt like anyone was in danger.  On the other hand, it made the mystery somewhat dull.  When I was reading the book, I enjoyed it, but when I put it down, I didn’t necessarily crave to return to it.

While the dialogue was pleasant and the characters likable, they were still a bit flat.  I didn’t feel as though I was particularly vested in any of them.  The budding romance between Drew and Madeline seemed almost formula-like.  It was almost as though the author made a list of every stereotype for every kind of person you’d expect to find in 1930’s England and then made a character to fit each one.

The book is titled after a famous (in the 1930’s anyway) mystery writer, Father Knox, who created ten rules for mystery writers (e.g., no secret passages, no unheard-of poisons, etc.).  However, I think the author may have greatly overestimated the average reader’s knowledge of early 1900 mystery authors (or perhaps I am somehow out of the loop).  I had never heard of Father Knox, or his list of rules.  Consequently, Nick’s constant reference to them was confusing until I finally got online and looked up the list.  It would have been very helpful to have a short introduction at the beginning of the book explaining about Father Knox and listing his rules.  While the author does have a paragraph acknowledging him at the end of the book, it still doesn’t really explain what the rules are.

Finally, as happens far too often in “Christian” literature, the author seemed uncertain as to whether or not faith should play an important role in this story.  While Madeline obviously believes in God and draws comfort from the relationship she has with Him, all conversations on the topic seem abrupt and a bit out of place.  In the end, faith doesn’t really impact the story much at all, although I will say that it appears that this is going to be the first book a series, and at the end of this book, Drew is considering his faith (or lack thereof) more seriously.

Overall, I will definitely read a second book in this series, and may even read this one again whenever that second book appears.  However, a 3/5 for a story that just felt a bit stiff and wooden throughout.

Please note: this book was provided to me free of charge in exchange for an unbiased review.  They’ll probably think twice about doing that again.  :-D