Tag Archives: YA

Review of The Devil’s Revolver, by V.S. McGrath

I purchased a copy of V.S. McGrath‘s The Devil’s Revolver.

Description from Goodreads:
She is Hettie Alabama — unlikely, scarred, single-minded, and blood bound to a revolver forged by a demon.

The first book in an epic, magic-clad series featuring the Wild West reimagined as a crosscultural stereoscope of interdimensional magic and hardship, The Devil’s Revolver opens with a shooting competition and takes off across the landscape after a brutal double murder and kidnapping — to which revenge is the only answer. Hettie Alabama, only seventeen years old, leads her crew of underdogs with her father’s cursed revolver, magicked to take a year off her life each time she fires it. It’s no way for a ranch girl to grow up, but grow up she does, her scars and determination to rescue her vulnerable younger sister deepening with every year of life she loses.

A sweeping and high-stakes saga that gilds familiar Western adventure with powerful magic and panoramic fantasy, The Devil’s Revolver is the last word and the blackest hat in the Weird West.

A YA novel that avoids a lot of the common YA traps. I’m not entirely sure I even realized this was going to be YA, that the protagonist is 17ish, when I started it. (Yes, it’s in the blurb, but I didn’t reread it between buying the book and actually reading it.) Even once I did realize, I never felt Hettie fell into the simpering, angst-filled role that annoys me so much in so many YA stories. What’s more, while there is a male character that MIGHT later fulfill a romantic pairing, this story wasn’t cluttered up with ill-timed youthful luuurve.

I did feel Hettie’s obsessive determination wasn’t wholly explained. I mean, yes, she wanted her last family member saved, but she seemed a little too driven and compulsive. This may have been because the reader is never really given the opportunity to see Hettie interact with Abby, so Abby is forever a theoretical motivation. Also, I felt some of the magic system was a bit hand-wavy.

I enjoyed the writing, which I found clean and easy to read. It have enough Western slang to give it character, but not enough to clutter the narrative. All in all, I enjoyed it and would happily read another McGrath book.

Review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Woo-hoo, I got to read at the beach. This always makes me happy. Anyhow, I picked The Perks of Being a Wallflower (by Stephen Chbosky) out of my Little Free Library. Thank you to whichever neighbor left it. I hope you grabbed a book you liked in exchange.

Description from Goodreads:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

This book has gotten a lot of attention. It won awards, was made into a major motion picture (which I haven’t seen), been included in the American Library Association’s “10 Most Frequently Challenged Books” at least five times. It is worth engaging in and I can totally see why it has garnered the attention it has.

It includes some triggery topics and addresses them in plain, sometime blunt language. It presents young American teenagers of a certain generation doing all the things honest adults of that generation admit were happening when they were young teenagers, even if they weren’t themselves participating, but that the general establishment likes to pretend young teens don’t do (because not all adults are honest): have sex (even gay sex), drink, do drugs, engage in self-destructive behaviors, abuse and pressure one another, etc. It refuses to adhere to the myth of innocent pre-adulthood.

In fact, I think this is the books primary strengths. Americans are very dependent on social narratives about certain things and we struggle to break away from them. Only teens of a certain demographic do drugs or have sex or get into fights. Only certain evil, easily identifiable people pressure others into sex or rape or molest. The problem with these narratives is that they are always oversimplified, artificially dichotomous and often simply wrong, leading to innumerable ways in which the subject of these narratives are open to victimization, injury or scorn.

[This paragraph may be a spoiler.] One of the issues the book addresses that I think is worth special mention is sexual abuse. It pops up in a number of ways throughout the book, some subtle and some not. Most notably Charlie is a survivor of sexual molestation. Our American narrative around such abuse often reads that only evil people would molest a child and that person can’t be anything other than the evil that molests. Now, I’m not apologizing for or excusing child sexual abuse. But that simple abuse-equals-evil-person narrative doesn’t leave room for cycles of abuse in which the abuser was themselves a victim of abuse, or that the perpetrator can also hold other meaningful positions in people’s lives (making the victim feel guilty for their affection). I liked that Chbosky condemned the action, of course, (though it was a bit trivialized) but also allowed for layers and complexity around the issue that is too often missing in stories of abuse.

Having said all that, because there is a lot of appreciate, in the end, I liked but didn’t love the book. I had a hard time engaging in Charlie’s narrative. I didn’t much enjoy the diary/letter writing format, and it’s never stated that Charlie is on the Aspergers/Autism spectrum anywhere, but he must be. Otherwise the naivety of a lot of his observations don’t make a lot of sense to me. They are often salient, but they’re things most people wouldn’t think to comment on or would have observed a lot sooner than their early teens.

All in all The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those books people should read to have read them, even if there is no love affair to follow.

Review of Finders Keepers, by J. J. DiBenedetto

J. J. DiBenedetto sent me an audible copy of his novel Finders Keepers.

Description from Goodreads:
It should have been a simple job. All archaeology student Jane Barnaby had to do was pick up a box her professor needed and deliver it to him at his dig site, along with his new car. Yes, his office was in Oxfordshire, and his dig site was in Spain, a trip of 1,400 miles across three countries and two bodies of water. Still, it should have been simple. 

And it was, until Jane discovered she picked up the wrong box by mistake. Not the one with boring pottery samples, but instead the one with priceless ancient Egyptian artifacts. The one that a team of international art thieves is after. 

Now she’s chasing – and being chased by – the thieves. And she’s picked up a pair of passengers who claim they can help her outwit them, get her professor’s pottery back and return the artifacts to their rightful owner. If only she could figure out which one of them is working with the thieves and which one she can trust in this high-stakes game of finders keepers.

This was utterly ridiculous. I won’t go so far as to call it bad, but it was just completely unfathomable. I found none of Jane’s reactions believable. Further, I didn’t believe international art thieves with a 6 million dollar/pound score would be so easily defeated or so plainly unthreatening. Jane never once seemed to really consider that they might be violent. And they weren’t, which made them mere cartoon characters. While the author explained why Jane took the actions she took, I couldn’t believe for a moment that a woman in her early twenties would do the things she did and have such amazing results.

Further, I was constantly annoyed by the references to Jane’s traitorous body and her willingness to trust a man she knew to be lying to her based on how attractive he was. Again, it was beyond belief. Plus, the love triangle fake-out was just annoying.

And there were just so many small things like this. Like her causing a traffic accident while traveling at high speed. This would have been unfailingly deadly in real life, but the reader is supposed to believe she hasn’t really hurt anyone.

Maybe a younger reader would have enjoyed the book more than I did. The writing is fine, as is the narration (by Cait Frizzell), but I spent a lot of time listening to the story and rolling my eyes, like “yeah right.”