Tag Archives: Book Review

YA Book Review: Ty Roth’s So Shelly

So Shelly

Life has finally eased up enough for me to write a review of So Shelly (Delacorte Press), the highly anticipated and recently released novel by Ty Roth: young-adult author, high school literature teacher and all-around good guy.

Other than the book-jacket tease about two friends swiping a drowned teen’s ashes to spread as she would have wished, and that the personas of the three main characters are based on Romantic poets Byron, Keats, Shelley and his wife Mary, I had no idea what to expect. The mention of freedom fighters and the phrase “lurid but literary,” were intriguing tidbits from the Kirkus review, but when I opened the book, I was a blank slate.

The first thing that struck me was how funny the novel is. The story is a serious one, but the way that the narrator phrases things left me rotfl. Quickly absorbed in the compelling story-line, I didn’t want to put it down while I was reading and found myself dwelling on it at odd moments after I’d finished — my favorite kind of book.

The vocabulary is enjoyably advanced, with no glaringly absent adverbs or “dumbing down” for teen readers, and I was pleased in four cases to expand my own command of the language. (It must be confessed that I’m still wondering what a “stinky pinky” is, but am pretty sure that I don’t really want to know.)

So Shelly is not for the callow, with topics such as incest (involuntary and otherwise), teen pregnancy, abortion, sexual abuse and graphic violence (not necessarily in that order). Although frequently cringe-worthy, none of it is gratuitous in nature. Some reviewers have recommended the book for ages fourteen and up, but Ty himself has said that sixteen and older is the intended readership, and I wouldn’t disagree.

Ty has mentioned a few times on his blog and in interviews that future titles might be set in the same Lake Erie locale, with a focus on minor characters from So Shelly. If so, the one I hope to see more of is Tammy Jo Hogg, the overweight but pretty girl with the good PR skills who was used and abused by Gordon. (Well, really, who wasn’t?) I want her to grow up, become successful and then leave Gordon with the broken heart.

My only concern with the novel is what seemed to be a somewhat casual view of suicide. At the time of our interview, Ty was confident that modern teens are sophisticated enough to deal with the content of the book, and that to think otherwise is an insult to the reader. I hope he’s right. Other than that, great book.

Layinda’s Blog Rating: ¶¶¶¶(But only because I’m saving the 5 for Jim and Jack. 😉 )

Note: Although I am acquainted with Mr. Roth, this is an unsolicited review, and I paid for my own copy of So Shelly. Actually, two copies. Unwilling to sully my signed-by-the-author first edition, I also purchased the Kindle version.

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Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle)

I had heard good things about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, but it wasn’t until my book group chose it as our next selection that I headed to the library to check it out. An enjoyably pleasant read, I have to say that it didn’t get really good until around page 200. By page 240, I couldn’t put it down.

Fictional author Juliet Ashton is the novel’s protagonist, but the points of view come from every direction as the book is framed by a chronological series of post World War II correspondence between Juliet, her editor, and the populace of the small town of St. Peter Port in England’s Channel Islands.

The plot is anchored to a character who is never actually present in the story, Elizabeth McKenna. Founder of the G.L.P.P.P.S., she has been sent to a concentration camp by the time Juliet arrives in Guernsey, but the memories of her loved ones and the artifacts she has left behind tell her story for her. Throughout the novel, images of the German occupation reveal how easily the veil of civilization is lifted during wartime.

A mix of humor and pathos, the somewhat quirky characters are believable, the setting is intriguing, and the writing has a beautifully visual quality that easily transports the reader to post-war England.

My only criticism is that at first, many of the letters sounded like they were written by the same person. I found myself having to re-read the entry titles to remind myself whose point of view it was. By the middle of the book, however, the characters had come into their own voices and the confusion waned.

I would definitely recommend reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And maybe a trip to the Channel Islands to enjoy the scenery. 😉

Layinda’s Blog Rating: ¶¶¶¶

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Vintage Book Review: Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter

My father recently purchased a Kindle, but needs someone with younger eyes to figure out how to use it and then show him what to do. Fortunately, I am that someone, and have been enjoying it all week.

Paradoxically, on this newfangled contraption, I have been reading a vintage novel — Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter.

Freckles (Library of Indiana Classics)

First published in 1904, it is the tale of a young man whose only knowledge of his origins is that he was found as a baby on the doorstep of a Chicago orphanage, badly beaten and missing a hand.

His boldness in the face of adversity impresses a lumber boss, who gives him the job of guarding a valuable stand of timber in the swamplands of Indiana. Although it almost kills him, Freckles overcomes the dangerous conditions and starts to appreciate the beauty and majesty of the natural world.

Surprised one day by a pretty young woman who comes upon his “study,” (a hideaway he has created by transplanting flowers and foliage around a grouping of trees), he dubs her his “swamp angel” and helps the wildlife photographer she works for to access many unusual birds and moths.

Eventually, thieves come to steal some trees, there is fist fighting and shooting, and Freckles is kidnapped by murderers. Will he escape? Will he ever find his family? Will he and the Swamp Angel ever be more than friends? As you might guess, the answers are yes, yes and yes, but the story is engaging apart from the main plot points, and well worth the read.

My only criticism is that while the majority of the dialogue is believable, from a modern standpoint some of it tends toward the melodramatic. Stratton-Porter was an extremely popular author in her day, so one can presume that the writing style is reflective of the era. Fortunately, the strength of the storyline helps to ease the reader through the more fervent passages.

From a historical perspective, the book’s portrayal of women as strong-minded and courageous, and men as thoughtful and sensitive inspires the notion that mid-twentieth century stereotypes of “real men” being stoically macho and women being silly and weak may have been thrust upon us more by our fathers’ generation than our forefathers’. One wonders if women’s twentieth century shift from homemaker, caregiver and encourager to roles more traditionally held by men resulted in a backlash of polarization as males were stripped of their historical importance as protectors, breadwinners and authority figures.

I would guess that this title is no longer available at the average local library, but it is in stock at Amazon.com, and is even cheaper for the Kindle. Freckles can also be read for free online at Gutenberg.org. Check it out — it’s good, not only as a story, but as a historical reflection of the times.

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Return the Heart: Follow-up Review

Return the Heart by T.K. Richardson: Book Cover

I stayed up late last night to finish Return the Heart, the YA debut novel by T.K. Richardson. It was a good story filled with adventure, intrigue and a dash of romance, and I liked it a lot. The action was fast paced, the characters easy to identify with, and there were some clever plot twists. I particularly liked the way the author seamlessly worked in a little Russian history and folklore.

Ms. Richardson co-opts the teen angst of no one understands, and puts Lilly, the protagonist, into the Utopian situation of discovering peers who not only “get” her, but are so in tune that they don’t need to use words. Their parents exist, but are largely incidental, the five friends enjoying the freedom and self direction that teenagers only dream about. While combatting kidnappers, double agents and Russian prophesies, the romance between Lilly and Seth blossoms, as does her friendship with his sister, Claire.

I ended up with the feeling that the Fantastic Five will soon be involved in another Russian adventure, with Lilly’s connections to the past proving more complex than first thought. I hope so, anyway, because I want to read it. 🙂

Click here to see the Middle of the Book Review (including summary)

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Middle of the Book Review: Return the Heart

Return the Heart by T.K. Richardson: Book Cover

TK Richardson’s debut YA novel, Return the Heart, was released by Yorkshire Publishing in May 2010. I happily won a signed copy through her blog contest, and am enjoying it so much that I decided to write a review — in two parts, as is my habit:

Seventeen-year-old Lilly Paige has always been a loner, because it’s hard to relate to people when you have the gift of instantly knowing everything about them. When her parents go overseas for a year, she moves in with her aunt and uncle, and discovers some new friends with special gifts of their own. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with, but when Lilly becomes the target of an international kidnapping plot, will Seth and the others be able to save her?

I don’t know yet – I’m only on page 145, and she just got kidnapped. So far, I’m enjoying Lilly’s first-person adventure and her sweet romance with the tall, muscular and handsome Seth Vail.

Tune in to my next post for the critique.

Layinda’s Blog Mid-Point Rating: ¶¶¶¶

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THE ROAD: Follow-Up Review

Many moons ago, after seeing the movie Jurassic Park, a friend of mine said that she half expected to see dinosaurs when she came out of the theater. At the end of winter, under gray skies with remnants of dirty snow on the ground, one has a similar feeling after reading The Road. One comes away with images of starving children, bloody coughs, and many things more sinister and disturbing. To quote the book, “Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever.” Gee, thanks, Cormac McCarthy.

Although I initially found The Road to be gimmicky with it’s lack of apostrophes and quotation marks, by the end of the book I felt that it was appropriate to the story to have the punctuation degraded. While I didn’t care for the disjointed character of the phrasing, the vocabulary was broad without feeling contrived, and leaned towards the poetic at points. The message that I took away from The Road was that we’d better appreciate what we’ve got (and perhaps do something to maintain it), because things can be destroyed to the point of no return.

I didn’t like the book, the disgusting images, the desperation, the evil hordes. I don’t think that I was supposed to like the book. The future the author envisioned was just a little too easy to imagine.

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Layinda’s Blog Final Rating: ¶¶¶¶¶

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Middle of the Book Review: THE ROAD

Chopped and disjointed. Stylized punctuation questionable. As dry as ash falling from the sky. Gray and forbidding, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a cold and never-ending black and white movie of a novel.

The author has perhaps never met any children. He would know that the boy could only be fictional. Why didnt the man and the boy head south sooner? Walk and sleep and eat and worry.

The copy I got from the library had a dead mosquito pressed into the title page. Withered and dry like a mummified body hanging from the rafters. Like the book. So far.

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Layinda’s Blog Mid-Point Rating: ¶¶¶

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P.S. I will admit that it’s getting better as I go along, and that I may have more problems with the style than the story itself. More tomorrow. In my normal voice. 🙂

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