Saturday, January 2, 2010

Morris Nominees: Read and Reviewed!

The Shortlist for the 2010 Morris Award was announced a few weeks ago, and Kim did a great job introducing each of the titles right here. I've finally had the opportunity to dig into each one of them!



Ash, by Malinda Lo

This retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist left me less than impressed. I found Ash's character throughout the story uninteresting, and frankly, I felt that the entire lesbian twist came about suddenly and without any real meaning. Ash didn't seem interested in a female-female relationship throughout, so the decision to have the story take that turn left me feeling like the heft of the story wasn't succeeding quite as it should and needed something to make the pieces wrap up at the end. As a character, Ash was disappointingly boring, and I didn't see why any of the secondary characters cared about her. She didn't seem to give any thought or time into developing and sustaining those relationships; she just had them and there were never any challenges to those facts.

That said, I was also disappointed in the world building. For the entirety of the book, I never felt like I was being invited into a story; instead, I felt like I was being given a third-person account of a situation, without any feeling of being enveloped in a world. The back story dragged on much longer than necessary, and because they were displayed as facts (this is how it is) rather than pushed to be a real inviting storyline (this is why it is), I felt like an outsider unable to step into the story. The setting left me wanting a lot more, as well, since none of them seemed well enough delineated to differentiate among them.

For fans of retellings, this may work, but for lovers of fantasy and lush story telling, this is a disappointment. My feeling regarding its selection as a Morris nominee is, unfortunately, the fact there's the lesbian twist. I feel like that element may have been given more weight and attention than the writing and world building itself. Since last year's winner was a similar retelling (and had many of the same criticisms from other readers as I give this title), I suspect this may not be this year's ultimate winner. You may want to bear in mind with my review that I am not a heavy fantasy reader, so my expectations in such a story may be widely apart from major readers in the genre. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this title!


Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Kim wrote that this was "[a] huge doorstopper of a book advertised as a Southern gothic thriller with plenty of mystery and romance. Normally right up my alley, but I confess the length (626 pages!) is daunting." Let me just confess: 626 were entirely unnecessary for this title!

The writing in Beautiful Creatures was gorgeous, fluid, and enveloping. The setting was wonderfully southern and gothic -- something I adore in any book! Unfortunately, the overuse of elements and story lines grated on me as I struggled to understand the need for not only 626 pages but also forthcoming sequels.

The characters were uninteresting, particularly Ethan who did nothing but live for Lena, who was herself very boring. I didn't care about their family history and I felt there was way too much happenstance. I mean, for 16 years nothing, absolutely nothing, leaked out about the history? Hard to imagine. Likewise, the library/librarian scenes were pandering to librarians and were painful to read. I'm very critical with books that dabble on too long about librarians or libraries because to me, it's begging for those venues to then be very excited about the books. The only interesting character the entire book for me was Uncle Macon who we don't learn enough about. Actually, Boo the dog was pretty interesting too. I wish we learned more about those two and less about Lena the Rain. With the way the story was built in its southern setting, I thought Macon and Boo deserved much more attention than they were given.

Ethan is no hunk nor droolworthy, unless you like a guy who has nothing going on except obsessing about other people. He needed to grow his own spine and interests. I'm not sure why this is being called such a great book, except perhaps because readers are excited they made it through such a long tome? It's nothing special, and I'm kind of sad to feel that way. Definitely not worth the 626 page investment; this could have been done much more effectively (even capturing the same story!) in 1/2 of the pages.

To be entirely honest, I felt like this was trying hard to be the antithesis of Twilight: Ethan is the wirey, spineless character who lives for no one but Lena, much in the way that Bella does for her vampire. So maybe for readers of that series looking for something similar, this may fit the bill. It's a bit more literary, but the romance plays out similarly.


The Everafter, by Amy Huntley

I listened to the audiobook version of The Everafter, and it killed me to have to stop listening when I would get to my destination. I really became involved in the story itself, and I found that the narrator, Tavia Gilbert, did a great job for the most part (though I found her portrayal of a 17-year-old a bit too old sounding and found the editing of the audiobook left a LOT to be desired in terms of sound quality....and not because of the story drifting from the afterlife to the past - that itself was quite clear).

The story line is both original and not -- it reminded me a lot of the premise to both The Lovely Bones and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin, both titles I was unable to get through. But this title I had no issues getting through. Huntley writes fluidly and fully, developing not only a compelling character in Maddy, who exists in "IS," but I felt her development of Gabe, Tammy, Sandra, and Sandra's family fantastic.

This book has a bit of a mystery to it, but I knew immediately how it would end. Even with that knowledge, I still wanted to know what happened and what events came to cause Maddy to die at the age of 17, before she became an aunt. I found the notion of using lost objects to return to a place magical enough to be believable. I really fell into Maddy's "IS" and real-life worlds and believe that there was a great balance among the two worlds, the mystery, and the character development to drive the narrative forward without dragging. Janssen reviewed it, too, and made the comment I would like to emphasize: this is a quick read and should not be anything more.

But here's my criticism (and you knew it was coming): this isn't all that original. Before I picked it up, I knew it was going to be like the two aforementioned titles that I didn't like. So while I liked this one, I think it was because it was similar to the other two but "done right." That, of course, means it was done correctly for ME as a reader. For those who loved either of the other two, though, this might be just a copy cat attempt. I wish I could sit in on the Morris committee meeting just to hear the discussion from those on either side of this camp.


Flash Burnout, by LK Madigan

Like Kim, this was the title I was least excited about because the description was kind of vague. But you know what? This was, hands down, my favorite of the five.

Flash Burnout is a story about choices in life when it comes to relationships; in this particular instance, it's a story about Blake deciding between his super hot girlfriend and a girl with whom he develops a close friendship. But it doesn't transpire as you expect, especially given that summary and the introduction to who Blake is.

When I began the book, I absolutely hated Blake. He reminded me of a stereotypical boy who cares nothing about people but instead was dating Shannon because of her totally hot body. He obsesses with looks, and he's not shy about being a complete jerk about it. But perhaps that was what the charm was: Blake wasn't afraid to be himself. And as the story progresses and we watch him get stuck into a pretty tricky situation with two girls, he doesn't stray from his real heart and desire to be a good guy. I'm ultimately thrilled with how Blake ended up in the end of the book, and I felt like his cheerleader throughout the course of the story.

Like The Everafter, I felt LK Madigan did a great job creating secondary characters. Shannon and Melissa are believable girls, who are both total opposites and quite similar. I thought that the multiple story lines hidden within the story -- those of photography, loss, love, and the drive for "getting lucky," -- worked together smoothly without being trite. The dialog is really well done and definitely screams teen. There have been a lot of books lately where the dialog falls so flatly, but this one does NOT disappoint. This may be the precise reason why Blake is such a great character who you can't help but love and hate: he speaks realistically, and not the way we just hope he'd talk. The final scenes include photography backdrop and his last photo exhibit , and they were brilliantly connected to the entire story.

Criticizing this title was a little hard, but if I had to make any, it would be that Blake doesn't take himself seriously enough. There are a lot of missed opportunities in terms of how the story could have shaped up, but perhaps it comes back to Blake being such a great character because of his faults. And being frank here, the premise, like that of The Everafter is not entirely original or unique. Boys and girls have relationship issues like this, and there are a million books on that. Likewise, I think audience on this title will be hard to find: it's a little crude for most "girl" readers (those who like to read girl-centric books) and it's too invested in emotion for most "boy" readers. It's not a mystery and it's not a fantasy or science fiction. It's not a problem novel nor a real coming of age story. It's a bit of a romance, but it's not a traditional one, either. I love books that fall into this nether land, but they are ultimately tough to sell. I would, however, LOVE to see this one take home the Morris to raise its awareness. The buzz will help it find the right audience.



Hold Still, by Nina LaCour

I've already read and reviewed this one, and I did so before the Morris short list. You can read that review here.

I wasn't a huge fan of this title, but I suspect it was short listed because it's an issue book. Although I think it never coalesced well, I know there were a lot of fans, and I do think there is teen appeal here (however unrealistic I found the entire premise and however much I absolutely did not care about Caitlin or Ingrid).



So that said, I'm a little let down in the choices overall. I felt like some of the books were chosen due to hype and marketing (Beautiful Creatures has had incredible marketing, which you best believe contributes to titles being read and considered for award nominations) and I felt others were chosen because of their clear appeal to the target audience. I'm disappointed that other knock out first-time authors didn't get their time in the limelight....but that's where other awards like the Cybils, BBYA, and others come in, right?


Have you read any of them now? What do you think deserves to win? Do you disagree with my thoughts? I'd love to hear them!


What do you think of the list? Had you heard of most of these books before the shortlist was announced? I’m actually quite surprised that I had – that was not the case last year.

3 comments:

  1. Kelly, I am so with you. What ODD choices this year. I do want to read Flash Burnout, now, though.

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  2. ASH!! I loved beautiful creatures too !:)

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  3. I got a chance to read Ash not too long ago - I haven't read any of the others. I think I liked Ash better than you did, although it was definitely a flawed book. I knew to expect that Ash and Kaisa were going to end up together, and I actually appreciated that there wasn't a big deal made about sexual preference in the book, but I think it would have been smoother on the whole if Lo had more consistently carried out the "sexual preference doesn't matter" aspect. The fact that the one servant character mentioned finding a man for Ash, rather than a man OR a woman, was a jarring note in a book set in a world where I think heterosexuality was supposed to not be assumed.

    I'm looking forward to reading Lo's Huntress - I really hope that the characters in that book are a bit more inclined to take charge of their lives than Ash, who didn't even do the bare minimum for herself, like maybe telling Kaisa what her home situation was like.

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