Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
By: April Genevieve Tucholke
Release Date: August 15, 2013
Our Rating: 1 star
You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…
Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who takes naps in the sun, who likes coffee, who kisses you in a cemetery…who makes you want to kiss back. Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.
Blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror, April Genevieve Tucholke weaves a dreamy, twisting contemporary romance, as gorgeously told as it is terrifying—a debut to watch.
A Note From Your Reviewers:
Normally, we have a lot of fun reading a book together. A lot of the time we disagree. This was not one of those times.
The writing is very simple. Haven’t decided if I like that since its supposed to be Gothic and all beautiful or whatever.
Katy – 1 minute in
Whoa I just caught myself nodding off.
Katy – 8 minutes in
I think Maggie Stiefvater would’ve done better.
Ugh still haven’t finished Raven Boys sequel.
Lol OK nvm Dream Thieves was not that great. Sarah Rees Brennan then.
Katy & Mitch – 15 minutes in
The only thing remotely Gothic about it so far is the lack of a point to what’s going on – so much setup.
Ok I’ve decided this is what a Gothic story Jennifer Armentrout might write feels like GAAAHHH
Mitch – 39 minutes in
That was day one. We made it halfway through the book before Katy fell asleep and Mitch decided to watch old episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine instead. Day two followed with much griping and talk about the worst book of the year. Yeah, it was that bad.
This book promised to be a gorgeously terrifying gothic horror, but for me, it ended up being a cheesy bad ghost – or devil, I should say – story. To call it a nightmare would imply that I was emotionally moved – intrigued, nervous, scared – and the only feeling I had for it was disappointment that it was so silly. I really tried to like the book, but I just felt Tucholke missed so many opportunities with this one because it had potential to be so great.
ELEMENTS OF STYLE & WORLD BUILDING
First of all, the writing felt elementary and was very simple, which would have been fine, but I was hoping Tucholke was going to throw me into a creepy, dark setting – I pictured Sleepy Hollow for the town of Echo and Jane Eyre’s Thornfield Hall for Citizen Kane. But the world building was weak, at best, with bare minimum description of setting or anything else. With such a premise, I was waiting to see that beautiful writing with descriptive imagery. Unfortunately, it never came to be.
And as for symbolism and analogies? I was hoping Tucholke was going somewhere with them because she name-dropped several books and stories including William Faulkner and Agatha Christie. I suppose I get the idea of where Violet was coming from, but she treated them so frivolously that there is no impact of their possible symbolism to the story.
Also, there was potential for the paintings to be used as such, but they weren’t either. There was one instance where Luke was painting a girl holding her shadow, and there was a lot of potential here to possibly compare the girl to Violet or maybe even River. But his metaphor seems almost backwards. If the shadow is the one that needs her support, why is it her that feels like she doesn’t exist? Unless I’m not understanding correctly or I’m lacking an imagination, I would think it should be the other way around, right? Who knows.
Now I’m just going to put this out there. I do not like the characters in this book. Any of them. At all.
Violet is eccentrically odd – and not in the spunky kind of way – more of the quiet girl with strange, disturbing thoughts that you have to watch out for. And I guess that would have been fine if she had been the villain in the book, but she wasn’t. She was different, yeah I get that. But she was also pretty much without friends, and Tucholke never really set up the scene for us that way, except with Luke’s occasional derogatory remarks. Totally different from her twin.
Speaking of the twin, I couldn’t stand Luke. Yes, I understand that Tucholke set him up to be a total and utter douchebag. But I never understood why he was the way he was. I know siblings fight, but their relationship was unnecessarily degrading. It was never explained why Luke was so nasty to Violet – if he was jealous of her growing up, if he had a bad childhood with Freddie or the parents, why it made him feel more manly to bully her. It was just annoying, especially in the scene where he “had taken off his pinstriped jacket” and “began to flex his pectoral muscles in the way that [Violet] hated.” No, they weren’t outside on a hot day, where he felt the need to cool off and use that opportunity to show off. It was just a random scene. Um, okay. I guess I Tucholke’s purpose was to make him such a bad seed where he had room to change at the end. Still, I think the character building was so flawed with his case, that it was hard to care about him.
And Sunshine? Can someone slap her please! Again, I suppose the point was to make her as a self-centered bitch so her personality can improve after everything they’ve been through. Like Luke, i felt she was too conveniently flawed so Tucholke would have the perfect set up for later. “Stop fighting. Both of you. It interrupts my flirting.”But wow, just get her to shut up and go away.
River West. I’m sorry, but he creeped me out from the beginning. I know he’s supposed to be the mysterious stranger that shows up out of nowhere, so you’re not sure if you can trust him. But I thought his lines were very cheesy and anything but smooth. In fact, if a guy tried to say some of those things to me, I would roll my eyes and try to stay far, far away. So, okay, Violet is lonely, and attention from a hot boy is exactly something that would make her melt, and there may be the addition of being under the influence or something like that. Still, at least make him a Rico Suave instead of some creepy stalker guy.
I won’t mention any other characters because I don’t want to ruin the story. But I do want to say that how convenient it is that the parents are gone and that other parental figures are just about absent from this book. do not like what Tucholke did to Freddie’s character. And by the end of the book, connections were made, but Tucholke didn’t really hone in on their significance. I get the Will thing, but who cares about John.
PLOT & STORY DEVELOPMENT
First, it took forever to get there, and even when it did, it wasn’t clearly formed into a coherent thought. I kind of wish she stuck to one thing instead of trying to throw in twists and turns (none of with was unpredictable, by the way) to keep the readers interested.
I won’t say much about the plot except that it’s silly. I mean no disrespect to Tucholke, but really?!? THAT was the story behind everything? I was really hoping for something huge. And I was so disappointed to find out the truth.
But back to the story development. I called it. I called it at the mention of Texas, and I called it in the attic and the aftermath. And it really messed up everything that Tucholke was building toward. That’s all I’m doing to say about it.
All in all, I think there was a lot of potential for this to be a truly amazing, beautifully written, gothically descriptive, twistedly haunting horror story. Tucholke had so much there that was already in place to be such. But the fact that it lacked world-building, had unlikable characters, slow developing plot and a scattered storyline, I just felt that it failed to live up to its potential. I really tried hard to like it. I just couldn’t.
You know how April Genevieve Tucholke’s writing has been called haunting and atmospheric? Well, it only is because either she borrows gothic horror tropes that have nothing to do with the actual story, like the whole deal with a crossroads demon or the entire discussion of music and art, or she comes up with these fake outs, like the stuff with the creepy kids waving stakes around, that end up being nothing, and the whole effect is like the book equivalent of eating cotton candy, filler to make you feel like you’re getting something substantive but in reality is nothing at all. I just made the comparison to Raven Boys because there the writing built up the setting and advanced the story, this was just fluff for the sake of fluff. What a waste of words.
The idea behind a mysterious boarder could’ve been interesting, but then this Violet chick had to go all Bella Swan on him. Not only does the romance take up ninety percent of the ten percent of the book that’s actual story and not just fluff, but by the time it’s revealed this River dude is a danger to her and she’s still thinking about how much she loves him – I think I threw up a little in my mouth.
Ha ha you’re kidding right? Sorry to break it to you, but there is no plot. The thrilling dread? False advertising. It’s just random pointless shit happening because River is a mysterious loner dude and potential menace to society. That leads to the dumbest plot twist ever because in order to make the romance work he can’t be a completely irredeemable psycho – even though murder is still murder. RUN VIOLET WHILE YOU STILL CAN!!!!!
Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2)
By: Leigh Bardugo
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Katy’s Rating: 3.5 stars rounded down [M: wait what?]
Mitch’s Rating: 5 stars and 1 star
|Summary: Darkness never dies.
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
3.5 – The story? Absolutely amazing! The drama? Unbearably annoying! I’d made up my mind to love this book because Mitch had made up his mind to half love and half gripe about it. But I just could NOT give it 5 stars.
First, the Mal vent because I HAVE to get this off my chest. I felt that Bardugo tried WAY to hard to keep the romance drama in the story. For some reason, authors feel compelled to write in something – a love triangle, a jealousy, a history that can’t be overlooked – to keep readers interested in the romance. While I totally understand the need for it and am not totally opposed to its overuse, I find it was more than unnecessary in this book. And it kept interrupting the story, and I wanted to scream at how often and how prevalent Bardugo made it a factor in this book.
Do NOT click this spoiler if you have not read the book. View spoiler on my Goodreads.
The drama was just unnecessary because it just didn’t work, and I just wanted to scream and skim the scenes whenever it came up – but I didn’t because it took up so much of the book. Quit interrupting my story!
Setting that issue aside… the story was great. Alina had more than enough stupid moments to annoying the crap out of me, but I understood where she was coming from and all the issues she had to deal with – sans my little rant back there. I do think that had Bardugo had concentrated more on everything Alina has to deal with and toned down the romance department just a bit, the story would even more interesting because there was more than enough to make Alina a compellingly conflicted but determined character – the Saint and whether or not it’s true. I felt Bardugo ended up seriously hurting the plot and taking away from the real heart of the story by doing what she did.
From the first few scenes to the end, I was hooked to the story – with all the action, with all of the characters involved, with all of the politics behind it and with all the theories that are floating around my head about how everything could fit together. The pacing was very well set (minus the drama in the romance department – noticing a pattern here?), and there was a good mix of fighting scenes, intense discussion and debates and parading around as everyone prepared for the looming battle and the unknown.
Nikolai really intrigued me. He was so smooth, so charming, so calculated, so well, perfect. Sure he had his flaws, but he was always so infuriatingly well composed that I just wanted to know what was going on in his mind. I recently watched the movie, “Now You See Me,” and it made me wondering what he’s planning and how far in advance that he had thought of it, constantly amazed at how he was always either one step ahead or quickly adaptable to what’s being thrown at him. Mal is not the adaptable one, in fact, he was quite the opposite in this book. Nikolai just… well, intrigued me.
I am very curious about the Darkling and his plans and loved, in a hateful kind of way, how he was always there, haunting Alina and passively threatening her and reminding her of what’s to come. And I’m curious about the Apparat and how he and his group falls into this story.
The end leaves you with this determined “I will survive” kind of feeling and really makes you crave for more. Truly awesome, and I can’t wait for the next book – although I also dread what’s to come in the department I had vented about, although I hope he is now out of his stupid funk.
I think I might’ve been the only person who had one foot in each of the ‘Shadow and Bone is awesome’ and ‘Shadow and Bone is mediocre’ camps. Siege and Storm was supposed to be the book that made up my mind, but instead, it’s causing me to do the split… I truly do see why so many friends have raved about Leigh Bardugo’s series – a part of me absolutely feels the same way – yet at the same time, another part, maybe a bigger part, has so many issues with the story I also have half a mind to angrily reject everything about this. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be the odd man out with my half love half loathe view toward this sequel, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that’s left me so utterly frustrated between my mixed reactions.
To put it another way, I once compared Shadow and Bone to a masterfully constructed house of cards, and that’s still true of Siege and Storm. It’s a beautiful view, and I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t enjoy every minute of looking at it while it stood, and yet, at the same time, when I’m poking around, the whole thing falls apart, and I’d be dishonest too if I said that doesn’t bother, nay, enrage me. Here’s the thing, Leigh Bardugo is an excellent (some would say superficial) writer in the sense she can pull together character, setting, myth, and plot in a way that’s epic, exciting, compelling, and just feels like reading a modern day folk tale, and that got to me, it really did. I’m not going to say I didn’t feel what my raving friends felt, because I did – cool world building, tough heroine, epic fantasy, what’s not to like?
But at the end of the day, Bardugo’s talent is really making something out of nothing, because all those great qualities, if you think about it, is just that, nothing. Take for example Alina, who seems like this multifaceted character who has a complex relationship with power, but you know, she can’t even answer the most basic question about her character – why is she doing any of this, taking charge, going up against the Darkling? Love of country? Nope, that’s not it. Mal? Ha. The Darkling? Are you kidding me? Bardugo does a great job of fabricating this illusion of Alina as a complex and reluctant heroine, but behind the (admittedly awesome) writing, I just didn’t get a sense her character had any drive besides her relationship with Mal or whatever the plot demanded, and it seemed like to me she’s the kind of one dimensional character who can’t exist outside of being swept up by the plot.
As for the other characters, the Darkling’s this well written, interesting evil character, but behind the facade is… nothing at all. Seriously, we know nothing about the Darkling or his motivations. I’m disappointed because Siege and Storm gave us zero development for his character, and all the praise seems to be directed at a blank slate who’s been the lucky beneficiary of some massive transference. And Mal (a.k.a. uninteresting designated love interest), I honestly don’t know why I tolerate him as much as I do, because his character really doesn’t exist outside of causing Alina angst, this time with well received new guy Sturmhond, who, if you think about it, is just an amalgam of every bad boy stereotype ever in one well written but blatantly cliched package (with one early confrontation scene between him and the Darkling leaving me steaming). Yet I’ll admit, Bardugo has skills and she pulls all of this off, creating these seemingly complex characters that shouldn’t be, but while part of me has no qualms with liking them, the other part’s just irked by how superficial they are.
Then again, my view of the plot is just as equally conflicted. On one hand, the pacing, beyond a bizarre turnabout involving the Darkling’s reappearance in the first chapter or two, totally worked and had me hooked the whole way through, wondering if Alina could truly beat her nemesis – it’s just that riveting. On the other, the plot blatantly screams ‘quest to find MacGuffin’ and ‘obvious rehash of the first book’ with pretty much the same structure down to the same convenient nonending, and you know, I liked working my way through the story at the same time that I hated it. Like I said, it’s a testament to Leigh Bardugo’s skill as a writer that she can make such blatantly shallow elements work in her book, and I love that they work but hate how I can so easily recognize what she’s done.
Anyway, I have a feeling everyone who loved the first book will love this too. I’m also pretty sure those who didn’t will laugh this one off as well. And that leaves me in the middle with my conflicted opinions, anticipating the final book yet griping about my dissatisfaction at the same time.
Boundless (Unearthly 3)
By: Cynthia Hand
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Katy’s Rating: 3 stars
Mitch’s Rating: 2 stars
|Summary: The past few years have held more surprises than part-angel Clara Gardner could ever have anticipated. Yet from the dizzying highs of first love, to the agonizing low of losing someone close to her, the one thing she can no longer deny is that she was never meant to live a normal life.
Since discovering the special role she plays among the other angel-bloods, Clara has been determined to protect Tucker Avery from the evil that follows her . . . even if it means breaking both their hearts. Leaving town seems like the best option, so she’s headed back to California – and so is Christian Prescott, the irresistible boy from the vision that started her on this journey in the first place.
As Clara makes her way in a world that is frighteningly new, she discovers that the fallen angel who attacked her is watching her every move. And he’s not the only one. . . . With the battle against the Black Wings looming, Clara knows she must finally fulfil her destiny. But it won’t come without sacrifices and betrayal.
In the riveting finale of the Unearthly series, Clara must decide her fate once and for all.
2 for first half & 4 for the second half – attempted spoiler-free review
I really struggled with the first half of this book. I remember Hand being a better writer, which is why I gave the last bok 3 stars despite what happened. Or maybe it was just pent-up animosity and unresolved resentment I had for the last book. Hallowed made me SO mad, and I’m not ashamed to say that I disliked Christian. He was boring. He was reserved, and not a mysteriously hot way. And he was kind of creepy.
I kept yelling at myself, “Why the heck are you reading this book?” throughout the first half as I moved from being annoyed at Clara being so hung up on Tucker (it’s her own damn fault) and nauseated by Clara and Christian’s attempt at having a relationship and forcing themselves to belong together. I wanted to yell every time I saw a variation of that phrase or the word soulmate. As far as the story went, nothing really interesting really happened except them trying to adjust to college life and having a few training lessons.
But it started getting more interesting halfway into the book. I am trying very hard to write a spoiler-free review, but I will say this. I was told that Christian will become more tolerable in this book, and I remember saying, “But, but, I don’t want to like Christian.” Well, begrudgingly, yes, he does grow on you. Now for all of those who are going to take that statement as a good reason not to read the book? Don’t. I promise you won’t regret it if you do decide to read this book.
As for the rest of the story, I read the novella before reading this book, and I think that does give me a strong premise for liking Angela’s story. It doesn’t make me resent her any less for being a brat, but I do have a deeper understanding of where she is coming from. I had a feeling she was going to get herself in that situation as I was reading the novella – both secrets, but the older WHO did catch me off guard.
While we’re on the subject of who, I’m sure everyone can guess the secret about Christian from early on – maybe not the who, but the role the who played in this book. What I was surprised to find out was that Christian had known all along, and it was the other parties that did not know. And I was shocked to find out the ties related to the secret, although I do recall a scene from the novella involving a kiss. Ew!
I will give Hand credit for ending the book on a powerful note. It totally deserves 4 stars possibly higher. The whole time I was reading, I kept trying to understand why Hand was pushing so hard for Christian and Clara to be together. And the end just broke my heart. But she threw in just one more thing at me which made me elated but baffled at the same time. Because I don’t understand what Christian is to Clara. Sure, I get the lesson that Sam tried to teach us, but it makes me wonder about a lot of things like why and what’s the point – which is why I didn’t give the second half more stars.
I know I’m being cryptic about a lot of things, but that’s just because I can’t reveal anything about this book. I will say that I am glad I read this book – the last of this torturous series. Now for those who were disheartened or infuriated by the last book, I hope you decide to give this one a chance. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Sorry, I tried, but I just don’t get the appeal. I’ve heard lots of good things ever since Unearthly and I certainly understand the praise – in an angel paranormal landscape littered with train wrecks like Silence, Halo, and Hush, Hush, Boundless is far from terrible. Still, when I’m looking at the story, all I see are the same generic concepts as pretty much every other book in the genre, just better done. That’s great for people who actually enjoy reading about romantic woes, love triangles, and a smidge of plotting just so we can say there’s a story beyond just the romance, but I don’t think I can ever get beyond the fact that this is still really just a romance masquerading as an angel plot.
And ultimately, that’s my problem. Say what you will about how great Boundless is, but, at the end of the day, it still has more in common with its oft ridiculed peers than with a true angel book. Sure, the girl is a little less angsty and not quite so insecure, the love triangle isn’t nauseatingly vomitrocious, and the plot is a bit more than just your average good versus evil angels capped off by your typical fight to stave off the end of the world as we know it, but in the end Boundless is still working with the same ingredients that made all those other angel books ‘bad’ – can I really say this is ‘good’ when it’s the book equivalent of making the same shitty stew but using slightly better quality ingredients? Why does Clara have to spend fully half the book doing random college stuff with Christian while her father conveniently withholds the vital stuff that moves the plot along in the second half until the midway point of the book? Why does she spend so much time obsessing over her failed relationship with Tucker to the point the actual plot involving the threat to her life feels more like a minor inconvenience? Why does the climax of this book fail as much as Unearthly – when Clara basically just ripped off some dude’s ear? If I can make a comparison to Heaven, another angel book with a superficially similar plot, yeah, at least Hand’s protagonist isn’t shallow or sanctimonious and her depictions of college life aren’t nearly as laughable, but when all’s said and done I don’t think there’s really anything here I haven’t seen before there.
Actually, maybe there is one thing, something that’s bothered me ever since Unearthly – Hand’s excessive use of foreshadowing. Part of it, Clara’s vision starting out the prologue and the rest of the book being her trying to figure out her purpose and the end revealing how her initial vision worked out, well, that I get is the hook of the series and have no problems with, but it seems to me like Hand enjoys revealing things with basically the writing equivalent of ‘see, see, here’s a detail that’s going to be important later, so I’m going to make it so obvious you HAVE to notice it’ – there was the color of Jeffrey’s wings the last two books, and this time around, all the stuff about how something is going on with Angela. But you know what? After all the foreshadowing, you don’t just reveal exactly what I’ve been expecting based on all the hints marked by the big neon signs, otherwise the reveal just becomes anticlimatical, and anticlimatical reveals are boring. My reaction before reading this book was seriously ‘you can’t muck up the last book in the series with excessive foreshadowing, can you?’ – and somehow, I was still bored, because Hand really doesn’t deliver with the ‘is Jeffrey good or evil because of the color of his wings’ plot she’s got going on for two books now, THAT was textbook anticlimatical, and Angela’s storyline really wasn’t any better. I don’t think I learned anything about how her relationship with Phen
evolves devolves after what happened.
The worst thing by far though, is the love triangle. I’m sure that’s a bonus for lots of people, but for me, it’s a massive detriment. Why? I don’t get the appeal of Tucker. He’s just a cowboy who can’t do anything because everyone else has angel powers, so Clara’s relationship with him is basically ‘she’s out saving the world while he’s back at the ranch doing… manly things?’ – so I see all my friends rooting for Tucker and I’m like, ‘umm why?’ because he comes dangerously close through most of the book of falling into the useless love interest trap, and I have no patience with useless characters. Then again, even though Christian does things, I don’t like him either, but at least there I’m not alone. For me, the only thing the triangle does is give a license for all these characters to act like jerks whenever it’s brought it, and why is that a good thing? And the other thing about love triangles is that you have to write the ending a certain way, otherwise you piss off your fanbase, so while I think many many people will be very happy after reading the ending – even if many others will be disappointed, it doesn’t really make much sense. Not spoiling it, but the whole point of Clara’s triangle dilemma is left unresolved except for a massive deus ex machine delivered by Uriel.
Yeah, basically, I’m thankful this is series is over because I’m not the kind of guy who enjoys reading about people bitching about their love lives for most of a book that’s nominally supposed to be about conflict between Heaven and Hell. A conflict that’s not even well done thanks to all the huge hints scattered throughout that left me five steps ahead of Clara and company the entire time. Next!
While we were reading “Everbound” by Brodi Ashton, the topic of Christian and Tucker came up again…
K: Tucker, sigh, I love tucker.
M: that was me bashing my head against my keyboard
K: That was me giggling at your reaction
Since Mitch was wanting to know WHY Tucker was so great so that “maybe [he’ll] finally figure it out…
Don’t listen to Mitch. He’s just jealous of you because you so hot because you have manly muscles from working so hard on your farm.
Even though your initial attitude had me all
hot and botheredfrustratingly riled up. But I realize you were just trying so hard to stay away but couldn’t in the end. You have a great sense of humor, and you’re one of those who tease girls that they like. Mitch is just mad because he doesn’t understand that while it can be infuriatingly hot, you were never too assholish as some guys can be.
And once you let your true side through, you are so sweet and have that southern charm that just made me swoon but not at all sappy. You are protective, yet not overbearingly so. You’re also devoted and fight for what you believe in.
Don’t listen to weird, disconcerting, creepy guys like Christian or those like Mitch who just don’t understand.
A girl who DOES understand you 😉
Mitch chose not to respond because he didn’t want to “pour cold water if [I’m] all hot and bothered? :P” and because maybe he felt like “letting [me] have [my] moment for once.” Isn’t that sweet?
Today’s review is of one of the more controversial books on Goodreads at the moment, and one that Katy and I vehemently disagree on, Uses for Boys. As a word of warning, the subject matter of the book deals with sex, rape, and abortion, and is quite graphic and disturbing at times, so while this is marketed towards a young adult audience, Katy and I both advise discretion when deciding whether to pick this up. As for the reasons for our disagreement, read on.
Uses for Boys
By: Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Katy’s Rating: 4 stars
Mitch’s Rating: 1 star
|Summary: Anna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, just the two of them against the world. But now her mom is gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, bringing home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her own—until she discovers that she can make boys her family. From Desmond to Joey, Todd to Sam, Anna learns that if you give boys what they want, you can get what you need. But the price is high—the other kids make fun of her; the girls call her a slut. Anna’s new friend, Toy, seems to have found a way around the loneliness, but Toy has her own secrets that even Anna can’t know.Then comes Sam. When Anna actually meets a boy who is more than just useful, whose family eats dinner together, laughs, and tells stories, the truth about love becomes clear. And she finally learns how it feels to have something to lose—and something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical, Uses for Boys is a story of breaking down and growing up.|
Warning: This is NOT a cute YA romance. It’s crass. It’s disturbing. And it’s definitely for a more mature audience who can handle a distasteful subject. Many readers will not like this book. Some will not get very far. But I was prepared, so I knew what I was getting myself into.
I actually found that the book did a great job telling the story about what happens to many, many girls out there (and believe me, I have seen it happen to others too many times). I like the simplicity of the book (some will not) and how it got to the core of the situation. The author did not try to overdramatize what was going on or bogged the reader with an influx of emotions.
The story began with a girl who was the soul object of her mother’s love. It was just the two of them, and the Anna had a child-like way of adoring her mother, who was her everything. But things began to change, and Anna is desperately crying out for attention but just doesn’t know how. This, of course, has a huge effect on her, as she learns to deal with boys with no one really giving her any direction.
I admit, I was a bit taken aback at first – shocked that she was so young and digusted by the nature of what happened. At the same time, I was fascinated with what was going through Anna’s head – the naivety of it all, thoughts of how she was going to retell the story, insecurity of what was going to happen next. Anna showed a lot of character development as she progressed from innocent to ignorant to detached to understanding.
For me, it wasn’t mind-blowing, and I can’t really say that I LIKED the book. Still, I really appreciated the simplicity of it, and Scheidt’s ability to depict what could be a totally believable real-life story without going overboard in an attempt putting our emotional strings.
I think I can count on one hand the number of times a book has been as off its mark and gone as awry as Uses for Boys. To be perfectly clear, I understand Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s intention to write a character study of a neglected girl who turns to meaningless sex as her sole source of solace, and I came into the book expecting mature and graphic content, so my criticism is not of those elements per se. No, my problem is that Scheidt seems to rely on shock value alone to carry the narrative without any overarching compelling message or theme, so all I’m left with at the end of this is a collection of ever more disturbing scenes and some very unpleasant implications.
A big part of it too is the writing. I actually liked the first couple of chapters, because there’s a simple, innocent quality to Anna’s voice, particularly with the sentence structure and the length of each chapter. I really felt Scheidt captures the voice of a seven year old in a believable way, and that authenticity really added that extra emotional punch to this story of neglect, emptiness, and failed relationships. But where Scheidt fails though, is avoiding a trap that catches a lot of unwary authors of books that take place over a period of years, she never ages Anna’s voice as the girl herself goes from a seven year old to eight to ten and then into her teens. When the only clue I have of Anna’s actual age is her saying something to the effect of ‘guess what, I’m [insert age] now!’ – no, that is not successful writing. Still, even then that wouldn’t normally warrant such utter distaste on my part, I mean, if I read a thirteen year old girl saying this:
She says that since I’m a big girl now, I can feed myself and put myself to bed.
Well, I’d just have a good laugh about it. Except – that’s not all Anna’s doing, she’s also engaged in sex, and when she’s telling it in a seven year old’s voice, that’s my problem. Who beyond a pedophile would want to read sex scenes written from the frame of mind of a seven year old?
In addition to the skeevy implications of narrating sex scenes with a seven year old’s voice, Scheidt’s failure to age Anna’s voice also causes a host of other issues – like, say, the cavalier treatment of forcible rape, statutory rape, abortion, and neglect. Ok, I get I’m supposed to be outraged by what Todd does, I know that’s the intent of that scene, but in conjunction with everything that happens with Josh, with Anna’s mother, with Desmond, you know what all of it says? Society has failed this girl, completely failed her, and I ended up despising not only the characters Scheidt intended for me to hate, like Anna’s mother, but also the characters she intended to be sympathetic, like Jane. Why? Because they all failed Anna – Jane failed Anna even though I get she’s intended as the sympathetic ear at the abortion clinic when Anna’s going through one of the toughest periods of the book, because, maybe it’s just me, but when a pregnant teenager goes to an abortion clinic with a good for nothing boyfriend and an absentee mother you do not just give her an abortion and send her on her way, you ask questions, like ‘how are you doing?’ and try to get her the help she needs. Because nobody should be able to get away with saying something like:
I drop out of school. It’s easy. I get a paper and sign it. I leave it on the kitchen table for my mom to sign. The school signs it. School’s over.
Because if Anna had gotten the help she obviously needs, the rest of the book wouldn’t have been necessary. Because, even if many, many kids still slip through the cracks every single day, that doesn’t mean we should stop giving a damn. Except, Uses for Boys obviously isn’t an expose on society’s failures, neither Jane nor anyone else is called out for having failed Anna, and the only thing I’m left to conclude is that the book is perfectly fine with how god damn awful everything is and glossing over how so many people should’ve spoken out but didn’t as long as Anna shows some character growth in the end.
Finally, that brings me to this book’s treatment of guys, which has left me appalled, outraged, and repulsed. I’m not going to quibble over meaningless generalizations like this:
Boys want to touch you. They want to stuff their hands up your shirt or down your pants. They want you to touch them. Boys say things like, “See how hard you make me?”
But I will say there was not a single likeable male character in the entire book. Yes, I get Scheidt’s intent is to portray Anna as broken because her father abandoned her, and then a string of male characters like Desmond, Joey, and Todd obviously failed her, but I’m not talking about them. I’m not even talking about Josh, who fronts Anna money just to get rid of his problem rather than having an actual conversation, because he wasn’t supposed to be the good guy. I’m talking about how much I despise Sam. For someone who’s written as actually caring, for someone who’s written as the one to show Anna the value of a good home, wow it doesn’t take him long to get into Anna’s pants. For Scheidt to have the gall of portraying him as the savior, someone who’s better than Desmond and Joey and Todd when he’s no better than any of them, and maybe even worse because he betrays the very morals he’s supposed to represent, that is just appalling. I’m sure the ending will get a positive response from many people simply because Anna finds a place where she belongs, but for me, when that place is with Sam, I am completely repulsed.
I get Erica Lorraine Scheidt set out to write a touching story of a broken girl who finally learns something after years of neglect and sexual abuse. What she’s actually written though is a story as vile as Fanny Hill with just as much gravitas and depth. At least John Cleland knew what he was doing.
About the situation being “glossed over” – I don’t think this book “gloss over” about how people should speak out. The reality is, hardly anyone ever does. They’re scared. They think people won’t believe them. They think, “What’s the point?” My sister is a social worker, so she sees things like this happen every day. I’ve been in sexual offense court cases where the victim talks about not talking, to which the DA says afterwards that many, many victims never really step up. Is it okay? Of course not. But the point is, it’s sad how many people will actually turn the other way (especially if it’s like some golden boy) instead of helping the victim. And it’s sad that this happens way too much in this society.
About her voice not aging – She never really “grew up” because no one was there to help her. By the end of the book, sans the last few chapters, she was still the same naive girl who thought love and sex was one thing when it really wasn’t. No one was there to teach her. And no one was there for her to talk to – her mom checked out, Toy always interrupted her. So in a way, she was more “experienced,” but she hadn’t grown any – until the end.
About the writing – I just thought the writing reflects the situation so well. It was crass. It was simple. Instead of bogging it down with over-emotion or descriptions of the severity of the situation, it was kind of ignorant-sounding and detached, which is the voice I expect to hear from the book. I just think there are a lot of Anna’s out there, who DO speak/think in the tone of this book. We don’t like it because we are blessed that we aren’t put in that situation. But the reality is, that’s the way life is for them. And I applaud the author for having the guts to write a book like that – knowing people are really going to be turned off by it. For me, if you’re going to do something like that, you have to do it right. Otherwise, what’s the point.
I “liked” this book because it was different from your same o same o about the same subject. But then again, it’s not for everyone.
Ok, I get it. You’re responding to how realistic Anna’s situation is from the beginning of the book to the end. That’s fine. Mine is just frustration and anger because it seemed to me like the book was saying, look, Anna’s becoming a better character now that she’s met Sam, but for me her ‘improvement’ is completely illusory.
When we first decided to do a blog, Mitch had asked me to come up with some ideas because he claimed to not be very creative. Personally, I think he was just lazy and trying to get out of doing work. 😉 Turns out, he’s got the knack after all and has done a pretty good job keeping our blog fun – of course, at my expense. 😛 So at request, here is my response. Personally, I don’t think anyone really cares, but because he asked. 🙂 [M: In my defense, I only asked because it wouldn’t be fair if you couldn’t get a word in, I never said you had to :p]
The Roast (in response to Blog Entry 12.19.12)
Anyway, Mitch had asked me to respond, and I know you all are just DYING to read a roast on him. Unfortunately, I just have too many messages and emails to dig through that it’s going to take me until next year before it’s done, so I’m sorry to disappoint.
OR, you can just take it that Mitch is so great and wonderful and smart that he’s ALWAYS RIGHT and has absolutely NO FLAWS that I can point out about him. 😉
But I can’t leave our readers in TOTAL disappointment, so I will leave them this much. Mitch always teases me about reading bad books with no plot because of a hot guy or a feisty girl – Throne of Glass’ Celaena Sardothien IS kickass damnit! Well, do you want to know why Mitch reads?
Mitch wrote: “Lol, I read YA books mostly for the action and cool girls (and plot ahem), loved VA cause Rose was so kickass all the time and never paid an ounce of attention to Adrian/Dimitri.” (-dated 04.06.12)
[*M runs around wildly gesticulating at the quote yelling ‘nothing to see here folks’ at the top of his lungs*]
Stats (in response to Blog Entry 01.05.13)
On the way home from work one day, I get an e-mail.
Mitch wrote: “Btw this is pretty cool (see attached pic) but you didn’t set the read dates of most of your books so I can’t stalk you D:<“
I thought Goodreads automatically dated the book when you marked it read. Naturally, I’m lazy and
ignored shrugged off his request. Whereas he asked for permission and gave me a heads up on the roast, he totally surprised me with the blog entry, calling me out.
Mitch wrote: Katy on the other hand has been a slacker all year and read a mere 40 books… She should get on it huh?
Okay, okay, so he knows me too well. I spent OVER TWO HOURS fixing all of the dates that night instead of spending that time reading – that’s a whole book I could have finished. I bet he was just trying to distract me because he realized he read a MEASLY 228 books compared to my 271. 😉 Don’t worry Mitch, you’ll be far ahead of me this year. 😛 Stalk away (click on images.)
[M: I have a bunch of unmarked books from before I joined the site in March, and a month and a half gap in October when I didn’t have any time to read. But fine. You win.]
Top Five (in response to Blog Entry 01.11.13)
Mitch kind of caught me at work with his request for my top five. Basically, the conversation went like this…
Mitch wrote: Btw, I want to write a third part to the 2012 recap articles, could you do me a favor and list your top 5 books of the year? If you don’t want to give reasons that’s fine, I can do that or mock your choices for you.
Katy wrote: Can’t you do it? I went thru a lot of effort just fixing the dates.
Mitch wrote: Huh? You want me to pick your top 5 books of the year out of your 5 stars at random? Ok I will but #1 will be temptation of angels and #2 will be throne of glass and I’ll make a big stink out of it. I was giving you the chance but if you want me to go crazy I will :p But I guess if you really can’t remember which 5 stars are your top 5 … :p :p :p
Katy: Sigh. released in ’12 or read in ’12?
Mitch: Don’t care. Whichever you can think of off the top of your head. If you thinking is too hard don’t worry I’ll take care of it for you but no promises you’ll be happy
I won’t defend the reasons for my top five because they are AWESOME choices 😉 and because you can just read the reviews yourselves – yes, I STILL think Throne of Glass’ Celaena Sardothien IS kickass damnit!
Since he had so much fun with my top five, here are my responses to his…
Mitch’s #5 – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I can’t seem to find the message or e-mail, but when I got this ARC in August, Mitch had made a comment that the book just didn’t look that interesting. Who’s eating his words now?
[M: Yeah yeah.]
Mitch’s #4 – The Triumph of Death (Alex Van Helsing 3) by Jason Henderson
What a guy. Just kidding, I’ve always wanted to read the series but never got to it, so I can’t comment on something I haven’t read.
Mitch’s #3 – Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere Chronicles 3) by Melina Marchetta
Mitch likes to boast that he got people to read this series. While this is very much true, you should ask him who recommended Finnikin of the Rock to him back in March. 😉
Mitch’s #2 – Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles 2) by Melina Marchetta
Please refer to previous entry.
Mitch’s #1 – The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandana
Again, Mitch likes to boast that he got people to read this book and constantly reminds me who got me to read this book, to which I will always say it wasn’t him. But to give credit where it is due, he did get a lot of people to read this (myself included) – I was just a couple of days behind because of other stuff I had to take care of before reading, and the raving reviews just gave me all more reason to read it. 😉 Happy now? [M: SCORE!!]
Thanks, Mitch for an awesome year. Here’s to a just-as-great 2013!
You’ve seen my picks for the worst books of last year, as well as a recap of Katy’s and my reads in 2012, and now in the last of our 3 part series Katy and I are going to share our favorite books of the year. It wasn’t easy – it’s been a stellar year with so many standouts Katy actually blanked when I asked for her list – but these are our top favorites, including a few surprises.
Release Date: September 18, 2012
It was Maggie Stiefvater’s atmospheric writing that drew me in, but it was her twisty plotting that kept me going. I docked off a star because of the ending, but make no mistake, The Raven Boys is still a standout for anyone who enjoys their books slow, well-written, and full of surprises.
Release Date: May 15, 2012
Katy’s offbeat sense of humor makes another appearance with this… book that she describes as a train wreck you just can’t look away from. Maybe she relates to the characters because she’s had her own wild night in Mexico (?), but From What I Remember… is supposedly a lot of drunken fun.
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Part historical thriller, part vampire slaying action-adventure, The Triumph of Death is an excellent pick for anyone who prefers their bloodsuckers staked instead of sparkly. Plus, with references to Byron, the art of the Middle Ages, and other Gothic horror inspired Easter Eggs, it’s like a mini DaVinci Code!
Release Date: December 8, 2011
Will or Jem, that is the question. I agree Cassandra Clare’s prequel series is much better written than The Mortal Instruments and isn’t bad steampunk at all, but for Katy and the millions of other rabid Clare fans who can’t get enough of her characters, Clockwork Prince is a no brainer.
Release Date: September 28, 2012 (Australia)
There’s a reason Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles is so widely beloved – who doesn’t like fantastic character development, rich plotting, and emotions in spades? And Quintana of Charyn does exactly what I’d expected the last book in the series to do. ‘Nuff said.
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Oh dear. Katy has no idea why she likes this one as much as she does, and I didn’t like it at all, so we’ll just chalk this one up to temporary insanity. At least it wasn’t A Temptation of Angels. *shudders*
P.S. Again, Celaena Sardothien is NOT a kickass assassin. She’s just a big talker!!
Release Date: March 13, 2012 (US)
Froi can be a hard book to wrap your head around – it’s long, intricate, and intentionally strange in places, but for anyone who enjoys complexity in just the right places, there are few fantasies as immensely satisfying as this one.
Release Date: September 28, 2012 (Australia)
Katy obvious prefers the more simplistic feel of Quintana, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Mitch and Katy’s #1
Release Date: August 28, 2012
I know, right? I didn’t expect Katy and I to agree on our number one pick either. But Sangu Mandanna’s debut goes above and beyond every other dystopian released this year – what other book turns your typical dystopian plot into a rich, emotional, philosophical exploration of the meaning of life?