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Book Review: Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

Down With The Shine by Kate Karyus QuinnDown with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn
Published: April 26th 2016 by HarperTeen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Magic, Horror, Murder, Funny
Rating: 3 stars
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Make a wish…

Lennie always thought her uncles’ “important family legacy” was good old-fashioned bootlegging. Then she takes some of her uncles’ moonshine to Michaela Gordon’s annual house party, and finds out just how wrong she was.

At the party, Lennie has everyone make a wish before drinking the shine—it’s tradition. She toasts to wishes for bat wings, for balls of steel, for the party to go on forever. Lennie even makes a wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was murdered six months ago.

The next morning gives Lennie a whole new understanding of the phrase be careful what you wish for—or in her case, be careful what wishes you grant. Because all those wishes Lennie raised a jar of shine to last night? They came true. Most of them came out bad. And once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Young Adult Book Review

Talk with your kids about their secret wish granting powers, people. Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn started out strong but lost its edge as it progressed. The dark and macabre mood we start out with is soon lost amid out of place humor and slapstick. Down with the Shine flip-flops between the two and ends up being kind of annoying with the different atmospheres. If you are going to be dark, then be dark. Same thing with silly. Mashing the two together just leaves me unsatisfied and unsure which way to go. The elements that were dark; Lennie’s psychopath father, murdered best friend, and string of accidently granted wishes that turn out rather horrifyingly, were all great, but sort of fell to the wayside as Down with Shine focused more on comedy in the middle portion. There were so many juicy elements to explore and we’re just let down.

The wishes that Lennie unknowingly grants at the party are played for laughs and the whole thing comes off as a comedy sketch with her uncles running around trying to contain teenagers suddenly stuck with bat wings, who were turned into Thumbelina, or turn everything they touch into Cheetos. Then there is the ridiculous drama of the budding romance between Lennie and Smith. I was frankly uninterested about those two. Dylan’s murder, mutilation, and decent into the dark side are unexplored. The disturbing kiss between Smith and his mother is left dangling. We’re left wondering about Lennie’s father. There are just so many interesting elements in Down with the Shine that aren’t focused on because of the humor. It’s like there are two stories going on here and both suffer from lack of focus. Pick one; dark or silly, and stick with it.

I’m especially disappointed by Dylan. The resolution at the end saves her life, granted, but then the underlying issue of why Dylan acted as she did, pretending to be Lennie and meeting with strange men, is not dealt with. Our main character, Lennie, is your basic sarcastic outcast character that I am frankly tired of in YA books. I love the premise and the majority of my enjoyment in this book was from the interesting storyline and magical elements. Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn could have been dark and gritty and fantastic but feels watered down.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

splinteredSplintered by A.G. Howard
Published January 1st 2013 by Amulet Books
Format: Paper Book
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy, Dark Fairytale
Reading Level: Mature Teen
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This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence.

Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers — precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

I adore Alice in Wonderland and any novel with even an inkling of connection to it gets a definite read from me. That’s why I was so excited to finally get my hands on Splintered by A.G. Howard after waiting for two weeks for a copy to finally become available at my library. I always say; it takes a bit of madness to deal with Wonderland. Unfortunately, all my excitement was for not. I was extremely disappointed with Splintered. It pinged every annoyance button I have in regards to YA novels and drove me nuts while I read it because I could see the potential for a great novel hidden underneath irritating main characters and the nauseating and aggravating teenage romance. I’m about to be very harsh here. You’ve been warned.

First; the good. I loved the dark, gritty remake of Wonderland. It’s a more mature version of the fantastical land, where everything is now covered with a layer of horror; completely unlike what we see in the original novel and the Disney movie. It’s a very English look at the fairy creatures, which are more often portrayed as not very nice or good. I love it when authors working with Alice and Wonderland revamp the story into a more adult version. Howard’s Wonderland is nightmarish and fascinating. All of the secondary characters are fantastic. The Twid Sisters in the cemetery are my favorite, although the dark fairytale quality to everyone makes the reimagined characters so much fun. The plot is complex and the twist surprisingly a surprise. The world-making in Splintered is the best part of the whole novel. 

Second; the bad. For me, this meant all of the main characters. Alyssa is a whiny child and Jeb is a controlling alpha male that should have been left on the opposite side of the mirror. Morpheus is okay but I feel he could have had a bit more mystery about him. He’s solidly cast as a sort of villain rather early in the book and I feel he could have had a bit more “is he or isn’t he” surrounding him. But my main peeve with this book is Alyssa and Jeb and their utterly stupid romance. Jeb is an obstacle to Alyssa’s journey and character development. He’s a controlling alpha male that needs to go away so Alyssa can continue her development into an independent person. As it is, Alyssa comes off as a whiny child that can’t deal with anything. This is not what I am looking for in a protagonist. The romance is clichéd, the page long descriptions of kissing are more nauseating than anything else, and the pair fairly ruins the book in my opinion.

The novel does get better near the end but that’s only because Jeb falls into a crevasse and is then carted off to the castle and Alyssa actually has to deal with things rather than focusing on Jeb’s honey sweet lips and perfect butt or whatever the hell it was. Look; I get that they are teenagers and I understand being focused on your crush but there is ‘focused’ and then there is obsessed and codependent and maybe you two should see other people. The novel is a touch too long in my opinion and would have gained from moving a little faster. So, Splintered by A.G. Howard was a fail for me. It reads like a check list of the most annoying things about YA novels for me. Maybe you like that type of romance and Alyssa and Jeb’s utter occupation with each other (completely ignoring any type of character development and bogging the plot down to a crawl) is something you might like. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Published April 3rd 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 361 pages; hardcover
Genre: Mystery, Horror, Contemporary fiction
Reading Level: Teen
ISBN 0316125849 (ISBN 13: 9780316125840)
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Jazz, Jasper Dent, is a normal enough teenager in the small town of Lobo’s Nod. He has his girlfriend Connie and his best friend Howie. He even has a part in the next high school play. But Jazz is also the only son of an accomplished serial killer and Dear Old Dad Billy Dent taught his son everything he knew. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops only wish they could – from the killer’s point of view. Now people are turning up dead once more and Jazz must track the new killer down in an effort to prove that murder does not run in the family, especially as the new killer is doing everything just like Billy Dent did all those years ago.

I occasionally read mysteries but they have to have something unique to pull my interest in. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga definitely fit the bill and is probably the most interesting mystery I’ve ever read. It all centers around the very different main character. I was blown away by Jazz. First of all, I always seem to enjoy books with male main characters more than I do their female counterparts. Perhaps it is that male characters tend to avoid several stereotypical behaviors that even a well-written female character might display. (My kingdom for a female character not obsessed with some hot guy.) Then we have Jazz’s unique connection to serial killers and his very chilling reactions to the world around him. People fascinate me. Well, they also annoy the crap out of me, but the ‘why’ of their behaviors fascinates me. Jazz stands on the cusp of two worlds, his motivation to be good and that part of him still under the sway of what his father taught him; the killer inside that Jazz does not want to get out (or thinks he should not want to get out). Jazz is the most complex character I’ve read about in a long time. The boy gave me goose-bumps several times in this story.

I Hunt Killers kept me guessing. Lyga keeps throwing Deputy Erikson in our faces as the killer but as a reader we know that because Erikson is so visible in the story that he can’t be the killer. It’s a kneejerk reaction of “that’s too easy”. At one point I was convinced that Jazz was having some sort of split personality and really was killing those people himself. We even suspect Sheriff G. William and the journalist Doug Weathers because Jazz himself suspects him. We are perfectly strung along. In the end, the killer is plainly visible but was the one person Jazz never suspected. Surprised the hell out of me too! I can’t wait for the sequel. I hope Jazz is a few years older in the next book, out of high school and considered an adult. It would be interesting to see what Jazz does as an official profiler.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga is going on my list of favorite books for 2012. I adored all the characters, even the greatly disturbing Billy Dent, and was captivated at every turn. I couldn’t put it down! It has the best of the mystery and horror genres, with a complex plot and creepy, deeply unsettling thought processes. Here there be demons, folks. Check your squeamishness at the door. That said, I Hunt Killers is also an enthralling, wild ride with many twists and turns and I recommend it to anyone looking for a unique murder mystery that will make you check the door is locked multiple times.

Memorable Quote: “Sometimes his programming simulated human emotions pretty well. And sometimes he convinced himself that it wasn’t programming at all.”

Warning! If you disturb easily, I might give this book a pass. (Or at least make sure all the lights are on when you read it.) There are, of course, descriptions of murder and blood in this book but there are also mentions of rape, possible matricide, animal cruelty and death, grief, and a whole host of other unnerving behaviors and events. Do not read before bedtime, that’s all I’m saying.

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