Review: Famous By Todd Strasser

12 Jun

Famous

By: Todd Strasser

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

All Jamie Gordon wants to do is to take pictures of celebrities…and maybe to become famous herself. She’s only fourteen, but already her pictures are sought after by fanzines and websites, and she’s invited to all the best parties. And now she has the chance of a lifetime. She has been invited to spend a week with Willow Twine, taking pictures of the teen superstar’s new chaste life. But when Jamie gets her hands on some sensational shots of Willow, she’s suddenly in over her head. The pictures could make her career…and destroy Willow’s. Everybody seems to want to get their hands on the photos, and Jamie has to decide what she really wants…and what she’s willing to pay to get it.

 

How I Came Across This Book

Famous caught my attention when it was first released. As someone who has spent way too much time reading celebrity gossip blogs, I was drawn to this story about a teenage girl who is part of the paparazzi in NYC.

Amazon Reviewers Didn’t Like This Book…

Unlike anything I have read in a long time, the story doesn’t take place in a linear fashion. Chapters bounced from one character’s point of view to another. Not only does the voice change from chapter to chapter, so does the timeline. One chapter may take place in the present while the next takes place in the future. This isn’t a book you can breeze through. You have to put extra effort into keeping up with where you are in the story.
While some reviewers didn’t like non-linear unfolding, I didn’t mind it because the story was riveting enough for me to stick with it as the author swerved in various directions.

Turning the Camera

Jamie Gordon is girl who got into the business of celebrity photography by accident. Now that she’s in it, just like the other photographers she works alongside of, she’s hungry for the “money shot”. She’s savvy and she’s a hustler who will go as far as paying an 11 year-old for information that might help for get an exclusive shot of an actress trying to cover something up.

As far as characters go, Jamie was one of those you wish you could hang out with for an afternoon because she has a “wise beyond her years” vibe about her.She’s smart and observant. She’s also consumed by her photography and isn’t immune to wanting to be famous herself.

Todd Strasser did a good job when it came to examining celebrity from every angle. On the one hand, Jamie is always on the hunt for a photo she can sell, things change for her when she was profiled in a newspaper and becomes a celebrity herself. While Jamie goes through her own celebrity spin cycle, her best friend Avy, a teen actor, obsesses about fame and goes down a dark tunnel to acquire it.

Another layer comes in the form of Willow Twine, a teen starlet, whose life isn’t as squeaky clean as her fans would think. The story from Jamie’s perspective takes brief pauses as letters to Willow, written by a stalker named Richard, are included in between Jamie’s chapters.

What Was Lacking…

While Jamie was a very well-developed character, I felt as though the Avy wasn’t fleshed out enough. The reader is given just enough information to feel his obsession and desperation to become famous. We sense the lengths he will go to, but yet the focus isn’t left on him enough to really become invested. As a reader, you’re left feeling disturbed, but just not a whole lot of sympathy.

Same goes for the Willow Twine character. While things are alluded to, the reader does get the full understanding of what this character was really up to.

The Message: Celebrity Is a Dark, Dark Entity

The author did his research and, from what I have seen and read, gave an accurate portrayal of how things in the celebrity photo business operate.

Telling the story from a 14 year-old perspective was an interesting choice. It’s hard enough for a teen to deal divorced parents, helping to take care of a disabled brother, and getting through high school. Add a competitive job, and a desire for fame to the mix and you’re left with a girl who endures a lot of loss and sacrifice without much of a payoff.

While this novel tries to end on soft, introspective note, trust me, you won’t leave this story feeling warm and fuzzy.

If anything, this book leaves you thinking about all those people we love to read about—to worship them when they are on a career high and revel in their downfalls—and wonder the price they are paying to be famous.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Check out Todd Strasser’s” Web site.

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Let me know what you thought of it.

REVIEW: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

6 Apr

Ten Miles Past Normal

By: Frances O’Roark Dowell

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation–and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.
It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in “like” with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment.

 

How I Came Across This Book…

I saw this novel was a new release and was drawn in by the book description. Just like the main character, Janie, I grew up on a farm. Like her, I wished I lived in town, hated the bus ride to school, and wanted to be less of a “farm girl” and more normal. Also, I was looking forward to reading about how Janie ends up playing bass guitar and where it would lead her.

The Characters Are Awesome…

When I began thinking about this review, my first thought was to rave about Janie. She’s a smart, perceptive girl in her freshman year of high school who longs to have a circle of friends just as she did in middle school. Feeling like an outcast, she wants to be normal and to be liked. As the reader gets to know her, we see that she’s actually extraordinary and a little offbeat in ways she doesn’t give herself credit for. She designs her own clothes, she has musical talent, and, most importantly, she has an appreciation for people who are unique in their own ways.

She’s also incredibly witty.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized most of the characters in this book were a pleasure to get to know. There is Janie’s mom, a farm wife mommy blogger, Monster, the extremely tall musician who lives in an old Motel 6, Emma, the “wild child” and sister of Janie’s best friend—they all surround Janie and show by example how not fitting in has its advantages.

There is also a subplot including three characters who truly lived fearlessly by creating a Freedom School during the Civil Rights Movement. The author skillfully brings Janie into their world to learn more, and be moved by, their courage to go against the norm.

Even minor characters, such as a fellow art class student and a girl Janie befriends in the library, have a certain something they openly embrace that makes them sparkle.

The Plot? Not So Awesome…

What bothered me the most about this book was that no real action took place until the second half of the story.

For the first half, the reader is given scene upon scene showing us:

-Janie’s mom drives her nuts

-Janie wants to make new friends and it’s just not happening

-Janie isn’t crazy about living on a farm

While it’s important to give the reader enough information so they understand the main character’s dilemmas, I think, in this novel, the repetition got old really fast.

Finally, Janie starts making progress. Progress is very quickly followed by resolution and then, just as quickly, all storylines are wrapped up and the book concludes. Overall, the pacing of the story wasn’t great.

The other odd thing was the romance subplot that seemed to be slowly building toward a happy ending, but, instead, was anticlimactic. Would the “girl gets the guy” be a cliché and predictable? Probably. Truth be told, I liked Janie a lot and would have liked to have seen her come away from this story with more than just awareness.

Awareness Isn’t Such a Bad Thing Though…

For such a character-driven book, I suppose it makes sense that the most important thing is that the main character has evolved by the end. In this novel, Janie does gain an appreciation for being different and embraces it rather than avoiding it.

I respect the author for weaving such an important lesson within a story full of colorful characters who were “living large”.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Check out Frances O’Roark Dowell’s Web site.

Have You Read This Book?

Let me know what you thought of it.

 

 

REVIEW: The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor

25 Mar

The Girl Who Became a Beatle

by: Greg Taylor

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!

When Regina Bloomsbury’s band, the Caverns, breaks up, she thinks it’s all over. And then she makes a wish—

“I wish I could be as famous as the Beatles.”

The Beatles are her music idols. The next day, she gets up to find that the Caverns are not just as famous as the Beatles, they have replaced them in history! Regina is living like a rock star, and loving it. There are talk shows, music videos, and live concerts with thousands of screaming fans. And Regina is the star of it all.

But fame is getting the better of Regina, and she has a decision to make. Does she want to replace the Beatles forever?

Here is a rocking novel about the good and the bad of Hollywood, fame, and rock ’n roll.

How I Came Across This Book…

As I am always curious to read books that involve music in the plot, this book caught my attention. At first I thought the book was about a girl whose fairy godmother brings her back to the 1960’s so she could become the fifth Beatle. (That would have been an awesome premise for a novel!) Soon into the book, I realized the story was different than I expected.

Always Appreciate a Book That Inspires You to Re-Watch “A Hard Day’s Night”

When it comes to novels, I will forgive a lot if the main character’s passions stir an interest within me. In this book, Regina’s love of the Beatles and the many references to their music (from playing their songs as her own to creating a music video using ideas from the movie A Hard Days Night) that were made throughout the novel, left me putting down my Kindle to search for Beatles songs I haven’t heard in ages and re-watched a couple Beatles movies. I loved that.

Being Careful For What You Wish For

While there is a minor love story woven into the book, the majority of the plot follows Regina as she makes a wish and then gets to live it out. It’s a classic premise we’ve all read in books or seen in movies. With a wish granted come problems the main character never thought would come with living out a dream.

The lesson in a story like this is always, “Be grateful for what you have”. I liked that author didn’t go overboard to make this point by making Regina’s wished-for world so awful that, of course, she would return to normal life being that much more aware and grateful than she was before. While Regina encountered her fair share of drama, the thing I appreciated about this story is that her rock star life was really cool and she made the most of it.

How the Book Shone (and How It Didn’t)

One of the most important parts of the book was the evolution of Regina finding (and trusting) her own voice. I thought it was quite clever for the author to have Regina immerse herself so much into the music of, all bands, The Beatles. Who wouldn’t think their talent was less than compared to them? The best moment of the book was when Regina takes the risk of leaving The Beatles music behind and is a changed person because of it.

The one gripe I have with this book is with Regina’s personality. While I wouldn’t say she is unlikable, she often came across as cold. I get that she was focused on her band and was dealing with family issues—all things that were stressing her out—but, while other characters came across as more grounded and calm, her intensity made it a kind of difficult to root for her.

Overall, I Have to Say…

While this wasn’t a book that stayed with me long after I read it, I still enjoyed it. I thought the idea for the story was a good one and the takeaway lessons were well executed.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Check out Greg Taylor’s Web site.

Have You Read This Book?

Let me know what you thought of it.

 

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REVIEW: Vesper by Jeff Sampson

1 Feb

Vesper

by: Jeff Sampson

Publisher: Belzer + Bray

Emily Webb is a geek. And she’s happy that way. Content hiding under hoodies and curling up to watch old horror flicks, she’s never been the kind of girl who sneaks out for midnight parties. And she’s definitely not the kind of girl who starts fights or flirts with other girls’ boyfriends. Until one night Emily finds herself doing exactly that . . . the same night one of her classmates—also named Emily—is found mysteriously murdered.

The thing is, Emily doesn’t know why she’s doing any of this. By day, she’s the same old boring Emily, but by night, she turns into a thrill seeker. With every nightfall, Emily gets wilder until it’s no longer just her personality that changes. Her body can do things it never could before: Emily is now strong, fast, and utterly fearless. And soon Emily realizes that she’s not just coming out of her shell . . . there’s something much bigger going on. Is she bewitched by the soul of the other, murdered Emily? Or is Emily Webb becoming something else entirely— something not human?

As Emily hunts for answers, she finds out that she’s not the only one this is happening to—some of her classmates are changing as well. Who is turning these teens into monsters—and how many people will they kill to get what they want?


How I Came Across This Book…

A few months ago, I read about Vesper on a blog. It was toted as being a breakout novel for 2011. This piqued my curiousity. I contacted HarperCollins Canada and asked for an ARC. They graciously sent me a copy. (My very first ARC!)

I Hate It When Authors Do This…

The story takes place over the span of about a week. The main character, Emily, begins to experience some odd, unexplainable changes each night. As the days go on, the changes get stronger. Turns out she’s a girl who can transform into a warewolf.

Just when these changes begin, another Emily is murdered. Days after, there’s an attempted murder of a classmate of the two Emily’s. Emily (the one who is alive) tries figure out if the changes she is going through have a possible connection to the murder and attempted murder.

So, here’s the problem I have: Essentially, this novel is an obvious set up to a series. We’re introduced to the main character, get her backstory, and also get a brief introduction to other characters who will presumably play a role in future books. We’re given the “who” of the story and a bit of the “what”, but none of the “why”.

As a reader, I felt cheated. I’m all for an author creating a series, but the story within each book should be strong enough to stand on its own. This book left a lot of unanswered questions that should have been addressed.

Really Thin Plot

Besides setting the story for future books, there was a very weak plot throughout the story.

Typically, when a character is trying to solve a murder mystery, there’s an intricate game of cat and mouse involved. In this story, Emily and the murderer kept bumping into each other. There’s wasn’t a whole lot of suspense when these two came face-to-face. In fact, the final showdown between the two was incredibly anti-climatic.

If Anyone Should Have Been Murdered, It Should Have Been Megan

After reading this book, I came to realize how much I appreciate it when a novelist gives the main character someone who is on his/her side—someone the main character can confide in and trust. In this book, Emily’s best friend was, honestly, a total bitch. This girl was bitter and the meanest best friend a warewolf could have. Throughout the book, I was hoping Megan would be the next one killed or Emily would accidently claw her to shreds when she changed into a warewolf. No such luck.

The presence of a best friend who seemed more like an antagonist made the book that much less enjoyable to read.

Some relief did come when Megan seemed to disappear from the story for awhile when Emily was preocciped with other things. However, she appeared in the final chapter to throw one last tantrum.

Overall, I Have To Say…

I can understand an author having an expansive vision for a story that couldn’t possibly fit into one book. The thing is, there are better ways to begin the series—to introduce the main character and her situation while still offering a complete story. I think of a series like Vampire Academy. Not only did each novel have it’s own strong plot, but there was enough of a foundation built from book to book that you were left really wanting to follow the characters into their next experience. I don’t feel the same way with Vesper. I’m left feeling like I will have to read another book to get answers to questions left over from the first. That doesn’t work for me.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Check out Jeff Sampson’s Web site.

Have You Read This Book?

Let me know what you thought of it.

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