Book Review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

Book Review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

by Kat Rosenfield

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

Original Publication Date: July 5, 2012
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Obtained Via: Bought
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Becca has always longed to break free from her small, backwater hometown. But the discovery of an unidentified dead girl on the side of a dirt road sends the town–and Becca–into a tailspin. Unable to make sense of the violence of the outside world creeping into her backyard, Becca finds herself retreating inward, paralyzed from moving forward for the first time in her life.

Short chapters detailing the last days of Amelia Anne Richardson’s life are intercut with Becca’s own summer as the parallel stories of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge twist the reader closer and closer to the truth about Amelia’s death.

 

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 One girl lost forever to this stagnant place was enough.

It’s a shame that Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone isn’t more popular, because it’s a really wonderful–and dark–book.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is sort of atypical as far as YA goes. It’s very literary, and I could easily see it being marketed towards adults rather than to a YA audience. Not because I don’t think YA can be great literature(because it can!), but because there’s a distance in the narrative that’s pretty uncommon for YA, even literary YA, and I see that more often in adult fiction. Here’s an example of what I mean by the distance:

In the days, months, years that followed, I would lie awake and drive myself crazy, wondering what might have been. I would imagine what things might look like now, if I had more time to think. If I had worked my shift, all busy hands and racing mind, and allowed passing time to illuminate the possibility that I had made a terrible mistake.

Becca’s narration might be first person past tense, but as you can see in the example above, it still doesn’t feel very immediate to the action. I really like that. Some readers might not, because Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is much slower paced than you might expect from a murder mystery. In fact, I would hesitate to even describe it as a murder mystery because while there is a murder and yes, the details of it are a mystery, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone focuses much more on the small town aspects and how the summer between graduation and college changes Becca.

There’s so much that Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone packs in. Growing up in a small town, I absolutely loved the depiction of small town life. There are a lot of books set in similar towns, and it’s a difficult balance to get right, I think, because people tend to either idealize small towns or paint them as these places full of groupthink only and negatively insular. Becca wants to break out of her small town, but there are still moments where Rosenfield really captures why some people are drawn to small towns. Becca and I, well, that’s not the draw for us, but we both understand that reasoning.

A place to live, and die, knowing you were truly home.

Since Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is focused on Becca and her summer, another large part of that is her relationship with James. This was such an unique exploration of a relationship. Perhaps because of the narrative distance I mentioned above, Becca and James’ relationship feels so different from what I’m used to reading. It’s not written in a way that pulls you into their story, but yet it still manages to capture that feeling of first love, even when you know it’s slipping away. There was something just really bittersweet and beautiful about it, and really that’s a feeling that last all throughout Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone.

I feel I should note that, despite going on about how beautiful the writing in this book is, it’s also incredibly bleak. There are some gruesome images and some absolutely terrible things happen, even after the initial murder is discovered. These all contributed to the heavy, sticky atmosphere of the book, though, and never felt out of place.

I enjoyed Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone so much that it probably could have been a 5 star read for me if it were not for one thing: the switching between 1st person and 3rd person point of views. Becca’s chapters are in 1st person POV, while the few where Amelia Anne is the focus are all written in 3rd person POV. I’m not the kind of reader who likes to write anything off–there are some people who have very particular preferences about point of view and tense, whereas I tend to be willing to give anything a go. In theory, this is true for 1st person and 3rd person POV switching, but in actuality I have never read a book where this happens and I liked it or thought it contributed to the story, and Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is not an exception. It made an otherwise flawless book feel rough and unpolished in the transition.

On the whole, though, I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading Rosenfield’s future books. I’d definitely recommend it, especially if you like Nova Ren Suma’s books–the writing styles are distinct, but similar.

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After reading, I’m really surprised Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone isn’t more popular. I suppose the slow pacing might have something to do with that, but I REALLY enjoyed this book and would highly recommend giving it a try. 4/5 cupcakes.

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The Unpredictability of “Me!” Books

Have you ever seen other bloggers toss around the phrase, “This was such a ME! book” or “It sounds like such a ME! book”? I know I have, and I know I’ve also heard that phrase. A “ME!” book is a personal thing to every reader, but I would classify a “ME!” book as a book that might as well have been tailor-crafted just to my reading taste.

Here’s my issue with “ME!” books though: I don’t really know what a “ME!” book is. By which I mean, there are books I classify as “ME!” books, but only after reading. There are books I think sound like such a “ME!” book, but that I end up marking as DNF. And there are books that I LOVE, but that wouldn’t classify as “ME!” books.

Need an example? Let’s look at my last two 5-star reads: When Joss Met Matt and A Darker Shade of Magic. I LOVED both those books. I gave them the same rating. They both made an impression in my mind. Yet, I would say that When Joss Met Matt is not a “ME!” book. I loved it, but it was more an alignment of great story elements rather than things that stand out to me on their own. On the flip side, A Darker Shade of Magic is a book I would classify as a “ME!” book. It’s a fantasy with so many of the things I love–parallel travels, banter, wonderful characters, pretty much no romance(which was such a delightful surprise!).

I begun thinking about this, and went to my 5 star reads and tried to figure out which ones I would classify as “ME!” books to see what they had in common–and what they didn’t.

The “ME!” Books:

  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, because it’s an apocalypse book that’s hilarious, witty, and often profound
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, because it has magic, parallel universes, banter, excellent villains, and no romance
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles, because it’s a classic coming-of-age story set at a boarding school(pretty much a sucker for those–I’m looking at you, Looking for Alaska and Winger), and is written beautifully
  • Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, for pretty much all the same reasons as A Separate Peace, plus Gatsby-esque feel
  • Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas, because psychological thriller about messed-up people and a complex and SUPER intriguing female protagonist
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, because it’s funny, cute, the main character has an interesting group of friends, and there’s lots of nerdy references to Harry Potter
  • Pivot Point by Kasie West, because it has a bookish main character and parallel realities
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, because the writing is gorgeous, the characters are so fully realized, and it’s set in Texas
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, because the main character is shy & doesn’t fit in anywhere, the prose is beautiful, and it’s a coming-of-age story
  • Smart Girls Get What They Want by Sarah Strohmeyer, because the characters are awesome and I related to it quite a bit
  • All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, because time-travel
  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, because its about messed-up girls, has unreliable narrators, and the writing is beautiful
  • This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, because I related to it so much
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, because Cath reminded me so much of myself and for all the fandom references

14 books. Not that many when you take into consideration that I consistently read between 50-150 books a year. And it’s worth noting that the books I said were “ME!” books because I could relate to the characters are mostly books I didn’t know were “ME!” books until after reading(with the exception of Fangirl). The books from that list that I guessed were “ME!” books before reading? Not that many–A Darker Shade of Magic, All Our Yesterdays, Fangirl, and Even in Paradise.

Plus, there are so many books I love that I wouldn’t classify as “ME!” books. So often, I ended up loving those books despite my initial reservations. Here are just a couple of books from my 5-star reads:

  • Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz–loved it, but only read it because I loved Aristotle and Dante, and on its own a story about an 18-year-old alcoholic in rehab would have never appealed to me
  • Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver–not the kind of characters I generally enjoy reading about
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson–This was my favorite book of 2014, but it’s not a book I would have picked up at all if it hadn’t been for the hype. There are actually many things in this book that I generally dislike, but Jandy Nelson managed to write it in a way that made me love it. A favorite, but not a “ME!” book.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer–Not a huge fan of Cinderella, so “Cyborg Cinderella” doesn’t really appeal to me. Just took a chance on this series(and I’m glad I did!)
  • The Distance Between Us by Kasie West–contemporary romance is generally not my thing
  • The Enchanted by Rene Denefeld–it’s set in a prison, which is also generally not my thing
  • My Life After Now by Jessi Verdi–again, subject matter thing. It’s about a girl who learns she’s HIV positive

And that’s just from a cursory glance. Plus, then there’s the handful of books I didn’t even finish, despite thinking they were such “ME!” books when I first read the synopsis. Am I just bad at picking out “ME!” books, or is it really impossible to tell what a “ME!” book is before reading? I’d like to think I know myself better as a reader. After all, I’ve gotten pretty good at realizing what books I’ll like and which I won’t(though there will always be surprises).

Thoughts on this? Do you have books you categorize as “ME!” books? How do you make that distinction? Is it just a gut feeling thing? And are you good at realizing “ME!” books prior to reading them?

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The Ultimate Book Tag

I wasn’t tagged specifically by anyone to do this tag, but I saw it on Quinn’s blog & and it looked really fun. I do tags pretty rarely(only if the questions REALLY interested me), but I really wanted to answer some of these questions.

1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?

I don’t get car sick, but I sometimes get headaches.

2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?

I’m gonna have to steal Quinn’s answer of Maggie Stiefvater because she’s the first author that popped into my head. I’m in awe of her writing ability and I want to know how it feels to have her imagination.

3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer.

Harry Potter! I never read the Twilight books past the first one, so. . . my points are:

1)I’m not qualified to talk about Twilight b/c I haven’t read past the first one
2) Harry Potter has MAGIC and most importantly, DRAGONS. Vampires can’t compete with dragons.3) Harry Potter is less romance-focused, which is what I prefer(thank goodness, because as great of a writer JK Rowling is, getting me to believe in the romances she writes stresses the limits of my reading ability).

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is in it (besides books…)?

No, but I carry a very large purse and I generally have either a paperback in it or my kindle, and I definitely always have my phone with the kindle app.

5. Do you smell your books?

Not really. . . but sometimes I pet them if the covers have a nice texture. I love the texture of the dust jacket for Not a Drop to Drink. It’s why it’s remained on my shelf even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the book(that, and because my copy is signed & personalized).

6. Books with or without little illustrations?

I love when books have illustrations! But it doesn’t bother me when they don’t.

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing?

Er, yeah, I agree with Quinn that I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “quality writing”. That’s so subjective!

8. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!

Ha, I wish I did but I really don’t think I do.

9. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?

I think it’s Quidditch Through the Ages or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

10. What is the thickest book on your shelf?

Under the Dome by Stephen King.

11. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author?

Yes & I hope so! I don’t talk about writing a whole lot on the blog but I’ve definitely mentioned it.

12. When did you get into reading?

I honestly don’t remember. I’ve *always* been a reader. My parents read a lot to me as soon as I was born and then I just grew up loving books(my parents aren’t big readers, though.)

13. What is your favorite classic book?

The Count of Monte Cristo most of the times. Sometimes I say Jane Eyre instead, but those two are my favorites.

14. In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?

History was actually my best subject, but English was up there too.

15. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated… What would you do?

Nothing, really. Just accept the gift. It’s not their fault I hated the book!

17. What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?

I often skip proof-reading my posts(oops).

18. What is your favorite word?

Vivid. I love how it sounds.

19. Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?

Do people still even use the word “dweeb”? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use it outside of ’90s sitcoms in the past decade.

20. Vampires or Fairies? Why?

Eh is my reaction to both of those, but I’d take fairies over vampires any day.

21. Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?

I think shapeshifters because there’s more to play around with there.

22. Spirits or Werewolves? Why?

Spirits for sure. I think I like werewolves less than I like vampires, and that’s saying something.

23. Zombies or Vampires?

Oh gosh, vampires. I HATE zombies. HATE HATE.

24. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love?

Forbidden love! There are some love triangles I like, but for the most part they’re over-done.

25. AND FINALLY: Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?

Action action action. I can take or leave the romance in any book. There are certainly some romances I’ve really rooted for, but it’s not a requirement for me to enjoy a book.

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O.W.L. Reports {Mini-Reviews} #5: The Dust of 100 Dogs & He Forgot to Say Goodbye

O.W.L. Reports {Mini-Reviews} #5: The Dust of 100 Dogs & He Forgot to Say Goodbye

Basically, O.W.L. results for books is a feature I do sometimes on the blog as a way of lazily writing reviews keeping things fun and different for books I didn’t feel like or just COULDN’T write a full review for. I grade each book as if they sat down to take an Ordinary Wizarding Level exam from Harry Potter. Each class corresponds with a different feature of writing(for example, potions=plot).

Here are the O.W.L. Grades:

Pass Grades:
Outstanding (O)
Exceeds Expectations (E)
Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:
Poor (P)
Dreadful (D)
Troll (T)

Today I’m grading a few books. The first up is. . .

The Dust of 100 Dogs

Dust of 100 Dogs

Summary:

In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with “the dust of one hundred dogs,” dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact.

Now she’s a contemporary American teenager and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.

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I would like to peek inside A.S. King’s brain, because she does come up with the most original story premises, even when they don’t always work for me. The Dust of 100 Dogs is like nothing I’ve ever read before in any genre. After living 100 dog lives, Emer is reincarnated as Saffron, an American teenager in the 1970s. Well, sort of. Saffron is her own person too, with her own experiences and thoughts, but Emer is still there, in the background. The storyline of The Dust of 100 Dogs spans centuries, going back and forth between Emer in the 1700s and Saffron in the 1970s. It’s unique, filled with history, pirates, and revenge, but something kept me from loving this book–mainly the characters. I can’t deny that A.S. King is a great writer, and her characters are certainly fully realized, but they never really get time to sink into the reader’s hearts and minds. I was interested in the story, but felt no pull or curiosity towards the characters, which made me struggle with this one a little as a character-driven reader. I’m glad I gave it the chance, but I don’t feel particularly strong towards it.

 

 

He Forget to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz

He Forget to Say Goodbye

Summary:

Ramiro Lopez and Jake Upthegrove don’t appear to have much in common. Ram lives in the Mexican-American working-class barrio of El Paso called “Dizzy Land.” His brother is sinking into a world of drugs, wreaking havoc in their household. Jake is a rich West Side white boy who has developed a problem managing his anger. An only child, he is a misfit in his mother’s shallow and materialistic world. But Ram and Jake do have one thing in common: They are lost boys who have never met their fathers. This sad fact has left both of them undeniably scarred and obsessed with the men who abandoned them. As Jake and Ram overcome their suspicions of each other, they begin to move away from their loner existences and realize that they are capable of reaching out beyond their wounds and the neighborhoods that they grew up in. Their friendship becomes a healing in a world of hurt.

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If you know me at all, you know that Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is one of my favorite books, if not my favorite book. With that in mind, I’ve slowly been reading the rest of his works, and He Forget to Say Goodbye was up first. While it definitely was not as strong as Aristotle and Dante, the writing was just as beautiful. Saenz is just great with word choice–it’s always simple, but there’s always something beautiful in the simplicity. I got sucked into the writing just as much with this one.

I liked the way the two main characters, Ramiro and Jake, tied together, and how, as the summary says,  a friendship of “healing in a world of hurt”. There’s a lot of pure pain in this book, which took me by surprise, but it was always done well. The downside, however, was the pacing. The first 75 pages were so slow–basically just inner monologues. I really considered putting it down but preserved because I loved the writing. I was glad I kept up with it, but the poor pacing definitely threw me off a bit. I ended up giving it 3 stars on Goodreads, but I’d say it’s about a 3.5.

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Book Review: The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

Book Review: The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

The Cemetery Boys

by Heather Brewer

The Cemetery Boys

Expected Publication Date: March 30, 2015
Length: 288 pages
Obtained Via: I was given an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
Publisher: HarperCollins

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When Stephen is forced to move back to the nowhere town where his father grew up, he’s already sure he’s not going to like it. Spencer, Michigan, is like a town straight out of a Hitchcock movie, with old-fashioned people who see things only in black-and-white. But things start looking up when Stephen meets the mysterious twins Cara and Devon. They’re total punks–hardly the kind of people Stephen’s dad wants him hanging out with–but they’re a breath of fresh air in this backward town. The only problem is, Cara and Devon don’t always get along, and as Stephen forms a friendship with the charismatic Devon and something more with the troubled Cara, he starts to feel like he’s getting caught in the middle of a conflict he doesn’t fully understand. And as Devon’s group of friends, who hang out in a cemetery they call The Playground, get up to increasingly reckless activities to pass the summer days, Stephen worries he may be in over his head.

Stephen’s fears prove well-founded when he learns of Spencer’s dark past. It seems the poor factory town has a history of “bad times,” and many of the town’s oldest residents attribute the bad times to creatures right out of an urban legend. The legend goes that the only way the town will prosper again is if someone makes a sacrifice to these nightmarish creatures. And while Stephen isn’t one to believe in old stories, it seems Devon and his gang might put a lot of faith in them. Maybe even enough to kill for them.

Now, Stephen has to decide what he believes, where his allegiances lie, and who will really be his friend in the end.

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There was a huge quality difference between the first half and the last half of The Cemetery Boys. The first half was slow and dull, and I found myself growing more and more frustrated with Stephen’s inability to realize something was going on. Then, just when I was going to put this book down for good, it suddenly picked up and started just plain excelling at bringing the creepiness. It was a big momentum shift and the end result left me feeling a little unsettled–in a good way.

Stephen finds himself in Spencer, Michigan, the small town his father grew up in. Stephen wants nothing to do with the run-down town and his bitter grandmother who takes him and his father back in, but he has no choice. He finds some escapes, however–Cara and Devon. Devon becomes Stephen enigmatic maybe-friend and Stephen finds himself spending his nights down at the cemetery–or “The playground” as locals call it–messing around and finding himself being drawn in to Spencer’s mysteries. During the day, Stephen seeks out Cara, Devon’s brother, and the two strike up something that seems to move towards a relationship.

The first half of the book sets up this dynamic, and it’s, well. . . there aren’t so much hints that something more sinister is going on in Spencer as much as huge anvils being dropped from the sky. Most of my frustration from the first half of the book was that the story seemed to be trying to hard to draw attention to the dark and secret places. Foreshadowing is all well and good, but so much of the first half of this book wasn’t foreshadowing as much as it was huge arrows being pointed to characters and places.

For that reason, it wasn’t surprising when things took a turn for the dark–finally–but it was welcome. Stephen finds that Spencer has a local legend of beasts called the “Winged Ones”–giant birds of prey that feast on the town and bring it hard times unless appeased with a human sacrifice. Stephen finds himself in the midst of this as he begins to doubt that the winged ones aren’t real and also if someone is planning such a sacrifice soon.

I think the one thing that makes The Cemetery Boys work, and the reason I didn’t DNF this book at the beginning, is the theme of the outsider-vs-the-town. I grew up in a small town, and while I don’t think anyone in my hometown would start sacrificing people to mythical beast, I can vouch that the outsider-vs-the-small-town trope that often comes up in books and entertainment is not always exaggerated. And The Cemetery Boys takes this idea and just runs with it. Stephen has suspicions, but he can’t go to anyone with them because Spencer is a town that protects it’s own. And once that turning point happens, the book picks up and doesn’t slow down. It’s a wild ride to the finish, and it’s completely unsettling.

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While I found the beginning of this book incredibly slow, once it finally picked up I found myself enjoying the story and it’s originality. While I would have appreciated deeper characterization, I did find the book delightfully unsettling in the end. 3/5 cupcakes.

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