Choker

Choker by Elizabeth Woods
Simon and Schuster, 240 pages

Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has been a loner ever since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, years ago. She eats lunch with the other girls from the track team, but they’re not really her friends. Mostly she spends her time watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her, and avoiding the popular girls who call her “Choker” after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria.

Then one day Cara comes home to find Zoe waiting for her. Zoe’s on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With her best friend back, Cara’s life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and next thing she knows, she’s getting invited to parties and flirting with Ethan. Best of all, she has her BFF there to confide in.

But just as quickly as Cara’s life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect—including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she’s at school. You’re supposed to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger?

Talk about choosing a very creepy book to start my year. Choker by Elizabeth Woods is one of those books that I had no idea what it was about, but I read it because I saw good reviews from other blogging friends. Note that I said saw and not read, because I thought it wasn’t something I’d be able to get a copy of anytime soon, but thanks to Simon and Schuster’s Galley Grab, I got an ebook copy.

Choker comes from what Alexis Henning and Sydney Powers start calling Cara Lange after she chokes on a piece of carrot during lunch at their school. Quiet, almost invisible Cara was hardly noticed in school until that incident, and even being saved by her crush Ethan Gray didn’t help. What helped her to gain a bit of confidence back and make friends was when her childhood friend Zoe, shows up out of nowhere. Cara’s life improves significantly as she makes friends and catches Ethan’s attention, but weird things start to happen too and she can’t help but wonder if her best friend is somehow involved.

This book ups the creepiness by making things seem so ordinary and yet you know something…well, weird is happening in the background. I really and truly feel sorry for Cara, here. I’ve had my loner moments back in high school, but Cara doesn’t just go by unnoticed but people pick on her too! Sometimes I want to shake her and all and tell her to be more assertive, because nothing is really going to happen if she allows herself to be just that. Zoe definitely comes off as a stronger personality than Cara but you’d know right from the start when Cara and Zoe were playing in Zoe’s mom’s room with her pills (no best sleeping pills, I think) that there’s something odd about Zoe, which was proved further as the story went on.

I’ve often said before that I would rather have a love issue than a friendship issue because friendship issues hurt more. Of course, I have no experience in the love issues department, but friendship issues, I’ve had a lot. I hated it when I had fights with my close friends because it’s hard to find someone else who will sympathize with you. Choker reminded me of those reasons, and it was a breath of fresh air to read something that is not romance, even if it is very creepy.

If you think you know what will happen in the novel based on my review…well, you’re wrong. There’s a twist in the end that caught me (and other readers, for sure) by surprise, and even if it isn’t an entirely new concept, I thought it was a great (albeit creepy, again) way to turn the story around.

Choker is a solid debut from Elizabeth Woods. Don’t let the pink cover fool you. Choker is out in hardcover from Simon & Schuster. You can read an excerpt of the book here.

Rating:

My copy: e-book ARC from Simon & Schuster Galley Grab

Cover and Blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
Attack of the Book
The Bookologist
Presenting Lenore

The Lipstick Laws

The Lipstick Laws by Amy HolderThe Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of pages: 240
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

At Penford High School, Britney Taylor is queen bee. She dates whomever she likes, rules over her inner circle of friends like Genghis Khan, and can ruin anyone’s life as easily as snapping her perfectly manicured fingers. Just ask the unfortunate few who have crossed her.

For April Bowers, Britney is also the answer to her prayers. With zero friends and nothing close to a boyfriend, April is so unpopular, kids don’t know she exists. That is, until Britney notices her. One lunch spent at Britney’s table, and April is basking in the glow of popularity.

But Britney’s friendship comes with a price tag.

How much is April willing to pay?

* * *

The Lipstick Laws is one of those books that is good to read when you have been too immersed in out-of-this-world books, particularly ones full of magic or suspense or people chasing other people to kill them. This is the kind of book that you’d want to read to get back to reality, to remind you that real life could also be as exciting (and sometimes, as terrifying) as fantasy ones.

I picked up The Lipstick Laws as a palate cleanser after reading books about witches and warlocks and zombies. Even if I have been reading a few contemporaries in between the fantasy ones, I felt like my brain needed something easier, something with less mystery and emotional baggage than the ones I have read recently. I’d gladly read a book that would discuss shallow things like make-up and acne-pills to give me a dose of reality.

April is practically invisible in school, until she gets paired with popular Britney Taylor, who accepts her into her circle of friends. Even if Britney was a horrific friend, April could not resist the lure of popularity, especially if it would make her new crush, Matt Brentwood, notice her. Before she knows it, she takes The Lipstick Oath, and it sends her life spiraling out of control because of the silly rules and the price of Britney Taylor’s friendship.

I have never watched Mean Girls movie in full, but this book reminds me of that. Britney was absolutely horrible and shallow and it’s easy to dislike her for her stuck up attitude, at least until the author reveals why Britney changed and what she had to live with. This gives Britney more dimension as a villain in April’s life, even if it doesn’t excuse her attitude. April, on the other hand, can get a bit frustrating at times because it took her so long to realize what she was in danger of turning into something she was trying to destroy. While her epiphany on how she was acting didn’t make heavenly light shine upon her but instead felt more like a light bulb moment, it felt like a natural realization for someone April’s age to think as she assess her situation. I like how the author gave the heroine and the villain unique voices and yet still manage to juxtapose their lives for us readers to see how similar they can be.

Reading The Lipstick Laws makes me very thankful that my high school life wasn’t like that. My high school life was relatively boring, really, save for some contests won and Student Council projects and trips. Then again, I wasn’t a part of the popular clique — I wasn’t even sure if there was a popular clique in my school. This lack of similar high school experience prevents me from empathizing with the characters in this novel, but it certainly did not make me enjoy this book less. :)

The Lipstick Laws will be out on April 2011 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Much thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reading copy ebook!

Rating:

Other Reviews:
Reader’s Dialogue

Kataastaasan

It’s going to be a pretty quiet month, at least as far as my blogs are concerned because of NaNoWriMo, and other real life stuff that does not revolve around the novel. You definitely know I am writing my novel because I am starting to avoid contractions in my text to up my word count. See?

Anyway, other than NaNoWriMo, we have just moved out of our house for our long awaited house renovation, so I had to put all my books into big plastic bags and transferred them to this apartment down the street. This kind of stopped me from reading because I can’t just dig those books out without making a big mess. Most of my reading will be done via Astrid the Kindle now, but I will try to grab a book once in a while. Perhaps after November.

But of course I cannot stop reading. So when I’m not writing, I try to read. And that happened earlier while I was at work. I did not feel like writing, and I also did not feel like working, so I decided to poke around in my Kindle to see what I can read — something short and quick, to just wake me up.

Then I found Kataastaasan.

Kataastaasan by Hannah Buena and Paolo Chikiamco, is not really a book but a short 22-page comic that is set in 1770 in Cebu City and tells an alternate history of the Philippines’ struggle for independence from Spain. I don’t want to give anything away since it’s a pretty short piece, but suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how the story turned out! I’m not much of a comic person and I’m fairly new to speculative fiction, so I did not know what to expect with this, but I finished this one with only one thought: that was a really cool twist.

And it really is. I thought it was a very creative use of one of the many colorful aspects of Filipino culture, with a steampunk twist. The language was easy to understand and I liked the dark vibe it had despite the innocent looking characters. I’m also not very knowledgeable in making comments on artwork, but I thought the illustrations here were very good, even if it’s all in black and white. The lack of color just adds to the overall historic feel to it, IMHO.

I really, really liked this one, and it was worth the fifteen minutes I stole from work to read it. :P I’m hoping there would be more? I’m not much of a comic reader, but I’ll definitely be in line for this one if there is more. :)

Kataastaasan will be published by Espresso Comics, which hopefully will be published before this year ends. Thanks to Pao for the ARC!

Rating:

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 95 out of 100 for 2010
* Book # 12 out of 20 for Project 20:10
Fine. I know it’s not a book…but I’m counting it in anyway. :P

My copy: e-ARC from one of the authors

Cover image: Rocket Kapre

Other Reviews:
Into the Wardrobe

Thou art Famine

Hunger by Jackie Morse KesslerHunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
Riders of the Apocalypse # 1
Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Number of pages: 177
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

I cannot imagine myself having an eating disorder. I love food too much, and I can’t imagine not eating. Of course, when I lost all the extra weight, I was careful to follow my nutritionist’s advice and keep myself well-fed to keep my metabolism up. I guess I’m blessed enough not to be too conscious of how fat/thin I look, and that I had good friends and people around me who always kept me in check.

But that doesn’t mean that I have never had encounters with any eating disorder. I had some friends back in college who had eating disorders. One had bulimia and we had to do intervention for her to help her out, while the other had an eating disorder that was neither bullimia or anorexia (I think it’s called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), where she always thinks she’s fat even if she wasn’t (if she was fat, then I’m an elephant) and she would swing from binging and purging to eating normally and exercising like crazy. Thankfully, these friends are better now, so it wasn’t as extreme as the one I read in Hunger.

Now, Hunger is a pretty unique book. I’ve read some contemporary YA with eating disorders involved, but never in the context of an urban fantasy novel. For one thing, I only know of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from watching Charmed (Season 2 Episode 21), and they give me a kind of creepy impression being harbingers of the apocalypse. I also didn’t know these four horsemen actually had a Christian origin as they were from Revelations! *facepalm* I had no idea what to expect about this novel, except maybe get a bit freaked out at the references to the apocalypse.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. It’s not an apocalyptic novel, despite the presence of the four horsemen — it was more of a novel about an girl suffering through an eating disorder. Lisa is the type of person who’s already very thin and yet would still look at websites like www.weightlosspillsthatwork.org.  I was very annoyed at Lisa for most of the novel because she is sick, but she won’t admit it. I wanted to yell and scream at her for thinking that she was fat — there weren’t many descriptions of her in the book, but I knew for a fact that she wasn’t fat. I know that she was doing more harm to her body than good by not eating and exercising like crazy. I was both frustrated and sorry for Lisa because she won’t listen to her friends and yet she really, really needs help.

Who knew being Famine could change that? Lisa being Famine was the key for her to realize that while she was starving herself because she felt fat, there are people all over the world who would die to have the food she has available for her. It was kind of hard for me to understand how famine could be a good thing, how it could help, but the author managed to execute it well in a way that made sense. I liked how Lisa’s story turned out — it wasn’t a story of destruction really, even with all the apocalypse, but a story of redemption for Lisa.

I’d also like to say that I’m relieved that there’s no paranormal romance involved in this book! For a moment there I thought Lisa would fall for another horseman, but I’m glad she didn’t. Not only would that be creepy, but that would totally destroy how the story was set up.

There were some stuff I found myself nitpicking on that didn’t make me love this novel. There were times when the point of view shifts, like the sudden use of “our” and “we”, and it was kind of jarring to see shifts like that while reading. Example:

She opened her mouth to say she most certainly did not, and never mind that he looked familiar because she’d never seen him before, not really, when suddenly it clicked. Humans have a race memory, or if you wanted to get Jungian, a collective unconscious — the feelings and experiences that we as a species have learned throughout the ages. In our souls, we recognize the angels and demons that walk among us, as well as the Old Ones who fall in between those categories.

I’m not sure if it’s a writing technique, but to me, it felt a bit awkward, like it could have been written better. Also, the switching from Lisa to Lisabeth throughout the story was kind of confusing, up until I realized that whenever Lisabeth was used, it is from the POV of Famine or the horse. This is very minor, but I also felt like Lisa’s parents could have been named better — Simon and Sandy felt too much like brother and sister to me. ^^

But that’s just me nitpicking, as I said. Hunger is still a pretty good book, one that pleasantly surprised me. It’s a pretty quick read, and there’s also a story from the author at the end that made me appreciate the story even more. I’m looking forward to Rage, the second book in this series, this time about self-mutilation and War.

Hunger will be out on October 2010 from Harcourt Graphia. A portion of the proceeds of the book will be donated to the National Eating Disorders Association. Much thanks to NetGalley for the advanced reading copy ebook!

Rating:

Paranormal 5 Giveaway

The Simon and Schuster UK’s Big Fat YA giveaway has come and gone, and sadly, I didn’t win. But no worries, it seems like a lot of people are giving away books, including Reggie of The Undercover Book Lover (Not Really)! Her Paranormal 5 Giveaway is the most delicious giveaway I’ve seen yet — I’m not kidding. I mean, just look. She’s giving away ARCs of:

Plus 5 packs of gum!

That list contains two of my Waiting on Wednesday entries! And three other awesome books that are yet to be released! And gum! Yes, we musn’t forget the gum. :)

The best part? This is open to international entries — that means even I have a chance of winning. :)

The contest is open up to July 15, that’s more than enough time to send your entries in. Go, go, go!

Oh, and Feed giveaway is still ongoing, so residents of the Philippines, if you haven’t entered yet, you have until June 30 to enter!