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Full disclosure: I received a free copy of The Death of Bees from Harper in exchange for an honest review.

So often these days, families are labeled as “dysfunctional” if the dad drinks or the mom has a fling with the soccer coach. “Flawed” characters might be afraid of commitment, or have slept with one too many people, or occasionally skip class to go shopping with their friends. If you’re sick and tired of this false version of reality, you’ll probably like this book. But if you’re squeamish and/or you don’t like the idea of underage sex, drug abuse, dead parents, prostitution, and homosexuality, this is proabably NOT a book for you.

Let’s get one thing straight. The Death of Bees is dark. It’s creepy. The characters are flawed. Marnie is fifteen. She sells drugs, sleeps with a married man, and is fiercely independent. Nelly is sweet and innocent, but talks like an elderly woman, despite the fact that she’s twelve. Lennie is a gentle old man who made a bad decision years ago and is still paying the price.

On the first page of the book, we learn that both the parents are dead. The girls are burying Gene, their dad, in the backyard. They’re trying to hide Izzy, their mom, so nobody will find out she’s dead. Marnie and Nelly are trying to keep their parents death hidden just long enough… just until Marnie turns sixteen and can become Nelly’s legal guardian. Their parents were abusive and often left the girls alone for long periods of time, so the girls figure that people won’t ask too many questions. Lennie takes them in, feeds them, gives them a safe place to stay, and everything is ok… until out of nowhere, their mysterious grandfather (previously unknown to the girls) shows up asking too many questions and attempting to take custody.

The Death of Bees is an engaging, well-written story about the strength of family (blood relatives and otherwise) and the resilience of these young girls in the face of everything going wrong in their lives.

Final rating:  

[see my original review here]

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I read a lot of good books this year, but these nine top the list.  (See all the books I read this year here.)

  1. fangirl by rainbow rowell (★)
  2. the diviners by libba bray (★)
  3. margot by jillian cantor (☆)
  4. scarlet by marissa meyer (☆)
  5. quiet by susan cain (☆)
  6. the night circus by erin morgenstern (☆)
  7. city of bones by cassandra clare (☆)
  8. gone girl by gillian flynn (☆)
  9. under the never sky by veronica rossi (☆)

What were some of the best books you read this year?

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Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I guess I should start by thanking the author for the free ARC. I was really excited when this book arrived – at the time, it had about a 4.6 rating. Since then, it’s dropped to a 4.37. It surprises me that it hasn’t dropped more.

Reading the summary, I thought this was going to be an awesome book. Kids are born with special abilities. They’re invisible, they’re mind readers, they can move things with their minds! The doctor who researches this stuff is accused of murdering his partner! Yeah, sounds pretty cool. If only the final product matched up to the description, maybe I could’ve given the book more than two stars.

It is an interesting premise. I can give it that. That’s about all I can give it, and the only reason I didn’t give it one lonely star.

From the very beginning of the book, the plot doesn’t make sense. First of all, how old is Dr. McKenna? Judging by the first few pages, he should be about 70. The man talks like a teenager. He shifts between using pseudo-intellectual language that he tries (unsuccessfully) to explain in layman’s terms and overexplaining the stupidest, most mundane things like sandboxes and science class. Second of all, how old are these kids? I thought they were ten years old, but they act like teenagers. Not only are they dating, but they take dissection classes (I don’t remember dissecting things in fifth grade) and watch documentaries on immigration reform (I’m pretty sure those started in late high school). That’s just the characters, by the way. Huerta often throws in very strange commentary. For example, he makes a comment about how a dog can’t see glow in the dark stars because dogs are colorblind. I wasn’t aware that colorblindness made animals unable to see colored things. My biggest issue, plot-wise, is the whole evolution/genetics thing. This “Alpha Gene,” as Dr. McKenna calls it, is present in a total of five children. That should make it pretty rare, right? Dr. McKenna attributes its existence to the brain finally doing something with that supposedly unused 90% (the good doctor is fascinated by the theory that we only use 10% of our brain). This is, according to him, something that happens spontaneously because of evolution. However, at the end of the book, he states that 30% of children are now born with this gene, and it’s expected to rise to 60% in the next generation. That is awfully fast for evolution. For reasonable evolution, we are looking at thousands of years before a new trait becomes common in the population, so I’m unsure whether Huerta to say that the new trait was inherited (so presumably the 60% comes from the children of the 30%, meaning that the trait was dominant, which also doesn’t make sense because then, logically, more than five children should have it) or whether he believes that evolution occurs over one generation. There are a lot of questions plot-wise, my main question being how Dr. McKenna, the third-person narrator, knows what’s going on in everybody’s head (and sometimes their bedrooms) at all times, including when he is mysteriously away.

My second issue was with the bullying topic. I didn’t like it. I thought it was out of place and unnecessary. These kids are supposed to be ten years old. Why are they constantly being threatened by bullies? Why are they fighting outside candy stores and having rumbles at school dances? Come on. The bullying did absolutely nothing to advance the plot. Sure, it made Peter look like a hero at the end, but it also made him look like a jerk through most of the book. (Speaking of, Dr. McKenna is an absolutely terrible teacher and authority figure given the way he handles bullying. At one point, the main bully flings a piece of dead frog into Peter’s mouth during “dissection class.” Peter, understandably, proceeds to vomit. Dr. McKenna givesPeter detention for this. What?)

Finally, my biggest qualm with the book is the persistent grammatical errors. I understand that English is Huerta’s second language. He has a very good command of it, and I likely wouldn’t notice anything if I were conversing with him. But in writing, I expect a higher standard. Here is a list of just a few of the mistakes I noticed: worse/worst, maybe/may be, an/and, were/we’re, its/it’s, looter/loiter. Sometimes even the names of the characters are written incorrectly (Luca/Lucas, Miss Smith/miss Smith), which leads me to believe that nobody even bothered to do a quick proof of the book before it was sent to print. Sometimes it seems that accents are used instead of apostrophes, and there are entire sections of the book where apostrophes are just left out altogether. This is the one thing I just cannot tolerate in a book. Yes, I got this book for free, but not everybody who reads it will. If you expect people to pay for your work, the absolute least you can do is get someone to proof it. You may not be a grammatical genius, and that’s ok. English may not be your primary language, and that’s ok. But your readers should not be able to tell by just casually flipping through your book.

I was disappointed by Alpha Gene. I had high hopes and it fell short in many ways.

Final rating: 

[see my original review here]

Goodreads recently released the results of their annual Choice Awards in the form of their Best Books of 2013 list.  I feel like I read an awful lot this year, but I was unfamiliar with a lot of the books on the list.  Nonetheless, some of my favorites from this year did show up as nominees, and a lot of the nominees (and some winners) are at the top of my to-read list.

Of the books nominated, I would say that Scarlet and Fangirl were my favorites.  In the next week or so, I’ll compile a list of the best books I read this year (regardless of release date), and what I’m looking forward to reading in the coming year.  Do you agree with the Goodreads Choice winners?  What would you put at the top of your list?