Monday, November 26, 2012

The Declaration Trilogy

Author: Gemma Malley
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: August 19,2008 / February 2, 2010 / January 4, 2011
Genre: YA Dystopian
Series: The Declaration Trilogy
Source: Kindle / Library Kindle
In 2140, no one dies. Thanks to the drug Longevity, old age and disease have been eradicated. In order to keep the world from becoming too crowded, everyone who takes Longevity must sign The Declaration, promising not to have children. Those children who are born illegally are called Surpluses and stored away in homes where they are trained to understand their sin against nature and to groom them to be Valuable Assets, to serve a Legal when they are ready.

Anna is one such Surplus. She Knows her Place and is poised to become an extremely Valuable Asset. But then Peter shows up - defiant, confident, and dangerously alluring. He tells her that she is valued and wanted by her parents, that she is not Surplus, and he plans to help her escape. Once they flee Grange Hall, Peter and Anna face the daunting task of setting things straight - of fighting against the twisted view of the Longevity makers, joining the Underground to ensure that the future is secured through children, the real natural cycle. The fight seems long, endless - but when events unfold in a way no one could imagine or predict, perhaps the world can be saved after all.
After I started reading The Declaration, I realized I'd read the first two books in the series years ago. I had never read The Legacy, though, so I read through all three books in order again. And I loved them this time just as much as I did last time.

Anna is the first thing that draws the reader into the first book. She is brainwashed, but somehow she still manages to retain a bit of defiance, hiding her journal, an illegal thing for a Surplus to have. It's that spark that gives her character and relatability, even when she is blindly refusing Peter's help and information. Throughout the series, Anna maintains her likability by being quietly strong. She doesn't figure so much in the actual events, the plotting and scheming of the second and third books, but she's always there, just doing what has to be done, choosing between right and wrong in her newfound views, and being a steadying force for Peter.

And Peter needs that steadying force. In the first book, he's the dashing hero - he rescues Anna from a miserable life, he gives back to her parents for sheltering him in the best way possible. Mostly, though, I think he comes off as the strong, brave hero because it's a contrast to Anna's meekness and confusion. He is brave and daring, he is also kind and generous. But the second and third books show a different side of him as well - he makes mistakes, mistakes that cost progress and even lives. He always has that burning desire to make things right, but I love that he's so not the perfect guy.

The question of immortality vs. the rebirth of life through children is brilliantly explored throughout the three books. From the start, we obviously agree with the Underground's ideas, but by the end, I think we come to see it for ourselves. The plot's trajectory is fantastic - we go from a situation that seems hopeless to complete salvation in a series of twists and turns, with breathless action and suspense right along with heartbreak and emotion.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Life Is But a Dream

Author: Brian James
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan)
Released: March 27, 2012
Genre: YA Contamporary
Series: No
Source: Library

Sabrina has always been special. She sees swirling colors that streak across the clouds in the sky like rainbows on soapy water, and feels the wind blowing through her soul like a fiery wave from an atomic blast, things she uses in her art. Before, she felt special in a good way, like she was delicate and rare. Not like now, when everyone thinks she's special like something is wrong with her. Even her parents look at her that way. That's why they put her in the Wellness Center, hoping she can be fixed.

Sabrina wonders if everyone is right, that she is crazy. Then one day, she looks up and sees Alec. He is a familiar stranger, someone Sabrina has seen before in her dreams, as if they have always known each other and are meant to be together. Alec looks at her as if she were still special in a good way. He doesn't believe there is anything wrong with them. Now Alec and Sabrina have a choice: to stay and be changed into the people the doctors want them to be or to run away and chase their dreams...
Life is But a Dream is a really good look at how mental illness affects a person's life - not just how she copes with being different, not just with how she comes to terms with being on medication, with acknowledging that the way she thinks is wrong and harmful. The parts that really tore at my heart were her flashbacks to how her classmates and friends started changing the way they behave towards her when she starts exhibiting symptoms. The way they take advantage of her, when she is so defenseless and obviously struggling with reality - it underscores the cruelty of teenagers, and really the world in general, and the misunderstanding and recoil that comes instinctively when people are confronted with this situation.

Sabrina's story is very much dependent on Alec. At first, I thought Alec was the best thing that could have happened to Sabrina. But as the story progressed, I started doubting that Alec was a good influence at all, and when Alec's story becomes clearer, I felt outraged at what he was doing. I was basically confused by Alec, and I think that's part of the point. The story is set in a mental hospital, but Alec insists there's nothing wrong with them while Sabrina has already begun to accept that she has to be "fixed." Since Alec presents himself, and Sabrina only knows him from what he reveals, it's hard for the reader to figure out if there's really something wrong with him as well. He mixes things up by sticking to the idea that they're the normal ones and everyone else is crazy. And while Sabrina does harm herself, there is always the underlying question of whether she should be allowed to think the way she does, seeing color and beauty in the world where no one else does. Medicating her means taking away those beautiful thoughts, and the way the story is told brings a pang of regret for the reality of its necessity.

Hearing everything from Sabrina's own voice colors the whole story with a surrealistic touch. There's a bit of whimsy, and the whole time it felt to me like I was hearing a schizophrenic person dreamily relating what happened. It adds to the strength of the narrative, and everything together makes a beautiful, terrible, wonderful, tragic story.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Dark Unwinding

Author: Sharon Cameron
Author's Website:
Publisher: Scholastic
Editor: Lisa Sandell
Agent: Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
Released: September 1, 2012
Genre: YA Steampunk
Source: Library
Series: Yes (?)
Challenge: 2012 Debut Author Challenge

Katharine Tulman is sent by her aunt (by marriage), Alice Tulman, to her uncle's estate, with the sole purpose of declaring her uncle unfit, basically insane, so that her cousin can inherit the estate and Aunt Alice can have more to spend. Katharine has every intention of carrying out this plan, because her own fate hangs in the balance according to the outcome of her visit. But she falters in her plans when she gets to Stranwyne Keep, as she meets and gets to know her uncle and all the people in Stranwyne. Torn between doing right by her uncle and securing a future for herself, Katharine also has to deal with the disturbing incidents that question her own sanity. In the process, Katharine learns what true love and loyalty mean.
From the start, I was drawn in by Katharine's voice and personality. She's been downtrodden all her life, forced to face the fact that she has nothing, reinforced by the declaration by her aunt that she is worth nothing. But still, she has such verve, such strength of character. She is confident without being obnoxious, and that definitely helps when she has to deal with her uncle. She shows this later on in the story when she firmly but kindly takes charge of the goings-on, displaying her strong leadership abilities along with her compassion - compassion that she thinks she can't afford to have but soon learns that she can't afford not to have it.

Uncle Tully also captivated me from the moment he stepped on the scene. Aside from puzzling out what label today's society would give him, there was the delight in his innocence and eccentricities, empathy for his need for routine and fear of strangers. It makes Katharine's struggle all the greater, especially when she is one of the few people who seem to understand Uncle Tully and know how to deal with him.

And then there's Lane. Exasperating, glowering, generally annoying, he tries to interfere with Katharine's plans, and then toys with her emotions. But I love Lane. He's only looking out for the good of Uncle Tully and the villagers, which Katharine understands, but in doing so he reveals his kind and generous nature even as he torments Katharine.

I love the little twists ate the end of the story, the introduction of a dark subplot that Katharine gets to save everyone from. And the resolution - perfect! Everyone gets exactly what they deserve, so I'm well satisfied!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Throne of Glass

Author: Sarah J. Maas
Author's Website:
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Editor: Margaret Miller
Agent: Tamar Rydzinski
Released: August 7, 2012
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Yes (Book 2 Fall 2013)
Source: Library
Challenge: 2012 Debut Author Challenge, YA/MG Fantasy
Celaena is in the deadly prison camp Endovier after having been caught and tried as an assassin. She's the most feared assassin in the kingdom, though many don't know her true age. And now the Crown Prince has come to offer her freedom - in exchange for serving as his candidate in a contest for King's Champion. Celaena travels with him to the glass palace and begins training and competing - but soon the competitors start dying in gruesome murders one after the other. It's up to Celaena to find out what's killing them, and to rid the palace and the kingdom of the evil lurking beneath the harsh surface...
The first thing that struck me when I started reading Throne of Glass was Celaena's voice. She's strong and confident, but scared and vulnerable at the same time. She seems to have nothing to lose, but there's a depth of complicated feelings and needs to her, something that makes the stakes that much higher. She wants her freedom, but she's not willing to do just anything to win it, which means that her struggle throughout the book is not merely against the other would-be Champions but also within herself as she contemplates what she agreed to and if she'll agree to anything further. All through it, her clear and distinct voice narrates the story and commands respect and admiration as she holds up under terrible circumstances and through confusing turns of events. When she begins to investigate the murders, it's again interesting that she reveals two sides of her personality - she's strong and fearless, so it seems, as she ventures into frightening places, but then she reacts like any normal girl and becomes scared and confused.

Part of this is shown in her relationship with Nehemia, the visiting princess. Celaena has never had a real friend before, and she lets her guard down with Nehemia in ways she hasn't done before. But Celaena has to deal with the ups and downs of friendship as well, and that reveals her as just as vulnerable as anyone else.

Celaena's interactions with Chaol show her bravado and vulnerability too. The way she tries to rile him up at the beginning, and then as the relationship progresses and they both begin to like each other and see each other not as guard and guarded but as friends - it showcases the face Celaena feels she has to put on for the world and the emotions running deep beneath the surface.

Aside from Celaena's personality and relationships, though, the plot of the story is fantastic and amazing! The mystery gets deeper and deeper, the danger more and more heightened, the risk and tension mounting page by page. Each new development adds layers to the problems, and raises more questions and more excitement. The pages almost turned themselves as I eagerly waited to see how everything would turn out!

The ending of the book is perfect, in that it deals again with Celaena's inner struggle about how far she's willing to go, and it sets up nicely for the plot and relationships of the next book. The second book in this series is due to be released Fall 2013.

Monday, November 12, 2012

50 Follower Giveaway!!

So I said when the blog hits 50 followers, I'll host a giveaway. Here it is!

The winner will tell me which $10 book from The Book Depository they want, and I'll have it shipped.

a Rafflecopter giveaway