Sunday, September 29, 2013

Crown of Midnight

Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: August 27, 2013
Genre: YA Fantasy (Romance)
Series: Throne of Glass #2
Source: Library
After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes. Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice. Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?
I've been following Sarah on Tumblr, and though I hadn't been able to get the book until last week, I loved seeing her reblogs of fanart along with explanations of why they drew those scenes. So when I read the book, and I came to those scenes, I was able to think of those images. Which I would have thought would detract from my personal experience of the book, but it didn't. It just made it richer, like when the book says "Chaol barely made it into an empty broom closet before the sobs hit," I remembered the fanart of Chaol bent over and sobbing, and it wrenched my heart out.

The entire book wrenched my heart out. If the first book was dark, at least it had bright spots of budding romance and lighthearted banter amid the terrifying and treacherous goings-on. But this book, aside from some parts where Celaena and Chaol spend some time together as friends and then lovers - which are great, by the way - Celaena is just a mess of aching and sorrow and rage. Of course, this propels her to act, to find out what's going on and accept her task assigned by Elena, but it hurts so much.

The secret that's revealed at the end of the book - I guessed it earlier, but I think that's just because I was forced to stop reading before I was done and I had time to think about the different clues. They're there if you're sharp enough, and I was going crazy when I figured it out, but it was also amazing the way it's revealed, the way Chaol finds out just when it's too late to stop things from happening, things he set in motion but would never have had he known the truth.

The blend of action and emotion in this book is just as fantastic as in Throne of Glass. No one but the king is completely evil, and watching Celaena navigate her relationships with Dorian, Chaol, Nehemia, and eventually Archer is at first cautiously tense but eventually rip-roaringly heart-crushing. We don't always know exactly what's going on, but throughout I think I always knew whom she should trust or not, and seeing her fall into traps and subsequent overwhelming grief is just so hard to do. Of course, her tendency to react to grief by aiming a knife at someone's throat gets her into a lot more trouble, but her fearlessness - which we find out comes from a place very different than where we'd think - means that she'll go explore the deepest parts of the castle that scream "stay away" to anyone with a little less courage, and this of course leads to heart-stopping chases, fights, and magical battles.

The next book sees Celaena in a totally new environment, and I can't wait to see how she deals with a completely different part of herself. Book 3, untitled as yet, should be published sometime in 2014 - which is a really long stretch of time and I hope it's more towards the beginning than the end!

Mila 2.0

Author: Debra Driza
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Released: March 12, 2013
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Thriller
Series: Yes (#2 Renegade)
Source: Library
Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do. Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.
The story of finding humanity in yourself when you're actually just a machine - oddly relatable.

I love Mila, for all that she's not even human. Her character is so compelling, which should be a clue right off that she's far more than a machine. Of course, it is because her creators programmed too much emotion into her, but the bits where she realizes that she's becoming more human than they could possibly have imagined, where she goes beyond her programming and stakes a claim to her right to exist, those bits are so powerful. She's a really strong girl, and her humor - which her "mother" points to as proof of her humanity - is sharp and funny. And sarcastic - my favorite kind.

There's plenty of fast-paced action as Mila and her mother are running away, tension and fear underlying all of it but razor-sharp wits and calculation. The airport scene is kind of badass. I love the scenes where she's being tested once they're captured, not only because of Lucas, the guy who's in charge of administering the tests, but because every step of the way, Mila shows how she functions as an emotional human, capable of compassion and terror, and while sometimes that helps her win, sometimes it gets in the way and trips her up - but that's perfect, because without that, she wouldn't get any of our sympathy or deserve to keep existing. Which is of course exactly the opposite of what the scientists are thinking. Oh, and there's plenty of heart-stopping action there, too!

When she finally gets out, the cost is so great that for a moment I thought she might not be able to go on. But she's strong. She's resilient, and she now has a purpose - so watch out scientists, you're gonna be roasted in the next book! And I can't wait to see it happen!

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow (HarperCollins)
Released: September 20, 2011
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Yes (#2 Crown of Embers, #3 The Bitter Kingdom)
Source: Library
Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess. And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake. Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn't die young. Most of the chosen do.
This book was recommended to me because I love Robin McKinley's Damar novels. And I immediately saw why. The two series are very similar, though each one has its own unique voice and style. It starts with a girl who thinks she's worthless and winds up being the most important person in the world. Along the way, there's kidnapping, royal marriages, intrigue, budding romance, stark loyalty, friendship, loss...

Elisa is so compelling right from the start, even as she's being obnoxiously insecure and finding comfort in food. I absolutely loved the food aspect, by the way. Because Elisa turns to food so often, there's a ton of mention of food throughout the book, and I loved the inventiveness as some foods were recognizable and some were completely novel and delightfully exotic (I'll pass on the rat soup, though, which apparently Elisa will too!). Her insecurities actually become the point of entry for us to identify with her, and the way the king treats her leaves us as confused as she is. She of course thinks there's a deeper reason for the king marrying her than her beauty, of which she assumes she has none, but when he appears to love her, she begins to tentatively hope. And though the king is far from a bad person, I couldn't help hating him a little as he was so blind to Elisa as a person needing love and acted kind in a way that cut deep.

The Godstone that rests in Elisa's navel is just as confusing. She thinks she gets help and responses from God, but she doubts it also, and she hates it at times for allowing her friends to die when she prays and it sends warmth as if it's accepting her prayer. Her relationship with the Godstone is central to the story, of course, and is essential to her growth.

Humberto is possibly the only person who doesn't act ambiguously. Elisa doesn't trust him at first, but I loved every scene that he was in, because he has such a quiet strength and is such a perfect gentleman. I sort of fell in love with him. Which makes what happens so much harder, of course, and I really hope Elisa finds a way out of it in the next book - like in the first few pages, maybe, please? Though I know that's not really possible.

But the main part of Elisa's journey is discovering her own worth and rising to the challenge presented to her, and I think her realization at the end of the book about the connection between her being chosen and her choosing to act is so heartwarming. And I can't wait to find out how it all plays out further...

This Is How I Find Her

Author: Sara Polsky
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Released: September 1, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Sophie Canon has just started her junior year when her mother tries to kill herself. Sophie has always lived her life in the shadow of her mother's bipolar disorder, monitoring her medication, rushing home after school to check on her instead of spending time with friends, and keeping her mother's diagnosis secret from everyone outside their family. But when the overdose lands Sophie's mother in the hospital, Sophie no longer has to watch over her. She moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, from whom she has been estranged for the past five years. Rolling her suitcase across town to her family's house is easy. What's harder is figuring out how to build her own life.
I love this book. It made me cry countless times. Much more than a story about living with a family member's bipolar disorder, it's about figuring out when it's ok to give and give and give to someone who really needs help, and when it's time to start taking things for yourself and step back from being the pillar that person leans on. Because it's really heartbreaking that Sophie has had to take charge of someone else's problems when she was as young as 11, and that she was never able to have a normal teenage life because of it. Of course, her aunt should have been there and she made some very bad choices herself, but even her aunt shouldn't have to deal with it, which by the end of the book everyone, including Sophie's mother, realizes. The other characters' interactions strengthen this idea, both Sophie's cousin Leila and their friend James. The most heartwrenching moment, though, is when some kids present an English project that should never have been approved, because regardless of whether anyone in the class has dealt with suicide, making jokes about such serious subjects is disgusting. This book has so many subtle (or not so subtle) "lessons," aside from telling a deeply compelling story about a young girl's journey to find herself and climb out of the debris that has been her life up till then.

The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: August 20, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal Dystopian
Series: Yes - First of seven!
Source: Library
It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing. But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army. Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.
What an absolutely gripping book. Paige is a great heroine. She's courageous - sometimes to a fault - and she's smart, and loyal - mostly. She fights hard to free the clairvoyants, and she winds up leading the revolution. I found it a little odd that she fights so hard to get out of Oxford and back to the citadel when she's confronted with so many new horrifying revelations about what's really going on, when she knows that there's so much more that she doesn't understand, that the Rephaim have plans that reach down back centuries and forward to the end of the world, but she doesn't really try to figure out what the Rephaim are really all about. But at the same time, I love that. Because instead of the typical heroine, who is full of self-sacrifice in order to save humanity, Paige just desperately wants the chance to live as normal a life as possible, to get back to the world she knows, even if she now knows it's nothing like what she thought it was. By the end of the book, though, she's turned around and though she doesn't uncover anything really revealing in this book, I'm sure she's going to start uncovering things in the next book. (And if not, there are six more books for her to do that!) Even though the mysteries stay hidden, this book is far from slow-paced. Things happen one after the next, people and Rephaim seem one thing and on the next page seem the other, traitors and misplaced loyalties abound. 

And the secondary characters are so so good. Lissa and Seb especially stole my heart, and I cried when Seb died, even though I barely knew him at that point. And when he comes up again later, I cried buckets. I think it's because I felt everything through Paige, and she feels so strongly about everything. She's always passionate in whatever emotion she feels - passionate hate, passionate love, passionate fear, passionate sorrow. It makes her reckless, but since she somehow manages to get out of (almost) every scrape, her blazing passion propels her forward to every next step, and her passion for the others in the prison, especially the amaurotics and harlies, makes me love her as fiercely as she loves them.

Paige's group from back in the citadel is satisfyingly hard to pin down. They're her family, but she doesn't particularly like all of them. I loved seeing her unrequited feelings for Nick, though, because it gives her that vulnerability she seems not to have. And then there's her relationship with Warden. As maddeningly confusing as Warden is himself, and completely unsatisfying in how it's left at the end of the book. Which of course means that aside from wanting the next book for the secrets it will reveal, I want to know what happens to Warden, and what happens to Warden and Paige.


Author: David Levithan and Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Philomel
Released: January 1, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Series: Maybe
Source: Library
Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.
 What started out as what I thought would be an interesting exploration of being invisible and, on the other side, loving someone no one else knows exists, turned out to be a really gripping magic-filled adventure. Stephen and Elizabeth both have very strong voices, and though at first I was concentrating mostly on Stephen's story, especially since he started out the narration, I slid easily with the shift of importance to Elizabeth. But I love that they're both important, that this is both of their stories. And the way they save each other.

Stephen is understandably a very quiet, sensitive boy. He has been an observer all his life, after all, so he's used to noticing other peoples' actions and keeping to himself. I love the way he reacts when he realizes Elizabeth can see him. It definitely makes for a funny scene! And then as he tries to absorb the idea that someone can actually see him besides his mother, it's both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Elizabeth is a great character, too, and I like that she gets to know and love Stephen before she finds out he's invisible. I did find it a little weird that she doesn't notice anyone looking at her strangely for talking to herself when they're out, but I'm willing to think she was so focused on Stephen and New York that she didn't pay attention to other people. And then when she does find out, it's pretty perfect, too.

When they find out exactly what has to be done to break the curse, when a lot of the responsibility falls on Elizabeth, it's really great the way she grows into her maturity (though she was mature before, too). She goes from denying it, to tentatively accepting it, to going too far in her acceptance and then finally finding the right balance - though she kind of throws that all out in the end.

Laurie is a great character. Maybe a little too funny at times, but after what he's been through, his excessive humor is understandable. And he's strong and always there for Elizabeth, so that's great.

But aside from the characters, the action of the story is amazing also. The bad guy is really and truly, wonderfully, spine-tinglingly bad. And the things he does are horrible so that the things the heroes do are that much more heroic. And I like that mixed in with the action struggle is the internal struggle both Stephen and Elizabeth have. Because as much as this is an exciting book, it's really all about the kids.

Andrea Cremer has said on Twitter that there might be a sequel. Things are left pretty ambiguous at the end of this book, but if there's no sequel, I'd still be satisfied.

False Sight

Author: Dan Krokos
Publisher: Hyperion
Released: August 13, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: Yes (#1 False Memory, #3 Untitled)
Source: Library
All Miranda wants is a normal life. She's determined to move past the horrible truth of her origin as a clone so she can enjoy time with her boyfriend, Peter, and the rest of her friends at school. But Miranda quickly learns that there's no such thing as normal - not for a girl who was raised to be a weapon. When one of her teammates turns rogue, it begins a war that puts the world in jeopardy. Now Miranda must follow her instincts - not her heart - in order to save everything she's fought so hard to keep. With the image of a terrible future seared into her mind, what will she have to sacrifice to protect the people she loves?
The second book definitely starts with a bang! Right away, though the Roses try to have a semi-normal life while they wait for things to start happening, their wait is cut very short as they lose some members to fates possibly worse than death. Hurling them straight into another race for answers, for survival, for the entire world's safety, this new challenge brings the Roses a different sort of struggle as they have to decide whether to kill one of their own.

The first book was full of adventure and action, and the second book somehow ups that even more. But this time, separated again time after time, each of the Roses has to make decisions on their own, and they aren't confined to Cleveland anymore - they travel far far beyond their hometown, out to different worlds. I was a little taken aback at the introduction of new worlds, maybe because the Roses don't seem too taken aback themselves, just taking in stride a shocking development even though there was no indication it was coming. But the hopping from one world to the next added another level of horror and urgency to an already gripping struggle.

And then what Miranda decides to do... and how she does it... I know there has to be an answer, that things can't possibly be left the way they were at the end of this book, and I'm speculating about what could have actually happened, but I guess I'll have to wait for the third book to find out...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Just Listen

Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Released: February 28, 2008
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Annabel Greene is the girl who has everything. At least, that's what she portrays in her modeling shoots. But Annabel's life is far from perfect. Her friendship with Sophie ended bitterly, and her older sister's eating disorder is weighing down the entire family. Isolated and ostracized at school and at home, Annabel retreats into silent acceptance. Then she meets Owen - intense, music-obsessed, and determined to always tell the truth. And with his guidance, Annabel learns to just listen to herself and gains the courage to speak honestly. But will she be able to tell everyone what really happened teh night she and Sophie stopped being friends?
It's obvious from almost the very beginning that Annabel experienced something very traumatic, but it's not revealed until a ways into the book. Which only makes it scarier, the way Annabel hears a nameless voice whispering something that should be reassuring but instead sends shivers down your spine from the terror it evokes in Annabel. And that's kind of the whole point of the book - the way Annabel doesn't allow herself to acknowledge anything out of the normal, the way she pushes everything deep down inside herself, refuses to talk about it, definitely not with anyone else but not even with herself. Owen, with his forthright honesty cultivated both by his Anger Management and his really endearing family, eases her into opening up by discussing their very different tastes in music (and come on, who actually likes the kind of music Owen likes?) in a completely confrontational but also safe way.

But as happens in real life, which Sarah Dessen always gets so exactly, Annabel isn't miraculously cured because of Owen. She has to face things herself, and she doesn't - and so she loses everything all over again. I felt like screaming at her as she made the dumbest decision again and again simply because she feared confrontation and jumped to conclusions about what other people were thinking. I also teared up a bit, because to a lesser extent I do the same thing. That's another great thing about Sarah Dessen's books - you always find something to relate to in every single book.

But the way Annabel finally takes a deep breath and gets the courage to face every horrible terrible thing that's happening in her life - that's beautiful. Because it takes such tremendous strength to stop ruining your life by hiding behind a facade of "everything is just fine." We know all along that Annabel is strong, but she proves it even more when she is partly the catalyst for her family's change and when she takes her life back in her own hands. When she repeats Owen's own words back to him, it becomes obvious that not only did Owen help her, she helps him, and that's just so perfect.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Candy and the Cankersaur

Author: Jason Sandberg
Publisher: self-published
Released: 2012
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Source: ebook from author for review
Candy gets lots of interesting toys from her father, and one day she gets a Cankersaurus Rex from the Island that Time Forgot. She trains her new pet and has lots of fun with him, but the neighbor boy Chucky is jealous, steals Cank and sells him to the circus. When he sees how sad Candy is and regrets what he's done, he, Candy, and Candy's father set out to rescue Cank.
This is a really smart, funny book. There are many little details that made me laugh and which will make kids laugh - like the way Chucky tries to get rid of Cank but runs up against adult pragmatic views that dinosaurs don't exist, to the point that a policeman staring Cank in the face calls him a large salamander! Kids will enjoy the way Candy tries to train Cank, with her First Rule of no biting eventually playing an important role in the rescue story. Another laugh-worthy moment is when Cank fetches a stick and then eats a tree because he likes the taste of wood. Sprinkled throughout a story that does get serious, these light moments strike the perfect balance and create a nuanced journey for kids. The main journey is of course the lesson about relationships. Chucky learns the right way to make friends, and Candy's father pays more attention to his daughter. Though these two lessons are learned by characters other than the main character, the lessons come through strong and clear. They are introduced somewhat baldly at the beginning of the story, when each character's flawed mode of relationships is stated outright, and when Chucky realizes his mistake. Despite this, the rest of the story uses subtlety to show the development of the characters. The illustrations are amazing, cartoonish and colorful, sure to draw children's attention and elicit conversation either as they read or as the book is read to them. Some words may be a bit difficult for younger children, but the style of the book makes it easier for kids to figure out the meanings. This book is meant as an homage to Syd Hoff, author of Danny and the Dinosaur, one of my favorite childhood books. Candy and the Cankersaur has the same light tone, though with a more serious lesson, and is sure to be a favorite too!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Truth About Forever

Author: Sarah Dessen

Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Released: 2004
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
A long structured summer... That's what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy's father.

But sometimes unexpected things can happen - things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl's world upside-down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to wonder. Is it really better to be safe than sorry?
I haven't read Sarah Dessen in a while, I think since three summers ago. And when I started reading The Truth About Forever, I was immediately reminded why I read five or six of her books consecutively that summer. She has a way of showing exactly what the characters are feeling, pulling on your emotions and getting you completely invested and involved in the story. I originally meant to read a couple of chapters today then get back to my other work, but I wound up reading the entire book with no breaks...

Macy is such a relatable character. It's so understandable that she got herself into this relationship with Jason after her father died, as she was craving stability and security. But it's also obvious that this relationship is in no way good for her, and I was rooting for her at each of her moments of realization about what the relationship actually is, rather than what she likes to believe it is. Her relationship with her mother is also understandable throughout the whole book. At first, it seems Macy and her mother get along really well, until Macy starts admitting to herself that she's putting on an act in hopes of maintaining peace and - again - stability. When she begins to allow herself to act the way she wants to rather than living up to her mother's idea of perfection, the true nature of the relationship reveals itself. But I love the way Macy and her mother eventually get okay with each other. It's so real, so in line with Macy's character and goals and thought processes. And it's mostly down to Macy herself.

The whole crew of Wish catering is amazing. Each of them, even Monica, nicknamed Monotone because of her expressionless three-phrase repertoire of words, is so unique and adds so much to Macy's growth. They're in sharp contrast to what Macy has been experiencing until then, and they're the perfect catalyst for Macy to wake up and take charge of her own life again.

And then there's Wes. He's perfect. So absolutely perfect. And it's not just that he's totally hot and all the girls can't stop looking at him. Yes, the reason Macy gets flutters at first is because of his looks, but his looks eventually fade and I love that Macy hardly mentions them once they really get to know each other. She doesn't hope for anything beyond friendship, though she definitely acknowledges that if things were different she'd love for that to happen. But Wes has such depth to his character, both in the serious aspects and in the fun-loving and witty aspects - and those two parts combine quite a bit in the on-going Truth game, which I love. Yes, he is "the kind of boy who could turn any girl's world upside-down," but he's especially good for Macy as she comes to know herself more deeply. And it's so obvious, even as Macy can't see it, that he loves her, that my heart went melting at every other word he says.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Star Cursed

Author: Jessica Spotswood
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Released: June 18, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: The Cahill Witch Chronicles #2
Source: Library
With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate's friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves. Cate doesn't want to be a weapon, and she doesn't want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood's schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she'll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.
I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Born Wicked, but though this was a good read, it wasn't as captivating as the first book. I will still be reading the third book, because Star Cursed definitely is a good book, just not as gripping or emotional as its predecessor.

What was missing, I felt, was the relationships between Cate and her sisters and between Cate, Sachi, and Rory. This drove most of the first book, and I was really looking forward to the tension and banter. But though Cate's sisters are there, she doesn't interact with them much, and after Sachi is arrested, that friendship loses its spark - Rory is not enough to give it that same tone, since Sachi was the one who really was the leader. Cate and Finn's relationship was there, but since it got caught up in the rest of the brewing war, it lost the completely romantic and wonderful atmosphere of the previous book.

What was definitely there was Cate's obvious struggle to do what's right or what's immediately good. And the tension created by the different ideas among the Sisters, the growing need for action, the Brothers' continued sliminess and horror. The secrets slowly coming out, the prophesy coming to fruition, the terror Cate feels at all of this - it's all gorgeously portrayed. Definitely makes me want to know how this all turns out!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blog Hop & Giveaway

This is a blog hop/giveaway hosted by I Am A Reader and Bookhounds. Enter the $20 Book Depository here, and check out all the other great blogs on the list! (The contest might say open only to US, but internationals feel free to enter, as long as the Book Depository ships to you!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If I Stay & Where She Went

Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Released: 2010, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: Yes, Books 1 & 2
Source: Library
In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make.

Picking up several years after the dramatic conclusion of If I Stay, Where She Went continues the story of Adam and Mia, from Adam's point of view. Ever since Mia's decision to stay - but not with him - Adam's career has been on a wonderful trajectory. His album, borne from the anguish and pain of their breakup, has made him a bona fide star. And Mia herself has become a top-rate cellist, playing in some of the finest venues in the world. When their respective paths put them both in New York City at the same time, the result is a single night in which the two reunite - with wholly satisfying results.

I haven't been blogging for a while, because I know I won't have much time next semester to post reviews, possibly not even to read, and I was starting to embrace that. But when I read this series, I knew I had to write something. I was bursting to talk about it, to tell everyone I met how amazing the books are!

Both books each tell about a single day, but they have lots of flashbacks and memories so the character's entire story up to that point is told as well. I loved this style, especially in Where She Went, because I got the feeling that everything that happens on this one day is directly affected by what happened before, that everything that happens in a person's life is linked to everything else. 

The music laced around the story is also really great. Especially in Where She Went, when some chapters are prefaced by an excerpt from the lyrics Adam wrote about his heartbreak. Funny thing, though, at the end of If I Stay, Gayle Forman says she can't write lyrics and so appropriated published songs for her fictional characters and bands. But in Where She Went, Adam's lyrics are obviously original - so who wrote them? Just wondering.

Mia's story, and her choice, in If I Stay is heartbreaking, but even in that book, I felt more of a connection to Adam. And Adam's story in Where She Went broke my heart into tiny little pieces and - thankfully - mended it together at the end of the book. I think that the magnitude of Mia's choice is shown more clearly in the second book, when she and Adam have a sob-worthy conversation/argument/soul-baring about what went down between them. Absolute heartbreak!

Basically, highest praise from me - the books made me cry multiple times, and my heart ached the rest of the time. If you haven't read these yet, what are you waiting for!!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wild Awake

Author: Hilary T. Smith
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Released: May 28, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Kiri Byrd is on her own while her parents are on a summer cruise. She'll be fine on her own, though her friend Lukas's mother doesn't think so. But Kiri is disciplined. She'll take care of the house, she'll practice her piano to audition for the Conservatory, she'll compete with Lukas in Battle of the Bands - and maybe she'll get Lukas to see her as more than a friend.

But all of that falls apart when a stranger calls to say he has her sister's stuff - her sister, who died five years ago. Against her better judgement, Kiri picks up the bag from this stranger. And there starts the descent into madness. Because suddenly Kiri sees the world differently, but no one except a random guy she met accidentally sees things her way.
I read this book in one sitting, my heart getting more and more constricted as I read it. Kiri is never diagnosed formally, but in an expert friend's opinion could be monomanic. She doesn't need sleep, she's hyper-focused on her projects, she acts recklessly and impulsively and she starts a deep relationship with a guy she knows nothing about. From a practical point of view, I was outraged at Kiri's parents for the way they treated her - always acting in her best interests, but stifling her to the point that she breaks down and succumbs to the illness hiding in the deep recesses of her mind.

But from an emotional standpoint, my heart just broke again and again, each time Kiri embarks on a new quest thinking that she discovered the secrets to the world but in fact is set on the path to her own destruction. I know a bit about mental illness, and Hilary T. Smith has said that she knows about mental illness personally, so I know that this book captures the thought processes of a mentally ill person so perfectly it made my heart ache.

By the way, ignore the blurb on the cover that says this book is about love. There's love, but it's so much more than that. While Kiri does fall in love with Skunk, even that relationship is about mental illness. This book is a brilliant look inside the mind gone wild, with all its exhilarating moments and devastating moments.

School Spirits

Author: Rachel Hawkins
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Released: May 14, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: Hex Hall
Source: Publisher
Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures - and fifteen-year-old Izzy is the last of her line. But when her older sister vanishes without a trace, Izzy's mom decides they need to take a break from the Brannicks' age-old calling.

As Izzy and her mom move on to Ideal, Mississippi, however, they discover the town is not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. First, her clothes are all wrong. Second, what are these things called "friends"? Third, there's a boy named Dex making her heart skip - but not in a bad, that's weird. For a tough girl who's always been on her own, it feels strange to suddenly be the center of attention.

Izzy's training taught her to never get attached, but she doesn't know if she can solve the case alone. Can she trust her new friends to find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
I loved the Hex Hall series, its wit and sass and action and emotion, so of course I was eager to read School Spirits. And it doesn't disappoint! It's just as full of wit and sass, action and emotion, and Izzy is just as much a great character as Sophie is. I love the seemingly effortless tone, as if Izzy is just talking to us , telling the story to a circle of friends - now that she has friends. The way she has to integrate into school life after not having contact with kids her own age all her life is really great to watch. It affirms her strength of character, as she doesn't freak out about it, just observes what she has to change and does so. I'm not sure I liked that she had to change her all-black ensemble in order to fit in. If there was a reason she dressed all in black, maybe she could have joined the kids who had the same reason to dress in black? Unless, of course, the only reason is that she was raised as a monster-hunter and she really belongs in a different crowd. She makes friends quickly enough, but they're not the popular, bright and cheery students - they are witch-hunters, after all, as amateur as they are!

I love the romance with Dex, and all his purple, and everything that happens around it. That's all I'm saying. And Torin, for all his obnoxiousness, is a pretty great character too.

I can't find any info about the sequels, though there should be, considering the set-up for the mystery of Izzy's sister. But Rachel is meanwhile publishing another book, Rebel Belle, due out on April 14, 2014. And it sounds great, so be on the lookout for it!

The Last Academy

Author: Anne Applegate
Publisher: Point (Scholastic)
Released: April 30, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: No
Source: Library
Camden Fisher arrives at boarding school haunted by a falling-out with her best friend back home. But the manicured grounds of Lethe Academy are like nothing Cam has ever known. There are gorgeous, preppy boys and circles of girls with secrets to spare. Cam finds herself tentatively trusting the other students, occasionally making mischief, and maybe falling in love.
Something is not quite right. One of Cam's new friends mysteriously disappears, but the teachers don't seem too concerned. Cam is suddenly plagued by odd memories, and senses there might be something dark and terrible brewing. But what?
The great part of this story is the part I can't really talk about without giving away the amazing plot twist. But I'll try! In dealing with the issues the book deals with, including the falling-out with Cam's friend back home, The Last Academy is brilliant. The name of the school should have given it away to me, but I somehow skipped over that at the beginning of the book! Anyway, it's as scary as this issue should be, but it has such tenderness and soothing elements as well. And lots of good crying spots!

Cam is wonderful - essentially a good girl who starts experimenting with mischief. I love the big scene when she breaks all the rules. There's a sense of terror as she thinks she'll be found out at any second, and then there's the utter exhilaration when she gets back to her room and realizes she got away with it - or thinks she has.

I'm not entirely sure what purpose the romance serves in the plot, but in any case it was a great relationship to follow. Starting with irrational infatuation over a guy she knows simply as hot, Mark moves to being a real, real person, with issues of his own to muddle through. His story does add a lot to the overall story and the understanding that Cam comes to eventually.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Iron Queen

Author: Kaitlin Bevis
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Released: May 16, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Series: Daughters of Zeus #3
Source: ebook for review
Life is hell for Persephone. Zeus will stop at nothing to gain access to the living realm and the Underworld, and as the only living god with a right to both, Persephone’s in trouble. Captured and tortured beyond the limits of her resolve, Persephone must find the power to stand against Zeus. But will she be strong enough? Meanwhile, Hades contemplates desperate measures to rescue his queen. Persephone never thought of herself as dangerous, but there’s a reason gods never marry for love. A being with the power to destroy all of creation shouldn’t place more value in one individual than the rest of the planet. But Hades...Hades would break the world for her. To save the world and stop both Hades and Zeus, Persephone must make a difficult choice. One that may cost her everything.
 What a powerful whirlwind end to this section of the series! There's such a sense of movement throughout the whole book, as the gods speed around the worlds, both in reality and in dreams.

The heightened danger and urgency is helped along by the varying points of view in each chapter. At first, I was thrown off by the changing perspectives, but once I got into the rhythm, it made the pace lightning fast while still showing each event really clearly. That's part of what adds to the sense of movement also, as each character is in a different place for each event.

Persephone's torture is horrific to hear about, but thankfully we actually see it only the first time and only hear about it after that. Any questions about Persephone's strength and right to Hades' admiration are laid to rest by the way Persephone stands strong, and then again by the way she reacts to Aphrodite's offer to help get her out of the torture.

Hades' love is such a powerful force, and I was glad that we got to see inside his mind this book. I love how all the gods are so clinical in their quest to stop Zeus while Hades is full of emotion and recklessness - much the way Persephone behaved in the previous books!

There's so much heartbreak in this book. So much emotion. A great book!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cold Kiss

Author: Amy Garvey
Publisher: HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Released: May 22, 2012
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Series: Yes #2: Glass Heart
Source: Bought Kindle
Be careful what you wish for. . . . When Wren's boyfriend, Danny, died, Wren decided that what she wanted—what she had to do—was to bring Danny back. And so, in a heartbroken fury, armed with dark incantations and a secret power, she did. But the Danny who returns isn't the boy Wren fell in love with, and she must hide him away while her life unravels around her. Then Gabriel transfers to her school and somehow he knows what she has done—and he wants to help make things right. But Wren alone must undo what she has wrought—even if it means breaking her heart all over again.
Danny and Wren's love is shown mostly through flashbacks and memories, and some of Wren's ruminations. But even though the current situation is far from what their love truly is, I felt like I really got what their relationship was like, and it totally made sense for Wren to want it back, to feel like if she didn't have it she couldn't go on living. It's the kind of love that insinuates itself into every part of your life, breathing new life and vitality into everything. Can you blame Wren then?

And then there's Gabriel - very different from Danny, but just as good for Wren. Gabriel's mysteriousness at the beginning of the book colors the way I see him even though he's pretty much an open book for most of the story. The way he's described is totally gorgeous, so even without the physical descriptions, I would have been imaging a tall, slim guy. Though I would have had him with dark hair. The constant mention of his gray eyes is striking, and adds to the creepiness and thrill of how he can see more than the regular person.

Wren's growing catastrophe builds and builds really credibly throughout the book, and her emotions and responses escalate with the mounting tension. There never really is a big moment, since everything with Danny happens gradually. There is, of course, the way she tries to put things right at the end of the book, but even that felt sort of anticlimactic to me. Though I'm guessing the reason it's so abrupt is that it continues with whole new twists in Glass Heart

And I'll find out soon enough, because the characters and tone of the book make me crave more of this story!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dear Life, You Suck

Author: Scott Blagden
Publisher: Harcout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Released: March 26, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Irreverent, foulmouthed seventeen-year-old Cricket is the oldest ward in a Catholic boys’ home in Maine—and his life sucks. With prospects for the future that range from professional fighter to professional drug dealer, he seems doomed to a life of “criminal rapscallinity.” In fact, things look so bleak that Cricket can’t help but wonder if his best option is one final cliff dive into the great unknown.
An achingly honest look at an apparently hopeless existence, Dear Life, You Suck pulled me in right from the first page. Cricket's voice, his irreverent attitudes toward everything in life, are just so compelling. Of course, this all turns out to be posturing and underneath his tough exterior is a little boy, desperate and vulnerable, using sarcasm and smart-alec answers in order to hide his deep hurt and despair. He despairs with good reason, of course. He knows the world is not what the adults make it out to be, that you can't depend on adults or you'll get screwed. 

But he sabotages his own happiness time and again, especially with Wynona. Wynona is a lovable character. At first, I felt like I couldn't understand why Cricket was so enamored of her when she was the girlfriend of his biggest enemy, the guy who bullies all his younger "siblings." But as the story goes on, I came to see that Wynona is exactly what Cricket needs. He of course doesn't see things that way, but really Wynona is a large part of why Cricket comes out of the dark dark darkness.

I don't believe he ever really considers suicide. I don't think he thinks he ever really considers it. He just uses it as a comforting thought, that he won't have to deal with everything if he just checks out. But for all his saying that life sucks, for all the reasons he gives Moxie Lord, he really loves life. He just can't see how he can find his purpose. Right now, he has a purpose in protecting the Little Ones and teaching them how to fend for themselves, but he can't picture what life will be like once he leaves school and Mother Mary. Again, for all his calling it the Prison, Cricket really loves the home and Mother Mary. He's terrified of leaving his safe place.

What really makes this book so touching is the way it's told completely from Cricket's point of view and in his own voice, so that we get to see inside his head, with a running commentary on everything that's going on. It means that every emotion he feels is bam! in your face. Everyone else's motivations are seen only through Cricket's view, but somehow we get to understand that not everyone is out to get him. And it means that he presents his own actions in a detached sort of way which only highlights the fact that his actions are heroic.

There is so much more I love about this book. It's a must-read!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like

Author: Jennifer E. Smith

Publisher: Poppy (Little, Brown and Company; Hachette)
Released: April 2, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds. Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?
Another great love story in the style of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight!! 

Graham and Ellie are both fully-developed characters, so that every decision each one of them makes seems totally natural, even the ones that pop out of thin air. Quinn and Ellie's mother are equally fleshed out, and Olivia is delightfully flat! Together, the cast of characters creates the prefect setting for this love story to happen.

The story starts with the emails, and those set the stage for a meaningful story. The emails talk about nothing, but at the same time, they're deep and thoughtful. They're a great way for both Ellie and Graham to let down their guards and really let someone get to know them. Of course, as Ellie's mother mentions, striking up a relationship with someone online is never a good idea, but in their case, it's best it happens anonymously so that neither one knows the other's secrets.

Then when Graham gets to town, their relationship falls naturally into that rhythm. Ellie is of course at first distrustful, not knowing what Graham's endgame is. But when they both figure out how to reconcile the person they see with the person they know, their interactions become as sweet as possible.

The story is left open-ended. Graham is going back to Hollywood and world tours, but there's a sense that the relationship will continue anyway. I sure hope so!

Freaks Like Us

Author: Susan Vaught
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: September 4, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
When Jason Milwaukee's best friend Sunshine vanishes, Jason knows that something is terribly wrong, but solving her disappearance will require pushing through all the voices in his head and then getting the world to listen to him. His schizophrenia is stopping him from remembering the events leading up to her disappearance, and often he discounts his own memories, and his own impressions. But his deep knowledge that he would never hurt his friend, plus the faith of his parents and a few others in the town bring him to the point of solving the mystery. In the end, it's Sunshine's own love for Jason (Freak) that persuades him of his own strength and goodness.
Let me start with saying that Susan Vaught is a psychologist - and after reading this book, I'd recommend her to anyone I know! She obviously gets people with these illnesses - the descriptions of Sunshine's selective mutism and Drip's ADHD just sound so right, like she gets to the heart of how they think. And that is, of course, overshadowed by the way Freak is written. 

Even though the entire story happens over one 24-hour period, except for the epilogue, I felt like I really got to know how Freak lives on a daily basis. Because of the style of the novel, with glimpses into Freak's mind-voices and flashbacks, which Freak tries so desperately both to remember and to forget, there are so many layers. So many issues were touched on, the way he has to deal with the voices and sift through what's real and what isn't, his own self-image, how others perceive him and behave towards him, and most touchingly, I felt, was the detail about his name. It shows so much about how he and the other "alphabets" view themselves. Agent Mercer showcases that really nicely.

And I really had tears in my eyes during Freak's (almost) last conversation with Agent Mercer. Much more than a story about a missing girl, this is the story of people with disabilities and their place in the world, and seeing Agent Mercer's developing interactions with Freak and Drip - I cried. Literally, no exaggeration. I cried.

And I cried again, even more, at the epilogue. 

I'm going to leave it at that. This is a brilliant book.

In My Mailbox 44

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi of The Story Siren, where bloggers share the contents of their mailbox that week - books bought, borrowed, received... It's a great way to see lots of new books all at once, and leads to great coveting and more buying!

Here's my haul this week:

Don't Go, Lisa Scottoline

Sunday, April 14, 2013

In My Mailbox 43

In My Mailbox is a meme created by Kristi of The Story Siren, where bloggers share the contents of their mailbox that week - books bought, borrowed, received... It's a great way to see lots of new books all at once, and leads to great coveting and more buying!

Here's my haul this week:

I had put a whole bunch of books on hold at two different libraries, and I loved watching as each day this week, I picked up more books and added them to the teetering tower. It fell over a few times, but it was worth seeing!

Rat - Lesley Choyce
Something About Sophie - Mary Kay McComas
Glass Heart - Amy Garvey
Freaks Like Us - Susan Vaught
Then You Were Gone - Lauren Strasnick
The Fool's Girl - Celia Rees
Dear Life, You Suck - Scott Blagden
This Is What Happy Looks Like - Jennifer E. Smith
The Edge of the Earth - Christina Schwartz
Venom - Fiona Paul
On Beauty - Zadie Smith
The Last Kingdom - Bernard Cornwell
The Pale Horseman - Bernard Cornwell
Lords of the North - Bernard Cornwell
The Witness - Nora Roberts

Ebooks for review:
A Happy Accident - Evan Tyler
Doublesight - Terry Persun

So a big week for me. Now to find time to read all these before I have to return them! That's the thing about libraries - you can get as many books as you want without going broke, but it also means that when you go on a book binge, you have limited time to read all those books. 

What's in your mailbox?