Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Mead’s Vampire Academy series is my favorite YA vampire series. And I love reading about vampires, so that is saying something. Her books are the first ones I check my library for when someone wants a Twilight Read Alike or Bettherthan. So, needless to say, I have been waiting impatiently for this book (the start of a new spinoff series) to come out. In New Orleans, I was two steps away from just standing at the Penguin booth and reading their whole display copy.
I may have even started a brief argument with an employee at Barnes and Noble the day it came out. I went into the store, and searched all the new book displays, and didn’t find it. So, I went up stairs to the YA displays and didn’t find it. And then I looked on the YA shelves, and didn’t find it…I went downstairs again to ask the information desk to find me a copy, but at the last minute found a small table in the back corner that had four copies on it. The books were facing the back corner, toward where some games were…And the books facing outward were some collections of Douglas Adams books (which I also love), but still.
Information desk guy saw me moving the books around, and was all “Can I help you?” I then proceeded to tell him that these were the only four copies (soon to be three) the store had of a bestselling author’s new vampire book, and no one would be able to find it. The guy did not seem too pleased with me for moving anything around. Maybe he made the display? But really, this was almost as bad as the girl at Borders telling me she only needed 3 copies out of Catching Fire the day that came out. This is one of the bad things that comes from giant bookstores taking over the world of smaller ones; the employees don’t always know books, and certainly don’t always know YA. (No offense to all the YA lovers who work in those stores. I just wish there were more of you). But seriously, does Barnes and Noble know how much money they lost that day?
Any way, now that you think I’m crazy, I will get to the story. It actually was not as good as I wanted it to be. It was very different from her other books, mostly because Sydney is no Rose. In fact no one in the world can be as awesome as Rose. But, before I get to a summary, one thing that was really awesome was the brief (or long-lasting, depending on the character) appearances of friends from the other series. And yes, Rose has a brief appearance.
This book is about Sydney, the alchemist who helped out Rose in The Vampire Academy books, and had some kind of deal going on with Rose’s father: Abe Mazur. And while Sydney is nowhere near as cool or rebellious as Rose, she most definitely is smarter. The book starts with her being torn from her bed at home to either be punished for her past “mistakes” (by being sent to a brainwashing Re-education center) or to be sent to a new mission. She intelligently argues her way out of punishment and into a new case. And we get to read about her terrible father, who loves a boy named Keith, over all his daughters. And we soon learn that Keith is a first class jerk. Seeing the family life of Sydney and her sister is fascinating, and while again, she’s not as fun as Rose, I clearly developed s quick sense of empathy for her early on because of her bad family/work/life situations.
Her new job is to watch over Jill, Queen Lissa’s recently discovered sister. Apparently, Jill survived a brutal attack. Certain vampires are after her because they know that Lissa needs at least one family member alive to remain queen. The alchemists arrange for Keith and Sydney to watch over Jill at a boarding school in Palm Springs, a place they come to believe will have very few vampires because the sun there makes vampires weak.
And while a wealthy Palm Springs boarding school is nowhere near as awesome as St. Vladimir’s, it is still really interesting. Sydney has never been to school, and learns that she is missing some key social abilities that weren’t needed in being home schooled to be an alchemist her whole life. Though, she does realize she is smarter than everyone there. And the humans are interesting too. There’s this great storyline about special metallic tattoos that are giving kids specific abilities, like making them more athletic, or even giving them long-lasting highs.
Sydney has to do a lot of things: she needs to be subordinate to Keith, a guy who did something terrible to her sister, she has to watch over Jill and pretend to be her sister while rooming with her, she has to make sure Jill gets to all her feedings, she has to maintain a high grade point average, she has to find out what is going on with these tattoos and whether or not they are connected to the tattoos that all alchemists have that are created from gold, she has to worry about Sydney’s romantic life, keep all the vampires involved form being too loud and drawing too much attention to themselves, beware of Strigoi (evil vampire) attacks, and she has to babysit Adrian (who she soon learns has a new spirit bond with Sydney).
This book got a lot of things started. It was layered in various plotlines. And I’m dying to find out where all this stuff leads. And it was fascinating to learn more about the alchemists and how things worked for them. The next book will involve a lot of Strigoi/vampire research and explanations for things that were never answered in the earlier series, and I’m really excited to learn more about it. The one thing I kept wanting more of, in this book, was romance. It was rather lacking in that department, which is sad because I know how Mead writes romance, and it was one of the things I was most looking forward to. Though, based off of how the story ends, and the review I read for book two, which comes out in May of 2012, I know book two will be a lot more steamy…
It also took me a little longer to get into the story, despite the immediacy of Sydney’s assignment. It was difficult to read about a character who was raised her whole life to hate vampires. And it was difficult to read about her lack of ability to stand up for herself; it just clashed so much with Rose’s personality that it was almost painful. But, as the story goes along, the pace picks up and Sydney grows stronger. By the end of it, she even stands up to Abe, and has some witty comments for Adrian. And actually, I’m really excited to see how strong Sydney will definitely grow through the rest of this spinoff series. I can’t wait for it. And I can’t wait for Adrian to some day get over Rose. And I can’t wait to see where Jill’s future romantic paths take her. I give this a 9/10. It would have gotten a 10, if not for the overwhelming setup feel; this book really felt like it was a giant setup for the series to come. And I’m looking forward to the whole thing!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Exile by Anne Osterlund

I’ve had this one for a while, and haven’t read it because I was expecting it to be what I call the icky YA Book 2 Transition Book (and I really should make a list of all those). I remember not liking Aurelia as much as my friend. I enjoyed it, and read it like I eat popcorn –all consuming, but it wasn’t too different from other books in the same genre for me. As I have said before, I need a little surprise or at least uniqueness in my books. This is especially true with YA books that involve princesses who defy all meanings of the word, princess. And my friend’s review for this book (which is the sequel to Aurelia) wasn’t as good as her review for book 1. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to this.
I was mistaken. This book brought the unique surprises that I was missing in book 1. And I am so glad I decided to read it. Book 1 takes place at the castle, where plots to murder Aurelia are under full sway. It is discovered that the plotter is Aurelia’s sister, who she loves, but was everyone’s first guess as to who the plotter was…And her old childhood friend, Robert, comes back to the castle to help protect her and also rekindle his love for her. The other thing that bothered me about book 1 was that there was all this mention of how Aurelia was different from her sister, and even her father. How she cared about her people because she talked with them, and made little trips into the village to help them. But this was never really shown; it was summarized. So, I wasn’t quite believing it. I needed to see these scenes, and meet some village characters, and have them actually have names and not just be referred to as her people…
What book 2 does is accomplish this. Aurelia takes off after all the attempts to kill her. No one believes that it was her sister. She decides to go see the rest of her kingdom, taking a long, strenuous journey with Robert. Then tension between these two, alone, would make this novel worth reading! I loved their romance, and its slow, inevitable build. But back to what I was saying, Aurelia, in this book really meets the people of her kingdom. We even get names! She saves babies, survives fires, learns about her mother (who mysteriously disappeared after her brother’s death when she was a little girl), she meets beautiful horses, survives sand storms, loses dear friends, falls in love, and genuinely learns the truths about the land she calls her own. She discovers the child slavery that happens by the frontier. She learns about how hard it is to move across each section of the kingdom, some sections requiring waiting in line to get passes that no one can afford. She sees whole communities who rebel against her father. She sees horse raiding and poverty. And best of all, she learns that her father is not all he’s cracked up to be.
To top it all off, she learns that she wants to be queen to help these people. She’s tired of running away. She wants to end the things her father refused to recognize. Too bad she comes to this conclusion too late, and her father dies while she is away. She also finds out too late that her sister has accused her of his death. And the book ends with a couple more twists too. It ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but I have a feeling a war might happen in book 3.
I absolutely loved this book! I loved meeting The Oracle, and seeing where the beautiful horses come from. I loved getting to know Robert’s parents. I loved the frontier scenes. The book subtlely threw in some Western themes about leaving everything behind in hope for a better future on the frontier. It was a great adventure! The adventure involved a lot of sad discovery for Aurelia, but Aurelia has become so strong that despite these terrible things she comes to see, she still sees beauty everywhere. There is one scene, when she first sees the dessert, and can’t stop dancing in it’s beauty; she even gets overprotective Robert to stop and smell the roses sometimes.
I love how she and Robert really matched each other. They did not have that instant soul mate thing that other YA characters tend to have. Their love became stronger as they got to know each other better, as they survived together. And they were very different people with two completely different personalities that just worked so well together. And at every turn, the two lovebirds are being chased by assassins, heightening up the action!
I give this book a 10/10. I was so much more impressed with it than I was with book 1. And I highly recommend this series to fans of Sherwood Smith, Tanith Lee, and Gail Carson Levine. I can’t wait for the third installment!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

This is another ARC I acquired in New Orleans. I remember getting this one because I was in a bit of a conundrum. Should I go get this book and meet Maureen, or go get in line for Ally Condie’s Crossed. I decided to get in line for this book (which started first) and then leave once I got the ARC, not actually getting to meet Maureen, before jumping into line for Ally Condie’s book. Thankfully, the lines were within a few yards of each other. I made friends with a librarian in line for Crossed, who took my Maureen Johnson ARC and got back into Maureen’s line, to get hers and mine autographed. I saved her spot in line for Crossed, and it was a win-win situation. Go librarian teamwork!
This book was so worth all that! I could not stop reading this book. And when I wasn’t reading it (because I was at work, or trying to sleep), I kept thinking about it. It wasn’t insanely thought provoking, just really creepy. I love supernatural stuff more than almost anything else. But, there’s something about a good ghost story that really gives me goose bumps and prevents me from sleeping. Another ghostly YA book that did this to me was Kelley Armstrong’s The Summoning. Ghost stuff has always creeped me out. Maybe because out of all the wonderful supernatural creatures that exist, they seem most likely? I don’t know.
The book comes out in September, so you don’t have much of a wait. And it’s another case where the publisher does not give the story justice on the back cover. I had read the back cover several times before reading this book, and I was really confused for the first few chapters because I was expecting a historical fiction novel. Upon reading the back just now, there’s never any mention of it taking place in the past; it just read that way I guess, and I can see that possibly being an issue in selling the thing, or maybe other people don’t get as confused as do. Or, maybe they already changed it for the final copy? Regardless, know that it takes place in current times, today.
It’s about Rory, a girl who moves to England for her last year in high school. Her parents get a job there, and Rory decides to go with them, but to attend a boarding school in London. This is a big move for her from Louisiana. And I love how sarcastic she can be about her heritage at times, especially when in comparison to her new friends from England. She’s sarcastic, but also loving of her weird relatives and their created religions and angel/aura readings. Around the same time Rory starts school, a series of murders begin taking place around London. Someone is copying the Jack the Ripper killings from 1888, and these killings of course all take place around Rory’s new school. And the book really plays on how much people enjoy watching news about death. There are parties eventually setup to keep an eye out for the next killer reportings. And people knew when to tune into the news because this serial killer is following the same dates and places of the original Jack the Ripper.
Amongst all the crazy news coverage, the American/British culture shocks, the cute boys, the ridiculous workloads for all the students planning for their A-Levels (the book briefly summarizes the British educational system), the agonizing hockey Rory is forced to play outside in the cold rain, and the bond Rory forges with her roommate, Jazza, is the underlining current of supernatural spookiness. The supernatural spookiness begins with Rory’s seeing of a man outside her dormitory on the night of the second murder. The man was right in front of her and Azza, but only she could see and hear him. She soon realizes she sees lots of people that her friends can’t, and learns that after a somewhat embarrassing almost choking to death experience, she has been given the “gift” of seeing the dead. And what’s more terrifying than the idea that Rory not only saw the murderer, but saw the murderer and knows he is a ghost?
There’s a secret police of London that involves a crew of ghost hunters. There’s magical cell phones turned weapons, chases around London, fun pub scenes, scary London Underground scenes, plenty of dead people, murder, escapes, adventures, and so much more here.
I loved the ending (though it’s book 1 in a trilogy). I loved the characters. I loved all of the Harry Potter reminiscent British lingo.  I liked that the killer wasn’t completely un-understandable; he was crazy, but not overly so. It all felt possible and real.
The one thing that bothered me a little bit was the small contradictions that happened every now and then. For instance, it would be impossible for the girls to cross a square to get to the boy’s dorm when everyone is on tight surveillance due to the killings, but it was not hard at all for the art history professor to take a class of teens on the Underground to an art museum for a field trip. And it was totally fine that Rory left the museum on her own to follow some strangers, and to come back to school when she was ready without really having to explain about where she went or why she did anything she did. If surveillance is so tight that the students are never allowed to leave, it should be hard for field trips to be happening, even the very educational kind. And Rory certainly should have gotten into trouble for leaving said field trip.
Other than that, this book was fantastic. It was sarcastic, clever, spooky, and addicting. I look forward to book 2. And I highly recommend this book to fans of Kelley Armstrong and Cassandra Clare. I give it a 9/10.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Trial by Fire by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

So, it only took me about a few minutes after finishing book 1 to decide to buy book 2 immediately for my Kindle. And then it only took me about a day to finish book 2, and think, “I could really use a book 3.” Too bad there is no word that I know of yet about there being a book 3.
If you haven’t read book 1 yet, and don’t want any spoilers, just stop reading now. But also know that I was more impressed with book 2 than I was with the first in the series.
This book begins a little after where the first book left off. And if you would like a review of book 1, just keep scrolling down to my post from yesterday and you will find it. Bryn has learned to be a very unique alpha. She is a very relaxed, non-controlling leader of her group of children/teen/peripherary wolves.  Being a female alpha is unheard of. Being a female human alpha to a group of juvenile werewolves is just impossible. And lead it to Bryn, a ridiculously brave and rule breaking heroine to be the first to attempt such an impossible feat.
Bryn and her friends are actually liked at their new school. There are plenty of Bryn/Chase moments for readers to fall even harder for Mr. Perfect Teen Werewolf Boy Friend. And then everything gets turned even further for a loop when a wolf from another pack turns up on Bryn’s doorstep, beaten to shreds. Soon, Bryn learns that the wolf wants to join Bryn’s pack and that he refuses to go back to the pack that allowed him to be the way he was. Unfortunately, the wolf, Lucas, is from Shay’s pack. Shay was the wolf most adamant in Book 1 for killing Bryn and taking all the female werewolves she rescued (including the children) to help secure a larger pack of his own.
Bryn has to decide between saving Lucas from sure death and not putting her pack in any extra danger from Shay. She also comes to learn that human psychics also want a piece of Lucas (actually more like pieces…they want to torture him) because they were promised a werewolf to torture from Shay who made a deal with them. A werewolf had killed someone in their family, and they hated all werewolves for this. Shay apparently has been planning a lot of things when it comes to Lucas and Bryn’s pack. And at every moment, when Bryn beats Shay, Shay comes fighting forward again with another trick up his sleeve. Between betting for wolves in games of pool, wars between werewolves and covens of humans with supernatural powers, wolf/alpha protocol, clairvoyant “warnings” form Bryn’s former alpha who can’t really help her without causing a werewolf civil war, learning about her powers, fighting for the right to be in charge, and also dealing with all her new pack/family/boyfriend relationships, Bryn has a lot cut out for her in book 2.
I loved how it ended. Bryn has come to a decision about what’s best for her pack, and I love how she goes about asking for help to make sure her decision can really be made. I loved learning about Bryn’s mother figure Ali. I loved her relationship with her past alpha. And I definitely loved all the magical additions made to the story. The politics, the action, the characters, the super powers, and the plot were all so much stronger than they were in book 1, and I am so glad I went and got this one as quickly as I did.
I still wasn’t 100% buying the relationship between Bryn and Chase. Chase just seemed too perfect, too willing to accept all that Bryn was and not ask for the same in return. But again, like I said in my last post, this becomes more realistic in all of Bryn’s doubts. Though, she never truly doubts Chase, just like she never truly doubts any of her pack, something that is both good and bad. There was also less repetition in this book than there was before. There was some; but some is a lot better than a lot.  Or maybe I’ve just become more adjusted to the writing style –I don’t know.
I was actually surprised by a couple of things at the end. I predicted the major points, but it was so refreshing to have a couple of surprises thrown in as well! I loved getting to know Bryn better and watch her grown into a powerful leader. I give this one a 10/10. And I really do hope a book 3 is in the works!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This book was a lot of fun! I needed something YA, fluffy, and fun yesterday, and I got it! I had just finished an adult book for an adult book club I was leading at my library, and it took me a while to read it. So a fast-paced, supernatural YA book was just the medicine I needed.
Raised by Wolves is about Bryn, a human girl, literally raised by wolves. From the first few sentences of the book, it is clear that Bryn is no docile creature among the pack. She fights pack protocol at every turn. She puts up mental barriers that prevent her pack from reading her. And she is part of the pack. When she was a small child, she was rescued from a rabid werewolf who attacked her family, brutally killing her parents in front of her. She was rescued by the alpha of her pack: Callum, who marked her as his own. In werewolf lingo this means that any wolf who touches her, has to deal with his wrath.
Brought up among wolves, Bryn stands out. Partially raised by Callum (her father figure of sorts) and Ali (mother figure), the only other human around, Bryn’s life is very interesting. When she’s not in her artist’s studio, she’s practicing self-defense with Callum, or working on her mental blocks, preventing the pack from reading her secrets. Her world becomes even more complicated when she discovers a wolf locked up in Callum’s basement. She immediately feels a connection between herself and this lone wolf: Chase. She goes through wolf protocol with Callum, asking permission to see Chase again. He lets her, but only after she follows some rather hard conditions: doubling her training, opening up her mind to the pack, staying away from future alpha meetings, running with the wolves at full moon, and submitting to the dominance of all the wolves protecting her at her next meeting with Chase. Bryn gives in and does all these things, even though some of the conditions really, really kill her. She has worked so hard her whole life to keep whatever small things she can to herself, and this breaks up everything she has worked so hard to do.
Though to her, that connection felt with Chase is worth all that. She does everything right, despite everyone around her who loves her, telling her they wish she would leave it all alone. And then something happens: she learns that Chase was bitten. He was turned into a wolf, something she was told was impossible. She soon learns that he was turned by the same wolf that killed her parents and almost her. And that is when things really pick up. Bryn gets betrayed by Callum, almost beaten to death by her own pack, and she runs away with Ali. She learns about her past. She learns about her strength. And she falls in love. Between all the weapons scenes, the missing children, the pack politics, and the love story this book is jam-packed with awesome.
Two things though: 1) the beginning was a little too slow for my taste. There was a lot of wolf politics repetition, and I kind of hoped the author would shut up at times about rules because she made me feel like a child. I don’t need to be told the pack rules over and over again. Once is enough. And the action really became amazing about half way through. I think the book could have started later, right in the action, and the backstory would have made itself known just fine. That’s just my opinion. And 2) the love story kind of bothered me.
It was kind of that instant soul mate Bella/Edward deal again. However, what made it interesting was Bryn’s lack of want of a relationship with anyone, and her noticing that they barely knew each other. She kept saying things like, “I can count on my hand the times we’ve even been face to face,” and even doubting her feelings. And this helped. Her doubting such a powerful romantic connection did make it a tad bit more believable. But still, I wanted to see them more together, really see what they talked about and how they interacted before I did come up with a final decision about the whole thing. But, book one was definitely more about the plot and less about the romance, which I generally tend to like best. Hopefully, I can get a better feel for the love-birds in book 2. Also, she had barely met the guy before deciding to give up everything for him, for even just the ability to hear his story. And I wasn’t necessarily buying that.
Any way, the wolf politics were fascinating! The constant threat for Bryn’s life can keep any reader interested. I loved Bryn’s few friends. I loved the story about the crazy, rabid wolf who abducted children. There were some dark themes here about children, and particularly about women and what the lack of them being born in packs meant for the few that were around. There was an undercurrent of other supernatural things like the ability to predict the future, and a sort of magical ability certain characters had to survive.
Overall, I loved this book. I give it a 9/10. Instead of waiting for my hold at the library, I just (like a few minutes ago) bought the sequel for my Kindle. I plan on spending the rest of my Sunday afternoon outside at the lake, reading!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What YA inspires: the cool stuff that exists because of YA literature

It’s been a while since I wrote any lists up here. And my mind is still wrapped around an abcfamily tv show finale that’s based off of YA books. Can you guess which one? And this got me to thinking about all the movies, tv shows, and other things that would not exist if not for certain Young Adult books.
At the top of my list (in the number 1 spot) would be all things Harry Potter.

If J.K. never wrote her books, there would be no movies (to spend marathon watching parties critiquing), there would be no Wizard Rock, there would be no A Very Potter Musical, there would be no Potter fan fiction (which I admit to reading a little of), there would be no Mugglenet or Mugglecast, and there certainly would be no Pottermore. In fact, there would be no theme park called the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and no college quidditch games. Think of all the things a book has inspired here. And I’m sure I’m missing a lot more; this is just what I can think of at this moment.
Number two: If not great, then at least very entertaining television

Here’s a list of all the YA books turned into tv shows that I can think of at the top of my head right now: Roswell, The Nine Lives of Chloe King, The Lying Game, Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, Legend of the Seeker, Little House on the Prairie, Missing, Goosebumps, and Animorphs.
Number three: the movies

YA books turned movies: The Harry Potter movies, Avalon High (on Disney), Bend it like Beckham, Blood and Chocolate, Bridge to Terribithea, Chocolate War, The Chronicles of Narnia, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Coraline, Drives me Crazy, Ella Enchanted, Eragon, Freedom Writers, Ghost World, The Golden Compass, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, How to Deal, I Capture the Castle, I know what you did last summer, Lord of the Rings, Outsiders, Princess Bride, Princess Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Speak, Stardust, Thief Lord, Tuck Everlasting, Twilight, City of Ember, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Beastly, Howl’s Moving Castle, Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, Freaky Friday, Holes, Flipped, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Hoot, Inkheart, It’s kind of a funny story, Scott Pilgrim, The Yearling, Red Riding Hood, I am Number Four, Whip it, The Vampire’s Assistant, Percy Jackson, and I love you, Beth Cooper. And there has to be more (even in just my own collection).
Number four: future movies to pine for (that are in the making/or at least rumored to be in the making –please note that some of these movies I’m listing are very much based on rumor).

Hugo, Unwind, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, The Giver, Incarceron, If I Stay, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, City of Bones (Mortal Instruments), Beautiful Creatures, Fallen, Shiver, The Host, Wings, and The Heist Society.
Number Five: Teen/YALSA inspired library events:

Teen Read Week, Teen Tech Week, YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults, National Gaming Day, teen book clubs, teen advisory board, teen movie nights, and YA book trailers.
Number Six: Midnight Release Parties!

There have been midnight release parties at bookstores for these YA books: Harry Potter, Breaking Dawn, Brisingr, Mockingjay, and I think the last Percy Jackson book.  I know there has to have been more; these are pretty much all I know for sure (or that I have been to…)
Through frankly, I think these upcoming titles would do well to have a midnight release party too: Inheritance, Clockwork Prince, The Death Cure, Mastiff, and Goliath.
While I can discuss the merits of YA literature in general and what these books do for the teens/kids/adults who read them probably for a 100 pages, I thought these lists represented some concrete awesome stuff to be inspired by YA books.  Do you know any more cool things I didn’t think to mention?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Circle of Fire by Michelle Zink

This is the third book in the Prophecy of the Sisters Trilogy. And for once, this last book read, felt, and was a last book! The ending was just what was needed. I picked up the first book when I was in library school for two reasons: 1) it was in paperback and 2) it dealt with twins. I have had this strange addiction to twin stories since I first read Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series. Honestly, I probably had it even earlier with my love for those terrible Olsen twin detective movies when I was a little girl. Please don’t make fun of me.
Any way, when I first started this series I wasn’t expecting much. I wanted something a little fluffy to read for particularly long train ride I was going to take. And the back talked of prophecies, twin versus twin battles, and some romance. I was expecting it to be a little cheesy because twin stuff tends to be that way. But, it wasn’t. It was amazing. I loved Zink’s characters, I loved the missing parts of the prophecy, I loved the mystery, and I loved the countryside/giant house setting. I was then even more impressed with book two and all of the legends, the freedoms granted to woman, the powers, and the heavy romance (and it gets heavier than in most YA books). Book 2 did feel like that transition book. It introduced more layers to the story and definitely more hope for the main character, but not a lot happened in it because it was getting you ready for the final book.
Then this came out. I didn’t even write down the date for this one, but I saw it in my favorite bookstore in Chicago (Women and Children First), and grabbed it. It took all of my strength to wait to read it until after my friends from out of town went home.
The book kind of started like Deathly Hollows. Lia is finding clue after clue to help her get the final ingredients for the prophecy that has been plaguing her for far too long. Her and her love interest (Dimitri) go in search of the needed last key, and stone. Between the old friends back to help, the juicy romance with Dimitri, the distrust Lia has for her Keys (girls needed to fulfill the prophecy) after a certain betrayal in book 2, the search for the last bits of things to help (I like to refer to them as horcruxes in my head), the evil sprits that haunt and take control of Lia in her sleep, the race for time, the rules English Society puts on women at this time period, the struggle between the sisters, and the longing for her dead family members, Lia really had plenty to deal with, and the story never stopped fascinating me.
And while I loved the ending, there were a couple of things that nagged at me a little. For starters, I get that Lia has been through a lot; this doesn’t need to reiterated over and over again. And while Lia becomes a sleep-deprived, selfless, worthy heroine, sometimes I felt like I didn’t care for her because too many sentences were about how much she’d already been through when I’d rather be focusing on the now, and even the future. The book is about a prophecy; get out of the past, please! Though, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love Lia. I grew to love her; it was hard not to. She just sort of became that friend you love, but only want in small doses. (This is kind of how I felt about Katniss in Mockingjay…which I will discuss later).
And the other thing that irked me just a little was the final decision made by Lia’s twin, Alice. I didn’t fully believe in her ending because no explanation was given for the decision she made. And while open-ended things in YA can sometimes be good, I felt like this was an author who left nothing open-ended ever. So, when one important thing was left that way but nothing else was, it felt more like Zink didn’t know what to say and less like she wanted you to think about it. If that makes sense.
Overall, this was a wonderful ending to a wonderful trilogy of YA books! Questions were answered, prophecies accomplished, feuds settled, friendships rekindled, and loved ones loved. It didn’t end with a lot of questions on my part, and like what I said in the beginning of this post, it just felt over (in a good way). I give it a 9/10.  Some of it is a little twin cliché-ish, but really, it’s just an amazing story.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

This is another ARC (courtesy of Henry Holt and Company –An imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group) at ALA New Orleans. The actual book comes out August 31st so you don’t have much of a wait on it. And, oh my there is a blurb from Suzanne Collins on this ARC version is missing that quote at the top!
I finally had an excuse to put The Adoration of Jenna Fox at the top of my reading pile, and I really liked it, but did not seem to be quite as in love with it as the rest of the world (as you can see in my previous post). Mostly, my complaint was that Jenna was too whiny of a character for me to like her as much as I could. This book, the sequel, has all the suspense/mystery of the first and none of the whining. I loved it.
The book is told in the point of view of Locke, and follows Locke and Kara (Jenna’s two friends who “died” in the car crash with her). After knowing what it felt like to be trapped in a small black box for a year, Jenna destroyed the boxes that secretly held her two friends in book 1. Her parents told her that the technology wasn’t available yet to save them, but that it might be one day. Jenna decided no possible future technology was worth the suffering and loneliness she endured in that waiting period. She didn’t want them to suffer for so long. Clearly, Jenna was not aware of other copies of her friends…And her poor besties were only put into human bodies (of almost exact likeness to their past selves) 260 years later.
Unfortunately, the person with the technology to revive them is a jerk, who uses Locke and Kara to sell a product, a product that promises eternal youth to possible investors. The two friends escape, make friends with robots (who have a very interesting political side plot), go through some intense, futuristic chase scenes, and go to find Jenna, who they know to be alive and who they are told gave up on them. Kara’s intentions, whether Locke would like to believe so or not, always seemed to be to attack Jenna. And Locke deals with his love for Jenna that began before the cursed car crash and Kara’s intelligent, yet dark interpretations of everything.
There’s a lot of politics in this one. And like with book 1, there’s this overwhelming sense of creepiness. Like Jenna, Locke has to deal with the fact that he is his past self, yet isn’t. And he goes through his own identity crisis. And while Kara right away is clearly missing something of her humanity, I also can’t help but feel for her too and all that she’s been through. The book plays with heavy topics about things like what it means to be human, the world always needing someone to persecute, and the concept of forgiveness.  
Pearson has explained a lot more of the accident with this book. Her characters are amazing. And I’m really glad she continued Jenna’s story and I was able to see a much wiser, less whinier Jenna. The ending left a little to be desired, but all in all I really enjoyed this book, and read it super fast. If you liked the first one, by all means, pick this one up. I give it a 9/10.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

It’s taken me a long time to read this book. I thought there could be no way I wouldn’t like it because I already have loved a different book by Mary E. Pearson (Scribbler of Dreams, 2002). I have heard various book talks about it. A friend in library school talked about it so well, I pretty much went out immediately and purchased it.
And I’m glad I finally read it. I have slightly mixed feelings about it. It’s about Jenna, a girl who wakes up after being in a coma for one year. She’s told that she was in an accident and that it’s normal that she doesn’t remember things. And she really doesn’t remember anything about who she is or how she got to be the way she is. She can’t even remember her family.
There’s something so excellent about amnesia stories. Soap operas understand what gets a person’s attention. And so does Mary E. Pearson. And what really grabs your attention is how creepy everything is. Jenna can recite certain things with perfect clarity, like the whole book, Walden by Henry David Thoreau or entire chunks of her country’s history as if from a textbook, even though her parents tell her that history was never one of her strong suits. And she can’t remember things like being able to read emotions on faces or even feeling many emotions herself. And when the memory retrieval reaches an all time top creeptastic level is when Jenna realizes how much her parents are lying to her about what happened. They’re even controlling her in a way she couldn’t have even imagined.
Jenna discovers the truth about what happened to her and the extent to which a parent is willing to go to save their child. The book lightly plays with ethical politics in regards to body transplants, synthetic limbs, and medical science. It reminded me in some cases of the book, Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Jenna watches videos of her life, the videos made by parents who already know what it felt like to lose babies. Jenna, post coma, can tell how much past Jenna needed to please them, needed to be the good child who made it through. There’s a lot of family drama.
The book is about breaking free from what is expected of you. It’s about standing up for what you want. And most of all it’s about asking serious questions, and learning about the decisions people make when they are desperate. It’s about falling in love and learning to love yourself.
I found the romance aspect really interesting because it really brought to light all of Jenna’s inner conflict about who/what she was to herself.  Every now and then there are these brief poems that really shine the spotlight on how Jenna feels, which doesn’t always come across in the narrative scenes. These poems really allow for readers to understand, feel empathetic towards, and to even love Jenna. I also loved how nothing was blatantly obvious. Readers are required to think a little in this book. They are required to figure certain things out because they won’t be blatantly stated for them later.
And while in so much of this book, Pearson expected her readers to figure things out, the biggest thing was a little too obvious for me. I knew what was wrong with Jenna really early on in the book, and I was hoping for more of a surprise. Maybe I have read too many YA dystopias/sci-fi stories, so it’s just really hard to shock me? And while, I loved Jenna –she was fascinating to learn with and solve problems with– she was also a little too whiny for me. Yes, I felt bad for her. What happened to her was terrible. What was decided for her, with no regards to her own wants/needs was also terribible. I just didn’t’ need to be reminded of how terrible her life was at every second. I kept hoping for her to get stronger. And I think she did become stronger by the end, but I had to suffer practically a whole book of her whininess before her strengths shined through.
I give it an 8/10, and I look forward to reading it’s sequel/companion ARC I picked up at ALA New Orleans!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

I have been meaning to read this one for a long time. I bought it (in hardcover) at ALA for either 3 or 5 dollars, and then was lucky enough to get the author to sign it. I figure it was time to read it. I really enjoyed Beastly.  And, I also secretly loved the movie, even though it was very different from the book and had some terrible acting in it. While a part of me cringes every time they announce a new YA book turned to movie, the girly part of me that will never grow up squeals with joy.  I got the movie version of Beastly via Netflix, and actually re-watched it a couple of times…
But to Cloaked, I was not as impressed with it as I was hoping to be. I mean, it really had a lot to live up to and be compared to. However, the story was just as ridiculous as the story in Beastly, if not more so. Ridiculous, in a good way…
The story follows Johnny, a boy striving to make ends meet by taking over his family’s shoe repair store, while his mother works a second job. They struggle to pay their electric bill, and really work hard for everything they have. He works in a shop (that belonged to his father before he just left one day when Johnny was a kid) in an upscale hotel in South Beach, Florida. Flinn mixes a lot of fairy tales together with this story. She mostly wrote about “Beauty and the Beast” in Beastly, though my favorite parts involved some chat room time with the little mermaid and others. This book deals with the “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” “The Frog Prince,” “The Six Swans,” “The Golden Bird,” “The Valiant Tailor,” “The Salad,” and “The Fisherman and His Wife.” Flinn cleverly weaves all these tales together with various characters and friends along Johnny’s journey, and with quotes from various tales at the beginning of each chapter. And according to her Author’s Note section in the back, she picked these stories because they tend to not be as well known (she wrote it before Disney’s The Princess and the Frog).
Back to the story, Johnny meets a real, honest to goodness princess (known for partying) at the hotel he works in, and she asks him to do a very important thing for her: help rescue her brother who has been changed into a frog by a very powerful witch. She tells him that the witch is after the frog as well. She gives him a photograph of the frog/prince, headphones that will allow him to talk to any animals that once were human (there’s actually a lot out there), and a cloak that will allow him to travel anywhere he wants simply by wishing it. Does Johnny believe the princess? Not at first. But he soon learns that magic does exist, and besides all the money the princess offers and her hand in marriage is kind of hard to pass up on. (She’s really hot, and Johnny’s family really needs the money). That, and he hopes he can get the princess to wear the shoes he designs, and make them popular.
He takes the quest, meets talking swans, rodents, and foxes, follows the frog around Florida, learns the truth about his father, falls in love (not with the princess), learns about brownies (the creature, not the dessert), gets captured and rescued, escapes big guys with guns, rescues a princess and her brother, and talks a lot about shoes! The story was incredible. It took me a little while to get into, but once I did, it moved incredibly fast. Johnny is constantly being tested and thrown into impossible circumstances.
I loved that it’s about a boy. I think more fairy tales should be about boys. I love all the talking animals (who actually came off as being rather believable). And I love all of the fairy tale quotes and folk tale mashup of themes.
What I didn’t like: Johnny. He just was not that likeable to me. And by the end, I still wasn’t feeling it. Flinn likes to write about guys who are hard to like, I get it. But, Johnny was never as terrible as the main character in Beastly, yet I still never liked him as much. I loved that he loved shoes. And I loved that he cared about his mother so much. But other than that he seemed kind of boring and a little bit dumb. He needed something to be thrown in his face before he could understand it, and I tend to like my YA leads to be a little cleverer.
I still really enjoyed reading this one, and I give it a 8/10. I highly recommend it to modern fairy tale fans.