Sunday, October 30, 2011

Born at Midnight by C. C. Hunter

It’s taking me a long time to read my book club book. I’m in a digital book club with a bunch of really awesome people (mostly other librarians), and we all have very different tastes in books. But we pretty much all like books about books or the people who love them. So, frankly, I don’t know why I keep looking for excuses to not keep reading this month’s pick. But the reason for my mini book club rant is that this book, Born at Midnight was part of my procrastination of the other book. I read all 398 pages in one sitting last night. And this was after telling myself that I’d read a few chapters and then get back to the other book I was reading.
And I know I have some more trump books coming. I pre-ordered Tamora Pierce’s latest -Mastiff, as well as Beautiful Chaos and Inheritance. And I know it will be hard to read anything else once these books come.
But back to Hunter’s book, I just loved it!  It wasn’t the best writing, and there were a lot of a-typical YA romance scenes, where the main girl is confused between two guys, when it’s clear to me who she belongs with. And the main girl Kylie is a bit of a whiner. Granted, she does have plenty of reason to whine. Her boyfriend breaks up with her because she won’t put out, her close grandmother just died, her parents announce their divorce, and she gets shipped off to some summer camp for troubled teens after being picked up at a police station for attending a party (where she didn’t drink or do drugs, but apparently others did). This also all happens at the same time (at the end of the school year).
Oh, and I forgot to mention she also has a stalker that no one else can see. When she gets to the camp for troubled teens, believing she’s at a camp with kids addicted to drugs, she realizes something else entirely. She’s at a camp for teens who are supernatural. She learns upon entering the camp (by witnessing it herself) that some people can shape shift. She learns about fairies, vampires, werewolves, and witches. And while she has trouble accepting that she might be a supernatural herself, she eventually learns that her stalker is a ghost and that he needs her help.
There’s a love triangle. There’s a lot of identity crisis and trying to figure out who she is. No one at the camp can get a good reading of Kylie. Apparently one of her supernatural characteristics is blocking others out of her mind and she kind of sticks out at a camp of strange teenagers because of this. There’s a lot of drama with her parent’s divorce and her possibly pregnant best friend at home. And then there’s the trouble of someone trying to frame the campers for bad things happening at an animal reservation park near by. The camp might have to close, just when Kylie is finally starting to accept who she is and feel at home there.
The book kind of read like a mixture of Rachel Hawkins’ Hex Hall, Kelley Armstrong’s  The Summoning, and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. There was some talk of supernaturals in this book having some connection to the Gods. And just the fact that there is a camp for these teens makes me think of Percy Jackson. And I love when books combine so many different elements of the supernatural. Also, I loved reading about the tensions between the different creatures and how the camp acted as a neutral ground where everyone could learn to live with each other.
I kind of did not fully believe the ending Kylie had with her mother because I didn’t feel like that was like her mother’s character at all. It felt like Hunter just needed the plot to go a certain way, and forced it there with the mother, when really I feel like it could have played out longer. I mean I wanted to know some things. You can’t read a whole book and have absolutely no answers to your million questions. But, I just felt like it seemed forced.
I really want to know what Kylie is. I want to know who Kylie ends up with. And I want to see her friends again now that the camp is becoming a school. I will definitely read the next book. In fact, I already ordered it. I’m not sure I’m in love with the idea of the camp becoming a school. I get why it’s necessary for the series. And I get how it will end up helping a lot of kids who need it. But, part of book 1’s appeal to me was the summer element. Summer has this magical, growing up away from school and away from what’s normal, appeal to me. Ann Brashares totally understood the magic of summer. But, I guess if this means more books are possible, I’m not complaining.
I give this one a 9/10. And I’m really looking forward to what else this author has to say!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

soul thief by Jana Oliver

I’m really impressed with the direction this series is going. It took me a while to read this one because it kept getting interrupted by trump books (books that take all my attention as soon as I get my hands on them). Some trump books = anything by Melissa De La Cruz, Tamora Pierce, James Dashner, etc.
Any way, as soon as I got back to this one, I could not put it down. I just absolutely love the main character, Riley. I kind of automatically love girl main characters who are the first to do something in a world of guys doing everything first. And then I even more love girl characters who do this in a world saving/people rescuing element (like most of Tamora Pierce’s characters). But, to top it all off, Riley has a fantastic attitude. She refuses to listen to anyone holding her back. She trusts her opinion above her best friend’s, her remaining caregiver/crush, her boyfriend, or any other guy. She sticks up for herself and what she wants never giving in or giving up, even if it means life would be so much easier.
Any way, the book begins after the last one left off, after the deadly Tabernacle battle that ended the lives of many trappers. At the end of that book, Riley made a deal with an angel that if her boyfriend’s life was saved, she do something for heaven when they needed her. Little did she know that her boyfriend would turn into a first class jerk, blaming her for the whole Tabernacle fiasco. He even throws holy water on her at one point to make sure she’s not a demon…Needless to say, they don’t stay together and he becomes a paranoid, religious fanatic.
Beck, the guy who worked with her dad, who I keep wanting to hook up with Riley, only impresses me more in this book. I still want them to be together! Even though, he’s demanding, condescending, way too into country music, and rather piggish at times. He really cares for Riley, he cared for her dad, he does his best to protect Riley, and in his own egotistical way supports her decision to be a trapper. I just kind of wish he didn’t have so many double standards. Like why is it okay for him to hook up with so many girls, yet it’s awful for Riley to show any interest in a guy? And add another boy to the romance (a freelance trapper who is not who he says he is), and the love triangle romance aspect of this book gets rather intense at times, just how I like it!
Riley spends this book getting over Simon (her crazy ex-boyfriend), helping her best friend Peter deal with his own family dramas, trying to figure out the bad holy water situation, befriending necromancers, doing spells with witches, trying to find her dead father who has been reanimated by a bad necromancer, learning about fallen angels, and trying to figure out why exactly she is so important to demons, angels, and fallen angels in the war to come.
Between the romance, the mystery, the battle scenes, and the attitude, I just loved this book. What happens between Ori (the free lancer who is not who he says he is) and Riley is bad, but I get that it needed to happen. And I love that the whole angel story line was not what I was expecting. I was expecting some more Lauren Kate type fallen angel romance, and what I got was a disturbing wake up call.
I know that in my past review for the first book, I made some Golden Compass comparisons. And while Oliver’s writing style is nowhere near the level of Philip Pullman’s, she is continuing to do something with her story that keeps reminding of Pullman’s trilogy. She is writing about a war to come, and she’s mixing together humans with whatever is happening between heaven and the fallen. There are all sorts of religious politics and allegory. And while Lyra (probably one of my all time favorite heroines) is very different from Riley, I can’t help but make connections between them with all of their unaware importance.
I cannot wait to see how everything plays out. And generally when a book has the first chapters of the next book in the back, I make it a rule not to read it because that just makes waiting that much harder, but I couldn’t help myself this time. I’m just so excited for more of this story. I give it a 10/10. And I highly recommend this book to fans of Buffy, The Vampire Academy, and City of Bones.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Between the Sea and Sky

I got this one, courtesy of Bloomsbury, at the annual ALA conference in New Orleans last June. It’s an ARC, but it comes out in five days. The cover is gorgeous. And the back cover talks of mermaids, sirens, winged people, and love. I love mermaid stories, movies, and books. And there really have not been a lot of YA books covering this topic yet.
I was kind of expecting it to be more about mythology. The only time I ever really remember sirens being mentioned is in Greek mythology. Though, I loved the character in the show The Gates, who was a modern day siren. And for some reason the one episode that stays really clear in my mind from a show I used to watch as a kid (So Weird), on Disney channel, is the episode that involved a siren. But even in shows, sirens were the minor characters or a single episode. It was nice reading a whole book about them.
I was planning on saving this one for my birthday (tomorrow), but my life will get the best of me tomorrow. It’s Grandparent’s/Special Friends day at my school library, and I know I will be very busy. Then, I’m going directly to the library I volunteer at to throw a big Twilight party for teens. Needless to say, not a lot of reading will get done tomorrow. And I surprisingly finished this book in one short morning, just now. It moved quicker than I thought it would.
The book starts on the day Esmerine becomes an honored siren. Sirens are honored for the hard work they do, protecting the sea. And Esmerine is excited to join the ranks of her sister, Dosina, but she also feels a little trapped in her decision and her oath to always protect the sea. But, Esmerine does not have much time to dwell on her decisions because after only being a siren for a day, it becomes clear that Dosina is missing.
Dosina told Esmerine how she went inside a human’s house and made friends with humans, something they have been taught not to do. And for most mermaids this is not a hard rule to abide by, because while mermaids/mermen can all change their fins into legs, it is rather painful to walk. And the only way a siren can walk without pain is if she gives away her belt (which gives her power), or if her belt is stolen. And Esmerine knows that her sister is involved with humans.
Esmerine and Dosina were always interested in the surface, and in humans. And as children, they used to play on their legs more than anyone else. They even made friends with Alandare, who is part of a scholarly, winged people.  Alandare teaches Esmerine to read and the two grow up telling stories on the beach. Alandare eventually left to go to a boarding school and then never returned. But, since Esmerine enjoys using her legs, despite the pain, she goes in search of her sister and Alandare, who she know will help her.
She finds her old childhood friend, and discovers he’s a little reluctant to give her any help at first, but eventually their friendship is rekindled, and it’s clear there’s more going on then just friendship. He teaches Esmerine how to pass as human, and the two spend their time searching for Esmerine’s sister, reading stories, flying, and trying to deal with all the inter-species animosity between mermaids, flying people, and humans.
I found the lives of the mermaids and the world Dolamore creates for them, so interesting. I loved learning about the sirens, the magic belts, the underwater life, and the singing.  And I really loved learning about the mermaids’ interactions with humans. I wish I had a chance to learn more about the flying people. I feel like Alandare’s people did not get as much time as humans and mermaids here. And I felt a little cheated. Why introduce something so unique and interesting, if you’re not going to go into great detail about it?
I did like how Alandare and Esmerine worked together, and how Alandare helped Esmerine become smarter, and how Esmerine helped Alandare learn to live more freely, and to have fun. There are some very interesting side characters who work in the bookshop, but even they could not get Alandare to loosen up ever. Only, Esmerine seems capable of getting the up tight, academic to smile.
I really enjoyed reading about these characters. I wish more was mentioned about the flying people. And I was not always a fan of Esmerine. She was weak because of her walking handicap. She faints due to the awful human clothing. She never likes human food. And she is so ignorant of the world. However, despite all of these things, her resolve to find her sister never waivers, and she has this almost naïve optimism about her that makes her a worthy heroine in my opinion.
Dolamore is a very simple writer. And sometimes I found myself wishing for more language, especially in regards to characters who liked to read so much. And I hope she wasn’t dumbing herself down for a younger audience, but sometimes I couldn’t tell if she was or not. Though, I left the book feeling more like the author’s writing style was just rather simple, and not really feeling like she was too focused on a young audience.
All in all though, I really enjoyed this book. The love story was like a lot of other YA love stories, but what made this book stand out for me was the world. Everything about these creatures and the places they live was just so interesting to me. I give it an 7/10. And I think I might give the other book she’s written, a try.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Death Cure by James Dashner

Before the year is up (I’m giving myself a 2 month deadline), I will put up my top ten dystopias list. And really, The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner will be high up on there. For the longest time it was the only book I even felt capable of putting on the same list as The Hunger Games. Now, it will most likely be warring with Divergent by Veronica Roth. But to the point, just know I am super impressed with this trilogy.
If you have not read the first one, The Maze Runner, you should. It’s fantastic. I have gotten kids to read it with this book talk:
- What would it be like to wake up in an elevator with absolutely no memories of anything? You don’t remember your family, your home, your life. All you have is a first name.
- And then what if the doors suddenly open to a large group of teen boys, who welcome you to a place called the Glade? They tell you that they all come in the same way, one boy a month, no one remembering anything. Some of them have been there for 2 years! They show you the Glade, which revolves around a gigantic, ever-changing maze –filled with dangerous, mechanical creatures whose purpose is to kill. They also tell you that they think the only way out of the Glade is to figure out the deadly maze.
- What if the next day an unconscious girl is found in the elevator with a note attached to her saying, she’s the last one. Ever.
- And to top it all off, what if the maze, the glade, the unconscious girl, the whole concept feels familiar to you? Do you tell anyone? Are you willing to risk your life to find a way out?
- To find out what Thomas does, read The Maze Runner by James Dashner.
The second book is only phase two for Thomas and his friends who did survive the maze and come out of it mostly alive. While book 1 was all about the mystery and the maze, book two was all about surviving the desert and outrunning zombies. And just when you think things cannot get any worse for Thomas, they do.
I really don’t want to ruin too much of this story because it is so much better to experience it all for yourself without me giving away entire plot lines. But, just know that book 3 does not disappoint in the action/suspense/zombie/saving the world themes. It starts with Thomas and his friends legitimately escaping WICKED headquarters. They’re all offered their memories back, but rebellious Thomas thinks it’s another trick. They escape (after a lot of violence, a possible zombie takeover, and half their friends leaving them behind) to Denver, a city slowly decaying to the disease known as the Flare (aka: what turns people into zombies).
Every moment of this book is about escaping one danger or another. Thomas has to lose more friends, really find out who he can trust, rescue hundreds of innocent people from WICKED, and then survive bombs, being shot, brain surgery, and so much more. And through the whole thing are those questions I’ve been noticing popping up in dystopias where the main character has to ask, “What am I willing to sacrifice in order to save a lot of people, possibly the world?  And is one life worth millions? Is hundreds of lives worth millions?”
Everything finally gets answered in this book. You learn about why the Flare spread like it did and where it came from. You learn a lot more about WICKED. You learn about Thomas’ childhood and how he actually became so involved in everything. And most of all, like with any dystopia and or zombie movie, you learn the best way for the lucky few to survive and keep going despite the odds of it all being against them.
There’s one super scary scene toward the end that reminded me of a scene in the book, Unwind by Neal Shusterman that used to give me nightmares. And there’s a lot of ethical discussions about how willing people are to be inhumane when it comes down to a cure being in reach or when overpopulation becomes a problem.
The one thing Dashner is no good at writing is romance. If this was about a girl, I know there would be more stuff about the sort of love triangle thing that was happening between Thomas, Brenda, and Teresa. But, Dashner sort of glides over all that tension with a few kisses on the cheek, and one actual kiss that didn’t even feel like it happened at the right time. Though, I’m not really complaining because I actually liked that this book focused on something else. And I like that this is a book that can really appeal to boys, and in particular reluctant reader boys. And a romance aspect would have ruined that. I also might recommend re-reading the other books first if it’s been a while for you. I had to look up certain characters online to remember them better.
But really, reading this whole series has been so much fun for me. Between the twists and turns, the crazy fight scenes, imaginative weapons, the zombies, the crazy scientists, the kid power, and the ethical dilemmas, this book was hard to put down. I give this book a 10/10. And I really think this a series any dystopia or even zombie fan would like (though the zombies don’t come till book 2).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This was one of the ARC’s I got from the annual ALA conference in New Orleans that I was most excited to read! (It comes out on October 18th). Going to the conference, I knew Maggie Stiefvater would be there, and I was looking forward to meeting her and hopefully getting a copy of Forever, which I did get. I had no idea she had a whole other book coming out (separate from her other series), and it was just a pleasant surprise!
The ARC cover is different from the finished book cover, but it’s clear from either cover that the story involves horses. I’ve never been super good with horses. I’m a dog person. Dogs love me. I was even a dog-walker at one point in time. But horses never seemed too fond of me. I love looking at them though, and I always loved a good story that involved horses and the people who are good with them. So…I knew Stiefvater was excellent with character development and I knew the book involved horses, so I figured I would love this book.
I apparently can never learn from my past mistakes of judging a book by its cover. I really had a hard time enjoying this one. For starters, it took me about a week to read the whole thing. Granted, I have been obsessively watching the show Felicity, but still. It never takes me this long to read a book, no matter its size. I just could not get into it. I kept re-reading the first couple of chapters to try understanding what was happening, but it didn’t work for me.
Any way, this is what it’s about: an island of people who race dangerous creatures called water horses. People die every fall when the water horses emerge from the water. Yet, the Scorpio Races always still take place. The races involve an intense two week training period, a lot of fighting amongst the contenders, a lot of shady water horse deals, and of course a lot of blood. These things weigh a lot more than normal horses, and are drawn to the ocean where I think they can swim as well as they can run on the shore in the fall. It was hard for me to picture the things because I never really got a good image of them besides their coloring and random details about their eyes or hind legs. All I know for sure is that they are nearly impossible to train and race, and that only one person kind of understands them.
The book goes back and forth between Puck, the first girl ever to enter the race, and Sean, a four time champion. Both are orphans who have lost their parents to this harsh, somewhat impoverished island. Puck at least has her brothers. Though, the oldest brother announces early on that he’s abandoning them and the island for the mainland and a better job. And a major reason that Puck initially enters the race is because she knows it will keep her oldest brother on the island a little bit longer. Eventually you learn that a lot of money is owed on their family house, and that is another reason she puts up such a brave front.
Sean races every year for his employer who lets him practice every day with Corr, a water horse, who while still extremely dangerous, is attached to the hip to Sean. Sean stays working for his employer who refuses to sell Corr because at least then he gets to be with the animal, though what he really wants is to own Corr. New buyers, tourists, and even Puck seem to inspire Sean to stand up for what he really wants: to own Corr, and he enters this year’s race knowing that if he wins, he can finally buy Corr and leave. And an excruciatingly slow love builds between the two characters, so that by the end of the book, when the race finally happens, you’re not quite sure on who you want to win.
Why did I not love this story? For starters, there is the vagueness. I get that Stiefvater likes to write characters very strongly, and I think that worked in her other series. But here, I needed more story, more plot, more sense. She wrote a lot about the villagers’ every day lives, about how people survived on the island, and about how people didn’t survive. But, I feel like a lot of story was missing.
And a lot of character was missing too…I never understood the oldest brother, Gabe. I never really even loved Puck. I love girls who are the first to do things (like become knights or become president), but, Puck for some reason wasn’t so easy to stand by. She wasn’t racing because she wanted to; she was racing for money and selfish reasons. And I know that I keep saying that teens need to be more selfish to be really believable in these books, but here I was wishing for more feminism, more caring for the message she was sending out, and more strength. Sean points out at one point that he notices how much stronger Puck has become in the past couple of weeks, but the sad thing was that I was like, “I don’t see it…”
Also, the romance was not existent till the last 10th of the book, and I felt like there needed to be more build up and less “Well, I guess we’re in love,” kind of moments. I saw how the two characters were similar and would work well together, but I never really felt like they saw that –there was no tension, no crushing, and not nearly enough thinking about each other. And I get that it’s in neither of these character’s mindsets to be a normal lovesick teen, but like with the rest of the book I just felt like it was missing something.
I did find the water horse mythology fascinating. (I just wish I could picture them better – I sort of have an image of buffalo in my head for some reason). And I liked the island politics and the way the side characters responded to Sean and Puck. I even loved Sean and all he was striving for. I just didn’t really believe in Puck. And I definitely needed more plot. I mean the whole book was a preparation for a race that only happens at the very end. And finally when the end happens, I’m looking forward to seeing the outcomes of everyone involved. And for once, I really wanted to see the details about the island, but then it just kind of abruptly ends.
Needless to say, this was not my favorite book. I give it a 4/10, and I hope the author writes more outside of all that happens here.

Meeting Becca Fitzpatrick and Moira Young

                                        Moira Young, Me, and Becca Fitzpatrick

So, it’s kind of been a while since my last entry. I’ve had some time off from work (I finally started working as a school librarian –part time). And what do librarians do when they have time off? Apparently, we re-read Twilight, watch a whole season of Felicity on Netflix, catch up on Glee, Castle, Secret Circle, Ringer, The Lying Game, and The New Girl, and plan to go to author signings.
I knew that Becca Fitzpatrick would be at a Barnes and Noble, not too far away from me. I reviewed her last book here (Crescendo), and she just came out with book three in that series (Silence), which I decided to buy at Barnes and Noble, so I could have her sign it. And when I get to the store, I realized Moira Young would be there too, author of Blood Red Road! There’s noting better than going in for one good thing, and coming out with two! This also gave me an excuse to buy Young’s book, which I had only gotten from my library before.
Along with my little shopping spree, I really did enjoy getting to listen to the two authors. You could tell that Fitzpatrick has been in the author tour game for longer than Young. She just knew all the right things to say, and had some great embarrassing high school stories to share. This was nice because I’m glad I got to see her at her best. And it was also nice that Young seemed to be less schooled by her publisher; she was more out there with her answers, and less afraid of an audience that wouldn’t get her. They are two very different souls who handled their talks very differently, and I ate the whole thing up. Their differences just made the experience that more interesting. I enjoyed hearing what both of them had to say. I loved hearing that Fitzpatrick’s reason for her books was because of a joke of a birthday present her husband gave her –a creative writing class. And I loved hearing about Young’s amazing, artsy life as a performer/opera singer, traveling across Europe. If anything, I walked away from the experience really feeling like these authors were real people that I could definitely relate to.
I even raised my hand and asked a question during the Q&A part. I got to tell Moira Young that one of the reasons I loved her book so much was that it combined so many different themes, and I particularly loved the western themes she incorporated into the story. I asked if there were any particular movies or westerns that helped inspire her narrative. And she told me that first and foremost was The Wizard of Oz, and she listed a lot of other big, historically popular movies like Gone with the Wind. And she also made clear her love of John Wayne films, and I’m so glad I got to ask that question to her because that was the question I had while reading the whole thing.
I got Blood Red Road and Silence signed, and then of course asked their permission for a photo to put on my blog. I met some really nice people at the signing, who chatted endlessly with me about YA books. One was a teacher in Indiana and one was a grad student in Chicago. I wish I had their names, so I could adequately thank them for taking this picture, and for listening to me ramble on about a million YA series. I just love finding other people who share this interest with me.
And I kept finding myself comparing this interaction with my last author moments at ALA New Orleans. While, there were a lot more people to meet in New Orleans, I never really got the amount of one on one time I got here at Barnes and Noble. So, I guess I'm saying Barnes and Noble needs to get more of these author things going!
If you want to see my past review for Blood Red Road by Moira Young, click on the link:

And click on this link for my review of Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick:
Expect reviews for more of their books later (particularly Silence because I just got it).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lost in Time by Melissa De La Cruz

I know I have mentioned the Blue Bloods books before. They’re probably my favorite vampire series next to The Vampire Academy books. They sort of blend in all the necessary ingredients for YA success: vampires, fallen angels, snip bits of important history, forbidden love, unrequited love, sizzling romance, NYC, school drama, family mystery, strength, friendship, and of course the war of good versus evil.
This book takes place right where Bloody Valentine finishes. Schuyler convinces her newly bonded Jack Force to stay with her and research ways around having to battle his twin sister (the law for breaking his bond with his sister, Mimi, in order to be with his true love, Schuyler). In these books, it’s normal for twins to actually be mates because technically they’re not twins. Okay, that’s confusing and gross sounding. I will step back for a second. Vampires here are actually fallen angels that get recycled. They are sort of reincarnated with each generation. So, there are actually only a select amount of vampires in existence. And none of them are actually related; they just live as though they are to appear normal to most humans/red bloods. And Schuyler is the only one known to be born from a vampire and a human. Many of the vampires call her an abomination.
Schuler’s mission, as the daughter of Gabrielle, one of the most powerful angels/vampires, is to guard the remaining gates from Lucifer and to protect the world. She convinces Jack in this book to help her in her search for the gates, but as always trouble finds them everywhere they go. For starters, Mimi who is hell-bent on having the blood trial (fight to the death) with Jack just happens to be in same place (Egypt) at the same time as Jack and Schuyler. Except she, along with Schuyler’s best friend, Oliver, is there to go into hell to look for Kingsley, the man she truly loves.
Mimi and Oliver seem to be great friends now. Jack and Schuyler come across a very shady group of demons who are stealing young girls (helping the church), and taking them into hell to become demon brides. Apparently demons want babies…and girls usually don’t survive demon pregnancies. Schuyler comes across a whole new dilemma involving the gates. We get to see the many layers of hell on Mimi and Oliver’s journey. Oh, and Lucifer has something up his sleeve, and for once things finally all start to fall into place. The vampire covens across the world are going into hiding, afraid of the silver bloods (working for Lucifer). There’s fight scenes with other vampires, there’s under cover missions, very passionate true love scenes, Mimi’s and Jack’s blood trial, and of course a super, crazy twist at the end that will make the final book in the series’ release date (2013) seem way too far away.
I’m sorry if my description seems complicated. These books have so many different elements, character point of view shifts, and smaller plot lines, that it’s a little harder to summarize everything into one piece. But really, this just means the books are good, and maybe not quite as shallow as other vampire/angle themed YA books. Or at least, the stories aren’t as simple.
I ate this one up in one sitting. I loved the ending. I love where I think it all is headed. And I love the characters, and how they interact with each other. I loved to finally get Schuyler’s mother’s story. At first I was a little confused because I was reading Allegra’s story (which took place over a decade ago), and I wasn’t sure on when it was all happening. It eventually became clear that I was learning about what happened before the dreadful coma. And I loved every second of her story. It really allowed for me to understand things better, and to actually like Allegra.
The only thing that ever seemed a little too much for me was some of the romance. I actually love the vampire romance in these books; I really do. It works. It’s just that I’m not sure it makes sense that every character knows who their soul mate is. There is a lot of the sappy “I’ll go in his/her place,” kind of sacrifices. Everyone is willing to die for the one they love. And I kind of want someone not to be in love. Even Oliver is in love, granted his true love doesn’t love him back. I mean can someone just be normal? They are all still rather young. And I was kind of hoping for a little more realistic teen selfishness, like not giving up everything to save your true love. But oh well; I can’t really complain because I did enjoy the steamy romance scenes.
All in all, I am extremely excited for the final book. I really loved this one. I truly believe this to be a series that has held together well over time. It’s a series I have re-read, and plan to keep re-reading in the future. I give this one a 9/10. And I have no idea how I will hold out till 2013.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

So, Brian Selznick is kind of my hero. The author/illustrator just never stops amazing me, inspiring me, and educating me. If you have not read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, go get it now. Really, you should get it soon because the movie comes out in November (Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese), and you most definitely will want to read the book first.
The only thing that makes these books hard to sell to young people is their size. Wonderstruck is 629 pages. And no matter how many times I tell kids that the reason these books are so big is because of the art, the only thing that can really get them interested is a good book talk. And I’m talking about reluctant readers, kids who would not normally eat up a story in one go, and want more. But that’s what they would do with this book, if given the chance. Wonderstruck is no graphic novel. It’s more like two books (one told in words and one told in pictures). And the pictures are just breathtaking.
These aren’t the stick figures in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Each image can stand alone as its own art piece. And the way everything links together is just beautiful.
The book is about two different kids at two different times: Ben (in 1977) and Rose (in 1927). They both seem to be about 14. Ben is from Minnesota and his mother just passed away in an accident. He lives with his cousins and keeps dreaming about wolves. His cousins live steps away from the home he used to share with his mother. And during a storm, Ben goes back to his old home and finds a book called Wonderstruck. Inside the book is the only clue Ben has ever gotten about who his father is. Just as Ben is about to call a phone number that might link him to his father, he’s hit by lightning. Rose lives in New Jersey, and her story is only told in pictures. It soon becomes clear in the images that Rose is deaf, and that she’s obsessed with a silent film star named Lillian Mahew. She collects scraps from newspapers about her, and escapes from the window in her house to go see her movies. It seems she is not allowed to go out much because of her being deaf.
One of the things that links the two characters early on is their deafness. Ben is partially deaf. And after being hit by lightning, he becomes completely deaf. Both characters are also rather sheltered. And both decided to leave home behind to go to NYC to search for someone. Ben goes to find his father, with almost nothing to go on. And Rose goes to find the actress she loves and to see the play she’s in. A lot was mentioned about Deaf culture, and how difficult, and yet also not so difficult navigating NYC can be when you cannot hear anything.
Both Rose and Ben are fascinated by the Museum of Natural History, and both learn significant things about themselves when they are there. Rose finds her brother (who we eventually learns helps talk to their parents about letting Rose go to a school for deaf children), and Ben befriends a boy named Jamie, who helps him find a place to stay in the museum until he can figure out his family situation.
Both Rose and Ben find what they need to find in NYC, but not without a lot of obstacles and adventure (and so much of that adventure happens in the museum)! There’s dinosaur bones, secret rooms, hidden artifacts, sign language, wolf dioramas, family mysteries, stolen lunches, amazing bookstores, and there are so many character connections. Eventually, you learn how Rose and Ben are connected and all the mysteries get solved, with the book ending in mixed illustrations and words.
This book really was just magical. There’s a bibliography in the back where Selznick lists the books he got information from for museums, wolves, Deaf culture, etc. And one of the really cool aspects to this book was that it is educational in a way that didn’t come off as educational. I learned about a lot of things without feeling like these things were shoved down my throat; they were just the things the characters were interested in.
I did feel like a little was left out in regards to certain characters. I wanted to know Rose’s brother more. And I felt like Ben’s cousins and family in Minnesota really got the short end of the stick, but I didn’t really care because I barely knew them. And I get that it would be hard to include images and words to every character introduced, but I kind of felt like in regards to the family Ben leaves behind, I needed a little bit more. Though, who knows how long the book would be then? And it’s never really a bad thing to say I want more of something, is it?
All in all, I give this a 10/10. Really, it’s just so much fun reading Selznick’s books.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

I’ve had this library book for an embarrassingly long period time. Thankfully, it’s from the library I volunteer at, which has no late fees. And it only took me a couple of hours to read the whole thing.
I was hooked from the beginning, which starts at the end, again. This book was better at starting at the end than the last one I reviewed was. For starters, not much time has passed. Actually, the book goes back and fourth between autumn 1889 and spring 1889. The book begins (at the end) with the main character, Amelia, locked in a room by her brother, and punished for her ruination. The book begins with such pain, such loss, and such supernatural intrigue –with Amelia’s evident clairvoyance that I could not help but read the whole thing in one sitting.
It goes from a locked, crazy woman trapped in her family home to a much happier version of Amelia visiting Baltimore for the first time, for the season, in effort to find a suitable husband. Amelia is innocent, yet intelligent, and easy to like. She reminded me a lot of Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey –young, impressionable, romantic, and believing. Plus, there’s a real gothic element to this story with all of the interest in fortunetellers and mediums.
Amelia quickly befriends Zora, the girl whose family she is staying with in Baltimore. And together the two argue, play archery, dance, and flirt. There’s a lot of mention of painful corsets, lower economic wardrobes, and reputation. Besides trying to maintain a lady-like reputation, Amelia develops a rather supernatural reputation as well. She and Zora do house calls, predicting ladies’ futures after a successful, random prediction that came true. And of course there’s romance. Amelia is immediately drawn to Nathaniel, a man her brother would not consider the marriageable type for her. But there is definitely a supernatural element to the two’s attraction.
Between the hidden romance, the society dances and dinner parties, and all the magic, this book was just what I needed. However, it wasn’t perfect by a long shot. The author had this really annoying habit of skipping over scenes I wanted to read about. Sometimes a new chapter would start, and I would have to step back a little before continuing because I would be so involved in one scene that I would become almost confused when all of a sudden it was a few days later…
Also, the romance was definitely the instant soul mate/crazy passion/ Bella and Edward type romance, and in some respect it was nice; it fit with the story for me. But, really I never liked the guy, Nathaniel, all that much because I never got to know him. He was just the love interest and nothing more. And I didn’t really know his character beyond his good looks and affinity for air (which frankly, was rather cheesy at times with all the comments about always finding her).
I also kept waiting for Nathaniel to be the bad guy, and this kept me reading too. Though, he never really becomes what you think he will become. And I’m okay with this. You know from the first chapter that Amelia is ruined and kind of insane. And you also know it has got to have something to do with Nathaniel. And while you learn that her state in that first chapter has a lot to do with Nathaniel, it also has a lot to do with the fact that she’s predicted death she couldn’t prevent. She bore witness to two deaths that she could kind of be blamed for. Add that guilt to some rumors, an unfortunate sighting, and a fire, more assumed death, and all the quirky drama of before quickly becomes Amelia’s tragedy. And her tragedy was not what I was expecting, which made it all the more interesting for me.
So, besides the cheesy romance, the abrupt transitions, and the lack of character development for the men in this story, I still just couldn’t get enough of it. The back and forth of past happiness and current ruination, drew me in completely. I loved the ending. I loved the levels of Amelia’s powers and how they grew. I love how the people around Amelia took her powers, accepted them, cherished them even, but then turned on her the first second something bad happened. This all seemed so believable to me. I give this an 8/10, and I will definitely look out for more from this author; I just wish her future love interests would be more appealing/interesting.

For another take on this book, check out my friend, Christina's review :

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

This ARC (courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons) comes out in two days. I really enjoyed reading this one. I think it’s definitely a good book for the younger set of YA readers. I’d even put it on lists for reluctant readers if not for a few key things that will most likely prevent reluctant readers from even giving it a try.
I’ll get to that later, though. First, it really was a very interesting story. It’s about 14-year-old Janie moving with her family from California to London in 1952, just at the beginning of the Cold War. It’s noted in the beginning that Janie’s eccentric, tv writing parents don’t fit in with the conservative, communist-accusing society they were in, and moving to London, though painful for Janie, seemed necessary.
Janie, at her new London school, feels immediately drawn to Benjamin, a boy who refuses to “duck and cover” during the periodic bomb drills. Later, you find out his rebelliousness stems from the fact that his mother died in WWII during one of the bombings in London, and he knows that sitting under a cafeteria table would not have saved her.
Janie and Benjamin become quick friends over things like chess and pretend spy games. But, soon one of their pretend spy games actually turns into something real. Benjamin’s dad, the apothecary, tells Benjamin and Janie to hide in a secret workshop in his basement one day when a couple of Germans (one with a scar on his face), raid their house. When Benjamin and Janie escape, the adventure really begins. They search for Benjamin’s father, learn about what being an apothecary really means (which apparently involves magical like recipes with healing plants that allow for all sorts of magical science), get interrogated by the Scotland Yard, get locked in prison, befriend a thief named Pip, fall in love, escape Russian spies at every turn, rescue fathers, save families, prevent nuclear bombs from destroying whole cities, and save the world from further nuclear devastation.
The two things I loved the most: the kid power and the magic. Janie, Benjamin and Pip were constantly saving adults, sneaking into classrooms, stowing away on boats to Russia, and doing all sorts of things adults wouldn’t be able to do. And I loved every moment of it. The adults eventually even used the kids to help them, like sending Janie (the smallest) into the secret hideaway where the nuclear bomb was to be detonated, so she could find out as much information as possible. It has been proven time and time again in books and movies that kids make the best spies.
And I really loved the apothecary magic. There was a very important book of “spells” in Latin that they were constantly guarding with their lives. And while I kept making witch comparisons, the characters never mentioned witchcraft or magic; to them it was all a kind of science. And the people who worked with the apothecary, all considered themselves scientists. And when I say magic, I mean the kids found ways to turn themselves invisible. The apothecary turned himself into a pile of salt. The kids were able to transform into birds and actually fly. And the scientists were able to disguise their getaway boat with a new paint job in the middle of the ocean, and even stop time for a little bit to help prevent a nuclear explosion.
There was a little talk about everything having a consequence and how there is a negative side to all apothecary things, but I never really felt like this was adequately explained. Janie kept mentioning seeing a dark cloud after doing the big magic (like stopping a nuclear bomb after it detonates), but nothing ever really happened with the cloud. Frankly, this part could have been left out because I needed to know more, or have nothing at all.
Besides that there was one other thing that really bothered me. I hated how the whole story was told in the past tense. YA and children’s authors take huge risks in writing books from the perspective of an adult looking back. Adults are not only hard to relate to, but kids, teens, and even myself (a real life adult) just don’t want to relate to them. And it took me a while to get into the story because I hated picturing an adult narrating it, an adult who is so far away from what is happening. I loved the middle, and eventually got so lost in the story I forgot about the whole past tense thing. But, then the end happened and I found myself kind of angry again.
I get why the author did it. A part of Janie’s memory was taken from her, to protect her and her family. And she later gets her memory back when a certain journal is returned to her. But I really think the story could have held on to that same story line, and that same feeling, if Janie was only two years older in the introduction and conclusion. I wouldn’t have felt so distanced then. I also had to go back and re-read the A Note to the Reader section in the beginning to make sure Janie had the ending I wanted for her. I wish the ending was more clear at the end as well because I don’t know a lot of young readers who will go back to the beginning after finishing it. I just feel like 1952 is already such a different world for young readers today. Why distant them further by making Janie so old?
Any way, besides the whole distancing-adult thing and the dark side of apothecary science that was not really described well, I did love the story. I loved how strong and independent the characters were, particularly Benjamin. I rooted for Janie the whole time. I even loved all the Great Expectations, Dickens (in general), and Henry James references –though, again these probably added to the distance forged between old Janie and the young readers of today, too. I give it an 8/10. And I wouldn’t object to a sequel, though I’m fairly certain there won’t be one (because of the timing it’s set up in).