Saturday, July 30, 2011

Books to Mark Your Calendar For: What the Rest of 2011 Brings for YA

The books I'm listing here are the ones I'm personally most excited for. They all come out in the next few months (before the end of the year). I will probably make another list at the end of the year, for the books I'm most excited for in 2012. Note that there was one other book that I was going to add to this list (Bitter Blue by Kristin Cashore), but the publication date for it has changed (by 9 months... and I'm not sure what happened there...hopefully everything is okay).
8/23/11 – Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

I’m super excited for this spinoff series of The Vampire Academy books! If you would like to hear more about it from the author, herself, click the Amazon link, and scroll down to the Check Out Related Media section. Amazon
9/6/11 – Vanish by Sophie Jordan

This is the sequel to Firelight, a unique YA book about a girl, who is actually a dragon. It’s very different from the books about teens who can turn into animals. And I’m hoping the sequel is as captivating as book 1 was.

9/20/11 – Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

This is the third in an amazing steampunk YA trilogy. Between the World War I politics, the girl pretending to be a boy to be able to fly, and the royal boy/machine expert escaping for his life, these books are loaded both with wonderful story lines and beautiful artwork. I just wish I was at ALA New Orleans earlier so I could have gotten this ARC…

9/27/11 – Lost in Time by Melissa De La Cruz

I will never quite get enough of these Blue Blood books. They mix the fallen angel folklore with a very interesting, reincarnating group of vampires. The romance, the action, the NY high end fashion, and the excellent character development make these books a series to keep your eye on.

10/11/11 – The Death Cure by James Dashner

The first book in this series, The Maze Runner, shocked me with it’s fast pace dystopian plot, and while the sequel was not as good because frankly, nothing beats the shock value of book 1, it was still a really fun read. And I know this third book promises some answers to my millions of questions. I also have read the first few chapters (courtesy of ALA New Orleans), and let me tell you, my mind is already racing with the awesomeness of this book.

10/18/11 – Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

These books are loaded with magic powers. There are dark mysteries, gothic horror moments, some action packed fight scenes, and some super amazing characters. I’m so ready for this third installment.

10/25/11 – Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

If it were not for Tamora Pierce, my love of YA literature might not even exist. I own every book she has written, every anthology her stories are in, and even I even have her comic! Any way, these high fantasy, mystery books are led by an amazing YA heroine.  And I feel like these books read like a mixture of her other YA books and maybe your favorite episode of SVU.

11/8/11 – Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

 I have been following Eragon for a long time. These books are huge, and not for the reluctant readers, but more for the hardcore fantasy fans. The books are epic, dragon fantasy story at its finest. And I am dying to see how it all comes to an end.

12/6/11 – Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

I have mentioned Clare’s books over and over in this blog. And I really think this sequel in her spin-off trilogy is going to be some of her best writing. I’m loving the characters in here, and while it works as a prequel to her other series, it can definitely stand alone. Great characters, great story, and great history/explanations for events in her world.  I’m so excited for this one!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Between by Jessica Warman

I’m making my way through these ARC’s from New Orleans! Though, this one only comes out in a few days (August 2nd). This book’s back cover made it sound a lot like Oliver’s Before I Fall, which I reviewed not too long ago. And I wasn’t quite as in love with Oliver’s first book as everyone else seemed to be. So, I was not thinking that I would be in love with this book either. I was wrong. I loved it.
In my last entry, I mentioned a sub-genre of YA dystopia, and here I am again thinking of a whole new genre for YA fiction: death. I’d put this book on lists with Before I Fall, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, and even the adult book (that all teens seem to read) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.
Truth be told, Between read like a mixture of Before I Fall and Thirteen Reasons Why. It had the exact same concept (minus the Groundhogs day repetition) of Oliver’s book, and the twists and turn/mystery of Asher’s book.
It’s about Elizabeth Valchar, a girl who wakes up the day after her 18th birthday only to discover her own dead body floating in the water, next to her family’s yacht. Liz is sort of stuck in this between place, along with another teen, Alex, who died about a year ago. The two teens learn that they only have certain memories of their actual lives, and spend most of their time getting caught in memories of their lives, experiencing bits and pieces of their childhoods and teen years as if for the first time. They also watch the lives of those closest to them. Liz learns that her best friend/step sister goes after her own soul mate/boyfriend (who happens to be a drug dealer). She watches her father become more and more depressed, spending his days on the yacht, thinking of Liz and Liz’s mother who also died too young.
They don’t watch a lot of Alex’s life except maybe a few moments because it become clear immediately that he does not like Liz very much. You learn that Liz and her group of popular, wealthy friends did not always treat Alex kindly. And as the book goes on, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is a reason for Alex and Liz spending their between time together. Also, there were a lot things going on in Liz’s life that led up to her death. The book deals with some heavy, dark YA themes. There’s one scene where Liz remembers coming across her mother’s dead body. She was only 9 at the time. Teens die. All the girls, particularly Liz and her dead mother have eating disorders. Topics of drugs, drinking and driving, feeling invincible, falling in love, money, and black mail weave together a murder mystery that I figured out a little too soon.
Another major point of the book is the mystery surrounding Liz’s stepsister. The whole town thinks they are actually half sisters because it is widely known that Liz’s father started dating her stepmom right after the death of her mother. And most believe they were having an affair before her death. Liz’s mom starved herself to death, and most people also think Liz starves herself. And there are all these beautifully detailed moments where Liz watches her friends and how they each individually deal with loss. She attends her own funeral. She’s there when her parents get the phone call to come to the yacht. She’s there when her stepsister goes to the formal dance with her boyfriend. And as much as the book is about the mystery and the other characters dealing with Liz’s death, it’s also about Liz letting go, forgiving people, forgiving herself, and allowing herself to move on.
What I loved most: how everything happens in pieces, in 2-minute memories, and overheard conversations. I also loved the friendship between the two dead teens: Alex and Liz. I especially loved how I never felt preached to. From what I read, yes, I can tell drugs and alcohol are a bad mix, that one should never get into a car with a driver who has been drinking, and that it’s always better to talk to someone then let yourself be blackmailed or taken advantage of. But, even though I learned all these things, and teens will learn them too while reading, the message is never too obvious. For instance, the drunk driving thing becomes clear when a girl refuses to get into a limo with a chauffer who is buzzed, even though all her friends are whining at her to go. Readers are never told to just not do things in a blatantly obvious way. And one of the best characters, (Richie) the boyfriend, is a drug dealer. And there’s a lot of grey area between the black and white of right and wrong. The teens are always describing themselves as good kids.
What I didn’t like: how clear one particular character’s intentions were from the beginning. I mean I was not surprised enough in the outcome of the murder, and I wished I was little more surprised. But, this can sort of be a good thing too because it shows that people aren’t always who you expect them to be or that sometimes outsiders looking in are a better judge of character. Also, sometimes the author’s memory flashbacks were worded too similarly. Liz would remember something and then say something like, “I was in 9th grade.” And then, “I know this because…” You don’t need to keep explaing that “she knows this because”. By the 10th memory or so, I trust that she knows why she was in 9th grade. I don’t need to know it’s because the Cliff Notes of a certain Shakespeare play on her table. I believe her.
I give this book a 9/10, and I really recommend it to fans of Lauren Oliver and Jay Asher. In a way, I think it’s sort of like a better version of Before I Fall because I don’t have to deal with the repetition, and for some reason, despite the fact that Liz is kind of prissy, I like her more as a main character than Oliver’s main character. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger YA readers because of how dark certain aspects are (particularly the whole blackmailing thing), but on the other hand, it could work as an excellent book for reluctant readers because it deals with a lot of serious issues teens love to read about.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dark Parties by Sara Grant

I’m noticing a psychological/sexual politics theme in a lot of these up and coming dystopias. And I’m loving every minute of it. There’s nothing like a YA dystopia to make me feel grateful for all that I have. And while famous dystopias of times past deal with things like always being watched (1984), or keeping a whole society in order (The Giver), which deal with turning current situations upside down, and making things scary, these new dystopias are all about tuning things backward for groups of people (particularly women), and making things scary that way. Books I have read in the past year or two that made things scary for women (of the future): Wither by Lauren DeStefano, XVI by Julia Karr, and Matched by Ally Condie. I feel like these books are creating a subgenre of YA dystopia, but I’m not sure what the title of the subgenre would be.
Any way, Dark Parties literally starts with a dark party. Two best friends, Neva and Sanna throw a rebellious party in the dark, hoping the darkness will allow people to feel free to share how they feel about current political/government situations. And what I love is that none of the world is explained right away. The first sentences of the book are at the party. And things about the world they live in come into play naturally as the story continues. Before any major rebellious announcements can be made, Neva gets a very passionate kiss from someone who is not her boyfriend in the dark. She soon learns its from her best friend’s boyfriend, and she wishes she could take it back.
Neva’s group of friends all take serious risks in their mini rebellions of dark parties, stolen historical artifacts, silent marches, climbing of political structures, spray-painting of slogans, etc. And between all the people who go “missing” and the police interrogations, you’d think Neva and Sanna would be more careful. Actually, Sanna does become more careful due to the persuading of her new boyfriend (whose in love with Neva), and Neva’s boyfriend decides to not get involved with all the political actions of his friends because he was one of the first to be interrogated, and knows what the government is capable of. Unfortunately for him, his new cautious attitude is what draws Neva away.
The book is about learning to pretend that liberties aren’t important to you in order to do something about it later. It’s about waiting for the right moment to spray paint the city or sneak into a hidden office in a government building. It’s about trusting your heart and surviving heart-ache. The story really gets interesting when Sanna gets taken away after the silent protest. She gets sent to the Women’s Empowerment Center, which is more like the center for drugging women, impregnating them, and making them breed as many babies as possible. 
Neva’s world is dwindling in population and it seems like people are dying at younger ages. She lives in Homeland, and in a sense it’s a bit like City of Ember, not because it’s underground (it’s not), but because the entire population is within one giant dome, cut off from the rest of the planet, meant to live independently. A lot of the teens in Neva’s group of friends complain about how nothing is new; everything is recycled from envelopes with dozens of addresses on them to shirts so worn they are all grey. There’s actually a really interesting scene where Neva comes across a globe and pieces together that something like a planet actually exists. And it’s in these small, interesting moments that details about Neva’s world come out naturally.
Neva sets out with Braydon (the boy who both girls love), to infiltrate the Women’s Empowerment Center, and rescue her best friend. She does this on a time limit because she has a limited time slot to escape Homeland for good. She frees a large group of women (many of whom are pregnant), she learns about choices and the reason people make them, she gets betrayed, captured, interrogated, rescued, and every time I think she’s finally going to make it out, something bad happens to push her down again.
The number one reason this book was so good: the plot. It’s fast paced and action-packed; I literally could never put it down. Number two reason: the love triangle. I loved the drama between Neva, her boyfriend, her best friend, and her best friend’s boyfriend. It worked as an excellent teen drama subplot for all of the bigger picture action. And number 3: the ending. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone; don’t worry. Just know that Neva decides something and it has nothing to do with her family, with a boy, or even her best friend. There’s finally a YA main character that chooses just what’s right for her. And it’s empowering.
What I didn’t like: Neva sort of shifted from shy girl to rebel leader rather quickly without much transition. She and her best friend, Sanna, sort of reversed rolls. Sanna started as the brave one. And I get why at the end of the book Sanna was who she was. But, she was who she was way before the end. I needed a more gradual change. I don’t think a boy could really affect the girl who threw the dark party that much. I mean, he made her a bit of a wuss, and I didn’t really find that believable. And likewise Neva became awesome. She went from being afraid of the dark to freeing a house full of pregnant ladies! But again, I feel like her shift into the brave role was too quick for me. I like a little more development, please.
And lastly, while I just adored Neva by the end, there was something missing with her. I just didn’t feel like her motive for everything she did (her grandma who might be alive outside Homeland) was strong enough. For me to feel like the risk of her life, the life of her friends, and so many other sacrifices were worth it, I needed a really good reason. And Grandma wasn’t cutting it. Maybe if I knew her character more, or if some other reasons were made more pronounced, I’d get Neva’s decisions more, but I just wasn’t fully understanding her character.
However, all in all, this was a fantastic book. The story alone rates it high with me. I just wish there was some better character development, and a stronger motive for the main character. I still give it a 9/10 just because it was one great story. And it would make a really interesting book club book.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

This is another ARC I got from the ALA conference in New Orleans. Neither the cover nor the back description appealed to me that much (also take note that the cover is not necessarily the final cover the publishing company will use), but one of the people working for that publishing company (Hyperion/Disney Book Group) really talked me into this one. I’m a librarian. When I tell someone I think they will like a book, and book talk it up, I like to think they listen and will take note of it. And vice versa, when someone takes the time (and this lady took the time) to book talk a book to me, I take note. Plus, how bad could a free YA witch book be?
Unfortunately, I thought it was kind of bad. I wish I knew the woman’s name who recommended it to me though, because she still gets major points from me for being able to book talk so well, a skill not many librarians even have. Really, she should get a raise!
The book is about a girl named Lexi, who has grown up in a secluded village hearing stories and legends about the Near witch. Lexi’s town/village, Near, is not exactly known for its acceptance of witches. According to one version/the truer version of the story that Lexi hears from two older sisters/witches who live on the outskirts of Near, a boy was found dead in the Near Witch’s garden, and Near retaliated by killing her, even though the boy didn’t die at the witch’s hands.
The real story starts when a boy stranger (Cole) comes to town (something unheard of for some reason), and the next day children start disappearing. Near then suspects the stranger to be the culprit. Lexi knows otherwise. She befriends him, learns his heartbreaking story, and then falls in love with him. Together, she and Cole do their own search for the missing children.  Soon, though it becomes clear that Cole has his own witch-like abilities, and it’s not just about clearing his name from the kidnappings any more. It’s a story about jumping to conclusions, about always needing someone to blame, and about love.
The whole thing was too predicable for me. You pretty much know the end, about 20 pages in. It was hard for me to get an adequate image of Lexi in my head because I feel like the author couldn’t decide on her right age. Sometimes she seemed like she was a teenager, and sometimes she was just too young for me! And it was hard getting into the romantic kissing moments when my image of the main character was sort of a 9-year old. I get that this book takes place in a different time (yet I don’t know when) and possibly a different world (yet I don’t know where) but still, Lexi seemed a little dumbed down to me, like the author was trying to make her sound youthful. I hate when YA authors do this. The character’s voice needs to be natural, and if it’s a little older than you think, that’s okay. This young voice was forced too much here, and it made the whole thing not as good as it could have been. Maybe she should have made Lexi be 9 or 10, and made her relationship with Cole purely a friendship type relationship. I think I would have liked that more, and have had a clearer sense and belief in the main character.
Generally, I love redone fairy tale type stories, but for a redone tale to be successful, there needs to be something unique about it, something that makes the tale worth retelling. And I guess that was my major issue with the book. It was too much like the latest Red Riding Hood movie. The movie was okay on the surface, and pretty to look at, but overall there was nothing new, and nothing different about the story, to keep me that interested in the plot. The idea of witch hunting/witch trials is even something I have always been interested in. Maybe it would have been better if a time/real place were given so at least there’d be some historical context.
Also, a lot of the final conflict in the book (all the stuff that Cole did to help save the day) was brushed over, and very lightly summarized. There was so much build up at the end that I think this was actually the most disappointing aspect. The book is good with random details, random description, yet when it finally came to an important moment, all the description and details were missing. And seemingly important details were missing throughout the whole story. Like why did the town never get any visitors/strangers? I kept asking this question, but it never got answered and it took away my ability to appreciate other good things. And I didn’t find the ending that believable. It felt rushed. It was kind of like if the Harry Potter books ended without the final battle, but just with the happy epilogue.
I didn’t despise the book. Something I did really enjoy was the connection between Cole and Lexi (despite a lack of clear age). They connected because they both have lived through terrible loss. In other words, it wasn’t just a physical thing like it is with other YA love birds; they connected on a mental level. And I liked the legends/idea that stories are always changing. I also liked that Lexi kept defying all the men in her life, resorting to sneaking out, wearing mens’ boots, and punching certain jerks in the face.
This was not my favorite book. I feel like it has promise, but needs a lot of work, and I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for it. I give it a 4/10.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I loved, loved, loved this book.  It’s sort of like Star Wars mixed with The Hunger Games, mixed with The Wizard of Oz, mixed with a Clint Eastwood movie.  Does any of that sound bad to you?
This was another book I got at the library, right when we got it in. It’s been on my Amazon recommendation lists way before it was even out. And I think everyone can tell I have a soft spot for YA dystopias with a strong female lead.
This book is about Saba, whose lived her whole life with her twin brother, little sister, and depressed father at a place called Silverlake. Silverlake has slowly been getting drier and drier over the years. There’s hardly any water or game for the very alone family to live on. And on the day her twin brother (Lugh) tells her they need to leave Silverlake, he gets kidnapped by four men on horseback, who seem to ride in with a sandstorm. The men kill their father, and take off with Lugh.
The book really begins with Saba’s quest to get her brother back.  She keeps trying to leave her little sister behind in safe places, but Emmi never listens. She and Emmi track miles upon miles with little to no food or water. They follow the tracks left behind by the horsemen. They ride sandships, get kidnapped, and survive some really dark circumstances. Saba is captured and forced into something called cage fighting. She has to fight other girls in cages. And if she looses three times, she has goes to the gauntlet, to die. And if she doesn’t fight, her kidnappers will hurt, kill, or torture Emmi. Saba develops a nickname: the Angel of Death, because she never looses a single fight.
Eventually with the help of a large group of girl thieves and rebels, she escapes cage fighting, rescues her sister, and manages to let all of the men, women, and children free from their cages. However, she pisses off a very powerful king and his protectorate of strong bodyguards. She joins forces with the girl rebels, who want to change society for the better and get rid of the king. She also befriends bandits and a couple of past slaves who fall in love with her, one of which she falls for too. She survives fights, fires, and hellwurms. And for a girl who hates apologizing, hates asking for help, and loves to do everything all on her own, she has an enormous amount of help on her way to rescue her brother. And the final fight scenes are as mesmerizing as that last duel in a western movie.
There are so many things that made this story great. First and foremost, is Saba. She is kind of a snot, but you love her anyway. She’s rude, obnoxious, mean to her little sister, and she takes help and advice from no one. Yet, you can’t help loving her to pieces. She’s strong, stubborn, and willing to die for those she loves. And despite her grumpiness (which should not be mistaken for whininess that other YA heroines are known to have), she has a ligeance of followers everywhere she goes. Because everyone recognizes her for what she is: a powerful leader. She, however, still needs to figure this out. And this makes you love her even more.
Second, Moira Young has combined dystopia with western. The whole world sounds like it’s desert. And the land disputes, the drug problems, and the fights all make it such a unique book. She also keeps up a Western slang dialogue throughout the book. And at first my inner English major was prohibiting me from enjoying the story, but eventually I just got lost in the language –in a good way.
Third, the characters are just all so interesting. One of my only complaints would be that I want to know the others as well as I know Saba. Young keeps bringing in these amazing other ideas and characters, but in my opinion, doesn’t delve into them enough. But if anything, that just says her story is so good that I need more.
I’m not sure if this is a stand-alone, or the beginning of a trilogy. Sometimes stand-alones become trilogies…But, according to Goodreads, its called Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1), and I think that’s a good sign that there will be more. I hope there’s more. Though, the ending worked, and I don’t absolutely need a sequel; it could easily stand alone. I just wouldn’t complain for another shot to get to know the girl rebels, Lugh, Jack (the love interest), and many others. I give it a 10/10. It’s a tiny bit slow at first, especially with all the Western slang, but don’t put it down. It only gets better and better.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Crossed by Ally Condie

Before you get your hopes up, no, this book is not out yet. It’s an ARC. I actually waited in line for 45 minutes, at the annual ALA conference in New Orleans to then be told that the box holding all the ARC’s was missing. I was so sad, but Penguin took our addresses and business cards, and I decided to move on. I wasn’t exactly expecting the book to arrive in the mail a couple of days ago, but it did. And I have been attached to it since. Thank you, Penguin, for keeping your word and understanding the importance of YA ARC’s to librarians and those who wish they were librarians.
Any way, Crossed is the sequel to Matched, a book I ranked up there with The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent. Matched is about Cassia, a girl who lives in the future, in a society that decides everything for her. The society is layered with rules and tests and statistics, and while a lot of free choices are missing, everyone is healthy and everyone lives until they are old, and there are no diseases. It is not at all like The Hunger Games, and actually has a lot of close similarities to Lowry’s The Giver. The first book focuses a lot on being matched. People’s life long partners are chosen for them in a matching ceremony. And Cassia gets matched to her best friend, Xander. However, she grows to love someone else: Ky, a boy not allowed to be matched due to the decisions of his parents. And with a spark of creativity that Cassia’s dying grandfather ignited in her, Cassia comes to question everything she was born to believe. The book ends after the society discovers the relationship between Ky and Cassia. The last pages are about Cassia leaving her family behind to search for Ky who has been punished to live (most likely his last days) in working camps in the outer provinces.
I wasn’t planning on giving such a lengthy explanation of that first book, but I guess now is a good time to stop reading this blog entry, if you haven’t read book 1, and would like to before reading what I have to say about book 2.
This book begins where the last one left off. Cassia does leave her family behind. She goes to working camps around the society, hoping for something all other workers dread: to be sent to a camp in the outer provinces. It is known that that is where people who are different (anomalies) are sent to die. They get killed by “the enemy” with what seems like random firings. Cassia sneaks her way on to a ship to the outer provinces, and it is just her luck that she arrives the day after Ky escapes with two friends. She finds someone who knew Ky and together, with another girl, she also escapes the camp, and heads for the carvings, or caves, where it is known that farmers live outside all rules of society.
Some of the kids along with Ky and Cassia also hope to find members of the Rising, a group that is growing in number and is preparing to fight against the stiff rules of the Society. And above all else, this book is a love story. It’s about Cassia finding Ky. It’s about the two of them recognizing their differences and accepting each other. It’s about letting go, and becoming who you’re meant to be. The two love-birds find each other half way through, and the rest of the book is about surviving, and escaping the Society at every turn. It’s about learning secrets about specific characters. And it’s about the Rising, and the roles Ky, Cassia, and their friends are willing to play, and the things they are willing to give up for the bigger picture.
Overall, I loved this book. It was everything I was hoping it would be. It was part love story, part journey, part self-discovery, part hope. It started off a little slowly, and for a short while I thought it would be one of those icky YA book 2 transition books. It kind of is that transition book that you know is leading to the ultimate end, but it wasn’t icky.
First, to my statement earlier of putting it in the same list with my other dystopian favorites (I will create my own 10 best YA dystopias list soon after I have read a few more that are waiting for me): Ally Condie knows how to write. Not all of my librarian friends will agree with me here, but I really think these books represent some exceptional writing on Condie’s part. Certain sentences are just pure poetry. She plays with words, and has her characters coming up with poems. So much of it is beautiful that I need to go back and re-read certain sections and get lost in them again. She gets art, and poetry, and the way different people interpret everything differently. There’s just so much abstract thought in her characters that it is impossible not to relate to them and love them. Each sunrise, each ripple in a deadly river, each carved curve in a rock, each book left unopened, and each character in need of inspiring hope in another, is art. Condie paints her details of the landscape and her details of each character’s thoughts like an impressionist painter, achieving a new perspective, and different kind of light everywhere she goes.
And it is so refreshing to find some good writing in YA literature! YA stuff is usually about the story, and not exactly how the story is worded. And I’m not judging. I tend to be okay with this. Occasionally though, you come across an author who cares about both these things. And Condie does care about how she words it. Her writing is simple, poetic, and elegant.
What I did not like about book 2: the point of view shifts. Unlike book 1, which was all Cassia’s point of view, this book switches off between Cassia and Ky. And at first I liked it because I liked getting in Ky’s head, something Cassaia never quite accomplishes. And I liked it when they were looking for each other. But after that everything was a little confusing. I forgot whose passage I was in sometimes because Cassia and Ky tend to have similar thoughts and emotions. And then later I couldn’t remember what character said what to who because I couldn’t remember whose chapter it was said in. There was one important passage toward the end, where all the characters decided who would go which direction, and I re-read this passage four or five times, before I could really get it; if I was her editor, I’d tell Condie to make that whole thing a lot clearer.
And what still bothers me after finishing it is the stuff I still don’t understand. I don’t get why Cassia is where she is and Ky is where he is. What is their purpose? I get that Condie wanted a bit of open-endedness, but for a while I just felt kind of dumb, like it was my own doing that made me confused at the end. I like not knowing if the Rising is trustworthy and I like not knowing yet their exact roles in everyting. But, I would have liked some explanation for their final predicament. Without that little explanation (or I’d take even a possible suggestion), I had difficulties both understanding and believing in the ending of this book. Hopefully this gets explained in book 3. And this is what makes me go back to my icky book two transition comment. But, I still loved the book as a whole. I give it a 9/10. And I look forward to the next one.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly

I actually picked up this book immediately (maybe the day it came into my library), thinking it was a different YA book I had read an excellent review for, A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young.  Both were angel-type books even though, I think the angel trend should be over. And both have an angelic looking teen girl on the cover, with some orange/yellow tints. Any way, I’m glad I made the mistake because I really enjoyed this one, and I will have to stay on the look out for the other one too.
Why do I really want the angel trend to be over? Because all YA angel books have been a little too romantic for me. And, I love romance. Really, I do. It’s just I like my YA graph pie to be more like this: 50% plot, 30% awesome character, and 20% leeway room for things like true love and first kisses. When a book is more than 50% of what I normally want the leeway room to be, I tend to have a bit of a gag reflex. I need YA characters to be more than just lovesick puppies. I need them to be strong, rebellious, intelligent, independent, and thought provoking. And I know that rarely is a character all of these things (one exception being Katniss), but a character needs to be at least one or two of these things for me to really care about them. And then, after the romance aspect, I would like them to still maintain these characteristics, instead of just having them overshadowed for a boy.
Okay, lovesick angel rant done. I enjoyed Angel Burn, even though it had a lot of romance…Maybe not 50% (if anything because the romance didn’t really start till the second half), but there was a huge chunk of it. Maybe 35-40%...
But, before I get into that, I will explain the story a little. One main character, Willow, grows up thinking she is psychic. She lives with a rude aunt and a very ill mother. She can tell people’s possible future paths, and even their past paths with just one touch. And everything changes when she reads a classmate’s future and sees an angel. She sees the angel how the girl does, a being with great power, who saved her. But when she gets to the girl’s future paths, she sees the angel making the girl more and more weak, ill, and completely covered in an exhausting grey cloud. Willow tries to convince the girl to not take the path that leads her to the church of the angels, but the girl is so happy for someone else to know that angels exist, that she doesn’t listen to Willow, and goes off immediately in search of her angel.
Alex, the other main character, has been training and killing angels his whole life. He knows first hand the effects an angel can have. His friends and family have all been killed by angels and angel burn (when an angel makes you feel as though its feeding off your energy is a blessing). He gets texts on his phone that send him around the country, killing off as many angels as he can. The book really begins with the text sent to him, requiring him to kill Willow, who we soon learn is half angel –the only half angel to ever be known to exist. Soon, the angels find out about Willow, and they read that one of her future paths involves annihilating them all, so they send the growing angel religion population after her, hoping for her death. And when I say growing population, I mean there are infomercials, churches, communities, and whole towns of up to hundreds of thousands of people who have all had angel burn already.
Alex, liking the idea that she can help him get rid of more angels, takes Willow with him, narrowly escaping many angel supporters at various locations around the country. They eventually learn how Willow can help get rid of angels, and there is a lot of angel/human identity crisis, where Willow cannot understand why Alex can even be in the same room as someone part angel. The book ends with some action packed standing up for what is right moments, and a lot more angels coming, ending with a good transition all ready for book 2 in the soon to be trilogy.
What I loved most: the concept of angels feeding off the energy of people. They look like the angels painted in Renaissance paintings (or that is how I pictured them), but they are not sent from God (I hope). For all I know, they have absolutely nothing to do with religion; it’s just the population that portrays them as Godly. They could be monsters or aliens even, because they come form a different world. And what makes it slightly believable is that the angels researched things, and practiced things. They were being sent in waves to make sure they could survive on Earth. 
What I didn’t love: the author didn’t allow for much surprise. After one chapter with Alex, I realized Willow had to be at least part angel (I realized this way before she did). And then I realized her parentage way before she did. I realized a lot of things too early, and I know the author did this on purpose, in effort to make her readers feel super smart, but it kind of just made me feel super annoyed. I need more surprise, please. Also, I loved the character point of view shifts between Alex and Willow. But, I was not feeling the random one time point of view shifts with some not-as-important yet characters. I think the book needed to stay just Willow and Alex. The other characters just did not fit with the writing style for me; it actually kind of confused me and this took away from the plot.
And of course there was the romance. At first, I loved it. There was so much tension built up on those long car rides. But it was very believable; the romance took it’s time. Eventually, I did hit some gag reflex moments, but they weren’t too bad because Willow remained Willow and Alex remained Alex, after the romance. For a couple of minutes there I really thought their love would prevent the plot from continuing, but it didn’t. Willow was strong enough to do what was right even though other things were a lot more tempting. I liked Willow and, and I loved Alex. Don’t read this though, if you are not in the mood for a little sappiness. I give it a 8/10.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

One way you can just tell I was meant to be a librarian is I hate when people dog-ear book pages. I always use a bookmark. Also, unless I’m in a particularly difficult astronomy or technology class, you will never see me write in the margins, highlight, or alter the book in any way, shape, or form. My only occasional exception to this rule involves placing a Post-it with a note on it by a particular passage I have to go back to. I do this a lot with poetry anthologies, if I feel like there is a really good poem I should read again. I almost never do this with YA books. Libba Bray’s new book is covered in Post-its. Why? Because there are so many brilliant moments, passages, lines, and things I wanted to include in this review. 
This book is so many kinds of awesome, I don’t even know where to begin, or which Post-its I can ignore. With each book Bray writes, I become more and more impressed. Imagine the show America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), then imagine LOST, and then imagine some remarkable teen character writing (like that of John Green, David Levithan, Ann Brashares, or Megan McCafferty), and you are still not quite at this book’s greatness.
When I mentioned ANTM and LOST, I really was not kidding. This book starts with a plan crash. The plane is full of Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant contestants. In fact, only the Miss Teen Dream girls (and not all of them) survive the crash. What’s a group of teen beauty queens to do on a deserted island? Ration off beauty products, practice for the pageant, and of course feel grateful for the fact that they will loose weight. Soon the girls realize they might not be rescued for some time, and they learn to survive. It’s really interesting to see how the each girl’s back-story (and even pageant talent) comes into play for this ultimate test of survival.
They learn to use an evening gown as a way to filter rainwater. They learn how to make fishing nets, and other tools. They learn about what types of plants they can eat. And they have a sort of acid trip with the plants they learn not to eat. They learn eventually to stop competing with each other, though the competition between some of them is very entertaining. For instance, there are only two girls who are not white (Nicole, who is African American and Shanti, who is Indian), and their competition is just ridiculous because as Shanti explains to Nicole at one point, judges never let two brown girls into the final five. But eventually, they realize there are more important things to worry about then placing in Miss Teen Dream.
While there are some serious, thought-provoking moments, nothing can stay serious for too long because every now and then, there are sentences like, “The girls sat in the sand, sapped of all energy. Two contestants had salvaged pieces of metal from the downed plane and were using them as tanning reflectors” (49). 
And almost everything is commentary for how materialistic the world is. The book is full of commercial breaks, Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Pages, and footnotes for pop culture references and advertisements. Everything seems to be product placement for something called the Corporation, which has it’s own shows, products, commercials, everything. And some of it is almost beautiful in how outrageous it is laid out. What do I mean? Read this passage from a TV interview with the most famous Miss Teen Dream winner, Ladybird Hope: “No! We said “Crack is wack!” and we made sure everybody could have guns instead of drugs. Back before the British were our friends, and they had a mean king who made us pay too much tax instead of just having hot princes who go to nightclubs, they wanted to keep us from bringing freedom to the people of Mexico and making it a state, and George Washington had to chop down a cherry tree and write the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and that’s the reason we fought World War II, and we keep fighting, because those freedom-hating people out there want to take away our right to be rich and good-lookin’…” (57-58). This character is someone many of the teens on the island look up to and aspire to be. She also was planning on running for president.
There’s island plant induced acid trips, pageant practice, hut making, weapons making (with beauty products), snake fighting, pirates (from a reality show), romance, and then there is politics! The whole reason the girls are not getting rescued, despite their signals, signs, and fame, is because they crashed on an island that’s about to be in the middle of an illegal arms deal. Ladybird Hope is involved, and so is an evil dictator (who has a taxidermy lemur named General Good Times). There’s secret hideouts inside volcanoes, romance with environmentalists, and plenty of growing up. And besides just having a great idea/story, Bray writes some fantastic characters. I actually came to love some of these beauty queens. There are some beautiful, pure YA lines, like “There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping. They were becoming. They were” (177).
Between the feminism, the kidnappings, the sexy pirates, the weapons, and the growing freedom and friendships among these girls, there is no way I cannot give this book a 10/10. It’s amazing, and I really need to stop writing because I feel like I might not be able to stop praising this book if I continue.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sass and Serendipity by Jennifer Ziegler

I got this ARC in New Orleans, and I wasn’t going to read it for a while, but then I saw that it would come out July 12th and decided it made more sense to read the ARC before the book came out than after.
I’m not sure if this will be included on the final publication, but on the top of the cover of the book, it reads:  “In honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility…And because sisters today are just as amazing and aggravating as they were in Jane Austen’s day…” How could I not have picked up a modern day YA Sense and Sensibility?
The story is about two sisters: Gabby and Daphne Rivera. Gabby, the eldest, is best friends with their mother, and Daphne is closer with their (some weekends) father. Their parents are divorced. Gabby is bossy, organized, and intelligent. Daphne is cluttered, free-spirited, and romantic. Gabby seems to always be angry, whereas Daphne is always bouncing around. They are exact opposites. The book follows Gabby’s friendship with her best friend, Mule (short for Samuel). It’s clear Mule is in love with her, but she does not even quite seem capable of love. Around a year or so before her parents split, Gabby had one perfect romantic moment with a boy. But she found out only days later, that the boy tragically died in a car accident. And after her father leaves, and she becomes her mother’s best friend, she becomes rather jaded when it comes to men and love. This is the opposite of her sister, Daphne, who falls in love frequently.
Daphne falls hard for a boy named Luke, after bumping into him in the hallway at school and noticing that he was reading Jane Eyre. She thinks about him all the time, and keeps telling herself how perfect he is for her, without really knowing him. She doesn’t understand why her sister is so against romance because Gabby has never talked to anyone about her first love. And when Daphne talks herself into loving Luke so much, she embarrasses herself in front of him, and an entire party, she falls into a terrible depression. Gabby keeps getting into small arguments with her very attractive tenant, who she blames for the death of her first love.  And by the time the book is over, both girls learn a thing or two about true love, family, forgiveness, strength, and growing up.
On the outside, how could a book like this be that bad? It kind of was though. For starters, I felt like Gabby and Daphne were very one-dimensional. Gabby was the grouch and Daphne was the innocent. I never once thought either of them had much depth. I didn’t learn about Gabby’s past for a long time, and even then I still am not sure it’s enough reason for her to be that perpetually mean. And Daphne was also not that believable. Yes, I can see girls being ridiculously romantic and innocent –I know some– but not to that extent. There were several points where I almost just stopped reading because I feel like both girls were slightly dumbed down. And I think one of the worst things a YA author can do is make his/her characters seem stupid. It’s like she thought about how an adult would do or say something, and she had to re-think how someone not as intelligent would also say it.
Austen was capable of writing two very opposing sisters (one romantic and one sensible) who were not as one-dimensional or as ignorant. In fact my favorite thing about both Elinor and Marianne (from Sense and Sensibility), were that they were so much more than what the book title accredited them: sense and sensibility. They were real women.
I did enjoy the ending of this book; it was very much a happy Austen-type ending. And like Austen’s endings, it was a little abrupt for my taste. So much of this book is about the details, and when it finally came down to something I wanted the details about, it was abrupt. Is it worth going through all the details, and not so good versions of Elinor and Marianne to get to the good but abrupt end? Maybe if you really love Austen, and don’t mind a lot of fluffy/kind of stupid dialogue and not so good character development. I give it a 6/10.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Something I have noticed a lot of lately, especially with dystopian ARC’s at the ALA annual conference, are mentions of The Hunger Games on blurbs in the front and back of books. A) If a book needs to be compared to Suzanne Collins’ books to sell copies, it can be nowhere near as good as Suzanne Collins’ books. B) That is a lot to live up to C) Until now, I have not read a single dystopia that I feel as though I can even put in the same category as The Hunger Games.
Okay, I’m lying slightly. I might put James Dashner’s The Maze Runner and possibly Ally Condy’s Matched in the same category, but it was always clear who the number one slot went to. Veronica Roth’s Divergent is now currently warring with The Hunger Games for that slot. And I guess I can’t completly fill in my Dystopia number 1 spot, until I read all of Roth’s series because I’m biased with my love for The Hunger Games trilogy as a whole (though, if you know me, you know I was not too impressed with book 3). Any way, I need to step away from The Hunger Games (though I will eventually make a post dedicated to it) because I do not want any more books to take away Divergent’s thunder.
Why was this book so amazing? I’ll get to that, promise. I think I need to explain what it’s about first. It takes place in the future, in Chicago, which is divided into five factions: Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each faction lives according to very strict ideals. Those in Amity live their lives according to peace. Those in Abnegation (where the main character, Tris, is brought up) are all about selfless acts and always putting the feelings of others before one’s self. Candor is all about truth being the most important thing to live by. Dauntless is about bravery. And Erudite puts the pursuit of knowledge above all else.
Now, I need to make another Harry Potter reference. I loved that the people are sort of divided into Hogwarts houses: the smart, the brave, the peaceful, the truthful, and the selfless. But the society that emerges here is anything but magical. Because the Abnegation faction is known for selflessness, they have become the leaders. The fearless Dauntless become the protectorate. The smart Erudite become in charge of libraries and technology, etc.  The one ultimate free choice the people in Chicago have is the decision to go to which faction they want. They are tested to see where they would best fit (like a scary version of a sorting hat ceremony), and if they switch factions to something other than what they are born into, they leave their families behind forever. This all happens when they are sixteen.
Tris does not feel selfless enough to stay in Abnegation. When she is tested to see what most logically fits her, she finds out she is divergent. Her test provider tells her she will fix it so no one knows, and to never mention her score to anyone else. And all Tris can really tell is that it means she could fit into more than one faction. Any way, Tris leaves her selfless faction for the bravery one at the same time her brother leaves for the pursuit of knowledge. And while Tris has to pass may tests in her initiation into Dauntless, including jumping on to moving trains, jumping down buildings, fighting her friends to the point of unconsciousness, and surviving her worst fears, literally, through tortuous sounding fear simulations that many kids don’t survive, trouble is brewing among the factions.
Between the romance with one of her instructors, the mixed messages she gets from her mother on her one only visitation day, her homesickness, her broken bones and layers of bruises, betraying friends, bullying enemies, ruthless leaders, and the war that is threatening her society at every turn, Tris goes through a lot really quickly.
When it comes down to two factions working together to brainwash one faction to kill the selfless Abnegation, Tris needs to decide where her true loyalties lie. Does faction really come before blood? Soon Tris comes to realize how important her being divergent is, and what she can do because of it, but no decisions are easy to make when you have loved ones dying on all sides of you.
I loved this book for so many reasons. It’s huge (almost 500 pages), and I stopped reading last night, around 2 am (after only finishing about half of it). But, I couldn’t go to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually I gave up on sleep and around 6 am starting reading again until I finished it. This book is so good, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t eat. I had to know what was going to happen. Between routing for Tris to score well in her initiation, to hoping she doesn’t have to watch her family die, to trying to grasp the complicated politics of a power driven society that was meant to be about peace and preservation, my brain was on overdrive.
I loved that it took place in Chicago and that I could recognize dystopia version landmarks of things like the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier.  I loved Tris and how she didn’t feel selfless and how she wasn’t a perfect protagonist; sometimes she even did things out of anger. I love how tough she became and how she was constantly proving how strong she was, despite how small she was. She transformed from an indecisive girl to an opinionated leader making hard decisions for the greater good (something that was sometimes hard to read, yet necessary for the plot to continue).
And nothing in this book seemed forced. The romance wasn’t a Bella/Edward instant soul mate connection; it took time to build. Tris took time becoming who she was at the end. It took time for the other factions to do what needed to be done. This all made Divergent that much more believable.
This was a fantastic work of YA dystopian fiction. And I give it a 10/10. I’d say 11, if I didn’t think that was too corny. If you liked The Hunger Games, by all means, go read this one.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Uncommon Criminals: A Heist Society Novel by Ally Carter

This was a book I pre-ordered. It’s book 2 in the Heist Society series. I probably only read book 1 about a week or two before I started my blog. I grabbed the first book at a Borders closing sale, and it sat waiting to be read for a while. Little did I know that I was making the James Bond of YA books wait a while.
Picture James Bond mixed with Ocean’s 11 mixed with the Weasley family in Harry potter mixed with Cassandra Clare’s teen drama and you have book 1 in Carter’s series. I know that is a lot of mixing. But, I really cannot describe it any better. Book one was about Kat Bishop trying to escape her thieving family. To escape the morally lacking uncles and cousins, she signs up for a fancy private school. And maybe a chapter or two into the book, she is broken out by her amazing thieving friends. But “thief” doesn’t seem to be an adequate enough term to describe Kat and her unique family. For starters, the majority of book 1 is about Kat and her teen crew robbing the most secure museum in the world: The Henley, of four masterpieces.
This book (2) begins not too long after book 1 finishes. Kat has apparently been on a robbing binge, doing dangerous missions all on her own, though her missions are all about helping people and not about gaining a profit. She was doing things like tracking down paintings that the KGB once stole, and putting them in more deserving hands. As she gets back from one such mission alone, Kat is stopped by a woman claiming to recognize her as the Katarina who robbed the Henley, and from there another impossible sounding mission begins. Things happen really quickly, and it almost seems too easy for Kat and her crew (that she finally takes along with her again) when they manage to steal the famous, “cursed” Cleopatra Emerald. After Kat and her friends get the emerald to who they believe its rightful owner to be, they all come to realize they have been conned. And the rest of the book is about getting the gem back.
Between breaking into Interpol headquarters in Lyons, France, spending nights on a private yacht along the shores of Monaco, planning a heist in the famous Monte Carlo casino, stealing gems and replacing them at famous auction houses in New York City, it’s a wonder that Carter had any room for character development, but she did. There were some fun, not as main characters in the crew, I could have gotten to know more, but all in all, I loved all of these kids. Did I mention that Kat is only 15? And between all the stakeouts, I found myself crossing my fingers and hoping for some romance to finally play out between Kat and her best friend, Hale. Hale was not born into the family, but has been tagging along for some years now. And Hale is loaded, providing the private yachts, the hotel fees, the costume changes, etc. It is my opinion that it has taken Kat far too long to realize just how perfect Hale actually is, but whatever, she’s 15 and I guess she still has some time. And this little bit of romance, really seals the deal for me in making me want book 3 as soon as possible. I need to know how it plays out between these two.
There is no magic (like with the Weasley’s) or insane stunts (like with Bond), but there is so much plot, and double crossing, and twists and turns! The awesome family element, the romance, and the great characters, just make what could be an amazing spy novel for anyone, an amazing YA spy novel. And it’s loaded with another thing I love: kid power. All these things are done without that much help from the uncles or fathers, or mothers, or aunts. Actually most is done behind their backs. And so much of this book is about these kids proving themselves. And never once did I doubt them, especially Kat and Hale.
And yes, it is a little hard to believe. But so are the James Bond movies, I mean really. But, that’s kind of what makes it so much fun. That and all the heist lingo, that is. There’s a name for everything from “ the Cinderella” to the “Catherine the Great.” And reading about all their ideas (like releasing hundreds of doves into a casino to find any other ways out) and their costumes (like security personnel) was such a blast. I give this book a 9/10.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

This was probably the book I was most excited to get an advanced copy of at ALA. This sounds a little dumb because the actual book comes out in 12 days . So, I pretty much only got it two and a half weeks early. Though, I guess getting any book for free is more money in my pocket because we have already noted my severe book-spending problem. Why do I have a book-spending problem if I volunteer in a library? I don’t know…I also have library books that I really should read before any more ARC’s/newbies I just got, but we shall have to see.
Any way, I zipped through this book like it was Harry Potter. I put this series on my Twilight Betterthans list earlier because well it will appeal to Twilight series fans, and it is better. I loved her first book. The second book was not as good, mostly because it felt like that standard YA-Book-2-transition-book (the one before the big one) and it had a really big cliffhanger ending. This book did not disappoint. It was filled with love, wolf chase scenes, drama, death, family, character development, and endings.
It begins months after Book 2 ended. In book 2, Grace left her dying bed in the hospital in a very dramatic wolf transformation. And this book (3) was all about the role reversal. Grace used to have to deal with Sam’s painful transformations. She had to watch as he suffered. She had to wait for him to keep coming back. She had to keep him from getting too cold, and hope for a longer summer. Now, it’s Sam’s turn to do the warming, the waiting, and the watching. And in a way, it was more painful to read because Sam is so poetic. The book is loaded with German poetry and stanzas of songs about loss. Grace is known for being the logical, straight forward character, and it’s interesting to see that side of her even as a wolf. These books first got my interest in the guy/girl character shifts, and this last book in the trilogy took this wonderful writing style several steps further with the wolf sections, and the role reversal. It was just so well put together. There were moments where I literally stopped reading to breathe and take in what Stiefvater did with these character shifts.
There’s one line in the book, when Sam and Cole (disappeared rock star/new best friend) manage to bring back their father figure, Beck, from being a permanent wolf for only several minutes, so they can get his help. And Sam manages to sum up the book rather nicely for Beck, saying, “What did I say, in ten minutes? There were a thousand things that needed to be said. That I didn’t know how to help Grace, now that she was a wolf. That Olivia had died, the police were watching me, Cole holds our fates in vials, what do we do, how do we save ourselves, how do I be Sam when winter means the same things as the summer?”
Throughout the book, Cole works on a “cure” for the wolves, Isabel and Cole develop a relationship (and oh yeah, the point of view sometimes goes to these other outstanding, well developed characters too), and things get very political. Isabel’s father (who lost his son to the wolves, though not in the way he thinks) manages to legally allow an aerial hunting party to go after the wolves in the area. He does this after another girl is found dead, and the town needs to do something. Sam, Cole, Isabel, and Grace (who keeps going back and forth between human and wolf) need to figure out a way to save the wolves (who aren’t exactly even wolves) from being massacred. The ending chapters read like an action movie, and of course Grace is a wolf out in the woods when the hunting begins…
The ending was beautiful, if not exactly completely believable. Stiefvater leaves it a little open-ended, almost as though she is saying, “Yes, this is a trilogy, but I could totally come back to this open ending one day.” I did feel like it ended a little too abruptly. I kept looking for more because so much happened to lead up the end, so much description, so much hold up that when the end actually happens, I wanted a little bit more.
These books also really made me feel sorry for the wolves and the pains human put them through. And what I like most is that the book wasn’t supposed to be about that. It didn’t preach about animal protection or even really talk about it much at all. All these books do is make the animals more human; there were never any easy answers or black and white moralistic values. Maggie made them human, and then it was up to the readers to decide what they will.
All in all, it was a great final installment. It moved a little slowly in the beginning, but I like Stiefvater’s slowness because it all deals with character. And her characters all seem like real people I could be friends with because of this slowness. As it went along, so much plot kept picking up until the end, where I was biting my lip and hoping for the best possible outcome. I give it a 10/10. And I look forward to starting her new series.