DESERVES ALL THE STARS. Seriously, if I could give it more than five stars, I totally would. This was such a breath of fresh air in the YA...more4.5/5 stars!
DESERVES ALL THE STARS. Seriously, if I could give it more than five stars, I totally would. This was such a breath of fresh air in the YA paranormal area, guys, I can't tell you how awesome it felt to read this book. Yes, it is rather long (weighing in at a final 578 pages), but it's so totally worth it. "The Diviners" isn't the story of one girl, but it's the story of a city, and the story of a culture riding high, not knowing what's coming down the road.
This book is so rich and complex, it's a bit hard to really talk about it all. I'm happy to say that everyone will find something to love in this book - there's a murder mystery. There's romance. There's really ominous foreshadowing of the Great Depression. There's a lot of coming-of-age stuff going on. There's the occult (and a scary as hell Christian cult within the occult stuff, too - very inception-ish). And even though the blurb bills Evie as the main character, she's only one of several - all going through a journey within New York City in order to not only find a killer, but to discover themselves through a paranormal lens. And it's one of those joyous books where it's not just plot-driven, but character driven, too. While Evie does get a lot of the POV chapters, I'd say the spread of POV chapters is shared pretty well throughout all of the main cast pretty evenly.
There is a bit of this book that feels like filler (especially within the first 100-150 pages), but it's a tiny amount compared to some of the other YA I've read recently that's had filler in it. However. The characters, the worldbuilding, the sheer originality of both, the lack of insta-love and love triangles TOTALLY makes up for that little bit of filler. You will fall in love with these characters to varying degrees - I know I definitely wanted Evie as my bff after the end of the book (oh, that ending! Libba, you're such a tease!). Where a lot of books and authors would save this first book's material as finale material, Bray has done the total opposite and that's really refreshing. Instead, she uses the budding paranormal abilities of those called the Diviners to leave us on a bit of a cliffhanger for the next book in this series, and their origin stories are all interwoven masterfully within this first book.
The world: OH, THIS WORLD. If you love the roaring twenties, you simply must read this book. Bray does an absolutely awesome job reconstructing 1920s New York to the point where it really, really feels real - including the paranormal and cult serial killer bits of it, too. The characters also interweave back into this world so neatly and so well that it all feels natural. If you've been reading the blog for awhile, you'll know that "characters interweaving back into the world" is one of my areas for awesome/top-shelf worldbuilding, and Bray nailed it.
The characters: I wanted a bit more complexity in Evie, but by the end of the book, I did get that through her personal character arc. Bray did us a solid by giving all of the main cast personal character arcs - even if small. All of them felt VERY real, and not a single one of them felt unrealistic or cheesy at all. But at this point in Bray's career with the bibliography she's built for herself, I'd expect nothing less. Especially after "Beauty Queens".
The antagonist: This one merits a special examination because the murders were so creepy and well done. I absolutely love how thorough his origins/backstory were written, and I love the cult that Bray inserted to help explain just why Naughty John embraced his own evil. He's absolutely unapologetic in his evil, and that's what makes him a truly great villain. There's also the occult part of this world (the cult itself is only a small part of this greater paranormal stage) - complete with Ouija boards and seers and dreamers and the whole shebang. It's awesome. It really gives you a flavor of post-Revivalist America before/during the revival of neo-paganism, and it was generally a very culturally rich folklore read there.
Final verdict? You simply MUST, MUST, MUST pick up Bray's latest. It's on my best of 2012 list for a reason. "The Diviners" is out now by Little, Brown for Young Readers in North America, so don't wait! Go out and check it out as soon as you can. You simply just can't miss this book, so worth waiting for, by one of America's best historical fiction YA authors.
(posted to librarything, goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)
Wow. Helen really takes a beating in this one, guys! I love how Angelini isn’t afraid to torture her characters, and the payoff is huge. Yeah, there’s...moreWow. Helen really takes a beating in this one, guys! I love how Angelini isn’t afraid to torture her characters, and the payoff is huge. Yeah, there’s a love triangle, and I usually hate those, but Angelini really did a good job with this one, and made it work within the plot to really boost all of the sub-arcs and character journey arcs as well as the main arc. Make no mistake – “Dreamless” shows how far Angelini has come within the short span of a year, and shows how far she’s willing to go to make her stories unforgettable.
We get deeper into how the Furies seek their revenge and how the divergence of Greek and Roman myths further complicates the whole Hundred Cousins fleet that’s after Helen and the Delos family (and each other) in this book – and it makes for some fantastic worldbuilding that reinforces even more how dire the situation is, how much higher the stakes are for all of our heroes in this book. We delve deeper into the legend of Helen of Troy and “The Iliad” as we see Helen and Orion fighting together in the underworld, as well as see Helen’s mother Daphne make some surprising alliances without really truly knowing her endgame – and it all makes for a really explosive last third of the book with a really nice big payoff, setting things up nicely for the third (and hopefully not the last) book.
As I said before, I usually really am not into love triangles, but Josie worked it hard here, and made it all work so that in the end we know that Helen definitely still loves Lucas, but, as it seems to me, loves Orion more like a brother despite what happened when the Furies overtook them both. Incest being a major theme in both this series and classical Greek literature, it’s also heavily discussed in this book. So if this is your squick, be prepared for lots of talking about it and lots of self-torture on Helen’s part over her attraction to both Lucas and Orion over it. It’s fascinating how Helen tortures herself over it instead of giving into it – her blood debts with Lucas are paid, after all, and in a lot of places, it’s okay to marry your first cousin. So the question is – why doesn’t she give in? I’m curious about this, and would love to pick Angelini’s brain about it should I get the chance.
What was also great was finally including Claire and Matt more into things – this was badly needed after the ending of book one, but at the same time, even though they’re human, I feel like Claire out of the two of them wasn’t used to her full potential. Matt gets a pretty large role at the end of this book (I won’t say what or how – read it for yourself!) but it seems like Claire was neglected greatly here, and, to a certain extent, treated as if she were made of glass because she was mortal. I’m wondering why Angelini went this route, and maybe if Claire’s most at risk in the next book. Otherwise, I’m a bit puzzled as to why she was treated so gently when it’s clear that at times she was stronger than Helen when it came to a lot of things.
And the final kind of sad character arc transformation that I thought Angelini did brilliantly here – Cassandra turning into The Oracle. The way she painted the picture of this girl becoming something completely inhuman in such a short amount of time was absolutely heartbreaking, yet completely feasible in this situation. I hope she gets a larger part in book three, because she definitely deserves it. And I have the feeling she will, because of that final explosive last third of the book with Orion, Helen, and Lucas concerning the War of the End Times beginning.
I feel like everyone’s character here got sketched out a bit more fully, and a bit more rounded out. We got to see other places, and that filled out the world in the setting capacity even more. This feels like a fully functional real world now, and I can see the War coming, and it isn’t going to be pretty. I enjoyed watching the evolution of everyone and everything in this world in this book immensely and I just seriously can’t wait for book three now.
Best of all? NO MIDDLE BOOK SYNDROME. PARTY AT MY PLACE!
Final verdict? If you haven’t read the first book already, you must read it before this one. You must read it, period! This is on my best of 2012 list, and it’s just…well, at times, breathtaking. Sounds cheesy? Yeah, but it’s also the only way I can really express “all the feels” that couldn’t be held here when it comes to Angelini and her craft. “Dreamless” is out from HarperTeen in North America May 29, 2012 so be sure to pick up a copy then. Middle books of 2012 are on a roll this year, and “Dreamless” is just one more awesome book in that catagory. This is really worth the read, guys.
(posted to goodreads, librarything, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)
You guys, high/epic fantasy is having a hell of a year in YA. First "Shadow and Bone", then "Seraphina", then "Stormdancer" (more steampun...more4.5/5 stars.
You guys, high/epic fantasy is having a hell of a year in YA. First "Shadow and Bone", then "Seraphina", then "Stormdancer" (more steampunk/alt history than epic/high fantasy, but you know what I mean), and now "Throne of Glass"! I don't think I've seen such a great string of high/epic YA fantasy titles in one year released like this ever! "ToG" has been floating around online (through fictionpress) until Mass took it down in 2008, but I can see why it was so popular when it was a thing of the internets. Are you tired of your heroines being passive, self-loathing, and full of indecision? "Throne of Glass" is definitely something to cure what ails the weak heroine part of the YA market. While I admit that I am very, very sick of love triangles, the rest of the book more than made up for that bit of the plot. Girls, your assassin queen is here, and her name is Celaena.
What I loved most about this book? Celaena herself. While I still haven't gotten to the four prequel novellas that prepare us for the main part of this book, I adore how cocky Celaena is. She's awesome and she knows it. She's beautiful and she's not afraid to hide it. And she will take you down if you cross her. She knows she's the best and isn't afraid to show it. But at the same time, dealing with the horrors of Endovier and the things that are stalking her in the dark makes her vulnerable, and I like the way she handled that - with anger. She was strong, and she behaved, but only out of self-preservation (at least, at first, until she learned to trust certain people). Yet she gets her own story arc, so she does undergo character transformation by the end of the book - which is always important and sets up a lot left to be used for book 2.
I don't know whether I want to date her or be her, to be honest.
The worldbuilding - I could have used more of it, but I guess I'll have to read the prequels and the sequel to get the full flavor. I wish the prequels had been included in the main book as it might have given me a fuller sense of the world, but I did get one that was adequate enough to enjoy where and when I was - both externally (Endovier, the Palace, etc) and internally (the final battle against the Big Bad at the end of the book - a rare example of internal worldbuilding). The whodunnit mystery of the murders helped build the world up with the history of magic and the fae and humans and really just helped glue everything together. While I wish during the assassin trials things had been a little more geographically varied, I'm satisfied with what I got. It worked, and I'm hoping things can only get better from here.
The magic/fae element - LOVED this bit because it was so ambivalent until about halfway in. It all worked, especially with the internal worldbuilding and people from history coming into the picture. The final battle with the Big Bad was my favorite because we finally saw how much Celaena grew as a character throughout the book - she had allies, where she might have scorned them at the beginning of the book. Parts of that big fight definitely felt Whedonesque, I won't lie about that, and it was awesome.
The love triangle: the one downside to the book. Celaena falling for the prince felt very out of character, no matter how charming he was because of her past grudges against the crown. Chaol felt much more natural, and I wish Maas had stuck with him only. If anything, it felt like the triangle just kind of impeded things. HOWEVER, I do see why it was used (in terms of Celaena's character arc and her transformation by the end of the book). So I guess I can pardon this one. Plus all of the action, murder mystery, magic, and Celaena's badassery makes up for it and makes it tolerable.
Final verdict? If you're a high/epic fantasy fan or you just want a great, strong heroine, this book is definitely for you. "Throne of Glass" is a great new series, and I look forward to reading more of Celaena's capers in the future. Its place on my best of 2012 so far list is very well deserved indeed. "Throne of Glass" drops August 7, 2012 from Bloomsbury Kids USA in North America, so be sure to check it out then! Highly recommended!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, librarything, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)
All of the hype is definitely well-deserved. This is a brilliant debut by Lu, and it's definitely a must-read of 2011 (on my best of 2011 list)! All o...moreAll of the hype is definitely well-deserved. This is a brilliant debut by Lu, and it's definitely a must-read of 2011 (on my best of 2011 list)! All of the characters are well constructed, the arcs are well-rounded, and it leaves nothing to chance. CBS did well to option this for a film, because it's a very cinematic read - Lu has a way with sensory language that's so visceral it's like being right next to June and Day, watching everything happen right in front of you. If there's one YA dystopian book to read this year, it has to be "Legend".
I love how Lu is unafraid to broach the topic of a possible post-America (America as we know it now as a democracy, transitioning to an autocracy/dictatorship) along with the usual YA tropes of romance, adventure, and intrigue. Very few YA authors have done this, the most memorable of which is "The Hunger Games". I won't do that comparison, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless. The idea of a post-America as we know it now is rightfully scary as things seem to be going that way politically, and Lu just dives right in. The military state, the new districts of Los Angeles - all of it makes sense. There's not one bit of it that seems too fantastic, and if anything, is almost surrealistic in its feasibility.
The entire book as it is is well-rounded with very full characters, a great main arc and sub arcs of revenge and romance, as well as broaching more quietly questions about social justice (Day-as-Robin Hood) in a military state. If you're in a military state and the Government is your father, if you're poor and being neglected, does that make the Government a bad father? Or are you a bad child for going hungry and catching various plagues? This is one of the main questions that is brought up in the book and while it doesn't hit you over the head repeatedly and loudly throughout the story, it still gives you a bitter aftertaste to linger on long after you've finished that last page. And it also makes you wonder about our government programs today - those on welfare, is it their fault for not being able to get jobs, or is it the government's for failing them with the economy? None of this is said out loud, but the speculation is there nonetheless, asking the YA reader to think about something deeper than just the romance.
And all of this is on June's shoulders as she battles with the idea that the government is possibly a Bad Dad -- it betrays everything she's ever been taught by the State, it dashes her hopes at a solid career, and when the plague part comes into play, it finally convinces her that maybe the military isn't such a good place for her after all, and that Day just might be right in his fight for social justice. There is tension on every page, stretching both June/Day and the reader taut with it. Who do I trust? What do I really know? Who am I, really? And as Americans, what have we become? Who did we used to be? All of these questions are asked right below the surface and will definitely make you want to ponder on them afterward.
So do yourself a solid and step away from the regular boy-meets-girl romance, kids, and pick this one up instead. It has everything for every reader, I can promise you that.
(posted to goodreads, librarything, shelfari, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)(less)
This is a gorgeous, wonderful book. I just have to say that right up front. It has all that I look for in this genre (alternate history/steampunk) – m...moreThis is a gorgeous, wonderful book. I just have to say that right up front. It has all that I look for in this genre (alternate history/steampunk) – mad scientists, detectives, general paranormal activity, feisty females, and a little (but not too much) romance. Oh, and did I mention it also features a primitive version of Skynet?
When you throw all of the above mentioned features together and put it into an accessible YA package, you have my heart for life. This is a great adventure and relief to read – I was afraid that it might be too stereotypically chick-lit in terms of the romance area (considering the publisher being Harlequin and all), but Cross writes it in so subtly that you’re halfway in before you figure out what’s going on between Finley and Griff. And that itself is a breath of fresh air when you consider anything with romance in the realm of YA, especially as of late.
All of these elements are hard to get right by themselves, much less when you throw them together and make a delicious soup like this one.
And then there’s the mystery element – who is the machinist? What are his objectives? Cross subtly builds up the tension between the romance and the appearances of Jack Dandy (Jack the Ripper), along with trying to keep Finley’s head (and soul) together yet balances all of these things with the talent of someone from Cirque du Soleil. And the primitive version of Skynet robots killing (or horribly maiming) people! I enjoyed all aspects of this book, and can find no faults at all with it. And coming from me? I guess that’s high praise, seeing how picky I am and all.
Aside from the novella that’s just been released, I really hope that this isn’t the last full-length book set in Cross’ finely constructed ‘verse. I’ll be reviewing the novella as well, but I’ll still be waiting for news on a second book. More like squirming in my seat like a five year old, but you get the idea.
Want some steampunk that’s empowering for girls? Pick up “The Girl in the Steel Corset”. Afterwards, you’ll want a steel corset of your very own.
(crossposted to shelfari, librarything, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)(less)
Oh, guys. THIS BOOK. It was just...ugh, I almost have no words for how much I loved "A Temptation of Angels". Even though I also loved the "Prophecy o...moreOh, guys. THIS BOOK. It was just...ugh, I almost have no words for how much I loved "A Temptation of Angels". Even though I also loved the "Prophecy of the Sisters" trilogy, "Angels" just shows how far Zink has come as an author since her debut in 2009. This story is one tight, fast-paced thrill ride of a book, with angels, demons, romance, awesome technology, and mystery that will keep you reading until the end.
I get the feeling that this book is a standalone (though this hasn't been confirmed yet), because it reads like one. That alone is really refreshing. The story feels finished by the last page, and pretty much nothing is lacking throughout the entire story - the characters are entirely developed, there were no characters that were useless or made me question why they were there in the first place, and there was tension on more or less every single page. That's incredibly hard to do (all of that) on individual terms when writing a book, but to manage to get all of that right in one book is pretty awesome. It only shows how far Zink has come as a writer, both in world-building and in technical areas, since her debut.
The only question lingering I had was about the full development of Raum's character, but the backstory given later in the book, though not quite enough to my taste, along with the action on pretty much every single page more than made up for that, as he wasn't really a huge part of the plot until the very end. Even then, he was more woven into the ending than stood out as an individual character. More of a means to an end rather than a separate person. Which totally fine with me -- the approach taken to character building this way, whether conscious or not on Zink's part -- was new and awesome, and I can only hope other authors can be as brave when trying this out.
Otherwise? Loved it. All of it. It's that awesome. If I could give this more than five stars, I would. Definitely on my brand shiny new best of 2012 list. If you're a fan of historical paranormal fiction or just want something new to try, period, go for "A Temptation of Angels". It hits bookshelves in North America in March, 2012 (other places, ask your local bookseller). It'll be worth the wait, guys. I promise.
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, librarything, and witchoftheatregoing.wordpress.com)(less)
Okay, so, this one's another hard one for me to nail down in order to review. There was a lot I liked about it, and on the other hand, there were a fe...moreOkay, so, this one's another hard one for me to nail down in order to review. There was a lot I liked about it, and on the other hand, there were a few bits that just didn't quite ring true. However, I did find it compulsively readable, and by the end, I knew I was going to be reading that second book. "Innocent Darkness" is a fun look at alternate history, and will probably be great to get younger readers started on the steampunk subgenre.
"Innocent Darkness" is pseudo-Steampunk, or maybe proto-Steampunk, since we don't really get to see much of the steam-powered technology (aside from the dangers of aether and flying cars, which was awesome). Granted, we do spend a lot of time in the Otherworld (Faery), but we also spend a lot of time at the reform school Noli is dragged to in order to crush her spirit (Spark) and make her a proper lady. But I thought that even at the reform school they'd have more gears and steam-related technology, instead of Noli in the garden constantly, when she wasn't, doing chores with the aid of steam-powered devices. In this area, I was pretty disappointed, because the glimpse of alternate history 1901 Los Angeles we were given in the opening chapter was pretty awesome - but that was the only appearance of that alternate history/steampunk material. Hopefully this will be remedied in book 2.
What I did like were the images Lazear painted of the Otherworld - and the faeries there kind of reminded me of the cute little buggers you see in "Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)" - except a little less talkative/intelligent. Lazear definitely shows some major talent in the sensory language department - I LOVED pretty much all of the time we spent in the Otherworld in terms of locales. The sensory input Lazear gives us with details of the Otherworld shine so brightly that it's hard not to get excited about it, and, to be honest, it saved a large part of the book for me because I was starting to get a bit frustrated. However, I found the sensory arena more than a bit unbalanced with the sensory language we get on Earth - while we do get some, it feels like the Otherworld got more showing instead of telling.
The plot was great - combining the notion of Holly Black's "Tithe" in order to save the Otherworld with proto-steampunk and an alternate history, I really enjoyed it. However, I questioned the need of the love triangle, which felt more than a bit forced in certain parts of the book. Now while Lazear does make this work with emphasizing that Kevighn is the huntsman and he'll do anything to get his quarry for the tithe, there's the insta-love factor where he kind of more or less instantly falls for Noli after a few short days/weeks of knowing her (and keeping her captive). Had Lazear kept it so that he just would do anything for his queen and the tithe, I think it would have worked MUCH better, and would have flowed easier. V's end of the triangle worked well, because he was genuinely conflicted as Noli's childhood friend and exile of the Faery court. I just wish it'd been limited to that.
Many have compared this to Melissa Marr's "Tattoo Faeries" series, "Wicked Lovely". It's a fair comparison, except Marr's tales are far darker, far more delicious and dangerous in comparison with Lazear's first book. Another big problem I had with this book is that blood tithes, when depicted in faepunk lit, are rarely so tame. I felt this book played it way too safe, and while clean and accessible for the younger end of the YA spectrum, it just didn't ring true to the actual bloodier, darker part of trying to save the Otherworld. While there are some steamy make-out scenes, that also felt a bit forced, and just kind of didn't flow well. I'm hoping in future volumes we'll get closer to the true, dark side of blood tithing and its consequences.
Final verdict? This would be a great way to get younger YA readers into the steampunk genre, and it's a good, clean read for them. But for me, it just wasn't enough, though I will be reading the next volume anyway. For older readers, I'd stick to Marr's "Wicked Lovely" series or Holly Black's "Tithe" trilogy for the more dark and delicious tales of Faery. But this is just my take on things. "Innocent Darkness" will be out on August 8th from Flux in North America, so be sure to check it out then!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)(less)
My initial interest came with the title for the book – not gonna lie about that. I grew up with Hole and Nirvana on the radio, so it’s a comfort area...moreMy initial interest came with the title for the book – not gonna lie about that. I grew up with Hole and Nirvana on the radio, so it’s a comfort area for me. Luckily, Randi was awesome enough to send me a copy of this for review. The synopsis got me, and I more or less read it in one sitting. Yeah, it was that good. It lets everything hang out, and for that, I must applaud Black for doing what so many authors choose to not do: tell ugly truths about young adults/teens, no matter what the time period.
This book isn’t just about Kim’s journey to healing after an awful event, but it’s about the healing of a hurt generation, a generation that found healing in music more than anything else. Going into reading this, I knew that those born during the 1990s who read this now won’t get a lot of the more obscure (and awesome) pop culture references and thanked my lucky stars that I was a Gen Y/Millennial baby. But Black writes this so well that it transcends the generational divide, the pop culture divide, and speaks to the hearts of hurt and angry girls everywhere. It certainly spoke to mine.
The early 1990s was a very scary time. I was 9 when Kurt Cobain killed himself, and I remember crying about it for days. I had a huge crush on him, and I was nine. Go figure. Reading this book was like comfort food for me, if just for the pop culture content alone. I listened to L7. I wanted to go to Lollapalooza. I wished I was older than I was at the time so I could hang out with people that would ‘get’ me. I felt alien as an Aspie in my GATE classes with the highly gifted, so I pissed off the teachers and my mother got quite a few phone calls from the school.
But luckily, my mom was loving. We had some had times, but she was nothing like Kim’s mom here. I guess you could call Kim’s mom a traditional “Tiger Mother”, the term coined by Amy Chua in her book about Tiger Mothers published earlier this year. The line between wanting the best for your child and abusing your child through that wish is razor thin, and Black really emphasizes this. It makes me wonder how much of this book is autobiographical in content.
Black writes of the Northridge Earthquake as “being a sign”. It felt that way to me too, as if the world was telling everyone to shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down and behave. No more race riots, no more wildfires, no more AIDS patient/LGBTQ bashing. Just shut up and get along with each other. Through Kim’s voice, speaking of the quake really rattled something in me, and in a good way. It’s hard to get that deep with an author of any genre, yet Black cut to the quick of me just with the mention of the quake alone. (Possibly because I still have nightmares about that late night/early morning in Brentwood where we had to flee the building after a gas leak/possible explosion.)
I have to say – I LOVED Joey. I had quite a few imaginary friends myself (and a lot of stuffed animals), but no one as awesome as him. If I could, I’d still love to have an imaginary friend like him, angel food farts and all. He was Kim’s rage, her inability to effectively express that rage and ultimately, the method in which she led herself to becoming whole (or somewhat whole) after the Kevin Incident. (Incidentally, the bit about the ads in the back of Spin and other magazines – I remember looking over those and giggling and wondering what they were on about. Up until I prank called some of the numbers in there one summer.) Just like today’s predators use the internet, back then they used magazine ads and whatnot to catch their prey. Kim, so desperate in her need for validation of a self separate from her parents and to be loved, used those ads until it all bit her in the ass. The moment she accepted what happened to her (even if it didn’t stop the flashbacks), started standing up to Tiger Mom, the need for Joey ceased. The moment she started to love herself, he exploded back into her subconscious.
Ultimately, this book is about Kim’s need to feel a sense of self outside of being a girl, outside of her Tiger Mother, outside of school and friends and what Kevin did to her. And through 1990s American pop culture, her imaginary friend, and her love for music, she gets through to the other side. The music, especially, is important. Those born during the 1990s won’t understand this, but Nirvana and Hole were a force of nature. They healed all of the broken Gen X (and early Gen Y) kids, told them they weren’t alone, that the world wasn’t as fucked up as it seemed. If you listen, even now, that message still echoes across radiowaves from nearly twenty years ago. No one from the 2000s onward has achieved what Nirvana and Hole, L7 and Nick Cave and the rest of the alt-rock movement did. At least, not yet. Kim couldn’t scream, but Courtney Love screamed for her. That’s Gen X – they couldn’t shriek, but their music could and did for them. And that very element of healing through music will always cross the generational divide.
Black, through Kim’s misadventures, tells us that it’s okay to be messed up on the outside, that it’s okay to be imperfect. And as I constantly have self-esteem issues (especially body image issues), this, for me, was a very special/important read. Many authors have tried before and failed to get to me, but Black did it easily. I’m still trying to parse out why, but perhaps it’s because Kim is “unpretty”, yet she’s smart, she’s courageous, and she doesn’t give a damn about what you think about her.
For those of you out there that have your noses up in the air because this is from an indie press that does have small copy edit mistakes involved: swallow your pride and read this book. I hope that some major publisher takes note and makes this more readily available to everyone in bookstores, though it does have free reign over the net (thank god for e-books). If you’re Gen X or Gen Y, this book will bring back memories and immediately put you in a comfort zone that no longer exists. If you were born later, this will all seem very foreign and strange to you. But disregard all of that and read it. This is what the contemporary young adult novel should be. It’s blunt, it’s graphic in parts, but it’s all truth. We need a little less Sarah Dessen (no offense to Dessen fans out there, but…) and more Randi Black in our YA lit. This is what reality looks like, and it’s not always pretty on the outside – but radiant on the inside.
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I can safely say that this was one of my biggest disappointments this year. I was really looking forward to the mythology that was advertised in this...moreI can safely say that this was one of my biggest disappointments this year. I was really looking forward to the mythology that was advertised in this blurb, but really found that aside from a few mentions in the first half of the book (really, a handful of mentions), that was it. It was kind of all-romance from there on out. And usually, I might be okay with that if it weren't for the false advertising promising an awesome, rarely-looked at piece of mythology in YA. If you're looking for YA contemporary romance, this is more the book for you. If you're looking for the mythology promised, I advise you go elsewhere.
What was awesome: the whole premise of two people who were totally not supposed to fall in love do fall in love, the rarely-used Celtic mythology you almost never see in YA, Brianna's "invisibility" charm bracelet. All of which are only mentioned a few times within the first half of the book.
What wasn't awesome: Pretty much everything else. Brianna is the scapegoat and doormat for her circle of friends - the popular kids, the kids who step on others in order to be loved by everyone else. Once Brianna's bracelet breaks and everyone can see her as her true self - a gorgeous daughter of Danu, she's blamed for stealing boyfriends that she didn't really steal, and so forth. Nearly every part of Brianna's social life is unhealthy - from her friends who use her to her eventual relationship with Blake (which is not only insta-love but codependency at its finest), who is not just a serial girl user, but a guy who's been born to HUNT her.
There's also a bit of slut-shaming, too. It seems like in YA, no matter what the genre (but it seems to be showing up more and more in the PNR subgenre), no contemporary setting is complete without slut-shaming. Yes, Brianna kind of messes up and loses her virginity while under a spell to Blake (the magic isn't even really explained - I couldn't figure it out and I overread EVERYTHING), but even after her bracelet is fixed, she's blamed for stealing boyfriends and the like. It's utterly frustrating that this has to happen now in order to create tension in YA books, and it honestly makes me want to cry.
I'll admit, I DNF'd this halfway through because I couldn't take it anymore. I felt horrible for Brianna. I wanted more mythology and only got more unhealthy YA relationships instead. I was frustrated with the amount of showing versus telling (telling was winning), and the "spell" that makes Brianna and Blake get it on is confused with love. But lust often has that problem, especially in the YA genre.
I'm just really disappointed in this book because it had so much promise. I can see why Vance arranged the friendships the way she did, but saw no reason to insta-love things (and I'm told that there's a very forced love trangle in place later in the book - awkward) the way she did. I wanted so much more than I got, and part of that is my fault for having high expectations. I guess at this point in the game, I just expect MORE from YA, and from some of the really spectacular debuts that have come out this year, I was disappointed.
So, I have to give this one a failing grade and move on. But this is just how I feel about it. "Silver" will be out September 8, 2012 from Flux in North America, so be sure to check it out and see what you think and how you feel about how things go down in this story.
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Guys, guys, GUYS. How much did I love this book? I had some high expectations going in, and I was surprised to find each one of them fulfilled. Bardug...moreGuys, guys, GUYS. How much did I love this book? I had some high expectations going in, and I was surprised to find each one of them fulfilled. Bardugo has a new hit on her hands with “Shadow & Bone” and I…can I just have that next book now? Please? This can’t be a standalone. It just can’t. ALL THE AWARDS FOR THIS BOOK!
Set in an alternate world (or an alternate Russia, maybe?), we have magic users and soldiers both being used by the government to further a war against its neighbors. Even from the first page, this world felt complete. Bardugo is very thorough in her worldbuilding, and makes the world itself as much as a character as Alina, Mal, the Darkling, and the rest. The fantastic felt very credible, and the idea of an Unsea was absolutely delectable. She starts us in Alina’s memory of the past, then in media res in terms of her current situation in the military. What was fabulous about this world is that even though there are limits to how far you can rise in power in terms of gender, it seemed pretty equal-opportunity in terms of who does what and in what position in terms of society and its structures. I loved that there was a militaristic court – right alongside the one we know from our own recent past the world over. The Grisha, while magic users, are also a huge part of the military, and are treated as such. The Darkling leads them, and weaves himself back into the world (especially the Unsea) that Bardugo created. Everyone tied back in so neatly, and that’s so incredibly hard to do, so snaps to Bardugo for getting her worldbuilding right on her first try.
Second, it’s made clear that this is Alina’s journey from the beginning. Not that of the Grisha people, not that of the Darkling (though he does tie into a pretty nice chunk of it), not that of the pseudo-Russia that everyone lives in. This is Alina’s journey, finding out that she is indeed a Grisha, and not just your usual one. As with any rule in high/epic fantasy that has magic/wizards in it, there’s usually a “chosen one” trope, and Alina’s it. She’s the chosen one for this trope. But you know what? Since so many people have done right by that trope in the past (and because Bardugo nailed it in her debut), I can forgive its use. But she’s not treated special for the whole book – only at first, but then she’s sent into Grisha bootcamp to catch up with everyone else her age, even though she does have the rarest power of all – one to balance out the Darkling. Life as a late-bloomer Grisha is not easy, and I love Bardugo for really torturing Alina and putting her through it all, because the payoff with the last third of the book is huge (and awesome).
Third, there is romance, but there’s the question of real attraction versus that of compulsion – or rather, that of being compelled forcibly by another into attraction. The Darkling is alluring, and then there’s Mal, the childhood friend – but this is not a love triangle. At first, I thought it was – it looked like it was going to be, and I was getting pissed. But the way Bardugo turned it on its head and asks the question between the lines of real attraction versus forced compulsion was very interesting. Even when Alina may not entirely be in control in terms of who she wants more, Bardugo makes her emphasis that this is all about Alina in the end, and her choices, and ultimately, not about the love interests themselves at all. It becomes a matter of going after power for one’s future, or for desiring a “normal” life instead. The love interests are used to mark the fork in Alina’s road in terms of her character arc, and who will she choose? The Darkling, who is power? Or Mal, who is normal? She twisted this all very intricately, and I did have to think about it for a bit afterward before I finally got all of the quieter connections she made with these romances.
Finally, her use of sensory language is some of the most powerful stuff I’ve read out of all of the debuts this year – and her competition in that has been huge in the amount of talented debut authors this year. I could taste the food, feel the fabric of the clothes, feel the words on my tongue, feel the chill of the air and the bruises from training, the terror of the Unsea and the thrill of lighting it up. She makes you feel things and it’s absolutely incredible. You can actually feel the magic. This is an experience you just can’t miss for that alone.
Final verdict? You simply cannot miss this debut. Really. It’s on my best of 2012 list so far, and hopefully it’ll make your list, too. “Shadow & Bone” is out June 5, 2012 in North America through Henry Holt BYFR/Macmillan, other places check with your local vendors. This is one you’re going to want to own, and it’s definitely going to be money well-spent.
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"Wow" doesn't cover how much I've fallen in love with this book and this world, or how I felt when I finished the last page. One of the be...more4.5/5 stars.
"Wow" doesn't cover how much I've fallen in love with this book and this world, or how I felt when I finished the last page. One of the best of 2012 by far and absolutely gorgeous, "Crewel" takes us to a parallel world where everything is tightly controlled (for our own good, of course), and where things aren't always as they seem. If you're looking for one of the most original books in YA in the past few years, look no further - "Crewel" is definitely the book for you.
You can't trust your eyes or your memories in Arras, and I love stories that have the potential to turn pretty much anyone (especially our protagonist) into an unreliable narrator. If you've been reading the blog for awhile, you'll know that I'm very into worldbuilding no matter the genre (even contemporary books need a bit of it), and that one of my most coveted tenets of top-shelf worldbuilding is that the characters and the world weave into each other and feed off of each other. In "Crewel", this is literally the case. The world of Arras is literally WOVEN by the Spinsters - women with the supernatural ability to mess with time and space. Now, while they have power, unfortunately, like any good dystopia, it's the dudes that have power over THEM. I loved the hierarchy and structuring of the government of Arras. Albin puts out the rules of the world fairly quickly - you can have so many kids, the neighborhoods are divided by gender and so forth. Albin sticks with these rules pretty steadily throughout the book - until the plot twists start.
And everything I'd wanted in the "Matched" series? "Crewel" has fulfilled and beaten it out by a mile or more. Yes, it really is that awesome. Albin is fearless when it comes to the content of her book, and ruthless when it comes to killing her darlings repeatedly to get the desired emotional payoff. There are no hesitations in this book, there are no places where you can feel the writer hit the wall. It unfurls smoothly, even in the rockiest of places in the individual character arcs and mail plot (and especially where the two collide).
The characters are awesome - Adelice is a wonderful protagonist who kicks ass, takes names, and basically thumbs her nose at the system - but not without severe cost. She learns the cruel (no pun intended) truths behind what keeps Arras and its people alive, as well as how the world itself came to be by some of the most awesome villains in fantasy/dystopian (or paranormal dystopian) that I've read so far this year. You want to hate them, but at the end of the day, with some of them, you just can't make yourself once you find out their reasons for being, well, evil. I love hateable characters and Albin isn't afraid to make those characters in the traditional mustache-curling villanous way.
What I could have done without (and why this isn't a straight-up five star book) is the love triangle. I can see why Albin did it, and how it works well with the story, but guys, I'm love-triangle'd out regardless if it's MG, YA, NA (New Adult), or Adult. I'm done. However, this love triangle was easier to swallow because of how it sets up everything for book two. Which I really, really, really want. Like, yesterday.
But, final verdict? If you're a fan of fantasy, paranormal, or dystopian books (or a mix of all three), you simply must check this book out. Hell, even if you're not a fan, check it out anyway. "Crewel" will be out October 16, 2012 from Macmillan in North America, so be sure to go out and find a copy. You will most definitely get lost in this world. Its place on my best of 2012 is very well-deserved, and I just need that second book now!
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This was a delightful treat of a novel. We don't get much on astral projection in YA, so it was nice to get something in the paranormal realm that isn...moreThis was a delightful treat of a novel. We don't get much on astral projection in YA, so it was nice to get something in the paranormal realm that isn't something we've dealt with repeatedly. "Auracle" is tackles many sub-genres and topics in its material, so I think almost everyone will find something that they'll like about it. I know I did.
What was great about this book, and what really shone was the worldbuilding, and to a bit of a lesser of extent, the character building. The world felt very real and believable, as did the characters. With using the explanation of the practice of Reiki and other new-age medicinal ideas and practices including astral projection, Rosati builds an awesome world where if you're able, you can eject out of your body at will like Anna, and if you're like Taylor, snatch that empty shell and lead a life that would scare even the boldest of those from "Body Snatchers". While there were a few extra dangling questions I did have about the world itself as far as its rules and how it worked, for the most part, I was really satisfied with how well and sturdily it was built.
The characters were also great, and pretty much everyone also felt real in that arena, as well. The only character that I didn't feel felt real enough was Seth - and this was kind of important as he's the lynch pin that starts the whole domino effect with the plot. Seth, for the short time that we get him, feels real. But considering the plot centers so much around the race against to clock to make sure he's not charged with Taylor's murder - well, we saw him so sparsely throughout the story that I feel like he needed to be there a bit more. I don't know whether this is just a character-building problem or a plot integration problem, or a combination of the two (probably a combination), but I feel like that needed to be remedied a bit. Even though this is mostly Anna's story of her race to save Seth, Seth helps really kick off the plot and the individual character arcs that go with that plot. And I didn't feel like Seth got much of an individual character arc like Rei, Anna, and Taylor did, and I felt like he got a bit shafted there, considering how high the stakes are for him if he can't prove he's innocent. That aside, the character cast was nicely varied and otherwise flowed pretty well. And the racial/ethnic diversity (which seems to be so rare in YA as whole) was muchly appreciated.
Also, the internal worldbuilding (where Anna goes when she projects) was fabulously developed. Internal worldbuilding is so very rare in any genre, be it in adult or YA lit, so that was definitely refreshing and aweosme to read.
One moral issue I did have with the character construction of Taylor was that of how she was constantly described as a sexualized creature, and only until she becomes more human after she steals Anna's body, do we see a lessening of that and see her more as a girl, a real person in the emotional/internal arena. It felt a bit like slut-shaming to me, especially when we learn about her past before moving to Rei, Anna, and Seth's school. While this wasn't enough to put me off of the book (the astral projection and body snatching more than made up for this on my end), it still left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I can see why fellow reviewers were put off of the book on this point alone.
That one moral tidbit aside, I really enjoyed "Auracle", and I think a lot of those who enjoy paranormal YA lit who are tired of the same old paranormal topics will find this book a breath of fresh air. The romance, too, is slow-burning and felt very, very natural. And no love triangle to boot! AWESOME.
"Auracle" is out from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan in North America on August 8, 2012, so be sure to check it out then! And be sure to check out my interview with the author later this month on the blog.
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As a kid I grew up watching "The X-Files" - since its pilot to the very end, actually. I'm a huge fan of the paranormal/paranoid governmen...more4.5/5 stars.
As a kid I grew up watching "The X-Files" - since its pilot to the very end, actually. I'm a huge fan of the paranormal/paranoid government conspiracy genre, and have been kinda sad that YA doesn't have enough paranoid government stuff in its canon. Well, now with "Adaptation", all of that has changed. This is a wonderful homage to the show I grew up with, and an awesome turn on YA romance and the developing YA body. The questions of "what am I, really?" and "Does it matter if I love a boy or a girl"? are kind of at the forefront here as Reese figures herself out, making for some of the best reading of the year.
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Lo's work - I loved her take on traditional fairytales in the "Ash/Huntress" duology, so when I heard that she was doing a sci-fi book next, I got really excited. And I'm glad to say that I was not disappointed in the least. This book, along with David Levithan's "Every Day" and Elizabeth Norris' "Unraveling", really gives me hope for the speculative fiction sub-genre for YA. All of the technical areas here were crisp and clean, even in ARC form, and I had no issues with them whatsoever. So instead, I'll talk more about the interesting interplay of the idea of literally being an alien while growing up as a teenager - because that, metaphorically, really tantalized me.
I think as teenagers, at some point or another, feel like aliens in our own body or among our peers. In this story, that literally turns out to be the case after a violent crash on the highway near Area 51 in Nevada for Reese and David, who experience vivid flashbacks of what happened inside the installation while trying to cope with the state of emergency declared due to unnatural amounts of bird strikes downing planes all over the world. There's also the romance element - the sense of "does it matter what kind of package a person is?" in order to fall in love with them. Amber and Reese experience that love, and make the LGBT element almost a sci-fi element alone based on that vulnerable romance we've all experienced at least once or twice at that age. Not only is this one of the most realistic and awesome romances I've read in YA in quite awhile, there's also NO love triangle. While there are some unresolved feelings for David, it's been made clear that Amber and Reese are together, and that Reese has chosen Amber over undeveloped, unresolved feelings for her male friend. An interesting choice, as many other YA authors would have played it the other way around - making it a blatant love triangle where the heroine is pressured to choose. There's no pressure here, only the sense of "who is this person I've become?" and "who is this person I've fallen in love with?" - a lot of questions that do eventually get answered in some way or another at the end of the book.
What makes this book interesting is that it's not pure sci-fi or paranoid government conspiracy elements - it intercuts with very real YA contemporary elements (discovering oneself through romance, mainly) and the feeling of one's changing body into something more, of growing up. Reese teeters on the brink of human and alien, not knowing if she's either, or, or both, and though it's a realistic situation (much like the characters in Elizabeth Norris' "Unraveling" - where you feel you might literally be from a different universe compared to your peers), the metaphor of being a teenage alien really brought things home for me. I related very deeply to Reese's romance issues, and to her feeling that she may literally be becoming something more than human (though I know I'm definitely no alien). The changing human teenage body as alien is a very interesting idea for the YA audience to play with, and I think Lo did a fantastic job here with slyly and quietly asking that idea as subtext. This book plays on all of the vulnerable YA areas of general romance, growing up, trust, first love, and self-discovery, and does a fantastic job with all of them.
However, at the end of the book, we do get more questions that won't get answered until book two, and that was a bit frustrating (but in the best way). I seriously cannot wait for the sequel, and I hope that David gets a turn next when it comes to POV narration, as I wanted to know more of what he was going through compared to Reese - this was Reese's book, it felt like, more than it was the tale of two teens caught in a global (and very real) conspiracy. I wanted a bit more balance there, so I'm hoping that'll happen in book two.
Final verdict? If you're a YA sci-fi fan, speculative fic fan, or "X-Files" fan, you CANNOT miss this release. Even if you're not a fan of any of the aforementioned, I urge you to try this book out - I think you'll be very pleasantly surprised at how the LGBT elements of the book are introduced and used throughout the book. I know I was.
"Adaptation" will be out from Little, Brown For Young Readers in North America on September 18, 2012, so be sure to check it out then. Its place on my best of 2012 so far list is well-deserved indeed, and I can't wait for book two!
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Man, after I got confirmation from Blake herself that this would indeed be the last book featuring Anna, Cas, and the gang, I was bummed out. Why? Thi...moreMan, after I got confirmation from Blake herself that this would indeed be the last book featuring Anna, Cas, and the gang, I was bummed out. Why? This is an AWESOME sequel, and I still want more. Blake has gone above and beyond the call of duty on this sequel, especially in the mystery-weaving, character-growing, and sensory language/imagery departments, so if you're a fan of this duology, it's a definite MUST READ. Warning, there might be a few spoilers in this review (it seriously can't be helped when discussing this book), so beware.
I think one of the best things about this book is how much we've seen Cas grow as a character over these two books as a person. At first, he wouldn't stick his neck out for others (except those he really, really trusted, which is a less than a handful), instead fixated on avenging his father. His own character journey over the course of these two books and making friends with Thomas, Carmel, and the others, as well as falling for Anna. Now he's got his bffs, a stable home, and some peace that he's sent the Obeahman off to his final reward...until he finds out he hasn't on that last bit. Watching him interact with the new characters we meet in the second half of the book was an absolute joy (and filled with equal parts snark, hilarity, and terror) to behold. I love the way that Cas has really become a real boy, as have the rest of the characters. Carmel and Thomas also get their own little character arcs in this book, which was quite welcome indeed.
And while I'm bummed that Anna isn't as huge a player as a main character in this book (she's still there, but more as a background and a reason/motivation for Cas to figure out what the hell is going on in...hell), she still plays her part and really is a kick in the ass to motivate everyone to help save Cas from his hallucinations (or are they?) that are slowly driving him mad.
One thing that I wasn't expecting but what I got was a recreation of Mt. Fuji's famous suicide forest (just google it, guys) - a famously awful place where a whole lot of people go to off themselves every year. It's filled with bodies - so much so that the Japanese police can't really keep up. I'd known about the Mt. Fuji forest before, and it's been in Japanese horror fiction (like Otsuichi's "GOTH" - now available in English and definitely a must read), but what a surprise to see a recreation of it in American YA lit! And man, this recreation is absolutely amazing, sensory-wise, especially considering the, uh, shenanigans that happen within it. For me, that was definitely one of the highlights of the second half of the book.
The sensory experience in this one is so strong (and it feels like Blake has really, really upped her game in this one - though it should be said she wasn't too shabby at all in this technical area in the first book), that there were times that I had to put the book down and walk away because I got dizzy or nauseous. Now that takes talent, and Blake has it in spades. For me to actually feel the sensory experience (even down to some of the nightmares that Cas experienced)? Seriously. Blake, you're awesome, and I know that you're only going to get better the more you write. You're definitely a force to be reckoned with in all categories and this book only proves it.
We also meet new characters in this book and find out more about Cas' paternal line and its entanglement with The Order, an ancient secret Druidic society of witches and warriors. While I definitely wanted more about this Society (maybe in a spinoff? Pleeeease?), I'm satisfied with what I got - considering half the book is devoted to it in one form or another and how it's connected to Cas and Anna. I loved all of the rich development we got in all areas with these new characters and new sub-plot.
Final verdict? This is definitely one of the best of 2012, hands down, no contest and if you're a fan of the first book, you simply must read this second book to get your end to the short saga that is the story of Anna and Cas. "Girl of Nightmares" is out now in North America through Tor Teen/Macmillan, so be sure to go and check it out as it really is worth the read!
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