This one was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had been longer. "When My Heart Was Wicked" is a snapshot of what can happen to someone as a causeThis one was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had been longer. "When My Heart Was Wicked" is a snapshot of what can happen to someone as a cause of an unstable, dangerous childhood trying to become an adult - but through the lens of Francesca Lia Block-esque magical realism. I loved this one, and it makes me feel like Stirling will be one awesome author to watch. If you're looking for a little magical realism in your tough stuff YA issues book, "When My Heart Was Wicked" is definitely the one you want to pick up.
My biggest problem with this book - the lack of development with the antagonist of this book (or well, perhaps the most major one, as there were really two), Cheyenne. While we understand she's a bad mom, kinda a bad person (though redemption seems possible in the end), we don't really understand a lot of her. She feels like a shallower version of the mother in "White Oleander" (in fact, a lot of this book feels like that book, but with more magic and witchery instead) - maybe slightly mad, or a sociopath, but with love for her daughter that's just been twisted up in all sorts of ways that psychologically "normal" people cannot understand. However, she is really pretty abusive, and does cause harm to others - both magically and normally. But I wanted more - we get slight flashes of her motives and her roots in this book, but we don't quite get enough to go on for everything to feel really solid.
So for Cheyenne in general, I think we needed one good last edit.
But for Lacy? Her character development (which, was also used as worldbuilding in one of the most creative ways I've ever seen) was spectacular, and I felt as if I were right there with her. Using her astronomical sign (Gemini) to help develop her character was brilliant move on Sterling's part - the good twin, and the bad twin. Also, the idea of her "bad self" as redeveloping in an egg was a great idea as well, and I felt like it fit very well. She was quite the sympathetic protagonist, with a little bit of unreliable narrator thrown in for good measure. All of the tricks of the trade were used for Lacy, and they all worked. I don't think I've seen that in YA recently from debut authors - or if I have, it's been only a handful. Bravo.
As for the general worldbuilding (outside of Lacy), I felt that Chico was far more developed compared to Sacramento. Or rather, if Chico was the "light", Sacramento was the under-developed "Dark". I feel like we could have had more details there about the neighborhood, about the school, about all the places Lacy was currently in and had been to in the past with her mother, etc. I wanted more details other than the Demeter's Daughter shop and the house. I really wanted more there so that the "outer" world felt more complete.
Otherwise? One of my favorite debuts of 2015 so far. If you like Francesca Lia Block's brand of magical realism (also echoed in Janet Fitch's "White Oleander"), you're going to want to pick up this book. "When My Heart Was Wicked" is out now from Scholastic in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads and other places, including birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)
So, I kind of wrestled with this one, guys. I'd been looking forward to "Feros" ever since I heard "Vindico" was getting a second book, but it feels lSo, I kind of wrestled with this one, guys. I'd been looking forward to "Feros" ever since I heard "Vindico" was getting a second book, but it feels like this book has a bit of middle book syndrome going on. Or so it felt to me. I feel like this one could have been a lot stronger, but King chose avenues where that just didn't happen. But that's okay, as this is a really solid sequel to the first book (and my standards can be ridiculous sometimes), and that certainly doesn't disappoint. If you liked "Vindico", definitely checkout life after with our heroes in "The Feros".
The biggest weakness in this book: even though we have a few different kinds of tension, the overall amount of tension in this book compared to book one has a huge dropoff to where it should be for a book two in a series. While I was quite pleased with the inter-group tension between all of our heroes (and within the League itself), I felt that the greater overall antagonist-driven tension could have been amped up a LOT more. As in, someone getting killed. That might have made the situation feel a lot more scary, and a lot more real. What did make me crack up was the fact that Thunderbolt can't seem to stay unkidnapped by someone for long, which is absolutely hilarious. But overall, I wish there'd been more outside tension, though the inside tension was good.
We do have the kids banding together, wanting to distinguish themselves from the League (and the Vindico), and there's a lot of in-fighting with crushes and who's dating whom, so there are some very typical contemporary YA elements to this book to balance out the supernatural. It really brought home the sense that these kids are trying to lead normal lives (just for two more months, until they can join the League - at least before everything goes totally fubar), be normal teens, and try to ignore what has happened to them at the hands of the Vindico for the last few months. That was really refreshing - you don't get many YA books that once kids are told they have powers, you see them struggle to keep things under wraps and really want that old, normal life back again.
However, another issue I had: we still don't get to see as much of the kids' powers as I would have liked. There was also the writing style to contend with - this still felt like a middle grade book, even though I know it's a YA book. Or it's supposed to be a YA book. I guess it's good in the sense that King has made his style accessible to older MG and young YA readers, but generally, I was hoping for a little upgrade in terms of storytelling that would really give this book a YA-feel to things. It also still feels like King can't quite decide if this is YA or MG - kind of an improvement compared to book one in the style department - but at the same time, I'm not sure if that's him, or that's the editor, or if it's both. Or neither. When you look at writing styles that conflict that way, it's hard to pinpoint where the problem may lie. It could be that the fact that this book is both plot and character-driven, but the balance between the two is off. Sometimes it's one more than the other, and that can make for a kind of confusing style within a story. If anything, for me it was a bit frustrating because I wanted King to pick one, or at least balance those two styles of writing.
In terms of outside antagonistic threats, I did love the idea of these phantom ghosts snatching away members of the League and the newly-formed Feros (our heroes' new team), quite literally from under their noses. I wish that tension had been amped up, as I said before, more than it was, but what we got was very satisfactory, enough to keep us on our toes. However, the problem of telling versus showing still remained within the writing, and while King has improved quite a bit in that department from book one, it still feels like he's telling us a lot rather than showing. But when he does show things, the sensory language is pretty awesome. I just want more of that in book three - if we're getting one. I loved all of the visuals we got, especially when the kids were showing off their powers (Hayden was the best in this area - can I have him? Please?), or using them against this phantom threat.
Overall? While it's still lacking in areas, this is still a very solid followup to book one, and should be given a read. "The Feros" is out now from Penguin in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)...more
If you've ever had major body image issues, or are struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, this is definitely a book you need to4.5/5 stars!
If you've ever had major body image issues, or are struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, this is definitely a book you need to read. Hell, it's a book mothers and daughters should read together. I have some serious body dysphoria/image issues myself and grew up with a mother who was anorexic for half of my childhood, so to say that "45 Pounds" was a meaningful book for me would be putting it lightly. Barson hits the nail on the head on these issues in this book so well, and it's not just about a fat girl wanting to get thin. It's about a whole culture that focuses on the idea of being thin, even if inside you're incredibly unhealthy, both in body and mind. It's about finally feeling okay in your own skin, even if you may not be someone's ideal of perfection. So if you have any interest of any of these issues, "45 Pounds" is definitely the book for you.
This book's biggest strength (and it has a LOT of strengths) is this: it shows the weight gaining/shedding/body image/self-harm issue from both extremes. It shows Ann's fight on one end of the extreme, and her mother's own fight on the other end of the extreme. It shows the breadth of the entire body image/self-harm tie-in issue in many many shades of gray, and I have to praise Barson for that. So many YA contemporary books only show one side of the issue - not both. It's difficult to manage to fit in one side of the issue alone, much less both. And Barson does it with wit and grace, which made it all the easier to relate to.
Second awesome point: Ann is one of the most relatable YA contemp MCs I've come across in awhile. Her voice is very strong, and a lot of the worldbuilding that goes on in this book is internal (the emotional landscape), instead of external (physical scenery, the local backdrop). So much of this is what's going on inside of Ann's head and heart, so the decision to make the worldbuilding more internal than external was a really good one, to say the least. We hear her voice, while she talks about the friends she loses, the friends she gains, her mother's "unconscious" criticisms, and all of the smack she gets for not being of an ideal weight. We hear Ann loud and clear here, and to have such a strong voice in a MC is hard to get right, but Barson did it really well.
And did I mention there are gay aunts? And a gay wedding? No? Well, there are. And I love that this book is getting released so soon after the SCOTUS decisions on DOMA and Prop 8. For those not in the States, look it up on Wikipedia. It makes this book all the more awesome, and it finally feels like the whole gay marriage/relationship thing is finally getting less risky to publish within the world of YA, which just makes me want to cheer. Seriously.
Admittedly, I did kind of cringe at the hint of "the moral of the story is..." bit at the end of the book, as I'm really not into that in my books, regardless of age marketing or genre. However, since this book is such an important one, I'm not going to ding it for having a "moral of" bit. In the States, our healthcare system is broken, we're getting more and more obese as a people each year, and yet we're still getting these weight loss ads/schemes/scams pushed in our faces, along with designers making their sizes smaller and smaller. Someone has to talk about this dissociative part of our culture - and Barson does with the idea of the Snapz! clothing store. That entire part of the book (which ends up being a pretty significant part of things) made me laugh, but it also made me think. It's a great bit of social commentary, and I'm glad that it was in there.
Final verdict? If you want a fluffy book that still deals with some very serious issues, "45 Pounds" is the book you need to read. Definitely part of my best of 2013 list so far, it's out July 11, 2013 in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads, shelfari, and birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com) ...more
It’s only taken me this long to figure out that the “Fire & Flood” series is really not just a dystopia piece (like so much of YA right now), butIt’s only taken me this long to figure out that the “Fire & Flood” series is really not just a dystopia piece (like so much of YA right now), but it’s also a huge social commentary on how big pharma/big biopharma is really starting to harm our lives. The proof? “The Brimstone Bleed”. A lot of reviewers have panned this book as being a “Hunger Games” ripoff, but only after this long (and starting to read the second book), have I really started to see this book as what it is. I’m not sure the actual YA age set will get it, but I hope they will. I really enjoyed this one, and am currently enjoying the second one. If you’re looking for something with grit and heart, and a little bit of finger-wagging at our current society, “Fire & Flood” is for you.
It’s rare that you get a YA book with dystopic social commentary. It’s rarer when that book is contemporary (or presumed contemporary, as that’s what I’m going with in this case) . “Fire & Flood” at first seems like “The Amazing Race” on steroids (and full of angry dystopic feels), but going deeper – there is that question – why are so many of the Contenders’ loved ones sick? And what’s with the genetically-engineered Pandoras?
What exactly is the motivation of having this “Bleed” in the first place?
Looking deeper, with the existence of the Pandoras, it feels like it’s not just Tella is the center of the story here. There are hidden questions of our society therein – why are people getting sick? Why is big pharma dangling cures over our heads for (in real life, what feels like) a race to the death to get the money to get them? What’s going on with genetic engineering? Why are we letting these things happen?
We see all of these questions through Tella’s eyes as the race gets hotter, and shiftier by the moment. We get bits and pieces of answers to this puzzle throughout the book, but only towards the end do we really get more solid answers that only leave us with more questions.
Enough commentary analyzing.
Tella’s character was good as a base to build on – her motives were the starkest of all, as well as her resolve to finish the first two ecosystems of the Bleed. But I wanted a little more on her past (aside of what’s attached to memories of her brother, both pre-and-post infection), and the past of her parents (which was really tantalizing and just out of reach – hopefully that will be addressed in book two) as relating to her as well.
The other main cast development needed some work as well, but again, it was just enough to get us started on this race. I did like the love/hate/I don’t even know what I feel for you romance building between Tella and Guy, and the “can I trust them?” intense paranoia-like atmosphere that Scott builds up slowly but surely throughout the book. Loved that.
Aside from the Bleed and the Ecosystems, I did want to know more about the general world. Are Pandoras common knowledge among the general public? Why is it that only some people know about the Bleed? Little hints would have been nice and would have helped better built the world, but I have the feeling those answers will be coming later. I hope.
This one, above all, is plot-driven. Definitely a page-turner. I can’t wait for book two. “Fire & Flood” is out now from Scholastic in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!
(posted to goodreads and other places, as well as birthofanewwitch.wordpress.com)...more
"Find Me" was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting the incredibly tight writing and quick pace, as well as the plot-driven elements to this book. W"Find Me" was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting the incredibly tight writing and quick pace, as well as the plot-driven elements to this book. While coming in at a short 288 pages (in ARC version, at least), this was a fun read to devour in more or less one sitting. However, I still had a few issues with it, but even so, "Find Me" is a fun cyberpunk-lite mystery that will definitely leave you wanting more.