**Our Cynthia Hand Interview, where she addresses many of the questions that arise from this series is here and here. Enjoy!**
There aren't words enoug...more**Our Cynthia Hand Interview, where she addresses many of the questions that arise from this series is here and here. Enjoy!**
There aren't words enough to express how gorgeous this book is. Fans of the Unearthly who might have worried whether Cynthia Hand could deliver a second installment that would do justice to the story need worry no longer. This sequel lives up to and exceeds every expectation I had for it, and I only wish I could hand this book to every single would-be author who is even considering writing a YA paranormal romance. Because this is the template for what every teen romance/sophomore/angel book should aspire to be.
As the story opens, Clara is still recovering from the fire in which she went against her "purpose" as a part-angel in order to follow her heart. Her brother Jeffrey is still acting strange, Angela is helping Clara to test her powers, and eventually, we are introduced to an important congregation of angels and learn more about their purpose on earth. Best of all, we get some fabulous time with Tucker as he and Clara further enjoy what has to be one of the sweetest and truest young adult romances ever put to page. I could not stop smiling as I was reading the story, because their relationship is just so warm and happy and perfect. I love that, in the middle of all of Clara's bigger-than-life abilities and problems, she and Tucker still have such an amazing time together doing such blessedly normal and human things.
We all knew what was coming next, though, right? Christian was such an attractive enigma throughout so much of the first book that I was really hoping we'd get to know him better in this one. And while I dreaded the thought of this turning into a horrible love triangle situation that would devastate everyone while dishonoring them as well, I hoped against hope that the author would handle this tricky situation with as much honesty and grace as possible. And boy, did she ever come through. I am a huge fan of Tucker's, but Cynthia Hand somehow does the impossible and shows us how the flicker of friendship between Christian and Clara grows incrementally stronger everyday. By the end of the book, he has shown himself to be a rock-steady, understanding, and fun presence in Clara's life (view spoiler)[not to mention an incredibly hot one :D (hide spoiler)], and it's pretty near impossible not to fall in love with him in a pretty deep and meaningful way as well.
This book made me so very happy in so many ways, and there are unbelievably beautiful angel moments in it, with descriptions of gorgeous feathered wings, flying, and luminous "glory" that are just marvelous. I've always appreciated the wry honesty and warmth with which the relationship between Clara and her mother was written, and here we discover so much more about her as a mother, as an angel, and as a person in a way that is incredibly touching. Clara learns a great deal about her family and about herself in this novel, and her deepening strength and maturity combined with her funny, sensitive narrative only made me love her further. I also enjoyed the distinctly outdoorsy feel of the mountains in this book, the presence of many of the adults, and the nuanced portrayal of the bad guy, as well as the thoughtfully considered mentions of angel lore, religion, and references to Paradise Lost. Oh--and big, big bonus points for a prom scene that didn't make me want to do violence!
But this book also broke my heart in more ways than one. There is an exquisite tenderness to this story that I never could have imagined, and while I think some elements of it may upset some fans, I hope readers will go into it with an open mind and an open heart. I had many theories and opinions and hopes going into it, and I can honestly say that coming out of it, all of that has changed--and I am firmly convinced that it is for the better. I am tremendously moved and inspired by this story, and it's a testament to Cynthia Hand's pitch-perfect writing that we are so gently eased into new realizations and growth in a way that feels so right and so emotionally true.
My heart was aching when I turned the last page. But it was also overflowing with love and deep appreciation for the splendid journey that I didn't even know I wanted to go on. After reading a second fantastic YA book from this author, I have absolute faith in Cynthia Hand, and I am so looking forward to seeing where she will take us next.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
P.S. I am dying to discuss the specifics of what happens in this book in the comments below, so please, tell me what you think of where this story went in spoiler tags! I can't keep this to myself any longer. Please be aware that the spoilers tagged in the comments are REAL, so please don't click if you haven't read the book yet! But the spoilers in the review are all in good fun, and safe to click. ;)
Also, a spoiler for people who were worried about Midas the horse in the last book: (view spoiler)[They're still looking for him in the beginning of this one. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Take a photographic tour of the Monstrous Beauty world as Elizabeth Fama stops by The Midnight Garden to kick off her blog tour! Plus win a finished h...moreTake a photographic tour of the Monstrous Beauty world as Elizabeth Fama stops by The Midnight Garden to kick off her blog tour! Plus win a finished hardcover of the book.
It was a woman--as pale and luminescent as a ghost, with swirling white hair. Ezra startled, dropping his pencil into the water. Her face snapped toward him. Her eyes were too large, clear green, and had horizontal, slit-shaped pupils, reminiscent of an octopus.
Did your pulse quicken when you read that paragraph? Mine did! I had a feeling I was going to love this book, because it blends several different things that I love: mermaids, the nineteenth century, and ghosts. What I wasn't prepared for was an unconventionally striking story that will definitely not appeal to someone looking for a typical YA paranormal book. I found this dark fairy tale to be wildly exciting and utterly gorgeous, however, and I think it will find its audience in readers who enjoy literary fiction or more mature YA.
In the late 1800s, a mermaid named Syrenka makes a terrible mistake in judgment as she seeks companionship. More than a hundred years later, 16-year-old Hester searches for the mystery behind a tragic curse that has haunted her family for generations. The book alternates between past and present in a small fishing town in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the shifts in time and multiple POVs are handled with skillful aplomb. Deep secrets are slowly revealed in both young women's pasts, and a fine thread of tension running through the story eventually escalates into scenes of shocking madness and violence.
There are despairing stolen souls. Creepy churchyards. A woman drowned in a sarcophagus. Rape. Underwater doll graveyards. A boy who (view spoiler)[quite literally (hide spoiler)] gives his heart for the one he loves. A truly repulsive mermaid queen (view spoiler)[with rows and rows of sharp teeth, like a shark (hide spoiler)]! Through it all, the seductive beauty of the language irresistibly lures the reader into the story's unique mythology, so that by the end of the book the lonely, painful fates of the characters seem as gut-wrenchingly immediate as your own.
"Even in rage, she was eerily beautiful."
Syrenka is such a splendidly doomed creature, however, that Hester unfortunately pales just a bit in comparison in the beginning. Because readers see the perspectives of both past and present, they'll likely guess certain truths well before Hester does, which provides a few moments of frustration. Later in the book, however, Hester's story takes on more shape and her choices are both brave and heartbreaking in their necessity. The plot has many twists and turns, and while I did guess quite a few of the surprises, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of this beautifully crafted story at all.
Mermaid lovers should note the sea creatures in this story are incomparable to anything that has come before them; the disturbing nature of their animal instincts and deadly muscularity is boldly unapologetic, and the story is all the better for it.
Readers who appreciate literary young adult fiction will love this book.Monstrous Beauty's dark moodiness is incredibly evocative, and the startling originality of its story--as well as the lush vividness of its imagery--will not soon be forgotten.
Strongly recommended: for fans of Angela Carter, Cat Hellisen, Margo Lanagan, and possibly Laini Taylor; for adults who don't normally read young adult fiction and for mature YA readers; and finally, for anyone who has been searching tirelessly for a mermaid book that truly transcends its genre.
Heed the siren call: this mermaid story is unlike any other you've read.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
"Can we be certain of anyone's soul, human or otherwise?"
Fiction is often most meaningful when it explores questions we find too disturbing to ask in the everyday world. Through one girl's struggle to claim her own identity, The Lost Girl addresses some fascinating ethical questions, all the while presenting a measured, powerful essay on the value of human life.
Fifteen-year-old Eva lives, sleeps, and breathes someone else's existence. As an echo, a carbon copy of a girl halfway across the world, she learns everything that Amarra learns and is even nearly forced to suffer the same physical injuries as her other. There have been various books that explore cloning, but what's so unusual about this one is the psychological element, since it's not just Eva's organs that are being harvested, it's her entire entity and identity.
One of the things I liked best about this book is the way the science fiction elements are handled. The creators of these echos are called Weavers, and they are presented in somewhat mystical and mysterious manner. It has a similar tone and feeling to the film Children of Men, and the book is not unlike the way some of Bradbury's futuristic tales are written; that is, these just happen to be human beings in extraordinary circumstances, rather than a fantastical, tech-heavy setting with some humans in it.
The writing is also well-paced, thoughtful, and beautifully descriptive, deftly balancing gravity and humor, as well as joy and sadness. Eva recalls a man with "a voice like thunder and lions" and upon her relocation, marvels at how familiar her new home seems.
I had been sent pictures all my life, of course, and Mina Ma had told me long stories about Bangalore. She had described streets, places, pieces of her life. As a child, I sat at her feet and drew picture, inspired by her voice and the flickers of memory passed on through Amarra's and my consciousness. So many of those pictures had been true. There were ashoka trees down the middle of a long road, just the way I'd imagined...There were little stalls along the roads, open late, tea stalls with clinking steel cups and sweet shops with packets of crisps hanging from makeshift roofs. Or chips, as Mina Ma called them. Coke and Pepsi in glass bottles with steel caps. Men crouched on the edge of the road, smoking tiny not-quite cigarettes.
Every character left an indelible mark, from Eva herself to her gruff caretaker Mina Ma to her brother Nikhil to her friends at school. I was enraged by the casual cruelty Eva endures, and the parents later made me so angry that I couldn't see straight. I do wish that Sean and Ray had a chance to be a little more developed, though the love story--and the love interest--still squeezed my heart.
"I'd rather spend the rest of my life without seeing you again," he says,"than to watch them destroy you because of me."
When I initially finished the novel, I rated this a 4.5 because there are some elements that might have been explained a little more, and I thought the ending was a bit rushed and becomes perhaps more of a typical YA thriller. But who am I kidding? A book that treats human life with this kind of reverence deserves nothing less than 5 stars.
This book explores loss and grief in a way you wouldn't necessarily expect in speculative fiction and tears dripped down my face for nearly an hour as I was reading it. It is an stunning elegy for those who have been lost, a cry of sorrow for those who are left behind, and a profoundly sad lament for those whose very existence is denied. This elegant novel touched me deeply, and will leave readers with a lingering feeling of grief that is all the more devastating for its restraint and its dignity.
This review is spoiler-free, and safe even for those who haven't read the first two books in the series.
Forget everything you ever assumed about scien...moreThis review is spoiler-free, and safe even for those who haven't read the first two books in the series.
Forget everything you ever assumed about science fiction novels or zombie thrillers: the Newsflesh trilogy defies all expectations. The story that began with a turbulent political campaign in a post-apocalyptic Feed escalates here as the blogger journalists from After the End of Times continue their quest to uncover the truth behind the deadly Kellis-Amberlee virus that has decimated civilization--one that is now mutating and spreading faster than ever before. The breakneck action and intrigue in Blackout is intense as a dangerous rescue mission, disease-carrying mosquitoes, zombie bears, tangled family drama, and a mysterious patient known as Subject 7B all complicate what is already hell on earth.
It's funny that my favorite zombie series actually has the least amount of zombie action in it, but Newsflesh hasn't ever been about the undead anyway--it's about the human response to it. As with The Reapers Are the Angels and Warm Bodies, this series is fascinating to me because it explores the idea of personal integrity within extreme circumstances. What would you do when the world ends? If you're Shaun and Georgia Mason, adopted siblings whose closeness forms an unbreakable team, you lead your fellow bloggers into an unrelenting search for truth--no matter what the cost. Or at least, that's how their story began. But now that the stakes are higher than they've ever been and those they love most are at risk, the focus has shifted to a very human need to hold onto the connections that matter most.
Blackout seamlessly combines medical thriller, political intrigue, and pulse-pounding action sequences with unforgettable human drama. How you feel about this series will very much depend on how you feel about the characters in general--if you love the Masons, Alaric, Becks, Mahir, and Maggie, you'll most likely have a fantastic time with Newsflesh. It doesn't mean the characters are perfect, of course; Shaun in particular is mourning a huge loss, and his reckless, desperate behavior in the second book caused a lot of criticism from a lot of readers. For me, I felt his pain so keenly, however, that his torment became mine--and I understood, too, the unconventional, defiant ways in which he grasped for some semblance of happiness as the world around him was destroyed. In books and in real life, I respond very strongly to loyalty, honesty, and the determination to do what's right. Shaun and Georgia, as well as their superbly realized supporting cast, embody those traits in a big way. Because they also are slammed with unbelievable suffering throughout these books that require a brutal amount of self-sacrifice, it isn't any wonder that I feel such fiercely protective love for them, as well as for the ideals they represent.
The author's writing gets better and better in each book, with well-researched scientific dilemmas and brilliant recaps that engage the reader without resorting to long info-dumps. Her brisk, matter-of-fact style of writing suits the story perfectly, and the sophisticated plot is exceptionally well-paced, with shifts from furious action to moments of stark stillness and contemplation handled beautifully. Whether we're getting worked up over red herrings, watching someone facing her own mortality, or respectfully acknowledging fallen comrades, the emotional pitch throughout the book felt utterly right, which is something that is very hard to pull off when there are so many ethical issues at stake.
A few random thoughts with REAL spoilers, because there's no other way to discuss them:
(view spoiler)[Subject 7B's realization of who and what she is is totally kickass. I loved how very true to her character this whole scenario was, and how believably all the cloning issues were integrated with our human need to recognize this person.
The scenes where 7B looks on the 8s made me really sad. :(
I'm so glad that one of the major plot points wasn't rescuing Georgia, because I cannot imagine any situation less likely to happen. The way she escapes and the way everyone reacts to seeing her was pitch-perfect.
I am SO happy to have Georgia back. Sheesh, I missed her so much! And it's nice to have a break from all the crazy of being in Shaun's head, hah.
I'm glad that Shaun and Georgia got to ride off into the sunset a bit, though I'm still sad for the brave, original Georgia who died in such a devastating way.
There were certainly some plot lines that I saw coming, and although I'm a little surprised that we got a HEA, obviously this didn't hinder my enjoyment of the book at all. The way it was handled felt just right. (hide spoiler)]
I don't know that I've ever read another series where the emotion it evoked was so intense--Feed left me crying so hard I could hardly see the keyboard, Deadline had me literally whimpering with pain in the middle of the night, and Blackout made me want to scream with excitement and agony and worry all at once. If you'd told me that a science fiction trilogy with zombies could be so searingly emotional or feel so incredibly personal, I'd have told you it was impossible. And I've never been happier to be proven wrong. I know most true fans of this series will race through the pages just like I did, with the same urgency and dread and excitement.
While I'm so sad that this particular story is over (although there are two more Newsflesh novellas coming this year) and I dearly wish they could all turn into zombies so this story could live on forever, I'm happy with the way the story ended. I'm sure Mira Grant's new forthcoming novels Parasitology and Symbiogenesis will be absolutely spectacular.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
P.S. For more proof of the power of Mira Grant's writing, read the alternate ending to FEED, Fed, at the bottom of the review on our blog which is ONLY safe for those who have already read the first book. Holy frak, that woman is an evil genius. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
If you were to lay out a visual storyboard for The Miseducation of Cameron Post, it would be filled with lomographic photography--retro lighting, wide...moreIf you were to lay out a visual storyboard for The Miseducation of Cameron Post, it would be filled with lomographic photography--retro lighting, wide-open vistas, saturated colors, and quirky, sometimes blurry exposures that provide quick snapshots of the many small pleasures of childhood. This coming of age novel, which is written more like adult literary fiction than typical YA, beautifully captures the sun-drenched mood of summer as we meet Cameron, a young girl living in a small town in eastern Montana in 1989.
It was the kind of heat where a breeze feels like someone's venting a dryer over the town, whipping dust and making the cottonseeds from the big cottonwoods float across a wide blue sky and collect in soft tufts on neighborhood lawns. Irene and I called it summer snow, and sometimes we'd squint into the dry glare and try to catch cotton on our tongues.
It's a pleasure to be lulled into the slow rhythm of the author's words and to enjoy the moments of stillness and spontaneity throughout the entire story. As the novel begins, Cameron's parents have gone off on their annual camping trip, and she's spending the summer with her best friend Irene, eating too-big scoops of ice cream and strawberry pretzel salad, freezing wet shirts to keep cool, telling stories, and watching the twilight creep over the town. There's a new awareness between the two girls, however, which floods Cameron with pleasure and confusion when things suddenly take an unexpected turn.
There's nothing to know about a kiss like that before you do it. It was all action and reaction, the way her lips were salty and she tasted like root beer. The way I felt sort of dizzy the whole time. If it had been that one kiss, then it would have been just the dare, and that would have been no different than anything we'd done before. But after that kiss, as we leaned against the crates, a yellow jacket swooping and arcing over some spilled pop, Irene kissed me again.
Later, the girls talk about how they'd get in trouble if anyone found out.
Even though no one had ever told me, specifically, not to kiss a girl before, nobody had to. It was guys and girls who kissed--in our grade, on TV, in the movies, in the world; and that's how it worked, guys and girls. Anything else was something weird.
Shortly afterwards, Cameron's parents die in a car crash and she's sent to live with her conservative Aunt Ruth in the small town of Miles City, Montana, where she does her best to fit in and forget what happened before. So when beautiful Coley Taylor arrives on the scene, it spells trouble in a big way--and things spiral out of control in Cameron's world when she is sent off to God's Promise, a Christian de-gaying camp. (The author addresses this very frankly in most of the interviews I've seen, so I'm assuming it's not a spoiler to include that info here.) Here, she is to learn "appropriate gender roles" and refrain from "negative bonding over sinful/unhealthy desires."
I wasn't sure what to expect with this novel, so it was a relief to find it doesn't feel at all heavy-handed. I've realized recently that the problem I have with so many Message Books is that you can so clearly tell the author set out with an agenda and just filled in additional details to make a story. However, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fully realized novel in every way, and if Cameron weren't gay, it would still be a well-crafted, well-written story with an immensely appealing protagonist...even if she's not always completely likable. But I sort of like that about her, you know? Because most of us were pretty unbearable as teenagers, and I found her prickliness and defiance to be sympathetic and very real.
Fair warning that Cameron is just as likely to tell you to eff off as she is to bum a smoke off you, though. For even though there are beautiful moments of stillness and jumbled, joyous images of childhood (Cameron puts a piece of flourite in her mouth at one point so she can taste its hardness and grit, which is something I totally did as a kid), there are also frank sexual situations, marijuana use, shoplifting, and all kinds of other things that might normally drive me up the wall when they're casually included in your typical YA book.
But this isn't a fluffy young adult novel at all, and it's easy to understand why Cameron acts out as she tries to figure out who she is under extremely difficult circumstances. Not to mention that her feelings are not at all unusual; Cameron's confusion and longing during the prom scene when Coley dances with someone else is that stuff of universal loneliness and despair. As a reader, it also hurt unbearably to read about Mark Turner, son of a preacher from a mega church in Nebraska, who is the "poster boy for a Christian upbringing, but yet here he was, at Promise, just like the rest of us." Mark's struggles with his faith and his natural impulses are devastating to witness, and it's a brutal reminder that there are sometimes terrible consequences when we ignore what's right in the name of what's righteous.
I appreciated how honestly teenage sex and experimentation were portrayed, in a way that didn't feel tacky or sensationalized. And I appreciated the restraint with which this enormously touchy subject was handled. I found myself getting very angry as I read the book--it's hard not to when you see a child being told unequivocally that he's going to hell for what he feels--but the story is remarkably even-handed. While Cameron is defiant and angry over her containment, as most of the kids are, the few harsh words about the program include "I'm just saying that sometimes you can end up really messing somebody up because the way you're trying to supposedly help them is really messed up." Instead of using this platform to rant or rage, the author simply allows us to get to know Cameron and provides the framework for the question: after reading this girl's story, which is the story of so many girls and boys just like her, can anyone deny the validity of her feelings?
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a fierce book that boldly explores identity, sexuality, and human responsibility in a relatable way, even as it demands attention from your social conscience and reaches out for your empathy. Even with such a hot-button topic, however, it somehow manages to refrain from outright condemnation of those who oppose its views. It's a shame that twenty years after the events of this book, this type of tolerance is still not entirely a two-way street.
Recommended for mature teens and adults only.
About the Book
The author was partially inspired by the true story of a 16-year-old boy who said he was being sent to a de-gaying camp in Tennessee. Read more about this in the author's Slate interview with author Curtis Sittenfeld.
Emily Danforth also has a deleted scene from the book on her website.
Wonder is one of those rare books that makes you want to hug everyone in it so tightly that they’ll have no doubt about how much you love them…and bey...moreWonder is one of those rare books that makes you want to hug everyone in it so tightly that they’ll have no doubt about how much you love them…and beyond that, it also makes you want to reach out and hug the whole world. It’s an upbeat, humorous, life-affirming story that deserves to be read—and it’s one that may just change its readers, too.
If you remember how terrifying it was to be a kid on a day to day basis, you’ll appreciate August’s story. 10-year-old Auggie is going to school for the first time in his life, and he has to navigate new rules, learn to interact with teachers, and figure out how to make new friends. In addition, he also has a severe facial deformity that stops strangers in their tracks, so all the usual perils of the fifth grade take on even more heightened stakes.
With the matter-of-fact wisdom that warmed Beverly Cleary’s books, this story about growing up is full of heart and humor, and written with a clear-eyed intelligence that never descends into cynicism. Auggie’s smart, funny personality will win over readers who will agonize with him over the complicated web of friendships and family even as they cheer for him as he learns some of life’s big and scary lessons.
It’s okay, I know I’m weird-looking, take a look, I don’t bite. Hey, the truth is, if a wookie started going to school all of a sudden, I’d be curious, I’d probably stare a bit! And if I was walking with Jack or Summer, I’d probably whisper to them: Hey, there’s the wookie. And if the wookie caught me saying that, he’d know I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was just pointing out the fact that he’s a wookie.
Even with a positive attitude and smart, loving parents, however, Auggie’s story is not an easy one to read, and my emotions ran wildly from sadness to hilarity to terrible anger at what happens to him. Not all kids are nice. Some kids behave one way in front of adults and another way in front of kids. Some adults are downright cruel. And just when you think life can’t possibly get any harder or more challenging, sometimes it does.
Although the book is primarily told from Auggie’s perspective, it was a surprise to me when it switched to a few other points of view. With a total of six different voices, I would normally say this is far too many, but in this particular case every person offered an insight into August’s beautiful personality and amazing life in a way that would be impossible to otherwise know. Reading about Auggie’s 27 surgeries, rejoicing at his vibrant inner life, hurting for him when he felt lonely or misunderstood, and seeing his life from various different perspectives, it’s impossible not to be moved by his story. And how can you not love a boy who understands that sometimes his mom might need his precious teddy bear more than he does?
Not entirely random side note: (view spoiler)[In my former life, I worked in movie publicity. In that position, you’re subjected to a lot of wheedling and sob stories, so it’s natural to develop a pretty jaded viewpoint. So when a film critic forwarded a plea to me from the mom of a young boy who wanted to attend an advance screening of the latest Harry Potter movie, my first reaction was automatic suspicion—why couldn’t this kid wait the two months until the movie was out? I did a lot of research before I finally spoke to the mom, but I’m so glad I did. Because it turned out the boy was in the advanced stages of an incurable illness and was not expected to live much longer.
It made me so terribly ashamed that I had doubted the story. Understandable, yes, but I knew that the letter could easily have been overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the business—and it scared me to think that something that so important might have been lost because of other things that mattered so much less. In this case, I made sure this boy and his family got the VIP treatment, including a ton of swag and a very memorable evening. He was absolutely incandescent that night, and his parents told me afterwards that it was one of the happiest experiences in his young life. When his mom told me a few months later that he’d passed away, it was terribly sad. But I was so grateful to have had that brief contact, and to have helped bring a tiny bit of joy into his last months. It was, just as Wonder is, a reminder that it’s so much easier to look the other way, because of impatience or fear. But sometimes reaching out to another human being can be a life-changing experience, for everyone concerned. As many have said before me, taking action doesn't just change the other person, it also changes you.(hide spoiler)]
Tears were streaming down my face as I finished this book—and the funny thing is, they were primarily tears of joy. Wonder is written with the kind of sensitivity and insight that I had hoped for when I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and it went the extra mile to be an uplifting story that made me want to embrace life and the people in it, too. I also very much appreciate that this middle grade book is written for its intended age group, not just a book for adults in the guise of a children’s book, even though it’s certainly one that can be enjoyed by readers of any age.
“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”
A story like this comes along just a few times in a lifetime, and I fervently hope that readers will find their way to it. This short book that doesn’t waste a single page in squeezing your emotions so tightly you feel like you can't breathe, but when they're finally released, you may find that your heart is full of even more empathy, compassion, and love than you thought possible. We expect to be surprised by cruelty, but how wonderful it is to also be surprised by kindness.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
About the Inspiration Behind the Story
The ice cream incident in this story actually happened, but perhaps not in the way you might think. Learn about the surprising inspiration behind this story on the RJ Palcio's website. She's definitely an author to watch.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
4.5 stars When a book arrives with a massive amount of fanfar...moreRead our hilarious and informative interview with Buruu! THERE ARE MORE ARASHITORA. Ahem.
4.5 stars When a book arrives with a massive amount of fanfare, in the form of glowing advance praise and accompanied an agreebly affable author, it's necessary to take a step away from all the hype to ensure that a review isn't influenced by outside factors. Which I did--I avoided reviews, fled the country (okay, that wasn't just to read this book), and read it away from much of the joyful noise that surrounded the book's release.
After the promise presented by the author's description of the story as "telepathic samurai girls and griffins in steampunk feudal Japan," I'm happy to find that this particular novel proved to be an exciting and memorable a reading experience.Stormdancer is nearly operatic in its scope and grandeur, and young Yukiko's reluctant quest to find a supposedly extinct griffin--and her subsequent relationship with the fierce, noble beast--is both thrilling and moving.
The thing is, the reasons why this book is so fantastic are partly why I also had trouble with its beginning. The writing is beautiful, with strong world-building and a meticulous attention to detail that left me slack-jawed with awe at times. But there is far too much description in the first 100 pages or so, where the story plods along very slowly, weighed down with ornate descriptors and exhaustive detail. Reshaping the opening chapters and weaving the history and world of Shima into the narrative more seamlessly would have helped tremendously with tension and pacing.
There is a sincerity and purity in this prose, however, that I very much appreciated. Nowhere did I get the sense that the author was trying to flaunt showy words or to distract the reader with "purple prose" sleight of hand. Rather, it seemed to me that words just poured out in an intensely focused, if seemingly endless, stream in an earnest attempt to make us thoroughly understand this devastated society that Yukiko lives in. It's true that isn't until the thunder tiger Buruu puts in an appearance that the spark of imagination really catches fire. But oh, what a fire it is! The magnificent aerial battle as twenty men strain to contain this furious legendary creature is unforgettable--and Yuki's relationship with Buruu is definitely the strongest and most appealing facet of this book for me. It's impossible not to be touched when the proud, crippled arashitora says succinctly, FEATHERS GROW BACK. SISTERS DO NOT.
Other things I loved: the action and fight sequences. Chainsaw katanas. The scenes in which Buruu's humor peeked through. The dangerous politics of an empire controlled by ambitious and ruthless men. The (quite topical) cry of mercy for a dying land.
I do wish that I felt more for the somewhat under-nuanced secondary characters, however, and that the romance in particular felt more urgent and anguished and real. I've also seen, in passing, a number of reviews that have touched on inaccuracies in Japanese culture and customs. It seems perfectly reasonable and understandable to me that specific knowledge will influence a reader's review of this book; I am mostly and somewhat blissfully unschooled in that area, however, so I found nothing in particular that bothered me. I also tend to look on fantasy with a more lenient eye (true story: there weren't griffins in feudal Japan, either!), similar to the way I might indulgently overlook broad caricatures in martial arts films and the like--but it's fair to say that those who are intimately familiar with Japan may well find more sticking points than I did. Still, it seems worth noting that this is Shima, a place inspired by Japan, not the actual country.
This isn't a book that all readers will enjoy and it's certainly not a perfect one, but for many fans of traditional fantasy--or even occasional fantasy readers like me--this wildly imaginative adventure is lightning that strikes in just the right place. Remember the name Jay Kristoff, because this spectacular debut blazes a fiery trail across oft cloud-laden skies. I for one, cannot wait to be swept away with the next installment of the Lotus War. And I may even get to ride a thunder tiger next time...
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
4.5 stars Fantastic debut! Written like an adult urban fantasy, and a must-read for fans of Vampire Academy. There is, ahem, a very Dimitri-Rose dynam...more4.5 stars Fantastic debut! Written like an adult urban fantasy, and a must-read for fans of Vampire Academy. There is, ahem, a very Dimitri-Rose dynamic going on with this one.
Had a great ending, am very curious to see what will happen next...(less)
Wow, what a huge surprise this was! Unexpected layers, a heroine who develops over the course of the book, and a seriously, seriously crush-worthy guy...moreWow, what a huge surprise this was! Unexpected layers, a heroine who develops over the course of the book, and a seriously, seriously crush-worthy guy.
Sales Alert: this short story in the Souls Screamers series is only $1.29 for KIndle and Nook right now and all proceeds benefit St. Jude's Children's...moreSales Alert: this short story in the Souls Screamers series is only $1.29 for KIndle and Nook right now and all proceeds benefit St. Jude's Children's Hospital for the first six months. If you're planning on reading this, please consider purchasing it sooner rather than later.
Check out our Q & A with Dan Krokos, who chats with us about his new book and some of the controversies that have rocked the YA community this yea...moreCheck out our Q & A with Dan Krokos, who chats with us about his new book and some of the controversies that have rocked the YA community this year. Some interesting thoughts on GoodReads' author program, too.
Of the many young adult science fiction novels that have been released recently, False Memory stands out as an extremely fun, solidly entertaining debut. This action-packed, suspenseful story follows Miranda North, a teenage girl who wakes up without any memory of who she is. Before long, she discovers that her unusual ability to release a painful pulse of energy is the reason why she's being relentlessly pursued...and the reason why her life, as well as the lives of many others, is now in danger.
From brain wave manipulation to rogue agents to a tonally genuine romance, this book includes a lot of different elements, and manages to present them all in a surprisingly engaging way. The author understands how to balance tension and levity, as well as how to up the ante both physically and emotionally as the story builds to its climax. It's rare to find a YA action novel that is this well-paced, especially since most of its protagonists are also well-developed. Miranda's blind panic and fight or flight adrenaline practically leaps off the page with her POV, but her observations about the other characters also allow us to know them as well.
I had a really great time reading this story because it was just so much fun, but what I appreciate most about it is an interesting sensitivity in its heroine that I frankly find rather unusual coming from a male YA author. Miranda is a sensible, fast-thinking character, but she's also very feminine in a way that doesn't rely upon endless descriptions of her appearance or other surface things; it's more of a subtle but very present emotional mindset that I found very appealing, particularly in the way her feelings about her teammates Peter and Noah change over the course of the book.
I really liked the way the love triangle is handled here, by the way. Miranda is placed in a very tricky situation, and even though her confusion and anger lead to some complicated situations, it wasn't hard to understand her predicament, nor to feel sympathy for everyone involved.
This novel is a promising start to a planned trilogy, and it's going to be thrilling to see where the story goes next. False Memory surprised me with its electrifying blend of mystery, drama, and action, and my guess is that fans of science fiction thrillers will absolutely love it.
Recommended for:fans of Divergent, Legend, The Darkest Powers series, Unraveling, and Partials.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
On a more serious note, I want to briefly address the fact that I originally placed this book on a "will never read" shelf following a serious incident back in January. The author made some ill-advised remarks in defense of a fellow author on a pre-review written by a friend of mine, and like many others, I was absolutely outraged that she was repeatedly goaded on her own space in that way. The author did apologize to the reviewer, however, and following some additional information that I learned, I decided to give the book a chance--and I'm very glad I did, for more reasons than one.
If you'd like more information about what happened, there is a long discussion on this thread, and my reasoning for changing my mind is posted on message #210 here. I've also had the opportunity to discuss what happened with the author at some length since then, he has some very interesting insights from an author's perspective. I've invited Dan to the blog for a chat that will appear next week, so I hope you'll come back for that discussion. I think anyone who is concerned about this current author/reader divide will be interested.
If you're about to start reading this: put everything down. Step away from the book, find yourself a good half a dozen cupcakes first, and then come b...moreIf you're about to start reading this: put everything down. Step away from the book, find yourself a good half a dozen cupcakes first, and then come back. Because if you don't, you're going to spend a couple of hours in a frenzy of longing over the incredible desserts whipped up in this book and you may end up gnawing off your own arm.
Dark chocolate cupcakes with red peppermint mascarpone icing, edged with chocolate and crushed candy canes
Miniature banana cupcakes smeared with a thin layer of honey vanilla icing
Vanilla cupcakes topped with whipped peanut butter cream cheese icing, milk chocolate chips, crushed pretzels, and a drizzle of warm caramel.
*Drool.* What was I saying? Oh, the book! Hudson Avery is a master baker at the age of seventeen. She's stuck in a dead-end job in her mom's diner, trying to help the family make ends meet after her parents' divorce, and doing her best to forget estranged friends and missed opportunities. One day, while she's on break, she puts on her skates and coasts along the edge of frozen lake. Suddenly, a boy named Josh Blackthorn literally crashes into her and Hudson's life takes a totally unexpected turn when she's asked to help coach their school's losing hockey team.
This book reminds me of a really great mash-up of the movies Waitress + The Cutting Edge + the gentle discovery of new romance in Sarah Dessen books. It's a super cute novel filled with ice skating, baby marshmallows, and all kinds of fun ideas that appeals to the curious and crafty side of me, including the intriguing thought of putting ice cream in hot chocolate, making carousel cupcakes with a straw and animal crackers, hand-tinting frosting, and that sort of thing. I had a great time with the dates-that-weren't-really-dates, the relationship between Hudson and her adorable little brother Bug, and the practice sessions with the hockey team, which the boys attend by "skipping their Guitar Hero matches or raw meat-eating contests or whatever it is that boys do in their free time." Hudson's sense of humor is absolutely infectious, and at one point, she dreamily imagines a flirty encounter with Josh as follows:
There are sparks and laughs and flirty little jokes with lots of subtext, and later, after he walks her back to work, he pulls her into a passionate kiss in the parking lot. The word "bliss" appears in a cloud over her head, surrounded by red and pink hearts, and from that moment on, the frothy feel of hot chocolate will bring her back...
Every once in awhile, it's really great to read contemporary romantic YA that's fun and fluffy but not at all shallow. In addition to the more lighthearted side of the book, however, Hudson also carries a lot of guilt over her parent's split, she's also juggling friendship problems, and she desperately wants to make it out of the small town she's lived in all her life. But is pinning all her hopes on a skating competition really the answer? As she notes sadly in French class: I don't know how to speak the language of impossible dreams en francais.
Eventually, the book did feel a bit on the long side to me, and some of the Hudson's decisions later in the story were a little maddening. She's such a likable protagonist, however, that it's easy to forgive her for her mistakes, especially when the book is chock-full of such wit and charm.
If you enjoy romantic comedies or have ever breathed in the warm, sweet scent of a fresh cupcake and thought you'd died and gone to heaven, this is totally the book for you. Hudson says she's never met a problem a proper cupcake couldn't fix, and after reading this book, it's hard not to believe that a cupcake won't help make everything a little better for you, too.
Read BITTERSWEET for Free!
If you're under 19, pop on over to The Midnight Garden, where you can learn how you can sign up for Simon & Schuster's Pulse It Community and read books in advance of their release. Right now Bittersweet and a number of other great YA titles are available to read online, so act quickly before the galleys expire!
Bonus Treat: And now it's time for a little cupcake porn. Hey, I had to suffer through this book without any cupcakes, so it's only fair you should share the pain.
Are you in the mood to spooked? Here is a delightfully dreadful tale that will give you the creepy-crawlies.
12-year-old Victoria's best friend Lawren...moreAre you in the mood to spooked? Here is a delightfully dreadful tale that will give you the creepy-crawlies.
12-year-old Victoria's best friend Lawrence has gone missing. Not only is she confused and lonely after his disappearance, but no one in town seems to remember who he was. Prickly, persnickety Victoria is determined to find out what happened to him, and gradually her questions lead her straight to the tall, gray-brick Home at the end of her street where the bright-eyed Mrs. Cavendish lives.
Written in brisk prose reminiscent of Roald Dahl's, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls showcases a gratifyingly smart debut by author Claire Legrand. The clever writing assumes that its readers are intelligent thinkers, with vibrant verbs and grim humor marching the story purposefully along with its spirited heroine and her quest.
There is much wickedness afoot in this story, with the dastardly deeds ranging from abusive behavior to murder to...eating things that one really oughtn't. (Truly, I will never look at butterscotch candy the same way again.) One of the things that makes it especially deliciously creepy is that Victoria partakes in some of these activities without even knowing it, so the gradual realization of what's really going on in this dark carnival house is a shudder-inducing experience.
I loved the scenes in which Victoria is overcome by nightmarish swarms of insects and when the dark walls move and breathe and when she realizes exactly what the beautiful but ghoulish Mrs. Cavendish has been up to. There were moments in the ending chapters that were absolutely magnificent in their gleeful fiendishness, and they made me do happy creepy dances in my seat. This is a story that may not appeal to those with more delicate sensibilities and probably isn't suitable for very young children, but Legrand's deft hand certainly makes it palatable for middle grade readers.
I think some of the scenes would have had more impact if they'd been lengthened, however, as the horror is so brilliant that holding that tension just a bit longer would have allowed us to relish them more. Conversely, the build-up of the mystery also felt a little long for my personal taste. I would also like to have seen some deeper emotion, as the story skims on some sadness and fear, but doesn't quite leave the sort of lingering feeling that a reader like me yearns for. I still loved reading the story, however, and I'm very much looking forward to the author's future work.
If you're in need of handsome presents this holiday season, by the way, this one fits the bill in more ways than one! The book itself is absolutely beautiful, with a textured book jacket, lovely end papers, and wonderful illustrations by Sarah Watts. As you turn the pages, there are also surprises in the form of smudgy little cockroaches sprinkled here and there throughout the text. *shudder* The design is perfect for this book, and makes it an even more pleasurable reading experience. (More photographs of the hardcover can be found here.)
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is an elegant nightmare that will appeal to imaginative children with a sense of humor, and to those of us who have longed for stories that aren't afraid to scare us--but also puts a reassuring arm around us in the end. The next time you're in the mood for a shivery read, Cavendish the perfect thing to curl up with on a blustery night.