Nightshade by Andrea Cremer Atom Books, 2010 452 pages YA; Paranormal 4/5 stars
Source: Won a signed copy through Princess Bookie's Contest Craze (interest...moreNightshade by Andrea Cremer Atom Books, 2010 452 pages YA; Paranormal 4/5 stars
Source: Won a signed copy through Princess Bookie's Contest Craze (interestingly, this is a British edition.)
I mostly picked this up to read because I had won it and because I went to a launch party for the sequel Wolfsbane. I had avoided it before because of the werewolf element, which is not one of my favorite plot points. But I was surprised by how much I did end up enjoying that!
Calla Tor is the alpha daughter within the Nightshade pack. She is due to marry Ren, the alpha of the Bane pack and form a third pack as a line of defense against Searcher enemies. This match has been dictated by the Keepers, the human masters who provide everything for the wolves. Everything about this mythology, what Calla thinks she knows and what she learns over the course of the book was really interesting even if some of it was a bit predictable (ie there were several bits of information that were revelations to Calla but which I had already told her; darn fictional characters, not listening to me!) But I loved learning about how a pack interacts, how they shift from human to wolf and back fluidly, and the other rituals that comprise their lives. I have so many questions that will hopefully be answered in the next book!
I was somewhat icked out by the romance. Calla is supposed to marry Ren on their 18th birthdays (they were both born on Halloween although tradition mandates that it is called Samhain). He has whored around with seemingly half of the girls in their school while she has to remain pure until their union; I hate when the guy is afforded unlimited sexual freedom and takes advantage of that while the girl is not allowed at all and is forced by other females to dress attractively in order to please him. Additionally I'm grossed out by the fact that high school seniors are being forced to marry no matter what their will. Ren himself is not to my taste, as a dominating alpha male who pushes against Calla's boundaries and bosses her around (alpha male is in charge of all including and especially the alpha female). She is frequently referred to as being "his" and "his property."
There is a second romantic option though being Shay. The new human in town whose life is saved by Calla in her wolf form and who really pushes against the boundaries of Calla's knowledge about her shifter role. I liked Shay a bit more possibly because he would never even look at another girl and because we get to spend more time with him. I don't like him because I'm not entirely sure why Calla does and he is almost as territorial as Ren. The back cover also references Shay, asking "Is one boy worth losing everything?" My answer is no but this is a strong thread running through the book as is the related question "what is love?" which is partly answered as risking everything to save the other person. Regardless, there are a lot of scenes with sexual tension between Calla and each boy that worked for me despite my qualms about the romance and the fact that I don't really have a preference.
Additionally within the packs, there are already pairings that seem to be permanent, which is just weird to me. Do some people meet the person they will marry in high school? Yes. Do most? I doubt it. I guess it makes sense because they're all paired up within the shifter community and it would probably be hard to mate outside of the pack with a normal human but it still skeeved me out.
One last note is about the ending, which brought in a ton of new characters and confused me with those additions. I don't think it's super important to know all of those people but I don't think it's the best ending to leave the reader confused by the influx of new characters. However I feel confident that the second book will pick up here and fill me in.
Overall: Juicy paranormal background but some ickiness in the romance.(less)
The Julian Game by Adele Griffin G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010 200 pages YA; Contemporary 4/5 stars
I originally wrote this book off because of t...moreThe Julian Game by Adele Griffin G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010 200 pages YA; Contemporary 4/5 stars
I originally wrote this book off because of the weird cover-what the heck is up with the wig and the gloves?! But after reading Small Review's championing of the story inside and that the cover relates, I decided that I would give it a chance.
At first it seemed to be going on a pretty routine path with new, smart, scholarship girl Raye being drawn into the games played by popular girl with a cruel streak Ella, falling for the hottie Julian, and ignoring her heretofore best friend Natalya. That is actually about the first half of the book but then it veered off in a different direction, surprising and pleasing me.
Despite the short length, there was a lot packed in here with vivid characterizations of the four characters I mentioned plus family members and other students making memorable impressions. I almost wish the book was longer so that I could have spent more time with Raye. However I appreciate Griffin for having a story to tell, telling it very well, and then stopping instead of inflating the page count with needless exposition. The story within is to the point and packs a wallop.
That story deals largely with bullying and cyber pranks within a high school context, a highly relevant topic. But it is never preachy here and is often laced with humor that helped get me into the story. Also despite the short length, I did not fly through this book because there was so much to savor and think about. (less)
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson Dial Books, 2010 272 pages YA; Contemporary; Grief 4/5 stars
Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.
First...moreThe Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson Dial Books, 2010 272 pages YA; Contemporary; Grief 4/5 stars
Read for YA Overlooked Book Battle.
First things first: I could appreciate the writing as very lyrical and beautiful but it was not to my taste. Alas I am unable to describe how. The writing was fitting for the setting of a hippie town in northern California and the lyricism helped explore the grief of everyone.
Then there's the plot. Lennie's beloved older sister Bailey died suddenly of arrhythmia living her struggling with grief. She seeks comfort in the arms of Bailey's boyfriend Toby as well as in new guy Joe in a complicated love triangle (although that's not really the focus).
Anyway who cares about Lennie because I have a new YA boy crush: Joe! He's amazing with long eyelashes and a smile that lights up the room. And he has two older brothers who look similar-there are three of them! Of course, Joe is not perfect; he's very pigheaded and basically gave Lennie the silent treatment for way too long with no chance for her to apologize for her improper behavior. However all ends right.
While I loved Joe, I didn't feel much for Lennie. I mean, while I was reading I was caught up in the story (and I sped through it) but once I finished, she hadn't left much of an impression. I feel for mourning the death of a beloved sister (I haven't had to do that but it would suck; I probably won't ever have to do that either as my younger sister will most likely outlive me). I liked that she was a band geek, even though orchestra is SO much better. But I don't feel like I understand her nor do I really care to try and understand her after the conclusion.
Overall: Really a 3.5 based on my enjoyment but bumped up to a 4 because of Joe *contentedsigh* (less)
Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg Point, 2011 227 pages YA; Contemporary; Austen 4.5/5 stars
Source: Received an ARC via Amazon Vine in exchange for...moreProm and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg Point, 2011 227 pages YA; Contemporary; Austen 4.5/5 stars
Source: Received an ARC via Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.
This book is pretty much exactly what you would think it is based on the cover and title: a YA contemporary romance inspired by Jane Austen's beloved novel Pride and Prejudice (aka my favorite book!) This one stars Lizzie Bennet and her best friend Jane Netherfield as they navigate the tricky social scene culminating in prom at their boarding school Longbourn and their relationships with Will Darcy and Charles Bingley at the neighboring Pemberley Academy.
Although largely faithful to the novel and bringing its own sense of humor (there were many laugh out loud passages), there were some changes that I simply have to mention!
First it's told from Lizzie's point of view instead of third person like the original. I have found this very common in YA lit and I think it helps you sympathize with the character much faster. Second I found Lydia much more grating in this novel than I ever have in P&P; girl was so annoying! Another change was that Darcy's family is actually accepting of Lizzie although a de Bourgh does still attempt to interfere.
Probably the most important change, in my mind, is that no longer is Lizzie seeking a mate for life and in order to protect her upon the death of her father; instead the big event is prom, which while important to the characters is hardly the same situation. This takes away some of the dramatic tension that has made P&P so beloved. I understand though because it's hard to modernize P&P.
One change I did not entirely like was a very unsubtle emphasis on the snobbery of the girls at Longbourn in their relations with scholarship student Lizzie. It was repeated so many times and I didn't think it needed to be hammered home so much. That would be my only complaint about this book.
Overall: A quick modernization of P&P with an admirable Lizzie and many funny bits.
Cover: I love the bright pink and I feel that the dress conveys a plot point in the book but it's not entirely accurate. (less)
I had originally avoided this for some reason, but after seeing Small Review's book review and being struck by the similarities to She's the Man, one...moreI had originally avoided this for some reason, but after seeing Small Review's book review and being struck by the similarities to She's the Man, one of my family's favorite movies, I decided to give it a try, looking for something hilarious.
And this was a really funny book! Natalie writes a relationship advice column that ends up mocked by guys. She decides that she knows nothing about guys and decides to go undercover at the nearby boys' school in order to find out how guys really think. She is aided by her two loyal best friends Darcy and Chloe.
Although this is a pretty ridiculous premise, it is actually a lot of fun with many very funny moments, like laugh out loud and earn weird looks from the people around me funny. I read this in only a couple of hours because Natalie's voice was so clear, distinct, and funny. I was immediately able to root for her as she struggled to make sense of boys and relationships.
There were times when she seemed a little young and naive but she is a high school kid with no relationship experience. I think she could be very relateable to younger teens. However she was a bit of a snob; she was always popular so she had scorned the nerdier guys she meets at the new school. Luckily she has a change of heart, which made me happy because I usually like a nerdy awkward guy.
Overall: A silly, fast-read that should leave you smiling.(less)
I've lately been interested in YA books with illustrations included in the pages and combined with my general admiration for Adele Griffin, I figured...moreI've lately been interested in YA books with illustrations included in the pages and combined with my general admiration for Adele Griffin, I figured this was a no-brainer.
It did end up being a little bit of a mixed bag for me, although overall I liked it. I loved the pictures but there was writing included that I found hard to read especially because it was white font on black background. But the actual pictures themselves were amazing and apparently based on real examples, which makes it all that much cooler to this history nerd. I also loved that it was set during the Civil War (toward the tail-end) as that's probably my third favorite time period.
Then there was the story itself: well-written, good pacing, and plenty of suspense around the presence of the ghosts. However I didn't really feel main character Jennie Lovell. I could sympathize with her plight (unwanted ward of family, frightened of where she'll end up now that her fiance is dead). Most of the other characters didn't endear themselves to me, except for Jennie's fallen fiance Will, whose name I love (there are so many great YA boys named Will).
I also loved the inclusion of some lesser-known Civil War facts revolving around the prison Andersonville, known as Camp Sumter. I did not know that second name so I was confused at first but the author's note helped clarify and expand my knowledge-love it! I also loved the inclusion of spiritualism, a phenomenon gaining strength due to the loss of so many during the war and one that went on for a long time afterward. I've read late 1800s books with spiritualism at the center. It's interesting to imagine the possibilities of contacting your loved ones once they've passed. I also enjoyed that I read this around Halloween but it wasn't too spooky.
Overall: A well-written and illustrated book but not as strong character-wise.(less)
Plain Kate by Erin Bow Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010 311 pages YA; Fantasy 3/5 stars
Plain Kate is orphaned early on in the book and...morePlain Kate by Erin Bow Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010 311 pages YA; Fantasy 3/5 stars
Plain Kate is orphaned early on in the book and left to fend for herself as an extraordinarily talented wood carver. She mostly manages to scrape by but when a witch named Linay comes to town her forces her to give him her shadow in exchange for her heart's wish. Soon after the exchange, she realizes that she needs her shadow back and she sets off to find it.
Admittedly this book caught me at a bad time, I'm really struggling with my future, but it did nothing to lift my spirits. Instead I was overwhelmed with the casual cruelty, greed, and superstitions of most of the characters within this book. Even those who were initially sympathetic to Kate's plight easily turned on her, believing the worst and allowing her no chance to defend herself. Additionally late in the book Kate had to kill her cat, the one bright spot of the book as he acted in such cat ways and made me want to hug my cat. Yes, he is brought back to life but the pain over his initial death was very hard on me. Happily his resurrection brought my rating of this book up to a 3.
Besides the depressing themes, I didn't really connect with the writing style. I felt distanced from most of the characters, except for the cat who was the definite highlight. The world was mystifying in many ways to me: why do people loathe knife-carving so much? Why is there so much eagerness to have witch burnings? It seemed so foreign and the words did not create a bridge to help my understand. I wanted to love the fantasy world but instead I hated it.
Overall: A dark story with little of the cheer I seek in a book. (less)
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher Greenwillow Books, 1993 216 pages YA; Contemporary 4.5/5 stars
After adoring Whale Talk, I wa...moreStaying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher Greenwillow Books, 1993 216 pages YA; Contemporary 4.5/5 stars
After adoring Whale Talk, I wanted to read more Chris Crutcher and Jan von Harz from Eating YA Books recommended this book so I checked it out and I'm so glad I did! Although I've only read two books, I'm already starting to recognize some Crutcher trademarks: sports (especially swimming), straightforward male character, and exploration of some tough issues.
This time our hero is Eric Calhoune, popularly known as Moby or Mobe for his size and the fact that he swims. For years he's been among the fattest kids and on the outskirts of his classmates. But that was okay because he had his best friend Sarah Byrnes, a girl whose father burned her face when she was only a child, permanently scarring it. As they've aged, he has become marginally more popular and she has been in even more danger from her psychotic father. Although Sarah Byrnes is one of the toughest people he knows, Eric cannot leave her to deal with her father all on her own.
Although this is a pretty short book, I thought the pacing was leisurely with time to connect with all of the important characters; I only mentioned three but there are other students and adults, each with a defined personality who reveals hidden depths. Eric is a good guy. He's a decent swimmer, a decent student, a great friend, and in possession of a very determined personality. I also like that there are good competent adults represented in contrast to the crazy father and Religious Right personalities. No one's perfect, everyone makes mistakes but beliefs are challenged and there is an appropriate happy ending.
Overall: A good contemporary, gripping and entertaining.(less)
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011 295 pages MG; Historical; Fantastical 4.5/5 stars
I originally...moreKat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011 295 pages MG; Historical; Fantastical 4.5/5 stars
I originally skipped over this because it seemed more middle grade but after reading more about it at Small Review, I reevaluated. And I'm so glad that I did because this was delightful!
Kat is a spunky, headstrong twelve year old who gets into incredible amounts of mischief throughout the book. She hates being left out as her two older sisters Elissa and Angeline have done to her since they entered Society. She is desperate to protect her family from the looming gambling debts of her older brother Charles. She bristles under the guidance of her stepmother and she cannot behave like a "proper young lady." One of the reasons for that is because she has her mother's magic and part of the book is her journey to understanding and learning how to control her powers.
The other part, which intersects, is to save her sister Elissa from the sinister but wealthy Sir Neville and to engage superior suitors for the sisters instead, focusing on true love and merit rather than money. The various schemes surrounding this aim were so funny with Kat's desperate narration over her antics providing the perfect touch.
Despite the middle-grade label, I felt a very real danger from Sir Neville as well as from some other characters who may have other interests in Kat's magic. Although nothing extremely scary happens, there are some frightening moments. Happily Kat saves the day every time with her quick thinking and almost complete lack of fear. I had to keep reminding myself that she'd be safe whenever Sir Neville's presence was felt.
I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel where we should get to see more of her sisters' romances, a more relaxed stepmother, and further instruction for Kat's magic. I'm also expecting another delightful romp in Regency England, battling societal expectations and delving deep into the parameters of the magic world created by Burgis.
As a long-time lover of fairy tales and their retellings, of course I wanted to pick this book up and I was further prompted by Mimi valentine calling...moreAs a long-time lover of fairy tales and their retellings, of course I wanted to pick this book up and I was further prompted by Mimi valentine calling this her favorite book so far of 2012-when a blogger you love highlights a book for such high praise, one has to sit up and pay attention. My (very picky) sister also read this and said it was good.
From the start I was a bit confused as main character Mira does not live in a fairy tale world. Instead she has to run away to find the place and that is where the plot really thickens. She is searching for her parents' graves, seeking some closure with their death before she reaches her sixteenth year of age. But along the way she meets some odd characters, all of whom have similar birthmarks as her. As we discover, the birthmarks represent that the person has a specific destiny in a fairy tale. Mira is the Princess in Sleeping Beauty. She also meets (among others) the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Belle, the Beast, and assorted other characters in the stories. While they have this eventual destiny, for the most part they are just living ordinary lives waiting for the blessing or curse (however they consider it) to begin. This results in some humorous moments, my personal favorite probably being how the animals flock to certain characters. I just love picturing that and crack up every time.
Anyway back to the plot. Mira is immediately drawn to two guys who, it turns out, are brothers. One is Blue, a huge jerk, and the other is his older brother Felix, the smooth and charming guy. Their fairy tale fate is a big secret that Mira must unravel over the course of the book. I can definitely see why some people would find either or both of these guys charming but personally I preferred Freddie, her sweet Hero, because I happen to like nice men (and now I want to watch Star Wars).
There is a lot of time spent with each of the guys as well as the other fairy-tale characters. But you know what there isn't very much of? Mira looking for the graves of her parents. That is the whole impetus for her returning to Beau Rivage but once she's there, she almost forgets about it in favor of falling in love with Felix (she thinks) and bantering with Blue. Honestly I was disappointed that she allowed boys to get in the way of her quest for her parents even if in the end she manages to have both.
In between that though there is a lot of good talk about the implications of fate and destiny and if you can change yours. There are questions about family and how to behave and what you might sacrifice for the people you love. And there is a lot of looking at the dark side of fairy tales and life in general. While I tend to prefer a more humorous approach to fairy tales, I did enjoy this different twist on them.
Overall: A fairy tale retelling that does not shy away from the dark edges but instead confronts them and the challenges of escaping your destiny.
Cover: Really perfect with the rose and thorns although maybe some blue would have been nice.(less)
After seeing Mimi Valentine's enthusiastic endorsement (and realizing it was told from multiple perspectives, something I adore), I resolved to g...more3.5/5
After seeing Mimi Valentine's enthusiastic endorsement (and realizing it was told from multiple perspectives, something I adore), I resolved to give this book a try so I reserved it and then picked it up from my library. Weirdly though I got a sense of foreboding from reading the front inside cover that maybe I wouldn't like this book. I can't explain it but it was there. And by the end I knew why.
This is a fun book with a lot to like. It's breezy and moves pretty quickly. The basic plot is that Kylie and Max wake up in Mexico and have to remember how they got there and figure out how to get back for their graduation in San Diego. There is a lot of action that would translate well to the big-screen, evidence of the writers' background in screenwriting. I love the snappy quotes from movies that begin each chapter; all are relevant and it was fun figuring out how that would be. The two main narrators are Kylie and Max but I thought the side characters really stole the show. One is Jake, Kylie's younger brother with Asperger's Syndrome who is obsessed with the San Diego bus schedule. The other is Will, Kylie's only friend whose cross-dressing tries to shake up their staid private school and encourage other students to join him out of the closet.
But they were only secondary characters. Our main narrators are Kylie and Max, the good girl and the bad boy, a dynamic I'm really sick of (not that I was ever a big fan to begin with.) They both had some big hang-ups-Kylie worries about her standing at school, how her family will function when she's at college, and feeling like she's not pretty. Max is aware that he's often a jerk and is putting his passion second to what he thinks his dying dad wants. And these things were repeated...a lot, making what is already a long book feel even longer. Plus their flirtation just did not work for me, which is unfortunate because it takes up a lot of space.
Then there were the three uses of "retarded" that I caught (may have been more). I have a really hard time believing that someone whose brother has Asperger's and has possibly been called a retard before would be so casual using the word with all of its hurtful connotations. More content problems were the rampant drinking and language-this is not a clean book by any means. In fact, there is a lot of drinking, I mean a lot because that is apparently how high school kids celebrate their graduation nowadays?
Overall: These particulars brought down the book's stars for me but they may not bother you.
Cover: These people could be more disheveled and Kylie could be curvier but it's an alright cover.(less)