Incredibly satisfying & moving novel about difficult issues
FAKING NORMAL was an incredibly satisfying and moving blend of high school drama, mys Incredibly satisfying & moving novel about difficult issues
FAKING NORMAL was an incredibly satisfying and moving blend of high school drama, mystery, and romance; but most importantly, it was a novel about facing unspeakable trauma and overcoming it through the support of others.
As the main characters, Lexi and Bodee were both heartwarming and heartbreaking in their quiet support of one another. Their relationship and its slow and deliberate development was the definite highlight of the novel and its writing. It was, however, a difficult read about upsetting but important issues, and I know I teared up more than once while grimacing through the pain that each character had endured in his or her life. I also appreciated the inclusion of religion in a non-intrusive way into the novel, as it is a major component of many young people's lives. On the downside, my main qualms with the novel were the predictability of some aspects of the plot and the quick and too easy resolution at the end; I also sometimes thought that Bodee seemed to know too perfectly what to do or say. Regardless, since reading this book, I have recommended it multiple times to my mature students, and I'm looking forward to whatever the author writes next.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy....more
Fun & engaging third installment keeps the action & intrigue coming
Marissa Meyer’s third installment in her Lunar Chronicles, Cress, picks u Fun & engaging third installment keeps the action & intrigue coming
Marissa Meyer’s third installment in her Lunar Chronicles, Cress, picks up right where the second book left off. Cinder, Thorne, Scarlet, and Wolf have escaped Earth and are now hiding in space. Their greatest chance for eluding Queen Levana and her dangerous companions lies with Cress, a gifted hacker who’s lived alone in a satellite for the past seven years. Soon, a rescue plan goes amiss, people are captured, and satellites start crashing to earth. Old characters and new ones must work to find a way back to one another in order to bring the evil Queen down.
As with her previous installments, Meyer has created a fun and engaging story in this book. CRESS is full of action and intrigue, and the author does a wonderful job of interweaving the storylines of the two previous books with the one. It was exciting to see how hints from as far back as the first book were linked to major plot points or character reveals in this novel. All of the characters that readers have come to love (or loathe) make appearances again, and some characters, especially Cinder, begin to grapple with real issues of how to use power and how one’s personal decisions can affect others, including whole cities or nations. Though not practical like Cinder or strong like Scarlet, Cress comes across as an endearingly naïve but earnest character who mixes well with the existing cast.
While a fast and enjoyable read overall, I did sometimes wish for a bit more: more swoon, more character and relationship development, and more gravity regarding the issues being experienced by the characters. This series is a refreshingly upbeat collection when compared to many other young adult novels, but the issues it addresses (war, torture, sacrifice for others, lost identities) often felt like they were passed over too quickly. Similarly, some characters accepted certain big reveals too easily.
Even with these quibbles, I had a great time reading CRESS, and I can’t wait for the final installment to come out next year (Winter). Not only will the final book provide a conclusion (and hopefully some happy endings for the characters), but it will feature quite possibly the most intriguing heroine of the series. The few glimpses given of Winter in this book had me simultaneously riveted and unsettled. The Lunar Chronicles is a series I will be recommending to my students and adult friends alike.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy....more
Thoughts wavering on this one. Initially after finishing a few hours ago, I was feeling very positively and felt that it was certainly a 4-star or eve Thoughts wavering on this one. Initially after finishing a few hours ago, I was feeling very positively and felt that it was certainly a 4-star or even 4.5 star read. The writing is gorgeous, the romance slow-burning, and the plot well and evenly paced. However, I still can't get past some worldbuilding flaws and character inconsistencies that are now niggling at the back of my mind....more
A surprisingly good romance novella in which the characters are not new lovers navigating a nascent relationship, but rather a married couple who find A surprisingly good romance novella in which the characters are not new lovers navigating a nascent relationship, but rather a married couple who finds themselves lost in kids, work, and their roles and responsibilities. The book contains much more depth (and less sex) than the blurb would suggest, as the story is focused primarily on the couple's problems and how they struggle to decide if and how to handle them. I found this novella moving and honest in how it depicted marriage, albeit sometimes depressingly, and it wrapped up with a hopeful ending and a very nice author's note to explain why she wrote this story. Highly recommended to romance fans, especially those who can relate to married life with children.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy received from NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review....more
Beautifully written fairy tale best suited for younger YA readers
As the book blurb states, Far Far Away is a tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. But Beautifully written fairy tale best suited for younger YA readers
As the book blurb states, Far Far Away is a tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. But it is also more than that: it is a beautifully written story about friendship, love, regret, and the evil that can lurk under the most benevolent of façades.
It's infrequent that I read a book and can tell how much time and planning an author put into it by the way the story unfolds, by how the details that seemed initially irrelevant are brought into play. However, this craftsmanship was readily apparent by the time I finished reading FAR FAR AWAY. Tom McNeal uses his words to describe a sleepy, small town called Never Ever where every person, place, and situation has the hint of a fairy tale embedded into it. The ghost, Jacob Grimm of the famous Grimm Brothers, was a wonderfully insightful and sympathetic narrator whose voice sounded genuine, and the other characters, all quirky in one way or another, will delight many readers. The plot points wove together in small, nuanced ways that all coalesced by the conclusion. And when the plot turned dark, it went very dark, and in doing so, the story stayed true to its roots in the original Grimms' tales.
Even with all of these strengths, I felt oddly disconnected from this story. For much of the book, I felt unsure of whom the intended audience was meant to be or how much of the town, its people, and their stories were meant to be taken seriously. The plot develops very slowly and does not pick up until nearly 70% into the text. Though I appreciated how everything came together, it felt as though it took a very long time to get there. When the pacing does change, the tone also shifts abruptly from one of small-town musings to that of a very dark and sinister variety. Most of the characters were described in broad strokes, and some were little more than caricatures. I believe this framing was intentional, as the story is a fairy tale about fairy tales, but I longed for more character depth. The two main characters, Jeremy and Ginger, also spoke and acted much younger than their purported age of fifteen.
If I were to rate this book based solely on my enjoyment of it, I would give it three stars, but McNeal's obvious mastery of his story and the language he uses to tell it make me bump it up to four stars. I would recommend this story most to those between the ages of 11 - 14 or to adult readers who want to immerse themselves in the Grimm-influenced lore. Given the right reader with a patient disposition, FAR FAR AWAY should be a treat of fairy tale proportions.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy. ...more
My first complete audiobook "read." Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was a humor-filled urban fantasy romp with touching moments mixed in. A great choice f My first complete audiobook "read." Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was a humor-filled urban fantasy romp with touching moments mixed in. A great choice for YA readers who like older, college-aged protagonists and also a great choice for male readers. ...more
What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s. The author's use of Petrarchan sonnets in the round (a corona) was outstanding, and the artwork complemented it perfectly....more
Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the U.S. civil rights movement. Well-written, moving non-fiction that could be great as a text to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird or similar for classroom use.
ETA: I've since found some claims re: a few factual inaccuracies in the book, but if true, they are still minor enough to not take away from text too much....more
Though I should be terribly ashamed of this rating, I have to admit that this book was the addictively readable, sometimes swoony stuff that brought mThough I should be terribly ashamed of this rating, I have to admit that this book was the addictively readable, sometimes swoony stuff that brought me into the fold of YA literature. It was rife with anger-inducing sexist stereotypes, unhealthy relationships, and poor writing, but Meyer does weave a tale that pulls the reader in. That doesn't forgive it all its faults, but I admit to being sucked in, all while yelling at the characters (literally) about their foolishness....more
In Insurgent, Veronica Roth’s much anticipated sequel to Divergent, the stakes are even higher. Tris and a small group have escaped after the simulation that killed countless people, but their struggles are far from over. Possible war looms between the factions, and Tris and Tobias are among those most wanted by the different sides. Tris must grapple with grief, guilt, and deception as sides are declared and choices must be made, including ones that threaten her and those she loves.
Though I enjoyed the first book, Insurgent was even better with clearer world building, stronger character development, and more intricate plots twists. Like Divergent, the story reads quickly and easily, but this installment has a much quieter, somber tone. Tris, Tobias (Four), and all of the survivors are dealing with the emotional and political fallout after the simulation, and it shows. All of the characters, including those the reader loves and those who are despised, are fleshed out more and given added layers. Tris’s struggle to move forward while burdened by grief and guilt is portrayed in a way that feels real and poignant. Though she engages in a lot of selfish or thoughtless actions in this book, all of those actions seem like honest attempts to deal with her loss, her choices, and how she should best work to honor those she loves. Tris and Tobias also continue to bring the swoon with simple words and small touches, despite having problems. Their relationship encounters major hurdles in this installment, but they are all reasonable and justified given what’s happening. The relationship they share provides a much-needed counterpoint to show that love and connection is worth fighting for and is possible even in a world that’s falling apart.
In addition to these strengths, the plot was unpredictable and gripping. The novel is full of unexpected alliances, betrayal, action, and rebellion on multiple fronts that keep the story moving. The world building also improved dramatically over that of the first book. I really enjoyed being immersed in the different factions, and the author’s description of each group allowed me to imagine them clearly. I also understand now why some information was withheld in the first book, given some of the significant plot reveals.
Even though this book was great read, I still experienced a few bumps. The story starts immediately after the end of Divergent with little to no recapping of events, so it took me a little while to remember or figure out who certain people were or what had happened previously. A few typos and continuity errors pulled me out of the story, and some betrayals/alliances/connections seemed a little too convenient to allow certain parts of the plot to move forward. The book also suffers a bit from middle-book syndrome in that it can’t stand on its own, and the ending leaves off in a dramatic place right after a big reveal.
Overall, though, Insurgent is an impressive sequel that leaves me eager to see where the author will take the story next. Given what’s revealed at the end of this novel, I can’t imagine how Veronica Roth could wrap up the series with only one more book, but it’s no matter to me, as I plan to keep reading whatever she offers....more
Breezy but touching read about family & forgiveness
As a debut novel, Jessi Kirby's Moonglass delivers a breezy but touching read about dealing wit Breezy but touching read about family & forgiveness
As a debut novel, Jessi Kirby's Moonglass delivers a breezy but touching read about dealing with the past and moving forward. After years living along the beach where her mother died, Anna is uprooted when her father takes a new job. Despite being angry about the move, Anna soon learns that her new beach home is closer to her mother's memory than she expected. She also finds that new friends and a new perspective might bring her closer to understanding her father and the tragic past that has distanced them.
This short, succinct book has so many things to like about it. Kirby's writing is clean and clear, and the story doesn't dwell too long on anything, resulting in excellent pacing. Great dialogue that always felt real also moves the story forward. Anna is a confident, capable, and self-assured character that I believed could be a real teen. The romance, while present, wasn't the focus and didn't overwhelm the main story about Anna and her father. The author also creates an excellent sense of place and beach culture. Whether the characters were walking on the beach or exploring deserted cottages, I could imagine being there too.
The greatest strength of the novel, however, lies in Anna's relationship with her father and how it's depicted. Their relationship is touching, even with their reservations around each other, and felt very honest. Anna's father is portrayed as a real person, complete with his own emotions, friends, and issues. Despite Anna's frustration with him and their growing silence about her mother, he is there for her. I really enjoyed reading about this type of parent-teen relationship instead of the absent or neglectful parents so often seen in young adult literature.
Though all of these things were great, the story had a few places where improvements could be made. Some plot points were too convenient or predictable, and the characters' problems were often resolved a little too easily. Some descriptions in the first part of the story also made Anna seem a bit shallow and too boy-focused. Tyler, the love interest, came across as too cocky to be really swoon-worthy. Ashley, while a great secondary character, also seemed a bit unrealistic in her immediate connection and friendship with Anna, especially since Ashley could have been friends with many other people due to her combination of beauty, wealth, and personality.
Even with these quibbles, MOONGLASS was just the summer beach read with a bit of substance that I needed now as winter sets in. I look forward to reading what Kirby writes in the future, and I hope that fans of similar authors (Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti) will snap up her work too. ...more
In Cynthia Hand's Unearthly, high school student Clara is an angel-blood, the child of a part-angel and a human. Best young adult angel book I've read
In Cynthia Hand's Unearthly, high school student Clara is an angel-blood, the child of a part-angel and a human. When she starts having visions that show a beautiful boy standing by a forest fire, Clara and her family follow where the vision leads, all the way to a new home in Wyoming. Once there, Clara finds herself drawn to the boy in the vision, Christian, but confused by her purpose and where it will lead, especially after another guy enters the picture, a cute cowboy named Tucker. When dark forces begin to threaten, Clara must decide between doing what feels right and what her destiny demands.
Despite glowing reviews from friends, I started UNEARTHLY with trepidation. I've had bad experiences with the other angel books I've read, and I was afraid that this would be much of the same. Thankfully, UNEARTHLY was different than the rest of the pack in many good ways.
One thing I immediately appreciated was the well-researched angel lore and how the author wove bits of that mythology into her story. I really liked the world that was created, with each angel-blood having a purpose, their "glory," and the characterization of the Black Wings. The author's choice to make Clara and her counterparts part-angel, instead of full, really helped me believe in their humanity and normalcy. Clara had spunk, imperfections, and a realistic voice, and I never questioned whether an angel-blood could be that way. Even with all the talk about angels, the story also never felt preachy, even when mentions of God appeared.
The characters and their relationships were another strength. Side characters like Clara's friends were important to the story, and Clara's relationship with her mother and brother felt real. Great dialogue kept the story moving, especially in the second half. The romantic storyline presented a love triangle with two great guys, not the typical nice guy vs. bad boy. When a romance did develop, it was sweet and swoon-worthy and based on shared experiences over time. The number of healthy relationships depicted in this story, whether romantic or friendly or familial, was refreshing.
Even with these strengths, there were a few places where I wished for more. The first 100 pages were slow, and I found myself becoming frustrated with what seemed like a predictable love plot. Though the love story did change, another one of the major plot twists was too easy to figure out. The ending, though not a true cliffhanger, also left a lot unresolved. While it set up things for the next installment, I would have liked to have learned more about Clara's purpose, her mother's past, and the threat of the Dark Wings.
All in all, UNEARTHLY is the best (and only good) young adult angel book I've read, and I'm very glad I got over my apprehension and read it. I'm looking forward to seeing if Hand can continue to bring the quick dialogue, swoony moments, and meaningful relationships in the sequel, Hallowed. I sure hope so. ...more
Solid & engaging start to new series based on Norse myth
Tessa Gratton begins her new series, The United States of Asgard, with The Lost Sun, a t Solid & engaging start to new series based on Norse myth
Tessa Gratton begins her new series, The United States of Asgard, with The Lost Sun, a tale of two teenagers and their race to find and save the sun god, Baldur the Beautiful. Soren Bearskin has always feared the fire in his chest, the berserking, that might lead to a murderous rampage like that of his father. Conversely, Astrid Glyn, a young prophetess, lives in the shadow of her mother’s great seething and seeks to embrace it. When fate throws them together and the country erupts in chaos after Baldur goes missing, the two strike out on a cross-country trek to find the missing god and return him to his rightful place.
The Lost Sun is a solid and engaging start to Gratton’s new series, and its strength lies in the writing and the depth of emotion and conflict depicted in the characters. Set in an alternative United States filled with the creatures of Norse myth, this is a story that could have easily been overshadowed by the flash and action often associated with retold myths. Instead, however, this is a novel (and likely a series) about the characters, their struggles, and their humanity. Soren, Astrid, and Baldur are all sympathetic characters, but Soren is especially so; the dilemma that Soren faces as a berserker feels genuine and heart-wrenching. While there is a romance, it’s not the focus. This is foremost a story about friendship, loyalty, self-discovery, and self-definition. When romantic moments did occur, I also felt twinges of swoon despite the too-quickly-realized romantic connection.
Having said that, though, this novel also excels at its interpretation of Norse myth, even when playing loosely with the original tales. I enjoyed reading about this reimagined U.S. where mortals walk among demi-gods, gods, and Valkyries. The writing is rich and full of description that allowed me to easily envision every setting and situation, from dilapidated farmhouses with trolls inside to the emotional conflict roiling in Soren's mind. The story then concludes with a bittersweet ending that avoided the easy solution, which I also appreciated.
Even with these strengths, there were a few instances in which I longed for more. The romance and some friendships developed quickly and a bit unbelievably; I wish there had been more development in the initial stages of each relationship. The mythology, including the trickery involved at the climax, was a bit hard to follow at times, and I was grateful that I had at least some background in Norse mythology. And, while I love Gratton’s style, the abundance of descriptors and metaphors/similes became noticeable and distracting at times.
Regardless of these small qualms, The Lost Sun is a winning start to a new series with a unique and relatively unexplored mythos, and I’m looking forward to the coming books in the series. Norse mythology is likely to be the next big thing, and I’m glad Gratton is in on the front end of it. Highly recommended to fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy....more
Beautiful and evocative writing creates satisfying tale
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place wherBeautiful and evocative writing creates satisfying tale
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place where nothing is earned easily, whether it be money or respect. Sean Kendrick has found that out himself, scraping by as a stable worker. He’s no ordinary stable hand, however, since he is the only one able to truly control the fearsome capaill uisce, the carnivorous water horses that emerge from the sea. Each year, Sean races his beloved water horse, Corr, in the potentially deadly Scorpio Races. Despite the odds in his favor, there’s much more at stake in this year’s race. Puck Connolly, on the other hand, never meant to go near the Scorpio Races, but her own hard luck has changed that. As the two navigate the difficult paths given to them, they must decide which risks are worth taking.
THE SCORPIO RACES stands out as Stiefvater’s most well-written book to date. Her writing remains beautiful and evocative, and it does so this time without ever feeling overdone. She constructs a palpable sense of mood and place using her words, and the characters have authentic personalities and motivations based on what’s shared about their pasts. Certain emotional and haunting scenes have stayed with me long after I finished, and I got goosebumps while reading more times than I could count. As a standalone novel, the story was satisfying and complete in itself, and the aching closing scene had me thinking about it for days. Other strong points of the novel included its unique water horse mythology (which was explained well without too much telling) and the focus on the strengths of Sean and Puck and the meaningful relationship each had with his or her horse. When a romance did surface, it was reflective of the characters involved and based on mutual respect and admiration.
Despite these strengths, I wasn’t able to give the book five stars due to a few weak points. The story was very slow in the beginning and didn’t pick up until about page 160. Told in alternating first-person perspectives, the voices also felt too similar at times. Though this is the best book overall that I’ve read from Stiefvater, I didn’t get caught up in the characters and their emotions like I did in her faerie books (Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie). I expect that this story will appeal to a smaller audience than her Shiver novels due to its focus on the human-horse relationships and its slow pacing and quiet romance.
Even with these few small qualms, I greatly enjoyed THE SCORPIO RACES because of its gorgeous writing, tangible sense of place, and strong, resilient characters. After reading this, I can’t wait to see what Stiefvater’s two forthcoming standalone novels will bring. It feels like her work will continue to get better and better.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy. ...more
Note: Since I posted my review of Insurgent almost a month ago, I figured it well past time to finally finish my review of Divergent. So here ya go, wNote: Since I posted my review of Insurgent almost a month ago, I figured it well past time to finally finish my review of Divergent. So here ya go, world!
Highly readable addition to the dystopian genre
In Veronica Roth’s debut novel, Divergent, Beatrice lives in a futuristic Chicago where society has been divided into factions. Each faction has a singular virtue, and at the age of sixteen, everyone must choose the one to which they will belong for the rest of their lives. After Beatrice makes a choice that shocks even herself, she is thrust into a world of competition and violence. Renaming herself Tris, she struggles through the physical and psychological challenges that come, all the while hiding a part of herself. As she becomes closer to her trainer, Four, and learns about growing unrest between the factions, Tris must decide how to survive, whom to trust, and how to be true to all the parts of herself.
Divergent is a highly readable addition to the growing dystopian genre. With compelling action scenes, quick pacing, and clear writing, I was pulled quickly into this book. Tris is a strong, able protagonist who grapples with real issues, and the story doesn't shy away from showing her as less likable or selfish at times. All of the characters are flawed in their own ways, and this made them more believable. One of the most likeable characters is Four, Tris's trainer and love interest, and the story does a wonderful job of portraying tenderness and concern between strong individuals, instead of the over-the-top mushy stuff often seen in other novels. Another strength of the book lies in its examination of larger issues, including how and why to choose your own path in life, whether all virtues are worth cultivating and to what extent, and how religion plays a role in the type of lives people choose to lead.
Even with these strong points, Divergent wasn't a perfect fit. Tris's character sometimes seemed inconsistent, and she often excelled at new skills too easily to be believable. Unclear world building also pulled me out of the story a few times and left me wondering how society had evolved to the described point. A few noticeable plot holes also jumped out regarding what the leaders did and did not notice about Tris's different abilities. The dramatic ending pulled at the heart, but it mostly felt like a way to clear up some complications and set up specific plot points for future novels. It's obvious that the plot will span the coming books, but the main conflict was revealed too late and made the ending seem rushed and disconnected from the first 400 pages of the book.
If I had judged Divergent on plotting and world building alone, I would have rated it as three stars. However, the tale's ability to sweep me up into the action, drama, and romance made it a quick read that I'll definitely recommend to others, thereby bumping it up a notch. I'm really looking forward to see what Roth does in her coming books, including Insurgent, where I hope she'll expand her world building, close up a few plot misses, and keep the swoon coming....more
Strong writing & creative mythology make for bloody good debut
In Tessa Gratton's debut novel, BLOOD MAGIC, Silla Kennicott has taken to keeping toStrong writing & creative mythology make for bloody good debut
In Tessa Gratton's debut novel, BLOOD MAGIC, Silla Kennicott has taken to keeping to herself after her parents' apparent murder-suicide. When a mysterious book of magic arrives, Silla decides to see if the spells work...and they do. Soon intoxicated by the power of magic, Silla also finds herself growing increasingly close to the new boy in town, Nick, who has powers and secrets of his own. When it becomes dangerously evident that her parents' deaths were only the beginning of horrible things to come, Silla, her brother, and Nick must work together to stop dark powers from using the magic for horrifying ends.
With its strong writing and creative mythology, BLOOD MAGIC felt different than other young adult paranormal romances. As the title would suggest, the book was bloodier than most, but the violence was never gratuitous and it always served to further the plot or character development. The mystery and plot twists involved kept me surprised and riveted, and I enjoyed how family and the past intertwined to create present-day conflict. The main characters were also well-developed; Nick and Silla's brother, Reese, stood out as especially likable characters who acted and thought like the young males that they were. Another strong point was the touching sibling relationship between Silla and Reese. While many may see the set-up of Silla having dead parents as cliché, this point was used as a major part of the story and therefore avoided being stale or unneeded. The romantic relationship between Nick and Silla also veered away from being trite in that it did show signs of instant attraction but it was never instant love or over the top.
While I wanted to absolutely love this book, I only really liked it though. The story was a bit slow to start, and the romance didn't grab me as much as I had hoped. The alternating points of view were essential to telling the story, but the narrators' voices were not always distinct from one another. Some chapters also shifted narrator mid-chapter, which was a bit jarring. Characters sometimes acted a bit inconsistent and the use of some metaphors, like Silla's masks, were not always clear or didn't add greatly to readers' understanding of the characters.
Even with these few stumbles, BLOOD MAGIC and Tessa Gratton are welcome and bloody additions to the world of YA paranormal romance. I look forward to seeing how the author will hone her writing further in the forthcoming companion novel, THE BLOOD KEEPER.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy. ...more