Release Date: March 20, 2012 Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin) Age Group:...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: March 20, 2012 Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 448 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: When I was sixteen years old, I was incredibly naive, idealistic and a bit reckless. I certainly couldn't have been placed in the position of saving an entire race, and I definitely would not have had two gorgeous boys fighting over lil' ol' me. Why? Probably because I was sixteen, incredibly naive, idealistic and a bit reckless. Also, I wasn't the "heroine" of a YA paranormal romance series.
More and more, the trends in YA fiction veer towards these soaring feats of power and dramatic escapes from death. Both the Harry Potter and Twilight series tell stories of great power discovered in oneself, though we can all agree to disagree as to which one is actually great literature. The point is, teens are in a very precarious position: they are given responsibility, but (hopefully) not enough of it to ruin themselves. They are expected to know better than their younger siblings, but they are still dismissed as "too young." Books provide them with an escape hatch from the roller coaster of adolescence, and I certainly don't blame anyone for enjoying that. But where do we draw the line between escape and harmful idealism?
The plotline of A Temptation of Angels is pretty standard for a YA paranormal story: girl is in trouble, girl meets mysterious boy, girl discovers she has super special secret powers, girl meets even more mysterious bad boy, girl saves the world, girl is still torn (*sob!*) between boys. Let's switch it up, shall we? What happens if we put the boy in the girl's place? Wouldn't so-called feminists rail at the audacity of this boy? "He can't be in love with two girls, that's not fair! He needs to pick one! He's a manwhore and a jerk!" And yet, it's perfectly fine for a girl to lead both boys along? Oh, but see, she's beautiful. She's absolutely gorgeous, and she's smart, and she's good-hearted AND the best part? She has no idea that she's this amazing. Helen isn't a relatable heroine. She's a Barbie doll, upon whom young impressionable girls will attach all their insecurities and dreams and wishes.
The term heroine is thrown about so often these days that it's begun to lose its meaning. The dictionary defines it as:
A woman admired or idealized for her courage or noble qualities.
Not once is appearance mentioned. Can you name a YA bestseller with a less-than-gorgeous heroine? I am sure they exist, but I certainly don't hear about them. Covers depict beautiful models in flowing gowns, men who look nothing like the usual score of high school boys. As a Fine Arts student, I understand the need for aesthetics, but I also think that it does readers a disservice. We are led to believe that every heroine needs to look like that, that it's the only way to find men like that, and frankly, I do feel a little insulted. Helen asks some questions for which the answers are rather obvious, and yet we're expected to see her as this perfect person? Forgive me if I found myself getting up close and personal with my desk again and again. The reader is also asked to believe that Helen's "courage and noble qualities" are natural traits, but considering every time Griffin has to save her because of a reckless decision, I don't quite see her that way. Courage is also knowing when to fight.
Speaking of fighting, Helen's two love interests are, at best, lackluster copies of Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes (Gone With the Wind). They love her, oh how they love her. But...why? I don't subscribe to the belief that real love is something you can develop in a few days, and I just didn't see enough evidence of it in this book to suspend my disbelief. These kids may have great powers, but they are still kids. Contrary to popular opinion (at least in a bookstore's YA section), falling in love is not something you enter into lightly. It's also important to consider the tropes that Helen "falls in love" with. Griffin is a good boy, Raum is bad. She's known them for a few days at best, and yet she's swept away by...what exactly? Passion is not equal to love. I feel passionately for my bookshelf, but I don't love it and I certainly don't expect it to love me. Helen is sixteen, and I find it patently ridiculous that I am asked to accept her adventures as just another YA story, when they don't seem to be based in any reality I can understand. Yes, I do expect common sense and you know, a desire to stay alive and be safe to exist in YA books. Whether they are set in Timbuktu or the farthest regions of outer space, I expect characters to rise above their tropes and give readers something to invest in and ponder beyond the last page.
You can love all the problematic stories you can find. That's totally fine, and I don't expect everyone to throw off things they enjoy just because there are flaws. But in light of the trends that are dominating the YA scene and its target audience, it becomes even more important to address those issues and provide venues to discuss them and their effect on society. Personally, I am unable to ignore those social issues when I find them, which can make it difficult to enjoy a lot of the books that are being released. I am very disappointed that I couldn't enjoy A Temptation of Angels, especially since I loved Ms. Zink's previous work.
The Final Say:A Temptation of Angels won't be finding its way on any of my recommendation lists any time soon. Paranormal romance fans will find much to love, but should they attempt to pick the story and themes apart, the illusion will be shattered.(less)
Release Date: June 14, 2012 Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin Canada) Age Group: Young Adult...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: June 14, 2012 Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin Canada) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 395 Format: Hardcover Source: Library
Tell Me More: The boy-next-door has always been one of my favourite tropes in literature and film, so it won't come as a surprise that I wanted to read this book immediately after I heard about it. In fact, I even dedicated a Waiting on Wednesday post to talking about this book. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about that synopsis that assured me I would love Samantha's story, and thankfully, I was right.
Samantha Reed is a wonderful character, layered with very real insecurities and doubts. Fitzpatrick's careful reveal of Samantha's family life is necessary to the integrity of the book, and it allows the reader to make their own conclusions about Samantha's decisions. Fitzpatrick doesn't ever excuse her characters for the things they do, but neither does she convict them unfairly. I loved the way the author handled the mother-daughter relationship without reducing it to a tired cliche--even as I grew annoyed with how her mother treated Samantha, I wanted them to fix things and love each other.
The idea of love reveals itself as a main theme in My Life Next Door, though maybe not in ways you would expect. There's Exhibit A: the love of and within a family, as illustrated by the Garretts to great success, though not so much by the Reeds. Exhibit B: the love of power and ambition, as illustrated by Clay Tucker, and Grace Reed to a lesser extent. Exhibit C: love in a friendship, as shown through Nan and Tim's respective relationships with Samantha. And lastly, Exhibit D: the love between two young people.
I thought Exhibits A and B were done extremely well in this book. The saying "It's lonely at the top" popped into my head multiple times as I read about Grace Reed's attempts to become a powerful person, with Clay's "help." The stark differences between the Reeds and the Garretts were never clearer than in the moment when Samantha realizes how far her mother was willing to go to feel good and confident about herself. Instead of finding strength and joy in her family, Grace Reed falters and places her faith in a man who admits to always backing the highest bidder. Samantha faces the same decisions, and she chooses to love and to heal with the help of people who accept her for who she is. It's a powerful decision, and one that gives power to Samantha without destroying her integrity. Strangely enough, it reminded me of how Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter insisted that they would go with Harry wherever he needed to go, because they were his best friends. They drew strength and comfort from each other.
Unfortunately, the friendships in this book did not have positive results. Twins Nan and Tim, Samantha's closest friends, are predictable at the start of the novel--it was very easy to side with smart, confident Nan against loser Tim. But as the novel progressed, I found it extremely gratifying that Tim would turn out to be more than what people assumed he'd be. Teenagers (and adults, for that matter) still make assumptions based on past mistakes and first impressions, and I loved that Fitzpatrick chose to illustrate how people you trust can still betray you, even when they don't seem like they will. Nan's fears made her into exactly the kind of person she didn't want to be, but Tim's solid decision to do the right thing helped him to become a good person.
The romance between Jase and Samantha is likewise a tale of opposites, but happily, they manage to fix things for the better. Jase was utterly enchanting, almost too perfect at times, but it was just so easy to love him. He was kind without being a saint, and he was understanding and loving towards everyone in his life. He cares for his family with consideration and compassion, and always, always protects them as best as he can. What young man would have the patience to deal with his terrified younger brother or a sister whose first word was poop? That requires a lot of courage, and beyond the physical and emotional appeal of such a character, it's Jase's willingness to make the best of everything he has that made me love him completely. He learned from Samantha, even as she learned from him, and I foresee them being very happy together in their imperfections. I don't want perfect characters. I want real ones, people that make mistakes and get angry and still try their damnedest to be good people and love one another.
The Final Say:My Life Next Door is the perfect summer romance, on par with Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever and Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. If you know me, you know that this is the highest compliment I can give a contemporary novel. In the last six months, I haven't found many novels that can make me stop whatever I'm doing just so I can read, but I wouldn't give back the three hours I spent savouring this novel for the world.
Release Date: May 1, 2012 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 545 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Beginning the final book in a series is always bittersweet (no pun intended) for many reasons. As wonderful as it is to have a world to return to and explore once again, readers deserve the satisfaction of a fulfilling ending for the characters they've grown to love. Kristin Cashore delivers, and how.
The Seven Kingdoms are as richly drawn as they were in Graceling and Fire, their familiarity still comforting even as Cashore takes her readers to new corners of Monsea. Each kingdom has its own character and their uniqueness contributes to the brilliance of this saga. Monsea is particularly interesting to behold--as a kingdom ravaged by a cruel king, it is simultaneously ragged and shiny. Reading Bitterblue was like slowly opening centuries-old curtains to let the light into a room.
And what light through yonder window breaks--it is Katsa and Po, returned to aid and protect Bitterblue as she tries to remove the claws of her father's reign over Monsea. The relationship between these three characters is a wonder to behold, not just for the emotional impact but for the careful development Cashore weaves underneath the words. As much as books, especially YA novels, are forms of escape, it is still gratifying to see that authors know how much their readers value realistic and believable portrayals of life. The pressures Katsa and Po undergo as a couple do not overwhelm the story or their characters, and best of all, their relationship is not the point of their inclusion in the story.
I find it incredibly interesting that so many readers (at least, from my observation) are disappointed with the romance in this series, particularly in Bitterblue. Yes, each female heroine finds someone worthy to love. But the key word there is worthy. I would have been highly disappointed if Cashore took the easy way out and let their relationships change Katsa, Fire and Bitterblue. But each couple is like a rubber band--they stretch out and move independently of each other, but it is when they come together that they are strongest. As Martha Mihalick puts it in her post on romance: They are a team by the end, a team that will take on whatever comes next, which is bound to be imperfect, but good because they can count on one another.
In that way, Bitterblue is written to be one of the most remarkable characters I've ever had the privilege of meeting. The facets of her personality aren't polished and blinding. They are so real, you almost feel like you know her. You know her mistakes, you know her insecurities and you know the courage she finds in herself. The person that Bitterblue becomes is not in spite of, but because of her past and the people she's known. Like that same rubber band, she is strong when she discards her past and the influence of her father, but she is even more powerful when she takes it into herself and accepts it as part of her identity. The place might be a fantasy, but the life lessons Cashore imparts to her readers, young and old, are so important for us to remember.
The Final Say: With an incandescent charm and truly unforgettable characters, Bitterblue makes an excellent addition to any shelf. I mourn today if only because there won't be more of the Seven Kingdoms to explore.(less)