This is the kind of story that lives in one's soul forever.
Tell Me More:Rare is the story that wins me over from the first page, convinces me to set...moreThis is the kind of story that lives in one's soul forever.
Tell Me More: Rare is the story that wins me over from the first page, convinces me to set aside a morning to sink into its world. Rarer still is the story that leaves me literally breathless and ready to collect copies to send to people that I love. And this year? Deathless is that story.
Marya Morevna is exactly the protagonist that I've been looking for in YA fiction, and yet her story is directed towards adults. She is marked by danger, followed by it, until she becomes dangerous herself. There is a leashed deadliness to her every thought and move, even as a child. She sees the things no one else admits to seeing, she confronts them and calls out to them, and she understands the power of a secret, capable of destroying as it is destroyed.
I will never be without information, she determined. I will do better than my sisters. If a bird or any other beast comes out of that uncanny republic where husbands are grown, I will see him with his skin off before I agree to fall in love. For this was how Marya Morevna surmised that love was shaped: an agreement, a treaty between two nations that one could either sign or not as they pleased.
When Marya saw something extraordinary again, she would be ready. She would be clever. She would not let it rule her or trick her. She would do the tricking, if tricking was called for.
And if they thought her aimless, if they thought her a bit mad, let them. It meant they left her alone. Marya was not aimless, anyway. She was thinking.
Compared to Marya, Koschei and Ivan are two-dimensional, recognizable characters. She outshines them, compelling the reader to look at her, understand her. She is clever, more than she realizes at times, and she is resourceful. More importantly, she never truly gives up. She might I would go so far as to say that Valente didn't created the Marya of this story--she created herself, and she will continue to exist long after the reader leaves her world.
And what a world it is: Deathless contains one of the most brilliant universes I have seen in all my years of reading. Valente uses her prose with precision, pinpointing the threads that hold both her settings and characters together. Domoyava enliven Marya's childhood, while chyerti surround her in adulthood. The famine that held Leningrad captive in 1942 is excruciating to read about, and I feel no shame in admitting that I cried through that entire chapter. She brings the reader into Marya's life without making a fuss about the way it happens, and the experience is earth-shattering to say the least. I did not know a writer could pluck the music out of sentences the way Valente does, and the melodies are haunting.
Beyond the beauty of the words, however, the insights shared are sharp as arrows and just as piercing. Some books might be termed "quietly feminist"--Deathless might pretend to whisper its philosophy into your ear, but it does so with the full intention of keeping those ideas there, letting them simmer before they command action. Women are front-and-centre in Deathless, from the twelve mothers who raise Marya to the widow Likho to the unforgettable Baba Yaga. Marya learns from women and breaks away from women, and it is her womanhood that empowers her to be more. Once, she is told:
Cosmetics are an extension of the will. Why do you think all men paint themselves when they go to fight? When I paint my eyes to match my soup, it is not because I have nothing better to do than worry over trifles. It says, I belong here, and you will not deny me. When I streak my lips red as foxgloves, I say, Come here, male. I am your mate, and you will not deny me. When I pinch my cheeks and dust them with mother-of-pearl, I say, Death, keep off, I am your enemy, and you will not deny me. I say these things, and the world listens, Masha. Because my magic is as strong as an arm. I am never denied.
And suddenly makeup is more than just makeup to the reader--it is as powerful as the person using it, and it is what the person chooses to make of it. So it is with life and death and love. Marya might have waited for Koschei to come to her as birds came to her sisters, she might have known less, been less, but it is her will that prevails over everything in the story.
Perhaps all a Tsaritsa is is a beautiful cold girl in the snow, looking down at someone wretched, and not yielding.
Valente doesn't excuse or justify the choices that Marya makes. She challenges the reader to be like Marya, an indomitable survivor. For what else can you be when you are a Tsaritsa caught between Life and Death, and enamoured of both? What is there to do when war surrounds you, lives in you, and loss is the only reality you know? What is there but to survive and work and see another day? The answer is everything. Everything lies between Life and Death, and everything lies waiting for someone to realize it and call it for what it is. "Life is like that," several characters echo, and so it is.
The Final Say: Catherynne M. Valente has won me over as a faithful reader, and I will live the rest of my life hungering for another story like Deathless.
Release Date:December 28, 2011 Publisher: Chronicle Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 20...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: December 28, 2011 Publisher: Chronicle Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 204 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: The premise behind this anthology is so beautifully simple that it does make one wonder why writers haven't attempted it before. Teen romances make bank, and I enjoyed the fact that these authors were willing to delve deeper and talk about perspectives and choices and the way these two things intertwine.
As this book is a short story collection, I'd like to discuss each story using a scale of 1-10 (according to how well the story was constructed, its organic unity, and enjoyability). I've paired the stories together by arc.
"Love or Something Like It" - 6: By the halfway point, I felt confident in saying that John and Wanda's story would have been better served by a full novel. John is interesting, but the length constrained his character development. His realizations are too hurried, his decisions built on shallow foundations. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of these two stories comes from how it's never made clear to the reader why John even likes Wanda. "Some Things Never Change"- 4: You know those people who talk just because they like to hear themselves? Wanda's narration drove me up the wall with her inane chatter and too-cool-for-school attitude. Writing unlikable characters is fine, but the key is to also make them sympathetic. If readers are too busy wishing Wanda would shut up and go away, they're not going to be able to reflect on the reasons behind her attitude.
"Falling Down to See the Moon" - 4: The great thing about short stories is that the word "short" isn't really restrictive. They can get up to 30 pages, single space, and still be considered short stories. Unfortunately, it seems that the writers in this anthology may have tried to write the shortest stories possible for their entries. I barely had enough time to get to know Bobby before I got to the last scene. All I knew about him was that he was bullied and that he kind of had a thing for Nancy Whitepath. I saw no connection to the title or a reason to root for Bobby. "Mooning Over Broken Stars" - 7: Definitely an improvement over the last story. Cynthia Leitich Smith made it clearer that Nancy and Bobby's arc in this collection was only going to touch on the potential for a relationship, and not the whole thing. I would have appreciated knowing that early on in the story, but her take on Nancy is far more compelling and complete enough to sell the budding love story.
"Want to Meet - 8: This was the first story I truly enjoyed. That said, it has a highly problematic plot. As an LGBTQ piece, it's stark and honest. I had Will Grayson, Will Grayson flashbacks during the first half, which is always a great sign. The second half builds up the tension wonderfully, but the twist ending? That was a bit of a disappointment. By the last line, the vibrancy of the characters felt contrived and lost. "Meeting for Real - 7: I have mixed feelings about this story, mostly because there just wasn't enough Alex to justify the plot. There are hints as to her own character development, but for a story about a girl who helps her brother find someone to love, her own personality isn't fleshed out. She's pushed to the side to focus on Cal and her brothers, which was disappointing. I genuinely liked her and I wanted to know about her issues and her life.
"No Clue, AKA Sean" - 7: Raffina's confidence gives this story life. I loved her no-nonsense view of the world and the sheer strength in her narration. Her interest in Sean is palpable, and it's clear from the start that she's the kind of girl who knows exactly how to get what she wants. It was refreshing to find that the story can stand on its own. "Sean + Raffina" - 9: Possibly the best story in the entire collection. Both Sean and Raffina were well-developed, and for the first time, I felt like the author actually understood them. I was also pleased to find that the previous story wasn't just rehashed from a different POV--it gave the reader the chance to see what happens next. That potential, combined with stellar dialogue, was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise rather murky collection.
"Mouths of the Ganges" and "Mars at Night" - 7: I could write sonnets about how much I love these titles, but the stories themselves are a bit of a buzzkill. I liked the romance, but it could have used more page time to really grow into something swoon-worthy. That said, the descriptions are taut and vibrant, and the cultural dynamic is discussed in a sensitive, accurate manner.
"Launchpad to Neptune" - 10: I'm not sure how to feel about the fact that this story was placed last in the collection. On one hand, if I'd this story first, I might have been extremely disappointed in all the others that followed. On the other hand, I didn't expect to find a truly excellent story at the end of this uneven anthology. The first paragraph hooks you almost immediately, and will keep you enthralled until the startling ending. My desire for well-written characters was fulfilled in Gavin and Stephanie, the descriptions were lush, the dialogue snappy and smart. "Launchpad to Neptune" makes me wish all the authors had written their stories in alternating perspectives instead of separating them completely, because when it works, it really works.
The Final Say: The concept might be simple, but this slightly uneven collection highlights the complexities of love in all its forms. I would definitely recommend this book to readers looking to start reading short stories.(less)
Release Date:May 24, 2011 Publisher: Candlewick Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 449 For...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: May 24, 2011 Publisher: Candlewick Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 449 Format: Paperback Source: Finished copy received from Random House Canada
Tell Me More: I'm reluctant to read stories about angels because I don't particularly enjoy the way a lot of authors interpret the mythology. Some trusted blogger friends insisted I'd enjoy this series, and I decided to give it a go.
One reason why I approach angel stories with a modicum of caution is because I'm a practicing Catholic. The way I see angels is different from the way non-practicing people do, and while I don't mind alternative perspectives, it can get awkward. That's why I found L.A. Weatherly's take to be a chilling presentation of human nature and the presence of religion in our daily lives. The cover copy, while successful at hooking readers who want forbidden romances, doesn't capture the full scope of what Alex and Willow are facing.
The core of the story is belief, and the things we are willing to do in order to stay true to those beliefs. Willow believes she isn't special. Alex believes that he has to kill all angels. And everyone around them is in danger of literally believing themselves to death. Weatherly doesn't just focus on the budding relationship between Alex and Willow. She alternates their scenes with chapters looking in on the angels themselves, and the corruption lying beneath their peaceful gazes. The angels are strikingly similar to humans--they are selfish and ambitious. And like humans, they are also caught up in their own beliefs. They are willing to sacrifice the people they were meant to care for in order to survive, and worse off, they are willing to use those peoples' beliefs to kill them.
Make no mistake, I don't believe that Weatherly was trying to say all religions are evil. I do appreciate the dialogue that she opens up. The first mention of the Church of Angels gave me chills. Blind faith doesn't do anyone good, and that's not only a big issue in the story, but an important one in real life. Angel Burn has the capability to shock readers who are devout believers in their religions, especially if they actually don't know much about said religion.
While the themes of Angel Burn are startlingly complex, I did have some issues with some of the characters' early actions. I don't think enough attention was paid to Willow's home life, and so it becomes easy to forget about her mother and aunt. I also had some logical world-building questions that, thankfully, were answered in the second book. Lastly, the writing structure left me a bit confused: in one chapter, Weatherly gives us Alex's POV and then Willow's a few paragraphs later, without any noticeable pattern. However, I was interested enough in the story to at least put these things to the side while reading.
That's Not All:
> Love and the role it plays in keeping one true to a belief. I'll definitely be discussing this in depth in my review of Angel Fire.
The Final Say: Angel Burn surprised me with an explosive story and haunting questions about loyalty and faith. If you're looking to try something out of your comfort zone, L.A. Weatherly's story might just be what you're looking for.(less)
Discovery: I came across this book in the Hachette fall catalogue and the premise struck a chord in me.
+ Themes. Before you add this book to your TBR...moreDiscovery: I came across this book in the Hachette fall catalogue and the premise struck a chord in me.
+ Themes. Before you add this book to your TBR pile, be warned that it is much more serious than the premise makes it sound. I know that doesn’t sound likely, but I found myself close to tears more than once while reading it. There is no way that this book can be mistaken for a light read.
Desperation, helplessness, dishonesty: all of these mix into Ames’ story to create a storm of bad decisions and hatred. There were many instances where I was tempted to put the book down because the emotions were simply too much for me to take. While that might sound like a bad thing, I would be the first to recommend this book for the sheer power of Ames’ experiences. Giles doesn’t shy away from the truth of Ames’ family troubles and many teens will relate to the changes that Ames is dealt. I especially loved the ending because honestly? There’s no way a happy ending can be contrived for this story and Giles didn’t try to write one. She was true to the story and that courage alone is worth reading this book for.
+ Voice. Ames is a teenager who has lived her entire life without a single care. When her father is fired, the floor buckles and crumbles beneath her and her family comes close to doing the same. She is stubborn and strong and the saddest part is that she can’t see that strength through her disappointment. Make no mistake, Ames is a character that will stay with every reader after they finish the book because she is who we are afraid to be. She feels too much, she knows too much, she is afraid to let it all in. Every word that comes out of her mouth is two-sided and pained. I may not like her, but she represents that darker side in every person who we have to learn to respect and work with. She’s human, and I admire her for it.
Recommendations: While this isn’t a book for younger readers, I do think it’s something that older readers will understand and learn from, especially in the troubled times we live in today. Gail Giles is to be commended for her honesty and bravery in writing this book.
Release Date: September 5, 2011 Publisher: Poppy Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC won from Karen @ For What It's Worth Gorgeo...moreRelease Date: September 5, 2011 Publisher: Poppy Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 304 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC won from Karen @ For What It's Worth Gorgeous, uber-harsh, and uber-stylish, Kacey Simon is the undisputed social dictator of Marquette Middle School. That is, until an eye infection and a visit to the dentist leave her with coke-bottle glasses, a mouth full of metal, and... a littttthsp! Dissed and dismissed by her popular friends, Kacey is forced to hang out with a boy who wears skinny jeans and jams in his own band. But as she adjusts to life as a loser, she's surprised to find that Skinny Jeans is kind of hot and his band is pretty cool. Suddenly, hitting rock-bottom feels oddly uplifting. Could rocking braces and glasses be the best thing to ever happen to her?
In this hilarious reversal of the cool crowd versus the nerd herd, a popular girl finds herself in Loserville and realizes it's about time she paid back all the bad karma she built up as Queen Bee.
Discovery: I received this book in a reviewer's challenge prize pack in September and thought it would be a fun read because I used to wear braces and glasses as a kid.
+ Writing style. Meg Haston has a knack for capturing that confident-yet-insecure voice of a teenager on the edge. The edge might be high school, a new crush, family troubles or even just braces and glasses, but every teen knows how utterly terrifying it can be. I liked how Haston's writing seemed to grab me by the wrist and haul me along for Kacey's story--the breakneck pacing was almost exactly how I remember middle school.
+/- Plot. I didn't pick up this book expecting some grand realization or insight from Kacey or her friends, so the simple truths that they discover were perfectly placed and explained. There were a lot of fun moments to be had as Kacey tried to adjust to her new circumstances, and I did find myself laughing more than I thought I would. After all, having braces and glasses weren't a walk in the park when I was 13. I could put myself in Kacey's shoes and understand what she was going through.
Unfortunately, I do think I'm a little too old for her story. It's been ten long years and since then, I've grown into the realization that braces and glasses aren't the end of the world. Age does give you different perspectives into the teenage mind, and while it was a good story, it's not something I can relate to anymore.
- Kacey. I won't lie, I found Kacey a little insufferable at times. Whether that's age speaking again, I can't tell you, but I did find her difficult to stomach when she went off on her peers. I know it's part of the character, and if Meg Haston meant for her to be a challenging narrator, then she succeeded.
Recommendations: While I might be too old for this story--*tear*--it is one that younger readers will happily devour. Great lessons in self-esteem and confidence can be found in this book, and I would definitely pass it on to cousins and siblings.
Release Date:October 1, 2011 Publisher:Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 256 F...moreYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: October 1, 2011 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 256 Format: Paperback Source: ARC from Raincoast Books
Jasmine Evans knows one thing for sure... people make mistakes. After all, she is one. Jaz is the result of a onenight stand between a black football player and a blonde princess. Having a young mother who didn't raise her, a father who wants nothing to do with her and living in a small-minded town where she's never fit in hasn't been easy. But she's been surviving. Until she sees her mom's new boyfriend making out with her own best friend. When do you forgive people for being human or give up on them forever?
Discovery: I'd been eyeing this book for a few days when the lovely Raincoast Books publicist sent it to me for review. I don't tend to come across books with non-white characters (and that's an issue that would take another long blog post to address), so I made a point to set aside time for this one.
+ Character development. Jasmine is a prickly character, and so are many of her family members and friends. No one in this book is a straightforward "goodie" or "baddie," though Jasmine discovers that in the course of the story. A writing professor once told me that a good story is one in which change occurs naturally, because the characters learn to integrate it into their lives. Jasmine doesn't have an easy time of it, but she tries, and that's what drives the story forward. She is a curious and brave girl, who can't seem to see her own self-worth, which I will admit made the story a little difficult to read. However, I did see her potential and I'm glad that I stuck around to see her grow into a more mature young woman.
+ Themes. I address this issue a bit reluctantly, because I don't want to get into the whole mess surrounding racial discrimination and prejudice. That's something I'm not comfortable discussing on the internet, because words on a screen can't project actual expressions or tone. It's too easy to fall into awkward situations or involuntary rudeness.
That said, I will tell you--in the interest of full disclosure--that I have experienced racism. I am very familiar with the walls that Jasmine builds around herself and the fears that she pretends she doesn't have. There were times when reading this book became really uncomfortable, not because of the characters, but the emotions that their experiences dredged up in me. Not every reader is going to be as affected as I was, but Jasmine's story will ring true for anyone who's "different" and is treated that way.
I also loved how Gurtler wrote about loyalty and its importance in Jasmine's life. She places stock in kindness and compassion, though like any other human being, Jasmine doesn't always make the right decisions. Above all else, this book is about a girl who is trying, step by step, to figure out who she is regardless of colour, family and friends.
Recommendations: Readers of any age will appreciate Jasmine's signature voice and clear-eyed view of the world around her.