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 seThis 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: 2You 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....more
Release Date: May 24, 2011 Publisher: Candlewick Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 449 FoYou 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....more
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 TBRDiscovery: 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 GorgeoRelease 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: 25You 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.
Release Date: December 6, 2011 Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & SchusYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: December 6, 2011 Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 497 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC from Simon & Schuster Canada
In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa's powers for his own dark ends.
With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister's war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move and that one of their own has betrayed them.
Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will; the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?
As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.
Discovery: Receiving this ARC from Simon & Schuster Canada was the catalyst that made me start The Infernal Devices.
+ Jem. This is, bar none, Jem Carstair's story. His amiable and kind nature permeate every page, which is part of the reason why I loved this book. Out of all the characters in Cassandra Clare's novels, it's Jem that enchanted me from the first page and Jem who will keep me reading this series. I don't really subscribe to the school of Tortured-Bad-Boys-Are-Better, so I appreciate characters like him all the more. Some may argue that Jem has his own baggage and rightly so. But does he let that ruin all his prospects for happiness? No, and that's why I respect him.
Cassandra Clare's writing takes on a different tone when it's focused on Jem. The mood of the story changes, becomes less dark and urgent, as the reader learns to understand Jem. More and more, he becomes a steady flame for Tessa and the rest of the Institute to light their way, but that comparison also makes me wonder if it's a set-up for his--say it ain't so!--death in a later book.
+/- Plot. Holy plot developments, Batman! Clockwork Prince moves at a faster clip than Angel, and the twists come one after another. Thankfully, none of those twists involve familial relations between certain love interests. The dangers that Tessa must face feel more tangible and there were definitely moments where I found myself worrying about their fates. One thing I mentioned in my review of Clockwork Angel was its unsettling similarities to fanfiction, and I'm happy to say that that wasn't a problem in Prince. I see a lot of speculation in store for many readers, especially because of that sucker-punch of a final chapter.
+/- Love triangles. I knew going into this series that there was going to be a love triangle. Barring my own frustration with that ever-more-popular trope, I have taken to viewing the Will-Tessa-Jem relationships in a new light. And unfortunately for my shipping heart, things are not going to end well.
It's no secret that I dislike Will. But I do think that Tessa is going to pick him in the end. Clockwork Prince may be Jem's book, but all signs point to Tessa choosing to throw caution and reason to the wind for Will. They deserve each other. I'm not saying that in any negative way, but simply as a statement of fact. There is something in Will and Tessa that calls out to each other and I don't think that either of them can resist it. Many of the events in Prince reference that draw, and set up a final installment which cannot have a perfectly happy ending. I haven't quite decided how I feel about this, and I probably won't know for sure until after Clockwork Princess is released next year. The development of this relationship is written in an interesting way, but it is going to break my heart.
Recommendations: This second installment of The Infernal Devices will please old and new fans alike, with a scrappy humour and romance that readers will revel in for weeks after reading.
Discovery: Retellings of fairy tales always make their way onto my TBR pile, but I was especially intrigued by this post-apocalyptic twist on “SleepinDiscovery: Retellings of fairy tales always make their way onto my TBR pile, but I was especially intrigued by this post-apocalyptic twist on “Sleeping Beauty.”
+ Voice. Rose is very much an innocent and while that naivete can sometimes become tedious for the reader, it’s very clear why she thinks and speaks the way she does. It’s obvious to the reader just how awful her “fairy-tale life” really is, but she doesn’t seem to lose any sense of optimism. Rose has a quiet strength, only emerging when she needs it, because she doesn’t actually ask for much. I enjoyed her curiousity the most–she wants to learn but is afraid of what the knowledge would mean. I liked seeing her cast that fear aside when she realizes it can only do her more harm than good. She’s also quite funny and insightful; I appreciated Otto all the more because of her interaction with him.
+ Sci-fi and fairy tales. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my standards for dystopian novels are high. Thankfully, Anna Sheehan delivers a world that is complex and beautifully rendered. I had a great time imagining the limoskiffs and comms and other gadgets that Rose’s futuristic world used. Stass is also a noteworthy piece of tech and the ethics of its use gave the novel a perfect backbone. The juxtaposition of such a technologically-centered future with a fairy tale makes for some complicated questions–like “Was waking Rose the right thing to do?”–but Sheehan handles them all with deft precision and care for the characters she’d created. The revelations in this novel are expertly paced and
- Length. I do feel that some sort of a companion novel is necessary, if only because Sheehan included characters that readers will want to know more about even after Rose’s story has ended. I LOVED that the romance wasn’t the focus of the book. It’s easy to imagine where a second novel might go: Otto is a particular favourite of mine and I’d love to know more about his life.
Recommendations: A Long Long Sleep is a truly unique and complex novel, which will keep readers up all night trying to solve the mystery of Rose Fitzroy. They won’t be disappointed.
Discovery: I don’t read many books about dancers, so when I heard about Bunheads, I knew I had to give it a whirl.
+ Voice. One of the things that makeDiscovery: I don’t read many books about dancers, so when I heard about Bunheads, I knew I had to give it a whirl.
+ Voice. One of the things that make me nervous about dancer novels is how difficult it can be to get into the characters’ heads. As a non-dancer, one can become hyper-aware of how removed dancers’ lives can be from the norm. Sophie Flack makes the transition easy with a beautifully crafted main character in Hannah Ward. Hannah’s voice is stunning to witness–it is lilting and fresh, much like how I imagine her dancing. Flack herself was a former ballet dancer and I was happy to see that she allowed those experiences to colour the novel with unique touches. Hannah’s inner conflicts aren’t going to be new to non-dancers, but I never felt like she was obtuse or oblivious to what was going on around her. At the end of the day, Hannah is a kind and intelligent girl who has to make a difficult choice that will determine the rest of her life. I admire her courage and willingness to open herself up to the world.
+ Themes. Raise your hand if you wanted to be a ballerina when you were six years old. Now raise your hand if you’re a ballerina right now. I’m almost 100% sure that most of us who dreamt of living life in a gorgeous pink tutu aren’t sporting one at the moment. But if Bunheads didn’t make you yearn for those days even a little, I’ll eat my hat. (Don’t make me do that, I really like my hat.) That said, reading this novel only made me appreciate the sacrifices all dancers have to make to create their art. All aspiring artists quickly learn that creativity and inspiration can only get you so far. It takes an even stronger and indomitable will to break through and make something of oneself. Hannah’s choices have the potential to be polarizing–there will be those who think that she sacrificed too much or too little–, but I think that’s where her story is most powerful. Art is never easy, and neither is life. Sophie Flack did a marvelous job of reminding her readers of that fact.
Recommendations: The more I think about Bunheads, the more I feel like it belongs in my top 10 list for this year. Definitely check it out if you had even a passing interest in ballet as a kid, or if you simply admire artists.
Discovery: I originally got an eARC of this book in August from Galley Grab, but I didn’t have time to read it until last week when I bought a copy. IDiscovery: I originally got an eARC of this book in August from Galley Grab, but I didn’t have time to read it until last week when I bought a copy. In the month-or-so between, I heard lots of praise for this fun and fancy-free story and knew I’d have to add it to my list of contemporaries.
+ Setting. Whatever stroke of brilliance gave Leila Sales the idea to set a book in a historical re-enactment community, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love YA, but reading stories set in high schools can get exhausting. Summer stories also tend to be set on the beach or in beach towns, and I want something different. Essex was a charming and entertaining place in itself. I will admit that I’ve wondered what life is like for the interpreters in places like Colonial Williamsburg and Fort Mifflin. Leila Sales gives her readers a group of people who are passionate about what they do and still have a sense of humour. After all, it takes a lot of devotion to one’s work to stand around in a heavy costume during the summer and take photos with people you’ll never see again.
The War between Essex and Reenactmentland was also a highlight of the novel: leave it to the teens to make an otherwise-tedious summer into two months of ambushes, pranks and hilarity. I loved the creativity and enthusiasm that each character displayed in different ways. A companion novel that explores Reenactmentland would definitely find its way onto my TBR pile.
+ Voice. I’ve read a few reviews that took issue with Chelsea and her narration of the book. It is understandable that Chelsea is a little self-centered or oblivious to things around her–she’s a teenager and at that age, the smallest dilemmas can blow up to gargantuan proportions. That said, I enjoyed her generally optimistic nature and her insistence on finding the humour in any problem. Readers will find it easy to sympathize with Chelsea because she genuinely wants to be a better person.
- Pacing. Past Perfect is a quick read, but I do feel like some of the characters were underused because of how fast it moves. Bryan and Tawny stood out the most among the supporting characters and I would have liked to see more of their actions throughout the war. Of course, this book is from Chelsea’s point-of-view, so any additional time spent with Bryan might not be great for him, but it would certainly give the reader more to work with.
Recommendations: Definitely check out Past Perfect if you’re looking for a thoughtful romp through a historical reenactment town. You’ll never look at period costumes the same way again.
Rating: Very good.
Go visit Leila Sales at her website and follow her on Twitter @leilasalesbooks.
You can check out Past Perfect on Goodreads and order it over at Amazon and Book Depository....more
Release Date: December 5, 2011 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Age GroupYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: December 5, 2011 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 336 Format: Hardcover Source: Personal copy
Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent's divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she's changed. The former "girl next door" now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, "Old Lucy" still exists, and he's determined to find her... even if it means pissing her off.
Garden State meets Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist in this funny and poignant illustrated novel about opposites who fall in love.
Discovery: While browsing Goodreads lists one lazy afternoon, I came across this gorgeous cover. If you know me, you know that winter is my favourite season--despite the dangers of frostbite--and I loved that the summary sounded like a quirky, David-Levithan-esque novel.
+ Illustrations. Let's be honest, sometimes it can get exhausting to look at pages and pages of straight text. I probably read upwards of 1000+ pages a week and when I'm curled up next to my pillows, I sometimes need something special to want to keep reading. Wintertown was one of those books that I just breezed through, because the illustrations were amazing. In fact, I can't imagine this story without illustrations--they complement Emond's writing so well and tell their own story. I loved that they weren't super polished and even that the lines seemed to pulse with uncertainty. Evan has a talent to be sure, but he hasn't quite gotten the hang of it yet. I loved the potential that I could see in every hand-drawn page.
+ Plot. Slice-of-life stories are some of my favourite pieces to read. Studying creative writing gave me a taste for unvarnished, simple stories about complicated people. And man, were Lucy and Evan complicated. Stephen Emond has a knack for writing coming-of-age tales that get to the heart of all that insecurity and uncertainty. It takes courage to really grow up, and watching Lucy and Evan try to figure things out was both heartwarming and scary. I remember what it was like to be unsure of my own future, and that perspective made reading this book a truly exceptional experience.
+ Romance. This book pushed all my buttons, it really did! When I started reading, I was actually comparing Wintertown to Dash & Lily's Book of Dares (hence the David Levithan mention above). It didn't take long for me to be utterly enchanted by the quiet charm of this story. Where D&L is boisterous and feisty, Wintertown is careful and shy, much like their protagonists. I loved that the romance had so much to do with the setting as well--when it snows, the world looks like a completely different place, and anything can happen. There are so many possibilities surrounding Lucy and Evan, and watching them realize those new dreams was wonderful.
The final say: With vibrant and quirky characters, Wintertown will charm every reader. Stephen Emond writes a story alive with hope and reminds us that our best dreams aren't always the ones we set out to have.
Release Date: October 18, 2011 Publisher: Scholastic Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 4You can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: October 18, 2011 Publisher: Scholastic Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 404 Format: Hardcover Source: Finished copy from Scholastic Canada
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
Discovery: I was iffy about reading this book, and when a review copy arrived at my doorstep, I decided to take the plunge. [Note: I won't really be talking about the plot, because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. Believe me, this is the highest compliment I can give a story.]
+ Setting. Ireland is one of my favourite places in the world, and The Scorpio Races just blows all my previous fantasies of rich shores and beautiful hills out of the water (pun intended). Thisby Island is one of the most unique locations I've come across in literature. It may seem scrappy at first, but Thisby is a strong island, with people who believe in daring fate to do her worst. They are connected to the island in ways that even they can't see, and as someone who moved around a lot during her childhood, those roots were fascinating to explore. Puck and Sean's home gives birth to the capaill uisce the same way it does the people of the island, with rough waves and foam that will stay in the minds and eyes of readers everywhere.
+ Writing style. Full disclosure--I did not enjoy the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. The language just didn't evoke any real emotion or connection to the story, and I have yet to crack open my copy of Forever. That said, I was swept away by Maggie Stiefvater's writing in this novel. There are too many gorgeous lines to quote, but I'll mention my favourite (which appeared early on):
Everything in me says to abandon the struggle. Fly with her into the water.
Threes. Sevens. Iron across my palm.
I whisper: "You will not be the one to drown me."
Stiefvater's prose is stark, but it takes flight in different ways for each character. Sean is a no-nonsense boy who is determined to make his own path; Puck is a girl afraid to dream. There are times when reading this book felt like prying open their souls, and all the credit goes to the beautiful language. Even the capaill uisce gallop through the pages, their heartbeats just out of earshot in each sentence's careful rhythm. Novels like The Scorpio Races remind me of why I fell in love with literature--there is no better feeling than being led into a world so beautifully sketched out that you forget to breathe.
Recommendations: Stories like this don't come along every year. Definitely add The Scorpio Races to your wishlists and gift a copy to your favourite reader.
Release Date: December 1, 2011 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 2You can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: December 1, 2011 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 281 Format: Paperback Source: Finished copy received from publisher
Tell Me More: For about five or six weeks, I debated whether to even pick this book up. While there isn't a lot of contemporary YA that I won't read, the premise just didn't strike me as anything impressive or unique. (The tagline made me choke on air.) Then the reviews started pouring in. Friends whose tastes in books are similar to mine were practically pushing Catching Jordan into my hands and insisting I would love it. What can I say? I'm a graceful loser, and it's all because of Miranda Kenneally's prose.
Jordan's story is rather predictable, and I winced several times because of her obvious attempts at being one of the boys. After the first few chapters, however, I stopped reading for the story. Kenneally's real talent lies in her dialogue and description. I found myself laughing so hard I collapsed onto my pillows at some of the one-liners she gives her characters. Where John Green throws witty, intellectual banter, Kenneally is a master at gritty locker-room teasing. There is an honesty about her characters that makes you hope for them, even if you can guess where everything's headed.
Part of that hope lies in the romance. While I didn't swoon, I did giggle at the comedy of errors in which Jordan finds herself. I was impressed with the way Kenneally handled the theme of trust and what it means for boys and girls alike. She lets her characters ask questions of each other and of themselves that I think many YA writers shy away from. She gives them space to breathe, to make mistakes and find the courage to admit to those flaws and weaknesses. Again, there aren't many surprises in this book, but I don't think readers will mind that. If anything, I think this new take on a romantic comedy will leave them seeing familiar love stories in a new light.
The Final Say: For a truly enjoyable and smart romance, Catching Jordan should be your first pick....more
Pride and Prejudice sweeps into YA with this adorable retelling from Claire LaZebnik. Her creativitPosted on Seashell Reviews at Mermaid Vision Books!
Pride and Prejudice sweeps into YA with this adorable retelling from Claire LaZebnik. Her creativity with the tropes of Austen's work is both entertaining and heartwarming, with characters that burrow into one's heart as easily as Darcy and Elizabeth do. The realistic dialogue was my favourite part of the novel, as well as the high SA-WOON factor that Derek Edwards brings to the table. Elise Benton is a heroine to watch, and I can only wish for more of her perceptive voice....more
Discovery: Lots of book buzz put this book on my radar, but it’s the story that hooked me. I haven’t read an epic fantasy since Game of Thrones, so IDiscovery: Lots of book buzz put this book on my radar, but it’s the story that hooked me. I haven’t read an epic fantasy since Game of Thrones, so I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into this book.
+ Elisa. Rae Carson’s protagonist seems to be a textbook case of strong-heroine but that perception shifts just as quickly as the sands around Orovalle. I thought I had her pegged within the first few chapters, but I was wrong. At first, Elisa is exactly what one might expect: an insecure girl who’s thrust into a situation from which she can’t break free. But over the course of the novel, she emerges as a girl who’s aware of her weaknesses and pushes past them anyway. It’s easy to forget that Elisa is only sixteen during the events of the novel–her insights into human nature are mature for her age. Nevertheless, Rae Carson doesn’t let the reader forget that at the end of the day, Elisa is a teenager who has found an extraordinary well of strength in herself. She is a wonderful example for girls everywhere.
+ Religion and power. When I started reading this book, the first mentions of religion made me nervous. I am Catholic, but religion in novels always makes me a tiny bit anxious because either it’s full-on hate for organized religion or heavy-handed adoration. Thankfully, the themes in this novel were expertly handled. I love the parallels drawn between religion and power, how both can twist saving acts into the worst kinds of abuse, and how it’s often the smallest and least powerful that truly understand the nature of love. The idea of destiny is also twisted–Elisa isn’t alone in her quest and that cooperation saves her life more than once.
+ Writing style. I won this book from Karen Hooper in a comment contest. Karen asked her readers to tell her why they deserved to read The Girl of Fire and Thorns and I had this to say about the matter:
As a little girl, I burned my hand. The fear of fire has stayed with me since then, to the point where I can’t hold a lit candle without having a panic attack. I chose to be a writer but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. More writers are rejected and ridiculed every day than find success, and it really can be a bath of fire sometimes. But books like Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns inspire me to keep going. One day, it will happen for me, and in the meantime I have to find a way to break away those fears. Somewhere out there, there may be another young girl afraid to spark the flame of passion and joy inside her and I might be the lucky person who can help her. Isn’t that the best thing a writer can achieve?
In case you didn’t know, this is Rae’s first book. It’s also, hands-down, one of the best books I’ve read in the last two years. That doesn’t come from nothing. It’s obvious that Rae cared about her story enough to make sure that it received the best treatment possible, and the writing is simply superb. The kingdoms are beautifully described, the characters full and vibrant and the dialogue smart and intense. The work she put into crafting Elisa’s story is inspiring and intimidating, and I’m so glad that I got the chance to read this book.
Recommendations: If I could, I would put this book into the hands of every person I meet. For now, I’ll just have to settle for stroking the cover lovingly when I see it in bookstores and wait for my birthday to buy it. BUT YOU SHOULD ALL ORDER IT RIGHT NOW.