Tell Me More: When you're a teen, the smallest fallYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: When you're a teen, the smallest fall can seem like a disaster of epic proportions. You try your best to build an impenetrable wall, stay dignified and cool, but underneath that facade, most teens often have very real problems. It's nothing new to those of us who have passed adolescence. But what happens when one of those very real problems includes your own survival? Carrie Mac's The Opposite of Tidy is a stark look at the way two lives can fall apart, and the work required to bring the pieces back together again.
Initially, I had a difficult time getting into Junie's story. The prose isn't especially exciting, and the pacing was unusually slow for a contemporary novel. It added to the distance I felt between myself and Junie, which wasn't an ideal position to be in. I wanted to like the story, however, and I grew fond of Junie by the halfway point of the novel. The parallels to Sarah Dessen's Lock and Key were quite obvious to me, since both Junie and Ruby are dealing with mothers who--for all intents and purposes--are not present in their daughters' lives. Their individual struggles were still very much tied to the lack of maternal support, and both of them make some reckless decisions having been influenced by that.
Beyond the mother-daughter relationships, one of the main themes in The Opposite of Tidy is control. Junie's mother exhibits a lack of control in her hoarding, which is later determined to be a sign of mental illness. Junie herself feels like her life has spun out of control, and her actions reflect her desire to regain her footing in a shifting world. As intriguing as it is to see young protagonists dealing with supernatural powers and creatures, I find stories like Junie's display more courage, because it illustrates just how hard it is to live a normal life. There isn't anything or anyone who can save Junie and her mother--they have to pull each other out by themselves. And why should Junie help her mother at all, when she's destroying both of their lives? Questions like these add to the thematic complexity of this story, and make it an intense experience for the reader. It is a story worth reading, however, and one worth sharing with readers that struggle with that same loss of balance in their lives.
The Final Say: The Opposite of Tidy is more than a flickering glance at the true nature of mental illness--it is a sobering take on the challenges of loving someone who comes close to being unloveable, and finding the strength to battle onwards.
DNF. I just couldn't get past the random changes in POV and tense, plus the waves of cliches. There doesn't seem to be any real, necessary reason forDNF. I just couldn't get past the random changes in POV and tense, plus the waves of cliches. There doesn't seem to be any real, necessary reason for a story like this to be told....more
Release Date: March 13, 2012 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan) Age Group: Young AYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: March 13, 2012 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 192 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: With the exception of Go Ask Alice, there are very few YA novels that attempt to tell the story of kids faced with the temptations of drugs, sex and "free love" in the last five decades. The taboo subjects that were only whispered about in the 1970s are now blurted out on social media without a thought. The internet has knocked down barriers to communication and knowledge, and it isn't quite clear yet if that freedom will ultimately help or harm future generations. Susan Carlton makes a brave choice in writing about a teenager who makes reckless choices in an era where she had everything to lose.
Without delving into the morality of abortion, I will say that I was apprehensive about how Carlton would handle the emotional, mental and physical effects Chloe would encounter because of her choice. Stories like this aren't cookie-cutter material, and writers can't insert names and still make it a story worth reading. It becomes important to find a heart to the story, the reason for telling it in the first place. If Chloe wasn't flawed in a familiar and poignant way, there wouldn't be a reason to care for her. Teens are notoriously stereotyped as apathetic and uninterested in anything but themselves. For Chloe to matter, they need to be able to see themselves in her. Carlton channels this need wonderfully, and makes it clear that there is always more at stake than we can see at any moment.
I was particularly impressed by her choice to use the third-person POV, instead of the easy out of a first-person narrative. Carlton trusts her readers to be smart and savvy as they follow Chloe to San Francisco. There's no talking down to readers, which is why I would recommend teachers and parents be available to guide their teens through this story. It's not explicit by any means, but there are questions that will come up and require some additional explanations.
In the end, the great potential of Love & Haight is defeated by the lack of length. There simply isn't enough to satisfy readers, and while I wouldn't want the story to go on forever, Chloe needed a bit more closure than she got. I enjoyed the supporting characters immensely, and it would have been great to really tie them all together. The conflicts played out realistically, but I still felt like there was at least 20-25 pages left of story left to tell.
The Final Say: Love & Haight is a complicated and nuanced story of bravery and faith that will keep readers thinking long after they've closed the book....more
Tell Me More: When you're on your very first proper train ride and it's going to take five hours to get to your destination, there's nothing better than an engaging and intense book to remove you from the cramped seats and boredom. I'd been putting off reading The Hunt for a few days before my trip to Windsor, Ontario, but faced with a dying iPod, I decided to give it a shot. Quite honestly, it was the best decision I'd made all week.
Fukuda yanks readers into The Hunt like they're about to be hit by a train--the first fifteen pages are elemental to setting up this bizarre world where people drink blood, scratch their wrists in joy and crack their necks. Or are they people in the first place? The word "vampire" immediately comes to mind, but you'd be hard pressed to actually find Fukuda throwing out that familiar life line. Instead, Gene (whose name readers won't even spot until well into the book) makes two things clear: people are dangerous, and he is not one of them. I loved that I wasn't sure if I could trust Gene or not; after all, couldn't this just be part of our future evolution (as uncomfortable as it is to think about it)? But Fukuda deserves another point for infusing the first few chapters with a sense of dread and unease. Something isn't right in Gene's world, and if my reaction means anything, readers won't like what they'll find bubbling under the surface.
Many of the twists in The Hunt were obvious from a mile away, but I still enjoyed the breakneck speed at which I experienced them. Gene is a strong character, but he is also a bit obtuse--I had a couple of moments where I wanted to shake him and convince him not to make bad decisions. I also had a few moments where I wanted to curl up in the fetal position on my seat and hide from the awful situations Gene found himself in, time and again. The titular Hunt was horrifying to watch unfold, but its power could have only come from the little details. From every step of the preparations for the Hunt, Fukuda reveals more and more of the society Gene is hiding from and it adds to the suspense.
Thematically speaking, the horrors that come to light in The Hunt are ones that are smarter than most people give YA authors credit for. There is an obvious condescension when children's literature is discussed, but if you don't start kids thinking about their society and actions early, when can you start? I loved that Fukuda presents his readers with questions on humanity, acceptance and truth, and that he doesn't dictate, but creates scenarios that his readers will respond to. Again, if my reaction is anything to go by, they will respond in a myriad of ways. Beyond the tongue-in-cheek nudges towards the fetishized vampire culture we live in today, Fukuda asks smart questions about cultural and political issues we tend not to notice.
The Final Say: The Hunt is an automatic choice for readers who want their horror served with slices of realism, dystopia and socio-cultural commentary. Also, it's one of the wildest and terrifying rides YA could ever offer.
Tell Me More: What better way to start a month of myYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: What better way to start a month of mystery reading than with a salute to Sherlock Holmes? Admittedly, Secret Letters reads a bit like a piece of fanfiction, but Dora is a delightful character, and thankfully, she carries the story with grace.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this story, especially since the biggest hook--Sherlock Holmes--is deceased by the time the story begins. Dora is hit with this news early on, and similarly, I did feel as though I'd lost my grip on the story. I didn't know any of the characters well enough yet to be emotionally attached to them, the plot was still vague, and the writing was attuned to readers younger than myself. But the mystery? Much more intriguing and interesting that I'd expected. Scherier structures the novel in surprising ways: as one learns about the mystery Dora has to solve, one also learns about Dora and the tiny quirks and idiosyncrasies that make up her personality.
From the limited experience I've had with mystery novels, this is one aspect that I've always enjoyed. The connection between the detective and the mysteries they solve is intrinsic to the organic unity of the story, and it gives the reader stakes to hold on to. In this novel, Dora is desperate to regain her footing after finding out about her alleged father's death, and her actions/decisions reflect that need. It doesn't excuse them, by any means, but they're more understandable in that light. Tied as she is to societal norms, Dora nevertheless goes after what she wants and that is a quality every reader can appreciate.
The Final Say:Secret Letters is a dynamic and feminist-positive mystery novel which will fascinate new and old mystery readers alike.
Release Date: June 14, 2012 Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin Canada) Age Group: Young AdultYou 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.
Say the word "mixtape" and my inner 90s child is immediately lost in raptures of joy, while teens tPosted on Seashell Reviews at Mermaid Vision Books!
Say the word "mixtape" and my inner 90s child is immediately lost in raptures of joy, while teens today might just answer you with "huh?" Likewise, Meagan Brothers's story isn't one that will connect with teens growing up in the age of iPods and Spotify, but it does resonate for us readers who fondly remember the days of CD releases and radio taping. The early 1990s comes to life in Brothers's writing style, and I adored both the setting and the way the story brought back memories of my early childhood. I also genuinely enjoyed Maria as a character--it was easy to root for her as she struggled to carve out her identity within her family and alonside her music. While the tone of the book itself can seem youthful at times, it does serve to bring one back to those "good old days" of listening to boomboxes and the surprise of hearing one's favourite song on the radio. Is there anything better?...more
Tell Me More: Europe has always been a constructionYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Europe has always been a construction of dreams in my head. I have moments when I daydream about how I'll be able to order a train ticket in perfect French at the Gare du Nord and make my way across the continent, meeting the most interesting people ever and having adventures I'll remember forever. I can reinvent myself and be more, better than who I am now. Violet Routledge isn't nearly as idealistic as I am about her home continent, but her personality and story are just as patchwork as the way I see Europe.
Quite honestly, this novel was a challenge to read, let alone like. The synopsis given on Goodreads and Amazon is far more shallow than the one found on my ARC, and it says nothing about the reason Violet ends up in Italy. Said reason is quite interesting: Violet discovers a painting of a young girl from the 1700s with whom she shares an uncanny resemblance, and her research leads her to Villa Barbiano with three other girls for the summer. I loved the mysterious premise, and I settled myself in for an enjoyable few hours of delving into Italian history. And that's when the cover copy you see above kicked in with a vengeance.
The first 30 pages or so had me biting back frustrated exclamations over Violet's attitude--I was a teenager once too, and I get how weird her mind must be. She was simultaneously judgmental and superficial, and I found myself connecting more with her mother. At the airport, Violet's encounter with two loud and overdramatic American girls is an empty cliché. Violet comes off as more of a snob than the two rich girls, even as she laments her overly casual wardrobe. This scene foreshadow the uneven characterizations throughout the entire novel. None of the Italians are compelling, and much of the book is swallowed by the cattiness and backstabbing that goes on between Violet, Kendra, Paige, Kelly and Elisa (the daughter of Villa Barbiano's owner).
There is hardly any substance to be plucked from this story. Violet is almost completely flat, so there isn't much encouragement to root for her. The catalyst for her trip to Italy is forgotten in the midst of clubbing with cute Italian boys and learning about Italian "culture." Many of the classes felt like they belonged in finishing schools, not in beautiful hillside villas, which confused me. And the romance? Actually laughable in its lack of depth and feeling. Any and all comparisons to Stephanie Perkins' sweetly romantic Anna and the French Kiss end with the synopsis. Luca is not a boy any girl should be dreaming about, despite the kindness he shows towards his mother near the end of the novel. For a girl who claims to respect herself, Violet is all too eager to be swept away by Luca, even when he's hateful and cruel. And even after having finished the novel, I was still at a loss to understand why either of them wanted the other.
But there's still the mystery to redeem the book, you might be thinking. What could Violet have to do with a girl born in the 1700s in Italy? Along with plausible romance, it seems Flirting in Italian also left answers behind in its desire to tell the story of a fabulous Italian summer. The truth is hinted at in the last five pages, but it isn't until you get to the very last paragraph that you realize that Lauren Henderson has led you straight into another year of waiting, because this book is the first in a series. I'll be completely honest--this was the first time I've ever been genuinely angry at a novel. Most first-installments-in-a-series set up the arc of the series masterfully, poking the reader every once in a while with clues towards a problem that will be solved in a later book. This novel throws itself into the minutiae of Violet's boy troubles and fights with the other girls without so much as leaving breadcrumbs towards the conclusion.
Let it never be said that I have problems with hot Italian boys. I am neither a killjoy nor a perfectionist. But when a writer leads me to their story with a complex premise, I expect to get that complex premise, and not the dizzingly shallow story Violet narrates for 300-odd pages. I thought I was going to find a beautiful and mysterious painting with a story worth knowing. Instead, I was left with the firm knowledge that this will be my first and last Henderson novel.
The Final Say: Need a break from intense, dramatic stories? Flirting in Italian might be the light fare you're looking for, but don't expect answers to questions you may have about the plot itself.
Release Date: April 24, 2012 Publisher: Greenwillow Books (Harper Collins) Age Group: YouYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: April 24, 2012 Publisher: Greenwillow Books (Harper Collins) Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 320 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: "The Masque of the Red Death" was one of the first short stories I ever read, though it was probably too early for me to have consumed it, since I was seven years old. Edgar Allan Poe is my mother's favourite writer, and when I grew curious about his work, she happily allowed me to read it with her. Over the years, I've returned again and again to his stories to educate myself about the written word. Hence, a retelling of one of his stories is something I approach with caution and a smidgen of reluctance. I can't say that Masque of the Red Death does what it sets out to do, but neither can I dismiss it as a poor imitation.
The emotion that strikes first after reading this novel--having studied the story many times--is a sense of disappointment. Before you cross Masque off your shopping list, hear me out. The original short story is about a masquerade ball thrown by a prince who believes he has escaped the Red Death in his castle fortress. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't read it, but I did expect to see, at the very least, the plans for this masquerade or a twist on it in play throughout the novel. I didn't find out until the last ten pages that this was the first book in a series, and many readers won't realize it until that point either. Do I feel a bit hoodwinked? Yes. Will that stop me from reading the next book and loving this one? No.
Greenwillow Books has a great record in my book when it comes to breathtaking prose and unique writing styles. Bethany Griffin does not disappoint, and if I've said it once, I'll say it again: Martha Mihalick's editing is something I admire greatly. While I was slightly confused by the start of the story, it became obvious as I read that Bethany was setting the stage for a razor-sharp narrative. She channels enough of Poe's writing style that it can satisfy longtime readers like myself, but she is a powerful writer on her own as well.
Araby, while not my favourite heroine, had a distinct and honest voice, even as she made some selfish decisions. What I find interesting about heroines is society's focus on what they do right, and not how they deal with their mistakes. For much of the novel, I wasn't sure what to think about Araby--she seemed almost frigid, closed off to anything but her grief. It's an understandable distance, however, and it was gratifying to find her maintaining her identity while discovering new parts of her soul. That journey is the reason why both love interests just aren't fascinating to me--if anything, I believe that they blur the path she's on. They need her more than she needs them, which reminds me a lot of Peeta/Katniss/Gale. I don't necessarily mind if Araby decides to be with Will or Elliot, but at their relationships stand now, I don't see either one working out in the end.
Maybe I walked backwards into my own tomb with the way I approached this novel and bricked myself up with my own expectations and investment. (You win a prize if you know what story I'm referencing. For real.) But despite my initial misgivings, Masque of the Red Death was a provoking and thoughtful read that has me waiting not-so-patiently for the second book in April 2013.
The Final Say: Pick up Masque of the Red Death for the cover and inspiration, stay for the words that will mark you forever....more
Tell Me More: One of the very first YA novels I remeYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: One of the very first YA novels I remember reading was a dystopian novel, The Giver. Over the years, I've developed a soft spot for similar novels--and therefore always give them a chance--but sadly, Crewel did not live up to my expectations.
On the surface, Adelice's story appealed to the feminist in me: who wouldn't love to read a novel about women who used their talents to bring about a better world for everyone? I loved the magical quality of the Spinsters' work, and I wanted to know just what it would take to control and weave time. I loved the conspiracy and the danger that Adelice would find herself in. All in all, Crewel seemed to be exactly the kind of dystopian novel I was looking for.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't support its premise very well. Adelice's narration was muted at best, boring at worst. I couldn't get a clear sense of who she was within the first few chapters, which makes it difficult to go on in a dystopian, since it is particularly important for the reader to want the protagonist to succeed in their endeavours. If I don't know who Adelice is, and what she wants out of life, how can I throw my support behind her? How can I be sure that what she tries to do makes sense for her character? Part of the difficulty lies in Albin's choice to begin the novel in media res--the reader is immediately brought into Adelice's world in an alarming way, but it feels a lot like entering an empty film set and seeing the lack of a ceiling.
The plot itself is predictable, but again, I say this having read many dystopians. I don't mind the same kind of setup because I read those books for the characters, which quickly became a problem with Adelice. Because of the lackluster introduction to her character, I couldn't muster up enough interest to want to see her deal with the usual dystopian problems, not to mention the inevitable love triangle. Neither Jost nor Erik were intriguing enough to make me fall in love with them, and there were times that it felt like this specific plot device was just another checkmark on the Official Dystopian Tropes list. Likewise, the villains never felt all that dangerous or ruthless. The conflict never reached the promised high stakes, and by the last few chapters, I didn't hate the book, but I was ready to move on.
The Final Say:Crewel doesn't quite hold its own as a dystopian novel, but readers new to the genre may still find lots to love about Adelice and her dangerous world.
Tell Me More: With one of the most captivating and sYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: With one of the most captivating and symbolic covers in YA history, Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone sets the reader up for a story just as fragile and gritty. Despite my desire to love this novel, however, it just fell short of almost every expectation I had thought to create.
To settle any misgivings that might be forming even now in your minds, I will say that Kat Rosenfield's writing is superb. Wordsmiths like her are rare in my experience, and I savoured the literary gems that were laid out almost carelessly in the text. You get the sense that Rosenfield is a very particular writer. It's easy to imagine her painstakingly writing and rewriting phrases just to get the perfect cadence and melody, not to mention meaning. That meticulous attention gives life to a rather cliché small town, and more interestingly, illustrates a leashed violence in the character of Becca.
I seem to be alone in my thoughts regarding the characters--most people who've read this book were fascinated by them, and Amelia Anne was an enigma to be solved. Unfortunately, I figured out the plot by page 50. There wasn't anything surprising about Becca; in fact, I could almost predict exactly what she would say, when she'd say it. Amelia Anne was far more mesmerising, but even she fell to the wayside for...well, it's not exactly clear. My dissatisfaction with this story doesn't really lie with the plot, but with the characters' lack of decisive action. Becca vacillates between being "too cool for school" to speak her thoughts and being overwhelmingly frustrated with her life. I wanted to like her, but there were many scenes where I just wanted to shake her and say "You CAN change your life. Make good decisions!" And then I'd watch her sink back into safety, into the cocoon she can't seem to stop creating. It got to the point where I just wanted to give up on her, because it seemed like she was giving up on herself.
That frustration is part of why I wasn't happy with the storyline that Amelia Anne follows. A conversation with a friend led me to consider the discomfort I felt when applying feminism to my analysis of this story. Both Becca and Amelia Anne are tied to boys who are abusive--one emotionally, one physically/mentally--and it's clear by the halfway point that something will happen to change the status quo. For a book that is aimed at young women, Amelia Anne is stark and depressing, and there isn't much hope to feel even at the end of the story. In fact, the ending made me genuinely angry. (Highlight for spoilers) What, exactly, is the connection between the death of James' mother and his need to murder Amelia Anne? I wanted Becca to leave James because of her own realizations about their relationship and her life, not because he's going to jail. I didn't think James was a weak character--in fact, I predicted that he would have killed AA because he has control issues with Becca, but to blame it on his inability to move on after his mother's death? It's a weak premise, and one that I was highly disappointed in, considering I spent 300-something pages and a few hours of my time getting to this point. The relationships portrayed in this story bothered me a lot, not because of their existence, but because of how they were treated by the author as nothing more than plot twists. I expected more from such a raw and beautifully written story.
The Final Say: Readers looking for a stark literary novel will certainly find much to laud about Amelia Anne, but the story doesn't quite justify its ending, nor its characters. Maybe it doesn't feel it has to.
Tell Me More: Much of the conversation regarding terYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Much of the conversation regarding terminal illness has focused on the patients themselves, understandably so. They are the ones that struggle through every breath, even as they try to live normal lives. Sarah Wylie's poignant debut novel highlights the parallel journey of a girl watching her sister be consumed by cancer, and the risks she takes to try to stop it.
The challenges posed by this novel are two-fold: 1) can the reader hang on through what can seem like lackluster prose? and 2) can the reader refrain from judging Dani before the story is over? I initially found both difficult to do, because All These Lives is not a book that vies for one's attention. The prose is quiet, unassuming, and surprisingly, not as emotional as I was expecting. Wylie is not a writer who tries to shock her readers, but neither does she fall into the tried-and-true cliches of stories about cancer. It's a tough, deadly business, and I appreciated her determination to keep it from falling into blatant sentimentality. The reader is never far off from the touch of death, and Wylie leaves nothing to hide behind. You either face the truth of Dani's family's life, or you give up.
Dani is one of the most flawed individuals I've ever met in literature, and her true nature is so carefully hidden in the story that I feel it will take me at least three more rereads to really understand her. There is a hesitation in everything she says and does that can go unnoticed, because readers may latch onto her reckless decisions. The way Wylie balances Dani's doubts and courage is a stunning act, and it reflects on how many of us live our lives. I would never recommend that teenagers follow Dani's path, but certainly they can find something to relate to in her determination to save her sister's life.
The Final Say: All These Lives is a novel that won't grab readers' attention straightaway, but those who stick with it will find much to consider and reflect upon, especially when it comes to the bond of a family.
Release Date: March 13, 2012 Publisher: Random House Children's Books Age Group: Young AdYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: March 13, 2012 Publisher: Random House Children's Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 262 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Before I say anything else, I have to express my disappointment over the change in covers. The previous cover--which you can see here--was beautiful and atmospheric. It had the feel of a Renaissance painting, which tied in wonderfully with the story. The new cover, however, feels derivative and might actually make casual bookstore browsers believe that it is a paranormal novel. Sometimes I agree with the need for a new cover, but this book didn't need it.
The reading experience itself is difficult to describe. Laura's story is full of mountains and valleys of revelations, but you are never quite sure which one it is. Conversations that seem innocuous turn out to be damaging, events meant to save reputations destroy them. And in the middle of this quiet chaos is a sixteen-year-old girl who has to learn to lie and cheat and keep deadly secrets, not only to save her life but her family's as well. "Intense" doesn't even begin to cover it. Gould's talent for atmosphere serves her well--you can almost hear the lapping of the water against the gondolas as you turn the pages. Laura's world is an easy portal to enter, and shadows lurk everywhere. I was extremely impressed with the details Gould included in the story, and my attention never wavered while I was reading.
I cite this book as an excellent example of well-written teen literature for many reasons. One of them is the impeccable combination of parts that turned into a magnificent story, otherwise known as organic unity. It is one of the standards I hold books up to when I read them. Should the author drop the ball, so to speak, by including unnecessary scenes or confusing plot twists, it becomes harder for the story to remain whole. Cross My Heart is a powerful book for many reasons: because Gould takes care to mold her characters well and make their actions believable; because her atmosphere reflects her setting and vice versa and; because the themes of secrecy and loyalty are played out in mysterious ways. I never once asked myself what the point of a particular scene was, nor did I think there were any unnecessary characters or descriptions. Gould said exactly enough of what she needed to say to provide a tightly woven and intriguing read.
The Final Say: Historical YA has found a bright new voice in Sasha Gould--Cross My Heart is not a book you should miss if you love chilling revelations and emotional intensity....more
Release Date: January 17, 2012 Publisher: HMH Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 204 FormaYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 17, 2012 Publisher: HMH Books Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 204 Format: Paperback Source: Finished copy received from Thomson Allen, Ltd.
Tell Me More: I used to be a sickly kid, so stories about the terminally ill have always appealed to me because I could relate to them.
Selflessness, courage, compassion: all of these are traits that most people associate with the sick and dying. We laud them for their strength and sympathize with their challenges, but it's clear that no one can really understand illness unless they are in its throes. Does that viewpoint change once we know someone is sick? Do we automatically afford them those traits once they're stuck in a hospital bed? How fair are we really being to them?
The story itself is misleading: it opens with Austen Parker telling his mom he's going out and meeting up with his best friend Kaylee. There is nothing to suggest that Austen is days away from dying. He banters with Kaylee as they drive around to see some of Austen's current and ex-friends/girlfriends, and he tries to talk some sense into them. Reading his impassioned speeches, I was more than a little confused and skeptical. How are readers supposed to be sold on this kid who, for all intents and purposes, just seems to want to preach to people who hurt him/were hurt by him? If I had been one of the characters in the book, I probably would have just said "See you later" and closed the door. Furthermore, it seems strange that Kaylee doesn't continue to ask Austen why she has to drive him around for a weekend. It doesn't even have to be out of concern, just simple curiousity.
Despite the questions that the novel brings up, I enjoyed reading it. Never Eighteen made me reconsider how terminally ill kids and teens are viewed by society, and the expectations that we press onto them. I may not have understood why Austen wanted to spend his time trying to reconnect with people when he felt he was going to die, but I can't begrudge him that opportunity. Call it cliche or maudlin or whatever you like--when was the last time you did something just because you wanted to? Or because you wanted to be a good person? I do wish that we had seen more of Austen's struggle, because he doesn't seem like the kind of kid to naturally decide to journey on like this, but I admire his tenacity. He made his story worth reading.
That's Not All:
- Unrequited love! I won't lie, I cried over Austen and the way he pined over Kaylee. Though I would definitely tell him to just confess--he's taken risks, this is just one more.
The Final Say: A sweet nugget of a book, Never Eighteen will leave readers reflecting on their own mortality and time with loved ones....more
Release Date: March 1, 2012 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 367 FYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: March 1, 2012 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 367 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: In writing a story set outside reality (paranormal/dystopian/fantasy/etc.), the writer runs the risk of never giving enough information to justify that story. Reading is considered a form of escape--we pick up books to experience different worlds, but if the author isn't careful, the illusion is easily shattered and they are left with dissatisfied readers. Embrace is a clear example of that pitfall.
Within the YA sphere, there are an awful lot of books that exist because the main character is special. Sometimes the MC is thrust into focus because he/she is the only one who can defeat the bad guy (Harry Potter, anyone?), sometimes it's because he/she is the long-lost descendant of another special person. Sometimes it's just because, as it is in Embrace. Violet's mother died when she was born, so she is automatically part-angel. I find this problematic because it seems careless and unfair to people like Violet. Funnily enough, the reluctance to accept her "destiny" that she displays throughout much of the novel is one of the few traits that remain constant about her. As a reader, I need more than the special powers tag to care about a character or want to see that character succeed. I need characters that are more than the sum of their parts: seventeen-year-old, motherless, super pretty, well-off (or at least middle class), part angel. Violet is average, and I don't see any latent potential to be anything more.
The structure of the story itself is as average as Violet. Each chapter, instead of moving along at the quick pace I'm used to from paranormal stories, drags and extends each scene until I felt like I was just watching a really long movie. And it's a shame, because Embrace had the capability to be a commentary on free will and the human privilege vs. right to choose a certain kind of existence. The mythology behind the angels is introduced fairly early on--though it was delivered in a very cliche manner--and I wanted more of that backstory. Instead, Shirvington chooses to introduce another hot boy and have him and Lincoln represent the choice that Violet needs to make.
It's that kind of lazy conceptualization that I find most disappointing in YA. Teenagers are not shallow, and when stories like this are put out there for them to consume, it only adds to the cycle that the general public laments on a daily basis. When a story about the power of choice and knowledge dissolves into nothing more than a love triangle, it is massively disappointing. This is not to say that a well-written love triangle has no place in YA. But if the situations were reversed, if Violet was a boy, torn between two girls, would it be as appealing? Would readers still want more romance or would they be more interested in the themes of the story? What if Lincoln and Violet had become best friends, partners and comrades in the fight against fallen angels? And my biggest question: why does a romantic relationship have to exist in order to make the plot move along?
Embrace is not an awful book. But it is a symptom of the general consensus that many readers are making about their own society and relationships. Love is grand, love is great, and yes, it even makes the world go round. But love in itself can be wrong and it can be damaging. A story about the dangers of wanting too much and not loving yourself enough to know your limits should know better than to perpetuate an illusion.
The Final Say: Readers looking for predictable, casual YA paranormal fare will find much to enjoy in Embrace, but otherwise? Skip it....more
Release Date: January 3, 2012 Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin Age Group: Young Adult PagesYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 3, 2012 Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 293 Format: Paperback Source: ARC received from publisher
Discovery: I was given an ARC of this book to review and I originally thought that it was about a faery changeling, which would have been awesome.
+ Interesting premise. Kudos to Hocking--she wrote a shocking prologue that would draw even the most reluctant reader into the story. I liked that she didn't shy away from the violence and that Wendy's confusion was palpable as she related what had happened on her sixth birthday. The cover copy might not have hooked me, but I definitely wanted to know more about Wendy and why her mother would risk going to jail to kill her own daughter.
- Flat characters. With the way Switched opened, I was expecting a fast-paced plot and vibrant, witty characters. Unfortunately, I got neither. Wendy talked the talk, sure, but I never really got a sense of her personality or saw anything unique in her perspective. For someone who is touted as "special" and "one of a kind," she's very dull and indecisive. She wants to know what's going on, but she doesn't actually try to find out. She is content to let Finn or Rhys or Elora tell her what to do, and in the few instances that she isn't content, she just lets it all go anyway. I don't see any reason to cheer for her, because it doesn't seem like she knows what she really wants.
My main reaction to the other characters was "...so?" Again, the way that they're written makes them seem hollow. Elora makes proclamations and condescending remarks, but they have no real sting behind them. The reader is told, not shown, that Finn "loves" Wendy. How? How did they fall in love? What real bonding experiences have they had? The dialogue seems forced, all smoke and mirrors.
- Uncompelling plot. I've noticed a trend in YA paranormals where the boy has to steal the girl away to keep her and/or her family safe. This trope doesn't convince me of anything, much less that they belong together. And let's be realistic, characters in YA are teenagers. They are legally restricted from doing a lot of things, and if they go missing, authorities are informed. That's why I can't suspend my disbelief over the events in Switched. Wendy's mother tries to kill her and is sent to a hospital--that's all well and good. But Wendy runs away from home and her older brother and aunt--who claim to love her dearly--don't tear up the city trying to find her? They're okay with a sixteen-year-old girl's declaration that she "has to leave?" It's baffling.
I also didn't find much of the Trylle world to be interesting. Frankly, it seems the label "troll" was just tacked on after writers had run the gamut of paranormal creatures. Other than the Trylle's fascination with jewels, I found nothing to suggest that they were really trolls. It takes more than a paranormal creature to make a book worthy of the term "urban fantasy," which I believe Switched might have fallen under had it been written well.
The final say: As an intended successor to the tiers of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, Switched falls far from the mark with lackluster characters and a shallow plot.
Release Date: January 31, 2012 Publisher: Henry Holt Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 272 FormYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 31, 2012 Publisher: Henry Holt Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 272 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from Raincoast Books
Discovery: Jay Clark can thank the wonderful people at Raincoast Books for bringing this novel to my attention! As most of us YA readers know, female protagonists can take over the YA section, so it's always awesome to come across some boys.
+ Voice. Jay Baker may be dealing with some crazy drama llamas, but his identity is never in question. His wit is bitingly sharp, his sense of humour relentless--there's not much in this world that Jay can't handle. It's a rare fifteen-year-old who knows exactly who he is at that age, and I loved getting to know him. I'm especially intrigued by how pop-culture savvy he is! The writing style isn't as clunky as one might imagine with all those celebrity/TV/movie/music references. Jay (both of them) know exactly how to keep readers turning the pages: the paragraphs come fast and furious, and the story is cleverly related.
+ Cross-audience appeal. I'll be honest: when I first started reading this book, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it. The tone felt a little too close to MG novels and there were moments when I started to get bored because Jay's problems were so far away from my own at his age. I also grew concerned that the rapid-fire pop culture mentions might turn off younger readers who won't know what Jay is talking about. That said, I think this is a perfect book for tweens who are transitioning from MG to YA. Jay's POV will be familiar to them, as will his concerns (finding a girlfriend, passing Algebra, dealing with his parents' estrangement). His voice isn't that of a ten-year-old, but of a boy who's starting to really grow up, and the results are fantastic.
The final say: Young teens will thoroughly enjoy this snarky romp of a story, and root for Jay as he strives to figure out what to love in this crazy world.
Release Date: January 10, 2012 Publisher: Delacorte Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 40You can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Release Date: January 10, 2012 Publisher: Delacorte Press Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 400 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from publisher
St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.
An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.
The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?
Discovery: Which nine-year-old girl in the 1990s wasn't obsessed with Anastasia? Is it any wonder that as soon as I heard about this reinvention of Imperial Russia, I jumped on the chance to read it?
+ Setting. It's been close to 200 years since Russia was ruled by a glittering monarchy, but it seems as though the world's fascination with this mysterious country hasn't faded. As a kid, I loved reading about the palaces and summer homes that the nobility traveled to, and the holidays they celebrated. The Gathering Storm does a marvelous job of painting that world for its readers. Unlike the stoic British Empire and its ilk, the Russia we read about in Bridges' novel is volatile and dangerous. You can almost hear the ice crackling in conversations between the royals, and the tension in each scene is perfectly set.
- Narration. With such a dizzying cast of characters and longer names than most readers are used to seeing on the page , The Gathering Storm needed a strong voice to leap off the page and guide the reader (and make the constant repetition of _____ ______vna a little less tedious). I liked Katiya the moment I met her, but sadly, her voice was drowned out by the story. The narration isn't as tightly written as it could have been. At times, it feels as though Katiya is simply repeating what she's heard from other people instead of taking control of the story. She is an interesting character, but the writing doesn't reflect enough of that uniqueness. It also makes me wonder why Danilo is written as an all-powerful force and someone Katiya cannot ignore. She's rather scathing and fearful of him when he's not around. I'm hoping that the second book will give Katiya more control over her fate.
The final say: Bridges does a wonderful job of setting up a terrifying world of intrigue and supernatural creatures, and I'll definitely be picking up The Unfailing Light!
Release Date: May 1, 2012 Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire Age Group: Young Adult Pages: 384 Format: Hardcover Source: ARC received from author/publisher
Tell Me More: Over the last six months, mermaid novels have multiplied, quickly being touted as the new "angels" of YA. After all, the ocean is the last great frontier, and no one knows exactly what is to be found in its deepest corners. Zoraida Cordova's debut novel The ViciousDeep is a crackingly honest story about a boy who discovers just how many secrets can lie under the waves.
There is no one like Tristan Hart. At once irreverent and introverted, passionate and shy, he is just one of the story's many enigmas. His narration is well-paced, his voice unmistakable and vibrant. Zoraida's characterization sold me on this boy who is, quite literally, in the middle of two worlds and made me worry and cheer for him. I am hesitant to label him as a "jock," even though he heads the swim team, because he doesn't seem like he cares enough about it. But neither could he be termed an "outcast"--his moments of arrogance will have you rolling your eyes more than once. The complex nature of his character kept me interested even in chapters where I could pick out the next few plot twists.
Speaking of plot, the initial exposition was a bit tedious and unevenly paced. You aren't given enough time to let Tristan's world sink in before some major changes start to happen, and if you're a fast reader like me, it's double whiplash. Once the plot hits its stride, however, it steadily builds to the climax with lots of great scenes between Tristan and his family and friends. I appreciated how Zoraida took the time to give each of her characters both shining and rusty moments--it helps to solidify their voice in my mind, especially Layla. She took shape almost immediately in my head and I loved that she was confident and comfortable speaking her mind. She could have easily been overshadowed by Tristan, but I got the sense that they are each other's halves in a way. There's something each of them need to be a whole person and they haven't quite realized what it is yet.
Lastly, the mythology that Zoraida creates in The Vicious Deep is remarkable, because it is at once familiar and novel enough to turn heads. I loved the structure and clarity of hierarchy that is displayed. When a story's background is thought out well, it becomes invisible to the reader. It wasn't easy picking out things that could have been improved, backstory-wise, and that's something to be lauded.
The Final Say: The Vicious Deep will draw readers into a realm of skin-prickling mystery and brilliant characterization--I dare anyone not to find something to like in this thrilling new YA series....more