I read Ann Aguirre’s Enclave last year and have already talked about how much I liked it. It had zombies, which I love (which? whom? Two sentences intI read Ann Aguirre’s Enclave last year and have already talked about how much I liked it. It had zombies, which I love (which? whom? Two sentences into this review and I’m already feeling all existential). It also had a kickass heroine (Deuce), a boy I could root for her to be with (Fade), and excellent worldbuilding. At the time I reviewed Enclave, I spent a paragraph pouting about how far away the release date of Outpost was. Then, though I read and loved Outpost when it was released, this stupid thing I do every day called a job stole all my reviewing time. Thus, now that it’s a new year and I’m trying to be a better blogger (swearsies), this was the first book I went to.
Ann Aguirre is a master of pacing a plot. When I first started reading, I was afraid this would be a book in which we’re info dumped a lot of stuff about the zombies and the world they all live in, but man was I wrong. A lot of stuff happens in this book. A lot. But it also feels like just enough. We see the characters going places and doing things, things I can’t talk about without spoilers. There were scenes in this book that had my heart pounding because I legitimately didn’t know who might live or who would die. The characters we spent a book getting to know are now shoved to the actual edge of the world that remains for society, and living on that boundary means that not only is there plenty of action, but we also get to learn new information by being shown instead of told. This is especially helpful because not everything that happens in this book is happening physically. It’s a different kind of survival Deuce is fighting for – one that requires looking more than five minutes ahead – and that’s reflected in how this book moves.
I said in my review of Enclave that Deuce was amazing because she felt like a real person, and Outpost only enhanced that for me. Deuce is learning a lot about society and herself and how different life underground is from life topside. We see a lot of character development for Deuce, but we see it through the things she does. She’s fighting, physically and emotionally, for her place in society and society’s place in the world. We go out with her and see more of the world and fight her fights right alongside her. It’s not always pretty – when I say she’s fighting I mean it – and her struggles were frustrating for me. But that’s where her realness came in for me. I didn’t always like what Deuce was doing or how she was acting, but I understood her.
My one complaint when I reviewed Enclave was that I felt like the romance between Fade and Deuce sort of fizzled. Outpost made me feel stupid for ever saying that. I thought the problems they had were addressed in a smart way, and I also thought it was done in a very real, relatable way. Deuce and Fade, though grownups in their world, aren’t emotional wizards because they didn’t live in a world where that’s important (Deuce even more so than Fade). But their relationship was touchingly done and all the growth I saw in Deuce, I really liked seeing Fade go through his own.
What really made Outpost a standout for me was the background cast (especially getting to see Deuce grow into her family). I liked what happened with Tegan, and I liked that while she and Deuce are opposites in a lot of ways, Tegan has a lot of Deuce’s strength, even if she doesn’t show it in the same way.
Stalker, for me, was the biggest improvement from Enclave. I really appreciated the fact that his past wasn’t just glossed over. I also appreciated the fact that the world of Outpost is not the world of today (mostly safe and somewhat prosperous). It’s a morally complicated universe, and Stalker is the best reflection of that. He wants to change and improve, but can he ever really shake off a past when as dark as his? Part of me doesn’t think so. I still don’t like him. I still think that he is not and never was a serious love interest for Deuce. I still think that if he were to be eaten by a freak, I wouldn’t grieve much.
But I also think that he’s a reflection of Deuce’s struggles with her own humanity, and so I’m glad he played the part in this book he did. Does Deuce succumb to the base of society, where survival and power the only things that matter? Does she become Tegan, and turn her back on the outside dangers? Or can she find somewhere in the middle? It would be so easy to turn off her emotions and pick the perfect caveman-esque partner, a hunter with strength and physicality that she doesn’t have to feel anything for. She’s not struggling with liking Stalker, she’s struggling with the burden of all of the feelings she suddenly has for other people.
I was surprised that I liked this book so much. And the last line? Good lord. I need Horde, and I need it now. I can’t wait to see where Deuce’s journey takes her.
I remember the fortunate moment when I got an advanced copy of Marie Lu’s Legend in my hot little hands. I was excited. Very excited. It ticked many oI remember the fortunate moment when I got an advanced copy of Marie Lu’s Legend in my hot little hands. I was excited. Very excited. It ticked many of my boxes. Dytopian? Check. Crazy smart heroine? Check. Learning to see like from another point of view? Check. Zombies? No. Alas. No zombies. But that’s ok, because I didn’t miss them (much). In fact, the only box it didn’t tick for me was nice, readable black font. I liked June, I liked Day, and I thought the plot was fast paced and engaging. My one complaint at the time (other than the font color), was that I thought it was short. Like another fifty pages could have really added something to the characters. I let that go, though, knowing we were getting Prodigy (and of course the not-yet-titled third installment). And, dear readers, Prodigy delivered.
I am going to get this out of the way and say that, once again, I didn’t like the colored font. That seems like a stupid complaint, but type face (and covers) play a big part in a book’s experience for me, and I found the color to, after a while, make it hard to read. Not as hard as Legend, which featured yellow font to Prodigy‘s blue, but still. And it’s something I am glad I was prepared for, stilly though it may be.
But on to the meat of things. June. June June June. I love June. I liked her a lot in the first book because she was the kind of girl who, even when her entire world is falling to pieces around her, keeps her head. It wasn’t precisely easy, but she somehow manages to make it work. I admire that resourcefulness in her. I admire her perseverance. And I especially admire that she could and did change her mind. I liked June in Legend, but couldn’t love her because there wasn’t much to her. We got the base of June in the first book, and then in Prodigy we got t see why she does the things she does – what makes her tick.
We got to see June’s inner workings by seeing her in action. And boy, the action. Marie Lu’s greatest strength, I think, is her world building and plotting. So many things happen, but it doesn’t feel piled on. Both the reader and the characters have time to absorb and figure out what the latest developments mean personally and to their plans. And the action that happens? It matters. None of it feels convenient or as a way to move a relationship along. It’s all sort of deliberate, if that makes sense.
But for all that success at plotting, Marie Lu did something in this book that is both annoying and brilliant all at once: she introduced a new love interest for June that left me feeling some genuine conflict. I liked Day in the first book. I thought he was a good guy with the makings of a great man. I liked the balance of his strength and his sensitivity, especially as involved his family. And I really liked that we got to see him afraid. And I found I enjoyed all of those things in Prodigy as well. He and June have excellent chemistry on the page (and in one scene in particular). But…all that said, I really loved Anden. I thought he and June had even more chemistry than she and Day, and I found their scenes together to be some of the most compelling in the book, made even moreso by June’s genuine confusion about how she is reacting to Anden and about her compatibility with Day.
I will say it’s frustrating, getting to know a couple and becoming invested in their relationship only to have an entire book suddenly question it. That’s the very reason I usually hate love triangles, but this added a needed emotional connection to a series that was otherwise largely plot (I refuse to call this a love square because of…well, because of reasons). I thought it showed me a lot about June and the struggles she’s already having with herself. And, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can trust and be happy with whichever path June takes. Mostly because I trust June.
And that’s just the major players. Razor, Kaede, and the rest of the supporting cast all managed to add something to the book without feeling like soapbox characters – characters put there to conveniently espouse a certain point of view. There was plenty of opining, to be sure, but it all felt natural, something I thought was an improvement between Legend and Prodigy. The Patriots were suitably complicated and the right and wrong course therefore suitably grey. I will confess to wishing that the Patriots were a little more likable, but it’s a dystopian world and nothing can be perfect.
I’ve said before that my favorite thing about getting to read a book by a debut author is watching their storytelling and writing grow. Marie Lu’s certainly has. She took the fast paced, exciting plot of Legend and managed to grow her characters into something more in Prodigy. I cannot wait to read the final installment and find out what the heck is going on and what June’s going to decide to do about the world, herself, and her boys (maybe but not necessarily in that order?).
When I first bought Anna Dressed in Blood last year, it was straight down to how pretty the cover was. Ghost stories where the ghosts are characters aWhen I first bought Anna Dressed in Blood last year, it was straight down to how pretty the cover was. Ghost stories where the ghosts are characters aren’t necessarily my thing because too often it’s either a Casper the Friendly Ghost situation or some truly evil Malevolent Spirit. Anna, though, was a fresh take on that idea, a perfect combination of both and she and Cas and the whole spooky, creepy atmosphere of their story drew me right in. As satisfied as I was with Anna’s ending, I couldn’t help wanting more. Good characters will inspire that in a reader, after all. So I was very excited to find out that Girl of Nightmares was coming, even more excited when I finally read it, and I’m clearly excited to get to talk about it now. Warning: It is basically impossible to talk about Girl of Nightmares without spoiling Anna, so if you have failed to read Anna Dressed in Blood (silly you!), stop reading now!
o get the inevitable out of the way, no, I didn’t love Girl of Nightmares as much as I loved Anna Dressed in Blood, but I do think the storytelling was better. I respected it more because Nightmares was a more realistic and gritty book: it’s about the consequences Cas has to face up to if he wants to keep living his life as he has. There are consequences to loving a ghost. There are consequences to being a ghost hunter. There are consequences to involving your friends. Facing those consequences is hard.
Cas spends a lot of this book confused or worried or unhappy or scared or even angry, and so in a lot of ways Nightmares is a harder book to read. You spend all of Anna falling in love with Cas and falling in love with Anna, Thomas, and Carmel, and those relationships struggle in this book. All you want in the world is to reparo everything back together, but Kendare Blake’s writing makes it clear that there is no simple solution no matter how hard you will there to be one. That made me a sad panda, but it also made this book poignant and beautiful in its own right.
Cas sort of broke my heart in this book. For the first time ever, he’s stayed in one place long enough to have to start thinking about how different his life might be. He questions what he’s doing, and he does it all in such a realistic way.
What makes that work is how well drawn and whole the background cast is. Every single character in this book has a background and a story and none of it seems simple or formulaic. I really enjoyed the grownups in this book, which, as a (reluctant) adult, is important to me. Both Cas’s mom and Thomas’s grandfather were the kind of adult that advises and tries to protect their charges, but also recognizes they aren’t delicate snowflakes that need to be coddled.
Thomas and Carmel had a story going on that we got enough glimpses of to care, but not so many that it seemed ridiculous in a first person point of view. Both Thomas and Carmel are what I think of as complete characters. I see more about them than I am told, and, if they were gingerbread people, they would not be perfectly cut, they’d be all smooshy and delicious and decorated to perfection anyway (I apparently need a snack).
But more importantly, I could feel Thomas and Carmel’s connection, to each other and to Cas. I saw their friendship, the whys and the hows and the whats of it. It reminded me a lot of Harry Potter and the ultimate friend trio. There was depth there that was established quickly, but also believably, in Anna. But, consequences, that quickness makes the events of Nightmares very overwhelming so…strife.
The pacing of this book was very different than Anna. It was a slower burn, but that worked really well because the tone of Nightmares was so damn ominous. There were a few parts where I kept waiting for something to happen, but the waiting and the wondering were what drove this book. This did pose a problem with the ending which, comparatively, felt like a whole book stuffed together into fifty pages because that’s where all the action of this book happens. But even still, it worked with the buildup and it worked with the story being told.
Overall, I am torn in a million pieces about Girl of Nightmares. It was a tough book to read because it was a tough book for Cas to live through. Kendare Blake told a complete story, but she told it with completely wonderful characters who stick in your gut. Girl of Nightmares is an excellent end to this duology, but it also made me want to punch myself in the face for bemoaning the fact that every other YA series is a trilogy. Kate, meet Karma. So I was satisfied with the ending, but I can’t help craving more. More Anna. More Cas. More ghosthunting. But mostly more Cas.
All of us love Maggie Stiefvater. Well, all of us loved The Scorpio Races, especially me and Katie. And Christine has extolled the Mercy Falls series,All of us love Maggie Stiefvater. Well, all of us loved The Scorpio Races, especially me and Katie. And Christine has extolled the Mercy Falls series, Shiver, Linger, and Forever, as well. One week from today, The Raven Boys, the first installment of Maggie Stiefvater’s new series, The Raven Cycle, will finally be released into the wild. Caitlin and I both were fortunate enough to receive ARCs and, well, we both had things to say.
Caitlin: So, I loved this book to pieces. And I need a Gansey of my very own.
Kate: I think that’s what Maggie Stiefvater does best – boys we want to cuddle and love forever. That’s how I felt about Sean in The Scorpio Races. And that seems to be how everyone feels about Sam in her Shiver series, which I haven’t read.
Caitlin: And this book was just full of boys. Broken boys who need me to love them. Except for one them, who I didn’t really like.
Kate: There were a lot of boys in this book. And that’s something that sort of surprised me, because the only girls Blue interacts with are her mother and aunts.
Caitlin: True. And there were no hints that there were going to be more female characters in the series. Just Blue and her boys. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I did enjoy her crazy aunts and the overfull house she lived in.
Kate: At first I had some issues with that as well because something I’m always missing from YA books is seeing two girls enjoying a non-catty relationship. BUT! I think that it worked for Blue because it’s pretty clear she’s terrified of relationships in general if the person isn’t part of her family.
Caitlin: Yes. And I liked the contrast of Blue’s house, which is all women, to Gansey’s…uh…home and school which is all men. And how Blue’s house was all about magic and believing the unbelievable while Gansey and the boys were all about hard facts and proof.
Kate: Well, I think the school is about hard facts. But I think what makes it interseting is that none of the boys necessarily are all that into hard facts. Especially Gansey. He is a researcher and a historian, true, but he can’t be searching for what he’s searching for and doing what he’s doing without that element of the spectacular or supernatural bleeding into him. That’s why I’m so glad he and Blue found each other. There’s going to be a magic balance to them, whether they are simply good friends and teammates or something else. (Please, something else. Pleasepleaseplease)
Caitlin: I was just going to type that. What did you think about how Maggie took these old Welsh legends and stuck them in Virginia?
Kate: I very much enjoyed the Virginia setting. Southern gothic tales are the only thing as awesome as Anglicized gothic tales. I thought it was a really neat fusion of the two. The mythology in general made this book really special for me. It was an interesting viewpoint and it also, obviously, gave the characters a Quest. I love Quests in books.
Caitlin: I liked how it drew everyone in. How we were introduced to all these separate characters who were, slowly, shown to be after similar things and how they were all drawn to the same spot for the finale. It felt classic and all new at the same time. like rediscovering something I’d read as a child but with a newness to it. And I loved every single time Gansey acted like a pompous ass and didn’t understand that he was acting like a pompous ass.
Kate: I loved that Gansey pretty much was a pompous ass. I love that he recognizes he has this privilege and refuses to apologize for it but at the same time wants to do something with this gift he’s been given. Really, though, all the boys had very strong identities. Blue, too, but it was more important that the boys all be different. Too often there are a bunch of boys in a book and they all feel the same.
Caitlin: These were definitely all different. I loved that they each had struggles and secrets and independent lives from the plot. They felt like real people. And I loved that the meanest, hardest, cruelest of them had a cute baby pet that he was devoted to.
Kate: I liked all three boys. I liked Adam, who was so torn into a million pieces that he broke my heart.
Caitlin: I hated Adam. I just couldn’t stand him at all.
Kate: Fascinating! I thought for sure it would be Ronan you couldn’t stand. Tell me more!
Caitlin: Well, I will admit that some if it might because he presented himself as a real threat to my Gansey/Blue OTP. But also, he was so incredibly indecisive. And I cannot stand that. While a part of me understood why he stayed in his home, most of me does not.
Kate: Aw, Caitlin! That’s kind of mean. He is indecisive because he was never allowed to decide things! Look at how he met Blue! It was because Gansey decided for him that it should happen. And as to his home life, I can see how it’s frustrating watching a person put themselves in danger. Gansey certainly felt that way. But a situation like that is never that easy. Especially when you’re afraid of what someone is capable of.
Caitlin: Or he could’ve gotten out of his seat and met her first. Taken charge in his life. I felt a minuscule amount of pity for him, but not enough to like him.
Kate: I think he was not as strong a character as Gansey, or Ronan for that matter, so comparisons are inevitable and Adam will suffer by them. But I also think that maybe if he weren’t friends with Gansey he would be more decisive. It’s easy when you have bigger fish to fry to let someone else manage the day to day. So he MIGHT have gotten up out of his seat but Gansey was already doing it. Gansey, who is pretty much a know-it-all, which is both endearing and annoying at the same time.
Caitlin: I think Adam and I are just completely different people. I would’ve had no problem taking up Gansey on his offer to get out of my craptastic home life. I would not have felt at all the way Adam did. And I think the way he felt was an insult to Gansey and everyone who wanted to help Adam.
Kate: I think that’s easy to say when you grow up with a family that loves you. And I HATE the argument that you can’t understand someone because you aren’t in their omg exact situation. But I also think this book did a really good job of explaining why Adam felt how he felt and did what he did and the way he saw the consequences of accepting Gansey’s charity.
Caitlin: True, I can’t say for sure how I would feel. But personal safety, to me, outweighs pride. Also, his bit at the end made no sense to me. But I cannot explain that without spoilers.
Kate: I do agree that what happened with Adam at the end was a bit confusing the first time, if only because so much had already happened so quickly that my brain was sprinting to keep up
Caitlin: I mean…okay, I’m going to try to address my concerns without spoiling anything.
Kate: I really don’t think that’s possible. It’s almost impossible to talk about anything in this book outside of the characters and the fact that there IS a plot without spoiling things.
Caitlin: But Adam made his big declaration…and then nothing happened.
Kate: I think the second book is going to be the ramifications of this book’s end, you know?
Caitlin: Yes. Ohohoh!!! I loved Ronan’s last line! I loved how it was so clear he was thinking, “well, everything’s going swell…let’s throw a wrench in this!”
Kate: His last line totally fits with his character I just liked Ronan. A surprising amount, really, considering he was, to someone who didn’t know him, a pill. I think that the best thing about this book is how much we get to know these characters. You have a first impression that’s only, like, a quarter of that person’s story. And then Maggie Stiefvater goes about fleshing it out through the rest of the book with things like dialogue and actions and thoughts. Such a novel concept!
Caitlin: I need book two. I need to know more about Ronan and his secrets
Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly is a book that somehow manage to combine almost all of my favorite things: zombies, Victoriana, steampunkSusan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly is a book that somehow manage to combine almost all of my favorite things: zombies, Victoriana, steampunk, spirits, and a plucky heroine and a smart boy. What made this book work for me was that it had a unique take on all of those things. Please, don’t let the dead-eyed heroine on the cover fool you. There is nothing dead about this book…except the bodies being set loose on the poopulation of Philadelphia. Zing! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. Anyway, pay attention to the spooky, steampunk background as that is where this story lives.
This book was a really interesting take on zombies. Because, yes, they are technically zombies. But they are also not zombies because it isn’t a virus that has people rising from the dead but a necromancer. I thought that was fascinatingly spooky. It also helped when it came to fighting said zombies, because it wasn’t just an axe to the head to stop them. It was spiritual energy etc. That made the action sequences in this book more exciting. Yes, at some point our heroine is still instructed to take a bat to a corpse’s knees if need be, but there was a bigger goal in the fighting which I liked. This also meant that the world building needn’t be so complicated as a traditional zombie novel. We didn’t need fifty pages exploring what happened and how the zombies got to be zombies; we jumped right into the action which made the book a lot more fun to read.
The plotting of this novel in general was well done. The mystery, though kind of obvious, was nicely paced. Even though I wished the ball was hidden better a few times, I felt like we got the right clues at the right times. In fact, maybe how well placed those things was what made made the ultimate payoff more obvious. I also thought we got a good amount of action and I had the right number of Aha! moments without feeling like I didn’t have time to take them in.
What really made this book for me was Eleanor. She’s a spunky heroine who seems, quite frankly, tired of being so. She has to hide her thoughts and opinions (really, the fact that she has thoughts and opinions) from her mother. She has to handle their household finances and keep the family afloat in reduced circumstances. You can see how that wears on her. You can also see how glad she is to be able to actually do something for once – how happy it makes her to say, yes, here is this problem and this is what I can and will do to fix it. I thought that she was funny and determined, even if she wasn’t always as practical as she could have been. But her foibles helped her charater. Eleanor is a 16 year old young lady in the 19th century. She was, before her father’s death, sheltered from the world. It was nice to see te consequences of society’s sexism and nice to see Eleanor frustrated by it while still not being totally comfortable throwing off the bindings placed on her.
I also enjoyed the background characters. I liked the Spirit Hunters, and thought we were given enough to keep them from being plot devices while keeping enough back to leave room for later books and to also prevent this book from being a big info dump. The other society girls were also good caricatures. There was just enough to wonder what might be simmering underneath, but the book didn’t waste time on that because fundamentally they were so unimportant to both the plot and the Eleanor that Eleanor wanted to be. I appreciated that.
My one complaint is the love triangle this book seemed to tend toward. I feel like Susan Dennard wrote this book clearly intending Daniel to be Eleanor’s love interest. That makes sense. They have definite chemistry, he’s mentioned in the blurb, he has a complicating backstory, and he’s just the right amount of bad boy. The problem was Clarence. He, too, had a complicated backstory. He had chemistry with Eleanor. And he had an element of the bad boy mystque as well. I feel like Susan Dennard started writing him and didn’t realize how much she’d like him. Because I did. In fact, I hadn’t read the blurb in ages when I staretd reading, and I was super invested in he and Eleanor for a while. I met Daniel and thought, damnit noooo! To compensate, things with him start to go…awry, shall we say…and his ultimate ending blindsided me a bit. It fit with the story, but it was the one thing in this book that wasn’t foreshadowed as well as it ought to have been.
This, I think, sucked some of the passion out of the novel. As I said above, it was a fun, well paced read. It hit most notes I wanted it to hit and it hit them on pitch. I think, though, that while I liked this novel a lot, I didn’t love it because I missed that spark. I maybe wish that I’d had more time to see the complications in Susan’s life to sit with her. But, the brilliant thing is that this is the first book of the series, so I think the next installment will have that piece I was missing here and I can’t wait to read it.
My favorite thing about this book was the ending. It was a rough to read sort of conclusion to this chapter. Eleanor is broke, body and soul, and the complications society has forced on her have caught up with her in a way that is both expected and unexpected. Susan Dennard didn’t gloss over the constraints placed on a girl like Eleanor by having her shrugging her shoulders and ignoring them. She has her living with them. Dealing with them. Struggling against them like most girls of the time probably did. It was a very real ending and satisfying in its own twisted sort of way.
Something Strange and Deadly was a well constructed, entertaining read. It was an excellent debut, and I can’t wait to watch Susan Dennard’s talent grow.
Elizabeth Richards Black City was one of the books I was most excited about picking up at BEA this summer. I read Black City pretty stoked and 100% reElizabeth Richards Black City was one of the books I was most excited about picking up at BEA this summer. I read Black City pretty stoked and 100% ready to love it. The cover is pretty, and I’d heard the concept was a neat take on the supernatural craze that has swept up so much of YA. For the first 160 or so pages of this book, I was into it. Really into it. Could not think of anything else into it.
There were a lot of good things about this book. I liked that the characters were flawed in a way that made sense with how they were brought up. I liked that both Ash and Natalie had their prejudices and were ignorant about the other’s life. I thought the world building was fascinating, so much so that I looked past the random and somewhat excessive use of exclamation points and the weird Britishisms that crept in from time to time. I thought that there were some cool stories hanging out in the background, the kind that would help a trilogy make sense. The background cast was interesting, and they all had histories and personalities that made them more than stereotypes of the role they were in.
I thought that the atmosphere of the first 160 pages of this book was stunning. It was moody and dark and mysterious. There were things I wanted to know more about (like the breakdown of the regions being governed), but I was confident that we’d keep getting subtle context clues and not suddenly have a history lesson info dump randomly one chapter. In short, the beginning of this book was everything I’d hoped it would be and then some, which is why what happened around page 160 was such a colossal letdown.
What was most frustrating about this book to me was that we had the potential to really see two characters get to know each other. Ash and Natalie were from two COMPLETELY different worlds (hell, two completely different species), and the only things they knew were the stereotypes that each of their social complained of. Natalie was spoiled by the luxury she lived in (for all of the problems that came with it) and Ash’s problems had turned him into a detached jerk. And it made sense – perfect sense! – that these two characters would turn a physical attraction and a fascination into something more grown up and awesome. I would have been so down with THAT story that I’d be crying with joy as I told y’all about it.
But…no. Instalove. Instalove in the most awkward and random and out of nowhere manner. I expected there to be an element of Fate and Destiny because this is a fantasy novel and, honestly, I would be bummed if that element were totally absent. But even I didn’t expect it to the degree it happened. After that point, I felt like Black City turned into a completely different, not nearly as awesome book. Suddenly Natalie, who up until this point has shown a fair amount of open mindedness and common sense, ignores everything she knows about Ash and turns her back on her (only) friend because her (only) friend doesn’t like him (with good reason, had everything Ash let said friend believe turn out to be true). She doesn’t question the feeling. We’re suddenly thrown into this whole “You have literally awakened my heart so I have forgotten everything that came before.”
For 100 pages, I was ready to tear my hair out. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened. I wanted the Black City of the first 160 pages back. And then…the twist. In theory, the twist should have turned the whole instalove aspect on its head. I started to get my hopes up again. Ash (and to a lesser extent Natalie) suddenly has to question whether this instalove is real and the difficulties of a relationship with Natalie. Once again, we are back to a plotland I want to roll around in and never leave.
In order to decide if what he feels is real, Ash needs to make out with someone else. I was with him. This is a confusing time! You are confused! Make bad choices and make reader-me happy with some delicious conflict! Natalie sees and obviously she reacts just as I want her to react which is basically, “I understand and all, but screw you.”
But that plot, for me, didn’t sustain itself. Ash starts thinking and realizes, no, he DOES in fact love Natalie for who she is. This is where my problems came back and then some. Ash has admitted, as has Natalie, that they know very little of each other. They are clearly attracted to each other. They are clearly interested in finding out more. But he LOVES her. And why? Because of the way she clacks mints against her teeth and because of her bravery (and one more reason ala mints that I can’t remember). So, two of those reasons are automatically silly. Bravery. Ok. That makes sense. Only as a reader, I had seen only a few instances of Natalie being brave. The very start of the novel and once more. I had, however, seen several instances of her not being brave. Of her being scared and succumbing to that fear (which is something I actually really liked about her character).
In the end, instalove prevails, only without the supernatural element. I tried to argue myself out of feeling this way about the love story of this book. They are teenagers, I told myself. They are young and stupid and they don’t know what love is! But we’re told that they do. We’re told that they’re in love. The Romeo and Juliet risk everything kind of love.
And maybe in the end, my intense problem with the love story in this book is that I am the type of reader who does not find Romeo and Juliet at all romantic; who found it, rather, to be a story of passion but not of great love. Who found it to be the story of what happens when passion rules every aspect of your life. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy for a reason. Only I know I’m not going to get that kind of payoff in this series because Ash and Natalie are very likely going to end up together. Which would be fine if I understood why; if this book went beyond the passion.
Even with all that said, if the world building of the first 160 pages had been sustained, I might have enjoyed this book more. I thought the idea of Black City was that awesome, but the idea faltered along with the love story. Too many things happened. There were, as I said above, enough subplots in this book to span at lest another installment of the series, but they all played out in a mere 340 or so pages. A LOT of things happened in this book. I felt like every time I turned the page, some new, crazy action was rushing at me. In some places, this worked very well. In others, it happened at the end of a chapter and the next chapter was several days later. It made the pacing a bit of a rollercoaster, but not an awesome kind. I kept start-stop-start-stopping, and it started to get frustrating the further into the book we got because more and more things just kept piling on.
Overall, Black City has oodles of potential. So much potential. Elizabeth Richards obviously has some seriously boss imaginings going on in her brain. That potential, though, is what makes this review so hard to write. I wanted desperately to love this book. I was loving this book. The middle, though, is a mess. The “meat” of the love story is a mess. It’s scattered and jumps around which means that the plot ends up scattered and jumping around. All of the awesome backstories and worldbuilding get completely swept up by the instalove tornado.
In the end, I just didn’t enjoy this book. Will I read the sequel? Yes. Because Elizabeth Richards DOES have boss imaginings going on in her brain, and I think this series is salvageable. Hell, this book was an ARC so maybe changes have happened. Without those changes, Black City, though it started with a spark, fizzled to a dud.
I’ve talked about my love for Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series on this site before. I talked about how smart they are, how perfectly paced and welI’ve talked about my love for Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series on this site before. I talked about how smart they are, how perfectly paced and well planned and manage to capture just the right tone for each individual book. I’m pretty sure Ally Carter has to be some sort of writing robot/machine, because, for me, almost every book I’ve read by her has been just as flawless. (My love for Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals is also well documented). I think Out of Sight, Out of Time, the fifth in the Gallagher Girls series, is probably the best yet. This review is probably a little rambly, even for me, because I loved every aspect of this book. Every single one, and I kind of feel like I could talk about it for days.
The best thing about the Gallagher Girls series (besides, you know, the characters and the suspense and the writing and pretty much everything), is that it’s clearly part of a series, but each book stands alone. Each plot is self-contained, but is also a piece of a bigger puzzle. Each plot grows the characters and gets them ready for the next challenge. It makes these books suspenseful to read and yet still satisfying. It makes you sigh with contentment when you put it down only to pout five minutes later that you can’t find out where Cammie and her friends are going next. The plot in Out of Sight, Out of Time, was actually a pretty emotional plot, for both Cammie and the reader. There’s still action, no doubt, but there is, as always with these books, something extra, another motivator that makes that action important and relevant. This was, I think, the most impactful emotional punch of the series. For a girl like Cammie, who’s spent her whole life as the Chameleon, to suddenly be thrust into the center of attention? Terrifying. Add into it that she’s been trained her whole life to see and put together details and suddenly she can’t remember the most important six months of her life? I can’t even fathom. The fact that Cammie is so proactive about everything in her life just means that the action is always pushing forward and we’re getting answers steadily because Cammie is figuring them out as she goes. And go she does, to Ireland and Italy and the Alps. But all of these places fit into the puzzle that is the book’s mystery. Almost every single thing she does is important, and the attention to details is stunning. So stunning that I can’t give you any of them without spoiling the intricacy of the plot for you.
Cammie is my girl. I love Cammie. Cammie, for me, epitomizes what makes these books so good. She’s seventeen years old and a senior in high school, but it’s a high school for spies. She’s trained to be stealthy and smart and rational and objective and all sorts of things that, if stupid stereotypes are to be believed,completely contradict the normal emotional state of a teenager. But…she’s still a seventeen year old girl. She still cares about her friends and a boy (and can I just say here that Cammie has flawless taste on this front). She cares about walking down the hall and feeling like a freak. She wants to giggle and be silly and put on her jammies and gab with her friends. But when the stuff hits the fan? I can think of few people I’d rather have on my side than Cammie Morgan. She’s so loyal and brave and selfless in the best way she knows how. But she also expects too much of herself and is her own worst critic. Never in that “What? I’m pretty? Me!?” sort of way so many YA heroines seem to be, but rather in the way that says she’s trying to learn from her mistakes. She wigs out about her lack of memory because it’s one of the most important things in her life. She comes back and wants to be her old self but somehow knows she can’t, knows she has to figure out where to go next. I like that she reacts stupidly to situations, fumes about it in her head, and then, when she realizes she’s wrong, is quick to admit, yes, ok, I’m an idiot and I’m sorry.
The supporting cast is as great as ever. I loved Bex in this book, because she reacted just like I’d imagine any best friend would. She was mad but still loved Cammie. She wasn’t ready to forget Cammie leaving, but the way they handled it made me so happy. The same goes for Liz (who I kind of missed in this book) and Macey (who becomes more boss with every turn of the page). Plus, when their wonder-friend powers activate? It makes for fun reading. An alarm for Cammie’s bed? Genius and hysterical while still managing to highlight that these are three friends who thought they’d lost their fourth forever.
Then there are the adults. I think the adults might be my favorite thing about these books because, well, they act like adults. Cammie’s mom is so protective of her, but she also recognizes that she’s raised this amazing, capable spy and it means that Cammie and her friends aren’t shut out when they can help just because they’re kids. And then clearly there’s Joe and Aunt Kate.
And Zach. Holy crap, Zach. Zach is, I think, easily one of my top three male characters in young adult books. He’s amazing, on his own and with Cammie. My very favorite thing? He respects and admires the girl he cares about. He knows that she’s capable and there’s a fifty/fifty shot she could kick his ass on any given day. He knows that he can help her, but he doesn’t have to save her. The rock wall at the end? Amazing. He wants to shield her from all the bad things, but knows when he can’t. He treats Cammie like his equal because she is. But he also likes all the things that make her Cammie, not just the spy parts. This isn’t to say Zach’s perfect. No matter how much he respects and admires her, he also really likes her and when he thinks she’s in trouble he panics, like any sane person would. And he has a temper and he is maybe prone to jealousy but he hides it like he hides most of his emotions. He has depth, is what I’m saying.
The romance is never the central plot of any of Ally Carter’s books (family and friends and, you know, actual plot always seem more important to the story and to her heroines), but it always simmers in the background. And here, it plays perfectly into the plot and ties him with Cammie in a way that makes them seem fated, but not in the supernatural way. More in the, only you can really understand this kind of way.
These are books that might seem twee based on their covers, but they aren’t. They’re smart and mature, and they only get more so as each book progresses and each character grows. These are the kinds of books I recommend to everyone I know, because I think they have that kind of appeal. They’re fun and witty but they matter. These are on that list of books that I want to have daughters just so I can hand them this series and say, please read this and remember that girls are awesome. Out of Sight, Out of Time added whole new levels to Cammie’s story, and I can’t fathom not being able to slip back into Cammie’s world for another year at least. Read this book. Read this series. And then have fun recommending it to everyone you know.
Since Rachel Hawkins and Ally Carter were touring together, and both are published by Disney’s Hyperion, it seemed only fitting that I’d read them oneSince Rachel Hawkins and Ally Carter were touring together, and both are published by Disney’s Hyperion, it seemed only fitting that I’d read them one after the other and review them in that way as well. I really enjoyed the first two books in the Hex Hall series, especially Demonglass. I liked them because they were fun and funny and didn’t take themselves too seriously, even with all the drama that was going on. Spellbound is the final novel in the trilogy, and it was certainly a very fast-paced read.
As I’ve said about the other two books in this series, I liked how funny it was. The characters, even in darker times, make jokes. Sophie’s inner monologue is almost always a little bit snarky and the stuff she actually says has inspired more than one giggle-snort from me. It’s something that’s missing in YA, buried under piles of brooding heroes and swooning heroines. I liked that Sophie and Archer were playful with each other, and that even in a life and death situation, they still seemed like two teenagers who are into each other.
Speaking of teenagers being into each other, I also liked that Rachel Hawkins made it clear from the get go that there wasn’t really a love triangle. It’s true that two boys loved Sophie, but it was clear that Sophie was only in love with one of them. And it’s kind of nice that way, because then I feel sorry for Cal instead of rooting against him (though I’m sure plenty of people root for him anyway). Cal was one of those characters who you just kind of want to pat on the back and tell him there’s more fish in the sea etc. Because he’s a genuinely nice guy and he’s a genuinely good guy. It was nice to see two good choices for Sophie.
I thought one of the most adorable things about this book was how she felt about her mom and dad. It’s always nice for me to see young adult characters with good relationships with their parents. And what I mean is that the parents are part of the plot. Often a book is written where we’re told that a kid loves her parents, but they’re just not a part of the story. Here, I could tell how much Sophie’s parents loved her and I was happy to see those interactions. I was also glad that we got to see more of Sophie’s family and her family history, but that was an area where I was left wishing for a little more.
My biggest complaint with this book was that there was way too much going on. We were suddenly introduced to a bunch of new characters, there were a lot of background plot elements happening, and in the end the pacing felt a little rushed and frantic.At times, the plot completely stampeded over the characters and any chance of character growth. We see changes in Sophie and her scooby gang, sure, but it wasn’t as well done as I thought Demonglass was simply because there was no room left on the page to do it. I didn’t get to know the new characters as well as I would like because almost as soon as they’re introduced, Sophie is snatched away and we’re in a whole new plot element. When she finally gets back to them, there is an even bigger part of the plot happening.
And then there’s the ending. I liked a lot of things about the ending. I think that it gave us the answers to what had happened and so I was satisfied in that regard. I think that it was an exciting scene, and it was one instance where the frantic plot paid off. But, there were a few things about the ending that didn’t feel as well thought out. One specific thing that is too spoilery to mention specifically was almost completely glossed over when more attention was probably needed. Really, I think what we needed was an extra chapter, something between the ultimate resolution and decisions Sophie makes (which were awesome decisions, by the way), and the end of the action. I needed more time to cool down and catch my breath.
Overall, I think Spellbound was a good end to the series. It played to the same strengths I saw in Hex Hall and Demonglass and it is certainly quite a ride. It made me laugh and smile, but I missed the emotional punch I got in Demonglass. I’m looking forward to what Rachel Hawkins has in store for us next.
One of my very favorite things is reading books by debut authors. I love to see that first glimpse into a new imagination and a new voice. And then, eOne of my very favorite things is reading books by debut authors. I love to see that first glimpse into a new imagination and a new voice. And then, especially because so many YA debuts are the first in a series, I love to see that author’s talent grow. When it comes to Veronica Rossi, I’m not sure how much higher she had to climb. I read Under the Never Sky by random draw, closing my eyes and just picking from a stack. When I first pulled it out, I was a little disappointed. But then I read the first chapter and I could not put it down. Under the Never Sky had almost all of the things I love in a book: a mysterious plot, a mysterious boy, a lack of a love triangle, a girl who is struggling to figure out her place in the world, and an awesome world in which to do that. Also? The title is so pretty.
I loved the world-building in this book. It made for interesting, diverse characters. It made for awesome descriptions and visuals. And, most importantly, it played perfectly into the plot. I loved the contrast between the pod people (as I called them in my head) and the people of the wild. And the wasteland with its storms? Brilliantly written and exciting to read about. It was a fertile ground for these characters to grow in.
I thought the plot was well paced. There was action and emotion and humor and it all came at just the right time.I felt like everything that happened happened for a reason, and that each event and each page of the book was building somewhere. I liked the mystery in it, and I liked the fact that two people from two different worlds had two mysteries to solve. I’m not normally a fan of dueling points of view, but there were distinct voices for both Perry and Aria. I thought one of the best things about this book was watching two people from opposite ends of the spectrum find their way to the middle. This was so important, because though we get glimpses of other characters, the vast majority of this book is Perry and Aria.
I really liked Aria’s journey. She was brave from the get go, and smart. I liked that both of these things lead her to be a little manipulative, as is seen from the very first chapter, in the pursuit of what she wanted. I thought that she felt real. She was unlikable at times, but in a good way. In a way that meant she had somewhere to go as a character. Aria had the most character growth of any character I’ve read in a while. And what was fascinating was that Aria was all alone. She loses her only real friend right off the bat and we know her mother has been missing from page 1. It made Aria’s journey more complicated, because she’s been thrust into the ether with no backup. It made me admire her refusal to give up that much more. I loved where she ended up, and I really loved watching her get there.
Perry was awesome. If I were stuck in a zombie apocalypse (and no, no zombies here), I’d totally want a guy like Perry. He could hunt and he could fight and he was brave. But, for all his prickliness (and there certainly was prickliness), there was a lot of depth to him. We knew he had sympathy and feeling from the beginning, and we saw more and more of that come out as the book went on. His relationship with his family was one of the most interesting parts of the book, as was his relationship with his friends. It showed us a side of Perry that he wouldn’t even admit in his own mind.
But the real strength of this book was Perry and Aria together. They genuinely disliked each other in the beginning, but they got to know each other. Not likes and dislikes so much as who the other was. They were attracted to each other, but that was only a part of it. They made each other better, more whole. I felt like, at the end, here are two characters who together could do anything. They started out on completely unequal footing, but by the end they were partners. It was a great evolution.
I think Under the Never Sky lived up to its title. It was beautifully written, the characters were excellent, and I loved how the romance grew and was shown to us. It was a great first installment, a great debut, and I can’t wait for it’s sequels.
Last year, I bought Saundra Mitchell’s The Vespertine because I thought it had a pretty cover and I’m shallow like that. Of course, as I said in my reLast year, I bought Saundra Mitchell’s The Vespertine because I thought it had a pretty cover and I’m shallow like that. Of course, as I said in my review at the time, I ended up really liking it, in large part because of the characters. When I found out we’d get sequels/companion novels with more of these characters, I was pretty excited and so when I got an ARC of The Springsweet, I was even more stoked. As I’ve said a million times on tis blog, I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and anything to do with homesteading/ranching/wilderness is right at the top of my list, second only to Victoriana. And here? I pretty much get both! I’m going to try to talk about The Springsweet without spoilers, but some from the Vespertine will inevitably sneak in here so be warned!
I was nervous when I realized this book was about Zora. Zora kind of broke my heart in the last book, and I was afraid it was maybe too soon for me to be ready to see her again – that she wasn’t ready to face life yet. But I was wrong. I think one of the things that made me like The Springsweet so much was Zora’s strength. From the get go, she knows what she doesn’t want. She knows what she will refuse to allow to happen to her, and she takes her fate into her own hands. She may not always make smart decisions or even well thought out ones, but she also refuses to be a passive participant in her own life. Watching her grow from the spoiled socialite she was in the first book to the woman she is at the end of The Springsweet was a satisfying progression. She learned from her mistakes and she carried her knowledge forward so that each and every thing that happened to her was an experience she drew from.
Zora’s growth is incredibly important in this book because it is, in a lot of ways, the whole plot. At its essence, The Springsweet is about a city-girl who needs a new life and finds it on the frontier. And she finds it with a gift she never knew she had. I actually love d the “springsweet” aspect of this story because it was supernatural in a way that didn’t feel hokey (not that Amelia’s powers felt at all hokey in The Vespertine). It fit with both the setting and with Zora. More importantly, it was written in a way that made a strong visual impression, for both the reader and Zora.
I also really liked Emerson. I especially liked that we got to see all of his best qualities in a roundabout way. Zora finds out so much about him from local gossip, which gave the small town setting a lot of charm. It was also interesting because most of the people talking to Zora are trying to convince her he’s no good, so we get to see not only Emerson’s awesome but also the problems that come with the time period. Emerson, though, was great because he was such a compliment to Zora (and you’ll see what I mean when you read the book). He was steady and patient, but also funny and charming. You could see why Zora was drawn to him and appreciate that he let it come to her so slowly.
If I had a real complaint about this book it would have to be that The Springsweet is too short. The Springsweet is only forty pages shorter than The Vespertine, but I kind of missed those forty pages. The book was well paced, but I don’t think more detail would have changed that. There were details I’d have liked to see more of, especially as it concerned background characters like Theo and Aunt Birdie. I think there were a few plots with these characters that, though fun, could have been something more (both less predictable and less surprising, if such a thing is possible) with a little more backstory. Even the town itself that I think could have benefitted from a little more page space, because scenes like the barn raising were charming and cute, but I wanted more from them. I think, in the end, The Springsweet was a story about Zora and Emerson and I had everything I needed for that story, but I also felt like Saundra Mitchell wanted to tell me more and it just didn’t make it to the page.
The Springsweet comes out on April 17, and I’m reviewing it now so that if you haven’t read The Vespertine yet you can get on it and catch up before release day. The Springsweet is one of those period pieces that leaves you happy when you’re done reading it, and I can’t wait for more from Zora and Amelia and their friends.
Holly Black’s Curse Workers series is one that we’ve all (with the exception of Katie, because she’s silly and doesn’t like mob books) obsessed aboutHolly Black’s Curse Workers series is one that we’ve all (with the exception of Katie, because she’s silly and doesn’t like mob books) obsessed about for a while. I still remember getting to the end of Red Glove and feeling like I was going to lose my mind with the need to have Black Heart in my hands instantaneously. And the waiting was pretty terrible. I tried to console myself with the (spectacular and highly recommended) audiobooks of White Cat and Red Glove, but I needed to know how these characters ended up. I can honestly say that I think Black Heart, even if I’m annoyed they changed the cover on me, is one of the most satisfying series conclusions I’ve ever read.
Black Heart was a must read for me. This series is amazing, visually and psychologically. You can’t trust anyone, not even yourself. Cassel has been through so much at this point, I’m honestly surprised he’s not just breaking down and crying every few minutes. But that’s not Cassel. He bucks up. He does what he has to in order to help his family and himself survive. He lives in torment watching his love, Lila, work her way into the crime family business. Holly Black manages to convey all this and still throw in the occasional line that makes you laugh, rather loudly, while in public. It almost always happened while I was in public reading this book. I’ll give you an example:
“Refills are free,” the waitress tells us with a frown, like she’s hoping we’re not the kind of people who ask for endless refills.
I am already pretty sure we are exactly those people.
She just throws this stuff in at the most random times. There is serious business going on, like murder, espionage and blackmail, but then this insanely, yet brilliantly placed line comes along to make you feel like it’s all going to be all right as long as Cassel keeps his sense of humor.
The ending — because I have to talk about the ending — was one I was not expecting. How Cassel got out of that still amazes me. There are answers and problems are resolved, but it’s still left very open-ended. My one note, the one I was afraid was going to happen, was at least it didn’t have a sad ending. There were a lot of ways things could have gone horribly for Cassel, but in the end, at least it wasn’t sad.
I was so excited to read this book. Cassel, Cassel, Cassel!!!! I love Cassel! And Lila! And Danica and Sam. But mostly Cassel and his crazy relationship with his family and the love/hate they all seem to have for one another. When the book started I couldn’t see how Cassel was going to get through everything. The situation with the Feds, his families lawlessness, everything that had happened with Lilah, HOW COULD IT ALL TURN OUT WELL AT THE END???? Especially because I so did not want Cassel to turn into a strictly good guy working for the Feds. You know? I wanted him and Lilah to become head of the big crime family and live happily ever after doing bad things with a bit of conscience.
Now, obviously, I can’t tell you if that happens. I can say that Holly Black, once again, manages to weave together so many different plot strings and characters and little, tiny details until it all comes together at the end to blow your mind with the genius of Holly Black. There’s always so much going on in these books, never a dull moment, I’m always surprised when one of the students mentions having homework. How can ALL THIS be going on and they’re still going to class? I loved watching Cassel come into his abilities more and being more pro-active with them. I loved watching Lilah become more herself, and more in charge and confident. I love that in the Cassel/Lilah relationship Lilah has always been the aggressor, the more dominant, and that Cassel is enough of a man to admit that he likes it that way. That’s probably my favourite thing about them.
So, obviously I can’t spoil anything so I’m just going to say, I was pleased with the ending. It felt good to me. Not perfect but good. Can’t wait to see what Holly Black has in store for us next!
I think Black Heart may be the best book Holly Black has written yet. The writing was just so pitch perfect. It was sparse and clever and ambiguous, just like her story and her characters. I really can’t think of a more perfect conclusion to a series than Black Heart. It had everything I want in an ending. It resolved the outstanding issues, it had a plot all of its own, and, most importantly, it left me enough room that I could wonder about the characters. I’m a picky reader like that. I want to know juuuust enough, but never to much. And that’s excellent, because the thought of a book-life without Cassel in it is a serious bummer. I think, out of all the books, Cassel was my favorite in Black Heart, which is saying something. I really saw both where he was in his own mind and how he got there. And I saw him be awesome in ways I hadn’t previously seen (vague comments are vague, I know, but I can’t talk about the end without spoiling everything). I also really liked what happened with Barron. He’s not someone I liked at all, but I loved reading about him. I thought he was complicated in this book and layered and fascinating to read more about. Then again, most of the background characters in this book are. From Lilah to Cassel’s mother to the agents themselves. And I have to admit, what I really loved was that Cassel seemed like the moral compass of this story. Cassel! Who does all these terrible things but knows it, too. Cassel, who tries to make good choices but is, at his most basic, a survivor. I’m being completely serious when I say that I think Cassel would kick serious tail in The Hunger Games. I can’t wait until this is released on audiobook so that I can enjoy it all over again, only this time in the voice of Jesse Eisenberg!
Every now and then a book comes around that does more than entertains you for the length of time you’re reading it. It worms its way into your heart aEvery now and then a book comes around that does more than entertains you for the length of time you’re reading it. It worms its way into your heart and your mind and when you’ve finished with it, you’re still not done. It stays with you and you smile while remembering a certain scene or a particular line. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley will be with me for a long time. Let me, and my blog-mate Kate, tell you why.
Leiah: Oh my gosh, Kate, there is something in going on in Australia. Somehow “genius” has been broken down into its elemental form and put in the water supply. Some of my most favorite YA novels ever are coming out of there. Just brilliant, brilliant books.
Kate: Graffiti Moon had the same kind of power and unique voice for me that Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road did. Only it was a completely different book telling a completely different story. It just had that magic, though. That something.
Leiah: I had been told to read Graffiti Moon forever. It was released in Australia two years ago and when I read the description I was intrigued, but something kept me from reading it. Laziness, probably. It then became available on Netgalley for its US release, so I requested it and then sat on it. Really dumb move. I could have been raving about this book for months instead of the few weeks before it’s out here in the states. It’s just such a fantastic read.
Kate: See, I didn’t hear about it until later. And I had to wait on Netgalley to approve me, so I read it all at once that night. It was one of those for me.
Leiah: Once I started reading, I didn’t stop. The tone of the story made me think back, way back, to the time I was a teenager and the energy that was sparked around having a night out with friends. A night where anything could happen. I really loved that on the brink of their adulthoods, year twelve having just ended, that these kids were getting together for a seemingly innocuous night out and LIFE happened.
Kate: That was the best thing. It was an adventure, but the kind of an adventure it feels like almost anyone can have. This is one of the most relatable, real YA books that I’ve read in a long time. You felt for every character and every character was important and you got to know them. It was one of the few multiple point of view books I’ve ever liked, and the likability of the cast had a lot to do with that. And those points of views led to a really interesting format.
Leiah: Agreed. It was like the story was weaved together with these two really strong viewpoints, but the bits from Poet’s were like a silver thread running through the tapestry. They weren’t a major part of the story line, but yet they added so much and really allowed you into his world. And then there is Shadow. I don’t want to gloss over Lucy, because she is one of the most likable teenagers I’ve ever read, but Shadow was just, yeah. He’s one of those boys you wished you knew at 18.
Kate: I loved the Poet sections because they were a great application of the technique. I’ll admit that I’m still not sure how I feel about the direct overlap. But I seeing Lucy and Ed’s different reactions to the same thing, but also the things that tied them together. Because that was a lot of the book for me, that tie between Lucy and Ed.
Leiah: I don’t know how she did it, but somehow Cath Crowley is the master at making overlapping scenes work from different points-of-view. That is usually the death knell of a book for me. It’s always so tedious to read the same thing over again, but, you’re right, it worked really well here, because both Ed and Lucy are coming from such different perspectives. Seeing how Ed’s resolve over not letting Lucy know his secret crumble as they get to really know each other was so heartwarming, because it wasn’t just about him crushing on Lucy, it was about him coming to terms with who he was. I also really enjoyed how they interacted with their friends. It was nice that there wasn’t any question that these were true friendships.
Kate: I loved how it showed those friendships growing too. And that everyone is not what they seem. The juxtaposition between Lucy’s tale of her first terrible date and then the Ed that she sees underneath? It was masterful. Lucy’s growth especially. And not really growth. It was more a…centering. She grew into who she already was underneath.
Leiah: Yes, I felt like it was that way for both of them. They are both artists, yet they express themselves so differently through their art. It was just a really lovely book. I rarely wish for books I love to be turned into movies because they never convey the true meaning of the story, but this is a story that I would love to “see.” I want to watch Ed create his walls and Lucy work on her portfolio project. It all sounded so beautiful, and while Cath’s gorgeous descriptions conveyed what they looked like, I want to be a glutton and be able to really experience it visually.
Kate: It was a stunningly visual book. The descriptions, not only of the surrounds and the art and the physical, but of the emotions the characters themselves were feeling? Beautiful. It was so lyrical without feeling overdone. That might have been one of my favorite parts of the book.
Leiah: AND on top of all of this, you have a really engaging plot. It really did feel like a much, much cooler version of an 80′s teen movie.
Kate: It really did! It had an 80s vibe in the sense that there was adventure, but it had a lot more heart.
Leiah: The heart of the book is what will make me read it again and again. I felt so good when I finished it.
Kate: It was so uplifting. It was nice to read such a thoughtful book. And it was nice to read something that didn’t have vampires or witches or anything. It was a breath of fresh air to have something so soulful and so technically brilliant.
Leiah: Yeah, all of what you just said plus a really swoony boy.
Kate: I can’t wait to recommend this to everyone I’ve ever met and then just everyone in general.
Last September, I reviewed a book that I’d picked up based on what I thought was a striking cover that just happened to have a rec from Suzanne CollinLast September, I reviewed a book that I’d picked up based on what I thought was a striking cover that just happened to have a rec from Suzanne Collins. That book was Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill. I loved Black Hole Sun. I loved that there was a male lead. I loved that it was a sci-fi book that felt like it was a western. I loved that the female lead could kick the male lead’s ass. And I loved that it was going to have a sequel. Invisible Sun is that sequel, and I pretty much loved it too. I don’t love the cover (or the re-release of the Black Hole Sun cover), but you have to look past that and get to the completely under appreciated gem that is this series. This review shall be as spoiler free as I can make it for Invisible Sun, but some spoilers for Black Hole Sun might sneak their way in.
I can’t review this book without making comments about the writing in general, which is pretty much perfection for a sci-fi novel. This book and its predecessor have some of the snappiest, most entertaining dialogue I’ve read in a long time. It felt really organic, and was always pitch perfect for whatever the mood is in the background. I laughed out loud more than once, and I grinned through almost every scene with any hint of banter. The tone of the dialogue alone is enough to tell the reader what two characters mean to each other and the kind of relationship they have. It was a great way to show and not tell, and I think that’s what made the characters work sow ell together and as individuals.
Oh, the characters. The best thing about these books for me is the fact that the characters are complete people. With sci-fi, it’s easy to get bogged down in the cool world-building and the neat gadgets, but David Macinnis Gill has written two novels now where the neat stuff coexists with these great characters he has given us. The gadgets and gizmos are part of the story, yes, but they enhance the characters. We see the pieces the characters see and touch and use. And we see the way the cool science stuff is literally integrated with the characters. It’s a great balance and it lets these books be action packed while keeping their soul.
First and foremost, there’s Durango. I love him. I love that he’s smart. I love that he knows when to ask for help, knows when he’s been beat, and also knows that there are things too important to give up on even when beaten. Durango had a great evolution between Black Hole Sun and Invisible Sun. I liked that we got to see him grow in his skills and maturity while still remaining a teenage boy who is confused about girls and what to do with his feelings for a certain girl in particular. What I really liked was how perfectly paced the exploration is of Durango’s backstory. In Black Hole Sun, we got a big piece that let us know what motivates Durango to do what he does. Then, in Invisible Sun, we get to find out the smaller ways that this has not only affected him, but everyone around him. We get enough pieces to move the plot forward, but not so much that there’s nothing to look forward to or so little that it feels liek the author is hiding the ball.
I also really enjoyed the back story we got for Vienne. Vienne was one of my favorite parts of this first book because she was pretty unapologetically badass. She’s the kind of girl who can do anything a boy can do, only better. And she doesn’t try to hide how awesome she was from Durango because, well, she has a level of awesome that can’t be hidden. In Invisible Sun, we get to find out where that strength and toughness came from. We also get to see that the strength and toughness is so amazing because it doesn’t dominate the caring, loyal aspects of Vienne’s personality.
Durango and Vienne work well within the plot of this book. The way they are and the way they think and the things they do fit perfectly into the puzzle going on in the background. And really, I can’t say a lot about it without spoiling the whole thing. But, let’s just say this book has a wonderful beginning, an exciting middle, and a clutch your chest kind of ending. I can’t express how much I appreciate that even though there is clearly more story to tell, Invisible Sun was it’s own complete piece of that story.
The one thing about this book I didn’t love, and I felt this way in Black Hole Sun, is the “villain” point of view. It works in the sense that things are happening offscreen that the reader needs to know about, but it also had a tendency to pull me out of the intensity of the story. The buildup of tension in scenes is awesome in these books, but then I’d flip the page and I wouldn’t be with Durango anymore and that would all sort of fizzle. We spend enough time with the bad guy point of view that I’d be intrigued, but not quite enough to hook me on his character. But then again, it might just be that I was so hooked on Durango and Vienne that I was impatient to get back to them.
Overall, the name of the game in Invisible Sun is balance: the balance of characters and plot, the balance of maturity and age appropriate behavior, and the balance between taking the easy way out and hoeing the tough row. Invisible Sun comes out on March 27, 2012 (thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, for letting me read this early!), so use the time until then wisely, go pick up Black Hole Sun, and buckle in for an awesome ride.
We’re very excited! Froi is the sequel to Finnikin of the Rock (which we all had fun extolling yesterday) and takes place three years after the eventsWe’re very excited! Froi is the sequel to Finnikin of the Rock (which we all had fun extolling yesterday) and takes place three years after the events in that book. We see Finnikin and his wife again (I’m trying not to spoil the events of Finnikin, but no promises), and we follow them as they try to help a kingdom rebuild itself. We see Trevanion again and watch him try to reclaim the life he had before. We see Lucien taking up his father’s position and leading his people, even though he thinks he’s failing at it. And, most of all, we see Froi sent on a secret mission in an neighboring kingdom. A mission that will show him the truth about his past and leave him questioning his future.
I don’t remember crying at all while reading the book, which is very rare for me. I remember being devastated at different points. I remember the one time I laughed. One time. I usually laugh a lot during Melina Marchetta books. But there were no tears. When I put the book down (figuratively, it was an ebook) I was confused. No tears? I’m not a no tears person. Earlier today I teared up just thinking about the ending of Wall-E. …yeah. Please don’t make fun of me. So, yeah, confusion. Then…about five minutes after I finished Froi of the Exiles, I just burst into tears and cried at my computer for like ten minutes. The thing with Melina Marchetta books is, even though they are bleak and devastating in the middle, they always end with hope and life and happiness. But, because Froi has a sequel, it just ends in the middle of the bleak. And I need more!
I need to find out what happens with Lucien! And and and Phaedra! Oh, I wish those two had their own book. And Finnikin and Isaboe! I liked that they were (mostly) happy and together and starting their own family. And I loved every moment of Trevanion. Every single moment. Quintana, I think, is the most interesting and difficult character Marchetta has ever written. She is so broken and tragic but had to be relatable without her situation being made light of. The whole book was so intense and so dark, it hurts my soul to leave the characters where they are. I want everyone to make peace with everyone and to be happy.
In short, I loved this book and the relationships and the confusing, messy family situations. I liked that nothing was simple or quite how it seemed and I need to know what is going to happen!
One of my favorite things about Froi is that it didn’t abandon the hope I felt at the end of Finnikin. It left me, of course, a quivering, sobbing mess. But I remembered Froi’s beginning and I remembered Finnikin’s end and I felt like these characters could maybe overcome this impossible situation they were in. That maybe is really all you can ask for in a book like Froi. I loved how we are told three years have gone by, but we see it too. We see what it’s done to the relationships of the characters we care about and we see what the magnitude of what Finnikin‘s ending has created without tying it all up in a bow. And I loved how we expanded on this world that Melina Marchetta so stunningly crafted. I said yesterday that the world of Finnikin was a character in its own right, and it was developed just as much as Froi.
Froi was not an easy book to read. In many ways, Froi was damn near painful to get through. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it was too good. It was so visceral, so honestly gut-wrenching, that I don’t think I’ve felt a book this way since the Chaos Walking trilogy. A lot of that had to do with Quintana, who broke my heart into a million pieces. And Froi, who broke it into a million more when he tried to piece hers back together again. It’s hard to follow up the story of two characters like Finnikin and Isaboe who are two of the most perfect imperfect characters ever written. But Froi and Quintana went to a depth of complexity that’s hard to even think about attempting to explain, especially without giving away the store (and trust me, y’all, when I say this isn’t a book you want to be spoiled for). They’re almost perfect foils to Finnikin and Isaboe, and that helps to make Froi work. There are two sides of what happened in the war with Lumatere. There are two sides to its rebirth, and, through Froi and Quintana, it was amazing to read how differently two different kingdoms could respond.
I could seriously talk about Froi forever. I could talk about another perfectly rounded supporting cast; I could talk about writing so beautiful it made me weep; I could talk about the sheer mastery that Melina Marchetta displays when it comes to showing and not telling; I could talk about how she’s pretty good at that whole telling bit, too, writing the kind of dialogue that’s so real and natural you feel like you’re sitting right there. Much like Finnikin, Froi was one of those books for me. Those books you read on your mom’s couch the day after Christmas and finish right before you have to drive five hours, which you pretty much spend alternating between sniffles and sobs. But for now all I’ll say is that Quintana cannot get here soon enough. And neither, for that matter, can the Froi audiobook.
I haven’t read Froi. This might not seem like much of a shock, as it is only being released in the US today, but I actually bought the book from a New Zealand company when the book came out in Australia—in October. I can give you lots of excuses, but it boils down to being really busy and wanting to have the time to read it properly. You can’t blow through a Marchetta book, the writing deserves to be savored. I can say this, I’m so excited to see Froi’s continued growth. His redemption as a character was one of my favorite parts of Finnikin. I don’t know when I’ll be able to sit down and really give it the uninterrupted time it deserves, but I already know I’ll love this book as much as Finnikin, even with the wicked cliffhanger. Please note: Melina Marchetta receives my only Wicked Cliffhanger Dispensation.
I haven’t read Froi as well. Eek. You may commence throwing spoiled fruit at me if that makes you feel better. I do have reasons, though. Not good ones, granted, but I try to convince myself they’re good ones every time I look at Froi sitting on my bookshelf. The first is I had several commitments to other books already in place and the second is I heard there’s a cliffhanger at the end. I am the absolute worst person to tell when there’s a cliffhanger at the end of a book because all I’m tempted to do when I finally do pick it up is read the end. I have zero willpower when it comes to this, unless it’s an ebook. Since it’s so much harder to read the end and then go back to the place I was at on my Kindle, I read as many very tempting books on it as I can. (Like Mockingjay.) Now that Froi has come out in the US and I can finally get it on my Kindle, that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend.
I’m excited to see the places everyone from Finnikin is in several years later. I’m excited to see Froi again and see how he’s changed or grown. I can’t wait to get sucked into Lumatere and its politics and people.
As part of our Melina Marchetta Week, we reviewed all of her books in short blurbs. What follows is what was said about Saving Francesca and a littleAs part of our Melina Marchetta Week, we reviewed all of her books in short blurbs. What follows is what was said about Saving Francesca and a little bit about Piper's Son, so there may be slight spoilers.
Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son have something in common, other than the similar cast of characters, and that is a subtlety of emotion. A slow build, if you will, to the end when you realize you love each and every one of these characters as if they were your friends, or cousins, or sisters, or brothers, or aunts, or lovers. And your whole life will be different for having taken the time to get to know them.
I barely know what to say about these books and these characters. I feel like we’ve had this long journey together and know just have a silent understanding of one another.
Saving Francesca is, on it’s surface, about a teenage girl trying to cope with her mother’s depression and the idea that she to, might have this dark demon inside her waiting for the right trigger to come out and take over her life. But…that’s not really what the book is about. It’s more about finding your own strength and not being afraid to show your personality to the world, even if they think you’re kind of crazy. It’s about having the right people in your life. Choosing your friends wisely, not just going with the flow. I loved that about this book. The friendships made were so tangible, so important, they almost felt more important than the family shown in the book. At least at this point in Francesca’s life. Also, I listened to the audio book recently and the way the narrator delivers Francesca’s blow-up at her dad near the end of the book is perfectly done.
I get why we paired these two books into one post, they’re companion novels, but they’re different. Francesca has a teenage female protagonist and The Piper’s Son is about a young man in his early twenties. The same people (and some new ones) might be involved, but they are a few years older, some of them even became wiser.
I liked SF. I did. It’s a great story about a girl dealing with her mother’s depression and the horrific tolls it takes on her family. Francesca is an easy girl to relate to and that she’s the driving force in “fixing” her family was really touching. Again, I liked it. ... Like every Marchetta novel, there are things that will break your heart, make you laugh, and maybe cry at the same time. She’s just one of the best YA writers ever and I hope, hope, hope you read her magic words.
Saving Francesca was the third of Melina Marchetta’s books I read. I had to order it online, and was really annoyed when I got the book and it wasn’t the cover advertised. Then I read the book and I was even more annoyed to see a soft, angelic looking blond girl on the cover because Francesca is absolutely neither of those things. Usually this stuff doesn’t bother me, but with Saving Francesca it did. Francesca’s heritage and her family are a huge part of this book because they’re a huge part of who she is. This, I think, is the first (and probably only) of Melina Marchetta’s books that looks at just an every day, normal family. A mom and dad, two kids, a gaggle of grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. But even this normal family has problems. Big ones, even. I loved seeing that, and I loved seeing how, even with a family to support her, Francesca still felt alone and lost. I really respect how Melina Marchetta handled Francesca’s mom’s depression. It was so real, and very respectful of an issue so many people roll their eyes at.
But Melina Marchetta’s biggest strength is always building up her relationships between characters. Francesca and her mother, Francesca’s parents, Francesca and her brother, Francesca and her new friends and, last but not least, Francesca and Will Tromball. I loved Will. I loved that he had his own set of issues, but he’s there for Francesca without pushing. Their relationship is in the background of this book, but it’s kind of like the book’s spine anyway. Will brings out all these things in Francesca that she spent years hiding and suppressing, and these things he brings out makes her stronger and better. They made each other stronger and better, and that’s a rare find in YA novels lately.
One of the earliest books Kate and I bonded over was Michelle Zink’s Prophecy of the Sisters. And over the next two years we got to read the rest of tOne of the earliest books Kate and I bonded over was Michelle Zink’s Prophecy of the Sisters. And over the next two years we got to read the rest of the trilogy, if not together then at least in the spirit of togetherness, all with much discussion about Dimitri and sisters and awesomeness. So, when the amazing people at Penguin Teen offered to send us an early manuscript of A Temptation of Angels, we jumped all over the chance!
I posted my mini-review of A Temptation of Angels months ago, but I’m so happy that now that the release day is TOMORROW (squueeeee!) we can post our full review of awesomeness.
WARNING: We tried to keep it spoiler free, but if you’re reading between the lines at all, we totally ruin a part of the ending. Sorry about that.
Caitlin: I promised myself that Darius wouldn’t be the first thing I mentioned in this review. I thought I could mention the awesome setting, or Helen, or the very original world in which the story takes place…but who I am kidding. I love Darius!
Kate: I enjoyed Darius, too. I liked how grown-up he seemed. Being an “adult” young-adult reader, I’m always so glad to see authors transcend the usual YA boundaries and insert a character who isn’t a teenager (please see: Clockwork Angel and Melina Marchetta: generally).
Caitlin: Really? You’re going to encourage my talking about Darius? I can go at this all night. I just love how he’s so protective of Anna, even though she doesn’t like it. And I love how he’s abrasive with everyone, except Anna.
And and and….I’ll stop now, seeing as this book isn’t actually about Darius.
Kate: Good. Because I think we better back up and talk about the plot and important details like, oh, who Anna is?
Caitlin: She’s the daughter of Galizur!
Kate: Obviously. But before we can get to any of that, we have to talk about Helen, because Helen IS this book for me.
Caitlin: I suppose I can stay quiet about Darius for awhile. Helen is pretty awesome.
Kate: What I liked about Helen was how well developed she was. We saw her come into herself in this book. We saw her display a lot of strength and gumption. She wasn’t fearless, but the fact that she worked around the tragedy that landed her with Darius and Griffin made me really respect her.
Caitlin: Agreed! I loved how the first thing we see of Helen is her hiding in a closet. And then throughout the book we basically get to see her burst out of that closet with strength and self assurance. It was a gratifying journey that we took with her. Not only in a romantic sense, but her journey of self-discovery which, I think, allowed her to make the choice she had to make at the end without regret.
Kate: Helen makes a lot of choices because she’s faced with a lot of them. She’s such an active participant in her own life. I liked how much she thinks about things. For example, boys. She has to make a choice about two boys and she’s completely smart and together about it, but she’s not immune to the charms of either.
I, obviously being me and sort of a strange person in general, rooted for a boy who I probably shouldn’t root for. He’s the kind of boy that, if I were to spawn, I would warn my daughters away from. But because Michelle made him so twisty and complicated, I felt twisty and complicated about him. I think Raum was far and away one of the most interesting bad boys I’ve ever read, if only because he’s so unapologetic about it.
Caitlin: What I really liked about the two boys is that it didn’t really feel like a love triangle. Love triangles are something I’m sick of in young adult literature and they are a complete turn off to me. But, and Michelle did this in the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy as well, the two boys are part of two completely different parts of the Helen’s life and…I don’t know how to describe it. But in a book that clearly has a focus on a love triangle, it doesn’t make me extremely angry. And that is rare.
Kate: I actually like a love triangle that’s done well. Sometimes, I am so invested in that element of the plot that it becomes my focus. I’m so myopic that I become one of those annoying people who declares a book dead to me when my choice ship does not pan out. But that didn’t happen here at all. I think that goes back to the strength of Helen, but I also think it goes back to the fact that I liked Griffin, too. I didn’t think he had the strange sarcastic charisma of Darius, but I could tell that he and Helen would make a good fit. All of those things go to the strength of the storytelling.
Caitlin: I guess I just thought that each boy had a very separate place in Helen’s heart and the point of her journey, plot aside, was to figure out which life she belonged in. So, it wasn’t so much about the boys representing different parts of her life and Helen having to make a choice as, in figuring out her life she the boy of choice became apparent.
Kate: That’s a great way to put it. And I’m so proud of you. I gave you a perfect Darius segue and you went back to Helen. Because that’s how awesome she was in this book.
Caitlin: I’m trying to grow. Though, yes, his sarcastic charisma is a big part of his charm
Kate: In the beginning, I liked he and Helen. And maybe part of me still does. He needs a woman who can stand up and be his equal. But then, I loved Anna. I loved her genuine sweetness. I love how she tempered his sarcasm and made him seem more human, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Caitlin: I know. They’re just so sweet. But I will say, I desperately need an Anna/Darius focused book because I think she does stand up to him. I think he’s just as over bearing toward her as he is to everyone else, he just hides it behind sweetness instead of sarcasm and I think their relationship would be amazing to watch grow and become stronger when Anna convinces Darius’ that she is capable of taking care of herself. But, that doesn’t really have much to do with this particular book.
Kate: But that would deprive me of Raum. Don’t be selfish!
Caitlin: Don’t worry! Michelle said she has ideas for a Darius book and a Raum book.
Kate: My favorite thing about this book is that we’re so obsessed with these characters that we haven’t even talked about the plot and the world-building, both of which would be the standout in almost any other book.
Caitlin: Yes! The Victorian computers! The intricate Keeper system! There’s a character named Galizur for Pete’s sake. All awesome things.
Kate: And the mystery was so well paced. I felt pulled along the whole time, but not in that frantic, someone grabbing you by the hand and yanking you around way. I felt like I was chasing someone in that exhilarating way, someone who was just out of reach until the end and BAM. Everything came together.
I liked how frequently clues were dropped. I like that we weren’t told things as often as we were shown them. And I liked how hands-on Helen was in her quest to get those answers. It gave the reveals so much more impact.
Caitlin: Yes! I remember one of the times that Helen followed the boys somewhere, and I was all “so much has happened already, maybe you should just sleep!” But Helen wouldn’t let herself wait, or relax, she had to be in the thick of the plot figuring stuff out and hunting around. I loved that about her as a character and it made the book well paced and hard to put down.
Kate: And it was hard to put down. It was even harder to put down knowing that it could be a standalone, which would pretty much be the worst book-related thing to happen to me in a long time.
Caitlin: Yes!!! What if I don’t get any more Darius!!! I…I don’t know what I would do.
I’m a sucker for best friend stories. I always have been, and I’m pretty sure I always will be. I have seen Made of Honor more times than I’d care toI’m a sucker for best friend stories. I always have been, and I’m pretty sure I always will be. I have seen Made of Honor more times than I’d care to admit even though…well, let’s just say I know I should be and I am pretty embarrassed about it. It doesn’t have to be best friends to more (though that’s a plus), I just like stories where we get to see two people who know things about the other person and like them because of those things. I also really like stories that have an element of the supernatural without it being the usual supernatural or the whole omg it’s fated thing. On top of all of that, I was/am/will always be a little bit obsessed with Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. So when The Future of Us, a book co-written with Carolyn Mackler, magically appeared on my doorstep, I might have done a not-embarrassing-at-all dance of glee.
I loved the idea of this book. I loved the idea that maybe living in a time where every little details about ourselves is online isn’t such a great thing. And I really loved the idea of looking forward into the future and thinking…how did I get there? Because, for me, this book really hammers home the idea that life is what we make of it. Sometimes there are things that are completely out of our control, but how we react to those things is a choice. Seeing two seventeen year old not-quite-kids-but-definitely-not-adults struggling with their whole future? Some of us graduate high school and pop off to college and pick a degree without really thinking about what that will mean for our futures. And some of us think about it too much. This whole plot was a great play on what would otherwise be the usual high school theme of self discovery and etc.
I liked the Emma and Josh because I thought they fit the plot and because of their history. I liked seeing where they’d been and what had happened when things didn’t go the way either one of them had planned. I liked seeing the consequences of their decisions in their now and in their future and how they handled the idea of what all of that meant. And I really liked how long it took them to figure it out because, cheesy though this seems, that’s life.
Emma’s and Josh’s voices were similar enough that you can see that they’d know each other for their whole lives but different enough (yay for a working two author system) that they didn’t feel like one person. More importantly, each of them was a complete character. I got to see how they were when they were happy and sad and determined and confused. I got to see them experience sitting all alone without anyone else around. I got to see them as individuals, so I understood them by the time the book ended in way I’ve missed in a lot of YA books lately.
The book was predictable, I have to admit, but it’s not the type of book that shouldn’t be. It’s the kind of book you curl up with on a rainy/snowy fall/winter day (assuming you’re not as unlucky as me and live in a place that doesn’t have two seasons: early summer and late summer ), and just read to enjoy. It will make you think, sure, but that sort of delicious nostalgia kind of thinking and that awesome “my future is what I make of it” dreaming. I finished this book smiling, and really, I don’t know if I can ask for much more than that from any author. Now I just need to go find a bunch more Carolyn Mackler books because I am apparently missing out.
I’d been anticipating Alyxandra Harvey’s Haunting Violet for a while because the cover is so pretty. And, having read the book, I can now say the coveI’d been anticipating Alyxandra Harvey’s Haunting Violet for a while because the cover is so pretty. And, having read the book, I can now say the cover is even lovelier because it really fits the book. In fact, both versions of the cover fit the book rather well.
This was a case where the book really lived up to its excellent cover. If a book is set in England, there’s about a 99% chance I will read it. Toss in Victoriana? Make it 99.9%. Add in some ghosts? It is the book equivalent of a perfect storm for me. Haunting Violet was a perfect storm.
This novel was remarkably well set-up. It immediately sucked you into not only the spooky future ahead of Violet, but the personal issues she’d be facing as well. The beginning of this book was what really intrigued me, mostly because it was such a great example of showing me Violet’s life and her relationships and how she felt about both without having to just tell me. It established what Violet’s relationship with her mother was like, set up the supporting characters who would be close to her, and gave a glimpse of how trapped Violet felt by the life her mother had set them up for. And God, her mother. I would have loved this book sans the ghosts even, because Violet’s relationship with her mom was so tragic and story-worthy all on its own.
The ghosts, clearly, were super spooky. And I loved the contrast between the Real Ghosts and the fake séances that Violet’s mother performed. I thought it was a great way to really hammer home the differences between Violet and her mother. And the suspense of will they or won’t they be caught filled in the hole’s nicely with the suspense of OMG is this ghost insane!?
I really loved how the characters in this book were written (down to the villains), but I especially loved Violet. I loved how conflicted she was. I loved how she saw through people’s crap. I loved how she was young and made mistakes, but also how she owned up to them. Violet felt so age and era appropriate to me, and I found that refreshing in a period novel.
Colin, too. Sigh. Colin. He was such an excellent boy in general and for Violet. I liked how he had a history with her, one that built into affection and friendship and stunned her a bit when it became clear to Violet (as it was already clear to the reader) that the feelings of friendship had become something else entirely. I loved how devoted he was to her without being overbearing or creepy.
My main problem with Haunting Violet was that the main mystery of the ghost felt obvious to me – it was clear from the get go for me who was behind it all. It didn’t hurt the suspense of the book overall sure – the rest of the plot stood up plenty straight on its own – but I think more subtlety there would have been helpful.
I really enjoyed Haunting Violet, and it was set-up for a sequel which I hope we get. I’m nervous about that because my bookstores hadn’t stocked this book and I ended up having to order it online. But still…please let there be a sequel? Pretty please?
Most of you probably recognize the author’s name from her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fame. Despite being a contributor to a YA blog, I have toMost of you probably recognize the author’s name from her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fame. Despite being a contributor to a YA blog, I have to confess that I decidedly did not make that connection when I purchased this book, seeing that I’ve never read the series. I have, however, read her other novel, The Last Summer (of you & me) and I count it, along with John Green and Cassandra Clare, as one of the primary reasons I started giving YA books a chance. That said, I’m not entirely sure either of these books qualify for the young adult genre. The character’s ages range from 18-23, and it begins at the end of high school, but the books has an ageless quality to it that I feel anyone from sixteen to sixty could embrace. Of course, this could be because the novel itself transcends time.
When purchasing this book, as you can see by the summary, it seems quite similar to the plot of last year’s Eternal Ones about a love that lasts lifetimes. And while I can admit to fully enjoying the Eternal Ones, this book took the concept eternal love and reincarnation to a higher plane. Daniel’s first life began around 600 AD in North Africa during which time he first met the soul he would be transfixed by for the next 1600 years. It was in this first naive and untried life that Daniel made the mistake that would haunt him for the rest of his lives and started him on his long quest to be with his Sophia.
Through many lives, histories, places, and bodies Daniel keeps his memory of each life he has lived. He is also fortunate enough that he can recognize the souls he has known in the past. Time continues to pass and in some of the better lives he is able to find Sophia, but each time they both have new bodies, speak new languages, and she has new names. They are wholly different people in each life and often times one will be old while the other is young, but just finding a glimpse of her, even knowing that he alone holds the memories, is enough to keep him going. He keeps hoping that one day, he’ll make things better, that they’ll meet at the right time, and that she will remember him.
The story is told in alternative perspectives between Daniel and Lucy (the modern reincarnation of Sophia). Most of Daniel’s story is a retrospective of his many lives and lessons, while Lucy remains in the present, dealing with her constant awareness and obsession with Daniel. For two years they attended the same high school where they secretly longed for one another, until finally on the last night of their senior year they had a moment. It was too intense for Lucy, too outside the realm of her rationally oriented mind for her to make sense of, and so she fled from the opportunity of many lives.
The years pass, and Lucy finds herself feeling empty during her time at the University of Virginia, unable to connect with the world around her or engage with others. It’s impossible for her to let go of Daniel. As the years progress, a series of near misses and almost-could-have-beens occur. She experiences a psychic who knows too much, and memories of a time and place she couldn’t possibly have knowledge of makes her question whether Daniel was as crazy as he appeared. Separately, they both begin to try and find one another and bridge the gap between all their lives.
The poignancy of the human soul and condition through this book is what enraptured me. Brashare’s simple turn of phrasing captures universal truths about humanity, history, and the ongoing evolution of true love. Daniel’s character was heartbreaking- spending countless lives searching for one soul, never attaching to the lives he’s in because he’s always ready for the next one that might grant him Sophia. And Sophia/Lucy’s ever rational brain in many lives tries to reject the possibility of a truth that becomes increasingly more difficult to deny. I connected to the characters, gobbled up the history within it, and even more so, fell in love with the prose.
And the fact that the novel occurs in my home state of Virginia and at one of my most favorite colleges and towns, University of Virginia in Charlottesvile, certainly didn’t hurt anything. Brashares is actually from my neck of the woods and writes about Virginia like only one someone uniquely familiar with it could, and she managed to make me fall in love all over again with this beautiful state.
My Name is Memory, is the first book of a new trilogy, but do not let that discourage you. The book itself could stand on its own, and while there is plot left hanging for the next book, I could almost be happy if it ended where it is right now. That said, I will anxiously be awaiting the next installment and I hope all of you, whether you be YA or geriatric, (seriously if we have any geriatrics in the readership, please make yourself known) enjoy this book as much as I did. It is definitely going down in my top ten favorite book list.
When I got my box of books from ALA, I had a pretty distinct order I’d planned to read them in. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races wasn’t that highWhen I got my box of books from ALA, I had a pretty distinct order I’d planned to read them in. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races wasn’t that high on the list, mainly because I haven’t read Shiver. But Katie is obsessed with horse books and I wanted her to be able to read it, so I ended up reading it second. And as soon as I started? I couldn’t put it down. I mailed it within days and messaged Katie every five minutes…”So, have you read Scorpio Races yet?” And then she finally read it and now it is time for some gushing.
Katie: The second I started reading The Scorpio Races I was hooked. Being a self-professed horse freak I was destined to love this book. But when I realized that the author was a fellow Virginian, and the book was about a famous horse race, run on a barrier island on horses that came from the sea… I instantly thought of my childhood vacations and favorite kid book, Misty of Chincoteague. Add to the fact that these horses EAT PEOPLE and I was hooked. I couldn’t put it down.
Kate: It was the eating people that sucked me in. At first I was reading pleasantly along. Oh, a horse race? On an island? Will there be sweaters and grasses blowing in the wind??? NO! THERE WILL BE HORSES THAT COME FROM THE SEA TO FEAST ON YOUR FLESH!
Katie: It’s pretty much the horse book that I’ve been waiting for since I was in fourth grade. I sincerely think this could stand up there with some of the greats- Marguerite Henry, Anna Sewell…move over on the shelves for The Scorpio Races.
Kate: See, confession. Horses…scare me. I had a bad experience once, and since I have a Mr. Darcy-esque streak of being unable to forgive people/things that have offended me, I’ve never gotten over it. So horse books? Not so much my thing. I like the idea of horse races from a distance, ala The Quiet Man. Me liking this book? Totally out of the blue. It was the only horse book I think I could have really loved. And I loved this book. It was easily in the top five YA books I’ve read this year.
Katie: I absolutely concur, probably within my top three even. It had fascinating and real characters, deliciously terrifying creatures, a fantastic setting, and a great mix of character growth and plot to keep it moving. And if you do like horses, it truly embodied the love and affection between a horse and rider, the connection between them, and had the seemingly minor details of day-to-day care and life with horses that can make even the most ardent equine enthusiast cheer.
Kate: I got that connection being someone who wouldn’t know a connection to a horse if it kicked me in the head. What made this novel stand out for me was the language. It was beautifully, often hauntingly written. I felt like every page added to the characters and the story. And the characters? Wonderful. Everyone had a complicated, sad story without that defining them. This was very much a book about two young adults who knew where they wanted to go but were struggling with the getting there part. I liked that a lot.
Katie: I did too. Particularly how Stiefvater never put the reader too far into the characters heads, but you never felt that they were a mystery to you. There was this level of distance and vagueness, that gave you exactly what you wanted and needed to know without bogging you down with the details. Her writing was so elegant and complicated through its sheer simplicity. And the two main characters, Puck and Sean were her writing style come to life- complicated and yet incredibly simple in their wants and desires.
Kate: And as much as I want to say more about Puck and Sean, this book doesn’t come out until October 18th. How will y’all wait that long!? Don’t ask me, because I can’t even imagine a world in which this book hasn’t been devoured by every single person alive.
Katie: So whether you grew up wanting a pony or you’re desperate for a novel that is highly original and will stick with you for a long time, The Scorpio Races is the book for you. And trust me folks, you don’t want this book. You NEED it.
I love Susane Colsanti’s books for the sole reason that they take me back to what it was like to be in high school without having to, you know, actualI love Susane Colsanti’s books for the sole reason that they take me back to what it was like to be in high school without having to, you know, actually be in high school. Her books really capture the realities of being a teenager without making them completely shallow, which I’ve really appreciated because it makes her characters seem more real and more relatable. Something Like Fate is no exception. This is a book that, at its most basic, is about as angsty as it can get, but it’s also so much more than that.
This is always a hard plot to read. It can especially be hard to read for the girl who is picking a boy above a lifelong friendship. But, for me, this book sort of transcended (I love that word so much) that basic plot. Ultimately it wasn’t a story about how a boy got between two friends: it was a story about how time got between two friends. People aren’t going to be the same at 16 that they were at 8, just like no one is the same at 24 as they were at 16. It’s easy to cling to friendships you’ve always had because they’re easy and comfortable and you’re used to them. But people grow apart. It doesn’t mean you aren’t friends and that you won’t always love each other, it just means that you’re different and you don’t have as much in common as you once did. Maybe it takes a boy to recognize that, or maybe it’s something else. But I couldn’t fault Lani 100% for what happened.
What really helped this feeling for me was how clear the chemistry was between Lani and Jason. It felt like an irresistible tug for me as a reader, and so I understood what Lani did better than I might have otherwise. Jason was such a great character all on his own, but he was also a great compliment for Lani. You could see that she seemed more herself around him and Blake, her best friend (who had a whole plot to himself that broke my heart – and really, that was my biggest complaint about this book, that I thought Blake’s story deserved more attention than it got).
Did I think OMG SOULMATES when I read their story? Not necessarily, but I did see how it was a possibility. Sometimes I’m a sucker for these stories because I did happen to marry my high school boyfriend, and we’ve been together for ten years. It can happen. But really, that’s not the point. The point isn’t that they’re soulmates. And the point isn’t that this is fate. It’s that it’s something LIKE fate (ha, see what I did there?). The point is that, right then, at that moment, Lani feels that this is HER guy.
Lani wasn’t perfect. And what she did wasn’t gold star worthy, by any means. She clings so hard to her friendship with Erin at times that she’s giving up not just what she wants but who she wants to be. And Erin was certainly not the world’s greatest friend. Really though, it wasn’t until after the she found out what Lani had done that she morphed into a vindictive psycho, which I also found to be pretty real. In high school, relationships feel like life or death. I hated what Erin did, and I hated why she did it. And in a lot of ways I hated how Lani accepted her apology and how Erin accepted Lani’s. But I don’t think it was about an apology so much as saying goodbye. Recognizing that they’ll always have their friendship but that they’ve changed and it’s changed along with them. It was perhaps more mature than either of them had proven to be, but I was kind of ok with that in the end.
I liked this book because it was real. It was hard to read because it was hard for Lani to deal with what she was dealing with and it was hard for her to come to terms with what she had done and what it meant. And that’s why I loved it – it made me feel what Lani felt. I think that’s Susane Colsanti’s big strength, and it really made this novel shine for me.
It took me a long time to buy Ally Carter’s Heist Society because when I walked by it in the bookstore I just saw the big sunglasses and the word sociIt took me a long time to buy Ally Carter’s Heist Society because when I walked by it in the bookstore I just saw the big sunglasses and the word society and thought, no, I have too much Gossip Girl in my life as it is. And then I finally looked closer and I freaking loved that book like few others I read last year. When I found out Uncommon Criminals was coming? I did a happy dance of happy happiness. That happy dance was repeated when, in the throes of misery about not finding Demon’s Surrender out a day early, I was trudging to the exit and passed the Uncommon Criminals display. The happy dancing? It continued until I was at the end. And such happy dancing it was.
I started out my review of Heist Society talking about my love for Kat, and honestly she was what I loved most about Uncommon Criminals as well. Ally Carter has a gift for growing her characters. She takes Kat’s combined experiences as this book progresses and combines them with the last to the point that I felt like Kat is a little further along in figuring out who she is every time I turned the page. It’s a rare thing to watch a character make mistakes and screw up and take something from the experience, and getting to see Kat recognize her mistakes without obsessing about them was good.
I also love how businesslike Kat, and all of the characters are, really, without seeming like adults. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately where kids and teens just don’t seem believable for the age that’s stated. Kat is 15, and so many times she seems older than that. But then she’ll do something or think something and you’ll remember. Yes, she’s incredibly mature, but she’s also 15. Yes, she is capable of organizing a heist and leading a crew – capable of focusing herself on the task at hand – but she also can’t stop thinking about other things sometimes in an adorably 15 year old way. It makes for a good balance.
Hale in this book was (if possible) even more amazing than he was in Heist Society. Like Kat, he is the perfect balance for someone with a bit of an old soul, who is mature for his age (made more believable by his astoundingly wealthy upbringing) but who also tends to react to certain things like any boy his age might. How he is with Kat evolved from Heist Society as well. There, he let Kat make decisions and take care of herself. And he still does that in Uncommon Criminals. But when Kat starts making decisions that he disagrees with, he isn’t afraid to tell her so.
The plot in this novel was as interesting and thoroughly planned as that of Heist Society. What made it special is that I truly think this novel could have been a standalone in addition to being a perfect follow-up. The exposition of the events from the previous book didn’t feel like an info dump and were spread out so that you could have slowly pieced it all together yourself. That’s something that happens so little now in a time where every YA book isn’t a book but a series (not that I’m complaining).
I will admit that I didn’t enjoy the actual heisting quite as much, but then again there was a lot less heisting? If that even makes sense. Sure, there were still some crazy (and awesome) capers. But this book, in a lot of ways, was kind of like the politics behind the heists. We got to find out about the players and what goes on behind the scenes. We found out more about Kat’s family without it being vague. Part of me found some of this slightly unbelievable, but then within days I read an article about an ancient goblet disappearing from a church in the middle of the day when it was displayed in plain sight. That just reminded me how good Kat was.
One of my very favorite things about Ally Carter’s books is that, while there is romance, romance isn’t the plot. Sometimes I wished there was more. Sometimes I wanted to yell…NO! Stop plotting and think about your feelings some more! However, never in a bad way. Because it really shows the reader a lot about Kat. She cares about people. She really cares about some people. But she also has a purpose, and that often has to come first. She isn’t a wuss – she confronts it – but she also isn’t perfect and it takes her a while. Plus, any time I can read a book where it becomes clear to me that there is no/will be no love triangle? Victory.
Ally Carter’s books are just straight up smart, fun, entertaining reads. Her writing achieves an almost perfect balance of the three as well. I always want to read them in one sitting, and I always smile/pout/gasp my way through. If you haven’t read Heist Society, please do so before Uncommon Criminals so as not to ruin your suspense. But if you were a genius like me and read Heist Society ages ago, Uncommon Criminals is a great follow-up that you’ll love just as much as its predecessor.
Zombies! If a book has zombies in it, there is a 99% chance I will read it. Even cameo zombies! Even zombies you can’t be positive are, in fact, zombiZombies! If a book has zombies in it, there is a 99% chance I will read it. Even cameo zombies! Even zombies you can’t be positive are, in fact, zombies! Because zombies are fascinating and awesome. Also because I think I’d do rather well in a zombie apocalypse (and the internet quizzes I’m always taking agree with me, so clearly I’m right). Zombies, in short, rule. When someone recommended me Ann Aguirre’s Enclave, they had me on the hook at that beautiful little z word. And boy was I ever glad to be reeled in.
I pretty much loved the world building in this novel. It read in a new way for me, in the sense that as the character got to see more of the world, the reader got to learn more about it. We experienced her expanding worldview with her. We got the isolation she lived with without enduring a million pages of exposition. We watched the cracks appear as Deuce discovered them. We saw the world fresh through her eyes as she discovered things she never knew could exist. This method was perfect for a novel like Enclave because it kept the general air of mystery and creepiness (Which, let me tell you, was very well done. This book was really creepy without feeling bleak. Hard to do in any post-apocalyptic novel, let alone one with crazy things that want to eat you). Deuce couldn’t possibly know everything so we didn’t get to. It left me wondering in all the right ways without it feeling like a hide-the-ball scenario.
Something in particular I thought was well done was the method of naming the new society members. It ‘s total fate/chance where your drop of blood falls, but what you do with that name and how you view the way you were named? It was fascinating. I found it especially fascinating for both Fade and Deuce, and how they interpreted their names told me a lot about them.
The way the universe was built really fed into the way the plot moved too. The action in this book was perfectly paced. And there was a lot of it. Deuce has feelings, obviously, but she’s also a huntress and so the emphasis o the action and her in it told me more about her than a million pages of her inner-thoughts ever could.
I really, really loved Deuce. Deuce was a strong and capable with a good dose of insecurity and desperation to prove herself. And also, good lord did this girl have her priorities straight. She knew what was important to her. But she also did her best not to judge people who might not feel the same way. She wasn’t cold or impersonal about it – in fact, Deuce is an incredibly loyal and affectionate girl. She’s wonderful at seeing past other people’s ideas and rumors and…all of the random crap that people think about everyone else. Deuce was one of those characters that felt real, like you could talk to her and she’d be a real person and not someone’s idea of that person. That’s a little bit weird now that I write it down, but that’s how it felt for me.
I also really, really loved Fade. I loved that his backstory was so apparent without ever being fully explained. And I loved that we SAW the kind of person through Deuce’s eyes. She knew what everyone said about him, of course, but seeing that unravel and watching the real Fade emerge was amazing.
The one thing that bothered me in this book was that, while the plot stayed intense, the romantic plot sort of fizzled. I wouldn’t exactly say a love triangle was introduced, because I honestly don’t think there was (another boy shows up, sure, but I don’t think we’re intended to take him seriously as an option for Deuce. She sure as heck doesn’t. Not really). It’s just that this great buildup sort of reached a high point and then just plummeted. I understood why, which works in the books favor at least. Still, I would have liked to see a little more resolution to what was actually a surprisingly important hunk of the plot.
My stalking of goodreads/amazon/the internet in general has at least helped me in this regard, because Enclave is the first installment of Ann Aguirre’s newest series, the Razorland books. And yay. Because if there was no sequel to this – if this had been the one YA book in a sea of sequels without one – I would have cried. Because I loved this world and these characters and the way it was all put together and I need more of it. Now. This second. September of 2012 (when Outpost will be released) feels like a million years from now. But don’t let that deter you. Enclave and its characters and world are worth that wait.
When I reviewed Michelle Cooper’s A Brief History of Montmaray, I hadn’t yet read the follow-up. In fact, I hadn’t even realized there was going to beWhen I reviewed Michelle Cooper’s A Brief History of Montmaray, I hadn’t yet read the follow-up. In fact, I hadn’t even realized there was going to be a follow-up until right before I wrote my review. And then no bookstores had a copy of The FitzOsbornes in Exile. I know, because I went to six of them. I ended up having to order it online (which always annoys me) and then wait for it to come (which annoys me even more) before I finally got to pour through it in one night of ridiculous excitement.
I have to talk about Sophie, because Sophie is these books. Oh, Sophie. I freaking love Sophie. I love that she is smart. I love that no one ever gives her credit for being smart, and she just lets it roll off her back. I love that she is so open-minded. I love that she is the glue that holds her whole family and, by extension, her whole country and its history together. And I love, maybe more than anything else, that she knows what she wants and what’s important and she fights and works toward it. She may not have ever aspect of her life figured out, it’s true. But she also lives in a difficult time under difficult circumstances and she still wakes up every day and makes things happen. That’s why (as I said when I reviewed A Brief History), Sophie is the kind of character I want to put onto my future child’s brain as soon as is humanly possible.
The buildup to World War II is such a perfect setting for this story. There is the political insecurity and the general unease in the world, and that is really reflected in Sophie’s story. I thought the historical touches added a lot to this book’s plot and character development. I especially liked the real world characters dropped in (Kick Kennedy, for one, was a perfect compliment to Sophie) and the communism versus fascism versus socialism arguments were fascinating to read even if once or twice they slowed down what was happening in the plot.
But this is a journal, so of course the characters are going to comprise most of what made The FitzOsbornes so interesting. Things happen, and the FitzOsbornes do things, sure. But how Sophie feels about her family and her friends helped make me love this book. And her family and friends themselves were so well characterized. Everyone had a personality that went deeper than a stereotype. Everyone was more complicated than that, and often in ways only Sophie could see. It made this journal feel like it could be real, which is probably the greatest strength of this series.
Her comparisons between Simon and Rupert were also a great read for me. Simon, who has relationship troubles all his own, but who acknowledges Sophie’s intelligence and guile (even if he always seems surprised by it). And Rupert, who quietly appreciates her and seemed to be a perfect compliment to her in so many ways. I think it will be interesting to see where this goes. I, hope, at least, that she ends up with one of the two because I think it will say a lot about the type of person Sophie decides to be.
My one complaint was how quickly time seemed to pass in this book. If you aren’t paying attention to the dates at the start of each chapter, you can quickly get lost (I did). In some ways, those holes made me feel like something was missing. But, on the other hand, it’s the nature of a journal and a life. Still, it made some of the character choices feel a little out of place because they were quick reversals from something that to the reader feels like it was five minutes ago, but for the character could have been months. The I Capture the Castle similarities were also still there, but seemed lessen by the historical context.
Overall, I loved FitzOsbornes in Exile and I love the whole Montmaray Journals series. I wish Michelle Cooper had a twitter/facebook/something so I could fangirl her on every social network possible. Her books are smart and fun and sad and funny and many, many other adjectives. Please, go pick up A Brief History of Montmaray if you haven’t already and plow on to The FitzOsbornes in Exile. You won’t regret it.
I first read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster way back in middle school. (And, for everyone not lucky enough to have grown up in Texas, middle sI first read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster way back in middle school. (And, for everyone not lucky enough to have grown up in Texas, middle school doesn’t mean junior high. It’s usually 5th and 6th though sometimes 4th grades). At least, I’m pretty sure that’s when I read it. But when isn’t so much important when it comes to The Phantom Tollbooth, because I still remember the book. It’s one of those magical stories that you carry with you from childhood to adulthood and can’t quite let go of, the kind of book that was the inspiration for our Flashback Fridays.
The Phantom Tollbooth tells the story of Milo, a young boy who is bored. Bored of his games and his routine and school and…everything. But one day he comes home and there is a tollbooth waiting for him. A magic tollbooth. A phantom tollbooth that is going to change everything. Milo passes through the tollbooth and enters into a new, magical place called the Kingdom of Wisdom. He journeys through this new kingdom, picking up companions and having adventures as he tries to help his watchdog, Tock, save the day.
Even as a young girl, this book was smart in addition to being fantastical and fun to read. I remember feeling smarter reading it. This wasn’t a fairy story or an adventure that was dumbed down (though the 1961 publication date probably helped there), but was instead written to entertain and occupy a child’s mind on a multitude of levels. And it works. This isn’t just a boy slaying a dragon. This is a boy conquering the Mountain of Ignorance to save Rhyme and Reason. Using knowledge as power. The pen is mightier than the sword! It’s awesome. It’s clever. And it’s relatable.
Under all the cleverness and puns, it’s just plain fun to read. If this had been an ordinary adventure…if Milo had had to climb a Mount Doom or slay a dragon named George? It would have been just as fun to read and just as exciting. At the end of the day, it was a great fantasy-esque read all on its own. Even with the smarts this book brought to the table, at the end of the day it’s about a hero rescuing some princesses.
What helps is that Milo is so well written. He feels like an average boy in extraordinary circumstances. Milo makes anybody feel like they could do what he does. That if you work hard and arm yourself with knowledge, you too can slay the demons he slays. That you don’t have to be a genius, you just have to work hard. And that was one of the many messages I took away from this book. Watching Milo go from a bored kid to a slayer of ignorance? It’s inspiring even now.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a book every kid should read. It’s the kind of book that my younger brother (who’s now 25) loves to this day, even though he isn’t a reader. I swear, if that boy got on an airplane, a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth was in his bag. And when he got on a plane to go to Afghanistan, a copy was in his bag. It’s that kind of book. It’s the kind of book I have on my bookshelf so I can share it with nephews and younger cousins. And also so that, approximately 17 years after first reading it, I can curl up in bed and get lost in Milo’s adventures again. I hope all of you will (or have) as well.
Supernaturally is one of those books we fight over who gets to review. We all wanted to get our hands on it and we all wanted to be the one to tell evSupernaturally is one of those books we fight over who gets to review. We all wanted to get our hands on it and we all wanted to be the one to tell everyone how much we loved it. So, when it came time to actually post the review, well, things almost got violent.
Instead of participating in the looming cage fight, we decided to be civil about the matter and all have a chance to share our two cents.
Caitlin: So, I was super excited for Supernaturally. I tried to bribe someone on twitter out of their copy. I’d stare at it on Goodreads hoping it would just magically appear in my hands. Other, more creepy, things that cannot be discussed here. Either way, when I finally got a copy…there may have been a little happy jig. A dance of joy. A spasm of excitement. And then I sat down to read. I love sitting down to read.
Supernaturally is very much a second book. It’s a second book in that it isn’t as fun and lighthearted as the first. Bad things happened at the end of the first and Evie, and the rest of the cast, had to deal with the consequences. Going to high school, and living a life of relative freedom was all Evie wanted before, but I’m sure we’ve all heard the “be careful what you wish for,” line. Evie had friends and family in the Institute and her freedom has basically cut her off from them completely.
I really liked everything we got to see and learn about Evie in this book. The glimpses of a relaxed, non-psycho Vivian. And Jack. He was both irritating and intriguing. And I was so, so, so, so, so, so, so sosososososoososo glad that Keirsten didn’t go the route of the surprise love triangle. There was a moment when I thought she might but then she proved true in the end. No love triangle. I wasn’t sure that could still happen in YA books. I feel like there should be an official dance for no-love-triangle books. Like a secret handshake but not so subtle and definitely more awkward.
One thing I didn’t like about the book was the amount of lying, or covering up of the truth, Evie did. That just didn’t feel true to the Evie we’d gotten to know in Paranormalcy. I did, however, love the plethora of new paranormals we got to meet and how they all had their own agendas and motivations and secrets. Kiersten does a good job of making the world have depth beyond the telling of the story.
Christine: I loved Paranormalcy. Evie, her pink taser, Lend, Evie’s obsession with lockers, Lend, vampires not sparkling, and did I mention Lend? I was very much looking forward to Supernaturally, which I was lucky enough to get at ALA and read almost immediately after I got home.
I tend to have a checkered past with second books. Some I outright hate, some I sort of like, others I hold with some esteem and a rare few actually surpass my expectations. Supernaturally I sort of liked. First off, Lend wasn’t around as much as I feel he should’ve been. Basically, not having Lend in every chapter and on every page seemed like a waste. (I hope you realize I’m not completely serious… only about 70 percent.) Second, the character of Jack… He reminds me of a troll doll. You remember those? At first they’re cute and you play with their hair and you’re slightly amused at their mischievous smile, and then you get bored with it and it’s weird that they’re always smiling and their hair is stupid and every time you look at him he’s smiling and what the hell are you looking at, troll?! (I might have slight issues with troll dolls.) So, yeah. It was a second book. Things happened. Lend wasn’t around that much and we learned a little more about Evie (that part was actually interesting and I hope Kiersten explores more of Evie’s past). Reth was there and didn’t seem like a complete creep, for those of you that like him. It wasn’t amazing, but it was a lot better than some second books I’ve read. I am looking forward to the third book because I do like Evie. In fact, she’s one of the few female young adult paranormal voices I like. Just… more Lend, okay Kiersten? All I want is more Lend.
Kate: I loved Paranormalcy. I loved how funny it was. I loved Evie. I loved Lend. I loved everything about it. And that made my expectations really unrealistically high for Supernaturally. When I first finished reading it, I didn’t love it. I spent a good majority of the book wanting to punch Evie. And that’s fine. She’s a sixteen year old girl who is undergoing a huge change – I can’t imagine there were very many people who didn’t want to punch me in the face when I was sixteen. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me that there’d be an awkward transitional time for her, though, so I was able to get behind the writing choices even if I missed the Evie of Paranormalcy (and tasey). My biggest problem, though, was that I felt like Paranormalcy Evie learned all these lessons that Supernaturally Evie had completely forgotten. I didn’t understand how the secret-keeping tendencies of Raquel and the agency that had left Evie feeling so betrayed were something she’d rely on herself. I missed how open Evie was in Paranormalcy. But when Evie was on the inside, she had nothing to hide. Now that she’s out, she has to hide a lot of things about herself a lot of the time.
Even with my issues, though, there were still things I loved. Lend being the primary thing, even if he was only in it about a millionth as much as both Evie and I wished he was. He reacted exactly as I expected and hoped he would. He was never overly forgiving, but nor was he vindictive or petty with his anger. I still loved the world building, and I liked that we got to see more of the faerie realms (even if it meant more of Jack, who I’ll freely admit was intentionally obnoxious though a good foil to Evie).
Overall, I didn’t love this as much as I loved Paranormalcy, but I think that in some ways this was a book where Evie had to transition and hit rock bottom in some ways. It wasn’t pleasant seeing 1) that happen to her; and 2) her letting that happen to herself, but it in a lot of ways makes me even more excited for Book 3. Supernaturally then is a book that isn’t as funny as its predecessor, but it’s an important part of Evie’s journey and will leave you wanting more.
Sometimes you need a book that’s just fun to read. I picked up The Season by Sarah Maclean to fulfill that exact need and it delivered on every front.Sometimes you need a book that’s just fun to read. I picked up The Season by Sarah Maclean to fulfill that exact need and it delivered on every front. I’m a sucker for regency novels and mysteries and England and romance. This book? It was meant for me.
This book was just straight up fun to read. Alexandra was a great lead, and one I would love to just hang out with. She’s smart and funny and loyal. She looks great in amazing dresses, but kind of finds them to be a big pain in the ass. She is independent and wants to be able to choose a partner because she loves him and not because he happens to have oodles of money and a title. She’s stubborn and kind of a know-it-all. But, in the end, she’s also someone who can admit she’s wrong and she’s definitely an ally you’d want on your side.
The supporting cast was great as well. You could see the strength of Alex’s friendships with Ella and Vivi and the common bond that drew them together while at the same time recognizing them as unique individuals on their own. And I loved Alex’s brothers, who were exactly what brothers should be in a book: they cared about their sister, but they were also a bigger pain in the ass than the dresses her mother was forcing her into.
Then of course there’s Gavin. He isn’t really a supporting character, since half of the book is from his point of view. But he was also great. I could feel the chemistry between he and Alex the whole book, and I could feel how difficult everything seemed to him. I loved the fact that he wasn’t an arrogant rake either. He was a great compliment to Alex, but also strong in his own right.
The plot was breezy and fun. At times predictable, but in a book like this the plot is secondary to the feelings of the characters. Still, it kept me turning the pages and I had a lot of fun following along (even if I guessed the secret fairly early on). But then again, I think you’re supposed to. Like I said, this is a book about Alex more than it is a book about a plot.
Normally I’d be weirded out by the age difference between Gavin and Alex (He’s 23 and she’s 17), but this is a regency novel and so it fits its time. In fact, Gavin is almost too young for Alex by societal standards of the day, so I give that usual complaint a pass.
Overall, The Season is everything a book of its type should be: fun, well-written, swoon-worthy, and with characters you can root for and like. I really hope Sarah Maclean makes this a trilogy, because I want to read more about Vivi and Ella and I think they’d make two great leads for two more fun books.
I lucked into finding Lauren Myrcale’s Shine well before its release date. I’d added it to my goodreads ages before because I thought the cover was prI lucked into finding Lauren Myrcale’s Shine well before its release date. I’d added it to my goodreads ages before because I thought the cover was pretty and because I was glad the book was going to tackle its premise. But then I forgot I bought it until I was cleaning out my old car when I bought my new one, so it took a while for me to get to reading it.
Shine follows an event that rocks a small town: the brutal beating of a local gay teenager that’s pretty clearly a hate crime. But the small town doesn’t react the way Cat, the victim’s former best friend wishes. For them, it’s all gossip and victim blaming. Even the local sheriff is ignoring any other paths besides that of least resistance. So Cat does the only thing she can think to: she takes the investigation into her own hands, unearthing the secrets buried in her small town and trying to make sense of this community she lives in.
Cat. Oh Cat. She was one of the spunkiest, most fun heroines I’ve read. What was best about her is that, even with an event in her past that left its black mark on her, she didn’t succumb to that. She shut down and shut people out, but she didn’t give up. I thought her strength and vigilance for someone she wasn’t even sure she was friends with anymore was amazing. It was like it didn’t matter. Closing herself off didn’t mean she stopped loving people, it just meant that she needed her isolation for a little while in a way. I liked that. And I liked how this book was her facing her own past as well as the reality of what the town she lived in was like. She was so compassionate and strong and watching her come into her own was one of the best parts of the book.
I will say my only real complaint with this book was how quickly she seemed to forgive the person who had left that metaphorical black mark on her – how quickly what had happened was glossed over by both the book and Cat. But even that made sense to me. This idea that there were bigger things than her own suffering now. That Cat knows people can change because she has. I don’t love how fast Cat seemed to move on, but I can kind of understand it anyway.
Mostly, this was the story of a girl in a small town. Cat was a big part of the novel, but I felt like in so many ways The Town was a character on its own. Normally I wouldn’t like the idea of lumping this group of people together, but in so many ways it worked. There was this hive mind mentality, and the people who stood out were the people who were the loudest buzzers in that hive, or the people who weren’t a part of the noise at all. The town wasn’t perfect, and even the sympathetic characters had their faults, but it also wasn’t everything Cat thought it was either.
One thing that stuck with me (and I don’t think that this is a complaint?) was the book’s setting. Not that it’s the south (because everyone knows that racism and bigotry isn’t confined here and it doesn’t offend me that the book happened to be set in this small town instead of another), but the time. It’s modern. And yes, the things that happened in Shine still happen today and that will never be ok. But something about the tone of the book didn’t feel like now. It was a poor, rural area, true, but aside from the motorcycles and the fleeting mention of the internet, everything about it felt 50 years back. Which isn’t a bad thing, at all. It was just a disconnect I felt when reading. Maybe it just makes the book more timeless? I don’t know. I know that I loved the tone and the setting, but I also know that it didn’t feel like it could be past the 1950s in some ways. I guess I’m just going to ascribe this to the versatility of Lauren Myracle’s writing, because going from writing her previous, phone and text heavy series (which I haven’t read), this was a huge jump in comfort zones I’m sure.
The ending was hard to face (though not for the obvious reasons you might assume). It’s hard to deal with the aftermath of something like this, just like it was hard for Cat to face the aftermath of what happened to her. But I think it was ultimately a very fitting ending.
It’s hard to write a book like this without it becoming an afterschool special, but the hate crime, for me, wasn’t the focus of the book. It drove the plot, for sure, but this was a book about hate and gossip and small towns and the people who live in them more than anything else. That made this book powerful. It resonated so much more for me, and I hope for everyone else who reads it.