Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

"The rain on her dress and his shirt would stick them to each other, dissolve the skin between them, until their veins tangled like roots, and they breathed together, one scaled and dark-feathered thing..."

The Weight of Feathers is very similar to Romeo and Juliet. It’s a story of two star-crossed lovers from rival families. Thankfully, the ending isn’t such a bummer, not to spoil it or anything.

The Palomas and Corbeaus both travel the country and put on shows to entertain tourists. They mostly stay out of each other’s way, except when it comes to the yearly show at Almendro. In spite of the bad history in that town- it was where each family lost a member, and where the Corbeau’s grandfather was fired from his job at the local adhesive plant because of the Palomas- both families return every year for the Blackberry Festival and the ticket sales it provides.

The reasons behind the feud are various, spread over years and generations. There were the deaths; a flood caused a Paloma uncle to drown, but also caused a Corbeau in-law to fall to her death. Both families believe that the other performs black magic. They also agree that one should not touch a member of the rival family. The only exception to that is hitting and fighting, which is not only okay, but encouraged.

The Corbeaus are identified by the feathers that grow on their necks, feathers that the Palomas burn to keep from being cursed. Palomas are identified by their escalas, birth marks that shimmer like scales. Fittingly, the Corbeaus’ show involves men and women wearing feathery wings and performing tricks high up in tree branches. The Palomas’ young women wear mermaid tails and put on a swimming show. Sometimes the rivalry bleeds over into the show, with the Corbeaus slipping on greased branches and Palomas nearly drowning because of nylon nets.

Our protagonists and narrators are Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau. Lace is one of the mermaids, but is relegated to the background because she isn’t as skinny as the others. She knows that her grandmother favors her male cousins, in spite of Lace’s unfailing loyalty. Cluck is the black sheep of his family. His mother hates him and his brother abuses him. He is called names, such as little demon and bastard, even his feathers are different, black tinted with red. Thankfully, he is very close with his grandfather, who teaches him to sew the wings and encourages him to use his left hand even though it is taboo and it has three fingers that broke and never healed properly. 

The kids meet at a convenience store. Lace saves Cluck from being beaten by her cousins. She assumes that he is a local, and Cluck assumes the same about her. The next time that they meet is after an accident at the plant. Without Cluck’s grandfather there to push for safety measures, disaster struck. A toxic cloud of chemicals was released upon the town. Lace just finished her first show as a featured mermaid, but when she exited the lake she was caught in a net, a net. The net made it so she was out in the open when the burning rain falls. Cluck goes towards the Paloma’s side of the lake to find his missing cousin. He also finds poor Lace, huddled under a bare tree and burning in her cotton dress. Cluck gets her out of the dress (Cotton burns faster when exposed to the chemicals) and takes her to the hospital.

The next time she wakes up, Lace has a large heart-shaped scar on her face, as well as a feather-shaped scar on her arm, among other burns and scars. She finds out that her savior is a Corbeau and kicks him out. Her family sees the scar and knows that a Corbeau saved her. They believe she is now cursed so they banish her. Lace decides that the feather means she is being punished for being rude to Cluck after he saved her life. In order to earn his forgiveness and get rid of the scar, she takes a job doing makeup for the Corbeaus.

The more time that Lace spends around Cluck, the more she starts to care for him. Cluck cares for her back, there's just one problem. He still has no idea she is a Paloma. Will he still feel the same when he finds out who she is?

I found The Weight of Feathers to be charming and magical. It was easy for me to fall in love with the characters, even with that whole silly teenage romance factor. The book just clicked with me, and it gave me the whole spectrum of emotions, what kids these days refer to as "the feels." It's swoon-worthy and dreamy, and it made me heave a big sigh during the happy moments, as corny as that makes me sound. There are some difficult parts, abuse and meanness, but the good parts made up for it.

I received my copy of The Weight of Feathers from Edelweiss, courtesy of Thomas Dunne. It's available for purchase now.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Leveller by Julia Durango

"I understand the temptation, I really do. But here's what happens. You get used to looking like a million bucks in the MEEP, and then...BAM! Game over. You're backslapped to reality and wake up with your same old blemishes, bedhead, and ratty sweatpants. All of a sudden you can't stand yourself. You've seen what your perfect self looks like in the MEEP, so when you look in the mirror now, all you see are your flaws.
You're just a sad, sorry replica of your pretend self.

Phoenix "Nixy" Bauer is a Leveller. Parents hire her to retrieve their children from the MEEP, a virtual reality gaming world. Gameplay is supposed to be limited, but cheats are available to play longer. When kids get too absorbed in the game, their parents sometimes need help getting them out. Nixy is just a lot cheaper than official Levellers. The job makes her unpopular with kids her age, but she has earned a good reputation among the parents. Her business motto is "Nixy Bauer, Home in an Hour."

Both of Nixy's parents work for the company that created the MEEP. The game's developer contacts Nixy in need of her skills. His son Wyn is lost in the game. Even worse, he left behind a suicide note. Many highly trained experts tried to get to him, but they all failed. Nixy is the last resort. If she doesn't get Wyn out, they will reset the system. Anybody using illegal codes could be physically affected, possibly resulting in brain damage or coma.

Nixy works her way through the maze between her and Wyn. It takes a long time and some clever strategy. Eventually, she finds Wyn only to realize that he is being held captive. To make matters worse, Nixy is now trapped as well. They have to figure out who is holding them and why in order to escape. 

The Leveller was pretty fun. It's got a lot of video game action, and there's a nice little romance between Nixy and Wyn. I liked Nixy, even though her name is kind of silly. She was funny and I like how hardcore she is. It will be interesting to see what new adventures await in the yet unnamed sequel.

I received my copy of The Leveller from Edelweiss, courtesy of Harper Collins. It's available for purchase now.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

"Ideas could be changed. Theories could be modified. But beliefs were hard-core. They were solid. They were something that the believers took very, very seriously. And the notion that Devon, Markus, and the others believed in something I expected to encounter only on late-night TV scared the hell out of me. Not because the monsters might exist- really. But because my friends might be on their side..."

Stephen's mother has been sick for a while, worried about dark creatures with wings. She was institutionalized. After his father lost his job, the cost drains all their savings. They are forced to move to his father's hometown, Spencer, Michigan, where people get stuck. Dad plans to find a job in a neighboring town and transfer mom to a hospital close by. Until they get back on their feet, they move in with his mother, Stephen's grandmother, who is not really the cuddly cookie-baking type. Spencer is a very small town, the type of place with old-fashioned diners, corner stores, and judgmental neighbors.

After making a bad impression with a football player, Stephen befriends twins Cara and Devon. Cara is an intriguing punk girl and they...want to do teenagery boy and girl things. It gets awkward because the twins' mother is the town's fanatical religious crazy person and she ends up catching them together. Devon doesn't approve of the pairing either. He wants Stephen to be part of his group of friends. They sneak into the movie theater after close and hang out at the Playground, the local cemetery. Devon is also freakishly obsessed with loyalty, kind of in a culty way.

Then, weird stuff happens. People in Spencer talk about something called the Winged Ones. The town has been suffering through "bad times." If they make a sacrifice to the creatures, their luck will turn around. Stephen thinks those stories are just stories, that none of it could possibly be true. It doesn't really matter what Stephen thinks, because his friends believe in the stories. They believe enough to kill.

The Cemetery Boys showed what most of us fear about small towns. There are gangs of teenagers loitering in cemeteries, religious fanaticals hanging around outside of diners, and creepy monsters with wings who want to eat you. I read this a while ago, and I can't remember a lot of the story (Except a scene that made me crave Doritos), but I definitely remember the ending. It was completely surprising. I quite liked the suspense building in the book, how everything built from "Nice town" to "Well, that's a little weird" to "Thanks for being born in such a messed up town, dad, enjoy paying for my future therapy." It's creepy fun.

I received my copy of The Cemetery Boys from Edelweiss, courtesy of Harper Collins. It's available for purchase now.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Jubilee Manor by Bethany Hagen

"We were both searching for our grails, knights on an impossible quest, because this grail didn't exist. There was no shining castle at the end of the road. There was no amount of compassion or aid or wealth that I could bestow that would erase my own beginnings in a place of privilege while others had been born in a place of suffering at the margins of society..."

You can read my review of the first book in the series, Landry Park here.

Landry Park was about a future where the former United States has converted to nuclear energy to power their homes. The charges that keep everything running have to be changed every year, and that job goes to the Rootless. The Rootless are the lowest class, a sickly and weak people. The upper class, the Gentry, believe that the Rootless must be punished for what their ancestors did, or rather failed to do.

The plot of the book centered on Madeline Landry, descendant of Jacob Landry, the man who is responsible for the domestication of nuclear power. Her friend Cara is attacked, and everyone thinks the assailant was one of the Rootless, everyone but Madeline. The Gentry, especially her father, use the attack as an excuse to further persecute the Rootless. Meanwhile, Madeline falls for the new guy in town, David, though it seems like he is already set on Cara.

It turns out that David and Cara were pretending to be together. She is actually in love with a Rootless boy, Ewan. David actually likes Madeline and they get together. Cara wasn't attacked by a Rootless, but by her mother who disapproved of her daughter's relationship. In a shocking twist, the leader of the Rootless, Jack, turned out to be Stephen, Madeline's long-lost and presumed dead uncle. Jack/Stephen kicks her father out of Landry Park. The Rootless punish him by feeding him food laced with radioactive waste.
*End spoilers*

As Jubilee Manor opens, Madeline and her uncle are throwing a party at Landry Park. They want to bring the Rootless and Gentry together and get the Gentry to give the Rootless more aid and treat them like people. The entire party is ruined when they find a dead body. If I had a nickel, amirite?

Marianne Wilder was the daughter of one of the Gentry, and the killer positioned her on top of a crossed out Landry symbol. It's obviously a message against her family and against their attempts to help the Rootless. Madeline suspects a particularly cranky member of the Rootless named Smith. She doesn't actually have any evidence, it's basically because she doesn't like him because he was mean to her.

Baseless accusations aside, in order to sway the Gentry to help the Rootless, Madeline and Jack bring her father back from exile. They are both surprised by the changes in Alexander Landry. He is nicer, even apologizing to little Charlie, who he was going to execute ("Sorry I almost had you eat radioactive waste, though I never would have done it if I knew you were my nephew"). Most surprising is that he is almost completely healed, with only a few scars remaining.

Cousin Jamie, who is a doctor, notices his rapid healing, combined with Jack's longevity when compared to the other Rootless, and forms a theory that the Landrys are immune to radioactive material. He even believes that their blood may be used to come up with a vaccination to protect the Rootless, even cure them.

Unfortunately, more Gentry heirs are murdered. Just like in the first book, the police are harsh on the Rootless because the Gentry are pushing for results. They go so far as to burn down the Rootless' homes. Madeline and her family take in as many as they can at Landry Park. Everything is a huge mess. Most of the Gentry don't want to mess with the way things are. The Rootless are afraid of punishment, and they start to become wary of Jack after finding out about the Landry immunity. Certain members even break off and start to negotiate with the East (Enemies from Asia). Once again, it's up to Madeline to find the killer and stop the persecution.

I was disappointed in Madeline in this book. She is utterly convinced that Smith is the killer, even though her uncle and David tell her she's wrong. I was torn between believing that there was no way she was right and thinking that it was so obvious that she wasn't right that she actually might be right. It's kind of funny how she is acting as narrow-minded as the police when it comes to Smith, though at least she isn't as cruel. 

Jubilee Manor ended the series on a good note. I wished there was more romance, namely between Madeline and David, and Cara and Ewan. Regretfully, it is hard to fit those kinds of plots in with brutal murder and class warfare. In the end, the murders do get solved, the warfare is on its way to being resolved, and Madeline finally gets to go to university. We are left with the potential hope of happily ever after for everyone.

I received my copy of Jubilee Manor from Edelweiss, courtesy of Dial Books. It's available for purchase now.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

But that's neither here or there in the darkness. This particular darkness, anyway, the one you and I find ourselves denizens of. We are here because we're the sanest people in this establishment, so they put us down here as the bedrock on which to gain a foothold for the wanderings of their own minds. They call us insane, then feed their own insanities on our flesh, for we are now less than human. Heedson and Croomes are but examples of the greater world, love. They work their discreet types of madness on us, power and pain, and we hold to our truths in the dark..."

I really loved Mindy McGinnis' post-apocalyptic book Not a Drop to Drink, as you can see in my review here. A Madness So Discreet is a lot different, but it's got a lot of elements that I enjoy.

Grace Mae was the pretty daughter of a senator. Now, Grace is no longer a Mae. Her father had her committed for getting pregnant out of wedlock. I know this will come as no surprise, but the asylum is terrible, worse than terrible. The patients have to fight to get the small amount of food they are given. There is an awful nurse, Croomes, who takes pleasure in tormenting her, and the treatments are barbaric. Grace only survives by retreating inside herself, something she already learned at home.

Her fellow patient, Mrs. Clay, tries to help even though Grace never speaks a word to her. She was committed by her husband, a real gem who later divorced her, took her land and her kids, then married the lawyer's sister. Nobody can save Grace when she attacks the asylum's doctor, Heedson, (In her defense, he deserved it) and receives a  punishment that causes her to lose the baby. After attacking Heedson a second time, he moves her into the hospital's basement to rot away in the dark.

Thankfully, the basement contains a peculiar patient who knows everything that goes on upstairs. Falsteed is a great comfort to Grace, and he introduces her to Dr. Thornhollow. The doctor is there to perform lobotomies on particularly difficult patients. Grace begs him to take away her memories, to make it so she won't have to feel ever again. Thornhollow notices that she has a bright mind, and instead offers her a proposal. He will help her escape, and she will assist him with his special project: finding murderers.

Thornhollow is studying a new technique for creating a profile of the killer based on clues from the scene of the crime, and using the profile to find the killer. The pair move to Ohio and into a new asylum, but a really nice one. It's much more humane than the other hospital in Boston, and the patients have a lot more freedom. Grace pretends to be the doctor's assistant, and that she cannot speak. She makes friends with fellow patients Nell, who has syphilis, and Elizabeth, who believes that an invisible string sits by her shoulder and tells her secrets.

Grace is called upon to assist the doctor when a dead body is found. Her job is to observe the scene, looking for clues that the doctor might miss. Because she appears to be a mute patient, people speak freely in front of her. After two dead girls are found, both with hands folded as if they are still alive, they realize that they are looking for a serial killer.  

I really liked A Madness So Discreet. The beginning was very upsetting. I absolutely hated that nurse and doctor. It would have been nice to see them receive some sort of punishment, a little karma. Asylums at that time were really scary. It is absolutely terrifying to think that at one point a woman could have been locked away just because a male relative signed a statement. I was much happier when Grace moved on to the better asylum, which was based on a real asylum that is featured on Mindy McGinnis' Pinterest (I'm sorry, you can't see it if you don't have a Pinterest as well; You can see the building here, and look at more images in those archives). Grace was very strong and smart, but also a bit scary. You do not want to get on her bad side. I'm not sure if there is going to be a sequel, but I would be interested in reading more adventures of Grace and Thornhollow.

I received my copy of A Madness So Discreet from Edelweiss, courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

"And even if there's no one in my family or my circle of friends who's going to be the Chosen One or the Beacon of Peace or whatever the hell it's going to be next time around, I reckon there are a lot more people like me than there are indie kids with unusual names and capital-D Destinies..."

I love, love, love Patrick Ness. The Knife of Letting Go was amazing to the extremest levels. I have been wanting to read more of him for so long. I read The Ask and the Answer, but I never finished Monsters of Men because of dumb reasons (Anxiety over too many books too read, reading going slowly, and wanting to reread the entire series). I have also planned and failed to read A Monster Calls and More Than This, which is just shameful because both are award winners. On the upside, my failures have led me to make sure that I actually read his newest novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. I'm glad that I did because it's a great, unique story.

It's four months until they graduate from high school. Mikey has to deal with his unrequited invisible love for Henna, as well as a relapse of OCD and anxiety. His sister Mel, who is a year older than the others, is finally graduating after losing a year to her struggle with anorexia. Jared, Mike's best friend, is gay and part god (God of cats, actually, which makes me jealous of him). He has been sneaking around and Mike knows he is keeping secrets. Henna is dealing with conflicts over her feelings for Mike and for new boy Nathan, issues that are made worse by her upcoming mission trip to war-torn Africa. Nathan is somewhat mysterious, having moved to town so close to graduation. Mike dislikes Nathan because of the Henna issue and because he seems suspicious, but mostly because of Henna.

At the beginning of every chapter, there is a short recap of what is going on with the indie kids. They have names like Satchel, Kerouac, and Finn (There are a lot of Finns, actually), they use card catalogs instead of computers, and they read poetry and listen to jazz. The indie kids are the ones who have to face zombies, vampires, or whatever is happening now, with the blue lights. They often end up dying and/or blowing up the school. They deal with big, apocalyptic things that have the potential to effect all of the characters, but Mike and his friends don't really focus on them much because they can't do anything about them.

As Mike said,
"The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges, left out of it all, for the most part."

It's like the book is written by the background characters in a YA science fiction/fantasy novel. Their struggles are more relatable and their names are less obnoxious. I loved hearing a different side of the typical story. I laughed and I cried and I cried some more. I wrote down pages of quotes and now have a wrist cramp. When I get some money together, I am going to purchase my own physical copy of the book so I can read it again and again (Bonus: the cover glows in the dark!).  
I received my copy of The Rest of Us Just Live Here from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

"You could shout truth into the air forever, and spend your life doing it, if someone didn’t come and listen..."

The kingdom of Polnya has always been plagued by the Wood. The Wood is full of dangerous creatures. It can take a person and contaminate them. It forces them to go mad and to kill. It plants seeds inside people, and as those seeds sprout, the Wood grows further.

Nieshka’s small village is under protection of the Dragon. He isn’t actually a dragon, but a powerful wizard who oversees a group of villages near his tower. Every ten years, the villages offer the young ladies who have come of age. The Dragon chooses one girl to stay in his tower for ten years. Nobody knows what happens in the tower, but the girls always come back changed. They always end up leaving their village.

This year, Nieshka is one of the girls. She isn’t concerned about being chosen because everyone knows he will pick Kasia. Kasia is Nieshka’s best friend. She is the prettiest, the cleverest, and the bravest. If anyone was a fairy tale heroine, it’s Kasia. Nieshka is somewhat gawky in appearance, and has an uncanny ability to attract dirt and tears to her clothing. Therefore, it comes as a great surprise that the Dragon picks Nieshka.

Nieshka’s stay at the tower is something of a disaster. She busies herself cooking and cleaning for the Dragon, who mostly grumbles and insults her. Things change when he gets her to recite a spell with him. Days go by with Nieshka cooking breakfast, the Dragon forcing her to perform spells, and her collapsing in exhaustion.

Everything changes when the Dragon must travel to the capital to help with a monster situation. All alone, Nieshka is supposed to basically sit still and not touch anything. When her village sends up a signal for help, she escapes the tower to save her loved ones.

A pack of wolves from the Wood attacked some cows. These cows became infected, fierce and insane. The farmer hadn’t killed them in time, so the cows spread the disease to more cows, and then the farmer. Nieshka does her best to help with the potions she took, though she ends up angering the Dragon. She also saves his life after he is bitten by a wolf, so it balances out. This situation also makes him realize that Nieshka is inclined towards healing magic, and she finds a spell book that she can understand. She learns how to work through spells in a way she can understand. 

The next big event occurs when a walker (I picture them like Groot, though they are meaner) abducts Kasia. Despite Dragon’s objections, Nieshka must enter the Wood and rescue her friend. Taking her out of the hearttree (Powerful trees that feed from the person and give power to the Wood) is only the first step. Kasia might never be herself again, and Dragon tries to convince Nieshka that killing her is the most humane thing to do. Of course, Nieshka refuses, and begs Dragon to give her time to save Kasia. Eventually, months later, they succeed in driving the Wood out of Nieshka's friend. 

Their feat doesn’t go unnoticed. Rumors have reached the palace that the Dragon has been harboring a contaminated girl, and that he cured her. Decades ago, Queen Hanna ran off with the crown prince of rival kingdom Rosya. They went off into the woods, never to be seen again. The kingdoms have been at war ever since. Prince Marek, the spare and celebrated hero, wants the Dragon to help rescue and cure his mother.

The Dragon refuses this mission, knowing how hopeless it is and how unlikely any of the Queen is left to rescue. Nieshka would refuse as well, but Marek and his pet wizard Falcon threaten to have Kasia killed. So Nieshka is on board, Dragon goes to help her, and Kasia goes because she is a loyal friend. Their trip through the Wood is action-packed. Soldiers and horses drop like flies, they are attacked by Walkers and giant praying mantises, and it turns out that getting out of the Wood is only half the battle. The situation ends up being much worse than anyone expected, and there's lots more death and destruction to come before the end. 

I heard really good things about Uprooted, so I was excited to read it. At first I was a little nervous. I wondered if the entire book was going to be the Dragon insulting Nieshka. It gets a lot better, obviously (and thankfully). The book was completely terrifying at times, and I think it gave me a very frightening nightmare. It was too easy to become absorbed in the book's world, and I both wanted to hurry up and finish it and also take my time and keep reading forever. What was the complete icing on the cake, Uprooted had an incredibly satisfying ending. It made me so very happy. All the recommendations for Uprooted.