Thursday, February 19, 2015

Caitlin's CBR VII #3: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

"In school, we learned about the world before ours, about the angels and gods that lived in the sky, ruling the earth with kind and loving hands. Some say those are just stories, but I don't believe that.
The gods rule us still. They have come down from the stars. And they are no longer kind..."

Red Queen tells of a world divided by blood, between Silvers and Reds. Silver blood gives the Silvers special abilities. They can read minds, control people, move metal, control fire or water, or do one of many other extraordinary things. Because of these powers, they rule over the Reds. The purpose of Reds is to serve the Silvers. Silvers get the best of life, while the Reds struggle just to survive. When they reach the age of 17, if they aren't apprenticed, Reds are sent off to fight in the endless war the country is waging to gain more territory.

Mare Barrow is a Red who hates Silvers, and expresses that sentiment often. Seriously, it gets annoying. To help her family, she often steals from the rich, though her parents and sister wish she would stop. Her three older brother are already off at war, and she will follow on her next birthday. The great hope of the Barrow family is her younger sister, Gisa. Gisa creates beautiful embroideries, and will likely own a successful shop once she finishes her apprenticeship. Then she will be able to provide jobs to save her siblings from the war.

Mare's best friend, Kilorn, the Gale to her Katniss, was on track to become a fisherman. Unexpectedly, his mentor dies. Mare is desperate to keep Kilorn from being conscripted, so she seeks help from acquaintances who bought her stolen goods. A young woman named Marley offers to help them disappear...for a very high price. The sisters come up with a plan to steal enough money, but are interrupted by an attack from a group called the Red Guard. As a last ditch effort, Gisa attempts to pick a man's pocket, gets caught, and has her hand smashed by a guard. The family's only hope is now destroyed.

Unable to face her parents, a guilty Mare runs off to a tavern. She eventually tries to steal from a young man. He catches her and they start to talk. Soon, she is telling him all about her misfortunes, from Kilorn's conscription to her sister's broken hand. The next day, she is offered a job serving at the royal palace.

Despite her dislike for Silvers, Mare throws herself into her new job. She figures that the boy she met was another servant, and she is thankful to be able to provide for her family. The palace is holding a big event that day, the Queenstrial. The daughters of the top Silver families demonstrate their skills for a chance to marry the heir to the throne and one day become Queen. This is when Mare finds out that the young man who helped her get a job is the heir apparent, Prince Cal. Soon after, she discovers something even more amazing.

While serving drinks, Mare falls into the arena. She actually falls through an electrified barrier that should have killed her. After that, she ends up throwing lightning bolts around. Reds like her aren't supposed to have powers. Too many people saw her to just kill her. What they need is a good lie.

"I cannot slip. Not now, not ever. I'm one of them. I'm special.I'm an accident. I'm a lie. And my life depends on maintaining that illusion..."

Mare Barrow becomes Lady Mareena Titanos, long-lost daughter of a respected Silver family. She is engaged to the younger son, Prince Maven (Though she obviously has a thing for Cal). Her very life and the lives of her family depend on her ability to convince everyone that she is a Silver. If that isn't difficult enough, there is also the added challenge of a palace full of possible enemies. Things are further complicated when Mare enlists with the Red Guard to work against the Silvers and royal family on the inside. She grows close with Cal, then with Maven, and also with her tutor Julian. The recurring theme of the book is: "Anyone can betray anyone," and believe me, there is some major betrayal.

This was one of those books that I wasn't into at first, then I kept seeing it around the web, and suddenly I absolutely had to read it. It was pretty good, but a smidge disappointing. Mare really annoyed me in the beginning. I kept thinking of her as Katniss Everdeen mixed with an idealistic college freshman. She just sees things so black and white, where the Silvers are only the enemy. I felt badly because I constantly felt the need to tell our poor, oppressed heroine to shut up about the Silvers. By the end, I did feel a great deal of fondness for her, so she does grow on you. Despite predicting that it would happen, I was very upset by the big plot twist. So very upset, like almost crying while waiting for a table at Olive Garden upset. Sometimes you just know something will end a certain way, but then you think that maybe it will flip your expectations and not end that way, but then it does end that way and you get really upset because you don't want that ending at you know what I mean? Your experience may differ, but I thought Red Queen was good, but not as great as I was hoping. I'm still interested to see what happens in the second book, as we are left with some major plot developments that could be very exciting.

I received my copy of Red Queen from Edelweiss, courtesy of Orion. It's available for purchase now.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Caitlin's CBR VII #2: Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke

My review of the first book in this series, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, is here.

In Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, River came to Violet's door to answer an advertisement seeking a boarder. He was handsome and rich, but also scary. River has the ability to make other people see things and do things, what they call his glow. While he seems like he has good intentions, some of the things that River does with his glow are pretty bad. Things like making a man cut his own throat. The man had been abusing his young son, but what River did isn't exactly good either. At the end of the book, we find out that River and his brother Neely have a half-brother in town named Brodie. A lot of the terrible things that they attributed to River were really Brodie. He ended up confronting River and cutting Violet's wrists. They stabbed him, but Brodie got away. River chases after him, but still hopes to return to Violet some day.

Now, it's been a long time since either Violet or Neely have heard from River. They have been listening to a late night radio show where people around the country call in with strange paranormal happenings. One night, they hear about a tiny mountain town where a red-haired boy has been visiting young girls in their bedrooms. It sounds like Brodie, so Violet, her brother Luke, Neely, and their neighbor Sunshine pack up to investigate. They find a town where the people are on edge, willing to lynch a young boy who has lived in the town for years. Violet and company rescue the boy and plan to take him back to the Citizen Kane. Then they decide to split up. Luke and Sunshine head home. Violet, Neely, and the boy head for a small island where they reported sightings of a mad sea king.

Once they get there, they find River, but he isn't the same River. He has gone mad from his powers, and the whole thing is very sad. Neely loves Violet and Violet loves Neely, but Violet also still loves River, but not what River does. The whole time, there is still the question of where Brodie is and what he is planning. It's complicated, you guys.

Between the Spark and the Burn was almost as good as Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. The writing was just as dreamy, but I wanted more of Violet and River. The conclusion to the series bummed me out a little, but it was also sort of beautiful in its way.

I received my copy of Between the Spark and the Burn from Edelweiss, courtesy of Dial. It's available for purchase now.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Caitlin's CBR VII #1: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

"I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257-foor bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you're standing next to the right person..."

My 2015 reading started off with a crying session. All the Bright Places really brought the emotions. I was a little bit afraid to read it, but I'm very glad that I did.

The book begins when the two main characters meet on their school's bell tower. Theodore Finch is the troubled outcast, so it seems perfectly natural that he is up there. Violet Markey dated the golden boy and socialized with the popular kids. Her life seems perfect. Finch ends up talking her down off the ledge. He also lets her take credit for saving him so that nobody knows the real reason she was up there.

It's been almost a year since the car accident that killed Violet's sister, Eleanor. She is afraid to drive or even ride in a car. She refuses to write again, afraid that she is betraying the webzine she made with her sister.

Their Geography teacher assigns them a project to visit the unique sites in their home state of Indiana. Finch immediately picks Violet as his partner. Throughout the beginning of the book, she doesn't really like him much. He is trying to insert himself into her life, but she is resistant because of what her classmates might think and because she wants to forget about the bell tower incident.

Finch is very persistent and persuasive. He sets up a Facebook for the sole purpose of befriending Violet, and they end up exchanging Virginia Woolf quotes. They go on wanderings for their project, and Finch ends up getting her to ride in his van, even gets her to write their project journal. In return, she made Finch want to be better and try harder to control himself, to be good enough for her.

Theodore Finch really is a troubled young man. His mother works two jobs and doesn't pay enough attention to him or his sisters. His father is busy with the new family he abandoned them for, and he is also an abusive asshole. Finch changes his personality every now and then, from badass Finch to homeless Finch to nerd Finch. He is a liar and has very violent outbursts (Thankfully never around Violet). Throughout the book, he is afraid of going to sleep again. Not actual sleep, but the sleep-like state he had been in before the events of the book. As Finch himself said:

"But I'm not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I'm a person..."

Finch was also very endearing. He did such sweet things like wash the dishes for his tired mother and run three miles in the snow to get flowers for Violet. He was funny and charming, and I loved him. At first, I was terrified that Violet was going to hurt him. Then I realized that he might hurt her just as much. I just wanted both of those kids to be together and happy.

I have never been so afraid to read the ending to a book before. This isn't a horror story, but it is absolutely terrifying. You definitely need a box of tissues.

I received my copy of All the Bright Places from Edelweiss, courtesy of Knopf. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #26: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

"I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth..."

The story starts during a staging of King Lear. Famous actor Arthur Leander has a heart attack during the production. He is attended to by a paramedic named Jeevan. Unfortunately, Arthur doesn't survive. Soon afterwards, civilization ends.

A very contagious flu has infected the world. Once infected, the victims die within days. Soon, the majority of the world's population is dead. Society collapses, and modern technology ceases to exist.

The Traveling Symphony (Motto: "Because survival is insufficient") is a group of musicians and actors. They visit cities and put on concerts and perform Shakespeare for other survivors. Kirsten had played one of King Lear's daughters so many years ago. Now, she performs with the Symphony, her only real family.

The Symphony revisits the city of St. Deborah By the Water. They hope to reconnect with members who stayed in the city, but they find the place has changed. A prophet has taken control, one of those maniacal religious leaders who inspires his followers to do anything he says, even kill. The Symphony leaves St. Deborah By the Water heading towards the Museum of Civilization at the former airport. As they travel, they are followed by the prophet and his men. A young girl stowed away on their caravan, a girl who was supposed to marry the prophet. He will not stop until he gets the girl back.

What is really cool about Station Eleven is how the characters are all connected. There are flashbacks that seem unrelated to the present, but it all circles back and links together. An example is how Arthur's ex-wife created a comic book series that she then published and gave to him, and he gave it to young Kirsten. Kirsten now cherishes the books, but she doesn't remember where they came from. There's more, but I'm going to leave that to you to discover.

Station Eleven was beautifully written and very well told. It was a little slow-moving for an apocalyptic book, but not boring. I initially wanted to read it because I saw rave reviews, and I was not disappointed.

I received my copy of Station Eleven from Edelweiss, courtesy of Knopf. It's available for purchase now.

Caitlin's CBR VI #25: Unhinged by A.G. Howard

You can read my review of the first book in this series, Splintered, here.

Splintered introduced us to Alyssa. She is a descendant of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. She fears becoming insane like her mother, who is living in a world of Lewis Carroll-inspired delusions in an asylum. It turns out that Alyssa's mother was never crazy, she was faking it to protect her. Wonderland is a real place, full of fantastic creatures and very real danger. Alyssa's old childhood friend, Morpheus, is one of the Netherlings (Magic creatures) who live in Wonderland, and he lures her down the rabbit hole. Unexpectedly, her friend (and secret crush) Jeb follows her. The trio participate in all kinds of Wonderland-inspired quests in order to defeat the Red Queen and save Wonderland.

At the beginning of Unhinged, everything seems great. Alyssa decided to remain a human rather than taking her place as Queen in Wonderland. Now, her mom is out of the asylum and back home. If only she would stop mothering Alyssa about her punk rock clothes, or her boyfriend. Alyssa and Jeb are now dating (He left the poorly named Taelor at the Prom as she was being crowned Prom Queen, kind of a jerky move, Jeb), and they hope to get an apartment together in England after Alyssa graduates. He has no memories of his time in Wonderland, which makes Alyssa feel as though she isn't being completely honest with him.

Despite everything, Wonderland is still on Alyssa's mind. She has unsettling dreams about it, and she has been creating disturbing mosaics with her blood, depicting ominous events yet to come. It seems as though Morpheus is up to his old tricks, especially when she hears about a new exchange student matching his description. When she finally talks to him, he refuses to admit to sending the dreams or the evil clown doll that attacks her. It turns out that something is rising in Wonderland, and it's spilling over into the real world. Alyssa won't be able to keep her family safe unless she deals with the threat.

Alyssa really bugged me in this book. It was the whining about her mother, jealousy when Jed gets a job to paint a rich heiress, and the Aria Montgomery-level alternative style outfits. I will always and forever love Morpheus, but I wasn't as into him either. He didn't even name any of his hats. Jed is kind of boring, but okay. The end of Ensnared set up some pretty amazing things for the third book, so I plan to keep reading when it comes out in January.

I received my copy of Ensnared from Netgalley, courtesy of Amulet Books. It's available for purchase now.

Caitlin's CBR VI #24: (Don't You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn

"Your parade lacked those simple joys and sorrows, and four years later it still marches on inside me, advancing toward its inevitable ending..."

Here's the second book from Kate Karyus Quinn. I really liked the weirdness that was Another Little Piece. Of course, I was excited to try (Don't You) Forget About Me.

Lots of people want to go to Gardnerville. Once you live there, you are cured of illness and made well. Citizens of Gardnerville live well over a hundred years, maybe even several hundred years. However, nothing comes without its price. The teenagers are particularly volatile. Strange things end up happening. The weirdest and worst things happen during a fourth year.

During a fourth year, four years ago, Skylar's sister, Piper, led her classmates to jump off of a bridge. Sixteen of them died. Skylar tries her very best to forget everything, taking forget-me-not flowers that leaver her with long gaps in her memory. It's hard to figure out who is telling the truth, or even to figure out if Skylar is reliable. Everyone tells her that Piper is dead, but she doesn't believe it. She believes that Piper is in the reformatory at the edge of town, and it's up to Skylar to get her out.

Another weird part of Gardnerville is how some of the residents have powers. Skylar's father had the power to make people like him. Skylar can see secrets. The boy who Skylar becomes friendly with, Foote, absorbs injuries. High school teacher (And Piper's ex-boyfriend) Elton is using the forget-me-nots and other flower-based drugs to keep the teenagers docile. He is also using Skylar to see into their thoughts, sending anyone with problematic tendencies to the reformatory. The thing is that the reformatory may be hurting rather than helping. The reformatory feeds off the kids, feeding the town, and keeping Gardnerville going, which means keeping fourth years going. That is, unless Skylar stops the whole thing.

Basically, the book is us figuring out what exactly is going on along with Skylar. We know there is something happening with Piper, and while aspects of it are predictable, I still found the book to be compelling. I really like Quinn's writing, and her books are definitely unique.

I received my copy of (Don't You) Forget About Me from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #23: Vicious by Sara Shepard

And then I came to the end! These books were a lot easier to hate read back when the Liars all sucked and everyone wore their bad idea jeans all the time. Now, everyone is hovering near likeable, and they actually use common sense at least some of the time. Anyways, on to the plot...

Spoilers for Toxic follow. When we last left our Liars, they were ensnared by Alison yet again. One should never follow a lead into a pool house. Next thing you know, there's blood and a tooth, and you get framed for murder. This right after being framed for murder the last time. And Ali isn't even dead!

The Liars are predictably upset about the situation. Alison wrote a journal that chronicled her time with Nick, painting herself as the victim. She also detailed how the Liars tortured her. There isn't much hope that the girls will get out of this one, even though there isn't actually a body.

They all react in different ways. Spencer amuses me by hiring a former convict to help improve her prison experience. She learns that prison is going to suck regardless, and gets the woman to help her disappear. Aria ends up evading arrest and going on the lam to Europe. Hanna decides to take advantage of the time she has left and marry her boyfriend Mike, Aria's younger brother. Emily has the most drastic reaction, but I won't talk about it because of spoilers.

Everything gets tied up neatly in the final book. The ending was okay, but I do wish there was more bang and drama. At least I am finally free from my self-induced Pretty Little Liars prison. Now, if only the TV show would give us some sort of closure.