Sunday, August 24, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #14: House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

Josephine "Jo" Hemlock lives with her grandmother. People say that a witch lives in their house. Actually, two witches live there. Grandma has been taking care of Jo since her mother died from a curse. They are the last of the Hemlock witches, but still one of the major families.

Jo tries to keep her normal life separate from her magical one. Her two best friends, plus her potential new boyfriend, don't know anything about her witchy side. Things get complicated when the strange man shows up.

He is looking for Jo, but she avoids him. She can see that he has a very dark curse attached to him. The man is very persistent to get close to her. She finds out that this man is...her father.

Background info! Witches are all female, and women are the only ones who have magic. They need men to make new babies, but they end up leaving the fathers. Upholding the family line is more important than personal relationships.

Surprisingly, Grandma lets Jo's father into their lives (After getting rid of the curse). She also lets Jo tell one of her best friends about their witchiness. Unfortunately, the reason that she is being so lenient is because Grandma has the curse. She is dying, and it's super sad. Jo and her witch relatives (Including her adorable cousin) have to band together to try to destroy the curse before it destroys them.

This was a cool take on witchcraft. When the witches performed a spell, they had to offer something to get magic. The bigger the magic was, the bigger the sacrifice needed. They would need to offer hairs, fingernails, sense of taste, etc. I read a review of this book that mentioned how Teen books featuring witches are meant to counter against so many books that focus on weak female characters being saved by strong male vampires/werewolves/etc. This is definitely a good thing. I hope we see a lot more strong female characters, whether they are witches or not.

I received my copy of House of Ivy and Sorrow from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #13: Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

"It's Cotillion. We wear a white dress we walk down some stairs, we drink some punch and dance with our dads. And then we pretend we did it just to raise money for charity, and that it's not stupid and old-fashioned and totally self-indulgent..."

Harper Price, the main character of Rebel Belle, doesn't utter that quote. Harper is the uber-belle. She organizes Cotillion, serves as Student Body President, has the perfect boyfriend, and Homecoming Queen is in the bag. Everything changes Homecoming night, all because she forgot her lipstick. She visits the ladies room to apply a borrowed tube and encounters a strange and grisly scene.

The janitor runs into the bathroom. He is covered in blood and injured. Harper tries to help him, but the man dies after kissing Harper. Immediately after, the history teacher breaks down the door and attacks Harper with a giant sword. To her surprise, she is able to fight and defeat the teacher.

From the little the janitor told her, Harper figures out that she is now a Paladin, a warrior who is tasked with defending an oracle with their life. The oracle that Harper must defend? None other than David Stark, the grandpa sweater-wearing, trash-talking school reporter. They have been enemies since grade school, and Harper hates him for his editorials that criticize her presidency. Just being around David is enough to make Harper lose her cool. Now, she can't lay a hand on him, and she is compelled to keep anyone else from hurting him.

It turns out that in addition to the Paladin and oracle, there is also a third member: Saylor Stark, David's aunt and director of the Cotillion. She trains Harper to defend David, and makes sure that the two spend lots of time together. Unfortunately, this has a negative effect on Harper's other activities, as well as her relationship. Then there are the looming questions: 1. What will happen in the future when they go off to college, and 2. Is it really fair to ask Harper to sacrifice her life?

This was a really fun series that reminded me a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It had really great action, an interesting plot that I haven't read before, and it was incredibly funny. There was a really great plot twist at the end of the book that makes me very excited for the sequel.

I received my copy of Rebel Belle from Edelweiss, courtesy of Putnam Juvenile. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #12: Great by Sara Benincasa

"That place at the beach with all your mother's fancy friends- it's another world. I'm not saying it's a bad one. It's just different. But whether you're in this world or that one, you still have to live with yourself. Remember that you can't be one person one place and a totally different person in another place. Right is right and wrong is wrong, no matter where you are..."

Thus begins Great. Let's compare it to Nick Carraway's father's advice:

"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

I first read The Great Gatsby in my 11th Grade Honors English class. Actually, I read it twice (Which is about one and a half more times than I read The Scarlet Letter, but that is irrelevant). I finished the book on my own, then we ended up reading it in class. I've always liked Gatsby, the green light, can't repeat the past, and boats against the current.

Great sounded really interesting. It takes The Great Gatsby and sets it in present day Hamptons, the vacation destination for the old and nouveau rich alike. Naomi, our Nick Carraway, is spending the summer in the Hamptons with her mother. Her mother is a TV chef who has become a household name, so she is busy with marketing and all that good stuff. They are the new rich, so Naomi is usually ignored by the children of the people her mother wants to know.

One exception to this is Delilah. Delilah is tall, blonde, beautiful, and perpetually stoned. She also works as a model and dates Teddy (Tom), who was a child actor on a popular sitcom. He never stops talking about the show. It's very sad. Delilah and Teddy are an awful couple. Most of their friends even know that he is cheating on her with Misti (Myrtle), a New Jersey waitress.

The talk of the Hamptons this year is Jacinda. She runs a popular fashion blog and is very focused on Delilah. Jacinda is renting the house next door to Naomi's, and she wants Naomi to help her get close to Delilah. It turns out that the two were very close as children, and soon they are best friends, and maybe more? Meanwhile, Naomi is getting close with the male version of Jordan Baker.

We all know how The Great Gatsby ends, or at least we should by now. Myrtle dies, Gatsby dies, the Jazz Age sucks, and we all live depressingly ever after. Great does have the same ending, with some odd differences. I really enjoy the writing in this book. It made reading a treat. Updating the story to the Hamptons works well, because there's plenty to be cynical about there.

What doesn't work is making the characters teenagers. It's hard to get invested in the relationships. Tom and Daisy were married with a baby, and they lived in the 1920s. Teddy and Delilah could actually just break up, because they are teenagers, and that's what teenagers do. It's hard to believe any real connection between Jacinda and Delilah because their entire history occurred when they were in elementary school.  The female Gatsby angle is different, but a same sex couple isn't especially scandalous these days.

Overall, I still enjoyed Great. It really is easy to get lost in the writing. I am a little skeptical if teenagers will want to read a retelling of their English assignments, but you never know what kids these days are into. 

I received my copy of Great from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #11: Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Tella has been stuck in the middle of nowhere after her parents suddenly decided to move in order to aid her older brother's health. It is so isolated that there aren't any stores or people for miles. Needless to say, she is bored. When a mysterious listening device (Like an mp3 player) shows up on her windowsill, and her parents confiscate it, Tella becomes curious. She is even more intrigued when she discovers her father burning the device in the middle of the night. Tella retrieves it from the fire, and is able to hear its message.

The message is inviting her to the Brimstone Bleed. It's a race through four environments: jungle, desert, mountain, and sea. Brimstone Bleed is brutal, full of life-threatening obstacles and harsh conditions. People can, and do, die during the race. Why would anyone voluntarily compete? The prize is the cure, one cure for the winner. All of the competitors are racing for someone that they love, someone with the same debilitating disease that Tella's brother has.

In order to save her older brother, Tella sneaks off in the middle of the night. She has to drive for days to get to the first checkpoint. The challenge is to grab an egg. There is a frenzy, as everyone rushes to get an egg and leave. The room clears out, and it seems as though everything is already over. A kind-of-scary guy just a little older than Tella points her towards a shelf, where she finds an egg underneath. It's a little cracked, but it will work.

Soon, the contestants are sent off to the first environment: the jungle. Tella starts alone, following the helpful young man. They form an alliance with another young woman, a set of pre-teen twins, an older woman, and a young boy. Also, an a-hole guy. It turns out that the eggs hatch, and inside are animals. The animals have special powers and they serve and protect their contestant. Tella doesn't think her egg will hatch at all, like the young boy and older woman's. Eventually, it reveals a little fox that she calls Maddox. After that, she gets all insecure that Maddox doesn't have any fancy powers like the other animals. Of course, that's not true. Little Maddox has a big surprise.

Fire & Flood deals with the jungle and desert portions of the Brimstone Bleed. Tella makes a group of allies, but also an awful, crazy enemy. The book is interesting. There are traces of Hunger Games, but also Pokemon. It's a little weird.

 I was a big fan of Tella. She was a girly girl, but she entered the race to save her brother, because he would have done it for her. After she almost lost the egg challenge when a contestant grabbed her by the hair, Tella cuts it all off. True, she isn't the toughest female character. Most of the time she is saved by her love interest, and she has a lot of insecurity. I still liked her. She was funny and snarky, and she made me laugh. I'd like to continue the series to see how things end for Tella and Maddox.

I received my copy of Fire & Flood from Netgalley, courtesy of Scholastic Press. It's available for purchase now.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #10: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

"Demons are made of shadow. Don't look at the shadows too long or a demon might look back..."

This cover, this is a gorgeous cover. Just look at the pretty.


In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, a young woman named Nyx is married off to an evil, demonic man. The Gentle Lord makes bargains. For the price of two daughters, one was promised as a future wife. In spite of her outward appearance, Nyx is resentful that she was chosen to sacrifice her freedom and ultimately her life.

She was chosen because she resembles their father. Astraia, her twin, resembles their mother, who died giving birth to them. By punishing Nyx, he is symbolically punishing himself for the bargain that led to his wife's death and for sexing up his dead wife's sister.

The plan is for Nyx to give into her husband's, um..."marital desires." Then she must find the four elemental hearts in his palace. She was trained in an elemental magic that will allow her to shut down the hearts. Once all four hearts are destroyed, she will be able to kill the Gentle Lord and finally free her people from his bargains, though she will most likely die in the process.

After a lovely wedding where Nyx calls her aunt out on having the sex with her dad, tells her sister how she really feels, and marries a rock (Symbolizing her husband), she arrives at the castle. There are many surprises awaiting her. The Gentle Lord, Ignifex, doesn't immediately ravage her. He turns out to be pretty evil, but not such a bad guy. I really loved him, but I'm always a fan of the bad ones.

Living with Ignifex involves a lot of games. Nyx is given a key that opens a select number of doors. She uses them to explore and search for the hearts while he is indisposed at night. She is also given the chance to guess his true name every night. If she guesses correctly, Ignifex will let her go. If she is wrong, he will kill her.

There is also the issue of his servant, a shadow called Shade. Ignifex must retreat from the darkness every night. At the same time, Shade is insubstantial in the day and becomes solid at night. Nyx trusts Shade, even starts to fall in love with him.

Nyx spends most of the book wanting to kill Ignifex. He is evil, making bargains and twisting them around to hurt people. Ignifex argues that the people are aware that the bargains come with a great price, they just don't care. Personally, I think he has a point, but Nyx is firmly in the "my husband is evil" camp. What she doesn't see until later in the book is that they share a dark side. Nyx has a part of her that doesn't want to be self-sacrificing, that part that destroyed her sister on what was probably the last time she will ever see her. Ignifex has secrets that even he doesn't know. Together they might be a perfect match.

I really liked the story here. The fairy tale elements were fantastic, and as the story continues it becomes even better. Unfortunately, one of the major plot elements was glaringly obvious. It was frustrating that Nyx was so unaware, to the point that I was yelling at her. It kept the book from being a complete 5 stars, but it was still really good. Again, I really loved Ignifex. He was funny and kind of evil, and deserves to be part of my YA Boyfriends club.

I received my copy of Cruel Beauty from Edelweiss, courtesy of Balzer + Bray. It's available for purchase now.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #9: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

I liked this idea: that peculiarness wasn't a deficiency, but an abundance; that it wasn't we who lacked something normals had, but they who lacked peculiarness. That we were more, not less...
You can read my review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children here.

(Some spoilers from Book 1 follow)
Wow, it's been 3 years since the first book was published. It was a story of a boy named Jacob. His grandfather always told him stories of the peculiar children who live on an island in the care of Miss Peregrine. Jacob stopped believing in the stories after he grew up. When his grandfather passed away, he decided to travel to the island featured in the stories. There, he met evil creatures called hollowgasts who want to eat peculiar children, and the twisted wights who want to steal their souls for their own evil purposes. He also found that Miss Peregrine and all her charges were real, and still the same age as when his grandfather knew them.

They live inside a time loop, where they are safe from wights and hollowgasts, and where they remain the same age forever. At the end of Miss Peregrine, their loop is invaded. The wights force them to flee their island to England, which is in the middle of the blitzkrieg of World War II. Even worse, after being apprehended by the wights, Miss Peregrine is stuck in her bird form until they can find another ymbrne (The bird ladies who watch over peculiar children) to help her.

Now, the children are on the run. With help from their book of stories detailing famous peculiars, they reach the time loop where Miss Wren keeps her menagerie. Unfortunately, the animals of the menagerie have long been oppressed by normal humans and only a few remain. A bulldog named Adelaide directs them to London, which is being evacuated because of the bombings.

Along the way, they encounter a hollowgast inside a time loop, which should be impossible. They are nearly captured by wights, but must fight their way out. If they don't reach a ymbrne in time, Miss Peregrine may be stuck as a bird forever. Then, the children will never be able to re-enter their loop, and Jacob will be permanently stuck in the past.

This book contained a lot more action than the first. That one set up a lot of the story and introduced the characters, but a lot more happened once the basics were out of the way. Additionally, I thought that some of the pictures from the first book didn't actually tie into the story. In Hollow City, everything fits. Something or someone is described, and you know a picture will be soon to come. My minor issue is that there are a lot of landscapes and such in this book, which is boring compared to the peculiar pictures. Even so, the old black and white images definitely make the Miss Peregrine books what they are. They add a lot of interest and atmosphere to the story. I only hope that Ransom Riggs doesn't take as long to put out a third book.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Caitlin's CBR VI #8: Half Bad by Sally Green

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so... -William Shakespeare

You may think that Harry Potter has the monopoly on magical angst and abuse, but he doesn't hold a candle to Half Bad's Nathan. The book opens with him trapped inside a cage. He is forced to run laps, with a collar that poisons him if he goes too far. He has to do strenuous labor, and he is beaten for stepping out of line. We don't know why he is in the cage, or who put him there.

Half Bad is set in present-day England. In this world, witches live among normal humans. There are good witches and bad witches, and one half-witch, Nathan. His mother is a white witch, and his father is the worst of the black witches, Marcus. Nathan and his brother and two sisters are raised by their grandmother, after their mother killed herself. His brother, Arran, is his closest friend, and his sister Deborah is really nice. His other sister Jessica is a total bitch. Seriously, she's a younger version of Dolores Umbridge.

When a witch reaches 17, they must complete a ritual called a Giving Ceremony. This will give them their powers. If they don't perform this ritual, they will die. The ritual involves blood that must come from a relative.

Nathan secretly wishes he could meet his father, use his blood in the ceremony. Deep down, he believes that Marcus will try to find him. It doesn't seem likely, as Nathan is supposed to be the only person who can kill Marcus. Because they expect Marcus might make contact with Nathan, the magic council keeps close tabs on the boy. They pass all kinds of restrictions and make him come in for yearly assessments to determine if he is a good witch or a bad witch.

The council eventually ends up taking Nathan from his family. He lives with his captor, a tough woman who teaches him to fight and be strong. At the beginning she seems cruel, but by the time we get the full story she has some good qualities. The torture of a teenage boy is bad, but they end up with a mutual understanding. It's either really sweet or Stockholm syndrome. The council still isn't satisfied. They still don't know if he is good or bad. They plan to move him again, lock him up in the council buildings, but he escapes. His goal is to find his father and perform his Giving Ceremony, as his 17th birthday is only a few days away.

Nathan was a strange character. I liked him for the most part, but he was very volatile. He would react violently at the worst times, which made me feel very embarrassed on his behalf. It made me really sad that he wasn't very good at reading, because reading is the best. I understand that the character had a difficult life, but he rarely seems to help himself with that. He would face a bad situation and make it worse by punching his teacher, for example.

I was pleasantly surprised by Half Bad. I expected it to be a paranormal romance, a girly Twilight thing. It's nice to get a male protagonist. There was a good amount of grit and action, maybe a little too much at times. Overall, I really liked this book and I hope that we get a second soon.

I received copies of Half Bad from Edelweiss and Netgalley, courtesy of Viking Juvenile. It's available for purchase now.