Tuesday, December 30, 2014

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.

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.

(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

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.

In the End by Demitria Lunetta

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

There are some spoilers for In the After, so proceed with caution.

The first book was about a world ravaged by aliens. The aliens have super hearing and they eat people. Amy survived in her family's hippie compound house, scavenging the neighborhood and being very quiet. During one of her trips, she found a toddler who she called Baby. They became like sister, developing a crude sign language to communicate without alerting the aliens. The pair eventually trusted the wrong person and the house was taking. They ended up at a government compound where Amy finds out that her mom is still alive, and that the aliens are actually people. They turned into giant green flesh-eating monsters as a result of an experiment with plant DNA. This is why the aliens, called Floraes, are more active in the daytime and they are green because of chlorophyll. Also, when they bite people the person is infected and turned into a florae. Amy helps when a group of floraes are let into the compound, then she leaves to be on her own because there are people in the compound who want to kill her.

Now, Amy has been living on her own again. She still has some tech from New Hope: a scanner to repel florae, lightweight bodysuit so they can't bite her, and a headset for communication. One night she receives a message that the evil doctor took Baby. Baby, real name Hannah, had been bitten as part of the experiments. She never changed, so she is an important part of finding a cure. Amy immediately leaves her safe haven for Fort Black, the prison where she will find the man with information on Baby's whereabouts.

The fun thing that isn't fun about the prison is that it's being run by guards and inmates- horrible, rapey inmates. Amy no sooner enters the prison when she is almost raped. She is saved by a nice, non-rapey guy named Jacks (Short for Jackson). The second fun thing that isn't fun is that the women are treated terribly. In order to not be raped, women need to belong to a man and get a tattoo of the man's name on their arm. Of course, Amy isn't into that, but Jacks helps her out by pretending to be with her.

Things go from terrible to even worse at Fort Black. Amy's rapey nemesis targets her, planning to rape and murder her. As usual, Amy also uncovers some bad stuff going on behind the scenes that makes her a target, and lots of people end up dead. In the end, she has to return to New Hope to save Baby, a place where half the people want her dead.

In the End definitely made me angry. Fort Black and its misogynistic, rapey culture had me enraged. I like Amy because she is a strong and self sufficient female character, and she doesn't disappoint here. Jacks was the only decent male in Fort Black, and you can't help but hope that things work out with those two. The second book really deals more with the monsters that are post-disaster people rather than the actual monsters. I liked the first one more, but In the End was a pretty good conclusion to the series.

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

Toxic by Sara Shepard

Here it is! Pretty Little Liars #15, the penultimate peril. Stuff gets crazy, as usual. The ending made me pretty angry, but I really knew it was coming. I read that it was going to happen, so I only have myself to blame.

*Spoilers for #14: Deadly*
The Liars were arrested for Tabitha's murder, that little accident that happened during their trip to Jamaica, after the first part of the series. The book ended with the girls tracking down Alison, who was NOT dead! She was being assisted by one Nick, whom all the girls knew from their own special adventures. The dastardly duo lock the fab four into a basement and turn on the gas. Thankfully, the police show up in time to save them. They captured Nick, but there was no sign of Ali.
*End spoilers*

Now, the Liars are trying to get over their latest trauma, almost going to prison for life. They haven't gotten any more A messages, so everyone feels a lot safer. It seems like everything is getting better. All four girls experience a change in fortune.

Emily receives a letter from Jordan, the preppy thief that she met on the eco cruise. Jordan no longer blames Emily for her capture. Emily visits the prison and gets more good news. Jordan's lawyer believes that she can get her case overturned, and she may be eligible for parole in a few months! Emily's family is no longer terrible, but even she admits that it probably won't last. Seriously, Fields family? You suck.

Aria painted a picture of present-day Alison, covered in burns and missing teeth. Her mom's gallery actually sells the painting to a major art collector for half a million dollars. The sale gets Aria interviews from art blogs, plus invitations for showcases. She meets a handsome young journalist named Harrison. He seems like the perfect guy to distract her from Noel, who is still keeping his distance.

Hanna is offered a small part in the new movie being filmed about their lives. She really loves the whole experience and befriends Hailey, the actress who will be playing her. The only bad part is that Hailey's acting is terrible. Hanna doesn't know how to tell her without hurting her feelings, so she doesn't say anything. Because that always works out so well for these girls.

Finally, Spencer has started a blog to help kids who have been bullied. She has gotten a lot of attention from the blog, and even has a woman calling about a book deal. The emails from the blog are mostly positive, such as a very supportive young man named Greg. There is one particular reader with the username DominickPhilly who constantly attacks her and her efforts. They both show up at a panel Spencer attends. DominickPhilly attacks her during a speech, and Greg swoops in to save her. Spencer told herself not to fall for an online guy again after last time, but she can't help herself.

Throughout the book, the girls have been telling everyone that Alison is still alive, but nobody believes them. She attacks Emily, but leaves no trace behind. They trace her to a nearby small town and start asking about her. Everyone who talks ends up dead. There is an online group called the Ali Cats who believe that Alison is unfairly attacked. The Liars don't know who is part of the group, or what they might do. Even harder to predict is Alison's plan. That girl is like a super villain, which is impressive considering she has maybe a 7th grade education.

It's hard to believe that there is only one book left. I wasn't a fan of the ending her. I am so sick of this stuff happening! Still, I am on board to find out how this whole thing ends. Just five more months and it will all be over!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington

Olivia "Liv" Bloom was thrilled when she won a scholarship to prestigious Wickham Hall. It meant an escape from foster care and time to make the art she loved. Most of Wickham's students are very rich, and they look down on scholarship students. The worst of the spoiled rich kids are the legacy students, called the Victors, the small group whose families have been attending the school for years.

Therefore, it's surprising that the most influential of the Victors, Malcolm Astor, takes a fancy to Liv. He's so different from the others, and he doesn't seem caught up in the strict formalities of Wickham Hall. Malcolm and Liv end up spending a lot of time together, making playlists, she draws on him (It's kind of hot). It all comes to an end when Liv is murdered.

Liv and Malcolm had arranged to meet after hours so that Malcolm can draw on Liv. They were interrupted and almost caught. To minimize the risk of getting kicked out, they split up to return to their dorms. Liv walked through the old cemetery. Someone hit her from behind, then everything went black, and she died. Liv is still stuck at Wickham, invisible to everyone...except for Gabe. Gabe is a fellow scholarship student, and her work study partner. They became so close that Gabe had confided in her that he could see dead people, that he sees them all over Wickham Hall. At the time, Liv thought that he was crazy. Now she knows that he was telling the truth.

Liv's first priority is telling Malcolm that she is still around. Now that she is dead, any interaction with the physical world makes her fade. She enlists Gabe to help contact Malcolm, which goes over as well as you would think when the weird kid at school tells you that he's been talking to your dead girlfriend. Eventually, Gabe and Liv get him to believe that Gabe is the ghost whisperer and is talking to Liv. The three then focus on solving Liv's murder.

What they encounter is a conspiracy that has been going on for decades. The dead girls all over Wickham were all victims of the conspiracy. They were all scholarship students, and the murders all trace back to the Victors.  

I very much enjoyed Liv, Forever. Liv was a cool girl, and I loved her and Malcolm together. They do get into Ghost-level stuff after she dies. It's a little bit romantic, but those sorts of things really bum me out more than anything else. I also liked how the ghost girls were given a little characterization. Each of them got a chapter from their perspective that told a little about them and how they were killed. The book was romantic, a little bit scary, and there was a bit of humor, and a large amount of bittersweet.  

I received my copy of Liv, Forever from the Goodreads First Reads Program and from Edelweiss, courtesy of Soho Teen. It's available for purchase now.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Rebel by Amy Tintera

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

There will be some spoilers for the ending to Reboot.

At the end of Reboot, Wren successfully broke into the Austin compound to save Callum and also free every single Reboot. She even managed to get the serum to cure him of the disease that HARC (The bad government guys) gave him, the one that made him want to eat everyone. In the final scene, Wren, Callum, and a bunch of other Reboots arrive at the entrance to the Reboot territory.

They are welcomed by Micah, the leader. He is immediately impressed by Wren, who is the only one with a number higher than his (Micah is at 160 or so). As they spend more time there, it becomes clear that being at the Reboot camp isn't much different from being in the compound. They are still seen as a number rather than a person.

The last straw is when Micah comes up with a plan for the Reboots to overthrow Austin. Because Wren and Addie freed all the Reboots, the city has very little HARC presence left. It's now a simple matter of marching in and killing every human on sight. Yeah, Micah is pretty awful. He believes that the humans would attack Reboots eventually, so he may as well attack first.

Wren has never spared any love for humans. She doesn't want to destroy them, but she also doesn't want to fight for them. Callum still has a human family, plus he feels closer to humans because of his lower number. He actually grows into his own in this book, coming up with plans to overthrow Micah and help the humans in Austin get rid of HARC.

I really wish that I had taken the time to re-read Reboot before reading the sequel, because it was hard to remember a lot of little details. I do enjoy that a lot of books are sticking with duologies instead of trilogies. Rebel was a great conclusion to Reboot. I liked the first book better, but mostly because of all the sweet first love stuff with Wren and Callum. Reboot was also action-packed and had a satisfying ending.

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

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

"We make music to- to find each other in the dark. And I have to believe the point is that we don't- we don't ever stop calling out..."

Minnie went to the Bellweather for the first time for her sister's wedding. She was a bridesmaid, concerned with her too-tight shoes, when she stumbled upon a grisly scene. On the wrong floor, she came across a newly married couple. The groom was slumped in the hall, blood soaking his shirt. The bride was standing on a chair, a noose around her neck. "Come here little girl," she beckoned.

Minnie ran then, but the memories chased her. She has nightmares, she is afraid to leave the house. Now, fifteen years later, Minnnie returns to the Bellweather to put her ghosts to rest.

The same weekend that Minnie revisits her past, the Bellweather is hosting Statewide. Statewide is a high school music festival that invites only the very best musicians. Twins Alice and Rabbit will be attending. Alice is a diva singer. Rabbit is a shy bassoonist. Alice ends up staying in the same room where the murder-suicide occurred. Alice finds her famous flautist roommate, Jill, (Whose awful stage mother shanghaied Statewide) hanging in their room, then the body disappears. Alice then meets (And is abducted by) Minnie.

Rabbit hopes to use the weekend to tell his sister that he is gay. He also ends up building a reputation as a rebel with the other orchestra students. Their chaperone, Natalie Wilson, encounters a familiar face. Jill's mother, Viola, was her music teacher. She was the one who stole her love of music, turned it into a chore to be endured, and told her she wasn't special. I know this doesn't sound too bad, and she was probably right, but Viola was a giant witch so we hate her.

Everyone is observed by Harold Hastings. He has been concierge of the Bellweather for forty-six years. He witnessed the event years ago, and he takes it upon himself to figure out what is going on after Jill disappears.

Bellweather Rhapsody is a character-driven story. I really enjoyed seeing how the characters were connected and seeing them interact. It's a bit difficult to categorize. It borrows a lot from The Shining, but it's not exactly horror. It's somewhat funny, but not exactly a comedy. There are some very major turns that occur at the end of the story that make it very fun. You could imagine this as a movie; it would fit right in with Wes Anderson's stuff.

I received my copy of Bellweather Rhapsody from Edelweiss and through the Goodreads First Reads program. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

"The four of us Liars, we have always been.
We always will be..."

We Were Liars was billed as the YA book of the summer. Even I found it impossible to resist. A John Green blurb plus the description "If anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE." I am so there.

This really was a short book, but it packs a big punch. I'm going to try not to give too much away, but it's difficult to balance telling too much versus having a coherent review. There is a big, spoilery twist, and it's hard to know how much to talk about because a lot of it ends up being clues to the big secret.

The book is about the Sinclairs, one of those big, rich, Kennedy-esque families. They summer on Beachwood Island, a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Golden retrievers run around, tennis is played, and crabs are boiled. It's rich people paradise.

Our narrator is Cadence, the eldest grandchild and great hope of the future. She spends her summers at Beachwood Island with the Liars. The Liars are her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and Gat, the son of her aunt's boyfriend. They are a close group, and Cadence and Gat form a particularly strong bond.

Two years ago, there was an accident. Nobody talks about it. Cadence suffers terrible headaches and blackouts as a result. She ends up spending the next summer with her father. She writes to the Liars, but doesn't hear back. The following year, Cadence begs to go back to Beachwood. Once there, everything seems different. Her grandfather's old summer house is replaced with a fancy modern one. The Liars are acting strange. Cadence has to try to put the pieces of her lost memories back.

This book really is gorgeous. The writing has a dream-like quality, keeping the reader as confused as Cadence. I didn't predict the twist, but in retrospect there are a lot of hints. It's still very effective, and left me with many feels. I highly recommend this book, if only so that you can lie to all your friends about the ending.

I received my copy of We Were Liars from Netgalley and Edelweiss, courtesy of Delacorte Press. It's available for purchase now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

"I wasn't nearly, I was enough..."

Nearly Boswell lives with her mother in a trailer park. Her dad abandoned them years ago, so mom has to dance at the local strip club to make rent. Thankfully, Nearly is super smart. She is competing to be the top student in her physics class so she can earn a huge scholarship and get out of the trailer park. He only competition is her best friend Anh.

Years ago, Nearly read an ad in the classifieds that she is certain was from her father. Now, she steals from her mom's tip money to buy newspapers in hopes that he will contact her again. She spots an ad that sounds like it's meant for her, telling her to look under the bleachers at school. The cheerleader that she tutors is found, naked and unconscious, under the bleachers. A second ad follows. By the time Nearly figures it out, she is too late to save another student she tutors.

It's at about this point that Nearly goes to the police. She shows them the ads, but they are dismissive of her claims. After a third ad and the murder of another student she tutored, they start to see the connection. Unfortunately, they decide that the connection means that Nearly is the murderer. To keep tabs on her, they enlist the help of bad boy turned informant Reece. They have one of those prickly relationships where they hate each other until they inevitably fall in love.

Nearly Gone is an intriguing mystery. I didn't even figure out who did it until really close to the end. I almost forgot the whole semi-paranormal touching thing that Nearly does where she can read people's emotions, but it really doesn't matter to the plot anyways. I liked Nearly, she was smart and had a tough attitude and drive. Reese was okay, but not good enough for my collection of YA boyfriends. The story gets a little gory at times, but I enjoyed that aspect. It is nice to have another book for the fairly rare YA mystery genre.

I received my copy of Nearly Gone from Netgalley and Edelweiss, courtesy of Kathy Dawson Books. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

"What if the future doesn't want to be changed? What if it wants what it wants? What if it makes no difference what any of us do, whether we are heroes or cowards?"
"The future doesn't want anything...We're the ones who make the future..."

Prenna moved to New York five years ago, but it wasn't a typical move. It's not about where she moved, but when. In 2090, the world is being ravaged by a blood plague that kills the majority of the population. In order to survive, Prenna and several others emigrate to their past, our present.

The travelers, as they call themselves, must live by strict rules. They have to fit in with normal people, time natives, as they call them. They must limit contact with the time natives. Travelers could expose them to any number of diseases, and vice versa. Most important of all, travelers cannot be intimate or fall in love with a time native. This sounds like a rule waiting to be defied by a teenage couple in love!

When Prenna first arrived in the past, she became disoriented. A young man named Ethan saw her arrival. Now, as a teenager, she walks into his classroom. He recognizes her right away. They form a friendship and then a romantic relationship, rules be damned. Ethan is also friends with a homeless man. They discuss philosophy together, as teenaged boys and vagrants do. The man startles Prenna by telling her about a murder that will occur May 17th, 2014, a pivotal moment that she must stop.

Of course, travelers are not supposed to change the course of events. It's just time travel basics, people. When the homeless man's true identity is revealed, Prenna is determined to change history, even if she has to go against her mother and the other travelers to do it.

 The Here and Now was a solid book. It had a lot of romance, and I loved the time travel stuff. It falls apart a little at the end, but it's overall pretty good.

I received my copy of The Here and Now from Netgalley, courtesy of Delacorte Press. It's available for purchase now.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Panic by Lauren Oliver

"Everything passed; That was partly why it was so beautiful. Things would get difficult again. But that was okay too.
The bravery was in moving forward, no matter what..."

In the rural New York town of Carp, everyone knows about Panic. Each year, the game is played by the graduating seniors. It's a game of escalating dares. Kids get hurt, even killed, all for the prize. The winner gets the pot, thousands of dollars collected from each senior throughout high school. That kind of money can change your life.

Heather was only planning to cheer on her best friend, Nat, but she ends up joining the game. She wants the money to move as far away from Carp as possible. Heather's life isn't great. Her mother takes drugs and drinks, and Heather struggles to protect her younger sister, Lily. One horrible night, their mother goes too far. Heather and Lily leave. They end up sleeping in their car in an alley. Heather needs the money more than ever. 

Dodge joined Panic for a much different reason: revenge. His sister was paralyzed while competing, and Dodge blames the boy who raced against her. Now, that boy's brother will be playing. Dodge wants him to suffer for hurting his sister, by killing his brother.

I found Panic to be a little unbelievable. Everyone knows about it, but the police or other adults can't do anything about it? I am skeptical. Granted, Panic is run under the utmost secrecy. The contests are presided over by secret judges. Anyone who breaks the rules faces swift retribution. I just feel that after so many years of Panic, someone who actually played the game must be in a position where they could make it stop.

Panic was full of sad stories. Sometimes the characters aren't easy to like, but you can sympathize with their situations. The writing was good, and the parts that depicted Panic were sufficiently tense. Still, I must admit that I am happy this ended up being a stand alone book, as I am not sure I would have wanted to read a second book.

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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

"I noticed a similar thing with my dad, and it made me wonder if people, when they reach a certain age, forget how to be happy. Like maybe they grow up to become what they were once rebelling against, and it makes them sad without even knowing it..."
This is the story of a little-known band called the Scar Boys. It is narrated by Harbinger "Harry" Jones, written as an essay for a college application. He describes the most defining moments of his life. The first happened when he was 8 years old. Some bullies tied him to a tree, then left him outside as it started to rain, then storm. The tree was hit by lightning and caught fire. Harry was badly burnt and left with severe scars on his face and body.

Harry's scars made him subject to stares and fear from other children and even adults. He is understandably surprised the day that Johnny befriends him. Johnny is athletic, popular, and handsome. Him wanting to hang out with Harry is practically mind-boggling. The two boys start running together. Johnny gets Harry to go Trick or Treating, even gets him a date. He sounds too good to be true, and he was. Though Johnny was nice to Harry, actually his only friend, he also ended up using Harry to make himself seem better. He needed to show that he was able to have what Harry never could.

After Harry is rejected by the girl Johnny set him up with, Johnny suggests that they form a band. They got guitars, found a drummer and a bass player, and the Scar Boys was born. They practice, get better and better, and grow a following at their high school. They play parties, and even manage to get a gig at CBGB. Unfortunately, their bass player quits right before that huge gig. They are upset about missing the opportunity, but even more upset to have to audition a replacement.

They decide upon a cute girl named Cheyenne. To maintain the stability of the band, the boys vow that they won't hook up with her. One guess for who ends up breaking that vow.

Meanwhile, Harry comes up with the idea that the Scar Boys should go on a cross-country tour. Most of the members will be graduating. Johnny already has a scholarship and a place at college waiting next fall. The summer will most likely be the final chapter for the Scar Boys. The band is met with indifference at first, but they win over even the smallest audience. They had sent out singles to college radio stations, so their shows attract more and more people. They were on top of the world, and there was nowhere left to go but down (This feels very VH1 Behind the Music).

The Scar Boys was difficult to read sometimes, but it was really funny. It reminded me a lot of King Dork by Frank Portman. Every chapter features a song, and the song title relates to what happens. I made a playlist from the chapters, though I'm not sure if the songs relate past the title. This was one of those stories that made me want to start a band, though I am not especially musical. There is this really unexpected event towards the end, and it leads to a sweet ending. I'm always a sucker for a happy ending.

I received my copy of The Scar Boys from Edelweiss, courtesy of Egmont USA. It's available for purchase now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

"I kill on order. I am everyone's assassin. I belong to no one but the grim reaper herself."

It's something of an urban legend. If you have a person who you would like to be killed, write a letter and leave it in a hole in the women's washroom of a particular cafe. Don't forget to include payment. The more you pay, the more likely that the Perfect Killer will answer your request. The murder scene is always spotless, no fingerprints. The letter is left behind as a calling card. There are dozens of murders attributed to the Perfect Killer, and the police have no leads to the killer's identity.

The Perfect Killer is actually a high school girl named Kit. She has been trained to kill by her mother, who committed a good number of murders herself before passing the "tradition" on to Kit. Kit works hard to blend into the crowd, as you never suspect someone that you don't notice. It seems like a major misstep when her mother invites the young detective working on the Perfect Killer case over for dinner. It's even worse when Kit befriends Alex, actually giving him hints to her identity.

Kit receives a letter that has ramifications on her whole world. It is a request to kill a classmate, Maggie. Maggie used to hang out with a popular group, but has lately been on her own. The rumors are that she rejected one of the boys, Michael. He wrote the letter. In order to get close to Maggie, Kit befriends her. The girls are inseparable for months. Kit actually starts to like Maggie. She learns about the Michael situation. He is a horrible sociopath, and Kit can see the anger in his eyes. Before this, her world had been easy, black and white. Now there is so much gray.

I really liked the premise of Dear Killer. However, a lot of the forensic and judicial aspects seem suspicious. It seems unlikely that Kit wouldn't have been caught. There was some explanation for why the letter writers wouldn't be prosecuted, but I think that police could find something to charge them with. Then, a simple deal to find the "mailbox," a sting operation, and the Perfect Killer is off the streets. I'm not as familiar with British law (The book's set in London), so this all may be perfectly fine across the pond. I'll give the benefit of a doubt.

I felt bad for Alex. He just wanted to solve his case! Although, it was weird that he discussed classified information with a high school student. And, he let her examine a crime scene! Kit was a scary, scary girl, and the more you read, the scarier she gets. I'm talking split personality scary. You can't really root for her character. There is a little room for sympathy, because she is who her mother made her. However, Kit's actions condemn her. When she starts to question her life during the Maggie situation, the solution is to keep killing. You actually want her to get caught. Thankfully, there is a satisfying ending to the book. You just have to get through all the blood and moral ambiguity first.

I received my copy of Dear Killer from Edelweiss, courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books. It will be available for purchase April 1, 2014.

Avalon by Mindee Arnett

"The universe was a terrible, fucked-up place, but he didn't make it that way. He just had to live with it..."

Avalon is ultimately a story about freedom. The main character, Jeth, wants to be able to fly away from Hammer, the mob boss who owns him, his ship, and his crew. He wants to take Avalon and escape to some far off galaxy and be free. His parents were executed as traitors, leaving Jeth and his sister Lizzie in the care of their uncle. Uncle Milton promptly gambled and lost Avalon, which is also their home, to Hammer.

Hammer is the big boss, owner of a great big space station and casino. He runs a gang of soldiers, most of whom are mindless slaves thanks to an implant in their brains. One of his organizations is the Malleus Shades, Jeth's crew. They are a bunch of teenagers who pull heists to steal ships and metadrives. The metadrive is the technology that allows them to travel light years through space. This technology is highly in demand, so the Shades are busy. Jeth is working for Hammer in hopes of buying his ship back. His profits all go towards Avalon, but he still has years left before he'll be free.

At the beginning of the book, the Shades are running a heist. Everything is going according to plan when they get an unexpected visit from an ITA agent (Like space FBI). He wants them to venture into the Belgraves, the space wasteland where weird stuff happens, in order to retrieve a wrecked ship, the Donerail. In return, Jeth will regain full ownership of Avalon.

Jeth is obviously suspicious of the man, as the ITA killed his parents. He refuses the deal. Soon after, Hammer offers them the same job. After some negotiation, Hammer is willing to give them half the money beforehand...and he will sign the Avalon over to Jeth. The only condition is that they are not supposed to set foot on the abandoned ship.

That seems easy enough. The Donerail has been stranded for two months. There's no way that anyone could have survived. When they reach the ship, however, there are signs of life. Once on board, they notice how it is covered in mysterious holes, some through walls or equipment, even through the crew. They meet the survivors, a teenaged girl and boy, and a younger girl. Jeth takes the trio back on the Avalon. Once there, the mysterious holes start appearing in Avalon's walls and equipment. Soon enough, they are stranded in the Belgraves. They have two choices: call Hammer for help, or call the ITA. The only question is which is the better risk.

I really loved Avalon. A lot of it had to do with how much I loved Jeth. He was such a nice guy, always sacrificing himself to protect his crew. There were times when he brought tears to my eyes, when he was broken down and believed that he would never regain Avalon, would be stuck with Hammer, and worst of all would become one of those brainless soldier. So, I may as well say that Jeth is the best and almost single-handedly made this book great. I'm really looking forward to further adventures from the Malleus Shades, which should be interesting given the plot twists and spoiler action at the end of the book, which I cannot talk about here. I'll just say that it should be interesting and leave it at that.

I received my copy of Avalon from Edelweiss, courtesy of Balzer & Bray. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

"No matter how small I felt, how infinitesimal my feeble gestures seemed, I was part of a larger chain, a larger system, and so help me, I would bring order to this chaos..."

This dystopian story had a background story very similar to The Hunger Games. There was a war hundreds of years ago. What once was the United States was attacked by the East (Asia). Afterwards, they were left in ruins. The West Coast fell. As a result of the war, the United States were no longer allowed to use fossil fuels. Jacob Landry saved the country by introducing his Cherenkov lantern, which paved the way for personal nuclear reactors in every home. Of course, only the upper classes, the Gentry, are able to take advantage of nuclear power. As punishment for not fighting hard enough during the war, the lowest class, Rootless, must perform the deadly task of handling the radioactive cores. The Gentry make sure that the Rootless receive lots of medical care for their breedin' parts so that they can make more Rootless to handle the reactors. They pay no attention to them dying painful, early deaths from radiation poisoning.

Now let's go from the poor down-trodden masses to a poor little rich girl. Madeline Landry is unhappy with her life. She wants nothing more than to attend university. As the first (And only) heir to Landry Park, their sprawling estate, her job is to marry rich and produce an heir. Unfortunately, Madeline has no interest in the parties and usual bunch of eligible bachelors. That is, until David Dana comes to town.

David is the son of her father's old girlfriend. The two hit it off, but their relationship is complicated. He acts affectionately towards her when they are alone, but ignores her when they are in public. It just gets weirder when he asks her frenemy, Cara, to debut with him. This means that David and Cara are practically engaged. David definitely puts out a lot of mixed signals, and Madeline has no idea what to think.

Back to class warfare! After Cara is attacked at a party, she blames a member of the Rootless. Soon, Mr. Landry and the Gentry government are severely punishing all of the Rootless. Madeline can tell that Cara is lying about the attack. She takes it upon herself to find out the real culprit, whom she suspects is one of the Gentry.

One day, she follows David into the Rootless side of town. While there, she learns of the suffering of their people so that the Gentry can live in comfort. She also learns that the Rootless are planning a revolution, and they have the East on their side to fight. Madeline eventually learns that the history of the country is a lie, and she must turn her back on her family and Landry Park in order to help the people who need her most.

The background of the book really interested me. I'm a big fan of Downton Abbey and Jane Austen, and the Gentry system of courtship was similar. When the regency drama is combined with the dystopian, I am very excited. I wasn't disappointed with the actual contents. It was a great story. Madeline could be annoying at times, but I'll forgive her as her entire world ends up falling apart. I won't forgive her for the love triangle, especially since I thought she'd stop whining about David once she starts a relationship with Jude(David's friend, doesn't matter that much). But, no, she still goes on and on about David Dana. I appreciated that they didn't make Jude be evil incarnate just to make Madeline and David seem inevitable. Cara amused me greatly, because she was bitchy in an amusing, Cordelia Chase way.

I thought that Landry Park was a really good start to the series. It ends cleanly, while leaving space for the next installment in the series. I'd like to read more, but I'm not freaking out because of a horrible cliffhanger.

I received my copy of Landry Park from Edelweiss, courtesy of Dial and Penguin. It's available for purchase now. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Champion by Marie Lu

"Sometimes the sun sets earlier. Days don't last forever, you know."

If you like, you can read my reviews of Legend and Prodigy. There's going to be spoilers of the first two books, but no Champion spoilers.

June and Day met in Legend, one of those typical love stories where girl thinks boy killed her brother, so girl hunts boy down undercover in the streets. June was a super soldier, the best that the Republic ever saw. Day was a legend, a nondescript shadow who robs from the government and gives to the poor and downtrodden. He was actually a young man who was supposed to have been killed after failing his Trials, a test every child takes that determines their entire future. They eventually gain an understanding of each other, then it blossoms into love. Despite some, um...misunderstandings along the way. By misunderstandings, I mean that June leads Republic officials to Day's door, where they murder his mother. Then, they are going to kill Day, but his older brother takes his place. And, the Republic kidnaps his younger brother, Eden, to try to find a cure for the disease that is spreading throughout the Republic. June learns that the Republic is full of corruption, her brother's murder was an inside job, and everything is pretty much the worst.

Then in Prodigy, June and Day team up with the Patriots, a group working with people from the Colonies (Divided USA, Colonies vs. Republic) in hopes of rescuing Eden. After the elector primo dies, his son inherits the role. The Patriots plan to assassinate the young man for the good of the people. June is working inside the government, and she gets close to Anden. She learns that he will help the Republic, so she decides to stop the assassination. It turns out that members of the Patriots were members of the government, who were working with the Patriots to kill Anden. Also, the Republic is claiming that Day was executed. Nobody believes it. Because of this, Day turned into a political symbol, and he rallies the people around Anden. On a sad note, Day finds out that he is dying because of what they did to him after his Trials.

The third installment finds June and Day once again divided. Now Day has a comfortable apartment that he shares with his brother. Unfortunately, his headaches have been getting worse. The doctors think that Day will only live for about two more months. June has been training to be a top government official. Anden believes that she is qualified for the job, despite her being 16 and up against two much more qualified candidates.

The Republic is having more issues with the Colonies. The Colonies have been suffering from that terrible sickness and blame the Republic for spreading it across their borders. They also believe that the Republic has a cure and will attack and overthrow the Republic if it is not turned over. Anden has been trying to find a cure, but nothing has worked. His last resort is having June ask Day to give Eden back to the Republic, in hopes that his blood contains a cure. Day would obviously be against this plan, but if June asks...

There's all kinds of drama happening. Anden obviously likes June, but she's still all about Day. Day still likes June, but he's pushing her away because he's dying and doesn't want to hurt her. June doesn't even know that he's dying. I know that I complained about romantic triangles before, but this isn't really a triangle. Anden barely factors at all.

Overall, I felt that Champion was a fitting conclusion to the series. There was lots of action and drama, which was very satisfying. I'll admit that the ending had me sobbing like a baby, both the ending and the prologue (For both happy and sad reasons). The entire series has been fantastic, so I am happy to see it go off on a good note.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

"Ruth was the only person I ever knew who wanted to be somewhere else as much as I did. The only one who got what I meant when I said, "Friendship as in you and me is great, but Friendship, Wisconsin sometimes feels like a bad dream that's too boring to be called a nightmare..."

One of my favorite scenes in No One Else Can Have You is when the main character, Kippy, asks her father for a salad for dinner. He doesn't understand what that even is. Then he throws some frozen green beans, canned tomatoes, bacon bits, and shredded cheese in a bowl and microwaves the whole thing. It sounds absolutely disgusting, but it made me laugh out loud. That special Midwestern flavor is all through this book. There is a lot of regional dialogue, you betcha. It can be too much, but it mostly made me giggle. Which is itself funny, as the book deals with a brutal murder.

No One Else Can Have You is set in the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin, population 689...make that 688. The community is shaken when the body of Ruth Fried is found hanging in a cornfield. Her football star boyfriend, Colt, seems like the obvious suspect, so he is arrested for the murder. Friendship is safe once again...or is it? Ruth's brother, Davey, doesn't think so. He recently returned home from Afghanistan after injuring his hand, and he starts to investigate his sister's murder. The sheriff isn't a big fan of Colt, as he had a fling with the sheriff's daughter.

Ruth's best friend Kippy starts to look into the story. She keeps imagining her hero, Diane Sawyer, guiding her along. After talking to Colt, she decides that he is an a-hole, but not a murderer. He also has an alibi: he was destroying a mailbox when the murder was taking place. Kippy visits the woman who owns the mailbox, an alcoholic and rumored witch. Soon after the visit, the woman is found dead. The police rule the death a suicide, but Kippy doesn't believe it.

Ruth's mother found her journal and gave it to Kippy, hoping that she would cross out any sex parts and give them back. The journals reveal Ruth to be kind of bitchy, but also pretty funny and awesome. She had been seeing an older guy, one who had said he wanted to kill and mount her. Ruth works together with Davey, but they meet a lot of resistance. Sheriff Staake refuses to consider any other suspect, to an infuriating degree. An overly religious girl, Libby, starts an organization in Ruth's memory at school. She tries to recruit Kippy, who she keeps calling Katie. Libby considers Kippy's efforts to find a killer as offensive to her and the organization. As they get closer to finding the suspect, they get closer to becoming victims themselves. I love ending on statements like that.

I was a pretty big fan of No One Else Can Have You. The characters are really detailed in the book. There's Ruth, who I already mentioned a little. I really liked the journals, which helped show more of who Ruth was. It reminded me of how Veronica Mars had all those flashbacks of Lilly Kane, or how everyone has flashbacks of Alison DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars. Kippy is sort of all over the place, but I loved her. She was a weird one. Her mother died when she was younger, and she only has her father. Her father tries really hard, which is adorable. There are also many, many background characters, of varying degrees of likeability. The book was pretty funny, as I already mentioned. Lots of Wisconsin humor abounds. The mystery was compelling, though I did actually guess who did it. All in all, it was a good time, don't cha know.

I received my copy of No One Else Can Have You from Edelweiss, courtesy of HarperTeen. It's available for purchase now.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Deadly by Sara Shepard

I thought that this was going to be the final book in the series...but it's not. There are supposed to be two more books, though the way things are going with this series Alison will be stalking these girls in the rest home, still angry that they beat her at bingo. After they murdered her grandchildren, probably on accident, but you never know with those Pretty Elderly Liars. Anyways, on to the fourteenth installment...

As always, spoilers!

We left off Crushed with the Liars being positive that there is a second A, and that said A is Noel. Then, they found poor Noel all beaten and tied up in a shed during Homecoming. They weren't sure if he was alive. I, however, know that if they were going to kill him off, they would have done it then. These books don't cliffhang deaths. Noel makes it through, but he and Aria are over. Though he wasn't part of the A game, Noel had been in contact with Alison while she was at the asylum. He kept a lot of Ali-related secrets from her. To get away from A, Noel, and Rosewood, Aria decides to seek an internship in Amsterdam. During the interview, the police burst in and arrest her for her art heist. Needless to say, she doesn't get the internship.

One by one, all of the Liars are arrested. Spencer is arrested for planting drugs on a fellow college prep student (Remember old Kelsey, who came back and romanced Emily for a bit before being carted away because she had a pill addiction?). Emily is arrested for helping Jordan, the "Preppy Thief" who stowed away on the eco cruise and is currently on the run. Hanna is arrested for crashing a drunk girl's car and then fleeing the scene to make it look like the other girl was driving (That would be the cousin of Naomi, her frenemy from school). It seems as though the girls are in trouble, but then they find a way to solve all their problems: they tell the FBI agent about A. They send Agent Fuji every text and note that they received. Every Liar feels relieved, certain that they are safe once and for all.

Unfortunately, that isn't the case. A just fights back harder. He/she/it/they send an altered video to the FBI showing what looks like the Liars kicking and beating Tabitha's body after she falls. Plus, the FBI only pretended to believe them, while building a case against the Liars. The girls are arrested again for Tabitha's murder, and they are supposed to be extradited to Jamaica to be sentenced.

Emily's super poor family has to sell all their worldly possessions in order to pay her bail (Can't you just offer a lien against your house/car or whatever, rather than selling them? Because you get the money or whatever back after they appear in court?). To make matters worse, she accidentally gives her mom a heart attack AND destroys her Hummels in the process. Then her family is super mean to her, and Jordan gets arrested because of Emily's tweets to her secret account. It becomes so much that Emily *SPOILER*decides to throw herself off a bridge, which is funny because she is going to drown herself and she's the best swimmer in the world, but not funny because Emily is the best, nicest character and suicide sucks*END SPOILER*

Meanwhile, Hannah's dad refuses to talk to her because he still plans to run for Congressman. He doesn't show up for her trials or anything, and is generally the worst, though still not as bad as Emily's entire family. Spencer's conspiracy theorist boyfriend gets mad at her because he didn't know that he was a target to A. Dude already had a stalker who threw acid on him, so he is understandably upset that he might end up assaulted/murdered some more. Her stepdad gets mad at her because A trashes his model home, and it's a situation for about two seconds, but eventually it gets resolved. Though Spencer sees some security footage that may have been Alison herself. And, Aria... misses Noel a lot. She finally gets up the nerve to talk to him, and gets an actual lead on Alison. The Liars arrange a meeting through Noel, though they still don't know what to think. Is Alison really alive?

*SPOILER* YES! They find her secret lair and are soon apprehended by Ali's sidekick, who was someone they all knew, though by different names. He was Emily's gay friend Derek from the seafood restaurant that summer she was pregnant (I may have imagined that he was gay). He was that Olaf guy who stole the Van Gogh with Aria. He was the bartender who served drunk cousin all those drinks when Hanna crashed her car. And, he was a bad drug pusher who got Spencer and Kelsey addicted to study pills. Being murdered multiple times has been tough on Alison, who has scars and burns from that time she was exploded, plus she is missing teeth and her hair is a mess. The dastardly duo are planning to gas the Liars to death, thus enacting their revenge for their part in taking her life away. Which is really not the Liars fault at all, but whatever. Ali's a little LOT crazy. Long story short, the Liars don't die. The FBI realizes that the video of them murdering Tabitha is fake, so they don't have to go to prison. And, now everyone seems to realize that Alison actually isn't dead. For her part, Ali vows to make herself hot again and to keep on keeping on against the Liars. I can't really remember the exact details of the ending, so some of this may be wrong. *END SPOILER*

I think there are still two more titles after this one. Things have been progressing fairly quickly in the last couple of books. The Liars aren't as easy-to-hate as they used to be, and manage to be almost likeable now. I'm interested to see how everything ends. Hopefully, it actually does end this time. I've come this far with the series, so I can manage to stick around for a couple more books.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

It starts when she sees the ghost. Walking through the graveyard, Kennedy sees a lady in black straight from a horror movie. It's weird, but there's high school business to be attended to, so life moves on. Then, Kennedy's mother turns up dead and Kennedy is attacked by the same spirit. She is rescued by twin brothers Jared and Lukas. They tell her the truth: ghosts and demons are real, someone is summoning them to bring about the end of days, and it is up to a group of teenagers to stop the apocalypse.

The teens are members of the Legion of the Black Dove, as their parents/grandparents/other relative had been before them. Every member's relative recently died in the same manner as Kennedy's mother, leaving the society in the hands of the younger generation. Each member was trained for some special skill to help hunting ghosts and demons: weapons, tracking, fighting, or spells. Well, they all were trained, except for Kennedy. Her mother didn't tell her anything about the Legion, and she certainly never prepared her to face their enemies.

Unfortunately, this leads to an overage of angst about fitting in with the group. Just to make things worse, there is a love triangle. *GRRARGGHH* Flipping love triangle. Yes, the kick-ass demon fighters fall apart because the twins fall in super sparkly love with Kennedy. It's hard not to hold it against her, but she doesn't have many redeeming qualities to balance against. Kennedy is drawn to the gruff, distant, bad boy Jared. Jared shares some vulnerable moments with her, but still seems to be holding something back. Meanwhile, nice, extroverted, goody-goody Lukas is all about her all the time. Kennedy likes him well enough, and kind of wants to keep him as a second choice because Jared is too aloof.

To be honest, a lot of the book reads like some sad girl's Supernatural fanfic. The triangle really drags down what could be an otherwise decent story. It would be vastly improved if we didn't have to deal with Kennedy's, "Should I pick the boy I actually like who likes me back, or the one who likes me and I want to keep that door open while still maintaining friend status" or her, " I don't fit in/have cool powers or knowledge/the other girl in the group wants to eat my face." I'm torn, because I would like to see what happens with the Legion trying to save the world, and all the twists that came from that part of the story. At the same time, we ended with Kennedy going through some particularly unappealing drama, and I don't know if I have the patience to spend another book yelling at her to shut up.

I received my copy of Unbreakable from Edelweiss, courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It's available for purchase now.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney

"The world doesn't need another broken-hearted girl..."

Every superhero has their origin story. That's what The Brokenhearted is, an origin story. In the beginning, Anthem is an ordinary girl. She is focused on school and ballet lessons. Then she goes to the party, meets the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, falls in love. Everything seems perfect, but it doesn't last.

Anthem's boyfriend is kidnapped. She meets the kidnappers, but they kill him anyways. Anthem leaves, slips, falls in the icy cold river. And she dies. However, the story doesn't end there. That is where it begins.

After her untimely death, Anthem is given a new bionic heart. This heart allows her to run faster, jump higher, and become the hero that Bedlam City has been looking for.

The Brokenhearted was pretty good. I liked the concept, and once the action starts, it's very satisfying. The downside is that it takes a while for the action to start. Anthem spends the majority of the book moping and feeling sorry for herself. I'm willing to give that a pass, seeing as how this was the first book and she had just had her heart broken and died and stuff. Hopefully, she will get right to the booty-kicking in the next installment.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

"I feel like I'm broken- like I don't fit together anymore. Like there's no more room for me in the world or something. Like I've overstayed my welcome here on Earth, and everyone's trying to give me hints about that constantly. Like I should just check out..."
Recently, I borrowed this book from work. It sounded like a difficult, interesting read. One night, one of my coworkers mentioned the book. I was about to tell her how I planned to read it, then she surprised me. She mentioned that she tried to read it, but she didn't like the subject matter. The main character plans to bring a gun to school and kill a classmate and himself. She was horrified that such things were written about, and she expected me to agree.

I was dumbfounded. Reading the description, even the beginning of a book doesn't tell you how it will end. I admit that school shootings and murder-suicides are controversial subjects. But, the coworker thought that writing about these things might further mess up troubled teenagers. I think that ignoring these things can mess them up more. I think that maybe a teenager might recognize that the narrator is troubled in some way, maybe in the same way as them. That could help a lot more.

On to the business of reviewing: today is Leonard Peacock's 18th birthday. He has a plan. He will deliver gifts to his four friends, kill his former best friend, and then shoot himself.

It's easy to see that Leonard isn't having an easy time in life. His mother is busy with work and her boyfriend. She doesn't even remember his birthday. He has a lot of issues and hurt feelings caused by his ex friend. It's also difficult for Leonard to see things getting better as her gets older. Sometimes, he dresses up in a suit and tie and pretends he is going off to work. Sitting in the train station, he observed countless adults going off to jobs that they hate, day after day.

Do anything! Something! Because you start a revolution one decision at a time, with each breath you take. Just don't go back to that miserable place you go every day. Show me it's possible to be an adult and also be happy...

His teacher advised him to write letters from himself in the future, telling him how great everything is. These letters are featured every few chapters, from future Leonard, his wife, and daughter. Their future features an apocalyptic wasteland, but Leonard is alive and happy.

The biggest question of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is whether Leonard goes through with his plan or not. There are no opening paragraphs that give glimpses to a happier future. I really think that was a good choice. The reader can't see how it will end until the end arrives.

This ended up being a really good book. It's pretty heavy and there is quite a bit of swearing. I ended up in tears more than once. Overall, it's really well-written and the characters are all great. It's not always the easiest book to read, but I am very glad I read it.