I read, I write, and I majored in German and Muggle Studies. my favorite genres are historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. Lookout for reviews of the YA and MG persuasions!
author: Ryan Graudin
audience: Young Adult
published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, November 4th, 2014
*note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for honest feedback from the publisher via Netgalley.
quick tags: #awesomesetting #activecharries
summary courtesy of Goodreads:
730. That's how many days I've been trapped.
18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.
DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....
JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....
MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....
In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.
This book is gritty and unforgiving. It sort of chases you along, and gives you the feeling that you should probably be looking over your shoulder more often when you cross a dark alley. If you can see where I'm going, the atmosphere was fantastic, and really added to the sense of tension.
The action is almost entirely confined to a city that is completely walled in and plagued by violent crime. It's so inhospitable as to make District 12 appear like a day at the zoo. Populated as it is by gangsters, brothels, street kids, rats, and drugs, it's a wonder that it is still standing.
The three POV characters each endure their own trials while chained to the Walled City--Mei Yee, the young beauty and elder sister, is captive to a sadistic and powerful drug lord. Younger sister Jin lives the dangerous life of a thief, hoping for so much as a glimpse of the sister she lost to the city's brothels. Troubled and guilt-struck Dai carries on as the looming, ticking clock brings his probable failure closer, and closer. There's no doubt that each of these characters are strong and active in this terrible landscape. Dai acts on his protective instincts, Mei Yee possess a steadfast bravery, and Jin innovative courage and fearlessness.
There weren't very many surprises for me within this book. Everything resolved in a way that felt somehow /right./ That being said, I was disappointed in the character of the head mob lord, but it didn't at any point pull me out of the story.
The Walled City is certainly for the reader who wants to read a story that has the speed of a bullet train. Readers who are after the adrenaline kick from The Hunger Games or Divergent will certainly enjoy this one. It certainly is refreshing to read a dystopian book that doesn't take place in the United States!
This book does contain certain elements that might not be suitable for younger readers--namely, the drugs, the brothels, and the violence.
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title: Blue Lily, Lily Blue
author: Maggie Stiefvater
genre: Fantasy (contemporary)
published: by Scholastic, October 2014
*note: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley from the publisher in exchange for honest feedback.
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There are times when I complain about there being too many series and trilogies circulating in the YA world. And then there are times when I dread mightily the end of a spectacularly good one that should take forever to end. I am pretty sure that once the Raven Cycle comes to an end, there will be thousands of fans wishing they were in fact Greywarens so that they could pull new installments straight from their dreams.
This is the series that, thirty years from now, will probably be remembered as a (then) contemporary version of The Dark is Rising sequence. Blue Lily, Lily Blue was even more beautiful to read than the previous installments. Instead of becoming frustrated by the myriad of characters and the assortment of perspective chapters, I was fascinated by each new addition and each new voice.
Other points to love:
Blue Lily picks up where Dream Thieves lets off, and once you climb into the Camaro, you don't get out of the Camaro until Maggie says so.
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average: perfect 5/5.
title: The Only Thing to Fear
author: Caroline T. Richmond
genre: speculative fiction / dystopian
published: by Scholastic Books, September 30th 2014
**note: I received a copy of this book via Netgalley from the publisher in exchange for honest feedback.
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summary courtesy of Goodreads: When city girl Liz is banished to a rural goat farm on the outskirts of Portland, the 15-year-old feels her life spiraling out of control. She can’t connect to her father or his young girlfriend, and past trauma adds to her sense of upheaval. The only person who seems to keep her sane is a troubled boy who is fighting his own demons. But all of this changes in one historical instant.
One-hundred fifty years earlier, Elisabeth of Bavaria has troubles of her own. Her childhood is coming to a crashing end, and her destiny is written in the form of a soothsaying locket that has the ability to predict true love. But evil is afoot in the form of a wicked enchantress who connives to wield the power of the locket for her own destructive ends.
When Liz finds a time-worn diary, and within it a locket, she discovers the secrets and desires of the young Bavarian princess who will one day grow up to be the legendary Empress of Austria.
It is in the pages of the diary that these two heroines will meet, and it is through their interwoven story that Liz will discover she has the power to rewrite history—including her own...
The Empress Chronicles seems unusual because it ties together a contemporary protagonist with one who lived her life many, many years ago. This isn’t a Dear America or Royal Diaries installment—this is a very interesting blend of “now” and history. I picked it up (not just because I am a fan of German history) but because the story of Sisi is an engrossing and tragic tale in its own right, and I was curious to see what sort of role Sisi would have in Liz’s life.
As for Liz herself, I found her engrossing immediately. I felt for her. I felt for her during her episodes, and I felt for her as she did her best to adjust to her new way of life. She made for a convincing protagonist.
I enjoyed the history and the pacing from the start. Lately after reading so many stories of fictional princesses, it was nice to curl up with this book and read an imagining of a “real” historical princess.
My enjoyment of the history and the protagonist helped me to get through the bumpy spots—I wasn’t entirely convinced by the introduction of magic in the book, and the ending really did make me frown and swipe, frustrated across my iPad screen. Is there going to be a sequel?
As potentially shallow as it may be, I wish the cover somehow incorporated Sisi more so than just the castle of Neuschwanstein— this one might be a hard sell to teens just based on the cover alone. That being said, this book was a really interesting incorporation of historical fiction into a modern narrative, and I would definitely pick up a sequel!
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audience: Middle Grade
author: Esther Ehrlich
published: by Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House Children's, September 9th 2014
*note: I received a digital review copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for honest feedback.
summary courtesy of Goodreads: For fans of Jennifer Holm (Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.
Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.
Nest is Esther Ehrlich’s stunning debut novel. Her lyrical writing is honest, humorous, and deeply affecting. Chirp and Joey will steal your heart. Long after you finish Nest, the spirit of Chirp and her loving family will stay with you.
title: The Fourteenth Goldfish
author: Jennifer Holm
audience/genre: Middle Grade / contemporary/spec. fiction
published: by Random House Children's August 26th, 2014
Goodreads. Amazon. Barnes and Noble.
*note: I received an eARC through Netgalley from the publisher in exchange for honest feedback.
summary courtesy of Goodreads:
Believe in the possible . . . with this brilliantly quirky, thought-provoking novel from New York Times bestseller, three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm
Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?
With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.
title: Tabula Rasa
author: Kristen Lippert-Martin
published by: Egmont USA, Sept. 23rd 2014
*I received a copy via Edelweiss/EgmontUSA in exchange for an honest review.
summary, courtesy of Goodreads:
"The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.
Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.
But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.
Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who's trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.
A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable."
I read this one in one go. The summary promised action, and it definitely delivered. I really admire Ms. Martin's ability to translate space and movement onto paper, because it really was very impressive. However, the characters and neatly nestled plot pieces prevented me from taking most of it seriously.
First, the plot. I am going to tread lightly around the spoilers, and just point out that at the beginning, it had me very intrigued. I mean, could you imagine that sort of medical technology? It's quite a concept. But then the familiar evil corporation explanation surfaced, and the characters weakened the execution to such a degree that the super cool concept became a background to a soap-opera-y (it's not a word, sorry) drama.
Onto the characters. Well, to start, the only protagonist that had much depth at all was Sarah. Her character comes across as immensely strong, though, and you pull for her all the way. At least until the sudden love between her and the other protagonist, Thomas, really snarls everything up. Thomas also has a tragic past that is very strange, to say the least. When he reveals his secret to Sarah, I couldn't help but think, with some glee, "hey, maybe this kid actually did something" but as it turns out,
his little rebellion caused his wild sister to lose control of her vehicle and die from the ensuing accident. So he's not actually very bad... Is h?. Not much struck me as being different about Thomas--he was more of a blank slate himself, onto which a reader could project most typical personalities for a young hacker. The secondary characters winked in and out of existence. They seemed to only serve to move the plot forward.
And the villain(s). Here lies the rub. The main baddie, a caricature of a woman named Evangeline Hodges, made little sense at all to me. She was outrageously over the top and so outrageously "bad" that I couldn't take her at all seriously. I was reminded vaguely of the His Dark Materials trilogy, as far as her character goes. I don't think "8-bit" the hacker was really much of a villain, but he didn't make much sense, either, and we don't actually get to meet any of the Claymores. Though this issue is entangled hopelessly with the plot, I couldn't help but feel everything tied up way too nicely. The "why I did it" villain speech at the end went on for far too long and made it feel as if way too much had been held back just for the sake of that one moment. I won't name spoilers, but it made me roll my eyes a few times.
What makes me so disappointed about this one was the lack of impact the super cool concept made on the entire story. I didn't want it to fade into the background. I would much rather read about that than basically the last half of the book. Or what about Sarah's fight against the housing development that resulted in her fame in the first place? I would snap that up in a heartbeat. Wasted opportunities make me so sad... And the action in this book was so good!
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average: 2.75 / 5
recommendation: for readers who want a lightning-fast read with a few twists mixed in.
Oliver and the Seawigs is a truly charming and enchanting read. The art is captivating, the story is lively and fun, and the conclusion satisfying. Can I time-travel back to when I was eight and read this again?
the plot: Ten year-old Oliver is happy his parents have finally decided to settle down from all their exploring in their ramshackle house on Deepwater Bay. But it isn't long before his parents spot the mysterious-looking islands that have appeared in sea and run off to explore. Oliver expects them back--but then their orange dinghy washes up without them, and there's only one thing left to do...
what I really enjoyed: The illustrations. They're so expressive but simple at the same time. The quirkiness of the story really reminded me of days hunting for books that would capture my imagination in the school library. There wasn't anything quite like this. Kids these days are so lucky--do they know?
what disappointed me: Nothing, actually. I felt like the blurbs I read delivered on the promise.
who I would recommend this book to: Young readers who like adventure stories (like the Magic Treehouse), and young readers who are hesitant to try tackling a chapter book.
*note: I received an e-copy of this book through Netgalley from Random House Children's in exchange for an honest review.
I have a soft spot for books featuring sisters.
It's true. I typically don't have many soft spots for anything at all besides dragons, but who doesn't, these days?
There's something solid and comforting about a good sister book. It reminds. It resonates.
There are so, so many YA books treating the experiences of romance and love, and that is all good and well. But the teenage years have their own challenges when it comes to familial relationships, too. Familiar things, things that have always been that way just because suddenly just aren't.
And that's why, I think, I felt so affected by this book.
Sisters Nell and Layla have grown up together with a bond so strong it is nearly physical, but freshman year for Nell is more different than she could have imagined. Layla has changed. And she's hiding something.
Nell's inner struggle and love for her sister really rang true. It was palpable. It was heartfelt. If you have ever loved somebody desperately enough that worry for them becomes part of yourself, then you will appreciate this book.
I would recommend this book especially to teen readers who are interested in heavier subjects and the contemporary sphere.
*note--I received an e-copy of this book through Netgalley from Random House Children's in exchange for honest feedback.
It's not as if I could possibly ignore it if I tried--the cover is simply beyond charming, which was more than likely the reason why I clicked on the Netgalley email months ago, without realizing that the ARC would expire within hours. But I have finally gotten my hands upon the book courtesy of the local library.
As the title implies, the story focuses on one Ophelia, a young girl driven by a curious yet scientific and observant mind. After losing her mother to recent tragedy, she, her older sister, and her father find themselves spending most of their days in an extraordinary museum, which houses amongst its numerous possessions, a strange boy locked away in a room.
Adventure, of course, ensues.
The story was witty and altogether delightful--there is a rewarding, modern fairy-tale feel to the story. I enjoyed the read, and I felt I would have loved it even more had I been perhaps ten years younger.
The plot and storyline are predictable, perhaps even so for the younger folk, but still imaginative enough to keep me reading until the end. I would recommend this book to younger readers who are looking for a light adventure story enhanced with magic reminiscent of classics like "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."
Highschooler Prenna doesn’t really belong in the United States. She is American, only she is actually from the relatively near and terrifying future ravaged by an unstoppable mosquito-borne plague. Prenna and her fellow time-travelers are tasked with colonizing the past, and must adhere to strict, but necessary rules as a result, or risk altering history itself.
Unfortunately after the first 100 pages, I grew to understand that I must have somehow fallen for a bait-and-switch. I have not read any of Ann Brashares’ other books, so I was not let down in that regard. In this case it was the story and plot that fell apart, and the flat characters sealed the coffin.
The idea of humans re-colonizing the past was intriguing. Just thinking about the politics surrounding that decision and the plot opportunities ignited my imagination, but nothing really ever came of my hopes. Nothing materialized to say "here is a plot twist or development that harkens back to the amazing summary!" I couldn't even fall in love with any of the characters. It seemed like most were strange, weak echoes of characters that could have been much more complex and real.
By the time I reached the 3/4 point in the book, I had already stopped trying to figure out if any of it made any real sense. Like, why was Prenna's mother so strangely distant from a daughter she should have been happy to have, and treasure, given her previous experiences? Why was she even in love with Ethan? How could all of these seemingly intelligent people from the near-future not suspect the technology and excuses made by their morally weak rulers?
It grew to be far, far too much. The climax wasn't exciting or fulfilling--neither was the ending, because I could not care less about the characters.
For most of the book I was aching for the author to push somehow deeper. It was as if she were exploring for herself just what she wanted this book to actually be about. It boiled down to something so simplified I almost didn't finish.
I'm a sucker for high-concept, though. Hence the two-star rating. This could have been phenomenal, and I really wanted it to be. Readers who want to ease into another form of speculative fiction aside from the popular dystopian reads might want to give this a try, and readers who also favor romance as a pivotal factor in a book would probably enjoy it more as well.
*note: I received an e-copy of this book from Random House Children’s/Netgalley in exchange for honest feedback.
*circumstances prevented me from finishing/posting my review of this book until now.*
Sasha Lawson can’t really imagine why Grant Davis would suddenly ask her to prom. And she certainly couldn’t imagine that in consequence, she becomes tangled in dangerous political game in a parallel universe.
In the Tandem-verse, universes co-exist, each with varying degrees of differences that arise from certain divergent events in reality. People repeat, too--and it just so happens that Sasha’s “analog” is the troubled princess Juliana. When she disappears before an arranged marriage, Sasha must play the part to keep the peace, and to return to her grandfather’s stately Victorian back in Chicago.
Sasha’s sudden assumption of this new life also ushers in a new contention--romance--because being an impostor at an alien royal court isn’t already hard enough. Thomas Mayhew seems an ally (and a good-looking ally at that), but who is it that Sasha can really trust?
There are many high-concept YA reads to choose from these days, but this particular concept? It’s clever, and it’s equally fun and terrifying to imagine. It’s a welcome change from the “sorting” and “choosing” strain of YA books that still touches on the themes of belonging and identity. The science-fiction component is fresh and still distinct from the “evil twin” variety of parallel universe plots.
It’s easy to sympathize with Sasha Lawson. She’s trapped in the identity of another person and has to deal with the enormous spotlight trained on her. Not to mention she also has to free herself from her the trappings of a political pawn. I found the politics and ramifications of the universes/analogs to be more compelling than the eventual romance between Thomas and Sasha. However this could merely be fatigue on my part of the inevitable inclusion of romance in practically every YA novel these days.
Tandem is an enjoyable read with a different take on the “princess” story, and a welcome break from the deluge of dystopian reads.
*note: I received an e-copy of this book from Random House Children's through Netgalley in exchange for honest feedback.
A young scrapper named Piper makes an extraordinary discovery during one of the deadly, but common meteor showers that fall near her village--a girl about her age who happens to be running from a strange man. The two find a means of escape upon a spectacular train bound in the right direction: far, far away.
Meteor showers that bring forgotten and far-away objects? Whole villages based off of this peculiar astronomical event? Cool. This is the kind of high-concept world I have been looking for. I flew through the opening.
Protagonist Piper is tough, no-nonsense, and inclined to stubbornness. She had to grow up fast without her father to look after her. Without that background, I would have questioned how mature she acts. The secondary protagonist, a girl named Anna who suffers from amnesia, is charming in her mannerisms and devotion to Piper. They bond over the course of the adventure; I felt that their relationship was one of the most satisfying parts of the book.
What disappointed me, however, was that the world-building almost seemed to cease once they boarded the armored train. Sure, we learn a few more little tidbits here and there, but where was the great description and talk of more meteor showers? Even the introduction of the secondary characters did not fully lessen the blow. They were supporting characters, sympathetic in their own sympathy for the plight of the two young travelers, but they did not stick out to me in any particular way. The sweetly innocent, and budding romance between the train's security chief and Piper came across as a little forced and unnecessary to the story--I groaned aloud. Why are so many teens and preteens being trusted with such important jobs? This isn't just a gripe with this particular book, but MG and YA as a whole. But enough about that.
Had there been an actual antagonist on board the train, there might have been more of a sense of urgency, but for me the action really dragged right until the end. The clues are there, of course, for the big reveal, but it was still a gratifying conclusion. There are so many series these days it's nice to see a fantasy/sci-fi book for younger readers that works as a standalone--I do not know if there are plans for a follow-up book, but at least the ending tied up the loose parts enough to leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction.
Even though the middle of this book really weighed down, I still enjoyed it. The Mark of the Dragonfly reminded me of all those books I hunted for in the library when I was twelve or thirteen--adventures with a hint of the fantastical that really drew me in. When I was thirteen I wasn't concerned with character development or plot movement. Heck no! I wanted magic and spaceships and dragons and sorcerers and more magic and did I say magic?
Meteor shower scrappers and hints of steampunk? Yes.
My thirteen-year-old self would have devoured this book and then been furious that there was no sequel yet written.
Ms. Johnson, please write another book in this 'verse--perhaps for the YA audience?
**note: I received an e-copy of this book from Netgalley/Random House Children's in exchange for honest feedback. **