Friday, March 30, 2012

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

So, I’ve been in a bit of a reading frenzy this week…I did have off from work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday because my kids at my school library have spring break! I do still have my bookstore and volunteer jobs this week, but I still had plenty of time for reading. Also, added bonus, the books I’ve been reading are just so good!
Good cannot even come close to describing Pandemonium. The only time I was able (aka: I forced myself) to stop reading yesterday was when I went to volunteer. And then when I came home, I took my dinner into my room and ate while reading. That’s how good this book is.
If you have not read Delirium yet, A) go do so right now, and B) you might need to stop reading this post because I will be talking about the end of book 1 in a few seconds.
Book 1 ended with Lena and Alex trying to escape. Alex pretty much sacrificed himself so Lena could get over the fence. And this all happened after Lena discovered that her mom wasn’t dead all these years; she was imprisoned. And oh yeah, she escaped.
You know how a lot of YA books now go back and forth between the guy and girl characters? This book goes back and forth between two time periods for Lena: the time immediately following her dramatic escape and the time where she has joined the resistance and has been captured. Neither time period is really pleasant and both are filled with an enormous sense of loss and grief not just for Alex, but for everyone Lena has left behind to achieve freedom.
Each chapter goes back and forth between these two times. And I liked this because it let me know she survived all the earlier hardships she has to endure (like starvation, frost bite, depression, finding other invalids, etc.). And then once she finds other people (or more like they find her), she comes to a point where she really has to decide if she is capable of surviving while being so depressed, because surviving outside the loveless cities is hard; there’s no technology, no good medicine, no furniture, no non-physical jobs, etc. We meet a group of other survivors who all have their own stories about escape. And probably my favorite character is Raven. I like that not everyone deals with hardship in the same way. And I feel like there is just enough hatred in these survivors for the cities they once lived in.
The future Lena is kidnapped after being told to keep an eye on Julian, the son of the head of a political movement in NY that is all about getting rid of deliria at an earlier age no matter what the risks. Forced to survive in a small room with someone who truly believes in the evil of love might just be the hardest thing Lena has ever done. Except, Lena is just so smart and resourceful and living in the wilds has taught her so much about survival. She soon befriends Julian and they share the stories of their lives (the good stories, the ones that involve love). And while outsmarting her captors, killing people, finding a deformed society living in the old subway tunnels, and holding strong to her cause, Lena slowly learns to deal with her grief about Alex, and learns to be capable of loving someone else.
This book never had a dull moment. Lena passes out from hunger. She watches children die. She camps out with others living in the wilderness and goes on long journeys to safe houses. She’s never safe. She gets bombed at in both time periods. She gets captured. She learns about secret messages from sympathizers. She learns to keep moving always and not waste the life Alex so generously let her live. There’s fighting, death, escape scenes, underground tunnels, entire societies of survivors and people who disagree with the cure, there’s information about Lena’s mother, friendship, politics, love, and I really can’t say this book was missing anything.
The one and only negative thing I can say is that (like with the first one), I found a lot of the major actions/plot twists very predictable. Even the end (which I won’t spoil) and involved a humongous twist, was an ending I was expecting. However, since Oliver is such a master at writing, it didn’t really matter to me how much I predicted. I was still so mad at some moments, still so emotionally attached to certain characters, and still biting my fingernails at the end wanting Lena so badly to win.
I remember comparing book 1 to Westerfeld’s and Condie’s dystopias. And while I can still make that comparison with book 2, this one definitely branched out in its own direction and was able to make its own voice heard.  I loved the writing style (with the two times). I loved the nonstop action. I loved that Lena’s grief was so real and not too whiny, and not too overdone. I mean the girl was always almost about die; she didn’t necessarily have a lot of time to whine. I loved her relationship with Julian and how much she could teach him. The politics were fascinating! And really, I was just so impressed here. Oliver has become an author to keep your eye on. I know she will only give us only more amazing books in the future.  And she has become a master of cliffhangers! I need book 3 like right now! This gets a 10/10.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Good Week in Books (3)

So, I have had a pretty good week in books again. I won a giveaway on my friend Christina’s blog for two books! I bought two books. I got an ARC at work again. And I received a fantastic haul from Net Galley, and I’m super excited for all the new ones I just requested (including a new Juliet Marillier YA book and the first YA title by Philippa Gregory(!). But, this is what I got this week:

Shadow of Night
by Deborah Harkness (an actual adult book! I’m so excited for this!)
by Gina Linko
The Immortal Rules
by Julie Kagawa
Dark Kiss
by Michelle Rowen
by Sarah Rees Brennan

I bought these two beauties this week:

by Jana Oliver
Uglies: Shay’s Story by Scott Westerfeld and Devin Grayson and illustrated by Steven Cummings

*I’m not normally the biggest fan of when stories get retold in graphic novel format. But A) this is Westerfeld and if I see his name on anything, at this point, I will buy it! And B) It’s a new story from Shay’s perspective and this sounds so good!

My awesome Barnes and Noble Community Relations Manager held on to this ARC for me. She actually got to meet this author! And I’m hoping to one day meet her too.
by Cat Patrick

And these are the two I won from Christina’s blog:
The Mockingbirds
by Daisy Whitney
Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins

I have had a ball reading this series! I’m not sure if this is meant to be the last book in this series or not. It did have a bit of a finality to it. I would continue to keep reading them if the author so chooses to write more. No question about that!
I set some strict guidelines for myself about reading all my galleys in time. And I’ve already broken my own rules. It’s just that so many awesome books just came out and are going to come out for the next couple of months that I have no idea how I can keep up with my Net Galley deadlines.
But, to the book (beware of spoilers from the first two in the series)! Book two ended with Sophie escaping a burning down Hex Hall for the enemy territory that her mother was said to be at.  When Sophie reunites with her mother in this book, she realizes some very important things. 1) What she thought was a quick magical transport to her mother actually involved her being stuck in limbo for a couple of weeks without knowing it. 2) she has no idea if her father, her vampire best friend, her boyfriend, or her betrothed are safe because they did not all manage to escape together. 3) Her father’s interesting demony past only makes up for half of Sophie’s strange heritage; her mother has an interesting back story too, one that involves hunting demons and prodigim (aka: vampires, shapeshifters, fairies, and witches). And 4) She still most definitely has no use of her awesome demon magic powers; however, she can now use magic when her ex-enemy’s ghost inhabits her body and uses her own powers…
We get to meet cousins/family members on the human/demon-hunting side of the family, and I found them fascinating! They’re a group of strong women who have been training their whole lives to protect people from evil.  How awesome is that? Eventually, we learn that the bad guys from the earlier books have been exaggerating a lot in effort to make their cause seem better. And when Sophie and all her friends are magically forced back to Hex Hall as part of a seriously evil demon experiment where kids are forced into becoming soldier demons, it soon becomes clear that it’s up to Sophie to save the day.
This book has everything! Love triangles, talking mirrors, warrior women, ghosts, family drama, torture, magic, kids who need to be saved, journeys into hell (literally –and this was so cool!), and some serious decision making for Sophie! There’s also an interesting prophecy, some juicy romance, some sacrifice, wonderful friendship moments, and just frankly, all sorts of awesome!
I’m pretty sure I’ve said this about the first two books already, but my absolute favorite thing about all this awesomeness is Sophie! She’s just so funny and brave and one of my favorite YA heroines! The dialogue between the friends, the relationships between all the characters, and everyone’s eventual combined goal (to save all the kids from turning into scary, magical demon monster soldiers) was just plain amazing.
The kids go into hell at one point to maintain demonglass for the upcoming battle. And I just had to share this bit of dialogue that actually made me laugh out loud while reading:

“So…is this it?” Jenna asked. “Are we in the Underworld? Because to be honest, I thought it would be hotter.”
            I looked around in the gloom. “I…don’t know,” I finally said. “Anyone see a sign that says, Underworld This Way? Preferably with an arrow?”
(pg 272).
I just love Sophie and Archer’s sense of humor and overall relationship. I also love the best friend: Jenna. Though, I was hoping she’d have more happier relationship times with her girlfriend than she got. Yes, she’s a somewhat of an outcast vampire (obsessed with the color pink), and also she’s dating a girl. And without her, a lot of important decisions would never be made! I also loved the whole ghost taking over Sophie’s body thing. The fact that the girl used to date Sophie’s boyfriend made the love triangle thing even more complicated, and it was just so much fun to read!
I give this one a 10/10. And I do hope that Hawkins continues to write more, if not in this series, than at least with a new one.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Slide by Jill Hathaway

Thank you Net Galley and HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray) for this galley! I devoured this one so fast! It comes out tomorrow and I’m thinking I might need to go buy it. What this book does so well is mix together the tough stuff teen literature sometimes focuses on and the supernatural, my favorite stuff teen literature focuses on!
The whole school knows Sylvia (aka: Vee) is epileptic, and people seem to almost be used to Vee’s episodes. But what no one knows is that Vee isn’t really epileptic; what she actually does during her episodes is “slide” into other people. And she learns a lot about people she would rather not know.
She learns a secret her dad has been keeping for years. She learns why her best friend never invites her to his house. She learns about the affair of a teacher. She learns that people cheat, plot, murder, rape, and so much more. And the worst thing is she’s there in people’s bodies while they are doing these terrible things and she has no way of controlling any of it. She can prevent herself from touching objects that are important to people. When she touches a glove or a T-shirt that belongs to someone, she can slide.
Vee lives with her younger sister, Mattie, and her father. Their mother died from cancer not too long ago. And a nice chunk of the book deals with how families can grow (and not grow) from loss. Another big part of this book deals with bullying the extent to which teens go to get what they think is theirs. Because Vee and her ex-best friend liked the same boy, Vee was ostracized, made fun of, and almost raped. And while a huge part of me hated Vee for not telling anyone about being almost raped or about any of it, another part of me understands her reluctance to share anything. I mean she told her father about her “sliding” and he sent her to a therapist who made up stuff about her dealing with her mom. If anything, I learned the worst thing you can do is tell someone who is suffering that what they are suffering isn’t real and that in fact they are crazy! Because, now Vee doesn’t tell people anything, not even her best friend. She just can’t deal with any more people (or therapists) telling her she’s wrong.
The best friend, Rollins, is obviously in love with her. And then there’s the new boy Zane, creating a love triangle! Oh, and it doesn’t help that Mattie hangs out with all the people Vee used to hang out with, including the guy who wanted to rape her and the friend who was going to let it happen. Rollins and Vee became friends the moment he rescued her unconscious body from Scotch’s (that’s the guy’s very promising nickname) unwanted hands.
But, the book really takes off when Vee slides into the body of a murderer, someone who just killed a friend of Mattie’s and made it look like suicide. And unfortunately, more teens are killed as well. And poor Vee and Mattie have already dealt with so much loss. It’s up to Vee to figure out who’s killing these girls because she’s the only one who doesn’t believe they’re all killing themselves. She just can’t tell anyone how she knows this.
Vee slowly learns how to take more control of her abilities. And she does start to share a little bit more with people like her sister. Unfortunately, before the book ends, there’s more death that the sisters have to deal with. There’s a lot of family drama, some romance, a crazy story of revenge, mystery, death, and a bit of a supernatural element.  I think my favorite thing about the book is how I was able to watch Vee slowly grow and come to terms with her loss. I loved watching her learn about her sliding. And I loved how much she cared for her sister. But, most of all I loved how she was finally able to talk with someone at then end, and to let someone in, because as the story progresses it becomes painfully clear that every character has someone they can rely (except for Vee).
I feel like the ending was rushed a little bit. But, I definitely think it was believable. I did find myself wishing that Vee would have shared a little bit more with more people. And I definitely want a certain guy to get in trouble for something, anything, but that never happens. Though, I guess Vee has will get there eventually. Baby steps. Also, Vee seemed to have a bit of a caffeine pill/drug problem. The girl was popping them like candy because they were the only things capable of keeping her awake longer and preventing her from sliding as easily. But, still, I feel like this wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, like it’s not a problem that a teen is self medicating, and most certainly overdosing on caffeine pills.
This book moves so fast! I picked up on the clues a little faster than Vee did, but this didn’t bother me too much. I really did end up loving this. I give it a 9/10.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

I picked this one up a long time ago, in a favorite Chicago bookstore of mine.  I tend not to read as many younger young adult books as I used to. But as soon as I saw what this book was about (my favorite exhibit in Chicago’s Art Institute –The Thorne Rooms), there was no way I could not purchase this.
The book has sort of been lost in my To-Read piles for some time. But, I have a manager at my bookstore who could not stop talking about this book when its sequel just came out (in January). He reminded me of how awesome the concept of this story was. So, now of course I need to go buy the sequel…
My favorite museum is The Art Institute in Chicago. I’ve been to all the science and art museums of NYC, D.C., and even London. But, my museum here in Chicago just has all of these memories for me. I used to go there with this summer Creative Writing program I took when I was 14. I had my favorite benches where I’d love to sit and write poetry in my journals. I have paintings I always have to go back to, each time I’m around the French Impressionists. And most of all, I remember the Thorne Rooms. I can direct anyone who asks how to get to them the quickest way possible. I also think I knew of each room Ruthie described; I could picture them because I have been to them so many times. And like Ruthie, I even had a book at one point that described to me in detail the story behind each room.
To learn that someone wrote about children who could shrink to pocket-size and travel the rooms I used to imagine playing in, just made me ecstatic! And frankly I have no idea why it took me so long pick this book up because not only was the concept amazing, but the story, the characters, and the magic were all amazing too!
It’s about Ruthie and Jack, two very real main characters. They go to the Art Institute on a school field trip and they fall in love with the Thorne Rooms (sixty-eight minature rooms styled to look like the rooms of specific time periods). The details of the rooms go as far as having actual miniature paintings of the time period done. Each piece of silverware in the kitchen rooms and each lighting fixtures in the bedrooms are all perfectly researched to fit with the time periods they belong in.
Jack is good at talking people into doing things and he’s also good at finding things. So with a little convincing of a security guard, he’s allowed to go into the area behind the miniature rooms, and see what the rooms look like from a different angle. And in the process, he finds a very important key. When he shows Ruthie the key, and she touches it, Ruthie feels warmth emanating from it and she shrinks down in size.
Jack and Ruthie are able to do what pretty much every person who ever sees the Thorne Rooms wishes they could do; travel among the rooms. Ruthie is more scientific than Jack and with her sort of logical way of thinking, they research the key and experiment with all that it does. They also find out all they can about the museum, so that they can spend extra time there. They make it so they can even spend the night in the rooms.
But, it turns out the rooms are so much more than mini pieces of history. The rooms actually lead out into history. The children leave the room that just predates the French Revolution and step into France and talk with people from that time period; they even make friends with a girl who manages to leave France for London before the revolution can begin because of their warning.
They meet children outside Salem Massachusetts around the time of the Salem witch trials. And they slowly put together the clues left behind by Mrs. Throne and even Christina of Milan. The book is loaded with history, magic, mystery, and even a little suspense. The children deal with things all shrinking children in books past have to deal with (like giant insects), yet also there’s so many new things like figuring out how to get down from one display and into another in a center island. There’s some amazing problem solving, some very quick thinking, great costumes, and of course all the normal stuff too like family money problems and sisters who take too long in the bathroom.
I just wish the book was bigger! I want to see more rooms, more history, more magic! I want the magic key the kids have, too! And really, I stopped reading this, and it felt like I was reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again for the first time. It has that wonderful children’s magical world thing going for it and I don’t even feel comparing it to Narnia is that big of a leap. I give it a 10/10, and I’m so buying the sequel!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink

Michelle Zink continues to impress me! I loved her Prophecy of the Sisters series. I remember thinking while reading those books just how surprisingly good they were. And I felt that way again with this one. It starts with immediate action. And it combines so many things I love (romance of the triangle variety, history, the paranormal, mystery, corsets, a strong female lead, magical methods of transportation, secrets, and a little bit of made up mythology! What’s not to like? Thank you Penguin Young Readers and Net Galley for letting me read this! Though, just so everyone knows, it did come out go read it!
It begins with Helen’s mother telling her to hide in a hidden compartment in her room that she never knew existed. Helen has to hide quietly in the dark while her parents are murdered and then her whole house is burned down. She follows her mother’s directions that lead her to a not-so-safe neighborhood in London where two brothers live who will supposedly help her. Helen is never really given much time to grieve. Because as soon as she meets the two brothers, she learns about what she is: a descendant of angels sworn to protect the world.
The only problem is that all of the people like Helen (chosen to protect) have been murdered before they’ve even realized their positions. And the night Helen’s parents were killed was the night Helen was supposed to be killed as well. And it seems like the only three people left to help protect the world and its past, present and future is Helen, Griffin (the brother she slowly falls in love with), and the grumpy, demanding brother Darius.
The three (with the help of some friends) go out to find who’s been killing everyone. And a major theme is revenge or even attaining justice for the deaths of their parents. Helen learns to fight, to use deadly weapons, to travel by lamplight, to fight for what she wants, and most of all to follow her heart. It soon becomes clear that Helen’s favorite childhood friend (Raum) is involved with all of the murders and despite all the wrongs he has committed, Helen can’t help but feel drawn to him. And while I absolutely loved Griffin, I don’t think I would have been able to hold back as well as Helen did with Raum.
The book is full of action! Fights with magical creatures that also travel by lamplight reminded me a lot of the creatures you find in Cassandra Clare’s books. And I loved how innovative Helen was, creating presentable/suitable women’s clothes that she could also kick some serious butt in. Helen was a fantastic main character! I love how quickly she adapted to the role she was meant to play. For once, there was a YA main character who didn’t whine about how awful the world was and how awful it would be to have such responsibility and such power. Helen embraced it! And I loved her for it. She was not afraid to stand up to Darius and she refused to be left behind.
I loved the boys and how passionately each of them (including the grumpy one) loved. The romance in this book was fantastic! The brothers were amazing too. I loved their relationship, and how much they embraced their roles as well.  The angel protectorate and the crazy inventions and weapons made it so much fun too! Really, there isn’t much I can say against this one. It can definitely stand alone because Zink wasn’t afraid to have her characters make fully thought out decisions. The story does have a resolution, a final battle, and a final sounding romantic decision. But, I would so not complain if there were a sequel in the works. I loved this one and give it a 10/10!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

I’m not going to lie; the thing that drew me to this book, and the thing that drew me into purchasing this book, was definitely it’s gorgeous cover. It can be an album cover, really. The way it’s focused on the couple kissing and having the rest of the world just go by in a blur. It’s gorgeous.
And the book, itself, was just adorable! It’s a coming of age story at its finest. Hadley is flying out of the country for the first time to her father’s wedding. Hadley’s dad went to Oxford, England to teach a class for a few months, due to the persuading of Hadley and her mom. Yet, while in England, her dad falls in love with someone else.
Hadley meets Oliver at the airport when an old lady refuses to watch her bag for a moment. Oliver offers to help carry her bags to wherever she’s going. They quickly become friends. Oliver is also flying to England, for what Hadley assumes to also be a wedding. Without too much persuasion, the two end up sitting together on the long flight overseas. And that’s where we really get Hadley’s story. She tells Oliver about her dad. And in turn, Oliver tells her about his (a little bit).
The two have a somewhat dramatic, yet necessary goodbye at Customs in London. And while suffering through the wedding, Hadley hears that some guests of her father’s are going to a funeral in Paddington (where Oliver said he was going) before making it back to the reception. Hadley then realizes that Oliver wasn’t going home to a wedding, but instead most likely to his father’s funeral. And she goes on and adventure to Paddington to find him.
The book deals with the connections random strangers can make. It’s about healing and grief. And it’s about growing up and realizing that life isn’t fair. But, it’s also about realizing that life can be remarkable and that love is possible. There’s a lot about family, and how divorce affects everyone involved. And I loved how Hadley and Oliver were able to confide in each other and find each other when they were needed the most.
I felt like Hadley was so angry, yet so likeable. She was real. All of her frustrations toward her father just felt so authentically how any girl could feel about her dad. And while the gorgeous cover promises a romance, I love that the book was more about growing up and acceptance and family. And I loved the romance too and how it grew from a sort of frienship/comeraderie that while very short lived (lasting one plane ride) ended up being so powerful.
I really enjoyed reading this one. It did have a very predictable ending. And it did feel a bit like a teen romantic comedy movie that I may have seen in the past. Yet, it worked so well! I just wish I got to know Oliver more. And I also wish to be able to sit next to Oliver the next time I fly... I give it a 9/10. And I highly recommend this one to fans of Sarah Dessen!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fever by Lauren DeStefano

So, I may have gotten this book the day it came out. And I may have gone to work that day and shrieked (quietly) to finally see this one and just how pretty it looked. It was my plan to read this one and another dystopia sequel I picked up after I had finished all of my galleys that came out in March, but so many books come out in March! So, I allowed myself a little break from galleys for this one and another one I’m doing a book club discussion on tonight at my volunteer library.
I’m so glad I broke my rules and read this one! I read it in one sunny afternoon yesterday. I took it outside to the 80 degree March weather Chicago has been having, and sat by the lake for one fantastic sequel! Be warned that I am about to spoil some things if you have not read book one (which was one of my top ten books from 2011).
It begins immediately after book one finished. Rhine and Gabriel just emerge from the water they used to escape the mansion and are almost immediately bombarded with more depression and harsh circumstances. They get captured outside this sort of red light district carnival. Rhines’ looks (or more importantly her eyes) save her again from immediate danger. The madame in charge of the circus explains that she sells love and the illusion of love, and needs Rhine to be part of that illusion. She dresses her and Gabriel up to put on a “show” of sorts for an audience.
Rhine is the only girl in the carnival that isn’t making money for the madame by having sex. She is almost sold to one wealthy client, but then things get really crazy. Madame almost kills a well loved (yet deformed) child, Maddie. And Rhine and Gabriel are finally capable of making an escape (Maddie in tow).  They make their way to New York, both recovering from what happened at the carnival. Gabriel had be been forcefully medicated a drug that he is now having withdrawal symptoms for. And Rhine is losing a lot of the determination she had in book 1 as she discovers just how bad the world is everywhere when you are a woman.
The three find Rhine’s old destroyed house. They find some clues they need to put together. And end up finding Maddie’s grandmother by following an address they have in a picture book that Maddie carries. Rhine and Gabriel’s relationship grows. Yet, it’s also clear she kind of misses her jerky husband. Her father-in-law, the creepy bad guy from book one who kills babies, experiments on women, and lies to his son is on the search for Rhine and always seems to know where she is. And Rhine slowly becomes sicker and sicker, even though it’s not time for her die to quite yet. (Women live to 20 and men to 25).
There’s drugs, prostitution, captures, escapes, journeys, reunions, good people, bad people, a general lack of hope, experiments, forced medication, forced experiments and surgeries, love, and hate. Only thing scarier than a sex circus is probably being kidnapped and then experimented on (painfully) against your will. At first, I didn’t think I would enjoy this book as much as the first one. The book description makes it sound like the whole book takes place at the carnival, when in actuality about 1/3 of it takes place there. And the carnival scenes were definitely terrifying. I kept dreading what would happen to Rhine there. But, my favorite parts of the book all took place later.
I loved learning about Maddie’s family. I loved the new characters. I loved the romance with Gabriel and how so much of it was stemming from this intense friendship. I loved Maddie, and felt so bad for her mother. I think these books are so good because nothing is easy and this makes it so much more real. Rhine’s brother wasn’t sitting at home waiting for her to come back. She has to go look for him and work hard for everything she wants. And with each obstacle, Rhine continues to do what she thinks she needs to, helping as many girls along the way as she can.
I was really impressed that this book continued to draw me in as much as it did. Rhine was definitely less hopeful in this one and I guess this makes sense, though it was so hard to see her so broken. It reminded me somewhat of the Post Traumatic Stress version of Katniss in Mockingjay. It also didn’t help that Rhine was drugged for what seemed like most of the book. She was surrounded by fumes and drugs at the circus. And then later she was drugged by her father-in-law. And when she wasn’t drugged, she was sick. She really had no luck in this novel. Yet, despite all the unconsciousness and lack of full mental capabilities, Rhine continued to be a character I couldn’t help but want to succeed.
Like all dystopia sequels, there is a bit of a cliffhanger ending. And I know book three is promising to have a lot more politics, violence, and discoveries in respect to the disease that everyone has. I can’t wait for it! I loved this one (even though it was a bit slower than the first one). I highly recommend this series to fans of dystopia. They can be a little intense though (more intense than others), so don’t jump into it lightly. I give it a 10/10.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Starters by Lissa Price

I got this book on Net Galley courtesy of Random House Children’s Books. I also got the ARC at Barnes and Noble. I actually did an ARC swap with an employee. She hadn’t read Partials yet, and I hadn’t read this one, so we traded! It just came out yesterday, and it’s definitely a book I’m considering purchasing and owning a finished, final copy of. It was just that good!
It wasn’t too easy from the brief description on the ARC or galley to gather what the book was actually about. Also, there’s a lot of talk about people liking the cover, but I kind of hate the cover and might not have picked this one up if I didn’t get an advanced copy of it. The cover is too middle grade; kind of Animorphs/Goosebumps looking, and I can totally see how it would turn some teens away. I mean I get the cover; I really do. There’s a reason the girl is so white and her hair is so white and her eyes are two colors. I just wish it came off as a little older.
But, I’m so glad I got to read this one! The story is fantastic! Though, I did have some original reservations about the story as well. Once I understood what the layout of the world was and how Prime Destinations worked, I kept thinking, “This better not just be a copy cat version of Joss Whedon’s show, Dollhouse. And I’m proud to say that after finishing it, this book, while very similar to Dollhouse, definitely is its own story!
It’s a dystopia and takes place in a future that occurs after a serious war and serious spread of a virus. The virus ends up killing all those who were not vaccinated early enough. All the children and elderly are fine, but all the adults and those off fighting in the war are now gone. There’s a huge age gap between the enders (the elderly) and the starters (the youth). Plus, it doesn’t help that the enders can live to into their 200’s due to the future medical technology that exists in this world. Eventually, the ender government comes and takes all the homes that no longer have adults living in them. Children are taken by the truckload to government facilities that work more like prisons because they have no legal rights till the age of 19.
The book begins with Callie walking into Prime Destinations, a company she heard that helps minors. In Callie’s world children are not allowed to work. And to take care of her sick little brother, she fights, steals, and takes whatever food she can. She learns that Prime Destinations is a company that rents out teens’ bodies to enders. Enders can rent a body for a period of time to play sports and do things they haven’t been able to do since they were young. All Callie has to do is rent her body out three times, and then she will get enough money to boy her brother a house.
She thinks about it, but then decides she has to do it. And everything goes smoothly until the third person to rent her body alters Callie’s brain chip. Callie goes in and out of consciousness, swapping brain time with the old lady, Helena, who’s renting her body. She’d go back to Prime Destinations to get fixed (to make sure she gets her final payment), but a voice in her head, Helena’s voice, says never to go back there.
Soon Callie learns that Helena is a murderer and wants to use her body to murder a senator! She learns that Prime Destinations is way worse than she could ever have imagined. Between the kidnappings, the disappearing teens, the promise of a complete beautifying surgery that really appeals to image obsessed kids, the kids and teens fighting to stay alive and dying of hunger and lack of running water, this book has it’s intense moments.
But, my favorite moments involve Callie figuring things out and putting together the pieces that Helena left behind. There’s a lot written about the differences in age, class, and power. There’s voices, car chases, prison escapes, guns, assassination attempts, love triangles, and so many twists and turns that I read it all in one day. This book had the first ending in a very long time to actually shock me! I won’t say what happens, but just know that it so good.
I loved how clever and desperate Callie was. And I especially love that she is the way she is because of how much she wants to care for her little brother. I love the boys in the book. And I love the friends Callie makes (the old people inside young people’s bodies). And most of all I love the positive effects Helena had on Callie, and how much she got the girl to stick up for herself and fight for what she knew was right. This story was remarkable. The characters were fantastic! I’m dying for book two (which is supposed to come out at the end of the year). I highly recommend this one to fans of Dollhouse, and the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. It gets a 10/10.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser

What an intense book! I got this one on Net Galley, courtesy of Flux. I wasn’t expecting a fluffy book, but I certainly wasn’t expecting this! I thought it would have more to do with teens vacationing for the summer and less to do with abusive relationships and rape.
I give this writer a lot of points for not sugarcoating anything. She doesn’t fast-forward the hard parts. And in some respects this made it take longer for me. It’s hard reading about abuse and rape. I had to force myself to keep reading it at times just because it was so hard for me to read about. But, I’m glad I kept reading because Gelbwasser is a wonderful writer. The ending tied some things up so nicely. And while the book (and the end) could have been a lot happier, it was also beautiful.
Any way, it’s about four teens: Katie and Julie (sisters) and Alex and Kyle (brothers). Katie and Julie are brought up by a controlling, image-obsessed mother and a very submissive father. And Alex and Kyle are brought up by a single mother (who works for the most part as a stripper). Their father killed himself when they were young. They all come together every summer in a lake house community in upstate New York.
The books begins and I feel so bad for Julie, the sister who is completely outshined. Her mother only tells her negative things. And you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Katie, the pretty one, seems to have it all. That is until she gets wasted at a party, and then raped by her boyfriend and his best friend. It was hard to like Katie to start with because of how perfect she was. And then it was even harder for me to like her because of the stupid decisions she made, and her inability to stand up for herself. But as the stories of the sisters progress, I came to feel nothing by empathy for Katie, despite her continuation of bad decisions. And the not as pretty Julie gets worse and worse. She refuses to understand why Katie keeps sinking deeper and deeper, and actually believes that her sister deserves to have a sex tape out there for the world to see…
Katie’s summer boyfriend, Alex, is the perfect boyfriend the summer after Katie is raped. But when he actually learns what happened he becomes the terrible guy you would expect from a stripper mother and a series of abusive boyfriends. He sort of put Katie up on this pedestal as being the one girl who was not a slut. So, when he learns about what happened, he comes to think that all women are just like his mom.  Kyle and Julie have a fleeting romance that dwindles around the same time that Julie becomes awful. He really feels bad for Katie, and ends up being her one true friend (besides her father). And you learn something that really explains it all about Kyle at the very end.
I repeat, this book is intense. There’s sex, rape, abuse, sex tapes, rumors, bullying, student/teacher relations and so much more. It’s about image. It’s about how a woman can be a rape victim yet, still end up being the bad guy. It’s about surviving the toughest of situations. And it’s about growing up when nothing is easy and the way you look is more important than the way you think or want to be.
All of the characters are flawed, and this just makes them more real. I like how the author played with perspective and I loved getting their individual points of view. I loved how Kyle’s point of you was in second person. I hated the girls’ mother so much sometimes that I kept hoping for something in the plot that would destroy her. And even though I hated Alex, I could still somewhat understand him. Nothing in this book was easy. So it makes sense that it wouldn’t be easy to love or hate any of the characters. If anything this book shows that nothing is black and white (except maybe the evil mom). And while Julie becomes the sister from hell, I still want her to end up okay so I can’t hate her completely.
I wish I had a little bit more warning about what I was getting into before I read this, but then I’m not sure I would have picked it up so quickly. And I really am glad I read this. It was well put together. If anything, maybe it will help prevent future incidents from happening. I give it a 9/10.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Katana by Cole Gibsen

I got this one on Net Galley courtesy of Flux Books. And it actually comes out today! I really loved this one! I’m not going to lie; it was cheesy, predictable, full of cliché story arcs, and layered with terrible dialogue. However, aren’t all Samurai movies rather on the cheesy side?
The book’s description calls it, “Kill Bill meets Buffy,” and frankly I don’t know if it could have said anything else to make me want to read it more. And like with Kill Bill and Buffy, I couldn’t stop until I finished the whole thing.
It’s about Rileigh. She and her best friend Q witness a mugging outside the mall one night, and somehow because of Rileigh the muggers get away with nothing. She ends up in the hospital with doctors letting her know it was adrenaline that helped her fight off the attack, but really it’s clear immediately that there’s a lot more going on than adrenaline. For starters, she’s having dreams about Samurai warriors that take place hundreds of years ago. She also hears a voice that tells her how to fight, warns her of danger, and seems to take over her body when violence ever happens. And how cool would it be to just all of a sudden have the power, strength, and knowhow to fight off bad people?
Apparently Rileigh’s fight was broadcast on the news, and she starts getting both a lot of positive and negative attention. The positive attention comes from Kim a Martial Arts instructor who tries (for a good portion of the book) to convince Rileigh that she is a reincarnated version of the warrior Senshi, his soulmate. Rileigh unfortunately is more interested in a boy she’s been crushing on for months at her high school, but she does eventually get talked into learning about her warrior past. How long can anyone pretend that dreams, voices, super powers that involve wind, and kick butt fighting skills are just adrenaline? The bad attention she receives is from cryptic, creepy letters and several more attacks, where she always comes out unscathed.
To make sure it’s not adrenaline, there’s this one scene where Rileigh goes into a biker bar to test her theory. It was probably my least favorite scene in the whole book. Mostly, it’s just dumb. But, also I feel like it’s totally disrespectful to bikers. It says you can go to any biker bar and will have no problem having a fight. There’s a terrifying moment when she can’t get her keys in the ignition and she’s surrounded by angry biker girlfriends destroying her car, and I almost just stopped reading from being so insulted by the whole thing. Not, that I’m a huge fan of bikers, but really it just made them all look so terrible, especially the women.
Any way, to fully get all her Samurai memories back Rileigh has to touch something that belonged to her former self. And this would help if Senshi’s sword didn’t keep getting stolen. There’s a lot of fight scenes, memories of a past life that involved some serious betrayal and decapitated heads, love triangles, a wonderful gay best friend who stands behind Rileigh no matter what, kidnapping, evil power struggles, and then all the typical teen stuff like summer jobs and girl rivalries.
The book is about Rileigh coming to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. She’s not my favorite main character. Mostly because she kept making really bad decisions and she didn’t realize things till way too late. But, I did come to really like her by the end. I just wish that it didn’t have to take her so long to get to where she did. Because finally when she’s become a stronger more likeable character, the book ends. I’m hoping there will be a sequel because I would love to see her mastering her skills and seriously getting some bad guys.
I predicted almost all aspects of the ending. But, I still wanted to get to that ending any way. Sometimes predictable can be good, and in this case it was.
The biggest thing that bothered me though was the dialogue. The author was trying a little too hard to make Rileigh sound young. I get that she’s snarky and sarcastic, but her sarcasm was kind of terrible. It was a lot of catchy one-liners like from the first season of Buffy and not enough wit and intelligence. I liked that Rileigh talked back to her attackers and never stopped fighting for her life, but no one really talks that way. Again, this adds to the Samurai feel, but…it just felt like the author was focusing too much on how a young person should sound and not just naturally writing Raileigh down or focusing on how a Samurai should sound.
Regardless of the predictability and dialogue, I loved this book. It’s just what I needed to read outside with me on some beautiful Chicago days. And I give it a 8/10.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

I got this ARC at work, courtesy of sourcebooks. And it has such a gorgeous cover! The cover clearly makes it an angel book, and I sort of told myself I’d stop doing the cheesy angel YA books, but I couldn’t help myself with this one. It was free and just so pretty! Plus, it’s a debut and I can finally start adding more books to my challenge.
I did have a lot of fun reading this one. It was a little cheesy, a little “done before,” and certainly a little predictable. But, oh did it have some fantastic romance! It’s about a girl named Violet, who grows up with her dad because her mom died in childbirth. Her dad is a workaholic, and Violet is an artist, spending most of her free time in her art studio.
Violet has a bit of troubling past that involves a teacher cornering her in a classroom, and almost raping her. Another teacher came in just in time, but not in time to prevent all the sad mental after effects. Violet has as strong inner voice that prevents her from running away from problems. She works hard to not to stand out too much and she is so hard on herself about being weak. She signs up for a self-defense class and meets Lincoln. She and Lincoln have a long lasting friendship. And it’s clear from the beginning that they are both in love with each other. However, it’s understandable for why Violet doesn’t push a relationship, but it’s not so clear why Lincoln doesn’t do anything.
On her 17th birthday, Violet’s dad gives her a box that her mother wanted her to have on this day. She gets her baby charm, a letter, and a poem that refers to good and evil. Violet also starts getting weird marks on her arms that she hides. And she starts sensing some weird things. Soon, she realizes that Lincoln has been lying to her and that actually she’s part angel and he’s her angel partner. If a baby’s mother dies soon after her child is born, the child will grow up to be part angel. Though, apparently angel partners are not allowed to be romantically involved, hence Lincoln not making a move.
Violet gets so mad at Lincoln lying to her all this time. She learns about angels from someone else who seems to be in love with her. There’s clubs, dancing, best friends, special powers, spiritual journeys, some interesting angel folklore, angel hierarchies and politics, good joining forces with evil, dead/mutilated bodies, fight scenes, and a lot of learning about trust.
I really liked Violet. I only ever wanted her to succeed and get over her hard past. I also loved Lincoln. And I did fall along with her for the bad-ish angel Phoenix. I liked how Violet didn’t want anyone else to get hurt, not just because she’s the main character and the main character always has to have the best conscience in the world, but because she knows what getting hurt feels like and doesn’t want it for anyone else.
I really did not find her dad to be all too believable. He was conveniently working most of the time. And he knew about what happened to Violet, yet still besides from a few snarky comments to Phoenix, never really objected to Violet hanging around all these older men, and that’s so not real for me. I also feel like the whole art thing was just a convenient way to show Violet dealing with her angst, and that wasn’t real for me either. I needed to see some of her art. The only piece mentioned was a wall in Lincoln’s apartment that she hadn’t gotten to yet. I wanted to see her other stuff, learn who inspired her, and maybe get why she became so interested in art to begin with. Without something, I find her hobby just kind of fake.
I also think she was way too hard on Lincoln, who was clearly doing what he had to do. I get that a lot of her anger is explained through something at the end, but still. I so would have forgiven the guy!
Any way, this book was still a lot of fun. And the romance was so good! The love triangle was excellent. The moments with Phoenix could have been pulled from an adult romance novel! And Lincoln just sounded like every girl’s dream. I give this one a 8/10, and I know I will have to continue with this series when the sequel come out later this year.