REVIEW: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

From Goodreads:

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the22328546 poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart …

I picked up Red Queen at Yallfest. It’s one of the books I was most excited to read. I had heard so many good things and there’s just a general thrilling buzz surrounding it. Naturally, I had super high expectations for it as a result.

So when I read it, and wasn’t really that into it, I was surprised. I mean, I like it enough, but it wasn’t the visceral, full-body OHMYGOD that it had been puffed up to be. I liked the ending a lot more than the book as a whole. I think the ending must be what people are talking about when they describe how awesome it is. It really surprised me in the best ways, it was a total twist of the experience.

But I want to get back to the parts I didn’t totally love. It just felt like The Hunger Games, but everything was 25 percent different. So instead of the Capital and the Districts, there are the Reds and the Silvers. And instead of having a public Hunger Games, Mare gets thrown into this private war of survival. There’s the fact that she’s torn between two dudes. These are trends in YA that we see again and again. I’m not necessarily mad about these recurring themes—they’re recurring because they work so well—but it just wasn’t what I was expecting from this book. To its credit, these are all taken in radically new directions—which is what needs to happen when you’re using these constructs—but the storylines and characters, with a couple exceptions, don’t show their complications until the end of the story. I wish I had seen a bit more of that earlier. That was a choice, though, to make the readers think they’ve got everything figured out and then at the last minute, yank the rug out from under them. I get it, and the ending makes it work, but I wish the build-up had a little bit more going on.

I also felt like the book did a lot of over-explaining. I understand the inclination to spell thoughts and feelings out. You want to make sure you’re understood, but one of the best parts of reading is figuring those things out for yourself. It’s like gathering intel from weird looks and subtle dialogue.

That being said, I liked the book for the most part. The characters are intriguing and diverse and I want to know more about the society in which they live. It definitely gripped me, just maybe not as much as I had hoped it would. Are there things I wish were done differently? Yes, but it was still a fun read and I’ll probably read the next one!

 

 

I went to Yallfest 2015 and I am not okay.

I have wanted to go to Yallfest since 2010, when it began. It’s been on my list and every November, when I inevitably couldn’t go, I would stalk Twitter and Instagram and all of my favorite blogs for updates of the coolest day of the year. It got to the point where I was actually pained that I wasn’t there. Those were my people, that was my life! How could I not be there?? But there was always a reason, school, lack of funds, just general universe-is-against-you things. And that was how it was until this year. This year, my first year of “adulthood,” if you wanted to call it that (I, for the record, do not).

This year, I went to Yallfest.

Too much hype? Absolutely not.

Let’s recap. I went with my mom, and we landed in Charleston on Friday morning. The festivities didn’t start until later in the day so we had some time to kill. We grabbed lunch from a place called Smoke and I had the most exquisite sandwich on the face of this planet.

After that, we drove around the city in our rental Prius, which is a confusing spaceship of a vehicle. Charleston feels unchanged by the 21st century. All the houses were built in the same style, with sweeping front porches and leaning walls. On what felt like every street corner, there was a historical plaque describing the history of the “War Between the States” or honoring the efforts of a fallen Confederate soldier. The city is peppered with art galleries, more than I’ve ever seen in one place and the coffee game is on point. The contrariness of the whole place is impossible to miss. Part of you is like, “Um…the ‘War Between the States’??” while another part of you is like, “How does anyone ever leave this beautiful place and their beautiful sandwiches??” It was surreal.

Yallcrawl, a “parade” of book signings, took place that evening in several locally-owned stores and museums and venues around town. I went to two, where I met Victoria Aveyard, who wrote “Red Queen,” and Scott Westerfeld, who HELLO wrote “Uglies” and “Leviathan”and other great books. Victoria was so cool and kind and Scott Westerfeld was a mensch, totally funny and friendly.

The next day was when the fest really began. It opened with a panel from R.L. Stine and Richelle Mead, and it was hilarious. They talked about how they got their start and how they’ve kept up their momentums. From then on, I went to panels held by authors discussing professional and personal jealousy, writing emotional scenes, the significance of sexuality and gender in YA and more. I also went to this killer panel about getting your start in the publishing industry, which was held by a couple prominent editors and agents, where I received some really valuable advice. I saw and met a ton of cool authors, some of my own personal heroes, including Daniel Handler, Meg Cabot, Marie Lu, Libba Bray, Zac Brewer, Margaret Stohl, Aaron Hartzler, Sabaa Tahir and GAYLE FORMAN! Awe-struck and speechless by Gayle Forman, because she is such a great and meaningful author, and she’s also a feminist badass with a lot of grievances and a bunch of punches to throw. She’s awesome. It’s like she says what I wanted to say, but didn’t know how to put into words.

It all ended in YA Smackdown, featuring Libba Bray’s band Tiger Beat. All of the authors came together on stage and played games and goofed off. Libba Bray played us out with her quirky, throwback band. It was a blast.

Margaret Stohl opened the fest by saying that it was always the best day of the year. And I see why. I’m very conscious that the YA community is unlike many others. We’re all together, geeking out over our favorite stories, and just generally loving each other. Hate isn’t invited, because there’s just no room for it. People kept saying we’re a tribe, one founded on mutual admiration and a love of words. I could feel it all day, in the readers I spoke with while waiting in lines, in the authors who put their hearts into their books and to the editors and agents who pull it all together. I’m thankful to have weaseled my way in to this kooky place, and I plan on staying here for a while.

Until next year, Yallfest! You really are the best day of the year.

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

From Goodreads:

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if10626594 he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

“I’m so full of an unnamed wanting that I can’t bear it.” — Maggie Steifvater, The Scorpio Races

Maggie Steifvater, I’m really ashamed that this is the first book of yours I’ve read. Because I am undone by The Scorpio Races.

Maggie Steifvater is one of those names in YA that everyone knows and has read, kind of like Michelle Hodkin with the Mara Dyer series (my heart). I’ve known about her for ages, but I’ve never read any of her books, mostly because fantasy novels tend to fall to the bottom of my to-read pile. I consistently gravitate toward contemporary real-life novels and I’m not sure why. That mystery is especially unsolvable when I read a good fantasy novel and cannot deal for the rest of the month because I’m still reeling (think: Graceling series, I am still not okay). So, Steifvater’s books always drifted out of my focus. But when I was at a bookstore last week, I saw it and thought I might as well give it a try.

I AM SUCH A FOOL. The Scorpio Races is unreal; it is so excellent that I am physically kicking myself for waiting so long to read it.

First off, I want to talk about the setting. It’s a fantasy novel, and Steifvater said in her Printz Honor acceptance speech that with The Scorpio Races, she wanted it to be a “book about a world.” However, creating an entire Game-of-Thrones-esque world, complete with languages, currencies, maps, etc. is daunting so the actual story can often get lost in the noise. She chose to create a world seemingly within our actual world, with an America as we know it, but also with magic. And she makes it real—visceral to the point of feeling tangible—by using distinct, yet minute, details. Details about the smells of Thisby (the name of the island where this is set), the sounds of the ocean, and the tactility of the horses and the capaill uisce, the mythical water horses that race in the Scorpio Races. There’s also a motif of traditional Thisby foods interwoven into the novel, which a palpable dimension to the world and seamlessly rounds it out. It feels real because it is real because she made it real. Yaaaasss. 

Next up, the ridiculously acute characterization of Puck Connolly. This is easily my favorite aspect of The Scorpio Races. I’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s the inclination of some authors to tell instead of show when it comes to character development. Authors will say something dumb like, “Jane preferred to spend her Saturday nights at home because she was a homebody.” It’s like, yes we gathered that she was a homebody based on the fact that she is at home, you don’t need to spell it out for us. Don’t dumb it down for your peeps, authors! That’s boring and we don’t need it! Steifvater does a killer job at showing her characters and letting their actions and offhand thoughts do the telling. All of Puck’s characterization happens in moments of internal thought and instinctive action. Here are my favorite examples:

“I’d always thought I was above being fascinated by anyone but myself.”

“I always liked the idea of being such a bother that I affected even the weather.”

“I am opposed to people touching me when I’m not expecting it.”

“Mum said that I shouldn’t be moved to do anything by someone with sweet words … but Tommy Falk doesn’t seem to be trying to persuade me of anything, so I let his compliment slip down nice and easy. It’s quite agreeable  and I’d be happy enough with another.”

That’s just a few sentences and I know you already have a good sense of who she is and what she stands for. Isn’t that so good? That’s how Steifvater develops all of the main characters in this book, and it’s absolutely riveting.

The last thing I want to talk about is the love story. From the first time Puck and Sean Kendrick meet, you know—and, more importantly, they seem to know—that they are going to be together and that’s what’s so startling. The suspense isn’t in the mystery, it’s in their individual personal journeys. For Puck, that means saving her childhood home. For Sean, that means buying his freedom, in a sense. Their relationship is a compulsory side effect. By shifting the readers focus away from wondering if they will ever get together and toward the races and their growing loyalty to each other, Steifvater makes her story more enticing and reflective of what growing close to someone really looks like . Seeing the priorities of two rather stubborn and passionate characters shift is intense and inspiring and yo, I’m not embarrassed to say I cried about it.

If you couldn’t tell, I love this book so so much.

And I’ll end it with this quote:

“The evening sun loves her throat and her cheekbones.”

UGH. That personification though! You guys feel? Tell me about it.

What I read during winter break!

Hello there! I’m officially back in Athens, Ohio after winter break for my last semester of college and I’m preventing myself from straight wiggin’ by doing lots of reading. I’m currently in the middle of a pretty rad book (about which I’ll write a separate post later) and it occurred to me that I never wrote about my winter break books! So here we go.

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

13639446

Picture Me Gone is my first Rosoff, and it was just as heady as I expected it to be. Rosoff has this lyrical, melodic way of writing that, according to Goodreads reviewers, many people don’t like. I think some peopl just feel that she’s trying to do something with her books that’s just not working. But that rhythm of words is what I loved about Picture Me Gone. Rosoff depicts a new and unusual family dynamic and the conflict one has when caught between lies and family, tinged with just the right amount of romance. This is quick read that left me thinking about it and dazed by it for days. I definitely recommend it.

The Yonahlossee Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

16158508

DiSclafani’s book was a big genre jump for me, but I’ve had it on my to-read list for years and I finally got around to reading it. When she published it in 2013, the reviewers loved it, pretty much everywhere, so I had very high expectations. And although the narrative was so strange, it was incredibly compelling. It’s nonlinear, and DiSclafani’s writing is beautiful and mysterious. She’s a creative writing professor at Washington University and I would die to take a class from her. This book is not for the faint of heart, but if you want a lush and provocative novel set in interwar America, this is for you.

I also read A Little Something Different, but I reviewed that here!

Definitely thought I read more, alas. I did, however, meet my Goodreads Challenge of reading 50 books last year, so huzzah! This year, I’m aiming for 65. We’ll see!

Review: A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

From Goodreads:

The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.A_Little_Something_Different_for_sitejpg

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….

A Little Something Different is my first Swoon Reads book. It’s their first published, on sale novel, and they have many more coming and available for preorder. They have a really intuitive acquisitions and editing model. People submit manuscripts to their website, and members of the community read them, comment on them, and essentially, pick the book they want Swoon Reads to publish. I think that’s genius, but I also think that makes authors prone to writing gimmicky books so that they can catch the attention of the readers.

In the case of A Little Something Different, the gimmick is the multiple pov shifts. I like a good pov book, one with maybe two or three, but any more than that and it’s exhausting. This book has fourteen, One is a squirrel. One is a bench. It’s creative, but it’s also kind of infuriating and confusing.

Besides the crazy pov shifts, there are a couple other aspects of A Little Something Different that I don’t like. So the whole idea is that Gabe and Lea are too shy to get together, so they talk to everyone else in their lives about the other person. And this lasts for an entire year. An entire year in college. And they speak eloquently about how much they like this person they’ve never spoken to. And everyone who has a pov is so devoted to seeing them be a couple. Ok here’s my issue: They are in college and so it’s really doubtful that the barista, or the teacher’s wife, or the bus driver cares at all about them getting together. Maybe there’s just a lot of hopeless romantics in this weird town, but I don’t buy it.

Other than that, it’s a pretty cute story, wholly unbelievable, but cute. If you want a sweet little story, this is for you. Also the cover is so nice, which just always helps.

Hope you all are having a nice holiday season! Check out my post on the best Christmasy books to get you in the spirit!

REVIEW: “Anatomy of a Misfit” by Andrea Portes

From Goodreads:

This emotional, hilarious, devastating, and ultimately triumphant YA debut, based on actual events, recounts one girl’s rejection of her high school’s hierarchy—and her discovery of her true self in the face of tragedy.

Fall’s buzzed-about, in-house favorite.

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in18340210 school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?

Anatomy of a Misfit is Mean Girls meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Anika’s hilariously deadpan delivery will appeal to readers for its honesty and depth. The so-sad-it’s-funny high school setting will pull readers in, but when the story’s dark foreboding gradually takes over, the devastating penultimate tragedy hits like a punch to the gut. Readers will ride the highs and lows alongside funny, flawed Anika — from laughter to tears, and everything in between.

“Anatomy of a Misfit” is one of the books I was given at the Epic Reads Fall Book Tour. I finished it about a week ago, and I have been struggling with what to say about it since. When I met Andrea Portes, she said that her book is based on a true story, something that happened to her in high school, and this book was her way of telling it.

I liked the book. I liked what she was trying to do. It’s told in first-person, through the voice of Anika, a 15-year-old girl struggling to sustain her popularity despite her “vampire” Romanian ancestry.

My only problem with it is the language. So much of how the characters speak to each other is in this strange, supposedly “high school” way of talking and I just didn’t buy it. The diction was so simplified that I had a hard time connecting with it at certain points. I understand what she was trying to do, I’m just not sure I agree with it or its effectiveness.

Despite that, the novel is an intriguing analysis on modern-day high school behaviors. I say analysis, because that’s really what it is. It’s not necessarily a plot-driven book; it’s much more observant and powered by hindsight.

While I was at times a bit distracted by the language, for the most part, I loved the book. It’s entertaining and brave.

I’m really excited because I am doing a presentation on “Anatomy of a Misfit” for my YA lit class and I can’t wait to share it with my peers and see what they have to say about what it (and see what they disagree with me about!).

“The Impossible Knife of Memory” by Laurie Halse Anderson

We read “The Impossible Knife of Memory” by Laurie Halse Anderson for my YA Lit class18079527 this week to the mixed reactions of most of my peers. Many of them thought the main character of Hayley was too much of a “special snowflake” who spent an exorbitant amount of time being a stereotypical rebellious and angst-ridden 16 year-old. They also thought Anderson was out of touch with the way teens think and act and speak and especially with the way they text (I have to agree with them on this matter—the texting sequences in this novel are horrifying).

One aspect we all generally loved is the main storyline between Hayley and her father. She is a teenager struggling to take care of her veteran father who is grappling with undiagnosed and unmedicated PTSD. There’s a lot of stuff going on there, and Anderson’s portrayal of that relationship is almost painfully beautiful and scary. This is an infliction that so many people suffer from and it is one that, for the most part in this country, feels pushed aside. Anderson wrote a story that needed to be written, and we all agreed on her success in that endeavor.

Personally, I loved reading “The Impossible Knife of Memory.” Sure, some of the dialogue was a stretch and the texting made me wither and cringe, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is at times disheartening and harrowing, at others, hopeful and buoyant, and always insightful. It’s contemporary YA lit at its best. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone (LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON).