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!

 

 

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Review: Everything that Makes You by Moriah McStay

From Goodreads:

One girl. Two stories. Meet Fiona Doyle. The thick ridges of scar tissue on her face are from an accident twelve years ago. Fiona has notebooks full of songs she’s written about her frustrations, her dreams, and about her massive crush on beautiful uber-jock Trent 21795576McKinnon. If she can’t even find the courage to look Trent straight in his beautiful blue eyes, she sure isn’t brave enough to play or sing any of her songs in public. But something’s changing in Fiona. She can’t be defined by her scars anymore.

And what if there hadn’t been an accident? Meet Fi Doyle. Fi is the top-rated female high school lacrosse player in the state, heading straight to Northwestern on a full ride. She’s got more important things to deal with than her best friend Trent McKinnon, who’s been different ever since the kiss. When her luck goes south, even lacrosse can’t define her anymore. When you’ve always been the best at something, one dumb move can screw everything up. Can Fi fight back?

Hasn’t everyone wondered what if? In this daring debut novel, Moriah McStay gives us the rare opportunity to see what might have happened if things were different. Maybe luck determines our paths. But maybe it’s who we are that determines our luck.

I’m going back to my roots with Moriah McStay’s debut novel, Everything that Makes You. You all know I love a good debut book and this one is no exception. I recently received this and three other novels (reviews to come), but this is the first one I read. And I read it in approximately 4 hours.

It’s an intriguing premise — one girl, two stories. I think a lot about what might have happened if I had chosen differently for myself. To imagine what might have been is something we all do, I think. McStay makes a study of what might have been in Everything that Makes You.

The two dueling stories seem to ask how one moment can affect the rest of your life. How strong is that effect? Does it really matter? McStay attempts to answer those seemingly unanswerable questions with Fiona Doyle. The two Fiona Doyles, one meek and scared, one strong and confident. And then one thing flips them around and makes each the opposite.

It’s a thoughtful story and one that left me thinking for a couple days. I’m not sure what conclusion McStay drew from her book. But I think that question mark is part of the point. We don’t get to decide what happens to us, but we can decide who to be and what to chase. That’s sort of what I got from the book.

On top of that, it was beautifully written. The book is poised and purposeful and mature, with a sort of smoothness about it. The characters were full and well-developed. My favorite is her brother. That’s a relationship we don’t see much in this genre, unfortunately.

If you’re looking for a smart and interesting quick read, check this out!

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 Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine

From Goodreads:

Wren Caswell is average. Ranked in the middle of her class at Sacred Heart, she’s not bookcover2popular, but not a social misfit. Wren is the quiet, “good” girl who’s always done what she’s supposed to—only now in her junior year, this passive strategy is backfiring. She wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how. 

One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.

This is the first title I downloaded from Edelweiss, which is a bomb service for book reviewers. It’s a bit similar to NetGalley, and all awesome. So I was pumped when I got access to “The Promise of Amazing,” especially because it’s Constantine’s first novel, which brings me back to my beginnings as a book blogger.

“The Promise of Amazing” is told from the both Wren’s and Grayson’s points of view (which you know I love). It takes place in New Jersey, where Wren attends an all-girls high school and feels woefully average. Can I just say, that being from an all-girls Catholic high school, I know what it’s like. I know how the girls act and what it feels like to be “average” in a school of overachievers. And Constantine got it SO right! I totally loved reading this book because it was so close to my experience, so relatable and so real, not just for me, but for all girls, I think. Her friends, Maddie and Jazz, are typical girl characters, Maddie’s a feisty risk-taker who loves the men, and Jazz is a thoughtful, healthy, and kind girl with big dreams.

Grayson, on the other hand, got kicked out of Wren’s brother school and found himself shlepping along with the “public school scrubs” (Maddie’s words not mine, but she was joking :). When they meet, they both have these deep, monumental moments of clarity and Grayson decides to chase after that, which is really where the story begins.

I liked “The Promise of Amazing” so much because, though it sounded like a typical teenage love story, it really wasn’t. It was straight up hilarious. I found myself cracking up at least once a chapter and Constantine was really great at using descriptive language. She wrote these great descriptions of food, which sounds like a weird thing to notice, but they really brought her novel to the next level. They added dimension and flavor (literally and figuratively) and they were very thoughtful. Like, Jazz eats sandwiches made on sprouted grain bread with lean protein. That makes sense because she’s training to run a marathon. But, when hanging out with Wren, they pig out on Double Chocolate Milanos, so you know that she’s not crazy intense about what she eats. I mean, just from those two descriptions, you have an idea of Jazz’s character. That’s just one example, there are a bunch more, especially with Wren and Grayson.

For me, this book was nostalgic to read. It made me want to go back to high school and sit in the cafeteria with my girlfriends, eating lunch and gossiping. It was such a great twist on a high school romance story, with a huge, and lovely, dependence on the friendships that shape our lives and the comfort of family. Grayson is a different kind of leading male, with secrets and mystery, and a different sort of family. I like Constantine’s decision to make him from an unconventional family. Otherwise, the story may have come off as kind of cookie-cutter. By giving him his own drama, she made the book more readable for people from all backgrounds. And she made him more lovable.

I delayed finishing it because I loved it so much that I never wanted it to end! It is definitely a must-read.

“The Promise of Amazing” comes out December 31, 2013.

8 out of 10!

“Lily and Taylor” by Elise Moser

From Goodreads:

After her older sister is murdered in a horrific incident of domestic abuse, Taylor begins a new life in a new town. She meets Lily, whose open, warm manner conceals a difficult personal life 17318631of her own, coping with her brain-injured mother. The two girls embark on a tentative friendship. But just when life seems to be smoothing out, Taylor’s abusive boyfriend, Devon, arrives on the scene, and before they know it, the girls find themselves in a situation that is both scary, and incredibly dangerous.

Abetted by Conor, a friend who owes him a favor, Devon takes the girls to a remote cabin. There is no heat, no food, no water. There is a hunting rifle, which Devon uses to intimidate the others. As he becomes increasingly agitated, and Conor threatens to bail, the girls engage in a silent battle of their own. Lily wants to escape, while Taylor feels hopelessly trapped by her relationship with Devon and uses sex and flattery to try to keep the situation calm. The cabin becomes a pressure cooker, filled with tension as the four teenagers wrestle with their anger, fear, resentment and boredom — any one of which could tip the situation into disaster.

From the opening moments when Taylor witnesses her sister’s autopsy to the final cathartic scene after the two girls have survived their ordeal, the reader is glued to every page of this frank, gripping and beautifully written novel that raises questions for every teenager. Do you need to be a certain way to get a boyfriend? Can someone who loves you also hurt you? How can a million small compromises eat away at who you are? What happens when you don’t think you deserve to be treated well? How do you end up in an abusive relationship, and what keeps you there? 

Elise Moser goes deeply into the hearts and minds of Lily and Taylor, who in the end save each other in unexpected ways.

Rating: Writing- 8 out of 10 Plot- 4 out of 10

First Impressions: Only read this if you like overly emotional drama.

Review:

I put two separate ratings for this book because the writing was great and profound, but I really didn’t like the plot or any of the characters (except maybe Taylor’s nephew, Mason). It’s a story about domestic and sexual abuse. Taylor’s sister is with this man who physically harms her constantly, and one day he ends up murdering her. Taylor has to identify her sister’s body and it’s a real mess.

Cut to Taylor and Mason leaving their home and moving towns to live with their grandmother. This is when we find out that Taylor also has an abusive boyfriend, who threatens to beat her if she finds any new friends at her new school. When she finally does make a great new friend, he kidnaps them both, beats them up and takes them to a cabin in the middle of nowhere that has no water or electricity. And she still thinks to herself that, in his relaxed moments, she loves him.

I don’t want to sound insensitive, because I know domestic violence is a plague (Moser also included statistics in the author’s note), but I was really angry with Taylor. Her sister died from domestic violence and she found herself in the same situation and didn’t do anything about it. She had people who would have helped her and she had the opportunity to do it. She moved away and I really think that separation gave her the perfect chance to get help, but she never tried. I know it’s not as simple as that and that there are a lot of emotional conflicts and confusions when this happens. I would have liked to have a bit more hope. I shared this feeling with the other main character, Lily, who was angry with Taylor every time she obeyed her boyfriend. She understood why Taylor was so submissive and that she was just trying to be safe, but she also wanted her to be courageous and stand up for herself.

What I loved about this book was the beautiful language. Moser’s observations of love and friendship and family were stirring and deep and a rare find in modern literature.

If you want to read a book with great language and this doesn’t sound like a plot that would bug you, this novel is a great choice.

(I received this ARC a while ago, but it was the beginning of the school year and I was swamped! Sorry for the delay!)

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

From Goodreads:

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, 11733187she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

Rating: 8 out of 10

First Impressions: Fantastical twist on historical (yes, a version of the estate featured in this novel did exist; see author’s note) fiction. Read it if you want a suspenseful, not overwhelming romantic story of an ordinary teenaged girl in the 1800s, living among extraordinary circumstances and people.

Review: The Dark Unwinding sat on my shelf for a whole year while other, more anticipated novels filled my days. That is until about a week ago, when I found my copy wedged between two textbooks from my fall semester of sophomore year.

Katharine Tulman is the unwanted niece of Alice Tulman, a bothersome old woman set on making Katharine’s life a nightmare. She sends Katharine on a mission to Stranwyne Keep, an estate run by her suspected insane uncle where he has apparently depleted the family fortune. Katharine must confirm her uncle’s lunacy so that the rest of the fortune can be salvaged and preserved for her fat cousin.

When she first arrives to the estate, she is met with scorn and hate, for doing as her aunt wishes will ruin the lives of the thousands of men, woman and children that her uncle has employed. But eventually, she gets to know and understand her uncle, and begins to forge relationship with the peculiar cast of characters charges with the care of her uncle and his estate.

Met with sudden twists, the right amount of suspense and romance, and a nice dose of familial companionship, The Dark Unwinding is sure to be a hit with fans of the young adult genre. It has everything a good book should.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few bumps in the road.

I struggled through the first 150 pages or so. It’s set in the 19th century, so Cameron used older, more elaborate language, which I found to be overdone and just struck me as trying too hard. Like, the language definitely needed to be historically accurate, but to a certain degree. I think she took it a bit too far, and it almost made it less believable. To top it all off, none of the pieces started coming together or making sense until the 200 page mark, so it was kind of hard to get really into it.

It took me ten days to finish this book (10!), which is a lot compared to the last book I reviewed (Shadow and Bone) which only took two to finish. That being said, when you get to a certain point, you just can’t put it down.

Bottom line, this is a story about one girl trying to overcome her position in the world, and learning that, sometimes, overcoming your position means forgetting about your own problems and using your assets to help someone who can’t help himself. It’s about learning to be selfless, dealing with guilt, falling in love and sacrifice. Definitely a keeper.

PLUS, there is a sequel in the works! Always fun.

 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

From Goodreads:

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only10194157 one thing: her best friend, Mal–and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed.

Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destory the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart–and her country–in two.

Rating: 8 out of 10

First Impressions: Another dystopian-esque fantasy drama. You should read it if you like the Graceling series, the Seraphina series, and the like.

Favorite Quote: “Well, if it gets too bad, give me a signal, and I’ll get up on the banquet table, toss my skirt over my head, and do a little dance. That way no one will be looking at you.”

What part of yourself would you sacrifice to truly belong?

That is the question that heroine Alina Starkov must answer in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone.

Admittedly, I was reluctant to read this book. I had just finished Divergent by Veronica Roth, which is so incomprehensibly good that the prospect of Shadow and Bone as a follow-up sort of depressed me. I thought it was going to be just another cheesy fantasy by an author who tried too hard, when she really shouldn’t have. You all know the kind of book I’m talking about?

Shadow and Bone was not that book. It was an incredibly original take on the classic medieval fantasy shceme. For one, instead of hinting at European themes, Bardugo chose to research Russia. She looked at Russian power systems and military and language to create a uniquely Grisha world. I found the Russian aspects intriguing, though I know some people find them ill-researched and a bit mediocre.

When Alina discovers that she is a Grisha, or a person with extraordinary powers, the Darkling (the most powerful Grisha) whisks her away from her ordinary life as a cartographer in the army and he whisks her away from the only family she has ever known, her best friend Mal, who, consequently, she is in love with.

As Alina acclimates to her new life as a Grisha, she finds herself struggling to fully realize her powers and to loosen her grip on Mal and the life she left behind. But the Darkling’s charms disintegrate her insecurities and she lets her guard down, perhaps a bit too willingly.

What I like most about this book is Bardugo’s literal interpretation of the exhausted light versus dark metaphor. For instance, Alina is a Sun Summoner, which is as it sounds. She has the power to exude sunlight and warmth, whereas the Darkling can create devouring darkness. Alina has to face both him and the Shadow Fold, which is a vast expanse of complete darkness that destroys any living thing within its grasp. It is also the Darkling’s creation. By making light and dark actual, fathomable players in this story, Bardugo creates an adventure that stands alone among modern YA titles.

This is a book about an underdog, born into impossible consequences who is given the opportunity to rise above them. It is brimming with action and magic, friendship and romance. And while I like this book very much (I finished it in just under two days), there was something about it that stopped me from getting too emotionally attached. Like, when I finished Graceling and The Hunger Games, etc. I cried for like 3 weeks each, which is ridiculous, but also speaks to the emotional depth of each novel. I’m not going to have that hard a time moving on from Shadow and Bone. That said, it was still a great book that I highly recommend (and sometimes, it can be a relief to not mind the end of a book so much).

BONUS! It’s being adapted into a movie! Keep your eyes peeled.