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.

What I’ve Been Reading: Summer 2015

Okay so it is August and I haven’t posted anything since May. Not very good blogger behavior. I apologize.

I’ve been having some crazy months. I graduated from college. Moved home. Started a job. I’m trying to adjust to this new life. It’s weird to be back here, but it’s awesome getting to read whatever I want. I loved most of my required reading at school, but being an English lit minor meant there was a lot of it. I didn’t get to read nearly as many of the books that I wanted to read. And I just minored in it.

That being said, the first thing I did when I got home was go to Politics and Prose and stock up.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston. I’m struggling to remember this one because I read it in June, but from what I recall, it was pretty cool. The premise is that this girl and her family were placed in the Witness Protection Program and she doesn’t know why. When she moves to Nowhere, Louisiana, she’s just hoping it sticks so they don’t have to move again. The book details her attempts to solve her family’s mystery, and it includes a sexy farmer. So, win. It’s a series, which I think is a bold move for contemporary, sort of reality YA lit (I’m sure there’s a term for this and I just don’t know it because I’m a terrible blogger). I liked this book, but did I love it like I love my favorite books? Nah.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Jenny Han is a big deal in the YA book world, so this has been on my list for a while. But can I just say, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” was too cutesy—even for me. And I like a good cutesy book! I think 13 year-old me would have liked this, but—dare I say it? I think I might have grown out of this particular flavor. But you should read it if you want a warm and fuzzy read.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. (PSA: NOT YOUNG ADULT. So proceed to my mini review with caution). Ugh, WOOF. Stop trying to make “Gone Girl” happen, Paula Hawkins! It already happened! I don’t know, a lot of people liked this book. I thought it was a cop out of a plot. Exactly what you think is going to happen happens. A truly boring plot construction. She had something going with the nonlinear storytelling technique, but that basically didn’t matter given the cliche-ness of the overall story. Am I totally off-base? I need constructive feedback, so lay it on me.

And drumroll plz….

The Mara Dyer series by Michelle Hodkin. Considering this is required reading for fans of YA, it’s shameful that I am just reading this fantastic series now. I read them all in quick succession, so I don’t think I could adequately review each one. I’ll just dump a lot of thoughts right here. Let’s talk about how twisted this story is. I mean, Paula Hawkins wishes she could get this twisted. Hodkin wrote a layered, smart and captivating story with a plot to kill and characters I won’t soon forget. Mara’s personal journey gets more interesting as her and Noah’s relationship gets more complicated, which makes their ultimate search for the truth about who the heck they are all the more stressful, yet so satisfying. If you haven’t read this series yet, forgo whatever is at the top of your to-read pile and read this. It’s so good. Like leave-you-crying-for-no-reason good, you know? Of course you know. If you like books like I like books, you know. Which you all do. Come on, you know you all do. OMG JUST READ THESE BOOKS!

General things:

I re-read “Anna and the French Kiss” for probably the tenth time. Stephanie Perkins, willyoupleaseadoptme. Or I can like be your assistant. Or clean your house. Or take care of your pets or cook your dinners or whatever you want hello I love you.

ALSO!! Sequel to Libba Bray’s “Diviners” is *finally* out! I’m currently reading, I cannot deal. AND a new Huntley Fitzpatrick book is about to come out. YOU GUYS KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT THIS.

“Isla and the Happily Ever After” is about to be released in paperback, which means I’m about to complete my collection and take so many instagrams. Speaking of, why don’t you follow me on Instagram?? @colette_whitney. I’ll follow you back if I think you’re cool enough! Jk I’ll just follow you back.

(But only if you’re cool enough).

What are you guys reading? Tell me tell me. And anyone considering going to Yallfest? I’m thinking about making that journey.

Peace n blessins.

Tumblr Instagram Twitter

REVIEW: Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

From Goodreads:

Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life.

With Arizona wrapped up in her college world and their father distracted by yet another 22011484divorce, Montana’s been immersing herself in an intoxicating new friendship with a girl from her acting class. Karissa is bold, imperfectly beautiful, and unafraid of being vulnerable. She’s everything Montana would like to become. But the friendship with Karissa is driving a wedge between Montana and her sister, and the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.

In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a heady distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?

The back cover copy of Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu really convinced my that I would not like it. I am not a huge fan of supposedly intoxicating summer stories, just because they’re usually cliched and riddled with stereotypes. Making Pretty has a lot of that going on, especially with its crazy first relationship and friend drama.

Montana’s story is one about love and friendship, but it’s an even more thorough commentary on her family, how it’s cracked and different and okay.

The only parts in the book that I truly enjoyed are her family moments. I thought the love interest was overdone and a little bit too cheesy for my taste. The tension between Montana and Karissa is pretty interesting and kept me flipping pages. But the family moments, they are the most honest and intriguing.

Making Pretty definitely is not one of my favorite books of the year, but I still enjoyed it. Haydu has excellent one-liners and is really great at setting the scene in unexpected ways. If you are a fan of summer stories or New York stories and have some time on your hands, definitely check this out.

REVIEW: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

From Goodreads:

The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulen16068780ce is offspring.

Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence… and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.

The Jewel is one of the books I won at the Epic Reads fall book tour, and I was told by the HarperCollins people to expect The Selection, but darker. Naturally, I was thrilled. I liked The Selection, but I did feel it lacked severity and depth, two things which The Jewel has in excess.

Violet is raised to be a surrogate for the royal class. She is auctioned off like a painting and ordered to be quiet and look pretty (also like a painting), and eventually, to give birth to a royal child (not so much like a painting). Her mistress is cruel and cold, and forces her to wear a collar and be guided by a leash. It is a severely degrading experience, one that is indeed much darker than most YA novels that revolve around a princess-esque narrative and setting.

And of course, there’s a boy. Who is off-limits. Which both Violet and the dude ignore. I was a little bit worried that Ewing might have tried to accomplish too much by including a love story subplot, solely because of the main story’s hectic and exciting plot, but she made it work for her and it is really well-done and convincing.

The funny thing about The Jewel is that it reminds me a lot more of The Hunger Games than it does The Selection. No spoilers, but The Jewel has a very Cinna-like character (male stylist who is the only person Violet wholly trusts) and a rebellious plan that I think will be redolent of the one hatched by Plutarch Heavensbee throughout the next two books in The Lone City trilogy. I’m not saying these similarities are a bad thing, I’m just saying that they are really present. It definitely feels like Ewing was influenced by Suzanne Collins’ series.

I personally like that kind of story, so I really enjoyed The Jewel. The writing is captivating and fast-paced, but still thoughtful and deliberate. I found the character of the Duchess most surprising, in that I was surprised by how invested I was in learning more about her.

I think Ewing has hatched a narrative that people will latch onto like they did with books such as Lauren Oliver’s Delirium and Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, both deeply relevant fantasy stories about things from falling in love to the nature of humanity. I’m very excited to see what she does with the next two books.

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!).

Epic Reads Fall Book Tour

BIG NEWS! About a month ago, I got an e-mail saying that I won the Epic Reads fall book tour sweepstakes! So this past week, the awesome team at Epic Reads flew me from Columbus, Ohio to Princeton, New Jersey to meet with their authors and attend the first stop on their book tour.

The women featured are Anna Carey, author of “Blackbird,” Amy Ewing, author of “The Jewel,” Heather Demetrios, author of “Exquisite Captive,” Madeleine Roux, author of “Sanctum,” and Andrea Portes, author of “Anatomy of a Misfit.”

IMG_8457

And basically, it was the best Tuesday of my life. I was able to bring a guest, so I brought my roommate Julianne. We drove from Athens to Columbus at like 6 a.m., hopped on a plane to Philadelphia, and were greeted by a driver holding a sign that read, “Whitney.” He brought us to his swank black Cadillac and drove us to our hotel in Princeton. At check-in, the concierge gave us two warm chocolate chip cookies, WHICH IS APPARENTLY A THING AT HOTELS NOW. I KNOW. We got settled and then took a cab to the university. Princeton is an unbelievable campus. It is beautiful. It honestly looks like Cambridge or some estate in England. It’s amazing. And all of the students were so fashionably dressed and put together. I’m saying NO LEGGINGS. ANYWHERE. It was a beautiful sight.

IMG_8440 IMG_8443 IMG_8444IMG_8446

only picture of us #selfie

only picture of us #selfie

Then it was time to go to the meet and greet. We sat in a Corner Bakery and chatted with the authors and the Epic Reads team. It was such a delight. The authors had never met each other before, so it was like we were all getting to know each other for the first time together. They had so many useful tips to share about writing and getting into the business, and are each genuinely friendly and funny and talented. I told them about my blog and my YA lit class and they seemed jazzed about it, which was rad. They gave us signed copies of their books with little notes of encouragement inside. (So far, I’ve read one and it was awesome. Review to come).

Afterwards, we headed to Barnes and Noble for the event. They were greeted by a big crowd of readers of all ages, from ten to thirty. THE POWER OF YA PEOPLE, IT BRINGS US TOGETHER. They chatted about writing and answered audience questions. What was really cool was that, even though they didn’t know each other before that day, they really balanced each other out in terms of their answers. They let each other speak and bounced seamlessly off of each other’s responses. There was an incredible group dynamic, which was entrancing and, to be honest, kind of enlightening.

The Epic Reads team was so great, too. We walked in to Barnes and Noble, and they were filled with this energy brought about entirely by the presence of so many books. And, you have to think, they work with books, they see them all the time, but they were still so pumped to be there and see all the new covers and editions. It just solidified my desire to someday work at a place like Epic Reads, with people who share my devotion to books. It’s real, people. And now that I’m a senior in college, that’s something I really need to consider. So it was really comforting to see that there are jobs out there somewhere that can foster my bookish tendencies.

It was an unforgettable, overwhelming, wonderful experience that I will always cherish. I’m so grateful to Epic Reads and the authors for one of the best days I’ve ever had.