Tag Archives: YA

Like the Fight Club of YA Novels

91cMHG1mVaLSo I’ve been watching a lot of BookTubers lately, and almost all of them have unanimously been telling me for months that I need to read E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. And then, frustratingly, they’ve all said, “but we can’t tell you anything about the book.”

ARGH.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I am here to tell you now that you should totally go read We Were Liars and also that I can’t tell you anything about the book. Yes, just smack me now. I get it.

I feel like lately I’ve been on a series of very high highs and very low lows with books, and this was one of the very high highs. I loved this book. It was beautifully written, and had one of my favorite literary devices – an unreliable narrator. It’s about a group of three teenage cousins and their other teenage friend and  summers spent on their grandparents’ island in New England (I KNOW). And then one summer, everything changes…

Seriously, that’s it. That’s what I can tell you. But you should really go read it, because the writing was just lovely and the story was intriguing. I’ve heard the writing style itself was hit or miss with people actually reading the book, as it was unusual and in many places very stream of conscience. But I listened to the audiobook, where this translated perfectly.

If you’re looking for something a bit different than the standard YA this summer, I’d put this at the top of your pile. Then hit me up – I have some book related feelings I need to discuss.

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Obernewtyn Begins

obernewtyn

When I was living in Australia I really wanted to read some authentic-type Aussie YA and report back.  Which I did–but it just took me like six months to get around to posting it.  SORRY.

The Obernewtyn Chronicles have pretty much all you need in post-apocolyptic fantasy fiction—talking animals, psychic mind powers, evil overlords, etc. etc.

I’m going to give you a pretty comprehensive run-down, because the books just get more and more complicated, and you’re going to need this later. For the test.

Major spoilers ahead:

So, after the Great White, a radiation-laced explosion that decimated and poisoned all of the cities and most of the land, people moved out to the most rural areas seeking untainted water and food.   The farmers that lived there set up a Council to control the newcomers and impose rules and regulations on their behavior.  Any person or animal suffering from radiation mutations is ritualistically burned by the Herder Faction—the ‘priests’ of the community.  Gradually, it became noticeable that some mutations weren’t physical but mental, and everyone lives in fear that they will be labeled a Misfit.

Elspeth (hint—main character) and her brother Jes are orphans—their parents burned as Seditioners by the Herders.  While Jes has garnered favor with the Herders and community leaders, Elspeth lives in fear of being exposed as a Misfit.  Besides being able to read and change people’s minds, Elspeth can talk to animals, most notably the wild cat that follows her, Maruman.  Maruman is prone to wandering around in the poisoned mountains, so Elspeth doesn’t take him to seriously when he raves about her destiny. Continue reading


This Would be Better if Miss Lewinskey was Hosting

I’m going to blame my less than enthusiastic review of The Selection on my unrealistic expectations.  Expectations have probably more bearing than is normal on whether  I like something or not.  For instance, I had such low expectations for the movie Ted, that I actually ended up enjoying it.  Conversely, I was bitterly disappointed with the first Harry Potter movie.10507293

Anyway, I began reading The Selection only moments after I had finished Ready Player One (which I loved, like, a lot), so I was still kind of in that scifi kind of world, and also expecting this book to pull me in just as much.

My point is, it’s not your fault Kiera Cass.

As far as writing and plot, The Selection seems on par with the Matched trilogy or Divergent.  The writing isn’t transcendental and the idea doesn’t seem that fresh.

Like Matched, there’s a love triangle, and also similarly, I can’t really muster much enthusiasm for our heroine.  First of all her name is America, which I guess isn’t that horrible, but I don’t like it—especially as her name seems to be an allusion to her stubbornness, or yearning for freedom or some such hokum.

Also she’s one of those girls that is beautiful but doesn’t think that she’s beautiful (because that’s never overplayed).  And her main personality trait seems to be that she’s boring.

I guess I should explain the plot at least a little bit.

So, America lives in what used to be the country America, but now is just most of North America (Mexico, Canada, US) congealed together as a monarchy called Illea.  And everyone is separated into a caste system, with ones being the royalty, and eights being something I haven’t determined yet, but I assume they are untouchables living in holes.

America is a five.  Which means her family are artists; musicians, painters, etc.  America sings.  LIKE AN ANGEL. And plays a bunch of instruments. And she also has a secret boyfriend named Aspen, who is a dirty, dirty six.  A servant.

Anyway, Illea is putting on an episode of the Bachelor, but instead of competing for an heir to a tire conglomerate, the girls are competing to be the next queen. I’ve never watched the Bachelor, but I was addicted to Joe Millionare, and then that show hosted by Monica Lewinsky where all the guys wore masks all the time, so I pretty much know the drill.172921__personality_l

(Un)surprisingly, America doesn’t want to sign up for the competition, being that she’s in love with Dirty Six, but everyone (including Six, for some weak reason that doesn’t quite convince me) pressures her into it.  She gets picked, she moves into the castle, she acts really weird and does boring stuff, and she also (supposedly unintentionally) discovers the most foolproof way to get the prince to fall in love with her.  She tells him she’s in love with someone else, just wants to be in the contest for the money, and that she just wants to be friends.  This guarantees that Prince Maxon will be hot for her.

Even though America is supposedly pining for Dirty Six (oh, yes, forgot to mention that he broke up with her before she left because she made him too many biscuits or something), she still is enjoying the attention from Maxon.  Then things get interesting (kind of) when Dirty Six shows up as a palace guard. Omg scandal!

And then the book abruptly ends.

I understand that books that are a part of a trilogy aren’t expected to tie up all the  ends in the first book, BUT I do expect something a little less sloppy and more satisfying.  I’m not sure if I care enough about America to see who she ends up with–but lets be honest it’s totally going to be the prince.


Dune, Treasure Trolls, and the Last Airbender All Walk Into a Bar…

I think it is important you know that a) I read The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books – HarperCollins) in two days because it was so fun and I didn’t want to put it down and b) some of it was unintentionally hysterical.

***Spoilers Below***

Our story opens with our fat heroine being stuffed like a sausage into her wedding dress. No, I am not being mean. That is how they put it. Elisa is fat and has a seriously unhealthy relationship with food. I was actually pretty psyched to have a heroine that wasn’t lithe and athletic off the bat, except that every other paragraph they talk about how fat she is and how she loves sneaking into the kitchen for food. It was kind of beating a dead horse after a while, but I really liked how they explored how different characters reacted to her while she was fat and later skinny. Elisa has gained so much weight in a short amount of time, that she is too big for and rips her wedding dress, for her rush wedding.

Elisa is to marry King Alejandro of Joya d’Arena. She doesn’t understand why he wants her and not her beautiful and cunning sister… despite the fact that Elisa herself is incredibly smart and educated in her own right (She is a wiz at battle tactics!) and happens to be God’s chosen one and bearer of the Godstone. What it the Godstone you ask? It is a diamond like stone that God put into her navel on her naming day and it means that she is destined for some kind of great service. A new bearer of the Godstone is chosen every 100 years, like the Avatar without the cool bending. So, Yes. Large person with a gem in her belly button = Treasure Troll Avatar. Just go with it. It works really well within the world Carson has created.

Despite her obsession with her weight and food (which, I love food, so I could relate to that. They even put a recipe in the back of the book for Elisa’s favorite food, Honey-Coconut Scones!), I really like Elisa. She is only 16, so she obviously has some growing up to do, but right of the bat, she starts asserting herself in little ways. Her new husband is beautiful beyond words, but she is afraid of her wedding night and asks to wait. He agrees and asks if she would like to talk and get to know each other, which I hadn’t really expected. Alejandro is not a bad guy, but I get the impression that he is weak. Elisa is clearly willing to overlook this because he is so pretty. Don’t judge. We’ve all been there…

The journey from her home to Joya d’Arena is long and arduous. Their caravan  is attacked by Los Piedros, all of her things are burned, her nurse is killed, but she somehow finds the strength to save Alejandro by killing one of their attackers who has cornered him… by stabbing him over and over again. Despite being terrified, she is not just able to survive, but protect those around her. She definitely has a strong emotional reaction after this whole event, but she ends up better for it.

We soon set into her life at court where Alejandro has asked that their marriage be kept a secret for now, along with her Godstone. Lots of secrets, but what is a royal court without secrets? Elisa is at least given the old Queens quarters (the King is widowed with a son) and asked to sit on the council. Long story short, her maid Cosme, who hates her right off the bat, discovers her Godstone, then drugs and kidnaps her, taking her on a month long journey across the desert.

Through the desert and to a hidden city, Elisa gets stronger, loses weight, and begins to learn more about her kidnapper, her people, and the WAR that is happening without anyone in the city knowing about it. Cue Elisa becoming a leader of this tribe, and using her Godstone for guidance. (It gets warm when she prays or someone good is around and goes icy when bad things are approaching). I kept expecting characters to call Elisa, Muad’dib and for her to go into the Litany Against Fear every time she started to pray (which is a lot). At least no one needed Stillsuits.

Elisa really starts to come into her own after she is captured by the enemy army and outsmarts and kills their Animagus (crazy powerful magicians that the enemy has the shoot flames and get their power from blood! Only a few exist), escaping the camp. She becomes the leader of a revolution, but it is not enough to hold back the war that is quickly coming to Joya d’Arena. As a bearer, Elisa is too valuable to be on the front lines and goes back to the castle and king, WHO DOESN’T RECOGNIZE HER… and once he does, he is WAY nicer to her than he was when she was fat.

Throughout all of this, Elisa is trying to figure out her purpose and how to use the Godstone for magic like the Animagus do (withGodstones stolen from dead Bearers). The book culminates in four Animagi cornering Elisa, the King, his son, and Elisa’s protector in room. About to die, Elisa instead CARE BEAR STARES them with her Godstone. For serious. It was hysterical and awesome. Bad guys dead, army flees, king dies and Elisa is Queen Regent until the kings son comes of age.

Honestly, it is a difficult book to describe because there is way more detail and love triangles and world building that happen in this book. It was just so fun to read. Pick it up. Read it (and maybe send me a copy of the second one because I really want to read it).


Guest Post: Llama Reviews Wabi

Hey, did you know that November is ‘Native American Heritage Month?’ No? Well, don’t feel bad, most people don’t either. It’s not exactly heavily promoted, and the placement––right after Columbus day in October, and smack dab in the middle of spot-the-historical-inaccuracy Thanksgiving plays––kind of perks the awkward-o-meter more than little bit. But hey, any excuse to read some good indigenous lit, am I right?

When I went looking for a good YA book to review for NA Heritage month, I was thrilled to have many wonderful selections to choose from. Yeah, there’s still plenty of the usual crap out there: “Oh, make me a dream-catcher my vaguely-Plains-nation hero, before you disappear like the buffalo!” But there’s also lots of excellent work being produced, work which portrays indigenous experiences and cultures in nuanced, human ways. Wabi: A Hero’s Tale (Dial Books) is one of these stories.

Wabi was written by Joseph Bruchac in 2007. A writer, poet, and storyteller of Abenaki descent, Bruchac has made studying and sharing indigenous culture his vocation. To that end, he has published over 120 books––a startling fact made even more terrifying by the idea that, if Wabi is any indicator, those 120 books are all probably pretty good. So right off the bat, you know you’re in safe hands.

Anyways,  I was only a few pages into Wabi before I realized it was going to be a very fun and engaging little tale. It’s essentially the hero’s journey of a young owl, named Wabi. After being pushed from the nest by his ‘ornicidal maniac’ brother, Wabi finds his great-grandmother and grows into an accomplished owl. As part of his owling, Wabi protects the local Abenaki village from monsters and keeps an eye on the silly humans that inhabit it. It’s then that he falls in love with a human girl, Dojihla. With the aid of his great-grandmother, and a little magic, Wabi becomes a man and tries to win her heart. Unfortunately, Dojihla’s pretty headstrong, and Wabi’s a little awkward––being born an owl doesn’t really give you the opportunity to learn those smooth dating moves, y’know? But after many trials and tribulations––as well as a healthy dose of humor––everything works out.

My crummy summary doesn’t really do this story justice, because it really is excellently written and constructed. Straddling the line between YA and Middle Reader, Wabi’s bite-sized chapters keep the narrative from becoming overwhelming to reluctant readers. The chapters are also basically vignettes, complete with their own miniature story arcs, which again works to keep the story moving in a quick and engaging way. The characters are also loveable, and everyone comes across as an actual person (or owl), rather than a tintype of what a ‘hero,’ ‘love interest,’ or ‘Indian’ should be.

Bruchac is also an expert at sneaking in educational information, and readers end up learning a lot about owls without realizing it, as well as Abenaki customs, myth, and vocabulary. By the time you’re done, you’ll probably have learned far more than you thought possible from a 198 page adventure story.

This brings me to my only real beef with Wabi––I wanted more info! Bruchac went through a lot of trouble weaving educational material into his narrative, and I feel like the publisher really dropped the ball by not augmenting his work. I desperately wanted a glossary and pronunciation guide to the Abenaki words, for example. Additional information on the myths the monsters are based on, as well as the Abenaki themselves, would have been amazing too. Not including support material like this just feels like such a huge, huge wasted opportunity for learning. Whoever designed the lame cover also did the book a huge disservice, as long as I’m kivetching.

Failings on bonus material aside, Wabi is a wonderful little gem of a book that I highly recommend to anyone who has a reluctant reader, an interest in indigenous myths and culture, or just a love of fun stories.


Louis Lowry Does It Again? Something?

I think The Giver (Louis Lowry) was my first foray into dystopian-future-YA.  I read it with my ‘gifted’ English class in seventh grade.  And, ermagard…I freakin’ loved it.  I’m pretty sure I stole that book.  Let’s just pretend I bought my own copy.  And then re-read it like a bajillion times.  And then I read Gathering Blue, which was pretty good, in a different way, and then The Messenger, which was kind of ‘eh,’ and now I’ve just finished Son.

Son, according to GoodReads, is the conclusion of this series.  That being said, I was really looking for some ANSWERS Lowry.  Some ‘tie-everything-together-answer-my-big-questions’ CONCLUSIONS.

Did she deliver?

Continue reading


When Not So Great Titles/Covers Happen to Really Great Books

I’m not going to lie – when I asked for recommendations for something fun to read on the eight hour plane ride to and from Europe that I took a few weeks ago, I was a little skeptical when Anastasia suggested Anna and the French Kiss. Not because I doubted her (on the contrary, she has excellent taste in books and you should always listen to her when she tells you to read something), but… ugh. Could there be a more generic YA romance title than Anna and the French Kiss? So when I tell you that you need to read this book and its companion, Lola and the Boy Next Door, you are just going to have to look past the titles and trust me.

(And yes, I finish Anna and then downloaded Lola onto my Kindle at my friend’s house in Ireland for the plane ride back because I needed more. Don’t judge.)

Basically, these two books are exactly what I want in a fun, YA romance – they’re smart and funny, with just enough heartache to make you root for the characters and just enough romance to be sweet without being saccharine. I’m glad I read them both before writing this post because one of the things that impressed me was how wonderfully different Anna and Lola are, and how author Stephanie Perkins captured both of their voices so perfectly. Each character in both stories felt well-rounded. One of my big complaints in many YA novels is that characters are completely defined by one aspect of their lives. Both novels are full of such quirky characters that this would have been an easy trap to fall into, but Perkins avoided it well. Yes, Anna is a neat freak and a movie buff, but she’s doesn’t have to relate everything back to cleaning or quotes from Casablanca. Likewise, one of the central struggles for Lola is trying to figure out how to remain true to her flair for dressing in dramatic costumes without letting this one aspect of her personality define her. Perkins is great at letting these personality traits complement the characters without overshadowing them, which makes for two protagonists that are much more layered than your typical YA romance heroine (with two main boys who are both dreamy enough and interesting enough to deserve their affections).

Which brings us to a second refreshing point, which is that each of the characters in the books have struggles outside of whatever romantic entanglement the find themselves in at the moment, and even their struggles within their love lives are complex and interesting. Perkins does a fantastic job of exploring all different kinds of relationships within these novels, not just those between the protagonists and the objects of their affections. The friendships and family dynamics are treated with equal respect and equal screen time, and it makes for a much richer read. Plus, all the characters (not just the main ones) are all just interesting, and unique, and a little bit quirkyI mean, Anna’s dad is a dead-on parody of Nicholas Sparks (and you know how we love to snark on Sparks around here, so I’m pretty convinced Perkins should join our author BFF club). Lola’s adorably nerdy crush Cricket’s sister is a competitive figure skater, and their whole family descended from Alexander Graham Bell. One of Lola’s dads owns his own pie shop. PIE SHOP. That must be the best job EVER, surrounded all day by delicious pie. I dream of that job…

Ahem. Anyway. The point is, even the supporting cast here is interesting and fun to read about. (Mmm… pie.)

So if you are looking for a fun read, I highly recommend picking up both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. Great, fun reads that are the perfect companion for a lazy summer afternoon, an hour long lunch break escape from work, or (if you’re like me) an eight hour plane ride. I’ll be over here, anxiously awaiting the third companion novel, Ilsa and the Happily Ever After, which is due out in 2013.