Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Unspoken

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads


In Unspoken, Brennan does an amazing number of things amazingly well. The mystery and romance were intriguing, the setting was perfect (what sensible reader wouldn't want to go wandering through a gothically named and potentially cursed English village?), and the characterizations & dialogue were superb. I love Kami's detective instincts, her determination, and her snark. I love her pathologically lazy and seemingly bitter best friend (whose brother, similarly lethargic, is forever leaping out at them from unexpected places to test their self-defense training). I love her family, especially her father:

“Why are you putting on lip gloss, my daughter?” Dad asked. “Trip to the library? Trip to the nunnery? I hear the nunneries are nice this time of year”

“Is this true, Kami? Are you going out on a date?” Dad asked tragically. “Wearing that? Wouldn’t you fancy a shapeless cardigan instead? You rock a shapeless cardigan, honey.” 


Really, the dialogue in this just rocks. When other books could have been bogged down in melodrama or a well-worn romance, Unspoken zips along feeling all fresh and fun.

“Hark,” he said, his tone very dry. “What stone through yonder window breaks?”
Kami yelled up at him, “It is the east, and Juliet is a jerk!”
Jared abandoned Shakespeare and demanded, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Throwing a pebble,” said Kami defensively. “Uh… and I’ll pay for the window.”
Jared vanished and Kami was ready to start shouting again, when he reemerged with the pebble clenched in his fist. “This isn’t a pebble! This is a rock.”
“It’s possible that your behaviour has inspired some negative feelings that caused me to pick a slightly overlarge pebble,” Kami admitted.” 


It's not all snark and games though. There is a very real threat in the village right from the early chapters, and a sense of an increasing feeling of foreboding pervades the story as it builds to its end. The romance is believable and interesting, even if I wasn't wild about the object of it all the time. Even side characters get a fair shake, and I am nearly as interested in what will happen to Kami's friends Angela and Holly.

October 10th, 2013 and the sequel, Untold,  can't come soon enough.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Scarlet

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Cinder returns in the second thrilling installment of the New York Times-bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother and the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own.

As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads


I've been waiting to read this sequel to Cinder, the story of a cyborg Cinderella, for a while now. I was a little daunted when I saw that Scarlet was 500 pages, but in the end this was a quick and satisfying read that furthered Cinder's story while introducing Scarlet, this world's answer to Little Red Riding Hood.

Having put off finishing this review for a few weeks, I'm finding that I don't have a great deal to say about it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed it, I thought Meyer did a good job of expanding her world, introducing new characters, and continuing plot and character arcs from her first installment. I will be reading the next book in the series, Cress, a Rapunzel reimagining in the Sahara Desert- and my willingness to read another 500 page installment in a continuing series while my To Read pile is still rapidly and worryingly growing says as much as a longer and better contstructed review ever could.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Paper Valentine

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.

For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads


Between loving Yovanoff's debut title, The Replacement, and the gorgeous cover for this book, I was really excited to finally get my hands on Paper Valentine. In some ways that hype paid off. There is some eerie and perfect prose in this book: "someone has stolen the trees outside my room and replaced them with bones," as Hannah monologues at one point. The slayings were chilling, not just because of the innocence of the victims but also because of the creepily staged murder scenes and the town's complete inability to stop them. Hannah's relationship with her late best friend is nuanced, believable and challenging. Honestly, that was one of the best parts as far as I was concerned. In many teen books, there have been similar relationships but one party always seems to be a bully and the other a victim. Certainly Hannah was influenced by Lillian, who was often harsh and demanding, but there is more to their friendship and uncovering the layers was sometimes more interesting than the mystery- certainly more engaging than the romance. 

Which brings me to "Finny." He's not too bad, despite being described as an escapee from a 90's boy band (white undershirt, bleached hair, attitude). However, I hated his relationship with Hannah- although to be fair, this is mostly because I was really bothered by how she acted around him. On one hand she gets a real thrill out of making out with "a delinquent" (her word), which seemed unfair to him, especially when he was more respectful of her. On the other, she repeatedly makes ridiculous decisions and takes unnecessary risks to see him. Despite being told to watch her younger sister and her younger sister's friend BECAUSE THERE IS A SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE, Hannah decides to leave them alone and hang out in the park with Finny. The park where at least one of the murdered girls had been found. Leaving two middle schoolers alone in the house. Cos, um, what's the worst that could happen? Yikes. 

Hannah did mostly get it together as the book progressed, and showed more backbone in her various relationships, so at least there was development. I did enjoy the ghostly aspects of the book, and the mystery was exciting. Neither had quite the payoff I think they could have, but the book mostly succeeded at being suspenseful, creepy, and absorbing. All in all I don't love it as much as The Replacement, but there is plenty to recommend it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shades of Earth

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

Plot summary omitted for fear of series spoilers!!

Speaking of stunning series conclusions...

I raved about the first book, Across the Universe, here and included it in my list of favorite books I read in 2012. I haven't formally reviewed the second book, A Million Suns, but I loved that one as well. I can't talk about either without giving things away, which is making me crazy because there are so many plot points I want to mention, and several works I'd love to draw parallels to.


Which is not to say that Revis doesn't have a unique and fresh voice, because she certainly does. In all of the books I was impressed by her ability to construct such rich settings and complex characters, not to mention the carefully crafted tensions, moral quandaries and, best of all, mysteries! She is a master of suspense, with a perfect balance in revealing just enough information to keep her readers satisfied, while adding more layers and twists. 

There's just so much to love in this series. The ship was fascinating, and there's more of it to see in each book. The mission, sending cryogenically preserved people across space on a generation ship is not new, but it's just so interesting and there is so much to work with in this premise. Best of all, there is a FANTASTIC protagonist. I love Amy so much, especially after this third book. She definitely outshines her male counterparts, although for the most part they are likable and complex as well. She shows plenty of growth throughout the series but all along she is a strong, resourceful and compassionate person who rises to several impossible occasions. Other YA authors should read this and take notes.

I can't recommend these page-turners enough. Go forth and read!

Reached

Reached by Ally Condie

Cassia’s journey began with an error, a momentary glitch in the otherwise perfect fa├žade of the Society. After crossing canyons to break free, she waits, silk and paper smuggled against her skin, ready for the final chapter.

The wait is over.

One young woman has raged against those who threaten to keep away what matters most—family, love, choice. Her quiet revolution is about to explode into full-scale rebellion.

With exquisite prose, the emotionally gripping conclusion to the international–bestselling Matched trilogy returns Cassia, Ky, and Xander to the Society to save the one thing they have been denied for so long, the power to choose.
-Plot summary borrowed from Amazon


There are so many trilogies, quadroligies and series going in YA lit at the moment that for me to pick up a second, let alone third installment is pretty rare. In this case, I'm glad I did.

Like I said in my review of Matched, what makes Condie's dystopian trilogy stand out from the pack is her emphasis on inner growth, on philosophy and quiet strength rather than big set pieces and explosions (not that those are entirely lacking here, however). It's fascinating to watch characters who are wholly invested and participate in a rebellion, while still managing to stand slightly outside it. In fact, it is this distance from any faction and loyalty to each other that allow Cassia, Ky and Xander to accomplish what they do despite overwhelming odds.

Some of the things I especially liked about this book:

-Condie clearly spent a lot of time crafting all the triads in this book- the love triangle, the three pills the Society used (Green, Blue, and Red, which match her gorgeous covers), her three narrators, and plenty more throughout the series

-Cassia's gallery! I love that Condie takes the time out of her third installment to talk about the loss of culture that would take place in a dystopian future, and how vital art, music and dance are to people- and how naturally they come to us, given half a chance

-A well done love-triangle, that rare and nearly mythical literary beast

-The ending. WELL DONE.

If you haven't already had it to the gills with this genre, I strongly recommend the Matched series for its unique perspective, excellent characters and hopefulness.