Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much--if you don't count her secret visits to the Ironton Coutny Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.

But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle--who already has six wives--Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

This tale is absolutely extraordinary. Powerfully written, it hits many themes, many of them controversial. The most dominant is religion, and when it goes too far: Kyra's community runs on the belief that for a man to get into heaven, he must have at least three wives and many children; a woman can only reach heaven with her husband's assistance. In addition, women have no choice about whom they marry: the match is either decreed by the Prophet or chosen by the man as one might pick a horse.

Sounds like something from centuries ago, right? The Chosen One is set in modern times, complete with computers (not that most of the Chosen get to use one) and Harry Potter (banned along with all other books that aren't the Bible).

Kyra's struggle for love and for freedom brings her off the page and into the heart.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Invitation Only by Kate Brian

She had to break all the rules to do it, but Reed is finally a Billings girl. Finally the best of the best at the elite Easton theory. In truth, the so-called friends that got her into Billings are still making her play Cinderella.

If that weren't enough, her boyfriend Thomas is still missing, and she's caught the eye of the most powerful student in school. Reed has plans to have it all, both acceptance and her perfect man, but will the means justify the ends?

This is the second book in the Private series. To be honest, I almost didn't pick it up because the first book was all about Reed losing her morals to become friends with cruel snobs. Invitation Only continues that theme, but I kept reading because I wanted to know how low she would sink next.

And wow, did she sink. Using a guy who totally loves her to find her missing boyfriend, even though a)she's disgusted by the guy, and b)said boyfriend broke up with her in a note? No one ever said high school was about the grades.

However, don't let my criticism of Reed's character stop you from reading. The novel was well-written, so if you like Clique-styled books, you'd probably enjoy it. There are many fashion details, and of course the Billings girls are keeping a wealth of secrets...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Seven Tears into the Sea by Terri Farley

Beckon to the sea,
I'll come to thee...
Shed seven tears,
Perchance seven years...

As a child, Gwen lived by the sea. One night, she met a mysterious boy who told her a haunting rhyme. Soon after, her family moved away, but she never forgot the boy.

Now, seven years later, Gwen is returning to her childhood home at the request of her nana. But by the sea, old dreams--and fears--are resurrected...

Powerful and compelling, Seven Tears is the type of book that is simply captivating. It dives into mythology, pulling on the Celtic myth of selkies, which are seals that can shed their skins to become human.

Apart from the mythology element, the characters are deep and well thought out. Gwen is understandably different when compared to her ten-year-old self, and she proves it when confronting Zack. And just as she is no longer the sweet little girl who fixed his bike, Zack is no longer afraid to take action. Their fights with their personal demons feed well into the overall plot.

The ending is not what I expected, and it's intense to the last page. For more discussion on it, keep reading.

SPOILER ALERT! I tried to make it harder to accidentally read the ending. Remember NOT to read until you've read the book!!!

Ohmygosh, this is a sad ending. I mentioned in my last post that I was traveling while reading these; on the airplane I was pounding my head with the book muttering "This can't happen. This can't happen." (If anyone thought I was crazy, at least I'll never see them again.) I realized what was about to happen several pages before Gwen did--as soon as the poem was fully explained--and I was trying to convince myself there would be a happy ending.

No luck. In the last six pages, my hope of Gwen and Jesse getting their happy ending died. I should have remembered from a selkie book I read years ago: selkies will always love the sea. Jesse didn't have a choice in the matter; he had to return. And even through my denial, I realized Gwen exhibits true love when she lets him leave.

Finally, switching to Jesse's perspective, past, present, and future are tied together, and leaves the hope of reunion.


How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles

I didn't get to post anything last week because I was on vacation. But long flights and longer layovers means I got to read quite a bit... On another note, I'm playing with my sidebar. Like the book release countdowns? I think I'll limit it to a couple at a time. (If anyone knows how to use, please let me know in the comments!) Now, on with the review...

Amy's father has no place in her life. He's usually good for a visit on her birthday, but that's about it. So when he announces that he's taking her to Israel, his homeland, Amy is rightfully ticked. Summer vacation has become summer torture, complete with intense security (she is in a war zone, after all), a cousin named after boogers, and a boy who is determined to hate her.

Amy's story is a fun read for the summer. She's a hilarious narrator, and she comments on everything. Even though it sometimes feels like a report for school (you know the classic, What I Did on My Summer Vacation), it's very readable and I actually learned some things about Israel.

Admittedly, I did find the storyline a bit predictable. Boy hates girl, girl doesn't know why, girl is attracted to guy, guy eventually softens up... wow, when put that way, it's like Twilight without the vampires! (just kidding)

But if you're looking for a light read, definitely check this one out. It has also expanded into a series, with sequels How to Ruin My Teenage Life and How to Ruin Your Boyfriend's Reputation(Oct '09)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa has the gift of killing. In her world, people can be born with extreme skill, known as a Grace. Graces can be anything from archery skills to sensing storms to climbing trees, but Katsa is unlucky enough to be skilled at murder. Forced to serve her uncle, King Randa, she is feared by all as the king's killer.

In a world where people are born with an extreme skill--called a Grace--are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.
When she first meets Prince Po, who is graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace--or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Not since Tamora Pierce have I read such a good sword-and-sorcery fantasy. The concept of Graces is unique, and varied enough that not all Gracelings are super human. These skills can range from fighting to climbing trees. And because of the more violent Graces, any Graceling is looked down upon and feared, no matter how innocent her Grace may be.

Katsa herself is a feminist heroine in a male-dominant time period. She is capable of taking down an entire army with ease, but balks at marriage because it would tie her down. At one point while she and Po are traveling together, she remarks, "You're welcome to do the hunting yourself. Perhaps I could stay by the fire and mend your socks, and scream if I hear any strange noises." Yet throughout the novel, Katsa must fight her inner demons and learn how to love.

For lovers of fantasy and strong female protagonists, this is definitely a must-read. It is also satisfyingly thick with 471 pages!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Naughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

In a world of racism, black Cross and white naughts just don't mix. Crosses are upper-class citizens, while naughts are just as their name suggests: nothings. Under these circumstances, Cross Sephy and naught Callum shouldn't be friends...and they definitely shouldn't love each other.

Callum and Sephy are forced to meet in secret. But when Callum's family becomes involved in a naught liberation movement, their differences cannot be ignored any longer...

Blackman's alternate reality is alarmingly similar to the real world. Crosses hold the powerful government positions. They control the justice system and the school system. When Callum goes to school as part of an integration attempt--1960s, anyone?--he notices that all the historical figures are Crosses. In addition, there are movements for equality. Some are nonviolent, but the Liberation Militia isn't afraid to bomb a shopping mall to get the message across.

At times, I found the writing style awkward--I felt like contractions were used at the oddest times, and character dialogue could seem a bit forced. However, it did not detract from the powerful plot line. There is also a huge twist at the end, which kept me on edge until the last page.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Midnight Predator by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Though she was once a happy teenager with a wonderful family and a full life, Turquoise Draka is now a hunter, committed to no higher purpose than making money and staying alive. In a deadly world of vampires, shape-shifters, and mercenaries, she'll track any prey if the price is right.
Her current assignment: to assassinate Jeshikah, one of the cruelest vampires in history. Her employer: an unknown contact who wants the job done fast. Her major obstacle: she'll have to hide her strength and enter Midnight, a fabled vampire realm, as a human slave...

From the first book I read by her, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes captivated me. Not only was she first published at 15, her books are good. The Den of Shadows series is an intricate world of vampires, and although they share the same rules, each is a stand-alone story.

We see many sides to Turquoise as the book progresses. The first impression is a dedicated and deadly hunter. Once in Midnight, however, her reality is shaken by meeting Jaguar; at the same time flashbacks show how Turquoise entered the world of vampires and why she needed to freeze her heart.

Midnight Predator captivated me, and I have gone back to reread it several times. It's simply delicious for vampire lovers.

***Edit: The cover above is actually a reprint. Which appeals more to you, the newer version or this original artwork? I think that's Jaguar on this version, and Turquoise on the newer one. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Journey Begins

I am a reader. I read like I am starved for words, like my hunger can never be sated. I am also a writer. I have tried my hand at poetry, short stories, even full-blown novels. Now I am attempting a new style of writing: book reviews.

I will be reviewing YA books, primarily fiction. I favor fantasy and realistic fiction (how's that for a tension of opposites?), but will try nearly anything. On occasion, I may even review Japanese manga.

I invite you to join my on this journey.