Sunday, July 31, 2016

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee Review

Title: Outrun the Moon
Author: Stacey Lee
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book through my local library and reviewed it.

I've heard countless people talk about Stacey Lee and her books--she made a splash last May with her historical fiction debut, Under the Painted Sky. I haven't read that, but when I heard about her new novel, called Outrun the Moon, I reserved it at my library immediately. It took me a while to wade through my library pile and get to it, but I'm so happy I read it. It's one of my favorite historical fiction novels of 2016, and probably one of my favorite books ever. Stacey Lee completely stole my heart with her beautiful, empathetic prose, and the book's heroine, Mercy Wong. A young Chinese-American woman growing up in 1906 San Francisco, she is determined to be successful and rise beyond her circumstances.

Mercy completely stole my heart. I loved her immediately, and I really enjoyed her voice, especially when it came to integrating Chinese culture into the book. It was enlightening and informative, and that's one of the reasons I love the genre of historical fiction: I can learn about real things while seeing through a fictional lens. Mercy is spunky, tenacious, kind and caring. I fell for her immediately--I really found a friend in her, as well as the other characters in the book. The first half of the book revolves around Mercy securing a spot at a prestigious American school, and the second half is really what makes the book shine--it really showed the tenacity of the human spirit, even in times of crisis.

This book was absolutely lovely: a strong, willful heroine, shown with unapologetic ambition, with a lot of Chinese folklore and culture, sparkling, sympathetic secondary characters, natural disasters, all in San Francisco in 1906! A meaty and heartbreaking work of historical fiction and one of my favorite books of the year! Next on deck: The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Hellig!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman Review

Title: Girls On Fire: A Novel
Author: Robin Wasserman
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I've read a lot of Robin Wasserman's young adult work, most notably the first two novels in her Skinned trilogy. I've been looking forward to more of her work ever since. Ever since I'd heard of the existence of Girls on Fire, I've been salivating for it. I was really looking forward to it, and I enjoyed it, for the most part. But there were also some things I weren't crazy about, so my feelings are mixed.

Girls on Fire is a twisting and magnetic mystery/thriller wrapped in a coming of age story wrapped in one of the most twisted love stories I've ever come across. It is the story of Lacey Champlain and Hannah 'Dex' Dexter, two volatile and uncertain young women who find in each other in little, podunk Battle Creek, and cannot live without each other. When dark secrets come to light, the two young women must decide if their relationship is worth paying the ultimate price...

Told in prose as electric as this sleepaway hit's title, the girls become intoxicated by one another, alternately loving and betraying as they see fit. I was captivated, as I always am, by Wasserman's bright and electric prose. Through Dex, we see Lacey, and the little town that she finds so stifling. This book was impossible not to relate to--it really spoke to me. Growing up is hard, and even harder if you happen to be a young woman. In Dex, I saw some of myself--the longing to belong, to be content, to love and be loved--even if it means sacrificing who you are. Lacey, Dex's emotional, wild, I don't give a crap foil, was just as compelling, if not more so. The girls' relationship--deeper than friendship--is so all-consuming that everything around it is destroyed, ripped to tatters by the end of the novel.

I really enjoyed the style of the novel--it was told in a frighteningly stoic voice, from the end to the beginning and back again. This book also tackled one of my favorite topics in fiction, especially contemporary: a toxic friendship. I don't know why it is, but I'm drawn to books about destruction, degeneration. Bonus points if it's personal. The format was fantastic, and by the end, I was frantically flipping pages, desperate to find out what would come of these girls on fire--if they would flare so bright they would eclipse the sun, or if they would flicker and burn out. I was spellbound, almost against my will. Even when I wanted to put it down, I couldn't.

That being said, there were times when I was reading that I was kind of let down--but the ending was worth it, and I'm so glad that I stuck with it. Dex and Lacey were the main characters, the focus, and the characters around them, including their parents, seemed almost like caricatures in comparison to them. Even when they were included more in the story than just supporting characters, they didn't seem real to me. The bottom line: A mystery thriller wrapped in a twisted love and coming of age story in the golden age of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Girls on Fire was, for the most part, mesmerizing! Despite the stiffness of the supporting characters, I really enjoyed it. Next on deck: Outrun The Moon by Stacey Lee!

Monday, July 25, 2016

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows Review

Title: My Lady Jane
Author(s): Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I won't mince words: This book is one of my favorites of the summer, the year, and probably ever. The concept is certainly unusual: a fantasy retelling of British history, chock-full of humor, wit, and pop culture references. Think The Tudors mashed up with Monty Python, and you'll have something close to My Lady Jane. I loved it, and I'm hoping that these three authors will collaborate again. (Please? It was absolute perfection!) The authors use the first half of the novel to lay the groundwork for the history that inspires it, and they use the second half to drive the novel home. It was so fantastic--I was literally laughing out loud the entire time I was reading. (If all 'history' was taught like this, I promise even the haters would happily be on board.)

There are three main characters in this book: Edward, as in Edward, the King of England, Lady Jane Gray, a young woman who loves books more than she loves people, (yay for a bookish main character! Always a good way to win over this reader) and Gifford, also known as 'G', Jane's reluctant spouse.  All three characters intersect, all different and equally witty and hilarious. This England, too, is not what you think: this England has magic, in the form of Edians (pronounced Eth-y-uns): people who can change into animals at will. Forced into a dangerous web of political intrigue, the three royals must unite (with many sparkling, wicked secondary characters) and save their country, despite all of the forces around them conspiring to have the crown for themselves.

As I said before, this book was just lovely, a breath of fresh air. I loved the way the authors spun history to such humorous and witty effect. It was pretty much perfect in every way--the pacing was breakneck, the prose flowing and full of sparkling humor, wit, and a treasure trove of pop culture references. It was so refreshing and fun and delightful, and it was a good thing to read after This Savage Song. It's something like a literary palate cleanser: it was fun and light and full of heart. The bottom line: A more than worthy addition to an already large bounty of young adult literature this year, My Lady Jane was a wonderful, humorous spin on English history--a gem of 2016! Next on deck: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab Review

Title: This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Monsters of Verity, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Okay, so I'll be honest with you guys: I'm a little bit biased here. Victoria Schwab won my heart entirely last year with her smash hit, A Darker Shade of Magic, and its sequel this year, A Gathering of Shadows. And to call me a devotee is kind of an understatement, but... I can't help it. Schwab is one of my favorite fantasy authors, probably one of my go-tos, and This Savage Song only helped cement her place in my heart, as a reader and an author (if albeit an un-established one). God, where do I even begin with this book?

I loved it, honestly. Schwab's electric prose and her signature, atmospheric world-building, and the characters--it just all added up to a wholly original and exciting fantasy. This Savage Song paints a broken, dark and frightening world where monsters are literally formed from bad acts. There are three different types: ghostly, bloodthirsty Corsai, dark and sly Malachi with sharp teeth and terror, and finally, the Sunai, the special breed of monster who can steal your soul with a song (literally.)

Kate Harker and August Flynn are two people from completely different worlds: Kate is the daughter of Callum, the ruler of North City, the safe part of Verity. Tough and scary and full of fire and spunk, she fights to live up to her father's expectations. August is a monster who longs to be human, who dreams of more to his existence. The two are thrown together in a crazy, catastrophic turn of events, and are forced to trust each other, even as the city they both live in falls to pieces.

As I said previously, I really enjoyed this book. The premise was original and exciting. The pacing of the book is breakneck--you're thrown into Schwab's world, hanging on for dear life as you turn the pages, sucked into the story almost against your will. Almost. I loved the characters, pretty much all of them, but the stars of the novel, Kate and August, were really the ones who stole my heart. Dynamic and flawed and three-dimensional, they seemed to fly off of the pages of their story and straight into my soul. More please! There had better be a sequel, or I'll die! (Waiting for the last A Darker Shade of Magic has been hard enough!) The bottom line: Another original, groundbreaking hit for the fantastic Victoria Schwab, This Savage Song is one of my favorite books of 2016! More please! Next on deck: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando Review

Title: The Leaving
Author: Tara Altebrando
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Mystery/Thriller
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

How do I describe this book? Honestly, I'm not sure where to even start. The Leaving is a powerful, dark, and sad meditation on grief, memory, life and death, and family. Is it a total mind-screw? Yup. The characters in this novel are many, but they are each unique and real, and full of flaws and tiny triumphs. And that's part of what made this book so powerful for me--it's something unlike anything I've ever read. I don't want to say too much about the plot, because the fun of it is going in blind. But six kids were taken mysteriously eleven years before the story starts--Max, Scarlett, Kristen, Adam, Lucas, and Sarah. But only five children come back, miraculously unharmed but without any memory whatsoever.

Avery, Max's little sister, is desperate for answers. When she begins to dig into her older brother's disappearance, she bonds almost immediately with Lucas. But when the kids begin to realize that The Leaving is so much bigger than they ever imagined, will they regret digging where they shouldn't? Will they wish they had left well enough alone? This book--it is one of my favorite books of the summer, if not the year. If all mysteries were written like this book, I would be absolutely ecstatic. One of the other selling points for me with this book was the format--it was so unusual and intriguing.

The pacing of The Leaving is absolutely breakneck, truly--you are thrown into the narrative and Altebrando doesn't let go. Even if you have to put the book down, it will haunt you until you can finish it. And there were so many twists and turns I'm pretty sure I received whiplash while reading it. (Beware!) An exciting, dark and beautiful novel, The Leaving is one of my favorite books of the year--a dark mystery wrapped in mediations on life and death, family, and memory! Absolutely stunning! Next on deck: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill Review

Title: Asking For It
Author: Louise O'Neill
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Oh, Louise O'Neill. You've done it again. Just like with your first novel, Only Ever Yours, I feel as if my internal organs have been rearranged, my heart and entrails scattered into a million different, scattered pieces. I loved this book, because it was more than fiction--it is a powerful and unflinching treatise on sexism, rape culture, and victim-blaming in today's modern society. It made me cry, it made me rage, it made me think--and isn't that the purpose of fiction, after all? To hold up a mirror towards the world and weave a story, all the while telling the truth about it? I am absolutely blown away, bowled over by O'Neill's gift to write stories that glimmer with truth, just below the surface. I'm just amazed.

Asking For It revolves around eighteen-year-old Emma 'Emmie' O'Donovan, a beautiful young woman who seems to have the entire world worshipping at her feet. When she goes to a party and is sexually assaulted, her life spins out of control as the accused and the media document everything. Her life ruined, Emma is left wondering if she indeed was 'asking for it'. I'll be honest: For the first part of the book, I didn't really like Emma at all. She just seemed like the typical mean girl. But during the second half, my heart broke for her, knowing that her story is just one of many.

Asking For It made me weep, made me rage to my very soul. I'm not going to lie, like Only Ever Yours, this book was really hard to get through, especially when I think about the most recent sexual assault cases that have surfaced in the media lately. It takes a razor-sharp look at rape culture and victim-blaming, in a way that condemns the actions of those who do those things. Emma is just one of many young women who are blamed for the actions of her attacker, and it disgusted me. God, this book. It made my heart weep, it enraged me so much I was seeing red, and I wish I could tell everyone I know to read this book. I want to shout from the rooftops about how this book should be required reading, not just for women, but for everyone. This book is so very vital and important, and it is one of my favorite novels of the year, and probably ever. Just read it. Go get it from the library, or the bookstore, clear your schedule, and read it. I can personally guarantee that you won't be disappointed. The bottom line: An absolutely important and vital piece of literature that shines a light on rape culture, sexism, and victim-blaming, Asking For It is one of my favorite books ever--O'Neill has won me over for the second time! Next on deck: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh Review

Title: Ivory and Bone
Author: Julie Eshbaugh
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Series: Ivory and Bone, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Where do I even start with this book? The pitch for it was prehistorical fantasy with allusions to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice--and all of these things are true. But Ivory and Bone is also so much more than that--a coming of age story, a romance, and a complete literary breath of fresh air. I've never read anything like this book. I was kind of nervous about it because I didn't know exactly what to expect. But never fear, my friends, because now Julie Eshbaugh is one of my must-read authors of 2016!

I don't want to say much about the plot of Ivory and Bone--part of the fun is in the mystery of this book, but I'll try to sum it up as simply as possible. Kol and his clan hunt and gather, working to survive each year. When another clan comes to their shores, the camp is abuzz with hope, praying for an alliance. But when rumors abound and long-kept secrets are discovered, war begins to brew, with Kol right in the middle of it. Can he save his clan and stop the bloodshed, all the while trying to follow his heart?

I really enjoyed this book--it was unlike anything else I've ever read. It really stimulated my imagination, and was a wonderful story. I was pulled in immediately, and I couldn't let go until the final page. (It's been on my mind all week.) To say that this is one of my favorite books of the summer is a major understatement. It was almost entirely perfect--familiar elements of fiction mixed together with a unique story and unusual format to create something wholly original. Unfortunately, at times the whole romance angle seemed to take the focus of the book, and it kind of took away from the plot for me a little bit. Nonetheless, I look forward to more from Julie Eshbaugh! The bottom line: One of my favorite books of the summer, Ivory and Bone is an original, fantastic debut--absolutely amazing! Next on deck: Asking For It by Louise O'Neill!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Marked Girl by Lindsey Klingele Review

Title: The Marked Girl
Author: Lindsey Klingele
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Marked Girl, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

The Marked Girl is a series debut, and unlike any fantasy I've ever read. It was thrilling, exciting, and totally original, a work all its own. It had familiar elements: magic, evil villains, portals to different worlds. But the way Klingele works them to her advantage is totally original and exciting. It kind of reminded me of Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, but without the magical art elements. Frankly, I really enjoyed it. Normally with fantasy, it gets kind of tiring, seeing magical worlds, because if they're not overdone, they don't do justice to the genre. But The Marked Girl is something totally different, a fantasy of a different kind.

The Marked Girl begins with two people, Liv and Cedric. Liv is just a normal girl living in LA with her foster mother, and Cedric is a prince from the magical world called Caelum. Their lives collide, quite literally, when Cedric is forced to from his home and to Earth, with a huge burden on his shoulders: He must find ancient scrolls that open the portal back home. Thrust into an uneasy alliance, Liv and Cedric are on a race against time to return home before evil creatures called wraths take over the world.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced, original, and exciting. I literally read this book in two days--it's so breakneck that Klingele grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. I really liked the idea of different people falling through a portal to get to our world, from a place that is mysterious and magical and exciting. But what really sold this novel for me were the characters. There truly wasn't one that I didn't like, but my favorites were Liv and Cedric--they felt the most real to me.

At times, though, I felt like the family and love drama took a little bit away from the story--it felt like sometimes that was a huge focus on the story, and it was a bit of a distraction from the whole epic quest trope. Nonetheless, The Marked Girl was a fun and enjoyable fantasy novel, and I look forward to the next book in the series. The bottom line: A fun, fantasy-filled series debut, Klingele creates a series debut that is magical and exciting--a promising book for the summer of 2016! Next on deck: Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh!

Monday, July 4, 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman Review

Title: The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction
Author: Neil Gaiman
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

First of all: Happy Fourth of July, all! Hope your Fourth is full of family, friends, and food, and of course, books!

Okay, so just so you know, I'm going to be unapologetically biased in this review: I love Neil Gaiman, ever since I read Snow, Glass, Apples a few years ago. (I know, I know, I sound like a rabid fan, but no Misery-esque craziness here, I promise) Reading his work for the first time was like being introduced to someone new, but you feel like you've known them forever. And frankly, The View from the Cheap Seats was like having one of my inspirations all to myself for the three days I was reading it. I felt like Neil himself was sitting in my living room, telling me stories and encouraging me and telling me all the things he cares about. If all nonfiction were like this book, I would be an avid fan.

This book is a hefty one--over five hundred pages of pure Neil Gaiman, who I thought I knew before now. And I did--through his fiction. But there is so much more to him than his writing and literature career; he cares about all of that and more. Comics, fairy tales, movies and music, writing, reading. And he explains a topic in such a way that even if you didn't care about it when the essay began, you did when it ended. I love how especially thorough and personal and incredibly emotional it is--Neil Gaiman is one of my heroes, and now, because of this lovely tome, I feel like I know and love and am inspired by him that much more, that much better. It was highly enjoyable, full of stories and knowledge and love. I'm so enlightened and inspired, and I have a lot of food for thought from this wonderful, absolutely essential volume from one of the brightest stars in literature! The bottom line: A thoughtful, loving tome on Neil Gaiman and all of his loves, The View from the Cheap Seats is absolutely essential for any fan, whether they be devotees or new to the author! Next on deck: The Marked Girl by Lindsey Klingele!

Friday, July 1, 2016

You Know Me Well by Nina Lacour and David Levithan Review

Title: You Know Me Well: A Novel
Author(s): Nina Lacour and David Levithan
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: N/A, standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I've never read the work of either of these authors until this collaboration, though they are both huge superstars in the young adult fiction arena. Frankly, this novel just makes me even more excited for their individual work. I loved this novel, plain and simple. It was a rollicking, beautifully tender coming of age tale. It was like getting a warm hug from a close friend when you're at rock bottom--or at least the literary equivalent of it. (Which I needed, because The Raven King killed me, but moving on.)

You Know Me Well tells the dual story of Mark and Kate, two young, gay people who are lost, afraid, and more than a little overwhelmed by life. They meet by chance on one crazy, busy night in the middle of San Franscisco, and instantly bond. Together they try to navigate the trials of first love, the future, and who they really are, with a ton of personal insight and bracing, self-deprecating humor peppered through the crazy parts.

The pacing of You Know Me Well was breakneck, and honestly it felt like Kate and Mark were two long-lost friends from my own high school years. I was utterly entranced by the narrative, smoothly moving between Mark, who is working on years of pining for his in-the-closet best friend, Ryan, and the painfully shy and anxious Kate, who has been longing for a friend's cousin named Violet. Thrown together by chance and their own anxiety, the two teens become fast friends, and find themselves in the process.

This book was lovely--the perfect combination of humor, teen angst, well-developed and hilarious characters. At times, though, it felt like the angst took the focus of the story a lot, and it kind of put me off of the story for a little bit. Overall, though, this book is one of my favorites of 2016, and a wonderful addition to my summer reading!  The bottom line: A fantastic, wonderful coming of age story, You Know Me Well is one of my favorite reads of the year--full of humor, angst, and self-discovery! Next on deck: The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman!