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I really, really enjoyed this one: it works as historical fiction, as science fiction, as a horror story, a romance, a coming of age, and as a retelling of H.G. Wells' original. The changes that Shepherd makes, the twists she introduces, they all feel organic and they play off the original and change it, but in ways that complement the Wells, if that makes sense. It changes it without trying to replace it or diminish it, maybe? Whatever it is I'm trying to say (YEESH), it's TOTALLY engrossing, and I TOTALLY DUG IT.
I give Chapman huge points for writing a dystopian set in a brutal kill-or-be-killed world...and just letting it be. Unlike every other YA dystopian I’ve read, Dualed never turns into a story about Standing Up To The Man or Fighting For Freedom. It’s purely a survival story, and it was a nice change to read about a protagonist who wasn’t a special snowflake* or a focal point for a rebellion.
It's got a fantastic sense of place and Farish conveys long periods of time spent waiting without ever slowing the pace of the story, both of which are quite impressive considering how few words she uses. The contrast between cultures is striking, and it's especially nice that the book portrays Viola attempting to understand and fit into American (and even more specifically, Maine**) culture, but never uses the somewhat-tired "I renounce my former culture/this new culture is so horrible and wrong; oh wait, now I'm proud to be a part of both cultures" storyline. She's drawn towards both worlds, but she just... keeps on keeping on, and eventually finds her place in both.
It's about music; about art; about beauty; about snobbery and elitism; about grief; about trust and manipulation and spite; about how a clash between two stubborn people can ultimately result in both sides losing; about economic class and using people to further your own ends and living THROUGH other people and about CHOOSING YOURSELF. All of the relationships are so complex—Lucy and her mother, her father, her grandfather, her brother, her best friend, her teacher, and, of course, Will—that I really don't think it would be possible for me to praise it highly enough.
There’s plenty of humor—the official Kirkus review called it “hilarious,” though I found it more subdued than that—but I had a lump in my throat for almost the entire 400 pages. It’s written with such emotional honesty that it’s impossible not to empathize with Hartzler’s young self: regardless of whether he’s writing about his Big Questions about God and religion or getting caught in a lie about buying the Pretty Woman soundtrack.
Shannon Hale has written nuanced, complex re-imaginings of fairy tales, she has written hilarious adult romance, she has written original fantasy, and with Dangerous, she has proved that she’s perfectly capable of writing a cracking SF yarn as well. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s emotionally complex, it’s super-ultra-action-packed, and it features a cast of characters that is diverse ethnically, culturally, physically, experientially, and economically.
If you've got readers clamoring for the gruesome, then look no further: This book is so gross! SO GROSS! Lots of gore, lots of poop, lots of hideous goings-on at the local slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few young omnivores go vegetarian after reading it.
What would you do if the zombie apocalypse started in your own town? Middle school baseball players Rabi, Miguel, and Joe don't just fight for their lives, they try to follow in the footsteps of their hero Spider Jerusalem—the fact that they were Transmetropolitan fans made me shriek with joy—to reveal the corruption and greed that caused it, as well as the people who are still trying to cover it up.
Holy cow, for a small book, it deals with a LOT of stuff, and it deals with it in depth. The banter between the boys is excellent and funny, as are the dynamics of their friendship: they always have each others' backs, there's complete trust and affection there, and they all know how to play to each others' strengths.
They all have large issues to contend with—Rabi is the main target of a racist bully on their team, Miguel's parents have been deported due to their immigration status and lives in fear of the rest of his family being picked up next, and Joe's father is a mean drunk—but while the issues certainly have a bearing on the storyline and on their worldviews, they're dealt with in a pretty matter-of-fact, non-preachy way. The immigration storyline, especially, was well-handled: Bacigalupi doesn't get into the politics, he just tells a story in which a kid has to deal with a situation that is (and has always been) completely out of his hands, but that has a direct impact on his future. Basically, Bacigalupi focuses on people, rather than on policy. Interwoven into all of it is a dark thread about money equaling power, but it does end on a hopeful note that suggests that information, knowledge, and—this is so awesome—STORY will eventually punch through it all.
It won't be for everyone—like I said, SO GROSS—but I really enjoyed it.
These books are new to me: according to the website, it's a series of stand-alone horror/romance graphic novels. In this first one, high school softball star Dicey Bell and science geek/gamer Jack get paired up for a class project, sparks fly, and then they have to team up to fight a zombie uprising. So it looks like it's the old Opposites Attract And Have To Find A Way To Contend With Their Differences Amid Unrelated Chaos storyline. Of which I am a fan, so I'm going to pick it up soon.
I had so much fun putting together yesterday's list about Norse mythology—and, to those who have asked, I'm planning on reading Icefall and West of the Moon ASAP—that I'm doing another one today. This time, as you've likely gathered from the title, I'm focusing on young pianists.
I chose the topic largely because I recently—FINALLY—read the first book on the list.
I've come to the conclusion that Sara Zarr is incapable of writing a flawed book. If you're a fan of contemporaries and she's NOT on your radar, WELL. I think said radar might need some recalibrating.
Lucy Beck-Moreau is a child of privilege, a piano prodigy who was on the fast track to fame and fortune, when, in a moment of grief and rage, she quit. It's been eight months since that day, and she hasn't played since. Now, all of the family's expectations—along with the resulting pressure—is on her younger brother's shoulders. Due to the unexpected death of his instructor, the family hires young Will R. Devi, and his influence sparks Lucy's reevaluation of her life choices, her relationship with music and with her family, and her future.
It's about music; about art; about beauty; about snobbery and elitism; about grief; about trust and manipulation and spite; about how a clash between two stubborn people can ultimately result in both sides losing; about economic class and using people to further your own ends and living THROUGH other people and about CHOOSING YOURSELF. All of the relationships are so complex—Lucy and her mother, her father, her grandfather, her brother, her best friend, her teacher, and, of course, Will—that I really don't think it would be possible for me to praise it highly enough. Lucy's various relationships with adult males are particularly interesting (and in two cases, HUGELY UNCOMFORTABLE, so much so that I moaned, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO DON'T GO THERE DON'T GO THERE more than once while reading, but I should have had trust, because GO THERE ZARR DID, and it was SO WELL DONE) and, yeah. SUCH A GOOD BOOK.
The Ultimate Dust Bowl Sobfest. I very clearly remember reading this one on my lunchbreak at the bookstore, and crying so much that the manager sent me away to go and take a SECOND LUNCH BREAK. Beautifully written.
The plot of this one—child piano prodigy grows up and is no longer interesting to the public, so his mother decides that they will market him as a MUSICAL MEDIUM WHO IS CHANNELING A LONG-DEAD GYPSY COMPOSER, WHAAAAAAAT but then his older brother starts to suspect that his little brother is ACTUALLY BEING POSSESSED, DOUBLE WHAAAAAAAT—immediately makes me think of Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall, what with Franz Schubert possessing Kit and all. And now I just want to read Lois Duncan all day long.
Actually, I know that I read this one, but I can't remember a thing about it beyond the format—it's a collage-style story told mostly in photos, IMs, drawings, and ephemera—and that it's about a pianist. I should probably revisit it, because the more I think about it, the more I remember, and I'm suddenly suspecting that it's one that's worth a re-read or two.
A Maine girl wants nothing more than to play her piano, escape her hometown, and go to Julliard. Then, a MYSTERIOUS NEW TATTOOED BOY arrives in town, and paranormal complications ensue. Despite the Maine connection, I'm inclined to skip this one—I'm a little bit MYSTERIOUS NEW BOYed out.
Two books about young prodigies reevaluating their respective futures: one has a wrist injury that allows her to take a few weeks off and explore ballet (really?), and the other weighs her life of never-ending practice, pressure, performance against first love, friendship, and free time.
There are plenty of others where the prodigies are secondary characters—Geoff Herbach's Stupid Fast, for one—but these are the major ones ABOUT pianists that I came up with. Did I miss anything super?
I have a soft spot for Norse mythology, and believe it or not, said affection DOES predate Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston's respective portrayals of Thor and Loki. Maybe it's because our childhood dog was named Loki? Or because of all of the shenanigans in Douglas Adams' Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul?
Wherever and whenever the affection stems from, it's made me happy to see more and more of it trickle into the YA section.
So, here are a few that are on my radar, some that I've read, some that I'd like to read:
These—or at least Loki's Wolves, I haven't read Odin's Ravens yet—are geared more middle-grade, but they're totally crossovers, so I'm including them. Despite being natural enemies, a descendant of Thor teams up with two descendants of Loki to roadtrip around South Dakota, looking for other young descendants of the gods in order to prevent Ragnarok. Understandably, Loki's Wolves gets cited as a Percy Jackson readalike pretty often, though it's worth mentioning that it doesn't have nearly as much humor as the Riordan books. While I found Matt's Must Protect Laurie Because She's A Girl mentality grating, it was in keeping with his personality and upbringing and worldview. (Less explicable was this line—He supposed if a girl that pretty was checking Baldwin out, the guy must be good-looking.—because, come on. Just because someone is straight doesn't mean that he is incapable of gauging whether or not another dude is conventionally attractive.)
There's lots of action, though, the full-page black-and-white illustrations complement the text well, and I loved how Armstrong and Marr incorporated historic spots (Deadwood) and other landmarks (Mount Rushmore). I'll be reading the second one at some point.
If this book hadn't been by Tessa Gratton, I'd have never picked it up due to the atrocious cover art. So here's hoping it gets redesigned at some point. (Oh, look, I got my wish. Still not great, and the model is either at a really weird angle or the image was created by just Photoshopping Matt Bomer's disembodied head onto someone else's shoulders, but it's an improvement over straight-up Skeet Ulrich. I think?-->)
Fan of Gratton's work—if you haven't discovered her yet, you're in fora treat—have probably already read this one. It's another roadtrip story, this one about a berserker and a prophetess searching for Baldur, who's gone missing. While the relationship dynamics and the family secrets are totally compelling, and while Gratton does a great job of integrating familiar myths but keeping the plotting unpredictable, for me, this one was all about the worldbuilding, which was FANTASTIC. I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
And that does it for the ones I've actually read! But there are so many more...
Despite having bought it ages ago, I'd been putting this one off because I'm a little bit afraid of it—I've heard that it's gut-wrenching—but no one told me that the faith system of the characters is based on Norse myths! So that, combined with my love of Catch & Release, means I'm bumping it waaaay up the TBR pile.
This trilogy sounds pretty light-hearted, which is understandably unusual in books dealing with Norse mythology. A girl moves from LA to Minnesota and discovers that she's a 'stork': a woman who pairs unborn souls up with their mothers-to-be. Bonus: In addition to the Norse stuff, there's some Snow Queen action!
Like the Maze Runner series—especially the sequels and prequel—the focus is far heavier on the action and the plotting than on characterization, and the third-person narrator tends to tell readers what our hero is feeling, rather than showing us (Michael knew his friends could see the anxiety on his face). For the most part*, though, it’s a solid techno-action adventure and I have no doubt that the Dashner Army will not only be super happy with it, but will immediately start clamoring for the inevitable sequel.
It’s fun, it’s smart, and despite the familiar components, it’s a solidly entertaining steampunk adventure. Most notably, it has a much stronger focus on the relationship between the girls than on any of the various romantic entanglements, and there’s a thought-provoking thread about feminism, and about cultural assumptions about gender roles: how “appropriate” conduct is defined by worldview.
Like Carroll's Alice, much of the time that Alyssa is in Wonderland, things are out of her control. Unlike Carroll's Alice, though—and this is where my major difficulty with the book lies—Alyssa's loss of control can almost always be chalked up to one of the two guys in her life: Morpheus, a Wonderland denizen who has a penchant for fancy hats and a hookah, and Jeb, the aforementioned crush. She is bossed around, held against her will, lied to, and argued about as if she A) wasn't standing right there and B) someone with, you know, AN OPINION ABOUT HER OWN WELFARE.
I haven't read this one, but it sounds so awesome that I just ordered myself a copy. It's about twin sisters, born conjoined, now separated. One of them who has magical abilities, one of them who doesn't.
Fans of Buffy will love that Izzy’s relationship with her mother is complex and believable, that she almost immediately aligns herself with the school outcasts (who are all awesome), and that Hawkins turns the usual P.E. dodge-ball scene on its head when Izzy gets ticked off and accidentally dislocates a bully’s shoulder.
So the peculiar canonization of John Green and this string of bizarre articles that anoint him as the vanguard of a post-sparkly-vampire seriousness in YA isn’t simply about taking a white male more seriously than everyone else. It’s also about privileging a certain narrative structure—the dominant narrative’s dominant narrative. It’s not only that Green is a straight white man, it’s that he writes in the way that generations of straight white men have deemed important and Literary. And in art, the remaking of form has historically made the establishment very uncomfortable. There’s so much innovation in YA (and, hi, middle grade!) and its audience is wonderfully open to new stories told in new ways. By holding up Green as an exemplar, by shoving his peers into his shadow, these critics are telling writers who might be innovating: if you want to be important, write like him.
Excerpts you can read right now include new work from established giants of the field (Ellen Hopkins; Garth Nix; Scott Westerfeld), authors best-known for their adult books (Carl Hiaasen; Michael Perry; Ben Tripp; Meg Wolitzer), and genuine newsmakers—including the first of James Frey’s attention-getting Endgame trilogy, which will include interactive elements developed in association with Google’s Niantic Labs.
From the adult description:
Highly-anticipated debuts include multi-generational family epic We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas, featured on BEA’s own “buzz books” editors panel alongside another highly-touted debut set for publication in over 30 countries, Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. We have Nayomi Munaweera’s novel longlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, and Audrey Magee’s The Undertaking, already shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize in Fiction.
Well-established authors such as Tana French, Marlon James, John Scalzi and W. Bruce Cameron are represented with new work, as are excerpts from the last books in two popular series from Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness.
I was sent here because of a boy. His name was Reeve Maxfield, and I loved him and then he died, and almost a year passed and no one knew what to do with me. Finally it was decided that the best thing would be to send me here. But if you ask anyone on staff or faculty, they'll insist I was sent here because of "the lingering effects of trauma." Those are the words that my parents wrote on the application to get me into The Wooden Barn, which is described in the brochure as a boarding school for "emotionally fragile, highly intelligent" teenagers.
On the line where it says "Reason student is applying to The Wooden Barn," your parents can't write "Because of a boy."
But it's the truth.
Well, based on that, it's certainly a familiar story, but we'll see.
By the fall, Nic says, the 4th Floor Chapbook Series Vending machine will be elevatored to the top floor of the Science Leadership Academy and open for business. It will offer young adult fiction and poetry from writers all across the country (submissions are still being accepted; more on that here) as well as work from the Science Leadership Academy’s own students. It may be the start of a new trend, or just something organically cool.
From the Southern Independent Booksellers' Alliance website: "Each year, hundreds of booksellers across the South vote on their favorite "handsell" books of the year. These are the "southern" books they have most enjoyed selling to customers; the ones that they couldn't stop talking about. The SIBA Book Award was created to recognize great books of southern origin."
Little Rebels judge Wendy Cooling called After Tomorrow: "a frighteningly believable story, a real page-turner with a strong sense of danger always present, and many big issues of a possible future just below the surface".
See the other shortlisted titles here, and more information about the award here.
Pretenders, by Lisi Harrison: For some reason, when I picked this one up I thought it was a new Sara Shepard book. (Despite Lisi Harrison's name on the cover, yes. I'm going to go ahead and blame all of this past year's brainmelt on my new job. Though, as you may have noticed, I've gotten back into the swing of posting regularly, so it looks like the brainmelt is receding, which, YAY. Anyway.)
So, The Pretenders. If I'm remembering correctly, there are five narrators, and they're all up for some sort of award, and there is cheating and dramz and romance and so on. Stronger than Harrison's Clique books, and a bit more mature, and while it clearly wasn't all that memorable, I do remember it being a fun, popcorn-y read.
Page Morgan’sThe Beautiful and the Cursed marks the first time I've seen a gargoyle as a romantic lead, and the fact that the heroine is almost more drawn to Luc Rousseau’s gargoyle side than to his human side gives it a nicely gothic flavor. There are some steamy scenes that are quite effective, the sense of time is interesting—a scene that focuses on one character is often followed up with one about another character during the same period of time—and...wow. I’ve run out of nice things to say.
Despite the book’s disappointing spiral into inanity in the third act, the introduction of a totally extraneous love triangle (and when I say "extraneous," I’m referring to BOTH romances), AND the fact that it ends on a deflating TUNE IN NEXT TIME TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS note, I enjoyed my time with the heroine so much that I’ll very probably pick up Book Two.
It's a story that could have gone in any number of unimpressive directions—trite, preachy, insipid, black/white—but doesn't. Kokie doesn't shy away from Matt's less-than-politically-correct and sometimes less-than-empathetic feelings—and even when he's exhibiting them, he's still a sympathetic character because of all of the pain and confusion and anger he's feeling—and she always, always stays true to her character.
This is part of White's Echo Company series, and while it looks like 'Tis the Season also features Lieutenant Rebecca Phillips, The Road Home seems like it's more up my alley, as it's about her return back to the United States from Vietnam, and about the post-war healing process. I have to say, though, while I'm not usually drawn to war stories, I've been meaning to read the Echo Company books for ages: Ellen Emerson White is a treasure.
A seventeen-year-old girl with precognitive powers—she sees the impending deaths of loved ones, but no one believes her, making her a WWI-era Cassandra—joins a volunteer nursing corps and heads off to France in an attempt to save the life of her one remaining brother. Love Sedgwick, so I'm a little bit horrified that I haven't gotten around to this one yet.
...I wrote about the first in a new series (specifically a trilogy, I think):
Katie Finn’s Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend has humor, strong dialogue, a decent romance and a complicated emotional core. It also has a serious, whiplash-inducing—when the switch happened, my jaw literally dropped—identity crisis.
This premise could easily have resulted in a book that reads like a literary exercise*, but Just Like Fate succeeds across the board. It feels like a real story about real people, and the aforementioned parallels are overt enough to be noticeable—in one storyline, Caroline connects with a boy via banter; in the other, she attempts the same sort of banter with a different boy and it falls flat—while still being subtle enough to avoid being gimmicky. Patrick and Young write seamlessly in the same voice; Caroline is believable, imperfect and sympathetic; and her friends and family are just as believable and well-drawn.
National Ambassador for Children's Literature and 2014 Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo's fourth title in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series, an older spin off of the Mercy Watson series, featuring the much reviled neighbor as she comes to terms with a surprise gift, that at once maddens and challenges her, and to her chagrin, the gift is nonreturnable, to Karen Lotz and Andrea Tompa at Candlewick.
And a YA:
Rebecca Podos's debut THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES, pitched as PICTURE ME GONE meets PAPER TOWNS, about the daughter of a bestselling mystery writer, who sets out to find her missing father using the skills she has learned from his books, and -- along the way -- uncovers truths hidden in the loneliness that has marked the family since her mother abandoned them years before, to Jordan Brown at Balzer & Bray, in a two-book deal, for publication in Spring 2016.