Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Review by Janine

From the moment that I began reading this book, I was struck by just how well written it was.  While I read a lot of young adult, and really enjoy most of it, the writing in this book was wonderful. 
This book is the story of Karou, a teenage girl who has no idea who she is or where she came from.  She was raised by Brimestone and his two assistants, Twiga and Yasari who did their best to raise her as a normal, human girl, but Karou knows there is nothing normal about her.  As she got older, she began running errands for Brimstone, which in most cases was to collect teeth.  Karaou's reward for running these errands were scruppies, or small beads that granted small wishes. The wishes are what Brimstone trades various traders and hunters for teeth.  The importance of the teeth determines how many wish stones they get and what size.  The bigger the stone, the bigger the wish can be.  These beads were to explain Kauro's appearnce, her blue hair, multiple tattoos and her ability to speak many languages.  She is now in high school, living in Prague and attending art school, where she wows everyone with her drawings and their ability to tell a wild story about creatures made of different parts, collecting teeth and secrets.  What no one knows is that this is what Karuos' life is really all about.  The creatures are all the family that she knows, no one is willing to tell her where she came from or who she is.  Karou is ok with that most of time and lives her life as normally as she can until a war is raged, one that she does not understand and will effect the world as Karou knows it.  Good and evil have always fought, but what if you don't know what side you belong to? And what if your past can come back; does it define you, or can you start over?
This book was, in one word, awesome!! There was not one thing I did not like about it.  The characters were mysterious at times  and so unique, (monsters made up of different parts, need I say more!) since they were holding back who and what Karaou was.   Quite honestly, I loved how everything was revealed and questions were answered, although I have to admit at times I was getting impatient, but the wait made it worth it.  There is a love story in this book, no triangle, and I loved every minute of that as well.  It never felt forced, but natural as though this is how it should happen all the time.  You almost have a sense from the very beginning that they have known each other for quite some time.  Karou is a strong and determined character, which I love.  Through all the knowledge she is given by the end of the book, she has become stronger, not bitter.  However there is a cliff hanger at the end, and I MUST know what happens... It is killing me not to know.  I will not ruin the ending but I will just say that at the end of the book, although I had an inkling of what was going to happen, I still shouted out loud (yes, really, at the beach while my husband looked at me like I had two heads!) NOOOOOOOO!

Book Review: Crossed by Ally Condie



Though I was entertained but not blown away by Matched, I still was intrigued enough to want to continue the series with Crossed. Perhaps it was because the novel's setting took us outside the Society, or perhaps it was the addition of Ky as a narrator, but I enjoyed the 2nd installment in this series better than the first. 

The novel picks up where Matched had left us.  Cassia has been sent by her family to a work camp.  They sent her there, under the guise of a punishment, so that she could pursue her search for Ky.  Ky, in the meantime, has been sent to the Outer Provinces.  He is sent there to impersonate actual visitors, when in reality, those sent there (mostly Aberrations and Anomalies, or non-Citizens) are essentially sent to their death.  They are fired upon by the Enemy and fight to survive each day.  Xander waits for Cassia back in the borough.  He remains an upstanding member of the Society. 
Ky, in the company of two other survivors, escapes the Outer Provinces.  They run to the Carving, which is a dangerous canyon that holds its own mysteries and secrets.  Ky hopes to somehow return to the Society and get back to Cassia.  Meanwhile, Cassia stows away on an airship that she knows is heading for the Outer Provinces.  She knows this is her chance to find Ky.  Following his trail, she and another companion head into the Canyon as well.  After being reunited, the group must fight to survive and decide whether they will join the Rebellion.  It is rumored that the Rebellion is working against the Society.  However, Ky, Cassia, and the other members of their group have different ideas about what the Rebellion is.  Cassia and Ky struggle with tension in their relationship as Cassia realizes that Ky is still holding onto his own secrets, including one about Xander.

There were a few things that I did not like about this novel.  First of all, as in Matched, some of the language, in an attempt to sound poetic, seems a bit forced.  Also, Cassia and Ky's reunion occurs very quickly and without much struggle on either character's part.  I understand that Condie needed to move the plot along in order to carry the rest of the story, so I wasn't too upset by this.  It is refreshing to read from a new character's point-of-view, and I commend Condie on this because it's a brave move and it definitely adds an interesting element to the story.  Although, in this sequel, we miss some of the minor characters from the first, we are introduced to quite a few new ones that truly add some interest... Indie, Eli, Hunter, etc.  Though some may complain that Xander, the 3rd character in this love triangle, is all but missing from the book, I find that he is a large part of it.  What is revealed about Xander gives him the most character development in this sequel. 
Though I enjoyed it more than Matched, I still was not completely thrilled by Crossed.  I found myself reading it just to find out what happens and be done, not out of any true interest in the characters or their fate.  Still, after reading the first two novels in a trilogy, one can't help but carry this through to the end, so yes, I will be picking up Reached on November 13th. 

Vote for the "Best Ever Teen Novels"

Check out the NPR site, and vote for your favorite "Best Ever Teen Novels"
It was hard narrowing my selection to just 10 titles.  I'm looking forward to seeing the final list of 100!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

Review by Janine

I have to be honest, this book has been sitting on my bookshelf for sometime, I am not sure why it took me so long to pick it up but I am so glad that I finally read it!
First, I must begin my review with an explanation about my love of ghost stories.  My reading evolution began with the Babysitters Club series (because who wasn't reading this in elementary school???).  As I out grew this series, I remember not knowing what to read next.  My mother directed me to, who else, but Nancy Drew.  This was right around the time that they made Nancy a more modern girl.  Needless to say, I devoured those books, and my love of mysteries began.  Once I hit middle school however, I was "too cool" for Nancy, so my quest for new "cooler" books began, and then I found Christopher Pike.  From then on, I was obsessed with ghost stories, the gorier the better.  So imagine my surprise when I finally pick up this book, and I realize it is a true ghost story (which rocks!). 
Cas Lowood is just your typical high school student, who happens to kills ghosts.  He understands how this sounds, but his job as he likes to call it, is to "kill" ghosts.  Not just any ghosts, but those who kill or harm humans.  He inherited his job from his father, who was killed by a ghost that he was trying to kill himself.  Cas's long-term goal is to find and kill the ghost that killed his father, but for now, he is practicing and building himself up for that day.  The newest ghost in Cas's sights is Anna Dressed In Blood.  This ghost lives in a house and kills anyone who dares to enter it. Cas arrives in Thunder Bay with his mother (whom is a witch) and their cat Tybalt.  He doesn't know that this town and this ghost will change him  and the way he views his life in a very definite way.  The first change for Cas is that he attracts the attention of the popular girl in school.  Her jealous ex-boyfriend finds out about Cas's interest in Anna and offers to take him to her house, where he roughs Cas up and dumps him in her house.  Instead of Anna killing Cas, she takes pity on him for reasons he can't figure and instead kills the ex-boyfriend.  After meeting Anna, Cas can't stay away, and can't figure her out.  She seems to be two different people.  At times and her mean streak loves to show him the horrors that her house holds.  Cas, more than anything, wants to know her story and why she kills.  He also finds himself wanting to help her more than anything, and if it is possible, finds himself caring for her.  So with the help of two unlikely friends, they begin a quest to find out what happened to Anna and how to stop her. When another, extremely powerful ghost who comes to stop the ghost killer for good arrives, Cas becomes the hunted and the hunted will do anything to survive.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie


Matched  was read by many of our high school students this year, and I figured it would be a good, light summer read.  I think, however, that after this one, I may be ready for a break from dystopian fiction.  I think that Matched follows a lot of the same formula as the past few dystopian novels I have read.  The Society limits personal freedoms to maintain peace; the main character (a young girl) realizes how much she wants the ability to choose her own direction, control her own fate; and, of course, you have to have the love triange between the young protagonist and two seemingly equally appealing young men: one, the "safe" choice, and the other, the mysterious, hardened one.  Yes, I do know this is a broad generalization, but I think, to my own discredit, that I have finally gotten myself into a dystopian rut.

Matched starts out by introducing us to Cassia Reyes, who is on her way to her matching ceremony, where The Society will tell her with whom they have "matched" her.  She will spend the rest of her life with this young man, and chances are that she has never met or even seen this person before.  Of course, Cassia, like all young girls in The Society is nervous yet very excited for this momentous occasion.  She is shocked, then, when her match is revealed to be her best childhood friend, Xander.  When she goes home and reviews here match program on her home "port," she is shocked to see another's face on the screen as well: Ky Markham.  Cassia begins to see Ky in a different light, and to realize that the matching system, as well as other things in The Society, seem faulty at least, if not corrupt and cruel.  When it comes time to make her final decision, will Cassia "go gently"? 

I have to admit, I was annoyed by Cassia and Xander from the very beginning.  To be seventeen and not ever question this whole concept of being "matched" seems fairly far-fetched to me.  With Ky, I was a more sympathetic, however, and his story is why I did read this one fairly quickly.  Though I do feel, as I mentioned earlier, that I am in a dystopian rut, I also think that having just finished and loved Where Things Come Back, my standards have been set high, and I am a harsher critic that usual.  Though, my reaction to this book is a bit lack-luster, I do think it is credit to Ally Condie that I found the story intriguing enough to go out and start its sequel, Crossed, right away.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley


I first became interested in this novel when it received the Printz Award, but it was always being pushed back on my "to read" list for one reason or another.  My interest piqued when I started reading more about John Corey Whaley, who just seems like a "neat guy."  One such article was an interview on the TLT blog:
"Q&A: Meet the 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley".  I saw the chance to win an autographed copy, and despite my history of bad luck with contests, I ACTUALLY WON!  (THANK YOU AGAIN, TLT!)  Let me explain something about myself, first.  I am the farthest thing from a pack-rat.  When I buy an new pair of shoes, an older pair gets donated to Goodwill.  I also keep only certain books on my shelves permanently.  The rest get donated to the library in which I work or passed on to friends or students.  After reading Where Things Come Back, it will definitely hold a place of honor on my shelves, along with my other favorites. 

Cullen Witter is living in the small town of Lily, Arkansas.  In Lily, an unusual phenomenon seems to have taken place... an extinct woodpecker is believed to have been discovered.  Cullen, his brother Gabriel, and his best friend Lucas, appear to be the only skeptics, or at least the only 3 who do not seem to be affected by the bird.  However, as we read on, we come to realize that more things affect us than we realize.  Cullen and his family are faced with a mysterious tragedy, and he starts to see life, his town, and the people around him differently.  As the novel moves on, you realize how one event connects with another and, in essence, how people we never see or meet can greatly affect our lives.

My favorite thing about this novel are the characters.  There are some novels in literature that introduce you to characters who will resonate in you.  Classic works such as On the Road and To Kill a Mockingbird often do this, and Whaley manages to introduce us to three.  Cullen Witter is narrator of this novel, and unlike some male narrators in literature, Cullen truly does seem to be an average guy, someone in whom every reader can see a part of their selves... someone who really has heartache and anger and angst and fun and love.  Cullen's best friend, Lucas Cader, is that friend that everyone has--the one super-social one who everyone loves, but who only reveals their true self to a select few.  Gabriel Witter, Cullen's brother, is revealed mostly through the eyes of the characters around him.  Yet, just by the way you see he affects others, you grow to love him.  He was my favorite. 

I majored in Literature and I have read a good many of the classics, so I can get a little elitist when it comes to words, and I am always noticing words.  For example, I can't stand songs that have mediocre lyrics.  I do this a lot when I'm reading as well.  I can appreciate a book if it has an interesting story, but if the writing doesn't affect me, I can't truly love the book.  I truly loved Where Things Come Back. 

I keep a kind of journal... a collection of quotes.  As I'm reading a book or listening to a song, if something really "hits me," I will write it down to keep in my quote journal.  I did this for a passage from Where Things Come Back:
Life, he says, doesn't have to be so bad all the time.  We don't have to be anxious about everything.  We can just be.  We can get up, anticipate that the day will probably have a few good moments and a few bad ones, and then just deal with it.  Take it all in and deal as best we can. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

 Review by Janine

 This book was one that I was super excited to read because of all the awesome reviews it has gotten, and I am so pleased to say that it completely lived up to the high expectations I had for it.  From the first pages, you know that this book will be unlike any other that you have read ever.  The setting, or essentially the world, that was created by the author is all-encompassing, thorough and intriguing.  Mal and Alina are orphans who have grown up together and are now in the second army together.  She is a frail, sickly, mapmaker, and he is the attractive tracker that all the girls like.  When it is discovered on a trip to the Fold with her unit that she has an undiscovered power, her life changes in ways that are unfathomable even to her.  She is the one who will rescue the land from the dark powers of the Fold and the creatures that live there, or so she is told.  When Alina’s powers to summon the sun are reviled, she is shipped to the Little Palace to be trained in the ways of the Grisha, or those who have special powers.  While at the Little Palace, she not only learns the ways of the Grisha and how to use and control her power, but she also finds within her a hidden strength and courage that I was hoping she would find.  When things turn out not to be what they seem, she must use what she has learned to help her survive.  Alina’s story is wonderful.  She goes from being a weak character to this beautiful, strong person.  This does not mean she always makes the right choices, but she follows her heart as well as uses her brain.  While in the Little Palace, she is treated as a type of royalty but never truly looses herself in all that is going on.  There is a love story, but it is done in such a way that it is not only sweet and innocent but has a beauty about it that makes you able to see yourself within them. 
  I also adore the characters in this story! They all are incredibly interesting in their own way, so it makes you want to know more about both the good and evil characters.  I hope in the following books, we can learn more about each but especially, Mal.  This book has so many pieces and when they come together they leave you wanting more. The only downfall is waiting for the next book to come out!!!