Category Archives: Young Adult

11) Stars Above

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 02.20.17

Stars Above

Stars Above is a collection of short stories written within the world of The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, and Fairest). Some stories were previously published in the paperbacks and on Meyer’s website so I’d read at least a third of them before. For the most part, I enjoyed these better in the context of the collection than when I read them as stand-alones.

As with any set of short stories, some are more captivating than others. I most enjoyed The Keeper where we get to see Michelle Benoit take in both a fugitive and a runaway (it may be a little too spoilery to use names), After Sunshine Passes By which shows Cress’s childhood, and The Mechanic which gives us Kai’s perspective of the first time he and Cinder met. One of the teasers for the book was that it included a wedding. I very intentionally kept myself from knowing which couple got married beforehand. While I liked the plot for that story, I didn’t love the POV choice, so unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype.

On the whole, it was nice to return to a world I love and to hang out with this pretty great cast again. Naturally, I laughed out loud at everything Thorne said. Obviously, Cress and Thorne did not get enough page time (either individually or together). It’s not a must-read but it is a friendly read.

At the end of the day: For me

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09) Spindle

By: Shonna Slayton

Date Finished: 02.18.17

11. Spindle

Spindle. What a lovely and thoughtful story. This Sleeping Beauty-inspired tale is set in a spinning mill in the late 1800s. It’s a concept that is brilliant in it’s simplicity; of course the world needs to see how Sleeping Beauty would navigate a room that contains hundreds of spindles.

Like Cinderella’s Dress, this is a continuation of the fairy tale rather than a strict adaptation.  There are several parallels to the original while remaining plausible in the historical context. Slayton weaves the two constructs together so well they become nearly inseparable. Naturally, we can pick at the threads in our world but the fabric of Slayton’s universe is tight and strong. Certain historical events very believably become the work of fairy magic. Meanwhile, this Briar Rose is a sixteen year old orphan with three younger siblings to care for. Mill conditions are pretty much Dickensian at the time and Briar is desperate to keep her siblings away from the workhouses – not exactly a charmed life.

Briar has a devil and an angel on her shoulder in the form of her two roommates, Ethel and Mim. Ethel is an unabashed feminist campaigning for voting rights and temperance. Mim is more invested in fashion and catching the eye of a rich suitor. They are both supportive of Briar’s efforts to keep her family together even though they have wildly different approaches. (I’ll let you decide which is the devil and which is the angel.) On the whole, the relationship between the three of them is complex and very realistic. The rest of the cast is equally well-rounded and give Briar a lot to play off of — for better or for worse. (Just forget that jerk Wheeler already!)

The setting, these relationships, they make Briar a fighter from the beginning. She’s doing the best she can with the options available and though magic turns her life upside down, Briar is always after one thing: protection for her family. Her course of action changes multiple times but her objective and her resolve never wavers. It’s an interesting thing to see in contrast to the Disney tale of a mostly passive Sleeping Beauty. I’m grateful that Slayton took the opportunity to give this Sleeping Beauty more agency than most.

As far as historical fiction fairy tale adaptations go, this one fits as perfectly as Cinderella’s magic shoe. (Psst – Cinderella’s Shoes is another great Shonna Slayton book)

At the end of the day: Definitely for me

P.S. Spindle makes for an excellent salon read!

11. Spindle Salon

06 & 07) Mind Games & Perfect Lies

By: Kiersten White

Date Finished: 02.06.17

06-07-mind-games-and-perfect-lies

The moment he bends over to help the sorrow-eyed spaniel puppy, I know I won’t be able to kill him. This, of course, ruins my entire day. -Mind Games

How many lies can a brain tell itself before they become truths? -Perfect Lies

God bless the depravity of Kiersten White’s brain.

These books are BRUTAL but also completely brilliant. Fia has perfect instincts and her sister, Annie, is physically blind but can see the future. The sisters are brought to a school that trains girls with superpowers like theirs and then exploits the ones who excel.

Both books are fast-paced, action-packed, what-the-what?!-inducing, and also deeply heartfelt. The bond between the sisters is powerful and beautiful and pushed past the breaking point. Annie and Fia have vastly different ways of seeing the world (not just on the physical level) and yet their protectiveness of each other is absolutely compelling. They are the centerpiece of this tornado of a story in a way that makes you feel what’s happening more intently.

The writing style is very much an extension of the character. Each chapter is told from either Fia’s or Annie’s perspective, and the voices couldn’t be more different. Every word and punctuation echoes their mental state in ways that are super cool — but I won’t share details because, spoilers! The unusual sentence structure is part of the puzzle and it was so gratifying to solve it.

I have a tendency to become deeply invested in books I like and I may yell out loud once or twice if something big happens. Never has one complete book made me scream as much as the last twelve pages of Perfect Lies alone. I. Was. Living. It.

At the end of the day: FOR ME!!

03) The Cure for Dreaming

By: Cat Winters

Date Finished: 01.12.17

by Cat Winters

As I walked into my local bookstore to buy a calendar and absolutely nothing else, my eye drifted to a towering bookcase I had never before seen. It was pressed against the front window and flanked one side of the only entrance, and yet it was a surprise to me. My feet immediately abandoned their mission to investigate. This mysterious case housed shelf after shelf of used YA books. Some titles were familiar and/or interesting but this one hooked me. I left with a shiny copy of this novel and no calendar.

Take a look at that cover again, friends; savor that title. How could I resist?

I didn’t buy it entirely on impulse; I read about half of the first chapter and a few random paragraphs in the middle to make sure it was more than just a pretty face. The writing isn’t terribly complex but it is readable. The plot seemed interesting enough to make up for any lackluster writing, and it was…almost.

The book is set in Oregon and centers around the suffragist movement. Olivia is just independent enough to horrify her traditional father. He hires a hypnotist to cure Olivia of her wayward thoughts which results in her seeing the world as it really is — controlling men become monsters while compliant women fade into transparency. The book is unapologetically feminist which works within the setting. What doesn’t work so well are the characters.

Even our girl Olivia — the feisty, irrepressible heroine! — falls a little flat. Winters did provide a varied cast of minor characters; together they make a good ensemble but their personal quirks come across as inconsistent rather than complex. One of the big draws of the book was the concept of Olivia seeing people’s true selves in a physical way. However, this only worsened the problem, reducing everyone to a melodramatic caricature. It also made Olivia look stupid for needing supernatural intervention to realize certain people are shady.

And yet… I’ve seen worse. MUCH worse. The book held my interest enough that I finished it in just a few sittings and would consistently read past the “one more chapter” mark. The plot takes a few tangents but overall it was pretty tidy. Despite the stock characters, you do like who you’re supposed to like and dislike who you’re supposed to dislike. Even if you question Olivia’s choices, you always want her to succeed. And while the writing won’t knock you head-over-heels, it is respectable.

This is the kind of book that will ring the doorbell rather than honk from the end of the driveway, and the conversation will be pleasant enough. You won’t think the evening was a waste but there probably won’t be a second date.

At the end of the day: Sure, yeah, okay

01) Hamilton: The Revolution

By: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Date Finished: 01.04.17

by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This is a book for the fans. If you haven’t listened to the soundtrack yet, please don’t cheat yourself. Read less. Listen more.*

I wasn’t sure if the content was more about the show or the man — frankly, I would have devoured either way — but I was pleased to find that it’s almost exclusively a history of the musical and its creators. There plenty of biographies that cover the life of Alexander (one by Ron Chernow comes to mind…) and this book is for the fans.

There are two authors. Jeremey McCarter wrote the prose sections, the three or four pages that discuss the process from inception to Broadway, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, of course, wrote the lyrics (which are published in full). Fortunately for us, Miranda also provided commentary in the margins of every song. As for McCarter, his pace is perfect; the emotional journey of the show’s creation matches the emotional journey of the show almost beat for beat. Each chapter also focuses on a specific person (director, choreographer, actor, etc.) involved in creating the show. These vignettes are masterfully curated with each subject resting in their featured chapter like Goldilocks lying in Baby Bear’s bed. The resulting mix is flawless — an objective narrative from someone who was peripherally involved and a delightful stream of consciousness from the maestro himself.

I wonder (and I’d be interested to hear) what the book is like for someone who’s not a theatre professional. It’s easy for me to envision the room where it happened** because I spend most of my time in such rooms. (At one point, the commentary mentioned a complex calling sequence for the stage manager and I instinctively starting saying, “GO” at the end of every line.) As a theatre artist, this book was both encouraging and inspiring.

For those of you who haven’t gone off the Hamilton deep end yet, let me assure you that the show lives up to the hype. I beg you to listen; however, I encourage to do so in your time. Set aside an evening so that you can hear it in one sitting; it’s much more emotionally damaging, er, moving that way. The book will be here for you when you’re ready.

At the end of the day: For me

*I couldn’t resist poorly adjusting this quote for my own purposes. It is, of course, very unfair of me to use a show quote when addressing the people who don’t know the show but it’s staying.

**Another show quote. This one’s far more legitimate.

4) The Shadow Cabinet

Book Three of The Shades of London

By: Maureen Johnson

Date Finished: 02.22.15

by Maureen Johnson

 Busted by a girl and her trusty bicycle. Well played, MI-5.

Rory’s world is crumbling fast, and the only protection she has is in lying low. She is whisked away to a safe house and allowed no contact with her family and friends who think she’s a missing person. But Rory isn’t the sort to sit still for, well, any length of time when people she cares about are in danger. She will take on secret societies, death cults, and covert government agencies to get back the people she’s lost.

My love for this series has been proclaimed twice on this blog and does not falter with this latest installment. The Name of the Star remains my favorite while The Madness Underneath is a fascinating look at the aftermath of a trauma… all leading to even greater trauma in The Shadow Cabinet. This one is by far the grittiest of the three, but doesn’t neglect Rory’s Southern sass (or the wonderfully entertaining tales of her crazy Louisiana relatives). Which is important. The book is well-balanced with new characters to fall in love with or to fear, old characters to have feelings about on a deeper level, and another blasted cliffhanger. Something big is coming. And I hate waiting.

IF YOU ARE MAUREEN JOHNSON, SKIP THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH:
But ultimately, I prefer to have these books in my life than wait for the complete set. This way I get to remember the many great moments as I wallow in impatience.

IF YOU ARE MAUREEN JOHNSON, CONTINUE READING FROM HERE:
This series is brilliant. All three books are masterpieces of pace, wit, danger, and surprises. They’ve made me scream at the printed page, laugh out loud (in embarrassingly public places), and cry. And I am devastated that I can’t have it all right now. I would totally read an 800 page Shadow Cabinet if it wrapped everything up.

If you start this series (and you really should), let me draw your attention to an additional Shades of London story called The Boy in the Smoke which gives an account of how Stephen gained his ability and started working in London. Stephen is one of my Favorite Fictional Dudes of All Time, and The Boy in the Smoke is a beautiful read. I suggest reading it either before or after The Madness Underneath (it would spoil part of The Name of the Star and part of The Shadow Cabinet wouldn’t make as much sense without it). It’s available for free here.

P.S. I pre-ordered this book, so it came with these awesome stickers. All of which apply.

Shadow Cabinet stickers

At the end of the day: Really, really for me

3) Fairest

Prequel to the Lunar Chronicles

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 02.09.15

by Marissa Meyer

Princess Levana has grown up in the shadow of her sadistic older sister, Channary, and is the constant target of Channary’s cruelty. A good-natured palace guard is the only person to show her any sort of kindness. Though he is married and devoted to his family, what could his courtesy mean if not love? Levana relentlessly pursues him, demanding the love she’s never known.

Fairest is part of the Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress with Winter to be published later this year) that tells the backstory of the series’ evil queen. The previously published books contain a few chapters from Levana’s point of view, but this is all Levana all the time. The chapters in Scarlet and Cress sparked my interest and so I was ecstatic when Meyer announced that she would publish an entire book that told Levana’s story. I waited with bated breath for the volume that would show Levana as a misunderstood young soul before her transformation into power hungry evil queen. Which isn’t Fairest. Belatedly, I read in article in which Meyer explains that Fairest is meant to let the reader understand Levana’s journey and not necessarily to make her a sympathetic character. Mission accomplished.

It’s a bit of a harrowing read, truth be told. The book is a rather up close look into madness and brokenness. Levana’s experience of love has been so twisted that her expression of it is hostile and poisonous.  I want to believe that kind of abuse is exaggerated, but I know it’s a reality for too many people. And the entire book is spent inside a madwoman’s mind who believes she is completely justified, even wise. This is not your fluffy fairy tale or a cute twist on the classic villain. Levana is a seriously unsettling adversary, and she started young.

So where does Fairest fit into the rest of the Lunar Chronicles? Chronologically, it’s at the beginning, but I would recommend reading it after Cress as it was released. That way the surprises of the first three are still surprises and you have Winter to look forward to. And, hopefully, this story will make Winter even more satisfying. It’s the hardest of the series to read – not that it’s dull or plodding, rather it’s heartbreaking – but I’m glad Meyer was able to publish it. Levana is a major player in the Lunar Chronicles and her story set the entire series into motion. I very much look forward to re-reading the original three books armed with the information revealed in this book.

At the end of the day: For me (in context)

2) Fangirl

By: Rainbow Rowell

Date Finished: 01.16.15

by Rainbow Rowell

While most teenagers look forward to their independence, Cath dreads going to college, especially after her twin sister, Wren, says that she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is uncomfortable with change and uncertainty — more so than most people — and so she retreats to a world that she knows intimately, the world of Simon Snow. The Simon Snow book series started when Cath and Wren were kids, not long after their mom left. It became a cultural hit, and both Cath and Wren grew up as devoted fans. They wrote Simon Snow fanfiction together until Wren moved on to other things, but Cath didn’t give it up. And even when the new rhythms and influences of college life wrap around Cath, she can’t bear to let go of Simon.

This book is the real deal. It’s a celebration of life in all its messiness and of fiction in all its iterations. Rowell paints a positive picture of fanfiction and fangirling, but doesn’t let Cath off the hook for burying herself in Simon’s world at the expense of the real one. There is a time for fiction, and a time for living; this book covers both.

I really enjoyed the experience of reading this book because I had no idea how things were going to play out. I could guess where some of the threads were going, but Cath, despite her aversion to change, was rather unpredictable. She didn’t respond to every trigger, but when she did engage, she committed completely. I liked that about her. But she made me nervous too, when she ignored the good things in her life. It was difficult to watch Cath’s world crumble, but it was that much more satisfying to see her rebuild. I was always rooting for her.

The book is divided into two parts — the fall semester where Cath is almost paralyzed by discomfort and the spring semester where she really begins to grow. While Cath’s transformation is gradual throughout the course of the book, there is a distinctive shift in tone for the second part. The spring is more hopeful, and, in a way, more active. Between each chapter, Rowell includes snippets of Simon Snow stories — never more than a page. Some vignettes are from the Simon Snow books and some are from the fanfiction that Cath (with or without Wren) wrote. I enjoyed this feature at the beginning because it gave more context to what Cath was obsessing over (Rowell also helped give context by starting the book with a fake Wikipedia article on the Simon Snow series). Further into the book, the snapshots started to feel repetitive since they were too short to give much information. Even though these scenelettes lost their potency as the book went on, I was still grateful to have them.

All in all, it’s a fascinating read. Rowell doesn’t hold back from the pain in these characters’ lives, yet the story is always hopeful. Consider me a fan.

At the end of the day: Really for me

1) House of Ivy and Sorrow

By: Natalie Whipple

Date Finished: 01.13.15

by Natalie Whipple

Josephine Hemlock lost her mother when she was young to a curse that had followed their family for generations. Several witching families suffered from the same threat, but with her mother’s death, Josephine and her Nana are all that remains of the Hemlock bloodline. They live a pretty quiet and normal existence, all things considered, until a man shows up at their door — a door that he shouldn’t even be able to find. Although he means them no harm, he carries with him the darkness that they have been running from for decades. It’s the end of the line for Josephine: either fight or succumb to the curse. There’s nowhere left to run.

This was my first Natalie Whipple book, and even though it technically falls in my preferred genre, it’s a slightly different flavor of YA fantasy than I’m used to. The witches in this world are your traditional Halloween fare — potion-brewing, black-cat-owning, and loudly-cackling. But their type of magic doesn’t come cheaply. The bigger the magic, the bigger the cost (the more serious the magic, the more seriously disgusting the cost — like, cover-your-eyes-so-you-can’t-see-what’s-happening-but-it-doesn’t-work-because-it’s-a-book-and-not-TV-cost). (Okay, so yes, one of the scenes included a personal horror, and yes, it was completely scarring, but I liked the rest of the book. And it only made me squirm because it was so realistic, so at least that’s good writing, right? Right?) The point is, this magic isn’t a simple superpower; this magic requires intelligence, precision, and personal sacrifice. I respect that.

It has a great mixture of characters, from Josephine who is a worthy leading lady and pretty great at thinking on her feet to her eccentric and protective Nana. Her friends are a great match, funny and passionate and every much as protective of Josephine as she is of them. The relationships feel very natural and they all play a role in the final showdown. It even had one of those characters that could be either a devious villain or a surly anti-hero. Granted, Josephine was pretty hard on him, so I saw more of the ambiguity than she did. I don’t blame her for thinking the worst of him though when he was remarkably gifted at being creepy and saying the exact wrong thing. Better safe than coughing up black blood.

There’s not a lot of glitz in the storytelling — it’s a book that knows what it wants to say, and just says it. I don’t mean that the writing is bland; on the contrary, the writing has momentum. Even in the quiet moments, the story is always going somewhere. It’s a promising start to a new year of reading, that’s for sure.

At the end of the day: For me

30) Illusions of Fate

By: Kiersten White

Date Finished: 12.27.14

by Kiersten White

“I saved my own life. You are simply keeping me company on this leg of my escape.”

Jessamin left her home in search of a better education. As a dark-skinned islander, Jessa is hated by her professors and her peers, but she overrides their derision with hard work. A chance encounter a young lord sends Jessa headlong into a dangerous world of politics and magic. She doesn’t have the resources compete on their level, but she has her wit and she’s never been one to resign herself to fate.

Can I just say this was the perfect book to wrap up the year? I read it in a single day because it was just so delectable. When I finished, I very nearly started it over. This is not a common impulse — I understood why my sister read Dangerous twice in a row and would have been happy to do so as well, but the feeling was much stronger with this one. Many of the early scenes will have a very different color on the next read, and I can hardly contain myself until I see just how significant those seemingly benign encounters are.

There is so much to love about the characters. Jessa is at every disadvantage — she’s a young woman, a despised foreigner, nearly impoverished, and cannot perform magic no matter how much she studies it — and yet she insists on holding her own against those far more powerful than her. Despite being fiercely independent, Jessa cares deeply about her friends and will do anything to protect them. She is complex, delightful, and definitely someone you want to root for. The wealthy Finn certainly redeems the corruption within the upper classes with his pure goodness. He has his moments of arrogance (although many of these are good intentions misinterpreted by our dear narrator, Jessa) but he unequivocally uses his power for good and not evil. He’s smart, kind, awkward, and a little bit cheeky. So basically, he complements Jessa perfectly.

And then there’s Eleanor. Truly, she is one of the most enjoyable characters to grace the printed page. She’s a shameless gossip, apparent airhead, and absolute mastermind. I liked her instantly (I briefly worried that she would play just a passing role in the story; White did not disappoint, thankfully) but even I didn’t realize how brilliant she was until late in the book. Every sentence pertaining to Eleanor made me love her more. Now for the bad guy: he is utterly vicious. White doesn’t shy away from putting her lead in mortal peril, and it pays off so well. The stakes are high from the beginning, and while Jessa’s victory is relatively simple, it is hard-earned.

Much of this book is reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle  — sometimes in very obvious ways — but White works her own magic using these familiar elements. While this story is distinct in many ways, like Howl’s Moving Castle I can recommend it as representative of my tastes. I can recommend it as nothing short of sheer brilliance. The only thing I don’t suggest is reading this book right before you visit a place heavily populated with ravens. Freaky.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really for me