Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: March 22nd, 2011

Obviously, something went terribly wrong. Genetic mutations have festered, reducing human longevity to twenty-five, even less for most women. To prevent extinction, young girls are kidnapped, mated in polygamous marriages with men eager to procreate. Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery, a recent victim of this breeding farm mentality, has vowed to break loose from its fetters; but finding allies and a safe way out is a challenge she can only hope she will survive. A dystopian fantasy series starter with wings. Editor's recommendation.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This was one of my favorite books of 2011 for so many reasons...  I read this back in July and I really had to allow it to digest before I could write a review; it's one of those books that is so thought-provoking and well done, that I was having difficulty articulating my reasons for loving it.  Since I don't have any complaints about this book, I guess I will just bullet-point my reasons for loving it (in no particular order):
  • The Cover~ Is it not beautiful?  The coloring, the photography, even the font evoke the proper emotions to fit this novel. I haven't seen such a story-appropriate cover in awhile.
  • The Writing~ Lauren DeStefano knows how to use words!  She builds the story on so many levels; I felt like I was actually there when I was reading this. If you follow her on  twitter, you know that she is very real and her down-to-earth personality bleeds onto the pages.  Add to that expert pacing and an ending that was a cliffhanger, yet tied up nicely enough to not leave me pissed, and I'm a happy girl.
  • The Characters~ They became my friends and enemies because DeStefano digs deep into who they are.  Rhine is an amazing, yet underrated heroine.  She's not a kickass fighter like Katniss (The Hunger Games) or Katsa (Graceling), but she is kickass in spirit.  She's so smart and determined.  I just felt bad for Linden; I feel like he should be hated, but how can you?  Daddy Dearest, Vaughn was just so wrong in every way.  I hated him, which was exactly how I was supposed to feel.  Gabriel, Jenna, Rose, and Cecily were all just as well done.  I had special love for Jenna.  She was so strong.  My point is,  all of the characters, even the most minor (Cook), were well written enough that I felt a connection.  Not many authors manage that...
  • The Story~ I love dystopia; it's been my favorite genre since I fell in love with George Orwell's books 15 years ago.  It's getting played out since The Hunger Games though.  The market is flooded and it's very hit or miss.  I was worried that I wouldn't like this before I read it because I was getting to the point where they were all kind of the same.  No need!  The story was so original, and dare I say, plausible?  I went to school for genetics and I can honestly say that even 12 years ago when I was studying in this amazing field, that I was blown away by the research and sometimes questionable advances being made.  Very scary to think...
  • The World Building~ Oh my goodness!  Bravo to Lauren DeStefano in this area.  Her descriptions of the world the characters lived in blew me away.  It only added to the conflict in my mind over whether Rhine really had it so bad.  She started in one world, and forced or not, ended up in a drastically different, and arguably better world.  The descriptions made the argument (that I still struggle with) possible.
So there you have it.  A review that is much longer than I usually write.  I often have trouble going into this much depth without spoilers, but in this case, I had to try (and I'm so glad I succeeded).  This book deserves it!  I cannot wait for Fever, the second book in The Chemical Garden trilogy, to release on February 21st.  I promise that I will drop whatever I'm reading to start reading it right away.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★+ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is one that is really difficult to rate for grade level.  The wives are basically brought by force to Linden to breed, and with that there is obviously talk of sex, but it's more clinical than anything.  In that respect, I would say 6th grade and up.  However, the concepts behind it are mature and I don't know that a middle schooler would get as much out of it as a high school aged reader.  In that respect, I would say 9th grade and up.  

WWW (13) and Waiting on Wednesday (August 31st, 2011) Double Feature

W. W. W. Wednesday is hosted by Should Be Reading a great YA blog that I subscribe to. Here's how it works... Each Wednesday I will answer the following questions:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you'll read next?

I read a bunch this week and, for the most part, have enjoyed what I've read.  The Decatur Book Festival is this weekend, and I'm super excited for it. Look for some exciting posts next week...

What are you currently reading?

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix~ So far,it's really good.  Intriguing.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin~ This book comes out in October, and you should definitely run right out and buy it.  Superb!

Never Have I Ever by Sara Shepard~ I'm kind of embarassed to admit that I'm reading this because this isn't my thing, but the first book was such a cliffhanger, I had to find out what happens next...

What did you recently finish reading?

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins~ I LOVED this book!  There is nothing to not like about it.  Perfect in every way!  I can't wait for Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce~ I love fairy tale re-tellings,and Jackson Pearce knowshow to write them. Awesomely modern, grown-up take on Little Red Riding Hood.

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce~ The companion to Sisters Red.  Loosely related re-telling of Hansel and Gretel.  Even better than the first book.  Don't expect to put it down...

Across the Universe by Beth Revis~ Even if you've read this, you have to give the audio a shot.  It's so well done, and it really brings this book to life.

What do you think you'll read next?

Dreamland by Alyson Noel~ I've been waiting on this book's release, and I just received a review copy of the audio (yay me!). When I'm done, I'm going to do a giveaway, so stay tuned.

The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore~ Got this last week.  Can't wait to read it!  I have very high hopes!

In Trouble by Ellen Levine~ I've had this for awhile and have been wanting to read it. It releases in September and I should probably get it reviewed.  It looks really good, if not sad.

"Waiting On" Wednesday is another fun blog event. Hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, this event gives us a chance to talk about the books we anxiously await the release of. Since there is ALWAYS a looooooong list of books I'm waiting on (I actually keep a spreadsheet), I figured this is one that I MUST do.

The Always War
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

In a war-torn future United States, fifteen-year-old Tessa, her childhood friend Gideon, now a traumatized military hero, and Dek, a streetwise orphan, enter enemy territory and discover the shocking truth about a war that began more than seventy-five years earlier.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I'm a big fan of Margaret Peterson Haddix. Her Shadow Children series (Among the Hidden, Among the Brave, etc.) is awesome; one of the first true dystopias written for kids. I've also enjoyed her "girly" novels, Just Ella and Palace of Mirrors. I'm reading her other huge series, The Missing (Found, Sent, etc.), now and it's equally great. I don't know if this is the start to a new series, or a stand alone, but I'm excited! 

What are you waiting on?

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
Publication Date: November 15th, 2011
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: One Night That Changes Everything by Lauren Barnholdt

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: July 6th, 2010

Two years ago, when Eliza Sellman was in ninth grade, her dad found out he was being transfered and the family was going to move. Having always been shy and not so confident about her body, Eliza took that opportunity to start a list in her private notebook of all the things she planned on doing when she moved but had always been afraid to—like wearing a miniskirt and asking guys to dance; singing karaoke in front of strangers; posting a photo of herself on her Facebook wall in a get the idea. New town, new Eliza, right? Well, she'll never know because the transfer fell through and they didn't move. But Eliza kept adding her goals and secret fears to the list in the notebook. Now it's two years later, and in that time Eliza has had and lost her first boyfriend. But this was more than your average breakup...turns out the sweet and cute Cooper was only dating her as a hazing stunt by a secret society. Eliza got her revenge by posting some pretty nasty (and only sort-of true) stuff about Cooper online. That posting has had major consequences and now Cooper and his buddies have stolen her private notebook and won't give it back until she performs all the things on her list in one night. It's torture...until Eliza steals something from the boys she knows they'll want to trade her notebook for. What starts out as a night of humiliation turns into a night of revelations as Eliza learns what Cooper was really thinking when they dated, the real reason he's stolen her notebook, and how freeing—and life-changing—it can be to do the things you fear the most.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I like Lauren Barnholdt. I feel like she understands tween and teen girls the way few adult YA authors do.  I know that I at times forget what it was like to be in that "under 18" set, and reading one of her books always takes me back.  Sometimes the memories and are great, and other times, not so much. That's the way it should be.  Anyone who remembers HS as all happiness and rainbows is either delusional or a liar.  This book, much like Barnholdt's other books targeted at HS girls, pretty much tells it like it is.  Not all pretty, but not all awfulness either.  It's a light read with a not-so-subtle "face your fears"message.

I liked this book.  It won't win any literary awards for it's masterpiece quality, but it was a fun, easy read.  At under 250 pages, it is perfect for reading while spending a day lounging by the pool.  There aren't really any heavy teen issues; it's just light and funny and (mostly) very real.  The only thing I took exception to was the ending, which was a bit neat for me.  The characters were written so that you liked who you were supposed to like and didn't like the ones that you shouldn't.  It was a bit on the predictable side, but not in a bad way.  I read it because I thought the synopsis was cute.  I was expecting somewhat of a fluff read, and I got just what I expected.  Do you need to run right out and buy it?  No, but if you see it at the library and are looking for something light, it's worth a read.

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  There's a good bit of language and teen drinking.  One of the girls is on the promiscuous side and there is good amount of talk about sex.  I would say this is a book for HS girls age 14 and up (9th grade+).

Review: Possession by Elana Johnson

Publisher:  Simon Pulse
Publication Date: June 7th, 2011

Vi knows the Rule: Girls don't walk with boys, and they never even thinkabout kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn...and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi's future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they're set on convincing Vi to become one of them...starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can't leave Zenn in the Thinkers' hands, but she's wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous--everything Zenn's not. Vi can't quite trust Jag and can't quite resist him, but she also can't give up on Zenn.

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I wish I could say that I loved this book.  I wish I could give it five stars; it has the potential to be a GREAT story, but I can't.  Will I read book number two?  You bet!  I will be waiting for it anxiously.  How can I make such scattered, mixed remarks about the same book?  Well, because the book is just that.  Scattered.

Let me explain...

I read this book while I was on a super relaxing cruise to Bermuda. I had been well looking forward to this for quite some time and actually waited until vacation time so I could read it without interruption.  I started off reading this with very high hopes and expectations.  After the first 75 pages, I was dreading writing my review because I was thinking it was going to be scathing (it took me several days to get through the 1st few chapters instead of an hour).  I really don't like adding books to my "Hate List" and I was thinking that this one would end up there.  I was having an extremely difficult time connecting with the characters and the story was rather disjointed.  I kept reading, hoping it would get better. (I rarely put down a book because I dislike it.)  After all, things can change...  Well, that's exactly what happened with this book.  By page 100 I was fully invested and reading as fast as possible to get to the next part.  

The pace of the story really picked up to the point of warp-speed; non-stop action right up until the end.  The plot pulled together really nicely as well.  As I gained understanding of the world they lived in, I felt like I better understood  some of the things that didn't add up early on.  I still have a lot of questions, mind you, but I'm much less confused.  The character development improved and I began to connect with the primary characters (although I'm still not sure if I like or trust some of them).  Vi, the protagonist,  especially had the ability to rub me the wrong way.  In some respects, I liked her; she was competent, persistent, and kick-ass.  In other respects, I couldn't stand her; she was very negative and impulsive and quite possibly mentally unstable.  She often reminded me of a sullen, pissed-off little sister that you just want to smack some sense into.  I really liked Jag, although I have a feeling we are going to learn things later in the series that will change that...

By the final chapters, I was sorry to see this book end. I ended up really liking the premise of the story and the way things seemed to be working out.  Yes, the beginning dragged and was very disjointed, which is why I can't give it five stars.  It improved so much after the initial bit, that it well redeemed itself though.  I think now that the groundwork has been put in place, this series will be awesome.  I just hope that people will think twice about putting it down early in.  I'm glad I didn't.  I anxiously await the second book, Surrender, which has an expected drop date sometime in June of 2012.

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  This books had some romance, a small amount of language, and a lot of (non-gratuitous) violence.  It would be appropriate for the average 6th grader and up (ages 12+).

In My Mailbox Monday (13)

In My Mailbox (IMM) was started by The Story Siren a few years back, and is a great way for bloggers to give the books they are reading (or are planning to read) a quick mention.  Not a lot to report, but the books I got are freaking awesome!

The Power of Six (Lorien Legacies)The Power of Six
By Pittacus Lore
Publisher:  HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2011
Source: Purchase
Goodreads Synopsis
I've been anxiously awaiting this for a long, long time.  I loved I Am Number Four.  It's finally here!  YAY!!

It's Not Summer Without YouIt's Not Summer Without You
By Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: April 27th, 2010
Source: Library
Goodreads Synopsis
I read the first book, The Summer I Turned Pretty, over the summer and really enjoyed it (review HERE).  Can't wait to read this.

Every Other Day
By Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Publisher: Egmont USA
Publication Date: December 27th, 2011
Source: NetGalley/ARC
Goodreads Synopsis
This looks quite interesting. I have a good feeling about it.  Thanks Egmont USA/NetGalley!

The Butterfly Clues
By Kate Ellison
Publisher: Egmont USA
Publication Date: February 4th, 2012
Source: NetGalley/ARC
Goodreads Synopsis
The cover rocks and the story looks intriguing.  Stay tuned!  Thanks Egmont USA/NetGalley!

Dreamland (Riley Bloom)Dreamland
By Alyson Noel
Publisher: Square Fish/Macmillan Audio
Publication Date: September 13th, 2011
Source: ARC (Esther Bochner, Macmillan Audio)
Goodreads Synopsis
I am a big fan of Alyson Noel's Riley Bloom series.  I loved Radiance and Shimmer (reviews HERE), and have been looking forward to this, so I was very pleased when the audio showed up in my mailbox on Friday.  Thanks, Macmillan Audio!!