Thursday, July 31, 2014

YA Review of Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Age Range: 12 - 18 years

Grade Level: 7 and up

Hardcover: 256 pages

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 13, 2014)

Series: None

Genre: Contemporary/retelling

Source: Publisher via NetGalley

My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

About the Book:

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward his nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of J. M. Barrie's classic tale, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up—and the troubled beauty trapped between them.  

About the Author:

I was born in Stanford, California, and even though I moved across the country to New York when I was six years old, I still think of myself as a California girl.

When I was little, I pretended that I didn't like to read, because my sister loved to read, and I wanted to be different. (I also pretended that I didn't like pizza, because it was her favorite food, I still get sad when I think of all the delicious pizza dinners I missed out on.) By the time I was eight, it was too hard to pretend I didn't like to read, because the truth was that reading was my favorite thing in the world. I loved it so much that when there was nothing to read, I wrote my own stories just to give myself something to read. And when there was no pen and paper to be had, I made up stories and acted them out by myself. I played all the parts, and I was never bored.

When I was eleven years old, I began going to a school in Manhattan called Spence. The teachers there were very supportive of my reading and writing. One teacher there encouraged me to read F. Scott Fitzgerald, and another introduced me to magical realism, and another tried to convince me that there was more to Ernest Hemingway than lessons in fly fishing. (She was right, of course.) And still another let me write a sequel to one of my favorite novels and call it a school project, even though I would have done in my spare time just for the fun of it.

After Spence, I went across town to Barnard College. Once again, I had some of the best teachers in the world encouraging me to write, and introducing me to new authors. One of my very favorite teachers told me to read Joan Didion (and I didn't thank him enough for that), and my other favorite insisted that there was nothing more to Ernest Hemingway than lessons in fly fishing (and I argued with her a lot about that).

After college, I got a job working in an office where I wore high heels and blazers and even the occasional stiff-collared blouse. I thought I would write on the side, but after a while, I stopped writing altogether - for over a year, I didn't write a word except in my journal, a very strange thing for a girl who wrote stories from pretty much the time that she learned how to hold a pen.
But then, when I was 24, I began working at a new job, and the people there introduced me to great new writers, just like the teachers I'd had in school. I began to miss writing. It was boring when I wasn't making up stories to keep myself entertained. And so - slowly, just for the fun of it - I began writing again, and in a couple years I had written the story that would become The Beautiful Between.

My Thoughts:

I'm not going to lie.  I had a major book hangover after reading this.  It's a book that has received some very mixed reviews, but sometimes those are my favorite ones.  It was much different than I expected. It was a contemporary beach side version of the story of Peter Pan. I really really liked it.

Wendy's brothers went missing months ago, their surf boards found washed up and broken to bits. But Wendy can't accept the idea that her brothers are dead, so she goes searching for them and finds herself at a perfect beach with a bunch of other teens living in some abandoned homes. She meets Pete, Jas, and Belle there.

While this book is a contemporary story and doesn't have magic or actual flying, some things come across as magical. I really liked the way the author explored different possibilities with this story. Maybe Wendy was crazy, maybe she wasn't. I also liked the romance in the book, which is a rare thing for me in the YA category. I liked it because there wasn't a real love triangle, in spite of the jacket description. Wendy falls for two different guys, but not simultaneously.

I liked the characters, especially Pete and Jas. The author captured them in a way that was familiar and new at the same time. I loved the way it ended. It was the perfect ending and made me smile.

Content: Some language, kissing, drug and alcohol use.

Source: I received a digital galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

YA Review of Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Age Range: 14 and up

Series: The Grisha (Book 3)

Genre: Fantasy

Print Length: 432 pages

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (June 17, 2014)

Source: Library

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

About the Book:

The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.
Ruin and Rising is the thrilling final installment in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy.

About the Author:

Leigh Bardugo is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm. She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood, where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band. 

My Thoughts:

The thing I like about this series is that the story didn't morph into something unrelated to the initial concept. It's one big story, broken into three books. It's been such a long time since I read Siege and Storm that I had a difficult time remembering who some of the minor characters were. It didn't bother me too much since I got sucked into the story anyway. Leigh Bardugo knows how to capture her readers.

I loved the progress that Alina made, up to a point. Some of her decisions were selfish, but for the most part, she cared about her country and tried to do the right thing.

I've never been able to like Mal, and I still didn't in this book. I felt like he didn't deserve Alina. But then again, in some ways Alina didn't deserve him. I found Nicolai's fate very interesting. I adored him in the last book and I still loved him in this one. I was disappointed that the author decided to have the characters pair up the way they did. I really wanted this book to be clean, and it almost was. There is some sex in the book, and it's mostly non-descriptive. Even so, I would only recommend this book for older YA readers.

Overall, it was a riveting and mostly satisfying ending to a great series.

Content: Violence, non-descriptive sex, kidding, mild language.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

YA Review of Throne of Glass by Sara J. Maas

Throne of Glass by Sara J. Maas

Age Range: 14 and up

Series: Throne of Glass #1

Hardcover: 416 pages

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (August 7, 2012)

Genre: Fantasy

Source: Won in a giveaway

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

About the Book:

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

About the Author:

Sarah J. Maas was born and raised in New York City, but after graduating from Hamilton College in 2008, she moved to Southern California. She's always been just a tad obsessed with fairy-tales and folklore, though she'd MUCH rather be the one slaying the dragon (instead of the damsel in distress). When she's not busy writing, she can be found geeking out over things like Han Solo, gaudy nail polish, and ballet.

My Thoughts:

This was a strange book for me. I fully expected to love it, but when I started reading, it struck me as cliche and cheesy. Some things stayed that way through the whole book, but as the story progressed I found myself liking it more. The more immersed into the world I became, the more the characters grew on me. It doesn't get very intense until the last 100 pages or so. Most of the book is spent developing the characters, setting up the world, and dabbling in romance.

The romance was the one part of the book that irritated me almost all the way through. Regardless, I enjoyed the rest of the story and particularly liked Celaena's friendship with Nehemia and Nox. I liked the mystery around the dark power lurking in the castle, and I enjoyed the competition between the Champions. I really liked the relationship that developed between Celaena and Chaol. He was one of my favorite characters and I really hope to see more of him in the next book.

The second half of the book found me turning pages late into the night. The ending was spectacular. I loved the last chapters.

Content: There is some kissing and innuendo, some language, and some violence. Recommended for ages 14+.


Monday, July 28, 2014

YA Review of Born of Deception by Teri Brown

Born of Deception by Teri Brown

Age Range: 12 and up

Series: Born of Illusion #2

Genre: Historical fiction

Print Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (June 10, 2014)

Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

About the Book:

For fans of Libba Bray and Anna Godbersen, this thrilling historical suspense novel is the story of a teen illusionist who must harness her special powers and navigate the underworld of magic before her murderous enemies catch up with her. Lovers of historical fiction and stories filled with romance and intrigue will fall for Born of Deception and its world of magic set in Jazz Age London.

After scoring a spot on a European vaudeville tour, Anna Van Housen is moving to London to chase her dream and to join an underground society for people like her with psychic abilities. But when Anna arrives in London, she finds the group in turmoil—one of its members has been kidnapped, and members of the society are starting to turn on one another. With her life in danger and her relationship with her boyfriend, Cole, fizzling, can Anna track down the kidnapper before he makes her his next victim—or will she be forced to pay the ultimate price for her powers?

About the Author:

Teri Brown is most proud of her children, but coming in a close second is the fact that she jumped out of an airplane and beat the original Legend of Zelda video game. She is a word scribbler, head banger, math hater, book reader, food fixer, kitty keeper, and city slicker. Teri lives with her husband and way too many pets in Portland, Oregon.

My Thoughts:

Once again, I was struck by the unique adventure that Teri Brown created. I loved the characters, the mystery, and the suspense. I also loved that it was a new situation with a new bad guy, and not simply a carryover from the first book.

Anna moves to London to join a European tour so she can perform her magic. She meets new people, makes new friends, and acquires new enemies. Cole is in London as well, but Anna's relationship with him quickly becomes strained. I didn't like the direction their relationship took in this book, because it felt too typical of a second book, but I liked almost everything else. These books are very clean even though there are a lot of potentially frightening scenes.

If you are looking for a well written, clean YA novel with black magic and suspense, give this series a try. The only caveat is that you need to read the novella, Born of Corruption in between books 1 and 2 since Born of Deception refers to it quite a bit and you might be confused if you don't read it.

Content: Some violence/scary scenes, but I consider it clean.

Source: I received a digital galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Favorites #19: Illustrator Spotlight on Todd Harris

Tressa from Wishful Endings hosts this meme every Friday.  I use the meme to highlight some of my favorite illustrators.
 Today I'm featuring Todd Harris! He's the brilliant artist behind the illustrations in the hilarious Hero's Guide series.  If you haven't read those books yet, you really should! 

Todd Harris' Work:

I think it's utterly impossible not to love Todd Harris' art. It has so much personality it could jump to life. Unfortunately, I couldn't find much info on the guy other than that he used to make art for video games before he illustrated the Hero's Guide series. You can read an interview with him on A Backwards Story blog.

Books with Todd Harris' Art:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Spotlight on A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Age Range: 10 and up
Grade Level: 5 and up
Series: A Tale Dark and Grimm #1

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (October 28, 2010)

Genre: Fairy tale/horror

Source: Sample from publisher via Edelweiss

About the Book:

In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.

About the Author:

Adam Gidwitz grew up in Baltimore. Now he lives in Brooklyn and teaches kids large and slightly less large at Saint Ann's School. Adam only writes about what he's experienced personally. So, while all of the strange, hilarious, and frightening things in A TALE DARK AND GRIMM really did happen to Hansel and Gretel, they also happened to Adam. Of course, if you've ever had a childhood, they've probably happened to you, too.

My Thoughts on the Sample:

I only read a short sample of this book that I downloaded from Edelweiss. From what I could tell from the sample, it is a well written and engaging story that will suck young readers into its pages. The narrator is forthright about the book containing lots of blood and violence, but there wasn't any in the short sample I read. If I had had access to the whole book, I would have gladly read the rest of it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Early Review of Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff

Fiendish by Brenna Yovanoff

Age Range: 14 and up

Series: None

Genre: Horror/fantasy

Print Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Razorbill (August 14, 2014)
Source: From publisher for review

My Rating: 2 of 5 stars

About the Book:

Clementine DeVore spent ten years trapped in a cellar, pinned down by willow roots, silenced and forgotten.

Now she’s out and determined to uncover who put her in that cellar and why.

When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher sets her free. Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged. 

About the Author:

Brenna Yovanoff is the New York Times bestselling author of The Replacement, The Space Between, and Paper Valentine. She currently lives in Denver with her husband. Visit her online at www.brennayovanoff.com.

My Thoughts:

This book was fairly strange and kind of boring. The beginning is really slow and not much happens until about half way through the book. The second half has more going on than the first half, but it's still pretty slow.

I liked some things about it, though. I liked the different types of magic, the exploration of prejudice, and the way different people dealt with both of those things. I liked the main character, Clementine, but found her too mature in her speech and reasoning to be believable for someone that hasn't seen anything or anyone since she was seven. A few other things struck me as unrealistic and I didn't like most of the characters, but my biggest issue was that I didn't connect with the story.

Horror books and movies tend to either scare me or bore me, and in this case, I'm afraid it was the latter. It's still a well written book with some interesting aspects, but it wasn't for me. The right person will love this story, so if you like strange books and don't mind a slow build up, give it a try.

The Cover: I absolutely adore this cover.  It is haunting and intriguing at the same time.  It's what attracted me to the book in the first place.  I love the dark colors with the splash of bright green and red leaves.

Content: Language, scary scenes/violence.

Source: The publisher loaned me a digital galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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