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review: “wayfarer” August 10, 2010

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Wayfarer by R.J. Anderson.
HarperTeen // ARC // 304 pages.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Traveling ARC Tours.

Linden, a fifteen-year-old faery, has always lived in the Oak with her fellow faeries. But when the faeries of Oakenwyld are threatened with extinction, Linden is trusted with the last of their magic to go out into the human world to try and find faeries to help the Oak survive. Timothy has just been suspended from school and is staying at the house next to the Oak. Two worlds collide when the two teenagers meet and begin a race throughout England to find a cure for Linden’s people.

I thought that Wayfarer was a great companion novel to Spell Hunter. I think that it’s hard for the second book in a series to live up to the first most of the time, but I was pleasantly surprised by Wayfarer. However, it’s hard to write a review without comparing the two books. Where Spell Hunter has stronger characters, I felt like Wayfarer’s world building and general plot was much heartier than the first book.

(In other words, these two books complement each other perfectly, and when read together give readers the best of both worlds. I was lucky enough to read them on the same day, one right after another.)

Even though this plot had a lot more at stake (the Oak’s survival), I wasn’t as invested in Linden’s story as I had been with Knife. Linden’s character was almost at arms-length for me, and I had trouble relating with her. (It might have been because she was so innocent – which is not a fault; just not my personal preference.) Timothy, on the other hand, was so interesting and I loved watching his development throughout the story. He really changes drastically, but realistically!

I’m kind of at a loss about who to best sell this book to. I think it would work for younger teens reading at a higher level or for sensitive older teens who want faery stories outside of the urban/dark fantasy genre.

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R.J. Anderson

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review: “life, after” July 17, 2010

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Life After by Sarah Darer Littman.
Scholastic Press // ARC // 288 pages.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Traveling ARC Tours.

Dani lives in Argentina with her family – father, mother, and little sister. She has friends, and a boyfriend but her life is nowhere near perfect. Seven years ago, a terrorist attack took the lives of her aunt and unborn cousin. Right now, her family is struggling financially since they lost their family store and Dani’s father is depressed and angry. Many people are leaving Argentina and Dani’s family soon plans a move to America, for a new chance at life. But Dani and her family aren’t the only ones suffering from the aftermath of a terrorist attack – some of the students at Dani’s new school have personal ties to the recent September 11th attack in New York City.

I really enjoyed “Life, After.” I thought that it was a fairly realistic portrayal of grief and the struggle to return to normal after such catastrophic events take place. The story has great layers – parallels between the AMIA building in Buenos Aires terrorist attack and the more well-known (coming from a United States perspective) 9/11 terrorist attack that will really have readers relating to both teen’s struggles.

This novel covers a lot of difficult subjects (terrorism, immigration, poverty, autism spectrum disorders, grief, depression) without coming off as heavy-handed in terms of lessons or morals. And even though it might seem like those are a lot of topics to cover, the novel has great rhythm and flow. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the subjects at all.

My favorite parts of the novel were actually the scenes in Argentina, and I was sad to see us move from an unfamiliar place and setting to the very familiar contemporary United States. (My suspicion is that teens will have the opposite reaction.) I’m not sure how accurate the portrayal of Argentina is (just looked it up and the author has never been to Argentina, but did a good amount of research) – but I absolutely loved the setting and thought it came to life. I could see the streets and trees. I could imagine Dani’s apartment.

The characterization was awesome, and I thought Dani was full of life. Definitely enjoyed this one and can see a lot of different kinds of angles to sell it to teens. Looking forward to reading more of Darer Littman’s books! (Like “Purge” which is already on my TBR pile.)

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Sarah Darer Littman

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review: “everlasting” July 13, 2010

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Everlasting by Angie Frazier.
Scholastic Press // ARC // 336 pages.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Traveling ARC Tours.

Camille Rowen has always been a shipman’s daughter, sailing with her father on his ships. But in 1855, a woman’s place is not on a ship — it’s with a husband and Camille is engaged. Allowing his daughter one last voyage before her wedding, Camille sets off towards Australia. But what awaits Camille is not what it seems – beyond her sights there are secrets, a mysterious curse, despair, and a different life than she ever imagined.

I don’t really read a lot of historical fiction, but I was willing to give this one a go when I heard that it had paranormal elements in the story. Largely, I would say that this is adventure-romance even more so than historical or paranormal though.

Camille was a narrator struggling between duty and what she really wanted. I think a lot of teens can relate to that struggle and will be able to identify with the narrator. As an adult, I thought that the answer to Camille’s struggle was a little obvious and there were times that I just wanted to shake the girl. But – I did keep in mind that Camille wasn’t a modern girl and that she had more social implications to address than a girl today would have.

My biggest issue with the book was that I didn’t feel enough tension throughout the plotline. I was interested enough to keep reading, but I expected to feel worried for the character’s safety, especially after Frazier shows us (through a character’s death) that her world is dangerous and isn’t safe. But I didn’t feel like Camille or her companions were really facing their deaths.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. I know this will work well with younger teens and tweens – I can imagine them re-reading this several times. I know I would have back in the day!

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Angie Frazier

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review: “some girls are” March 19, 2010

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Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers.
St. Martin’s Griffin // ARC // 256 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC copy, from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.

When Regina is almost raped by her best friend’s boyfriend at a party, she confides in Kara who swears never to tell Anna. But what Regina fails to realize is that Kara wants to be Anna’s best friend — and wants to ruin Regina’s life. Now instead of being Anna’s favored friend, Regina is the outs with everyone at school, and is physically and emotionally paying for it. Because Anna and Kara are some of the meanest girls ever and their only goal is to make Regina suffer.

It’s hard to say that I liked this book, because it’s such a difficult subject matter. But I did!

The writing is absolutely amazing — real and gritty. I cannot even say how many times I wound up flinching while reading this book. The physical torment that Anna, Kara, and the rest of the clique put Regina through is horrifying and turned my stomach on occasion. This book is not for the faint of heart and is definitely an upper YA read.

What makes this book amazing and memorable is Regina’s development, her journey to move past this former mean girl who can’t even stand up for herself.

Regina’s parents and teachers seem utterly clueless about what’s going on in her life. I was convinced that someone had to know what these girls were doing — and rather than stopping it, they allowed it to happen.

Michael, Regina’s only companion throughout most of the novel, is a well-developed supporting character and I really liked what his character brought to the novel and offered to Regina’s own development.

I would definitely recommend this book to teens, but I would caution the teen about the heavy subject matter before putting the book in their hands.

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Courtney Summers

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review: “the heart is not a size” March 16, 2010

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The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart.
HarperTeen // ARC // 256 pages
Reviewed from ARC provided by Traveling ARC Tours.

Georgia has always been known as the reliable teenager – she is the one parents point and say, “Why can’t you be more like Georgia?” But her life isn’t perfect, and being reliable means keeping secrets, secrets about her friends and secrets about herself. When Georgia finds out about a service opportunity to visit Anapra (a village in Mexico), she convinces Riley – her best friend – to come with her. While in Anapra, the group works to build a community bathroom and Georgia is faced with new challenges – including figuring out exactly which secrets she should be keeping.

Like “Nothing But Ghosts,” I regretted closing the book because it meant that I had to leave the world that Kephart created. Where “Nothing But Ghosts” is a book about grief, about moving on – “The Heart is Not a Size” is about friendship, finding one’s place in the world.

Georgia and Riley are this wonderful pair of friends, very different, each with their own struggles, and very human – they do not have a perfect friendship by any means. But what they do have is this underlying sense of loyalty to one another. Even when their friendship is tested, I feel like they each still care about one another.

The supporting characters in the novel are varied, distinctive. While some are stronger than others, they still add a great dynamic, bringing Georgia’s world and Anapra to life. Riley, in particular, is a truly multilayered, complex character. I almost wished I could get inside her head and really figure her out.

I felt very connected to Georgia – I was always the responsible friend and I felt a lot of parental pressure. It doesn’t surprise me that one of the secrets Georgia is keeping (no spoiler here, Georgia states this very early on in the novel) is her own panic attacks. While I was going to college, I had several friends who admitted that they had struggled with panic attacks in high school. I even had some friends who continued to have attacks throughout college. It really surprised me to see a main character in YA who had such attacks. (Sidenote: let me know if you know of other YA that has panic attacks in the novel.)

I’ve already pre-ordered this book for myself and for my library. I cannot wait to connect readers with this story.

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Beth Kephart

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review: “the dark divine” March 15, 2010

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The Dark Divine by Bree Despain.
Egmont // ARC // 384 pages.
Reviewed from ARC copy provided by publisher.

Three years after Grace Divine lost her best friend, Daniel Grigori, he’s finally returned to her high school. But Grace still doesn’t know what caused Daniel’s mysterious disappearance — only that it happened the same night Grace found her brother, Jude, on the porch covered in blood. Whatever secret Daniel is hiding, Grace finds herself drawn to him despite Jude’s obvious hatred for him. To make matters worse, the whole community is watching Grace’s family after one of her father’s parishioners passes away. With all the odds stacked against her, can Grace finally uncover the past?

Despain writes a strong debut novel that I really enjoyed. I finished the book in one fell swoop, and will definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out. I immediately had teens in mind to sell it to at the library and eagerly passed on my ARC. Reviews from teens have been quite favorable — one girl begged for it for book club already. (We have to wait for paperbacks though, so not for a while!)

I really enjoyed the strong family life that Despain created in the novel. The complexities of faith, forgiveness, and guilt are explored throughout the novel without becoming overly preachy. And the siblings’ dynamics really intrigued me — Jude appears to be a fairly simplistic character as first and his character development surprised and please me.

The supernatural elements were well-done. I did not expect the twist that happens at the end of the book! YIKES. It left me reeling and desperately wanting the sequel.

And as for Daniel and Grace — it was so nice that they had a background prior to madly falling in love. Just knowing that they had been childhood friends made it that much more wonderful when they did fall for one another once he returned. (Also, that much more realistic and believable!)

Couple of weak moments of characterization. Grace’s friends basically disappear once the love interest is introduced, small flaws that will be improved with time and more writing experience.

Definitely one of the better paranormals I’ve read in a while. I look forward to whatever Despain writes next.

(Also! If you’ve read a published copy, can you enlighten me about the added scenes that tied in the cover, if you remember? Email readwhatyouknow[at]gmail[dot]com or leave it in the comments!)

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Bree Despain

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review: “fallen” February 16, 2010

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Fallen by Lauren Kate.
Delacorte Books for Young Readers // ARC // 464 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC, provided by publisher.

Luce might be going crazy. She sees shadows and is starting to believe that they were the cause of the fire that killed her boyfriend. So, her parents ship her off to boarding school where she meets Daniel Grigori and her life changes forever. To add to the crazy, Luce is convinced that she knows Daniel — even though he assures her that they’ve never met. Drawn to him for some unseen reason, Luce is determined to be with Daniel no matter what.

If you’re ready for another YA paranormal with undying love — this is the book for you. But if you’re feeling burnt out on mystical love and unusual circumstances — I’d skip “Fallen.”

The book has an interesting premise that suffers from the long, drawn-out set-up. And just when things start to move, we launch into a whirlwind ending that leaves more questions than answers. As I closed the book I was equally torn between immediately wanting the sequel or throwing the book across the room.

However, I will be reading the sequel. Why?

1. I felt like Luce was more tolerable than other female leads in this situation. She wasn’t a particularly strong character, but I was willing to give her more slack given that her boyfriend just died in a fire that she was involved in. That’s enough to rock any teen into being a more meek version of themselves.

2. There was a reason that Daniel and Luce experienced an immediate deja-vu connection. (It will probably be obvious to adult readers, but teens might miss it.) And it had nothing to do with the scent of Luce’s blood.

3. The mythology of the world/book is intriguing and I can see that Lauren Kate did a lot of research into it.

4. The writing and atmosphere of the book were enough to save the plot holes for me.

So, yes, I purchased it for my library (and recommend it for public libraries with large paranormal followings). My teens are trading it back and forth — it’s a hit for them. But adult readers beware — it’s not my favorite paranormal romance.

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Lauren Kate

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review: “heist society” October 23, 2009

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heistsociety

Heist Society by Ally Carter.
Hyperion // ARC // 304 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC, received at ALA’s Annual Conference 2009.

Kat Bishop’s a thief. Not just any thief. She’s a major player in the heist world. Her whole family’s in the business. So, it’s a huge surprise when Kat suddenly drops off the radar to attend a private, normal boarding school. But when Hale shows up and tells Kat that her dad is in trouble and that only she can pull off the job needed to save him, Kat doesn’t hesitate to dive back in to her life of crime. After all, family is family.

First I want to mention just how floored I was that I managed to get a copy of this book. This was my dream of ALA that somehow I stumbled onto this book. So, yes, I was hugely excited and spent the rest of my day at the conference peeking at it.

I think Ally Carter is just a phenomenal chick lit/adventure writer, and even more so that she knows how to balance the real world teen reactions & quirks with her incredible, highly specialized worlds. Both of her series are firmly rooted in reality by her characters, even though their circumstances are out of the ordinary.

“Heist Society” started off with a bang, dragging Kat back into the world she was running from. I liked Kat as a character. She’s very different from Cammie (Carter’s other leading lady from the Gallagher Girl books), a really unique character. The other characters are fun, and intriguing. I predict many teen girls will be falling in love with Hale. (And perhaps some young teen librarians…)

The book was a bit slow for me and I can’t tell if that’s because I was savoring it or if it was because I was in the middle of summer reading and everything was crazy. I will say that I did get a little confused with the locations (Kat’s mission sends her traveling throughout Europe), but I chalked that up to the fact that I’ve been stuck in the US my whole life.

A strong start to her new series. I’ll be purchasing it for the library and looking forward to future installments.

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Ally Carter

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review: “liar” September 29, 2009

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Happy book birthday, “Liar!” Can’t wait to see you on the library’s shelf.

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Liar by Justine Larbalestier.
Bloomsbury // ARC // 384 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC received at ALA Annual Conference 2009.

Micah Wilkins will tell you flat out that she’s a liar. Except, she promises, that this is the truth. Her secret boyfriend Zach is now dead, and she’s going to tell her story. Toss in some family secrets, the whole school thinking that Micah had something to do with Zach’s death, and her own tendencies to lie about everything and you’ve got yourself one interesting story and protagonist.

This book is an incredibly hard book to summarize without giving spoilers. I will probably pitch it to teens as “She’s a liar. Can you believe anything she says?” and hope that we get some bites from that.

I liked this book, but I’m still not one hundred percent sure about how I felt about it — if that makes any sense. It’s a fast, compelling read, and I know that readers will race to the end of the book trying to find out what really happened.

For me, it was a hard read at the same time because I had no idea if Micah was telling me the truth and had an even harder time trying to relate to her. When I found parts to connect with her, I had to sit there and wonder if that was a lie designed to make me like her, created by Micah to make Micah sympathetic. And then I sat back and thought about whether or not Micah herself even knew what was true or not anymore. By then, I had to re-read the last few lines to remember where I had been.

(Is your head spinning yet?)

That being said, I love Larbalestier’s writing and I don’t think that this kind of a novel would have worked with just any writer.

I’m patiently waiting for the official release date so that my teens can start reading the finished copy and we can start comparing how we felt about Micah. I will definitely be purchasing “Liar” for the library even though I’m still halfway baffled by the book.

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review: “once was lost” September 18, 2009

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oncewaslost

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr.
Little, Brown // ARC // 224 pages.
Reviewed from ARC provided by the publisher.

Questioning her faith isn’t supposed to be old hat for Samara Taylor. After all, she’s the pastor’s kid. Her faith is supposed to be a foundation for the community, unshakable. But few in town live Sam’s life and when her mother is forced into rehab after a DUI, her faith begins to falter. Once a local girl goes missing, Sam struggles to hold everything together as her father dedicates his time to the missing girl’s family. Her town shaken, Sam watches as her life continues to unravel as everyone around her begins to change…again.

A very real, authentic portrayal of a young adult struggling to make sense of the world around her, a world where she rarely has control over the situations, a world where bad things happen to good people.

I think that every teen/young adult goes through some sort of faith crisis. It’s that moment where you realize that you are not invincible and that the world is not always kind. It’s not always a religious crisis, sometimes it’s a simply a questioning — “Why do these things happen?”

Zarr tackles this in her book flawlessly. Sam’s questions are valid. The people around her have their own battles with faith and their own conclusions. All of these are real. All of these are believable for me.

The supporting characters and subplots in the novel are excellent. Sam’s relationship (or lack thereof) with her father is carefully crafted. Both parties are sympathetic. Neither seems to know what to do and it’s a good thing, I think, to show that adults are often lost. Adults also have issues with their faith.

I loved Sam’s budding romance. I loved Sam’s conflicting views on Erin and her involvement in their family. I loved that people made mistakes, that people were human in this book.

The resolution is a tad bit tidy, but I think that’s allowed in YA. The resolution does not distract from the messages that can be drawn from the book, from the story given to readers.

A highly recommended purchase, it will be gracing the shelves of my library come October, when it’s released.

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Sara Zarr

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