I focus primarily on Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Children's books, but my tastes are eclectic, so I change things up frequently!
I keep hearing people say that they're becoming burnt out on the dystopian genre... Well, let me tell you, Joelle Charbonneau's The Testing might just rekindle your love of the genre.
The Testing has been pitched as a must read for Hunger Games fans and does feel very similar... even the cover shares the same simplicity and a similar focal concept sure to catch the eye of HG fans. But I assure you, The Testing is not The Hunger Games. Charbonneau introduces readers to an entirely new dystopian society that, at least initially, feels quite safe, but turns out to have a much darker, sinister side than our heroine ever imagined.
The novel follows Cia, a mechanically gifted girl who has been chosen to participate in The Testing, which is a means of determining which individuals from various parts of the United Commonwealth will be able to continue their education at university and eventually become an important leader. Only a very small number of individuals are selected to compete in The Testing and most individuals know they will never be chosen, even if they dream of the honor. Cia hopes to be selected, like her father once was, but knows her chances are slim. When she learns that she, and three others from her district have earned a spot in the competition, she's amazed and incredibly proud - and is confused as to why her parents seem less than excited. Before she leaves for the capital, her father takes her aside and shares one of his deepest fears: that the testing is not the dream that it seems. He reveals to her that, while participants minds are wiped after they've completed the testing, he's been left with terrifying nightmares that he fears may be lingering memories rather than products of an overactive imagination. With this knowledge now lodged in her mind, Cia leaves for The Testing, anxious and guarded. She soon learns that her father was correct to fear The Testing and that she'll need to use everything in her to survive.
There is a romantic plot line within The Testing and, while it does contribute to the story, especially when considering the complications a romance can cause when an individual is unsure who can be trusted, it isn't the main focus of the novel. That is to say, this is not a love story, though it does contain one. In this way, it is much like The Hunger Games.
Some may wonder how like Cia is to THG's Katniss. While both heroines are strong and capable of taking care of themselves, Cia, in my opinion, is definitely more motivated by emotion than Katniss and is more naturally trusting and sympathetic. It always seemed to me that Katniss wasn't above manipulating or using others for her own gain when she knew they were emotionally attached to her (for example, Peeta); Cia, on the other hand, is more likely to be the one manipulated, not because she's weak, but because she feels deeply for others. There was never any point where I felt she was weak or unintelligent, though she does have weaknesses.
For the most part, The Testing had really great pacing and twists. Although, it did take me perhaps 50 pages or so to be completely hooked. It is around this point that Cia has reached the capital and has begun the testing... and then all hell breaks loose!
Whether you're a Hunger Games fan, a dystopian junkie, or just looking for a great, action packed read, The Testing is for you. Do not miss this book!
I absolutely adored Jennifer Yerkes' A Funny Little Bird. This read aloud shares the story of a little bird who is a bit difficult to see and, therefore, often overlooked and ignored. Sad and lonely, the funny little bird tries different tactics to draw attention to himself, only to find out that being seen has its consequences as well. The little bird quickly learns that being himself, near invisibility and all, has its own advantages.
Utilizing bright, minimalist illustrations and a touch of humor, A Funny Little Bird sends an important message about embracing one's physical differences. The text is also minimal, letting the illustrations guide the story, making it perfect for interactive reading aloud and great stepping stone for early readers.
Themes: Self-esteem, Friendship, Individuality, Creativity
I'd heard mixed reviews prior to picking up Erin Bowman's Taken, but the colorful cover and intriguing premise proved too intriguing to avoid for long - thank goodness - because I ended up really enjoying this first installment of the Taken books.
The story is narrated by Gray Weathersby, a teen-aged boy who has grown up in the curious town of Claysoot. The town is surrounded by a wall, but whether the wall keeps danger out, protecting the inhabitants, or keeps the people of Claysoot in, trapping them, is up for debate. When Gray's older brother, Blaine, is heisted, mysteriously disappearing from Claysoot like every boy in the settlement at the age of eighteen, Gray starts to question what he knows (and doesn't know) about Claysoot and ends up finding answers he's never dreamed of.
I really liked Gray as a narrator. Given the premise of the novel, Taken would have been a very different novel if told from the point of view of a female inhabitant of Claysoot. I found especially interesting the idea that the boys in the community are "slated" to various girls, month by month, to ensure the continuation of Claysoot's population. I can't say for sure what goes through the head of a teen boy who is faced with forcibly playing musical, uh, beds with the girls in his community, but I felt Gray's reaction was pretty genuine. On one hand, he's a teen boy who enjoys spending the night with girls and all that entails, but he also hates that he's forced to do anything and struggles with the fact that he might have real feelings for one girl in particular. Outside the wall, things change dramatically for Gray, but I felt that the romantic elements of the novel - specifically the discussion and focus on what love is, how it feels, and the confusion that comes with it - to be engaging and well-executed.
I very much looking forward to Bowman's next book, which promises the reader more answers about Claysoot and the (*spoilery*) information revealed in Taken. I wish I could say more about what I think and hope will happen in the next book, but I can't say much without revealing important elements of Taken's plot! Suffice to say, book two has the potential to blow the revelations revealed in Taken away!
Rush, Eve Silver's debut novel, is a very unique take on an impending alien invasion. The novel follows Miki and other teens who are pulled from their every day lives to participate in missions, which are set up much like the missions in video games, complete with kill points and health/life meters, where they must exterminate an alien race called the Drau that seeks to take over planet Earth. At first, Miki is sure she's dreaming - or that the whole experience is some sort of elaborate hoax - but she soon discovers that the stakes are real... and deadly.
One of the things I love about Rush is that it has obvious appeal for a wide variety of readers. There are video game elements, aliens, possible romance, lots of action, a fast pace, and an interesting cover that's relatively gender neutral. I like to think that boys could just as easily carry this book around (without fear of being teased for a girly cover) as a girl reader.
Rush starts off quickly paced and never slows. In many ways, it read like a video game feels. In video games that engage players in missions, there is always something to pay attention to or something happening, information is slowly revealed at specific points, and there is always the fear or a surprise attack and character death: Rush is kind of like watching someone else play a video game with your character. You're invested in the characters and the story's events and you're constantly trying to snatch the controls back, but you can only look on and hope for the best.
I'm hoping for more detail and information about the Drau in the future installments of The Game. By the end of Rush, readers have gathered some information about the players of The Game and their mission, but there are still many holes. Hopefully these things will be fleshed out in the subsequent books, since readers have met and formed bonds with the the players, which seemed to the be the focus of this first installment.
I'll definitely be reading Eve Silver's next book. I'm very curious about what will happen to Miki next... things were really intense by the end of this first book. She has a lot of information to work through, but she was definitely shaping up to be a badass by the end of Rush!
I'll start by saying that I love this novel's cover... Right off the bat, it was clear this novel would deal with both assassins and pirates, which for me, means a definite read. For me, this is one of those situations where it is more than okay to judge a book by its cover!
I really, really enjoyed the premise of The Assassin's Curse. Ananna, a young pirate, is on the run, avoiding an arranged marriage that would, more or less, make her her husband's property and effectively dash all her hopes and dreams of captaining her own ship and exploring the world on her own terms. Her husband-to-be's family doesn't take kindly to her escape and sends an assassin after her. Things take an unexpected turn, however, when Ananna saves Naji, the assassin, waking an impossible curse that ties the two together, making them unlikely, and unhappy, allies.
The novel follows the two characters as they traverse deserts, oceans, and islands in search of people that might be able to help them break the impossible curse. Along the way, the characters discover that neither is quite what they appear at first glance.
One of the most unique aspects of The Assassin's Curse was Ananna's speech. At first, her use of ain't and other obviously improper grammar and words stuck out like a sore thumb, but eventually my mind no longer stumbled and her speech patterns simply became a part of her character. I don't feel like I've seen this tactic used very often in YA fantasy lately and I appreciated the smaller details, like Ananna's language differences, that Cassandra Rose Clarke incorporated into the novel.
I also loved the epic feel to this rather short novel. Ananna and Naji travel great distances (across a desert and an ocean) in search of experts who can shed some light on breaking an impossible curse, which, as the name implies, is no small feat. I liked both characters had time to shine throughout the novel - Ananna knows the sea and Naji is of the desert, so both showed both strength and weakness during the journey. This definitely allowed me to appreciate both characters for their own strengths as well as illustrated their individual weaknesses.
The one aspect of the novel that I didn't completely enjoy was the romance. I really liked the idea of Ananna and Naji growing to respect and, eventually, develop feelings for one another, but I never felt that Naji was very deserving of Ananna's feelings. He seemed very shallow at times and I couldn't help but feel that Ananna deserved someone who respected and appreciated her more. After all, all this began because she was trying to escape an unfair marriage, why would she settle now?
I can't wait to read the second book in this trilogy, The Pirate's Wish. I'm really hoping Naji matures in this second book and am excited to see where their quest takes these two characters next!
"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark."
— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Emily Murdoch's If You Find Me is unique in that it has a slow burning intensity that pulls the reader in until they've completely fallen in love with Carey and Jenessa without even realizing it was happening.
If You Find Me tells the heartbreaking story of Carey and her little sister, Jenessa, who have been kept away from people and civilization - and often completely alone in the wilderness - by their addict mother. The girls often fend for themselves, as their mother regularly disappears for long stretches of time, but, as the novel opens, they're nearing the end of their food stores and Carey is starting to worry about what will happen if their mother doesn't reappear. Things take a turn when a social worker and Carey's estranged father find the girls, as directed in a letter by Carey's mother, and take them back to live with him. The girls are thankful that they're still together and that they're warm and fed, but things are still complicated. Jenessa still refuses to speak (she's been selectively mute sincesomething happened to the girls during their time in the wilderness) and Carey finds that, while she isn't behind academically, socially she's an entirely different wavelength from her peers. She's either too mature or too naive and she often struggles to adjust to the new world she's so suddenly entered.
Carey and Jenessa are two of my absolute favorite characters. They felt so real to me that I often forgot that they weren't real people. I was so caught up in their story that I found myself telling anyone who would listen about what was happening to them as the story progressed and I often referred to them as if they were real people.
I loved Carey's complexity. I think part of the reason that she felt so realistic was that she was complicated and unsure and often contradicted herself, as I imagine someone who grew up like she did would. At different points in the novel, she either hated, felt love for, or missed her mother. As an outside observer, I had no love for Carey's mother and what she put the girls through, but I could definitely see how things wouldn't be so easily black and white for Carey. After all, though she knew on an intellectual level that what her mother did was wrong, it's often extremely difficult for an individual, especially a young person, to completely hate their parent, especially when that parent is one of the only people they've ever had contact with.
I really enjoyed the novel's secondary characters as well, especially Carey's father. He's definitely an important character, but he never really says much nor does Carey talk about him extensively, but every time he is mentioned or appears in the book, the passage had weight and meaning.
Even if I hadn't been tied to the novel by my love of Carey and her sister, the mystery element - which is directly tied to Jenessa's selective mutism - would have made it hard for me to set If You Find Me aside. I had to know what happened to the girls that had affected their lives so deeply, especially when their lives were already so difficult and unusual. I felt that I had to know, yet I was afraid to find out because I was so emotionally invested in the characters.
Lastly, I have to mention the romantic aspects of this novel. It might seem that their is no place for romance in If You Find Me next to the novel's premise and emotional weight, but that isn't the case. The romance in this novel isn't at all random or an attempt to appease or attract romance readers - it has meaning and fits beautifully.
I highly recommend Murdoch's If You Find Me and will definitely be reading her future offerings. This is a book that I'll no doubt be constantly pushing on my fellow readers!
I really, really dislike writing negative reviews. One of the main reasons I write The Hiding Spot is to connect readers to books and to encourage reading, so writing a negative review always feels like I'm doing the opposite. As a book blogger, one of the greatest feelings ever is the rush of happiness when a reader leaves a comment saying that, after reading my review, they bought or read the book themselves. These comments make me feel like I'm actually achieving my goal, which is fantastic! On the other hand, one of the worst things to see, on my blog, someone else's blog, or on GoodReads is a comment saying "Thanks for your review, I'll definitely be avoiding this book now!" I've been thinking a lot about whether I should write reviews for books I didn't enjoy or couldn't bring myself to finish and how frustrating it can be to see a negative review of a book I personally loved (and the comments that follow) and I realized a few things:
On Writing Negative Reviews
Luckily, I don't often come across books that I strongly dislike. To me, this isn't because I'm not discerning or picky about what I read, it's more that I've become better at selecting books that fit my reading personality, but more on that later. Ultimately, I've decided that if I dislike a book, even if I wasn't able to finish it completely, I'll still review it.Here's why: negative reviews have value too. I'm not talking about the reviews that bash a book or attack the author or don't give constructive and meaningful reasons as to why the reviewer didn't like the book - I find little value in these reviews - but a well written review, whether it is positive or negative, is always worth it.When I write a negative review, I'm careful to explain why it didn't work for me. I hope, that by being clear about why I didn't personally enjoy the book, those who read my reviews will gain something from it. For example, maybe the issues I had with the book wouldn't bother you as a reader and, therefore, you might still want to read it. In contrast, maybe the things that bothered me are also things that will make or break a book for you as well, so you'll pick up something else to read for the time being.The thing is, reviews are opinions. I don't ever want someone to read a negative review and just blindly assume that they won't like the book either. Be an informed reader - do some research and read a couple reviews. If you took the time to read a negative review I'm sure you have time to read a few positive reviews as well. I hate the idea that someone might miss out on a book that they might have loved just because of a negative review.Another, perhaps overlooked consequence of negative reviews, is, as I mentioned earlier, reading and reviewing more books you actually enjoy. Part of the reason that I end up picking so many books I do enjoy is because I read so many reviews, both good and bad. If I picked up every book based on how good the jacket description sounds, I'd probably end up reading many more books that don't fit my reading personality, but reading reviews helps me narrow down my reading list. If I didn't do this and ended up reading more of these ill-fitting books I would, of course, feel somewhat obligated to write a review, which would be negative. I write so many positive reviews because I so rarely end up reading books I don't like.
On Responding to Negative Reviews
I cannot tell you how many times I've read a negative review of a book I love or the comments that follow and ended up disappointed and defensive of said book. I've found that the best way (and really the only way) to respond to negative reviews of a book you love is to write a positive review. It is completely pointless to get upset, comment that the review/er is wrong, etc. The review is out there and there will always be people who don't think your favorite books is all that great, plus they're as entitled to their negative opinion as you are to your positive one.If there's a point in the negative review that you particularly disagree with or felt differently about, use it to your advantage. Addressing that aspect of the story (and explaining why you loved it) is a great way to differentiate and add detail to your review. I'm not at all telling you to reference or call this negative review, just remember to incorporate that you liked that aspect of the novel in your own review. I've done this many times and it's these reviews that seem to garner the most comments and readers... a win/win!
I know that negative reviews can be scary, make reviewers feel guilty, or upset authors, but there will never not be negative reviews or opinions about even the best books. Instead of dwelling on the upsetting things surrounding these reviews, I'm trying to focus on the positive consequences... and, though I'm obviously biased, I think you should too!
As a blogger and/or author, what's your opinion regarding negative reviews?
Though I really wanted to like Defiance - especially after falling in love with that gorgeous cover - I was ultimately disappointed by this debut offering from C.J. Redwine.
For me, the lack of world building in Defiance was the leading cause of my negative feelings. There are plenty of fantasy books that have gotten away with successfully with avoiding much world building (Poison by Bridget Zinn comes to mind), but I felt there were too many events and motivations in Defiance that didn't make sense due to the lack of world building. Things simply happened with no explanation... things that didn't seem to fit the other information I'd already been given or the world I thought was taking shape and I had no explanation as to why these things were possible. The setting in Defiance seems pretty old-fashioned, perhaps bordering medieval, yet Rachel and James have access to some rather advanced technology... technology that no body else seemed to have access to.
Additionally, the characters seemed to get quite worked up things - everything was very dramatic - but I couldn't help but think they were overacting or feel that the solutions were a bit too simple for how dire things were supposed to be.
I'm not against violence in YA by any means because I find that it usually has a point, but the violence in Defiance sometimes bordered on gratuitous. I really didn't understand Rachel's willingness to kill anything and anyone that stood in her way. She seemed to have so much anger all the time and truly could not see any other solution to her problems other than aggression. This was very odd to me, especially when I felt that there were definitely other options to explore. Instead of coming across as headstrong and determined, she came across as rather daft. I wanted her to think with her head, not with her fists!
Though I didn't particularly like Rachel's violent tendencies, I did appreciate that Redwine wasn't afraid to kill off characters when it benefited the plot. There are a couple characters that I really liked and was sad to see go, but I could see the necessity of their deaths.
Defiance didn't work for me, but I've read multiple positive reviews, so, if you're intrigued by the premise and can overlook the gaps in the world building, I think it could be worth a read. Readers who are concerned with world building and a prefer more complex fantasy worlds, however, would be better off reading something by Juliet Marillier, Kristin Cashore, Alexandra Bracken, or Tamora Pierce.
My feelings about Lenore Appelhans' Level 2 are divided... although I felt like this first book in The Memory Chronicles was interesting (enough so that I'll be reading the second book), I also felt that the pace was sometimes too slow or that nothing much was actually happening.
Level 2 focuses on Felicia, who is, as far as she knows, dead and resides in a hive-like structure populated by countless more drones (as these dead call themselves) who rarely interact, instead spending their days reliving their memories and the memories of the other drones. The memories are accessed via a pod and are categorized with tags, comparable to the shelf tagging system on GoodReads. In the hives, memories are both the currency and the product. Felicia and her fellow drones have no idea how they've come to be in this place after their deaths, nor do they know what their purpose is... and no one seems all that driven to find any answers.
All this changes, however, when Julian, a boy from Felicia's life, shows up in her hive. It's clear to the reader that Felicia and Julian's past is complicated - and perhaps not all that positive - but Felicia leaves with him after he promises to reunite her with her boyfriend, Neil, who she misses terribly and thinks of constantly. While the readers know very little about Julian, they are well aware of how Felicia feels for Neil, as her favorite and most accessed memories all feature Neil.
I really liked how Appelhans used the memories and tagging system to give the reader more information about Felicia. I felt this was a really creative execution of "show not tell" and allowed the author to give character history and detail while simultaneously explaining the world of Level 2.
One of the only reasons that I didn't love, love Level 2 was the pacing. As I read, I sometimes felt like there was detail where it wasn't necessary. I could be remembering incorrectly, but I really felt that there were too many scenes of Julian and Felicia running and fleeing and describing the many hives they passed. There were times when I thought to myself: when is something going to happen??
Other than the pacing, I found Level 2 really interesting. I'm especially curious about Julian, who Felicia appears to think so little of, but I can't help but wonder about. Appelhans did a great job of giving just enough information about characters and events that the reader is left curious and hungry for more detail, so I'm hoping the second book answers some of my questions!
I've been a huge fan of Anne Bishop for years, starting from when I read the first three books in her Black Jewels series. Written in Blood, the first in her new Others series, has only deepened my love for her writing and storytelling.
All of the other books I've read by Bishop have had a fantasy vibe to them, but Written in Blood stands out, at least for me, as distinctly paranormal. Admittedly, I haven't read very much paranormal fiction - and most of that experience was with novels by Laurell K. Hamilton - but to me, paranormal fiction has always been synonymous with paranormal romance/erotica. While Written in Blood feels like it the series will eventually have some sexy bits, the reader never sees any and I never it never felt that the romantic threads were forced or overdone like I sometimes felt happened in other paranormal fiction I've read. Instead, the relationships in Bishop's novel - romantic or otherwise - develop organically and are quite refreshing.
I loved the variety of paranormal elements in Written in Blood. There are the standard shapeshifters and vampires, plus many more. I was especially intrigued by the characters that were "elemental." As their name implies, these characters control the elements... and turn out to be just as terrifying as the paranormal individuals that readers would traditionally assume should be feared. It was also great to see that the "standard" paranormal creatures in this book, like werewolves and vampires, were refreshed and had some interesting and unique abilities.
Adding to this book's charm is the main character and her mythology. The main character, Meg, is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet. Simply put, blood prophets have prophetic visions when their skin is cut. Early on, the reader learns that Meg, like many other blood prophets, is considered property and her ability is used for profit. Meg, having escaped from her captors, has sought safety with the Others, who consider her in ways, kin and in others, human (and therefore untrustworthy). I loved the interactions between Meg and the Others. It was interesting to see who accepted her right away and who did not (and, in addition, why the did or didn't).
I thoroughly enjoyed this paranormal offering from Bishop. The next book, Murder of Crows, isn't due out until 2014 (too long!!), so I'll have to get my Bishop writing and character fix by rereading other books (something I'm definitely looking forward to)!
Kim Harrington's The Dead and Buried, like her previous novels, is a quick, satisfying read that thoroughly engages the reader and leaves them wanting more. Even though I should know better by now, I'm always surprised by how quickly I become invested in Harrington's characters and how sad I am to see their stories end, even when the mystery is solved and the novel is neatly wrapped up.
This newest offering from Harrington features Jade, the new girl in town who has, unknowingly, moved into the house of the girl who was once the queen bee at her new high school... before she died a mysterious death at the top of Jade's stairs. Soon, odd things are happening in the house and Jade's little brother tells her he keeps seeing a girl in his room. Just as in real life, queen be Kayla Sloan isn't so nice. She threatens Jade that she'll hurt her little brother if Jade doesn't figure out who killed her.
I loved that there were some really creepy scenes in The Dead and Buried. There are a couple times that Kayla possesses Jade's little brother and, I won't lie, I wasn't entirely upset that I had been reading during the day rather than on a dark and stormy night. This definitely isn't a horror novel, but I really appreciated that Harrington tried to make the scariness of Jade's situation come through for the reader. I have to say, Jade stayed a lot calmer than I would have if my little brother was creeping around with the spirit of the local mean girl controlling his body.
The mystery elements of this novel were fun as well. It's entirely possible for the reader to figure out who the murderer is before Jade does if they pay attention to the detail. I much prefer this type of mystery to those in which the narrator or main character controls all the information. I was more invested than I would have been if all the clues were lined up perfectly by Jade.
One of my favorite aspects of Harrington's novels is her romantic plot lines. They are all just so darn sweet. Though, I have to say, there was a little bit of an edge to the romance in The Dead and Buried, since Jade's love interest had a rather complicated past with the dead queen bee... a past that made him potentially dangerous.
Lastly, I really, really liked Jade. She was a very level-headed character, which was nice. I think I would have been annoyed by a super emotional main character in this particular novel. Jade did what she had to, didn't lose her head over her love interest, was devoted to her family (even when they weren't always so supportive), and saved the day. Loved her!
I highly recommend The Dead and the Buried. It's fast-paced mystery with great characters, a dash of creepiness, and lots of fun.