REVIEW: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

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Title: Fans of the Impossible Life
Author: Kate Scelsa
Format: ARC, 356 pages
Publication: September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by the author (thank you so much Kate!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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Synopsis

MIRA is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

SEBBY, Mira’s gay best friend, seems to carry sunlight around him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

Review

I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

As eloquent as it is heartfelt, Fans of the Impossible Life takes storytelling to a higher class and diversity higher still.

Let me be the first to say that this is a novel—if not the novel—champions of the We Need Diverse Books campaign should be talking about. Scelsa delivers a coming of age at once achingly moving and softly poetic told from the perspectives of her three MCs. Her play at different points of view is nothing short of adroit—Jeremy’s chapters are in first person, Sebby’s in second and Mira’s in third. And it totally works, both in function and aesthetic. It provides a window into the complexities of her characters, and boy are they complex.

“… you lay awake on that night’s floor thinking about what you could have said to them to make them understand. What it felt like to know that the two people who knew you best couldn’t ever really know what your life was like.”

The author also doesn’t shy away from the hard edges of her story. Fans of the Impossible Life covered many important issues without once feeling overwhelming nor romanticized. There’s drug abuse, identity crisis, depression, suicide, bullying, racism—you name it, it’s probably in here. And Scelsa approached these with insight and sensitivity. Just as much as she paid her secondary characters attention. I am particularly impressed by the fact that they have these stuff going on for them. Like, Talia is whatever, I’m incredibly furious at her for what she did in the end BUT she was the one who helped Jeremy through his catastrophic episode, who apologized to him for not speaking up. And there’s Julie, perfect Julie who doesn’t wanna deal with Mira’s drama BUT who shows up, not attending her lecture to be with her as soon as she comes home.

“I had been nothing before that moment and one day I would be nothing again. But there and then my life was real. With his lips, and his lovely mouth.”

Early this year, Malinda Lo wrote an essay on perceptions of diversity in book reviews—in fact it’s just one in a four-part series which you need to read if you care about diversity. In it, she cited a critique that blatantly pronounced ““perfectly ethnically and sexually diverse” cast as “scarcely plausible,”” a suggestion that “this diversity would not have existed naturally; it needed effort.” Okay. Not only do I call total BS on this problematic trade review, I have Fans of the Impossible Life to reinforce my claim. Scelsa’s debut has multiple POC characters and characters representing three (3!) different orientations from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. But what’s really remarkable is the ease with which the author handled sexual and racial diversity. It doesn’t just look at individual experiences, it’s reflected in the family structures of her main players. One of the leads has two gay dads. Another has interracial parents. They get loads of crap for this and I’m thinking, that’s reality. It feels natural because this happens today, no matter how much we long for the contrary.

“At that point she was keeping the crying hidden. When it first started, she let people see it because she didn’t know what else to do. She thought if they could witness her in the middle of this thing, then they might be able to understand. But they couldn’t. It was exhausting for others to watch. For herself to experience. So she stopped showing them.”

I’m not you, but if I were, I’d be a fan of Fans of the Impossible Life too.

4.5 out of 5

Author

Kate Scelsa

Kate Scelsa has performed in New York and around the world with experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service in their trilogy of works based on great American literature, including an eight-hour-long performance that uses the entire text of The Great Gatsby. Kate lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Wesaun @ Oreo and Books and it is SO GOOD we both finished it in a 24-hour time frame.

Is this on your TBR list? If not, have I convinced you to include it? (Because, really, you definitely should check this out.) Do you think there are such works with “too much issues” or “too diverse”? And what about you, what was the last awesome book you read that celebrates diversity? Or just any solid 5-star read. Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

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Title: The Night We Said Yes
Author: Lauren Gibaldi
Format: ARC, 304 pages
Publication: June 16th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by my fellow blogger/friend (thank you D!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: High School Romance, Young Adult

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Synopsis

Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over her ex-boyfriend and graduate high school—simple as that. But Matt—the cute, shy bass player—was never part of that plan. And neither was spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of. But then Matt leaves town, breaking Ella’s heart. And when he shows up a year later, wanting to relive the night that brought them together, Ella isn’t sure if re-creating the past can help them create a different future. Or maybe it can. . . .

Review

In his book Looking for Alaska, John Green had a handful of quotations that rang true with my own experiences in life. But one that easily comes to mind is “I wanted to like booze more than I actually do.” Sadly, this speaks too of my relation with The Night We Said Yes.

To be fair, I really like the premise of Gibaldi’s debut. The story takes place in two nights, exactly one year apart. It’s told from Ella’s perspective and it starts with her trying to move on from her ex-boyfriend Matt who bailed out with no more than a note and a lousy excuse. Except now he has returned. And while Ella is hesitant—for obvious reasons—she wants answers all the same. The novel then jumps back and forth in the timeline as Ella in the past falls for Matt while the Ella in the present figures out if she and her friends are ready to take Matt back into their group. This should have been a favorite. Friendship story. The titular night of saying yes to every(reasonable)thing. A non-linear narrative. Instead, it’s trite, which, again, would’ve been fine except the main character—also the narrator—is problematic.

“It was my favorite part of the night—when the evening’s events were still unknown and unpredictable. It was the sense of possibility that I loved, the idea that anything could happen next.”

I’d go right off the bat and tell you Ella is not for me. She wallows in sadness and is often overcome by the secondary characters. And I know that our high school selves are supposed to be subjects to heightened emotions but I can’t get past the fact that Ella (in the Now) was thinking about Matt and their failed relationship 95% of the time. Then we have Meg, the best friend, who clearly reads as a foil to the MC and Jake, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, who was almost fun—if only he had more layers. I must say, however, that Matt was enjoyable, especially pre-break up. But although the “Then” storyline entertained me, I was looking for something more, something to connect with, something to make me care about these characters. Alas, I was met by a two-dimensional plane.

“It’s as if my mind can’t process what would happen if he were to come back, so instead of reacting, it gives up, checks out, and leaves town.”

In addition, there are several scenes that are cloying if not downright groan-worthy and the stuff they said yes to were underwhelming. I was hoping (praying) the reveal might redeem the novel but when it was time for it—the reason why Matt had to leave—it was a bit of a letdown.

The Night We Said Yes is a light, summery read, but unlike many summers of my younger years, it’s bound to be in the dregs of forgettable made-up drinks.

2.0 out of 5

Author

Lauren Gibaldi

Lauren Gibaldi is a YA librarian at Orange County Public Library, where she hosts youth programs. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and daughter. The Night We Said Yes is her debut novel.

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Do you plan to read this one? Or if you already did, what’s your take on it? Do you stick to a story without much plot going on but that has a character(s) you can connect with? And if you happen to DNF books, which I don’t, at least I haven’t had the strong urge to, how many pages do you go in before deciding to say yes to walking away (okay, that’s hyperbolized, but see what I did there?)? Sound off in the comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

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REVIEW: Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda

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Title: Hollywood Witch Hunter
Author: Valerie Tejeda
Format: E-ARC
Publication: July 20th 2015 by Bloomsbury Spark
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Lynn Stevens, Bloomsbury Spark and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Other classifications: Witchcraft and Wizardry, Young Adult

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Synopsis

From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them.

Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.

But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California.

Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do.

Welcome to Hollywood.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Hollywood Witch Hunter could’ve taken either of two roads: a clever satire on celebrity culture masked as a gory witch hunt or a fast-paced, kick-ass witch hunt that embraces its ridiculousness. Sadly, however, it took neither.

Across the globe, Witch Hunters have kept witches at bay. Witches who pry on unsuspecting humans. But in Los Angeles, it is quite different; witches go after shallow, spoiled brats. But with the Bentlys in command, the City of Angel is safe. Until it no longer is. Things are getting weirder and a powerful witch is gaining more powers. At the center of it is Iris Maria Bently, the only female Hunter ever. And with her brother and a new recruit named Arlo by her side, she’s determined to take matters into her hands. After all, she knows she’s born to be a Hunter. As someone who grew up in a household that watches dubbed Latino soap operas, I was thrilled to find a female Colombian MC. Tejeda’s representation and feminist references are this debut’s strongest suits. Unfortunately, that’s all there is for me. A couple of chapters in and everything went downhill.

“People aren’t born monsters, Iris. Something always happens that makes them that way.”

This one’s a light read, but my biggest concern is Iris. I didn’t connect with her. She’s irresolute at best, whiny at worst, and the third person point-of-view didn’t help. There are too many plot holes and most confrontations felt at times half-baked and at times downright flat. I mean, why would you discuss the group’s strategies in front of a freaking witch? I’m all for witchcraft and wizardry and there is an unlikely friendship and an amusing villain involved, which are always a treat, but Hollywood Witch Hunter just didn’t slay me. And I’d say another run of edits wouldn’t hurt, but I’m being subjective more than anything right now—as is invariably the case with my reviews. I did enjoy Arlo though. His lines are often grin-or-snort-inducing—but even he can only carry so much dialogues—and I’m totally into his story arc. In fact, I wonder if I would’ve appreciated the book more if he were the point-of-view character.

“I’m just saying, sometimes we don’t understand why people do what they do.”

Reminiscent of the Vampire Academy movie, Hollywood Witch Hunter had good potentials but somehow lost them in translation.

1.5 out of 5

Author

Valerie Tejeda

Entertainment journalist and author Valerie Tejeda spends her days reporting on books, television, and all things pertaining to pop culture, and spends her nights writing novels for teens. Her stories have appeared on a variety of different publications, including Vanity FairMTV, The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Latina, Yahoo! Shine, Cosmopolitan, and more. Valerie holds a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and is currently based in Northern California with her husband, where she reads loads of books, binge-watches Netflix, and drinks tons of Peets coffee. Hollywood Witch Hunter is her debut.

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Whoa. This is my shortest review to date. So is this book on your TBR? Can you put up with a novel with a character(s) you can’t connect with? Moreover, do you DNF often? Do you DNF at all? Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

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Title: Extraordinary Means
Author: Robyn Schneider
Format: Paperback, 324 pages
Publication: May 26th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary
Other classifications: Physical Illness, Young Adult

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Synopsis

Up until his diagnosis, Lane lived a fairly predictable life. But when he finds himself at a tuberculosis sanatorium called Latham House, he discovers an insular world with paradoxical rules, med sensors, and an eccentric yet utterly compelling confidant named Sadie—and life as Lane knows it will never be the same.

Review

Wry, bittersweet and often contemplative, Schneider’s sophomore book has the heart and humor of The Beginning of Everything, if decidedly darker.

Seventeen-year-old Lane Rosen has lived every single day of his life preparing for the future—paying attention to assignments, taking AP classes—until he’s diagnosed with totally-drug-resistant tuberculosis and, suddenly, senior year is happening four hundred miles away, without him. Then there is Sadie Bennett—buoyant, rebellious Sadie—who’s made peace with her condition. The story takes place in a sanatorium reminiscent of Hailsham called Latham House and right there, Lane is reunited with Sadie, whom he once went to summer camp with. Extraordinary Means is a paradigm of a quiet YA, in that it effectively mixes keenness to dialogue with characterization and subtlety with emotional resonance. It is a steady read up to the last third, when the narrative takes an inevitable turn, in a flurry that doesn’t feel rushed.

“I did the flash cards every night, but it was no use, because it wasn’t the multiplication table that was giving me trouble. It was the pressure of being told two things: 1. That I only had a short amount of time, and 2. That I had to get everything right.”

There’s nothing we haven’t already seen in this novel, but that’s the beauty of it. Schneider doesn’t need gimmicks to tell a gripping story. It just is. And I laud how she speaks the language of the teens she’s writing for and about. There are video games and Facebook updates and Harry Potter references and Tumblr and butterbeers and a John Green novel. I mean, how often do we get a John Green shout out in a contemporary book? Schneider is an extraordinary (come on, you know that’s bound to come up), unapologetic nerd and that translates very well into her work. She also nailed her acknowledgement twice now.

“”Yeah, but all it takes is one person who wants to stir up trouble, and suddenly everyone’s panicked,” Nick said. “Look at history if you don’t believe me.”
Game of Thrones isn’t real,” I told him, and Marina snorted.”

Of course, it would be remiss to not talk characters in my review. If Schneider’s characters are a club, I’d sign up without vacillation. And maybe it’s just me but I have this sneaking suspicion that the author wrote Lane for me. I connected easily with him. In high school (extending to the early half of college), I was that guy whom no one considers inviting for night outs “and I probably would have made an excuse if they had, not because I didn’t want to, but because I thought I shouldn’t.” “I followed the rules because that was why rules existed, to be followed.” Those are Lane’s—and mine—word per word. Even our handwriting would look neat next to each other, I have no doubt. But hard work and handwriting aside, he’s just relatable through and through. Sadie, however, while never boring, seems to flicker in places. And Nick, Marina and Charlie are as entertaining and layered, as opposed to being mere plot devices. You would want to be in their circle.

“I hadn’t known it was possible to fail breakfast.”

But Extraordinary Means isn’t so much about being sick—for fine works are almost never about just one thing—as it is about finding your people, fitting in and living in the now—an echo of a theme the author first explored in her debut. It is a story of second chances and coming to terms with reality. And although I predicted how it’ll end, it did not stop me from caring. Plus the romance is neither excessive nor hastily done, which is always a treat.

Never Let Me Go meets Looking for AlaskaExtraordinary Means is a satisfying follow up from Robyn Schneider, with solid opening lines that is fast becoming her brand.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Robyn Schneider 02

Robyn Schneider is a writer, actor, and online personality. She is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied creative writing, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where she studied medical ethics. She lives in Los Angeles, but also on the internet.

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So. Have you read Extraordinary Means yet? If no, do you plan to? What about Schneider’s debut The Beginning of Everything (I definitely recommend)? Do you read the acknowledgements and author’s notes in books? And I’m pretty certain I talked about this before but have you seen this novel’s trailer? Because I ADORE IT and here, you’re welcome. ALSO, I’m attending the author’s signing tomorrow! YAAAY!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

REVIEW: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

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Title: Mosquitoland
Author: David Arnold
Format: Hardcover, 342 pages
Publication: March 3rd 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Gifted by my childhood best friend (thank you Treena!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Road Trip, Young Adult

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Synopsis

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Review

Debut author David Arnold tells a vibrant narrative in Mosquitoland. You would want to meet Mim and the caboodle of cast she befriends (or not) in this surprisingly funny, poignant and ultimately heartwarming multicolored road trip.

Mary Iris “Mim” Malone is not okay. Mom and Dad divorced and now Stepmom is in the picture. She is resituated a thousand miles away from Mom and home and it doesn’t help that Dad wants her to take medication after an unclear psychiatric diagnosis. Worse still is overhearing Mom is sick. So, in a bout of mutiny and daughterly affection, she accepts her mission as a “Mother-effing Mother-Saver” and runs away, equipped with wits, cynicism, war paint, a journal and eight hundred eighty dollars. Here’s the thing: I think there’s only one Mim in all of literature. This is very clear from page 1, first sentence—which is saying something, heck, probably the somethingest of Somethings. She’s erratic but not in any means tacky or supererogatory; it’s organic. Her voice sounds natural, her odyssey equal parts heartrending and heartening. But Mim, like every 16-year-olds before her, is not exempt to Myopic Faultiness, “wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world.” And this is where the greatest triumph of Mosquitoland lies in. Mim is prone to getting caught up inside her head but there’s also growth, juxtaposed with her quest to reach and save her mom. Her physical journey is as captivating as her emotional one is touching.

“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

The novel delves into important subjects like depression and family and trust issue but because the humor is so on point, it doesn’t read as heavy. Mim is all about the wry and you have to hand it to the author for the effortless execution. And, although it has a pretty slow outset, it is never dragging. There are references to pop culture here and there, too, which is sure to click with readers and just, the guy described a smile using Belgian waffle. A Belgian waffle smile. Five hundred awesome points!

I don’t care, man. I’ve faked yawned, slow blinked, loud sighed, and pretend searched. I considered murdering you, as well as a variety of suicides. Now I’m going to put this in a way I know you’ll understand: you stole my friend’s seat, and I’d rather die than listen to you speak.”

I adore David’s writing style. It’s very contemporary but has a poetic undertone. He has a way at picking thoughts you never considered others have as well. Like, okay, since Tommy Wallach is obviously more eloquent than me, I’ll let him take the mic: “the best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world.” The only way this novel could’ve been better is if the author went deeper into Mim’s diagnosis.

“But now I know the truth. You can laugh and cry, Iz. Because they’re basically the same thing.”

The best element of this work, however, for me at least, is the exceptionally unforgettable band of characters. There’s Mim’s dysfunctional family, a no-bullshit old woman, an adorable-charming-endearing kid with Down syndrome, a 20-something photographer with his faults and possibly “the God of Devastating Attractiveness,” a schizophrenic vagrant and many, many more. He explores love and chosen family in a beautiful light that you often feel two or three emotions at once. And, you know, I love that each of these characters has a story to tell, like, if the author decided to switch narrators, it’ll be just as fascinating.

“You spend your life roaming the hillsides, scouring the four corners of the earth, searching desperately for just the one person to fucking get you. And I’m thinking, if you can find that, you’ve found home.”

David makes an impression with his debut and it’s this: he knows what he’s doing. And in a true Mim fashion, a montage rolls through my head, in it, I see Mosquitoland being read in class. An instant classic.

4.0 out of 5

Author

David Arnold

David Arnold lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his (lovely) wife and (boisterous) son. Previous jobs include freelance musician/producer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. He is a fierce believer in the power of kindness and community. And chips. He believes fiercely in chips. Mosquitoland is his first novel.

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Have you read this book already? No? Have I convinced you to pick it up? Who are the most unforgettable voices in your list? Also, what are some of your favorite road trip titles? Or, just, what was the last amazing book you read? Gimme your recs!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Format: E-ARC
Publication: May 21st 2015 by Macmillan (first published May 19th 2015)
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Pan Macmillan and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy
Other classifications: Adult, Witchcraft and Wizardry

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Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia—all the things Agnieszka isn’t—and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

What’s with me and these witch books? As I mentioned in my review of The Witch Hunter, I’ve been in a streak. Uprooted is my third novel on the sub-genre in the last two months and I seem to keep wanting more. But of the three, how magic works in Novik’s world is probably the most fascinating, in that it’s unexpectedly unique and completely immersive. Of course, medieval stories set in a perfunctorily veiled European country is not uncommon. But the author shifts the landscape with Polnya, a seemingly fantastical version of Poland, away from the go-to England. And the way she built the Wood is just enthralling and palpable; you can almost feel it breathing.

“It didn’t make much sense to me. We were all afraid of the Wood. But our valley was home. How could you leave your home?”

Agnieszka’s people live in constant fear of the Wood and the creatures that populate it, lurking in the shadows of trees, taking stray men unawares or children playing in the fields. But even so, for these people, home is home and it’s protected by the Dragon, a powerful wizard living in a tower at the crest of the valley. He holds the Wood at bay for the whole kingdom of Polnya and he only asks that one girl be taken under his service for ten years. What the girl does or why the Dragon demands this, no one can be certain. All that’s clear is when the girl returns, she wants to leave the valley for good. While the story has a slow start and loses its momentum halfway through, there is one particular white knuckles battle sequence that more than compensates for it. This is bolstered by strong characterization, a quiet love story and a well written friendship, laying down the foundations of an epic read. Novik, however, like her characters, has one or two flaws. Uprooted has rough-around-the-edges prose and it reads as a trilogy packed into a stand-alone.

“”I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?””

In a variety of levels, Uprooted is reminiscent of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, but chiefly of the former. The way witches are treated in the capital reminded me of the grishas in Ravka, the I-don’t-fit-in-a-box protagonist with abilities unlike her peers, but mostly the striking resemblance between the Dragon and the Darkling—and not only with the first letters of their names. It’s in the fog of mystery around them, the magnitude of power and self-command, the reluctance, their effect on people. I’m not saying these are disappointments; these are mere observations. Plus, the Dragon is way snarkier and I highly enjoyed that about him, especially the chemistry he and Agnieszka clearly have. Even when they weren’t rooting for each other*, the two make a good duo. Their banters are just pure fun.

“The pain got worse instead of better. I pulled away from them and tried to press myself into the wall, the cool hard stone, as if I could make myself a part of it and be unfeeling.”

At the heart of the book is Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship. It is one of the main driving forces of the story and I really admire how Novik delivers. And, while the pacing is quite less than outstanding and a three-part series would’ve left more room for deeper character exploration, Uprooted still is worth checking out, more so if magic and witches/wizards are your thing.

Lastly, many have called this YA, and it must be said that when I requested this title, for reasons hazy, I thought it was too. Except it isn’t. The protagonist is seventeen but the tone and style of the narrative is undoubtedly adult.

3.5 out of 5

Author

Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik is an avid reader of fantasy literature since age six, when she first made her way through The Lord of the Rings. She is also a history buff with a particular interest in the Napoleonic era and a fondness for the work of Patrick O’Brian and Jane Austen. She studied English literature at Brown University, and did graduate work in computer science at Columbia University before leaving to participate in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadow of Undrentide. Over the course of a brief winter sojourn spent working on the game in Edmonton, Canada (accompanied by a truly alarming coat that now lives brooding in the depths of her closet), she realized she preferred writing to programming, and on returning to New York, decided to try her hand at novels.

Naomi lives in New York City with her husband and six computers.

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*See what I did there?

Have you read this one yet? If you’re deciding whether or not to pick it up, was I helpful? Also, let’s talk magic and witches, throw them books (or films) my way!

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REVIEW: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Title: Vanishing Girls
Author: Lauren Oliver
Format: Paperback, 357 pages
Publication: March 10th 2015 by HarperCollins
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Crime, Psychological Thriller, Realistic, Suspense
Other classifications: Brotherhood/SisterhoodDepression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

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Synopsis

This is it: somehow, in these pictures, the mystery of the accident is contained, and the explanation for Dara’s subsequent behavior, for the silences and disappearances.

Don’t ask me how I know. I just do. If you don’t understand that, I guess you’ve never had a sister.

Review

The twist Vanishing Girls is less a crime novel, more a character study. And trust me when I say that that is for the better.

The twist Do you have a sibling? Have you ever felt the compulsion to never ever disappoint your parents because, no matter what you do, no matter how you act, no matter how much you love your sibling, you’ll always, always be compared to the other? It doesn’t matter what your position is, you’ll have this tacit rule of being the one to understand. Sometimes this builds a camaraderie, the kind that brings you to watch each other’s back, to want to protect each other’s secrets. But in most cases, this also creates a quiet, inner tension, the kind that cultivates unspoken jealousy and raises self-imposed responsibilities and expectations. This is at the heart of the Panic author’s latest novel.

“They say that you’re supposed to tell the truth. Dr. Lichme says that, anyway.
But don’t they also say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you?”

The twist Vanishing Girls is my first Lauren Oliver title and, admittedly, while it was rewarding, it didn’t make me want to devour her backlist. It took some time for the narrative to gain its footing and, even then, the thread seems to ebb and flow. Her style boarders from lyrical to maybe overly descriptive and I can see how this might come across as dragging for some. But it is one of those books where if you give up early on, you’d totally miss the gem. One of those where the more you ponder about it, the more you sit on it, the more the ingenuity of it washes over you. She commands her words, I soon found out. They are vivid, cutting and have a way of reaching deep inside you, tapping into thoughts you unconsciously carry around.

You broke my heart. I fell for you, and you broke my heart. Period, done, end of story.

The twist The story is narrated alternately by Warren sisters Nick and Dara and there are diary entries, online articles, e-mails and photographs—most of which are often eery—interspersed through out. It pre-opens with a life observation that impeccably captures the tone of the book. Then it opens officially right at the conflict, the night of the accident. Chapter 2 jumps four months later and we see a recovering Nick, the elder of the two, and the sister who refuses to talk to her, Dara. What instantly stuck out to me is how distinct and at the same time cognate Nick’s and Dara’s voices are, a manifestation of the author’s adept sense of what it’s like to have a sister and be a sister. People casually throw around the term “complex characters” but, with Nick and Dara, you’ll have a flash of instant clarity: this is what they mean with complex characters. It’s chilling and heartrending and impressive and there were instances I had to look over my shoulders.

“Sometimes people stop loving you. And that’s the kind of darkness that never gets fixed, no matter how many moons rise again, filling the sky with a weak approximation of light.”

The twist However, I think the way this book is pitched is misleading. Sure, the “vanishing girls” plot line meshes well with the family drama, but they sell this as the former when in fact it’s the other way around. The whole Madeline Snow arc felt quite removed; it’s really about the relationship between Nick and Dara. And Parker. If you’ve ever had best friends or still do, real close friendship, you’ll know that the author gets it. And Vanishing Girls wins the chicest cover award. Fantastic job, Anastasia Volkova and Erin Fitzsimmons!

“”It’ll be just like old times,” Parker says, and I feel a hard ache in my chest, a desperate desire for something lost long ago.
Everyone knows you can’t go back.”

The twist. Yes, no scratching now. Oliver must’ve rewrote and proofread her work a bajillion times because there is just no plot holes. She pulled off the reveal like it’s nobody’s business. I mean, I basically revisited a handful of chapters after she dropped the bomb. (And in case you’re wondering, I reread 70% of the book since finishing.) I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before but a close similar experience would be Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, in that both have a major WTF moment. And hell was it WTF. But this is where it becomes tricky. Because there’s no way talking around THE TWIST; I would give away too much. So just go out there, read this novel, come back to me and I can go all WHAT DID I TELL YOU? on you.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is the author of the teen novels Before I Fall and Panic and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of two novels for middle grade readers, The Spindlers and Liesl & Po, which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Award nominee. Lauren’s novel Panic has been optioned for film by Universal Studios. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU’s MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the cofounder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Dianne @ Oops! I Read A Book Again, exchanging “WTF was that?!!!” one too many times. You can check out her review HERE.

Now tell me: are you excited to pick this title up? Or if you’ve read it already, have you predicted the twist? Where should I go from here in the Lauren Oliver landscape? Do you like literary crime novels? What are some of your favorites? Also, do you buddy-read with your friends/co-bloggers? Tell me all about it!

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REVIEW: The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Title: The Witch Hunter
Author: Virginia Boecker
Format: E-ARC
Publication: June 2nd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via Netgalley (thank you Hatchette Children’s Books and Netgalley!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal
Other classifications: Fae, Witchcraft and Wizardry, Young Adult

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Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Grey doesn’t look dangerous. A tiny, blonde, wisp of a girl shouldn’t know how to poison a wizard and make it look like an accident. Or take out ten necromancers with a single sword and a bag of salt. Or kill a man using only her thumb. But things are not always as they appear. Elizabeth is one of the best witch hunters in Anglia and a member of the King’s elite guard, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and bringing those who practice it to justice. And in Anglia, the price of justice is high: death by burning.

When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself, she’s arrested and thrown in prison. The king declares her a traitor and her life is all but forfeit. With just hours before she’s to die at the stake, Elizabeth gets a visitor—Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in Anglia. He offers her a deal: he will free her from prison and save her from execution if she will track down the wizard who laid a deadly curse on him.

As Elizabeth uncovers the horrifying facts about Nicholas’s curse and the unwitting role she played in its creation, she is forced to redefine the differences between right and wrong, friends and enemies, love and hate… and life and death.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

I expected to enjoy The Witch Hunter, what I did not expect is how refreshing it’ll turn out to be. It’s atmospheric, engrossing, and the romance is just so good. I’m admittedly not big on this element but Boecker hits all my marks and I cannot complain, really. The MC has a clear voice and there are serious badass supporting cast. I like Elizabeth’s internal monologue; she’s very introspective. She doesn’t cower from the fact that she’s afraid to be alone, she acts based on principles, and it’s interesting to witness how she processes what she learns along the journey.

“I’m weak. I’m tired. I’m injured. I’m confused. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, afraid of what I’ve got to do. I am what I always feared I’d be: alone.”

It took me a while to settle in the rhythm of this world, but after a few chapters, I was sucked right in. The Witch Hunter is not about the epic battle sequences, although it has a few; it enchants with its quiet scenes. The way Elizabeth questions and makes sense of what she believes in, the stolen glances, the gradual shift of reality for each character. Elizabeth gets three companions: John, George and Fifer. And I feel like every single one of them received the right amount of airtime. And that’s one of the strongest features of this debut, because the dynamics among the four is pure fun. Well, there may or may not be unanticipated punches involve. And Caleb Pace, Elizabeth’s childhood friend, warrants a mention. In the minimal appearances he has, I saw a glimpse of a well-realized, if positively flawed, character. Here’s me throwing a coin in the hopes that one of the planned two novellas centers on him. Basically, I’m saying Boecker gets it right. She gets it right especially with one particular scene which, up until now, still gives me the feels.

“The wizard who rescued me, the boy who healed me, the girl who bathed me, the fool who befriended me. I’m indebted to each of them in some way, yet they are my enemies. They’ve shown me kindness, yet I’m prepared to kill them.”

I have issues with the language, it’s contemporary when I would much prefer otherwise. But this is a pet peeve more than anything. Plus I somehow guessed the twist, but that didn’t stop me from racing through to find out what happens in between. If you’re a fan of works like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, this one’s your cup of tea.

“I’m quiet for a moment, enchanted by the idea of something stealing over you, settling into you, and telling you, with absolute certainty, who you are and what you’re meant to do.”

Boecker delivers a forcible debut—and a duology starter at that—with The Witch Hunter, which places her among the set of authors whose future books I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Virginia Boecker

Virginia Boecker recently spent four years in London obsessing over English medieval history, which formed the basis of The Witch Hunter. She now lives in the Bay Area, California with her husband and spends her days writing, reading, running and chasing around her two children and a dog named George.

In addition to English kings, nine-day queens, and Protestant princesses, her other obsessions include The Smiths, art museums, champagne, and Chapstick.

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Have you heard about this book? Are you interested to pick it up after reading my review? And, while I’m in a streak, do you have suggestions on witchcraft-and-wizardry titles up on your sleeve? Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

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Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Format: E-ARC
Publication: June 2nd 2015 by Soho Teen
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss (thank you Meredith Barnes, Soho Press and Edelweiss!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary
Other classifications: LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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Synopsis

The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto—miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. Aaron could never forget how he’s grown up poor, how his friends aren’t there for him, or how his father committed suicide in their one-bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

More Happy Than Not is a strong debut from YA newcomer Adam Silvera. It is as unrelenting as it is hopeful, as gut-wrenching as it is absorbing.

Set in a Bronx neighborhood that is a character of its own and with a bit of a speculative tinge, Aaron Soto’s story may seem ordinary, another of those teens navigating the firsts—first love, first kiss, first sex. But it’s not before long ’til Silvera starts tearing down expectations, busting one assumption after another. The plot twist sucker-punched me and, just when I thought he’s exhausted his arsenal, he delivers the final blow. He paints the extent to which being gay in a close-minded community may lead to all sorts of horror with severe, and often brutal, honesty. There were multiple instances I had to stop reading because his words cut deep.

“This is one of those times where you swear you have to be sleeping and living a nightmare because it’s so impossible that your life can only be a string of bad things until you’re completely abandoned.”

In More Happy Than Not, the author plays at one of the oldest societal debates: nature vs. nurture. Aaron firmly holds that his being a “dude-liker” is something he didn’t choose but rather something he had to deal with. It’s refreshing to view sexuality through this lens, especially in line with homophobia. And especially considering how this novel wins at diversity. Not only does it have a gay MC, it has a Puerto Rican gay MC. But that’s not all of it. In one scene, Thomas tells Aaron, “I was the only brown Scorpius Hawthorne” and it doesn’t feel forced. I think Silvera’s voice—unabashed and observant as it is—is a promising addition to an important conversation.

“It’s not like my heart is in running or anything like that, but at least I learned that you can’t always choose who you’re going to be. Sometimes you’re fast enough to run track. Sometimes you’re not.”

Then, you have the characterization. One thing that’s remarkable is the chemistry between the characters. They are complicated, thrown in further complicated positions, but Silvera successfully balances the complexity with relatability. He didn’t try to redeem the bad guys (for lack of a better term) and that’s a major score. And there’s family dysfunction. Aaron comes from a poor family (which, I cannot overstate this, is scarce in literature but is a reality) and it’s not an easy household.

“This is the most painfully confusing time in my life and he’s the first person who said all the right words to me and reminds me of the first days of summer where you leave home without jacket, and my favorite songs playing over and over.”

I want to point out, as well, how geeky the book is. There are several pop culture references—leaning heavily on comics—and you don’t need to know that the author is a potterhead to observe the winks and nods to the Harry Potter series. Plus, I really enjoyed moments when Aaron and Genevieve (I’m going to use “the girlfriend” as a descriptor but, trust me, you’d want to get to know her) would hang out or when Aaron and Thomas would and, this is me being nostalgic, I love how street games are a big part of the community Aaron lives in.

“Do you think there’s a chance you were someone really awful in a past life? Like Darth Vader? I feel like you can’t catch a break.”

With characters as unforgettable as the book is unflinching in its portrayal of confusion, love, homophobia, family, friendship and a lot more, Silvera is set to win many, many fans. He’s barely started, too. Readers who adore Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe will come upon another favorite.

4.5 out of 5

Author

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Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx and is tall for no reason. He was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing where he worked at a literary development company, a creative writing website for teens, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He lives in New York City.

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 Have I convinced you to pick up this title when it comes out (2 weeks from today!)? Are you a fan of heartrending coming-of-age stories? And will you take the Leteo procedure if you can? There’s an amazing pool of emerging new voices in the book industry, especially in YA, who are your recent favorites? Tell me in the comments below! I always want to hear from you! Also, while you’re at it, you may want to participate in The “More Happy Than Not” Tag?

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REVIEW: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

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Title: Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publication: February 17th 2015 by Speak (first published February 1st 2014)
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Apocalyptic, LGBTQIA, Weird, Young Adult

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Synopsis

This is the truth. This is history. It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it. You know what I mean.

In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of HORNY, HUNGRY, SIX-FOOT-TALL PRAYING MANTISES that only want to do two things.

Review

At least once in our lives, we become so confused in and with everything. With our identity, our sexuality, how we make sense of what’s happening around us and how it affects us while also trying to figure out who we are and what does that mean. This is at the core of Grasshopper Jungle, Andrew Smith’s 7th novel, which is also a Michael L. Printz Award nominee.

“”Sometimes I’m confused,” I said. “Actually, pretty much all the time I am. I wonder if I’m normal.””

Smith is many things, but what he does best is writing complex teenage boys. Andrzej Austin Szczerba is our narrator. He, his best friend Robby, and girlfriend Shann witness the end of the world, where hungry, horny, six-foot-tall Mantis-like bugs are involved. Austin is flawed and almost always thinks of the stuff boys think, but he’s young and is threading waters. In that way, Grasshopper Jungle wins. It excels in capturing the inner battle of who-am-I-what-do-I-want-what-could-I-do everyone of us fights or at some point fought. This universal subject is what makes the book an intimate experience. And Smith’s use of monosyllabic reactions like “uh” and “um” is so on point.

Okay, at times, can effectively serve as the closing curtain to difficult teenage conversations.”

Grasshopper Jungle also champions two other topics: weird YA and bisexuality. What’s horrifying about this piece of literature is not the ginormous bugs who only like to do two things, it’s the “deranged carnival sideshow.” The disturbing tableaux of where humanity may lead to, or maybe have. Smith offers his readers a freak show of macabre human psyche and he does it with no reservation whatsoever. And the portrayal of one character’s bisexuality is just realistic and I think it comes from a place of sensitive observation. Because, clearly, Smith is not bi. But his character undeniably is. Plus, the book does not shy away from vulgarity. It actually has one graphic, explicit sex scene but the author handles it well.

“I consider it my job to tell the truth.”

The biggest drag, however, in this novel hitting full circle of genius is the narrative style. Austin is a historian. He records events in his notebooks. The book, Grasshopper Jungle, is filled to the brim with too many facts. And, while every single one of these is relevant to the story by rights and manages to resurface in forked roads, it’s often distracting. I find the reiteration of certain things gratuitous, and by the nth time I was told that Andrzej Szczerba—whose American name is Andrew Szerba—is Austin’s great-great-great-grandfather, I was weary.

“I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.”

But I still recommend this title, especially for fans of honest, candid coming-of-age tales like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Grasshopper Jungle is wild, daring and introspective if in places tedious.

3.5 out of 5

Author

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith knew ever since his days as editor of his high school newspaper that he wanted to be a writer. His books include Grasshopper Jungle, Winger, and 100 Sideways Miles. Smith prefers the seclusion of his rural Southern California setting, where he lives with his family.

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I cheated. My photo is recycled. I disappoint myself. Have you read this book? Have I convinced you to? Who are your go-to authors for Weird YA? And, OH, since Grasshopper Jungle is about the end of the world, name three writers you’d want in your team when this happens!

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