Tag Archives: YA

Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Where did I get this book? I bought it. It's a keeper!

Where did I get this book? I bought it. It’s a keeper!

Is there anything more bittersweet than the final book in a series you love? I’ve been eagerly anticipating The Raven King, the fourth and final book in the Raven Cycle, but once it was in my hands I had a flash of ambivalence. If I read it, it would be over, and I didn’t want it to be over!

Needless to say, I read it anyway. (Stop here if you haven’t finished the first three books!)

It has been nearly a year since Blue first saw Gansey’s spirit walking on the ley line with all the others destined to die. She and Gansey have kept their relationship a secret from Adam to spare his feelings, and Blue has resisted the temptation for a kiss that could prove fatal to her true love.

Ronan tries to dream something that will save Gansey, with unexpected results. Soon he and the others realize that a sinister darkness is overtaking Cabeswater and infiltrating Ronan’s dreams, a force that’s even capable of possessing Noah. Ronan and Adam, as the Greywaren and Cabeswater’s magician, work together in a dangerous effort to stop the destruction. In the process, Adam learns more about Ronan’s secrets and starts to rethink his own vision of the future.

Gansey places all his hopes in finally finding the tomb of Owen Glendower and using the promised wish to save them. The one person who might be able to provide answers, Blue’s long lost father, Artemus, maintains a frustrating silence on this question, although he must know more than he’s saying. When he does open up to Blue, his revelations help her understand herself and why she’s always felt so out of place.

Maggie Stiefvater’s love for her characters shines through in every page, which only increases the tension as the end approaches. How can this possibly end well for anyone? Rather than spoiling it, I’ll just say that the resolution is satisfying without taking any shortcuts that might feel like cheating after the four-book build-up.

I will really miss these extraordinary characters, the lush atmosphere of magic, the teenage limbo of longing for the future while fearing the loss of everything you cherish in the present. In their own way, these books truly are magical.

Genre: Magical YA that even a jaded middle-aged adult can love.

Read it if: You love stories of transcendent friendships and prophecies fulfilled; you have ever wished you could live inside a tree; you read and loved the first three books (obviously.)

Skip it if: You dislike teenagers, magic, nature, etc.; you haven’t read the first three books.

Movie-worthy: At this point I think it would have to be a TV series rather than a movie. No way could you cram all this into a couple of hours. It certainly has the potential for some gorgeous visuals (and I would love to see opening credits based on the author’s cover art.) Okay, can someone make this happen please?

 

My Favorite Reads for 2014

Another year is nearly over, and what a year it’s been! I self-published my YA dystopian novel, Among the Joyful, fulfilling a lifelong dream; moved from Chennai, India to Yangon, Myanmar (a.k.a. Rangoon, Burma); and, of course, read lots and lots of books. Here’s my idiosyncratic list of the best books I read in 2014:

Best Book I Should Have Read As A Kid

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. This award winning kid’s book came out in 1978, so why didn’t I read it until it showed up on my 5th grader’s winter break book list? Who knows? It’s a smart, fun, and twisty puzzle with great characters.

Best Extra-Sciency Science Fiction Novel

The Martian by Andy Weir. This suspenseful thriller is making lots of “best of” lists this year, and with good reason. Imagine a lone astronaut, left for dead on Mars, trying to survive against the odds. Now imagine he’s a wise-cracking smart ass with astonishing science knowledge and relentless optimism. This book is hard to put down, even when it’s making water out of oxygen and rocket fuel.

Best Fantasy Book

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I don’t read a lot of fantasy but this slender, lovely book blew my mind. It was first published in 1968 but the story is fairy tale timeless.

Best Collection of Short Stories

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood. One of my all time favorite authors, telling stories that stay with the reader long after the book is back on the shelf.

Best Book Featuring Zombies

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. I first looked at this book because Joss Whedon blurbed it, then I read a free chapter online before the book’s release and was hooked. This is a haunting, relentless book with a breathtakingly perfect ending. Loved it.

Best Mystery/Crime Novel

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly. I hope Michael Connelly keeps writing Harry Bosch books forever, because I can’t get enough of this series. Connelly is in top form with this latest entry and I didn’t want it to end–because who knows how many more there will be?

Best Book About Burma

From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe. I’ve read several books about or set in Burma since moving here in August, but this moving and poetic memoir resonates like no other.

Best YA Book

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. I love the characters in the moody, magical, atmospheric Raven Boys series, especially Ronan and Blue. I’m already craving book four!

Best Big Fat Book About Magicians

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This tale of competing magicians in an alt-history Britain where magic is real was a complete and fascinating world in itself. I think it sat unread on my shelf for so long because it was so big and daunting, but it was worth its weight in literary gold.

Best Overall

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I love how David Mitchell tosses all conception of genre into the shredder and writes exactly what he wants, stories of epic scope and wild inventiveness, intricately structured and brilliantly written. Also, extra points for a gorgeous cover.

So that’s my list. Here’s looking forward to another year of happy reading in 2015!

Review: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott WesterfeldImagine a future in which no one is judged by their appearance. Sounds great, right? In Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, everyone undergoes a transformative procedure as a teenager that makes them “pretty.”

Tally can’t wait until her birthday, when she’ll finally become pretty and join her friends across the river in New Pretty Town. Her best friend, Peris, is already there and when she sneaks in to visit him he has changed in ways she can only admire. She wants nothing more than to get rid of her ugly, distinctive features and join the fun among the new pretties.

When Tally meets Shay, another “ugly” approaching her milestone birthday, the two become fast friends. Shay teaches Tally to ride a hoverboard, and takes her out beyond the ruins, farther than she’s ever been. But when Shay suggests she may not want to become pretty at all, Tally can’t understand how anyone could want to stay ugly.

I had heard great things about this YA series, and it definitely lived up to expectations. Tally is a great character: strong in many ways, yet capable of mistakes that drive the plot and leave her with a burden of secret guilt. The ending perfectly completed the narrative arc yet set the scene for book two in the series, Pretties.

Uglies explores issues of appearance, identity and conformity within an increasingly tense and thrilling story full of hoverboard rides and daring escapades. I’m passing this book on to my oldest son to read and enjoy.

Genre: YA dystopia

Read it if: You went through an awkward phase as a teenager; you are a teenager in an awkward phase; you take issue with media representations of beauty; you think riding a hoverboard sounds incredibly cool.

Skip it if: You prefer protagonists who always make the right choices.

Movie-worthy: This would make a great movie, especially if they used CGI to make all the pretties look the same.

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March New Release Giveaway Hop!

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Enter to win, then keep hopping!

Many thanks to Bo-ok Nerd for hosting this giveaway hop!

This month has some delightful new releases in YA. Just enter below for your chance to win one of the offerings below! I will also throw in a copy of my recently released YA novel, Among the Joyful, as an added bonus.

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Leap Into Books Giveaway Hop!

Many thanks to I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Jinky Is Reading for hosting this giveaway hop!

I am offering your choice of the following excellent YA novels:

AnAmong the Joyful d as an added bonus (or maybe a blatant attempt at self-promotion!) I’m throwing in the YA novel I recently published under my pen name, Erin Eastham. You can find the Goodreads page for Among the Joyful here.
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Check out more stops on the giveaway hop below!  

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Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves*Warning: this review contains spoilers for the previous book in this series, The Raven Boys. So if you haven’t read it yet, go read it right now.*

I have to admit I didn’t like Ronan Lynch very much in The Raven Boys. It seemed strange that such an apparently well-adjusted (if magic-dead-king obssessed) guy like Gansey would insist on having such a disagreeable person around, unless it was just for contrast. The Dream Thieves provided some significant back story on Ronan, making him a much more fascinating and sympathetic character, while also advancing the story toward the inevitable (?) fulfillment of Blue’s prophecy and Gansey’s appearance among the soon-to-be dead. To ratchet up the tension even more, The Dream Thieves ends with an unexpected cliffhanger scenario that will make it that much harder to wait for the third book.

Now that I’ve finished The Dream Thieves, I love Ronan and feel bad for not appreciating him more throughout the whole first book. He has experienced greater inner torment than anyone should and worse, he seems to think he deserves it. Only if he faces what he is and accepts the true nature of his gift can he stop the nightmares from entering his waking world and taking over. The only other choice is self-destruction.

Meanwhile, Adam’s life has turned inside out since he left his home behind and with it the constant threat of abuse from his father. The consequences of that step are obvious; less clear is what will happen to him because of the sacrificial deal he made with Cabeswater. His pride stands in the way of his friends’ efforts to help him and Blue begins to realize that maybe there is more than one reason she can’t kiss him. Watching Adam misread and misunderstand every glance and comment from the only people who care about him was painful, and completely believable.

From the mysterious and complicated hit man Mr. Gray to the destructive and amoral drag racer Kavinsky, every character in The Dream Thieves is vividly drawn and intriguing. Stiefvater’s writing elevates the book from fun genre fiction to a powerfully affecting coming of age novel with an ensemble cast who just happen to have some really crazy things happening in their lives. I especially loved one scene featuring what may be the most bittersweet first kiss ever. It was beautifully done and like so much of the The Raven Boys story so far, weaves the fantastic and the emotionally true into something unique and memorable.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is: when does the next book come out?

Genre: Dreamy and inventive YA fantasy.

Read it if: You love imaginative, beautifully written YA with a highly original twist on magical themes (but make sure you read The Raven Boys first!)

Skip it if: You are not a big fan of magic, or dreams, or teenagers, or you have issues with the occasional moment of bad language or moral complexity.

Movie-worthy: Absolutely! I would love to see the inside of Ronan’s house, for one thing. And also the cars blowing up.

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Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th WaveIf aliens decided to invade Earth, would they come down in spaceships with lasers blasting? In Rick Yancey’s powerful end-of-the-world thriller, the invasion comes in waves, beginning with an EMP blast that wipes out a huge swath of human communications, transport and weaponry in one blow. Cassie, a teenage girl, has survived at great cost to her humanity. She yearns for the days when her biggest problem was trying to get a cute boy to notice her. She mourns the death of her parents, and the loss of her five-year-old brother Sam–who may still be alive.

Having previously read Yancey’s YA horror novel The Monstrumologist, I knew going in that The 5th Wave was unlikely to be all sunshine and rainbows. I had no idea. The fear, grief and loss of innocence described in The 5th Wave felt tragically, brutally real. Cassie, unable to trust anyone, faces situations where she must kill or be killed. Her strong survival instincts and excellent reflexes have saved her so far, but ultimately there has to be a reason to keep living. She makes the decision to go in search of her brother, even if it ultimately costs her own life.

Meanwhile, she is not the last human to have survived the 4th Wave, a terrible plague that has killed billions. Ben Parrish, her high school crush, is infected and struggling to survive in a refugee camp. Crippled by survivor’s guilt, Ben is also looking for a reason to keep going, and finds it in an armed resistance movement. The soldiers are children; watching as they train and arm for war is genuinely horrifying.

The tension and terror in this book are relentless. No one is safe, not even when they appear to have found a temporary haven from the war for the planet; no one is innocent, not if they’ve managed to survive. This gripping survival story refuses to pull any punches or downplay the effects of violence. As Yancey allows the reader to understand the true nature of the 5th Wave, it is impossible to look away.

Genre: YA science fiction survival thriller

Read it if: You like books that grab you right from the opening page and never let go; you think the TV show Revolution would be way better with aliens.

Skip it if: You think The Hunger Games was too violent; you have a five-year-old and don’t want to burst into tears (not that I’m admitting I did that!); you think love is the seventh wave.

Movie-worthy: As long as it’s not the people who made I Am Number Four. Yikes.

 

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsUnder normal circumstances, I would rather roll around in broken glass than read a book about teenagers with cancer. I don’t like sad for its own sake, I can’t stand books and movies that intentionally reduce readers and viewers to soggy sorrow-wallowers. Yet there was no escaping John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars; it was critically acclaimed, mentioned repeatedly by reviewers and bloggers, recommended by friends. Finally, I succumbed and suggested it for book club, thus forcing myself to read it.

I loved it. I loved Hazel and Augustus and their arch teenage banter, their drama and philosophical musings and passion about books. The Fault in Our Stars isn’t really a book about cancer, it’s a book about life, and trying to find meaning in it even when it’s cruel and unfair and so wonderful you never want it to end.

John Green has done something seemingly impossible with this book. It is never sentimental or maudlin, never condescending. It is about teenagers, and one thing about them is that they have cancer. Yet what you remember about them is their humor, their joy, the intensity of their feelings for life and for each other.

I particularly loved what Augustus told his friend Isaac at a moment that should have been crushingly depressing. “I have wonderful news!,” he says. “You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!”

We should all be so lucky.

Genre: Funny, heartbreaking YA

Read it if: You want to know why every single human on the planet who’s read it feels compelled to go tell someone else to read it.

Skip it if: You prefer books about sick children that are emotionally manipulative and deliberately tear-jerking.

Movie-worthy: It’s coming soon to a theater near you.

Review: Proxy by Alex London

Proxy by Alex LondonDoes the name Sydney Carton ring any bells? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… The protagonist of Alex London’s intriguing YA dystopia shares his name with a character from the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities. In fact, Proxy is a tale of two cities: the Upper City, a place of wealth and luxury, where money can protect you from almost anything, even the consequences of your actions; and the Valve, where the poor bear the weight of crushing debt, their lives reduced to contractual servitude, their worth measured only in terms of what they owe.

Syd arrived in the city as an orphaned refugee from the wastelands beyond, his literary name randomly assigned by a computer. At sixteen, he is receiving an education of sorts, but the cost is massive debt. A wealthy man from the Upper City owns Syd’s debt, and to pay it off, Syd acts as a proxy for the wealthy man’s son, Knox.

Knox has known since childhood that any trouble he gets into will result in punishment–for Syd. As a proxy, Syd has repeatedly suffered both physical punishment and hard labor for acts that Knox has committed. In essence, Syd is a whipping boy for a spoiled princeling. When Knox goes too far, crashing a stolen car and inadvertently killing his passenger, Syd faces a sentence so extreme that for the first time, he questions the system and his place in it.

I really enjoyed this fast-paced thriller that recalls the unjust, data-driven world of M.T. Anderson’s Feed, only with more fight scenes. Proxy emphasizes the humanity of both Syd and Knox, and goes in unexpected directions. My one quibble: too much smirking. A little smirking goes a long way.

Genre: YA dystopian

Read it if: You always wondered what the world would be like if Objectivism was the main religion and Ayn Rand was revered by all.

Skip it if: You are allergic to smirking.

Movie-worthy: You bet.

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Review: Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti

Diverse EnergiesThis collection of YA science fiction short stories takes its title from a quote by John F. Kennedy: “The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies of free nations and free men.” The stories feature protagonists from around the world, with skin tones and ethnic backgrounds as varied as the children in the Caribbean where editor Tobias Buckell grew up. Among the authors contributing to the anthology are Daniel H. Wilson (Robopocalypse), Malinda Lo (Ash), Cindy Pon (Silver Phoenix) and Paolo Bacigalupi (The Drowned Cities).

The stories explore the divide between the haves and the have-nots, the privileged and the exploited, the alternate realities and possible futures where things are much, much worse. As someone who’s spent most of the last decade living in Asia, I loved that the stories reflected the world as it is even while speculating on the future. In “Next Door” by Rahul Kanakia, the tech-enabled rich literally fail to see the impoverished squatters occupying their garages and homes, too engrossed in a virtual world to notice the real desperation around them. In Ken Liu’s “Pattern Recognition” and Rajan Khanna’s “What Arms to Hold Us,” children raised to believe one truth about their worlds discover the shocking reality behind the stories they’ve been told.

Of all the stories, though, one stood out: “Solitude” by the incomparable Ursula K. Le Guin. Set in the same universe as The Left Hand of Darkness, “Solitude” explores the consequences of a field ethnologist’s decision to raise her children immersed in the culture of a little-understood people on a planet called Eleven-Soro. Previous attempts to communicate with the adults of the culture have failed, and the researcher believes she might be able to learn more through her children. Her daughter, Serenity, the narrator of the story, is very young when they arrive. Serenity absorbs the teachings and belief system of Eleven-Soro so completely that her mother ultimately cannot understand her, exactly as her mother has never truly understood the people she’s lived among for so many years.

I found all of the stories in this collection interesting and compelling, but “Solitude” affected me on a completely different level. I normally pass my books on when I’m done reading them, but this one’s going on the keeper shelf.

 

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