Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Starcrossed (Josephine Angelini) and LINKS!

FREE BOOKS! Here are some awesome contests to win FREE BOOKS!

Wonder what's the deal with YA books and girls? Check out this really great article:

Now for a review of Starcrossed
Think Twilight on the East Coast. Girl is different, a strange family moves into town. Turns out they’re immortal and drama ensues. Okay, if you hated Twilight, don’t run away just yet. Despite the eerie similarities, Starcrossed presented a pretty good story. There aren’t vampires; instead, there are descendents of the Greek gods, and it’s not just the one family in town. I liked how mythology was a primary driver of the plot (made all that stuff I had to memorize sophomore year of high school worthwhile). Of course there is a love story (star-crossed lovers, anyone?) and the novel ends on a cliff-hanger. I will of course be reading the next one! Again, a big theme is the strength in embracing your differences- a storyline I may never tire of. And Greek gods? How can you not love them and their drama?  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The False Princess (Eilis O’Neal)

A good, quick read. The flap promises “a story never told before” and the book follows through. In a fairytale-esque telling, the book follows the life of Sinda, a girl raised as a princess until the age of sixteen when she is tossed out of the royal family and informed that she was merely a stand-in for the real princess who was hidden away for her own protection. Inept at being a simple village girl, Sinda discovers she has magic running through her and returns to the capital to find a way to control it. She finds much more as she is reunited with her best friend Kieran (the only one to not abandon her) and together, they discover intrigue and secrets still linger in the court. Adventures ensue.

My summary was getting a little too flap-esque, and I didn’t want to give anything away. You’ll have to read the book for more! Reasons you’ll like this book: great character names, just the right amount of romance intertwined with magic, history and self-discovery, and plot twists that will surprise. A great first novel.

Also, it should be noted that this book and Divergent both appear on this new list of books-to-read from the American Booksellers Association: http://news.bookweb.org/news/abc-new-voices-flier-promotes-outstanding-debut-works-middle-grade-and-teen-readers

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Divergent (Veronica Roth)

(Disclaimer: no big spoilers in this review)

Quick back-story: A couple months ago, I was returning from the wedding of a college friend. The Megabus was busy, so I sat down next to a girl who seemed friendly. We began chatting as she was returning from the wedding of a college friend as well. At the time, I was reading a manuscript for the Denver Publishing Institute, so we started talking about publishing. One of her friends she saw at the wedding had just been published, and the book was titled Divergent. It sounded really interesting, so I put it in the back of my mind to read later.

The book kept cropping up until I finally got a chance to borrow it. SO GOOD! I admitted in my first post that I rarely buy books, but I needed my own copy of this one.

Divergent is set in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago that is divided into five different factions. At age 16, teenagers must choose the one faction with which they’ll spend the rest of their lives. Beatrice (Tris) Prior can’t decide which faction she belongs in, the one she grew up in or the one she feels drawn to. At first, this choice seemed a little superficial to me. Doesn’t she have to choose the one that will start the story? But Roth still managed to surprise me, and it wasn’t the last time.

I think part of the reason dystopias are so popular right now is because in them, kids get to DO stuff. It’s the same as in fantasies. Kids get a chance to prove themselves. What I love about these books (which I first discovered with the brilliant A Wrinkle In Time) is that the main character is always the person who is different. But the things that make them different are what make them stronger. And while the situation is fantastical, what they learn is relevant. In Divergent, Tris learns to face her fears and become a tougher person. Dystopias and fantasies aren’t superficial about life either. Choices the characters make have direct consequences. Bad stuff happens, and characters deal with it. Tris learns that being “divergent” instead of perfectly fitting into a faction is what makes her special. What a great message for young adults, and everyone actually…

Another thing that made this book so great was the boy. I’m a total sucker for a good romance, and Roth was brilliant in the growing relationship between Tris and Four. Tris is just the right amount of clueless, while Four (thank goodness!!) isn’t just another protective hero. In fact, he’s so great because he knows Tris well enough to know that she doesn’t need protecting. This doesn’t stop him from showing up in all the right moments though. While I thoroughly enjoyed the romance, I had to wonder if it’s something that would turn male readers off. Let me know if you’re a guy who enjoyed this book.

Now I’m really excited for the sequel (yay trilogies- I’m not done with Four yet) and the movie! In case you couldn’t tell by my enthusiasm, this is probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read all year.

Tell me your thoughts on Divergent, your love for Four, and the appeal of dystopias. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Catching Fire and Mockingjay

I tried to try to write this post without any huge spoilers, but it might be safest (if you’re a paranoid reader like myself) to hold off reading this one until you've finished the series. I’m lumping my thoughts about two and three together, mostly because I read them so fast that they’re hard to distinguish from each other, except for the escalating violence.

My reviews for books two and three of The Hunger Games (isn’t it confusing when a series is named after the first book?) aren’t quite as glowing as the first book’s review. First off though, a couple things about the series overall. For starters, amazing cover art- props to Scholastic for creating simple and iconic designs. There were also some great themes carried throughout the series that tied them together more than just a progressive storyline- the build-up of what “games” are for example.

I still love the writing and how Collins really draws you in and doesn’t let go. However, these books were much heavier than the first book. If The Hunger Games was dark, the books that follow are moon-behind-the-clouds-at-midnight-pitch-black. The violence wasn’t just present, it was jarringly real. I’m really curious to see how they portray this in the movies and what kind of rating they’ll get.

Speaking of the movies, I saw the pictures and I like the casting- it helps me visualize the characters better, and it doesn’t hurt that the guys are pretty adorable (http://hungergamesmovie.org/). In the books, the reader gets Katniss’s point of view, but she keeps the other characters at a distance because she thinks they’re safer there (and I would have to agree with her- the closer you are, the more painful your life and/or death). Unfortunately, this leaves the reader distanced from all other characters.

Which leads me to the next big debate: Gale vs. Peeta. I was a Gale fan all the way through until the end when I wondered if I could be a fan of neither. Peeta was the guy I should like but didn’t and Gale was distant but always lurking in the background. Who are these guys outside of their unconditional love for Katniss?

Most of my friends were solidly Team Peeta, but many of them still agreed with me, disliking the love triangle completely. Josh, my friend lured into the books by their violence said he might not read the second book: “I’m not going to like it if it’s full of this love triangle crap. That story line has been done way too many times before.” Brittany, who commented on my first post, agreed, saying that the triangle seemed forced. Gale never had a chance and Katniss doesn’t have a realistic view of her feelings. But would I like these books without the love triangle? Probably not. It’s a huge plot-mover/character-motivator. And a good YA book always has some sort of relationship drama.

What I really want to know is if there’s a correlation between who you pick Peeta/Gale and Edward/Jacob. Leave your picks in the comments and I’ll reveal mine!

Finally, the ending: it wasn’t satisfying. It was way too pessimistic, you don’t know leave knowing the truth, and what exactly does this tell us about our world now?? Collins seems to say: life isn’t perfect, some things you can’t control, deal with it by knowing that occasionally people are compassionate, even if society isn’t. This may be true, but the message isn’t great enough to overcome all the violence we went through to get there! I saw this quote from a YA author, Ilsa J. Bick, today and thought it was appropriate: “Writing for this age group is quite a bit different than writing for adults. It’s not that you can’t be dark or gritty, but with YA there has to be some sort of redemption. Otherwise it just doesn’t work.”

Is there redemption here? How could the ending be better? Let me know if you have any ideas!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Hunger Games

What? This girl is writing a YA book blog and she just now read The Hunger Games. Can we trust her?

YES! Here's the story: Last summer, my best friend said she was reading an intense and awesome book. It was called The Hunger Games and she couldn't put it down. I immediately wanted to know more. She told me it was about these kids in a futuristic society. Each year, the twelve districts in the society send two children to the Hunger Games, where they battle with the other children until there is only one survivor. I stopped her there, telling her it sounded awful and snootily informing her that I don't really like books with death (who am I kidding, hello Harry Potter). But in my mind, this was not a book I would like. I usually go for dragons or cute boys, not killing and hunger. Jump about six months ahead. Suddenly, I'm hearing about The Hunger Games everywhere: They're going to make a movie! I just read it and it was awesome! Etc. 

So I admit, I was a bandwagon fan. And maybe I needed something to help quell my post-Potter funk. This was not a trend I was going to miss. I requested it at the library. Longest wait ever. So I broke down and bought it. (Here's a dirty little secret about me already: I prefer the library over the bookstore. Unless a book is REALLY good or REALLY cheap, I won't buy it. As a history and english major in college, I'm already drowning in weird books I was forced to buy. I'm hoping this blog might challenge that mentality. We'll see.)

Then, because I knew from the hype that once I picked it up, I wouldn't put it down, I waited a month to read it. Not that it was hidden on my shelf. I lugged that thing from the Ozarks to Denver and back to Kansas City. I even went out and bought the other two in the trilogy (after a lengthy price comparison online...I may never get a job! I'm an independent bookstore's worst nightmare!) Let's be honest though, it's not like I had to wait forever like everyone else for the next books to come out. I had them ALL. 

Once I let myself crack the cover, I quickly devoured the first book. So good. But then I faced the same problem I had initially  How to tell other people who haven't read it that it's worth reading? My guy friends were easy. An actual text to my friend Josh, who had been resisting out of principle, went like this: "I think you would like them. There is killing involved." However, a chat with my female cousin later, an avid YA reader, was less successful. "They are making them into movies!" I gushed. "It's about this future society that forces kids to fight in an annual hunger games" I started to get lost. "It's hard to explain." That's as far as I got before we were discussing books on greek mythology (reviews of these to come!). I was worried she would be turned off by the description like I was. 

But the thing is, The Hunger Games is about more than death and killing. It's about survival, and like any other YA novel, finding yourself and your strengths. Even though I finished the series between the time I wrote that last sentence, and the time I'm writing this one now-(my computer crashed-what was I to do!?), I'm going to focus this post on the first book. I'll get to the other two later, because I have things to say and I'm sure you have your own opinion (share it with me in the comments section!).

Things I liked about the first book:
1. The writing. It takes a little bit to get used to, but Collins has a unique style that really lets the main character, Katniss's voice come through.
2. Strong female character, but one that both males and females can relate to. So much YA Lit is female-focused. But while girls will read "boy" books and "girl" books, it's rare that boys will read "girl" books. I like that this book appeals to both audiences.
3. The author doesn't shy away from subjects that some people think kids can't handle. I'd rather have kids learn about hardships in the world through books rather than real life. I learn a lot about the world through books. Yeah, some of it is tough. But Katniss is tough and kids/young adults/me/adults get a chance to learn a lot. Plus, this makes the book more interesting to adult readers. I'm a big fan of the YA-Adult crossover. (Also it takes place in a society that doesn't exist. It's like fantasy- there's an added layer of fictional protection. But...)
4. It's futuristic and dystopian, but it's believable. A warning for future generations about choosing for yourself what you believe in.
5. Kids have power. Okay, it's limited. But Katniss fends for her family, and then fends for herself. She finds ways to have power over her own life (Isn't this something we all do as young adults?)
6. Things don't go perfectly. A literature teacher once taught me that it's a good novel (something new) when things don't go as expected and not everything turns out perfectly. Everything else is a beach read. You might be able to argue that The Hunger Games borders on literary fiction in some aspects because of this.
7. It's a fast read. Collins really grips the reader and it's impossible to put down or put the story out of your mind.

The major thing that bothered me:
Katniss never seems the master of her own feelings and has a hard time making up her mind. Especially when it comes to boys. You have two guys who would do anything for you and you just...flounder? It was frustrating to read, but maybe because it was too close to home (not the boys part sadly, the indecisiveness). I want her to DO and INSPIRE, but she's human after all. I wouldn't like if she were too perfect either, but this unsettled me somehow.

Did it bother you? Let me know what you liked in the book and what you didn't like.

I'm also accepting suggestions of what to read post-Hunger Games, and look for a post about books two and three, coming soon! For now, I'm going to research the movie...