Monday, January 30, 2012

When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)

Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House)
Length: 197 pages
Rating: 4/5

Sixth graders Miranda and Sal are inseparable until Sal gets randomly punched one day as they walk home from school together on the New York City streets. Sal shuts Miranda out of his life, and Miranda must deal with the crazy guy on the corner, a stolen house key, and new lunchtime friendships all on her own. Then Miranda starts finding mysterious notes, the first of which says “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” At first, she doesn’t take these letters and the requests they make seriously, until she realizes that the author somehow knows things that no one else knows, things that haven’t happened yet.

I’m leaping into slightly new territory here by reviewing this Newbury winner because it’s more J than YA. “Middle grade” might be the proper publishing term for it. What this means for you: it’s a short read, less than two hundred pages (and very short chapters-I just kept reading!) and its narrator is younger.

Despite these differences, I really connected with the book. Maybe because it takes place in the late 1970’s, a throwback to the books I read as a kid. Miranda’s favorite book, which she reads throughout the novel is A Wrinkle in Time, a favorite of mine as a kid and still today. I also loved this book for its original story, which is wrapped in the mysterious, a harkening back to books like A Wrinkle in Time, where science fiction blurs with the real world.

And like any good book, this one is about figuring things out, which I was all about in 6th grade, and might still be all about today. Miranda has to cope with the loss of her best friend, a mom who is practicing to be on a TV game show, and the possibility of time travel, just to name a few.

Definitely worth the quick read. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

WIN THIS BOOK! Savoy (Celia Rees)

Welcome to this stop on the Young Adult Giveaway Hop!

To win a copy of Savoy, leave a comment on which book you’re most excited to read in 2012. For an extra chance to win, tweet or blog about the contest and include a link to this site (leave me link in the comments and I’ll enter you an extra time for each place you post). The winner will be randomly drawn on February 1st. For a full list of the over 200 blogs with giveaways, visit "I am a Reader, Not a Writer." Good luck!

Title: Savoy
Author: Celia Rees
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Length: 416 pages
Rating: 2.5/5

Savoy is a privileged English lady who runs into trouble head-first when she goes looking for her missing father during the crux of the French Revolution and just as England is in turmoil trying to avoid a revolution of their own. She disguises herself both as a highway robber and as a proper young lady, befriending a notorious but dashing criminal, a studious American, and a cross-dressing prostitute along the way.

If you like European history and the French Revolution, you’ll like this book- there’s a lot of history deeply interwoven into the plot. It’s even a little Sherlock Holmes-y with a dark mystery running through as well. I enjoyed the strong female character- you have to love a spunky leading lady in historical fiction where there is more at stake. However, I didn’t think there was enough personal story to counteract the crazy historical territory the author covered. With all those male characters, I was hoping for a little more drama on that front.

Give this book a try if you like history. Enter to win below!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shiver (Maggie Stiefvater)

Title: Shiver
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic
Length: 390 pages
Rating: 4/5

Grace has spent winter after winter watching the wolves in the woods bordering her backyard. One wolf with yellow eyes watches back. Sam is that wolf, but he’s a human in the summer months, never daring to speak to the girl he watches so diligently. Suddenly, the two are given a chance together. But as the weather turns cold, Sam struggles to remain human and Grace refuses to let go.

Everything about this book screams LIFE IS FRAGILE! Grace and Sam hold onto each other so tightly, never knowing when a burst of cold air might take it all away from them, the love which they never thought they could actually have. It’s heart-wrenching, and I loved that cold weather (something I myself hate) was the nemesis. Also getting in the way of their love was prejudice, misunderstanding, and dumb parents. There were no good parents in this book: oblivious parents, awful parents, parents with guns, but no good parents. The kids are on their own to fix things, to find a way to make the dream last.

I liked that his book made me see werewolves in a different (non-Twilight) light. I had the same period of adjustment the characters had in the book, them trying to understand werewolves as real, me trying to understand them as portrayed in this book rather than the ones in my imagination.

This book is told from both Grace and Sam’s perspective which strengthened the bond between them for the reader. However, as much as I loved them together, I wasn’t fully convinced. Maybe it’s because they became obsessed with each other before the book began, they had six years of knowing and accepting the connection, whereas I was only given a few pages. Still, the idea that the person you’re obsessed with is obsessed back is very tantalizing, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and ended up loving the story.

This book is the perfect curl-up-under-a-blanket winter read- check it out!

Hold the phone. It’s part of a trilogy. Why am I not surprised? Despite my protests that this book would have been just fine on its own, I’m totally reading the other books. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

City of Ashes (Cassandra Clare)

Title: City of Ashes
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 453 pages
Rating: 4/5

This is the sequel to City of Bones, the second book in the Mortal Instruments series. Clary’s life hasn’t gotten any simpler since she learned she’s a Shadowhunter, destined to fight demons. All Clary wants is to find a cure for her mother, even if that means hunting down her evil, wants-to-destroy-all-the-order-in-the-world father, Valentine. And then Valentine steals the second of the Mortal Instruments, and Clary must do all she can to stop him, along with the help of her best friend, Simon, and it’s-very-complicated friend, Jace.

What happened in this book? For me, I know it’s a good book when you put it down, and it’s all a bit of a blur, a good blur, but a little bit like resurfacing from a warm bath. In a nutshell, Valentine gets eviler, Jace gets more infuriating, Simon changes forms, and Clary learns about her own augmented Shadowhunter abilities. All good progress from the first book, except for the Jace/Clary thing which is clearly written to drive the reader crazy (hello hints everywhere, please tell me I’m reading into this right and there is hope). Sorry to be vague and coded, but there are some things you just don’t want given away. I commend Cassandra on her ability to prolong conflict.

To be honest, there might have been a few too many pages for the things listed above to happen, but all in all, excellent sequel, and I’m dying to read the next book, City of Glass.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson)

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins)
Length: 423 pages
Rating: 3.5/5
Elisa was chosen by God for greatness when he placed his Godstone in her navel as a child. She has no idea what she was chosen for, and doesn’t feel particularly remarkable, even after being married off to a handsome king who expects her to save his kingdom. Then she’s kidnapped by rebels, led by a dashing revolutionary who expects her to be their savior. Can Elisa fulfill the prophesy, for the king, for the revolutionary, or for herself?

I had such high hopes for this book. Fabulous flap copy, great reviews by some of my favorite authors on the back…and yet…it took me a long time to like Elisa, and to like a book, I must first like the hero/heroine. How do you respect a character who doesn’t respect herself? Elisa eats to escape her problems (it can be tough trying to fulfill a prophesy when you don’t know what it is) and is unhappy with her body. She doesn’t believe in herself, and has a hard time with all the people who believe in her simply because she is a chosen one.

I saw this book as less about Elisa fulfilling a prophesy and more about learning to be herself, and learning to be happy as herself. A common theme in YA lit, but one made more exciting by foreign lands, revolutionaries, and a reluctant princess who learns to be a leader. I liked Elisa and the book a lot more once she embraced her fate.