Friday, June 29, 2012

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci (Author) and Nate Powell (Illustrations)
Release Date
: May 22nd 2012
Pages: 192
Format: E-galley
Source: NetGalley/Publisher
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Buy It: Book Depository
Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food . . . and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone's love and friendship to the test.

This is a pretty strange book, and it took me awhile to get used to– probably like three quarters of it's short, less than 200 pages– but at the end everything came together, two storylines: one in words, one in graphic novel form, and together they combined to make for a strong and emotionally compelling story.

I really felt like Castellucci, who wrote the text, captured the feeling of sisterhood and the complexities of that relationship extremely well. Lulu and Tessa have always been really close, and even if Lulu sometimes gets on her sister's nerves, Tessa loves her. But then a fateful moment at a carnival leads to Lulu beginning a relationship with Tessa's crush, the boy she wanted more than anything... and where does that leave the two of them as sisters? The jealousy that Tessa felt was so real it was painful, and even when she does manage to find a boy of her own, it does little to heal the damage that has already been done. The Year of the Beasts captures Tessa's inner conflict, her mix of happiness and anger, in an incredibly authentic and believable way.

Powell's drawings are dark and beautiful, even if I found their connection to what I thought was the "real" story to be very confusing at first. When I realized how things worked, and went back and looked at them again, I was even more impressed. Ultimately, The Year of the Beasts isn't a book that instantly blew me away, it was far more subtle in its power, but when I was finished the story I was left with a lasting and emotional image of sisterhood both from Castellucci's words and Powell's images.


Welcome to the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop at In The Next Room. I'm going to do an international giveaway (assuming Book Depository ships to your country for free).

Giveaway for 
one book of your choice
valued up to $10 
open Internationally
June 29th - July 5th 2012 

To give you some inspiration, here are some of the books you can pick from, and that I'd be tempted to choose! 
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Dear Bully edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
And now... your chance to win:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck to everyone and thanks for entering! Check out the rest of the Freedom to Read Giveaways here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Note: This review contains no spoilers of Insurgent, but may contain spoilers of the first book in the series, Divergent, a review of which can be found here. 

Insurgent (Divergent #2) by Veronica Roth

Release Date
: May
Pages: 525
Format: Hardcover
Source: Won
Publisher: Harper Collins
Also by this Author: Divergent (Divergent #1)
Buy It: Book Depository
Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.
Unlike Divergent that hooked me from page 1, Insurgent has a slower start, probably because Tris is dealing with huge amounts of grief and guilt from what happened with her parents and her friend Will. I felt like Roth tackled these complex feelings in a way that felt authentic, Tris couldn't just brush them off and pretend like nothing happened– they were eating her from the inside.

The plot in Insurgent is a bit more slow-moving and straightforward than Divergent but that doesn't make it any less exciting. I loved the look into the other faction's lives, in particular Amity and Candor neither of which Tris had an aptitude for but this just shows how people aren't straightforward or just one thing, because even in these factions she finds some connections to the people who belong there. Neither is the relationship between Four and Tris straightforward, it isn't just mushy romance, and in that way it felt more real and genuine, the beautiful moments they had together were even more special. And of course, no love triangle– Roth revealed this before the book was released, but I still found it such a refreshing relief.

And of course, the ending, wow. When I finished Insurgent I couldn't help feeling like the entire book, the first 500 pages, had been preparation for those final 25 pages. Twists and turns and reveals, and even when I saw one coming (minor spoiler: like what happened with the Dauntless and the Factionless at Erudite headquarters) it still felt so perfect it gave me chills. Especially I loved the unexpected bad and good guys, how characters I thought I knew did things I didn't expect, but in the end I still believed it because of how fleshed out and real they were. Plus, as intense and insane as the ending of the book is, there is still a full story and not a cliffhanger midway through; instead, like Divergent it is the kind of ending that changes everything.

Picking up Insurgent reminded me just why Divergent was one of my very favourite reads of 2011, a list its sequel has now made of the following year. These books are just so much fun and excitement to read. Really, if you loved Divergent like I did, I really don't think you'll be disappointed in its sequel Insurgent, because even if the story takes awhile to get moving the ending is completely worth it. Now begins the anxious wait for book 3 in fall 2013.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's Monday, what are you reading? (28)

Last week I finished reading: 
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
I liked this one, it wasn't earth-changing but it was a fun read with two narrators that I enjoyed and it gave me plenty moments of nostalgia.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles
Really sad but really well written. It's technically middle-grade as Fern, the main character, is only 12 but definitely has appeal for an older audience too. I really liked the complexity of Fern, and I'm interested to pick up another books by Knowles in the future.

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie

Beautifully written, I loved Dani's voice. The ending was a bit muddled, but not enough to ruin an incredibly powerful debut. On a personal note, I think it's so cool that Wylie just graduated (2011) from the university I just finished (2012) my degree at and I wish I knew before I moved across the country so I could have a stalker moment and get her to sign my book.

Before You Go by James Preller
Wow, so I'm reading a lot of sad books lately! This one wasn't quite as powerful as the last two. I swear the next one I'm picking up better be cheerful and perky.

What I plan to read this week:
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Still reading this one, it's emotionally heavy so I haven't been wanting to rush it and I have to be in the right mood. But it's beautiful and heart-breaking already.

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
I'm listening to this one on audiobook but the audiobook cover is so ugly so I'm sharing the print edition instead. So far it's really perfectly, just, summery. I really liked the writing in Burn for Burn which Han co-write so I'm glad it finally got me to pick up this series.

Auracle by Gina Rosati
This is an e-galley with an expiration date I definitely don't want to miss– and look at that beautiful cover! It combines with a really unique plot. Only just started it but it's intriguing so far.

The List by Siobhan Vivian
I figure if I'm reading a book written by one author of Burn for Burn I should probably try the other author too, and I've heard really good things about this novel.

What are you reading this Monday?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic

Release Date
: January 17th 2012
Pages: 200
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Buy It: Book Depository
Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. But in the short time he has left there’s one thing he can do: He can try to help the people he loves live—even though he never will.
For a subject filled with such big emotion, this tiny book left an even smaller impact. Going into Never Eighteen I already knew that seventeen-year-old Austin was facing death, hence the title, and although I won't share the reason it had already been explained everywhere and so the "mystery" of why he was dying was not a mystery at all. And I think even without having known it in advance, the reader would pick it up pretty quickly. It definitely wasn't some kind of twist ending, so I didn't understand why it was played off as a mystery at all. The rest of the plot was fairly predictable and in combination with the weak character development left me wanting more from Never Eighteen.

Even though Austin was dying, as a character I just didn't care that much about him– harsh, but true. He was a nice guy, but he didn't have a lot of dimension or complexity to him. Bostic did a good job with having a mixture of troubles for the people that Austin tries to help, each one was unique and different. The problem was, Never Eighteen ending up reading a bit too much like an after school special. As a reader, I spent so little time with each of these characters that Austin tries to help, it was impossible to really connect with them, and in many cases I didn't really feel like they, or their struggles, were genuine. Austin's best friend Kaylee didn't have much more personality than he did, all I really learned about her was that she has a car and she doesn't realize how pretty she is... not exactly profound.

Part of me thinks that this book would be better for younger readers, but it does tackles quite a few issues that might not be appropriate. Still, I'm sure that there will be readers that Austin's story resonates for, even if it didn't for me. Ultimately, Never Eighteen is really easy to read, the prose is simple and the book itself is quite short but unfortunately, being easy to read doesn't necessarily make it exciting to read and Bostic's debut just didn't connect with me in the emotional way that I had hoped.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First Comes Love by Katie Kacvinsky

First Comes Love by Katie Kacvinsky

Release Date: May 8th 2012
Pages: 198
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Buy It: Book Depository
Like his name, Gray is dark and stormy. Dylan, a girl always searching for what’s next, seemingly unable to settle down, is the exact opposite: full of light and life. On the outside, they seem like an unlikely couple. But looks can be deceiving and besides, opposites attract. What starts as friendship, turns into admiration, respect and caring, until finally these two lone souls find they are truly in love with each other. But staying in love is not as easy as falling in love.
I really loved Gray's perspective and half of this book, it was really interesting and unique reading from a male point of view and I think Kacvinsky nailed it. I also found the writing in First Comes Love to be really lovely, sharp and lyrical at the same time. The story is raw and honest, and real, I could really believe these were two people falling in love for the first time.

The only problem with this story was, Dylan herself didn't have that same authenticity to her that Gray did. She was just too perfect, her only flaw was that she was scared of commitment, but other than that she was just the right mix of quirky and beautiful and confident. When two people are in love, they can bring out the best in each other, so I could sorta justify that Dylan was able to help Gray in a way the nobody else could, but I didn't really see what Gray could do for Dylan– because she was already pretty great the way she was. She's just one of those character I didn't really believe was real, which is a big problem when half of First Comes Love is about her. Then, near the ending of the book, Dylan does a complete turn around as a character and I just didn't quite buy it.

Still, I really loved reading how Dylan and Gray interacted and how they fell in love. I also found it interesting that they were both a bit older than the usual Young Adult characters, Gray was actually in college, which means that First Comes Love could definitely qualify as New Adult, a genre that is just emerging and that I'm excited to read more of in the future. Possibly because the characters are a tiny bit older, Kacvinsky wasn't afraid to tackle important relationship issues, like sex, and it was especially intriguing to read that from a male perspective.

First Comes Love wasn't a perfect book, but in it's short length– about 200 pages– it manages to tell a unique and universal story of falling in love and what comes next. Kacvinsky's writing is really amazing, and I certainly plan to pick up her dystopian series beginning with Awaken in the near future. Even though I didn't fall in love with Dylan, mostly because she didn't feel real to me, Gray is a complex and authentic male narrator who definitely made First Comes Love a worthwhile read.

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Monday, what are you reading? (27)

I've been away from these for awhile because I haven't been reading much, but I'm going to try to change that, so here's this last week!

Last week I finished reading: 
Promised by Caragh M. O'Brien
Conflicted emotions about this book, yes it was awesome and satisfying, but it was also the last book in one of my favourite trilogies which means that Gaia's story is over. Definitely recommend it though!

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross
The romance in this was a little weird, I didn't quite believe that so many guys would be desperate over Mira, even if they were "fated" to be together. But I loved the world-building and the darkness of the fairytale retelling, really original and wonderful to read. 

What I plan to read this week:
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Going to be finishing this one today, I actually have been listening to it on audiobook at the gym. I'm enjoying it a lot, but I kinda wonder how special it would be if you didn't grow up during the 90s and have this nostalgia about VHS and dial-up internet.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles
I really don't like the cover of this book, but the story sounded intriguing. It's a middle grade I think, because the main character is 12, but it definitely has cross over appeal. I'm actually about a quarter the way in and loving it so far. I know there's a dark twist eventually though, kinda has my stomach in knots wondering what/when it will be.

Shine by Lauren Myracle
Just started this, really moving so far and I'm only one or two chapters in. It's one I've been meaning to pick up for awhile now, so I'm glad I've finally done it.

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie
This sounds really intriguing, I love twin stories, and I've heard the writing is quite lovely. I haven't finished 4 books in a week in probably two months but I'm going to be ambitious and see how it goes.

What are you reading this Monday?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Take A Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

Take A Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

Release Date
: April 1st 2012
Pages: 278
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Scholastic Canada
Buy It: Book Depository
Emme, Sophie, Ethan, and Carter are seniors at a performing arts school, getting ready for their Senior Showcase recital, where the pressure is on to appeal to colleges, dance academies, and professionals in show business.
This was a really fun and charming read. It's the kind of book you can pick up and finish without even remembering to get a drink of water, because Eulberg's writing flows smoothly and the story has a lot of excitement to it. It's definitely YA beach read type book, there may not be a lot of huge issues dealt with it, but it felt real and it was an enjoyable and relaxing experience. That is, assuming you don't want to actually like the characters in the books you read, because I didn't like 50% of four narrators in Take A Bow.

Sophie is clearly not meant to be likable, or at least I don't think she is, considering how awful she treats her "best" friend Emme. Carter, a former child star, was okay. Emme was a sweet character, but she seemed just a bit too perfect– her major flaw was that she was too nice and too understanding of Sophie, letting her take advantage of her, and that's the kind of character flaw that gets on my nerves (especially if it's the only one!). In terms of Ethan, he had some redeeming qualities, but I hated how he justified cheating and it was made to seem okay in the context of the book; cheating because you love someone? That's something I just can't stomach.

Somehow even though I didn't fall in love with any of these characters, I still enjoyed reading their stories. It can be fun to read from the perspective of the mean girl like Sophie, so she was probably my favourite to read about, just because she was so awful. Besides for Emme as a character, there was another major thing in Take A Bow that didn't feel realistic, and that was the dialogue. Here's one excerpt from Carter's perspective (where the dialogue is written like a script):
"EMME: I hope you don’t mind, Carter, but I was telling Trevor about how you’ve been doing some of your own art, and how I thought that maybe he could give you some pointers.

TREVOR: Can totally do that. I love seeing other people’s work. And seeing anything that’s being done outside these walls would be a welcome sight. Here, let me give you my number."
Honestly, not only is the style written like a script, but the words felt that way to me too, like puppets being told what to say. Even the way the characters talk to themselves, their internal dialogue, feels too obvious. One thinks:
"But the second I realized that I was the one who was preventing myself from being happy, a whole new world has opened up for me."
 It's really hard for me to imagine somebody really thinking that, and it was that kind of cheesy writing that sometimes made it hard to take the book seriously. But it didn't stop Take A Bow from being a fun, easy to read book. I haven't seen the movie, but I sorta imagine it like Fame in book form. I also never had a problem telling the difference between the four narrators, which is so important in a book like this, and which usually leads me to avoid novels with more than two points of view. Overall, even if Eulberg's dialogue and justification of cheating weren't something I enjoyed, Take A Bow was a charming book with some funny moments and a story that was easy to read. I'd definitely pick up another book by Eulberg when I'm looking to relax in the future. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mini Reviews: Hallowed by Cynthia Hand and Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien

Two of my favourite novels I read in 2011 were definitely Unearthly by Cynthia Hand and Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, and I was so excited to dive into their follow-ups. Luckily, neither author disappoints and I've decided to do mini reviews for these two intense novels. Plus, I’ve somehow managed to discuss them without spoiling the first novels in the series, incase you somehow managed to miss out when they were first released (and you can now fix that by getting them in paperback!)

Hallowed is the sequel to Cynthia Hand’s debut novel, Unearthly, in which part angel Clara Gardner is torn between her quest, and reason for existing, and the boy that’s not a part of it. The complicated love triangle continues in Hallowed, in which Clara deals with love, lost, and trying to figure out who she is. Hallowed was even more intense than its predecessor, in particular due to a tragic event I did not see coming. What Hand does so well in her novels, besides for a charming love interest with a Southern accent, is make Clara, despite her powers, relatable.

The Unearthly Trilogy is a unique spin on coming of age novels, in which teenage concerns are only part of the growing responsibility that Clara faces. The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about reading Hallowed is how the final book won’t be released until 2013. There’s also a decision made at the ending of the book that I didn’t agree with and I’m seriously hoping that Clara redeems herself in book three.

As much as I loved O’Brien’s dystopian debut, Birthmarked, featuring the strong heroine Gaia and perfect for fans of The Hunger Games, I did not expect the follow up to be anything like Prized. In fact, Prized takes place in a totally different world than Birthmarked, in which Gaia has to face a slew of new and incredibly difficult trials when she finds herself in a community where women are the minority, and the rulers. The perverse truth is that although things are extremely different than the marginalization that Gaia is used to, they aren’t any better. In this world, a kiss is a crime, and for Gaia, falling in love may be the most difficult struggle of all.

My only disappointment with Prized was that after being accustomed to such a strong heroine in Birthmarked it was disappointed to see how weak Gaia became, accepting society’s norm without the fierce questioning that characterized her in book one. Though in context, it is slightly more understandable, it was a relief when she got some of her fire back.

Overall, at a time when bookstores are flooded with paranormal and dystopian stories, Hand and O’Brien have managed to write two with compelling and authentic characters, as well as storylines so intense it’s amazing I didn’t get paper cuts while flipping the pages of these books, they were that heart-pounding. If you’re unsure about continuing these series, or if you’ve managed to miss out on them so far, the release of the second books in the Unearthly and Birthmarked Trilogies is a perfect excuse to get started because if anything, the second books get better.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers

Release Date
: June 19th 2012
Pages: 320
Format: E-galley
Source: Raincoast Books
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Also by this Author: Cracked Up To Be; Some Girls Are
Buy It: Book Depository
Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live.
Courtney Summers writes a zombie novel. It seems so strange at first: this author who has published three edgy contemporary novels, two of which I have read (and loved)- Cracked Up To Be and Some Girls Are- suddenly decides to add the undead to her story? But in reality, This Is Not A Test is actually more similar to her previous books than I ever would have expected. Yes, there are zombies, but there is also a sorta unlikable main character with a secret, a romance between two people that don't really get along, and the kind of story that leaves you breathless with quickly turning pages. In fact, all the zombies really do is force six people together in a confined space for an extended period of time, six people who would never be together under any other circumstances, and then the reader gets to see what happens.

I don't really read about zombies, but I do watch a lot of horror films, and when it came to that aspect of This Is Not A Test I wanted a little more from the story. If there were going to be zombies, I wanted their existence to seem less random. At the same time, maybe that is what makes them so scary, the fact that they appear out of nowhere, all of a sudden. I guess I was never completely convinced that there had to be zombies, and that the same story couldn't have been told during a war for example, with bombs going off outside. There were a few key moments where the zombies were crucial, but the fact that most of the book relies on the terror they trigger, not them specifically, makes This Is Not A Test read a lot more like a contemporary novel than a paranormal.

Like Summers' main characters tend to be, Sloane was difficult but conflicted. When the novel begins, she's planning to kill herself, and then the zombies attack. What makes her existence even more complicated than Parker from Cracked Up To Be and Regina from Some Girls Are is the fact that she manages to live despite wanting to die, while so many others have died while desperately wanting to live. In a way, it's really frustrating. But at the same time, it makes Sloane's experiences incredibly interesting and unique to read about, especially watching her develop and grow throughout the novel, something Summers excels at like usual.

Even though Sloane is the main character of This Is Not A Test, her five companions each get their own little story too, and I found them each interesting to read about in their own way even if they didn't have the complexity to them that Sloane did. I did feel like the story ended a bit too soon, I mean, it's not that it ended abruptly exactly, it was just that I wanted a little bit more from it I guess. It has all this intensity and heart-pounding action, so it goes by really fast, and in a way it felt like it was over before it was really over. The beginning is just so amazing, that opening chapter blew me away, and the ending was more subtle. That said, I appreciate the restraint that it must have taken to end the story there, and it is also beautiful and twisted in its own way.

This Is Not A Test is incredibly easy to read, exciting and horrifying at the same time, thanks to Summers' wonderfully sharp writing–– it manages to have all the dark honesty of her contemporary books, there just happens to be zombies involved.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman and John Green

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman (author) and John Green (illustrator)

Release Date
: May 8th 2012
Pages: 144
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Buy It: Book Depository
High school can be a time of terrible angst—Fs on tests, bullying jerks, broken hearts, and late-stage puberty are just some of the potential issues that all teen boys face. But what about the issues facing a Teen Boat?
Whoops! When I got Teen Boat! in the mail I thought the illustrations were by some guy named Dave Roman (actually a well-established author of graphic novels) and that John Green, like Looking For Alaska John Green, was the writer. Turns out John Green is also the name of an illustrator, with a few titles under his belt. So there was definitely an adjustment when I started reading Teen Boat! but it didn't take long for me to start enjoying its unique charm.

At it's heart, this is really an absurd graphic novel, and in that sense it reminded me of this series that used to be really popular when I was a kid, Captain Underpants. I really think this book would be perfect for the same kind of elementary school aged audience. Green's drawings are really well done, and they capture the boy-to-boat transformation in a way that makes it seem slightly less ridiculous than it actually is, and just as awesome.

Teen Boat Transformation © Dave Roman and John Green
Roman's words work perfectly with Green's drawings and it wasn't a surprise for me to read these two guys are best friends. The book just has a perfect harmony between text and image. I especially appreciated Roman's many nautical puns, they had me chuckling out loud quite a few times. What I didn't like was Teen Boat's treatment of his best friend Joey, a girl that clearly has a crush on him– but I honestly couldn't tell you why, since all he does is treatment her like dirt and assume that she'll always be there. I would have loved a little more development on that storyline, at least having Joey stand up for herself a bit even if Teen Boat didn't realize what he did was wrong. Instead, she just crushed on him more.

Weak female character aside, Teen Boat! was a cute read, and definitely outside of my usual picks. If I'd known that it was the wrong John Green, I don't know if I would have read it, and so in the end I'm grateful for that mishap; one that belongs perfectly among the befuddled pages of the book itself. In the end, this is an odd and charming book with great drawings and a crazy storyline that doesn't take itself too seriously; Teen Boat! is a great choice for middle grade and the younger spectrum of young adult readers. But even if you're a bit– or like me, a lot– older it's a funny reminder about why I'm so glad that I'm not a teen anymore!