New YA author Megan Miranda snuck onto the YA scene last year with her first book, Fracture, which she soon followed up with Hysteria. I enjoyed both books, and loved Hysteria because of its original take on what I might call parapsychology. The refreshing thing about Miranda's writing is that it's very original in an overcrowded market space. The other thing I like is that she's NOT writing a trilogy. I don't have anything against trilogies and I read lots of them, but I also love an author who can keep up the pace of writing truly original YA stories that are all stand-alone narratives and don't require the reader to have to buy the other books in the series. In Hysteria, we know that the lead character Malllory killed her boyfriend. It's on the front blurb and in the first chapter. But she can't remember much of what happened. Her parents send her away to her dad's old boarding school and we're never sure if they're trying to protect her or to get rid of her. Everything is not what it seems in this mystery that unravels at the perfect pace. As she makes new friends (and a new love interest) at the new school, weird things start happening and her memories start resurfacing. She struggles to cope with her new life while making sense of her past at the same time. There's action, adventure, romance and good, old-fashioned mystery. It has a similar feel to Fracture (which was more of a paranormal experiment in life after death - not quite accurate, but I don't want to give too much away). But I think the plot in Hysteria is actually tighter and the ending is more satisfying. Miranda is a really important new talent on the YA scene and I highly recommend both her books. I'm awaiting her third - Vengeance - with anticipation! [NOTE: Vengeance is described as a companion novel/sequel to Fracture so you might want to read Fracture before Vengeance comes out.]
Just read the second in Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits trilogy (Dare You To) and I was a little disappointed. Not because it's not a good book. It is. But McGarry set the bar so high with angsty teen romance in the first book that I don't think anything could really compare. I read Pushing the Limits in a day. I couldn't put it down. Noah and Echo's entwined stories were heartbreaking, sensitive, and powerful. In contrast, Ryan and Beth's stories in Dare You To seemed a little more contrived. Beth was a character who I felt was almost more developed as a secondary character in the first book than as a primary character in her own story. McGarry seemed to take a lot of the edge off Beth when she made her the lead character in a rural town setting. Beth thrived so powerfully in the gritty urban setting of the first book. I didn't get a strong enough sense of culture clash in this one to be believable. And McGarry also pushed Isiah (from Beth's past) into the background a little too conveniently in this installment. The addition of Ryan as the romantic lead - although an interesting and solid character - simply didn't have the complexity of Noah in the first book. The challenges he faces within his family, and outside, didn't rise to the power of the challenges Noah faced as the lead in Pushing the Limits.
On its own, Dare You To, is a strong enough story about love and trust and coming to terms with who you are. But it pales in comparison to the first book which dealt with all that and more - the mystery of Echo's past and her scars, Noah's struggle to look after his younger brothers and deal with the welfare system. There was a lot more going on in the first book. And the addition of the baseball-focused storyline in Dare You To didn't do it for me. McGarry says in the Q&A at the back of the book that she did a lot of research on baseball and it shows. And for those who really like baseball stories this will probably be a big draw.
Overall this is a solid second installment to the trilogy and I'm looking forward to seeing what McGarry does with Isiah's story in the third book - her writing is great and I'll definitely be reading the next one. I only hope she recaptures some of the magic of book 1 in book 3. Not saying book 2 isn't worth the read - it's engaging and sensitive and entertaining, but I want McGarry to bring back the magic she infused her first boover her first book when she comes to the third!
This is a book I read a while back and is for more of an MG audience than a YA audience, but I thought it was worth blogging about for a number of reasons. For one thing, it's a good MG book for male readers - the lead character being a young boy who lives at Alcatraz because his father works there. He has an autistic sister who he has to take care of, and he also has to work his way around finding new friends at his school in San Francisco and dealing with being close to inmates at the prison. His parents are under stress because of his dad's job and his mother's need to deal with his sister and keep the family together and functioning.
It's historical fiction - Choldenko has done a lot of research to ensure that the details of the 1930s time period she is writing about are accurate, particularly with respect to the operation of the prison. The point of the title is that Al Capone is an inmate at the time of the action and there are all sorts of rumors circulating about him that both scare and captivate the kids who are the main focus of the story. There is a sequel to this book - Al Capone Shines My Shoes - that is an equally good read, particularly for a young male audience. The characters and situations are whimsical in both and, although there is some intrigue and suspense, there's nothing to raunchy or dangerous going on. Both books are great summer reads for young and older readers alike.
The best way for me to describe the first two books of Wendy Higgins' Sweet Evil trilogy is: wait for it - guilty pleasure. It's about the descendants of dukes of evil whose job it is to corrupt others in their assigned sins. It's if Dr. Evil from Austin Powers had a whole army of teens who had to learn to go out and do bad in the world. But of course, a lot of them want to be normal teens, go to school, fall in love and have happy and productive lives. And our hero and heroine are in the worst situation of all because she's part angel part demon so she has to hide her more angelic nature to survive. And he's the son of the Duke of Lust so it's a big challenge for him to be in love and avoid his darker nature. I read both of these books back to back and the story unfolds nicely in the second book as there's a chance for the neph descendants of the evil dukes to fight back for their freedom. I noted in the author acknowledgments at the back of the second book that Higgins said she found that book difficult to write. But I thought she did a great job. So often the second book in a trilogy is disappointing when compared to the first, but she really does advance the plot and develop the characters as well as adding some new characters who will obviously play a part in the final installment. They're all well-rounded and fun. This is not "heavy" reading and you don't have to spend a lot of time pondering the deeper meaning of the universe as you read it - it's a fun jaunt into good versus evil with a bunch of teenage characters you can't help rooting for. I'm going to be looking forward to the third one.
With the second in this trilogy in the works - I think due for a January 2014 release - I thought I'd look back at the first book which I read some time ago. I hadn't read anything by Mark Frost before and really enjoyed this one. Even though it's a hefty book for YA (over 500 pages and not particularly large type), it's action-packed and full of memorable characters and cool adventures. I keep thinking of it as the "American Harry Potter" even though that's probably not an accurate characterization, but it is about a group of teenagers with special powers hidden away in a secret school and trying to solve all kinds of weird mysteries as they come to terms with their individual gifts.
Mark Frost was the co-creator of the TV series, Twin Peaks - folks my age probably remember it! This probably explains his gift for off-beat intrigue and peculiar, yet memorable, characters. There's lots of mystery, lots of action and a little romance as well. This books seems to be aimed squarely at the teen boy audience, although I suspect girls will enjoy it too. I certainly did. And sometimes I like to think of myself as a "girl" despite my ever-advancing years. I also like the fact that, although the book is fast-paced with lots of adreline-pumping adventure, it's also intelligent and the characters have logic puzzles to solve that the reader gets to solve (or not, in my case) along with them. There's also lots of cool technology for the sci-fi heads amongst us. So I would highly recommend this one for teens of all ages, and I'm looking forward to the next installment. January can't roll around fast enough!
I had read some early mixed reviews of The Program by Suzanne Young and had been in two minds about reading it. I'm glad I did. I haven't read any of Young's work before, but she's a great writer and it shows. Typically, I shy away from "memory loss" stories because I find them annoying and frustrating - don't know why. I guess it's difficult to write a strong narrative from a first person point of view when the narrator is having memory issues. But in Young's hands, the issue is handled brilliantly. I really feel for the heroine. Some reviewers had said they thought she was whiny and annoying, but I found her complex and sympathetic. She's a young girl dealing with the death of her brother and the growing teen suicide epidemic, trying to avoid The Program i.e. the treatment for teens flagged at being suicide risks themselves. Heavy topic, but handled well here by Young.
While the book covers familiar ground - are we better off without our disturbing memories? - it does so in an engaging way. It's VERY reminiscent of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in terms of plot, but it's a young adult version and it's set against the background of a teen suicide epidemic where the memory manipulation is not voluntary but is forced about those regarded as risks. It's a fully contained story and all the characters find their own answers to difficult questions at the end, although I have seen web rumors that there's a sequel in the works. There's a kind of romantic triangle too which is handled deftly by Young given that her characters go through various stages of memory loss and manipulation during the course of the story. A great summer read, but pretty harrowing in places so definitely not for "fun in the sun" over the summer.
The first thing to say about Shannon Messenger's Let The Sky Fall is how great it is to find an original story in the overcrowded YA supernatural/sci-fi/paranormal marketplace. There's a handful of YA authors who never disappoint in terms of their originality (Maggie Stiefvater comes to mind) and I have a feeling Messenger is shaping up to be one of them.
This is billed as a love story - which indeed it is - between a windwalker/sylph and a guy who's more than he seems, and more than he knows. There's action and adventure, but the focus in this book is on the developing relationship between Audra and Vane. It also deals with family and friendship and the different kinds of love we face in our lives.
The book is written from two shifting points of view - one for each of the main characters. I sometimes find this style a little jarring, but done well it's very engaging. And it's done well here. Messenger credits her husband with helping her to channel her inner teen snarky boy and all I can say is, I wonder what their home life is like because this is very realistic. So ... engaging characters, original plot, and the promise of more to come - this book is the beginning of a new series. But I still really liked the ending - not a cliffhanger. There's a lot more ground for our hero and heroine to cover in future books but this story wraps up their initial journey nicely. I would recommend it as a really fun summer read and I look forward to the next one.
How could I resist this book? Sentient androids - one of my favorite themes. And even though I don't like plugging my own stuff on the blog, one of my e-books (for grown ups, rather than YA - Destiny) deals with similar themes involving androids achieving sentience and the meaning of humanity. Driza's book is also reminiscent of one of my favorite YA sentient android stories, Eden by Keary Taylor which I think was self-published. It's available on Amazon and I'd definitely recommend it!
So back to the book at hand. I wasn't sure when I was reading it whether it was the beginning of a trilogy/series or stand-alone. So kudos to Driza for keeping me guessing and not creating too much of a cliffhanger. The book has threads left unexplored but still stands on its own - YAY! (And, yes, I looked it up and it is intended as the first in a new series.)
Some review sites list this story as dystopian and I'm not 100% sure that classification is correct. Unlike, say, Eden (which I mentioned above), Driza's world doesn't seem like a future dysfunctional society, but rather a present-day or close to present-day scenario with augmented science. The main character, MILA, is compelling and the situations she faces are great opportunities for her to struggle with the question whether she's more of a robot or more of a human. The story structure is a little different from a lot of current YA. It's broken into four separate "parts" and I'm not really sure why. The first part is a clearly separate section of the story that sets up the character and her situation in a small town. The following 3/4 of the book really work as one large "part". This is a small thing, but after the first "part break" I was waiting for three new situations and challenges to follow and this didn't happen. There were also a lot of action sequences (including a couple of car chases) which made the book very cinematographic, but I felt these scenes became a little tiresome after a while. My favorite aspects of the book werethe times it focused on character and what makes us human, so I didn't need quite as many shoot-em-up chase scenes. But they're hard to write in an engaging way and Driza did a good job. So, yes, I'll pick up the next book whenever it comes out, but I hope for less action and more character development.
Here's another one I listened to as an audiobook and had been meaning to blog about for a while - Venom by Fiona Paul, the first in the Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy. I had spent some time eying the book-cover in various bookstores before downloading it to my iPod. I mean, who could resist this design? It's YA with a new twist in that in combines historical period writing with murder/mystery and romance. In other words, it's got a bit of everything. The problem for me was that maybe it was trying to do too much all at once. Paul was wonderful at creating the setting of Renaissance Venice. I'm betting this period is a passion of hers. Her details and awareness of the social structure and art world in particular were amazing. But I wondered if she spent too much time on these aspects of writing to the detriment of the characters and pacing. The lead character (Cassandra) does come off as a little hopeless and whiny for much of the book and the two potential romantic leads are somewhat difficult to get a handle on, although they're both supposed to be mysterious - in different ways. Maybe they were a little too mysterious at times. The plot was intriguing - murder and mayhem in the art world and no one is who they seem. So the book has the elements of a great mystery/thriller in a unique setting. And Paul has left plenty more mystery to explore in the next book, without leaving this one on a cliffhanger. Sure, there are things still to be resolved and questions that need to be answered in Book 2, but Venom at least has a satisfying ending in and of itself. I'm not sure that I believed Cassandra's reasons for making the decision she does in the end, but I was prepared to suspend my disbelief until Book 2. Overall, I enjoyed the book and probably would have enjoyed it more if not for the annoying attempts at an Italian accent made by the narrator of the audiobook version. So here's another one I would recommend reading in text format. Don't get me wrong, I love audiobooks and for the most part the narrators I've listened to have been great, but this one left me a little cold.
I finally got around to reading the first of Ellen Hopkins' YA novels-in-poetry, Crank. Honestly, I had been putting off reading this because frankly a novel in poetry for a YA audience about drug use sounded a little pretentious to me. Mea culpa to the max! I poured through this book in one evening. And it ensnared me with its bravery, honesty and the amazing construction of its writing. I thought the poetry would distance me from the "plot" of the story which is based on Hopkins' own daughter's struggle with drugs. It's raw and powerful and I kept thinking of words like "significant" and "important" to describe the book as I was reading it. This is not a story to take lightly. I'm a parent of three and the subject matter is frankly eye-opening, depressing, and terrifying. But it's also real. It brings the issue of how easy it is for teens to get their hands on these drugs into stark focus, and of how easy it is for them to become addicted, a battle that can last - and can destroy - their entire lives, and potentially the lives of those around them. Even though the book deals with important issues, the main character who tells the story, based on Hopkins' daughter, is well rounded and easy to relate to. I couldn't stop thinking "there but for the grace of God go I - or my children". This is not a book you "enjoy" so much as possibly "need to read", particularly if you have tween or teen children. It's sold as a YA book, and I'm sure that teenagers will be able to relate to it, but it's definitely a book for adults as well, particularly parents. I'm sorry I put off reading it, although I'm sure I'll need to take a breath and compose myself before reading more of Hopkins' YA books.
I love to read books and chat with other authors and artists about their work. Here's where I share my thoughts about writing (the craft and business/legal aspects of the writing life) and my interviews with other authors. Feel free to visit and add comments anytime!