Tag Archive: YA

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Ages 16 and up

Hazel Grace Lancaster’s final chapter was written when she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. A miracle drug has bought her time, but she is still sixteen and living with cancer. Hazel knows her time will run out. That is enough to give anyone a perpetual bad day. And so she is sent to Cancer Kid Support Group, a weekly ritual that she barely tolerates. The only high point of this ritual is her friend Isaac. Until Augustus Waters shows up. In Augustus, she finds someone who not only gets what she’s going through, but also gets her. With him, Hazel goes on what will probably be the first and only adventure of her life.

The Fault in Our Stars. The Fault in Our Stars. The Fault in Our freaking Stars.

Seriously, where can I even start with this book? It …wait…can’t say that it’s full of spoilers. That is probably the hardest part of this review. Everything I loved about this book is tied to a spoiler. But I’m going to try. So, if you’re super spoiler-sensitive, just take me at my word: Read this book.

I loved this book. I shouldn’t have loved this book. But I loved this book.

I’ll start with the characters. Spot. On. Hazel is a teenager, but she also feels jaded and world-weary (nothing makes you feel world-weary like constantly struggling to breathe). She’s cynical without seeming dark. And she’s obssessed with a book called The Imperial Infliction, which I would totally read if it wasn’t completely made up. Augustus is fun and more. These are real kids having to live through the real consequences of a disease that can cripple families.

John Green could easily have created a novel with a sad and depressing narrative. Or written a story that was all happy and hopeful and possibly unrealistic (the usual method for cancer kid stories). But TFIOS has this great balance in its tone. It’s serious. It’s real. Hazel’s life is drastically impacted by her disease. But Green also allows moments of light-heartedness. TFIOS is neither mopey, nor sappy. It’s lifelike. Hazel goes through ups and downs, just like any teenager (just like any human, really), her ups and downs are just often dictated by her disease. One of my favorite things about these Hazel and Gus is their irreverence (the main vehicle for the book’s light-hearted moments). These two have confronted death and live. Yes, death might eventually come back to claim them, but they’ve been there. They’ve done that. And they don’t mind poking fun at the specter that terrifies them.

And can we talk about how beautifully Green covers description. The descriptions could easily have become heavy-handed and overdone. But Green shows the physical toll and complications of living with cancer with deftness and brevity. The reader is given just enough to get a picture of what is happening to Hazel, but now so much they are overwhelmed. And then it’s back to the story.

Now, this paragraph should be as spoilery as it gets, but I want to assure any people who might dismiss this book because it could end badly.

I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first. I’m good with death and destruction and general badness happening to characters, but there is a part of me that expects a happy ending. Or at least the possibility of a happy end. By all accounts I should not have loved the ending of this book. But I think it might have made my list of books with perfect endings. Currently, there are two books on that list. When it was all said and done and I turned the final page, I felt like I’d gotten exactly the ending Green had promised from the beginning of the book and it was a good ending. An ending that will stick with me for a long time. I’ve never felt such hope and sadness mix after finishing a book. And I’m a fan of Dickens.

My only issue with this book (and if you know me, you’ll have seen it coming) was how it deals with sex. Now, I know that not everyone shares my more conservative opinion. So this may not be an issue for you. But I know some of my readers are like me. So they might also be bothered by the idea that dying a virgin makes a person’s life less full. I disagree with this. However, this is a book about teenagers and death and that means it’s going to deal with sex at some point. For my more conservative readers, just know that it’s in there and make your choices accordingly. I don’t think it should be a reason not to read the book, but do know it’s in there and do be willing to talk with your kids (or parents, if you’re a kid) about it.

All in all, I am glad I read this book. It made me laugh. It made me sad. It made me think. And it made me grateful. You should read it. And then you should go sit outside and be thankful that you can breathe easily.

Also, I’m pretty sure I want to be a shorter, prettier version of John Green when I grow up. So basically, I am never going to grow up. Which sounds pretty awesome.

This is a good example of:

  • First Person POV
  • How to Handle Sad Subjects
  • Characterization
  • Endings

If you’re looking for a happier book, but still want to experience the made of awesome that is John Green, might I suggest An Abundance of Katherines.


This blog post is a response to a Huffington Post UK article which argues that J.K. Rowling’s success is hindering the success of up-and-coming writers. If you think that sounds a little ridiculous, that’s because it is. Blaming lack of success on someone else’s good-fortune is a little narcissistic and certainly counterproductive. But I’m not here to defend Rowling (who has earned her place in world literature).

No, I’m want to address my concerns with the second paragraph. She says:

I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?

-Lynn Shepherd, Huffington Post UK, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing So Much She Should Stop Doing It

(A little advice: if you want your criticism of a book/series to be taken seriously, you need to attempt to read that particular work, even if it’s only a few sentences. At least you can say you tried.)

As a whole, children’s fiction can encompass a broad age range. From picture books and Beginning Readers to the young adult genre. However, when I say “children’s fiction” in this blog post I refer to the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) genres because that is what I have the most experience with.

The idea that children’s fiction is not “stimulating” for “grown-up minds” is ludicrous.

Not because they are what I write and read the most. But because this is absolutely untrue. And that is why I love those genres. I have learned more about how to write well from books like The Lightning Thief and The Hunger Games than I have from most of the adult fiction I’ve read (and I’ve been reading in the adult section since I was twelve or thirteen).

My first issue with her statement has nothing to do with that appropriateness of an adult reading children’s fiction, it’s simply part of good parenting (or so my mom tells me):

If your child is reading a book, you should take the time to read it as well.

My mom and I were always passing books back and forth and thus we were able to talk about what I was reading (Still do, actually). It’s part of being involved in a child’s education and staying aware of what they are learning. Most of my thoughts and opinions are the way they are, not because my parents forced them on me, but because we had (and still have) frank discussions that allowed me to explore my own opinions.

Now it’s great (phenomenal!) if you take the time to read to your kids. Some of my best memories are of the half hour or so my mom would spend reading with my brother and I before bedtime (I used to get in so much trouble for staying up to read ahead). Those experiences are part of why I love to read. (Thanks Mom!) But even if they’re past that age where reading together is “cool”—or it’s not practical for your family right now—keep abreast of what your kids are reading.

That brings me to my second issue.

In the grand scheme of things, the Harry Potter series is only seven books (granted, some of them are gargantuan). Now that may seem like a lot to some people. But let’s break it down.

If the average person reads eight books a year and they start reading consistently at ten and the average lifespan is 78 years (these are based on vague internet statistics, if you have better stats, post in the comments), then an average person can expect to read 500+ books in a life time. The Harry Potter series is 1% of the total books a person will read in their lifetime. One. Percent. There will be plenty of time and (hopefully) opportunity to read other books of varying age brackets.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with the above statement.

Children’s literature is NOT inferior to adult literature. In fact, I think that authors of children’s literature probably have more difficulty than someone who writes for an adult audience.

For one thing, kids are far more likely to be…um, frank (brutal) when they don’t like something. They have no problem saying, “This is dumb. You’re dumb. Why do I have to read this?” (I used to work with kids and I still work with teens, so this is from experience.)

The other challenge MG & YA authors face is length.

A typical middle grade novel is going to be under 40,000 words (established authors may have more wiggle room). To put that in perspective an adult novel is usually double that number; Sci Fi and fantasy can end up pushing 100k words.

Because they have limited space, I find that MG & YA authors have to be more intelligent and concise in their writing than their colleagues that aim for the older audience. EVERY word counts for double. They only have 40k words (70k in YA) to develop the plot, expose character, reveal backstory and maybe throw in a theme. And it has to be entertaining. How long do you think a bored twelve-year-old will keep reading?

Now for those of you that padded your college essays with shady spacing and chili recipes, this might not seem like a big issue. But us writers? We’re the ones that spent all night trying to figure out how to cut 2500 words down to a thousand and always ended up turning essays with at least one page more than required. I’m not saying this makes us better than you, it’s just that…we like to write.

My point is that the grown-up brain can benefit from reading fiction even if it’s marketed to younger readers (and it’s all about marketing). I am consistently surprised by the depth of storytelling in MG & YA novels. If you want examples, I would suggest the Percy Jackson series, anything by John Green, Ally Carter’s books, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

Finally, children’s fiction is just as capable of making us to question society and our own opinions. More so I find sometimes. Most of the adult fiction I’ve read feels more geared towards escapism. It’s the YA books that make me sit up and think about the world. Don’t believe me? Read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.

And don’t forget, some of literature’s favorite classics are classified as “young adult”. For your perusal, I present this list (cross-referenced between Barnes & Noble’s website and Goodreads.com). Tell me you don’t recognize some titles that cover issues we still talk about today:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • White Fang by Jack London
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So what do you think? Do you enjoy middle grade and young adult fiction? What are some of the reasons you like these genres? Can you think of any examples where a MG or YA author displayed fantastic story-telling?

Many thanks to my friend Dot Hutchison, who can be found at dothutchison.com, for answering all my questions and children’s lit. Also, you should check out her book, A Wounded Name. It is one of the two versions of Hamlet I approve of (the other being The Lion King)

Mind Games is finished.

Thank. God.

Actually, MG was finished last June (The 29th to be precise and I can be, because I finished the day of my brother’s 22nd birthday) and I’ve already slogged through a second draft. That was painful. But, more on that in a minute.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends and family about what I’m doing next and in interest of informing the greatest number of people possible, I thought that it was time to dust off the old blog.

It’s been forever and a day since I was last on here, hasn’t it?

I may have gone through a writing funk for a good part of last year.  Partly because I was settling into a new job. Partly because I lost said job in March. Partly because, I’ll admit it, I am lazy.

Writing of any kind repulsed me. I wasn’t even interested in writing fan fiction (up to that point, I have always been able to write fan fiction, ideas usually abound). Then about, oh, June I decided that enough was enough.

Did I feel like writing? Nope. But I also knew that if I followed my outline, I was literally pages from the end. So after ignoring the book since January, I sat down and cranked out six chapters over the course of seven days. According to my computer, Draft 1 was finished at 2:06 a.m. on June 30th, 2013 (although I count it as June 29th, my day doesn’t end until I go to sleep).

I felt like an idiot. I’d been sitting with a nearly finished book since November of 2011. All it took  finish a few hours over the course of a week.

I took a few months off to delve into some world-enriching research and then throughout October, November and December of last year I went through the excruciating process of editing my book.

Oh, editing. I think some part of my subconscious went out of its way to make it horrifying. It was a mess. I was a mess. If I could do it again, I would edit a chapter at a time instead of waiting until I’d gone the whole way through. Had time travel been possible there were no fewer than a dozen times that I would have gone back and smacked myself with all 243 double-spaced pages. Mostly, mostly the frustration came  when I ran across one of these:


Just one of maybe twenty.

I mean, how unhelpful is that? Here’s another one:


Unhelpful and creepy

I learned a very important lesson after that edit: My memory requires details. I know that I had specific things that I wanted to do in every instance. But my vague notes did little to jog my memory. Next time, I will be specific and detailed. And much more timely with my edits.

So update over, what’s next? Well, I plan to focus on three tasks, which I will probably be working on more or less simultaneously.

  1. The Final Polish– At least, I hope this is the final polish. I’ve decided (for now) that three drafts is my limit for a book. Two to (hopefully) get the novel nailed down and sorted and one final draft to get it ready for step two (see below). Now I’m flexible on this one. I’m hoping that when feedback comes in, there won’t be anything drastic that needs changing (in other words, anything that would require a major rewrite). As a writer, I know I could tweak until kingdom come and still find more to work on. Hence, the self-imposed limit.
  2. Find an Agent– The time has come to start researching agents. Which means, going through guides and websites to compile a list of agents that might be a good fit for my book. If I were trying to publish in a small niche market (i.e. Schnauzer grooming), I might be skip this step. But alas, I am a YA author and that market seems to abound with hopefuls. If you’re at this step or close to it, I recommend the Writer’s Market 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, which seems to offer a larger selection than say the 2014 Writer’s Market or the 2014 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market (though it does have a decent selection of literary agents). The other two, however, have more in the way of contests and book publishers, if those are your interests.
  3. Start a New Project– Or in my case return to an old one. I am currently in the process of doing research for a fairytale retelling that was put on the shelf in 2010 so I could focus on MG. Now that MG is finally in the editing and submitting phase, it’s time to think ahead. Everywhere I look writer, after writer, after writer (including the famous ones, like Stephen King) recommends starting the next novel when you reach this phase. So that’s where I’m headed.

(Way, way, way overdue I know…it’s been sitting in my comp for two months. But here you go.)

The Heroes of Olympus #2: Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Ages 12 and up

In The Lost Hero we learned of Camp Jupiter, the Roman counterpart of Camp Half-Blood. In a desperate attempt to save Olympus, Hera had switched the leaders of the two camps, Percy Jackson and Jason Grace. Jason has been at Camp Half-Blood helping the Greeks, and now it’s time for Percy to make an appearance on the other side of the continent. Percy resurfaces with almost no memory of who he was. Of course, that doesn’t keep the usual brand of trouble from following him. Apparently, that Death has been taken hostage by the giants and until he is released, killing the monsters is going to be impossible. And it seems that the gods can find no better guy for the job than an amnesiac Greek demigod. After only a few hours at Camp Jupiter, Percy and his newfound friends set off on a journey to a land where the god’s power may not even reach.

I know, it’s short and sweet. But seriously, I’m not sure how much I trust myself to tell you. Now, I’m not saying that I have a favorite author. That’s just not a choice I’d be able to stick to for more than a few minutes. However, Rick Riordan ranks very close to the top, so naturally I was more than a little ecstatic when this book came out. And it was was almost (I’ll get to that) everything I could have hoped it would be.

Now, if you know me (or have read my blog), you would know that I have had a thing for Greek mythology since I was a little girl. That is what got me into the Percy Jackson books for the first time. (Okay, that and the movie trailer reminding me that I kept meaning to read them.) So I won’t deny that that is part of why I love these books. Riordan does more than just retell the Greek and Roman myths (and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which), he reimagines them. He takes them and changes them is a way that his readers will recognize, while still keeping them true to their original character. For example, he takes the Amazons and turns them into business moguls funding their way of life through a company even children will recognize in this day and age, Amazon.

I didn’t figure it out until about halfway through, but there are several parallels between this book and the original Percy Jackson books. Not that I will tell you what they are (or maybe this amnesia thing is clouding my view). But, considering that his missing memory is constantly on Percy’s mind, I think that making him go through trials that the readers would recognize—even if it was only subconsciously—was a beautiful touch.

The characters in Rick Riordan’s books (I’m talking about all three mythology series here) have always been some of my favorites. I love them. They bounce of the page and come alive. You feel like you know them, like they’ve been your friends (or enemies) for ages. I could totally see myself hanging out with Annabeth and talking about books for hours. His characters, even the minor ones, so often have distinct characteristics that define them and make them different from all the others around them.

That little “almost” up at the top has probably been bothering you for three whole paragraphs. It boils down to one small fact. The book was great, I loved it. I can’t wait for the next one (The Mark of Athena Fall 2012). In fact, I’m already excited about the next one, all things considered (if you know, you know). However, despite how much I love him and how great I imagine he looks in a purple t-shirt (C’mon ladies, you know you were thinking about it too), Percy Jackson is not in fact my favorite character in the books. He is hair’s breadth close, but he is not. My favorite character sadly, has a very small part in this book…though I think I can bet on seeing a lot more of [redacted] in the next book. (It’s kind of a given.)

All of this, the characters, the mythology, the settings, the crazy, twisting plot that he seems to come up with—all of these things are used to create a book that keeps moving right up to that very last page. No joke, I’m pretty sure that my heart stopped for about five seconds when I turned page 513 and realized that the twenty or so pages that were left were actually the glossary and several black pages. Had my whole family not been asleep, I probably would have yelled. It’s a brilliant ending, but it doesn’t stop you from feeling like you’ve been thrown off a cliff. (Cause obviously, with three books left, we still have the world and Olympus to save.)

This a good example of:

  • Multiple POVs
  • Raising the stakes
  • Reimagining vs. retelling
  • Characters
  • Story Movement

Tortall & Other Lands by Tamora Pierce

Ages 12 and up

I thought about coming up with something resembling a synopsis for this review, but I realized that due to the nature of this book, it would be very short (or really long). So I’ll just put it plainly. This is a book of short stories by Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness Quartet, The Immortals, the Beka Cooper Trilogy). Most of the stories involve Tortall or one of its neighbors. It is good. You should read it.

I’ve been reading Tamora Pierce’s books since I was a teenager. I actually picked them up because of her book Trickster’s Choice, the cover called to me. Of course then I found out that book wasn’t where the story really started, so me being me, I had to go all the way back to the beginning before I could start what I’d originally wanted to read.

It was nice to be able to interact with some of my old friends in from Tortall, as well as some of the new ones. I enjoyed that she switched up the point of view between the different stories. They weren’t all in first person, nor were they all in third. She matched the POV to the style of narration to the story and the characters.

Speaking of which, this book was an awesome study of different characters. With only a few pages for each story, Pierce managed to connect me with her characters. She used the details extremely well.  Many of them show you something about the characters at the same time that they move the story forward. There’s also something to be said about the continuity of style that she shows throughout the book. She may change voices, but Pierce is always at the helm. Some of the stories that stood out to me were: “Testing”, “Mimic”, “Student of Ostriches” and “The Dragon’s Tale” (because Daine and Numair from The Immortals remain my favorite of her characters and because Kit is awesome).

The only sour point for me was how the stories seemed to become repetitive. They always seemed to deal with a similar problem: a young girl being oppressed by her father or society or someone else. Which is a wonderful topic and the source of a lot of fiction, but at the same time, it’s not the only problem out there and I would have like to see some of the stories deal with other issues. It kind of felt like I was being beat over the head.

Still, this is a lovely little collection of stories that are worth the read. Especially if you are a writer (or already a fan of Pierce’s work). I think that the short story format allows you to see the individual elements of what makes a story great a little bit easier than a full length novel.

This is a good example of:

  • Point of View
  • Integration of story and world
  • Continuity of style
  • Character sketches

This book is on my recommended list.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Ages 16 and up

Mary’s world is simple. There is the fence that separates her village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth and the masses of unconsecrated (a.k.a. zombies). There is the Sisterhood that keeps order and protects the village. And there are her mother’s stories about the outside world and the ocean. The path her life will take is simple and uncomplicated and controlled. She will either marry and raise a family or join the Sisterhood. When her mother is infected and no one has spoken for her, the Sisterhood abruptly becomes her only choice. Inside the walls that shelter the sisters, Mary starts to discover that the Sisterhood hasn’t been entirely truthful. Mary’s world begins to turn end over end as she tries to discover what exactly these women have been up to and what dark secrets are hidden in the church walls. And she begins to wonder, what if her mother spoke the truth about the ocean?

It has taken me several months to get to where I can objectively talk about this book (I finished it in July). You would think that for my maiden voyage into the zombie genre I would choose something that was comical, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but no…I chose Forest of Hands and Teeth. I’m glad I did, but it took me a long time to get there. To put it simply: I love the writing but I didn’t like the book.

Now, disclaimer: My opinion of this story is subject to change. Okay, not really, let’s rephrase. My opinion of this series has changed. I put down Forest of Hands and Teeth and had to think long and hard about whether or not I was going to pick up the next book. I did eventually decide to continue on with the series, mostly because the recommendation that made me pick up the series in the first placecame from someone a trusted (two someones actually). And I will say I’m loving the second book. My main problem stemmed from the fact that this was only the first book in a series, and that means it ended in an unhappy place. And as many of you know by now, the ending factors a good deal into whether or not I like the book as a whole (Anyone remember the Specials debacle). But I still say you should read this book. And not just because you need it to set up the second book. I think that there are also several lessons that you can learn by reading this book.

First off, the writing was superb. She was great with the descriptions, I felt the world around me. Could sense the Forest crowding in at the edges of the fence. Ryan also did very well with grabbing my attention. She opens the book with her heroine facing two simple problems: zombies and boys. And then BAM! Her mom gets infected, her brother tosses her out and the boy that was going to speak for her (though she’s actually in love with his brother) goes silent. That coupled Ryan’s spin on the whole zombie thing hooks and drags you through the first half of the book (drags as in tied behind a runaway horse).

I liked the her spin. My limited experience with zombies (Abhorsen trilogy anyone?) uses magic in the creation of the undead (or weird forms of Kryptonite). This was the first time that I remember science used. The unconsecrated were created by scientists out of the desire to do good and help people. They weren’t planning on making a horde of flesh-eating animated corpses.

Unfortunately (and this would have helped my overall impression) I felt like there was a lack of a character arc for Mary in this book. She kind of starts in one place, has an adventure, and then ends in another place that is the same as the first place. A character needs to have growth, they need to be different in a marked way. Not just in that they have had new experiences, but in the fact that they have changed as a person. I don’t feel that Mary did this.

Another thing that I suggest you watch for (and you will learn a lot from this) is the way the story kind of lulls in the middle. The tension does pick up again at the end (oh boy, does it pick up), but it does go a little limp for a chapter or two. This is a good section to maybe analyze when you’ve finished the book. Figure out why it dies down like it does and determine how you can avoid doing that in your own book.

This book is worth the read. It will entertain you and it will teach you something about writing. I had to take a long, hard look at myself to figure out why it was exactly that I didn’t like it. That exercise has made it easier for me write about a book objectively when it comes time for me to review it.

I will put out the caution that these are teenagers we’re dealing with and because of that sex is very much on Mary’s mind (especially considering that they’re expected to wed and increase the population at the age of sixteen). There is nothing gratuitous and it is all very subtle. I didn’t feel the need to skip any chunks of text as I have with some books, but I would still steer younger teens away from these books.

This is a good example of:

  • Description
  • World-building
  • Starting tension

First off, YEAH! My blog is one year old today!!!

And now, it’s time to get started with my next book giveaway, which will be:

Heist Society by Ally Carter

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned the con of her life—scamming her way into the best boarding school  in the country, determined to leave the family business behind.

Soon, Kat’s friend and former co-conspirator, the gorgeous Hale, appears, pulling her back into the world she had only just escaped. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster’s priceless art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. Now. Only a master thief could have pulled off this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

Kat’s solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and, hopefully, just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s (very crooked) history. And, with any luck, she just might be able to steal her life back along the way.

This book surprised me.

And it wasn’t just because I didn’t think Ally Carter could write a series that I would love more than her Gallagher Girls series (which she did). Or that I didn’t think that it was possible to come up with a guy that was hotter that Zach Goode (which Hale is).

Now, I will admit that I was rather amazed when I put this book down and said, “You know, I think I might like this better that Gallagher Girls.” (I was not so amazed at how hard I fell for Hale—strictly in a fictional sense of course.) But, what really got me about this book was how different it was from her work that I had previously read.

I mean, it is still an Ally Carter book. Her style is all up and down the plot and the dialogue and that hilarious scene on page 283 (Yes, I’m still going on about that). But Kat is vastly different from Cammie and Hale is certainly not Zach. Heist Society takes place in world that is outside the law in the boldest sense (versus working for the government). Not only that, but it was an entirely different viewpoint than I was expecting. Carter isn’t one of those authors that changes characters and settings and still manages to write the same book anyways. You won’t find her accidentally repeating any dialogue.

This book is YA gold, and you can get your hands on a copy (if you haven’t already). If you’re curious you can read my review of Heist Society here.

Just leave me a comment between now and September 15th at noon (EST). Tell me about an author that surprised you. Was it the way they ended the book or a plot twist or something else that you didn’t see coming? Make sure that you leave me a way to contact you (email is preferable) should you be the lucky winner. You can also earn extra (note the “extra”, meaning please comment first) entries by completing the three options below. For each one that you do, you will get a certain number of entries into all four drawings, for a total of up to four extra entries per drawing. They are:

1. Follow me on Twitter (@TheGladElf). Please make sure that you put your Twitter username in your comment so I know to credit you.

2. Spread the word. Join the discussion on another one of my blog posts and then post the link through your Twitter feed (or in your comment). Make sure you tag me so that I know you’ve done it. One time use for new followers. Anyone following me before 10 a.m. Sept. 2nd can cash in twice on this option (two separate posts, obviously)

3. Subscribe! Sign up to receive my blog posts as they come out and you’ll get not one, but two extra entries into each drawing.

The only other rule for the extra entries is that if you already own any of the books, please let me know so that I can take out your entries for that particular entry.

Last Week’s Winner: Sadly, no one entered into the Crown Duel giveaway. I suppose I’ll just have to wrap it up and save it to use as a Christmas present…Kidding. At the end of the month, I will draw from any names that have been entered and give away any books that have not yet found a home.

Book Review: Behemoth

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Ages 12 and up

In Leviathan, we were introduced to an alternate version of World War I. One divided not just by politics, but by sciences. There are the Clankers, who excel at mechanical inventions, and the Darwinists, who have figured out how to fabricate animals into tools and weapons. Alek, an exiled Austrian prince and a Clanker, has been hiding his identity as he lives and works on board the Leviathan, a Darwinist airship. Thanks to Alek and his men, the Leviathan has narrowly avoided the German forces and is now headed towards the completion of her mission in the Ottoman Empire. On the airship, we’ve also gotten to know Deryn Sharp, a young girl masquerading as a boy so that she can serve in the British Air Service. The two started out as unlikely allies and have become friends. In Behemoth, their friendship is put to the test though, when Austria joins forces with Germany in the war. And by the growing feelings that Deryn is trying to hide from him. Of course, Alek is oblivious. He still thinks that his friend is a lad. When the Leviathan finally makes it to Istanbul, Alek and two of his men are able to sneak off of the airbeast and disappear in the Turkish city. But the Clanker influence that helps them to hide causes no end of trouble for the Darwinists’ mission. As it becomes clear that diplomacy will fail to keep the Ottomans out of the war, the Darwinists resort to less diplomatic means to maintain the upper hand and Deryn finds herself stranded in Istanbul with no one else to turn to but the prince she should consider an enemy.

You know that great feeling you get while riding a serious coaster like Montu or Kumba? That is  level of mental loop-de-loops I was doing while reading this book. My brain noise focused into one word (well, form of expression anyways): Wheeeeee!!! As much fun as Leviathan was to read, Scott Westerfeld takes it to the next level in Behemoth. (Is anyone else biting their nails waiting for Goliath?) The plot is twistier, the emotions are higher and stakes, oh boy, the stakes just keep on rising.

In Behemoth, we get to see Deryn go through a broader internal struggle. In book one, we kind of toed the water with her character. We learned a little of her past and we saw how she has to hide her true gender from the rest of her crewmates. Her biggest problem was convincing people that she had to shave. And then she falls for the Hapsburg prince who thinks she’s a guy. Whoops. Her feelings for Alek bring about hurdles for her to jump both as a young woman and as a member of the British Air Service. Her desire to be as honest with Alek as he is with her is at odds with her certainty of how he will react if (when *cough cough*) he finds out her secret. At the same time, she struggles to decide how far she can go helping a friend before she betrays her country. From the first chapter, we see her having to confront these issues. Alek is a constant source of confusion, but it’s refreshing, because the confusion he induces is not merely romantic in nature. At every turn she is confronted with choosing which is more important: her friendship with Alek or her feelings/duty/mission/safety. Despite Deryn’s masculine dress and behavior, we get to see that deep down she is still just a fifteen-year-old girl trying to figure out how she fits in the world.

Alek gets to show growth as well. In the first book, his choices were limited. Most of his actions in Leviathan were dictated by someone else. The most he does is sneak off to try and help a downed Darwinist airship (and then get taken prisoner). He’s still a kid used to taking and following orders. But, he fights back in Behemoth. Takes the reins of his own life so to say. Getting specific would give too much away, but it’s nice to see some really solid growth in Alek…and not just the typical “Oh, the other side isn’t so bad” growth that is always seen in stories where protagonists from opposite beliefs/veiwpoints/social status are thrown together. While Westerfeld does grow both Alek and Deryn by softening their preconceived ideas about the other side, he also grows them in other areas, creating a very distinct story arc for both.

All around the board we get to know the characters in Behemoth much better. And as our understanding of Alek, Deryn, Klopp, Volger and Dr. Barlow grows, our knowledge of the world that they live in grows as well. Leviathan was all about, well, the Leviathan. We spent much of the time learning about the airship and the companion airbeast that keeps it afloat. We were up in the air and in Behemoth the reader is grounded (yes, I meant to do that). Westerfeld’s vivid descriptions are now focused on the city of Istanbul and the Clanker machines. It’s only fair, after all. The first book was about the Darwinists, obviously the second would be about the Clankers. I love how he takes history and then warps it a little, throws in some killer plot and description and  makes you want to dig deeper and find out what really happened. He  creates a desire to learn and I love that.

So often, I’ll find that my attention lags in the second book. The first volume will be all new and exciting and then comes volume two. I’ll be honest, reading volume two is not really what I want to do. What I really want to do is read the last book and find out how it all ends. Do they defeat the evil villain (Of course they do)? Does the guy/girl get the girl/guy (Usually)? Do all the characters make it to happily ever after (Sometimes)? Or does the author randomly ruin everything by turning the main man into a tree (No, I’m not still bitter about that book, not at all)? The second book is normally not gripping for me. Behemoth is one exception. Westerfeld does an amazing job of setting up for Goliath while creating a book that could stand on its own. I could totally just walk up to my bookshelf and just decide to read Behemoth at random. You wouldn’t see me doing that with New Moon or Catching Fire. With them I need the build-up of the first volume. But Westerfeld’s use of pacing and storytelling make Behemoth into a masterpiece all by itself.  And of course, it got me revved up for the release of the final volume next month.

This is a good example of:

  • Character distinct POVs
  • Character growth
  • Description
  • A riveting second volume

This book is on my recommended reading list.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Ages 12 and up

This is World War I as you have never seen it before. The powers of Europe are not just divided into the Allied and the Central powers, but into Clankers (Germany/Austria-Hungary) and Darwinists (Britain/Russia/France). The Darwinists use the work of (surprise, surprise) Charles Darwin, who has figured out how to manipulate the life threads of creatures to create new and useful fabrications. The Clankers have advanced mechanics creating war machines that rival the Darwinist creations. These opposing sides of science are simply waiting for the chance to prove who is superior. When Austrian Archduke and his wife are assassinated close to the Serbian border the thready peace between the two alliances is shattered. Outcast by his own people because of his mother’s common ancestry, their son, Aleksander is forced to flee from the same people who killed his parents. The young prince is put to the test when the Darwinist airbeast, Leviathan, crashes near his hiding place. Soon, he meets Midshipman Dylan Sharp, a young airman who is not quite the lad that he seems to be. In fact, she is not a lad at all. She is really Deryn, a lass with a love of flying that was instilled in her by her father. She also seems to have inherited a fair bit of talent. With her da gone and her mother forcing corsets and tea parties on her, Deryn disguised herself as a boy and joined the British Air Service. These two find themselves as unlikely allies, the one putting his faith in machines and the other with a love for the fabricated beasties of her country. If they want to survive the oncoming war, then Alek and Deryn are going to have to trust each other. But with all the secrets and prejudices between them, is that even possible?

I am in love with this book (I’m talking deep, abiding Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings, Cheney Duvall type book-love). This series has elevated Scott Westerfeld to my list of authors who can do no wrong (in my opinion, at least). I enjoyed Leviathan so thoroughly, that I still have that just-read-a-phenomenal-book glow a whole week later. I mean, it has illustrations for crying out loud! How awesome is that? Okay, obviously no book is perfect, but it had so many of the elements that I consider part of a good book. Secret identities, swashbuckling adventures, tutors with massive mustaches and just the barest hint of romance (with promise of more, eventually).

Westerfeld handles the switches in narration between Alek and Deryn beautifully. Sometimes the stories lead into each other and other times you’re left hanging while he moves to the other person (obviously, because they only spend the latter half of the book in each other’s company). Just thinking about all the planning that had to go into writing the two POVs this way gives me a headache. It’s mind-bending… And each voice is distinctive, even though it’s in third person. With Alek, the language used to narrate is a lot more sophisticated, which goes in line with his upper class upbringing. Deryn’s POV is littered with distinctively Scottish slang (even though many of the words seem to be specific to Westerfeld’s world), Air Service jargon and much looser in phrasing. Still smart, but not as…pretentious.

And speaking of slang! If you’ve read my review of either Specials or Extras, you’d know that one of my favorite things about Westerfeld’s writing is the colorful vocabulary that he invents. (Or is it discovers?) It is infectious and it is fun. Deryn’s slang has worked its way into my thought process and I find myself using some of her words in my everyday conversation. It’s kind of humorous to see the looks on people’s faces when I ask them to put away the “barking Honey Mustard sauce” or tell them that their brains are full of “clart”.

All of this is part of the world that Westerfeld creates for Leviathan. I loved how he took the WWI story and then escalated it with such a fantastical idea. It’s larger than life. I mean, the Darwinists were able to turn a barking whale into an airship! With an ecosystem! That’s totally awesome. The time before Deryn and Alek collide and all hell breaks loose, is used to solidify the difference between the mechanical Clanker mindset and the evolutionary Darwinist thinking. He’s also very good at showing the strengths and weaknesses of both. He doesn’t appear to have any bias toward one or the other. He makes the war as much about opposing beliefs as it is about politics.

I had buckets of fun reading this book. My reading list has been full of good books, but not all of them have been fun book. In Leviathan, the premise is fun (and a little crazy), the writing is fun and the characters are fun. Westerfeld has all of his strengths working for him in Leviathan, plus he has Keith Thompson’s distinctive illustrations to bring the world we’re reading about to life. It works wonderfully. This world is SO detail rich that being able to have the visual element is not only exciting, but helpful.

All in all, this is a book I would recommend to anyone, whether or not they are into the steampunk movement. I found it a very good introduction of the genre and it has me aching to delve deeper. But it goes beyond that. This is an excellent example of solid storytelling. Westerfeld builds an alternate universe without developing a case of world-builder syndrome. He creates memorable characters, both major and minor. And he knows exactly how to pace the action. It’s fast, but not so fast that you can’t absorb this alternate world in full detail..

I can’t wait until the final volume of this trilogy is released in September. Of course, I still have to finish my review of the next book Behemoth. That should distract me for one whole…day.

This is a good example of:

  • Character distinct POVs
  • Character building
  • World building
  • Rewriting history
  • First book in a series
  • Pacing

This book is on my recommended reading list.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

Ages 13 and up

Aya Fuse lives in a world dominated by reputation. Either you have face rank or you’re a nobody. An extra. It’s the way society functions after the mind-rain brought on by Tally and her friends. With a face rank around 400,000, Aya is as good as an extra, unlike her older brother who is pushing the top thousand. Inspired by him (or aggravated by him), she’s become a kicker–someone who breaks video stories to the whole world. All her previous stories have been small fish, barely making a dent in her face rank. But she’s found a group of daredevil stunt girls that might just rocket her face rank to the top. Only problem is that these girls actually want to remain anonymous and Aya is forced to become one of them if she wants to pursue her story. And then they discover something bigger than a group of girls doing dangerous tricks. They discover something that has the potential to destroy cities. And the story Aya kicks is one big enough to send her face rank to the double digits. Problem is, with all that attention she’s bound to attract the attention of the people that’s she’s just exposed and they aren’t beyond abducting one girl and her friends to protect their mission.

Remember back in May, when I finished Specials and I said that I wasn’t sure that I like this series because of the way that book ended? Yeah, it took about two weeks to decide if it would even be possible for me to like the book and all I wanted to do was see if Westerfeld fixed it. So there was more than a little trepidation when I picked up Extras. Fool me once and all that. But I am SO glad that I did. Because he did fix it! And he did more than I was expecting. I was hoping for just a little cameo, just Tally dropping in or being mentioned and maybe a little bit about her life three years after the mind rain. Not so, I got a whole half a book of Tally-action, making Extras quite possibly my favorite book in the series (It also is partly responsible for the recent Scott Westerfeld-a-thon in my reading life–that and the fact that I was able to get Leviathan for six bucks). It brought Speicals from possible book-burning material (So far, the only book I’ve ever burned is Wuthering Heights–now that was cathartic) to just one more book in a series that I absolutely adore. Yes, I’m gushing, I know. Now, let’s get down to business (to defeat the Huns…sorry, couldn’t help myself).

It was interesting to see Westerfeld’s society after the mind rain. You get the distinct feeling that it is a society still adjusting to the downfall of the bubblehead era. They are expanding and making new discoveries. Hurrying to make up for the time lost in the pretty-time. The face rank system is what Aya’s own city has come up with to cope with the sudden demands of a society that is no longer mindless and complacent. It’s just one of the clues that labels this city as a futuristic Tokyo (I’m assuming, Tokyo, it could be another prominent Japanese city). There are references to Tally and the pretty-time, echoes of how the world was in the previous three books. It is still an active part of everyone’s memory (her own brother was a pretty for a few months) and a definite influence on the decisions made by Aya and her friends.

Speaking of Aya. I really liked her. She could be little dense, yes, but there’s something about her need to be noticed that just resonates. Westerfeld sums it up beautifully in the first chapter: “It still pretty much sucked, being fifteen.” We’ve all been through it, that span in our teens that we felt uncomfortable and unbeautiful and unpopular (for me it was actually seventeenish, but whatever). And I’d forgotten how well Westerfeld is able to capture that. Aya resonates with the reader because she is SO very fifteen. And kicking stories isn’t something that she does just to gain attention. She does it because she’d good at it and because she enjoys it. And it makes her feel like more than just an awkward teenager. How many of us wouldn’t want to be famous for doing what we loved to do.

I love how the plot of this book becomes so much more than it seems at first. I thought that the whole story was going to be about whether or not she would betray her new friends and kick their story and it ended up not being about that at all. I was pleasantly surprised. There are more layers to this book than there are in a birthday cake. Just when you think you’ve got the whole thing figured out, Westerfeld surprises you with some delicious new ingredient that sweetens the plot. Kept me on my toes.

One of my favorite things about the series actually comes back to bite me in this book though. I’ve always loved Westerfeld’s way with words. How he comes up with new phrases, like “nervous-making” and “brain-missing” (my personal favorite from Extras). However, I feel that he overdoes it a little bit in this book. And perhaps that was just a part of the new society overcompensating…but I started to get tired of all the noun-verb-ing combinations. But thankfully, that didn’t last long once we got into the real action and it was a small distraction.

Like I said earlier, I believe that this is my favorite book in the entire series (that might change when I eventually reread the series, I’ll let you know). Partly because of the way that it wraps everything up. Partly because we get to see Tally picking up the pieces and making something amazing out of what she’s been given. Also, partly because I think this book, gets to be a little more light-hearted. All the evil, overbearing powers have been stopped. There’s no one forcing people to get brain surge (although, that doesn’t stop some people from getting brain surge anyways). We get to experience a society that’s a little different, a little familiar and sometimes more than just a little confused.  For anyone who enjoys YA fiction, and especially if you like the dystopian genre, this series is a must read. And don’t discount Extras just because you think things have moved on. This is a vital piece that finishes off the puzzle and helps turn a trilogy into a masterpiece.

This is a good example of:

  • Creating a society
  • Creating a distinctive vocabulary
  • Character building
  • Plot twist
  • Writing for YA
  • Merging theme and plot

This book is on my recommended reading list.

Heist Society #2: Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

Ages 12 and up

Kat is back. It’s been two months since she “robbed” the Henley and she is famous…among certain circles. She shouldn’t be surprised when she’s approached to steal back the world famous Cleopatra Emerald for its rightful owners. After all, who better to pull of the impossible theft of a cursed jewel that hasn’t been seen in public for thirty years than a team of teen-aged super thieves. They’ve done the impossible once already. It should be easy, right? Except just when Kat and her crew think they’ve pulled off the greatest heist since the Henley, everything blows up in her face. Now, if Kat wants to fix her mistake, she’ll have to convince her crew to pull off the impossible one more time.

If Heist Society was the intro to Kat and her world, Uncommon Criminals gets into the nitty gritty depths of the characters. This was a stunning follow-up to the first book and it also happened to be a blast to read. Ally Carter definitely delivers in this book. She’s not just continuing the story, but deepening our understanding of Kat and her friends. And she’s not afraid to get “real” with her characters either.

After reading Uncommon Criminals, I have to say that book one just scratched the surface of the characters. We get to see Kat slightly apprehensive in book one, but still determined and gung-ho. She doesn’t have the luxury of stopping to doubt herself for very long. In the second book, doubts abound. Of course, that’s typically what happens when you fall flat on your face (figuratively of course, not literally). We get to see her mess-up big time in this book–both on the professional and personal levels–and that’s nice. I like knowing that the characters I’m reading about aren’t perfect. After all, what better way to stretch a character than to make them face their own failure. Remember, perfect characters are boring characters.

Another highlight in this book for me was the growing relationship between Kat and Hale…or maybe I should say growing awkward relationship. They’re caught in that place where they’re more than friends, but they haven’t quite committed to crossing the line. (And yes, if you’re wondering, I did spend half the book yelling at them.) And we get to watch as Kat contemplates that cross and what it means. Aside from Kat, Hale does continue to be one of my favorite characters. My notes literally have a bullet point with just his name and an exclamation point. And I have no idea what I meant when Iwrote that…so I’m just gonna gcover my bases. Just like Kat struggles with her own issues, we get the impression (from what we can see through her eyes) that Hale is having to deal with his own. And surprise, surprise–they mainly involve her. Some of my favorite moments in this book are the moments between the two of them. In fact, my favorite part is centered around him and his perfect sense of timing. I cheered, just dropped the book and whooped and hollered (and that’s all I will say).

All of our favorite characters are back in this book, including more time with Uncle Eddie (sort of) and some quality time with Gabrielle. I find I like her a lot more in this book (she’s growing on me). She and Kat are less at odds. After all, there’s already enough conflict surrounding Kat with out escalating her rivalry with her cousin.

Just like with her Gallagher Girls series, this second book is nicely wrapped up at the end. Mostly. There’s enough loose ends to have something for a sequel, but were not left with anyone dangling off a cliff. All matters have been settled. I would have liked to have more revealed about what happened to her mom, but I’m assuming that that is going to develop into a greater plot point should the series continue (which it really should).

This is a good example of:

  • Character development
  • Shifts in POV
  • Character flaws
  • Character relationship
  • Plot twists (it’s a big one)

This book is on my recommended reading list.

Book Review: Wither

The Chemical Garden Trilogy #1: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Ages 16 and up

Rhine Ellery is used to living with a death-sentence hanging over her head. She’s sixteen, which means that she has four years before the virus that now claims every female at 20 and every male at 25 comes to claim her. She and her twin brother, Rowan, have spent most of their lives surviving day by day. Until the Gatherers find Rhine. Suddenly, she finds herself a teenage bride in a polygamous marriage. She’s heard of this happening, part of a desperate effort to keep the human race from dying out completely, but she always thought that she and her brother were careful enough to keep it from happening to her. Despite the fact that she finds herself in the lap of luxury and is quickly becoming her new husband’s favorite wife, all Rhine can think about is getting out of her gilded cage and back to her brother. So she can spend whatever years she has left in freedom. But her husband’s father is a man bent on finding a cure and saving his son and Rhine starts to feel that she has perhaps been chosen for a darker purpose than being his son’s wife. A purpose that she’s not sure she likes.

This book was on my list. I was going to read it eventually, because a very reliable source told me it was good. And then I got to have a brief conversation with the author over Twitter (emphasis on brief). So if you were hoping my next review would be on Uncommon Criminals, blame it on the mouse. (And the fact that Borders forgot to call me when my book finally came in. Good thing I’m proactive.) Anyways, it got a well-deserved bump up to the A.S.A.P. part of my list, so here it is.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been on a dystopian kick recently. I am far from being an expert, but I find that I love it. I knew Wither  was categorized in that section, so I came to the book with a few preconceived notions about what I could expect. And with the big stuff I was correct. But one of my favorite nuances was how proactive Rhine felt. What I have found to be the case much of the time (and this goes for genres, I just think it’s more with this one) is that you have Protagonist. Protagonist is surviving in a less than perfect society, following the rules and acting like a good little sheep. And then something happens. Protagonist’s best friend runs away, or their sister’s name gets drawn from the cup of death. Protagonist reacts and the story begins. But through out the whole story, survival is goal (it’s a very good goal, I will give you that). The main character will do what has to be done for them to survive, but they don’t act out of the box unless they have to. They don’t try to break the mold without outside influence (be it from friends of enemies).

Rhine isn’t like that. She wants to live. She wants to be free. From almost the moment she wakes up in Linden’s house, Rhine is figuring out how she can get out. Rhine has suddenly found herself in the lap of luxury, with a guy who adores her more every day. Her needs are more than met, she could just sit back and accept that she is going to spend the rest of her life here. She could be like her sister wife, Jenna, and think that this is a better a place than most to die. But surviving isn’t good enough for her. Rhine wants freedom. Another thing that I like about Rhine is that she isn’t overly cynical. She could be. She is witty and real in her observations, but not unpleasant to a fault (actions are sometimes a different story).

This book has some of the best examples of using significant detail in a story that I have ever seen. There are some books where you can guarantee that the author is going to describe every dress or every building. Books where facial features will be stressed or actions. But in Wither, DeStefano uses her details to enhance what is happening in that moment, which means that the details with significance change constantly. One moment, she’s describing the wedding attire of Rhine and her two sister wives, giving you a glimpse into each girl’s personality. Two pages later, you see Rhine focusing on just one wall of her new home, impressing on you just how big the Ashby house is. She even manages to uses something as mundane and everyday as make-up to lead into background for a minor character. It’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

And speaking of background. This is one book where I was as happy to be reading backstory as frontstory (is that the technical term?). You get dropped right in the middle of the action. You don’t have to go through Rhine’s typical day and then she gets kidnapped. She already is kidnapped. DeStefano uses innuendo and slight of hand to deftly make you as interested in Rhine’s past as you are in her present and future. You want to know about her brother and about how her parents died. The balance between backstory and current plot is such a hard balance to strike. Too much and the reader gets bored. Too little and the reader gets lost. DeStefano does a very good job of walking that line between the two.

Of course, it’s not a perfect book. There were a few times when Rhine or the plot would make a jump and I’d be dragged out of the story to say, “Wait, what? How did you come up with that?” I’m someone who is constantly jumping in and out of the story. When it gets too intense, I’ll out the book down for about thirty seconds. Or when I’m struck by an author’s brilliance.  Or when I’m just laughing to hard to hold the book still…or breathe. Rarely do I actually have to stop because something doesn’t make sense or because I actually have to back track to figure out what the blazes is happening.  I can think of only two times that this happened and I don’t even remember where they were (not that I would tell you if I did, that would be a spoiler and I don’t give those). And I’m still not sure that I wasn’t supposed to have to stop and think at those points.

With Wither, you are in the hands of someone who knows exactly what they are doing. And they won’t tell you! I’m sure that the clues are all there. I’m sure that when I get to the end of book three (however, many years down the road that is) I’ll be able to reread the series and go, “How did I not see that?” and everything will make perfect sense. But right now, my powers of prediction are sadly baffled. And that is frustrating! (If the author is reading this, I bet she’s doing a little victory dance or at least grinning evilly.) One of my favorite parts about reading a book is to take the pieces and see where the plot is going and figure out what is going to happen before it happens.  It’s an uncanny skill that I have. And it is being pushed to the max right now. Normally, I find it painfully easy. Not this time. My brain is still turning possibilities and lines of story development and the interaction between characters and coming up with likely directions the story will take. But I can’t settle on any one thing that I know is going to happen (okay, actually there are a couple of things that I think I might know are going to happen, we’ll see). This is not a familiar feeling for me. It’s weird and foreign and…actually, kind of fun. It won’t stop me from trying of course, but I like that I wasn’t able to figure all the big stuff out in one reading. No, I don’t like it…I love it. And it’s part of why I can’t wait for Fever to come out in February (*cries* It’s SO far). Because the more pieces of the puzzle I can get, closer to seeing the whole picture I will be.

This is a book that I would recommend to people all across the board. It’s up there with The Hunger Games, I think that all my friend’s that enjoy a good book will enjoy this. Whether you are into the dystopian scene or not. Make this your introduction. At the same time, anyone who wants to write, especially if you want to write YA, this book should be on your list. I had as much fun reading how it was written as I did reading what was written. It’s one of those books you walk away from and say, “Wow…Let’s do that again!” (Kind of like you do with a good roller coaster). Parents, if you’re looking for a good, thought-provoking book for your teens to read, have at it. I would keep this one away from the younger teens. Rhine knows first hand the reality of her situation, she sees glimpses of it, and she’s honest. She doesn’t shy away from the realities of her world. Some of what she sees, or knows is happening just might be bit much for kids that are younger than fifteen or sixteen. I didn’t even come close to needing to self-censor the book while I read. It is very clean (I can’t vouch for the second and third books as they haven’t been written yet), but it is also very deep and kind of dark.

This is a good example of:

  • Significant detail
  • Character reveal
  • Backstory integration
  • A good love triangle
  • First person narrative
This book is one my recommended reading list.

Artemis Fowl #7: The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

Ages 12 and up

Artemis Fowl has just turned fifteen and he’s ready to do something that he has never done before: Save the world–willingly. It should be simple shouldn’t it? With the best of both human and fairy technology at his disposal, Artemis has discovered a workable way to slow down global warming. But unfortunately, it seems that any time that Artemis and Captain Holly Short occupy the same space trouble is bound to follow. Artemis and his friends find themselves under attack from an enemy that Holly had forgotten she had. And if that isn’t enough, Artemis seems to be suffering from Atlantis Complex, a rare fairy psychosis that couldn’t have picked a worse time to develop. As Artemis, Holly, and friends try to get to the bottom of both the attack on themselves and the subsequent attack on Atlantis (because, ofcourse, they are related) they must also contend with Artemis’ growing paranoia and a split personality that brings to light things that Holly would rather stay hidden. Will Artemis’ distrust of even his friends keep them from saving the fairy folk yet again, or can Artemis overcome his new nemesis–his mind.

The Artemis Fowl books are books that definitely deserve a permanent home on my bookshelf. And once they’ve settled on one cover design, they will have one. I discovered this series through a friend, who gave the first book to my brother. Now at that time, by baby bro was not the biggest reader. And he loved it. So of course, I had to read it. I’ve been in love with the series ever since.

One of the best things about the Artemis Fowl series is that is so much fun from beginning to end. This newest book isn’t any exception. Right off the bat you have not only a mystery (What is with Artemis’ sudden obsession with the number five?), but the usual banter. There’s really no build-up, no easing into the problems of the plot. The strange state of Artemis’ mind is disturbing in a character you love. And just when as you start to figure out what the heck is going on, BAM! The usual mayhem occurs. And maybe a few deaths. This could be really heavy, gruesome stuff, but Colfer still uses dialogue and description in such a way that even with things are exploding, you’re laughing your socks off. I mean, he has Butler pretend to be a luchador–complete with a crazy costume. The characters in The Atlantis Complex are just as much fun and witty as they have been in the last six books.

It’s nice to get to see Artemis vulnerable to what he has considered his greatest asset in the previous six books. He feels more like a normal teenager with each book (not that he ever will truly be normal) and I think this is the first time he’s ever actually wished he was. It is interesting to see how much everyone has come to rely on having Artemis to help think them out of a situation. Artemis’ crazy is well-written. It’s a smart kind of crazy. He’s not bouncing off the walls and shouting incoherent sentences, he’s simply paranoid and more than a little obsessive-compulsive. Which doesn’t work out so well when you’re leaps and bounds beyond your friends intelligence-wise.

This book feels a little more confined than those that came before. And I guess, since a majority of it is spent in a tiny submersible sub, that is expected. Still, it works. I walked away from this book feeling like I knew the main characters much better than I did before, so I didn’t mind that the cast of characters wasn’t as expansive as it has been in previous books, but I did notice. A lot of it was setting up for the next  book, I felt (which is kind of obvious after the ending). I will warn you that the ending of TAF is what could be considered a mild cliffhanger. And if the rumor that this is the penultimate Arty book is true, then I suppose to be expected.

This book was everything that I could have asked for it to be…even if we had to listen to Orion call Foaly a “noble beast” so many times it was nauseating. The more I got into the book, the more I realized that I had missed Artemis and Holly and Butler and Juliet and Foaly and yes, even Mulch. It was wonderful to be able to interact with the characters that I have grown up with. And I will be eagerly awaiting any news of the next volume in the series.

This is a good example of:

  • Description
  • Dialogue
  • Character building
  • Adventure novel
This book is on my recommended reading list.

Heist Society

Heist Society #1: Heist Society by Ally Carter

Ages 12 and up

What Kat Bishop wants is a normal life. A life where visits to the Louvre don’t involve casing it. Where trips to Austria don’t involve stealing the crown jewels. And she almost manages to get it. Then her best friend gets her kicked out of her prestigious boarding school, because a very dangerous man is missing five priceless paintings. And her father is the suspect. Thing is, Kat is pretty sure that her father didn’t steal the paintings. Not that anyone believes her. With a deadline of two weeks, Kat sets out with her best friend Hale and her cousin Gabrielle to figure out just who stole those paintings…and steal them back.

Despite my deep and abiding love for Ally Carter’s writing, I refused to read this book for a while. On principle. Because the book I really wanted to read was the next book in her Gallagher Girls series. Of course, in the end, that only hurt me and with the next Heist book in the series coming out in nine days and a four dollar price tag at Borders (yeah, I totally took advantage of the four stores that had to close in my area) I decided that is was time to stop acting like a spoiled kid and just read the darn book already. Because I knew I would love it. Which I did, because Heist Society might possibly be better than all the Gallagher Girls books put together (and they are basically four books full of awesome).

Kat is a complicated character. She is a good thief. Good as in, wicked skilled. Everyone she loves is a master thief and this is something that she’s been trained for since the age of three. But it’s not the life she wants. Not since her mom died. She is painfully aware of how much her skills have suffered during her brief hiatus. It’s rather interesting to see her mourn over the loss of skills that she no longer wants to use. Of course, with  her father’s life on the line, she doesn’t let rusty skills stop her. She enjoys the rush of the game, while being painfully aware of just how much one wrong move will cost.

And then there’s Hale.

The only thing that rivals Carter’s masterful female protagonists are her male protagonists. In GG, we had Josh. And then Zach (who I’m in love with, by the way). In Heist we get W.W. Hale. Carter does really well with the tough guy who is really a softee with a little bit of damage. Hale is everything that he needs to be. He’s protective, without being overbearing or getting in the way. Really good with witty dialogue. Just a little bit mysterious (Hale is his last name, he refuses to tell Kat his first) and really, really hot. Yes, it is possible for a character in a book to be hot. Hale is the honorary inductee into the Bishop family. He doesn’t have any ties to “the life”. He just caught Kat breaking into his home one night and took advantage of the opportunity knowing a teenage super thief to find a different life from the one his parents planned for him…and to become said teenage super thief’s not-boyfriend. Just like Kat, Hale has so many more levels than you see at first glance. But where we get a good look into Kat’s thought process, we only get a peek at Hale’s inner self. We just kind have to make an educated guess. I’m hoping we get to see more of Hale’s vulnerable side in the next book (which comes out in nine days, did I mention that?).

Carter has always been really good with her characterization. She has just enough characters in the story to keep things interesting, but she doesn’t over load you. She takes her time, making each of the characters that you spend time with separate and distinct and fleshed out. I can’t wait to see more of Kat and Hale’s teenage crew of thieves in Uncommon Criminals. Especially her cousin, Gabrielle. The tension between Kat and Gabrielle (partly centered around Hale) is very telling of both of their characters. They like each other more than they’ll admit, but sometimes they feel like two cats about to launch into a clawing, yowling, spitting fight.

I’ve read a lot of books. And many authors that I’ve read don’t really change from book to book. If you’ve read one Redwall book, you have the basics of every other Redwall book. How the author treats point of view, the kinds of story they tell, the kinds of characters they like to focus on don’t usually change. Not so here. While Gallagher Girls was a first person narrative with a protagonist decidedly on the right side of the law, Heist Society is in third-person and about characters who are more likely to cause a headache for the law. Granted, there is still a lot of Carter’s style in the book. It’s still about teenagers that spend a good deal of time having to look over their shoulders. And her humor is just as skillful, but the characters are a little more mature than in previous books. The scene on page 283 had me in stitches for a good five minutes. And then, of course, that was so much fun that I have to reread the scene.

The point of view in Heist Society is unique. It’s limited omniscient, I believe. For the most part we’re reading from Kat’s POV, but every now and then the lens zooms out and we get to glimpse a moment or an impression. Almost like we’re voyeurs, stealing  in to watch the story unfold. It gives the book a movie-like quality.

The premise of the story, a master thief being forced to steal against her will isn’t anything new. But the way Carter treats it is refreshing. the struggle between Kat and her family to accept her leaving is real and touching. And the solution that she comes up with at the end of the book is both surprising and expected. One of those, should-have-seen-it-coming kind of things.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was the reading of an afternoon and an enjoyable use of my time. I can’t wait to get my hands on book two next week.

This is a good example of:

  • Author versatility
  • Limited POV
  • Character crafting
  • Handling a moderate cast of characters
  • Humor

This book is on my recommended reading list.

Throne of Fire

Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

Ages 12 and up

In the series’ first book, The Red Pyramid, we meet Carter and Sadie Kane. Long separated siblings brought together on Christmas Eve by their dad. They are quickly sucked into a world that they never knew existed, the world of ancient Egyptian gods. Through the first book, Sadie and Carter learn to work together as they try to save their father from a face worse than death–only to discover that things are even worse than they originally expected. Apophis, the lord of Chaos, is rising and he is bent on world destruction. Three months later, we start The Throne of Fire. Sadie and Carter have started training other young magicians at Brooklyn house (they stay away from Manhattan, it apparently has other immortal problems *cough Olympians cough cough*). We find them right in the middle of a museum heist as they try to locate the three pieces of the book of Ra. They only have five days to find all the pieces and perform the ritual to awaken the senile sun god, Ra. Otherwise, Apophis will break free from his prison and the world will have no defense strong enough to put him back in his place and keep Ma’at in balance. With a cast of new characters as well as the beloved old ones, they set off to save the world from Chaos.

I remember when I first heard about The Red Pyramid. I had just finished the Percy Jackson series and adored it. So my first reaction was “He’s doing the same thing with Eyptian mythology? AWEsome!” I would have been perfectly happy with an Eygptian version of Percy Jackson. Every word would have eagerly devoured and just as thoroughly enjoyed. But for Riordan, that wasn’t enough. He didn’t rely on the same old concept with the Kane Chronicles, he came up with a slightly different one on that fit the mythology of Egypt so much better. And I love it. Throne of Fire delves even deeper into the Egyptian myths. We are introduced to new gods (Well, new for us. They’re actually very, very old). Each one is just as colorful and unique as the ones in the first book. Even the minor characters, the ones you only see for a page or two, are memorable.

One my favorite things about Rick Riordan’s books is how well he does first person narrative. With two narrators! The Kane Chronicles are told from both Carter and Sadie’s views. They take turns narrating the story (sometimes peacefully, sometimes not so much) into a tape recorder just as it was narrated in the first book. Sadie and Carter both have distinctive voices, so that even without having the current narrator’s name at the top of each page, I knew who was talking (Sadie’s British upbringing helps with that). And we get these funny little asides as they fight over the microphone/details of the story.

Riordan is really great about hooking you and drawing you into a greater plot. First in the sense of the plot over a series, he has this trick of creating a “minor’ bad guy to focus on in the first book before dangling a greater, world-ending threat at the very end so that you’re dying for next book. It works beautifully, he creates a sense of anticipation with making me want to tear my hair out from the suspense. Secondly, he jumps you right into the action. There is always a brief segment at the beginning where the main character (0r one of them) sets the stage and then BAM! They hit you with a hook that is pure brilliance (I believe the one in TOF had something to do with setting Brooklyn on fire).

I almost wish that I had something bad to say or something to be critical about, then this would seem a lot less like overeager brown-nosing. But my only problem with this book is that it ended and now I have to wait until next May for the third and final volume (Though Son of Neptune will help with that).

His sense of odd ball humor (think magic penguins, weasel cookies, and flying wombats) is fun and refreshing and just different enough from the humor he displays in Percy Jackson and the Olympians to make it distinct. It’s what makes his books so darn lovable. There are moments you can’t breathe for laughing. This is not a book you can read quietly. The chapter titles alone had me in stitches. Revenge of Bullwinkle the Moose God anyone? (Actually he’s a ram, but Sadie doesn’t seem to care.) Part of this humorous approach is what makes the minor characters so memorable. I only saw a few pages with nine-year-old Felix, but I remember him because he has a penchant for solving his problems with penguins.

Of course, it isn’t all giggles and laughs. After all, we are facing the end of the world as we know it. We have to watch as lives are given to save the world, because what Egyptian apocalypse would be complete without self-sacrifice? And Sadie and Carter are not always on the best of terms. They are two stubborn, decisive children who have to work through their differences to work together–and sometimes their fights have consequences. But they are still a team and they do still love each other. It helps to lend a sense of realism to a story that is completely fantastical, transforming it into something believable.

All in all, this book was a blast to read. I wish I could say that I couldn’t put it down, however, life did call and I had to put it down. Never willingly though. I have a feeling that just as with the Percy Jackson books, this is a book that I will return to time and time again. And force on my children someday, when I have some.

This is a good example of:

  • Distinct first person narrative
  • Switching between viewpoints
  • Fitting pieces into a larger plot
  • Character development
  • Good minor characters
  • Brilliant humor
This book is on my recommended reading list.
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