Under the Never Sky

This is by far my favorite cover for this book. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Stars
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Series: Book #1 in the Under The Never Sky series.
Publisher: HarperCollins 1/3/2012
AuthorVeronica Rossi

Recommended Read?: Yes, it’s a very powerful love story.

Goodreads summary:

WORLDS KEPT THEM APART.

DESTINY BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER.

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she’s never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He’s searching for someone too. He’s also wild – a savage – but might be her best hope at staying alive.

If they can survive, they are each other’s best hope for finding answers:

FIRST IMPRESSION:
I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book — mostly about the “unforgettable romance” — so I knew I had to read it. It took me a while to finally get to it. When I first began to read it, I immediately liked that it was written in third person. I didn’t know how I felt about Aria yet and I was actually hoping it would pick up the pace a bit.

THE PLOT:
There is a larger plot to the story that keeps things moving forward, but it’s sort of like there are two. There’s Aria’s story — her need to get to Bliss, her mom, and back inside the Pods — and then there’s Perry’s — his need to find Talon, to become Blood Lord, to help his tribe. Personally, I thought Perry’s plot was far more compelling. There were so many interesting elements to the world Rossi built around the tribes and the Outsiders, I just loved learning about it. Plus, Perry’s stakes were significantly higher than Aria’s (not that that’s Aria’s fault or anything). He had his nephew’s well being in his hand, his tribe’s, and just so many lives to consider. Whereas Aria just had her and her mother’s life to worry about. That’s not her fault or anything, I just thought the parts with Perry were more interesting and the tension was higher.

Even though Aria’s plot line wasn’t as interesting as Perry’s, I really think that Rossi did a great job of world building for both worlds. By the end, I had a deeper understanding of their world, the Pods, the tribes, and all of it. I don’t think there were any significant plot twists. All the ones that were probably meant as surprises, I could see coming.

THE CHARACTERS:
I enjoyed all the characters. Aria was a true heroine. She was put in a very tough position, and despite that, she learned to rise above it. She was completely outside of her element, constantly getting hurt, but she toughed through it. She held her head high and she just kept going — because she knew she had no other choice. That’s a character I can really respect.

Perry was so deep and brilliant. I loved him. There were so many elements to him, and they just kept unraveling throughout the story. He was so broken, not just on the outside, but he just kept going. Even though he wanted to be Blood Lord, it didn’t seem like a selfish impulse. It was clear that his tribe needed him. Even though he seemed so confident on the outside, he still had a sweet and shy side that I adored.

Roar, Perry’s best friend, was a fabulous extra character. I just adored him. Talon, another side character, was precious as well. And Cinder … I liked him, too. He was a bit convenient, as were his powers, so I’m hoping in the second book there’s a bigger reason for having him.

THE ROMANCE:
This is why I read the book. I heard the romance was to die for. It was slow to unravel (like a lot of things in this book) but I liked that. I generally can’t stand insta-love, so the fact that it took a lot of time and experiences for Aria and him to grow close was perfect for me. In the end, I was eager for them to be together.

And Rossi gave us glimpses of that, which was nice, but the part that made the book great was all the times she gave us glimpses into the future — the future were they couldn’t be together. They seemed like true star crossed lovers, uncontrollably in love, but not meant to be. I love that in a romance.

The Writing:

I loved the way Rossi described things. She really has a gift for that. How she used Perry’s Senses to heighten situations. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to constantly have to describe emotions into scents. I loved the POV switches, it was really fitting for this story. There were a few things that gave Perry and Aria different voices, but overall you couldn’t tell from purely the writing sentence which character’s head we were in. Perry would use some words Aria wouldn’t (like skitty) but otherwise they were the same sentence structure and all that.

The world building was impressive. I never felt like she was dropping the information just for the reader to have it. It all worked into the plot.

The only problem I had in the story was pacing. There were a lot of lulls and parts that I felt were probably meant for some reason (illustrating Aria and Perry’s relationship, for example) that just slowed the story down. There was a lot of waiting for things to happen. Waiting to leave Delphi. Waiting to get here or there. Even though the pacing was off, the moments she used to fill those lulls were interesting enough that i didn’t really mind.

CONCLUSION:

I already have the second book. That pretty much says it all, right?

Emily’s Dress & Other Missing Things: Edgar Nominee & Generally Amazing

The beautiful cover of Emily’s Dress & Other Missing Things by Kathryn Burka

Stars
Genre: YA Mystery
Series: No, it’s a beautiful standalone.
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press October 2, 2012
Author: Kathryn Burak

Recommended Read?: Yes, yes, yes. It’s an Edgar Nominee, isn’t that enough reason to want to pick it up?

Goodreads summary:

When Claire’s best friend Richy went missing, he disappeared without a trace. But when Emily Dickinson’s dress goes missing from the Amherst museum, she knows exactly where it is: in her closet.

As Claire and her student teacher, Tate, attempt to figure out what do to about the dress, they begin to uncover the truth behind Richy’s disappearing act. Following a trail of clues across state lines, Claire and Tate attempt to find the person that Claire knows in her gut is responsible for his disappearance.

FIRST IMPRESSION:

I first heard about Emily’s Dress & Other Missing Things when I was reviewing the Edgar 2013 Nominees. The cover drew me in, so I checked out the synopsis on goodreads, when that turned out to be equally as interesting I went out and got it. From the first page I knew I was in the hands of an expert writer. The prose was just so beautiful, from start to finish.

THE PLOT:

If you hadn’t read a summary before you started reading this book, you probably wouldn’t be sure what the plot of the story is for a while (like not until after the first 3 chapters). This book is more character driven than plot, and it works out just fine. The writing is beautiful and Claire is a character almost everyone can relate with or at least sympathize with.

Once it is revealed that Claire has a missing friend — and that famous dress of Emily Dickenson’s goes missing — everything gets way more interesting. The best part about the plot, I think, is that Claire isn’t attempting to solve the crime. She doesn’t think she can do a better job than the cops, she doesn’t want to be a faux-Nancy Drew, all she wants is to find a way to move on: a way to put it behind her, so she isn’t stuck on it forever.

THE CHARACTERS:

I loved every character in this book — which is a true rarity for me. I adored Claire. She was clever, tragic yet strong, and relatable. Her life hadn’t been an easy one and yet she never stops in the book to moan over the hand fate gave her. I’m happy to be in her head the entire time. Plus, she’s fiery and aren’t all great female leads fiery?

Her best friend in the book doesn’t have much of a part, but I adored her. She was a burst of sunshine and the game her and Claire play (is he a dancer or is he human? based off of The Killer’s song Human) is so amusing. She brings needed humour to the book.

I really liked her father, too. He was very professor like (since that was his profession) but it’s clear he’s doing everything he can to hold it all together for his family. He’s a loving father, amusing, and I enjoyed every scene he was in. Even if he was a little dense to the needs of his daughter.

Then there’s Tate, the love interest. No shocker here but … I really adored him. He was a very well developed character and even though I didn’t always know why he did what he did, I yearned for him to be in the story all the time. I was cautious of him at first, since he was a student teacher. It’s true that most girls have a fantasy of hooking up with a teacher’s aid or professor at one point or another, I couldn’t help but think it’s a little early to do that in high school … even if would have jumped at the chance with my AP Government teacher in high school (he was such a handsom man). Still, I liked him a great deal.

Ricky — the missing BFF — was even a developed character. All Claire’s flashbacks to him  really brought him to life. He was cute, precious, and I really hoped Claire could magically find him.

THE ROMANCE:

It’s been a very long time since I was on the  edge of my seat over the romance in a book and yet that was exactly what happened with this book. It’s subtly weaved throughout the story, but I so badly wanted Claire and Tate together. I didn’t know how it could work out — or even if it would — but I wanted it to happen. It kept me turning the pages.

Their relationship was so strange and unique. It was real. There was clear chemistry between them that burst out of the pages. Best of all, it wasn’t insta-love and Claire kept her head. She tried her best to be sensible about the situation, to try to deny any feelings, to keep him away … I won’t tell you if it worked out or not. You need to read this book. Trust me.

CONCLUSION:

It’s so clear the moment I read this book why it’s an Edgar Nominee. I really hope it wins. The prose is beautiful, the plot interesting, the romance intense, and all the poems Burak throws into the story are thought provoking.

What’s Left of Me: Strangely Unique POV

I love this cover, it’s beautiful. WHAT’S LEFT OF ME by Kat Zhang

Stars
Genre: YA SCI-FI / Dystopian (sort of)
Series: HYBRID CHRONICLE #1 (Only one currently available)
Publisher: HaperTeen September 18, 2012
Author: Kat Zhang (Contributor to Publishing Crawl)

Recommended? Yes! The POV to this story was at first a draw back to me — a MC that can’t really do anything…? — but then it turned out to be so good, so different. It’s premise hasn’t really been done before (that I’m aware of) and even if you’re sick of dystopians, it’s not really focused on that aspect.

Goodread’s Summary:

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

FIRST IMPRESSION:

At first I though the permise was hard to swallow. An MC that doesn’t have control of her body and is just going to… what? Sit around and not do anything? Just tell us what Addie is doing and urge Addie with her thoughts to do something? Erm… I don’t see much appeal in that. At the same time, I hadn’t heard of a story like this one so I felt compelled to read it anyway.

THE PLOT:

It did take me a while to get into the story, but it was well worth it. The first hundred pages really just build up to what the story is about. It sets the world for us, gives us background on the strange soul sisters–Eva and Addie–and introduces the important other characters in the story. Granted, Eva doesn’t do much in these first hundred pages but… something about the way the story was told by someone who was in it yet not was strangely different from all the other stories out there. Plus, Zhang hints to the readers early on that Eva won’t just be sitting around doing nothing the entire time. It’s an important promise made to the reader that is kept. It was interesting to note when Zhang would use ‘I/my’ instead of ‘we/us/our’. To get into Eva’s head and see when she thought of herself as a separate being from her sister, Addie, or when she was thinking of them as the same.

When the action starts, I cared enough about all the characters that were involved that I just had to keep reading. The reason behind each decision made sense. The stakes were high for Eva, Addie, and their family. The tension that fills the rest of the book is so thick and real that it pained me every time something bad happened to Eva or Ryan/Devon or Lissa/Hally. There were twists and turns in the plot I didn’t see coming and by the end I was very satisfied. Sometimes starts to series leave the end of the book with some sort of cliffhanger (think ASHES by Bick) and they drive me crazy, but the end to this — while leaving some questions unanswered — also left me with hope. It also could stand alone novel. If this wasn’t a start to a series, I’d still be satisfied with the ending, which is important in my opinion.

THE CHARACTERS:

The characters in the story were developed well, which must have been difficult to do for Zhang since there were two characters in most of the bodies. There line between Lissa/Hally wasn’t exactly clear to me always, but I never could mistake Ryan for Devon or visa-versa, they were so uniquely different that it was simple to tell them apart.

I did, however, dislike Addie from the start. Perhaps it was because we were in Eva’s head and she unfairly couldn’t do anything and Addie got control of the body but… I just didn’t like her. I understood where she was coming from when she didn’t want to do this or that because of risks and such but… but I still didn’t like her much by the end of the book, either. I just wanted Eva to get control of the body so badly and banish Addie to the side line to watch for years like she had to. I know that’s a bit cruel and all, but that’s what I wanted. I really adored Eva, so I wanted Addie to just get out of the way. Plus, she got in the way of Eva/Ryan, and that bothered me.

THE ROMANCE:

There’s some romance in the book, but it’s not heavy by any means. Sometimes that how I like it, there but not there — sort of like in CREWEL. The relationship between Eva and Ryan developed naturally and it wasn’t one of those dumb instant-love relationships either. At least not on Eva’s part, I’m not a hundred percent sure why Ryan clung onto Eva so quickly (since, for most of their relationship, she couldn’t say or do anything around him) but I did understand Eva’s side of it. Ryan was the first one to want to help her. He was sweet, caring, and was there for her when she was trying to get her body back. By the end, I really wanted these two together. I still do.

I think there is potential for an Addie/Devon romance to brew in the future books, which might be interested. I think I’d be on board for that, too, since they are so similar.

I guess the thing about the romance in this book that’s so different than the others out there is the concept behind it. Two characters that long for each other, but really can’t ever be alone together or be together by the other half of them — the sister/brother souls that share their body — don’t want it to be. I mean, how often do you see that? It’s such an interesting twist.

CONCLUSION:

The writing was wonderful, everything flowed, everything made sense in the end and I really fell in love with the book. I can’t wait for the next one. 

Something Strange & Deadly: The Dead + Steampunk

The beautiful cover of SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY by Susan Dennard

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Genre: YA Steampunk
Series: SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY #1 (Only one currently available)
Publisher: HaperTeen July 24, 2012
Author: Susan Dennard (Contributor to Publishing Crawl)

Recommended? Yes, yes, yes! It’s so clever, unique, has zombies (AKA the Dead), great twists, and amazing characters.

Goodread‘s summary:

The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper.

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

Out of all the books I’ve read lately, this has to be my favorite. I loved it. Eleanor was a stellar heroine, she was strong, witty, and willing to do what needs to get done. Even though the story was set in the past (where girls were, of course, not equal with men), Eleanor didn’t let that stop her. Through the story she grew and broke out of the mold that her mother and society were trying to force her in.

The plot was brilliant. Dennard’s zombies, the Dead, are different than all the others I’ve read about. I loved the steampunk qualities added to the story, with the Spirit-Hunters, and the world that Dennard created. The pacing of the story was very good, there were a lot of high-tension moments followed by a nice (but important, plot filled) lull that allowed you to rest and not burn out.

There were small hints throughout the book how it would end, which I realized only while I stopped to think about it later, but… I was extremely surprised by some of the turns in the book. I didn’t see the end coming, yet when they happened I couldn’t help but think ‘Why hadn’t I seen that coming?!’ which just makes it ten times better. Surprises that throw me off because they weren’t already set-up in the story are just stupid, after all, but that didn’t happen here.

There were two love interests in the story, Clarence and Daniel, but even so there really wasn’t a love triangle. They were rivals–or at least didn’t act like it–which I liked. There were just choices that Eleanor had to make. Both boys were their own characters, different and layered, but I really loved Daniel. It’s always important for me to actually want the characters to end up together, and that happened in this story. I’ve read a few books where I just felt ‘meh’ about the romantic relations, but this book had my dying for Daniel and Eleanor to get together.

Just a quick warning: as soon as I started to read this book, I couldn’t stop. It took up my entire Saturday afternoon. Make sure you don’t have a full schedule or else you’re going to have some issues…

The worst thing about this book is that it’s part of a trilogy… and they aren’t all out yet! I cannot wait to read the next in the series. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after I was done — which is, really, a sign of a good story. There were so many layers, wonderful characters, and a brilliant leading-lady.

I really, really loved this book and you really, really, really need to read it. Trust me.

BAD HAIR DAY: The Geek’s Back

BAD HAIR DAY by Carrie Harris (I really love the cover, it’s so eye-catching!)

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Genre: YA Mystery
Series: Kate Grable #2 (sequel to BAD TASTE IN BOYS)
AuthorCarrie Harris

Recommended? Not really. It’s a quick read and funny, so if you’re into those things then…

I didn’t like this book as much as the first in the Kate Grable series (first one: BAD TASTE IN BOYS). It just didn’t have the same “must keep reading” pace the first one did. Worse yet, there weren’t really any zombies, so that’s a bummer. I do so love zombies.

This time it was werewolf-ish things, which I’m not fond of… werewolves are probably my least favorite mythological creatures. Kate was, again, doing dumb things. The first time around her reluctance to tell others about the drama she found made sense somehow, there were enough explanations, but this time… it was just silly. Why wouldn’t she tell people her mentor got arrested? Why did she have to do everything by herself when she had a cop on hand that would believe her instantly? Harris introduced us to this very nice, very helpful cop at the start.

And Aaron (Kate’s boyfriend/love interest)… I really was never sold on him. He’s too perfect. In the first book he wasn’t given much time, and they weren’t dating yet, so I didn’t mind. This time around, he was again pretty much spot-on perfect and their relationship was just… meh. I didn’t feel the passion and I didn’t really invest myself in the relationship. If it failed, I wouldn’t have cared. I like guys with flaws, there’s no such thing as a perfect person, even if it is just a book.

There was a girl in the book that “threatened” the relationship because she was all over Aaron and she was truly pointless. That was too much unneeded drama added, which didn’t do anything for the story. Plus in the end, her character made no sense. She did two complete 180s in the story in the span of, like, five pages. First she went, really, really, really crazy (beyond normal teen girl fighting-over-a-guy crazy), when there was no hint to her being that insane before–seriously, she tried to run Kate over with a car. That’s bat shit crazy and mega extreme. Then in a snap, she was all sane again and… interested in Kate’s little geek brother? What? HUH? Why? Her character made no sense and wasn’t needed.

Who the bad guy is was obvious from the start, and again his reason for being crazy made little sense. I just didn’t feel it. Yet again, Kate solves the problem by accident. I won’t say how, I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but seriously…? She lucked into the solution for the zombie problem (her medicine) and then lucked into her solution a second time? If she’s such a brainy girl, why can’t she just figure it out herself? I didn’t buy it. It was too convenient. It’s not like the story is very long, Harris could have added more–like, at least Kate figuring it out without pure chance–to make it more than just 200 pages.

Then there was another unneeded mild annoyance. I am by no means a Twilight fan. I couldn’t care less for that series (or the movies) but Harris really hits on it a lot. It was mentioned at least three times (snark about sparkling vampires, being team Edward, etc) and it just seemed unneeded. I remember it happening in the first book at least once. I’m unsure why Harris feels the need to throw it in there.

Looking over my review, I realize I didn’t point out anything postive. Harris is a good writer, she has a witty voice and obviously a clever person herself to come up with such medical centered plots. The pace was again very good (it was the concept and lack of character developments that ultimately hindered it) and she does pack in a lot of story in just over 200 pages, which is extremely impressive. I’m still a fan of hers, even if this book wasn’t as good as the first one. I enjoyed reading it and I don’t regret it, there were just things that were lacking.

If there is another book in this series, I’m not sure I’ll pick it up. If Harris writes a new, unrelated book I know I will read it. She’s a good writer, this book just wasn’t my type.

How to Write Irresistible Kidlit

kidlit_cover_small

Cover of Writing Irresistible Kidlit by literary agent Mary Kole (http://kidlit.com)

Stars:
Genre: Writing Tips
Author: Mary Kole (Literary Agency) (Personal Website) (Kidlit.com)
Recommended? Yes. If you want to write YA or MG, I really, really, really recommend it.

I’ve read a lot of How To Become An Awesome writer type of books. I’ve also attended conferences, webnairs, and followed a lot of writer blogs, and out of all of those great tools and resources, kidlit.com has always been a favorite of mine. It’s run by literary agent Mary Kole. At my regional SCBWI conference, I was lucky enough to attend a seminar hosted by her and meet her briefly. It wasn’t the first time I heard about her book (she’d mentioned it on her website) but it’s where I finally got to order one. I really loved it, even though I’ve read all the archives of kidlit.com, I felt I learned plenty of new things or insights. The book is broken down into the important things you need to know when writing for the YA or MG marketplace.

It starts with an overview of the Kidlit Market then moves to describing the MG and YA reader’s mindset. I’d like to think I’m well educated with both, but Kole gave insights I hadn’t thought about. She then talks about the importance of a Big Idea in stories, the foundation of storytelling, how to make a great YA or MG character, how to structure plots, and she talks about advanced skills (such how imagery, voice, theme, author authority and authenticity.

In case you haven’t considered the traditional publishing route, the last chapter breaks down everything you need to know about it. The role of literary agents, the query letter, submitting your work, and a few more bonus tips and tricks. Again, I’m well versed in those areas but Kole brought a new point of view and a very interesting one since she’s a literary agent herself.

Reading this book was fun. It forced me to think about my own writing and gives exercises to help you find problems with my plot or characters. Editors, YA and MG authors, and other literary agents give bonus tips and insights throughout the book as well. Kole reinforces everything she says by showing examples from popular YA and MG books. She gives plenty of time to both sections of the kidlits.

Bad Taste In Boys: Geek v. Zombies

bad taste in boys

Cover found at Library Thing

Stars:
Genre: YA Thriller
Author: Carrie Harris
Recommended? Yes. Zombies + Strong Heroine Geek + Fast Pace = Awesome.

BAD TASTE IN BOYS has been out for a while. For whatever reason, I never picked it up. I don’t know why, I always thought the cover was interesting. I guess it was the title that turned me off. Eventually I actually read the synopsis for it and realized it wasn’t a contemporary romance YA (which, I thought it was for some reason) but it was really about zombies! Awesome, right? I think I’ve mentioned before my weird little obsession with zombies. I just can’t get enough of them. This is the plot from Goodreads:

Someone’s been a very bad zombie.
Kate Grable is horrified to find out that the football coach has given the team steroids. Worse yet, the steriods are having an unexpected effect, turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless flesh-eating zombies. No one is safe–not her cute crush Aaron, not her dorky brother, Jonah . . . not even Kate! She’s got to find an antidote–before her entire high school ends up eating each other. So Kate, her best girlfriend, Rocky, and Aaron stage a frantic battle to save their town  . . . and stay hormonally human

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick the book up is how small it is. Including the acknowledgment, dedication, and other necessary pages, it’s around just 220 pages. The story itself is only 202 pages. That intrigued me right away, could an author really put together a compelling story with real characters in such a little word count? Harris apparently could.

Granted, Kate really is the only developed character. All her friends and Aaron (her love interest) are only in the story for short periods of time, since Kate does most of the action/heroing moments by herself. Jonah, her little brother, gets a good chunk of time and he is amusing. Personally, I don’t mind not getting to know the others that well. Kate is more than enough to carry the story. She’s engaging, so clever, funny, and a total geek — which I loved.

The pace in the book is pretty fast. The soon-to-be-zombie-problem is hinted at almost right away and comes into play by the second chapter. The roller coaster ride continues strong throughout the book and once it’s resolved the book doesn’t dillydally around, it gives a nice ending and stops.

There were some dumb moments. Kate keeps a closed mouth about a lot of the weird things that are going on when she could just tell someone (like her dad or the police) and maybe some of the drama could have been avoided but… where would the fun be in that? Harris gives good enough reasons for her not to go telling everything about the problems right away, and there are zombies so you have to pull away from reality a little to enjoy the book. Another thing that bothered me a sometimes was how stereotypical some of the teens were… like the dumb jocks and perfect homecoming queen friend. I know stereotypes tend to be true, hence why they are always around, but still, they’re bothersome. And Aaron doesn’t seem to have a flaw, aside from bad taste in a best friend. I really enjoy it when the love interest isn’t perfect but, like I said, though he was mentioned often he was really only in the book six or seven times. Kate, thankfully, isn’t the stereotypical geek and has a few flaws.

BAD HAIR DAY is out now and the second in the series. Like any strong series, the first book could totally stand alone. It closes with all the important things wrapped up, but it does give the reader a desire to see what happens to Kate next.If you like zombies, or you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable YA read, I’d recommend picking up a copy of BAD TASTE IN BOYS.