Raven Boys sequel dark, brooding thrill ride

The Dream Thieves (Book 2, The Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater; Scholastic Press, New York, 2013.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.   Expected publication date is September 17, 2013.

Continuing the quest for Glendower proves darker, more brooding and definitely more dangerous in book 2 of The Raven Cycle.  Ronan’s back story is featured in this installment, just as we learned more about Adam in book one.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more dangerous for Blue and her Raven Boys, more characters with very sinister designs are introduced.  Once again, the book concludes with a moment’s breather for the seekers but we all know it’s a temporary respite.

I am so glad that Blue’s family plays more interesting roles in this story.  I am also thrilled that the character development of the Raven Boys continues.  Blue seems more of a wallflower in this installment, but as the foil, more characters developed around her.  Richly developed characters are but one reason I love the first two books in the cycle.

The Dream Thieves is more sinister than book one.  Characters from the real world as well as the dream realm are heart-thumping scary.  And that’s a good thing.  While book one enchanted me, book two has drawn me further into the world of ley lines, psychics and meddling teenagers.

Without a doubt, Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle is one of my top series.  Since The Dream Thieves was so well-woven, I’ve no doubt the final two books in the series will continue to dazzle.  I half expect to see phantoms from the corner of my eye for the rest of my life!

The down side of reading pre-publication copies of books is that I have that much longer to wait for the next installment to hit my Kindle!
5P     5Q     Grade Level: 8+
The Dream ThievesCover art: Well, at first the cover perplexed me.  I didn’t like it.  But after reading about Ronan and his “gift,” I get it.  Will teens pick it up based on the cover?  Perhaps.  More likely they’ll select it because they’re anxious to learn more about The Raven Boys.

From Reading List: ARC (Advance Reading Copy), The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)


The Disenchantments strike a common chord

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour; published by Dutton Books, New York, 2012; 320 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.   Expected publication date is February 16, 2012.  Part of this review originally posted on LibraryThing.com and follows.  

How do you transition from high school to life-after?  For these four friends, they hit the road with the all-girl band, The Disenchantments, on their way to drop one off at college.  Colby, the only guy on the road trip and our narrator, has borrowed his uncle’s vintage VW Van (named Melinda) and will be the girls’ roadie.  His best friend since, like, forever, is Bev, lead singer of the band.  Sisters Meg and Alexa round out the power trio and it is Meg who will be staying in Portland to attend college.  Alexa will return to San Francisco to finish her senior year of high school.  Colby and Bev will be heading to Europe to backpack for a year, realizing their four-year-old dream of seeing amazing island chains, art, and Colby’s mom.  But, life has a way of mixing things up and the four teenagers discover this in the cramped interior of Melinda and in cheap motel rooms.  Disappointments, secrets and the unexpected threaten all of their plans.  Can their friendship, and even romance, survive?  I was smitten by all of the characters and grew to care about each of them, even the quirky tattoo artist, Jasper.  As realistic fiction goes, this is an easy read full of heart, heartbreak and the chance to follow where the heart leads.  As coming of age fiction, it hits all the points of self-discovery, growth (and outgrowing), and saying goodbye.

I’d like to add that I was very happy to read about Alexa and Meg’s “two dads” in a very matter-of-fact way.  Also, the marriage troubles that plagued other adults were handled in a way that reflected real life.  It was refreshing to read about problems that were subtext to the main plot.  Every teen or young adult will relate to at least one of the characters.  Everyone struggles with family, friends, and future issues just like the protagonists in The Disenchantments.  One line in the book summed up the whole “coming of age” struggle faced by high school (and even college) seniors: “In just a little while we will forget all the things we used to want and adjust to the lives that we’re given.” (page 146 in the ARC edition)

4P     3.5 Q     Grade Level: 10-12+

Cover art: I guess this is supposed to be Bev, wearing Colby’s sunglasses.  I assume it’s meant to attract its target audience with the real person look.  However, after reading so much about Colby’s logo for The Disenchantments, I believe a black cover with the silver logo would be far more interesting than this one.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)


Winter Town by Stephen Emond; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011; 336 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected publication date is December 5, 2011.

Evan and Lucy have been best friends since childhood.  The past few years have meant that they only see each other over winter break because Lucy’s parents have divorced.  Now they’re on the brink of graduating high school.  Maybe they’re the proof that opposites attract; everything about them, from family to future plans, diverge.  Evan’s bound for an Ivy League school while Lucy has become “New Lucy” who scowls and cuts school.  Evan misses “Old Lucy” but will he be able to find her under the choppy black hair and nose stud?  Lucy wants Evan to pursue his artistic side rather than follow the path his father has cut for him.  After this final high school Christmas break, they may not see each other again.  In their own ways, they work hard to make the most of the time they have.

Emond has created a dual-diary style story using comic strips, sketches and narration from both main characters.  It works so well because we first feel Evan’s frustration then ache with Lucy’s losses.  This realistic, coming-of-age story will find it’s audience relating to one or both of the characters as they find themselves on the brink of making decisions that will affect their adult lives.

The use of comic strips adds a unique insight into the characters.  When Evan and Lucy alternate drawing panels in their comic strip game, we get glimpses into Lucy’s internal struggles as Evan narrates.  Through the Aelysthia comic strip, we see Evan’s struggles and vision (or lack of one) of the future.  Even the chapter titles, often quoting Beatles lyrics (Evan’s favorite band) let’s us in on what’s to come.  Everything in the books is well thought out and works together to tell the whole story of Evan and Lucy.

By the way, Emond includes a bonus section at the back of the book.  Sketches of the characters as he tried different looks for them is included, as is his thoughts on the creative processes for writing and art.  It was an interesting look at the author, the characters and how the story developed.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 9-12

Cover Art: The ARC I received has a great, artistic cover featuring a dark blue wintery sky with snow falling; the snow lands in drifts of paper-punch rounds as a white silhouette plows through the storm, head down and a little battle-worn.  I read this book in a variety of locations, including a waiting room and high school student center.  Well, I shouldn’t say “read” because I was interrupted so often I finally put it away to read in private.  Almost every teen that passed (and some young adults) asked me what the book was.  Catchy cover, to be sure.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)


Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, art by Maira Kalman; published by Little, Brown and Co., New York, 2011; 354 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected publication date is December 27, 2011.

Dear Ed Slaterton,

We are breaking up.  In this box are all the stupid mementos I saved during our time together.  They all represent how happy, silly, and heartbreaking our time was.  They all tell how I found myself, lost you, and rediscovered my best friend.  They all tell you the reasons why we broke up.

Love Min Green.

Daniel Handler has crafted a soaring and sweet, crashing and burning then resurrecting story in the form of a long, rambling letter from the heartbroken to the heartbreaker.  Using the letter format is genius in this case.  The intimacy of reading a break-up letter, especially from the perspective of the heart-broken, makes the emotion palpable and most people will relate.  Add Maira Kalman’s illustrations of the items in the box, and it’s like sitting with a friend at the end of a doomed relationship (one you predicted would end horribly).

The ARC I received included color postcards featuring illustrations expected in the finished book.  Also included was a postcard to add a break up story to the Why We Broke Up Project.  Adding a story is much easier now that the dedicated website is up and running.  Anyone can add a personal story or eavesdrop on the stories of others, including celebrities like Neil Gaiman, Sara Zarr and Brian Selznick.   Check it out here: http://whywebrokeupproject.tumblr.com/.

The ARC was printed on glossy, heavy stock.  I loved the feel of the pages and hope the final product is similar.  The art, paper and font all work together, creating the illusion of reading a real letter.  The blood red cover, hand written title and author/illustrator attributions also feed the illusion.  Again, I hope it will be the final cover as it not only hints at the contents but also will be attractive to teens.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 10-12

Cover Art: As stated above, the color and font choices make this ARC cover ideal for the book and for reaching teens.  Let’s hope it’s the final art for the book.

From Reading List: Survival in Love War or Sports

The Shattering makes magic seem natural

The Shattering by Karen Healey; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011; 314 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  The book was published in September, 2011.

Three stories intertwine in Karen Healey’s novel set in New Zealand.  Keri is a Maori; she’s athletic, driven, and has a plan for every possible disaster that could happen in her life.  Janna’s a blonde bombshell; she’s the bass player in a band that’s going places, and that’s just want Janna wants, to get out of Summerton after graduation.  Sione (“See-OH-ney”) is the poor little rich boy; he’s a shy Pacific Islander that feels like he’s on the outside of everything around him.  The only thing the three have in common is the apparent suicides of their older brothers.  In fact, there is a suicide every New Year’s Eve in the tourist town of Summerton.  Together, they will unravel a frightening magical twist that affects their idyllic town and the lives of locals and tourists alike.

I could almost believe that magic is real, that it happens around us and we’re unaware of it, by the way Healey has incorporated it into the fabric of this story.  The Shattering read like a good old fashioned “who-dunnit” but with a supernatural twist.  There are cold-blooded killers on the loose who wreak havoc in the name of doing what’s right.  I like that the horror was balanced with realistic characters.  Her storytelling has made fantasy read like contemporary fiction.

I also liked that one of the main characters just happened to be a lesbian.  No big deal was made about that fact.  It was just a part of the character development as the ethnic backgrounds of the characters.

Admittedly, there were highs and lows in the book; sometimes I wanted to scream at the pages to reveal the story faster and at other times I had shivers at the horror involved.  Another issue was the point of view shifts.  Keri’s chapters were always in first person narration but Janna and Sione were always third person.  If readers are privy to Keri’s thoughts, why not the other two?  And if we knew what she’s thinking, she couldn’t know what the internal dialog was for the others, so why the shift?

You can find out more, including the author’s ideas for what happens to the characters after the story ends (SPOILER ALERT!), at the author’s site website: http://www.karenhealey.com/books/the-shattering/.

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 8-12

Cover Art: The ARC I was sent had a grayscale image of a face and the sea shattered like broken glass, with an orange, grey and white banner across it declaring the title.  I think it was very appealing to the target audience.  According to the author’s website, there are two covers since its publication (one is shown below).  I still prefer the orange to the purple; I think the orange appeals to both sexes while the purple makes this seem like chick lit.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Lesser known gods set Wildefire ablaze

Wildefire by Karsten Knight; published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2011; 400 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  The book was published in July, 2011.

Ashline Wilde, and her sister Eve, are Polynesian sisters who were adopted by a Jewish couple.  As if that combination weren’t enough to attract all the taunts and bullies of high school, Eve has run away.  Her return ends in the cruel death of Ash’s rival; a death not only cruel but suspicious.  It seems that Eve can control the weather and sent a lightning bolt to fry the poor girl.  Fast-forward a few months, and Ash has transferred to a remote school on the California coast, across the country from her New York home and family.  If Eve’s abilities were strange, things are about to rocket off the strange-o-meter for Ash.  Apparently, a girl with an oracle’s gift has called disparate teens from all over the world to the school to fulfill a quest given her by the mysterious Jack.  Worlds, gods and teens collide and it’s not going to end well.

I adore that the characters represent gods of different cultures.  Obviously, children and teens are interested in the Greek gods (hello, Percy Jackson, and thank you for coming to the party).  But there is a rich mythical history around the world that we are not often introduced to.  Knight introduces us to Polynesian, Norse and Haitian myths, just to name a few.  Teens who are familiar with the Trickster stories from picture books of their childhood will understand that Ash’s quest is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Aside from the mythology, the sibling rivalry and typical teen struggles add interesting subplots.  However, I had a hard time overlooking an issue with the dialog.  The female characters, particularly Ash and Jackie, don’t ring true to me.  I felt like I was listening to guys trying to win a bet by talking the way they think tough girls talk.  Once I got drawn into the story, I could overlook it.  And, oh, the heart palpitations start midway through the book without many chances to catch a breath as identities, abilities and conflicts start piling up without letting up.  Just when I thought I could relax, the shock of the end caught me completely off-guard.  Now I await the sequel, impatiently!

By the way, the book is divided into sections that reflect the timeline of the story, which is also reflected in the chapter titles.  I think this was a great way to help readers keep the passage of time straight as even flashbacks are noted as such.  Thanks for helping the story progress without being distracting! 🙂

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 8-12

Cover Art: The significance of the smoking calla lily is revealed in the book.  Without knowing the story, the black cover, the glowing flower with tendrils of smoke curling skyward, all appeal to fans of genre fiction.  The play on Ash’s name and ability are aptly referenced in the title and the font seems to reflect the genre as well.

From the Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Dazzled by Virtuosity

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez; published by Simon Pulse, New York, 2011; 290 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.

The prestigious Guarneri competition looms for Carmen Bianchi.  Her life is consumed by one thing: violin.  That drive has made her a nervous wreck and an anti-anxiety medication addict.  In an effort to scope out the competition and ease her anxiety, Carmen checks on Jeremy King (her only real competition) by waiting outside the concert hall then sneaking in to watch his performance.  Jeremy catches her and invites her backstage.  Their shared passion for violin and drive to win the Guarneri competition make them instant yet inconceivable friends.  Jeremy also reminds Carmen of what it’s like to feel the music, not just play it.  When friendship leaps into so much more, what will survive–drive to win, love of violin, or their relationship?  And can Carmen overcome her fears and addictions to recover the way music makes her feel?

Martinez transplants readers into Carmen’s world of classical music and competition seamlessly.  I’m not much of a musician but I easily related to Carmen and her world.  Virtuosity reads like music sounds: A flow of highs and lows, elation and sorrow.  The dual story lines kept me turning pages in a non-stop marathon read.  The romance is authentic, taking Carmen and Jeremy from distrust and chemistry to its culmination (won’t give that away).  But the inner turmoil Carmen struggles with, the anxiety and addiction, rang most true to me.  In her world as a music prodigy, the coming of age issues of all teens is magnified and scrutinized.  Her ultimate decision to be her own woman (throwing away the pills and exerting her independence from a domineering mother) is a step into adulthood that we all have to take.

Anyone who enjoyed Mia and Adam’s story in Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and Where She Went will enjoy Carmen and Jeremy’s contemporary tale of music prodigies.  I like the introduction of classical music Martinez and Forman have delivered.  Try creating a playlist of the music in Virtuosity and get a complete picture of Carmen’s world.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 9-12

Cover Art: The black, white and hot pink color scheme is a definite attention-getter.  The silhouette image of a girl also works to get teens to pick it up.  I like the stark white upper page and the sans serif text of the title.  Any guesses why the “o” in the title is hot pink?  I have my theory….

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real

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