Three Anticipated Reads

Three Anticipated Reads

The Young Elites
The Young Elites

The first of my three highly anticipated reads is The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Unlike many of you (probably), this was my first of her novels. I haven’t read Legend or any of that series. I was really excited to read this one, though, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was good YA.

“Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a ‘malfetto,’ an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars–they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.
‘It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.'”

This is a good work of young adult fiction. It had great characters. Some were a little formulaic, but I enjoyed others immensely. Also, I feel like maybe Marie Lu has read the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. Sometimes it felt like she took some details straight from there. It’s a great adventure and pretty dramatic, with some really unforeseen twists and surprises. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars because it’s close to perfect, but not quite.

Slade House
Slade House

Slade House by David Mitchell was the perfect mix of suspenseful, creepy, and beautiful. I truly am amazed by his writing and I highly recommend his work to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I have several more of his older titles still to read and I’m glad I still have some of his stories left to read. I digress.

“‘Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door.’ 

Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents–an odd brother and sister–extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .

Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story as only David Mitchell could imagine it.”Indiebound

This novel was shorter and smaller than I expected, a very light hardcover easily held with one hand. I devoured this book in a day. I could barely put it down. I read it while I cooked, I read it while I ate, I read it outside with my coffee, I read it in the bathtub, and I ignored my family to read it. David Mitchell once again has created a story that completely absorbs its reader and leaves them scrambling for more. Beautiful prose, engaging story: 5/5 stars for darling Mr. Mitchell’s latest.

Bats of the Republic
Bats of the Republic

Bats of the Republic is an illuminated novel of adventure, featuring hand-drawn maps and natural history illustrations, subversive pamphlets and science-fictional diagrams, and even a nineteenth-century novel-within-a-novel an intrigue wrapped in innovative design.

In 1843, fragile naturalist Zadock Thomas must leave his beloved in Chicago to deliver a secret letter to an infamous general on the front lines of the war over Texas. The fate of the volatile republic, along with Zadock’s future, depends on his mission.When a cloud of bats leads him off the trail, he happens upon something impossible…

Three hundred years later, the world has collapsed and the remnants of humanity cling to a strange society of paranoia. Zeke Thomas has inherited a sealed envelope from his grandfather, an esteemed senator.When that letter goes missing, Zeke engages a fomenting rebellion that could free him if it doesn’t destroy his relationship, his family legacy, and the entire republic first.

As their stories overlap and history itself begins to unravel, a war in time erupts between a lost civilization, a forgotten future, and the chaos of the wild. Bats of the Republic is a masterful novel of adventure and science fiction, of elliptical history and dystopian struggle, and, at its riveting core, of love.”

I was very excited to read Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson, but I think perhaps it was written for people much smarter and more artistic than I am. Visually the novel is very beautiful and stimulating, with sketches, handwritten letters, maps, diagrams, and other media besides written words that really brought the story to life. I really liked to concept of this novel. However, something about it felt disjointed to me, and the reading was not as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. It built and built to what promised to be a brilliant ending, but to me the ending felt gimmicky and not as big as it was made out to be. I know plenty of people who loved this book, but sadly it was a somewhat disappointing read for me.

 

Sabriel

Sabriel

Sabriel_Book_Cover

I am not good at remembering things. Maybe I “live in the moment too much,” or am just oblivious. Maybe there’s a little something wrong with me. Whatever it is, I have very few memories, when I compare myself to those people who seem to remember everything from their past very vividly. One of the things I do remember, and love remembering, is the way I felt when I first read one of my favorite books.

I therefore remember with great fondness my first reading of Sabriel by Garth Nix. It’s one of the books that served to cement my love of reading. I first read it in eight grade.  My parents had just split up, and the library was a refuge that felt consistent and safe when everything in life was (I felt) crashing down around my ears. These were the formative years, when I began to really understand what growing up meant: life is hard. I was going to have to eventually make tough choices. I was going to have to decide on a direction. I was going to have to say yes or no to bigger things than pizza for dinner. The books I read and loved at this point in my life were very important, and each one was a stepping-stone on the path to the person I am today.

Enter Sabriel: spine crackling with the plastic protection of hardbound library books, smelling faintly of dust and age. Only maybe seven years old, but already showing the first faint red spots of foxing. It would be very difficult to describe the way I felt when I first read this book. Perhaps it was the shiver at the first mention of the darkness of Kerrigor, or the swelling feeling of my own adventure and heroism as I read of Sabriel’s courageous exploits. Perhaps it was the first feeling of being a grown-up, seeing the words “penis” and “sex” written blatantly on the page. From the first page to the last, I loved Sabriel, the girl and the book, and have always held her in the back of my mind.

On a recent excursion to Half Price, I found a relatively nice mass market copy of Sabriel hiding on a shelf in the very top corner (being tall has its benefits), with the original gold foil title and gorgeous painting of the original cover. Immediately, seeing her name on the spine and Kerrigor’s dark form lurking behind her blue-garbed figure, I felt the shiver of adventure-to-come, and knew I had to have it. Just a day later I learned that Nix was just about to release the 4th book in the series, and I knew it was time to re-read.

The reading was twice as good as an adult. I’d forgotten all the details and nuances that make it such a lovely book, in the decade plus since I’d read it last. Mogget, the sardonic white cat who is much more than he appears. The stoic yet handsome Touchstone, the faithful Paperwing, and the ever-present buzz of fear that lurks with the dead in the shadows. The magic of the Charter. The perversion of necromancy, and the benevolently protective power of the Abhorsen. If you’re looking for an adventure that will stand out both for the beauty of its prose and the creativity of its story, this novel is a great place to start. And if you do fall in love with the world of the Old Kingdom, there are three more books to enjoy when you finish Sabriel. Good news for lovers of magic and adventure.

13.3–If I Stay

13.3–If I Stay

If I Stay is a beautiful novel, but incredibly depressing.  I enjoyed it immensely, but it’s definitely something you have to prepare yourself for.  It is the story of Mia, who, caught between life and death, must choose if she wants to return to life and a world utterly changed, or drift softly and easily into death to escape the pain of the reality that awaits her in life.  As she makes her decision, she flashes back to the happier moments of her life–moments with her family, friends, and boyfriend.

Again, I am struck by the overwhelming sadness of a novel. Why do we like to read these things? At the end, the reader is left with a bit of hope, but the second novel sounds depressing as well.  Is it the feeling of Oh, thank God it isn’t me? Or do we identify a bit with the griefs and losses of the characters?  In any case, people write these novels, and we read them and enjoy them, as is the case with this one. I read it in one sitting. It’s a quick but heavy read, and left my heart a bit sore.  It also gave me a very strong desire to hug my family.

Mia is an interesting character, one I couldn’t figure out.  She is neither popular nor nerdy.  She is a cello enthusiast, though I’d stop short of saying prodigy.  Perhaps others view her that way, but she does not think that of herself, and since it is her narration that creates the story, we’ll stick with her version of things, making her neither less nor more than she is.  She is shocked when the cute punk musician boy, Adam, shows interest in her, despite the fact that he is not popular either.  She has a fantastic relationship with her family, which is unusual for novels these days.  She seems like a loner, and doesn’t like hanging out with her boyfriend, Adam’s, friends.  Instead she mostly hangs out with one friend, Kim.  She and Adam, honestly, seem a very strange couple, but his grief at her condition is incredibly real.  For some reason, I just didn’t buy them as a couple, and it soured the story for me just a bit.  Still, it was enjoyable to read about a normal girl with a normal life for once, instead of a girl with powers, or a girl with fangs, or a girl who is forced to learn to survive after the collapse of civilization.  I love those kinds of books, but I also love books about regular girls.

The cover says, “For fans of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight [sic],” but it’s not like Twilight at all. I hate that they stick that crap on the cover just to sell books.  For one thing, it is 100% more elegant than Twilight.  The writing style is lovely–simple, but full of imagery and emotion.  Mia is a good character, one that is somewhat admirable, and a little less dependent on a boy than some other characters *cough*cough*  She knows she has her own life to live, even if it tears her away from the boy she loves–unlike other “heroines” who throw themselves from cliffs because a boy leaves her. Just sayin’…

Anyway. Good novel.  Read it in a day because I had to know what she chose to do.  Live or die? To be or not to be? That is the question that Mia must answer, and I think you’ll enjoy her beautiful journey to that decision.


12.27–Daughter of Smoke and Bone

12.27–Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I finished this book this morning and I’ve been freaking out ever since. It is insanely amazing.  I have heard nothing but good things about it, and when I picked it up at BookPeople on Sunday I couldn’t put it down.

Karou is an unusual girl, currently living in Prague, who was raised by a strange clan of inhuman beings.  Her world is shattered when her connection to her family is severed, and a mysterious stranger simultaneously appears to whom Karou is magnetically drawn.  He is the key to her true identity and is the only being who can reveal the secrets of her past.

This is one of the most wildly creative books I’ve ever read. Yes, the basic narrative arc has been done a million times (which arc hasn’t?), but the premise is entirely unique. Karou’s story takes place (mostly) in our world, but it is a world that somehow also exists outside of the reality of most human beings.  Her sketchbooks are filled with fantastical characters which everyone believes are figments of her imagination, while only she knows that they are actually entirely real.  She lives a double life, and the creatures with which she interacts are a welcome break from the out-of-control vampire/werewolf/zombie craze.

Taylor has created some brilliant characters.  Karou is gorgeous, rebellious, and mysterious. She is strong and prickly on the outside, but inside she is lonely and vulnerable, searching for the truth about her identity and her unknown origins.  And she has blue hair! Permanently blue hair! I’ve always wanted blue hair.  Her best friend Zuzana is, in a novel full of “best parts,” one of the best parts.  She is hilarious, creative, and the perfect complement to Karou.  Taylor does a fantastic job of capturing the sarcastic, cynical voices of extremely intelligent teenagers.  The rest of the characters are incredible as well, but I would prefer not to give anything about anyone away, even though readers have probably seen reviews with more information in them.  Still, I won’t be the one to blab!

I highly recommend this novel.  It is well-written, funny, extremely emotionally and sexually charged, and enthralling from beginning to end. Being a teen series, it didn’t have any sort of substantial ending–just that transition from one novel to another–but at this juncture I don’t even care.  I’m a rabid, ravenous beast for the next novel, and I’m actually excited about the wait. Sometimes a little anticipation makes the resolution that much better. There is a huge slap in the face at the end, a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming and cannot possibly see the author being able to create more story out of.  But there’s a second novel in the works, and I cannot wait to see what Taylor does with Karou and the rest of the gang.

Oh my GOD you must read this book.


12.23–Entwined

12.23–Entwined

Entwined by Heather Dixon is an absolutely beautiful rendition of The Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale.  I was skeptical at first, mostly because I’m skeptical of a lot of YA these days.  There is a huge amount of it being released, and not a lot of it is well-written.  Heather Dixon, however, is an author that promises and then delivers. I cannot wait for more of her work!

I was surprised by how many people I’ve talked to that don’t know the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The basic plot of the original fairy tale is: there are twelve princesses who sneak out of their room every night into a magical fairy land and dance until dawn.  The King is very perplexed by the mystery of their worn-out dancing slippers, which were new the morning before, and decrees that the man who can find out where they go every night may have the hand of the eldest princess.  The premise behind this novel is very similar to this, though it has been fleshed out to create a full-blooded story.  For instance, Dixon answers the question of why the princesses have to sneak out and dance, rather than simply dancing in their palace.  She’s also created a lot of history and backstory for her fictitious kingdom, and her characters sparkle (Figuratively. Used to be we could say that and everyone would know they didn’t literally sparkle, but thanks to Stephanie Meyer…).  And to add an element of darkness, there is an evil enchanter lurking in the fairy pavilion where they go to dance.  His name is Mr. Keeper, and he likes to keep things.

In this story, we get to know each princess, though the heroine is the eldest, Azalea.  Each sister has a unique personality: Azalea is maternal and feels responsible for her younger siblings. Bramble is fiery, temperamental, and wild. Clover is beautiful, sweet, and shy. You get the idea. But I like that Dixon made an attempt to make each of these twelve girls unique. Twelve is a lot of personalities to invent! Especially when you take into account that they are not the only characters in the novel.

Mr. Keeper is delightfully evil.  In the beginning he is dashing and charming, with a slightly sexy, dangerous air.  As the novel progresses, he reveals his true colors, and his true identity–neither of which, I’ll confess, I predicted.  I mean, I knew he was the bad guy, but I didn’t know he was that bad.

And then, of course, there are the relationships between the characters.  This is something that is always really important to me. The relationship between Azalea and her sisters is fiercely loyal and yet sweet.  The relationship between the girls and their father is strained and heartbreaking, though eventually his attitude toward them begins to thaw.  And the romance! It’s all so sweet! And innocent. I just love an innocent, slow-blooming romance in which both parties don’t even realize that they’ve fallen in love until some great event leads them to realize they cannot live without each other.

There were inconsistencies in Dixon’s writing. For instance, about three-quarters of the way through the book, she started italicizing words for emphasis a lot more than she did in the previous quarters.  It was bizarre and a little off-putting.  Still, the plot was fantastic, especially toward the end, so it didn’t really take away from the overall story much.  I think Dixon has a really stellar novel here, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of reading it. Like Peri, for instance :) Enjoy!


12.14–The Lovely Bones

12.14–The Lovely Bones

Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones is exactly what the title may suggest–lovely. A story of a family ravaged by the emotions resulting from the murder of their eldest daughter, it is told by the deceased girl, Susie Salmon.  Susie’s account of her murder and the events immediately preceding it are horrific, it’s true, and have the potential to be off-putting. Yet the novel that follows these morbid events is touching in a way that only the most heartbreakingly truthful accounts of life can be. Sebold writes fiction, but she captures the reality of life in every paragraph.

Susie looks down on her family from “her” heaven. Sebold has created a reality where each person who dies has their own heaven. These heavens occasionally overlap, when the deceased’s interest aligns with another’s. Susie has friends in heaven, and her dog even joins her there when he dies.  But her heaven also allows her to watch the goings-on of Earth, and Susie tells not just her story, but those of the people she was forced to leave behind. What she describes (with a certain detachment) is a sorrowful tale of grief, anger, betrayal, and frustration.  The gaping hole she leaves in the family widens until her parents relationship is in tatters, her elder sister drifts away emotionally, and her young brother is bubbling with anger. She makes somewhat half-hearted attempts (or so it seems to me) to contact her father and alert him to her murderer. Her feeble grasping at the world of the living sometimes manages to break through, and her father is able to receive enough to figure out who her killer is.  Though this revelation and subsequent hunt add an element of suspense to the novel, it is by no means the main focus of the novel.

It is difficult to read at times. Sometimes I wonder why it’s so appealing to read something as sad as this novel. Perhaps it is for the hope of a happy ending despite all. Or perhaps it is because we can be grateful that their sorrows are not ours. Sebold’s story is harrowing and grisly at times, but touching and beautifully written. Susie’s voice contains both the sweet innocence of childhood and the wisdom of one with the ability to see more than humans, and reading her account of events is a pleasure. The book was a bestseller without being fluffy and brainless, and I really admire both the author and the characters she created.  I highly recommend this book to anyone.