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Book Review: Midnight City

Today I’m reviewing Midnight City by J. Baron Mitchell, another book I read courtesy of the Southern Book Bloggers ARC tours.

The Summary, adapted from Goodreads:

Earth has been conquered by an alien race known as the Assembly. Holt Hawkins is a bounty hunter, and his current target is Mira Toombs, an infamous treasure seeker with a price on her head. It’s not long before Holt bags his prey, but their instant connection isn’t something he bargained for. Neither is the Assembly ship that crash-lands near them shortly after. Venturing inside, Holt finds a young girl who remembers nothing except her name: Zoey.

As the three make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, they encounter young freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and the amazing powers that Zoey is beginning to exhibit. Powers that suggest she may be the key to stopping the Assembly once and for all.

The teaser for this book bills it as War of the Worlds meets Lord of the Flies. I’d take it a step further to say it has the world-building of War of the Worlds meets the theme of Lord of the Flies meets the tone and character development of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Now I’m a big fan of Joss, so that likely went a long way in fueling my love for this book. (If you’re a fan, too, let me entice you by saying Holt is undeniably a teen version of Captain Mal.) But that’s not the only reason I loved it.

Mitchell has created a post-apocalyptic world so rich and diverse that you’ll forget you’re tired of dystopian. The characters are intensely likable and flawed, with a building attraction that fits the time and space perfectly. I also really appreciated the pacing, tension, and the style of writing, all of which I think would appeal to both reluctant, young male readers and anyone looking for a quirky but expansive story. (I don’t usually recommend my YA reads to my husband, but I’m going to buy this one just so he can read it. That’s how much I loved it.) The only negative? Waiting for part two in the series.

5 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Well, of course, Midnight City by M83.

Book Review: Beta by Rachel Cohn

Happy December! First for a NaNoWriMo update, in case you were curious: I won! (Sort of.) I wrote eighteen chapters and a little over 50,000 words in the month of November on my YA magical realism manuscript codenamed Serenity. (A little Joss Whedon homage, which has nothing to do with the book at all, but it makes me smile to see that title in my file folder.) I can’t quite say that I’m finished, though. I’ve got about five chapters and about 15,000 words to go, with a goal of finishing before Christmas. Anyhoo…

Today I’m reviewing Beta by Rachel Cohn, which I read through an ARC tour by the Southern Book Bloggers.

The Summary, adapted from Goodreads:

Elysia is a Beta, an experimental model of a teenage clone, created in a laboratory and born as a sixteen-year-old girl. Elysia’s purpose is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise for the wealthiest people on earth. Beneath the island’s flawless exterior, an undercurrent of discontent exists among Demesne’s worker clones. Elysia knows she is soulless and cannot feel and should not care–so why are overpowering sensations clouding Elysia’s mind?

If anyone discovers that Elysia isn’t the unfeeling clone she must pretend to be, she will suffer a fate too terrible to imagine. When her one chance at happiness is ripped away, rage, terror, and desire threaten to overwhelm her. Elysia must find the will to survive before it’s too late. 

Cohn transports the reader to Demesne, a perfect world where clones are slaves and the humans are still not satisfied, even when they have everything. She even does an excellent job of incorporating the outside world and political complications through the supporting characters. Elysia’s voice rings true from the opening chapter, and my connection to her kept me turning the pages, even when I questioned some of the plot development.

In the interest of staying spoiler-free, I’ll just say that one of the major plot propellants shocked me, and not in a good way. This is definitely an upper-YA book, with sexual situations and a violent turn. I read a wide range in MG, YA, and adult fiction, and these kinds of situations don’t bother me when they’re an authentic development of the story. In Beta, though, I felt a disconnect when the tone shifted dramatically in the last quarter of the book. I respect Rachel Cohn immensely as a story-teller, but Beta just wasn’t my cup of tea.

3 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Bring on the Night by The Police

RTW: Best Book of September

Today YA Highway asks, “What was the best book you read in September?”

This gives me the perfect opportunity to review The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke, which I read through a SBB ARC tour. The Assassin’s Curse debuts October 2, 2012.

The summary:
When teenage pirate Ananna refuses an arranged marriage, the intended groom’s family orders her assassination. Instead of killing the hired assassin Naji when she has the chance, Ananna saves his life, activating a curse that binds them together. Forced into partnership, Ananna and Naji must work together to break the impossible curse and evade enemies coming at them from all sides.
The review:
I really loved The Assassin’s Curse, enough to make it my best book of September. (And I read some great books this month — Throne of Glass, Starters, A Need So Beautiful, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, and Cinder.)
From the opening chapter Clarke displays a powerful voice, complete with slang and dialect that teeters on the line of “over-the-top” without ever crossing it. The intrigue of magical pirates and assassins hooked me, but the characters really captured my heart. Cursing, thieving, and headstrong, Ananna felt more real because of her faults. And Naji was perfect as the brooding, dangerous leading man with a mysterious past. If you like a slow-building romance with plenty of action, The Assassin’s Curse is the book for you.
5 out of 5 stars
Sometimes before I write a review, I visit Goodreads to help with the summary or to see what other readers have to say. The Assassin’s Curse has many great reviews there, with an average over 4 stars, but I came across one that was truly awful. The reviewer trashed the book, and while I know readers can have vastly different reactions to a book, this one really bothered me. The reviewer felt that the romantic element was completely thrown in at the end, and I couldn’t disagree more. Clarke does an excellent job of “showing” Ananna’s feelings for Naji without “telling.” As a writer, I couldn’t help but wonder if the reviewer missed the subtlety, or if she just didn’t connect with the characters like I did. Is it just me? Does it bother you when you read a terrible review of a book that you loved?
Music for today: Help I’m Alive by Metric 

Hello to all of my new followers! Thank you so much for joining in the Awkwardness. I am thrilled to have finally topped the 100 mark. Please stop back by on Monday, when I’ll start sign-ups for my first ever give-away to celebrate! The top prize will be a $25 Amazon gift card. I also have a signed copy of Starters by Lissa Price to give away, and my critique partner Kip Taylor’s book Finn Flanagan and the Fledglings.

If you’re here looking for my GUTGAA post, click here. For my general “about me” page, click here. And now for today’s post, my Southern Book Bloggers ARC tour review of Ten by Gretchen McNeil, scheduled to release on September 18th.

The summary, adapted from Goodreads:

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

The review:

First, I think the cover for Ten is amazing. How could you walk by that cover and not pick it up? Once I dove in, I got exactly what I expected. I haven’t read much teen horror, but this book reminded me of a classic teen scream pic, like I Know What You Did Last Summer.

I accepted the set-up to get the players on the island and cut them off from the outside, and the premise for the mystery unfolded quickly. The supporting cast started dropping like flies just as fast. I enjoyed MC Meg as the quiet, loyal friend, and I cheered for her as she survived the killings and unraveled the clues. But I would have liked to see all of the side characters more thoroughly developed; after the first murder, the shock and emotional connection wore off.

The conclusion was not realistic, but it was still satisfying. If you’re looking for something with a Stephen King-for-teens quality, Ten is the book for you.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Music for today:

Time is Running Out by Muse

Happy Book Birthday to Counting Backwards by Laura Lascarso! I was lucky enough to read Counting Backwards this weekend through a Southern Book Bloggers ARC tour.

The summary, adapted from Ms. Lascarso’s site:

When sixteen-year-old Taylor Truwell is caught with a stolen car and lands in court for resisting arrest, her father convinces the judge to issue an alternative punishment: treatment in a juvenile psychiatric correctional facility. At Sunny Meadows, Taylor has to fight hard just to cling to her sanity as she battles her parents, her therapist, and a group of nasty fellow patients. But even as Taylor struggles to hold on to her stubborn former self, she finds herself relenting as she lets in two unlikely friends–Margo, a former child star and arsonist, and AJ, a mysterious boy who doesn’t speak.

Sunny Meadows goes against everything Taylor stands for. But is it the only place that can save her?
The review:
When I returned from the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, I had two SBB ARCs waiting for me. I read Ten by Gretchen McNeil first, because it had a great hook and an intriguing cover. (I’ll review it next week.) Counting Backwards had a more quiet, beautiful cover, but once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. I am so glad that I finished in time to review it on its release day.

I absolutely loved this book. The pacing moves surprisingly fast for a reflective story, and the raw, honest voice gives familiar themes a fresh spin. Taylor’s journey focuses on learning to love herself, which thankfully overshadows the thread of a romantic relationship with AJ. This is such an important story for young women to read.

The difference between a good book and a great book for me is an emotional truth that makes me feel something. Counting Backwards is a great book. Of all the wonderful books I’ve read in YA over the past few years, this is the first one that I would say unquestionably deserves to be in the race for a Printz or a Newbery Award. I would recommend it to any teen or adult reader.

5 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Easy Way Out by Gotye

Book Review: Something Strange and Deadly

Today I’m reviewing Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard, as a part of an ARC tour hosted by the Southern Book Bloggers.

In Philadelphia in 1876, Eleanor Fitt must partner with the supernatural-fighting Spirit Hunters to find her missing brother, dodge her mother’s desperate attempts to find her a husband, and avoid the strange and deadly zombies plaguing the city.

The first blurb I read for this book said if you liked Clockwork Angel, you’ll love Something Strange and Deadly. That line alone hooked me, and it truly is a great comparison. Also like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dennard’s debut blends a romantic historical flair with a wide cast of characters and a fresh twist on a zombie invasion.

I really enjoyed Eleanor’s journey from unassuming society girl to fearless, ninja detective. The pace moved well, and though there weren’t any major surprises, the conclusion was ultimately well planned and satisfying. I loved that the zombies were under the villain’s control and not too gory, unlike any other walking dead I’ve read. I’d recommend this book fans of supernatural and paranormal YA, even if walkers aren’t your usual cup of tea.

Something Strange and Deadly is available tomorrow, July 24, 2012.

4 out of 5 stars.

Music for today:  Crawl by Kings of Leon

Today I’m reviewing Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, as a part of an ARC tour with the Southern Book Bloggers. Reunited will be released on June 12th, 2012.

The Summary:

In middle school, Alice, Summer, and Tiernan were best friends and the world’s biggest fans of the rock band Level3. But everything changed when they started high school. The band broke up, and the girls went their separate ways. Four years later, Level3 announces a one-time reunion show in Texas. Alice buys three tickets, the trio sets off on a 2000 mile road trip, and the girls learn if their former friendship has what it takes to survive being Reunited.

The Review:

Reunited is a fun summer read, told from the alternating points of view of Alice, Summer, and Teirnan. Graham explores how and why friendships change with the catchy, common thread of the girls’ love for a rock band, complete with lyrics from Level3. The three girls are all unique and well drawn.

I enjoyed how the characters tested the boundaries of new adulthood through both their physical and emotional journeys. Graham excels at layering dimensions into the plot. The biggest drawback for me was a failing in my suspension of disbelief. When I read contemporary YA, I like to have a strong sense of reality. Many of the scenarios just pushed my limits of what could be plausibly real. I kept asking myself where the girls were getting the money to do things, when none of their parents seemed to be wealthy. But I know many readers want a level of fantasy in their contemps, so I don’t think this would be a problem for every reader.

Reunited would be a great beach read, and I would recommend it to someone looking for a contemporary YA without a strong romantic element. 3 1/2  out of 5 stars.  

Music for today: Eyes Wide Open by Gotye

Today I’m reviewing The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks.
This ARC came to me through a tour with the Southern Book Bloggers. Please check out their site here!

When prep-school student Wendy Geller is found dead in Central Park, classmate and former best friend Rain struggles to reconcile the girl she once knew with the party girl portrayed in the headlines. Rain faces her grief and digs through her school’s secrets to uncover what really happened to Wendy.

The Girl in the Park is a contemporary YA mystery. I am generally not a big fan of mysteries, but I think the YA landscape needs more of them. Fredericks does an excellent job of using familiar elements to tell a fresh story, and The Girl in the Park has a well-woven plot with a satisfying conclusion. I suspected who the killer was very early on, but the hints are subtle, with acceptable red herrings along the way.

Rain is a complex, believable main character, and both her determination and insecurities ring true. The social hierarchy of the school and the parental relationships are also well played. My only real issue was with the opening chapter; the story begins with a dream sequence, then flip-flops between the present and flash backs to set up the plot. Once the action moved forward, the pace picked up and the flashbacks flowed more logically.

I would recommend this book fans of contemporary YA or mysteries. 4 out of 5 stars.

Music for this book: Midnight City by M83

Finally, I can post my review of Black Heart by Holly Black! Black Heart will be released on April 3, 2012. The gals at Southern Book Bloggers send ARCs of amazing YA books on reading tours, and I am so grateful that I found them through the magic of Twitter. Check them out here.

Black Heart is the third book in the Curse Workers Series, so it would be impossible to review without giving spoilers for books one and two, White Cat and Red Glove. If you haven’t read White Cat, I insist that you stop reading my blog and go get it right away. I love it that much. If you’ve been waiting for Black Heart for the better part of a year like me, then please read on. I’ll keep the book three spoilers to a minimum.

The summary, adapted from Goodreads:

Cassel Sharpe grew up in a family of con artists, and cheating comes as easily as breathing to him. But he’s trying to be good, even though the girl he loves is inextricably connected with crime. And he’s trying to convince himself that working for the Feds is smart, even though he’s been raised to believe the government is the enemy. When the Feds ask Cassel to do the one thing he said he would never do again, the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes increasingly blurred. In a dangerous game and with his life on the line, Cassel may have to make his biggest gamble yet—this time on love.

Holly Black is a genius. (I’m pretty sure I’ve said that before on this blog.) Her world-building sucks you in, and her characters keep you hooked. I think Cassel may be one of my all-time favorite main characters. He’s the classic bad-boy trying to be good, and he doesn’t disappoint in this third installment. But what I love about all the characters,to varying degrees, is that they’re ALL gray.

Barron is both selfish and loyal to his family. Lila is both a daddy’s girl and a hit-woman. Even Sam is both trusty sidekick and jealous boyfriend. With the recurrent theme of navigating what’s wrong and what is right, there is no black and white. Each character has faults and redeeming qualities, and that’s what makes them all real.

Great characters alone would make for a compelling read, but Black is also a master of plot. She weaves each element of the plot into the larger mystery, resulting in a perfectly complicated, satisfying conclusion. Cassel’s love story also reaches a boiling point three books in the making, which becomes icing on an already delectable cake. In case you couldn’t tell, I loved Black Heart.

5 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Oblivion by Grimes

This has been an exciting week.

In the book-blogging world, I am so excited to have found the Southern Book Bloggers through the magic of twitter. This site connects book bloggers who live in the south, keeps track of regional book signings and events, and sends ARCs of fabulous YA books on tours from state to state. I am thrilled to take part in my first ARC tour with Black Heart, Holly Black’s third book in The Curse Workers series. Be sure to check back in March for my review!

In the writer-blogging world, I discovered Rachael Harrie’s blog Rach Writes. Rachel is embarking on her fourth Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign. My favorite part of blogging is meeting other readers and writers. I’m looking forward to joining the campaign and embracing more members of this ever-growing family. Sign-ups for the campaign are open until Wednesday, February 15. Click here for more information!

I sometimes find that my Internet self and my real-life self are a tad disconnected. Coinciding with an enjoyable week in my reading-writing-online life, in my personal life, we had some disturbing news in our extended family. I’d rather not discuss the details, but I wanted to share the lesson I learned from this news. When you have a bad feeling about a person or a situation, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. So many times in life we sense that something is not as it should be, but we dismiss that twisty feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Don’t. Do It. Speak up. Ask questions. Show concern.

Stepping off of my soap box now.
Happy Friday, everyone!

Music for today: Cath by Death Cab for Cutie