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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

Beth Revis Is My Hero

I don’t think it’s a secret that this blog exists because I love books. Sometimes I have to slow down the reading habit, because I could easily spend hundreds every month. My new hero Beth Revis is giving away an entire LIBRARY of SIGNED YA books, and all you have to do to enter is share the news about the giveaway and share the love for YA books.

This is a great time for me to talk about what I love about YA, because I just finished reading my adult book of the month, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Gone Girl is a fantastic book; it lives up to the hype and deserves all the rave reviews. I enjoyed the stark truths about marriage and failed expectations wrapped in the twisted mystery, the hallmarks that make it an adult book. But they also reminded me why I have a heart for YA.

YA books have a unique sort of promise. They have possibility. They have hope for the future.

When I was a teenager, I could not wait to be an adult. (Like many teens, I actually thought I was an old soul, trapped in a young body.) I was so busy rushing to get there that I missed that chance to revel in the potential of what the future could be. And like so many firsts you can’t ever get back, the moment when a young adult makes his or her first life-altering decision has a sort of magic. Most YA books, whether contemporary, fantasy, or any other genre, explore this in one way or another. That magic of the first is what I love most about YA.

For your chance to win Beth’s AMAZING giveaway, (seriously–  nearly 50 signed books to a single winner) click here for Beth’s blog. And if you choose to enter and blog on what you love about YA, leave a link to your post in the comments! Happy NaNoWriMo, everybody!

Music for today: Breathing Underwater by Metric

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

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

Lately I’ve purchased most of my books online. I almost couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a book store before I read about Lisa Burstein’s giveaway to celebrate the release of her book Pretty Amy. The summary intrigued me, and I knew I wanted to read it. But one of the entry tasks was to take a picture of Pretty Amy in a bookstore. The next time I had a chance, I headed to Barnes & Noble.  And then I went to Books-A-Million. I wised up and started looking online, and I called the local independent stores, which mostly sell used books. Not one store carried Pretty Amy.



I am so glad that I went on the hunt, though. All the books on my Nook look so much more important and substantial sitting on the shelf. Bitterblue is longer than I realized, and the cover is brilliant. Other covers grabbed me enough to pick them up and read the blurb, and I never just browse like that on my e-reader.  



I ultimately bought Pretty Amy at Books-A-Million online, and when it arrived, I took it on a little field trip. (I was too chicken to smuggle it inside for a picture.)

I finished reading it a few days ago, and here is my short review: I really enjoyed it. Burstein captures the heart of what it means to want to belong. She explores choices and responsibility and consequences without being preachy. I’d recommend it not only to readers of contemporary YA, but also to parents wondering what makes their teenage daughters tick. To find out more about Pretty Amy, click here. And the giveaway is still open until midnight Saturday, July 21.


Thanks for stopping by!


Music for today: Youth Without Youth by Metric

YA Highway RTW: The Best Book in May

May is always a huge month for new releases, and this year all the titles I’d been waiting for lived up to the hype. I read the 5 YA titles above and a few adult books as well. You can check out my reviews of Bitterblue, Insurgent, and Reunited for more info. I’d have to pick Insurgent as the best book of the month, which is really saying something for the middle child of a trilogy. City of Lost Souls was every bit as steamy as I’d expected, though I’ll be glad to get a more finite conclusion in book 6. And The Serpent’s Shadow was an excellent end to the series. I highly recommend The Kane Chronicles if you’re looking for a good MG adventure.

In other news, I’m tacking on a belated response to last week’s RTW. Thanks to skymiles and a very supportive husband, I am going to SCBWI in LA! I am equal parts excited and nervous, and I’d love some suggestions on how to make the most of it. I’ve been to smaller state conferences over the past few years, but nothing like SCBWI. Are any of you blogger-type-people going? I’d love to chat about plans for the conference, and it would be awesome to meet you in person!

Music for today: Not a song, but a very cool trailer for Muse’s upcoming album.  

YA Book Club is hosted by Tracey Neithercott at Words on Paper. Thanks for bring us all together, Tracey!

This month we’re discussing Insurgent by Veronica Roth.

Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent trilogy. It’s difficult to discuss a sequel without giving away the secrets of the first book, but I’m going to try. Here is an adapted Goodreads summary that avoids major spoilers:

War looms as conflict between the factions grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence to survive, no matter what the cost.

Things I love about Insurgent:

1. It picks up right where Divergent leaves off.

This works so much better that picking up a few weeks or months later. When an author skips ahead, she inevitably uses flashbacks to the time that was missed. Roth doesn’t do that, keeping the writing and flow clean. Instead of easing readers back into the story, Roth sucks us back in with the snap of a finger.

2. The break-neck pace refuses to be put down.

I read so many tweets about people forcing themselves to slow down, to savor Insurgent for as long as possible. Not me. I love being so absorbed in a story that everything else falls away, and Roth maintains the same intensity all the way through. The only downside is waiting over a year for Book 3, which until further notice shall be known as Detergent.

3. Tris and Tobias have a real relationship.

One of Insurgent’s major themes is the role of secrets and trust in relationships. I dig a great love story just as much as the next girl, but I’m tired of the old standby that THIS ONE SPECIAL LOVE can withstand anything, and can never be undone. Real people have problems. Real people have insecurities. Real people make mistakes that are hard to forgive. These things don’t weaken the power of love; they prove how amazing it is, that it survives anyway. Tris and Tobias react to their situation and keep secrets in a way that feels authentic to me. It’s the same quality that attracts readers to Katniss in The Hunger Games, only Tris is more relatable. She carries the burden of guilt and expectations the same way that I might, in her situation.

I loved Insurgent. I realized flipping through Goodreads the other day that my ratings tend to skew high, which isn’t really fair to the true 5 star books. A second book in a trilogy is a difficult monster, but I truly feel that Roth knocked it out of the park.

Insurgent is everything I hoped it would be.

Music for today: Hysteria by Muse

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

May 1st marked two amazing book birthdays. Veronica Roth’s follow-up Insurgent, and Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, the long-awaited sequel to Graceling.

Reading these two books back-to-back illustrated how sequels can be very different but equally fantastic. I’ll be reviewing Insurgent for YA Book Club later this month, but I can’t help comparing and contrasting a little for my review of Bitterblue today.

Bitterblue is about a young queen struggling to rule after her sadistic father, King Leck. It can be read as a stand-alone novel, but it is both a sequel to Graceling and a companion book to Fire. I strongly recommend reading Graceling and Fire first, in that order, to fully appreciate Bitterblue. With that in mind, I’m using a format to keep the review as spoiler-free as possible. For me, the two strongest qualities of Bitterblue are the characters and pacing.

In Cashore’s world, a graceling is someone with a special ‘grace,’ or talent, marked by eyes of two colors. Both her graceling characters and the non-graced are all complex and realistic, with both endearing qualities and weaknesses. As in many fantasies, the sheer number of characters could overwhelm the reader, but Cashore paints even her minor players so completely that they enhance the story rather than distract from it.  And then there’s the villain. Her villain is one of the most atrocious, chilling characters I’ve ever read. And I’ve read more than my fair share of Stephen King. On that front, Bitterblue is not for the faint of heart.

I read Insurgent in less than 48 hours, in the midst of multiple family sicknesses. It’s that kind of book, with a break-neck pace that I couldn’t put down for long without running back to it. But I took a solid six days to read Bitterblue. I was equally invested in unravelling the mystery, but each time I sat down to read it, I wanted to be fully immersed. Sometimes I put it down for a few hours to let the events stew before moving on. I’m accustomed to reading faster-paced YA, and I would normally say that I prefer it. But Bitterblue is an example of a perfectly executed, slower, building pace, and of the two books, Bitterblue is still sticking with me more, days after finishing.

If you enjoy fantasy of any type, I highly recommend Bitterblue. 5 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Bandages by Hot Hot Heat