More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books Ltd

From the publisher:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

From multi-award-winning Patrick Ness comes one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time.

Who here loved the Chaos Walking trilogy and has been dying for something else from Ness that has that similar feel? *raises hand*

Well, you are in luck because More Than This is that book. This is a gorgeous novel about stuff that I don’t even want to tell you because that will just spoil it. But I will tell you that it has that same sense of urgency, that same OMG SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN feeling that runs through the entire Chaos Walking trilogy. Like all Patrick Ness books, this book is saying something, and by the end of the novel you will get it loud and clear. But to explain what, exactly, is happening here would ruin the experience. So I won’t.

Ness writes in such a way that causes the reader to truly feel the emotions the characters are feeling. He causes the reader to question his/her own life – how what we think and feel is filtered through our own limited experiences and how our memories are shaped not just by what happened but by the emotions we associate with those events. And he makes the reader wonder – how would we react and respond to a situation the characters in this book are faced with? Would we do the right thing or would we panic, save ourselves, and make choices with devastating consequences?

Please read this book. It is truly fantastic.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Published by Feiwel and Friends

From the publisher:

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

I’m not sure how I feel about this series overall. Let me start by saying that I liked the first book, Cinder, but upon finishing it I totally forgot almost the whole thing. Which should tell you that maybe I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did? The fact that I barely remembered the events in the first book led me to take forever to get to this one, and it was rough in the beginning because of said lack of knowledge about events in the first book. Once I got into the vibe of Scarlet, and realized there are two storylines here, two main characters to root for, I got sucked in and really started to enjoy it.

Scarlet as a character interested me slightly more than Cinder had, she just seemed a little less naive and a slightly more of a kick-butt, sure of herself heroine. Although there are apparently tons of things neither of them understands or knows about, as they individually learn over the course of the novel. I liked the dual storylines because it kept me invested in both girls – just when one was getting kind of crazy, Meyer would switch over to the other girl, keeping me flipping pages, anxious to get back to that crazy part in the other girl’s life. It was a good storytelling device and I hope she uses it in the rest of the series.

But I don’t know – although the novel was certainly entertaining, I think these books are somewhat silly and now that I’ve finished book number two I can’t say I’m anxious to get to book number three, Cress. It’s like – I enjoyed it while reading but now that I finished the book, I’m kind of over it. I think someone would have to tell me that they get even better with the third installment for me to be interested in picking it up. Thoughts?

Panic by Lauren Oliver

PanicPanic by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins

From the publisher:

Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

Lauren Oliver is such a phenomenal author that I knew I’d be reading her newest novel right when it was released. I’ve loved her books in the past and couldn’t wait to dig into this one as soon as my library hold came in, and overall I enjoyed the book quite a bit but was sad that it wasn’t quite up to her usual standards of awesomeness.

I knew nothing about the novel before picking it up, and in the beginning I wasn’t sure if this was a standard contemporary type novel or dystopian fiction. It took me a little bit to realize that it’s (somewhat far-fetched and unbelievable) contemporary fiction with a thriller edge to it. I liked this side of Oliver and am hopeful that she writes more books like Panic.

What I liked about this novel was the pacing and the excitement of the story itself. I couldn’t put the book down and it was truly an entertaining experience, every minute I spent with this story and these characters. Panic is very much a wild ride that keeps the reader guessing nonstop. I did like Heather and Dodge, although I had some minor issues with the ways that Oliver chose to construct Heather’s character – some of her choices seemed a bit off based on other things we learn about her throughout the novel. But Oliver did sell me on her personality, I truly felt for Heather and her sad situation and hoped for things to turn around in her life.

What bothered me about this novel was how unbelievable it was – there is no way that this kind of game would be tolerated by parents and teachers and local authorities in the real world. Also, there’s this element of the story that is supposed to be a huge secret that was entirely too obvious to me and, I assume, other readers.

But overall, Lauren Oliver never disappoints me with her writing and her storytelling and Panic was no different. While I didn’t love everything about her newest novel, I was highly entertained and couldn’t put the book down. Definitely recommended.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Published by Delacorte Press
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

There have been MANY reviews for this one popping up over the last couple of weeks, and I’m going to echo what a lot of people said when I tell you that I truly don’t want to tell you anything about this book. I went into it knowing nothing but the above summary and while I spent the first half of the book mostly confused but also intrigued, as the novel went on I grew more and more invested in the story and couldn’t put it down. By the time it was over, I was feeling so emotional that I couldn’t pick up another book right away. Yes, it’s that kind of book – the one that forces you to take a reading break in order to digest everything and move on.

We Were Liars is packed full of stuff that’s ripe for discussion but unfortunately, I’d rather not discuss it here until you read it. It would be perfect for a book club as there is just SO MUCH to talk about.

Just read it. You won’t be sorry.

Mini-review binge

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Published by Random House

June Elbus is fourteen years old in 1987 when her beloved uncle Finn dies of AIDS. Her family can barely speak of the reason for his death, and they definitely don’t talk about the man they believe killed him by giving him the disease, his long-time partner Toby. When June begins a secret friendship with Toby, she learns of this whole other life that Finn had, a life he kept her completely out of, his life with Toby.

You guys, this book is everything. Heartbreaking, unflinchingly honest, great characters, perfect writing, EVERYTHING. I loved it and I need you to read it. I just wanted to reach through the pages and give this girl some love. So, so sad but so beautiful too. Please read it.

House of BathoryHouse of Bathory by Linda Lafferty
Published by Amazon Publishing

Elizabeth Bathory, a countess in the early 1600′s, ruled a castle in Slovakia, and rumor has it that she tortured and killed hundreds of young women, after which she would bathe in their blood to preserve her youth. Four hundred years later, Betsy Plath, a psychologist, is working with difficult teen Daisy Hart, when the two of them discover ties from the legend of Bathory to their own lives.

This book is why I love being in book clubs. I never would have picked this up on my own, it is totally not my thing, but I really, really liked it. The plot was intense and unique and, especially in the second half, like a thrill ride that I didn’t want to put down. My only complaint would be that the writing is far from perfect, but honestly I was so captivated by the craziness and the characters that I didn’t really care about the writing.

Eating AnimalsEating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Published by Little, Brown and Company

This book is by far the most compelling and well-written case against eating animals that I’ve ever read. I’ve always gone back and forth between wanting to go vegetarian and loving meat and Eating Animals might just have pushed me over the edge. Although I can’t quite get there all the way (I still eat seafood, eggs, and some dairy products), I haven’t eaten red meat, pork, or turkey since I started reading this book, and I’ve only had chicken a handful of times. I have to say, if you don’t want to question your meat-eating, I wouldn’t pick this one up, because it’s just that good, and it will force you to at least consider cutting down your meat consumption. But if you’re at all concerned about where your food comes from and the truth about how we treat animals at factory farms, Eating Animals is a must-read.

VirtuosityVirtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Published by Simon Pulse
Review copy received at SIBA 2012

Carmen is a teen prodigy, a violinist who is thisclose to winning the prestigious Guarneri competition. She decides one day to scope out her competition, Jeremy, and while she finds him arrogant and obnoxious, she can’t help falling for him a little, too. When the urge to be with Jeremy gets in the way of her competitive drive to win, she has to make an incredibly difficult choice.

I really liked this one and it’s stayed with me even though it’s been a while since I finished reading it. I felt deeply for Carmen, as the pressure her family and peers put on her to be the best became suffocating to the point that she had to take anti-anxiety medicine just to get through a violin lesson, let alone her performances. When she grew close with Jeremy, I rooted for them to figure out a way to be together, despite their circumstances. This really was a sweet YA novel that had some tough subjects wrapped up in that sweetness.

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau

Independent Study (The Testing, #2)Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Publisher’s summary:

In the series debut The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

I really loved the first book in this series so I was anxious to get my hands on this, the second installment in what is a planned trilogy. I have no complaints about Independent Study – it fulfilled all of the hopes I had for the book and I loved it just as much as the first one.

I’m honestly going to pretty much stop there because if you’ve read the first book, I highly recommend you pick up the second one. If you haven’t read the first, there’s no point in me going over what I liked so much about the second one. If you haven’t started this series, you need to. There’s a kick-ass main character, a future world that is beautiful on the outside but is very sinister below the surface, lots of action and intrigue, and good writing. And NO LOVE TRIANGLE! So … what are you waiting for? Read this series! I have nothing further to say. :)

Me Since You by Laura Weiss

Me Since YouMe Since You by Laura Weiss
Published by MTV Books
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Sixteen-year-old Rowan Arena is a regular girl living the all-American teenage life when the decision of a complete stranger shatters her picture-perfect world. Suddenly she is plunged into a situation of uncertainty, grief, and most of all, fear. She doesn’t know how to deal with what’s just been thrown at her, and worst of all, her solid foundation and rock, her police officer father, can’t seem to handle it either.

Laura Weiss is another one of those YA authors, like Elizabeth Scott (who I love) who can so eloquently and beautifully write about really tough stuff for teens. I’ve read a few of her books and they’ve all been gorgeously written, with gut-wrenching emotional moments and characters that tug at your heartstrings – and Me Since You is another one to add to that list.

Something happens very early on in this novel that completely shatters Rowan’s world, and I will not spoil that for you, but what I will say is that it was completely unexpected, an out-of-nowhere thing that didn’t even effect her directly. Except that it did, and the fact that it did is sort of the point of this whole novel.

There is so much sadness, so much pain, in this book, and Weiss handled this awful situation with such grace and created a character in Rowan that the reader can’t help but feel deep empathy for. And in the midst of this awfulness, Rowan meets a boy who completely gets what she’s going through and is able to be there for her in a way nobody else can be – and this romance, while verrry slow, is truly perfect and such a light in this otherwise dark novel.

All I can say about Me Since You is that it is a YA novel that begs to be read. If you like books that pack an emotional punch, especially those that are well-written with great characters, this is one not to be missed. Weiss is another one of my favorite YA authors and in this novel she proved to me once again why I feel that way about her. Highly recommended!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French KissAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Published by Dutton

When Anna Oliphant’s famous author father (think Nicholas Sparks) decides she should go to boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, instead of her public school in Atlanta, she is horribly upset and terrified of this huge change in her life. Surprisingly, Anna finds herself in a group of friends almost immediately upon arriving in Paris, and even more surprisingly, she becomes BFF’s with one of the guys in the group, the charming, intelligent, and gorgeous St. Clair. While she can’t stop herself from having a crush on him, she knows he has a girlfriend so she remains content with their friendship for most of the year. But when she starts to think he might be interested in her, too, she can’t help but think of how good they would be together …

I’ve been eyeing Anna and the French Kiss probably since it was released in late 2010 and bloggers began raving about it. Now that I’ve read it myself, I’m here to tell you that all that raving was justified – this is such a sweet, fun, charming, well-written and well-characterized young adult romance. It was everything I want my YA to be.

What I loved about this novel is that while the romance is a BIG part of the story, Anna’s own journey towards independence and learning she can grow as a person and do things on her own, can learn new things and experience a new culture, was just as important. She is the kind of character you can’t help but love – she’s smart, resourceful, honest, caring, but isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes, misjudges people, misinterprets situations, all the stuff regular people do on a daily basis. Her internal monologue is hilarious at times but also so very realistic and mirrors what real teens think and feel, how they deal with difficult situations, and how they process their emotions.

But the romance! So sweet. St. Clair is absolutely charming, so smart and so kind to everyone, the kind of guy you want the heroine to fall in love with. The way they were truly great friends for such a big part of the novel really worked for me – the romances that come out of nowhere can be fun, but aren’t very realistic. This one made sense, they fell in love over time, they truly knew each other and could appreciate little things about one another, it was just so sweet and perfect.

Anna and the French Kiss is a fantastic book in the YA romance category. I am kicking myself for waiting so long to read this book and I’m really looking forward to reading more from Stephanie Perkins. Highly recommended!

Every Day by David Levithan

Every DayEvery Day by David Levithan
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Every morning, A wakes up in the body of someone different. A doesn’t have gender or a body of A’s own, but every day A is able to take on a new personality and new life, and then wake up the next morning and get a brand new one. A is okay with this and has learned over time not to form any attachments with people, to stay under the radar while inhabiting people’s bodies, and not to interfere with people’s lives. But everything changes when A wakes up in Justin’s body and falls madly in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannan. A wants to spend every possible moment with her, but how can that be possible when tomorrow A will wake up and be someone else?

This book has such a unique concept and before I began reading it, I was worried that I wouldn’t connect with this A person. Because A is a different person every day, each chapter requires the reader to learn about a whole new individual’s life. While that sounds like it would get confusing or overwhelming, it never does. As a reader, you actually come to see A as an individual – almost like a soul that is inhabiting these bodies for a day at a time.

Levithan writes teenage emotions so well. I truly believed, despite the unique concept of A not having a body of his/her own, that A and Rhiannan were in love. And while it sounds crazy that Rhiannan could love a different physical body every day, Levithan made me believe it was possible and true. I hung onto A’s every word and truly felt A’s pain as he/she worked so hard to find ways to get to Rhiannan and to make their love work.

This book made me think, too. Gender is SO socially constructed and so ingrained into my brain that it was really tough for me not to think of A as male simply because he was in love with a girl and because he was in a boy’s body when he fell in love with said girl. Even when he was in girl’s bodies, it was like in my mind he was a guy in a girl’s body. I am sure that Levithan came up with this concept to challenge people’s notions of gender and sexuality, and to make the reader examine one’s own thoughts on this subject, and this definitely happened for me. I’m still thinking about it and trying to understand my thoughts on A’s “real” gender – even though A doesn’t have a gender, it’s so outside of my mind to get the concept that not having a gender is possible. Like I want to put A in a box and categorize him somehow – I know Levithan is challenging the reader to think through this, and I appreciate it. But I’m still thinking.

I felt somewhat conflicted over the ending but as I’ve thought about it a lot, I have come to the conclusion that I liked it. Any other ending would have been unrealistic. While nothing about this book is very realistic, if you can suspend your disbelief to get to the ending, the way Levithan chose to end things makes the most possible sense, I think.

What I loved most about Every Day is how much it made me think. I loved the characters and I continue to feel that Levithan is a truly talented author, but I loved that I’m still thinking about this book weeks after finishing it. Highly recommended.

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

HeartbeatHeartbeat by Elizabeth Scott
Published by Harlequin Teen
Review copy provided by the publisher

Elizabeth Scott has a talent for writing YA books that deal with tough subjects in a delicate way, personalizing tragedies and showing them to the reader through the lens of a teenager.

Heartbeat is no different – in this novel we meet Emma, who is suffering from the recent loss of her mother. But her mother is not deceased, rather she’s being kept alive by machines after a tragic accident as she’s pregnant with Emma’s half-brother. Emma’s stepfather doesn’t care that her mother would never have wanted to be kept alive while brain-dead, he only cares about his son growing inside Emma’s mom. When she is at her most desperate and has no one to talk to, Emma meets bad-boy Caleb – a guy she never would have looked twice at before, but now that her life has been completely turned upside down, he might just be the person who can help her see through her grief and open her heart to the possibilities of life and love.

This book is full of heart-wrenching, grief-drenched moments that will take your breath away, but also soft and tender moments that will show you the meaning of true love and reconciliation between people at odds over the most fundamental of ideas. This is what Elizabeth Scott does so brilliantly and what I love so much about her books – this awful tragedy, this devastating situation that Emma is in, is something that’s been in the news and that real people have gone through, and she makes it so personal, so realistic. I felt that Emma was a real teenager, her struggles felt so true to me. Her stepfather, too, broke my heart – he was just trying to do the best he could for his family and truly was doing what he felt his wife would have wanted.

Of course we don’t know what Emma’s mother would have wanted – she’s not around to tell her side of the story. So we have to look at it from Emma’s point of view, and from her stepfather’s, and come to a conclusion that they are both right. They both want what’s best for this woman they love so much, this baby they hope might be born alive, and for their fledgling family they are struggling to hold onto.

And the relationship between Emma and Caleb was a perfect addition to this already beautiful novel. He made her see another side of things, another way of life and another way of looking at the world around her. He was exactly what she needed at a crucial time in her life, when everything else was falling apart, he was able to be a rock for her. It was sweet and melted my heart.

I loved this book! Elizabeth Scott is so talented, truly, if you aren’t reading her YA fiction you really should be. Highly recommended.