Book Review for: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Image- Coldtown

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Black

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

 

Does the world need another young adult vampire novel? After reading, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I’m happy to say, yes, we do, if Holly Black is going to write it.

When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up at a sundown party, she realizes the terrible truth; she and her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, are the only ones to survive a vampire attack and they’ve both probably been scratched or bitten. Tana lives in a world where vampirism is caused by a virus and transmitted by scratches or bites. An infected human can get rid of the virus if the patient doesn’t drink human blood for 88 days, which means being locked up away from other humans. There are whole quarantined cities, called Coldtowns, throughout the country where the infected are sent to live.

Tana understands the danger of this disease and still bares the physical scars from it.  When she was six years old her father locked her mother in the basement, in a misguided attempt to treat his wife at home. Tana watched as her mother went from a caring parent to a manipulative user who would do anything to get a drink of blood.

Rather than risk harming others, Tana decides to take herself, Aiden, and the good-looking mysterious vampire boy chained to the bed, to Coldtown. No one leaves Coldtown but Tana’s pretty sure the vampire she’s going to turn in to to the Coldtown authorities is her key to getting out.

Holly Black takes the vampire mythology and manages to tell it from a fresh gritty angle with the quarantined Coldtowns— part MTV reality show, part cold war Berlin, and part prison. In addition to levelheaded Tana, Black populates the book with colorful characters, like Winter and Midnight, twin bloggers hitchhiking their way to Coldtown to chase their dream of becoming vampires, and Gavriel, the beautiful centuries-old vampire with a secret mission.

Book Review: Stranger and Hostage (Books 1 and 2 of The Change Series) , by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Image- StrangerStranger (The Change, Book #1), by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stranger is an enjoyable new young adult science-fiction novel that stands out among the many teen dystopian novels published since The Hunger Games made the New York Times bestseller list. Instead of predicting that humans can only respond to hardship with aggression and malice, Stranger imagines a world in which the best of human nature also comes out after disaster.

The story takes places generations after a catastrophic event rocked the world and wiped out most of its technology.  Leftover radiation changes some people, giving them unique powers.  The “change” tends to occur during times of strong hormonal upheaval—pregnancy, birth, adolescence, or menopause.

The City of Los Angeles has been reduced to a small frontier town now called, Las Anclas—full of diverse people— who work together, for the most part, to keep the town independent from despot King Voske’s nearby empire. In Voske’s empire, which looks a lot like the typical dystopian society, “the changed” are controlled by the king and used to keep the commoners in line.

While Las Anclas works to value all its citizens, there are those in the town who fear “the changed”. The town’s sovereignty depends on guarding the city walls against Voske’s army though. Volunteers, called Rangers, protect the city. The town needs every strong warrior and that means accepting any man or woman willing, including “the changed”.

Sheriff Elizabeth Crow rescues teen prospector, Ross Juarez, one of the stories main characters, during a shoot out with one of King Voske’s men. Now the people of Las Anclas must decide if they will protect Ross and let him stay—despite his change.

Brown and Smith fill their world with a diverse cast of fully developed characters, free of stereotypes, and full of progressive ideas about relationships. The story is told through five narrators: Ross, three teen girls, Mia, Jennie, and Felicité and another teen boy, Yuki— each with their own unique personality. Yuki is gay and his romance to another local boy is treated as if it’s any other romance.  In fact, there are a couple of non-straight romances in the book, between minor characters that are also treated as completely ordinary.

The multiple viewpoints made me very aware of the complexities of a town’s politics. As Ross, Yuki, Mia, and Jennie rush to defend their town’s unique hopeful nature, I felt like I was right in the center of a story of action and danger hoping for the best to happen right along with them.

 

Image- Hostage Hostage (The Change, Book # 2)

Target Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

I won’t say too much about this book except that it satisfyingly continues the story of Las Anlas and Voske’s Gold Point City, again using multiple points of view to tell the story from many sides.  I’m looking forward to the next 2 books in the series.

 

 

Book Review for: White Cat (The Curse Workers, Book 1), by Holly Black

Image- White CatHigh school student Cassel Sharpe lives in a world much like ours, except that the mafia is mostly made up of workers—people with the magical power of touch. Cassel makes up for being the only one in his family without a magical power by being the best con man he can be, another family specialty.

When Cassel dreams that a white cat has his tongue, and wakes up on the roof of his boarding school, he’s considered a health risk to his school and is sent home to his worker family.  Cassel has always felt uncomfortable around his family since they covered up for him when he murdered his childhood friend, Lila.  He can barely remember the details of the murder, has no idea why he murdered her, and wants to be back at school where he can forget all about it. Now Cassel must use all the con skills he’s learned to try to get himself back to school, but while he cons his way there, he stumbles upon secrets his family has been keeping from him.

I’m quickly becoming a fan of Holly Black’s writing style.  Cassel’s in-depth understanding of con jobs and lack of understanding about normal life makes him an especially fun narrator in this entertaining, tightly-plotted novel. I guessed one of the twists in the beginning but still enjoyed watching Cassel figure it out. The audiobook is excellent.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Age Range: Young Adult

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Version: Listened on audiobook by through Audible

Book Review: The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime, by Marie Rutkowski

Image- Winner's CurseThe Winner’s Curse ( Book #1 of The Winner’s Trilogy)

16-year-old Kestral, the daughter of a general in the Valorian Empire, is fast approaching the time when, by law, she must join the army or marry.  To distract herself, she buys a Herranian slave at the market, in a misguided attempt to help the young man. But her dealings with the new slave—Arin– open her eyes to how the Valorian Empire gained, and continues keep, its power.  Arin and Kestral are clearly drawn towards one another, but each is also fiercely devoted to their own country, and as they try to know each other better, their eyes are opened to the complicated political situation they are smack in the middle of.

This is an especially intelligent YA fantasy with a young women, who not only pursues romance, but also has her own political ambitions. I liked the way this story was told from both Kestel’s and Arin’s perspectives. Rutkowski sets up a believable living, breathing colonial-styled world full of political intrigue, and explores all the complex realities of trying to purse a relationship when there is an imbalance of power.  I identified with both Kestrel and Arin, and as their story unfolds, and felt just as swept up in their fondness for each other, even as the realities of their political situation forced itself in between the two of them, I kept hoping they’d somehow be able to stay together.

 

Image- The Winner's CrimeThe Winner’s Crime (Book 2 of The Winner’s Trilogy)

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this book because I don’t want to spoil the ending of The Winner’s Curse.  I will say I enjoyed this book as much as the first.  The story becomes even more political and I like how the romance simmers behind the scenes of Kestral’s and Arin’s devotion to their countries, each to trying to figure out how to do the right thing. As Kestral and Arin become further pulled into the political world, it becomes harder to figure out what is the right thing.

Like the first book, the second book wraps up the current plot and opens up an entirely new situation for the third book.  The third book looks like it will come out March 2016.  I can’t wait!

PS- The audiobook version of both books is excellent!

 

 

 

 

Review for: Stray (Touchstone #1), by Andrea K. Höst

Image- StrayWhile walking home from school in Australia, 17-year-old Cassandra Devlin mysteriously ends up in another world that looks similar to Earth, but isn’t.  She’s not sure how she got into this new world and can’t seem to get back to Earth, so she focuses on surviving alone in the wilderness of her new strange world.

This is an indie published novel and currently available for free on Kindle or Nook.  It’s the first of three books in the series.  I really liked Cassie’s basic common sense at the beginning of the story.  She’s clearly terrified by her situation, but manages to trundle on—as most people would—and figure out how to survive in her weird new world.

The story is told in journal form, so there’s an awful lot of telling at first, but that changes in the second half of the book.  The story was oddly hypnotic for me.  I kept wanting to read more and more.  The new world Höst creates is pretty cool.  As someone who enjoys learning languages, I could relate to Cassie’s struggles with becoming fluent in an alien language with no one who knows English around to help. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction /Fantasy

Favorite YA Reads for 2013-2014 (2013-2014 Catch Up Post 1)

I read a total of 49 young adult novels over 2013-2014,  27 in 2013, and 22 in 2014. Here are my 13 favorites:

Favorite YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels I Read in 2013 -2014

Image- ScarletScarlett and Cress, by Marissa Meyer (published Feb 2013 & Feb 2014) – These are the second and third novels in, The Lunar Chronicles series, that start with the first novel—Cinder—a tale of cyborg-Cinderella. (Cyborgs in this universe are humans with bionic implants). Scarlett is a futuristic cyborg-version of the Little Red Riding Hood story and Cress’s story is a futuristic-space age Rapunzel tale. Each character is added to Cinder’s team to help her in her quest to save Prince Kai against Queen Levana and the Lunar Nation. This fun, Image- Cressswashbuckling sci-fi series that reads like a YA Saturday morning cartoon with several teen girl heroes. It’s my favorite current series. I can’t wait until the new volume—Fairest—is out at the end of next month. The audiobook narrator is excellent, too.

 

 

Image- Daughter of Smoke and BoneThe Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series, by Laini Taylor (2011, 2012, 2014) – I listened to this 3-book YA fantasy series on Audible. It takes place partly in Prague and partly in a parallel universe of angels and demons. (Technically the demons are half-human/half animal chimera). The world building is especially well done and the language is beautiful. It tells the story of Karou—a blue-haired teen Art school student – who doesn’t know who her parents are or how she came to live with Brimstone, her chimera father figure. When Karou investigates why Brimstone sends her all over the world to gather teeth, she finds out some shocking revelations about her father figure and herself.

Image- Fair CoinFair Coin and Quantum Coin, by E.C. Meyers (2012 for both) – An enjoyable two-book series about a teen named ­­­Ephraim who tries to improve his dysfunctional life with a magical coin and ends up changing more than he wanted. This is another series with strong world building and a cool concept, this time from a teen boy’s point-of-view.

 

Favorite YA Realistic Fiction Read in 2013 -2014

Image- The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars (January 2012) – I think by now everyone’s read John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer—or they’ve seen the excellent movie version. If you’re one of the few people who haven’t, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through. The regular audiobook version is excellent. There’s also a version where John Green reads the book that I haven’t heard.

Image- Eleanor & ParkEleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell (February 2013)- Rainbow Rowell has quickly become one of my new favorite authors. Eleanor and Park are two misfit teens living in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska and are first thrown together on the school bus when Eleanor has no place to sit and Park leaves the tiniest bit of room on his seat so she isn’t forced to stand. Eleanor and Park are quiet, sensitive characters and their slow-brewing romance is enjoyable and heart wrenching.  Another book with an excellent audio version.

Wildlife Awards CVR SI.inddWildlife, by Fiona Wood (September 2014)- This funny Australian novel is told from the point of view of two different teen girls—Sibylla and Lou—during the course of their school’s special semester in outdoor education. Wildlife portrays friendships with difficult people, sex and romance, and dealing with loss in an accurate, nuanced way. I also enjoyed reading about the Australian wilderness, noticing all the little details that make it different from the US.

Technically Wildlife is the second novel in a loose series. The first novel is not available in the US but I was able to understand the story without noticing it was a second in the series. I also listened to this on audible and loved the Australian accents of the two narrators.

Image- My True Love Gave to MeMy True Love Gave to Me (October 2014)- I read this YA holiday romance short story collection over winter break. It features stories from Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, and a host of other bestselling YA authors. There’s really not a bad story in the bunch—though I certainly liked some of the stories more than others. Overall, it’s a charming collection of holiday cheer and romance.

 

Image- FangirlFan Girl, by Rainbow Rowell (September 2013)- When Cath’s twin sister, Wren, decides the two of them should start college in separate dorms, with separate lives, Cath is suddenly on her own for her freshman year.  Cath is not confident that she can build a life for herself outside her twin sister and her fan fiction writing. This is Rowell’s second novel and it’s clear that she’s  good at writing about awkward, introverted characters who are kind of intense, but each unique in their own way.   I especially enjoyed a whole novel that centered around finding one’s identity through writing and fan fiction and liked the unique Nebraska setting— a state I know very little about.

Image- Isla and the Happily Ever AfterIsla and The Happily Ever After (August 2014) –This is the third and last book in the loose series by Stephanie Perkins that starts off with Anna and the French Kiss. Like the other two books before, Perkins is able to write likable characters with very specific interests and have them ooze with longing. Setting is also a big part of her stories and this time the focus in on three places: Paris, Barcelona, and New York. The main couple consists of minor characters from Anna and the French Kiss—Isla and Josh. Anna is probably the best of the series, but Perkins is so good at writing charming teen romance that even her lesser stories are worth the time reading.

* I put the date the book was published in parentheses.