YA book reviews, reading and recommending since 2009

Archive for the ‘absolutely HAVE TO READ’ Category

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: March 22nd 2011
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.5/5 stars)

Synopsis: Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

Review: I must confess, I’m not one who reads historical novels. But one fine day I was at the library and picked up Between Shades of Gray. I read the first chapter and could not stop reading! I finally understood why everyone was raving about this novel. This book is honestly FANTASTIC. It’s the type of novel I want to buy for everyone for Christmas.

Now prior to reading this book, I have never heard of Lithuania before! Sure I know all about the World War 2 and what Hitler did to the Jews but talk to me about Lithuanians being displaced to Siberian work camps and I will give you a blank look. This book is based on real events and it really upset me to read about how much people suffered during the war. But what upset me the most was that history books nowadays do not include anything about the occupation and annexation of the Baltic states!

The story starts off with Lina and her family being rounded up in the middle of the night by Soviet officers and labeled thieves and prostitutes and put on trains bound for Siberia. Along the way to Siberia, people die, Lina and her family have to survive on the miserable amount of food provided while leaving in a dark and crowded train so filthy it was almost suffocating, and they are separated from their father. Every day people were dying due to scurvy and typhus or just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. When they reached Siberia, it was not over yet. They had to work hard daily doing manual labour and Lina and her family’s future looked so bleak.

Sepetys’s writing is remarkable. From the harsh depictions of every day life to the roller coaster of emotions Lina undergoes, Sepetys has written a gripping and heartwrenching novel supported by a cast of strong characters. Lina is a strong protagonist and her voice throughout the book is authentic. We cannot feel anything but sympathetic towards her plight. Lina’s mother was also a character that stood out in the novel. She was so noble and despite being in the same situation as everyone else, she made an effort to be nice to the other people in the train compartment and even shared the food with everyone. Her generosity and kindness touched my heart. Lina’s mother was the pillar of strength, she would always be optimistic and never gave up.

I recommend Between Shades of Gray to everyone. It was a beautifully written novel that was educational at the same time. This is a truly unforgettable novel that is not to be missed. One of my favorite books of 2011. You can read the first two chapters here. The paperback version is available now at Book Depository.

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Publisher: Push
Publication Date: September 1st 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.5/5 stars)

Synopsis: Natalie Sterling wants to be in control. She wants her friends to be loyal. She wants her classmates to elect her student council president. She wants to find the right guy, not the usual jerk her school has to offer. She wants a good reputation, because she believes that will lead to good things.
But life is messy, and it’s very hard to be in control of it. Not when there are freshman girls running around in a pack, trying to get senior guys to sleep with them. Not when your friends have secrets they’re no longer comfortable sharing. Not when the boy you once dismissed ends up being the boy you want to sleep with yourself – but only in secret, with nobody ever finding out.

Slut or saint? Winner or loser? Natalie is getting tired of these forced choices – and is now going to find a way to live life in the sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful in-between.

Review: Have you ever read a book that’s so amazing that you want to tell the whole world about? Yup, Not That Kind of Girl is one of those books. The prose was something I instantly liked. It was very compelling and I just savored every word.

This novel was surprisingly very good. The cover is totally misleading; I picked up the book thinking that it would be a chick-lit kind of novel, maybe something light but, wow, this book has depth. Do not be fooled by the cover. Not That Kind of Girl talks about feminism, first love, the ups and downs of friendship, heartbreaks and one girl’s journey to discovering who she truly was.

Natalie knows what she wants in life; she’s smart, confident, strong and resourceful. But when things start changing during senior year, she starts to question some things in life. The other characters were awesome, oh I don’t know where to begin. There’s Autumn, Natalie’s best friend. I liked her but I couldn’t help but feel annoyed by her actions sometimes so yes, she’s flawed but I still loved her in the end.

The male interest, Connor, was lovely. He is the best representation of a popular guy who is not a jerk. I know it has been done many times in YA novels but Connor stood out. His interactions with Natalie were hilarious. Vivian knows how to make conversations between them realistic and yet with a dose of clever insults. I can’t help but recognize myself in Natalie some scenes. Then there’s Spencer, the girl Natalie used to babysit who is now a freshman. In the beginning I grew quickly annoyed by Spencer’s stripper-in-the-making act and immediately classified her as the mean girl. But she started growing on me and by the end of the book, I adored her. Spencer was also an excellent example of a realistically portrayed flawed character.

As for Mrs Bee, it was interesting reading scenes involving her. While she was not my favorite character, she rang true to me with her actions. She was someone who cared a lot for Natalie and her actions was justified. Vivan painted an accurate picture of high school. The cliques; the mean girls, the jocks who are full of raging hormones, the girl who wanted to fit in so badly. I dare say that Not That Kind Of Girl will be loved by almost everyone who reads it. It is one of the best coming-of-age stories I have ever read. What are you waiting for? Read this book!

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: March 9th 2010 (reprint with Printz sticker)
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.85/5 stars)

Synopsis: “What do you want from me?” he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Review: If a book could make me feel anger towards the characters and still cause my heart to melt and my knees turn jelly, this novel would do it. I expected a lot from this book after reading this, this, and and this. I started this book thinking that I would be very confused after seeing multiple reviews mentioning that the beginning of the book was confusing. Personally, it was not very confusing for me and I read the story, feeling appreciative of Marchetta’s compelling writing and true-to-life characters.

The emotional tone of the story conveyed a depth of honesty, realism, and warmth that is very rare. The characters, both primary and secondary, have strong traits and personalities and are a pleasure to read about. I found Jonah Griggs the most striking character from the beginning with his past with Taylor and his aura of mystery. He’s not perfect, he’s flawed and yet he is on my fave literary guy list with Sam from Shiver. In fact, Jonah is tied with Sam for first place. This deserves a totally different blog entry on it’s own. LOOK OUT FOR IT SOON. 😛 Of course I will have to mention Ben and Raffaela as well. Although they do not have big roles in the book, they are still multifaceted characters that give this story warmth and humor.

I loved the romance that blossomed between Jonah and Taylor and, as cliche as it sounds, it’s impossible to not root for them to be together. Some where in the book, Jonah made a heartbreaking confession and I almost cried like a baby. The tears refused to come up but I immediately went on Twitter and started ranting about it. Jonah and Taylor’s love is not something that you’d expect immediately, but it grows throughout the book. Their witty and sometimes sarcastic banter always left a smile on my face. My favorite scene would be when their subtle friendship in the beginning changed to something more, also known as Taylor and Jonah’s first kiss.

Jellicoe Road may take a while to hook you but trust me, it is the ultimate must read and I would love to reread it over and over again and maybe cry while reading. You will need to read Jellicoe Road for yourself to discover the magnetic power of her dense, descriptive prose. Take my advice and pick up Jellicoe Road the next time you’re at the bookstore. This is a book that will tug at your heartstrings and not let go. Marchetta is an author who will be staying on my radar and Jellicoe Road has definitely earned a spot on my favorites list. I plan on kidnapping my friend until she reads Jellicoe Road gently persuading my friend to read this amazing novel. Highly recommended.

Everwild by Neal Shusterman

Everwild by Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Publication Date: February 4th 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.85/5 stars)

Synopsis: Nick, the Chocolate Ogre, and Mary Hightower battle for the fate of Everlost in the thrilling second book in Neal Shusterman’s Skinjacker Trilogy. (From now on, all synopsis from the publisher will be in italics.)

Review: If you thought the first book in the Skinjackers series, Everlost, was good, this one was 100 times better! Everwild blew my mind! Left me shocked, jaw wide open and speechless. Finally I could muster a word to describe this book, mind-blowing. Everlost had a lot of worldbuilding and the action took place during the second half of the book. Everwild launched straight into the action and had it right from the very first page. This book is what I imagine would be if Suzanne Collins and William Golding wrote a book together. That is how amazing it is.

One thing I noticed about Shusterman’s books are that they are a) highly addictive and b) have characters that are realistic and show growth throughout the book c) some slight romance but nothing too overwhelming. Now, doesn’t that sound like something Hunger Games fans want while waiting for Mockingjay?

The characters are amazingly engaging, each and every one of them change throughout the book, whether for good or bad. One thing I particularly like was that the romance is not forced. The difference between this romance and other romances is that the main protag is not obsess with their crush. They don’t constantly think “… is so handsome, I want to snog him/her so badly!” None of that.

The whole book was so addictive, once I started, I had to keep going. I think I will be adding it to my favorite books of all time list. I can go on and on about why I adored this book but I’ll stop here. If you have yet to read the Skinjackers series, you should give it a try if you loved Hunger Games and Gone. Also, I would not hesitate to hand this over to my 12-year-old cousin. This book is totally PG! The third book comes out next year in US and 2011 in UK. The Wait. Is. Killing. Me.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: July 20th 2010
Source: ARC, friend
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
No rating yet but I have a feeling it will be a Gold Star.

Synopsis: In Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past…and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabel, who already lost her brother to the wolves…and is nonetheless drawn to Cole. At turns harrowing and euphoric, Linger is a spellbinding love story that explores both sides of love–the light and the dark, the warm and the cold–in a way you will never forget.

Review: A YA author (I forgot who, sorry) once said that it is harder to write sequels because sequels come with expectations.

That is indeed true. Last year, Shiver captivated me and left me wanting Linger so badly. Thanks to the Book Gods, I managed to get my hands on Linger, early. I shall inform you in advance that I am writing this review having read until page 236 out of 368. My reason for doing this is because I do not want to torture myself with the long wait for Forever hence I am slowly take my time to finish this book. But I think we can safely judge a book after reading more than 3/4 of it right? 🙂 My review will not be spoilerish if you’ve read Shiver. There was no doubt I started this book with a high bar, and now that I’ve read a little over 230 pages, I felt that Stiefvater delivered everything I was expecting.

There are several reasons why I adore Stiefvater’s Mercy Falls series. Firstly, her descriptions of the characters were so they practically came to life in front of me, it was almost as if I was in Minnesota, smelling the musty pine and wolf smell and swooning over Sam Roth. Secondly, Stiefvater’s writing is one of the best out there. It’s evocative, though seemingly effortless, I can tell that every sentence was strategically placed. It leaves us little clues which will slowly come together. It also heightens the ordinary, making something as common as celebrating a birthday, feel special. I do have to warn you that you might fall head-over-heels for Sam, if you haven’t already from the first book.

The third reason is Sam and Grace. Their interactions are so sweet and beautiful and their love is heartachingly real. Sam is sensitive and a refreshing change to those arrogant cocky guys in YA Literature of late. My only teeny tiny complaint was that, at one point, Grace was in danger of becoming one of those frail, timid heroines but luckily Stiefvater managed to get her back together again be the Grace I knew once again.

Fourth, the ‘mystery’ elements. There is no neon sign pointing and saying “LOOK! Here’s a mystery for you to solve!” It’s incorporated into the book nicely and not once appearing out of place. I am dying in suspense not knowing whether my suspicions are true. If it is, I suspect that there will be some sobs at the end of Linger.

To sum up Linger, if you enjoyed Shiver, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Linger as well, but be cautioned that there will be two additional Point Of Views. Isabel and Cole’s perspectives are complete opposites of Grace and Sam’s as they both have that “wild” and “bold” side which is different from the serious attitudes of the latter. At this point, I am still unsure of my feelings for Cole after the stunt he pulled off in the bathroom. We shall see my verdict once I finish the entire book.

If you crave a romance that will tug at your heartstrings and may possibly cause tears, this is for you. And those who love beautiful writing will greedily devour every carefully chosen word, so be assured that lovely descriptions abound.

If you have not read Stiefvater’s Mercy Falls series, do not be fooled into thinking that it is ‘just another sappy werewolf story’ because it’s not. It’s more than that. It’s something extraordinary. More, please!

Here’s a teaser quote (nothing spoilerish):
“What are you wishing for?” Grace interrupted.
Want to know what Sam is wishing for? Follow @YARoundup on Twitter and once they hit 400 followers, they’ll post the full teaser! Yes, I am tweeting for @YARoundup.

Quotes copyright to Scholastic and Maggie Stiefvater. Oh and 58 days to go till Linger releases!

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: January 5th 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (5/5 stars)

Synopsis: Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard–falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around.

Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.

Review: To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting. — Edmund Burke

This quote suits Some Girls Are perfectly. Some Girls Are is a book makes ponder about everything, from the slightest movement to the character’s emotions. While reading the horrific actions of the Fearsome Five, I was thinking “Holy Crap!” and I felt truly upset when our dear protagonist was outcasted. Summers really captured Regina’s emotions so incredibly well. The entire book was intense, gripping and thought-provoking. I could picture every scene so clearly in my mind. By page 10, the characters had firmly wedged themselves in my brain and I could not stop reading. I missed my subway stop because of this book. It has never happened. Never. As we all know, Some Girls Are is a book that the whole blogosphere is buzzing about. Practically every blog has at least one mention of it. Now that I finally read it, I have this to say: Some Girls Are, you lived up to the hype.

Summers is not afraid to unleash the terrible doings of the mean girls. Nothing is sugarcoated. Anna and Kara, oh my god, they are so twisted and need some serious help. I cannot read the pages of their torment without my mouth dropping open. Even though Regina experiences hardships like alienation and bullying, readers may feel unsympathetic towards her as her past behaviour towards Liz and Michael was very hurtful. Even the people she use to bully found it hard to accept her. There are also some scenes where Regina seems to have thoughts like her old self, it makes readers wonder, has she really learnt her lesson? It may be confusing but I thought that is realistic. A person cannot totally change so quickly.

A character I really liked was Michael, who has this “I don’t care about what you think” attitude which makes me like him so badly. Nothing better than emo, hot guys… I tried, however, to prolong finishing SGA because I did not want it to end. The end = no more Michael! 😦

I don’t want to reveal anything else about the story because I want you to read and discover it for yourself. But seriously, this book will hold your attention from the very first page, till the last sentence. Once you start reading, you can’t get it out of your head.

I admit, I was a teeny wee bit disappointed with the ending. SPOILER!! I expected the mean girls to be punished. But nope. Where was comeuppance I was expecting? Maybe that’s the way Summers does it. A bittersweet ending.

SPOILER ENDS

I’m not sure how I feel about this but it does not affect my overall opinion of the book that much.

For those of you who has never picked up any of Courtney Summer’s book, here’s a little teaser for you.

I square my shoulders and march across the parking lot, my jaw clenched and my eyes narrowed. I try not to let the heat touch me or flinch at the blast of cold air on my skin when I step through the school doors.

I’m ushered in by whispers and stares. Half the student body relishes it; they’ve waited a long time to show me just how much they hate me. The other half doesn’t know what to make of it after spending four years fearfully revering me.

Page 21 of Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Usually I don’t give teasers but I hope this makes you curious enough to pick you Some Girls Are the next time you are at the bookstore or library!

I am looking forward to see what other books Summers will write in future. If you were debating whether or not you should read this book, I hope this review just made up your mind for you. Stop contemplating! Run out and buy your copy now! (It wouldn’t hurt to buy from an Indie or B&N or Borders, anything better than Amazon!) Oh how I loved this book!

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 1st 2009
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.95/5 stars)

Synopsis: There were no surprises in Gatlin County.
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Review: I have nothing but praises for this mind-blowing book. It is always a pleasure to find a novel that is as thick as Harry Potter. With a novel that has over 570 pages, it is easy to find faults in it. But no, that was not the case here. I loved every single bit of Beautiful Creatures. The book was like a play. Every chapters played an important role, like how every actor matters in order to have a successful performance.

I thought both authors did such a terrific job in writing from a teenage guy’s POV. If I did not know who had written this novel, I might have even thought it was a male writer. No kidding. Ethan was a realistic, strong and thoughtful protagonist that probably will captivate the hearts of all the female readers. Lena and Ethan’s relationship is something every girl dreams for. A guy who is wants to be with you despite your weirdness, or in this case, Lena’s special ability. A guy who is willing to go all out to help you, even though you are ready to resign to fate. It’s not secret that Lena and Ethan are on my Top 6 YA Couples of 2009 list. The other characters, were brilliant. Though they might not be the main character, they were still equally fleshed-out, very refreshing indeed. The book itself was so intriguing that I did not realise that I had read over 100 pages already. I was so caught up in the world and the story and everything that I didn’t realise how deeply absorbed I was.

The setting and town history was incredibly very well crafted that they both fascinated me to no end. The magical aspect of the novel was not really the interesting bit, it was more of the setting and history, combined with it, that made it alluring. The action was creeping up slowly, small hints here and there that the ending was going to be big. And finally BANG! The climax was equally suspenseful as the rest of the book and filled with tension, fear and excitement. Beautiful Creatures was just that good.

However, I am skeptical about how Macon could keep such a huge secret from Lena. It was a bit unbelievable but I’m willing to overlook it and accept the reason stated in the book. Apart from that, my only other complaint is that I will have to wait 10 months for the next book to be out. I need the next book, NOW. However, the sequel will be worth the wait, and hopefully it will be just as fantastic as the first book, if not, better. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl are both authors you should watch for.

Beautiful Creatures will enthrall readers from the first page with it’s impressive writing and spectacular plot. This book was destined to be a best seller.