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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.

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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Putnam Publishing Group
Publication Date: 29 September 2011
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Silver star (4/5 stars)

Synopsis: The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Review: Hi everyone, I know it has been far too long since I last reviewed but this time I am determined to review one book every day from now till January 2012! All the books I will be reviewing will be books I enjoyed and strongly recommend. 🙂 Now, on with the review!

Maureen Johnson, best known for her 13 Little Blue Envelopes series and Suite Scarlett (which I adored), has written a paranormal novel quite unlike any other. Rory was an awesome protagonist, full of wit and easily relatable. She was an American teenager from Louisiana and this year she was going to study at a London boarding school. But shortly after arriving in London, the “Rippermania” starts. It was very interesting seeing the “Rippermania” take place in modern day London. Johnson’s writing is very descriptive so I actually felt as though I was transported to London and was interacting with the characters. Oh and when I say descriptive, I mean Johnson was not shy of details. She describes the murders well but not in an overly gory way.

Now where does the paranormal part come in? Well let’s just say there will be some ghostbusting done. 😉 The romance was well-played but it was not the focal point of the novel. The good news is this book is part of a series so we will be seeing more of the characters!

Overall The Name of the Star had me frantically flipping pages towards the end and the ending was nicely done. I won’t recommend reading this book at night because that night I finished the book and was walking home, I turned around every five minutes to make sure I wasn’t being followed. True story! The Name of the Star also had me searching online about the original Jack the Ripper murders. I wonder why the Ripper murders suddenly stopped and what really happened to the original Jack the Ripper. Now that’s a discussion for another day. Until then, check out The Name of the Star if you want something paranormal but are tired of vampires, werewolves and faeries.

Here are what others are saying:

“Johnson fearlessly takes readers from . . . a cool innocent-abroad-with-iPod story to supernatural thriller. The tension ramps up exquisitely among cups of tea, library visits and the London Underground. The explosive ending is genuinely terrifying but never loses the wit, verve and humor that Rory carries with her throughout.” – Kirkus

“Readers looking for nonstop fun, action, and a little gore have come to the right place.” – Publishers Weekly

“A gorgeously written, chilling, atmospheric thriller. The streets of London have never been so sinister or so romantic.” – Cassandra Clare, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments series

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (book & movie review)

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: August 1st 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Silver star (4/5 stars)
Synopsis: In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now.

The Nine had to separate and go into hiding. The Mogadorian caught Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. All of them were killed. John Smith, of Paradise, Ohio, is Number Four. He knows that he is next.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is the thrilling launch of a series about an exceptional group of teens as they struggle to outrun their past, discover their future—and live a normal life on Earth.

I AM NUMBER FOUR.
I AM NEXT.

Book Review: Since I Am Number Four has been recently released as a movie, I took this opportunity to review both the movie and the book. I’ll be reviewing the book first and skip ahead if you want to read the movie review.

At first glance one would assume I Am Number Four is just another cheesy teenage paranormal romance but surprisingly I wound up liking it. The story revolves around John Smith, an alien from the planet of Lorien. There were nine of them and they have to be killed in order of their numbers. Number three had just died and John is next. So John and his guardian, Henri, move to Ohio. He thought he could go unnoticed but little did he know he would catch the eye of Sarah and making an enemy on the first day.

Lore did a fantastic job of pacing the story and I practically tore through the novel. I loved John’s character and despite rolling my eyes at the cliché romance, I thought Sarah and John were a good match for each other.

Unlike other supernatural books, usually it is the love interest who finds out the main character’s secret. But this time round, it was someone else. The secondary characters were quite well done and all had a part to play in the climax. The character development was fantastic; seeing the character’s transform from the first page to the last was truly eye opening.

Overall, I recommend I Am Number Four and seeing how the protagonist is a guy, I think teenage guys will enjoy this novel too. Hand this book over to any Twilight fan and you will find them nose-deep in it within seconds.

Movie review: The beginning started out very cleverly, and left us wanting more. However I felt halfway throughout the movie things start to fizzle out a little. The presence of Mogadorians gave the audience an idea of who was tracking the aliens. Every time they appeared on screen, it left me with a chill down my spine.

The movie was not entirely action packed. Don’t go to the cinema expecting a flick with fighting and major action every few minutes. The movie was quite mild until the last 45 minutes when the battle started. It was also at the end when we are introduced to Number Six and personally I hated how the trailer revealed who the mysterious motorcycle riding girl was.

While I am a total fan of Alex Pettyfer, I didn’t think that he was his best in the movie. I thought he was so much more good looking in Wild Child (starring Emma Roberts). And also, what is with everyone saying he should also be Peeta Mellark and Jace Wayland? For goodness sake, give some other actor a chance! It’s so hard to one guy playing three different guys in three different YA novels. It’s just ruins the image. You know what I mean? It’s like how people can’t imagine Daniel Radcliffe playing someone other than Harry Potter. Can you imagine Dan playing John Smith? No! That’s exactly what I mean. It was strange seeing Dianna Agron play someone else but I thought she pulled off pretty well. Every time Sarah and John locked eyes, I swear, I saw sparks flying every where.

In conclusion I Am Number Four the movie was good but the book was better than the movie. Still, it’s worth watching. I mean… hey you get to see Alex shirtless! 😉

3.5/5 stars for the movie

The Lost Saint by Bree Despain

The Lost Saint by Bree Despain
Publisher: Egmont USA
Publication Date: December 28th 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Bronze star (2/5 stars)

Synopsis: A family destroyed. A love threatened. An enemy returns.

Grace Divine made the ultimate sacrifice to cure Daniel Kalbi. She was infected with he werewolf curse while trying to save him, and lost her beloved brother in the process.

Desperate to find Jude, Grace befriends Talbot, a newcomer to town. But as the two grow closer, Grace’s relationship with Daniel is put in danger — in more ways than one.

Unaware of the dark path she is walking, Grace begins to give into the wolf inside of her — not realizing that an enemy has returned and a deadly trap is about to be sprung.

Bree Despain delivers sizzling romance and thrilling action in the heart-pounding sequel to the The Dark Divine.

Review: Having read The Dark Divine, I knew better than to have high expectations for The Lost Saint.

First and foremost, I did not love the first novel, The Dark Divine. While everyone found it amazing and raved about it, I was quite the opposite. It was one of those ‘meh’ kind of books, nothing impressive. The Lost Saint was better than the predecessor but still fell short. It was too cliché and it did not take me long to figure out what was going on. Honestly I can’t say too much without revealing the whole plot because it was so obvious but Grace was clueless (as usual).

Grace was extremely naive in this novel, she began to trust and doubt the wrong people. It seems to be growing increasingly popular to have some sort of conflict in the romance during the second novel of a series. Crescendo, Blue Moon, Ascendant… just to name a few. The whole thing (it wasn’t exactly a romance) with a certain someone was wrong and not to mention implausible. Keeping secrets from your boyfriend and going against his wishes? Tell me how am I suppose to believe Grace was madly in love with Daniel when she started having suspicions about him and sneaking behind his back. Sometimes I wanted to dive into the book and strangle shake her and ask her why she was doing such stupid things.

In the novel I sensed that Despain was trying to add some spunk to Grace to show that she was not a meek character but it gave me the impression that Grace wanted an early death. Her fearlessness came off as stupidity and if anything, further made me despise Grace. Although the mythology in the novel was creative, I would find my eyes occasionally glazing over it, just purely because I couldn’t wait to get to the end.

The writing was stilted and it may be the author’s writing style but it drove me bananas; I didn’t like the short, clipped, repetitive sentences nor did I like the sentences that had too many things going on. What do I mean by that?

I’d been so distracted by my ridiculous clothes, and the prospect of getting mugged and/or solicited by a total stranger, that I hadn’t even paid attention to the architecture around us.

I didn’t understand why the author had to include the part after the hyphen. Is it really necessary?!

The only thing I liked about The Lost Saint was that the plot was more engaging compared to the earlier novel. The urge to find out the truth was the driving force of the novel and ultimately if the plot had not been so exciting, I’d have given up this novel a long time ago. Overall, this is one of the books that everyone else loved but I didn’t. Nothing against the author but I don’t recommend it.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 12th 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.5/5 stars)

Synopsis: A 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?

Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.

Review: Please Ignore Vera Dietz is the type of book that demands your attention and needs to be read by everyone. It has a wonderful, imperfect narrator, a dead best friend, and incredibly striking prose. In short, I loved it. Please Ignore Vera Dietz is one darn good book. No wonder it’s a 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book.

The prose is compelling and goes hand in hand with the addictive plot. The mystery behind Charlie’s death had me frantically flipping pages; I was so anxious to find out what happened to him. But as the story unfolded, I slowly savored the pages and just went with the flow. I loved how the book had some interesting things like flow charts! That probably sounds boring to you but trust me, they are fun to read! King did an excellent job with the parent figure in this novel. Vera’s single father was present throughout the novel and I thought this novel was a great example of how the parent figure could be developed in a novel. Mr Dietz is definitely one of my favorite parents among all the YA novels I’ve read.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an engrossing, fast-paced, well-written novel that I recommend to all teens. But of course, I’m sure adults will enjoy it just as much. The ending will leave any reader satisfied. Pick up this fantastic book today!

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
Publisher: Atheneum Books
Publication Date: August 31st 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4/5 stars)
Synopsis: Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game. Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.
Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.

His life depends on it.

Review: Nevermore is one of the best paranormal novels out there. Usually when we think of paranormal we often think of vampires. But nope, this book has not a single vampire in it. One thing is for sure: this is one book you definitely should check out the next time you are at the bookstore.

Isobel is a fantastic main character, I can’t begin to tell you how much. She’s the head cheerleader but she has a heart. She is not the typical cliché snobby cheerleader which is one of the best aspects of her. She is initially wary of Varen who is the outsider, whom was rumored to “sleep in a coffin”. I understood her intentions; being paired with the loner guy who no one wants to be associated with. But when her friends disapprove of them working together on the project, Isobel feels the need to protect Varen. Isobel was a bit of a mean girl when the book started but like I mentioned above, I understand how you wouldn’t want to be paired together with an outcast.

Varen is the pierced-lip, black-clad guy who is a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. But he has a secret his not telling Isobel. For the most part I liked Varen compared to Isobel’s popular friends who are unfortunately the usual stereotypes. However, Varen and Isobel’s attraction is not one that takes place instantly but over the course of the novel. The romance is quiet but it soon blossoms into a lovely romance that will warm your heart.

I enjoyed reading Nevermore as a big portion of the book took place in school and it’s a change because normally books that took place in school often overlook things like homework. But yes, Isobal and Varen do homework! In terms of length, Nevermore is quite a hefty book but trust me, you will love every second of it! The paranormal aspect was bizarre yet real and it was not very overwhelming.

Despite loving the book, the climax was a bit of a letdown and the ending had a major cliffhanger which obviously to set us up for the next installment — 2012 can’t get here fast enough. I absolutely CANNOT wait for it!

Read an excerpt of chapter one here and if you liked it, get your own copy ASAP!

Girl Saves Boy by Steph Bowe

Girl Saves Boy by Steph Bowe
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication Date: August 30th 2010
Buy it from: Amazon (free shipping worldwide!)
Silver star (3.5/5 stars)
Synopsis: Isn’t it enough having your very own terminal disease, without your mother dying? Or your father dating your Art teacher?

No wonder Sacha Thomas ends up in the lake that Saturday evening…

But the real question is: how does he end up in love with Jewel Valentine?

With the help of quirky teenage prodigies Little Al and True Grisham, Sacha and Jewel have a crazy adventure, with a little lobster emancipation along the way.

But Sacha’s running out of time, and Jewel has secrets of her own.

Girl Saves Boy is a hugely talented debut novel, funny and sad, silly and wise. It’s a story of life, death, love… and garden gnomes.

Review: When I first heard about this book, I was impressed to find out that Bowe was only sixteen years old. Bowe is a sixteen year old Australian writer and Girl Saves Boy is her debut novel. It was published by Text Publishing in Australia & New Zealand, but I think it’ll be making it’s way over to the States soon.

First off, I loved how the book was centered around Jewel and Sacha are both flawed characters (have I mentioned how much I loved characters who are not perfect?) who found each other. I found myself able to relate to both characters to a certain extent. Sacha’s early chapters were truly heartbreaking and so were Jewel’s. However, much to my dismay, there were too many subplots and even at the end, some issues were not entirely resolved. The vague abrupt ending was also very disappointing. If you want a book to have a sad ending, then let it have a sad ending. Vice versa. Don’t leave the readers to imagine the ending for themselves. It’s frustrating! Also, Sacha and Jewel’s romance seemed to escalate very quickly in a week and it was rather unbelievable. I wished the romance had been given more time to be developed. The secondary characters were also quite bland. Sad to say, there was nothing very distinct about each character.

But the best thing about this book would be the writing. The writing is not fluffy, like the pink cover suggests, instead it’s realistic but sometimes a little depressing. However, that does not deter one from enjoying the book. The prose is quite similar to Jandy Nelson’s if you are wondering. There were several fabulous scenes in the novel where Bowe’s writing shone and I particularly enjoyed the one were Sacha and his friend rescued the lobster from the Chinese restaurant.

In the end, I didn’t enjoy Girl Saves Boy as much as I would have liked but it still kept me hooked onto for ages. Sadly it was a number of issues that prevented me from really loving it. At times funny, at times painful, Girl Saves Boy is a story of two teenagers and their journey to self-discovery.