YA book reviews, reading and recommending since 2009

Archive for the ‘gold star’ 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.

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!

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!

The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
Publication Date: June 29th 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4/5 stars)

Synopsis: After a close encounter with the front end of a school bus, Alona Dare goes from Homecoming Queen to Queen of the Dead. Now she’s stuck as a spirit (DON’T call her a ghost) in the land of the living with no sign of the big, bright light to take her away. To make matters worse, the only person who might be able to help her is Will Killian, a total loser outcast who despises the social elite. He alone can see and hear (turns out he’s been “blessed” with the ability to communicate with the dead), but he wants nothing to do with the former mean girl of Groundsboro High.

Alona has never needed anyone for anything, and now she’s supposed to expose her deepest, darkest secrets to this pseudo-goth boy? Right. She’s not telling anyone what really happened the day she died, not even to save her eternal soul. And Will’s not filling out any volunteer forms to help her cross to the other side. He only has a few more weeks until his graduation, when he can strike out on his own and find a place with less spiritual interference. But he has to survive and stay out of the psych ward until then. Can they get over their mutual distrust—and the weird attraction between them—to work together before Alona vanishes for good and Will is locked up for seeing things that don’t exist?

Review: The Ghost and the Goth is one of the best books told in alternate Point of View. I am disappointed that this book is not getting as much hype as it should be getting because I love, love, love this book! The book alternates between Alona, the ghost and Will, the goth who can see ghosts. I loved Alone’s POV. It was clear that she was a very confident person and cared a lot about her image, yet she was not one of those unbearable narrators. I actually liked reading in her POV. If a narrator is a ‘mean girl’ and can still be likable enough for me to continue reading the book, the writing is definitely impressive. The book started off with this (in Alona’s POV):

Dying should have been the worst moment in my life. I mean, hello, getting run over by a school bus full of band geeks while wearing the regulation gym uniform of red polyester short shorts and a practically see-through white T-shirt? It doesn’t get more tragic than that.

A brilliant combination of witty and delightful writing. You can see why I fell in love with this novel. Kade brings to Alona to life even though she was dead. Although Alona can be pretty mean sometimes, she is never infuriating and I actually felt sympathetic towards her. She has a snarky voice that definitely stands out among most narrators in YA books. That being said, I also enjoyed reading in Will’s POV and he is a refreshing change in the YA lit. Will and Alona forge an unlikely new friendship and I loved seeing how things progressed between them. Their banter were always adorable and hilarious and really true-to-life. I don’t want to spoil the plot for you but I cannot stress enough: This book was so good, I was so involved with the story, I found myself reading till midnight just to finish it!

I enjoyed this wonderful novel and wholeheartedly recommend to readers who wanted an addictive fast-paced read. I cannot wait to read more books in the trilogy. Don’t worry, The Ghost and the Goth is excellent on it’s own.

The Ghost and the Goth has been nominated for a Best Fiction for Young Adults award (BFYA) through the American Library Association (ALA). I am absolutely happy to hear that! Visit Stacey Kade at her website.

Tell Me A Secret by Holly Cupala

Tell Me A Secret by Holly Cupala
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 22nd 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4/5 stars)

Synopsis: In the five years since her bad-girl sister Xanda’s death, Miranda Mathison has wondered about the secret her sister took to the grave, and what really happened the night she died. Now, just as Miranda is on the cusp of her dreams—a best friend to unlock her sister’s world, a ticket to art school, and a boyfriend to fly her away from it all—Miranda has a secret all her own.

Then two lines on a pregnancy test confirm her worst fears. Stripped of her former life, Miranda must make a choice with tremendous consequences and finally face her sister’s demons and her own.

In this powerful debut novel, stunning new talent Holly Cupala illuminates the dark struggle of a girl who must let go of her past to find a way into her own future.

Review: Every once in a while, a good book comes along and sweeps me away. Tell Me A Secret is one of them. Tell Me A Secret is an excellent character-driven book. It is because of Miranda that this novel shines so brightly – because of her frank, painfully honest voice. Told in the point of view of a pregnant teen, this novel was heartwrenching, utterly saddening yet full of hope. Hope that Miranda will overcome the ordeal and move on, and become the best teenage mother out there.

Throughout the novel, there were many flashbacks to scenes before the pregnancy and when Xanda was still around. They were interesting to read about and I appreciated how they were woven into the story and fit nicely in place. Miranda’s interactions with her family (especially with her mother) were heartbreaking but wholly genuine, as is her relationship with her school friends. Her family problems were relateable and well depicted. In a book like this, the parent role is important so thankfully there were no absentee parents. Everything was brilliantly done and I applaud to Cupala! She has written a book that touched me deeply and it was one that actually that made me care so much for the characters’ future.

As the book progressed, the layers are slowly peeled back and we see the true colors of some of the characters. In some ways, readers could see it coming but to see it actually happening was very saddening. In the end, Cupala wraps the story up nicely, giving room for readers to imagine how Miranda’s future will be like but at the same time reassuring readers that the worst is over and life will get better. However, I do have to complain that sometimes the flashbacks were confusing and I had to refer back occasionally to see if Miranda was talking about the past or present.

Overall, I absolutely loved this novel. Cupala perfectly captured the turbulent roller-coaster ride of being a pregnant teen in spare, truthful prose. Readers will be taken on a truly unforgettable journey. You’ll probably enjoy this book if you liked Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (in a way, Miranda, reminds me of Melinda in Speak), Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles and After by Amy Efaw.

Now that you’ve read my review, why not check out the amazing trailer?

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Publisher: Little Brown
Publication Date: April 1st 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4/5 stars)

Synopsis: At her boarding school in New Zealand, Ellie Spencer is like any ordinary teen: she hangs out with her best friend, Kevin; obsesses over her crush on a mysterious boy; and her biggest worry is her paper deadline. Then everything changes: In the foggy woods near the school, something ancient and deadly is waiting.

Debut author Karen Healey introduces a savvy and spirited heroine with a strong, fresh voice. Full of deliciously creepy details, this unique, incredible adventure is a deftly crafted story of Māori mythology, romance, betrayal, and war.

Review: First off I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed Guardian of the Dead, although I was hesitant to start it as I was afraid it’d disappoint me. It has definitely left a strong impression on me. It is an incredible book not only in terms of world building but also characterisation. Full of vibrant characters, Healey’s powerful writing and the unique elements will cause this novel to stand out among the YA novels out there. Healey goes against the norm by writing about Māori mythology, having an Asian friend, having the protagonist be involved in a play, set the story in New Zealand… the list goes on!

Ellie was an excellent narrator with a strong unique voice. Sharp and sassy, she’s like the best friend you never had. Of course, she’s a flawed character. When we’re first introduced to her, she was waking up from a handover, with a boy in her room! Yes, with that kind of beginning, it’s bound to stay in your head for a long long time. Did I also mention that she’s also fat? Finally, a character who accepts their weight. Also, Ellie’s weight problem was mentioned only once in the book and throughout the entire novel, I pretty much forgot Ellie was not one of those skinny characters. In fact, the Ellie I pictured was pretty. I simply adored the characters, Kevin, Iris and Mark (!!!). All of them were endearing, charming and fun to read about.

The mythology was handled very well and Healey explained it very clearly so even me, who had no knowledge about Māori mythology prior to this book could understand it. The story was well-paced and there was a built up to the final climax. The climax was pulse-pounding, utterly engrossing and left me speechless. Healey threw in a twist at the end which I did not see coming and believe me, it left me with a stunned expression on my face. Let’s just say, you’ll never see it coming. Healey is an author who is not afraid to do evil things to her characters. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

However, there is something about Guardian of the Dead that made me not want to rate it 5/5. Perhaps I was annoyed by how a certain someone betrayed Ellie. Other than that, superb writing, finely tuned plot, unique setting, I’m satisfied!

Guardian of the Dead left me enraged, smittened, and dying for the sequel. (If you’ve read the book, email Ms. Healey and let her know YOU want the sequel. And buy her book so that the publisher will know YOU want the sequel! 😉 I love her book too much.) I shall leave you with three words: BUY IT NOW. 🙂

Review copy provided by publisher.
Visit Karen Healey’s website and follow her on Twitter (@kehealey)!

What authors are saying:
“Smart, hilarious, and wholly unique. Healey makes juxtaposing totally modern characters with numinous and ancient magic look effortless.– Holly Black (the Modern Faerie series, The Spiderwick Chronicles)

“It’s been a long time since a debut novel grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. Quite simply, GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD is my favorite kind of read—creepy, funny, sexy, smart, and sometimes just downright, pull-the-covers-up-to-your-neck-and-pray-for-morning frightening. This book completely rocked my socks.” – Libba Bray (A Great And Terrible Beauty)