YA book reviews, reading and recommending since 2009

Archive for the ‘gold star’ Category

Sea by Heidi R. Kling

Sea by Heidi R. Kling
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: June 10th 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.5/5 stars)

Synopsis: Still haunted by nightmares of her mother’s death, fifteen-year-old Sienna Jones reluctantly travels to Indonesia with her father’s relief team to help tsunami orphans with their post traumatic stress disorder—something Sienna knows a lot about. Since her mother’s plane went missing over the Indian Ocean three years before, Sienna doesn’t do anything if it involves the ocean or planes, so this trip is a big step forward.

But the last thing she expects is to fall for Deni, a brooding Indonesian boy who lives at the orphanage, and just so happens to be HOT. When Deni hears a rumor that his father may be alive, Sienna doesn’t think twice about running away with him to the epicenter of the disaster. Unfortunately, what they find there could break both their hearts.

A compelling summer romance, Sea marks the arrival of a stunning new voice in YA.

Review: Sea was one of my highly anticipated books of 2010 and it was certainly worth the wait. Set in a foreign country, Indonesia, Sea is a novel about first love, grief and a journey of self-discovery. It is a welcome change in YA lit, completely free of vampires, angels and what not.

Kling’s compelling writing instantly sucked me in and I was so caught up in the world and the story and everything that I didn’t realise how deeply absorbed I was. The writing was also the strength of this novel. The vivid imagery instantly transported me to Indonesia and the characters came to life before me; full of energy, depth and realism. What I loved the most about this novel was that Kling wrote every single detail about Sienna’s life in Indonesia, right down to the steaming bowls of sticky rice they ate, the lack of toilet paper and proper sanitation in the mandi and the fun times spent with Deni and the orphans.

Sienna was not the least adventurous on the outside but deep down, she had the bravery and courage. Deni was well painted character with a sad past. Both of them together made Sea a wonderful story that will leave you wanting more. However, I felt Spider needed more development, he was barely in the book, and I needed more pages with him in order to completely like him.

While I absolutely adored this book, I felt that the love triangle was not very well justified. In just a short time span, both Sienna and Deni fell hard for each other. Then there was the other guy, Spider who was waiting for Sienna back home. The ending just didn’t feel right to me when, everything happened to quickly and it was almost as if the romance had a happy ending for the sake of a happy ending. I just wished she chose one guy, and stuck with that choice.

Sea by Heidi R. Kling is recommended to fans of Twenty Boy Summer, The Summer I Turned Pretty and to anyone who wants a novel that has a passionate sweet romance. An unforgettable story, read this book!

Review copy provided by publisher.


Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Publication Date: March 23rd 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4/5 stars)

Synopsis: Sydelle Mirabil is living proof that, with a single drop of rain, a life can be changed forever. Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the kingdom, her dusty village has suffered under the weight of a strangely persistent drought. That is, of course, until a wizard wanders into town and brings the rain with him.

In return for this gift, Wayland North is offered any reward he desires—and no one is more surprised than Sydelle when, without any explanation, he chooses her. Taken from her home, Sydelle hardly needs encouragement to find reasons to dislike North. He drinks too much and bathes too little, and if that isn’t enough to drive her to madness, North rarely even uses the magic he takes such pride in possessing. Yet, it’s not long before she realizes there’s something strange about the wizard, who is as fiercely protective of her as he is secretive about a curse that turns his limbs a sinister shade of black and leaves him breathless with agony. Unfortunately, there is never a chance for her to seek answers.

Along with the strangely powerful quakes and storms that trace their path across the kingdom, other wizards begin to take an inexplicable interest in her as well, resulting in a series of deadly duels. Against a backdrop of war and uncertainty, Sydelle is faced with the growing awareness that these events aren’t as random as she had believed—that no curse, not even that of Wayland North, is quite as terrible as the one she herself may carry.

Review: I am not much of a fantasy reader, until now, I have always been staying away from them. But surprise surprise, I wanted to give Brightly Woven a chance because I’ve heard many wonderful things about it. Now, I would love to read more books like Bracken’s.

Brightly Woven is a novel full of magic, suspense, intrigue, adventure and romance no less. The writing is simply stunning and exquisite. It’s superb standard is something I would expect from an author who has three or four novels, and certainly not by a debut novelist. Very remarkable. And so it begins with this sentence “The day the rains finally came was like any other, with blistering air coating the canyon in a heavy stillness.” It took me a while to grasp the language but as I delved further into the book, I was caught up in the plot that I did not mind the slightly foreign language. Everything about this book was downright fascinating. From the characters to the language to the places Sydelle and North travel to. The beginning of the novel reminded me of Ice by Sarah Beth Durst as Cassie also embarked on an adventure with a stranger whom she was initially wary of. Nevertheless, both books are extremely unique in their own ways but both are highly imaginative and wonderfully written.

Sydelle’s character was portrayed accurately with her uncertainties and insecurities about North. Strong, intelligent, stubborn, determined heroines are increasingly rare in YA genre of late (although there are a good number of such heroines out there) and Sydelle was a welcome addition to the list of feisty heroines. She was extremely resourceful and a good companion for North as she kept him grounded before he became too drunk. However, I did not always agree with her actions, finding her decisions rash at times. North was a character so endearing that I may have almost broken down once or twice in the book because of him. I would love to see more of him in future novels.

Even in the midst of the adventure and tension, Bracken manages to incorporate humor to the novel. I must also hand it to Bracken, she wrote and edited Brightly Woven while she was still in college. How amazing is that? I can’t even find the time to do my homework! If it had not been for the slow start, too many names of places, and Sydelle’s rash actions, I think Brightly Woven would have gotten 5/5 stars. I cannot stress enough, Brightly Woven is highly recommend! Read it to discover the magical world yourself.

Two of my favorite quotes from Brightly Woven are on Goodreads. If you like them too, please add them to your fave quotes!

“He’s just like a stallion. Wild and kicking on the outside, but a heart soft as satin on the inside. Just waiting for the right girl to break him in.”

“Ah, I thought, feeling the first brush of tingling warmth as we fell into the unknown. Magic.”
Add to your Goodreads quotes!

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.

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzarb

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzarb
Publisher: Delacorte BFYR
Publication Date: January 12th 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.5/5 stars)

Synopsis: Carly: She was sweet. Smart. Self-destructive. She knew the secrets of Brighton Day School’s most privileged students. Secrets that got her killed.

Neily: Dumped by Carly for a notorious bad boy, Neily didn’t answer the phone call she made before she died. If he had, maybe he could have helped her. Now he can’t get the image of her lifeless body out of his mind.

Audrey: She’s the reason Carly got tangled up with Brighton’s fast crowd in the first place, and now she regrets it—especially since she’s convinced the police have put the wrong person in jail. Audrey thinks the murderer is someone at Brighton, and she wants Neily to help her find out who it is.

As reluctant allies Neily and Audrey dig into their shared past with Carly, her involvement with Brighton’s dark goings-on comes to light. But figuring out how Carly and her killer fit into the twisted drama will force Audrey and Neily to face hard truths about themselves and the girl they couldn’t save.

Review: All Unquiet Things really impressed me, I thought it would be good but not jawdropping kind of good. Jarzarb’s unique and refreshing narrative instantly captured me and I practically tore through the last half of the book. The book was filled with suspense and mystery making it impossible to put down.

Character development in this book was absolute perfection. Even though Carly was dead when we started the story, it felt as though she was really there with us throughout the book. The alternating chapters between Neily and Audrey were fabulously well-done and both of them had a distinct voice. I liked Neily’s chapters the best because he was a perfect narrator, his thoughts were always rational compared to Audrey who could be quite rash at times. Initially, I was wary of Audrey because she seemed to be hiding things from Neily but she slowly gained my trust and by the middle of the book, I thought ‘If Jarzarb was going to send us on a wild goose chase when the killer was there all along, I will throw this book out the window’.

*Slight spoiler*

I didn’t throw the book out the window. Now you know who was not the killer. 😉

*End spoiler*

Thankfully, the climax and final reveal of the killer were expertly delivered, leaving no unanswered questions. The ending to be very satisfying with a good resolution and I hope Jarzarb will write a sequel to this novel! I would love to see more of the characters.

At first glance, this book doesn’t seem fantastic and will win awards but it is one book that definitely fits into my criteria of ‘a good mystery novel’. Now I own a copy of this superb novel, maybe you should too.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: March 1st 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4.25/5 stars)

Synopsis: What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all—looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12th should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it’s her last. The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. In fact, she re-lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she had ever imagined.

Review: I admit, I still have mixed feelings about this book but I believe that a book has to be amazing book in order for it to linger long in my mind, days after reading it. The reason why I did not rate this book 5/5 is because of the slight ambiguity of the ending. If you’ve read the book, were you satisfied with how this played out? I understand why Oliver chose that route but it still breaks my heart every time I think about it.

Before I Fall is a story like no other, with its great plot and three-dimensional authentic characters, it is one book that received a lot of buzz. There’s no doubt that it is a beautifully written book. Reading this novel, I felt as if I was Sam, watching everything unfold from her eyes. I sympathized with her, but at times, I wanted to scream at her for her crappy decisions. And I definitely wanted to scream at one of her friends for her recklessness.

Sometimes I can read a book without feeling much emotions, but with Before I Fall, I laughed, cheered, may have screamed and nearly cried. The romance was tricky but Oliver pulled it off. It was wonderful reading scenes with Sam and the guy-who-will-not-be-named. Their love blossomed slowly and I appreciated how they did not rush into the relationship. If Oliver had added just a little more sprinkle of romance, you will find me with tears streaming down my face when I finished the novel. That is a high compliment because I almost never cry while reading books, well, except for that one time.

I particularly enjoyed how each day was almost the same as the previous but by doing the slightest thing differently, it leads to a different outcome. Oliver’s writing is rich and compelling and all the descriptions were so well-done that they painted vivid images in my mind. This novel is not one you will fall in love with immediately, instead, as the story progresses, you will start caring for the characters and by the end of the book, even if you still do not love them, you’ll still notice that the main character, Sam, experience tremendous character growth. I was rooting for Sam by the end of the novel; my emotions running high.

Lauren Oliver is definitely one author you should watch out for. Her sophomore novel, Delirium, will be out in 2011 and just so you know, I went to Goodreads and added Delirium to my To-Read list the moment I finished this heartrending novel.

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!