Plot synopsis from Goodreads: Orphaned after the death of her mother, eighteen-year-old Esther Chambers heads west in search of her only living relative. In the lawless frontier town of Century, Oregon, she’s met by her distant cousin, a laconic cattle rancher named Ferris Pickett. Pick leads her to a tiny cabin by a small lake called Half-a-Mind, and there she begins her new life as a homesteader. If she can hold out for five years, the land will join Pick’s already impressive spread.
But Esther discovers that this town on the edge of civilization is in the midst of a range war. There’s plenty of land, but somehow it is not enough for the ranchers—it’s cattle against sheep, with water at a premium. In this charged climate, small incidents of violence swiftly escalate, and Esther finds her sympathies divided between her cousin and a sheepherder named Ben Cruff, a sworn enemy of the cattle ranchers. As her feelings for Ben and for her land grow, she begins to see she can’t be loyal to both.
I loved Little Century so much. I finished it months ago and cannot get it out of my mind, especially the text of the last page. In fact, this, along with Code Name Verity and Fever were my three favorite reads during 2012. The writing is beautiful but not self-consciously so. It seems effortless, and it's hard to believe Little Century is a debut novel. Esther is a sympathetic heroine and all of the characters felt so real to me, from Pick to Ben to the storekeeper she befriends and the school teacher who takes Esther under her wing. This is one of the best books I have read in years. I recommend Little Century highly to fans of westerns, pioneer stories, historical fiction, and beautiful writing in general.This is a book targeted to adults that will appeal to teens as well.
Plot Synopsis from Goodreads: In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?
In the Shadow of Blackbirds combines some of my biggest interests: the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and the spiritualism craze that swept the globe (especially spirit photography). So I was already predisposed to like it before I opened it. However, when you have an interest in a time period you are also likely to be more critical of any perceived shortcomings. Luckily, Cat Winters did an incredible job with this story and I was impressed all around.The imagery and atmosphere Winters has created is unbelievable.
The setting of Blackbirds rang true for me in every detail...I felt like she had actually witnessed the time period, in San Diego, herself. And Mary Shelley Black is a butt-kicking heroine in every way, from the goggles she wears at any time of day and her mother's old doctor bag she carries around with her (not to mention her refusal to worry about how odd she might look sporting those items), to her persistence in discovering what has happened to her first love, Stephen. Mary Shelley Black is someone you would be proud and lucky to have as a daughter, a niece, a friend. Temper and a tendency to stubbornness keep her feeling like a three-dimensional protagonist and not a cardboard cutout of quirky modern-day hipness. In short, Mary Shelley rocks.
Oh and can I just say, the blackbirds? Never would I have thought that plain birds could be so horrifying. The photos chosen for the illustrations are all creepy and haunting and atmospheric...and did I mention creepy?
All of the scenes involving Stephen are wrenching and...
What actually happened to Stephen was so, so, SO much worse than anything I could have imagined. Shocking and brutal and haunting, and above all, unpredictable. I never dreamed Winters would 'take it there' but she proves herself to be a fearless author with the risks she takes. As a result, there is so much emotional impact in a book where the love story is primarily all back story--not an easy feat.
I highly, highly recommend this book.
Plot Synopsis from Goodreads: It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn't matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.
This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, "pretty" and "ugly." And it's also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two
The List is a very well-written book that examines what happens after eight high school girls are designated either the prettiest or ugliest in their grade. It's often brutal to read but unflinchingly honest about what high school can be like.
I especially liked the characters of Milo and Danielle and really felt for Lauren. Even though the storyline was split among so many characters' perspectives, I felt like I got inside each girl's head enough to understand her motivations and reactions. That can't have been easy to write.
GENERAL SPOILER ALERT: The List has kind of a Chocolate War (the movie) ending in that there is a lot of suffering, then seeming closure and hope that a bad tradition will end, but then...maybe...not so much. It was a realistic ending though. END GENERAL SPOILER.
I would highly recommend The List book to upper YAs and adults who appreciate thoughtful, well-written contemporary novels that make you think "What would I do in this situation? How would I react?"
I will be checking out Siobhan Vivian's previous novels ASAP.
Publisher Summary Courtesy of Goodreads:
Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations. Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.
I had never read a Robin Benway book prior to Also Known As, but had heard good things about Audrey, Wait. I liked the blurb on this book. it reminded me of the Ally Carter books and I was in the mood for something fun and lighthearted.
Maggie Silver is a sassy, slightly snarky heroine with a seriously unconventional background and I enjoyed being in her head and seeing the world through her eyes. Although she's an accomplished safecracker with super-spies for parents, she's not completely impervious to normal teenage woes. She can't accessorize to save her life, she gets crushes on boys, and has awkward moments trying to relate to the kids her own age. And although she should be hardened by a life spent on the edge, she still has a conscience.
Maggie's first assignment feels like way too much responsibility for a teenager once you learn what is actually at stake, but the author carries it off and you have to be willing to suspend a little disbelief to enjoy a book like this. Benway drops little clues along the way that feel like throwaway points, only to bring them back in at the end in a way that keeps you guessing until the end, but feels satisfying and earned. I thought I had it all figured out but I was surprised, and I always enjoy it when an author can pull one over on me when I am looking for it to happen. Well done. I would recommend this book to fans of Ally Carter and anyone who enjoys sassy dialogue, a sweet love story (no triangles, yay!) and compelling and capable heroines.
Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.
Summary from Razorbill via Amazon:
The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.
For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders?
With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.
Brenna Yovanoff has done it again with yet another book I could not put down from the moment I put it up. Paper Valentine is also completely unlike The Replacement and The Space Between, her previous titles. Hannah and Lillian were very real to me. While Lillian was very hard to like at many points during the book, she was a sympathetic and fully-realized character.
I would have liked to have more character development for love interest Finny, but there was so much going on in this book already that it might have been 'too much.' He is a typical-for-Yovanoff intriguing and unusual love interest, so there is that. No cardboard cutouts or Cullen-alikes here.
The mystery did keep me guessing even though I am usually pretty good at figuring these out. I still am not sure what the birds dying had to do with the story but it definitely helped to add atmosphere to this spooky story. I can't wait to read Yovanoff's next book--she has been a 'must read' author since 'The Replacement.'
Recommended for fans of horror as well as ghost stories and just good writing that slowly builds tension.
*I read this book via a complimentary e-copy from Netgalley.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Mary Mallon was a courageous, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who bravely came to America alone, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny, and coveted, talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless “medical engineer” proposed the inconceivable notion of the “asymptomatic carrier”—and from then on Mary Mallon was a hunted woman.
I read this title because I'm fascinated with tales of diseases, how they spread, and the human stories behind them. I didn't really know anything about Mary Mallon going in, other than that she gave a lot of people typhoid and people who come to work with the flu or pinkeye are likely to get called "Typhoid Mary." But I was hooked by the first few pages and soon was reading this book while brushing my teeth, drying my hair, even while sitting in traffic waiting for a train to pass. The setting and time felt so real to me that this book felt more like non-fiction written in an ultra-engaging style rather than a novel. Clearly Keane did her research because everything about this book felt authentic.
Halfway through the book, I had to look Mary Mallon up on Wikipedia to see what happened to her. What I learned rendered her so unsympathetic to me that I wavered on whether I would finish the book or not. I kept reading because I really just couldn't stop, and I am glad I did.
Keane is an incredible writer, creating a three dimensional, ultimately sympathetic character in a woman it would be so easy to despise due to her actions. At times I wanted to smack Mary Mallon and other times I felt so much pity for her. What I never expected to do was cry, and I made it all the way to the last page before I did! That last paragraph did me in.
I would recommend "Fever" to anyone who enjoys well-researched historical fiction, books such as "The Hot Zone" (non-fiction, but written in a suspense novel style), or books chronicling the human toll of diseases, such as "And the Band Played On."
This was one of my three favorite books for the year 2012. Five stars.
Plot 'synopsis' from GoodReads (I can't even begin to summarize the plot for fear I'll give something away): I have two weeks. You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.That's what you do to enemy agents. It's what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I'm going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.We are a sensational team
.Code Name Verity
has put me in somewhat of an awkward position. It's only May, and already I have read the best book I will read all year. It's also the first book I have felt compelled to review in the midst of a lot of upheaval and extra work at my former job and amidst the transition to a new, wonderful but very demanding, career. Code Name Verity
has set the bar so high that I may have to take a reading vacation to appreciate the next book fairly.
Ms. Wein's plotting is impeccable. If you love twists and turns and revelations that have you scrambling back to the beginning to see where the author has dropped clues and foreshadowed in so subtle a way that you didn't even notice it to begin with, this is your book. Code Name Verity
has adventure, suspense, strong female protagonists, three-dimensional characters (even the most vile of Nazis aren't cardboard cutouts), and will inspire laughter and tears. I wish I could say more about the main characters and the plot but I would hate to spoil even one aspect for another reader.
This is a Perfect Book. They don't come along very often in life, so don't miss out on this one. ETA: Check out the amazing book trailer here.
I am a HUGE fan of Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series. If you enjoy twisty, turny plotting, unbearable suspense, complex, intriguing characters and good old gothic atmosphere then these are the books for you. The third and final title, Isle of Blood, is out September 13 and I will be at at Books A Million when they open. I might need to take a vacation day because how am I going to go into work with that book just sitting in my car, alone, unread, and neglected?? :)
Just saw some early reviews quoted on Amazon that have me anticipating this book even more:
* "The relationship between Will and his master has never been more complex...Yancey’s skill as a stylist cannot be denied."--Booklist, starred review
* "Articulately literary, horrifically grotesque and mind-bendingly complex, Yancey’s trilogy conclusion might be the best of the Monstrumologist trilogy. His 19th-century dialogue and descriptions run even smoother than the previous two titles, and his characters have grown deeply complex. He deftly blurs lines between science and the supernatural, and what results is a long, dark-night-of-the-soul journey for both Will Henry and Pellinore that is certain to turn the hearts and the stomachs of every reader who dares open its pages."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
I don't see how the 3rd can possibly be BETTER than the first two, and yet the second one was (impossibly enough) better than the first so anything is possible. I. Cannot. Wait.
Will Isle of Blood be able to unseat Daughter of Smoke and Bone as my favorite book of 2011?
We'll see on September 13!
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.
I had not heard much about this book…except the general hype about how awesome it was. However, I had heard that about two new books this year and they were both only 3-star reads for me. So I tend to shrug off extreme hype.
But the back cover blurb (quoted above) was so awesome with the handprints and the devil’s jar of teeth and Prague that I’ll admit, I wanted to love it.
I am so happy to be able to say I did.
I am not going to tell you anything about the plot. I didn't know any about the plot going in and feel that is the best way to read this book.
9 Things I Can Say about Daughter of Smoke and Bone:
1) Writing: Beautiful. Anybody who thinks genre writing, and especially YA, cannot also be literary? Please read this book. I dare you.
2) Taylor’s imagination: Gaiman-esque. That is about the best thing I can think of to say about someone’s imagination.
3) Karou, the heroine: One of the most endearing, empathetic and kick-butt heroines I have come across in a long time.
4) Zuzana, Karou’s best friend: Yay! A secondary character with a vivid personality of her own, plus a relationship of loyalty & trust that was so fun to read.
5) World-building: Taken to a level of detail and richness (and originality) that will captivate you.
6) Love story: Surprised me on every level. I was concerned about this element when it started up—I didn’t think it was necessary, there was so much awesome already. But I was wrong. It was necessary. I can’t really say more. You have to read it for yourself.
7) Plotting: Complex and twisting and unpredictable.
8) Details: This is a book where every word is chosen oh-so-carefully. There are no throwaways here. Pay attention…it will be so much more satisfying at the end if you do.
9) Order this for your library now. Teens are going to want to read it. Adults too. And, this is another one I expect to see awards for.
I only had two quibbles:
A) The first half of the book is so very, very different from the second half. It was a little jarring for me at first. It was transitioned into very well, but I so loved loved loved the world of Prague and the art school and her ‘family,’ that when things changed, I was not ready to let go. I resisted. I wanted my first half back. I wanted the book I THOUGHT I was getting. I did not make peace with it until the end. But I DID make peace with it. :)
B) The last three words…To Be Continued… ‘nuff said.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone has all the ingredients for a pageturner...surprise, action, suspense, betrayal, love (lots of love), heartbreak (lots of heartbreak)…but best of all…hope.
The Scorpio Races
By Maggie Steifvater
I have been a Maggie Stiefvater fan for several years. I was excited to hear about her upcoming stand-alone novel, set in a completely different world than her Shiver or Ballad series. I was also interested to read a take on a legend that hasn’t been done to death–magical water horses that rise from the surf. Luckily, The Scorpio Races did not disappoint.
Warning: mild spoilers ahead.
Puck (Kate) Connolly is an orphan, her parents killed by the water horses (cappall usice, pronounced copple ooshka) years ago. She lives with her brothers, Finn and Gabe, on the island of Thisby, a beautiful but desolate place where making a living is difficult and many locals abandon the island for the mainland. Thisby is challenging not only for economic reasons, but also due to the cappall usice and the violence that is a result of their presence both in the water and on the beach. The culmination of this violence is seen every year at the Scorpio Races, where residents mount the water horses and compete in a deadly race for win glory and riches. When Puck learns that Gabe plans to leave the island, and that they are about to lose their home, she decides she has no choice but to enter the Scorpio Races and take her chances.
Sean Kendrick’s father was also killed by a cappall usice. Despite this fact, Sean has developed a way with the water horses that make him a valuable employee to Benjamin Malvern, the wealthiest stable owner on the island. Sean’s talents have also caused Mr. Malvern’s son Mutt to hate and envy him, a rivalry that ultimately has brutal consequences. Sean wants to win this year’s Scorpio Races not only because it’s expected of him, but because winning might give him the chance to purchase his favorite water horse and strike out on his own.
Puck and Sean are both sympathetic characters. The island is also populated with interesting personalities that provide some comic relief. The main antagonist is so despicable he verges on being a one-note character, but Stiefvater gives him motivation for his horrible behavior. The love story between Puck and Sean builds slowly but realistically, especially given the circumstances and personalities of the pair. Sean and Puck are brave, hard-working and persistent. You can't help rooting for them both even though only one can win.
The odds continue to stack up against both characters throughout the story, making the suspense nearly unbearable at some points. Puck faces not only the violence of the horses, but also opposition because she is the first girl to enter the contest in the island's history. Sean feels compelled to win while also protecting Puck and helping her to succeed. AGH! So much at stake!!!
I sometimes have a hard time finishing books with sad/violent incidents involving animals (or children). Even knowing it’s fiction, those scenes are hard to read and even harder to forget--that's just me. :) If you are the same, there are a couple of scenes in The Scorpio Races that may be tough to read. These horses are killers and carnivorous and there are drownings and maimings and some ruthless humans, too. But none of it is gratuitous-- it all serves the story, and adds to the weight of the task that both Puck and Sean have undertaken. Despite the fact that there are several heartbreaking scenes, I was still unable to put the book down.
One thing I appreciated most about this book was the author’s decision not to delve into the origins of the water horses and how they came to exist. Others may disagree, but I approve because, A) I didn’t miss the full origin story with so much else going on, and B) it made the presence of the cappall usice a given, a fact of life to accept and move on, and therefore made Thisby seem more like a real place. The Scorpio Races has supernatural elements, obviously, but it read as much like a historical novel as a fantasy adventure.
The writing is outstanding, the story compelling, and the characters real and sympathetic. I expect to see award nominations for this title. You will definitely want to add it to your YA collection this October--teens will be lining up to read it.
I would recommend this book to Stiefvater fans, teens who enjoyed The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, and readers who enjoy reinterpretations of legends and folklore. Highly recommended.
Release date October 18, 2011