Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Throwback Review: The Wild Queen

Throwback Review from 2012!

The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots is a YA historical fiction novel by the great Carolyn Meyer.

When she was only six days old, Mary of Scotland was crowned Queen after the death of her father. Her mother was concerned for her future and set up a match for little Mary – a match that would one day make her the Queen of France as well by marrying the little dauphin. So, at only five years old Mary is sent to France to be raised alongside her future husband and the rest of the royal family.

It was unorthodox upbringing for a queen, but Mary grew close as siblings to her future husband and became a French girl through and through. Yet everything fell apart when her young husband dies and Mary, now a young woman of eighteen, sees her life fall apart.

All the years in France, away from her mother and her homeland, have come to nothing. She is childless, stripped of her title of Queen of France, and unwanted by her deceased husband’s grieving mother.

Trying to pull her future together once more, Mary is determined to return to Scotland and reign over what is rightfully hers.

But does Mary have what it takes to be queen?

The story of Mary, Queen of Scots might be familiar with many of you. If not, though, I didn’t want to go beyond the information I provided. In fact, I would’ve liked to have left even some of the information out – but I supposed you might want a general idea of what the novel’s about! Understandably so.

Carolyn Meyer has been feeding my captivation of young royals and historical tragedy with the Young Royals series for years. I have read all of them – except for Duchessina, which I need to remedy. One of the best things about the way she writes – she’s completely non-judgmental. For example, there are books focusing on Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, and here Mary, Queen of Scots individually, all of whom were certainly not friendly with one another – yet each is given their own story and chance to see the difficulty of each life without an obvious preference from the author.

With The Wild Queen, I am once more floored by the pressure and expectation on young children – it’s both fascinating and deeply sad. Carolyn Meyer yet again creates a riveting drama with flesh-and-blood characters out of the pages of history.

An air that is ominous and soaked in heartbreak yet to come permeates the story, yet I was glued from start to finish by its expertly written, never-ceasing intrigue. The desire for power instead of mere title is an ambition of headstrong Mary’s that plagues her life. It makes her a cautionary tale, but also an admirable one of a sort.

Here we have gripping historical detail with excellent pacing. The Wild Queen is a sad story of bad decisions shaping a dismal future – definitely one of the most melancholy downfalls of a strong female ruler that I know of.

Among the disappointments and shattered aspirations, though, there is an amazingly strong bond of friendship among Mary and her three close friends since childhood – possibly some of the only relationships that could truly be trusted in her lifetime.

The Wild Queen may be an utterly despairing tale, and one that leaves behind many questions about its mysterious subject, but it is also an unforgettable one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Start Where You Are



Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration is a non-fiction book by Meera Lee Patel, marketed for a YA audience but appropriate for all.

Whether you are undergoing a difficult change, a painful bump in the road of life or doing just fine in a contented place, Start Where You Are challenges you to look inwards and reflect.

As both a means of self-acceptance and self-improvement, Patel has put together this interactive, meaningful journal that includes a variety of thought-provoking quotations, stimulating lists and therapeutic abilities to draw out negativity in an artistic manner, through drawing and writing.

In developing imagination and positivity, reading through Patel’s book and circumnavigating the activities is memorable and feels like the silver lining on a rough day. It was a truly rewarding experience and I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Throwback Review: First Day on Earth

Throwback Review from 2012!


First Day on Earth is a YA contemporary novel by Cecil Castellucci.

Mal is on the outside and doesn’t care much about looking in. School doesn’t matter – why should it? He doesn’t care about grades, about friends, about what people think – about anything. Why should he? After all, he was abducted by aliens’ years ago – and he plans on returning with them the first chance he gets.

Of course, no one else believes him. They tell him that disappearing for three days and having no memory of the time period was just a breakdown, something explainable, something real. But he knows the truth. He has to believe it was more.

Otherwise he might have to stay in this world where his dad left his mom a broken shell, a woman who drinks the days away and is scorned by others. Otherwise he might have to live this life.

He needs to know for sure. He wants proof that he was abducted. He needs that hope.

Then one day at his abductee support group he meets Hopper. Hopper tells him something that might finally bring him close to the truth. Hopper might just turn Mal’s world upside down.

And Mal’s ready for it.

This is the second book I’ve read by Cecil Castellucci – the first being Boy Proof, which was surprisingly good. Again, she’s penned a beyond-the-ordinary contemporary novel that is one-of-a-kind and a little bizarre, but in a shockingly relatable way.

Mal is at times painfully bitter and self-pitying, but he also has this sense of compassion and desperate hope that makes you feel for him. And Castellucci is excellent at presenting the whole alien abduction thing in an objective way – you aren’t quite sure if you believe Mal, or if he did have a mental breakdown and continues this fantasy because of the dismal state of his life. It’s fascinating.

Without giving away any more plot points, I will say that I found First Day on Earth to be absorbing, inspiring, distinctive, offbeat, and charming in a minimalist, quiet way. It’s a very short book at only 150 pages but packed inside its words is a stunning, remarkable story very much worth reading.

And, oh my, the end? The end is incredible – and if you’re anything like me, bibliophile – it will leave you wondering for days later.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Guest Post with the Authors of A Totally Awkward Love Story

Just released on May 3rd, A Totally Awkward Love Story is a new YA novel that we ALL need to check out. Here's some details about the book:

Can you really be friends with your ex? Authors Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison are proof positive that it can be done. Former high school sweethearts and current best friends, Ellen and Ivison have co-created their debut YA novel A TOTALLY AWKWARD LOVE STORY a laugh-out-loud, witty, and sexy novel that features a budding as well as semi-floundering romance that is partially inspired by their own relationship. Despite countless moments where they are utterly smitten with one another, Hannah and Sam find themselves in a number of misunderstandings that veer them off course and into tremendously awkward territory. This raucously funny love story comes alive, with Tom writing Sam’s chapters and Lucy writing Hannah’s.

The summer before college Hannah is finally going to find The One. Then again, meeting him in the master bathroom of a house party--definitely not romantic. But for five perfect minutes, she's found him. She just wishes she caught his name, because "Toilet Boy Cinderella" really lacks sex appeal. Sam is over the moon that he met this strange and hilarious girl at a house party. Of course, with his luck, it couldn't last--without knowing her name, he'll probably never see her again, and remain a girlfriendless moony-eyed virgin. Forever. What follows is a summer hell-bent on keeping Sam and Hannah apart. For two people so clearly destined for one another, they sure have a lot of trouble even getting together. 

Reviewers are already praising A TOTALLY AWKWARD LOVE STORY, with Booklist calling the bookraunchy, irreverent slapstick in the vein of Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (2000)” and Bustle hailing the book as “totally relatable” and “will transport you back to your awkward teenage years.” The novel has also received high praise in the UK where it was shortlisted for the YA Bookseller prize. The Telegraph declared it “will make you laugh and cringe”.

Filled with madcap, hilarious mishaps, and deep romance, A TOTALLY AWKWARD LOVE STORY will have teens and adults laughing-out-loud as they commiserate with Sam and Hannah, and remember their own awkward moments.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?!?

I got a chance to ask the authors Tom and Lucy: 

What are your favorite comedies - movies, TV and books - along the vein of your novel?    

Their answers: 

TOM:


TV: There's a British series called The Inbetweeners that was a big influence on me in terms of writing the male characters in A TOTALLY AWKWARD LOVE STORY. The Inbetweeners is full of teen awkwardness and sexual mishaps and general hilarity - it's about four teenage boys trying to get girlfriends/have sex/not fail their exams/not get bullied at school. It's brilliant!

BOOK: The book I most had in mind when we were writing A TOTALLY AWKWARD LOVE STORY was probably The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. If you haven't read this novel - do it immediately! It's a brilliant British book about a nerdy, insecure 13-14-year-old who is struggling with all types of frustration - emotional, sexual, creative - and all the horrifically awkward scrapes he gets himself into. It's basically the Awkward Teen Comedy Bible, as far as I'm concerned. 

MOVIE: I am going for Dazed and Confused as the movie (even though it's maybe not STRICTLY a comedy). It's one of my favorite films and there are tons of funny bits in it. But also it's about that weird period of your late teens, where you're leaving school, and growing up and you have to make all these big decisions about life, but you don't really feel ready. Dazed and Confused captures all that perfectly - people feeling insecure about sex and friendship and drugs/alcohol - but still trying desperately to show they're having a great time.

LUCY:

TV: I love Girls. I love how real it is. The characters are older than the ones in A TOTALLY AWKWARD LOVE STORY but the realness is kind of the same. No stone is left unturned in terms of cringe fest coming of age stuff. I love how real the sex is and that is something we wanted to achieve in our book too. 

BOOK: Louise Rennison passed away earlier this year and it really hit me hard. She is a huge hero of mine. I think the Angus, Thongs series is one of the absolute best when it comes to portrayals of female friendships and what it is actually like to be a teenager. I re-read them every summer and they still make me howl with laughter.

MOVIE: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (this could also be my book choice too!) It is much dreamier and literary than ATALS but it is about a girl trying to figure out who she is, and Cassandra and Hannah remind me of each other in that way.
 
Remember to go grab a copy of A Totally Awkward Love Story, bibliophiles! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Throwback Review: Touched


Throwback Review from 2013!


Touched is a YA contemporary fantasy novel by Cyn Balog.

Nick Cross lives life on a script.

Literally.

Since he was born he “remembers” his future, the sooner it’ll happen the clearer it is. And if he goes off script, it causes all his future memories to change – and what a painful experience that is.

Literally.

But Nick cannot ignore someone’s life being in danger. Yet saving one person may mean that he doesn’t save another’s. This adds up to possibly disastrous consequences.

For the first time, as the summer in Jersey Shore is winding down, Nick cannot predict what will happen next. Taryn, the girl he decided to save, is… different. When he’s around her, his script quiets down. He feels almost… normal.

She holds family secrets that may explain why Nick is the way he is. But their meeting has put Nick on a path that puts him a position of making choices he never wanted to make…

Last year I read Cyn Balog’s Starstruck, which I thought was really different and impressive. Touched is not as playful or fairy-tale-esque – but reinforces my belief that Balog is an author to read based on name alone.

Touched has such a unique, bizarre, but incredible concept that fascinated me from the get-go. Living life on a script sounds so distracting, so difficult – the fact that Nick even tries to attempt to act normal is admirable and brave.

Infused with paranormal mystery and tentative romance, I was racing through this suspenseful story with a desperate need to know what would happen next. There was a short period of time about two-thirds into Touched that lagged just a tad for me, but that quickly changed.

With a really interesting, thought-provoking core, Touched is quite romantic and surprising.

And as it reaches it heartrending conclusion it’s shocking, bittersweet, and lasting!

In my opinion Touched was very, very, VERY good!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Throwback Review: Green Heart

Another Throwback Review - this time from back in 2012! Enjoy!

Green Heart is the combination of two YA novels Green Angel and Green Witch by Alice Hoffman.

The day it happened, fifteen-year-old Green was angry and refused to speak to her family as they left. She had wanted to go with them to the city, but they needed her to stay home.

Her father, mother, and sister all died in the terrible disaster – leaving Green all alone, and plagued by the memory of her last moments with them.

She struggles to survive in a world turned topsy-turvy, a place where nothing wants to grow among the ashes. Green becomes one with the thorny, lifeless realm of her garden – but finds she must allow herself to open back up to life, to possibility… to magic.

Even though all she can see is pain.

Green Heart was a majestic read!

I read The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman years ago and was dumbfounded by it – so I had high expectations, and, my, were they reached!

The haunting, mournful, poetic sentences create an almost ethereal, atmospheric tone – a poem that goes on and on with grace and elegance.

As I read the Green Heart, or I should probably say absorbed, I hoped for a happy end, for healing, but I knew that anything Alice Hoffman created would be more complicated than that, more real.

Green Heart is a novel of lovely, wistful, staggering simplicity of words that brings a quiet power to this otherworldly tale. This is especially true when it comes to the allure and hypnotic pull of nature and animals (Animal lover, here!). There’s a sense of magic, of wonder, of hurt and hope intertwined.

Both Green Angel and Green Witch are beautiful, the sequel taking us deeper into a surprisingly revealing and exquisite story that is tonally the same.

If you’re a bit sick of reading about the apocalypse, various dystopias, that really just kind of depress you (I know that I have started to be), Green Heart is a refreshing read.

Here we have a book that is touching, transcends genres, and brings lightness to the dark.

If you haven’t already, you should definitely read Green Heart!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Throwback Review: Love and Other Perishable Items

A contemporary YA Throwback Review for you ravenous bibliophiles, this time. Originally posted back in February 2013!

Love and Other Perishable Items is a YA contemporary fiction novel by Australian author Laura Buzo.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day – and to celebrate I bring to you a story about first love. Not the mushy romance novel kind (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or the paranormal kind (not that there’s anything wrong with that either) but the regular, difficult, real-life kind.

It didn’t take long for Amelia to fall for Chris, her trainer at the supermarket in which she works. His easy way of talking, his friendliness, humor, and charisma has done her in.

This is a problem because Chris is twenty-one, a university student hungry to become an independent man. And Amelia? Fifteen.

Having always had a good head on her shoulders, Amelia knows it won’t go anywhere. Sure, it’s like a knife to the heart every time she sees him flirting with a girl his age – but she’ll take the moments of conversation, sharing opinions and personal moments with him at the checkout as they work.

But it’s those long conversations that buzz with wit and candor that start Amelia to wonder, eventually, if her crush really is one-sided… or if there is a chance that despite her age, Chris might like her back.

And even if he does… then what?

Love and Other Perishable Items is superb. I read the whole book in one sitting. I couldn’t stop. I was riveted, glued, and dumbfounded by the tender authenticity and genuineness.

From the get-go, Chris is immediately engaging, likable, fun, and cheery – the kind of guy you’d want to be around. He is able to talk – something that can be difficult to find in guys, and it’s one of the main reasons Amelia falls for him.

The tingly, nervous, excited, slightly obsessive feeling of a crush is evident and honest here. Any one of us who has felt it will recognize it easily. Laura Buzo writes extremely well – extremely.

Amelia is believable, feels like a legitimate fifteen-year-old with a brain. She’s not a bundle of gushy girl romantic fantasies, but can carry of intelligent exchanges, has views, and holds her own among the anguish of unrequited love.

Love and Other Perishable Items switches to Chris’ viewpoint occasionally, through his journal, and it is enlightening and cool. It’s a chance to see his darkness, the underground of his personality that is revealing, disheartening, but realistic. I loved that we got to see her perception of him, his personal hidden side, and then the two combined eventually as a whole human nature. Incredible.

This book isn’t sunshine and rainbows – it’s painful, heartbreaking and sad at times. It’s truly raw and presents unaffected, flawed people and the ache that is sometimes life. But – wow! I was stunned, as you can tell. There’s joy here too – and hope.

Love and Other Perishable Items is… special. I think you’ll think so, too.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Throwback Review: The Game of Triumphs

Another Throwback Review, this time from February 2012. Take a looksie:

The Game of Triumphs is a YA urban fantasy by Laura Powell.

Fifteen-year-old Cat is on her way home, doing her best to avoid human contact as always, when she can’t help but notice a man being chased – a man that asks for her help. But Cat sees the gleam of excitement in his eyes, along with the fear, and figures he’s just a weirdo.

Yet something about it all sparks her curiosity, and Cat can’t seem to help pursuing the situation. Doing so brings her to an extravagant party that introduces her to the Game of Triumphs. It’s a centuries-old game played between modern-day London and an alternate, unexplainable reality called the Arcanum where game players embark on challenges having to do with the tarot cards they are dealt, or the card they are trying to win. It’s all a bit confusing to Cat at first, but the intrigue is undeniable.

Not long after becoming involved in this enigmatic game, though, Cat finds out just how dangerous and potent the information you can learn in Arcanum can be. Despite others’ single-focus goal to win and gain the power and glory of their Triumph, Cat begins to uncover secrets from her own past that alarm her – including a possible link to the Game of Triumphs from when she was very young.

Determined to learn more, Cat is drawn into the addictive gameplay – and it’s not something you can just walk away from…

My synopsis may be a little befuddling, and I apologize for that. The specifics of the actual game are a little confusing and would take a while to explain – so I’m not. The author does it far better than I could!

The Game of Triumphs has a brilliant, truly enthralling start with a creepy tarot card. It has a plot that feels fresh and new from the get-go, which is fantastic for us bibliophiles that read so much that sometimes plots tend to blur. Not here!

Laura Powell is not shy about throwing us into the story. We’re right in the thick of it from the beginning, though she kindly offers up a tad of exposition to let us a learn a bit more about Cat and her eccentric relationship with her Aunt Bel, who has been her guardian since her parents’ death when she was a child. Its’ sparse but illuminating initial detail provides us some background and explains Cat’s different, likable, maybe slightly standoffish personality.

As she gets more involved in the Game of Triumphs I was just as confused as Cat was about how the game is played. I hoped it would eventually make sense – I was captivated by it. And, happily, Laura Powell expertly lets us learn by little explanation and lots of observation without bombarding us with rules and details in one fell swoop.

The Game of Triumphs is kind of psychedelic, in a good, intoxicating, stimulating way! Mysteries and questions abound and my curiosity always mirrored Cat’s. Startling revelations, done in a hypnotic, dream-like way bring about a new level of meaning and history to the game.

Let me put it this way, since I’m not so sure I’ve made it clear yet: The Game of Triumphs is very cool, very original, and very alluring.

And I will be waiting to read the sequel the day it comes out!