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TBT: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Published May, 2013 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

475 pages

How do you rid the earth of humans? You rid the humans of their humanity.

Cassie Sullivan is on the run. Months ago, an alien mothership ominously appeared in the sky, and at first there was nothing. But then, the waves started. The first wave fried all electronics and motors–cars, phones, planes, emergency sirens. The second wave caused the sea to rise up and destroy every coastline on earth. The third wave was a disease that killed off almost everyone who remained. The fourth wave was a group of special trained alien assassins–silencers–released to pick off the remaining humans. Nobody knows that the fifth wave will be.index

Cassie Sullivan is on the run. Silencers look just like humans, so to stay alive, she has to stay alone and stay on the move. Told in fragments and flashbacks, and from multiple points of view, The 5th Wave paints a ragged picture of earth over the course of a slow and grueling apocalypse. For Cassie, there is no last fight, no final battle field. There is only kill or be killed, and her one rule: Trust no one. Which works well, until it doesn’t.

As a character, Cassie is complex and interesting. She isn’t a brat who spends the whole book whining about how unfair her life is, nor is she the model citizen who is convinced that her moral high ground will bring her victory over evil. She is just a teenage girl trying to survive in the woods. She has character flaws and selfish wishes and hopes for herself. She is brutally honest about the possibility of her own survival.

Yancey’s writing style is equally compelling. The book reads a little bit like a train of thought, and the way Yancey weaves together plot and memories to advance the story leaves the reader wanting more of both. While some of the technical parts of the science fiction are less interesting or even confusing, for the most part this book portrays the best and worst of humanity–how we cling to the past, and how far we will go to save our loved ones.

 

Genre: Science Fiction

Keywords: aliens, family, apocalypse, trust, love

Best quote: “We’d stared into the face of Death, and Death blinked first. You’d think that would make us feel brave and invincible. It didn’t.”

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The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

Published September, 2014 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

300 Pages

After a cliffhanger ending at the end of the world, this continuation of The 5th Wave trilogy was most welcome. Told from Cassie’s, and many other perspectives (including Ringer’s), this sequel gives fascinating insight into the backstories of new characters, and delves even deeper into what it means to be human. Faced with impossible, spur of the moment, life or death decisions, this group of kids must try to face off against an alien apocalypse. After working solo for months, Cassie has to come to terms with a tense group dynamic, and adjust to working with people who all have many layers of complex trauma in their pasts.index-1

The book starts with the group on the run. They don’t know if Evan is alive or dead, or who is on their side, or who is telling the truth. As they fight with each other, and fight for survival, the weaknesses and strengths of each character is beautifully revealed. The writing stays strong through this second book, and with each time Yancey switches perspectives, the reader wishes they could stay with the last character a page longer.

The plot is twisting and unpredictable. By keeping the readers on their toes, reading this book is almost as stress-inducing as living it–but not quite. This books doesn’t necessarily have a traditional plot progression with a conflict, climax, and resolution. Instead, the reader is left feeling like the characters–the story is marching forward and the future is uncertain, so we will keep going until we can’t anymore. With big reveals and surprising revelations, Yancey also leaves many questions unanswered for the third installment of the trilogy, The Last Star, which has a scheduled publication of September, 2015.

Genre: Science Fiction

Keywords: Love, fear, aliens, trust, alliance, choices

Best Quote: “That’s the cost. That’s the price. Get ready, because when you crush the humanity out of humans, you’re left with humans with no humanity.”

 

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Throw Back Thursday: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Grace Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Published April, 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

549 pages

Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf? This is what Ismae asks herself when she signs on to be an assassin nun at the tender age of fourteen. Yes, assassin nun. After escaping what was surely in ill-fated arranged marriage, Ismae finds her place in a convent that worships the gods of old, specifically Mortain–the patron saint of death. She is trained in the arts of seduction and violence before being dispatched on a highly important mission into the heart of the palace. Once she arrives, she must discover for herself where she will follow Mortain’s will and where her own heart will lead her.index-1

Enter a cast of characters and scenery that vividly paints fifteenth century Brittany in brilliant color. As Ismae finds her place at court, she is assigned to the mysterious Gavriel Duval and taken into the lives of the royal family: the treacherous mistress of the late duke, the sickly youngest princess, and the fiery duchess, who is fighting for her own rule at the tender age of twelve.

Information morphs and spreads quickly in a court of politicians and spies, and Ismae must hit the ground running and determine who is her friend and who is her enemy. While this is certainly not the best book ever written, Ismae’s character holds true to itself as she navigates a fairly complicated story line, and the writing doesn’t distract from the plot. The romance develops slowly–so much so as to make it a subplot at best. While I expected this to be frustrated, it actually proved to be a satisfying departure from the traditional YA novel. Yes, part of this book is a love story, but it is mostly about death, loyatly, lies, and subterfuge.

I would recommend this book to fans of the Graceling trilogy or anyone who desires a strong female character that can hold her own among a bunch of men.

Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Keywords: assassins, duchesses, courtship, poison, intrigue

Best Quote: “There is no shame in scars.”

 

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A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

Published August, 2014 by Swoon Reads

272 pages

Get ready for quirky. A Little Something Different is just that–different. If you can get past the fact that one of the fourteen perspectives is a squirrel and another is a bench, you will be privy to one of the cutest love stories ever told. This book tells the tale of Lea and Gabe, two awkward college students with everything in common. Everyone around them can see it, and everyone of the fourteen perspectives are all people (or objects) that think they should be together. The problem is that Lea is shy and Gabe won’t make a move. It appears to everyone around them that they will never get their act together, no matter how close they get. But as the year goes on, the people watching cannot help but hope anyway.index-3

This book is an incredibly fast read, and lovers of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell will be dazzled by the quirky characters and mishaps that occur as the year goes on. The more the reader learns about Lea and Gabe from those around them, the more they will find themselves wishing the two characters would just get together already. Their run ins are cute, nay adorable, and their inevitable misunderstandings manage to push the plot without being too repetitive or irritating.

Hall gets creative with the characters who tell the story, too. None of the fourteen perspectives are Lea or Gabe themselves, but the people who do tell the story are amusing in their own right. From Gabe’s brother Sam and Lea’s roommate Maribel, to a classmate that hates both of them and a girl who wants to date Gabe more than anything, each perspective brings something funny and important to the story. Awkward encounter meets first romance-style crush, as Lea and Gabe navigate the college scene. And even though the reader feels like they know what will happen, they won’t be able to stop from racing to the end to discover how the story unfolds.

Genre: Romance

Keywords: Love, college, fun, parties, quirky

Best Quote: “Sometimes it’s better to say something stupid than nothing at all.”

 

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A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Published November, 2014 by Harper Teen

368 pages

It had been a long time since I had read a book that was genuinely well written with lovable characters and an intriguing plotline. A Thousand Pieces of You was just what I needed to give me hope in YA Fiction once more. This immensely creative and satisfying story starts with protagonist Marguerite Caine vowing to avenge the her father’s murder. Marguerite’s parents have created a device called a firebird that will allow people to jump into other dimensions, which seems all well and good until her father turns up dead and all the evidence points to one of his graduate students, Paul, who has just jumped into another universe. Marguerite, and another grad student named Theo, waste no time in following him, and thus begins an adventure so epic, that I am already waiting for the sequel. index-1

The multiverse is a well-explored theory that has been the basis of many  books and movies, but Gray uses her own spin to raise very interesting questions about the ethics of leaving your own dimension, if such a thing were possible. From the first word to the last period, this book is suspenseful and unpredictable. Plot twists abound as new information comes to light that will make and break alliances and determine Marguerite’s future.

And every time Marguerite pops into a different reality, she must come to terms with a new version of herself. She must blend into another life and avoid raising suspicion by acting too different from….herself. She grapples with unanswerable questions: Is she invading her other-self’s privacy? Are they the same person, with the same soul? Or fundamentally different? As she wrestles with these and many more dilemmas, she is running out of time. Switching from furutristic London, to an era of Russian Tsars, to almost-home, to an underwater science station, Marguerite spends the entire book trying to learn the truth about what happened to her dad with enormously powerful forces working to stop her.

(Also I know we aren’t supposed to judge books by their covers, but that is absolutely gorgeous.)

Genre: Science Fiction

Keywords: Parallel universe, murder, revenge, trust, family, love

Best Quote: “I glance over my shoulder, as though looking for Theo would bring him back again–  –which is when Paul Markov’s hand clamps down over my mouth.                                                   My father’s killer whispers, ‘Don’t scream.’”

 

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Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Published September, 2014 by Simon Pulse

599 pages

Darcy Patel wants nothing more than to be a real-life novelist, so she couldn’t be happier when Paradox Publishers picks up her two-book series. She convinces her parents to let her defer college and moves to New York to pursue her career. Lizzie lives inside Darcy’s first novel Afterworlds. After surviving a terrorist attack and escaping certain death, she finds she has a newfound power to travel into the realm of the dead, where she meets ghosts and gods alike. These two story lines parallel each other throughout the novel as we learn more and more about writing, editing, and life indexas young people find their way. There is also a serious creep factor when Darcy writes about how some of her ghost characters died.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it had a strong plot and many funny lines in both halves of the story–Lizzie’s and Darcy’s. On the other hand, I often run into problems with Westerfeld’s female characters. Just as in his other series, Uglies, I found both Lizzie and Darcy could be rather annoying at times. They are both insecure and spend a decent amount of time ignoring their loved ones and making rash decisions that are clearly bad for them. Darcy grows up a lot in the first few hundred pages, but Lizzie remains frustrating for most of the story.

For readers who are interested in the publishing world, interesting ideas about ghosts and the afterlife, and two love stories, and a long ride, this book is the way to go. For readers who don’t want to spend 600 pages on a story with characters you won’t always love, I would recommend something shorter.

Genre: Realistic/Supernatural Fiction

Keywords: Ghost, Publishing, Love, Writing, Stories, Afterlife

Best Quote: “Hiding from the truth was worse than being lied to.”

 

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The Good Sister by Jamie Kain

Published October, 2014 by St. Martin’s Griffin

304 pages

In hippie Marin County, three sisters are living with secrets. Or not living, as the case may be. When the oldest sister Sarah dies unexpectedly, the rest of the family is left to pick up the pieces. Asha is the youngest one, the wild child, who is left reeling after Sarah’s death. She becomes increasingly close to her best friend, Sin, and has an eye on his brother. She sleeps in the park because she keeps fighting with her mother. She wants to know what really happened on the day of Sarah’s death but doesn’t know who to ask. Rachel was with Sarah when she died, and she doesn’tindex-2 want to talk about it. She has never liked either of her sisters, or her divorced parents. Sarah, meanwhile, has awoken in another place and has to come to terms with what has happened to her and what she has done.

This book was pleasantly surprising in many ways. I expected each of the sisters to be two dimensional and formulaic, but instead they were all written as complex individuals. As each third of the story is woven together, and more information comes to light, the puzzle pieces start to fit together. The reader discovers what happened on the day Sarah died, and who was responsible for which parts of the events that transpired.

That being said, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable. Rachel spends too much time complaining and too much energy being spiteful. Asha runs from her problems and ignores evidence that is right in front of her nose. While both girls are true to their complex character identities, they are also kind of awful people and they are downright vicious towards each other.

This book is short–very sad–and with a lot of deep thoughts about family, responsibility, and love. While I had some problems with the characters’ actions, I also enjoyed parts of it. For a better version, I would go for the Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, but if you’ve read that already, this isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Keywords: sisters, hippies, death, choices, guilt, family

Best Quote: “Funny how it works out though that when you expect nothing from a person, they might just give you everything you didn’t know you wanted.”

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I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Published September,  2014 by Dial

371 pages

Noah and Jude are twins. At age thirteen Noah is falling in love with his neighbor Brian, finding people’s spirit animals, and painting constantly. Jude is wearing less and less clothes, fighting with their mother, and going to parties with boys. Skip ahead three years and Jude has lost her spark, wears baggy clothes, talks to ghosts, and has sworn off boys forever. Noah goes out with girls, runs track, goes to parties, and hasn’t painted in years. This is a story of lives upended by tragedy. Noah narrates their younger years and Jude their older, and both are trying to find a way back to each other.index

I loved this book, just as I love The Sky is Everywhere (Nelson’s other novel), but in this case I found it took me a little while to get into the story. While both Noah and Jude are fantastic, three dimensional characters that have great arcs of development, they are both very quirky. Eventually endearing, these quirks do make the beginning of the book slightly less engaging, as the reader tries to figure out how they are supposed to feel about Jude’s superstitions and Noah’s colorful imagination.

Once the reader makes peace with the oddness, they will be sucked into a heartbreaking story about love and loss. Plagued with memories and bad choices, both twins spend the majority of the book trying to remake themselves, the past, and their worlds. As they explore art and new relationships, both characters get steps closer to connecting the puzzle pieces about what has happened to the other over the last three years.

Jandy Nelson strikes again with a storyline and characters so real, you would be hard pressed to find a reader that isn’t affected by the poignant emotions Noah and Jude experience. As the reader skips back and forth in time, uncovering small bits of the story, they will find themselves wishing fervently for reconciliation.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Keywords: Twins, love, family, loss, art, choices

Best Quote: “Meeting your soulmate is like walking into a house you’ve been in before—you will recognize the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the books on the shelves, the contents of drawers: You could find your way around in the dark if you had to.”

 

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TBT: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Published March, 2010 by Dial

288 pages

The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet. Lennie Walker lives in a town of hippies and dreamers in northern California, and her family fits right in. After her mom left, Lennie and her sister, Bailey, have lived with their eccentric grandmother and uncle. Then Bailey dies of a sudden heart condition, and Lennie is left rudderless and alone in her grief.index-1

With colorful, beautiful, awe inspiring language, Jandy Nelson creates a world that swirls with feelings. Lennie, Gram, and Uncle Big start the book picking up the pieces of their lives after Bailey passes. Mixed in with Lennie’s poems and heartbreaking stories of her sister’s short life, Lennie tries to continue living hers. In marches Joe Fontaine, a boy with music in his heart who never knew Bailey. Meanwhile, Bailey’s boyfriend Toby keeps showing up at their house, and Lennie doesn’t know how to handle his grief and hers in one. As Lennie tries to balance all of her burgeoning emotions, this book becomes a fantastically realistic case study of human emotion.

Readers like me, who can identify with a small, quirky, California town, will feel right at home in Lennie’s world. Lennie, short for Lennon (like John Lennon), is a strong character who agonizes about what her heart is telling her, and how best to follow it.

Fantastically well-written and guaranteed to make you cry, The Sky is Everywhere is one of the most underrated books published in the past several years.

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Romance

Keywords: Romance, grief, sisters, family, love

Best Quote: “When he plays all the flowers swap colors and years and decades and centuries of rain pour back into the sky.”

 

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Book Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Published October, 2014 by Balzer + Bray

422 pages

This book could have been so good, and it wasn’t, and there is no one big reason why–just lots of little reasons. The writing isn’t anything to be excited about, but that doesn’t always make or break a story. Snow Like Ashes is about a girl named Meira, who has been living with a rebel group her whole life. The group is from the Kingdom of Winter, which was vanquished just after Meira’s birth, and they have spent Meira’s whole life on the run, trying to restore their land.index

I think my biggest problem was with Meira herself–and with all of the characters, for that matter. None of the relationships are at all believable. Meira’s best friend, Mather, is the heir to Winter’s throne and she is supposed to be in love with him. And while I certainly believed her love because of how much she whined about it, there was very little friendship between Mather and Meira. Based on all but one of their interactions, I wouldn’t have guessed they ever spoke to one another.

Then there is Sir (or William), the general of Winter’s fallen army and the leader of the group. He basically raised Meira, but treats her with distrust and disdain that is never fully explained. None of the other refugees are ever given enough of a personality for me to have disliked them, so let’s move on to the plot.

The plot of this book moves quickly, and if for the most part interesting, in not cliché. The biggest issue I had with the plot was whenever the love story was brought up. Meira spends 200 pages complaining that she loves a boy who will never love her back, and when that starts to change, she completely loses interest for no reason. In general, the characters in this book don’t behave enough like real people to be interesting, despite the creative setting and other redeeming qualities.

Genre: Fantasy

Keywords: royalty, war, love (?), hope, future

Best Quote: “No matter what happens, no matter who turns on me, no matter what pompous swine thinks he has power over me, I am still me. I will always be me.”

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