Review: “Teen Spirit” by Francesca Lia Block


18054018Title: “Teen Spirit”

Author: Francesca Lia Block

Publication Date: February 4, 2014 (HarperTeen – North America)

Genre: YA, paranormal

Source: Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary: After Julie’s grandmother passes away, she is forced to move across town to the not-so-fancy end of Beverly Hills and start over at a new school. The only silver lining to the perpetual dark cloud that seems to be following her? Clark—a die-hard fan of Buffy and all things Joss Whedon, who is just as awkward and damaged as she is. Her kindred spirit.

When the two try to contact Julie’s grandmother with a Ouija board, they make contact with a different spirit altogether. The real kind. And this ghost will do whatever it takes to come back to the world of the living.

☆: 4/5 stars – a refreshing standalone that harkens back to the days of “Weetzie Bat”.

Review: This one was fun, guys. The writing style and light yet dark feeling to “Teen Spirit” left me with the feeling I first felt when I picked up the “Dangerous Angels/Weetzie Bat series” omnibus when I was 12. I fell in love – though it’s not to say I never fell out of love with my mentor’s writing style. “Teen Spirit” is very similar to “Weetzie” in that sense of light reading, yet heavier (and in this book), somewhat darker content for the reader adjusted for easy digestion. I think a lot of “Weetzie” fans dissatisfied with recent efforts might really like this one. Regardless of where you stand, Block’s newest effort is gorgeous, haunting (no pun intended), and will leave you with a sense of utter peace once you turn that last page.

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Review: “Kinslayer (Lotus War #2)” by Jay Kristoff


15773979Title: “Kinslayer”

Author: Jay Kristoff

Genre: Alternate Universe/History, Steampunk, AWESOME

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (SMP/Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

☆: 5/5 stars – an absolutely awesome follow-up to book one!

Review: Because this book was more or less just as awesome in terms of all of the technical aspects of writing when compared to book one, I’m going to instead focus this review on one very interesting theme that I found ongoing throughout this installment of the series, and there will be some speculation if some of the finer aspects of that theme were intentional or not on Kristoff’s part. That being said, it’s no surprise that the followup to “Stormdancer” was awesome, but it felt like Kristoff grew a great deal between both books, and it shows. We’re moving more and more into adult territory with not only what actually happens plot-wise with Yukiko and company, but with themes and the like. And it’s a lovely thing to behold. If you’ve read “Stormdancer” and liked it, you’re going to love “Kinslayer”.

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Review: Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark


FreakboyTitle: Freakboy

Author: Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Genre: YA Contemporary, LGBT, Coming of Age

Publication Date: October 22, 2013

Source: print ARC from the publisher

Synopsis: From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

☆: 3.5/5 stars – It’s a story that desperately needed telling and was executed well, but Clark needs to show off her own style

LGBT YA is something we’re always going to need more of. It’s been on the rise the last few years and it’s a joy to see LGBT books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe taking home a bunch of awards. However,  I’ve personally noticed how YA tends to lean toward gay and lesbian characters and away from bisexual and transgender characters. If you expand to QUILTBAG (good lord, even I can’t remember what all those letters stand for and one of them represents me!), it becomes clear how even as YA is growing, there are still so many stories it’s not covering. Clark tells a story desperately underrepresented in YA and does it well, but it needs to really be hers.

All three POVs in this verse novel have something to add to the overall story, though some sections are weaker than others. Angel’s POV, for instance, is the strongest thanks to how she has it all figured out already and shows us the intersectionality of race, class, and gender identity. A POC male-to-female transgender person from a poor background like Angel isn’t going to have the same struggle a white upper-class male like Brendan is and thank goodness Clark recognizes this and makes it clear.

In comparison to Angel’s POV, Brendan’s and Vanessa’s are a lot weaker. Brendan spends most of the novel complaining, worrying, and such about whether or not he’s transgender. Vanessa’s is the weakest of all because so little of importance is in her sections, but it’s still important enough that she’s an integral part of the novel. When someone comes to realize they are or may be transgender or gender fluid, the boyfriend/girlfriend, partner, spouse, etc. has their own set of problems to deal with. It’s not as difficult as discovering your gender identity may not be what you thought it was, but it’s pretty difficult to learn your loved one is going through that and not know where you stand with them anymore.

The great issue here is that this doesn’t feel like it’s wholly Clark’s novel. It simply can’t be when her style is so strongly imitative of the way Ellen Hopkins writes. If someone took twenty pages of this novel and twenty pages of any Hopkins novel and handed them to a reader blind to either author, there’s a good chance they won’t realize the samples are from two different authors. Clark pulls all the same tricks Hopkins did in the four novels of hers I read: making symbolic shapes with her verse, hiding deeper thoughts within them, spacing them out to emphasize a point,…

Is it wrong for me to want to see Clark develop her own narrative techniques and play around with verse her way instead of imitating an author she admits she knows personally? It makes Freakboy feel a little less like her own creation, though it never gets derivative enough to be tacky or have plagiarism called on it.

I’m on board for any future novels from Clark because she makes it clear she knows how to tell stories most people don’t think about but should, but I desperately hope she comes into her own style instead of continuing to write like someone else.

Blog Tour Stop! Review, Top 5, and Giveaway: No Angel by Helen Keeble


No AngelGood morning! Enjoy my review, Helen’s five favorite things about writing No Angel, and a giveaway courtesy of this Xpresso Reads blog tour stop.

Title: No Angel

Author: Helen Keeble

Genre: Comedy, YA Paranormal, Angels

Publication Date: October 8, 2013 (HarperTeen)

Source: ARC for review from the author

Synopsis: Rafael Angelos just got handed the greatest gift any teenage boy could ever dream of. Upon arriving at his new boarding school for senior year, he discovered that he is the ONLY male student. But what should have been a godsend isn’t exactly heaven on Earth.

Raffi’s about to learn that St. Mary’s is actually a hub for demons-and that he was summoned to the school by someone expecting him to save the day. Raffi knows he’s no angel-but it’s pretty hard to deny that there’s some higher plan at work when he wakes up one morning to discover a glowing circle around his head.

Helen Keeble’s debut novel, Fang Girl, has been praised for its pitch-perfect teen voice, and VOYA called it “refreshing and reminiscent of Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series.” No Angel brings you angels and demons like you’ve never seen them-complete with the wry humor of Vladimir Tod, sinfully irreverent romance, and some hilariously demonic teenage dilemmas.

4/5 stars – A funnier take on angels than most, though the mythology can be baffling

Angels are bad for me. With maybe one or two exceptions, books that center on Judeo-Christian angel mythology usually kill me, but c’mon! Helen Keeble! How much I enjoyed Fang Girl + lovely author = I’m a sucker.

Rafael is kind of a douchebag, but it works because how douchey he can be never overpowers his personality. He’s got a good heart beneath the spot-on snark and when he gets too far out of line, there’s always someone ready to smack him in the back of the head and set him straight (usually Krystal or Faith). Seeing as he didn’t think very deeply into why students were being given guns and told to go to a shooting range when they got in trouble during one class, it’s also evident he has an Idiot Ball permanently glued to himself.

If you did a double take at the gun thing, don’t worry because I did too. I promise there’s a good explanation for it. It may not explain how parents never question a gun range and guns being on a prep school campus, but it explains why it’s there in the first place.

For the most part, the novel is slowly plotted, but it rarely feels as slow as it technically is. When the plot isn’t around to move us forward, Raf finds himself growing new appendages or discovering he has a lot more eyeballs than the average human being should. His research into this and incidents related to it all is what keeps us going in the meantime. When the plot does kick in, it becomes clear nothing is as it seems. There are enough twists and turns that everything we thought we knew at the beginning of No Angel is pretty much out the window by the end. And I mean everything.

There are just as many twists that make the novel’s mythology difficult to digest, sadly. I think of pentagrams (upside-down star in a circle) and pentacles (right-side-up star in a circle) as two different things. In No Angel, they are called the same thing. This is technically correct, but thanks to how I associate pentagrams with “evil” and pentacles with “good,” it seems a little strange to me that a pentagram was used to summon a guardian angel AND bring forth demons. And that makes sense to Raf, who has already been demonstrated to be a little brainless. A later reveal also makes the powers Raf comes into that much more confusing, It’s impossible to go into details because it’s a major spoiler, but the point in question doesn’t feel fully explained.

Then we come to what might be the most relieving element: the very low-key role romance plays. It seems like it plays a much stronger role when Raf meets Faith and starts to crush on her hardcore, but like I said, nothing is as it seems here. Believe it or not, it takes until the last page for Raf to take the first explicit step toward a romance with another character that has nothing to do with his angelic duties.

So all in all, anyone who enjoyed the way Keeble subverted, parodied, and generally poked tired tropes with fun results in Fang Girl will surely enjoy No Angel just as much. At this point, she could write just about anything and I would be willing to read it because I know she’s going to entertain me and make my head spin all the right ways.

HELEN’S FIVE FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT WRITING No Angel:

1. Researching angels in De coelesti hierarchy, a 5th Century text that was pretty much the foundation for orthodox Christian angelology. (no, I didn’t read it in the original Greek – I’m not THAT hardcore) It is awesome… and has ensured that I am never going to be able to read my favourite angel romance novels in quite the same way ever again.

Let’s put it this way: When you think “angel”, what comes to mind?

a. An ethereally handsome guy with big white wings and a noble expression

b. Two massive bicycle wheels jammed crossways into each other, set on fire, and COVERED IN EYES

Thanks to De coelesti hierarchy, I now have to tick option b.

2. The Headmistress, a long-suffering, take-no-prisoners teacher with the brain of a supercomputer, a heart of solid granite and a tongue of pure battery acid. It’s awfully fun to write someone that witheringly sarcastic!

3. The many romances. In my previous book, Fang Girl, the main character is far too pragmatic and practical — not to mention busy running for her life — to do anything more than have a tiny flirt with romance. In contrast, No Angel revolves around the main characters’ love-lives – off the top of my head, there are at least seven different romances going on, and I’ve probably forgotten some! I enjoyed the opportunity to explore many different sorts of relationships, from platonic first crush through to forbidden passion. And of course, there’s true love…

4. In the middle of all the romantic comedy, I got to break out my inner math geek and explain something really awesome about geometry. No, really. (it’s ok, I promise there aren’t any equations)

5. Rafael Angelos, the spectacularly handsome and completely in-over-his-head hero of No Angel. He’s a good guy at heart, but he does have a small flaw of being utterly convinced that he’s God’s Gift to Girlkind. He’s so over-confident about his irresistible attractiveness, and I took great sadistic pleasure in putting him into dreadful situations because of it!

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Review: “Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2)” by Kat Zhang


Once We WereTitle: “Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2)” by Kat Zhang

Author: Kat Zhang

Genre: Alternate History, Sci-Fi, YA contemporary, Dystopia, Biopunk

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: “I’m lucky just to be alive.”

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – Not quite as breathtaking as book one, but still a really, really awesome follow-up to it.

Review: “What’s Left of Me” was definitely in my top ten of my favorite debuts of 2012, and so I was really, really happy to get a copy of this next installment in the series, “Once We Were”. While not quite in frenetic in its pace (except for the last quarter or so), “Once We Were” is a quieter book that reflects on what has happened in book one, and what’s on deck for Addie, Eva, and the rest of the hybrids on the run, as well as delves a little deeper into the differences between Addie and Eva in pretty much every way. So for those that want that non-stop action from book one may be a bit let down, but “Once We Were” is just every inch as good as its prequel – just a little emotionally deeper.

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Review: “Horde (Razorland #3)” by Ann Aguirre


10596724Title: “Horde (Razorland #3)”

Author: Ann Aguirre

Genre: Biopunk

Publication Date: October 29, 2013 (Macmillan Children’s – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: The horde is coming.

Salvation is surrounded, monsters at the gates, and this time, they’re not going away. When Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan set out, the odds are against them. But the odds have been stacked against Deuce from the moment she was born. She might not be a Huntress anymore, but she doesn’t run. With her knives in hand and her companions at her side, she will not falter, whether fighting for her life or Fade’s love.

Ahead, the battle of a lifetime awaits. Freaks are everywhere, attacking settlements, setting up scouts, perimeters, and patrols. There hasn’t been a war like this in centuries, and humans have forgotten how to stand and fight. Unless Deuce can lead them.

This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost hangs in the balance. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

☆: 5/5 stars – The best possible ending to a series I’m really going to miss.

Review: This trilogy, you guys. I’ve been keeping score since book one, and the way that Aguirre has grown in her writing for YA has grown in such measure that I can’t even. Really. Seriously. This book is the best possible ending, and yet, the most the most painful, as I’ve really grown to love Deuce and the boys. In this final book in the “Razorland” trilogy, we see a major tribute paid to the US Civil War, almost re-enacted, and prairie life come back to life in a hell of a future created by humanity itself. If there’s a final book in a trilogy you’ve got to read this year, or better yet, start, it has to be “Horde”.

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Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis


Not a Drop to DrinkTitle: Not a Drop to Drink

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Genre: YA, Survival, Post-Apocalyptic(?), Paranormal

Publication Date: September 24, 2013 (Katherine Tegen Books)

Source: print ARC via Amazon Vine

Synopsis: Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

2/5 stars – Could be great and will be for many readers, but it was too dull for me

Every now and then, my friends all really like or love a book and then when I get to it, I dislike it. Being the black sheep is rarely fun, but when it happens, it happens. It definitely happened with Not a Drop to Drink. I see where it could be really, really good and wow another reader, but for me, it was too quiet with not enough going on to really engage me.

First and foremost, this book is about Lynn learning how to open up and the story is supposed to be driven by her character development. I say “supposed” because it isn’t actually driven by her character or anything else. Though she gets great development after her mother dies and she comes into contact with more people than she’s ever known, her character simply isn’t strong enough to bear the weight of the story and this relatively short book feels much longer.

She’s a decent enough main character, but some of her leaps in logic are a little ridiculous, like expecting a sixteen-year-old boy to be getting it on with his sister-in-law, who just had a stillborn baby and is in a terrible place mentally due to that and her husband’s death. She demonstrates multiple times throughout the book that she’s well-read and knows plenty about relations between people just from her books, so why get crush-nervous over him being near her? He even denies it multiple times and she still worries about it constantly! Maybe others get it, but it doesn’t click for me.

The world itself seems a bit muddled and poorly explained. This is mostly a survival novel, but there are elements of post-apocalyptic in that something caused a large amount of fresh water to either dry up or get contaminated, leading to the hoarding of what’s left by private citizens and the government. Even more oddly, there are bits of the paranormal with the introduction of water witching, in which certain people have the genetic ability to find water.  It’s brought up two or three times and is completely unnecessary, so I’m not sure why it’s here at all.

Not a Drop to Drink isn’t terrible and it’s sure to find its fair share of fans. Judging from the reviews my friends put up, it already has! I’m ready and willing to read more from her, but I hope future books from her are much more engaging than her debut and her characters can adequately carry their story if they’re character-driven instead of plot-driven.