“A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Strange #2)” by Susan Dennard


13624584Title: “A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Strange #2)”

Author: Susan Dennard

Genre: YA, alternate history/parallel universes, zombies, steampunk, paranormal

Publication Date: July 23, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a sequel that shines brighter than its first book!

Review: I think I can honestly say that this sequel(and what looks to be a middle book in a trilogy?) is stronger than its initial first book in this series. Seriously. “Strange and Lovely” builds upon everything set up in book one, but it also has a lot more tension (almost tension on every page), and we get more worldbuilding, more new awesome characters, and a sea change in everyone we got to know in love back in book one. If you’re looking for one of the best sophomoric efforts this year in YA, look no further than “A Darkness Strange and Lovely”.

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Review: The Meme Plague by Angie Smibert


The Meme PlagueTitle: The Meme Plague

Author: Angie Smibert

Genre: Dystopian, YA, LGBT

Publication Date: August 13, 2013

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: It begins with the name JONAS W. on the side of a cardboard coffin—right before the funeral procession blows up. Then it’s the whisper in the back of Micah’s head: Your father betrayed his country. You can’t always trust your own brain. Not when you have one of the mayor’s mandatory chips in your skull. Micah knows that the chip developed by TFC (the corporation that runs the Therapeutic Forgetting Clinics) does more than just erase unpleasant memories—it implants new ones. The MemeCast warns citizens to “fight the hack.”

Micah and his friends have each lost something—a parent, a relationship, a home, maybe even their own identities as they remembered them to be. But together, they can make sure some things are never forgotten.

Election Day is coming, and Mayor Mignon is set to be elected to Congress. It’s time to build a new electronic frontier, one that’s not controlled by the mayor and his cronies. It’s time to get out the vote and shake up the system. It’s time to finally say enough.

2/5 stars – It’s got the setting of a true dystopian but is lacking in most other areas

It’s entirely possible I’ve used this joke before and forgot, but despite being centered on memory and the government’s control of it, this is a very forgettable series. It’s got the setting and societal critiques down and paints a vivid picture of what may be only of the only realistic dystopias in YA, but it’s so weak in terms of characters and plotting that this almost gets erased. Despite the short length, The Meme Plague is a difficult book to get through.

Smibert writes a thorough critique of how dependent we are on technology and it’s not entirely unbelievable that people would want certain memories removed–or that others would take advantage of that to keep making money. YA has a lot of pseudo-dystopians that say nothing about society and lack teeth, but this trilogy isn’t one of them. If there’s a dystopian fan out there that hasn’t tried at least the first book, I am SHOCKED. And will tell them to start this series right now.

Beyond that, there are pop culture references to things from our time that actually work, like to Forrest Gump (Lieutenant Dan!) and the Matrix trilogy of movies. Not gonna lie, I got a little giddy when one tech setup was described as “so 2012” and Jacksonville, Florida got a mention. Mentions of my city do that to me.

The narration is part of where the problem begins. We’ve got five narrators sharing this story and they all start to blend together after a while. Velvet’s sections and every ridiculous piece of advice she spouts from her Book of Velvet (her rulebook for life) makes me want to shake her until she stops talking for the rest of forever. Also annoying is Nora and her endless use of the word “glossy” to describe things. Trendy saying of the near-future or not, it’s annoying. Micah’s story and its resolution are great, but they’re not strong enough to outweigh his more annoying co-narrators.

Combine all this with a poorly written open ending for this trilogy and you have a wholly unsatisfying book. To keep it vague, the government is only going to pass the office on to the next, likely corporate-sponsored candidate once it realizes the person who got elected to several positions cross several states can’t ever hold office and nothing at all will change. Gah! I might read more from Smibert if she publishes more, but here’s hoping it will be stronger all-around.

Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood


Born WickedTitle: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Genre: Alternate History, Historical, YA, Witches

Publication Date: February 7, 2012

Source: Bought

Synopsis: A gorgeous, witchy, romantic fantasy by a debut author! Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and the Beautiful Creatures series!

Everybody thinks Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship–or an early grave. Then Cate finds her mother’s diary, and uncovers a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra. But if what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe–not even from each other.

4/5 stars – A fun, diverse, female-friendly fantasy, but it needs more of a plot and more witchery

Without Usagi’s recommendation, Born Wicked never would have made it onto my radar. Love triangles and Blob-like romance that swallows all it touches aren’t my thing and reviews assured me both were out in full force with this novel despite the tantalizing premise and promise of sisterhood offered by Cate, Maura, and Tess. What I found in its pages was a pleasant surprise! The criticisms are right and I understand exactly where they’re coming from, but despite that, this was fun and tapped into my feminism–which is good, in this case.

Cate and her sisters are all beautifully developed and pop off the page as if they were real and arguing right in front of me about whether or not to use magic. Cate as the protective older sister who has seemingly internalized all the Brotherhood has to say about girls like her, Maura as the more independent-minded, rebellious sister, and Tess as the youngest sister who has yet to show much of how her life has affected her are memorable and had everything else about the novel fallen flat, they would have remained vivid to me.

Spotswood’s setting in which witches have always existed and once ruled but were deposed by the Brotherhood is also vividly drawn. It would have been easy for it to fall into the same homogenous casting so many other historical novels–realistic and fantasy alike–fall into, but her cast of characters is as diverse as it is well-drawn. Asian families are just as much a part of this New England as any other racial-ethnic group and there are no issues with it at all. One could contest how race isn’t treated realistically due to the lack of racial tension, but it works somehow and in any case, it’s a joy to see a diverse cast like this in a genre that often falls into the same trap over and over again.

Something sad about Born Wicked is how the plight these girls face in an alternate-history, circa-1900 New England isn’t always that different from what we as girls and women have to deal with in our own world. The rhetoric the Brotherhood spouts about how women are sinful, wicked creatures who must be tightly controlled for their own good is still preached in our world to this day, be it just as openly or more subtly.

You remember Texas, right? The legislators who recently passed a draconian abortion bill there seem to believe women’s bodies are so dangerous that what women do with them must be more tightly regulated and controlled than even guns. That’s right: our reproductive organs are more dangerous than weapons. The Brotherhood may be fictional, but their rhetoric–that girls are guns waiting to go off and must be kept from doing so by any means–is all too real and are exactly what we girls and women must fight every day of our lives even if we don’t realize we’re fighting it all the time. Realizing this made me sad and angry and in awe of Spotswood all at once. I LOVE subtle feminism in YA.

What keeps Born Wicked from making it into my collection of favorite books is the lack of plot, poor pacing, and how little witchery actually happens within the novel. Every now and then, Cate discovers something that advances the plot, but for the most part, it’s all about arguments with her sisters and the romance. The love triangle is barely a bother because one suitor is so rarely present that it’s clear he’s not going to win Cate’s heart. The other suitor isn’t any better because it’s insta-love all the way between the two of them. Later in the novel, their scenes become cloying and baffling in either measure because how they got to where they are so quickly is a mystery to me.

Though the lack of their powers being used is understandable to due to Cate’s vehement orders to use them as little as possible, what little magic we get from this witch novel is a bit disappointing. I love witch books, but I’d like to see them being witches and embracing their gifts for more than a handful of pages!

Not two hours after I finished Born Wicked, I picked up Star Cursed (there’s a good, long story behind it involving my car, a heavily backed-up drain that nearly gave the poor thing water damage on its first day, and more) and it’s just a little ways down in my admittedly massive TBR pile. Here’s hoping it can improve on Born Wicked‘s flaws and deliver an unabashedly fun story of witches, women, and the Cahill sisters’ destinies.

LGBTQ in YA month 2013: On Non-Binary Gender in YA


LGBTQDated_zps87521a39.jpgHey, everyone!

Welcome to our stop within the LGBTQ in YA month celebration. On BOANW, we’re celebrating non-binary gender in YA, something we’ve talked about previously in our feature, Afternoon Yak. Today we’re going to get into the trans area of the LGBT community, and how it’s being represented (or lack thereof) in YA books. We’re also going to do this discussion style, so let’s get started!

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Review: “Star Cursed (Cahill Witch Chronicles #2)” by Jessica Spotswood


16101026Title: “Star Cursed (Cahill Witch Chronicles #2)”

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Genre: YA, historical, alternate universe/parallel timelines, paranormal

Publication Date: June 18, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – an awesome continuation to the first book!

Review: Oh my god, those last two pages, you guys – DEFINITELY makes this book a candidate for my best of 2013 for that alone, but this book takes many risks, and I love that Spotswood wasn’t afraid to go into some of the darker places that other sequels would have avoided. It made me love this book, this world, these characters all the more. This one’s going to kick your feels right in the feels, guys, so hold on as we go into rocky territory in “Star Cursed”. I’m absolutely chomping at the bit for book three NOW.

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Blog Tour Stop! Review and Giveaway: Defy the Dark edited by Saundra Mitchell


Defy the Dark

Welcome to the first stop on the blog tour for the Defy the Dark anthology! See the end of the post for the other stops and a giveaway for a copy of this anthology (totally worth reading!) and more.

Title: Defy the Dark:

Author: Saundra Mitchell (editor)

Genre: Anthology, Post-Apocalyptic, Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, YA Contemporary, Time Travel, Historical, High Fantasy, LGBT, Magical Realism, Paranormal Romance, Comedy,

Publication Date: June 18, 2013

Source: ARC provided by contributor Valerie Kemp for an ARC/blog tour

Synopsis: Defy the Dark, an all-new anthology edited by Saundra Mitchell. Coming Summer 2013 from HarperTeen!

It features 16 stories by critically-acclaimed and bestselling YA authors as they explore things that can only happen in the dark. Authors include Sarah Rees Brennan, Rachel Hawkins, Carrie Ryan, Aprilynne Pike, Malinda Lo, Courtney Summers, Beth Revis, Sarah Ockler, and more.

Contemporary, genre, these stories will explore every corner of our world- and so many others. What will be the final story that defies the dark? Who will the author be?

☆: 4/5 stars – Pretty solid! If only the contest winner’s story were in here too…

Sadly, my review of this is incomplete. My ARC is missing one story: “The Sunflower Murders” by Kate Espey, the winner of the Defy the Dark Author Contest. Yet another reason to buy the finished copy because it’s sure to be awesome!

Anyway, some statistics first before I review each individual story. Number of authors whose stories I fell in love with and whose future publishing exploits I will stalk/continue to stalk: 2. Number of authors whose works I have sworn off for good: 4. You’ll pick them all out easily!

“Steepstalk” by Courtney Summers: 5/5. This story puts us in the head of a stalker. That’s about the simplest way to put it. She’s so obsessed with her object of “affection” that she she rewrites events in her favor and we never even get her name. Who has time for themselves when so deeply obsessed with someone else? Not this girl. Books where the lead characters are being stalked are my guilty pleasure, but getting put in the head of one was just as great!

“Nature” by Aprilynne Pike: 1/5. The weakest story of the anthology, not to mention the only one I gave 1/5. This story has twenty or so pages and four or five are spent dumping the history of this post-apocalyptic world on us and telling us why ladies of certain hip sizes are forced to have all the babies. It’s a poorly written story with too many glorified parallels to Mormonism, a religion I have many fundamental problems with. Creepy in all the wrong ways.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” by Dia Reeves: 3/5. This made sense solely because I’ve read this author’s Portero books, which this story is set in. It’s weirder than a gaggle of geese playing hopscotch, what with baby spider people, not-magic magic, and a kid trying to prove himself to his girlfriend’s parents. Kinda fun, but it grates on me when obviously magical things are crawling around and people say it’s not magic the way Patricia does. Points for an interracial relationship, though. He’s black, she’s white.

“Ghost Town” by Malinda Lo: 4/5. Well-written, creepy, and starring an LGBT character as Lo’s stories always too. She’s such a reliable source of diversity! She develops her female lead Ty well, gets across how hurt she is by the prank the girl she liked pulled on her, and all that tripped me up is that its parts were told in reverse chronological order. I didn’t catch that until my third reread and it made the first two quite confusing.

“Eyes in the Dark” by Rachel Hawkins: 2/5. There are a few creepy moments and good writing here and there once they drove into the forest and encountered the red-eyed creatures, but this is mostly a story that induces facepalming. The female lead cheats on her boyfriend with some eye candy, the writing is immature, and they call something skanky for laughs. It’s not that funny to me. Her writing has been getting too immature for me to deal with anyway, so off my list she goes.

“Stillwater” by Valerie Kemp: 5/5. It’s the only other five-star story in this anthology and let me tell you, it is GOOD. This creepy little Texas town has kept two branches of the same family together for years and when they go to sleep, they forget how they can escape this odd, magic-entrapped place. The authentic Southern voice, the elements of magical realism, solid writing, and how the story plays out makes me want to keep an eye on what Kemp does in the future. This is why I love anthologies: I usually find one good author to start following.

“I Gave You My Love By the Light of the Moon” by Sarah Rees Brennan: 3/5. Brennan normally writes great short stories, but this one is rather bland. Nothing more than a vampire-and-werewolf story that doesn’t use the words “vampire” or “werewolf”. It’s so unremarkable and especially disappointing because she’s shown she can do better.

“Night Swimming” by Beth Revis: 2/5. This one is a prequel to her Across the Universe series, but have fun trying to figure out who the unnamed main character is and their role in the series. I’ve actually read the first book of this series and have no idea who they are. Considering that they’re writing out vengeful plots in the end, they might be a little bit important. Being unable to fit the events and its main character into the continuity of the series took away what little I enjoyed about this odd story.

“Almost Normal” by Carrie Ryan: 3/5. There are elements of This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers in this zombies-are-invading-oh-noes story, but it doesn’t have the same magic to it. It also gives us the third nameless protagonist of the anthology!  I’m unsure if their gender was ever specified either, so my brain says they’re female and that makes their relationship with their girlfriend and LGBT relationship. My head, my rules. But they’re most likely male, sadly.

“There’s Nowhere Else” by Jon Skovron: 3/5. The idea of this teenage boy’s soul leaping into other bodies while he sleeps is fascinating, as is the eventual battle two separate forces wage for his gift. It’s rather blandly written, however, and undermines the genuinely entertaining premise.

“Naughty or Nice” by Myra McEntire: 2/5. And another one off my list! This story takes its lead characters Bex and Henry to Bavaria, where an unusual festival has them running from a monster whose sack they have to grab if they want to live. It’s an awesome idea, but the judgmental way Bex describes other girls and the haphazard way the hyponenuses (Henry and Bex each had their own love interest before getting together during the story) are gotten rid of makes this so difficult for me to enjoy.

“Shadowed” by Christine Johnson: 3/5. This is the one high-fantasy-themed story in the anthology and once again, I love the idea. A girl whose own shadow is trying to kill her? Yes! What kills it is the confusing ending, how the love interest attaches to Esme unnaturally fast, and the badly explained premise in general.

“Now Bid Time Return” by Saundra Mitchell: 4/5. The protagonist escapes to Europe for a week hoping the polar night (the sun being down all the time) will help her sleep, but she ends up finding so much more. It’s a little time-travel story that’s well-written with well-developed character and an amazing idea, but how they saw each other through time still confuses me and there’s no resolution whatsoever.

“The Moth and the Spider” by Sarah Ockler: 2/5. Aaaand another author off my list. This story of a girl trying to write her suicide note when someone calls her with the wrong number has a very literary feel to it, but it’s very odd too. We have no idea why Cali tried to kill herself and her only real quality is her desire to die until Theresa Zednick calls the number she thought was her mother’s. Not well-developed, though admittedly well-written.

“Where the Light Is” by Jackson Pearce: 3/5. Another unremarkable story. In a town of miners, the lead works in the mines in order to live up to other people’s expectations; his father was a heroic miner who saved people’s lives and died a few years before. He meets a Knocker (mountain-dwelling creature) while working in the mines one day and strikes up a friendship (later romance) with her. Decently written, nice idea, but it didn’t stick with me.

“This Was Ophelia” by Tessa Gratton: 3/5. The focus of this story is the romance between a girl named Ophelia (who cross-dresses and attends clubs as a guy named O) and a boy named Halden, who likes kissing boys and likes O but not Ophelia. These two fall in love over the course of three nights and their overdramatic affair is the focus of the story, making the story itself overdramatic. However, the prose is lovely and the Hamlet parallels are awesome.

GIVEAWAY TIME

Yep, another giveaway! This one is for a finished copy of this anthology, a gorgeous bookmark, and a glow-in-the-dark bracelet. Here’s what you’ve got to do:

  • Be 13 or older.
  • US and Canada entrants only, sadly.
  • Fill out the Rafflecopter widget to your heart’s content.
  • Don’t cheat! All your IPs are belong to me.
  • If you win (lucky duck!), you’ve got twenty-four hours to respond before I pick another winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NEXT STOPS

June 11th: Seeing Night Reviews

June 12th: Book Belles

June 13th: Reader Girls

June 14th: Soul Unsung

June 15th: Valerie Kemp (aka one of the contributors who wrote an amazeballs story and organized this whole shebang!)

Review: Burning by Elana K. Arnold


BurningTitle: Burning

Author: Elana K. Arnold

Genre: YA Contemporary, Coming of Age

Publication Date: June 11, 2013

Source: ARC provided by Amazon Vine

Synopsis: Ben: Having just graduated from high school, Ben is set to leave Gypsum, Nevada. It’s good timing since the gypsum mine that is the lifeblood of the area is closing, shutting the whole town down with it. Ben is lucky: he’s headed to San Diego, where he’s got a track scholarship at the University of California. But his best friends, Pete and Hog Boy, don’t have college to look forward to, so to make them happy, Ben goes with them to check out the hot chick parked on the side of Highway 447.

Lala: She and her Gypsy family earn money by telling fortunes. Some customers choose Tarot cards; others have their palms read. The thousands of people attending the nearby Burning Man festival spend lots of cash–especially as Lala gives uncanny readings. But lately Lala’s been questioning whether there might be more to life than her upcoming arranged marriage. And the day she reads Ben’s cards is the day that everything changes for her. . . and for him.

☆: 3/5 stars- The male POV sections are awful, but it’s worth it for Lala Motherfucking White

If you have the self-awareness to realize the tagline and jacket copy are offensive as all get-out to Romani people because of its use of “gypsy,” please befriend me. That way the jacket copy misrepresents the story so thoroughly and plays up the most stereotypical elements of Romani people is awful and whoever came up with the two should be ashamed. This had me worried going in that this would be beyond offensive as a novel, but Burning was a pleasant surprise. It’s a shame the novel is characterized the way it is and so many people might avoid it because while there are problems, only half the story is really that bad.

This ought to be Lala’s book. Not hers and Ben’s together. Just hers. Lala is much stronger as a character, has a lot more to lose because of how her culture works, and make some spot-on commentary on sexism in Romani culture. The sad thing is that there’s so much overlap between the expectations put on Romani women and the expectations put on women regardless of what culture they come from or what nation they live in. My favorite observation of hers out of the many, many gems she gives readers? This one:

“All my life I had been someone else’s girl–first my father’s, then Romeo’s. Now, I had been free of my engagement to Romeo for less than four hours, and already I was labeled as another boy’s girl (ARC p. 232).”

Ben is one of the most sexist, racist, downright vile characters I’ve ever come across. Right away, he calls Lala magical and says she’s bewitching him. It’s bad enough to say any woman is doing that, let alone a Romani woman. By page 76, he’s decided they’re meant to be and he’ll have her no matter the cost. For the rest of the book, he sees her as this beautiful, exotic Gypsy and that’s pretty solidly racist when an outsider like him uses it the way he does. He puts down other girls he knows/has been with because Lala is ~so much better than them and he can’t stand the thought of a woman protecting herself or protecting a man.  I kid you not, he says he needs to protect Lala’s virtue. GAH.

Ben has a friend nicknamed Hog Boy who tends to be just as vile but be more open about it. That seems to be his only purpose: to be gross. I STILL like Hog Boy better. At least we’re not stuck in his head as he preaches sexist crap and is racist toward the girl he’s supposed to love. All of Ben’s flaws outweigh any good points he’s supposed to have a character, which makes liking, sympathizing with, or appreciating his character darn near impossible. He and his friends and family are all so casually racist that it’s hard to like any of them, really. Except his gay little brother James. He can be a bit racist too, but he’s twelve and I’m more sympathetic to him because his brother treats him badly.

Calling what’s between Ben and Lala a romance is a mistake. Ben is in love with the beautiful, exotic image of Lala he’s cooked up; Lala is attracted to him at first and then falls in love with the freedom accepting her attraction to him offers by proxy. If they loved each other, Ben wouldn’t be so racist so often. Even the simple act of calling her a Gypsy is racist (according to the two hours of research I did in preparation for this review). Lala is either never around to correct him or simply doesn’t correct him on it. This isn’t how love should work.

The scene during which these two meet is highly problematic, but most of it falls on Ben (I detailed that above). Lala is only involved by circumstance. The Tarot card reading she gives him is based off not only her interpretations of the cards, but also his body language and what information she gets from him and his friends. Then she does it again at the end of the novel to get them into Burning Man with a cold reading of a man’s palm. The Romani people have been stereotyped for a very long time as con artists who use tricks like these. Putting Lala in that position was a huge problem.

So TL;DR on that one: Ben is where all the problems are and it’s so tempting to tell you, dear reader, to skip his sections and stick to Lala’s because she’s perfect.

YA as a category is fond of happy endings, but Burning lacks one of those. What it gets instead is a perfect ending that does right by one of its narrators by giving them what they really need: an ending that doesn’t stick them in a romance when they’re only just discovering what they really want. It’s one of the best endings I’ve come across recently, if not one of the best endings I’ve come across period.  It’s worth picking up solely for Lala, but do a little background research on Romani culture first. You’ll be glad you did.