Review: “Fire & Flood” by Victoria Scott

23555803Title: “Fire & Flood”

Author: Victoria Scott

Publication Date: February 15, 2014 (Scholastic – North America)

Genre: YA, dystopia, contemporary

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Time is slipping away….

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can’t determine what’s wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She’s lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she’s helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It’s an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother’s illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there’s no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can’t trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

☆: 4/5 stars – dystopia plus social commentary? yes please.

Review: It’s only taken me this long to figure out that the “Fire & Flood” series is really not just a dystopia piece (like so much of YA right now), but it’s also a huge social commentary on how big pharma/big biopharma is really starting to harm our lives. The proof? “The Brimstone Bleed”. A lot of reviewers have panned this book as being a “Hunger Games” ripoff, but only after this long (and starting to read the second book), have I really started to see this book as what it is. I’m not sure the actual YA age set will get it, but I hope they will. I really enjoyed this one, and am currently enjoying the second one. If you’re looking for something with grit and heart, and a little bit of finger-wagging at our current society, “Fire & Flood” is for you.

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Review: Red by Alison Cherry

RedTitle: Red

Author: Alison Cherry

Genre: YA Contemporary, Satire(?), Social Issues

Publication Date: October 8, 2013

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: Felicity St. John has it all—loyal best friends, a hot guy, and artistic talent. And she’s right on track to win the Miss Scarlet pageant. Her perfect life is possible because of just one thing: her long, wavy, coppery red hair.

Having red hair is all that matters in Scarletville. Redheads hold all the power—and everybody knows it. That’s why Felicity is scared down to her roots when she receives an anonymous note:

I know your secret.

Because Felicity is a big fake. Her hair color comes straight out of a bottle. And if anyone discovered the truth, she’d be a social outcast faster than she could say “strawberry blond.” Her mother would disown her, her friends would shun her, and her boyfriend would dump her. And forget about winning that pageant crown and the prize money that comes with it—money that would allow her to fulfill her dream of going to art school.

Felicity isn’t about to let someone blackmail her life away. But just how far is she willing to go to protect her red cred?

3.5/5 stars – Bad as a satire but great as a “normal” novel

Red initially sounded like a possibly dark mystery set in a strange town full of redheads, but it’s actually supposed to be a satire. Huh. Because I wanted to love this novel, I kept that in mind as I tore through this thoroughly engrossing read, but it ended up not working out that way. Red is entertaining and comes with a great cast of characters, but a good satire it is not.

Our strawbie (a strawberry blonde, though she dyes it) heroine Felicity is such a dynamic character. How she changes once her brunette classmate Gabby starts blackmailing her (it’s not a spoiler because she finds out so early on) is a wonderful transformation that helps her find what she really wants–which is not the pageant life her mother forced on her–and so much more. She carries the weight of the story easily on her shoulders, but she doesn’t even need to carry it alone because the other characters are just as strong.

Falicity’s two best friend Ivy and Haylie are mainly here mainly to act as symbols; Haylie embodies the typical redhead thinking in Scarletville while Ivy is a foil to that, though it bothers me Ivy never mentions or accepts the privilege she has as a redhead in Scarletville. Gabby = love and that’s that. Well, not really. She resorts to blackmail to institute some changes and that’s not great, but her reasons behind it once they’re revealed are really smart and she’s got all the sense of the novel. This is a ladies’ book, definitely. They rule it all! But the romance Felicity has with brown-haired artist Jonathan? Adorable friendship-turned romance deal.

But now to the unfortunately weak satire elements. First off, the use of hair color to represent racial-ethnic identities is an absolute no and kind of offensive. Hair color is so much more fluid–a blonde can go black-haired easily–and racial-ethnic identities are so not–because an Asian woman, for instance, can’t make herself white no matter what she does–that the metaphor quickly falls apart, taking the satire and the already-difficult-to-believe-in setting with it. Satires grounded in believable places work better.

The closest it gets to satire are the pageant elements, but those are very weak too. Satire, in a nutshell, will take the normal, emphasize it to absurdity with one technique or another, and present that absurdity as normal. The absurdity of pageant life as presented here is normal both in this book and in real life. Nothing Felicity’s mom puts her through for the pageant is anything I haven’t seen or heard already as normal in that area, so if this were satire, that would mean Toddlers and Tiaras is satire too. Sadly, it’s not.

Though it falls apart as a satire after just a few chapters, reading it as a “normal” novel once those elements wear off gives you something deeply entertaining. I’m definitely on board for Cherry’s next novel, due out sometime in 2014. With characters and writing as strong as this, I’d have to be a fool to miss out because of a horrid metaphor!

Review: “Flicker & Burn (Cold Fury #2)” by TM Goeglein

16101039Title: “Flicker & Burn (Cold Fury #2)”

Author: TM Goeglein

Genre: YA contemporary, paranormal, mafia, thriller, urban fantasy, AWESOME, NIGHTMARE STAG OH GOD

Publication Date: August 20, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Sara Jane Rispoli is still searching for her missing family, but instead of fighting off a turncoat uncle and crooked cops, this time she finds herself on the run from creepy beings with red, pulsing eyes and pale white skin chasing her through the streets in ice cream trucks; they can only be described as Ice Cream Creatures. They’re terrifying and hell bent on killing her, but they’re also a link to her family, a clue to where they might be and who has them.

While she battles these new pursuers, she’s also discovering more about her own cold fury and more about the Chicago Outfit, how the past misdeeds–old murders and vendettas–might just be connected to her present and the disappearance of her family. But connecting the dots is tough and time-consuming and may finally be the undoing of her relationship with the handsome Max–who’s now her boyfriend. But for his own safety, Sara Jane may have to end this relationship before it even really starts. Her pursuers who’ve shown her her mother’s amputated finger and the head of the Chicago Outfit who’s just whistled her in for a sit-down make a romance unthinkable. The only thing that matters is finding her family and keeping everyone she loves alive.

☆:  5 stars – an absolute knock out of the park, and better than book one!

Review: WOW. What is it with you, sophomoric books of 2013? You’ve all been more or less amazing, if not really good. If you guys thought “Cold Fury” was good, just wait until you get your hands on “Flicker & Burn”! Seriously. Every bit of tension that Goeglein had in “Cold Fury”, every stake? It’s been upped about a hundred times. This book has turned from paranormal into parascience, which is awesome, and I really can’t wait for book three. Another one of my favorite sophomoric effort of 2013, “Flicker & Burn” definitely leaps off the page and sears itself into your brain. Let’s just say I’ll never look at “healthy” ice cream the same way again.

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Review: “45 Pounds (More or Less)” by KA Barson

45 PoundsTitle: “45 Pounds (More or Less)”

Author: KA Barson

Publication Date: July 11, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Genre: YA Contemporary, Tough Stuff, Social Commentary

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Here are the numbers of Ann Galardi’s life:

She is 16.
And a size 17.
Her perfect mother is a size 6.
Her Aunt Jackie is getting married in 10 weeks, and wants Ann to be her bridesmaid.
So Ann makes up her mind: Time to lose 45 pounds (more or less) in 2 1/2 months.

Welcome to the world of infomercial diet plans, wedding dance lessons, embarrassing run-ins with the cutest guy Ann’s ever seen—-and some surprises about her NOT-so-perfect mother.

And there’s one more thing. It’s all about feeling comfortable in your own skin-—no matter how you add it up!

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a tender, yet lighthearted story about a very sensitive subject.

Review: If you’ve ever had major body image issues, or are struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, this is definitely a book you need to read. Hell, it’s a book mothers and daughters should read together. I have some serious body dysphoria/image issues myself and grew up with a mother who was anorexic for half of my childhood, so to say that “45 Pounds” was a meaningful book for me would be putting it lightly. Barson hits the nail on the head on these issues in this book so well, and it’s not just about a fat girl wanting to get thin. It’s about a whole culture that focuses on the idea of being thin, even if inside you’re incredibly unhealthy, both in body and mind. It’s about finally feeling okay in your own skin, even if you may not be someone’s ideal of perfection. So if you have any interest of any of these issues, “45 Pounds” is definitely the book for you.

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Review: “Emilie and the Hollow World” by Martha Wells

13665428Title: “Emilie and the Hollow World”

Author: Martha Wells

Genre: MG/YA, Steampunk, Alternate History/Universe, Adventure, Retellings?

Publication Date: April 2, 2013 (Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot – North America)

Source: NetGalley Review Copy

Summary: While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

☆: 4/5 stars – not a bad YA debut from Wells! Can’t wait for book 2!

Review: Okay, so this one is a bit hard to really talk about, guys. As much as I loved the idea and the creativity and the re-telling of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, there was one kinda big issue I had with this book, and one I’ve found that’s pretty consistent with adult authors making their YA debuts (for the most part). However, most of it was mermaids and rainbows, so I really enjoyed “Emilie and the Hollow World”, and I can’t wait for book 2, due out next year. If you’re looking for something that’s both a retelling and very original, give “Emilie” a try.

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Review: “The Bully Book” by Eric Kahn Gale

15721864Title: “The Bully Book”

Author: Eric Kahn Gale

Genre: YA contemporary, MG, Tough Stuff

Publication Date: December 26, 2012 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: The rules governing middle school are often a mystery, but for Eric Haskins, they’re a mystery he needs to solve, and fast. He’s a normal, average kid, until sixth grade starts. For some inexplicable reason, the class bully and his pack make Eric the Grunt. Even his best friend since first grade turns on him. Eric can’t figure out why he’s the Grunt until he hears about the Bully Book, a cryptic guide that teaches you how to “make trouble without getting in trouble, rule the school and be the man” and how to select the Grunt-the kid who will become the lowest of the low.

Eric Haskins may be this year’s Grunt for now, but he’s determined not to stay at the bottom of the social ladder forever.

☆: 4/5 stars – an absolutely GREAT look at bullying, and how it works. Definitely a must-read for anyone in school!

Review: This is definitely one of those books that all kids up until college should read –  much like I feel like the film “Bully” should be mandatory watching for the same age groups. “The Bully Book” finely and intellectually breaks down the sociodynamics of how bullying works in the clever way of making it a guidebook/how-to, as well as makes some tongue-in-cheek social commentary of how all of that bullying can stay with you, regardless of what side you’re on (as the bully, the victim, or the bystander), far beyond one’s grade school years. Definitely one of my favorites of 2013 in the contemporary YA/older MG category, “The Bully Book” is a must-read for all ages.

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Review: “Orleans” by Sherri L. Smith

15721624Title: “Orleans”

Author: Sherri L. Smith

Genre: YA, Post-apocalyptic/survival/dystopian, happy bacteria, social commentary, AWESOME

Publication Date: March 5, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

☆: 4.5/5 stars! An absolutely awesome look at a terrifyingly probably future!

Review: This one was a very pleasant surprise, guys. Smith managed to cram three different stories into one, plus add social commentary (which was a pretty ballsy thing to do, if I do say so myself) regarding the Gulf area and how the government has handle and continues to handle it during disasters – yet, she doesn’t get preachy about it. Which is hard to do. If you’re looking for an awesome adventure book with a disturbing facet of reality to it, look no further than “Orleans”.

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